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Mendocino Farms opens in West Hollywood

*Post by Angela.

When we were back in D.C., I lived and worked in Dupont Circle, arguably the most walkable neighborhood ever in the history of the world. And I loved it. It took me literally five minutes to walk to work, and I had a Safeway, a Whole Foods, a CVS, a Dunkin Donuts, a liquor store, and several dry cleaners within a 5-block radius. And then we moved to L.A., the driving capital of America. SIGH.

After a year here, I've adjusted to the constant driving that is necessary to live a normal life in L.A. Even so, it's always nice when an eatery opens up in walking distance, giving us a new option for dining that doesn't require gas. We've anxiously been awaiting the opening of the WeHo branch of Los Angeles-based sandwich chain Mendocino Farms for weeks now, and Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to try it out.



Mendocino Farms is named after an area upstate where the slow food movement and sustainable farming aren't just fads, but ways of life. The rustic, clean decor and wide-open, airy set-up of the sandwich shop fit well with the casual Californian cuisine.



Upon entering the sandwich shop, we grabbed a menu and perused Mendocino Farm's over 2 dozen sandwich options (on the day we went, there were at least 2 vegan options), salads, and soups de jour, before proceeding to the almost agressively cheerful staff member who wrote our selections down on slips to take to the cashier. The cashier then sang out our orders to the sandwich artistes waiting along the wall-hugging open kitchen.



We started out with a Save Drake Farm's Salad (below, $9.95), with roasted chicken, Herbs de Provence marinated Drake Family Farm’s goat cheese, Pink Lady beets, green apples, dried cranberries, crushed honey roasted almonds, red onions (we requested ours without), Scarborough Farm’s greens, butter lettuce and romaine with a citrus vinaigrette. It was a pretty decent salad, though nothing special. Oddly, it took us a while to figure out that the citrus vinaigrette wasn't just melted butter (which is exactly what it looked like, and kind of what it tasted like) - in other words, it could have used more citrus and more vinegar, or less oil.



We were really excited about our first sandwich, the Porchetta (below, $8.95), which featured slow braised pork, roasted garlic whole grain mustard aioli, fresh housemade giardiniera (Italian relish of pickled vegetables), and cilantro, on Dolce Forno soft roll. Objectively, it was a decent sandwich. Given our expectations, though, we were slightly disappointed. The pork was tender, but not quite as flavorful as we would have wanted - maybe to make up for that, huge hunks of pickled vegetables were heaped on. Unfortunately, there was too much pickling juice included, which the soft roll soaked up like a sponge, making for a messy, soggy sandwich.



The Kurobuta Pork Belly Banh Mi (below, $9.75) fared much better. Medocino Farm's take on the classic Vietnamese sandwich included braised, caramelized kurobuta pork belly, housemade pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapenos, and chili aioli on panini grilled ciabatta. In contrast to the soggy Porchetta sandwich, there were a number of crunchy elements to the banh mi that made it awesome: the crisp, warm grilled bread, the refreshing (and proportional) slivers of Vietnamese-style veggie toppings, and best of all, the golden brown bits of pork belly.



While our first visit wasn't quite spectacular, and the prices are a little high for Mendocino Farms to be an everyday option, we enjoyed our meal and will be headed back in the future to try their other sandwiches. Another solid lunch option in West Hollywood.

Mendocino Farms on UrbanspoonMendocino Farms (California Plaza) on UrbanspoonMendocino Farms on UrbanspoonMendocino Farms on Urbanspoon


Ladyface Ale Dinner at City Tavern

*Post by Mark.

Culver City's best gastropub has already impressed us with their CT burger and 22 taps pouring California microbrews. So when City Tavern announced a five-course dinner paired with brews from one of our favorite new local breweries, Ladyface Ale Companie, we were excited to check it out and have Nick of TreasureLA join us for the experience.

Ladyface owner Cyrena Nouzille and brewer Dave Griffiths were on hand to introduce their beers and explain how they would pair with City Tavern Chef Jessica Christensen's special menu. The meal was a departure from the regular menu for Chef Christensen, who designed each of the five courses to share a picnic theme.  



Our first course: an amuse of deviled egg with asparagus and roe. Part of what we liked most about the deviled egg was what wasn't in it. We enjoyed how simple the egg was, devoid of overwhelming spices. Instead, the clean flavor of the amuse was accented only by a topping of creamy, salty roe and accompanying crisp slivers of asparagus. And the bite paired well with the Trois Filles Tripel, a clear golden brew with a yeasty aroma and slightly fruity taste. The Belgian-style beer was very drinkable- a great pour and a great bite to kick things off. 



For our second course: an orzo salad with crab, avocado, and a beet vinaigrette. The huge lumps of crab distinguished the orzo salad  from typical picnic fare and a tap from our table's salt shaker evened out any under-seasoning. To pair with it? A Chaparral Saison, a farmhouse-style ale made with local sage honey and primed for slow-sipping. Along with a touch of spice and citrus, the balance of malt and hop helped hide the higher alcohol content of the hefty Saison.



The third course was the unanimous favorite: a potted duck confit with crisps. While the luscious, perfectly seasoned confit was great, the topping of duck skin fried chicharron-style nearly stole the show, and is something I wouldn't mind seeing on more menus. To pair with our favorite course of the night: the Chesebro IPA- perhaps my favorite of Ladyface's brews and the beer that made me first fall for the brewery. The hoppy double IPA, ripe with juicy citrus and pine aromas, was a very nice compliment to the rich, fatty flavor of the duck.



Fourth, our entree course: the smoked cocoa-rubbed tri tip sandwich. We really enjoyed the tender, smoked meat and the hearty roll. The thick, crusty bread made it a little difficult to bite into the husky sandwich, but a quick disassembling allowed us to enjoy the meat and bread separately. The colorful potato salad accompanying the sandwich played lighter than the gloppy, mayonnaise-laden stuff you see at outdoor get-togethers. And this batch of Picture City Porter paired especially well as the brewer specially infused it with cocoa nibs for the occasion. 



For dessert: spiked watermelon and peppered strawberries. The strawberry shortcake-like dish came smothered beneath a dollop of cream and was presented alongside a helping of booze-infused watermelon straight from Chef Christensen's own garden. This final course was paired with the sazerac-oaked red rye, a tasty single-hopped red ale to finish things off. 



Of course the meal ended up being a blast and the service was fantastic. City Tavern has already done a few dinners with beer pairings from a local brewery and the Culver City gastropub plans to host more in the future. 

It was also a pleasure to talk with brewer, Dave Griffiths who made his rounds about the busy dining room to chat about Ladyface's history and brewing process. We've been procrastinating a visit to their Agoura Hills tasting room for far too long. 

Good food, great beer, and better company - I can think of a lot worse ways to spend my evenings than at City Tavern's beer dinners.

Disclosure: This was a comped meal. 

City Tavern on Urbanspoon


A Tale of Two Bay Cities - Obtaining Santa Monica's Preeminent Sandwich

*Post by Mark.

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, every conversation about sandwiches has always taken a turn towards Bay Cities. The gourmet market has been serving Santa Monica since 1925, and its sandwiches, with an extensive array of Italian meats and cheeses, may very well be the closest thing to a bustling New York deli you'll find in LA. After much procrastination, we finally made it into Bay Cities on a recent weekend to grab some pre-hike sandwiches.

Yet, we discovered, there are two different ways to approach Bay Cities with dramatically differing outcomes. The experience of ordering online can be a pleasant one, whereas a spontaneous visit can prove a stressful free-for-all, and it wouldn't be fair to consider the deli without taking both experiences into account. 



Let's file our first Bay Cities experience into the lesson learned category - a harrowing, nightmarish adventure filled with folly. Consider this a cautionary tale. Our first mistake was going around lunchtime on a Saturday morning. Cars were lined up in the street, backing up traffic, just to wait for a spot in the parking lot. But the experience wasn't all about our mistakes. Before we even made it through the front doors a security guard welcomed us by screaming about not taking pictures inside. 

We acquiesced to the apparent no-pictures-inside policy, but soon discovered it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Inside, we were pulled into an elbow-to-elbow maelstrom of disorganized chaos. Along the right side of the store, the long deli counter and the crowd surrounding resembled a war zone. People fought their way to grab pre-made sandwiches like Bay Cities' signature Godmother sandwich. Everyone else grabbed a ticket and fought to hold their position near the counter. I've seen tamer crowds in the pits of a Rage Against the Machine concert.



When our number was eventually called, Angela took care of the ordering while I ventured away to scavenge for some side dishes in the market section of Bay Cities, which was not much better than the deli counter. Narrow, packed aisles meant people stepping on your toes, hands reaching over top of you with blatant disregard for humanity. It was like The Road Warrior and obtaining a plastic tub of potato salad was a kill-or-be-killed conquest.



Meanwhile Angela was having troubles of her own. A moment's pause while ordering sandwiches?  Well that gets you yelled at, too. Twenty minutes later, sandwiches in hand we stepped into another long line to pay. With all the pre-made Godmother sandwiches, we could've saved ourselves a lot of trouble, Angela noted, if only she hadn't wanted her Godmother without onions. Nevertheless, we paid for our sandwiches and left, attempting to wash our hands of the last forty-five harrowing minutes whilst also trying to return our blood pressures to normal levels.



We waited until we were settled at a picnic table in Temescal Gateway Park before unwrapping our hard-won prizes. I had opted for a simple sandwich with proscuitto and hefty chunks of fresh mozzarella (above). The bread, although not as fresh as I would have liked, was excellent - crusty, chewy and flavorful.



Angela, still shaken from the whole process, managed to enjoy her Godmother (above) for a full 30 seconds before realizing that, despite her specific request, her sandwich contained onions. All of that waiting and shot-nerves was for nothing. She chould've just walked in and grabbed a pre-made sandwich after all. Once she had the chance to rant, cool down and pick the onions off, she begrudingly conceded that the both the bread and ingredients (Genoa salami, mortadella, cappicala, ham, proscuitto, and provolone) were top notch.



The sides I managed to grab, cole slaw and potato salad (above), didn't really register one way or another. But these little Peruvian cookies we nabbed (below) gave us a nice sweet ending to our picnic meal.



Where Bay Cities is truly king is their extensive selection of fresh ingredients. But, if you're willing to accept more limited ingredient offerings, we'd recommend All About the Bread, where the bread is always fresh out of the oven and the counter-staff actually remembers your name instead of yelling at you. Of course Michael Voltaggio's ink.sack and Westwood's Fundamental are leading the wave of a new gourmet sandwich shops in town providing reasonable alternatives. 



But it would be purely sour grapes for us to suggest that Bay Cities isn't responsible for some of the best sandwiches in LA. Order ahead and you'll likely agree. When you order online you'll find your sandwiches waiting for you on a rack in a much tamer side of the market. But if you stumble upon Bay Cities during peak hours without planning ahead, I suggest following the immortal advice of The Road Warrior's villianous Lord Humungous, "Just walk away."

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery on Urbanspoon


Larry's Venice

*Post by Mark.

When you think of the Venice Beach Boardwalk, you normally think of the sunglass stands, the marijuana dispensaries, the artists, skateboarders, performers, and transients. You think of cheap pizza by the slice and funnel cake. But good food scarcely comes to mind. Larry's Venice is likely to change that. Chef Brendan Collins and partner Carlos Tomazos (both of Waterloo & City) have collaborated with the neighboring Hotel Erwin's Mark and Erwin Sokol to bring us this beachside gastropub, named for local artist Larry Bell. Bell's trademark silhouette with hat and cigar - graces the storefront outside, and his art is a present influence on the inside.



Graffiti-soaked exterior walls surround the gastropub's outdoor dining area. Inside, Larry's art can be found brightening the decor, along with a mural of names of local artists. This is surely a space that embodies the history and culture of Venice as much as it embodies Larry himself. 



We hurried out of the sweltering heat, taking refuge at a table in the shade for fear of ending up like this poor chap sitting just outside the restaurant (below, left). Inside, spots of color dot the interior like a rubik's cube but don't interfere with the otherwise casual, minimalist decor (below, right) by Kris Keith of Spacecraft (the design team behind Echo Park's newest gastropub Mohawk Bend). The comfortable atmosphere is conducive to lazy afternoons unwinding, drink in hand, from the beachfront chaos outside its doors.



The first thing to jump out at you about Larry's may be the twenty-six beers they have on tap at the bar (below). There's also a nice selection of bottled beer, wine and cocktails.



The beer list is a nice mix of local, domestic and imports. Hop-heads may be inspired to look beyond the Green Flash West Coast IPA towards the less hoppy brews that dominate the list. Something like the smooth, malty Old Speckled Hen could be a welcomed change of pace. This visit, our party sampled the Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, yeasty and fraught with fruit and spice, as well as the Double Dog (below) - an 11.5% ABV double pale ale by Flying Dog. From the cocktail side of things, the Coco Cabana (below, right), made with soju, lime, mint, and coconut cream, was a perfect refreshment to beat the heat. 



You'll find similarities between Brendan Collins' menu at Larry's Venice (below) and his menu at Waterloo & City, which we are big fans of. Transplanted to Larry's are the charcuterie plates, potted meats and pates for which Collins is known. We were delighted to find that his creative pizzas had made the transition from Culver City to Venice as well. The prices, with nothing costing more than $15, make it easy to share with friends. We came with a few friends of our own, including Aaron of Savory Hunter. (You can check out his thoughts on the meal here.)



The potted chicken liver and foie gras parfait (below) was an immediate group favorite. Encased beneath a gelatinous sweet potato jam, the rich chicken liver and foie were balanced with a palatable sweetness. It was accompanied by house-made pickles and an ample portion of toasted brioche. 



The duck and pistachio pate (below) was well-balanced in a similar fashion. The duck, which may have been too rich on its own, was speckled with nutty bits through out. The tasty pate was served with a seasonal marmalade, house-made pickles and toast.



Hoping to repeat our previous experiences with Chef Collins' pizza, we tried the pizza special - a chicken pesto pie made with feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and black olives (below). The thin, crispy slices did not disappoint. In a city sorely lacking in stand-out pizza options, the two pies we've now tasted from Collins' kitchens have been some of the best. 



The organically fried chicken caesar baguette (below, left) with fried egg and bacon (which we asked to be served on the side, below right) was a minor conceptual misfire. A beautiful-looking dish made with tasty ingredients, the presentation - somewhere between and a sandwich and a salad - proved difficult to eat on its own (let alone share). We loved the anchovies, the egg, and the thick slabs of bacon, but were hoping to find more of the fried chicken. The dish came served with french fries, which were crispy and undeniably good. 



Another savory treat came in the form of the juicy 6 oz. lamb burger (below), served on a ciabatta bun. The house was kind enough to slice it into quadrants for us to share. It was served along with a hefty house-made pickle and, thankfully, another side of those addicting fries. Did I mention how good the fries were? In addition to ketchup, a harissa aioli provided a sweet and smokey dipping refuge for our fries. 



The peach cobbler (below) was a pleasant summer dessert. Topped with a scoop of ice cream and a crumbly crust, the cobbler featured fresh peaches buried beneath the surface, still ripe with a little bite. 



The sticky toffee pudding hit the table and was quick to make new friends. Our forks fought for the moist cake, soaked in buttery toffee sauce. A rich, burnt flavor cut through the sweetness of the dish as a dollop of ice cream slowly dripped into the mix. 



The food may be a rung or two up from the pizza stands and tourist traps that line the boardwalk but the prices hardly reflect it. Collins' food is really the only thing imported from the team's Culver City restaurant, highlighting a casual experience that embraces the eclectic character of the artsy beach town. Like the canals, muscle beach, or the notorious '420 Doctors' before them, let's hope that Larry's becomes a mainstay in the ongoing culture of Venice. 

Larry's Venice on Urbanspoon


Ink.Sack - Sack Lunch from LA's 'Top Chef' Michael Voltaggio

*Post by Mark.

Anyone who owns a TV and holds even the slightest affection for food is likely to know who Michael Voltaggio is. Michael edged out some stiff competition, including his brother Bryan, to win Season Six of Top Chef. He's worked as Chef de Cuisine at both The Dining Room and The Bazaar, but not until his highly-anticipated restaurant Ink opens in the coming weeks will Voltaggio finally have a kitchen that is all his own. Fueled by the 32-year old chef's progressive cooking and rising celebrity status, Ink may very well be LA's most anticipated restaurant opening of the year.

Luckily, those eager to check out the young, tattooed chef's food no longer have to wait for the red tape to be cut at Ink. That's because yesterday Voltaggio opened ink.sack - a casual sister restaurant slinging sandwiches just a few doors down from his pending flagship on Melrose.



When we arrived a few minutes before 11 a.m., there was already a small line forming outside. And we were lucky to have arrived when we did. By the time we finished our meals, the line was already snaking down the street and less then 2 hours after opening, ink.sack was turning guests away. They'd already sold out for the day. Going forward, ink.sack plans to serve lunch Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or - if yesterday was any indicator - until they sell out. 



There's a lot to love about the menu (below). Most of the sanwiches are just $5 (two are $6, and one is $4). Throw in a side item and a drink and you've got a sack lunch with your name scribbled on the side for about $12. It's kind of like when mom used to pack your lunch - except if your mom was a dude with lots of tattoos and maybe instead of Carl Buddig ham or PB & J, if she had spiced up your lunches with corned beef tongue and curried chicken skin. Okay, so maybe no one here's going to tear the crusts off your bread for you, but looking over the menu you get the sense that Voltaggio wants to serve the classics - just with a unique twist. 



The sandwiches, while cheap, are also relatively small. If you're hungry, I'd recommend two. The way I see it, if you're willing to pay $10 for a big, gourmet sandwich you might as well pay the same and try two. One of our favorites was the spicy tuna (below) which comes with miso-cured albacore, wild rice, and sriracha mayo. 



Then there was the Jose Andres, aka 'The Spanish Godfather' (below), named for Voltaggio's mentor at The Bazaar and perhaps the greatest ambassador of Spanish cuisine to America. Playing off of what is traditionally an assortment of Italian meats and cheeses, Voltaggio's version is filled instead with Spanish ingredients like serrano ham, chorizo, lomo, and manchego. 



The cold fried chicken (below) comes with house-made ranch cheese and Gindo's spice of life, a local pepper sauce. There's no denying that there's just something comforting about fried chicken on a sandwich. 



One that really surprised me was the maple-pepper turkey melt (below), a hearty concoction made with Camembert, mustarda and arugula. Few words could excite me less then 'turkey melt', but the flavors that come together in this one bring it up to a whole new level.



The C.L.T. (below, left) is loaded up with chicken liver mousse, curried chicken skins, lettuce and tomato. Between the creamy mousse and crispy skin, it's a textural treat, but after a few bites of the rich chicken liver I was glad to be sharing it. For me, the Banh Mi (below, right) really steals the show, made with pork cheek, pickled vegetables and crunchy chicharrones. 



There's also a nice selection of sodas to wash down your lunch (below, left), and a collection of snacks to help round out your meal. You can go healthy with sides like watermelon with sriracha and lime, or stray for the potato chips. We finished the meal off with a Mexican chocolate chip cookie (below, right) - still warm from the oven and dotted with a hint of sea salt. 



The one sandwich I wasn't able to try on this trip was the "rueben" made with corned beef tongue, appenzeller cheese, kraut and Russian dressing. I figure it gives me a good reason to go back. And I'll do just that... maybe once the crowds die down a bit.

ink sack on Urbanspoon