Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Los Angeles (Sightseeing)

Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.

Over the last two years I have traveled to Los Angeles on three separate occasions. The first visit was for Shyawn's cousin's wedding in October 2011, the second was a girls trip with my mom and sister in July 2012, and the most recent was a trip that Shyawn and I took together in May 2013. Shyawn has several family members that live throughout Los Angeles so I know it is a place that we will visit frequently throughout our lifetime. Over the course of these three trips I have visited many wonderful sights, all of which will be described below:
  • Santa Monica
  • Griffith Observatory
  • Getty Center
  • Venice Beach
  • Hollywood Farmer's Market
  • Hollywood
  • Mulholland Drive
  • La Brea Tar Pits
  • The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
  • Pasadena
  • The Gamble House
  • Huntington Beach
  • Disneyland
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain
Additionally, I also have an entry on the many restaurants I've eaten at in Los Angeles here.

Santa Monica:
The lovely town of Santa Monica is one of my favorite cities in Los Angeles. It is clean, walkable, alluring, charming, offers plenty of choices for restaurants, and is located close to the ocean. I love how its streets are filled with a seamless mixture of old and new architecture. In addition to its quaint downtown area, which holds a great farmer's market on both Wednesday and Saturday mornings, Santa Monica also offers visitors a beautiful beach and the ever-popular Santa Monica Pier. The 3.5 miles of wide and expansive beaches in Santa Monica are some of the best in the area for both visitors and locals alike and offers tons of activities including biking, volleyball, surfing, fishing, as well as the obvious swimming. The Santa Monica Pier should be on every visitor's itinerary as it offers something for nearly everyone: an amusement park, shopping, eating, drinking, and great opportunities for people watching.
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier
View of the beach from Santa Monica Pier.
View of the beach from Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Pier
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Pier
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
My mom enjoying Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Beach as viewed from Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Beach as viewed from Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Los Angeles (Dining)

Over the last two years, I have traveled to Los Angeles on three separate occasions. The first visit was for Shyawn's cousins wedding in October 2011, the second was a girls trip with my mom and sister in July 2012, and the most recent was a trip that Shyawn and I took together in May 2013. Shyawn has several family members that live throughout Los Angeles so I know it will be a place that we will visit frequently throughout our lifetime. Over the course of these three trips I have eaten at several wonderful restaurants, all of which will be described below:

Tar and Roses
Umami Burger
Father's Office
Pizzeria Mozza
Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery
Raffi's Place
Milo and Olive
Urth Caffe
The Luggage Room Pizzeria
Gloria's Cafe

Note: Only a few of the above mentioned restaurants are actually in LA; many are in other cities that are part of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Located in Santa Monica, this lovely French restaurant is my favorite restaurant of all that I have been to on my three trips to LA. On our most recent trip, we decided to take Shyawn's cousin Shervin and his wife Yeva out for dinner as a thank you for allowing us to stay with them for the weekend. I had completely forgotten to make reservations for this dinner until about a week prior to our trip and was worried that all of the good restaurants would't have reservations available. After perusing Yelp, I found JiRaffe which not only had good ratings but also had an ideal reservation time available for the four of us.

Although I didn't take any photos of the interior space, it was quite lovely; formal and beautifully decorated without being stuffy. The staff was attentive and friendly but never obtrusive nor did they rush us when we took forever to place our order.

For an amuse-bouche, we were brought a small cup of mushroom soup, which was surprisingly refreshing and very delicious.
Amuse-bouche at JiRaffe.

We were also provided with a basket of bread to munch on while we waited for our appetizers.
Bread basket from JiRaffe.

We decided to order two different appetizers. The first was the JiRaffe Classic Tomato Tart (Tutti Frutti organic tomatoes, buratta cheese, caramelized balsamic onions, basil pesto, ratatouille sauce, olive tapenade). This dish was incredibly good and the tomatoes were very fresh and flavorful and paired wonderfully with the basil.
JiRaffe Classic Tomato Tart.

Our second appetizer was the Roasted Beet Salad (organic beets, caramelized onions, dried cherries, goat cheese cream, banyuls-ginger vinaigrette.) This is definitely not a dish that I would have ever selected on my own accord. However, Shyawn's cousins love beets and were immediately drawn to the dish. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the beets though I of course avoided the goat cream cheese as goat cheese is about the only thing in this world that I am unable to eat.
Roasted Beet Salad at JiRaffe.

For our main entree, Shyawn's cousin Shervin ordered the special, Osso Buco which was placed atop a beautiful spread of vegetables. I didn't get a chance to try a bite but Shervin ate every last morsel on this plate and stated it was excellent.
Osso Buco at JiRaffe.

Yeva's choice of entree was the Pan Roasted New Zealand Rack of Lamb with roasted yellowfin potato samosas, curried vegetable moussaka, thyme scented lamb jus. Lamb isn't one of my favorite foods so I didn't take a bite but she raved and raved about this dish and said it was some of the best food she had eaten in years.
New Zealand Rack of Lamb at JiRaffe

Shyawn ordered the Grilled Daurade and Maine lobster Medallion with saffron oil, fregola sarda, fresh Dungeness crab, pistou, fennel almond sauce, served over a pesto cous-cous. This dish was simply amazing. No other way to describe it. If it's on the menu during your visit do yourself a huge favor and just order it. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Grilled Daurade at JiRafe.

And finally, my entree of choice was the Angus Filet of Beef with sweet corn confit, grilled farmer's market scallions, ancho chili emulsion, roasted bell pepper sauce, natural beef reduction. Yet another very strong dish, the sweet corn confit was probably my favorite aspect which was quite surprising, given that I usually dislike the flavor of corn. The beef was moist and extremely tender and tasted amazing with the ancho chili and roasted bell pepper sauces.
Angus Filet at JiRaffe.

Given how delicious our meal had been up to this point, we knew we were going to have to spring for dessert. We decided to order the Chocolate Truffle Cake (Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate, raspberry sauce) as well as Lisa's Fresh Baked Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches (Tahitian vanilla, dark chocolate, and fresh strawberry ice cream). Once again, both of the dishes were outstanding and were devoured by the four of us within minutes.
Chocolate Tuffle Cake at JiRaffe.
Lisa's Fresh Baked Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches at JiRaffe.

All four of us were tremendously impressed with the overall dining experience at JiRaffe. It's not very often that every single plate you order is amazing, but it happened at JiRaffe.

Tar and Roses:
We visited Tar and Roses, located in Santa Monica on our most recent visit to LA. Based on all of the hype I had heard about the restaurant, I was quite excited for our meal and had somewhat high expectations. Tar and Roses serves inventive American fare in the form of small plates. The restaurant is extremely popular and busy so making reservations in advance is highly recommended. When we arrived for our 7:30 reservation there was a huge line of people waiting without a reservation so I was very pleased that we had reservations. The interior space of Tar and Roses is quite small though it makes up for its lack of size with a beautiful, upscale and modern design scheme. The restaurant was dimly lit but had lots of mirrors creating quite a cozy and comfortable atmosphere; the perfect spot for a date night.
Tar and Roses
Tar and Roses

Upon first glance at the menu, we had a difficult time narrowing down our choices. The menu is divided into four different categories: Snacks, Small, Veggie, and Large. Many of the menu options were quite different and unique; don't come here expecting to see anything traditional. Under the Snacks category, we ordered the Popped Corn (crisp bacon/brown sugar/chili). I specifically ordered this dish based on some hype I had heard on Twitter. Additionally, pop corn and bacon are two of my loves in life and since they were combined with something sweet and something spicy I was hopeful that it would be an amazing flavor combination. The texture of the crunchy popcorn with the brown sugar glaze was pleasing as was the crispy bacon, but the chili flavor was so strong that it completely overpowered the dish. Even Shyawn, a huge fan of spicy things had a difficult time handling the heat. I wanted so badly to enjoy this dish but I seriously could not tolerate the spice. Maybe it was an off night for this popcorn but I don't understand why it has received so many accolades given its level of heat.
Popped Corn at Tar and Roses.

Also in the Snacks category, we ordered one of Tar and Roses most popular dishes: Bone Marrow (onion marmalade/sea salt/sourdough). This dish was mentioned more times on Yelp than any other plate at the restaurant so we figured it was a wise choice. Neither one of us had ever tried bone marrow and admittedly I was a bit nervous to eat it! In hindsight, my nerves were completely unnecessary as the fat was flavorful and paired wonderfully with the onion marmalade when placed atop the crispy bread.
Bone Marrow at Tar and Roses.

In the Veggies category, we decided to order two items including Wood Roasted Potatoes (garlic/spicy tomato aioli) and the Grilled Asparagus (romesco/burrata). The potatoes were definitely the highlight of our meal, believe it or not. They were cooked perfectly and tasted amazing with the delicious tomato aioli sauce.
Wood Roasted Potatoes at Tar and Roses.

The Grilled Asparagus was also cooked perfectly, but I wasn't quite as impressed with its accompanied sauce. It was good, but nothing amazing.
Grilled Asparagus at Tar and Roses.

And finally, our last plate of the night was the Kurobuta Pork Loin (tarragon creamed corn/black kale) which was listed under the Large category. Along with the Wood Roasted Potatoes, this was one of the better dishes of the evening. The pork loin was cooked perfectly and was moist and flavorful. Shyawn, a huge corn lover, really enjoyed the bed of the creamed corn that the pork was placed atop.
Kurobuta Pork Loin at Tar and Roses.

By the time we got around to dessert, we were unfortunately much too full to order anything.

Overall, we both walked away from the restaurant feeling slightly perplexed. The food was good and I really appreciated how much thought and effort had gone into creating and putting together the very unique menu items and the unusual pairing of flavors. However, I just don't feel that the quality of food quite lived up to all of the hype it's received. Don't get me wrong; none of the food was bad per say but there was not a single dish we tried that evening that would have me running back to eat again. Maybe we didn't try the "right" dishes that evening but all I know is that I didn't leave the restaurant feeling the "wow" factor that I was so hoping to experience.

After reading a favorable review of this new restaurant on a blog I follow, discovering that it had 4.5/5 stars on Yelp, and that it was on Eater's Where to Eat Right Now list,  I decided that Shyawn and I needed to include it on our list of restaurants to eat at on our most recent visit.

The seasonal Italian restaurant is located in what appears to be a former industrial space in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles. Whomever designed the restaurant did an amazing job and took full advantage of the incredible space by incorporating the beautiful exposed brick and industrial beams into the design scheme. Upon arrival we first walked into a beautiful and bright courtyard and then went directly into the bustling restaurant, which had an amazing buzz and electric energy.
Courtyard seating at Besta.
Exposed brick walls at Bestia.
Interior of Bestia.
The bar at Bestia.
Interior of Bestia as viewed from our table.

Bestia is already well-known for its house-cured meats and they personally create dozens of different types of charcuterie for their restaurant. As a result, we ordered their Salumi (Chef's selection of house-cured meats, pickles, mostards, grilled bread). We enjoyed all of the meats except for one on the very right as it had a bit too much cartilage which was unpleasant for us to chew.
Salumi at Bestia.

For his main entree, Shyawn opted to go with their Tartufo e Acciughe pizza (black truffle, anchovy, fior de latte, grana padano). His pizza would have been classified as amazing had it not been so incredibly salty. So salty in fact that it prevented us from finishing it. Such a shame!
Tartufo e Acciughe pizza at Bestia.

When it came time for me to make a decision regarding my entree, I was torn, wanting to order both pizza and pasta. When I learned that Shyawn was ordering pizza I figured that was my cue to order one of the pastas and went with the much touted Cavatelli alla Norcina (ricotta dumplings, housemade pork sausage, black truffles, grana padano. The pasta was cooked perfectly and I truly enjoyed the flavor combination of the pork sausage with the black truffles. I would definitely recommend this dish to anyone who visits the restaurant.
Cavatelli alla Norcina at Bestia.

For dessert, we ordered the Nectarine and Cherry Crostata, which was served with buttermilk gelato. Nectarines and cherries are two my of favorite fruits so I was quite excited when I saw this item on their dessert menu! The crostata was amazingly flaky and delicious and the sweetness of the fruit went wonderfully with the buttermilk gelato. I just wish the crostata had been larger as we devoured it in about a minute!
Nectarine and Cherry Crostata at Bestia.

Overall, I was mostly impressed with our experience and food at Bestia. I loved the ambiance and decor of the restaurant and as long as they lay off the salt on that pizza, I would recommend this restaurant as a solid choice for anyone who lives in or visits Los Angeles.

Umami Burger:
A local chain found throughout southern California (with two locations in Northern California and even one in Miami!), I was quite excited when we learned that Shyawn's cousins lived literally across the street from this burger joint in Santa Monica. I had read numerous reviews on their burgers, most of them raving so I was quite excited to try one and hoped that it would live up to the hype, especially since I am not a burger type of girl.
Umami Burger in Santa Monica (next to Fred Segal).

I had read on Yelp that many people recommended the Tempera Onion Rings so we ordered those as well as the Thin Fries Make 'em Manly (beer-cheddar, bacon, onion strings). Both of these starters were incredibly delicious! The onion rings were cooked perfectly: crispy and full of flavor without being greasy. The fries were a complete indulgence as they incorporated some of my most favorite things in life: potatoes, cheese, bacon, and onions. I could have eaten a never ending bowl of these!
Tempera Onion Rings at Umami Burger.
Thin Fries Make 'em Manly at Umami Burger.

For his choice of burger, Shyawn went with the Manley Burger (beer-cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, smoked-salt onion strings, house ketchup, mustard spread). This burger tasted as good as it looked. Amazing flavor in addition to a great texture combination of the soft bun, dense meat, and crunchy onion strings.
Manly Burger at Umami Burger.

As soon as I saw it on the menu, I knew immediately which burger I would be ordering. I LOVE anything made with truffles. Even further, aioli in my opinion is one of the most amazing sauces on earth. So naturally I ordered the Truffle Burger (famous blend of beef, roasted garlic aioli, house truffle cheese, truffle glaze). It may not look like much in the picture below, but let me assure you that this burger was beyond amazing. The moist beef was cooked perfectly and its flavor was out of this world. That combined with the garlic aioli, truffle cheese, and truffle glaze was a complete flavor explosion. I have never been so happy or enamoured with eating a burger in all my life. And again, that's saying a lot considering I typically avoiding ordering burgers as I usually find even the "good" ones meh.
Truffle Burger at Umami Burger.

I was so utterly sad when I finished eating my meal, knowing that I lived hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the closest Umami Burger location. Although Umami is a chain, it is definitely one of the most impressive, it not most impressive chains I have ever eaten at. It's been weeks since I have eaten here and I am still dreaming of my Truffle Burger...

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