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Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at LAX

July 1, 2015

We had an early morning flight from Los Angeles to Kona, with a stopover in between in Honolulu.  Due to our early flight, most of us skipped breakfast at the hotel for the extra sleep before we rushed over to the airport to check in, drop off our bags and find our gate.  As we arrived at the gate with a bit of time before boarding, I decided to take a few minutes to go in search of the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge to see if I could grab a few drinks and a little something to eat.

Air Canada you ask?  I certainly didn’t fly Air Canada from Los Angeles to Hawaii, but I was lucky that the terminal at LAX I was departing from had an Air Canada lounge I could take advantage of.  We were actually flying on Hawaiian Airlines, but the Hawaiian Airlines lounge is for their executive members, of which I’m not, so I couldn’t access that lounge.  But I had a Priority Pass membership which gave me access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, so why not use it?  If nothing else, I just wanted to check it out.

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First off, the terminal was under construction, or some sort of renovation, so finding the lounge through the maze of corridors and signs was a bit round about.  But once you stepped inside the lounge, it was like you were transported to a whole different world.  The terminal itself was one big mosh pit of seats strung together in a large open area that must have contained 4 or 5 different gates.  That meant that everyone who was waiting for flights at each of those gates was fighting for every empty seat to be found in this large mosh pit.  Stepping into the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, it was tranquil, peaceful, quiet and relaxing.  A large rectangular area full of nice plush seats surrounded by windows that let in the light and provided an unobstructed view of the tarmac.

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At the far end of the lounge there was a bank of work stations for those who wanted a more productive use of their time in the lounge while waiting for their flight.  Around the corner from the work stations was a big screen TV for those who wished to pass the time with a bit of entertainment.  In the middle of this long rectangular lounge was a snack bar and refrigerators set up for drinks for those who wanted to grab a little bite to eat before they traveled.

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There were multiple refrigerated cases of canned drinks.  Coke Zero and Pepsi, along with cans of fruit juices: pineapple juice, apple juice, orange juice, peach nectar, mango nectar and cranberry juice.  I normally see carbonated soda drinks at a lot of airline lounges, but the various varieties of fruit juices was new, and I liked it.  I’d never seen pineapple juice before at an airport lounge, which is my husband’s favorite.

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In the next refrigerated case we had more canned carbonated soda: Sprite, Coke, and Diet Coke.  There was also tonic water, ginger ale and club soda.  And a couple of pitchers of juices: cranberry and grapefruit.

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Finally, there was a coffee bar.  The coffee bar featured a Keurig machine with various flavors of single cup coffee. There was also a gourmet coffee machine which could make espresso, cappuccino and some specialty flavored coffee.  Or if you were looking for tea instead coffee, there were multiple tea options as well.

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As I was there in the morning, the food display in the middle of the lounge featured different kinds of breakfast food items.  Healthy choices of cereal included Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran and granola.

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Fresh fruit options were also available.  Bananas, apples and oranges to be had.  Hard boiled eggs were also available, if that’s your thing.  Cartons of yogurt were also a breakfast option.

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Pastries and baked goods in the form of various types of sliced bread loaves and muffins were laid out for the taking as well.  I was really tempted to grab a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin.  I’m a sucker for chocolate.

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Finally, if you wanted bread goods for breakfast, there were croissants, bagels and white and wheat toast set up next to the toaster.  The usual suspects of cream cheese, butter and jelly could be found to accompany your bread product.

The set up for breakfast wasn’t tremendous, but it definitely was enough of an option to provide a traveler with more than enough to fill them up before traveling further afield.  What I enjoyed about the Maple Leaf Lounge was how airy and open it was.  This was definitely a space that you can go to relax and unwind before your flight.  It may not have been the most luxurious or scrumptious airline lounge I’ve ever been in, but I’ve definitely seen worse.  I was just grateful to be able to step into the lounge for a few minutes, grab some fruit and some drinks and power up for my flight to Hawaii.  It’s time for the vacation to begin.

The Daily Grill – Westin LAX

June 26, 2015

Last year, my husband and I took a week long trip to Hawaii, the islands of Hawaii and Oahu, to be exact, and we fell in love.  Well, not with each other, that part was already done, with the islands.  The beauty of the land, the colors of the ocean, the friendliness of the people, the magnificence of the sights and the awesomeness of Mother Nature.  We couldn’t get enough of Hawaii.  When we came back home, we told everyone who would listen how wonderful it was.  It turns out, my husband’s mother was paying attention and decided after listening to our stories that she really wanted to go and see Hawaii for herself.  She came up with the idea of having a family trip to Hawaii that included myself and my husband, both of his parents, and his sister and her husband.  So, we made plans to travel to Hawaii together, to see the sights and experience the land and all she had to offer.  The plan was for the rest of my husband’s family to fly into Los Angeles where we would all meet up before flying out together from Los Angeles to Hawaii.  We decided that with an early morning flight to Hawaii, and with my husband’s family flying in late the evening before, we would all spend the night at an airport hotel so that we wouldn’t have to travel far to get to the airport the next day.  The Westin LAX was our one night, pre-trip accommodation.  Since my husband and I already live in Los Angeles, we just had to get ourselves to the airport where we would await the arrival of his family.  On the evening of our stay at the hotel, we had rushed over to the hotel as soon as we were both done with work for the day.  After having checked in and gotten settled, there was nothing left to do but wait for my husband’s family’s flight to arrive at LAX.  Since we had some time to kill, and since neither of us had eaten, we decided to grab a meal at the hotel’s restaurant.

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Even though we were dining inside of a hotel, the restaurant that serviced the hotel wasn’t just your standard hotel restaurant.  The Westin LAX featured The Daily Grill, a well-known restaurant with several locations in Southern California and throughout the country.  Serving classic American fare made from scratch, the Daily Grill, as a concept, has been around since 1989.  My husband and I were hungry and we were looking for hearty fare.

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A popular restaurant, not only with hotel guests, it’s also a popular meeting spot for business meetings and with the local after-work crowd who take advantage of the restaurant’s full bar and happy hour offerings.  On a Friday night, we were lucky to grab a table at the height of the evening rush.  We just wanted to get a meal in before my husband’s family’s flight arrived at LAX.

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Strawberry lemonade sounded like a nice refreshing way to start my meal.  The Daily Grill says that their strawberry lemonade is fresh squeezed, and it certainly tasted like it was.  The flavor of the strawberry was subtle but it sweetened the lemonade enough to balance out the tart and tang of the lemons.  I also enjoyed the fact that the flavors of the sweet and the tart were balanced so much so that the drink didn’t overpower the rest of my meal, as sometimes a strong lemonade can be apt to do.

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Fresh, hot and crusty sourdough bread and butter showed up at the table.  My husband and I were so hungry that we pretty much devoured the bread in one fell swoop.  Hot out-of-the-oven bread just can’t be beat.  The sourdough scent was strong and yeasty and the bread was so crusty on the outside, but light and airy and warm on the inside.

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My husband wanted to order the cutting board as an appetizer to start our meal.  Described as the chef’s selection of cured meats and artisan cheeses, my husband couldn’t resist.  Besides, we figured that meat and cheese would be light enough as to not spoil the rest of our meal.  The cutting board was actually served on a cutting board, which was a nice touch, and came with some toasted bread, candied walnuts, whole grain mustard and coronations, prosciutto, thin-sliced salami, blue cheese, and sharp white cheddar.  I really enjoyed the bread, which I found to be quite tasty with some sort of garlic butter spread.  My husband really enjoyed the blue cheese whereas I liked the white cheddar which I felt had aged nicely.  It’s hard to not like salami and prosciutto.  And surprisingly, I enjoyed the candied walnuts which I think added the perfect crunch and sweetness to the cutting board.

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For his meal, my husband ordered a prix fixe, three-course meal that offered the choice of soup or salad, a choice of entrée, and a choice of dessert.  The price was fantastic, and for what he received, the value was terrific.  My husband’s meal started out with a simple mixed green salad with carrots, cherry tomatoes and croutons all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  Nothing flashy and amazing, but a pretty good size for a salad starter.

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My entrée was braised short rib.  Boneless short rib served with horseradish mashed potatoes and caramelized onion au jus sounded intriguing to me and I’ve always been a fan of short ribs.  First off, the braised short rib itself was outstanding.  Braised long enough to be incredibly tender that the touch of a fork and the short rib pretty much fell apart.  The flavor of the short rib was terrific and there was double the amount of meat on the plate than I had expected.  The caramelized onion au jus was fantastic and added a great depth of flavor to not only the short ribs but the horseradish mashed potatoes as well.  I also thought that the addition of the crispy onion strings gave the dish the perfect amount of crunch and texture contrast to offset the tender meat and the soft mashed potatoes.  Now, the horseradish mashed potatoes sounded most interesting and they tasted amazing.  If you like the hot, spicy bite of horseradish, then these mashed potatoes would be for you.  They were strong, and a few bites and my sinuses cleared right up.  These were certainly not mashed potatoes for the faint of heart, but the strong bite of the horseradish was cooled a bit by the delicious caramelized onion au jus.  If I was looking for a hearty meal, this was exactly what I was looking for.

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For his starter, my husband chose the filet mignon & shrimp.  The menu described the dish as pan seared shrimp with garlic sauce and a filet mignon cooked to your preferred done-ness served alongside spinach mashed potatoes.  My husband found the filet mignon to be tender and flavorful and cooked exactly as he had ordered it.  He thought the meat had great char on it from the grill and that added great flavor.  However, for him, the star of the dish was the pan seared shrimp.  After one bite, my husband told me I had to try one of his shrimp because they were so good.  I couldn’t deny how wonderful they tasted.  Cooked in a terrific garlic sauce, the shrimp were buttery and tender and full of garlic and lemon flavor.  My husband said it reminded him a bit of the garlic shrimp we were on our way to enjoy in Hawaii.  The spinach mashed potatoes were almost an after thought on my husband’s dish, but after he had one bite of the potatoes he raved over how delicious the spinach mashed potatoes were.  All in all, my husband had a delicious meal that he was more than pleased with.

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The dessert choice that my husband picked was strawberry shortcake.  We had assumed that the dessert that came with the meal would be a small, single-serving desert.  We were quite surprised with the large size of the strawberry shortcake that was delivered to the table.  Sliced fresh strawberries topped over a homemade biscuit with strawberry sauce and homemade whipped cream was how the menu described the dessert.  The homemade biscuit was terrific, golden brown on the outside with a thick, but airy inside with just a hint of sweetness.  The strawberry sauce and the fresh sliced strawberries were subtly sweet, which was good, so that the sauce didn’t overpower everything with sugary sweetness.  Finally, the whipped cream with just a touch of sweetness to it, rounded everything out perfectly.  this was a terrific ending to our meal.  And perfect timing as well as my husband’s family arrived at the airport just as we were finishing up our dessert.

Walking into the Daily Grill, we didn’t quite know what to expect.  It was, after all, an airport hotel restaurant, even though it was a well-known chain restaurant.  What we got in terms of quality and taste of food was much more than we had expected.  My husband even said that he was “thoroughly amazed by the quality of the meal.”  The food was hearty, delicious, made-from-scratch American classics, just as advertised.  Having not eaten anything all day, we were looking for a filling meal, and we surely walked out of the Daily Grill stuffed and satiated.  A full night’s rest on the menu, and we’d be ready the next day for our flight to Hawaii.

Brunch at Fig & Olive

June 23, 2015

Another weekend, another brunch?  My husband and I had already recently visited Cliff’s Edge in Silver Lake for brunch in their adult treehouse, and we had been to A.O.C. Wine Bar in West Hollywood to dine in their outdoor garden patio with the amazing food from their wood-burning oven, this time, we were looking for something a little different.  My husband came to me with an idea to go to a restaurant that he and I had been to for dinner a couple of times, but had never visited during the light of day.  I loved the restaurant’s indoor-outdoor setting and intimate dining arrangements for dinner, I was curious as to how different, or perhaps not, it would feel for brunch rather than a romantic dinner.

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Fig & Olive, located on Melrose Place in West Hollywood, is a restaurant that my husband had taken me for a birthday dinner a couple of years ago.  Since that time, we’ve been back to Fig & Olive for dinner a couple of times, but I’d never considered coming back for brunch.  In fact, until my husband mentioned to me that he wanted to try Fig & Olive for brunch on Sunday morning, I didn’t even know they were open for brunch.  In the light of day, what is a beautiful, twinkling white light lit restaurant at night that gives off an aura of intimacy turns into a convivial, Mediterranean-inspired setting with ceiling fans, and rattan light fixtures and the fragrance of fresh rosemary growing inside the restaurant whose dining room revolves around a gorgeous olive tree.  With long benches with fluffy padding and beautiful soft throw pillows strewn about, Fig & Olive really does lend itself to being a terrific brunch location for a nice, relaxing and lazy weekend morning.

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For my husband, looking over the drink menu during brunch is a no brainer, he already knows what he’s going to order. For me, the classic person who has a tough time making a decision with the easiest of choices, the more choices there are, the harder it is for me. At Fig & Olive, I vacillated back and forth over whether I should order a coffee drink or some other sort of drink. When I saw the menu, there was a mocktail that had caught my eye, the banane et orange, drink made with freshly squeezed orange juice, muddled banana, fresh ginger and lemon juice with clover honey. It sounded like such an interesting combination that I had to order it. To my dismay, after I placed my drink order and waited several minutes, the waiter came back to the table to tell me that he was very sorry, but the bar didn’t have the ingredients on hand to make my drink, so I needed order something else. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in this drink that they wouldn’t have it on hand. I was quite disappointed that in the end I decided to just settle on the same drink my husband ordered, a glass of house made orange juice. The orange juice was refreshing and delicious, but in the end orange juice is just orange juice and really nothing special.

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My husband and I have dined at Fig & Olive a couple of times for dinner, but never for brunch so, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. One of our favorite parts of dining in the evening is the olive oil tasting that precedes every meal. To our great delight, they still offered the rosemary bread with the variety of different olive oils as a starter during brunch. From the top of the picture to the bottom, we enjoyed Spanish, Greek and Portuguese olive oils. The Spanish was described as light and buttery, the Greek emitted a citrus flavor as it was scented with lemon peel, and the Portuguese was described as full bodied. The bread, as usual, was fabulous and a perfect vessel to taste the different olive oils. Personally, my favorite was the light and buttery Spanish olive oil. My husband was a fan of the citrusy Greek olive oil. However, we both agreed that we would have been happy with any of the three different kinds of olive oils. What we love about this tasting session is that you really can taste the differences, even subtle differences, between the different olive oils. It’s true, not all olive oil is created the same.

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With this brunch meal, we skipped any of the pleasantries of an appetizer or a starter and went straight for the food. While I debated back and forth as to whether or not I wanted breakfast fare, or a heartier lunch meal, my husband was pretty straight forward in that he was looking for breakfast fare. His selection, ultimately, was the truffle mushroom fontina scrambled eggs. I mistakenly thought that this would be simple scrambled eggs, but it was anything but. Served in a sizzling cast iron skillet, the scrambled eggs were mixed with a combination of cremini and black trumpet mushrooms. A blend of both mascarpone and fontina cheese were then added into the skillet as well as some scallions. The egg dish was then finished off with white truffle olive oil. First off, my husband loved the mixture of the mushrooms and the large quantity of mushrooms used in the egg scrambler – this is probably because I don’t like mushrooms and won’t cook with them at home. The egg scrambler, as it really was more of an egg scrambler than classic scrambled eggs, was perfect cooked, according to my husband. The eggs were light and fluffy – not undercooked nor overcooked. With the addition of the mascarpone cheese which created a creamy texture and the creamy smooth flavor of the fontina cheese, my husband loved the mixture – but again, there’s nothing with cheese that my husband wouldn’t love. And finally, the white truffle olive oil was a perfect finishing touch to the eggs. The truffle oil was perfect, not too strong or overpowering, but the flavor of the truffles was definitely present. My husband absolutely loved his choice of this dish for brunch.

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As a complete sucker for smoked salmon, my husband had to order a side of cured salmon to go with his scrambled eggs. Of course, for him, cured salmon goes well with anything, or on its own without any sort of accompaniment. My husband really liked the addition of the fennel fronds on the cured salmon slices, he thought that it really added some nice flavor. Apparently the licorice flavor of the fennel complimented the salmon well and he liked the salmon better when eaten together with the fennel.

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Normally, if there were any sort of eggs Benedict dish on the menu, that would be the dish my husband would order. But this time, I mentioned first off the bat that I was interested in the Benedict dish, and since my husband didn’t want us to both order the same dish, he decided on the scrambled eggs instead. After I ultimately decided to order a breakfast dish instead of a heavier lunch dish, I ordered the crab cake eggs Benedict. The Benedict was made toasted crostone bread, crab cake, sautéed spinach with shallots and cipollini onions all topped with a poached egg. Tomato and paprika Hollandaise sauce was served in a ramekin on the side. Served on the side of the Benedict was roasted potatoes. First off, I loved the tomato paprika Hollandaise sauce. For me, the Hollandaise sauce is usually the part of the eggs Benedict that I like the least because the sauce is generally too thick for me. What I really enjoyed about the tomato paprika Hollandaise here is that it was really thin, it was like a light sauce instead of a thick, heavy sauce. I also liked that the sauce was served on the side so you could decide how much you wanted to put over the eggs Benedict, and the sauce didn’t just soak through the bread to make it all soggy, which I absolutely hate. The taste of the crab cake was terrific, nice and hot and fluffy inside and crispy and perfectly golden brown on the outside. I also liked that the Benedict was made with crusty, crunchy crostone bread rather than a softer English muffin or something else like that. The addition of the sautéed spinach worked really well with the crab cake and the bread and helped to bring the dish together. And of course, you can’t forget the poached egg, perfectly poached with a completely runny egg inside. It was fantastic and tasty. A great selection for brunch.

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To prove the point that my husband loves truffle oil, he couldn’t resist ordering a side of skinny fries with truffle oil to go with our meals. The skinny fries were perfectly fried to a nice crispy texture with a slightly soft potato texture on the inside. The seasoning of the truffle oil was perfect, not too heavy that it overpowered the taste of the fries, but not too light that you couldn’t taste it either. The perfect finger food side dish.

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By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out that it doesn’t matter that this is brunch, my husband and I are always going to be interested in what’s offered on the dessert menu. For my choice, I ordered the chocolate pot de creme – a dessert I’ve ordered before at Fig & Olive. Creamy, vanilla cream atop a mousse-like chocolate pot de creme. Perfectly flavored with a nice chocolate touch but without being too sweet in flavor, the chocolate mousse paired perfectly with the slightly sweetened vanilla cream. The accompanying crunchy praline financier was a real treat, with a slight hazelnut flavor and a crispy, crunchy texture, it was a great little cookie to dip into the chocolate pot de creme. Nothing was too sweet or over the top, and this was a great finishing dish for my brunch.

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My husband chose a dessert that I knew would interest him as soon as I saw it on the menu, the green apple sorbet. Not that my husband loves green apples, but he does love fruit sorbets, and this dessert was just something different than anything else being offered. The thing that sealed the deal for my husband was the fact that the dish was accompanied by Picholine olive oil syrup. Along with the green apple sorbet was citrus segments and fresh mint. The pairing of the citrus segments and the tart green apple went well together, with a little bit of fresh mint to cut through the acidity. But it was the Picholine olive oil syrup served in a carafe on the side so that you could drizzle as much, or as little, of the syrup over the dessert plate as you wanted, that my husband really enjoyed. The flavorful olive oil created a smooth flavor that rounded out and accentuated the green apple and the acidic citrus fruits. This was definitely a palate cleansing type of dessert.

My husband and I really loved dining at Fig & Olive for brunch. The restaurant itself is gorgeous with a very elegant, yet comfortable interior. The sunlight shining through and accenting the beautiful olive tree in the middle of the restaurant just helped lend itself to the Mediterranean feel of the restaurant. During brunch, the restaurant feels much more relaxed and casual than it does at night when it feels much more elegant. The selection of both an extensive breakfast and lunch menu was terrific, and provided for a greater option of food choices than I’ve seen on the menu at any of the other brunch locales my husband and I have dined at recently. For me, I like this better as I am someone who really enjoys the heavier fare for lunch rather than a light breakfast option. My husband said that for overall experience – the food, the atmosphere, the convenience factor – that his pick of favorite brunch spot out of all of the places we’ve been to over the past few months is Fig & Olive. That sounds like a winning selection for me. Now, when are we going to go back for brunch again?

A.O.C. Wine Bar

June 17, 2015

Sometimes you get into a food kick and find yourself eating the same type of food over and over again, or maybe not even the same type of food, but there’s a recurring theme to what you’re eating.  You know there’s Meatless Monday, and Taco Tuesday.  For a period of time earlier this year, my husband and I found ourselves on a “brunch” kick.  We’d find ourselves out to brunch on the weekends on a number of occasions.  For us, brunch is the perfect marriage of what we both enjoy.  My husband enjoys breakfast foods as he’s a lover of egg dishes and fresh baked breads, etc.  For me, I’m not so much a breakfast eater as I like more substantial food, so a heartier lunch menu is more up my alley.  Brunch is the perfect marriage of having a mix of more traditional breakfast menu items with bread and eggs and juice as well as offering a bit of a heartier, heavier fare that could pass as lunch food.

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My husband came across a suggestion for a popular brunch spot located in West Hollywood, only a few blocks away from Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and only a few miles away from where we live.  What sold my husband and I was the fact that the restaurant has and outdoor dining patio which we thought would be a perfect place to dine on a lazy Sunday morning.  A.O.C. Wine Bar was the second in a long line of collaborations between two restaurateurs, Caroline Styne, who runs the business and wine side of the business, and Suzanne Goin, chef and James Beard nominee and award winner who runs the food operation.  While their food empire has expanded and grown many times over, A.O.C. Wine Bar continues to win acclaim as a top-notch wine bar featuring a multitude of wine by the glass and small plates meant to be shared family-style.  A.O.C.’s brunch menu leans heavily on a wide range of menu items that come out of their wood-burning oven and also includes their famed small bites meant to be shared.

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While my husband and I had made brunch reservations specifically requesting a table in their garden patio, I was a bit concerned heading over to the restaurant because this happened to be one of those rare Southern California days when rain was forecasted and expected to fall during our brunch.  It would be a shame to forced indoors when we were so looking forward to outdoor patio dining.  We were quite surprised and delighted when we arrived to A.O.C. to discover that their outdoor patio and garden area was actually a completely enclosed area.  It gave the appearance of an outdoor dining space that was designed to look and feel like you were dining al fresco on the back porch and garden area of someone’s home, full of light and color and atmosphere, but yet enclosed by some sort of frosted plexi-glass type ceiling structure that protected you from any of the outside elements.  It was a cozy, comfortable and relaxing place to enjoy a lazy Sunday morning brunch.

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Brunch leaves you a bit limited sometimes as far as drink selection goes.  Ok, there’s the Bloody Mary or Mimosa or some other cocktail drink, but that’s not quite how I roll.  My husband, the ultimate lover of orange juice took one look at the drink menu and immediately decided that the fresh squeezed orange juice was good enough for him.  He’s a sucker for fresh squeezed orange juice and never fails to pass up on an opportunity for a glass of it.  Tart, tangy and a bit citrusy sweet is all he needs.  I’m more of the caffeine lover, so a handcrafted latte was my order.  I liked that instead of packets of sugar, I was offered a cubed raw brown sugar to help sweeten my strong brew.  It’s the little things that I enjoy.

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As we perused the brunch menu, my husband zeroed in on an item from the charcuterie section of the menu that he told that he really wanted to try, the bacon-wrapped dates & parmesan.  My husband knows that I’m not a fan of dates, and we’ve been other places before where he ordered bacon-wrapped dates and I declined to have any, so I told him this was all for him.  A cute little plate was brought to our table with some bacon-wrapped dates and a garnish of parsley that was almost as big as the little plate was.  My husband picked up the first bacon-wrapped date, popped it in his mouth and couldn’t stop gushing over how amazing the little bite-sized dates were.  He described how delicious the bacon was, perfectly salty and thick enough to have some meat on it, and how sweet the dates were and then the finish of a salty bite with the parmesan cheese stuffed inside the date.  This was to be the first of the items we ordered that were cooked in A.O.C.’s wood burning oven, which we quickly came to realize really enhanced the flavor of everything they served.  My husband urged me to give these little dates a try and even cut one up in half for me to nibble on.  I gave in and decided to give it a try and discovered, much to my surprise, that it was quite tasty.  My husband was right, it’s something about the wood-burning oven and the bacon that just transformed the bacon into something wonderful.  After that one half-bite of date, I decided to even have my own whole bacon-wrapped date.  I could see what the appeal in these little puppies was.  It was really tasty.

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Our next item was something that, again, I’d probably not order on my own, but was something that I had heard was to-die-for and I knew my husband would really like, grilled blueberry bread with lemon butter.  This was to be the second out-of-this world item that we ordered to come out of A.O.C.’s wood-burning oven that absolutely blew us away.  For my husband, the ultimate lover of blueberries and admirer of lemons, this dish was right up his alley.  Fresh baked bread grilled to a nice crunchy crispness right out of the wood-burning oven served with a side of lemon butter, there’s too much in this dish to resist.  I do not like blueberries, but I have to admit that the aroma wafting off the bread when it was brought to our table was too much to resist.  The bread was absolutely fantastic, warm and crusty and crunchy and perfectly grilled.  The grilling of the blueberries really brought out the sweetness in the berries and almost caramelized them in a way.  The lemon butter was fantastic, creamy and rich but with that citrus, acidic tang to balance out the sweetness.  The combination of the acidic lemon with the caramelized sweetness of the blueberries was a match made in heaven.  My husband said that this bread reminded I’m of being a kid, so it brought back some good memories for him.  The idea of grilled blueberry bread and lemon butter is such a simple one, but at A.O.C. it’s executed so perfectly that it makes you wonder why you’ve never had fresh baked bread so good in your life.

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For brunch, my husband chose the omelette with Gruyère, croutons and salsa verde served with a side of fried potatoes and toast.  My husband really liked this classic French preparation to his omelette.  The addition of the croutons inside the omelette gave the omelette great crunch. and of course the nutty flavor of the Gruyère was a great addition.  And the salsa verde added some needed saltiness to the omelette.  Overall, the omelette was cooked well and very tasty.  And of course, my husband really liked the grilled, crusty bread that came with his meal.  Everything that came out of A.O.C.’s wood-fired oven was such a treat.

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To go along with our dishes, my husband and I ordered a couple of side dishes.  My husband’s dish may have come with fried potatoes, but mine didn’t and I love potatoes, especially for breakfast.  So, I couldn’t help but ordering some as a side dish.  These potatoes were so delicious.  I love that they were of a good size, basically a baby potato that was halved, so it had a lot of meat to it. They were perfectly fried on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.  These fried potatoes looked like homestyle potatoes, but they tasted way better than any potatoes I could ever make at home.  My husband wanted a side of vande rose bacon to go with his meal since he didn’t get any bacon with his meal.  My husband’s first reaction was that the bacon was “amazing!”  And I had to agree.  We both thought that the bacon was perfectly cooked, softy and tasty.  The bacon was perfectly undercooked and we both attributed the great smoky flavor of the bacon to the wood-fired oven.  Great choices for side dishes.

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For my dish, I chose the A.O.C. brioche with melted Gruyère, frisee, prosciutto and a sunny-side up egg.  A little cracked black pepper on my brioche at the table, and this dish looks divine.  First off, the brioche bread was amazing.  I loved the thick cut of the bread so as to stand up to all of the “toppings” on what was essentially an open-faced sandwich.  The brioche had great flavor and I like that it was toasted so that it remained crunchy.  The nutty Gruyère cheese was melted right over the top of the brioche.  You can’t ever go wrong with Gruyère.  Atop the bread and cheese was a bed of frisee that added a perfect touch of bitterness to the dish.  Then a little salty prosecution and a perfectly sunny-side up egg.  Cut through the egg to get the yolk runny through the frisee and the brioche and everything on the plate comes together really well.  I thought that the flavors of the cheese and the bread and the prosciutto all together were just a great match, and everything was so perfectly seasoned.  This was just a terrific, and filling dish.

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By the end of our meal, my husband and I were both kind of full, but we wanted to try a dessert, so we decided we’d split a dessert between us.  After looking at our options we chose the butterscotch pot de creme with fleur de sel and salted cashew cookies.  First off, the butterscotch pot de crème was fantastic.  The flavor wasn’t too rich or to sweet, and the pot de crème had the perfect consistency.  The homemade whipped cream was also unsweetened, which was perfect as it also helped to balance out the flavor of the butterscotch and create a creamy consistency to the pot de crème.  My husband loved the salted cashew cookies as they served as the perfect vessel to scoop a couple of spoonful’s worth of butterscotch pot de crème before he popped the cookie into his mouth.  I also thought that the flavor of the cookies was terrific, chewy inside and crunchy on the outside, and I don’t even like nuts.  The addition of the fleur de sel with the pot de crème was great as it again helped tame the sweetness of the butterscotch as well as adding just a finish touch of saltiness to each spoonful of the pot de crème.  I really enjoyed this dessert much more than I had anticipated that I would.

Our brunch at A.O.C. Wine Bar was fantastic.  My husband and I both loved the atmosphere of sitting in restaurant’s outdoor garden patio.  We had made reservations for brunch in advance and arrived just as the restaurant opened, and while initially there weren’t very many people at the restaurant for brunch, after about an hour, people started streaming in, seemingly undeterred by the rain that was really starting to come down.  At that point, we were glad we had made reservations.  During our entire brunch, we both kept saying that we wanted to come back to A.O.C. in the future for dinner because if their dinner menu was half as good as their brunch menu, we’d be more than satisfied.  The wood burning oven that A.O.C. uses for their breads and other dishes produced food that we both found to-die-for.  Their blueberry bread with the lemon butter was a true winner.  My husband and I both agreed that we thought that A.O.C. was a better brunch experience for us than Cliff’s Edge if we were comparing our dining experience.  First off, for us A.O.C. was a lot closer to home and easier to get to.  And while both restaurants featured outdoor dining, we really enjoyed the garden patio set up at A.O.C. more, not to take anything away from the adult treehouse feel off Cliff’s Edge, but A.O.C. was more our scene.  And finally the food, A.O.C. was the winner by a hair, and that’s strictly due to their wood-burning oven.  Believe me, my husband and I will be back at A.O.C. again as I don’t think we can stay away.

 

Cliff’s Edge

June 11, 2015

My husband, who has a knack of finding hidden gems, suggested one day that we try a new place for brunch on Sunday.  He had heard of this particular spot as it was named in a survey has one of the Top 10 urban brunch spots in the United States.  After looking at the restaurant’s website and seeing a sample brunch menu, I figured it seemed pretty decent.  I was curious in the fact that the restaurant was in a part of town that I’d rarely been to, and even when I have been there its only been to drive through the community, but had much been interested in.  From what I understand, this neighborhood, known as Silver Lake, is a young, up and coming neighborhood filled with independent boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants.  In the early 2000s, Silver Lake, experienced gentrification, and since then the community has drawn young professionals and a wide, ethnically-diverse population.

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Cliff’s Edge is the brainchild of 3 Los Angeles based friends who wanted to open a unique dining destination in the heart of Silver Lake.  The focal point of the restaurant is a gorgeous outdoor dining patio situated around a large ancient tree with multi-tiered seating arrangements making you almost feel like you’re dining in an upscale, casual treehouse.  The restaurant’s constantly changing seasonal menu takes advantage of local produce and seasonal fruits.  The philosophy of Cliff’s Edge is to create a menu that is “rustic, elegant food, with an emphasis on fresh, local produce, and simple preparation that enhances the bright flavors of the ingredients.”

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On the weekends, Cliff’s Edge is jam packed with the brunch crowd who dine al fresco on the restaurant’s outdoor patio under the shade of the ancient tree and take advantage of Los Angeles’ nearly year-long sunshine.  The outdoor patio takes advantage of the areas local greenery to create an inviting atmosphere that makes you forget that you’re even in Los Angeles right along busy Sunset Blvd.  In fact, this outdoor patio was named in Los Angeles Magazine’s list of the Best of Los Angeles as the Best Patio in 2014.  Stepping into the Cliff’s Edge patio, you quickly feel like you’ve been transported to a new world.  I’d describe as dining in an adult treehouse.

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Brunch calls for a morning coffee drink.  Normally, I’m not big on ordering coffee at restaurants, as I figure I can get my coffee fix at Starbucks.  But, soda seems not appropriate so early in the morning, and my husband wasn’t interested in a morning cocktail, so I went with a cafe latte.  This little cup of espresso topped with steamed, frothy milk was quite the eye-opening pick me up.  Hot and extremely strong, this was probably one of the strongest latte’s I’ve had.  While good, I probably could have done with a little bit more sweetness (though I didn’t bother to ask for sugar) and something a little less strong.  But that’s more personal preference than anything.  The strength of the latte certainly didn’t keep me from finishing my drink.

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My husband started his meal with one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and one of the dishes mentioned in the article where Cliff’s Edge was named one of America’s Best Urban Brunch Spots, the lemon and ricotta pancakes.  Topped with honey blueberry sauce, these pancakes were fantastic.  My husband probably fell in love with it at first sight, he can’t resist the view of all that blueberry sauce!  But at first bite, he was hooked.  Hot off the griddle the lemon ricotta pancakes were fantastic.  The pancakes were perfectly cooked with a terrific fluffy quality to them.  They tasted of fresh lemon and I’m pretty sure the batter used both lemon juice and lemon zest.  The lemon taste and flavor was present in every bite, but not too strong and not too much.  The lemon essence was just perfect.  The ricotta in the pancakes could be seen, and tasted, interspersed into the pancake batter.  So every few bites you could see the ricotta and taste its creamy goodness, it was a great contrast to the lemon flavor.  The pancakes were much larger than we expected them to be, and had we known it was this big of an order, we probably would have shared the dish as my husband was full just trying to finish the pancakes.  My husband loved the honey blueberry sauce and felt that the pancakes were much better with the sauce.  And though I don’t like blueberries, I had to agree.  The combination of the slightly sweet honey blueberry sauce with the tang and acidity of the lemon paired together perfectly.  The sauce itself was packed with actual blueberries and not just blueberry juice, and my husband whose favorite food is blueberries absolutely gobbled the whole thing up.

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I started my meal with a salad of frisee lardon.  Frisee greens tossed in a red wine vinaigrette topped with bacon lardons, chives and garlic croutons is finished off with a poached egg.  First off, the poached egg is perfectly poached, the egg whites are soft and firm on the outside and the yolk is runny and creamy on the inside.  Cut open the poached egg and let the yolk run out over the salad and it creates just another level of flavor to the salad that’s just perfect.  The lardons a great protein for the salad.  Instead of bacon which can be too crispy and salty, the lardons have more body and are thicker, almost like thick cut pancetta, and they aren’t quite as salty as bacon would be.  The lardon combined with the egg yolk add a nice flavor and texture combo to the salad.  I’m a huge fan of croutons, in fact, the more croutons the better, in my opinion, and these garlic croutons are terrific.  The slight garlic hint to them adds just another level of flavor and they actually balance the chopped chives and their onion flavor quite well. For a starter, I liked the idea of frisee, it was nice and light and slightly bitter in taste, which is how it should be.  It was crisp and fresh, too, which really shined through.  My one complaint with this salad was in the red wine vinaigrette and that it was just too overpowering and a little bit too much.  First off, there was lots of vinaigrette, and while I love salad dressing, this was drowning just a bit.  When there’s also poached egg with a delicious egg yolk, you just don’t need that much vinaigrette.  Secondly, the red wine vinaigrette packed such a flavor punch that it overpowered all the other flavors in the salad.  There was so much acidity and vinegar to the vinaigrette that the creamy, sweet flavor of the egg yolk, and the garlic in the croutons and even the slight saltiness in the lardons was getting lost in it all.

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For our entrée, it wasn’t a surprise to me at all that my husband ordered the eggs Benedict.  He’s a sucker for Benedict and will order it whenever he sees it on the menu.  Eggs Benedict at Cliff’s Edge is made with poached eggs on top of prime smoked meats Canadian bacon and finished with Hollandaise sauce.  My husband devoured his eggs Benedict, and I never took a bite, so I’m going to assume he liked it well enough.  My husband said that the Canadian bacon had great flavor, and what he really liked about it is that it was thick, so there was lots of good flavor to it.  And for the guy that doesn’t like sauce generally on anything, he really liked this Hollandaise sauce.  There was a sprinkling of what we think is a bit of paprika over the top of the eggs Benedict, which gave the Hollandaise sauce that extra little oomph of flavor.  Overall, the eggs Benedict was quite flavorful and filling.

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With my entrée, I went a bit of a different route ordering the pork belly hash.  I’ll admit that what was brought out to the table was not exactly what I pictured when I ordered pork belly hash.  I was thinking a dry, crispy, crunchy pork belly hash.  What I was served was almost a bit more like a stew for hash, it was certainly not crispy and crunchy.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.  The pork belly hash was made with bacon, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, herbs, feta cheese and all topped with a fried egg.  Again, the addition of the egg atop the hash was quite interesting, and quite tasty.  I liked it, especially when you cut it all up and mix it into the hash.  The hash was incredibly flavorful and the pork belly was tender, and delicious.  I loved it.  The combination with the potatoes, which just soaked up all of the flavors, and the addition of Brussel sprouts which added a great fresh vegetable flavor was terrific.  The idea of using feta was interesting.  I would never have thought of feta for this dish, but in the end the salty flavor of the feta actually worked in the hash to add flavor.  The one thing I didn’t expect about the hash was that it was quite spicy, almost a bit too spicy for my taste, almost.  But I pushed through, because the flavors of the vegetables and the hint of salt from the feta helped cut down on the spice in the hash.  Not quite what I was originally expecting, but still tasty none the less.

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As if we hadn’t had enough to eat for brunch, my husband and I can’t pass up a good dessert.  It would be blasphemous to not at least browse through the dessert menu.  So, of course, we just had to try something.  We decided to split the Valrhona chocolate tart.  The tart is made with dark chocolate ganache inside the tart shell, topped with chocolate orange crumble, orange curd, coffee sauce and homemade whipped cream.  First off, the chocolate orange crumble and the orange curd are fantastic.  It’s almost like having candied orange, and the flavor of the orange with the dark chocolate ganache is perfect.  Orange and chocolate pair perfectly together.  The tart shell is actually quite flaky and buttery with a great taste that isn’t dry.  The dark chocolate ganache is silky and smooth, almost mousse-like, which means that it stands up inside the tart shell and isn’t this runny mess.  The homemade whipped cream actually adds just the hint of sweetness that the dark chocolate needs so that it isn’t too bitter in flavor.  I’m not the biggest fan of tarts, but I must say that the flavor combinations in this tart, especially the chocolate and orange are en pointe and incredibly tasty without being too sweet.

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My husband and I left Cliff’s Edge completely satisfied with our brunch.  While the location of the restaurant is a bit funky and located next to a 99 cent only store, and the parking is a bit of a hassle, the restaurant itself is like an oasis in the desert.  When you walk through the doors of the restaurant, you’re transported to a completely new world.  You would never imagine that you were in the urban jungle of Los Angeles.  Instead, it feels like walking into a bit of a tree house atmosphere.  You almost feel like you’re dining in an adult tree house, that’s exactly how I described it to friends.  Brunch is a perfect way to enjoy, and appreciate, Cliff’s Edge’s outdoor dining patio.  And their menu is creative, fun, and really delicious.  The lemon and ricotta pancakes are a true winner, and my husband and I were satisfied with everything we ordered.  I definitely see why Cliff’s Edge was named one of the Top 10 urban brunch spots in the United States.  You’d never guess that you’re only a stone’s through from the concrete and glass jungle of the downtown Los Angeles high rises.  This funky little restaurant is in winner that fits in perfectly with the funky and eclectic neighborhood of Silver Lake.  I recommended the restaurant to some of my co-workers the following day at work, and I know that one of my coworkers was interested enough that she decided to give Cliff’s Edge a try.  I’m happy to say that she too enjoyed their terrific food and wonderful atmosphere.  I don’t often find myself in that part of town, but I would definitely eat at Cliff’s Edge again if I’m ever in the neighborhood.

Tar & Roses

June 9, 2015

I think that my husband would agree with the notion that of the two of us, I’m the one who is more of the foodie.  I have food on my mind all the time, always thinking about the next meal, the next dish, the next dessert.  And yet, it seems that it’s always my husband whose the one coming up with suggestions for new restaurants or eateries for us to try.  My husband claims that he doesn’t ever really care where we eat or what we eat, but secretly, I think he enjoys the excitement of trying new places as much as I do, or else why would he bother seeking out new restaurants for us to try out all the time?  One such occasion came about when my husband was trying to find a new restaurant to take me for a birthday celebration.  Mind you, I don’t just celebrate my birthday, I celebrate my birth month!  So my husband has to come up with all sorts of ideas to keep me entertained and well-fed for my birth month.  One Friday afternoon during my birth month, my husband sent me a text message to let me know that he had made reservations for Sunday dinner at a restaurant rated as the #1 restaurant in Santa Monica on TripAdvisor.

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Tar & Roses is the first foray into being a chef and owner of his own restaurant for Andrew Kirschner.  Krischner, a Santa Monica residence returns home to open a restaurant that brings together his highly refined skills with using exotic game meat, sustainable food, bold flavors and merging “classical cuisine with modern sensibilities.”  Only open for dinner service 7 days a week, this small, but very quaint restaurant with an open kitchen creates for an inviting and intimate dining experience.  With a bit of an Italian-inpsired menu and a wood-burning oven which uses a rotating selection of aromatic wood, the restaurant also specializes in craft beer and speciality wines, all of which reflect the well traveled experiences of Kirschner himself.

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Tar & Roses had a fully-stocked bar, but also offered a great selection of beer and wine. After looking through the options, there was a beer that my husband saw that caught his eye. It’s a beer that he tried for the first time month’s earlier at a different restaurant we dined at, and he really enjoyed. Made by Belgian monks at a monastery in Belgium, Chimay is one of the most popular Belgian beers. My husband couldn’t help ordering a bottle of Chimay for dinner. Served in the bottle at the table, the beer is then poured into a special Chimay beer glass. The beer was just as tasty as my husband remembered for his first experience with Chimay. With a more limited non-alcoholic drink menu, I opted for a bottle of Mexican coke with real cane sugar. Can’t ever go wrong with this option.

As a tapas-style restaurant, we knew going in that we’d be ordering a lot of different dishes since we wanted to try out a lot of different items. How else do you get a feel for the restaurant without trying a bunch of their dishes. We warned our waiter that we’d be ordering a lot of food, and he reminded us that we had definitely ordered a lot of food. Good thing we were hungry!

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My husband was particularly excited about his choice of ordering the popped corn off of Tar & Roses “snacks” menu. Essentially this is regular popcorn, but flavored with crisp bacon, brown sugar and chili. The brown sugar is heated and melted with the chili to create a sort of syrup or glaze. The popcorn and bacon are then coated in this brown sugar and chili glaze that is allowed to cool thereby creating a sticky and flavorful popcorn treat. I was interested as to how this would taste as the combination of brown sugar and chili was a bit different, plus there was popcorn and bacon. The texture of the popped corn was almost like caramel corn in feel, but with a distinctly different flavor. The brown sugar and chili actually worked as the brown sugar helped to add sweetness and cut into the heat from the chili. However, with my very sensitive-to-spicy-things tongue, the chili still got to me. But the popped corn was sweet enough that I could still enjoy the popped corn, even with the spice. The bacon flavor was also quite prevalent in the popped corn, and with every few kernels of pop corn, you got little bits of bacon stuck to the popcorn, which also added the saltiness to the dish to balance out the heat and the sugar.

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The next dish to come to the table was another selection of my husband’s from the “snacks” menu, the oxtail dumplings. I will admit that this wasn’t really my first choice in food option, but I figured I could at least give it a try to leave the rest to my husband to eat. Stewed oxtail meat was wrapped inside a ravioli and boiled and finished in some sort of a rich sauce. 4 raviolis per order, each oxtail dumpling was served with scallions and chili. For me, I think the chili suspiciously looked and tasted like sriracha, which I am not a fan of at all. After carefully scraping the chili off of my dumpling, I was finally able to sample my oxtail dumpling. The flavor of the oxtail meat was rich and full. The meat itself was tender and the ravioli was a great way to present the dumpling. While the dish was better than I expected it to be, I wasn’t instantly in love with it either. My husband definitely enjoyed the oxtail dumplings more than I did, but we both figured that would be the case.

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One item I really wanted to order was the bruschetta, charcuterie and cheese plate. With a selection of cured meats and cheeses to choose from in varying combinations, you could choose any combination of 3, 5 or 7 selections. We opted for a selection of 5 different items. First, from the bruschetta menu, I chose the bacon jam with peppadew peppers and lemon. My husband chose from the cheese menu the grayson fro Virginia which is semi-soft, raw cow cheese; the alpha tolman, which is a firm cheese from Vermont also made of raw cow’s milk; and the dry jack special reserve from California which is a hard cow’s milk cheese. Finally from the charcuterie menu I selected prosciutto americano from Iowa. After all, how can you go wrong with prosciutto? The bruschetta, charcuterie and cheese plate comes with some grilled crostini, pickled vegetables, roasted macrona almonds, dried cherry mostarda and membrillo. My husband and I started off splitting the bacon jam bruschetta. Again, as I don’t like peppers, I took the peppadew peppers off of my half of the bruschetta, but I thought that the bacon jam bruschetta was amazing. The bacon flavor you could definitely taste, but in a jam, the overly salty flavor of bacon wasn’t so strong, which was perfect. The lemon gave a little bit of an acidic taste that cut through the richness of the bacon jam. Sometimes, bacon is overused in various food items just because everyone thinks bacon makes everything better, but in this case the bacon jam wasn’t a novelty, it was actually a great accompaniment to the grilled crostini bread. Of the three different cheeses we ordered, my favorite was the hard dry jack special reserve cheese. It had a strong aged flavor to it, but with the subtle hints of jack cheese that were perfect. Using the grilled crostini, topping it off with some of the membrillo, the dry jack special reserve and a little of the prosciutto americano made for the perfect bite, at least for me. My husband enjoyed the other two cheeses more than I did. He liked the semi-soft grayson, whereas I didn’t really enjoy the grayson at all, but I’m also not a big of an of semi-soft and soft cheeses. The alpha tolman, for me, was ok and something I could eat, but not something I would necessarily order. My husband definitely enjoyed the alpha tolman more than I did. But that’s the beauty of being able to order a number of different items on a plate such as this, you get to try a bunch of different flavors and find out what you like and don’t like.

Our next set of dishes came out as a trio of seafood dishes, but all very different, and all with very distinct flavor profiles.

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The first dish was the Singaporean chili crab cake.  As soon as my husband saw this on the menu, he knew he’d be ordering it because it was a reminder of our time in Singapore a few years ago when my husband ordered chili crab spaghettini at Halia at the Singapore Botanical Garden.  Chili crab is the one of the most popular and most well-known dishes to come out of Singapore, and my husband wanted to relive all of those flavors all over again.  At Tar & Roses, their take on the traditional Singapore chili crab was to take a pan-fried crab cake and set it atop a bowl of the chili sauce.  My husband assured me that the chili sauce wasn’t that spicy and I should give the crab cake a try.  I’ll admit, the sauce wasn’t actually too bad – again, not something I would order or want to eat, but to take a forkful or two, it wasn’t too bad.  The crab cake was of a good size and incredibly meaty with wonderful, sweet crab meat.  My husband enjoyed the chili sauce as it added just the right touch of spice and heat to the sweet crab meat of the crab cake.  It was a great representation of what chili crab tasted like when we were in Singapore.

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In keeping with dishes that reminded us of other dishes we’ve had in the past, Tar & Roses was serving a special dish of the day that the chef called North Shore shrimp truck shrimp.  As soon as we heard the waiter describe the dish, my husband and I looked at each other and smiled knowing we’d be ordering this dish.  If it tasted half as good as the shrimp scampi that we ordered from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore of Oahu last year, then this dish was going to be amazing.  The waiter said that chef’s special was inspired by the shrimp trucks of the North Shore of Oahu, made with 6 shell-on shrimp tossed in lemon, oil and lots of garlic along with chili, honey and butter all served over grilled bread.  First off, the shrimp were of an enormous size, these were like giant prawns rather than just shrimp.  Perfectly grilled with a bit of char, the shrimp are set atop perfectly crusty grilled bread and then the garlic, butter, chili and honey sauce is poured over the entire dish.  The shrimp absorb the flavors of the sauce as does the bread which just soaks it all up.  The taste of the dish was outstanding.  I admit that it was a bit spicy with all of the chili as it was just a bit too much for me, but I was still able to enjoy the dish.  The shrimp were tender and succulent and well cooked.  The grilled bread underneath it all was a perfect way to sop up all of the delicious flavors of the dish and were a great accompaniment for the dish.  This was definitely a North Shore shrimp truck-inspired dish and my husband and I were glad that we ordered it.

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The final seafood dish was the smoked trout crostini.  I’ve never been a big fan of smoked fish until the past few months when I’ve had it at a couple of restaurants and really enjoyed, so I thought I’d give it a try at Tar & Roses.  The smoked trout crostini was served with avocado, pickled onion and cilantro all atop a crusty grilled bread.  The crostini was quite large, and even cutting it in half to split with my husband, my half of it was more than plenty.  One bite into the crostini and I knew I made the right decision in ordering it.  The grilled bread was crusty and crunchy and perfect.  The next lawyer was thin-sliced, perfectly ripe and delicious avocado.  It’s creamy goodness blended perfectly with the smoky flavor of the trout that topped the avocado.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had smoked trout before, but if this is any indication of what smoked trout tastes like, you could serve me a ton of it.  It was smoky, and slightly sweet and tender and delicious.  The smoked trough was truly a star of the dish, and everything else on the plate just helped to enhance the flavor of the trout.  The trout was topped with a bit of picked onions, which provided a bit of acidity and tang to the crostini to cut through the sweet trout and the creamy avocado.  Finally a bit of cilantro atop the whole thing for a bit of nutty flavor that just tied the whole dish together.  Personally, the smoked trout crostini might have been my favorite dish of the night.

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We finally got to the main course for the night, the dry aged ribeye for two.  We knew having ordered so much food that we would probably have trouble finishing all of it.  But we also know that with our main course being steak, we could always take it to go if we couldn’t finish it.  Served along size an arugula and parmesan salad lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, the 24 oz ribeye was served medium rare and was already pre-sliced.  Even knowing that this was ribeye for 2, it was still enormous and my husband and I couldn’t finish more than a couple of slices each.  No worries though, I did end up packing up the ribeye and salad to go and had it for lunch the next day and it was still terrific.  The ribeye was incredibly tender, and very flavorful.  This may have been one best steaks I’ve ever ordered.  And the arugula and parmesan salad was just as fantastic with the nice peppery bite from the arugula the saltiness from the parmesan and then the acidic tang from the dressing.  A great, filling dish that my husband and I would have inhaled if we hadn’t already stuffed ourselves previously.

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As a side to this steak, I also ordered a small dish of brussel sprouts with pancetta, chestnuts and mustard.  I’ve grown to love brussel sprouts recently and I couldn’t resist giving them a try at Tar & Roses.  The brussel sprouts were perfectly roasted with a bit of char and browning on the edges which gave it a bit of a crispy exterior which was hiding a sweet, and succulent interior.  Crispy pancetta was sprinkled throughout the dish, and the brussel sprouts were mixed with some nutty chestnuts to help enhance the nutty flavor of the brussel sprouts.  Everything was then tossed with a whole grain mustard dressing.  The mustard was a bit strong and I would have preferred a little more subtle mustard flavor, but I did like the use of whole grain mustard as the whole grains gave the dish some added texture and flavor.  The salty, the sweet, the crispy and crunchy all come together in this beautiful vegetable dish.

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It’s no secret that I, especially, am a glutton for punishment and have no shame when it comes to dessert.  I could be stuffed to the gills, but if the dessert menu is promising, I will somehow, someway, find room.   My husband is generally game too when it comes to desserts.  After looking over the dessert menu at Tar & Roses, neither my husband nor I could resist.  So even though we had to go boxes of food, we still felt the urge to order desserts.  My husband chose the strawberry ricotta crostata with honeycomb ice cream.  First off, I’m sure my husband saw ricotta and thought “cheese!”  Of which he claims that there’s no such thing as bad cheese, and when it’s in a dessert, it must be that much better.  A crostata is kind of like a pie with dough that is baked and some sort of filling inside.  In this case, the semi-sweet sugar coated dough is baked around a filling of sweet, creamy ricotta cheese and topped with fresh sliced strawberries sprinkled with some basil.  On the side is a small mason jar of honeycomb ice cream.  Normally, this wouldn’t be the type of dessert I would order or enjoy, but after my husband encouraged me to try a bit, I was blown away by how yummy it was.  The dough was perfectly golden brown and crispy on the outside and flaky, and warm inside with a nice buttery flavor.  The combination of the ricotta cheese and the fresh sliced strawberries was like heaven, almost like strawberries and cream in texture and consistency.  Combine that with the honeycomb ice cream which tasted like fresh honey, but wasn’t overly sweet, and the dessert was a homerun.  Using fresh sliced strawberries instead of macerated strawberries, I think was the key to keeping the dessert fresh and light and not overly sweet.  Taking everything together, the crostata with the very unique, honeycomb ice cream was fantastic.  It was a light, fresh, delicious and incredibly refreshing dessert.  My husband agreed and couldn’t have been more delighted over his dessert selection.

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For my dessert, I went the chocolate route ordering the chocolate “tar” bar with hazelnut and salted caramel ice cream.  First off, the “tar” bar was some sort of silky smooth chocolate mousse which seemed like it was rolled in cocoa powder all set atop some sort of airy, wafer crust.  The “tar” bar was fantastic, lightly sweetened, and with incredible texture.  I really liked the way that the dessert used cocoa powder to add texture, but also mute some of the sweet flavors of the chocolate.  The addition of pieces of caramel corn on the plate added a nice amount of texture to the dessert that was a contrast to the smooth “tar” bar as well as the creamy salted caramel ice cream.  With the slightly sweetened chocolate-flavored bar, the salted caramel ice cream paired nicely adding just a hint of salt, which actually helped to draw out the sweetness in the chocolate.  It was a good flavor combination.  The sweetness in the chocolate muted the saltiness of the ice cream, so they worked in perfect harmony with each other.  The dessert looked heavy, but actually tasted light and airy and was the perfect ending to my meal at Tar & Roses.

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I must admit that my husband made and excellent choice when he suggested that we dine at Tar & Roses for the last of my birth-month meals.  I can easily see why this restaurant has been rated as the #1 restaurant in Santa Monica on TripAdvisor.  The restaurant’s setting and atmosphere is a perfect place to go for a family meal or a date night.  Dining at Tar & Roses felt like discovering a secret hidden gem that most people don’t know about, but should.  The menu was wide and varied, the food was incredibly tasty and well prepared and the service was spectacular.  The next day, I raved about the restaurant to everyone at work, I’d say that’s a pretty ringing endorsement of how terrific the restaurant was.  My husband and I still talk about Tar & Roses to this day and are already looking forward to our next trip to this terrific restaurant.

Father’s Office

June 3, 2015

A few months back, when my husband and I decided to head over to Culver City to check out The Coolhaus Shop and find out what the big deal was about their ice cream and ice cream sandwiches, we happened to stumble onto a very well known Los Angeles bar which many regard as serving the best hamburgers in Los Angeles.  My husband and I had both heard of this bar/gastropub before through the grapevine and from co-workers, but we’d never discussed going with each other, or even seeking this place out.  But once, we knew it was there, it was on our minds that we would have to go back and check it out.  After all, we needed to try out the so-called best hamburger in Los Angeles.

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Father’s Office is the brain child of check Sang Yoon who had an idea to open a casual restaurant serving great craft beer and bar snacks.  His inspiration was the Spanish tapas bars of Spain where you can walk in, order a couple of small plates while you drink wine or beer and just relax and enjoy yourself at the neighborhood joint.  So how did a bar serving bar snacks come to be known for a very controversial burger?  When the original Father’s Office opened in Santa Monica in 2000, the concept of serving food people would actually want to eat at their neighborhood watering hole was a bit of a foreign concept as most people went to a bar to drink, not for the food.  But, as a chef, Yoon, wanted to change that, so who had a small kitchen built into the back of the bar and he set about coming up with a menu for his new bar.  That’s how the Father’s Office burger was born.  What people know now of the famous Father’s Office burger, or perhaps why it’s so notorious is the for the following quote written on the bottom of each and every menu, “no substitutions, modifications, alterations or deletions.  Yes, really.”  Because the original kitchen was small, the idea of customizing anything on the menu was pretty much impossible, so Yoon enforced the concept that everything on the menu came exactly as is, and if you didn’t like it, you either dealt with it or didn’t order it.  Today, that same philosophy still applies, and if you try to order any dish at Father’s Office a certain way, you’ll be turned down unceremoniously.

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At Father’s Office’s Culver City location at the historic Helms Building, you step into a beautiful indoor/outdoor bar.  With many craft beers, including many international beers that are hard to find at other establishments, on tap, you can take a seat at one of the numerous bar stools surrounding the wood top bar, or you can grab a seat at one of the many tables and booths inside or the tables or with bench seats on the outdoor patio.  Seating is first-come, first-serve, and there is no table service at Father’s Office.  If you’re there to eat, you’re provided with a menu when you walk into the bar (for which you must be over 21 or over to enter), and when you’re ready, you step up to the bar and place your order.  You pay for your food up front, unless you want to start a tab.  When your food is ready, it’ll be brought out to your table.

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Having just returned from San Francisco not too many weeks earlier, my husband decided to order a pint of Anchor Steam, his favorite San Francisco brew to go along with his famous Office burger.  Anchor Steam on tap, even better than the bottled version he had when we were in San Francisco.

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I opted for a nice bottle of Coke.  Of course it wasn’t a fountain soda in a cup, but an actual glass bottle of Coke and a cup to pour it into.  You can’t beat an ice-cold, glass bottle of coke on a nice weekend day.

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Ok, for our first trip to Father’s Office, we just couldn’t order anything but the Office burger.  While there were other appealing items on the menu, the Office burger was why we decided to come out to Father’s Office.  Yoon says that his inspiration for creating the Office burger was the French onion soup.  Not the soup specifically, but the beef broth that creates the soup.  He was looking to create something that would highlight that strong beef flavor, and from that idea came this gourmet burger.  Strong beef flavor, caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese, all the things you think about in French onion soup is found in this Office burger.

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The menu describes the burger was created from caramelized onions, bacon, Gruyere, maytag blue cheese and arugula.  The burger is made from an oval shaped crusty hoagie-style bread roll.  It’s crunchy and grilled with a bit of garlic butter to give it some added crunch.  The bread is meant to absorb the flavors of the burger.  The meat in the burger is created from dry aged beef as a way to highlight and enhance the beef flavor of the burger.  It was Yoon’s way of elevating the beef from just a regular burger.  The addition of the peppery arugula and the blend of maytag blue cheese with the Gruyere, Yoon says is to again enhance the flavor of the beef as they are complimentary beef flavors.  The rest of the burger is made with caramelized onions and Gruyere, both items highly prevalent in French onion soup.  The result?  A wonderfully fantastic burger.  My husband says he’s no burger connoisseur, but this is probably the best burger he’s ever tasted.  When you bite in to the burger, you definitely taste the beef, and as Yoon had hoped, the beef is the star of the burger.  The strong, rich beef flavor is highlighted in every bite and the burger is cooked perfectly.  It’s super juicy and moist, exactly what you’re looking for in a burger.  The blend of the Guryere cheese and the maytag blue cheese is fantastic.  The blue cheese doesn’t overwhelm and overpower the burger as it’s used sparingly, so every now and then you get hints, almost pockets, of delicious blue cheese.  It’s like a small burst of pungent blue cheese flavor that blends so seamlessly into the nuttiness of the Gruyere cheese.  It’s an amazing cheese blend.  The pepper bite of the arugula does compliment the burger well, and the caramelized onions create this very silky, smooth texture and add a bit of saltiness to the burger.  This really may be the best burger in LA, just as advertised.  It would be hard to find a more unique, tastier burger.

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Along with the burger, we also order the frites served with garlic parsley aioli.  Shoestring frites, just the way my husband likes his fries with only garlic parsley aioli as dipping sauce.  Remember the slogan, “no substitutions, modifications, alterations or deletions”?  Yeah, that applies here too.  Don’t even bother to ask for ketchup with your frites, there is no ketchup to be found here at Father’s Office.  You can either use the garlic parsley aioli, or just eat the frites straight up.  No other option is available.  Honestly though, no other option is necessary.  The frites are perfectly fried with the outside being crispy and the inside being hot and tender and starchy.  The garlic parsley aioli is a perfect dipping sauce for the frites, and they go so well with the flavors found in the Office burger as well.  Ketchup really just wouldn’t work here.  My husband who doesn’t even use ketchup with his fries normally, and generally isn’t a fan of sauces, actually found that he liked the garlic parsley aioli.  To my surprise by the time he finished his fries, half of his aioli dipping sauce was gone.  The subtle garlic flavor of the aioli works well with the skinny fries and the French onion soup, with the addition of the blue cheese, inspired flavors of the burger.  They all just go so well together.  When you start eating the burger and the fries, you just don’t think about the ketchup, or lack thereof, at all.

Even weeks after my husband and I had the Office burger and fries at Father’s Office, we couldn’t stop talking about, and thinking about, and generally raving over the food.  I think that’s probably the truest test of whether or not an eatery has good food, that you dine on something that you just can’t forget, that every aspect of what you had is something you can recall instantly, whether it’s the tangy and nutty flavor of the blend of Gruyere and blue cheese, or the sweet onion jam, or just how juicy and flavorful and perfectly cooked the hamburger patty was, or just how crispy on the outside and tender on the inside the frites were.  For my husband and I, this combination of burger and fries, was the most perfect burger and fries we’ve ever enjoyed.  We just kept asking each other, when would it be appropriate to go back there and eat again?