Sunday, April 11, 2010

Double lunching at Philippe's and Langer's

Last Friday I took take the day off from work to take of some personal matters in and around the downtown LA area. Knowing that I'd be in the vicinity of some truly fine eats, I made sure to plan my day's agenda around--what else--eating. Of course I had to plan carefully and strategically as there are a handful of downtown eateries I still haven't tried, and despite what you might think, I can only consume so much grub in a limited time.

Lazy Ox Canteen would have been tops but I just paid them a visit for lunch during my birthday week. Drago Centro and Bottega Louie are also up there, but I'll hit them up for when I can drag a few friends (at least) so as to try a number of different dishes. There are, however, a few classics that have been around much longer than this foodie has, and that foodie is way overdue to give them a shot.

I start my day with an early lunch at one of Los Angeles' oldest restaurants--Philippe's--to try their famous French dip sandwich. Opened in 1908 by French immigrant Philippe Mathieu, Philippe's is both a deli and a sit down restaurant that serves deli staples such as cured meats, mayonnaise laden salads, baked pies, and of course a gamut of sandwiches.

I keep things simple with a roast beef "double dipped", a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade and a baked apple which came highly recommended by the Yelp reviewers:

The sandwich is very simple and very good. Tender slices of beef showed no signs of gristle or excessive fattiness and has a deep savory flavor. Even better was the fresh roll which was soft, aromatic, and partially soaked with the au jus. The meat to bread ratio was perfect in my opinion, especially when you consider the sandwich only set me back $5.75. Lightly sweetened lemonade was ice cold and refreshing--and not too sweet. And that tomato-looking dish in the upper right is the baked apple. The first few bites were good, but because the apple is bathing in sugary water, the taste becomes progressively sweeter to the point where I was trying "dry" out the apple with a napkin.

So one lunch down, and another lunch to go. The location of my next appointment for the day was near Langer's Delicatessen, and of course that's where I enjoyed lunch number two. Sure I was probably content and full with lunch number one just 20-minutes ago at Philippe's, but I'm rarely in this area so why not take FULL advantage of the good eats?

I arrived at Langer's--located about 10 minutes west of downtown in the Koreatown area--just before the lunch rush and take a spot along the counter. Langer's is famous for its pastrami sandwich on rye--special #19 in fact is the sandwich I'm after and it was recently listed in Jonathon Gold's (LA Weekly food critic) "99 Things to Eat in LA Before You Die." In fact Philippe's is also in that list and I think I'm now at 18 out of 99 on that list. Yeah I've got some work to do.

Here's my sandwich:

It's not cheap at $14.45, but folks this is in fact the best pastrami sandwich I've ever had. Everything about this monstrosity works in harmony to create a mouth full of flavor and texture with each bite. The soft, thickly slicked rye bread. The Russian style cole slaw dressing. The Swiss cheese. And the lean, beautifully seasoned pastrami meat. At about three-fourths into the sandwich I was beginning to experience that feeling of being uncomfortably full, but I took a few breaths and went Man vs. Food style on the last few bites. I took the last mouthful, wiped my hands and mouth with the napkin and threw it down on the plate while doing a little victory dance in my bar stool. Missions accomplished. Yes I said missions.

Needless to say I was quite full for the rest of the day but I managed to regain enough of an appetite for a dinner outing at Upper West--my new favorite local restaurant. That review is coming soon.

So would I go back to either place? Langer's a is definite do-over and I'd gladly wait in a 30-minute line for that #19 special. Philippe's, however, was good but it's not as if their French dip has made its way into my dreams as Langer's #19 has. I still have yet to try the French dip from Cole's and it'll be interesting to see how the two compare.

1001 N Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

704 S Alvarado St
Los Angeles, CA 90057

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Birthday pig fest

Last week was my birthday week and what does a food nut like yours truly do for his birthday celebrations? PIG OUT of course! Diets be damned because this day only comes once a year and so you know I'm not holding back on the noms. Let's start with Wednesday night where I met up with some coworkers at Rush Street in downtown Culver City for happy hour. It just so happens that myself and three of my coworkers have birthdays all within the last week of March, so this was a special "March Aries birthdays" edition of our usual happy hour outing.

Old Speckled Hen, sweet potato fries, beef sliders. Rush Street has one of the best happy hours in downtown Culver City with $6 trio of sliders, $6 pizzas, $3 well drinks, and $4 wines. All of this is available in the upstairs patio until 7pm. One could easily feed him or herself to the point of gastronomic discomfort with little hurt on the wallet, while at the same boozing up cheaply. And that's pretty much exactly what I did.

Thursday night arrives and I'm off to Bar Bouchon in Beverly Hills to meet with some fellow foodie friends for our bi-weekly or monthly or whenever-we-feel-like-it eating adventure. Bar Bouchon is the casual no-reservations-allowed outpost of the formal Bouchon restaurant located directly above. Both are owned and managed by the man Thomas Keller himself.

Whereas Bouchon screams "hey look where I'm eating!" along with pricier, fanciful large dishes, Bar Bouchon is a more subdued scene with small plate offerings and laid-back service. I don't think Angelinos have fully caught on to this place because it wasn't too crowded; in fact it was nearly empty when we departed at 10pm.

Fresh, top shelf ingredients and spot-on execution led to a symphony of wonderful flavors and textures in each of our 10 dishes. And with the dim lighting, brass accents, and scribbled blackboard menus, the immersion into a Parisian brasserie is effectual. Here's a recap of some of my favorite dishes.

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard with toasted baguette. Think of this as spreadable foie gras. It's extremely rich and it absolutely needs the toasted baguette to counteract the heaviness. We almost couldn't finish this amongst our foursome, but Roberto managed to polish off the last few scoops. The only issue I had was that it was served very cold and somewhat firm; it needed a good 10 minutes to soften to a more spreadable consistency.

Macaroni with black truffles. So good was this upscale mac-and-cheese that we ordered a second serving and devoured it just as quickly as the first. I loved the creaminess of the cheese and the the slight firmness of the pasta--it was a perfect rendition and quite possibly the best restaurant version I've had of this comfort dish.

Blue Apron Ale. This special brew is only available at Bar Bouchon and at a few other Thomas Keller restaurants. We all couldn't get over just how smooth and delicate the taste was; there was no hint of bitterness or aftertaste. I could drink this all night and never become bored with the taste.

I'm coming back here because there are approximately 42,000 other dishes that I want to try, so stay tuned for a full posting when that happens.

Friday night rolls around and all I can think about is what food I should wrap my jaws around, so I gaze over the OpenTable ressies looking to see what grabs me. Nothing draws my interest, but I know Umami Burger just opened its Santa Monica outpost on the previous night--it was actually on my mind as I was licking Bar Bouchon's truffled mac and cheese from my fingers. My wife is on a salad kick at the moment but I'm able to convince her we should pay Umami a visit. We do, and despite the soft-open service (read: it was off kilter) and loud venue, we enjoyed our meal of triple-cooked fries, Allagash White, Umami burger, and Cake Monkey dessert. Or at least I enjoyed said items. She dove head first into hefty bowl of greens and grilled shrimp, which she said was just OK.

Umami burger. It's damn good. An FO killer? Tough to say but they are both just plain tasty. Umami's version is cooked just a notch above rare and the meat is about as tender--and safely red--as it gets. A thin Parmesan crisp and soft-baked pillowy brioche bun complete the burger's foundation. Triple-cooked fries are triple-fried, I suppose? Crispy on the outside and slightly crisp on the inside, they reminded of of the fat fries at Fat Burger but crispier throughout the potato. The Cake Monkey red-velvet "ding dong" made for a satisfying and cheap thrill of a dessert. Mission accomplished.

Saturday night is upon us and believe me folks, the degustation has only just begun. About 15 of our friends and family came to our place for a pig-fest dinner party with food catered from NBC Seafood in Monterey Park and dessert from Porto's in Burbank. The savories include trays of braised eggplant, scallops with asparagus, "birthday" noodles, sizzling beef and bell peppers, and--drum roll please--a suckling pig. Because it wouldn't be a pig-fest without a pig's head and pig's arse looking at you while you scoop pig belly onto your plate.

A tres leches cake from Portos greets us for dessert and it's basically the crack cocaine of desserts for those of who haven't had it. I think I made myself a little sick trying to eat seconds and thirds and fourths, but I'd gladly do it again. As a birthday present, my friend Lynn brings me an Oreo cupcake from Famous Cupcakes in Beverly Hills, and I simply could not hold myself back after taking a few bites.

Stay classy danieleats. I finished the boxed monstrosity in no time. I honestly felt a moment of sugar overload that night, but only for a moment and only during that night.

Sunday morning hits me and hits me hard as I'm a bit sluggish from the previous night. Shocking, I know. Tres leches cake, pork belly, beer, cupcakes, and Johnnie Walker. In any combination those are going to put a hurt on the mid-30-year-old-something stomach. Nonetheless I've got to eat and so we're off to brunch at Literati with my mom-in-law in tow. A "light" breakfast of thick-cut bacon, fried eggs, and buttermilk pancakes was a perfect way to start my morning. The five or six cups of black coffee also helped. I don't have a picture of my simpleton breakfast, but check out mom-in-law's GIANT stack of chocolate chip pancakes!

Do you think she finished them? Could anyone finish that?! I took one bite and was quickly reminded of my sugar overload about 10-hours prior to this brunch outing. Ugh. The rest of the day was a blur because like I said, I was sluggish :(.

Monday is back-to-work day for many of us, but I took the day off to spend some quality time with my better half and enjoyed a rare non-holiday three-day weekend. We headed into downtown LA and walked around Little Tokyo on a gorgeous sunny Monday. People watching and traffic dodging are just some of the star attractions in downtown, with fine eateries being another and they're popping up like wild fire it seems. Newly-opened Lazy Ox Canteen has been getting mountains of praise lately including this 3-star review from LA Times food critic S. Irene Virbila. We happened to be parked just a few blocks from this restaurant so we made it our lunch destination. Grub time:

Yellow beet and wild arugula salad with orange, radicchio and yogurt dressing. I'm not a big salad person but I LOVE beets and arugula, so bring it on! This was seasoned, tossed and dressed perfectly; every bite seemed to have an equal portion of beets, oranges, greens, and dressing. No premixing or hunting for ingredients; just slide your fork in it and shovel the mixture to your face. I felt like the "lazy ox" here :).

Pork belly sandwich with kennebec fries. Unbelievable good with great textures from the crisp-outside-soft-inside pork belly, vibrant Romaine, and a grilled bun which tasted house-made. I'm not sure what the dip was, but it tasted like an avocado and roasted pepper aioli. We scooped all of it with the crispy fries, which were a little too crispy and salty for my taste.

After lunch we enjoyed this swirl soft-serve from one of the bakeries in the Little Tokyo village:

My eating marathon ended that night with dinner at Pizzeria Mozza. Even on a Monday night, this Mario Batali co-owned restaurant was packed wall-to-wall, literally because we sat practically on Highland avenue. Pizzeria Mozza is claimed by many to have the best pizza; some would rank this as numero uno in the country. Well, it's good, very good in fact. But it's also very expensive.

Squash blossom pizza. This ran us $22, though you're getting heaping mounds of silky burrata for that price.

That concludes my birthday week of eating like there's no tomorrow. I obviously don't eat like this all the time; in fact I had to "detox" for a few days after to um, heal thyself. I'm planning to make return visits to Umami, Bar Bouchon, and Lazy Ox Canteen so I hope to have full write-ups of those places soon. Now to get back to eating :)

Rush Street
9546 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

Bar Bouchon
235 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

500 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401

NBC Seafood
404 S Atlantic Boulevard
Monterey Park, CA 91754

3614 W Magnolia Blvd
Burbank, CA 91504

12081 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036