Friday, July 31, 2015

The Baklava Factory

My only exposure to Baklava were the ones I used to get from Harry & David. My friend Alma brought me a 2 boxes with a variety of baklavas.

I was not aware that they could be so much more exciting. These were super flaky with a million layers of phyllo dough and lots of air in between; by that I mean very light! I tried the Burma,which had the chocolate, the Traditional Baklava with walnuts, Burma Pistachio (shredded wheat dough filled with pistachios, fried in vegetable oil, butter drizzled with caramelized sugar). Eat one after a meal and it satisfies your craving for dessert. Actually, you could eat another one as a snack as you walk by the kitchen counter. I am now down to a few.....


Essentially, baklava is made with phyllo dough alternated with sugary spiced nut mixture. The whole thing is drenched in sweet syrup made with honey, lemon and cinnamon. I loved all of them but disliked the Turkish Delight (the square ones) also known as Lokum, which is gummy and has chopped dates. I liked the gummy part but disliked the flavor of rose water.  It felt like I was eating this gummy substance that was marinated in perfume.

The Baklava Factory has 3 locations: 1415 E.Colorado St. in Glendale, 12909 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, and 17540 Ventura Blvd. in Encino, California.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Inspiration at Orleans & York Deli

This Shrimp Inspiration is what we ordered and let me tell you that it is truly inspirational. We found ourselves in the vicinity (not really) of a deli we were in a couple of times; we were on the 405 freeway and when we saw Manchester, something clicked in our brains; that something was Orleans & York Deli.  The car immediately went on auto pilot and exited the freeway.

We got there almost at noon so the lunch crowd was just starting. Nina remembered us; how could she not, this was our 3rd time in just a week and we always interrogated her about the menu. This time we went with her recommendation. The Shrimp Inspiration. This is a tomato base broth with 14 jumbo tiger shrimps. Sandi thought it would be good with rice so we ordered rice. I was shocked to see Sandi pick up the order as she held something big and long on the other hand. It looked like a whole French bread. She said: "It came with the order".


We started by breaking the bread and dipping in in the sauce. OMG!!!!! How can I have lived this long without experiencing this wonderful sauce/soup/ whatever you call it.  The tiger shrimps were truly jumbo and wow oh wow....they were fabulous! We could see why this order came with a whole loaf of French bread. It was a perfect match. The rice was good since the bread could not really soak up everything so the left over liquid was taken care of by the rice.


Before we had our inspirations, I ordered the Gumbo Mumbo which we had a few days ago for dinner and I wanted to try the Shrimp Po Boy, but this time it was not fried. Dinner was delicious. The shrimps were also good so it just depends if you are in the mood for fried or grilled. The sandwiches are best eaten fresh but the gumbo mumbo and the inspirational shrimps are perfect heated at a later time.  Lunch and dinner was wonderful; I would say that yesterday was a very good day! See previous blog: http://solittlethyme.blogspot.com/2015/07/orleans-york-deli.html




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

il Cielo

Once again, dine L.A. Restaurant Week is upon us. To be accurate, it is a 14 day dining event wherein participating restaurants offer supposedly good deals that allow them to showcase a their cuisine. The restaurants have a set menu and usually have choices for first, second and third course. Lunch can cost $20-$25; Dinner usually $50.

Il Cielo was one of the participating restaurants so we made a reservation for lunch. It was a warm and muggy day but at least the heat was tolerable. We sat outside as this is one of the most romantic restaurants in Los Angeles. At night is when it shines, with the hanging lights. Sandi and I went for the food and not the romance.


Before we placed our order, we were served warm Focaccia but we purposely did not fill up on those, so we could truly enjoy our lunch. For the first course, we had the Insalata Caprese, tomato, mozzarella & basil drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We also ordered the Insalata di Pere; baby spinach with julienne pear, radish, candied walnuts topped with goat cheese in a red wine vinaigrette. The caprese was O.K.; nothing special, it would have been better if it was Burrata. The salad dressing lacked flavor. We both agreed that the goat cheese was wonderful and so were the candied walnuts.


We did our ritual of splitting 2 orders so one is not stuck with something that might not be good, God forbid....terrible!  Spaghetti al Pesto and Veal Scallopini with mashed potatoes with Madeira wine sauce. We both are not fond of pesto but we felt adventurous and  thought this would be the place to experiment. Sandi and I liked it but both agreed that this would be our pesto for the year. The veal was excellent and so was the sauce; unfortunately not enough of it to give flavor to the very bland mashed potatoes.


The table next to us ordered Calamari for their appetizer. This was not a choice in the dineLA menu. It did look good. One thing about the dineLA, some restaurants get it and some don't. By getting it, I mean showcasing their specialties, something you are proud of, something you want a food critic to experience. Some will see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck by offering cheap stuff or the not so popular items on the menu, then they list something really good but with a notation: "add $15 " which defeats the purpose because by the time you add the wine, tax and tip, you might be better of ordering from the regular menu.

Il Cielo would still be worth a visit especially at night when the ambiance is at its best. They are located at 9018 Burton Way in Beverly Hills. Valet parking is $8.00 plus tip.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

L'Amande's Lemon Napoleon

The last time I blogged about this lemon Napoleon was in 2013. See previous blog:
http://solittlethyme.blogspot.com/2013/07/lemon-napoleon.html


Today, July 12, 2015 - I have to report that it is just as good if not better. I had forgotten how wonderful and authentic it is. Sure you can find Napoleons in bakeries but I assure you that you will not find one better than this flaky, light Napoleon. The other flavors like vanilla or coffee are just as impressive. The bad new is that they are not available everyday. You have to watch for their weekend specials or check their Facebook page.

L'Amande Bakery in Torrance is at the Rolling Hills Plaza a few doors down Trader Joe's.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Orleans & York Deli

A few days ago, Sandi got all excited to tell me she just saw Chris Burrous from Burrous' Bites on KTLA Channel 5, eating at Orleans & York Deli. She swore it looked good and so we had to try it. We have been there twice since she saw the show. The restaurant we went to was the closest to us; 400 E. Florence Ave. in Inglewood. They have 2 more locations in Los Angeles and one soon to open in Carson.

The first time we went, we ordered the Shrimp Po Boy and the Butter Pastrami which is not on the printed menu. We shared both sandwiches. First of all I want to inform you that these sandwiches are humongous. We attacked the pastrami first. I usually have no problem eating the gigantic burgers at Carl's Jr., but this one takes the cake. I could not open my mouth wide enough....hard to eat but ohhh so good. The pastrami is not cooked in butter. It gets its name from the smoothness, tenderness, richness and all the other qualities of butter but in a pastrami. It is wonderful! The shrimp po boy was also delicious. The shrimps were very fresh and super crisp. We could not believe how we lucked out on both our sandwiches.


Our friend Aaron was celebrating his birthday so Sandi thought it would be nice to take him there 2 days after our first visit. I was excited and tried to figure out what to order as I wanted to try the many other delicious items in the menu. This time, Sandi ordered the O.G. Orlean Muffuletta which had mortadella, salami, capocollo, Swiss cheese, provolone and olive salad. I had the Oyster Po Boy and the birthday boy had the Fried Catfish Platter with Fries and Coleslaw. Sandi loved her muffuletta;her only complaint was she would have preferred her olives chopped up like the ones she had in New Orleans. My oyster po boy was crisp but I thought it had a bit of an aftertaste. It was good but I don't think I would order it again. Aaron liked his catfish and shared the fries with us. Those fries were fantastic. Sandi thinks they were fried in cornmeal.  Sandi and I could only eat half our sandwich. Oh, I forgot to mention that they bake their own very light French bread!


Before we even got our food, Sandi announced that she would order the Gumbo Mumbo for dinner. I told her to get me one too. She got 2 orders for the 3 of us to take home. When it came, the 3 of us could not believe how heavy the packages were. All I could think of was this would eventually translate to lots of pounds added to our body weight.

We were too full to even think of dinner so we waited four hours before we attempted to try the Gumbo Mumbo. This was unbelievably fantastic. Unlike the usual gumbo one is accustomed to, this was a hearty meal with lots of substance. It had bell peppers, onion, succulent shrimps (lots of it),chicken, beef sirloin, beef sausage and mayonnaise. All these served on top of wonderful rice. The three of us (man & 2 women) could not finish one order!


The restaurant in Inglewood is little and it is best to go there either before lunch or shortly after or early dinner to beat the crowds. I have to tell you that the staff (all of them) are super nice and friendly. Nina was especially patient with us when we had lots of questions as we were not familiar with the menu. I just wish they would deliver to the Torrance/Palos Verdes area!  I can only hope for now.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Give Them an Inch and They Take a Foot

This blog has nothing to do with what delectable dish or restaurant I have just discovered. It has something to do with food; in that L'Amande Bakery was the subject of my numerous blogs. This article is about the demise of the American dream. Before you finish reading the article you will be in utter shock and disbelief of the facts and events.

For those unfamiliar with the human trafficking lawsuit, see article published n the Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/westside/la-me-guest-workers-lawsuit-20150320-story.html


It is indeed true that the saddest thing about betrayal is that t never comes from your enemies. The 11 employees that were brought to the United States from the Philippines were long time loyal and trusted employees. They came to have a part of the American dream.

The Almeidas established Le Coeur de France, a cafĂ© and pastry chain in the Philippines in 1994. Through the years, workers have come and gone and the cream of the crop were rewarded with promotions and fringe benefits.  These workers sought help for medical, dental, educational needs and even sought help with assistance during emergencies like, typhoons, floods and earthquakes. Those were freely and willingly given.

Le Coeur grew enough that it was offered a buy-out having become an attractive acquisition for a well-known Filipino food chain. Presented with a chance for an early retirement, the Almeidas took the offer in 2008 on the condition that their staff be allowed to retain their employment; something they clearly did not have to do. After the sale, the Almeidas migrated to Southern California in 2009, one of the workers, a nanny followed shortly. Retirement did not agree with the couple so plans were made for a new venture. In 2010, they shifted visas and became business investors.

The first priority was to offer the specialized positions to their long time employees. They of course were willing, able and could hardly contain themselves on this opportunity. Three of the most senior, tenured and trusted employees from the Le Coeur days were flown in from the Philippines on September 2011.  On April 2012, three years after settling in the U.S., L’Amande Bakery was born and a second expansion later opened on July 2014 in Beverly Hills. This called for additional staffing and this was achieved by inviting the relatives of the workers already here. Again, these people had to be petitioned and flown here at the Almeida’s expense.

The Filipino employees had no place to live and had little starting out, so the Almeidas not only set up the group in apartments but furnished them as well as paid for deposits and several months rent. Goncalo and Ana also provided winter clothing and indulged requests for laptops, tablets and other non-necessities. This was on top of employee perks of free food from L’Amande when they were on duty. Built on past history, there was a comfort level between the Almeidas and their staff. The lines of employer-employee decorum were often blurred by the camaraderie even evidenced by them being friends on their Facebook accounts. Goncalo and Ana often socialized with their extended families. They drove them around and organized trips to New York, the Philippine Consulate and took them on road trips. When invited to stay at the Almeida home, their guest felt so at home that they helped themselves to wine without the knowledge of their host. They took liberties with free food at L’Amande dropping by to eat on their days off. While generally frowned upon by local health codes and insurance liabilities, they took home restaurant leftovers.

The work environment was so relaxed that protocol and rules were being bent. One saying comes to mind: “Give them an inch and they will take a foot”. In late 2014, the Almeidas noticed a Facebook picture of the employees drinking on the job. It was posted online, indisputable and clear as day: Five of the staff in uniform, each holding up a bottle of beer or cocktail while a wall clock in the bakery showed the time of 3:10 p.m. See picture above. Though none of them cooperated during a workplace investigation, the five were terminated on January 2015 – legally, on the strength of self-incriminating documentary evidence.

Two months later, the five of them filed a civil lawsuit against the Almeidas alleging abuses and human trafficking. Their case had been taken on by Latham and Watkins LLP on a pro bono basis, in the hopes of landing a big score from a settlement. Two others who had been laid off in June 2015 when the Beverly Hills store closed, jumped on the band wagon. Remember the nanny who worked for them 13 years, since their youngest son was born and had been away from the Almeidas, that had asked Goncalo to walk her down the aisle when she got married….she too saw the opportunity to get a piece of the action and joined the lawsuit. The other 3 employees are still currently working at the Torrance bakery and am told still continue to bring home leftover restaurant food to the seven now unemployed. Talk about insult to injury!

It gets worse; an advocacy group called Asian Americans Advancing Justice has taken up their cause and making the aggrievement a rallying point. I heard the NGO (non-government organization with a a social objective) has plans to present the 11 as heroes fighting for a noble cause. The main character witness is a young woman (non–Filipino) who was rumored for having a habit of suing former employers on trumped up charges, also a former Torrance branch employee terminated on May 2013 for chronic tardiness, giving away L’Amande products to friends and getting caught changing clothes inside the freezer.

The real victims here are the Almeidas. It is their American dream that has been shattered. Their biggest fault was they allowed themselves to be taken advantage of over and over. Their friendship and generosity were mistaken for weakness.  I am appalled and still in shock on how these people have so far gotten away with an infinity of lies!

While the lawsuit will be drawn out on the chance that the Almeidas will eventually succumb, they can only hope they get a big settlement or win the case but first prove they were “slaves” so they can stay in the country for good ( for those still working at L’Amande, their E-2 visas will be expiring next year and the visas of the ones no longer employed are not valid anymore) and they can work happily ever after and sue the next unfortunate employers!

These are elementary questions that should have common sense answers.

1.       If the Almeidas had been such despicable employers, why did they practically beg them to  come work for them again in the United States
2.       If they had been abused, why did they recommend their relatives to come work for the Almeidas.
3.       Given the pervasiveness of Facebook, why didn’t they post complaints and photos of the wretched living arrangements.
4.       Why didn’t they flee? They had their own apartments, they were in possession of their passports at all times. They were free to go anywhere.
5.       If the Almeidas had been abusive, why invite them numerous times for their get-together at their apartments.
6.       Why didn’t they report the abuse to officials during their trips to the Philippine Consulate.
7.       The one employee who was manager according to the L.A. Times, all of a sudden demoted herself to dishwasher even if she introduced herself as manager and said so in her facebook page. Did anyone ask the many other non-Filipino workers who was their manager?
8.       How can they claim overworked and under-paid when in fact the manager/dishwasher was in charge of payroll, hiring and firing. If this were true, shouldn’t she be solely responsible
9.       Why did the nanny invite the Almeidas to her wedding even if she was no longer employed by them and ask Goncalo to walk her down the aisle.
10.   Finally, why did all the allegations only come out now. Just before visas will be expiring.

My opinion is these employees have had a taste of the American dream. The living conditions they are accustomed to now, cannot be compared to the living conditions in the Philippines. They make enough to send money, etc. to their poor relatives back home which is great. That will all cease when the visas expire. What on earth could they do to stay in the United States permanently?

I rest my case!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bettolino

It has been 2 months since my last visit at Bettolino.  Sandi and I thought it would be a good idea to renew our friendship with the various pastas. I was anxious to see if they had honored my humble request in bringing back the Lasagnetta, a dish that was outstanding but was changed to Pappardelle, the same ingredients but different pasta. See previous blog:
http://solittlethyme.blogspot.com/2015/05/dinner-at-bettolino-kitchen.html

We got there very early, in fact they gave us the lunch menu which was not as extensive as the dinner menu so we asked to see the dinner menu. Since we got there before 6 p.m., our server handed us the "Crostini Hour" menu wherein 4 crostini plates were $5 (2 pieces). We tried the Gorgonzola. Fresh pears, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. That was very good. Prior to that they served warm bread with olive oil.


We wanted to try something new besides the Pappardelle so we ordered the Lasagna di Noci; layered pasta sheets, gorgonzola sauce, walnuts, zucchini and red pepper puree.  We also ordered the Tortelli, fresh artichoke & mushroom stuffed pasta, butter, sage and parmesan. We were disappointed in both dishes. They simply lacked flavor. We were told earlier that this was the last day they were serving this lasagna since it was on a rotation. The next one to come will be bolognese.


I have been excited about Bettolino since they opened and have spread the word that this is the Italian restaurant to follow.  I am hoping that Chef Fabio put his creative hat back on soon, so I can get excited again.