Friday, April 29, 2016

Great Maple

Great Maple is located at the newly renovated Del Amo Mall in Torrance, California. Their other locations are in Newport Beach and San Diego. My long time friend and hairdresser, Jody took me and Sandi for lunch yesterday. It's a nice size bright and airy place with some outdoor seating.

As usual we all wanted to try too many items on the menu. The only wise solution was to split everything 3 ways. Jody has had the Barley Salad and thought it would be good to share one of those. It was to be my vitamins and minerals for the day. The special of the day was Smoked Pork Belly flatbread; peanut butter and sweet soy glaze, red onion, goat cheese and cilantro. This took center stage. It was unbelievably *#*#*#*#(fill in the blank) delicious! The other item we ordered was their famous Burger. We had it with Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions, tomato, aioli on their freshly baked bun. You had a choice of sides to go with the burger; mixed greens (who needs more greens), pommes frites or for an extra $1.95, Parmesan Truffle Fries. This was a no-brainer....had to be the truffle fries. The burger was very good. We did not want to add bacon or any more items that would have taken the taste away from the good old pure hamburger meat. The fries were almost fantastic. I say almost because some to them were overdone. When thin ones are overcooked, you lose the flavor of the potato; almost like eating "pik-nik"shoestring potatoes. The fatter potatoes were wonderful!

Dessert was almost a problem. We all like Rhubarb Pie which they had, but they also had Beignets. When we heard that they were served with Lemon Curd, we were torn between the two. Since we all like lemon curd, we finally decided to order that. There were 9 in one order. Perfect.....3 for each of us little piggies. They were of course unlike Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans but it was not bad at all. Sandi could only eat 2 of her share and Jody could not eat another one, so guess what....I had to sacrifice and eat the extra one. I also had to ask for more lemon curd as one tiny cup was not enough for 9 of those little wonders. Moe, the manager came to our table to ask how everything was. I strongly suggested they keep the Flatbread on their menu and make it one of their signature dishes.

Before we left the restaurant, we headed to their restroom to freshen up. Jody insisted I take a picture of the nice, clean and cute restroom; we were impressed. After lunch, we decided to do a little window shopping at the mall for exercise. It was a fun afternoon with the girls. I thank Jody for opening our eyes (and mouths) to a new place of interest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Birthday at Azure Mediterranean Grill

A bunch of friends got together last night to celebrate my birthday once more. After our Italian lessons, we headed over to Azure Mediterranean Restaurant in Redondo Beach. I have been there twice in the last month. I was the recipient of  the travelling Birthday Balloon which I will be passing on to the next birthday girl.

We started with the best appetizers. Aside from the hummus you normally get with your pita bread, I ordered the Feta Pomodoro. This is no ordinary dip. It is made with diced Roma tomatoes that are whipped into a creamy Feta cheese drizzled with olive oil with a dash of thyme. There is no yogurt in it, just the feta cheese. This is so good you could literally eat it with a spoon by itself. I also ordered their famous Fried Cauliflower which comes with a Tahini sauce and lemon. It is best with the lemon and some of the feta pomodoro.

We had the Azure Combo Family Style which consisted of Kafta; charbroiled minced lamb & beef and Chicken Kabob served with rice and grilled tomatoes. The combo came with a salad and hummus.  The Eggplant Yogurt Casserole was good though I thought it lacked flavor. I fixed that by adding some salt. The Cheese Lovers Feteer and Italian Sausage Feteer were a big hit. I think we could have eaten just that and everyone would have been happy. Feteers are made with phyllo dough (they make their own) and stuffed with whatever you would like

Before the main dessert, the restaurant sent a pre-dessert on the house. It was the Nutella Feteer. What's funny is I discovered that I was not the only person that did not like Nutella, most of us did not like it for some reason. This Feteer was exceptional. We all loved it. There was a little magic that transpired. First you see it, then you don't. They disappeared as fast as they appeared.

The main dessert followed. A whole Kunafe with Cheese! What is a is finely shredded phyllo dough stuffed with sweet cream and honey. This was also enjoyed by everyone. I like it because it had the right sweetness from the honey (not too sweet) and the cheese cuts down the sweetness. We had it warm though I am curious if it taste as good or better cold since I like cold desserts.  We had a lot of left over so I can experiment on that and let you know my findings.

I thank my friends for attending the dinner last night. Sara our Italian teacher's sitter cancelled the last minute so she brought Davide along. I thought he would get bored with all the old ladies. He was so well behaved and joined in the conversation. He even drew me a happy birthday picture on a napkin.

We all missed our dear friend Ana (wish she could have joined us) and Berenice who had an emergency. I thank Salma, Farrah and Moe for taking good care of our group last night. Azure Mediterranean Grill is 1810 Pacific Coast Hwy. in Redondo Beach, California.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

BOA Steakhouse

My son gave me a gift card for my birthday 3 years ago. What better time to use it than yesterday, my birthday. Sandi and I went to the location in Santa Monica. They also have one on Sunset Ave. in West Hollywood. It was a beautiful day right across the beach. There were people everywhere crossing the "talking crosswalks". I've never heard them talk before; when you push the button to cross, you hear a voice that says: "WAIT".  We were there when it opened at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday night.  The ambiance was one you would expect for a modern steakhouse.

The menu was extensive. We had to decide which steak to order. Then the question of which sides to have and what potato dish to go with the steak. We both decided not to waste our calories on a salad. The appetizer that we almost ordered but decided not to, was the Goat Cheese Baklava. We already decided we have to go back to try that one. We ended up having the Petite Filet Mignon with Bearnaise sauce. The Brussels Sprouts with bacon sounded good for vegetables. They had a ton of potato dishes but we concentrated on the Signature Dishes. The Truffle Cheese fries stood out and when our server, Seth described it with Gruyere cheese, he didn't have to continue.....that was it.

Bread was brought out; it was roll with rosemary in it and with butter it was good. There goes our agreement not to eat bread when we go to a restaurant; oh well, it was my birthday so the exception was in order. The Filet Mignon was so tender that the fork went through the steak as if it were mashed potatoes. It was so delicious and the Bearnaise was equally wonderful. The Truffle Fries were also yummy with all that cheese and the truffle flavor. It's like we both died and went to heaven. The Brussels Sprouts had to be good with the bacon and the sweet onions.  We were glad we did not order the Goat Cheese Baklava or we would not have been able to enjoy and finish the steak. We did clean our plates. The only left over we had were the fries and the sprouts.

Seth gave me a choice of dessert. It was easy to pick the Baked Alaska. The presentation was impressive. It was very good but to be honest, Dominique's Baked Alaska is much better.

Our great experience at this restaurant was mainly due to the superb service aside from the food. Seth was knowledgeable on the menu as well as the wine list. He contributed a great deal on making my birthday memorable. Cheers to you Seth and thank you very much.

Friday, April 22, 2016

North Italia

This is a new restaurant that opened recently at The Point in El Segundo; a new plaza with a variety of eateries and shops. My friend Mary took me there to celebrate my birthday last night. We got there at 6 p.m when it was not that busy yet. The place had that certain vibe.

I tried to open my purse to get my reading glasses out. As I moved the knob, it went airborne and landed on the floor. The problem now was how do I get my glasses, my phone, my car and house keys out if I could not open the purse. Our server Atziri, a young attractive lady tried her hand at it. She and I tried to pry it open with the cork screw. I was impressed on how long she tried. I was ready to give up when she asked another server if he had a screwdriver. They both disappeared and came back with one and so she tried again. Lo and behold, we heard a snap and she was able to open it. Halleluja! I will have to go to a Ted Baker store and see if they can repair my purse which was a gift from my son 2 years ago.

Now we were able to concentrate on the menu. Mary thought it would be good to order 2 appetizers and skip the salad. I agreed wholeheartedly. The first one was a Grilled Artichoke with sea salt, truffle, grana padano cheese and lemon aioli. These were the best artichokes we have ever had aside from the fried whole artichokes I have had in Italy. The aioli sauce was wonderful.

The other appetizer we had was the Truffle Garlic Bread with homemade ricotta, grana padano cheese and herbs. I can assure you  that you won't find anything like it. They should have a patent on this recipe. Mary and I looked at each other as our eye balls almost fell out of their sockets! They were so light and fluffy yet crusty on the outside and creamy from the ricotta. It was amazing.

For our entrees, we split 2 orders. One was their Bolognese (pronounced Bolon-nye-seh; the E at the end is not silent) and the other one was the Chicken Parmesan. The tagliatelle was cooked aldente and was delicious. The chicken was good with the rigatoni, also cooked aldente. In my opinion, an Italian restaurant that doesn't serve their pasta aldente is not worth being called an "Italian" restaurant.

We ordered the Salted Caramel Budino for dessert. Creme fraiche with Maldon sea salt. It was perfetto. You could taste chunks of the sea salt as the pudding melted in your mouth. The manager, Michael came to our table to take the 2 extra chairs but first asked our permission and because we said it was o.k., he comped our desserts. I took the opportunity to tell him how impressed we were with the service, particularly with Atziri for helping me open my purse. He said: " Oh, you're the screwdriver"........guilty as charged.

The evening turned out to be a great celebration. We did enjoy the bottle of Pinot Noir Mary brought. Their corkage fee is $15. North Italia is open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m everyday, till 10:30 on Friday and Saturday. Their address is 840 S Sepulveda Blvd. #110 in El Segundo, California.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Piero, the Cook

Chef Piero aka dance instructor decided to show his hidden talent and made Marinara Sauce. He did acknowledge that this was his nonna's recipe.  The dinner after our Italian class was a team effort. Piero not only made the marinara sauce but since he wanted to add variety, he made a very simple butter and cheese sauce.

Sandi made her special salad with everything in it except the kitchen sink. I cooked the pasta on the trusty pasta boat and also made the dessert which was a Rum Cake.

We could hardly wait till dinner. We almost wanted to cancel the Italian class and just go for the dinner. The salad was great as usual except for something which I thought was a red bell pepper. I had a big piece. At first it was a bit tart then all of a sudden it's like a volcano erupted in my mouth. Strange noises came out of me, like I was Linda Blair in the movie Exorcist. Both Sandi and Piero looked at me and thought I was exaggerating. Had a sip of wine which didn't do anything so I grabbed Sandi's ice water and started drinking. When I was able to talk, I told them something was very hot & spicy. Piero, who loves peppers and can tolerate "hot" tried it and even he thought it was too hot. Sandi then didn't want any but we insisted she try it; after all she served them to us! She had a tiny bite and couldn't believe how spicy it was. The rectangular red object on the right lower corner of the picture above was the hot pepper.

Both pasta dishes were very good and they complemented each other. The little bit of tartness of the marinara was enjoyed even more after a bite of the buttery shells that literally swam in butter (good butter). Both pastas were blessed with lots of Parmesan cheese which made us deliriously happy people.

My rum cake was perfect according to Sandi. Piero and I thought it could have used more rum! It was supposed to be served with whipped cream. Sandi had another idea. She served some salted caramel truffle gelato. In order not to hurt her feelings, I had a small serving on the side.

This was not a very healthy dinner to say the least but at least we had a salad. I was hoping that the spicy pepper I ingested not only burned my esophagus but hopefully some fat along the way.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

le Relais de l' Entrecote

People who are familiar with this restaurant in Paris have long awaited an opening of a branch here in Los Angeles. The restaurant serves only a salad, bread, steak with an incredible sauce and the best fries you can imagine. See previous blog on the Paris location.

You can only imagine the excitement when we heard one open on 8755 Melrose Ave. in West Los Angeles. Sandi and I tried to go to a movie today in Santa Monica but when we got to the theater we thought our movie was showing, the box office was not open yet. It turned out it was the wrong theater so we just decided to go to lunch since it was not far away. We expected a line to get in as they don't take reservations. We had to park blocks away because there was John Varvados event going on so most of the parking on the streets were blocked. We finally got to the restaurant at 11:30 a.m. only to be told that they don't open till 12:30. We decided to just walk around. The air temperature was about 87 degrees; it was hot! We returned at around noon to sit outside the restaurant while it was still closed. They let us in exactly at 12:30. The place was inviting with bright colored table cloths and large French art work on the walls. We were the only ones at the restaurant.

Our young server from Iran was sweet as she asked if we were familiar with the restaurant. She asked us what we would like to drink and I ordered a glass of wine. I made a comment to Sandi about their wine glasses which were baby size. I was hoping they would at least fill the glass. To my delight, they did. The temperature of the wine was "warm". I had to put a small ice cube just to make it drinkable. the French bread was immediately served. I asked for butter to go with it. The bread was very good and the butter even better. Shortly after that, she bought out the salad with a mustard dressing. To our recollection, the salad was the same as the ones they serve in Paris.

We ordered our steak medium. It came in a small plate filled with fries. The fries were outstanding; again as good as the original. The steak was tender but the sauce was not quite the same. I thought the mustard was overpowering and I do like mustard but it was a bit too much. I asked Sandi what she thought because it could have been just me. Maybe, all it lacked was the Parisian air; I don't know. She did agree with me. It just didn't make my eyes roll back like it usually does when I eat at the restaurant in Paris. I did get my second serving of steak and lots of extra sauce which was good but I have had better.

We were not planning to have dessert till we saw the menu. They have the same ones they offer at the original restaurant. We decided on the Profiteroles. We remember how good they were. These profiteroles did not disappoint.

Would we go back....maybe, but not too soon. It cost $31 for the steak which includes fries, bread and salad. The warm wine I had was $11. I thought of the Beef Grenadine with Bearnaise sauce at Musso and Frank which I enjoyed more than this steak.

Le Relais de l'Entrecote is open every day. Check their hours because on the website, it shows that they open at 12 but they don't open till 12:30 till 2:30 p.m. and then it opens again for dinner at 6:30 p.m. Like the one in Paris, they do not take reservations.