Tag Archives: restaurant review

Paiche – Marina Del Rey, CA

Beautiful decor, incredible ambiance, I really love the look of this place, a simple open floor, wall side booths, a bar as soon as you walk in, and an open kitchen. This is definitely a step up for the mar vista/marina del Rey food scene, which has been making strides to move past the Del Taco and iHop. I was seated quickly, though it took a few minutes for my server to get to me and he quickly made up for it by putting in my order and being attentive through the rest of the meal. I went with the margarita, and tsukemono(assorted pickles) to start.

Margarita

– absolutely on point, most people that know me know that I love margaritas and this one didn’t jump off the menu at me, but I tried it and the house-made orange bitters elevated this into a margarita I’ll remember, like the meal, the flavors start out bold but as you progress they become subtle, elusive, pervasive. I really enjoyed the playfulness that something as simple as agave nectar and bitters can bring to a margarita. The bitters created almost a hint of smokiness.

Pickles

– good balance, a bit on the sweet side, which comes together beautifully with the spice in the brine and the kick of the grain mustard. The fennel was insane with the contrasting natural licorice flavor and the forcibly introduced brine, everything was light refreshing and crunchy, and it’s garnished with a chiffonade of ohba/shiso, one of my favorite herbs that’s in between a basil and a mint flavor

Paiche

– the namesake of the restaurant, and it lives up to the task, a nice slight sear, still a bit chewy, in a good way, paired with aji Amarillo lemon vinaigrette, soy, sesame oil and a delicious sweet potato purée/chip. It was light, with an elusive flavor, definitely dish you’ll want to try again and again.  Who would’ve thought such a monstrous fish could have such delicate flavor?

Pork Neck

– this is incredible, and exactly what I wanted. The pork neck was more tender than any Korean BBQ place I’ve eaten, with a subtle flavor of the gochujang chili paste that blend PERFECTLY with the yuca purée that had delightful aromas of  coriander and cumin. Frankly this is a fusion of cuisines I’ve been searching for but haven’t found, I’m so glad Paiche is down the street!

Yuquitas

–  yuca beignets with Manchego topped with Parmesan, do i have to say anymore? Yes, yes I do, the menu doesn’t mention the salsa verde this comes with, it’s on completely different level of delicious, dangerously so. I could drink it by the glass, but that said, the beignets were perfect, crispy, crunchy, ooey, gooey, and to me it looked like a take on that Japanese street food Takoyaki, the way the Parmesan shavings are on top.  While the pork neck exploded my mind, I’m still thinking about the Yuquitas!

 

Since this article I’ve been back a few times since and have not been disappointed.  The prices are a bit steep, but if you’re looking to splurge I highly recommend it as the food and cocktails are above standard and the service is very attentive.

 

PAICHE

13488 Maxella Ave.

Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

(310)-893-6100

paichela.com

PAICHE ON YELP

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Cafe Buna | Venice, CA

 Cafe Buna Venice

The atmosphere at Cafe Buna reminded me a lot of the breakfast diners that I loved in PA while growing up.  The walls are covered in local art like my friend’s restaurant, The Blue Cafe, and the  friendly staff tending to a steady stream of regulars makes it feel like home.  The staff really care about every customer, while I waited for my food I was offered a newspaper and coffee refills.  It was just a great relaxing way to start my day and the food put me in an even better mood.  The only possible complaint might be some miscommunication between the kitchen and front of house, but all errors are minute when you feel as comfortable as you do at Cafe Buna.

Cafe Buna Marina Del Rey
Bacon and Eggs!

 

Zuni’s Benedict W/  Fruit

One of the better Benedict’s I’ve had in LA.  The Hollandaise still lacked the citrus and heat I’ve come to love in a great Hollandaise, but it played the job of enhancer in this version.  The english muffin was fresh and fluffy, while I generally like mine more toasted and crunchy, it was great for sponging up yolk and sauce.  The canadian bacon was thick cut, knife tender, and deliciously salty.  The poached eggs were done perfectly and you can really taste the freshness of the eggs.  The yolks were closer to an orange than a yellow, which is hard to find in the US, and they were extra gooey and runny.  I love a perfectly runny yolk that becomes a sauce by itself, and when it combines with the Hollandaise you end up with a sauce that begs to be mopped up.  The fruit that came with the Benedict as a side was extraordinarily fresh and was frankly better than fruit I’ve had from any other breakfast place in ALL of Los Angeles.  The strawberries were sweetly tart and still firm.  The blueberries were tart and crunchy, the banana was medium-ripe with some firmness balanced by the sweetness, and the pineapple was soft and sweet.

 

Oatmeal

The oatmeal was just what I was looking for. It was plain oatmeal with the dressings on the side. It came with walnuts (my favorite nut next to pecans), raisins, and brown sugar. You can add whatever you want in whatever portions you want. They offer you milk also so you can silken the oatmeal if you’d like, but I just like plain boiled oatmeal with raisins and a little brown sugar, though I’m not complaining about the walnuts by any means. It may be a little pricey for just fresh oatmeal, but I really wanted it, and I got exactly what I was looking for!

 

While on my way to the gym, I saw Cafe Buna open at 6:30AM and I knew I had to go there after the gym.  When I walked in I knew it was just what I was looking for.  I loved the food, the staff were awesome, and the vibe is nothing but relaxed.  They have a really expansive menu with tons of things to try so I’ll definitely be back.  The menu has a lot of health conscious options also, including: Acai Berry bowl, oatmeal, granola, fruit bowls, gluten free pancakes, and I’ve seen a lot of things saying the corn flake french toast is amazing.  The prices are a little expensive, but the food is fresh, more than can be said of a lot of place in LA!

Cafe Buna

3105 Washington Blvd.

Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

(310) – 823 – 2430

YELP

Casa Azul Cantina | Westwood, CA

I work in Westwood, and have tried a lot of the local restaurants, until now nothing really wowed me aside from Tanino on Westwood Blvd.  A lot of the food caters to younger college and shopping crowds, with bar food, sandwich places, fast Asian food, and so on.  Other than that it’s pricey upscale business oriented restaurants that have great menus, but rough prices.  It was nice to walk into Casa Azul and see a well thought out interior, plenty of tables, an active waitstaff, and a menu that requires some consideration.  Upon arriving I was greeted by the host and was seated at a small two top, and I will admit, it was quite small for two people having a rather normal three course meal.  The decor was right up my alley though, blue booths, brightly painted highly stylized walls, the bar area glows green and blue, with some pink booths and walls thrown in for good measure!  But decor does not a restaurant make, and we’re here today. . . to talk about. . . food!

 

DRINKS

Casa Azul Margaritas

I saw the drink on the menu and thought it a little pricey at $12, then a huge monster martini glass arrived at the table and I was happy.  It has Blanco Patron in it, this makes me more happy!  It was a little bitter at first, but it mellowed as the ice melted, revealing the cointreau and a limey tartness.  Being a margarita drinker, this contented me.

 

THE MEAL

Chips & Salsas

The chips are multicolored, it can be seen as cliche, I think it festive.  They were tortilla chips, I’ve never had one that’s changed my life, and these were no different.  The salsas were good though!

Green – This was interesting in the “What’s that ingredient?” sense.  It definitely has lemon, lime, and jalapeno, but then I wasn’t sure if it was tomatillo or avocado or a combo of bother, but it was delicious.  It was a light salsa that had a great citrus bite!

Red – Chipotle salsa with a little mole and tomatoes, it was a richer flavor with smoky notes in it.  I preferred the Salsa Verde, but that’s why they have both, so you can pick and choose.

 

With Mexican Soy Sauce
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

Shrimp Cevivche

Wow, I’ve never had shrimp ceviche with whole shrimp in it, I’m used to the little chunks, but it was much more substantial than a lot of ceviches I’ve had.  The shrimp were deliciously tender and the big chunks of avocado complimented it well.  The olive oil created a contrast with the lemon juice that tasted similar to a soy or ginger sauce, which was later confirmed by the server as a Mexican variation of soy sauce from the company Maggi(click the link to buy the sauce).  It comes with saltine crackers which aren’t visually appealing for presentation, but when the ceviche is on the cracker it is definitely understood why they’re on the plate.  They bring a great salty crunch to the almost salad like flavors, working as a faux crouton if you will.  I know I’m making this sound good, but I really can’t put into words the level of goodness the Maggi Seasoning Sauce adds to this ceviche.  It brings an earthiness to a seafood dish that confused me and my taste buds in the best of ways.

 

Served with Rice and Beans and creme fraiche
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

Chile Relleno

I eat chile rellenos everywhere, it is my favorite of all Latin American food from any region south of the border.  They can be done a hundred different ways and they are.  The ones at Casa Azul Cantina were egg battered and stuffed with, what seemed like more of a queso blanco than a mozzarella.  They’re made with poblanos(generally they’re made with poblano or pasilla chiles) and topped with an enchilada sauce and drizzled a sour cream with lemon.  These were pretty high on my list of chile rellenos because of the poblano flavor.  It’s very easy to lose the thin sliver of pepper that’s actually in the relleno when there’s so much cheese, breading, and sauce, but they did a great job at making sure the pepper flavor permeated the dish.  While it was fried, filled with cheese, and topped with two sauces, these chile rellenos felt, somehow, light.

 

With Pickled Cactus, Beans, and Guacamole
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

Arrachera Nortena

The skirt steak was ordered medium rare and was seasoned perfectly, it was a little tough to chew, but extremely flavorful.  The cactus salad was surprising and good, tender crisp with a slight sliminess, it’s kind of like slimey crunchy green beans that were pickled?  It has a very mild flavor, it’s almost like a citrus seaweed.  I really loved the flavor of the cactus though, and look forward to my next encounter with it.  The refried beans were delicious, salty with some bean texture still apparent and a creamier consistency, they don’t end up with the graininess of a lot of refried beans and they actually have some flavor.  I’ve noticed most restaurants in LA don’t like to season their refried beans at all, and just give you a bland pile of mush, but there were actually components playing on my taste buds from their beans.  The chicken enchilada seemed to have no chicken in it, but that was over looked because of the mole sauce.  The flavors that shone through in the mole were the chocolate, chipotle, and i want to say chile de arbol.  The guacamole was the great too.  It was so great in fact that my photographer and I ate all of it before I even wrote anything about it.  So that should tell you all you need to know about the guacamole!

 

DESSERT

Strawberries With Whipped Cream
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

Fresas Con Crema

It’s strawberries and whipped cream, it’s not meant to blast your face with uniqueness it’s meant to satiate your longing for sweets in a simple way and it does just that.  I loved the addition of a little vanilla to the whipped cream it made the strawberries and whipped cream meld together.  It was a great dessert, fresh and light, while being sweet and creamy at the same time.

 

Delicious fried cinnamon goodness!
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

Churros

The smell of the churros was the winner, that bright cinnamon sugar smell attacked my nose.  They’re so *******(I actually used profanity in the rough draft) crunchy and gooey inside.  They have a self-satisfying crunch while being almost gooey in the middle.  They come with a strawberry glaze on the plate that tastes amazing when you drag the churros through it.  This was both Blake’s and my favorite of the desserts.

Flan

The flan was tasty. It came with a citrus glaze underneath it that was extremely subtle, i would have liked it to have more powerful flavors, but all around it’s a good dessert.  The caramelized portion was amazing, it was spongy and cakey, i just wanted a little more depth to the flavors present.

 

Casa Azul Cantina is definitely the best prepared Mexican food you will find in Westwood.  The price won’t kill your budget, it’s a great date spot, and the menu has an exceptional variety of options for your nomming pleasure.  While it wasn’t representative of authentic Mexican cuisine, it presented great flavors that are often overlooked in Los Angeles because of supposed authenticity of places that are cheaper.  I’m glad to see someone attempting classy representation of, what’s come to be in LA, everyday food.  So if you’re in Westwood and you want some of the flavors you love from your late night taco truck in a nicer locale, check out Casa Azul Cantina!  I know I’ll be going back for the ceviche!

CASA AZUL CANTINA

10853 Lindbrook Dr.

Los Angeles, CA 90024

(310) – 209 – 0666

WEBSITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

Cafe Livre | Culver City, CA

Cafe Livre, Culver City, CA
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

 

When I think about the food at Cafe Livre, my mouth waters.  I’ve been spreading the word to anyone that will listen, and now I’m turning to you!

The one thing missing was art on the walls at Cafe Livre, it has everything else you could possibly want from a Pan-Euro Brasserie, artisinal breads, cheeses, charcuterie, sweets, and more.  Cafe Livre is located in Downtown Culver City on Venice Blvd,the executive chef is Chef Farid Zadi who was born in Lyons, France and is of Algerian descent and has traveled the world and which allows him to cook with an amazingly eclectic palette, but more about the chef himself will be learned in my follow-up article to this review, in a new section I’m putting together!

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CAFE LIVRE’S SPECIAL DEALS ON

THRILLIST REWARDS!!!!!

Though today we’re here to focus on the food of Cafe Livre!  The menu includes breakfasts, sandwiches, dinners, charcuterie plates, and even some customer inspired dishes that represent a variety of European, North African, and some American cuisine.  I had the chance to not only speak with Chef Zadi, but get a tour of the entire restaurant, and he gave me a demonstration of the cooking of his Red Wine Onglet.  The restaurant has the atmosphere of a small fresh market bistro, it has a very sparse design aesthetic, which may be due to the new opening, but I found it relaxing.  There are a few high top tables, a few coolers filled with fresh local gourmet vendor’s items, a chocolate display, a bread display, and a cashier station.  After the cooking demonstration Blake(photographer) and I were seated at one of the high tops and served the Red Wine Onglet, Fresh French Bread with Butter, The Quack Charcuterie Plate, and Heirloom Sweet Baby Peppers Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Herbs.  The simplicity and care that Chef Zadi take with his food glow from the plates, and each bite displays the clean flavors he wishes to achieve.  Let me try to explain how amazing it all was, but seriously you’ll have to go and try it for yourself!

 

Marinated Hanger Steak on a Bed of Sauteed Vegetables
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

RED WINE ONGLET (Hanger Steak)

 

Chef Zadi took Blake and I on a tour of the restaurant, and we made a stop in the kitchen where he presented us with a cooking demonstration of the Red Wine Onglet.  It involves a Hanger Steak that’s marinated over-night in red wine(he was using a Shiraz, but said a Burgundy would work too, anything full bodied).  He put it in a hot pan and seared the steak while setting up another pan with two types of mushroom, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, carrots, and zucchini to sauté.  Chef explained to us the importance of simplicity in his dishes, and showed us this with the steak; he finished searing the steak and added veal stock and red wine before throwing it in the oven.  More or less that’s the last of the ingredients to go with the steak.  He pulled it out of the oven at rare and sliced it on the bias without letting it rest.  I was confused at first but later retracted my suspicions when he tossed it in the reduced sauce before placing the steak on the bed of sauteed vegetables(he added spinach and heirloom tomatoes at the very end) and drizzling it with the remaining sauce.

I will gladly say that this was one of the most texturally pleasing dishes I’ve ever experienced; the steak had the slight meatiness where it had been seared, but the inner flesh was medium-rare and melted, releasing multiple dimensions of veal, red wine, and steak flavors into my mouth.  The reduction of wine and veal stock create a savory silky flavor with just the right amount of butter and bitterness to create a compelling contrast.  The vegetables were all cooked perfectly, the oyster mushrooms were meaty, the spinach was just barely wilted, the potatoes were fork tender and the zucchini still had some crunch to it.  I’m a big carnivore and have eaten exceptionally good meat before, but Chef Zadi knows how to turn, what was once considered, a lower quality cut of meat into a tender and flavorful dish that rivals some of the best T-bones and filets I’ve eaten.

 

Duck Bacon, Prosciutto, Pate, and Rillettes
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

THE QUACK

I LOVE DUCK.  The fact that Cafe Livre has a dish offerings four different preparations of duck was what got me so interested in the first place.  BUT one of those items happens to be a duck bacon.  The duck bacon is one of those foods you eat and it transcends your memory, immediately going to where your dreams hide, showing up every time you try to close your eyes.  Its cured duck breast with the skin still on, and when the fat of the skin touches your tongue it melts. It has more than a hint of the flavors of regular bacon, while retaining the duck flavor I crave.  There’s also a duck prosciutto that’s firmer and saltier meat with more intense duck flavor, and amazing fat that melts faster than it should.  I’m not saying it’s bad, do not get me wrong, I’m saying it’s too good. Way too good.  I don’t want to be writing this I want to be eating duck prosciutto until i can’t breath.  But since I have to, I’ll continue on to the pate.  I haven’t had pate in years and I was expecting something a bit more mousey, but I was pleasantly surprised to have something of a duck meat loaf.  It’s the perfect mixture of confited ground duck and duck fat to create a loaf with an incredible sense of balance as far as the texture and flavor go.  It was great on its own, but when put on top of a slice of the buttered French bread it reached an upper echelon of flavor.  The last piece of this charcuterie masterpiece is the duck rillettes, which I could most easily compare to a duck salad without any mayo.  It’s duck confit that’s shredded and chilled with a layer of duck fat, then mustard is added creating a tangy salty flavor.  The rillette is then formed and drizzled with a little more confit liquid at the end of its preparation.  I loved it because I confited duck less than a month ago, and the rillettes brought back delicious memories while creating new ones.  The mustard caught me off guard at first, but that spicy vinegar flavor made my mouth water more and more with each bite.  I’ve actually since gone on to do a similar preparation with chicken using some left over confit liquid to make a chicken rillette!

Aside from duck there’s a sauerkraut provided by an outside vendor.  It’s lighter and tarter than what you’d find in a grocery store or sausage stand.  The flavor is bright and the brining solution wasn’t overly salted leading to a flavorful crunch that cleanses the palette and complementing the palette cleansing gherkins.

 

Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Herbs
Photography by Blake Zimmerman

HEIRLOOM SWEET BABY PEPPERS STUFFED WITH HERBS AND GOAT CHEESE

These little itty bitty peppers pack more flavor than the last rack of ribs you ate.  The heirloom peppers are amazingly sweet after being roasted, and the goat cheese(I believe a chevre) is mellowed by a creme fraiche and then blasted with bright flavorful herbs.  Finally it’s drizzle with aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.  The creamy texture that’s inside goes perfectly with the tender roasted pepper flesh.  I won’t explain much further because you have to try these.  If you live outside of Los Angeles, I feel sorry for your tongue.

 

Cafe Livre was an incredible gastronomical experience that’s left my taste buds reeling!  Please comment and let me know what you think if you’ve eaten at Cafe Livre or just have a great food story to share!

CAFE LIVRE – EAT GOOD CLEAN FOOD

9626 Venice Blvd.

Culver City, CA 90232

(310) – 842 – 9078

WEBSITE

FACEBOOK

At Last Cafe | Long Beach, CA

Diners Drive Ins and Dives At Last Cafe

I just moved to Long Beach a few weeks ago, and whenever I go to the local 7-11 I see this little corner cafe, called At Last Cafe, and I wanted to stop in there for breakfast some time.  Today was the day, and surprisingly enough the only breakfast dish I saw on the menu was an omelet, the rest of the menu was loaded with savory comfort food that had an elegant twist to it.  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised!  They have a regular menu you can pull from, but also a blackboard with rolling specials that change all the time.  On the specials were Gazpacho w/ Shrimp & Avocado and a Lamb 3-Way dish, and I could not say no to either.(sorry for the double negative, but it was important)

Before I get into the food I wanted to let you know that this restaurant has been on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives on the Food Network, which I had no idea until I overheard my neighboring diners, but I completely understand why.  Aside from the food, it has a comfy corner cafe feel you would expect from a place just serving scones and coffee, but then you’re lured into the menu with all these wild dishes like the Polenta w/ Mushrooms appetizer or the Brick Chicken entree.  The wait staff was great, and my server Tracy checked on me several times, my water glass was always full.  The atmosphere was great, everyone in the place was having a good time and it felt like a place you ate at growing up, but with food that was out of this world.

 

Gazpacho w/ Shrimp & Avocado

The shrimp are tender, just barely cooked and the avocado doesn’t add flavor, it creates a beautiful creamy texture that delivers the impact of the tomato and cucumber like a gravy freight train.  The cucumber, onion, and tomato are plentiful and there’s even a little spicy kick of black pepper at the end.  It’s garnished with cilantro which delivers a fresh flavor every couple bites.  It had a very smooth tomato base that was the right balance of acidity and sweetness. You could see beads of oil that had broken from the emulsifying process.  I’ve had a few bowls of gazpacho in my day, but At Last Cafe’s was in the top 5.  It’s all because of the textural addition of avocado that didn’t overwhelm any of the other flavors and the melt in your mouth shrimp.

Diners Drive ins and Dives At Last Cafe

Lamb 3-Way

I had the Lamb 3-Way as my entree, and it coming in at $16 did not have me thrilled, but as soon as it came out my pockets loosened up and so did my taste buds.  There’s a small ground lamb meatball or patty, two lamb chops, and seared braised lamb shank meat, all  topped with the house gravy over homemade mashed potatoes, with tender crisp lightly sauteed vegetables.  The flavors were insane, my favorite was the shank meat, it had the delicious caramelized flavor on the seared parts, it fell apart and was delicately tender, AND the fat was rendered beautifully into a marrow like substance.  It’s truly worth going here just for the piece of lamb shank meat that comes in the 3-way.  Next for the lamb chop, lamb chops are one of the first things I learned to cook(long story) and I know the importance of evenly cooking a chop without taking it past medium-rare and so do the chefs at At Last Cafe.  My knife slid through the meat like butter and so did my teeth, it wasn’t powerfully seasoned and I mean that as a compliment, the lamb is able to speak for itself.  The meatball was the one I wasn’t expecting to be medium rare, but it was definitely a plus.  It had the great meatbally exterior and flavor with a smoothness similar to a pate or mousse on the inside, it was all amazing and when the gravy and lamb juice mixed together with the mashed potatoes the dish was complete.  I love dishes like this that evolve as you’re eating them, it was really wonderful and reminded me of some of the places my parents took me growing up.

At Last Cafe in Long Beach was incredible, I have it ranked as one of the best meals I’ve had since I’ve been in California.  Have you been to At Last Cafe or know of any other cool places in Long Beach to check out?  Be sure share them in the comments or on Facebook!

AT LAST CAFE

204 Orange Ave.

Long Beach, CA 90802

(562)-437-4837

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