Monday, January 31, 2011

DineLA 2011 Review - Hostaria Del Piccolo

Usually I avoid restaurant week / Dine LA due to several poor Restaurant Week experiences back in New York.  The prix fixe menus are generally limited and unappealing; restaurants very rarely offer their best "signature dishes" on the prix fixe, so you aren't getting the real experience of going to the restaurant, which kind of makes the visit pointless.  The dishes the are served on the prix fixe menu often turn out mediocre and not reflective of the usual quality of the restaurant, tasting as if the kitchen didn't care to put much effort into them.  A lot of the time, service is also quite surly; you can tell the wait staff is not thrilled about offering the promotion, either because the promotions tend to draw a different crowd than their regulars or because the tips are lower because of the lower average check; probably a combination of both.  I've had very few good meals during restaurant week, which is why I generally avoid it.  In fact, the poor experience has led me to refuse to go back to those restaurants, even outside of restaurant week.

Last night, I decided to give DineLA another shot; we had just gotten back from Colorado to an empty fridge, plus I had heard good things about Hostaria Del Piccolo, both as part of and also outside of DineLA.  The restaurant is relatively new, opening at the end of 2010.  I find the space odd; it's located on the ground floor of a residential building on Broadway.  There's a nice open kitchen, but the rest of the restaurant is rather dark with dark woods and dim lighting.  The benches that we sat on were quite uncomfortable; hard with no cushion and nothing to lean back against.  There are a couple of flatscreen tvs that show a flickering fireplace, but I just found it cold and artificial, and not at all homey, which is the intended effect.  It's definitely not a comfortable place for dinner, without much ambiance.  Service was fine.  We ordered off of the DineLA menu:
Costicine: baby back ribs, herbs and beans
Anguilla: crispy sauteed eel over vegetable caponata
Rigatoni with Italian sausage, tomato cream, peas, mushroom and parmesan
Tonno: Mozzarella, pizzaiola cruda, ahi tuna, green onions, squid ink dough
Panzerotti: crispy hot ravioli filled with apples, vanilla cinnamon sauce
Pumpkin panna cotta, zucchini blossom sauce
I thought the appetizers were pretty bad.  The short ribs were greasy and underseasoned, as were the deep fried eels.  I was particularly disappointed in the eels; if I'm going to have something deep fried, it better be awesome!  But instead, the batter was thick and flavorless, and did nothing to enhance the eel. Both dishes could have used a touch of acid; they were both so flat and boring.  The entrees were much better; I quite liked my rigatoni.  There was nice texture and chew to the rigatoni, and the mushroom and sausage cream sauce was quite tasty, without being too heavy.  The pizza was pretty good; I've never had seared tuna on a pizza before, so it was interesting.  I liked the tart tomato sauce.  The squid ink dough was mostly just a novelty; I don't think it added much flavor to the dough, just turned it black.  The pizza dough was ok, still a little on the floury side on the bottom.  The desserts were decent.  I liked the apple ravioli, although I thought that the dough could be more delicate.  The panna cotta was fine, but not very memorable; the zucchini blossom sauce didn't taste like much (plus it's not zucchini season!).  The beer and cocktail list were pretty interesting, but I found the wine list a little lacking, and I usually love Italian wine; I had a very ordinary chianti with my meal.  Overall, it was an ok meal, but we won't be in a rush to go back.  It's too bad; I've been looking for a good casual Italian place on the westside, but just haven't found it yet.

Hostaria del Piccolo
606 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beaver Creek

We had a great day skiing at Beaver Creek today. It was my first time at Beaver Creek, and I really liked it. We spent most of the day in arrowhead where the crowds were light and the lift lines short.

I have to say though, as much as I like Colorado, the hassle of flying these days, especially with ski equipment, is just almost not worth the effort.  Mammoth is just so much easier, where we can load up the car and be on the mountain 4.5 hours later.  This year at least, snow has been better in Mammoth.

Friday, January 28, 2011


 Vail has always been one of my favorite ski mountains. I particularly like the back bowls and blue sky basin.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Swiss Chard Tart: Today's Farmer's Market Side Dish

In the wintertime, it's easy to get tired of the same old winter vegetables, so we try to rotate the vegetables that we buy every week and also prepare them in different ways so that we don't get sick of them.  Going to the farmer's market every week helps for inspiration.  Last week we made cauliflower soup and broccoli soup and a couple of salads, in the previous weeks we went through kale and beets phases and roasted a lot of vegetables including parsnips and brussels sprouts.  I've been looking to do something different with all the dark leafy greens that are in abundance this time of year so I tested out Mario Batali's recipe for a swiss chard tart.  I used one bunch of organic rainbow chard and one bunch of organic green chard.  Are they supposed to taste different? For some reason the green chard was more expensive than the rainbow chard, even though I think the rainbow is prettier.  It was a pretty time-consuming dish to make with lots of dishes to wash, between the prep, boiling the chard, then sauteing the vegetables, and then baking the dish.  I basically followed Batali's recipe, just omitted the parsley, used 4 eggs instead of 3, used panko for bread crumbs, and used a little less parmigiano reggiano.  It could have use a little more salt, but the end results were still quite tasty!  I'll definitely be making this one again.

Winter Farmer's Markets

Before a challenging yoga class at Yogis Anonymous with Brock where I made some progress on handstands and arm balances (by the way, the Lululemon No Limit Tank stays put really well for inversions), I stopped by the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmer's Market to pick up some vegetables for the week.  There's really nothing new or exciting that has surfaced; I did see (very expensive) strawberries and tomatoes at Harry's Berries, which I thought was a little early for the season.  Otherwise just the same dark leafy greens, winter squash, and citrus.  Only one or two apple stands left, citrus is pretty much the only fruit out there.  I should start making more things with our backyard meyer lemons. 
$30 for a 6 pack of strawberries

Lots of kale, rainbow chard and fennel

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The September Issue - Inside Look at Vogue

I missed this documentary in the theaters, but finally watched it on DVD last week.  The September Issue is a documentary about the making of Vogue's September 2007 issue.  Vogue has been my favorite magazine forever; I remember reading every issue starting from age 10.  There is no other fashion magazine that even comes close, in terms of its influence on the fashion industry and consumers.  I thought the documentary was really interesting; like most people, I am both frightened of and reverent of Anna Wintour: she has amazing taste, but is so incredibly intimidating.  This documentary was the first that I've ever seen of her talking and interacting with others in depth.  It didn't make her any less scary, but I definitely found it insightful.  It was great to see how Vogue works behind the scenes and the effort that goes into producing a single issue, as well as to meet some of the other cast of characters, including Grace Coddington, whom I previously only knew by their byline, but now really admire.  Since watching the documentary, I especially look out for all the editorial spreads by Grace; she produced the most beautiful work.  This documentary probably won't appeal to anyone not interested in fashion, but a definite must-watch for fashion addicts like me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seoul Garden - Korean Hot Pot Genghis Khan style

Last weekend, JK treated us to Korean hot pot meal at Seoul Garden, right next to downtown LA.  It was my first time trying Korean hot pot; we have shabu shabu (Japanese style hot pot) all the time at home, particularly in the winter.  Our meal was really good; it's definitely for meat lovers, we had plenty of meat, but also lots of fresh vegetables and tasty panchan.  The quality of meat is quite good; it's very thinly sliced with not too much fat, you just can't find similar quality in the markets.  The only place that has better meat is Kagaya, a Japanese shabu shabu place in Little Tokyo, but Kagaya is significantly more expensive.  The best part of the meal is at the end, where they make udon noodle soup in the remaining broth, and then use the leftovers to make a delicious rice congee.  It's a good place to go with a big group of friends to get a big meat fix that's a little lighter (though not by much) than Korean bbq.

Seoul Garden
1833 Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 386-8477

Brunch at Tavern: Pricey but Good in a Lovely Space

We had brunch this morning in Brentwood at Tavern in the back room. The space is really lovely, a soaring glass atrium with some white drapery, comfortable yet elegant plush couches and chairs with nailhead trimmed steel tables. It's a really gorgeous room particularly on a beautifully sunshine-y days like today. We had the Tavern eggs benedict and brisket hash. I really loved the eggs benedict; the prosciutto gave the dish great savory flavor but with a lighter touch than the usual Canadian bacon. It was one of the most well-balanced eggs benedicts that I've ever had, between the perfectly cooked poached egg, hollandaise, airy prosciutto, with parsley and meyer lemon for a touch of freshness. The hash was good though just a little on the oily side and the brisket was a touch dry.  My general complaint about one of Suzanne Goin's other restaurants, AOC, is that it also is just a little too oily, though the food is quite tasty.  We also had a sticky bun from the larder which was delicious, warm, fluffy, moist and just on the right side of very sweet without being too sweet and delicious candied pecans. Prices are high, between $15-$20 for each brunch entree. Still, it's a lovely place for brunch, particularly with company. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I just have the iPhone shot of the sticky bun.

11648 San Vicente Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 806-6464

Friday, January 21, 2011

Vena Cava for Aqua

It actually looks better without the belt
After a morning yoga class at Yogis Anonymous, I did a little shopping in the area and found this dress at Bloomingdales in Santa Monica Place at a pretty ridiculous (in a good way) price.  Even though I don't have any of their clothes; I've always liked Vena Cava since seeing their clothes at Barneys New York many years ago: simple, effortless clothes, with just a little touch of edge and styling to keep it fun.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but I really like the high-waisted silhouette; it's definitely a different look for me, and the draping on the tulip skirt is just the right volume to keep it interesting.  I love these kinds of designer collaborations; it's a nice opportunity to try out some new labels without a big commitment.  There are some great deals in the stores right now; I found a couple of nice Elizabeth and James (love all their clothes; who knew, Olsen twins...), Vince and James Perse pieces that I really liked, but this dress was all that I came home with today.

Update: I went back and picked up a couple more pieces (two dresses and a pair of shorts) from the collection which were further discounted; each piece averaged to less than an Alexander Hamilton...

I got the shorts

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sulfate-Free Hair Care: L'Oreal EverStrong

I'm a little late on the bandwagon, but I finally switched shampoos to a sulfate-free shampoo, L'Oreal EverStrong Sulfate-Free Reconstruct Shampoo and Conditioner, thanks to A.'s recommendation.  Apparently sulfate-based hair care products can be really harsh and drying on the skin and hair, plus possibly lead to more serious side effects. Despite regularly splurging for beauty products, I never really gave much thought to my shampoo and conditioner, just automatically buying the jumbo sizes of Pantene from Costco for as long as I can remember.  My hair has certainly suffered for it: it's been dull, frizzy and lifeless, only made worse by the dry winter weather.  I've only been using L'Oreal for about a week, but I'm quite pleased with the results already: my hair is shinier, tamer and seems to stay cleaner for longer.  It foams up nicely and rinses cleanly, and I like the smell. I'm still not planning on splurging (yet) on hair care, but at $5.99 a piece at Target and Bed Bath and Beyond (cheaper with the occasional coupon) for L'Oreal EverStrong, the price is quite reasonable.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kartell Louis Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck in Action

I like how the one at the end by the window almost disappears into the light
I finally picked up the pair of transparent smoke grey Louis Ghost Chairs yesterday.  I've wanted two more dining chairs for our Room & Board Portica dining table for awhile now, particularly since we've been entertaining so much recently.  The six leather chairs from Room & Board that we already had have been discontinued, but I wanted different style chairs for the ends of the tables anyway, to keep it more interesting.  I like the Louis Ghost chairs because they are so visually light and don't make the table seem too crowded.  I think it would look too crowded and heavy if we had black leather chairs at the end as well.  I like the transparent smoke grey color; in person the grey is very subtle and light, very close to the transparent clear chair that we also have.  I have to admit, as much as I think I have pretty good taste in fashion and clothes, I find interior design to be very challenging; I just don't have a good eye for it.  It's taken forever to furnish the house, and I still have a long way to go.  The dining room is almost complete; I'd like to change to curtains, replace the Ikea PS Cabinet with a new buffet, although I do like the red color, and perhaps add a console underneath the red painting.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ramen California Review: Healthy, Light...Ramen?

As much as I love ramen, it's definitely not the lightest dish, with its wonderful usually pork-based broth, made even heavier depending on what ingredients are added to it.  Santouka Ramen and Mottainai Ramen definitely are on the rich (but so delicious) end of the ramen spectrum.  You definitely feel lethargic and quite thirsty after a meal at those places.  On the other end of the spectrum is Ramen California in Torrance.  I really like the ramen here, particularly the abundance of fresh heirloom vegetables and lighter chicken based broths.  They even put mixed salad greens in the ramen; you don't see that at other places!  We ordered the California Ramen and Chicken Ramen for lunch today.  I am a big fan of the California Ramen with the rainbow of fresh vegetables, which really add a lovely variety of flavor and texture to the ramen.  I love the heirloom beets and cauliflower in particular.  They must saute and season the vegetables first, as they have a ton of flavor; they aren't your usual boring blanched or steamed vegetables.  The broth is also light and delicious; you don't feel greasy or weighed down after.  The noodles aren't quite as springy as other places, but enjoyable for their different, softer texture, more like somen or misua.  The chicken ramen was also very good; it was like the chicken had been lightly broiled or grilled first, so there was lots of flavor, plus some nice salad greens in the bowl as well.  The decor is nice and clean with lots of dark woods and a big bar seating area. I've always enjoyed Ramen California and would certainly go more often, but unfortunately, I'm just not around the area very often.  The only reason why I was near the area today is because I picked up my two transparent smoke grey Louis Ghost chairs (which, by the way, look really nice around the dining room table), from the Room & Board distribution center, also in Torrance.  I'll have to come up with excuses to be in Torrance more often!
California Ramen: look at all those beautiful vegetables

Ramen California
24231 Crenshaw Blvd
Torrance, CA  90505
(310) 530-2749

Lululemon No Limit Tank Review: Coal / Purple Crush and Aruba

I've had Master P stuck in my head all day...thanks to the return of Lululemon's No Limit Tank.  The No Limit Tank is one of Lululemon's most popular tanks but for some reason, they usually only produce limited quantities and the tanks sell out very quickly.  My local store told me they were just released, so I immediately walked to the store with the dogs to check it out (yes, it's very dangerous to live within walking distance of Lululemon).  It's a very simple and comfortable almost tunic-like tank top with a lightweight mesh fabric over a flow Y bra.  I bought the No Limit Tank in the coal / purple crush combo as well as in aruba (light turquoise).  I can't decide between the two tanks, but I really should only keep one.  The coal / purple is definitely more my style: I love purple crush; I love all things purple, particularly pinkish purple like purple crush.  I have a lot of potion purple, a lilac and very violet CRB, and lolo purple define jacket and reversible wunder unders.  I also have quite a few things in coal, including dance studio pants (which I wear almost everyday) and run: dash crops; it's a little less severe than black, though it's less forgiving and sometimes shows more sweat more than black.  The aruba is such a fun and energizing color on the other hand.  It sounds weird but I feel like the happy color would motivate me to push myself harder when working out; I usually prefer bright peppy tanks.  I do have a river rock CRB that is a very similar color however; that's my primary hesitation.  I must make a decision between the two No Limit Tanks though, I really shouldn't keep both tanks!  Thoughts? I also tried on the all black No Limit Tank as well as the White / Pique No Limit Tank, but the black was a little boring and the white was too see-through. I find the No Limit Tank fit on the small side; the purple and coal is a little smaller than the aruba with thinner straps that dig into my shoulders a bit, which gets annoying after awhile, but I stuck with my regular size 4 in both anyway.  (Update: I went back to the stores and tried on a bunch of 4s until I found one that was comfortable.  They seem to vary noticeably. The size 6 that I also tried on wouldn't be supportive enough for running.)   It is the perfect top for this crazy 80 degree heat wave we've been having; I've been wearing it around town with the dogs and I was very comfortable.  I'll be wearing it both for running as well as yoga (update: great and stays put for running and yoga; rides up for spinning).  This color combo hasn't been released yet online, so all I have are some photos in poor lighting.  I don't get good light at any of the full length mirrors in my place.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Presents from Singapore

JK brought us all sorts of Asian goodies from Singapore including her favorite red curry paste from Malaysia.  I love all sorts of curry: Japanese, Indian, Thai, so I was excited to try this out.  We made it with chicken, pee wee potatoes, carrots, celery and half a can of coconut milk.  It was delicious; reminded me of the curry in roti canai.  It's hard to describe curry; I'd describe it as a little thinner and more watery (but not in a bad way) curry vs. the other curries, though with a really nice heat.  We had it with another beet, burrata and walnut salad.  Thanks a lot JK!  Updated: a few days later, we made whole snapper with the fish paste that JK also brought.  It was really good with a nice sweet and sour taste with a nice warm heat from the spices.

Rosemary Cauliflower Soup

I've always loved creamy cauliflower soup so I made my own version last night, even though it's been 80 degrees outside.  It was pretty easy; pretty much the same recipe that I use for all my soups, with the addition of a little bit of roux in the middle to thicken it up.  It's definitely one of my favorite soups that I have ever made; rich and creamy with a deep cauliflower taste and just a hint of rosemary.

Rosemary Cauliflower Soup Recipe:
  • Dice 1-2 leeks, white and light green parts only
  • Cut a head of cauliflower into flowers
  • Chop about 1 TB of rosemary leaves
  • Dice 1-2 stalks of celery
  • Dice 1 medium potato or 3 fingerling potatoes
  • Heat up 1-2 TB of butter and 1-2 TB of olive oil over medium heat in a 3 1/2 quart le creuset round french oven
  • Saute the leeks until soft, about 5-10 minutes.  Add the celery after about 3 minutes.  Season with a little salt and pepper
  • Add the cauliflower florets and potato and saute for another 5-10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and add the chopped rosemary leaves towards the end
  • Push the vegetables to the side and melt another 1 TB of butter and 2-3 TB of flour and whisk together to form a roux
  • Add 1 quart of chicken broth.  I added about 6 cups because I had leftover chicken broth.  Add 1-2 sprigs of rosemary.  Bring to a boil and then let it simmer until the cauliflower and potato are soft, about 15-20 minutes.  Season with a little salt and pepper
  • Blend with Cuisinart immersion hand blender.  Add 4 TB of heavy cream and taste for seasoning 
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or chives


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