Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Late Night List: Because You Can't Always Be in Vegas...

LA is a tough town to get the food on late at night. But thanks to Josh W. and Yelp there is a cure. The bold I rep.

The List

Abbey (2AM)
Apple Pan (12AM)
Astro Burger (varies)
Bar Marmont (1:30AM)
BCD Tofu (varies)
Berri's Pizza (varies)
BJ's (varies)
Brasserie Les Voyous (12AM)
Bravo (varies)
Brentwood (varies)
Broadway Deli (12AM)
Cabo Cantina (12AM)
Cafe 50's (varies)
Cafe Sushi (12AM)
Canter's (24 hrs)
Carney's Express (varies)
Casa Bianca (12AM)
Casa Vega (1AM)
Chaya Venice (varies)
Clafoutis (12AM)
Cliff's Edge (12AM)
Continental (12AM)
Courtyard (1AM)
Dakota (12AM)
Dan Tana's (1AM)
Dominick's (12:45AM)
Dona Rosa (12AM)
Doughboys (12AM)
Du-par's (varies)
Electric Lotus (12AM)
El Torito (varies)
Figaro Bistrot (12AM)
Firefly (12AM)
Frankie & Johnnie's (varies)
Fred 62 (24 hrs)
Geisha House (12AM)
Greenblatt's Deli (1:30AM)
Hamburger Hamlet (varies)
Hamburger Mary's (12AM)
Heroes B&G (varies)
Hollywood & Vine (3AM)
Hop Li (varies)
Hop Woo (varies)
Hungry Cat (12AM)
In-N-Out Burger (1AM)
Ivy at the Shore (12AM)
Jan's (2AM)
Jer-ne (12AM)
Johnnie's Pastrami (varies)
Jones Hollywood (1:30AM)
Katana (12AM)
Kate Mantilini (varies)
Kitchen (12AM)
la di da (12AM)
La Dolce Vita (12AM)
Lamonica's NY Pizza (varies)
La Velvet Margarita (2AM)
Lola's (2AM)
Lunaria (1:30AM)
Mel's Drive-In (varies)
Mexicali (1AM)
Minibar (2AM)
Mi Piace (varies)
Mirabelle (12:30AM)
Mix (12AM)
Miyagi's (2AM)
Monte Alban (12AM)
Nak Won (24 hrs)
Nirvana (2AM)
O-Bar (1AM)
Opus B&G (12AM)
Original Pantry Cafe (24 hrs)
Pacific Dining Car (varies)
Palms Thai (12AM)
Pearl (2AM)
Pete's Cafe (varies)
Pho Cafe (12AM)
Pink's Chili Dogs (2AM) --- but it's only a hotdog.
Pizza Rustica (12AM)
Polo Lounge (2AM)
Poquito Mas (varies)
P6 Restaurant (12AM)
Roscoe's (varies)
Saddle Ranch Chop (varies)
Schwab's (12AM)
Shane (2AM)
Spanish Kitchen (varies)
Standard (24 hrs)
Swingers (varies)
Tangerine (12AM)
Tommy's (24 hrs)
Uzbekistan (12AM)
Wokcano Cafe (varies)
Yard House (varies)
Zankou Chicken (varies)

Zip Fusion (12AM)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pure Beauty is Rare: Grace



Grace
://7360 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2501
(323) 934-4400

Quickie: No quickie. A good lady you always wait for.

Full: If I left my heart in San Francisco at Gregoire, I found a new and better one in Los Angeles at Grace. I've been waiting to go to the restaurant since I officially declared my food addiction in October 2008 (Thanks Yelp) and last Sunday my dream was finally fulfilled (Thanks to the great deal at Bloomspot).

Not a single dream went unmatched. Grace felt like a symphony. And I was dancing. The orchestra was starting to tune its instruments, the flute plays a chord, the bass tunes the D string and the cymbals are starting to round out as the drummer takes his place. The conductor is still missing from the stage coated in black velvet dresses and satin black cummerbunds. The conductor (Neal Fraiser) arrives and there's silence...


The show lights come on, the stage is set, and the audience is waiting with bated breath. The violin starts up the first course with crab meat and snow peas, the percussion hit in with spinach & arugula salad, but the true star was the cello with her lobster thai soup, rich warm flavors that floated over your entire body. The piece is finished and the last note rings in the air. You can't believe you are here.

Only shortly after you are hit with the warm up piece comes the real master. Your heart is racing as the conductors arms start to sway, softly ringing in the winds, then the strings, then BANG. The gong goes off. Enter in Sautéed Wild Alaskan Salmon, Wild Boar, and the Grace Burger with truffle cheese. It's your lucky day since the Grace burger is only available on Sundays, the dry aged meat medium rare as the best way so the juice melts into the cheese and fleur de sel bun. You'll think the orchestra is only playing for you.

And when all the plates are empty and your heart is near tears, the room gets silent and cold. The conductor leaves the stage. How could it all be possibly over? How can you return to your drab life when you know this beauty exists and in such limited form?


But the orchestra hasn't left. And you can feel something in the pit of your stomach building. Hope. Your hands grip the cold metal railing and you wait. Something is coming. Your eyes open wide to the swift black coattails moving back across the stage. Alas, a new conductor (Mariah Swan) has arrived! And with the wave of her arm she brings in a caramel tequila milkshake, sticky toffee cake, and the creme de la creme: the salted caramel donut with brown butter popcorn ice cream. The caramel milkshake hits you like a shot of patron -- without the painful sting down your throat. Your tongue warms as with the sticky toffee cake's brûléed bananas and the sweet swirl of hazelnut gelato and toffee sauce. But pure beauty can only have one name, and that name is the salted caramel donut. A taste so pure Fred the baker would wake up from his sleepy-eyed dream world.

Finally your eyes open again and the orchestra is leaving the stage. It wasn't a dream. This happened. And it all started with the wave of a baton...

Don't let the bill make you cry. You know it was worth it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How to Read Food Guides: A Life Skill

Quick Disclaimer-y: Obviously all my opinion, my experiences, my nonsense. You can't get mad at me for a single thing I say. For all you know, it's complete hoo-hah. My experiences tend to be based on Zagat and Yelp. I will specify where necessary. Also, if you can read all of this, you should get a cookie. Not from me. From somewhere though.

More than anything, I think I know how to read food guides more than I know what places to eat at or that I'm in the know to any degree. They are written to be obvious, but there are always nuisances and important interpretations that make the difference between the right restaurant, and a terrible evening. Most important rule: Food Is Expectation.

First, a couple myths...

Everything in Zagat is Good: No, not everything is Good For You. Zagat is an excellent source. But Zagat isn't sending out inspectors to judge food (not that this method is preferable). It is a survey, which means that everyday people vote on it. Things aren't voted on and then screened. Everyday people have completely different preferences about food. There are 1950+ restaurants in the LA book alone. You won't like everything.

Each year, Zagat decides on the restaurant for the next guide and the points based on online surveying that everyone has access to regardless of how often they eat out. This is prone to biases obviously -- people having different ideas of the point system, choosing restaurants for a number of personal motivations that may not be generally applicable (got really drunk and don't remember much, there for a bad office party, spent too much, spent too little, went on a bad night, went on an exceptionally good night...the list never ends), and the timing between when they vote and when they ate there (almost everything gets EXTREMELY better or EXTREMELY worse after even a few weeks of eating somewhere).

High rankings are bought: Though I could never independently verify this, I don't believe it is true. It doesn't behoove either of these institutions to up the ranking of a place in the face of terrible service and food. The amount they could possibly make by making a place more rosy than it is versus losing their customer base just doesn't make financial sense. People would notice. Give up the conspiracy theories Mulder, it's probably not happening.

Mo' Money Means Mo' Better : Worst one. The best way to approach this is to realize every experience is proportionate. And all food is expectation. A lot of money tends to come with a lot of expectation. Little money tends to come with almost none. If the food is good but expensive, you discount it more because it cost you more. If the food is good but cheap, it suddenly becomes a lot more delicious. This is a rational approach -- if it's expensive it should be better. But people overall tend to weight this more than they should. Hype and lack of hype ruin a lot of good things.

Armed with this knowledge you're ready to start reading.

The basics...

First, I almost always cross reference Yelp and Zagat. If both of them agree the place is good, it's probably a safe bet given the huge difference in audiences for both.

Second, when I'm reading about a place, I spent a lot more time thinking about what kind of experience I want than whether the place sound good. The place will be good if it is what I want. Think about this every time you read: price, ambiance/service, type of food. If food is expectation, a place you have picked will only fail you when you thought one thing about it and it turns out to be another. There are places that will always be good and always be bad -- but these are few and far in between.

If you ask me to find you a place, this is why I grill you on what you want. I always say genre first, I always follow it with who you are going with, and where you want to be. Your mood both before and after you eat also heavily impact the taste of the food. If it was too hard to get there, you're more critical or you're really relieved, if it was easy to get there, but a bitch to leave, your love for it decreases the harder it is to get to your new destination.

This is also why I am so hesitant to tell people where to go. A place I like may be something you hate. And maybe the opposite.

Third, check the website if there is one. You can get a lot from a website. The photos, the music, the way it presents itself will give you a lot of insight into the way the restaurant sees itself. Family places have websites that have a lot on the history, they might be simpler/homier, they have either a lot of photos or none at all. Hyped/trendy restaurants have lounge music on their website, they have more photos of the people and the restaurant than the food, and the website is definitely in flash, takes a while to load, and has the word "events" listed somewhere either because they think they are important enough to have "events" or because they expect you to have your "event" there -- they also want a lot of money for this "event". Gourmet/foodie restaurants have only pictures of food. They forget pictures of the restaurant, they might have "events" too but it's for tastings. One of their pages will explain their "concept". They want you to know their philosophy about food, because they definitely have one. The trendy restaurants want you to know they have food, and that's about it. There's not a philosophy. There's sometimes a who has been here recently list (Millions of Milkshakes, I'm looking at you).

The specifics...

First, think about audience

The Zagat audience is often, though not necessarily, foodies with more discretionary income. Zagat has an association with being more expensive and higher quality (I've already explained how to really think about this) -- so this audience is generally willing to spend more money when eating out. This is important. Remember myth three? It means all your reading of the ratings should keep this in mind. People who spend more money on food on average place a higher value on brand name chefs, places with a lot of food buzz, and ability to impress every time (the Zagat sticker on the door doesn't help with that either). You think this means everything in Zagat is Good, but there's a difference between Good and Good For You.

The Yelp audience is a little bit wider given that access to it is free/don't have to buy a book. There are a couple of different groups of people who use Yelp.

1. The silent type: A group of people who read it all the time, but rarely rate. All this means is, you can't look at a place, see a low number of ratings, and assume no one has been there. It definitely means less, but not no one.

2. The ranters: A group of people who only use Yelp to promote something they really liked or something they really hated. They review five times or less. They are the least reliable. This is different from someone who is just starting to review and is building up. This group has reviews that are total five stars (the highest) or only one star (the lowest -- zero stars aren't possible). They review because something really impressed them or really disappointed them. They don't feel much accountability to reviewing honestly or with some reasonability in their rant.

3. The yelpers: A group of people (largest % of people) who review often. They casually eat out a pretty reasonable amount. They have some five stars, some one stars, and a lot in between. There isn't a good way to decide who this person is -- not a number of reviews or anything will designate it. The basics would be they are active or recent reviews, they are not named Yelp Elite (a little red button on the profile), and they have some compliments (comments left by other yelpers). If you aren't a ranter or a total foodie, you relate to this group the most. So when they make comments about the service not being great, or maybe the food is pretty tasty, as long as you have followed the second tip about knowing what you want, you will probably agree.

4. The elite: Yelp's most active members. They eat out a lot (not always, but are in their late twenties early thirties and have a good amount of discretionary income -- you'd have to for this lifestyle), they review regularly, they are invited to restaurant openings and special events. Because they eat out often, they're reasonable, but naturally critical because they have a lot of places to compare. Like Zagat, you can't assume you will like everything a Yelp Elite likes. In fact, you might love a place a Yelp Elite doesn't like because they can be more picky, and expect more.

Second, think about systems

Zagat is a book published once a year. Everything you are reading are things people experienced last year. Restaurants change waiters, change hostesses, change owners. Last year could be completely different than this year. Zagat also only publishes one paragraph of comments to sum up thousands of people's experiences at the restaurant to cover all of its locations. Restaurants are different by location, different day to day. It can only cover so much. Zagat has a website with a Yelp aspect, but it is not frequently updated.

Yelp is an online feedback system. It is constantly updated, but by thousands of different people. It is hard to read all the reviews and each review is based on who published it. The ranking only ranges between 1-5 stars and you can't give a zero or any half stars. The benefit of seeing how many reviews though does help you decide if a five star really means five, i.e. 150+ reviewed it or if it means a lot less only 30 or so reviews. It can tell you if a restaurant is good currently as opposed to a year ago, if it's closed, and what has changed.

Finally, remember what you want

Only you can know what you want to eat. So choose wisely!



And finally, ask questions. It is why I am here.


Food Literature I read here:
Yelp and favorite Yelp people (See Austin S., Shauna D. and Ed C. for starters)
Zagat
Tasting Table
Urban Daddy
The Rundown
Thrilllist

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sometimes You Have to Leave LA: Gregoire

EDIT: Sorry for the brief hiatus, a great woman once told me 'Sometimes life gets in the way' - Vanessa Kuroda.

Gregoire
://4001 Piedmont Ave,
Oakland, CA 94611-5208
(510) 547-3444‎

Quick: Since lunch in a Parisian cafe with Julia Child is not happening for me anytime soon, Gregoire will have to do.

Full: French food is the epicenter of the foodie. It's full of beautiful creams, rich sauces, and fatty meats. It's complicated, full of pretension, and stuck up waiters. You have to order in a language you don't understand only so you can end up like this guy. (Please watch the intro...you'll love it).

Gregoire is none of these things. It's a cute little shack sized restaurant with only bar stool seating next to the kitchen and a table or bench outside (depending on Berkeley or Oakland). Every month is a new menu so you never get bored -- it's like opening a present on Christmas.

The menu is always full of rich meats and cheeses -- racks of lamb, chicken, and portobello mushroom (I told you, I think of mushroom as a meat veggie) all squished between loaves of pantofolina, focaccia, and wheat bread. The cheeses are all your favorites -- grueye and brie with a cheddar or provolone in a few. Lunch is the best deal -- only $8 dollars for a sandwich. Dinner is a much bigger undertaking -- I'd recommend only picking it up if you're planning on a cute picnic at home -- the restaurant setting hardly feels like a place you would sit down to eat "Grilled Harissa marinated lamb T-bone with Moroccan yogurt sauce." Mmmm fancy and affordable, my favorite.

And please, whatever you do, don't forget to order the potato puffs. These little babies might be the reason I am moving to the Bay. Think mashed potatoes inside of a potato pastry. See an image at The Potato Stories Blog. These heavenly jewels of brown might make you cry in the restaurant. Don't cry, Julia Child never cried.

Monday, March 15, 2010

: Joan's on Third


Joan's on Third
:// 8350 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-2285

Quickie: Time to leave your grocery store and open your heart to the wonders of the market. We're over stable and obvious baby. Ready to kick up a notch.

Full: In about 140 days, I move to the Bay. The beautiful, the amazing, the Baytastic San Francisco Bay. And to be honest, I'm excited. Quite excited. Why? Because the Bay is filled with my favorite kind of restaurant, the marketplace.

You know what I mean. You're getting tired of those painful, unexciting trips to Ralphs. You stare at the poor food in giant unattractively wrapped packaging. The plastic cutting off the air supply of all those cheeses, and meats, and the terrible paper packages that contain smothered seasoning. It's heart breaking. You want to rescue the sets of powdered garlic from their plastic bags, you need to free yourself from processed artificial cheese, and frostbitten meat. You're so used to it all and you want to get out. You want to eat a snickers bar cupcake while you anxiously stare down the quiche. Oh Joan's, are you ready to rescue me?

Clean and white, you feel a little like heaven Joan. As soon as you walk in your eyes start to cheat on Ralphs. Stable, faithful Ralphs. She just doesn't satisfy you anymore. You're too attracted to everything else in the room. Easter chocolates straight in front, quail eggs and chocolate covered peeps. If you manage to make it past the Easter delights on the left, you'll be ready to scarf down the mushroom plates, the eggplant, the fried chicken. Maybe a bite or two of that delicious looking mac & cheese. You think you're finished and you wander over to the table on the other side to start eating. But you barely make it four feet before your eyes set themselves on apricot bars, chocolate marshmellow and vanilla raspberry cupcakes. Oh God. I melt thinking about them.

Two more steps forward and you hit the motherload. Salad dressings, soups. Is that crushed almond in the corner? Premade chicken pot pies and sorbets. You're going to give it all up for this. You feel your ears get warmer, your body starts to shake, you want it all.

Joan's is incredible. She's better than whoever you currently seeing: Ralphs, Vons, whoever. They pale in comparison. Joan's will get it done. She always does.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Being Vegetarian is Getting Sexy: Vegan Glory


Vegan Glory
://8393 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Zagat Rated/ $

Quickie: Thai food gets better and better in this casual spot on Beverly Blvd. Think you couldn't dare give up meat? Vegan Glory might change your mind.

Full: You've been thinking about this for sometime now, ever since you saw Pamela in the PETA ads. Vegetarianism (though not the same as vegan-ism). Why would anyone ever give up meat? Delicious, tasty, and juicy...its savory feeling in your mouth is a hard one to sacrifice...

But Vegan Glory makes the transition a little easier. Their soy chicken, soy steak, and soy shrimp makes you feel a little less like you're betraying your ancestors (and your meat-eating-anti-hippie-parents). Vegan Glory even manages to ensure the soy feels like meat, not the soft squishy texture of tofu. Mmmmm soy chicken?...Has Colonel Sanders heard of this yet?

On your quest to PETA friendly heaven, you even dare to add more veggies to your soy mix. A little eggplant maybe? Maybe even a little spicy? To be honest, you're hardly paying attention as you devour the brown rice, surprisingly fluffy and warm in a world of overly crunchy and lifeless brown rice.

You end it all with a little dessert. Hey, being vegetarian or vegan doesn't mean you have to give up the sugar. You're thinking sticky rice with mango. But if it's out of season (like now), you can always try a little soy whip cream with Pamela.

Monday, February 22, 2010

And the Grumpy Continues: Electric Karma


Electric Karma
://8222 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 653-2121 | Reserve Online

Quickie: Shiny Indian restaurant boasts less than shiny Indian tasting food. Great for those who don't actually like Indian food...or flavor. A place that used to be in Zagat...the mighty have certainly fallen.

Full: I'm in a foodie bad mood. And Electric Karma just added to it. Seriously. Someone break me out of my funk (I'm hoping Breadbar's Debbie Lee visit will do just that).

It's February and you're reviewing your New Years Resolutions list. Monthly check up you see. Some things might have slipped by the wayside by now, lose 30 pounds, run 1000 miles, be a better person. But, on that list, still contains in all its stunning glory: be in a Bollywood movie. Well that's great, because Electric Karma will help you accomplish that.

The room is gorgeous. Really pretty setup that makes you feel king like. You could get up and bhangra right now. (Props to USC Jachdi Jawani for 1st place). But intense bhangra makes a man hungry. And Electric Karma is not the place to fulfill that hunger.

This might have been one of those nights where I ordered the wrong thing. And apparently Josh did too. But the garlic naan, tikka masala paneer and tofu vindaloo just didn't do it for us. It wouldn't do it for you either. Portuguese inspired Indian food comes out in the taste and awesomeness of vindaloo, a far more common food in countries not India. But it is spicy as hell and delicious. If you wanted to look a little like Wile E Coyote after the anvil falls, eat vindaloo. But not at Electric Karma. This came out far more soupy, tomato like, and not spicy. The rest of the meal was similarly "Eh". The bollywood styled room just sets up such great expectations. Only to disappoint in the end. It would be as if Jamal incorrectly answered the last question in Slumdog Millionaire. So much promise. So unfulfilled.

Electric Karma won't help you get the energy to get up and dance with your best 50 friends to win the girl. And if it can't help you do that, well then, it's just no good at all.