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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mayura Indian Restaurant - Culver City

I haven't had good south Indian food since medical school, and I wasn't prepared for Mayura. All this food comes with a flood of memories, of so much heritage and culture fed to me by friends. The recipes were definitive, but they were never set in stone. My friends would make the recipes their mothers and grandmothers had passed down, adding an occasional extra shake of the spice spoon to add their own personal touch. Impromptu post-exam dinner parties, idly on a whim, I had almost forgotten all that, and I almost forgot how much I miss them all.

"ID-LEE. Think Freud meets China." My first pronunciation lesson, and my favorite south Indian staple. Idly doesn't look like much, just round white-flour cakes of lentils and rice (pictured on on the appetizer basket below). Steamed with varying degrees of fluff, dipped in a hot, spicy Sambar and cool Coconut Chutney; warm, wet bites interspersed with comparing our answers for questions #42.

Someone says C, but I think the answer is A. A for Assorted Appetizer Basket, a plate of all things deep fried. The onion pakora could top a delicious veggie burger, the mixed vegetable pakora are pillowy fritters of orange and green. There is a samosa with peas and mashed potatoes encased in a chewy skin. The vada are new for me, dense, deep fried, savory lentil donuts.

5 Cocktail Uthappam
is a platter of minis topped with variations on a theme; tomato, carrots, green onion. It comes with channa, a dense stew of chickpeas, a thicker, equally spice-ful variation on the sambar theme. I used to literally break this bread with my med school BFFs, and now a table full of residency BFFs break bread again. Same uthappam with the same camaraderie and warmth; the bonds of those who trudge the trenches together are not so easily cracked.

The Masala Dosa is a must. A crispy crepe with spiced mashed potatoes; what's not to like? Theirs is good, but the last dosa I had was made by my friend's mother, and I'm pretty sure her spices had crack in them because I still dream about her dosa. 

Still, I can always handle an extra dose of dosa, and I'm never had Paneer Burji Dosa before. The sweeter, milder Indian cottage cheese has a Tempurpedic pillow-y texture, filling but light.

The carnivores must have the Chicken Tikka Masala. It's a staple of the north, and it is textbook.

A sizzling platter of Tandoori Mix & Kebab is full of flavorful chicken, glowing red-hot next to thick chunks of spicy kebab.

The Kerala Special is new for me, and it is exceptional. The kerala chicken curry is spicy, an indescribable spice-mix in a savory curry. It fills every nook and cranny of the fluffy rice pancake it comes with.

The Bhindi Masala breaks up all that meat. The okra is stir-fried dry (in a good way), and the tomatoes suck out the slime.

Dessert is a round of take-home boxes. Like every south Indian I've ever known, they are very generous at Mayura. They dish it out, and they pile it on, and everyone at the table has a light lunch. Indian food tastes just as good the next day, as each cube of chicken soaks in all its spices. 

Unlike north India, south India is mostly vegetarian. You can stuff anything into a dosa, and they can cook a good chicken, but at Mayura you don't really need the meat. Every dish is will leave you wanting more, and if you've never had south Indian food, you really need to try it.

Mayura Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hamakaze Sushi Izakaya - Los Angeles

We made it just in time for happy hour, but that may have been a mistake. Their sushi list looks legit, and you probably get what you pay for here. 

They do the basics well. The Seaweed Salad is cold and fresh, crisp and a little sweet. Textbook and much better than my picture makes it look.

The Agedashi Tofu simmers in a warm broth with a slow-to-sog tempura coat that keeps the tofu soft.

We didn't even pay for the Salmon Tartare; it's free for checking in on Yelp. The salmon is fresh, though I don't think it's raw. The ikura on top adds a refreshing touch to the mixture of mayo, and the cucumber is a genius cracker-substitute.

The Kick Ass Japanese Fries are just disappointing. They're home fries, and they are perfectly crisp and golden brown. There may have been a sprinkling of togarashi, but really, they are just chunks of potato. They are by no means bad, but it is really hard to get excited about cubes of potato, and I would love to know who got excited enough to call it "kick ass". 

The Aloha Roll is a preview to their sushi potential, and I wish I'd had the time and stomach space to explore it a little more. The crab and spicy tuna filling has a nice, though non-authentic balance, and the tuna on top is clearly quality.

What I think happened is that we ordered all the wrong stuff. We were in the mood for a light, simple dinner, and I don't think what we ordered truly reflected the potential of the place. Instead of a star rating, I think a thumbs-up placeholder is in order, at least until I can come back to try the sushi.
Hamakaze Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LA Smash Cakes - Los Angeles

I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Jenny in person yet, but she is clearly generous and fabulous. I did have the pleasure of sampling a "mini" cake creation, and it was amazing!

Think pinata. But instead of gaudy crepe-paper and small children who lack hand-eye coordination swinging weapons, there is a pretty chocolate dome. Smash it with the party-mallet provided, and all sorts of candy and treats spill forth.

There's no way your party doesn't need a cake like this, and LA Smash Cakes is awesome. I haven't found the right occasion yet, but my bachelorette party is right around the corner...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cafe Piccolo - Long Beach

The food can't be good. I accept this fact from the moment I walk in because there is no way the food will be of any acceptable quality after they spent all their money on decorating. Cafe Piccolo is one of the restaurants I've seen, and even the minimalist beauty of icons like French Laundry can't compare to this indoor-outdoor paradise garden. The indoor area feels like Victorian living room, and because it's winter, the outdoor patio is greenhouse-d in clear walls so you can still eat in Eden-after-dark, by the quiet gurgling of a mini-waterfall. Patio umbrellas twinkle like stars, and a warm brick floor glows by the light of a hearth-y fire pit.

My eyes scan the menu, and I think it must be an elaborate prank. The prices are so reasonable, and each entree comes with a salad or a cup of soup. The Salad is a generous portion, with croutons, a standard dressing, and a couple of olives.

The Curry Lentil Soup is the best decision I've made all night. Hearty lentils swim in a thick broth with a light touch of curry, and a full-bodied flavor is rounded out by an accent of bay leaves.

The portions are just perfect, but we can't resist a Steamed Clams appetizer. The white wine caper sauce clings to the briny clams, adding a bright breath of boldness.

The clams are light, but I need something more substantial for an entree. That's when these dense ropes of al dente Black Linguine with Shrimp and Calamari hit my hunger hard. The pasta is among the best I've had, and the secret is in the saffron. The sauce is rich with pungent garlic soaked in butter, but it's the saffron that makes the cream sauce pop.

From sea to land, with a classic Linguine Carbonara. The proscuitto is thicker-cut and infuses the whole plate with bacon cream. 

When is too much cream too much? Never. The Coppa Mascarpone is like a whipped parfait, rich chocolate lightened by airy mascarpone, sweet tempered by an amaretto-cookie crunch. 

I love Long Beach because it's so full of surprises. Small slices of paradise tucked into all sorts of random corners and streets, just waiting to be discovered. Cafe Piccolo is a hidden gem for sure, and part of me hopes it stays that way so that I can always find a seat.
Cafe Piccolo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Local Kitchen + Wine Bar - Santa Monica

I may or may not be a bit behind on my blogging. All of Tulum was written up in a very timely manner of a month, but let's not talk about all the other stuff I've let pile up.  

This one goes way back to Restaurant Week, also known as my biennial excuse for indulgence. I tell my self that all these budget-ripping-but-worth-every-penny restaurants are affordable...except at Local Kitchen, it's true.

25 dollars won't even get you through the farmer's market in Santa Monica, and it's a steal for a 3-course lunch or brunch. But I was skeptical. Santa Monica is not my favorite part of LA, and any decent food will run you at least 50 bucks.

I eat my words as I eat my Burrata. I would have paid 20 dollars just for this. A soft, solid shell opens, and a creamy soft flood of stracciatella spills across a sweet, earthy red squash puree, butternut squash with a little extra attitude. The roasted pears add their juices, and some savory hazelnuts sit like heavenly pillows on soft slices of grilled bread.

The food here is straightforward in its simplicity, but what you get is so much more than you see. An easy-looking Lamb Meatball Sandwich has a dynamic ground lamb with a bouquet of Middle Eastern herbs, and the pickled fennel adds some spring to its step, as sliced radishes and creamy yogurt smooth it out and keep it casual. 

I love truffles, but truffle oil is rarely pleasing in any significant quantity. Still, I give credit where it's due, and the Truffle & Mushroom Pizza deserves all compliments. Fontina dances on a thin crust floor, a garlicky tango with so many soft and fleshy shrooms. 

A Gelato trio is, as the rest of the menu, simple and textbook, but it is a no less satisfying. Rich, creamy chocolate runs into smooth vanilla bean, as sea salt caramel asserts itself.

Sea salt caramel is my favorite flavor, tied with butterscotch for first. When I see that they offer a Butterscotch Budino, I am totally losing my mind. The butterscotch is a thick, rich pudding. As sweet as it gets, with a biscotti crumble for contrast. 

Restaurant week is usually a 50-50 for me, but Local Kitchen FTW. The menu is a great deal for high-end ingredients, and they really know how to put a great plate together. I still don't love Santa Monica, but places like Local Kitchen, with its casual-yet-classy ambiance and traditionally pretty decor, may convince me to keep coming back.
Local Kitchen & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato