Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sooooo LA: Gimlets and "fresh" food @ The Ivy

The Ivy is the place to see and be seen. It's where the celebrities like to dine with their publicists, pushing around a little salad on their plate with their fork. Well, I always far stay away from the Hollywood scene and we are definitely no celebs. We're just a few post grad students that have been talking about going to The Ivy (my friend lives a few block away and raved about their gimlets) ever since our late night study sessions when we would try to find something fun to look forward to, that light at the end of the tunnel. A year later, after some procrastination, we finally got The Ivy on our calendar.

Located on Robertson Blvd. near the boutiques such as Lisa Kline and Kitson (you'll never see me in those store), The Ivy is located in a little cottage with white picket fences and umbrellas covering the patio. Even though it's a celeb favorite, its actually rather quaint and welcoming. They also had a lot of wait staff per square footage.

We were seated inside since the wait for a seat at the patio would take 45 minutes. The decor is kind of kitschy, you felt like you were in your grandma's home. There were a lot of knickknacks, antiques, pottery, pillows and embroidery scattered around the room.

The cocktail menu was fun and flirty, quite different from the dated decor.

I'm a very Type A diner, I usually have to study menus online prior to getting to the restaurant. It gives me something to look forward to. And I don't like surprises. Unfortunately, trying to find the Ivy menu online is like trying to find the lost city of Atlantis. Absolutely impossible. I wasn't sure if it was because no blogger would ever step foot in The Ivy, or if their menu was top secret and they didn't want anyone photographing it. Thankfully, it seemed as though they could care less if you took photos.

The daily specials included crowd favorites such as the soft shell crab and the lobster ravioli.

I had read good reviews of their grilled vegetable salad from their regular brunch menu. I was very close to ordering this (even though I would NEVER order a salad as an entree at a restaurant, especially if there were carbs and meat offered) but I wondered if diners only liked the grilled veggie salad because well... they are health conscious and salads are all they eat, and god forbid they order the fish & chips (which looked great BTW) or the enchilada. Well, I wasn't going to chance it and be underwhelmed by a bunch of veggies. Fried chicken it is then! One thing I noticed was that the word fresh appeared everywhere on the menu. You know, fresh crab, fresh papaya, fresh tomatoes. Go ahead, see for yourself. Not sure why they would need to mention it in every dish. They could have added a footnote to the menu stating that they source their ingredients fresh.

Scarletti (crushed garden strawberries and Champagne)
The Ivy Gimlet (Svedka Vodka, fresh limes and fresh home grown mint)

Freshly baked scones were warm and crumbled in your hand.

Fresh Maryland soft shell crab
We got the starter portion for $15.75 (Main for $41.75). You could choose to have it cooked with lemon butter, or in Cajun spice. We opted for the latter. Very tasty. The crab was perfectly breaded and seasoned.

Fresh crab salad with homemade thousand island dressing
There was a disproportionately large amount of crab (I'm not complaining) which was fresh and of good quality. The dressing was thousand island which doesn't automatically sound good, but in fact was, as it didn't have a strong relish flavor.

Fresh crab cake benedict
The crab cakes themselves were well.. fresh, while the eggs were perfectly poached. It was a pretty generous portion as well.

While I was busy directing everyone at the table on their photo taking, I forgot to take a photo of my food. Arrrgghhh!!! I'm kicking myself only because my dish was darn good.

Ricky's Fried free range chicken with homemade mango chutney
Honestly, I was apprehensive about the fried chicken. #1 I was sick and had a sore throat. Fried chicken = bad. But then again, so is a scarletti and a gimlet hmm... #2 How good can fried white meat chicken be? #3 Can a celeb hot spot really excel in fried food? Salads, I can understand. But high calorie fried food? Well, The Ivy's fried chicken rocked. The breading was perfect- it wasn't soggy. Instead it was crispy yet not greasy. The chicken itself was juicy and was served with two large pieces cuz you know, you gotta have both breasts. I wasn't the only one impressed. The chicken made its way around the table, followed by nods of approval. Unfortunately the fries were just OK and a bit on the starchy side. I wished they had served shoestring fries or something thinner instead. But that's just a personal preference. I'm excited to compare this with Eva Restaurant's fried chicken coming up in a few weeks.

Fresh Alaskan halibut oven roasted with fresh tomatoes, capers, and olives
Biggest disappointment of the meal. The fish was dry. The sauce was overly salty and concentrated. The flavors were also just really boring. Our waiter asked how it was, we said it wasn't good and that the fish was dry and the sauce was too salty. He offered to bring by another sauce (didn't offer to bring new fish) but by this point, my friend was over it.

Fresh black cod from Santa Barbara sauteed with butter, fresh mushrooms and imported Sherry This fish on the other hand, was cooked well. The cod was fork tender and the sauce was flavorful. I usually only eat black cod when it's cooked with miso, so this was a nice change.

Food was better than I had expected (but my expectations were rather low). I was pleasantly surprised with how delicious their fried chicken was. Those scones were addictive (we had to get a refill). And those gimlets were strong (but probably not good for a sick gal). When the bill came, we noticed that they had removed the halibut. Our waiter hadn't even mentioned it. I thought it was a classy move instead of him coming by to make a big deal of the gesture. It wasn't a cheap brunch by any meals. People can gripe about the prices but I have to say, the portions were very generous. I definitely would have had leftovers if I hadn't pawned off half my chicken to the rest of my party. I even had leftover fries, which is a rarity. But then again, people don't go to The Ivy for a cheap meal. They don't go to The Ivy for a spectacular meal. They go to The Ivy to see and be seen.

Hits: gimlets, soft shell crab, fried chicken, portions
Misses: pricey, halibut
Rating: ***

The Ivy
113 N. Robertson Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 274-8303

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

1739 Public House: pubbing before an English band

I had tickets to the Keane concert at The Greek Theatre in Los Feliz and was having a tough time trying to find the right spot to grab drinks before the concert. Not looking for a heavy meal at a sit down restaurant. I just wanted a casual bar that offered good drinks and a quick bite. Thankfully my friend mentioned a pub called 1739 Public House (located at 1739 Vermont). A casual neighborhood bar with over 80 beers on tap and decent pub grub. This is so my type of place. Coincidentally, soon after LA Times did a write up of the new bar scene in Los Feliz. Just in time for my next trip to The Greek for Silversun Pickups Yay!

The bar is attached to sister restaurant Cuba de Oro. 1739 has patio seating on the sidewalk (perfect brunching spot) and an inside bar area that was pretty packed but still low key. Apparently it was Trivia night which is a popular night. They have a big screen TV which would be great for watching sporting events.

We grabbed seats at the bar. You'll find just about any beer you desire on tap. If you are overwhelmed with the vast menu, ask for beer samples. They'll oblige.

I started with Flying Dog doggie style pale ale which was rather hoppy. I only wished they used to appropriate glassware. Mine came in a Newcastle glass.

Kwak is an Belgian Amber beer. Love the glassware but it took some effort to slip the glass out from the clamp each time you wanted to drink it. Because of the glass' curved base, you had to rest it back on its stand instead of placing it on the table. It was pretty strong (8.4% Abv) with a slight sweet finish.

Nothing on the food menu was priced over $10. And we're not talking about just fries or potato skins on the menu. They offered full-on entrees including fish and chips, shepherd's pie, pizzas, burgers and pastas.

Side of fries. Addictively good, not sure if it was because I was hungry but I polished this off in seconds.

Pizza with mushrooms and bell peppers
Nothing special here but it was still tasty and the portion was rather large for the price (around $8, I think).

Shepherd's pie
Boy, this really hit the spot. Sauteed ground meat with corn and other veggies were covered with a layer of creamy mashed potatoes, then topped with a thin layer of melted cheese. The meat and veggies were seasoned well. I thought this dish felt really homey, something that I would love to eat if I was feeling down.

PranQster which is an Belgian style ale from North Coast Brewing Company
This was a nice change after the heavier Kwak. Clean flavors with a bit of spiciness.

With such an extensive beer list, you could easily spend hours here without realizing.. we ended up getting to the concert a little later than we had hoped. Although the food wasn't mind blowing, it definitely did the trick. I loved the beer selection at the bar. Also really enjoyed the ambiance- no pretension, easy and casual. Just the right place you'd want to hit before a concert.

Hits: prices, beer, location, shepherd's pie
Misses: did not serve in proper glassware
Rating: ***

1739 Public House
1739 N. Vermont Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 663-1739

The Greek Theatre is an outdoor venue that's set in the midst of tree-filled Griffith Park. It seats almost 6,000 people (compared to 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl) and feels very intimate. If you haven't been to The Greek Theatre, you gotta. If you haven't seen Keane live, you gotta. A lot of people think they are a sleepy, love song band based on one or two of their songs that were popular on the airwaves (and on Grey's Anatomy), but in fact, they are a rock'in, lively, jamm'in English band that really rocked the show. There was never a dull moment. And when they sang some of their more popular tunes (Somewhere Only We Know), the crowd belted along. That my friend, is a mark of a great alt/indie rock concert.

Monday, July 26, 2010

LA Street Food Festival: where you don't have to hunt food trucks down, they'll come to you

After this spring's LA Street Food Fest FAIL, I was skeptical of it's summer edition. Did I really want to wait in line with thousands of other people in the sweltering heat, only to finally bail from the event when the line wouldn't move? No thank you. But when I heard that organizers had changed the format this time round (pre-sale tickets only, larger venue @ Pasadena Rose Bowl, fewer tickets for sale), I was willing to give it a shot... but only with VIP tickets. For $20 more ($65 vs. regular admission at $45), you get access to the event 1.5 hours earlier plus front row parking. Have you been to the Bowl?!? Parking by the entrance alone is worth the extra $20.

The event was held on July 24 (thankfully a relatively cooler summer day) and saw over 60 vendors from food trucks and restaurants. The price of the ticket included all you can eat and drink, as well as musical performances from local bands. We got to the Bowl a bit later than expected. VIP started at 4pm, we were there at 4.45pm. When we whisked through the entrance, I noticed a line had already formed for regular admission, 45min before they would be let in. Yikes.

The Rose Bowl was a spacious venue for the event and it never felt too cluttered especially since the event was capped at 5000 attendees. Instead of parking the food trucks on the field, each vendor set up stands instead. Yes, it loses the aesthetics a bit, but it's more practical from a logistics perspective this way. Besides, this is a Street Food Fest, not a Food Truck Fest per se. It was fairly organized but I thought they could have hired some people that could have directed parking as we weren't sure where to go. Also, they did not offer a map so it was tough to find the stands that you really wanted to try. At an event where long lines formed quickly, it would have been beneficial if we could make a beeline for the stands that we wanted to hit up as soon as possible. I understand if they wanted to save paper, but perhaps they could have posted a map online or attached it on email so that one could access it from the phone.

This was the crowd factor during the VIP session.

This was the crowd after the event was opened up to all participants. Now you're realizing how that $20 was so worth it, right?

They had a Singha beer garden which essentially consisted of just a couple tables, chairs and umbrellas. The beer was light and refreshing for the sunny afternoon. They also had tequila tastings and I noticed a few Hollywood scenesters pounding shots. Too bad there wasn't any wine available.

Thankfully for the VIP session, we were able to cover a lot of stalls in a short amount of time.

Starry Kitchen

Crispy tofu balls
I was excited to try this because I've read rave reviews about Starry Kitchen. Nice crunchy coating, stuffed with tofu and corn. Very unique dish and something that quite surprised me, in a good way.

LAsian Kitchen
Cucumber lemonade with pulp
Refreshing, only wish there was some champagne mixed in :)

Beef rendang roti roll with pickled vegetables and sambal
As a Singaporean with a Malaysian father and a mother that cooks killer Southeast Asian food, my standards for this cuisine is pretty darn high. I have to say that LAsian Kitchen impressed. The rendang had the flavors, spice and consistency that I was familiar with. I appreciated the use of roti (which is common in Singaporean/Malaysian/Indian cuisine) as a wrap instead of something less authentic such as lettuce cups or tortilla. The roti had a nicely fried exterior and held the rendang together while absorbing the juices.

Dim Sum Truck

Har gow (shrimp dumpling), shu mai (pork dumpling), lotus leaf rice and potato dumpling
This was on the top of the list to try because I love dim sum and I'm one of those people. You know.. the ones that rarely get to eat dim sum because they refuse to make the drive east of the 405 on weekends? Yeah, I'm one of those. So I was excited to get my dim sum fix at this event. The shu mai was good. The har gow wrapper was a bit gummy but the shrimp was cooked well. The glutinous rice was tasty and was filled with tofu instead of the traditional pork. I saw a girl actually attempting to chew the wrapper until her friends squealed "I don't think you're supposed to eat the wrapper!" She was not Asian. I thought the potato dumpling was very interesting. The filling was soft and fluffy like mashed potatoes, and mixed with cheese and bacon. The wrapper was chewy with the texture similar to mochi which reminded me of ham sui gok, another dim sum favorite.

The only issue I had with this stand was that they had two lines offering different items which meant you had to wait in line for the regular dumplings, then wait in another line for something else. Wouldn't have been an issue if the lines were minimal, but they weren't because they were frying up the dumplings fresh.

Marisco El Tetos

Fish taco
Nice breading on the fish taco, topped with crema and a lemon wedge.

Monsieur Egg

Tri tip and egg sandwich
Monsieur Egg is a push cart that serves Downtown LA with omelets and breakfast sandwiches. The sandwich sounded good on the menu but the tri tip and egg wasn't seasoned well. Egg was nicely poached though.

Smokin' Willie's BBQ Truck

Chipotle chicken sandwich

Fresh Fries
This is a vegetarian truck that offers a variety of toppings for their fries.

Fiesta Fries - green chile guacamole with sour cream over natural fries
I was disappointed with the fiesta fries. The fries seem to taste of oil, I know they are a vegetarian truck but it tasted almost like lard to me. The guacamole and sour cream was also uninspiring.

After I hopped into the line next door (for the Manila Machine), I noticed Fresh Fries bringing out another batch of fries.

Peanut Buttercup - sweet potato fries with nutella and peanut butter
What a comeback! The sweet potato fries were very tasty and not oily. I really enjoyed the combination of nutella and peanut butter which worked well with the fries. This was much sexier than the previous dish. In fact, when they quickly ran out, the lady at the stand tried to "sell" the guac fries, to no avail.

Manila Machine

Pork belly and pineapple adobo
Adobo is a classic Filipino dish. The pork was braised and had a sweet glaze.

Waited about 20 minutes for this lumpia... apparently kitchen was backed up. I love lumpias. These were good, but 20 minutes in line meant 20 minutes lost elsewhere. At least when they came out, they were freshly fried.

Crepe'n Around

Maple Braised pork crepe with apple chutney, toasted walnuts, mixed greens and honey dijon vinaigrette
Unfortunately, nothing special about this.

The Grilled Cheese Truck
This was one hard stand to find. It was actually located on the upper stands instead of on the field with the rest of the food stands. This is why a map would have come in handy.

Cheesy Mac and Rib melt with sharp cheddar Southern Mac & Cheese, Pulled BBQ pork, caramelized onions on Artisanal french bread
The mac and cheese tasted just like Kraft's. That's not a bad thing, just say'in. The cheese was also a bit congealed by the time we got to the front of the long line. I really liked the buttered toast and the sweetness from the caramelized onions.

McQ's Smoke House

Slow smoked ribs
The rib had a smokey flavor and the meat was tender. The bread was a good napkin to hold the rib without getting your fingers dirty.

There was no shortage of sweets at the event.

Vici Victual Pastries

Chocolate chip cookie

Whisk LA

I thought it was clever to use an ice cream cone as a receptacle for the brownies.

They also had an Ice Cream Social where you could get unless supply of ice cream.

The ice cream area was located towards the entrance and away from the field, so it was less crowded and way cooler (temp wise).

Actual trucks were parked and serving their ice cream in the area.

Scoops Westside

Pistachio Cardamom and Thai ice tea coconut ice cream
I liked the selection of ice cream which were rather exciting flavors. The Thai ice cream was my favorite, which had the perfect balance of tea, milk and coconut.

Vintage Longboards Ice Cream

The Big Fight - Chocolate ice cream coated with Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate, pretzel and peanuts
The O.G. - Strawberry ice cream coated with Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate, waffle cone and peanuts

I just HAD to get this ice cream because #1 gotta support the surfers #2 I'd been eyeing some guy's strawberry ice cream and knew I had to get one of my own. They are not joking, this thing is the size of a longboard. I could barely get through half of it. I loved the chunks of strawberry in the milky ice cream. I also liked that they used waffle cone and pretzel crumbles as the coating.


Chocolate chip cookie and mint ice cream

I thought it was a fun festival, something I would attend again. I like being able to hit up a bunch of trucks that I've been meaning to try, but could never make the effort to follow across town only to wait in line, then devour food on the sidewalk. I was disappointed that some key trucks weren't available such as Nom Nom, Marked5, India Jones or Dosa. Some of my favorites of the day were the tofu balls, rendang roti, dim sum, nutella/PB fries, Scoops and the Longboard ice cream. The rest.. sorry... were forgettable. Unfortunately I was ill so I only had 1.5 beers (shocker). But the best part was... thanks to the VIP session, we were able to hit up most of the stands in a short amount of time and were stuffed by 6.45pm, so I was able to drag my sick sorry ass home early, and circumvent any parking-lot traffic headaches.

Till next time, LA Street Food Fest. But next time... maybe you can throw in some wine as well?