Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mogan's Cafe: apparently the only breakfast place in the Palisades

After surfing Topanga in the morning, we went in search of breakfast. Pacific Palisades is right on my route back home. It's an affluent neighborhood that is sandwiched between the ocean, Brentwood and Santa Monica. Even though I've lived in the Westside for about a decade, I've never hung out in the Palisades so I didn't know of any restaurants in the area. After hopping on Yelp, Mogan's Cafe popped up on the top of the list. Looks good to me, as long as they have alcohol.. which they did..

Mogan's Cafe is a casual, locals spot. They have a cafe area where you can order coffee and a pastry, sit down at one of their tables, take advantage of their free WiFi, read a newspaper or play chess.

If you prefer to dine there, you can ask to be seated on their outdoor patio with heat lamps.

We got there at 9.30am and their menu offered both breakfast and lunch items. Apparently they also have a fiesta buffet brunch on Saturdays. Unfortunately we didn't see the flyer until after we were done eating. Their menu includes omelets, salads, sandwiches and burgers. I was tempted by the wild mushroom burger with caramelized onion ragout but couldn't bring myself to eat something that heavy that early.

Thankfully they had mimosas. A big pour too.

Once again, I had to try the croissant and I really enjoyed it. The outside wasn't too flaky but I'll overlook that because the croissant was buttery inside.

Cinnamon swirl french toast with fresh berries and whipped cream
The bread was soft and nicely grilled. With all the berries and whipped cream, you really didn't need to add on butter or syrup (if you we trying to be healthy). I appreciated the abundance of fruits- some places always skimp on that.

Hot brisket sandwich, slow roasted brisket with onions, apple juice, cucumber, red onion and herbs, sliced thin with caramelized onions and roasted garlic mayo served on toasted sourdough
The meat looked dry but it was in fact tender and flavorful. It was a bit challenging to dip the sammy in the au jus like you would a french dip, because the bottom toast was already getting soaked with brisket juices. This was more of a knife and fork affair. I really liked the sweet potato fries because they weren't greasy.

The next day, we headed out for a surf again. Our intention was to find another breakfast spot in the Palisades but there weren't many options. The only other option was The Village Pantry but it didn't seem to get good reviews on Yelp. It's interesting that a residential, family concentrated neighborhood such as the Palisades would have so few breakfast options. So, off to Mogan's we went. Again.

Station 23- spicy chicken, cilantro pesto, pico de gallo and sour cream
I thought this omelet was unique. I mean, it's not often that you find spicy chicken and cilantro pesto.

Big Daddy Gaddy 2+2+2 - 2 eggs, 2 french toast, 2 bacon
This actually came with pancakes but I substituted with french toast for an additional $1. I just can't get enough of french toasts. I'm not a big fan of home fries because they are so starchy, hash browns would have been so much better.

Because we inhaled the sweet potato fries the day before, we had to order a side of this. It was just as good as the one we had the day before.

Seeing that I'll be surfing Topanga more often these days since my move to Brentwood, I'm glad we found Mogan's Cafe. It's a casual breakfast/brunch spot that has an extensive menu that can satiate most cravings. I ordered the croissant again on the second day and was not disappointed. I thought the prices were also reasonable given that we were in a posh neighborhood. This seemed to be a popular hangout for the locals. The patio was packed with the after-church Sunday crowd. If all the locals rave about it, I think we definitely picked the right spot.

Hits: sweet potato fries, croissant, french toast
Misses: really no other breakfast option
Rating: ***

Mogan's Cafe
548 Palisades Dr.,
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
(310) 454-0040

Monday, August 30, 2010

Le Pain Quotidien: where a sick girl finds refuge in a curry chicken tartine

So I've officially been in my new home a month. Even though I'm right by Brentwood Village, I still haven't really taken the time to check out the businesses in the area. I did check out Belwood Bakery for croissants but I was unimpressed. So last week, after finally tearing my sick body out of bed (I was home with the cold), I was in need of some sustenance. I gchated my friend who lives in the area and was home with the jetlag (jealous) and we decided to meet up for a bite. Our two choices were Le Pain Quotidien in the Village or Corel Tree Cafe on San Vicente. Since I was still high on meds, I decided on the closer option.

Le Pain Quotidien is a chain of Belgian bakeries, and is French for "The Daily Bread". Naturally, they bake their bread and pastries daily. I've been to the outlet on Larchmont for lunch and enjoyed their menu which seemed fresh, light and healthy. Perfect for a sick girl.

They are known for their communal tables where diners can share a table and engage in conversation. We opted for a regular table because we are anti-social and I didn't want to spread any germs to my poor neighbors.

I asked for a mimosa (I know... I shouldn't... ) and fortunately for my throat, they don't serve booze at the Brentwood location. I recall the Larchmont location serving wine so I was a bit surprised. I was bummed because I would have liked to brunch here with mimosas on another weekend when I wasn't sick.

Butternut squash soup
This was a vegan version so it was viscous in consistency. I miss the creaminess of a regular butternut squash soup. I also thought it wasn't very flavorful.

I always have to try the croissant at every bakery that I'm in. Sigh... still not as good as Bite Bar & Bakery or Amandine. It didn't have as buttery a flavor as the aforementioned spots.

I do like their store created products such as their Nutella-like hazelnut chocolate and Apricot preserves. I was like a kid when I spooned out some nutella and slowly licked it off my spoon. Mmmm... perfect for a sick girl. An actual kid from the next table depleted her jar and our waitress asked if she could have ours. I cringed a bit, but conceded. Probably better for me.

Curry chicken salad tartine with harissa cranberry chutney
I really liked the tartine. The curry flavor wasn't too overwhelming. I liked that the pieces of chicken weren't dry and the mixture wasn't mayo heavy. The salad was served on a crusty rustic bread. This was the perfect dish for a sick girl. It was tasty, the flavors were really clean but it wasn't heavy or unhealthy.

Artichoke, turkey and smoked mozzarella tartine
Another delicious tartine made with fresh ingredients, but of course it can't compete with the curry chicken salad. I liked that they used smoked mozzarella over regular cheese.

Yes, Le Pain Quotidien is a chain but the menu isn't generic. I enjoyed their tartines but I was disappointed that they didn't serve alcohol. Their chocolate hazelnut spread brought back lovely memories of my childhood. I appreciate that the dishes were healthy but still flavorful. All important factors for a a sick girl.

Hits: curry chicken salad, healthy, choc hazelnut spread
Misses: no booze
Rating: ***

Le Pain Quotidien
11702 Barrington Court,
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 476-0969

Friday, August 27, 2010

Suzanne's Cuisine, Ojai - where desserts are sooo much more fun than a stripper

The highlight of my friend Betty's bachelorette party night in Ojai was our big dinner. In all honesty, I think a girls wine and dinner weekend is the best way to celebrate one's hen night. We're no spring chickens anymore. We were never into bottle service at a Hollywood club. And we'd rather dodge than watch strippers in action. So Ojai was the perfect setting. There's aren't too many great dining options but Suzanne's Cuisine seemed to be every one's favorite based on online reviews. It's a mother-and-daughter run restaurant, but don't be fooled. It's not a small time shop. The decor is sophisticated, the food is good and the service is attentive. For a small town, that is..

We were seated in their enchanting outdoor patio that was well lit and decorated with gorgeous flowers and a warm fireplace. It's really a romantic setting which is a perfect date place.

When we got to the table, the manager explained that Betty's friends and bridesmaid who couldn't make it that weekend, had gifted her with bottles of wine and a gift certificate. I thought that was a very thoughtful gesture. Our first bottle was a Vino Chardonnay from Solomon Hills. I don't usually like Californian chardonnays but this didn't taste oaky and had a crisp apple flavor.

The menu leans towards California fare with European influences, and includes an extensive variety of salads, pastas, fish and meats. They also offer some daily specials.

Their bread was fresh out of the oven and pretty darn good. They offered olive, baguette and a sesame seed roll. I'm not lying.. I had about 6 pieces of bread.

Roasted beets with grilled fennel, red onions and French feta cheese
The beets were orange in color so initially I thought they had dropped off a tomato salad instead of beets. I love fresh vegetables sourced locally, and you can tell the good quality of the produce that Suzanne's uses. The sweet beets were paired with a tangy feta cheese and sharp fennel.

Roasted eggplant tart with goat cheese and tomatoes
Apparently this was a favorite at the table. I passed on the goat cheese. The crust was buttery crust, and once again, the kitchen utilized fresh and vibrant tomato and basil.

Asian style shrimp dumplings with two dipping sauces
The shrimp dumplings were good, for Ojai. Of course they can't compete with the Chinese restaurants in Alhambra and Chinatown. Everyone agreed that the spicy mustard sauce made the dish. I didn't try. I also don't like mustard.

Squash blossoms with goat cheese in a tomato sauce
Yet something that I didn't try, because of the goat cheese. Damn. I'm a useless food blogger. This appetizer wasn't anything specially because the squash blossom wasn't fried so it was rather mushy. Also, apparently the goat cheese was scarce. I guess in that case, I could have eaten this dish.

Assorted mixed and grilled vegetables with wild and brown rice
The portion was pretty generous. Normally, I scoff at vegetable dishes but this had a nice variety of vegetables and you know they probably source them from their local farmers.

Garlic seared jumbo scallops, thai style with coconut green curry and rice noodles
The scallops were cooked well but the sauce was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn't bad per se, but it was described as being a curry sauce whereas it tasted more like peanut butter. There was no hint of green curry in the dish. Also, Thai food is supposed to have strong flavors. This definitely tasted very washed down.

Pan seared branzino with roasted fresh tomato-artichoke sauce

Miso marinated butterfish with a citrus ponzu sauce
Another example of a misrepresented sauce. The fish was supposed to be served with citrus ponzu but the sauce tasted like hoisin. Maybe the residents of Ojai might not be exposed to much Asian sauces so they might not have noticed.. but we are from LA and I'm Chinese. You can't trick us. Apart from that, the fish was cooked well.

Pan roasted dover sole with myer lemon and dill-garlic sauce
The fish itself was flaky but the sauce needed more flavor. It was rather lame and definitely was lacking in salt. Maybe people in Ojai prefer their food on the bland side? I don't know.

Duck leg confit and grilled breast with fig-port balsamic reduction
So yeah.. while everyone else got veggies and fish, I of course had to get a hunk of meat. I'm not being biased, but I think my dish was the best of the lot. The duck was cooked perfectly. The breast was tender and easy to slice through. I was really surprised with the size of the dish too. I love figs so I was a bit disappointed with the sauce because the figs they used were dried and reconstituted. You would think with all the other fresh produce served in the other dishes, that they could have used fresh figs in the sauce.

Last but not least.. the desserts.

Chocolate peanut butter flourless cake with peanut sauce
This was like a Reese's version of a cake. Decadent and very satisfying. There were 6 forks going at the plate. This poor cake and even the sauce didn't have a chance.

Fig sauce with custard
OMG. Love this! I usually prefer cakes over a fruit dessert, but this was the perfect end to the meal. The fresh figs were plump and juicy. I haven't had such delicious figs before. Interesting that they had access to fresh figs here but didn't use it in the duck sauce. The custard sauce was a bit tart and mild. Such a simple dessert but so fresh and light.

To be honest with you, there aren't that many stellar dining options in town. When we did our research, only a handful of places popped up consistently. Yes, you can't compare the meals here to some of the excellent restaurants in Los Angeles.. but bear in mind, this is a small town. And Suzanne's does really well for a small town. The setting is gorgeous, the service was friendly and attentive, and the portions were generous. The execution of the entrees was fine, but they were weak in the sauce department with sauces that weren't flavorful or that were listed on the menu as something different. They did hit it out of the ballpark with their appetizers and desserts. I definitely would take that fig dessert over a stripper in Vegas any day.

Hits: bread, duck, appetizers, desserts
Misses: dried figs, bland sauce
Rating: ***

Suzanne's Cuisine
502 West Ojai Avenue
Ojai, CA 93023-2446
(805) 640-1961

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My weekend in Ojai

Last weekend, a couple of us girls packed into two cars and made our way north to Ojai to celebrate my friend Elizabeth's Bachelorette Party. Ojai is located in Ventura County, just north of Oxnard. I know, I know.. all these places sound foreign to you. There's lots to do in Ojai such as hiking the Los Padres National Forest, biking around town or checking out their Sunday Farmers Market... but who are we kidding? We're only there for the wine.

We stayed at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. It's pretty swank with a golf course, tennis courts, spa facilities and over 300 rooms. In fact, its pretty self sufficient with its in-house restaurants and bars, that many visitors spend their entire in the resort and never venture off the premises.

You have to take golf carts to get around the grounds.

Before we checked into our plush, a/c cranked up rooms, we made a couple wine tasting stops. Ojai only has a few wineries but at least the drive is much closer than the wineries in Santa Barbara and Napa. It's perfect for a quick weekend getaway.

Old Creek Ranch Winery has been around for almost three decades. It's a family run winery and it looks really mom-and-pop.

After falling prey to a bacteria that feeds on grapevines, the winery not longer grows its own grapes and instead sources them.

There were lots of dogs on the premises.

Old Creek offers a 7 tasting for $10, $15 if you want to keep the glass.

We were given a quick tour of the barrel room.

After our wine tasting, we picked up a bottle of their Rose for our lunch in the picnic area.

We brought sandwich items, salads and fruits. A healthy lunch on a beautiful day outdoors.

This was a delicious zucchini ricotta cheesecake from 101 Cookbooks which my friend made into a tart with the use of a pastry crust. I really liked the citrus from the lemon zest.

Homemade apple cake was a nice end to our meal.

There are only a hand full of wine tasting rooms and even fewer wineries in the area. Our next and final stop was the Casa Barranca Tasting Room in town.

The winery produces organic wines. I also liked the Rose here, it's such a perfect light summer drink.

Stay tuned for our "wild" dinner and bar night out...