Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 12 - Porto's Bakery, Glendale & Burbank

Porto's Bakery is an institution. If you haven't been here, oh I feel sorry for you. You, my friend, are missing out on some killer goodies. Good for you? Nope. Irresistible? Yes!

Parking: The Glendale location on Brand has metered parking in front and a medium-sized lot in back, also metered parking. The Burbank location has a small & tight lot in back of the store, but it's free.

Ambience: Porto's is not known for its romantic interior. The inside is more like a cattle herd - crowded, unorganized and limited visibility. You order at the counter after waiting in a long queue (the staff is efficient, so the wait is bearable) and staring at long displays of baked treats.

The food: They have a veg sandwich of roasted eggplant and hummus spread, but the regular food really isn't worth filling your stomach. Why not save a little more room for another pastry? The prices are light on the wallet.
When it comes to pastries, I suggest the following:
- The potato balls (dubbed "Heart-attack balls" by my co-workers and I) - fried little goodies from what I've heard, but they have meat inside so the taste will remain a mystery to me.
- Guava strudel - I hate guava. My mom used to force me to eat them as a kid since we had a guava tree in the backyard. Guava strudel from Porto's on the other hand, I can totally sink my teeth into. I crave these things! Their guava and cheese strudel is the most popular strudel, but I prefer my pure guava ones.
- Napoleon - Good stuff! The dulce de leche on top gives this creamy and crunchy treat the extra sweetness it needs. It's fantastic.
- Mango mousse - Although I haven't had it, it's listed on their website as one of the most popular items. Too bad it's not vegetarian friendly. =(
- Opera & Chocolate Raspberry Mousse - tried, but not impressed with.

Wedding cakes: Porto's is a popular choice for wedding cakes for two reasons: price and taste. Their cakes are most, and they offer a wide variety of flavors and frosting. Price-wise, it's one of the best wedding cake deals in town. They also do a great job on decor, although I've yet to see one in fondant.

My friends Jess & Arin's gorgeous wedding cake from Porto's.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 11 - Gyu-Kaku, West Los Angeles

I was SO close to dining at Gyu-Kaku when I was in Waikiki, just because I was craving it so. If you thought Korean bbq was good, you haven't tried it Japanese style. I was (un)lucky enough to come here before I became pescetarian.

Gyu-kaku has multiple locations throughout LA county, New York and Hawaii. I've been to the Sherman Oaks, Pasadena & WLA location, but WLA is still my favorite quality-wise.

Parking: At the WLA location, there is a parking lot adjacent to the Starbucks a few stores down, monitored by a permit machine. There's also metered street parking, and of course the Westside Pavilion's ample free parking across the street.

Reservations: Recommended on the weekends

The Food: I love the food here, although the menu has changed in recent months. They used to have an amazing butterfish, but that has since been replaced by salmon. For you meat lovers, I absolutely recommend the harami miso(picture below).

The proportions are small, but packed with flavor in the marinades. Every table comes with one or two charcoal grills and tongs for you to cook your meats and veggies. I absolutely love the Japanese sweet potato, which comes wrapped in a foil packet with butter inside for you to throw on the grill. What makes Gyu-kaku irresistible for me is the Spicy Avocado Tuna Salad, but you HAVE to get it with the Gyu-kaku dressing. The menu dressing just doesn't cut it. The house dressing is a creamy, spicy splash of heaven. Normally, the salad comes with a vinagrette that doesn't compliment the flavors as well. I could eat this salad all day, heck, I could eat one right now!

Day 10 - La Bottega, West Los Angeles

If you're ever in the mood for just a quiet evening at the neighborhood trattoria, then La Bottega Marino is your place.

Parking: Street parking and a lot in back with meters, free after 6 or 7p (double check the signs!)

Reservations: Not required

Ambience: You feel like you're inside a deli, a wine shop and grandma's kitchen all at once. You sit among crates of wine, shelves of fine Italian imports and a glass display of fine cheeses, cured meats and tiramisu.

Food: The pasta's fantastic. I recommend the Linguine Bottega, sans chicken for those who don't eat meat. It's a classic Italian menu, but everything is prepared with quality and passion.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 9 - The Apple Pan

I've never had banana cream pie before. I've never really had cream pies. Period. I'm not even a pie person (except for Harvest Pie from Coco's, which unfortunately is not vegetarian!). I'm also not a whipped cream person. I just think of it as added fat I am not willing to do extra crunches for. OK, let's just say I'm a wee bit picky, but I digress, so let's get back to the goodness known as The Apple Pan.

10801 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

I lived just down the street back when I had my apartment in WLA, oh what a luxury it was to be within walking distance of one of my all-time favorite desserts. This is a local treasure that's been around since 1947, according to Wikipedia. You bring CASH, and you stand in the little room hoping that there will be a free seat at the counter. That's all they've got - one L-shaped counter with high stools, and a team of men standing in back to serve you.

Parking: A tiny, tiny, TINY lot in back. There's some street parking, but be wary of parking signs. You can always park free at the Westside Pavilion across the street and walk on over.

Reservations: Ha! This is what you do: 1) You walk into the room 2) You scope out empty seats at the counter and sit down or 3) You stand in there inhaling burger smoke until someone else gets up.

Food: There's not much on the menu - just burgers, fries, potato salad and pie. Burgers are exactly what burgers ought to be - a fresh hunk of meat grilled to juicy perfection. I had the pleasure of having one before becoming a pescetarian, but sadly I would choose In-n-Out over the Apple Pan. So, I tell everyone to go for the pie! The banana cream pie, that is! It's around $20 for a pie, but that's because they make them from scratch everyday. The darn thing is heavy, it's so loaded with goodness. For a girl that's impartial to bananas, cream and pie to speak about a BANANA CREAM PIE, now that's telling you something.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Day 8 - El Cholo, Santa Monica

I've got one word for you: tamales. I admit, I'm not an expert on tamales by any means whatsoever, but I know what tastes good in my mouth and what just doesn't cut it. El Cholo makes the list.

There are several locations in LA, and even in Irvine. I've visited the Santa Monica & Pasadena locations thus far.

Reservations: A must on a weekend (unless you get there right when they open), but even with reservations you may have to wait.

Parking: Valet at both the SM & Pasadena location. You'll have much more luck at actually finding street parking in Pasadena.

Ambience: I love the ambience. It's fun, but not over-the-top cheesy. Nope, not in the least bit!

The Food: Green Corn Tamales. I love those little puppies. They're sweet, I like to lather them with that darn good green salsa, and best of all, it's not greasy. Man, I want one now. They only peak their heads around April through October, then I'm left weeping in the corner through the winter until their return. I've also had their quesadillas, which are recommended. They're no substitute for my tamales though, no sir!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 7 - C&O's Trattoria, Venice

Nothing beats great Italian food than an Italian eatery with character. That's why I love C&O's Trattoria. This is your typical kitchen filled with mouthwatering carbs in gargantuan proportions, located next to the beach and has a quaint outdoor patio (always ask to be seated in the patio) that reminds me of the 24 hours I spent in Venice, Italy.

C&O's also has a second location in Venice, but further east on Washington Blvd.

Parking: Given that the location is in prime Venice Beach location, there's little chance of avoiding the valet.

Reservations: Definitely recommended.

Ambience: The inside of the restaurant is poorly decorated, not to mention crowded and quite drab. The place to be is in the outdoor patio with string lights and adorable murals painted on the walls. You almost forget the outside world of LA.

The Food: I've got two words: garlic rolls. Have I mentioned that I have a thing for bread? I could eat bread all day if they didn't go straight to my waist. These little garlic rolls are addicting, and it sure doesn't help that C&O's will give you an endless supply. I could just sit there all day eating those rolls. C&O's has all your typical Italian dishes, all in generous proportions. I loved their chopped Italian vegetable salad, and I don't think I ever appreciated whole garbanzo beans until that first bite.

Day 6 - Sushi Zo, West Los Angeles

I've saved the best sushi for last, and ok maybe the most pricey as well.

Sushi Zo
9824 National Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Reservations: Highly recommended.

Parking: Large lot in shopping center & free.

Ambience: Nothing romantic, or even nice. Just bare walls, a sushi bar and a few tables. But we all have an understanding that the only art you care about is the one sitting on your plate.
The Food: Oh, the food... There really isn't a menu, you come here for the omakase and sit at the bar. You simply tell the chef what types of fish you do not like, although in my case he still insisted I try the mackerel! And if you want to eat, you do not say no to the chef! I love uni, oh how I love uni. I've always wanted to try it, and I am so glad that I saved my virgin tastebuds for Sushi Zo's uni with squid noodles. Now that is pure heaven. The pieces will continue to flow until you tell them to stop, of course I couldn't stop without at least trying the blue crab handroll. You will not be disappointed in this one! Expect to spend about $100/person, depending on your appetite.Uni with squid noodles.

Pretty AND delicious!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Day 5- Sasabune, West Los Angeles

Oh Sasabune, how I drool for thee.


12400 Wilshire Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90025

Parking: Located inside an office building, there is a large parking lot underneath the building. Sasabune validates as well.

Ambience: Considering that this used to be a Todai, don't be surprised to feel like you're sitting in a slightly fancier Denny's. When you're being well-fed, who cares though.

The food: Omakase is the way to go here. By the end of the set, we were stuffed into a food coma, and about $60/person poorer. You're welcome to stop the chef at any time, but how do you say no to nigiri? The butterfish is fantastic, and I just love the toro. The quality is a notch above Echigo, but as I said, their blue crab handroll is not worth lusting for.

Day 4 - Echigo, West Los Angeles

I never explained why I was pescetarian, did I? I love animals, I'm a friend of the animals. I stopped buying animal skin beginning in high school, and considered becoming vegetarian at the time. I even had my own high school club - Paws, Claws & More! Go me! Back then, I had no idea how to even cook an egg, let alone control my diet. So I cast the idea aside all through college. Then I met Chris at my previous accounting firm, and he introduced me to the idea of pescetarianism. I always thought you could be just vegetarian or vegan, but there are levels and the combinations are endless. I can deal with just eating fish, but I don't think I could do without sushi. I live for food, but really, I live for sushi.

So without further ado, I give you Echigo. Like any true traditional sushi joint, they don't have any fancy websites, or any website for that matter. It's all word of mouth, so here are the words from my mouth. The next few days will be my three favorite sushi venues.

12217 Santa Monica Blvd., # 201
Los Angeles, CA 90025

The location: It's a plain, outdated white building. Echigo is located on the second floor, but it's easy to miss when all you see from the street is a humble "Sushi" sign.

Parking: There is an underground parking lot with ample free parking, but the descend is steep and I'm always scared I'm going to scrape the walls with my car. I prefer to just find street parking.

Ambience: Minimalist. Clean white walls and tiles, with a large window that brings in plenty of natural light.

Reservations: Not required, especially since this is a little known neighborhood gem.

The Food: Echigo is great for their lunch special. It's available Monday-Friday (they open at noon, FYI). For $12, you get 6 pieces of fresh nigiri sushi. The salmon is amazing, and the set is sealed with an amazing blue crab hand roll that's superior to Sasabune's. It's the highlight of a work day. It's the best bang for your buck in sushi town.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Day 3 - Nook Bistro, West Los Angeles

You would never have guessed that wedged between a Chinese take-out place and an upholstery store lied such a jewel. There's also a bagel place, a pizza place, even a newsstand all in the same plaza. Nook Bistro is worth the search. And trust me, it'll be a search, as you'll likely walk right past it without noticing the inconspicious door. Thus far, I've only dined here once, but that was only a few weeks ago. Why we did try it out earlier, is beyond me. It's literally 3 blocks from the bf's place. Yes, right under my nose this whole time! I've been missing out.

Ambience: The inside is nothing like the building's dated and bland exterior. The space is very small, and industrial, quite like any other venue in WLA.

Reservations: Highly recommended. The space hosts a limited number of tables.

The Food: Given that I've only had the food once, and they were all vegetarian dishes, here is the lowdown:

- Shitake & Gruyere Bread Pudding - For a side, it is a good portion, especially for what you're paying. The flavors were right on, and every bite of shitake was something worth savoring.

- Sauteed Brown Rice Bowl - The bf enjoyed this dish, but the sodium level was too overwhelming for my sensitive pallet.

- Nook dinner salad - Fresh and delicious! I'm not a fan of goat cheese, normally I shudder at the thought of anything coming from a goat. This cheese, however, was soft, smooth and creamy. Nook's dinner salad is the only time I'd climb out of my anti-goat anything cave.

Next time, I am saving room for one of their desserts...

Day 2 - Gaby's, West Los Angeles

In Palms, there's a make-shift patio covering the asphalt parking lot and delicious food of Gaby's Mediterranean. If you want great Mediterranean food on the westside, you come to Gaby's. It doesn't hurt that it's one of the best deals in town, either.

Ambience: It's in the parking lot, I kid you not. They sort of spruce up the inside with some LCD's and heatlamps. I love the ambience though - it's loud, not precocious and so energetic.

Reservations: No, but it can get crowded.

Parking: Like anywhere else in Palms, parking's a pain. There is a parking lot that it shares with a bunch of other stores, and the spaces are tight. Street parking is limited, so just be patient.

The food: I was introduced to Gaby's after becoming pescetarian, so I can't vouch for the chicken (although it is halal, and I hear it's tender and juicy). I love the falafel sandwich. I just love falafel, and this love affair of mine began right there at Gaby's. I've yet to find a worthy opponent. I'm not a big fan of their dolma, but that's because I've had the homemade kind. Their house salad is fantastic. They must put crack in that dressing, because I can't get enough of it. And if you know me well enough, you'd know that I am a salad whore.

Day 1 - Spiritland Bistro, Santa Barbara

Let's just start with the best, shall we? I'm going to cut to the chase - nothing beats out my beloved Spiritland Bistro in Santa Barbara. To give a little backstory on this, the bf and I once took the 101 on the way back from a weekend trip to SF just for Spiritland. We could've gone on the 5. We could've saved ourselves the extra two hours by avoiding the detour. We could've eaten more at the wedding reception earlier that day. We could've stopped for a light snack on the way down. Nope, we were racing against the clock to make it to Spiritland before they closed at 9p that Sunday, and we were saving room in our bellies for SPIRITLAND. Oh it was tasty, and worth every sacrifice.

Ambience: Simple and quaint. The restaurant feels like you're inside a small house, adorned with tea lights and miniature vases of fresh cut flowers. Being a few blocks south of the touristy State St. in Santa Barbara, it's a gem that's easily missed.

Reservations: Yes, and suggested on weekends due to the small capacity.

Parking: Street parking, but it's easy to get a spot.

The Food: They describe themselves as serving "organic global cuisine." There's a Mediterranean, Italian, Asian and even Carribbean influence on their menu. I've loved almost every dish I've tried there (and boy there are still so many more I want to try), but here are some of my favorites:

- Carribbean Curried Sweet Potato Soup - light and slightly creamy, just bursting with flavor

- French lentil walnut & wild mushroom pate - An absolute MUST try. This opened up the world of lentils to me (not a bean or lentil fan).

- Venetian Polenta Cakes - The flavors were definitely a surprise, but it's fresh and flavorful.

-Thai coconut curry - Tastes straight out of the garden

- Italian Grilled Avocado & Tomato - Who would've ever thought to grill avocados? Well worth the try, and the dressing is divine.

- Flourless chocolate cake with beet reduction - I'm not a beets fan. Yuck. But when Spiritland pairs it with their chocolate cake, you get a little slice of heaven right there.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On the subject of food...

An outsider will never understand the meaning of food in our family. We live in this world for food. I blame this on my mom. She is the sole contributor to our, perhaps a tad unhealthy, obsession for all things delicious. No one leaves our house hungry; in fact, no one leaves our house without feeling stuffed to the brim with homemade goodness. I'd never even had a t.v. dinner until my freshman year of college, and even then, I had no idea how to "cook" it. Oh, and it was also my last t.v. dinner. My stomach rejected it, and who on earth thinks it's edible anyways??? My mom's idea of a fun Saturday afternoon is getting us all to participate in 5 whole hours of manual labor. All we had to show for it were 150 scrumptious dumplings (meat and vegetarian versions), made 100% from scratch and with vegetables grown in the backyard. Those dumplings only survive about a week in our house, by the way.

It is with this upbringing that my two siblings and I have a sharp taste for quality. McDonalds need not apply here. So it is to no one's surprise that we only eat out at the best (not to be confused with most expensive) restaurants whereever we go. I do not travel even 5 miles without researching as many choice contendors as possible. I may not know how to apply eyeliner, but honey, I know food.

Therefore, let my restaurant introductions will begin shortly. I present to ya'll, my two week dedication to fooooood!

Monday, November 3, 2008

I always tell myself, "Someday..."

I've always felt like there was more to life than this drab cubical farm life that I lead. Wouldn't life be just so grand? I am once again motivated to keep trying harder to get away. I think the following excerpt from Stephanie Fizer's interview on Etsy just about sums up my goal in life:

What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Although it’s taken me a bit to get used to the idea, my favorite thing is being able to do what I want, when I want to do it. It’s empowering to no longer be tied down to someone else’s schedule, and I love that I can work on my illustrations whenever I want, or if I’m feeling crummy I can just curl up with a book and have a bit of time to myself. I certainly don’t miss my day job at all, not even for a second. Part of me misses receiving a paycheck every two weeks and knowing exactly how much it will be, but so far money hasn’t been a problem, so even that doesn’t cause much worry. So far, it’s actually going better than expected. I’m able to pay the bills, take care of my business and still have money leftover in the end.

If you could go back in time before you took the plunge, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?
Just be yourself and make sure you are doing something that you truly love. If you feel passionately about your work, everything else will just fall into place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix is a strange land to me. I'm not sure if I loved the sunny skies or hated the 95 degree weather. Maybe it was just the fact that I was stuck in a fabulous hotel, living all by my lonely self in order to attend a tax conference filled with TAX ACCOUNTANTS. Let me tell you, those accountants sure love their software. OK OK, maybe I found a small tidbit of it interesting too. Regardless, my wedding venue radar was on as I was staying at the JW Marriot Desert Ridge Resort just north of Phoenix. The facilities were vast, parking was unlimited, courteous staff, and so many beautiful fountains.
Plus, bunnies. Yes, there were bunnies everywhere just chilling out on the grass and having a grand ol' time. The BC, was in bunny heaven.

I was lapping in luxury in the five pools and ok, I stuffed my face at the conference buffets. They had fresh blueberries and blackberries! I love me some antioxidents, but can you really blame a girl for that?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wedding at the Fairmont

This weekend, I had the pleasure of coordinating an absolutely gorgeous wedding for Laura & Patrick, held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica. Yes, we were right across the street from the beautiful Pacific Ocean!

The ceremony was held at Palisades Park in a very informal, but clearly love-filled circle of family and friends. I felt so lucky and bubbly inside to be able to witness it.

Everyone was an absolute pleasure to work with. The staff at the Fairmont truly blew me away, I was very impressed. The only one that didn't feel like helping out was the weather! Oh LA weather, why must you torture us so?? The one day we were counting on LA's signature clear and sunny skies, it rains.

Peanut Butter & Almond Cookies - Yum!

If you love peanut butter cookies, you'll love this easy recipe! I tweaked this recipe to add in the almonds, because I didn't have enough flour to make a full batch. Personally, I find peanut butter cookies to be a bit dry, so I usually add a bit of chocolate somewhere in the cookie. Besides, do you really need an excuse to add chocolate to something?

1 cup sugar
3/4 stick butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup crushed, roasted almonds
Chocolate chips for decorating

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking sheet. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in egg to mixture. Mix in peanut butter and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Stir in baking soda, crushed almonds and flour until well combined. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place on baking sheet and flatten with fingers. Place a chocolate chip in the center of each cookie. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until golden brown. Recipe yields about 40 cookies.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hello internet land!

Hello folks,

Willkommen! Thanks for sharing this very special part of my life with me.

Sometimes, it's really hard to believe that I'm a DOC. Like, little ol' Tracy working weddings? I never would have imagined it in high school, or in college. I've always been such a nerdy accountant. Honestly, I think I always had it, I just didn't know how to hone in on my skills. It just gives me a little high; I jump for joy at the thought of a prospective wedding. There's so much to learn too. Oh the possibilities!!

Anyways, I just want to say that this blog is something I've been looking forward to. I can post up my yummy vegetarian recipes (made with love, as always), my latest art projects and of course my most recent weddings!! OK, and maybe a stupid story or two. You know, the typical Tracy boo-boo's that really make you wonder how I ever got past the third grade.

I look forward to this great blogging adventure with all my fellow enthusiasts!

Best wishes,