Hostaria del Piccolo in Santa Monica is a perfect place to have weekend brunch with an Italian twist. There is indoor or outdoor seating on a sunny day in the cute little courtyard. I'm also told this place has an awesome happy hour, which I will have to try soon. I ordered the Polenta, with house-made porchetta, polenta, sunny side eggs, and parmesan truffle Fonduta. They had me at "parmesan truffle Fonduta." So the bottom layer is this creamy polenta made from cornmeal (like Italy's version of grits). On top of that is porchetta which is a tender roasted pork sliced thin with a savory gravy-like sauce. Next is the parmesan truffle Fonduta which is rich, earthy, and cheesy. Topped off with a sunny side egg this dish is perfectly rich and savory. If I could wish for anything else it would be a layer of spinach to brighten the dish…. or maybe just some more truffle cheese sauce.
My GF ordered the French tosti, which were these adorable french toast sticks with a side of syrup for dipping. They were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. I tried a little bite which I didn't even think needed the syrup. Yum! Will definitely be coming back here soon.
In case anyone was wondering, the Benihana Santa Monica lunch menu is one of the best deals in town. It's half the price of the dinner and comes with salad, fried rice, and grilled veggies. And lunch is served until 4pm on weekdays, 3pm on weekends - score! This might even be a well-kept secret because I can't find the menu anywhere online. The lunches range from $9-$14, but I always get the Yakisoba noodles with chicken for just $9.
First comes the salad. The ginger salad dressing is so good I could drink it, and you can order a tub to go for $4.
Then comes the show. The highly skilled chefs put on a great little show as your food cooks, making all sorts of shapes and sculptures out of the rice and veggies. The fried rice is the best I've ever had - no, really - it's soft and crunchy, and I know this is super unhealthy, but the garlic butter that goes into it is sooo yummy. I swear I've never asked for extra garlic butter...
The Yakisoba comes with cabbage, crispy onions, green onions, bean sprouts, and a delicious teriyaki style sauce. Look, I found a copycat recipe that looks pretty easy!
If anyone has seen Wolf of Wall Street you'll remember this quote: "I'll tell you what: I'm never eating at Benihana again. I don't care whose birthday it is." Honestly though, this would be a really cute place to have a kid's birthday party. One of the chefs even has his own grill and hosts private parties (call the Santa Monica location and ask about Chef Hung).
I really enjoy Alton Brown on the Food Network and his technical, science-geek way of making food delicious. While browsing his recipes online I came across this recipe called "40 cloves and a chicken." It sounded aggressively garlic-y, but I decided to try it out because it made me think of down-home French comfort food. I also added my own flair into this recipe..
First, I bought a whole chicken that was already sectioned from Trader Joe's (why would I buy a whole chicken and take it apart myself when TJ's can do it for me?). Second, and also from TJ's, I bought a package of pre-peeled garlic. This is essential - you must buy pre-peeled garlic or you will hate making this dish. Plus, one package of pre-peeled equals about 40 cloves - perfect. I seared the chicken on high heat with a little olive oil until it was crispy on the outside (it does not have to be cooked through the middle). Make sure you get a crispy crunch on the skin or it will come out soggy in the end.
I placed the chicken in a baking dish and added the oil, garlic, fresh thyme, and a few extras: fresh parsley and 1/4 c white wine to give the dish a little acid and cut through the oil. I also added 1/4 c of chicken stock which adds to the flavor of the juice. Don't forget to cover the dish with foil!
When the chicken is ready and rested you get this amazing juice in your baking dish with all the flavors of the chicken, herbs and garlic. The garlic itself turns into this gooey mush that you must spread over a loaf of fresh bread. I usually go all out and dip my entire piece of bread into the juice - it's that tasty. And the garlic isn't overpowering; the long roasting process takes out the bitterness and gives it a sweeter, milder flavor. But be advised... your boyfriend may not kiss you for three days after eating this (it's worth it ;-)!).
Father's Office on Montana Ave in Santa Monica (there's another location in Culver City) serves the best burger I've ever had. Where do I begin…. the meat. The burger is flavorful and juicy, the perfect thickness, and somehow fits perfectly between the bun. The bun is more of a hoagie, but so soft and soaks up a lot of flavor. The onions - oh my gosh. Look at those onions - they are brown! They are so brown, caramelized to perfection with a sweet, savory flavor that takes the burger to another level. On a side note: if this place made French onion soup I'm sure it would be my favorite in LA. Then there's the creamy gorgonzola cheese which has a sharp, robust taste in contrast to the onions. Finally, the arugula is fresh and peppery and cuts through all that richness. My mouth is watering as I type… these are all of my favorite flavors and they marry so perfectly together.
I do have one small complaint about this place… they don't serve ketchup! Whaaaattt?? Not that I would ever put ketchup on this delightfully perfect burger, but the aioli served with the fries is a little heavy.. like mayonnaise heavy. Unless you're going to go all out and shave some black truffles on top of those fries, give me some freaking ketchup to dip them in, thank you. I can only handle so much saturated fat in one sitting. Despite this, Father's Office gets two huge gorgonzola crusted thumbs up.
True Food Kitchen at Santa Monica Place is one of my new favorite healthy eating establishments. The menu combines popular food items from around the world with a healthy twist - everything is organic. The menu is seasonal and incorporates lots of goodies from the Santa Monica farmers market.
This is a great spot for a healthy girls night. My gf and I shared the herb hummus appetizer, the farm chopped salad, and the quinoa burger. The hummus was delicious, but tricky to share since there was only one of each veggie that came with it (cue awkwardly cutting a roma tomato in half). The farm chopped salad was everything I could want in a salad and I loved the addition of shaved coconut to jazz up the root vegetables. The quinoa burger was served "inside out." Two quinoa patties as buns is genius, with crisp veggies, hummus and feta on the inside. The side options are kale salad or sweet potato hash, but you can go half and half - love that! Both are delicious.
For New Years Eve Chris and I dined at our favorite restaurant, The Lobster on the world famous Santa Monica Pier. At this fine dining establishment there are two different lobster options: Maine lobster which is flown in fresh daily, and California spiny lobster.
So, what is the difference?
The Maine lobster is arguably sweeter, especially in the claws. The spiny lobster doesn't have claws, but has a meatier and tastier tail. So, if you're into claws go for the Maine, but if the tail is your thing then stick to spiny. To me the Maine lobster just looks more impressive and I love the sweet, tender claw meat. Check out this website for a lesson in the different types of lobster!
Some lobster snobs might argue that steamed/boiled lobster is the best way to showcase the meat. I personally love the herb grilled lobster because the meat gets a nice herbacious crunch on the outside and the inside just melts in your mouth. Oh, and when you're at The Lobster do not forget to order the crispy, decadent truffle fries!