Saturday, March 27, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Los Angeles

Earlier this week Ian and I made an impromptu trip to LA to get away from the pollen and try out some new restaurants. The first stop on our self-made food tour was Bombay Cafe, which was not actually planned but is close to my parents' Brentwood abode and therefore a tempting alternative to driving anywhere else. We really wouldn't have gone there again under normal circumstances because sadly the once great Indian restaurant is going down hill, a fact which our latest meal confirmed. We actually sent back our main entree, the lamb vindaloo, because the flavor profile had changed dramatically and not for the better.

The next day we moved on to the first planned stop, Zankou Chicken, which was recommended by my foodie friend Audrey. Zankou is actually a chain of eight fast food restaurants in the LA area, and their specialty is marinated rotisserie chicken with crispy skin. They have been praised in publications such as the New York Times, LA Magazine, Fodor's and the Seattle times, and for good reason. We had the Chicken Tarna Wrap ($5.39), which consisted of the delicious shredded chicken and tomatoes nestled in a warm pita that is spread with their fantastic garlic sauce. I think we may opt for the 1/4 chicken ($7.99) next time, however, because the chicken in the wrap is flame-broiled and I don't believe it is ever put on their famous rotisserie (not a huge mistake, but frustrating to realize that after). The wrap was still worth coming back for and the prices are great, so I would certainly hit up Zankou Chicken again for a quick meal. Audrey said that we then had to go around the corner to a Lebanese restaurant called Sunnin to get the best hummus and tabouleh, even though both of these traditional foods are offered at Zankou. She was absolutely right. The hummus ($5.50), or rather hommos, at Sunnin was the best I've ever had, with a perfect balance of ingredients and an addictive velvety texture. The tabouleh ($7.95) was also a hit, and I liked how the bulgar still had a bit of crunch. The portion size is huge, considering how much time it takes to chop that much parsley, but it is a really healthy dish so you can eat all you want. We also got the kebbeh makliyeh ($7.95), which is ground meat and bulgar stuffed with minced beef, onions and pine nuts, and deep fried to a dark brown. It would be quite interesting for me to find out how they are able to get the stuffing perfectly situated into the outer layer of beef before it is fried into a football shape, because I'm sure a lot of experience is needed to get the form just right. It wasn't our favorite dish of the day but it was still very good, and tasted like a beef donut - a plus, and a minus.

Chicken Tarna Wrap

Kebbeh Makliyeh



After allowing enough time to get hungry again we went to a restaurant in Venice that is incredibly popular right now, Gjelina. We found it as we were researching restaurants on the drive from Vegas, but when we called to make a reservation for the same night the only time available was ten o'clock (on a Monday!). We were able to get a reservation at six the next night, so we took it. The place has a funky decor described by the person sitting a little too close to me as 'industrial farmhouse,' or something to that effect. There is a cool chandelier over the bar made from a hanging pot rack with different kinds of light bulbs, and the rest of the restaurant is comprised of dark stained woods with steel accents. The food isn't cheap, but it is reasonable for what you get, and everything came out of the kitchen looking incredibly appetizing. We ordered the charcuterie plate ($12), presented adorably on a wooden board studded with four kinds of Italian style meats, pate, house-made pickled cukes and onions, olives, Dijon and whole grain mustard, and a fruity compote. The bread it was served with was grilled to the state of a crunchy cracker with a little give, and our only complaint was that there weren't enough slices. We could have used some more mustard and compote as well. The steamed mussels ($13) were excellent, and included house made chorizo with tomato confit. I appreciated tremendously that the chef took the time to purge the mussels before cooking them, meaning that he added flour to a water bath housing the mussels to remove any sand and plump them up. This is a step not many restaurants take, but it makes a world of difference. The piece d' resistance, and interestingly enough the best dish of the trip, was the charred brussels sprouts with dates, bacon, and vinegar ($8, pictured at the top). They were like vegetable candy with a light syrupy coating that contrasted beautifully with the charred exterior of the sprouts. These would make any child eat their vegetables, without question. We will absolutely come back here on our next trip, but will plan ahead of time so we can be sure to get a table. (Note: the only downside is that they serve beer and wine only and the cheapest glass available is $12)

Our final stop on the way home was the Wood Spoon downtown, where we had been wanting to go ever since we saw it featured on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," a new show on the Food Network. The particular dish featured on the show was the Brazilian Chicken Pot Pie ($12), so that's what we got. I will say it was the best pot pie I've ever had, with a browned flaky crust, interesting yet familiar flavor, and a thick but not too heavy gravy. Ian missed the peas and carrots from his grandma Mama Ginny's pot pie, but the corn in this pie added precisely the right amount of sweetness that you usually get from other vegetables. I'm sure Mama Ginny's is just as good (or maybe better) since she is a great cook who specializes in foods that are especially heart stopping and rich with love. Therefore, I won't say this is the best in the chicken pot pie in the World, but it's certainly a contender. We also got the coxhina ($7) which were very similar in form to the kebbeh makliyeh at Sunnin. The flavors were much different, of course, and this one consisted essentially of what is the pot pie filling (wouldn't have ordered them had I know that) engulfed in a thick batter and deep fried in the shape of fat tear drops rather than little footballs. The mayonnaise based cilantro dipping sauce, which also comes with the pot pie (in case you were missing more fat in your meal) was soothing and had a nice consistency, but the heat resided more in the interior of the coxhina, which I found interesting. Normally the sauce holds the fire, but this sauce was more of an antidote to the peppery interior of the coxhina. I can't vouch for the rest of the menu, since these are the most popular dishes, but I've read on Yelp that other items are hit or miss. To be on the safe side I would stick with the pot pie and drink copious amounts of the water flavored by either cinnamon sticks or orange peel that comes to your table, free of charge (nice touch!).


Coxhina interior

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie interior

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