Saturday, August 28, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Los Angeles

A weekend trip to the coast during summer is a refreshing respite from the desert, especially when it is accompanied by visits to fantastic (and cheap) restaurants. We started off with a short detour on the way into the city at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, home of the best little dumplings this side of the Pacific ($7.25). These are the dumplings that make those at China Mama's look like child's play. We also tried some non-dumpling items, including the Shanghai rice cakes ($7.50). These were chewy discs that looked like sliced water chestnuts but tasted like Chinese gnocchi, accompanied by velvety chicken, leafy greens, and cabbage.
Another hit were the shrimp and pork wontons with spicy sauce ($7). We actually thought we were ordering soup, but ended up being thrilled with our mistake. I've had a very similar dish at Noodle Asia in the Venetian, but this version was much better.
My dad then wanted dessert so we ordered the sweet taro boobs, er buns ($3.60 for the pair). Gummy sweet poi filling in a bland bun isn't my idea of dessert, but it actually tasted a lot better than I thought it would.
Breakfasts were the meals that really stood out over the weekend. On Saturday we went to a little cafe on Main street in Santa Monica called Amelia's. We shared a huge breakfast torta with layers of egg, potato, spinach, mushrooms, cauliflower, and cheddar cheese wrapped in flaky pastry and topped with tomatoes, parmesan, and noteworthy pesto.
The blueberry polenta cake, just one of their many home baked creations, was light and not too sweet. For the torta, cake, french pressed tea, and an incredible vanilla latte with cinnamon, the meal cost less than $20.
The bike ride that we took along the beach after breakfast didn't burn enough calories to warrant the meal, so we decided to go the healthy route the next day by dining at a vegetarian friendly restaurant, Interim Cafe. Though the place is in our neighborhood and has been there for twenty years, we were surprised to have never heard of it before. The hippie who runs the place has created every dish on the menu. We loved umami burger ($9) that was topped with a sauce that tasted like cheese but was made from silken tofu, paprika, and sundried tomatoes, amongst about ten other ingredients. It was the most satisfying veggie burger I can remember having had. The green peach smoothie with peaches, apples, basil, cucumber, mint, ginger, and banana (and without added sugar) was also great.
The last stop before heading back was Tavern, a restaurant/larder in Brentwood. Though it's open all day, I've only ever been for their superb breakfasts. We shared butter crumbed eggs (poached eggs rolled in bread crumbs and briefly deep fried) over polenta with arugula and shaved cheese.
We also ordered one of their elegant pastries, the almond bundle. Even a French baker would be jealous of how well executed this was - crispy and flakey on the outside, sweet and soft on the inside. The meal, including two coffees, was $20.

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