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Restaurant Review: Fraiche, Culver City

As you know from reading this blog, J and I love to eat out, and do…….a lot. Too much, probably. Ok, defnitely! We have our favorites- Briganti and Bistro K in South Pasadena, Z Sushi in Alhambra, Sushi Gen in Downtown, Parkway Grill in Pasadena, Beaujolais in Eagle Rock, Mozza in Los Angeles…….we go to these places often because we know it’s going to be good. As a food blogger, however, I should try new places more often and expand my horizons, but you know how it goes……..there are few things more aggravating than spending good money on bad food and bad service. It’s not like buying a sweater that doesn’t look good when you get home- you can always return it. But seeing as you already consumed the meal, you can’t really ask for your money back. And good food is so subjective…… may be crap to you and gourmet to someone else. There’s also more of a chance that a new restaurant will be so-so as opposed to mind blowing…..there are just too many mediocre restaurants out there to avoid that.

Well, that wasn’t the case when our friend R suggested we try Fraiche this past weekend. We’d been meaning to make plans with him and his girlfriend for awhile, and, being fellow food maniacs, we knew we’d hit it off and we did. We rarely venture out to the Westside to eat but was excited at the prospect of trying a new place that I’d already heard some good buzz about.

We arrived to find a large, open space with floor-to-ceiling windows and high ceilings. The tables were nice and set apart from each other- this is not a place where you’ll rub elbows with your neighboring diners. I loved that, even though they could have placed at least 50% more tables in the restaurant, they chose not to and give the patrons some privacy and space. The place was well-lit from the natural light coming through and the open kitchen was bustling. A great start………..

R was kind enough to bring several terrific wines, and we perused the menu while the waiter told us about the specials. Fraiche is actually divided up into two parts- the restaurant and the bar- with a separate menu from each. You cannot order bar items in the restaurant but both menus do share some items, like the raw oysters. Everything on the menu sounded delicious, and the four of us decided to share the Fruits De Mer Petit Plateau ($50) to start.

Hm, I’m not sure what part of this platter was petit as a large, two-tiered behemoth of seafood was placed on our table. Oysters, clams, mussels, crab salad, shrimp, calamari salad and lobster sat on a bed of ice and came with aioli, cocktail sauce, mignonette, and horseradish . Every single thing was fresh, meaty, cool and absolutely delicious. Definitely worth the price and could be a nice meal for two. The chef (a friend of R’s) then sent out an order of the mussels, which is on the bar menu only and usually prohibited from being ordered in the restaurant. I guess since we didn’t technically order them, it was ok, and once I popped one in my mouth, I understood why the chef chose this dish to have us try. I’m sure you’re thinking “Moules Frites? What’s the big deal?” but these mussels were big, meaty and just so amazingly fresh and tasty- I can say they were the best mussels I’d ever had in my life. There- I said it. Each mussel was the size of Texas, or so it seemed, put full of the flavors of the sea. One of the favorites of the night for me.

Moules Frites

I asked R if he thought we should still order appetizers AND entrees, and he replied “Yes- I’m feeling indulgent tonight!” OK, I was convinced (doesn’t take much, does it?). We each ordered an appetizer and an entree, sat back and waited for the feast to begin.

Smoked Eel w/ Arugula, Orange, Mint & Breakfast Radish

J ordered the Smoked Eel w/ Arugula, Orange, Mint & Breakfast Radish ($11). It was lovely and refreshing, although I felt that the oranges slightly overpowered the subtle eel. Still, everything was fresh and lightly dressed- he liked it but would have liked a bit more eel.

Beef Tartare with Bacon Sabayon, Chives and Arugula

R got the Beef Tartare with Bacon Sabayon, Chives and Arugula ($13)- wow. We agreed it was the best beef tartare we’d ever had (I know I said that about the mussels but I’m serious about both). The beef was chopped into cubes so you really got the texture and flavor of the meat, while the bacon sabayon added a nice saltiness and smokiness which was very distinctive but didn’t overpower.

Farro Salad with English Peas, Roasted Peppers, Herb Salad and Tuscan Pecorino

D ordered the Farro Salad with English Peas, Roasted Peppers, Herb Salad and Tuscan Pecorino ($9) – once again, fresh ingredients, great combination of flavors and a simple presentation made for a great first course. I’d definitely order this next time.

Tre Baccala

I got the Tre Baccala- Whipped With Yukon Gold Potato, Crispy With Espelette Aioli and Crudo with Sea Beans and Tomato ($13). The crudo was my favorite as I’d never had salt cod served almost sashimi-style. It was pleasantly but not too salty, and the sweet cherry tomatoes were a nice compliment. I also enjoyed crispness of the baccala cake.

Tortelli w/ Braised Rabbit, Sage Brown Butter and Artichokes

What, we’re still eating? You have no idea- we were just getting started! For his main, J got the Tortelli w/ Braised Rabbit, Sage Brown Butter and Artichokes ($13). When I first saw this on the menu, I wanted to order it but then was torn between this and something else. I LOVE handmade tortelli……..and I adore braised rabbit. Luckily J said he’d order it, so that freed me up to order the other thing I was eyeing. Well, one bite of this tortelli and I was once again torn- although I loved my dish, this was…….spectacular. The brown butter coated each tortelli in a dry sort of way- no pool of butter here- and the flavor married with the shredded, braised rabbit inside each pocket of pasta in a way that was, well, nothing short of heavenly. I know- I’m gushing, but you have to understand that at this point, I was thinking “How can a restaurant (especially a NEW restaurant) keep hitting the mark dish after dish?!?!” This tortelli was made for me……….or, I was born to eat this tortelli. It’s tortelli destiny…………

Kurobuta Pork Chop w/ Braised Baby Vegetables, Lemon, Violet Mustard

R got the Kurobuta Pork Chop w/ Braised Baby Vegetables, Lemon, Violet Mustard ($23)- a big, honkin’ pork chop which actually came on a bed of chive mashed potatoes in addition to the veggies. It was thick, tender and nicely smokey which I wasn’t expecting but was really delicious. So many times at restaurants, pork is dry but it wasn’t the case here.

Monkfish “Francaise” with Spinach, White Wine and Shallots

D had another thing I was eyeing- the Monkfish “Francaise” with Spinach, White Wine and Shallots ($22). The butter just added another layer of velvetiness over the tender fish and, again, made for a very lovely dish. I love the meatiness of monkfish and the entree was prepared simply to bring out the flavor of the fresh fish. Another winner.

Roasted Veal Cheek w/ Semolina, Romesco and Pickled Lipstick Peppers

My Roasted Veal Cheek w/ Semolina, Romesco and Pickled Lipstick Peppers was as tender and melt-in-you-mouth as anything could be. See, I have a rule- if I see “cheeks” on a menu, I’m ordering it. Halibut cheeks, yellowtail cheeks, beef cheeks….you get the idea. The meat of the cheek is always SO tender and flavorful, so when I saw Veal Cheeks, it sealed the deal (although yes, I was distracted by that tortelli and the monkfish). I wasn’t disappointed. The romesco was spread in a thin layer underneath of meat as not to overtake the wonderful flavor of the veal, and the puffy semolina cakes were subtle and delicious. Yet another winner.

Goat cheese mousse w/ raspberry sauce

We couldn’t leave without ordering dessert, and opted to share two. One was sort of goat cheese mousse with raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries which was divine. We also shared the cookie plate which was fine but nothing really stood out. I often order the cookie plate at a restaurant for the variety but have rarely had one that really impressed. I was pretty floored, however, by the warm madelines that the chef also sent out- wow. That was my kind of cookie plate.

Cookie plate

I’ll put this out there in the interest of full disclosure. Yes, R is a friend of the chef and they have worked together in the past- this obviously was the reason we got the complimentary mussels and the madelines. However, every single dish was outstanding and I could see all of the dishes coming out of the kitchen looked of the same, stellar quality. J even said to me at one point, “Do you think everything is this good because R is friends with the chef?” I hardly believe that a busy kitchen would even have the time to make one set of dishes one way and all of the others with less effort, and you could see by the busy restaurant that the other patrons were enjoying their meals.

As you can tell, I loved Fraiche and am looking forward to having many meals there. In a city where restaurants open with tons of hype, then disappear after a few months since that hype wasn’t based on anything tangible, it’s great to see a place that puts its food where its hype is. Los Angeles could use more Fraiches, that’s for sure.

11 Culver Blvd., Culver City, 310.839.6800

Thousand Layer Lasagna

The minute I heard that magical phrase, I knew it was something I had to eat. The description of ultra thin egg noodles surrounded by tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan and the crispy edges it all formed when baked in the oven were burned into my brain and I knew I’d have my day with the multi-layered dish soon.

I decided to do the whole thing by hand- after all, I had purchased a pasta roller almost two years ago and only used it a few times. Every time I’d made homemade pasta before, I remember thinking how easy it was. I decided to make spinach noodles, so I simply blanched a couple of cups of baby spinach, rung it out and blended it with the eggs and olive oil before forming a dough with the flour. I used Mario Batali’s egg noodle recipe from the Babbo cookbook, as well as his Basic Tomato Sauce. Let me tell you- that tomato sauce is a keeper. SUPER simple but so well balanced – I’ll be making it forever. It’s just olive oil, canned whole tomatoes, garlic, thyme, onions and carrots. Pure, simple and lovely.

After I let the pasta dough rest for 30 minutes, I started the process of rolling it. Since the whole point of Thousand Layer Lasagna is to get the pasta as thin as possible, this took a lot of time. That one dough ball was enough to make maybe not a thousand sheets but it certainly felt like I had! I rolled each sheet until it became paper thin, put them in between sheets of moist paper towels and continued this for about 2 hours. Time consuming, yes, but very relaxing too.

When all the pasta was done, I got my little assembly line ready- the vat of tomato sauce, sheet pan of pasta layers, bowl of grated fresh mozzarella, julienned basil and some finely grated parmesan. I stopped counting after fifteen layers but I think I got to about eighteen total. This actually took quite a bit of time as well since the pasta had to be handled with great care. I popped the lasagna in the oven and waited………

After about 40 minutes, I took out the hunkin’ dish of lasagna, let it rest for another 10 minutes and took it out to the patio. J’s parents were in town so my parents came and joined us for dinner. I cut everyone a nice, big slice and dug into a corner piece (hey- it was a lot of work so I had dibs on it!) for myself. It was light and rich at the same time- layers and layers of paper-thin pasta oozing with cheese and tomato sauce. I loved it, although I wished I’d baked it a bit longer to get more of a crust on the edges. Still, it was delicious.

I’m glad that I took the time to make this. For one, I discovered the joy of Mario’s basic tomato sauce. I also remembered how much I like making homemade pasta- and other than having to roll it on the thinnest setting- it’s very easy and pasta dough is quite resilient. Of course the lasagna itself was reward enough!

We enjoyed the lasagna with a multitude of other goodies of which I will post later!

Have a great weekend!

Crispy Gnocchi Salad and Grilled Swordfish

Before I start, I must give a shout out to Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame. She recently published a wonderful cookbook called Super Natural Cooking, and it’s a beautiful collection of recipes and photos that you must run out and buy right now! The book focuses on whole grains, vegetables, and other good-for-you stuff but has a fresh perspective, turning things like cannelini beans into a mouthwatering side dish or telling you how to get delicious crispy egg rolls in the oven, not the fryer. If you’re feeling sluggish and want to know creative ways to put more power foods into your diet, pick up this book. Even if you’re not feeling sluggish, go out and get this book! You won’t regret it.

Although this recipe isn’t in the cookbook (it’s on her blog), the minute I saw her post on Golden, Crispy Gnocchi I knew it was a dish I had to make. I did deviate from the recipe based on what was in my fridge, but the concept of browning gnocchi in a bit of butter and then tossing it with vegetables or shelled beans never occurred to me until I saw that post. How brilliant is that?! I do love gnocchi but avoided making it often due to its heaviness; this was a way to enjoy the little nuggets in a much lighter way, and let me tell you- it was a hit. J’s parents came to our house for dinner the other night and I served it along with some grilled swordfish and we couldn’t stop eating the gnocchi “salad.”

I didn’t have any of the shelled beans that Heidi used in her version, so I just cut up some steamed haricot verts, sautéed some portabella mushrooms in a bit of butter and thyme, then tossed both with the golden gnocchi and cherry tomatoes and mixed it all with some finely grated Parmigianino-Regianno. The warm gnocchi and mushrooms melted the cheese and enveloped the whole dish with the nutty, salty flavor of it. The crisp hericot verts and sweet cherry tomatoes were the perfect compliment. I haven’t fallen this hard for a side dish since discovering the wonder of puy lentils, although this certainly would make a substantial, vegetarian main course as well. It’ll be appearing (in many variations, no doubt) on our table often this summer.

The swordfish I purchased at Fish King in Glendale was so gorgeous that it didn’t need anything but a light brushing of scallion olive oil which I whipped up in the mini Cuisnart, some sea salt and black pepper. After about five minutes per side (these were thick!) on the grill and a sprinkling of some Meyer lemon juice, they were ready. Although swordfish is certainly not the cheapest fish, I have to say that the cost was far cheaper than if we had eaten this meal out, and it fed five people, so it was quite the bargain. If you live in the LA area and have a craving for swordfish, run to Fish King and get some……they were succulent, moist and simply delicious.

Super Natural Cooking

Fish King
720 North Glendale Avenue
Glendale, California 91206
Phone: (818) 244-2161

Yum Nuea

Yikes! I haven’t blogged in awhile. There’s a lot going on right now so I haven’t had a lot of time, but I’ll try to update as much as possible! For one, our dreams of a Greek vacation were dashed after weeks of trying to get Awards Travel tickets through United. I’m not going to spend almost $4K on airplane tickets that we could get for FREE, and there simply are no open seats that they’ll give us, unless we want to spend 2 days on planes and in various airports. So, thanks for the advice on Greece, but we’ll have to go another time when it’s less hectic. We’ve switched gears completely and have decided to spend a few days in Mexico City and a few more in Zihuatanejo (which is where Morgan Freeman decided to “get busy living” and finally met up with Tim Robbins at the end of Shawshank Redemption…… of the best movies of all time!!!). Although I was initially disappointed that my hummus fantasies (um, nothing kinky, ok?!) were dashed, I am getting really excited about trying some restaurants in Mexico City and wading through the blue seas of Zihuatanejo. As always, any recommendations are utterly appreciated.

Now, onto the food! Almost every time I dine at a Thai restaurant, I order the beef salad- yum nuea. I love the combination of limes, chilies, cilantro, onions, fish sauce, mint and beef, but it’s one of those dishes that vary greatly depending on which restaurant you go to. At some places, it’s a sad pile of iceberg lettuce with a few overcooked slices of beef on top; at others, it’s a glorious combination of many flavorful ingredients.

I’ve often wanted to make it at home, but never took the time to look up any recipes. Since our friend JN was kind enough to send us some fantastic beef as a thank you gift, I thought now was as good a time as ever to make this salad. I did a bunch of research and came up with a few recipes. It was easy to make and came out pretty well for a first try. After I made it, my friend D mentioned that his dad makes a fantastic version and uses shrimp paste (“the stinkiest stuff on earth” he says) in the dressing which really makes a difference. Although I have to admit I’m a little concerned with his description of the stuff, I’ll have to add that next time.

You can find a version here.

Sourdough pancakes, a food blog and love

Is that title confusing enough for you? Here’s the explanation: I happened to catch this little vignette on the Food Network a couple of weeks ago, and it just made me smile. Readers of the beautifully written and well-photographed (and now quite famous!) Orangette know the story of how a search for a cake recipe kicked off a whirlwind romance that will now be sealed with a summer wedding. As an avid reader myself, I couldn’t be happier for Molly (Ms. Orangette herself) and her fiancée Brandon. After reading something about his famous sourdough pancakes on her blog, I commented that I lacked the sourdough starter necessary to make the pancakes, which are a favorite of J’s. Not only did Ms. Molly offer to send me some of her starter, she cleverly dried it on parchment, broke it up into pieces, packaged it up with the most detailed instructions on how to reanimate it and ACTUALLY did it. We’ve had some of the tastiest sourdough pancakes since, and the starter continues to live in my fridge to this day. I don’t mean to sound cynical but it’s so surprising in this day and age when someone is so generous, and to a stranger no less!

Sourdough pancakes…….

So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy the story of how a certain New Yorker fell for a flame-haired Seattle girl and how the power of food brought them together.

And to Molly and Brandon- my heartfelt congratulations to you both.

The Story of Molly & Brandon

Swiss Chard Gratin

I purchased some gorgeous Swiss chard at the Alhambra Farmer’s Market last weekend. It’s ruby red color makes it one of the most beautiful veggies around, doesn’t it?? I buy it often but always make it the same way- lightly blanch the stems, then toss those in with the torn leaves and sauté with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. It’s delicious and brings out the natural flavor of the chard, but I wanted to try something different and vaguely recalled seeing something about a gratin on a blog some time back. Since I didn’t have a recipe, I kind of just made it up and viola! I think a new favorite side dish has been born.

After chopping and blanching the chard (blanch the stems for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves for about another 3-4 minutes), I squeezed out the excess water and started on a béchamel sauce. I wanted to make a healthier version of the rich sauce since I didn’t want to coat such a healthy veggie in loads of fat. It’s always risky to try and create lower fat versions of foods like this, but I thought what the hell, may as well try it. I used a tablespoon of Smart Balance spread, melted that along with some minced garlic, added one tablespoon of flour to make a roux and then slowly added 1/2 cup of fat free half and half, a pinch of salt and pepper and stirred until it became nice and thick. After taking it off the heat, I mixed in a half an ounce of finely grated, GOOD quality (it’s key!) Parmigiano Reggiano and then added my blanched, chopped chard and stems and mixed well. I divided up the mixture into three ramekins and lightly topped each with a sprinkle of panko and grated parmigiano reggiano and baked at 425 for 15 minutes.

béchamel sauce

Ready for the oven…….

Bubbling, crisp top…….

It came out pink (the color from the red chard bled into the béchamel!) and bubbling. In addition to this dish I made a seared steelhead trout with a tomato/basil/balsamic salsa and olive oil/sea salt-roasted asparagus for dinner. The Swiss chard gratin was creamy and delicious- it’s quite surprising how well the béchamel goes with a leafy, green veg like chard. I think it’d be a great little appetizer served with crackers and wine; in a larger portion a great vegetarian main dish. I’m guessing that kale or another sturdy leaf veggie would also work in this dish.

Swiss chard gratin, steelhead trout with tomato/basil/balsamic salsa and roasted asparagus………

On that note-have a great holiday weekend! Also, I’ll link to my previous post on questions regarding Greece and Lisbon in case anyone happens to think of any advice to give us for an upcoming trip.

Have You Been To Greece and/or Lisbon?

I realize that this blog is mainly made up of my incessant yammerings on cooking, food and restaurants. Although I am fairly confident of my skills in the kitchen (and in a restaurant….eating, that is;) I write this post as a request for your advice and assistance.

You see, after falling absolutely head over heels in love with the French Riviera a couple of years ago, J and I have dreamt of a return to the lush, blue waters of the Mediterranean. However, we wanted to go someplace new while still being able to bask in the familiar sunshine that lit up every single day of our last trip. After much thought, we have our sights set on Greece and Lisbon, Portugal, sometime in late June or possibly early July. One of my coworkers went last year with his wife and seeing their photos made me melt. Nothing is set in stone yet, but the research has begun in earnest as I have my heart set on the long days and bright scents of that part of the world.

So, I reach out to you for any insights, advice, must-see happenings, restaurant recommendations, lodging favorites and any other tidbit that will inch us closer to a well-planned-yet-adventurous trip. We’d like to visit two destinations in Greece plus Lisbon….which two Grecian islands have yet to be decided although we’re leaning toward Athens and Santorini. I have to admit, I’m a city-girl at heart, so I can’t imagine a maiden voyage to Greece without a stop in Athens.

I ask now, humbly, for whatever suggestions you can offer. And thanks in advance;)


J’s all-time favorite: KING TACO

Ahhhh, King Taco. I’d heard the stories of the carne asada, pollo and red hot salsa for years from J, who, ironically was a veggie when I met him. No, he wasn’t a carrot – he was a 10-year vegetarian until I lead him away from his misguided ways. Oh now now- before you animal activists start blasting me, that was just an affectionate joke. Of course I respect the vegans and vegetarians of the world- heck, I tried the vegan thing in college (read: lots of bean and rice burritos with guacamole or french fries) and actually do cook vegetarian meals often. It’s just that, being a true lover of all things food, I couldn’t possibly resist the urge to try anything once I get the chance to.

J’s love of King Taco started way before he even thought about vegetables. He was living with friends in East L.A. and would often visit the original King Taco on Cypress for his burrito fix. He’d told me about the burrito over and over again, and did take me once right after I met him but I remember the chile being way too hot for me….and not really much else. I think, at the time he took me, he still hadn’t converted back to meat eating and settled for a non-meat item. Anyway, he did always profess his love for King Taco (and pepperoni pizzas with beer- a combo that he claims is better than life itself) even when he was a veggie.

Now that he’s a few years back in the Land of Meat, we made the long-awaited return visit to the Original King Taco the other day. We were starving…….we got 2 asada burritos (mine sans salsa), 1 quesadilla and an order of chips. There’s a nice, efficient system at King Taco, and only a few menu items, so it goes quickly. Line up at Window #1 and place your order, wait to hear your number and pick up at Window #2. Find a seat, then grub away.

When I saw the quesadilla, I immediately thought, “Want a little tortilla with your queso?” The plate was a lake of melted cheese and somewhere in there, I saw the flour tortilla gasping for air as it drowned in the off-white goo. Oh wait- this will be a good place for my disclaimer: although J is Mexican, I am not, nor will I ever claim to be, an authority on Mexican cuisine. Ok, phew. Anyway, I’m looking at it thinking “????” but we parked ourselves on a bench inside and dug in.

Help me, I’m downing in queso!

J started in on his asada burrito with vigor, but after two Godzilla-sized bites he says “Wait- this is YOUR burrito!” since I’d gotten mine sans beans and salsa. We swapped out and enjoyed our own burritos- mine was good, but it just didn’t blow my socks off. The meat was slightly gristle-y but the rice was well seasoned but again, nothing spectacular. I know King Taco is famous….maybe I’m missing something? J, meanwhile, was as happy as Paula Deen standing next to a 1000 lb BUTTER sculture of Yoda, exclaiming, “This is the %$#!!” The both agreed that the quesadilla was ridiculous as we tried to peel the now-hardened cheese off of the tortilla. The chips were no different than store-bought, bagged chips. Overall, King Taco just isn’t my cup of salsa verde, ya know?

Asada burrito

Anyway, we’ll keep returning to King Taco as long as J has the craving for it. Next time I’d like to try their roasted pollo and see if I fare any better. In the meantime, I think I’ll be hittin’ one of the many taco trucks in our neighborhood to get my taco fix.

The Original King Taco
1118 Cypress Ave.
Los Angeles,Ca 90065

Everyone Deserves a Third Chance: Mike and Anne’s, South Pasadena

J and I get excited every time a new restaurant opens around our neighborhood. As avid dining-outers (isn’t that what you call them?) we do have several favorites in regular rotation like Z Sushi, Briganti and Cafe Beaujloais, but it’s nice when a new candidate moves in. Nothing wrong with adding a few more good restaurants into the mix.

Unfortunately, more often than not the new restaurant doesn’t really impress and we’re left to make repeat visits to our favorites that always please. I know- you should give each new dining establishment at least three of even four tries before giving up, but it’s difficult to plunk down the dough when the crust just doesn’t cut it. Er, wait- well you know what I mean. Why go back when you can be guaranteed a good meal at one of your regular joints? Because everyone deserves a second, third or even fourth chance, don’t they? Especially a restaurant, which can go through several evolutions before finally hitting a stride that will put them in the running to become Someone’s Favorite Restaurant.

About a year ago, J and I were in South Pasadena (only a stone’s throw away from our ‘hood) getting sandwiches at Buster’s when we noticed a new restaurant opening a few doors down. The next week, we made our first visit to Mike and Anne’s. As you can see by this post, it didn’t impress and we left, disappointed. Of course we did take into consideration that it had just opened, but the space was so open and beautifully decorated that I suppose we expected more. About a month later we returned, only to be disappointed once again. There wasn’t anything “wrong” with the food; it just didn’t jump out at us in any way. The menu seemed incomplete and didn’t offer many choices so we pretty much gave up on it.

Fast forward to last week. We wanted to go out to eat, stay close to home and I, in particular, wanted onion rings. That craving was put aside, however, since we didn’t feel like going to a fast food joint and didn’t want to make a second trip to The Coffee Table that weekend (we had been for brunch earlier). I suppose I always crave onion rings but don’t eat them so I was used to being without. After vetoing Firefly (never had a good evening meal there- only brunch), Bistro De La Gare (wasn’t in the mood) and Beaujolais (we go too often) we decided to give Mike and Anne’s another shot……..if just for the simple reason that we wanted to go somewhere different!

We were surprised (the first of several surprises, my friends) upon our arrival to see the place packed – on a Sunday evening no less. We managed to get a two-top inside (the patio was crowded as well) regardless and once again remarked at how lovely the space was. It’s all wood and minimal touches- very clean. Our very friendly waitress informed us of the new Spring menu, took our wine order and left us to figure out what to order.

And what to my wandering eyes did appear……but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny…..wait, no……ONION RINGS! The second fabulous surprise of the night! I didn’t need to review the list of tasty-sounding appetizers any longer as I knew I’d start with a side order of my favorite fried veggie! I know I may sound waaaay too excited – I mean after all, this is a common food- but in a fine dining establishment that had twice disappointed me? Hooray! I quickly forgot about the past and focused on my new future with Mike and Anne’s. J decided to get the Asparagus Bisque w/ Brioche Croutons and Extra Virgin Olive Oil to start and the Jidori Organic Chicken Breast w/ Fingerling Potato, Mushrooms, Green Beans and Bacon, With Red Wine Sauce. Although I was ecstatic about my onion ring find, I was secretly hoping to try the soup so I was glad he ordered it. I opted for the Basil Risotto with Baby Spring Vegetables and Parmesan after spying the gorgeous green dish being devoured by someone at a nearby table.

Onion rings= fried rings of onion= true love

The appetizers came first, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Actually, they knocked our socks off. The onion rings were piping hot, and although I prefer my rings extra, EXTRA burnt/crispy, these certainly kicked the craving. The coating was substantial enough but not bready, and had a nice crunch to them. I wasn’t too crazy about the accompanying Apricot Mustard but the Cranberry Ketchup was delicious. J’s asparagus bisque was, well, Spring in a bowl and full of bright yet creamy flavor. The croutons and light drizzle of olive oil completed the perfect execution of this simple but refined soup.

Asparagus soup…..light yet creamy, and very green

The mains were just as delightful. J’s chicken was perfectly tender and the mushrooms and potatoes were meaty and satisfying. Once again, the flavor and seasoning were spot on. If J’s asparagus bisque was Spring in a bowl, then my basil risotto was Spring on a plate. Each al dente grain of rice was coated in the vibrant green of aromatic basil, and each baby carrot, turnip, summer squash zucchini and tomato were tender and succulent. J and I ate and just looked at each other like “Why didn’t we return here sooner?!” The bread pudding we shared for dessert was a bit too dense for my taste but then again- it was warm, topped with cool vanilla gelato and drizzled with chocolate sauce, so who can really complain?

J’s chicken= succulent= flavorful= he nuked the leftovers the next day in the plastic container which melted all over the chicken = darn!!!

Basil risotto= fresh= delicious= love the mini veggies

It’s clear that the owners work extremely hard- it’s obvious in the nature of their servers, the cleanliness and organization of the space and the quality of the food. We saw one of the owners (Mike?) meticulously wiping down wine glasses and checking for spots before hanging them from the rack. Watching him work in such a focused manner actually made me feel badly that I had once deemed the place unworthy of another visit, but made me happy that I did eventually find my way back. It was a good learning experience to try and try again when it comes to newer restaurants. Getting surprised by a restaurant is such a rare thing these days, but Mike and Anne’s handed us many pleasant ones that night.

Bread pudding = sweet, but not too sweet, ending to our meal

I’ll be returning!

Mike and Anne’s
1040 mission street, suite 102
South Pasadena, CA


Today is my dad’s birthday- and I just wanted to give a nice, big shout out. Out of anyone, I’d have to say he’s been my biggest cooking inspiration and influence. He always cooked dinner on weeknights since he would come home earlier than my mom, and whether it was tuna casserole or chicken with cashews, it was always delicious. His lobster bisque is a Christmas tradition, and the one time he tried to swap it out for a different kind of soup, all of our guests were crushed that they didn’t get their yearly lobster bisque fix! So thanks, Papa, for being such a culinary mentor!

I did manage to make him a cake, but it was more of a breakfast item than a birthday cake. Once I saw a photo of this Lemon Upside Down Cake in the LA Times, I knew I had to make it- it was so beautiful. It was a cinch to make but next time I will put more lemons at the bottom of the pan to create a prettier top. Since my parents loaded me up with blood oranges from their tree, I think I will try an orange version as well. You probably have all of the ingredients to make this cake in your pantry (you can certainly substitute vanilla extract for vanilla bean) so it’s a great cake to whip together at the last minute.

I don’t know how it tasted since I didn’t try it, but hopefully it was good.

You can find the recipe here.