Tuesday, February 24, 2009

See You at Ciudad...

For my roommate's 21st birthday celebration last Saturday night, a bunch of us made our way downtown to...well...initiate her into the world of the late night happy hour. A beautiful, amazing thing, the happy hour that starts after the sun goes down is truly a gift to those of us who sadly do not get to end the day at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. These days, it's hard to find a restaurant, bar or lounge that indulges in the night owl's desire for a few hours of reasonably priced drinks and creative small plates; fortunately, there's Ciudad.

Sitting right on Figueroa between 4th and 5th Street in the heart of downtown LA, Ciudad is a gem for upscale, trendy Latin American food made with the freshest, most local ingredients - a true model for the fashionable Angeleno cuisine that so faithfully fuses sensual flavors, sophisticated style and seasonality with sustainability to create dishes that are delicious and in tune with nature. Aside from its fashionable food, the ambiance created within Ciudad's walls reflects the intimacy and energy of Latin American cuisine; sharp angles, straight lines and lots of warms colors outline both the artfully-placed bar at the center of the lounge area, and the geometric spacing of small tables in the rear dining room encourage close dining with friends and family.

We started off with happy hour drinks at the bar, and were more than pleasantly surprised to find that our drinks were $4.50...$4.50?!?! On a Saturday night in downtown LA?!?!? We were stunned and thrilled all at once. I ordered the house red wine, a smooth Malbec red from Argentina that was all at once rich and refreshing - a real treat for such a great price! The one down side to these late night deals is that they only apply to drinks, not the bar food that is available at the happy hour earlier in the day. Having come before, I know just how flavorful and juicy the fish and carnitas tacos are, so I made a mental note to return at an earlier time in the very near future. Sitting down in the dining room, we were brought some delightfully crispy cracker bread seasoned with nice smoky spices and toasted seeds, as well as a duo of dips - a savory olive tapenade and a freshly whipped hummus - that perfectly complemented the sweetness of the mojitos and margaritas that we had also began to drink, and that were also only $4.50...such a deal! Ordering the Pervian Ceviche was the best decision one could ever make; the generous chunks of mahi mahi sat perched atop a pile of fresh lettuce and tomatoes, marinating in a tangy, acidic pool of lime juice infused with ginger and chile, with two paper-thin slices of plantains that were lightly fried and crunchy. This dish practically melted in my mouth on the first taste. Others at my table ordered up the Roasted Poblano Chile Relleno, an appetizing-looking blackened pepper stuffed with delightfully salty cotija cheese and papas bravas, garnished with an assortment of salsas and a chewy, well-seasoned quinoa salad, and the Spinach Empanadas, little pockets of golden-crisp dough bursting with the dark greens, savory pine nuts, sweet raisins and fresh manchego cheese, and topped with eye-popping salsa verde. Both looked so good, but sadly, I did not get to snag a bite from either plate (the "mmmmm's!" from their seats spoke more than enough to the great taste of these dishes). To finish, the birthday girl was toasted with a complementary slice of the Goat Milk Cajeta Flan, whose milky-smooth texture was matched with the tang of the goat cheese base, topped with a buttery caramel sauce and blueberries...now that's my kind of dessert!

All in all, Ciudad is the perfect place to go if you are looking for a dining experience in downtown LA that is well-priced and well worth the typical suit-and-tie crowd. Whether you are looking to drink, eat, have a business meeting or just catch up with friends, Ciudad excels at bringing the beloved flavors of Latin America into both a menu and an ambiance that fosters a good time and a great meal.

445 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 486-5171

Happy Hour:
4 p.m. - 7 p.m. Monday - Friday Happy Hour
4 p.m. - 9 p.m. Sunday Happy Hour Drinks

Happy Hour After Dark:
Wednesday & Thursday: 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 9 p.m. to 12 midnight

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Messob, Will You Be My Valentine??

When that all-too-romantic holiday rolls around the corner in the middle of February, most couples feel the need and pressure to dine in one of the swankiest restaurants in town, order the most expensive, sensual-sounding dishes (i.e. caviar, steak, lobster champagne, oysters...)and, before you know it, you've blown hundreds of dollars on a night that will - gasp! - invariably and inevitably roll around again next year...and the next...and the next. Eschewing trendy LA standards and embracing our love for worldly fare, my boyfriend and I have been celebrating the unfailing day of love with a tasty visit to our favorite Ethiopian joint on South Fairfax Avenue, a friendly little enclosure called Messob. Not for diners with shy taste buds and utensil-less inhibitions, Ethiopian food is actually a very romantic cuisine in both its savory flavors and its hands-on serving style. The technique that embodies Ethiopian dining culture, gursha, is essentially hand-feeding your partner-in-crime by placing bits of food into his or her mouth; the word itself means "mouthful," and is known as a gesture of affection, exchanged between both romantic loves and family members.

Now, this may sound nice and easy, but for the Ethiopian food amateur - and the very, very hungry and impatient eaters - it's anything but a leisurely meal. The enormous combination platter brought out to our "table" (a very authentic tray nestled into a colorfully woven, tall basket) looked and smelled absolutely amazing. Although we had ordered the very same thing last year, our eyes and noses were tantalized by the incredible mixture of sweet, savory and smoke spices and smells that practically jumped off of the platter and into our anxious mouths. Truth be told, neither one of us knows what is actually on this plate, the "Super Messob Exclusive." What we do know, however, is that everything on that tray tastes of smoky chile, savory garlic, sweet cardamom, and a zing of ginger. Wrap up a morsel (of whatever it is you pick up)in a piece of spongy, slightly sour yet delightfully aromatic injera bread and pop it into your (or sadly, not yours, and instead your dining companion's) mouth and experience a sensational and perfectly overpowering melange of the balanced earthy and spicy flavors of Ethiopia.

But don't be discouraged because Valentine's Day doesn't roll around for another 360 days or so; a night of Ethiopian dining can be enjoyed at any time of year and for any occasion thanks to the refreshing singularity of the cuisine and consistent delicious taste of its dishes. Perfect for a group of several friends or a romantic night with your loved one, Messob is a stop in Little Ethiopia that cannot be missed, no matter what holiday is just around the corner.

Messob Ethiopian Restaurant
1041 S Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 938-8827

Friday, February 13, 2009

I am Bacaro's boomerang...

Being an SC student, I'm constantly looking for ways (and excuses) to get off-campus. Don't get me wrong, USC is great and I love every minute I spend here, but sometimes, you've just got to escape and retreat to (one of) your happy place(s) - the farther away, the better. I used to relish in sitting down at a restaurant far, far away from the hub of campus life, from the Row and from all of my classroom buildings, just to enjoy a glass of wine and unwind from my life within the Trojan bubble. Imagine my delight when I discovered that I could have the best of both worlds - this same feeling of escapism, without the hefty toll on my gas tank and wallet. That day, that was when I discovered Bacaro LA.

A stone's throw away from my cozy home north of the USC campus, Bacaro LA is truly in a class by itself, especially considering the (depressing) caliber of restaurants and establishments that surround it. This place is truly a breath of fresh air for foodies like me who prefer to savor a Thursday night by sharing a bottle of wine and delicately-crafted, Venetian-inspired small plates with a close friend or loved one, rather than sipping on mysterious "jungle juice," choking down shots of nameless liquor and ending my night with a tummy full of Jack in the Box "tacos" (apparently, no meat in these "meaty" tacos...). The first time I ever stepped foot inside Bacaro, the co-owner Daniel greeted us warmly and encouraged us to ask questions and explore his impressively cultivated menu that pulls from local artisans like BREADBAR (my personal favorite for all things bread), sustainable farmers and authentic, indigenous wines. While Bacaro is committed to using local ingredients, I really appreciate the philosophy behind their decision; using organic and sustainable products as often as possible, but particularly when the ingredients are the stars of the cichetti (tapas), the minds behind Bacaro strike the perfect balance between environmental consciousness and the reality of attempting to run an all-organic restaurant from the ground up.

One of the many great things about Bacaro is its versatility. I can take anyone here - my boyfriend, my parents, my best girlfriends - and have completely different, yet incredibly enjoyable experiences that leave my guests wondering, "Why haven't I come here before now?" and before you know it, they, too, instantly begin to formulate their own lists of companions to bring along on their next visit to Bacaro's small, dark and intimate setting. With no more than ten tables, Bacaro's ambiance softly whispers of sophistication that is neither stiff nor overly-serious. Rather, Bacaro fosters quality conversation, along with delighted outbursts at every first taste of the next tapas to come out of the back kitchen and always, always, the request for more little dishes than simply the three you ordered when you first sat down. Among my (numerous) favorites are: the crispy polenta squares with roasted market eggplant: the roasted rainbow beets with chevre and tarragon: the Gorgonzola, date, walnut, and orange honey-draped crostini; the hot artichokes with Parmigiano Reggiano; the pan-seared scallops with melted winter leeks and spicy crostini; and the very sinfully delicious nutella panino with strawberries. WHEW. If you think that sounds amazing, just wait until you cast your fascinated foodie-eyes on the sprawling wine list scrawled out in chalk on the far right blackboard of a wall. Along with tantalizing your tummy with advertisements of $1 nibbles like almonds, figs and apples, an assortment of fine cheeses, and baskets of tender, crisp slices of BREADBAR bounty, you'll find an impressive compromise between offerings by the glass and libations by the bottle from all around the world. Bacaro's special focus on Old World wines is a refreshing departure from the blase trendiness of Australian and New Zealand wines, and the friendly wine experts are more than heplful in helping you pinpoint what exactly you are hankering to enjoy with your over-indulgence in their sensational small plates.

But, don't just take my word for it. Give Bacaro a try soon (actually, now), and you'll be pleasantly surprised at your amazing dining and drinking experience at this dimly-lit, street-side wine bar. The more I go to Bacaro, the more often I go back, and naturally, the more people I introduce to Bacaro's refreshing, alternative offering on a Thursday or Friday night at a university known for its extremely localized night life. Each time I end my night at Bacaro, I promise them that I'll be back soon, and soon enough, there I am again, asking for wine recommendations and greedily eying every cichetti I cast my eyes upon. Maybe I've come with a new friend, maybe I've come looking for red wine instead of white, but one thing about my experience at Bacaro LA always remains the same: before I've even left, I've already decided that I'm returning soon, very soon.

Bacaro LA
2308 South Union Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coffee addiction's (a) bitch...

Being a native Seattlite, transplanted into the concrete jungle that is LA, I have steadily remained loyal and true to my hometown hero and my long-time caffeine companion, Starbucks Coffee Company. Yes, despite the temptations at every corner, despite the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's seductive beckoning, with their tantalizing Ice Blendeds and pretty purple straws, I have managed to withstand the calls of numerous Starbucks-imitating sirens and continued to patronize that magnetic coffee mega-chain for my early-morning java jolts and my late-night library companions. I thought I was strong and faithful, and would be to the very end, until a few weeks ago, I met my match. All of a sudden, just by ordering one simple cafe au lait and fatefully selecting one brew out of an impressive variety of roasts, I have been forever changed, my coffee loyalties turned upside down by LA-native Groundworks Coffee Company.

I credit my penchant for artsy, independent-looking coffeehouses to my Pacific Northwest roots (hey, the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market looked pretty homegrown back in the day...). So, when I spotted the inviting, community-friendly cafe that is Groundwork's Hollywood location on Sunset and Cahuenga, I was drawn like a magnet to metal, hell-bent on finding an artisanal cup of coffee that stimulated both my senses and my mid-day energy level. Walking in, I was greeted right away by an artsy-looking, young guy who appeared to genuinely appreciate my first step into the neighborhood hot spot. What?! You mean I'm not another double tall half-decaf two-pumps-of-sugar-free caramel macchiato with no whip and a sprinkle of cinnamon, with a Hawaiian bagel toasted with cream cheese on the side? Nope...crazy. I ordered my cafe au lait and cautiously approached the table stocked with numerous carafes of organic, fair-trade and shade-grown roasts, and I could tell that this was no marketing ploy. Scanning the labels on the admittedly intimidating selection of brewed coffee, my eyes were drawn to the tag that read, "Organic Bitch's Brew," and instantly I knew that I had found my inaugural roast of choice.

Boy, did I make the right decision. A deep, darker roast that was unexpectedly free of any bitter aftertaste, the Bitch's Brew is a perfect choice for those who enjoy the depth of a strong, dark cup of joe and want none of the harsh aftertones of an Ethiopian or Yukon blend at that "other" coffee chain I used to solely award with my pocket change (What's its name again? Carmucks? Blartucks?). Faithful to my palate that I am, I have not yet sampled Groundwork's other roasts, but I caught a good, long whiff of the Organic Angel City blend when picking up coffee for a co-worker. Bright, medium-roast, and wonderfully floral-scented; while I'm sure this one is a winner, too, I just can't stray from the Bitch's Brew. When it comes down to it, I guess you could say that now I'm the bitch...Bitch's Brew's bitch, that is.

Groundwork Coffee Company
1501 N. Cahuenga Boulevard
(@ Sunset Boulevard)
Hollywood, California 90028

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fresh Tooth Goes Frozen...Sort Of...

Now, if anyone is against eating a lot of pre-made, over-processed and tasteless frozen food, it's me. I'm a firm believer that what we put into our bodies should be as freshly plucked from the earth's soil, the trees' branches and the rural farms as possible. I mean, the fresh taste you get from a crisp salad made of tender baby spinach, crunchy Fuji apple slices, freshly grilled and juicy chicken breast, and tangy clusters of goat cheese - that scent sensation, that visual experience and that satisfying feeling of eating something wholesome and earthy cannot be replicated, especially not by a "meal" that comes wrapped in plastic, complete with microwave instructions.

Well...I was wrong...sort of. The other week, I was half-ashamedly scanning the frozen food section (gasp!) for quick, cheap and nutritious options for my lunch when I intern in West Hollywood a couple of days each week. In my defense, dining options in that part of town fall under two categories: cheap and dubiously nutritious; and expensive and delicious; thus, my dilemma. So, I search high and low in the natural foods section, crossing my fingers and muttering under my breath, "Yellow tag, yellow tag..." in hopes that I could find something inexpensive, tasty, and yes, FROZEN. I was about to give up hope, when I spotted a glorious, glowing beacon proclaiming "2 for $4" under a product I did not recognize, but would soon come to love. Meet Cedarlane Natural Foods' Burritos and Wraps. Ye, they are fatefully frozen, but wow, are they good! I've tried the Low-fat Couscous and Vegetables and the Veggie Pizza varieties, and both are surprisingly delectable! The Couscous Burrito is loaded with perfectly moist grains, wonderfully gooey mozzarella cheese and a proportional spattering of various vegetables, the Pizza Wrap tastes like a piece of thin crust, veggie-based pizza folded into a neat little package, and both crisp up wonderfully in the oven! Paired with a chicken breast or a cup of low-fat cottage cheese, these little bundles of beauty are truly one of the best choices for a cost-effective, taste-effective and happiness-inducing lunch break, no matter how stressful your job or how little your budget.

Cedarlane Natural Foods
Available at natural food stores and selected grocery stores throughout the U.S.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How Sweet It is...To be Loved by Sweet Potato Fries...

Does anyone remember how the trend of sweet potato fries even started?? One minute, I'm a strict "no-fried-food" adherent, and then next, before I realize what has happened, I'm scanning menus and websites, looking for those magical three words. I'm not even really sure how it all began, but these days, I just can't get enough of them. That tell-tale bright orange hue, that satisfying crunchy yet soft bite into that crispy strip of beta-carotene-loaded heaven; somehow I feel so good after eating these deep-fried finger foods, even though I know that I am merely blinded to the truth by that orange-y glow that draws me in like a neon bug-zapper on a warm summer's night.

Seeing as I search high and low for sweet potato fries on LA restaurant menus, here's a list of some of the establishments whose scrumptious sweet potato sticks have won my heart:
1. Breadbar in Century City
2. Jack n' Jill's in Santa Monica
3. Mayberry in Pacific Palisades
4. The 29th Street Cafe (a.k.a. the 2-9 to us Trojans)
5. Eat on Sunset in Hollywood
6. On occasion, my sorority house for lunch (thank you to our amazing chef, Gary!)
7. Library Alehouse in Santa Monica

Some shout-outs to restaurants outside of LA that get my "sweet-potato-fries seal-of-approval":
1. Cafe Flora in Seattle, WA (referred to on the menu was "yam fries" but oh-so-good, especially with the vegan garlic aoli)
2. Herb Box in Scottsdale, AZ (they make sweet potato chips with a secret seasoning that is TO DIE FOR!!!)
3. Fish on Fifth in Sidney, a small town outside of Victoria, British Columbia (that's Canada a.k.a. up north for all you geography, err...buffs...it's worth the trip just for a maple-glazed grilled salmon salad and a side of delicious sweet potato wedges)

In addition, here are some places that I know serve my little fried friends, but have yet to try them:
1. The Corner on Highland and Lexington
2. Nick & Stef's Steakhouse in Downtown LA
3. Father's Office in Santa Monica and Century City
4. The Counter in Santa Monica
5. Blue Plate in Santa Monica

Now, I've never met a sweet potato fry I didn't like - let's face it, this is one thing that my palate is not too discriminating about...BUT I'd really like to know where truly the best sweet potato fries are served. Consider this your mission, should you choose to accept it (but please do - I'm hungry again...as I sit here in my room eating glorious, sorority-house sweet potato fries).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sweet (but not TOO sweet) Obsession...

My favorite guilt-free dessert spot? Like any Angeleno, whether or not you're a transplant from another climate or another culture, it's a frozen yogurt place. But this is not just any old corner shop or national chain that serves up heart-warming yet brain-freezing treats; this, my friend, is The Bigg Chill. You might recognize it by the lines that string out of the door, even on the coldest of winter nights, while the Penguins chain store across the street is completely and utterly empty. The Bigg Chill has a cult following all of its own, but the beauty of this confection-lovers club is that anyone can join. Families, sorority girls, body builders, and even Paulie Shore himself are just some of the people that I run into on a consistent basis in this Saved By the Bell-esque establishment.

With more than 12 different flavors offered daily, The Bigg Chill sets itself apart by carrying low-sugar, sugar-free and dairy-free flavors to boot; my personal favorites range from Raspberry Chill Berry (not too tart, like all those other yogurt chains) to Mocha Almond Fudge (a Carbolite flavor, a.k.a. low sugar) to Butterbrickle (a mysterious yet delicious butterscotch/caramel taste sensation). Of course you can choose from a variety of toppings - healthy and not-so-healthy - as well from fro-yo-based shakes and pre-ordered pies.

But, I must warn you, beware of the health-store food that surrounds the walls of this little corner of heaven. Stocked with low-calorie foods like soy chips, all-natural granola, protein bars and no-calorie peanut butter (sadly, it tastes TERRIBLE!), these shelves can be deadly, especially when you reach the front of the line full of eager yogurt consumers and look down, only to cast your eyes upon the best "healthy" cookies you will ever come across. There, close to the floor, you will find the wide assortment of Rocks N' Rolls Cookies; with flavors ranging from Vanilla & Lemon to Raspberry Chocolate Chip, these not-to-sweet but oh-so good, crunchy little pebbles are surprisingly light on sugar and fat but big on taste. With five ingredients to their name, these geology-inspired goodies are incredibly easy to snack on while feeling good about your decision...until you realize you've eaten the whole bag, much like I did last night. However, gluttony guilt aside, these little cookies are incredibly light and crispy, and pair perfectly with the fluffy, smooth taste of any of Bigg Chill's sumptuous sweet treats.

So next time you're in the mood for a creamy and cool snack, stop by Bigg Chill. Just make sure you go to the end of the ordering counter on the far side, away from the Rocks N' Rolls display...that is, unless you are in the mood to eat an entire back of delectable munching cookies on the side.

The Bigg Chill
10850 Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Rocks N' Rolls Cookies
St. Amour Cookie Manufacturer
2971 Grace Lane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mani's Enthusiasts,Take Charge! (Hope You're Hungry...)

You'll never guess how taken aback I was when I visited the websites of one of my favorite, health-food restaurants the other day, only to discover that a note had been posted by its owners stating that the economic slowdown has taken a devastating toll on their yummy neighborhood bakery and cafe, so much so that they may soon close their doors from which the delicious smell of fresh muffins and vegan-friendly dishes waft.

So this morning, valiant mission in mind, my boyfriend and I made our way to Mani's, the health-conscious and tasty little bakery and cafe on Fairfax with quaint sidewalk seating and some of the best bottomless coffee I've tasted, determined that our patronage would save one of our favorite eateries. However, when we arrived, we realized that other Mani's faithfuls were probably on the same trip, because the place was bustling and the indoor eating area was full of friends meeting over scrumptious multi-grain pancakes with seasonal berries, warm and crispy fruit juice-sweetened scones and a whole wheat breakfast burrito filled with so much goodness that I was forced to restrain myself from snatching an uninvited bite off of the unassuming diner's plate (He was reading the newspaper and would have NEVER known...).

We sat down at one of Mani's charming, smooth mahogany tables and ordered the Huevos Over Blackstones, a decision I will undoubtedly make again and again as I return to this light and airy environment. Despite the drizzling of rain outside, this egg dish brightened by up entire day. Comprised of chewy cakes made of perfectly-Southwestern spiced quinoa and black bean patties nestled between steamed baby spinach and poached egg whites (how did they do it?!?) topped with a tangy yet smoky Ranchero sauce, this beauty of a breakfast dish made me feel like I was in sunny San Diego instead of the striking resemblance to Seattle that LA has taken on in the past few days. We supplemented this perfectly seasoned and texture-balanced Breakfast Classic with a Morning Glory muffin heated to perfection; the blend of grated carrots, raisins, pecans and bran created an amazingly soft yet dense baked good that literally vanished before my very eyes before I could remember to take a breath between my enthralled bites. Hungry for more, I eyed one of my old favorite, the High Protein muffin in the display case on my way out; clearly my eyes and my stomach are on different terms, but my stomach always wins. My turmoil immediately transformed into triumph when I spotted the small wicker basket on the counter with mini muffin samples, and my boyfriend and I gleefully snatched the last two High Protein muffin samples, much to the dismay of the other customers greedily (and justifiably!) eyeing that little basket of wonder.

It truly saddens me that Mani's is on the edge of falling victim to the struggling economic climate. An establishment dedicated to making healthier versions of mealtime favorites (they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner), I'm in love with their use of meat-free products, fruit juices and non-hydrogenated fats to make even non-vegans crave a high-quality, grain-and-vegetable-based meal or snack. Mani's mantra of wholesome goodness leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy after I step out of the door, no matter what I've just eaten (okay, scraped dry) off of my plate. Mani's, I will continue to support your mission of quality taste, healthy ingredients and consideration of special diets so that I (and countless others) do not have to see your shiny tables pulled inside and your window-paned doors close for good. Where else would I be able to find guilt-free baked goods and feel-good dishes that don't break the bank and that bring me sunshine when the rain won't stop falling?

Mani's Bakery Cafe
519 South Fairfax
Los Angeles, California 90036
phone 323.938.8800

Mäni’s Bakery Hours
Mon-Thurs 6:30AM - 11:00PM
Fridays 6:30AM - Midnight
Saturdays 7:00AM - Midnight
Sundays 7:30AM - 11:00PM

Café/Restaurant Hours
Mon-Thurs 8:00AM - 10:00PM
Fridays 8:00AM - 11:00PM
Saturdays 8:00AM - 11:00PM
Sundays 8:00AM - 10:00PM

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Big-Taste (and Budget-Friendly!) Breakfasts

Breakfast is my favorite meal that occurs before 11am. Don't laugh...I'm serious. Forgo that bowl of cardboard squares drowning in milk that you call cereal. Ick...I can't believe you...Try one of these day-brightening and eye-opening morning meals that you'll be glad you did...Trust me...

Cottage Cheese Pancakes:
Toss 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese, 1/2 cut dry oats, an egg white, a few teaspoons of milk, and a dash of honey, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg into a food processor and blend until smooth (I like adding sliced banana, dried blueberries, almond meal and ground flaxseed, too!). Heat up a griddle or frying pan, spoon batter onto the hot surface and flip after 5 minutes or until golden brown. Heat until golden brown on the other side, and plate those flapjacks up! Top with fresh fruit (raspberries and blackberries are my favorite!), toasted almond slices, nonfat Greek yogurt and syrup of your choice (I go with Trader Joe's Agave Nectar - nice and maple-y).

Other things you can add into the batter:
Dried cranberries or apricots
Canned pumpkin (Be sure to sprinkle in some pumpkin pie spice, too! Pumpkin doesn't taste that way, normally....)
Chocolate chips
Chopped nuts
Shredded coconut
Tell me what else you add to your pancakes!

Homemade Granola:
Combine 2 cups of whole rolled oats with 1/2 cup of chopped nuts of your choice, 1/2 cup of dried fruit like raisins (make 'em golden or else...), 1/4 of shredded coconut, 1/2 cup of applesauce, 2 T of canola oil, 1 T of ground flaxseed, 2 T of honey, and a pinch of salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Spread mixture out over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees F for 45-60 minutes (depending on how hot your oven gets). Let cool for ten minutes and serve over nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh seasonal fruit and a drizzle of honey.

My Personal Favorite (To Everyone's Disgust...):
This one is simple...REALLY simple...but SOME PEOPLE seem to think that it's absolutely revolting. I think it's innovative, interesting and incredibly savory. All you need to do is prepare a single serving of piping hot, plain, unsweetened oatmeal (quick or whole oats are fine). At the same time, poach an egg in a pot of boiling water with a splash of vinegar until the white is just solid and the yolk is still runny. Serve the poached egg on top of the oatmeal and pierce the yolk so that it runs across the top of the steaming hot oats. Add salt and pepper to taste and voila! A tasty twist on a traditionally sweet way to start the day. It's like eating a poached egg on toast, but only this way, you lose none of the yolk, and gain only savory sunrise satisfaction. My only request? Don't dog it (or feed it to the dog) before you try it.

If you're still with me after that odd breakfast combination, you have my full respect and admiration. That being said, it makes me curious...what do you like to make for breakfast? Whether you have 10 minutes or two hours, everyone has their own way of jump-starting their day, and I want to know yours. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to find someone who I can point to and say, "You think a poached egg on oatmeal is bad? Wait until you hear this..."

Mendocino Farms: My Happy Place

I know that I started my long-time-coming, "shouldn't you have done this ages ago?" blog today, but I have to, just HAVE to, tell you about my all-time favorite sandwich place in LA (I went there as recent as yesterday...it's irresistible!). I'd love to say that it's a well-kept secret, with no lines at the noon-time rush and ridiculously low prices, but it's not, and I'm more than OK with that.

Enter Mendocino Farms. An absolute gem buried in the midst of a cement jungle that is absolutely terrifying to the average lunch seeker, Mendo is my happy place. No matter how long the line is, I manage to make it up to the front in a matter of minutes; the crew taking orders and making these amazing creation is so darn excited that you are there, that the minutes you spent in line vanish as quickly as their top-grade sandwiches disappear from the environmentally-friendly paper wrapping in which each one is carefully nestled.

My favorite? Easy. Highway 128 in a grilled wrap. An unbelievably flavorful combination of juicy roasted and shaved chicken, tangy goat cheese, delicate mixed greens, crunchy and thinly sliced green apples, and a heavenly marriage of cranberry chutney and jalapeno relish (I'm starting to feel weak in the knees...). Can you believe this thing has a little mark by it to show that it's healthy, too?!? Incredible. It's gone before I even know that I am sitting down to eat it. But believe me, it's far from the only good item on the menu. Mendo features sandwiches with every kind of wine country-inspired ingredients under the Northern California sun. Like serious meat? The Wine Country Steak and Brie is a sophisticated disguise for a man with sophisticated taste but a reputation to maintain. Like Asian food? The Pork Belly Banh Mi sandwich has the bite and flair of the original, with a great gourmand twist. They even have vegetarian and vegan options that can convince you to (gasp) forego meat in your lunchtime meal. A creature of habit, I was once seduced by a special Vegan Shwarama sandwich; the mind-boggling fusion of tzaziki, spicy white bean and lentil puree, shredded lettuce, red onions, tomatoes and the is-this-really-vegan meatless soy shwarama will open your eyes to a world you may have never dreamed of.

Think you might have a hard time choosing a sandwich? Get this - you can choose your bread, too! Supplied by the bread gods that run Breadbar, the fluffy yet crusty slices of goodness that cradle your precious creation of choice are only appropriate considering the high quality of ingredients that lay between them. While I'm partial to the wrap - they grill it up and make it so very nice and crispy! - I know for a fact that the Curcama Hazelnut bread is a dead-ringer for the luscious tumeric-scented naan bread I hunt for at Indian restaurants, and that one bite into the Buckwheat bread will send you into panic as you wonder how something made of whole wheat can taste so sinfully delicious.

Before I get too carried away, I can't forget to add that Mendo also has an astounding array of daily soups and salads that will please every guest to this lunch hour luxury destination. My personal favorite? Any of the spinach and arugula salads; some days they throw strawberries, goat cheese and honey roasted almonds into the mix, and other times, you can find cubes of maple-y roasted butternut squash, chewy cranberries and crunchy bits of pecan melding together in each bite, tucked quietly between the unassuming baby greens. Oh yeah, and they have chips, cookies and drinks to offer, too, all brought in by local, down-to-earth companies committed to sustainability, natural goodness and all-around awesome taste.

Now, you don't have to tell the folks at Mendo that I sent you (but you definitely can...), but I do ask one thing of you. One aspect of Mendocino Farms' philosophy that I particularly appreciate is their commitment to "think globally, act locally." That being said, they have set up an impressive recycling and composting trash system outside their doors that makes me feel like I'm saving the world, one delicious sandwich at a time, by separating my compostables, my plastics and my trash in an environmentally-friendly way. So, when you feel slightly guilty for spending up to ten dollars on a sandwich, just remember that you are making a little hand print on the sands of environmental improvement (from a hand that's been licked clean of succulent basil pesto and melted Gioia mozzarella). It also doesn't hurt that you've just travelled to Northern California's Mendocino County and back, savoring the delectable flavors of wine country.

Yup. TOTALLY and COMPLETELY worth it.

Mendocino Farms
300 S. Grand Ave.,
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Meet the Foodie...

The first thing that you need to know about me: my passion is FOOD. Dining out, eating in, wasting away hour after glorious hour in farmers markets and filtering through endless cookbooks and online recipes - food is an experience, an enjoyment, and an opportunity to connect with some of my absolute favorite things. I’m originally from Seattle, which I think fostered my love for nature, seasonality and my own self-awareness, experienced through all the senses… the best being taste!

I’ve always loved to describe the travels of my taste buds, and my family and closest friends always come to me for restaurant and recipe recommendations because they just like to see me talk about food. Plus, apparently I have pretty good taste when it comes to tracking down and trying out some of LA’s best spots to engage in some serious palate play.

So if you’re another foodie like me, who loves quality ingredients, trying new things, and doing something good and healthy for your body, then follow my blog! I’ll do my best to keep you updated on the recipes I find, the restaurants I uncover and the results that always (let’s hope I don’t jinx myself!) seem to turn out better than they sounded or seemed.