These days, it's hard to believe that there are still burger joints out there that have not jumped onto the sweet potato fries bandwagon. Those delightfully crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, melt-in-your-mouth matchsticks of orange-y bliss are enough to make even the most faithful of french fry-eaters crumble under the pressure of the much more flavorful, more colorful and (questionably) more nutritious side dish. However, you're not going to find these beta-carotene bundles only at your trend-savvy sandwich shop or burger bistro; today, even the most sophisticated of establishments are tuning into the sweet potato trend. My quest over the past weekend, to find some of the more atypical restaurants serving up SPF's, yielded a surprisingly delightful variety of upscale eateries that are attempting to appease my ongoing obsession.
Friday Night: The Must (Downtown)
At this few-months-old wine bar on 5th and Spring in the heart of Downtown, The Must is quickly creating a buzz in the foodie world with its incredible $3 happy hour, upscale decor and pleasantly pulsating yet subdued energy. Highlighted by the LA Times Daily Dish blog for its sinfully delicious Fluffernutter sandwich, which simultaneously evokes overwhelming guilt and bone-chilling satisfaction with its buttery seared brioche bread, rich roasted almond and peanut butters, braised bananas, gooey marshmallow fluff and thick chocolate ganache, The Must is faithfully filling the monstrous hole of well-priced, classy hangouts in the heart of LA's business district. Among the $3 happy hour nibbles are the Sweet Potato Tots; while they are adequate at best, it is likely that with The Must's growing popularity, these decent sweet potato digits will (hopefully) also improve.
Final Grade: C+; these tots are noticeably over-greasy, even after taking down several generously-sized glasses of happy hour libations. There is definite room for improvement. BUT, everything else at this relative new-comer to the wine bar scene is delicious; try the Pretzel Balls with Dijon Dipping Sauce and the Lemon Zest-Topped Olives (both for $3) to munch on with your wine, and you (and your palate) will be pleased you did.
118 W. 5th St., Los Angeles
Saturday Night: Akasha (Culver City)
I had been reading about this Culver City hotspot for months when I finally had the opportunity to try out Akasha for the first time on Saturday. As I entered the dimly-lit yet lively space, I felt at once incredibly soothed and amazingly energized by the linear booths, chalkboard bar menu and flurry of conversations that were taking place all around me between the patrons at the bar, the diners at the tables and the groups on the patio. I fell in love at once with the all-natural cocktails selection, the friendliness of the maître d' and the overwhelmingly hunger-inducing menu that was set before me, which included everything from wonderfully tender, juicy Lamb Sliders and succulent Seared Scallops on a bed of sauteed kale with eye-popping green edamame puree, to delicate Ahi Tuna Lettuce Wraps and a frosted paper cone overflowing with my favorite appetizer (ok...all-purpose dish...), Sweet Potato Fries. Dressed with "pink sea salt," I was uncontrollably excited to try this "exotic" take on a typically simple appetizer, but to my dismay, they tasted quite ordinary. Don't get me wrong; they were delicious, as all sweet potato fries are, but something didn't sing to me when I popped that first hot fry into my mouth. Maybe I was simply expecting too much from this elusive "pink sea salt." So, while I respectfully admire Akasha's commitment to sustainable ingredients, free-range meats and natural, healthy takes on some of our favorite familiar food dishes, and while I plan on returning to eat here again, I will not go to this eco-conscious eatery to specifically satisfy a hankering for my beloved sweet potato fries.
Final Grade: B-; good, but not great. I was supremely let down by tantalizing promises of "pink sea salt" to give a new flavor to traditional SPF's.
9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City
Sunday Afternoon: The Farm of Beverly Hills at The Grove
Let's be honest - nothing feels better in a stomach that's been ravaged by alcohol the night before than a little bit of grease. Even the most fresh-toothed of foodies, like myself, acknowledge this as an immutable fact of life. That being said, after a night out in Hollywood, all I could think about while trolling around The Grove with my sunglasses on and my water bottle in tow was how good sweet potato fries would taste in my parched mouth and would feel in my slowly recovering stomach. Stumbling past the awe-inspiring fountain show, spouting in tune with some of Sinatra's most beloved tunes, I happened to catch a glimpse of one of the outdoor tables at The Farm, where a pair of shoppers were taking a break to snack on a glistening silver pail of sweet potato fries. Score. I immediately sat myself down to order a bountiful bucket for myself, and at once was able to nurse my pitiful condition with a refreshingly crisp glass of tropical ice tea and a giant helping of greasy goodness. These fries were just thick enough, a happy medium between matchstick fries and wedge potatoes, and while they would be a tad too salty for the average eater, they were perfect for me as I attempted to reintroduce electrolytes and sodium into my worn body.
Final Grade: B+; very delicious but overly-salty and a bit too greasy. These are great for the classic hungover state, but not so satisfying for a completely sober fresh-toothed foodie.
189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles
Sunday Night: Rock'N Fish (Manhattan Beach)
For being a city so close to the ocean, LA gives me a lot of trouble when it comes to finding a good, reasonably-priced seafood dinner. Sure, I wander to Little Tokyo for the occasional spicy tuna roll and I muster up the courage from my wallet to order an appetizer with scallops at higher-end establishments, but if I want a fresh, grilled fillet of salmon for the focus of my dining experience, there aren't many places I can go without shelling out more cash than I do to fill up my little silver Scion XA with unleaded gasoline. Thanks to a good friend's recommendation, I ventured out to Manhattan Beach to give Rock'N Fish a try...and boy, am I glad I did! For your entree, you can choose from at least six kinds of freshly caught fish, from salmon to ahi tuna to halibut, and have it oak grilled and served plainly-dressed and gimmick-free, just the way I like it. It gets even better; with each plate, you get to choose two truly rockin' sides, ranging from Grilled Vegetables to Macaroni and Cheese to...you guessed it...Sweet Potato Fries. These slightly-thinner takes on steak fries are amazingly crunchy on the outside, almost like they've been battered or double-fried (maybe both?), yet are electric-orange and near-creamy on the inside. YUM. Don't expect to down only a few of these little fried fingers; that "Rock'N side" of fries is more like a gigantic boulder, and you definitely won't be debating whether you should order another round.
Final Grade: A-; sure, they're really good, but what good would it do for my unending quest for the best sweet potato fries if I dishes out an A or A+? So, the search continues...
120 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach