Sunday, May 3, 2009

Have You Seen Me?: Missing Person…errr…Month…Report… (Part 1)

Have any of you looked around lately and wondered where on earth April went? I could have sworn that only yesterday I was being pathetically duped by The Rundown’s (still) painful April Fool’s Day prank that left me longing for a veritable eatery that lets you barter prices with servers wearing wooden barrels. Someday, maybe someday… Well, now it’s May – believe it or not – and I have yet to run through the mind-blowing assortment of restaurants I visited over the four fleeting weeks that have only just passed us by. Here are a few bites of my impressions from each establishment to tease your taste buds and whet your appetite – and please, try not to be jealous of the fantastic, culinary-rich month that has come and gone. As a fair warning, you just might want to hang out with me for all of May after you get through this killer line-up:

1. Urth Caffé
I was beyond thrilled when I discovered the new outpost of this fantastically natural yet trendy eatery in the Downtown Arts District. After helplessly driving back and forth over the LA River bridge in desperation and frenetic panic that I might not find this hidden gem after all, I was relieved and elated to drive up to the regal, castle-like structure that is beautifully tiled in cool shades of blue and boasts a welcoming, sprawling patio complete with heat lamps and iron-wrought tables and chairs. The sight nearly reminds me of a certain scaly reptile’s castle in an all-too-familiar childhood video game (Bowser’s Castle, anyone?). Walking inside, I was almost overcome by glee when I spotted all of my familiar favorites from the Santa Monica and West Hollywood outposts. Mediterranean plate, chicken pesto salad, crunchy fruit and nut bread crisps and delightfully refreshing tropical iced tea; they have it all, and almost too dangerously close to my USC digs. Feeling sluggish and gluttonous from a weekend trip, I decided to order a bowl of vegan broccoli coup with a soft hunk of nine-grain bread. I couldn’t have made a better choice – the soup was perfectly velvety and smooth, tasting of beautifully roasted broccoli with a hint of oregano and garlic, and the bread was noticeably fresh and absorbed the thick grassy green puree like a generous grain-filled sponge. To be said, Urthh Caffe is undoubtedly a valuable addition to the fresh and healthy downtown dining scene, and I am impatiently anticipating the next time I can visit my favorite new castle, so I can pick up a beautiful cup of artisanal caffeinated artwork and maybe a sweet baked treat or two.

Urth Caffé – Downtown
451 South Hewitt Street
Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles
(213) 797-4534

2. The Lab
I’m definitely not the first LA foodie to write about this increasingly popular new gastropub adjacent to the USC campus. The Lab has taken the Trojan Nation by storm, luring students away from the all-too-familiar 9-0 and 29th Street Café by promising hungry and, truthfully, thirsty co-eds carefully thought-out and deliciously prepared offerings, an impressive selection of well-chosen beer and wine, and an attractive communal space to socialize and speculate. Think back to The Max from Saved by the Bell; this neon-hued, multi-functional burger joint was the “it” place for Zack Morris and his posse of big-haired, high-riding classmates to see and be seen while enjoying the best burgers and fries that the neighborhood around California High School had to offer. The Lab enjoys many of these same features – a hot crowd of extroverted and educated socialites, newly-minted favorites such as Grilled Salmon with Middle East Couscous, Artichoke Fritters and Beef Sliders, and a centralized location to tantalize even the students hailing from North University Park area. My recent visits have seen samplings of Seared Ahi Salad, Caprese Flatbread, Stir-Fried Shrimp and Eight-Grain Salad, accompanied by the likes of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, Trojan Blonde and Samuel Adams Seasonal Ale. All were surprisingly inventive, satisfying flavorful and modestly portioned for pub fare, and everything was pleasantly well priced for those of us on a limited, pathetically self-funded budget. However, in a battle of the educational eateries, The Lab takes the cake for two all-important reasons: drinks and “discresh.” The fact that you can drink your discretionary funds away with the Red Trolley Ale – all thanks to your USC student ID – is revolutionary enough to send The Max back to the 80’s. Sorry, Zack, there’s a new hangout in town, and while it doesn’t have a jukebox, it’s got something your all-of-seventeen years have yet to see: lots and lots of alcohol.

The Lab Gastropub
3500 Figueroa Blvd. • Los Angeles • CA • 90007
Information 213.743.1843
The Classroom 213.743.2011

3. Larchmont Grill
For many of us, Easter is synonymous with a bonafide basketful of traditions: egg hunts, church services, too much time with estranged relatives and, of course, an embarrassingly gluttonous showing at mid-day brunch. Naturally, I am no stranger to this last, guilt-inducing event, done, of course, in the name of religious respect and springtime celebration. After several weeks of conducting extensive online and personal research, my boyfriend and I deduced what we thought would be the perfect place to fulfill this important duty of over consumption. Enter Larchmont Grill, a charming renovated house in the neighborhood surrounding Larchmont Village, which is without a doubt my absolute favorite nook in all of Los Angeles. Friendly coffee shops, a green-minded farmers market, quaint boutiques, one central street with crosswalks where cars actually stop to let you pass – this place is everything that LA isn’t. So, the two of us dressed in our Easter best, mentally preparing each other for what would be the most epic Easter eating session of our lives to date. Greeted by an incredibly warm and cheerful host, we were seated, immediately ordered two flutes of tangy Prosecco to prime our already-anticipatory palates, and grabbed our plates to do some damage on the wrap-around patio where the buffet was awaiting our presence. The spectacle was at once overwhelming and inviting: a salmon and lox station, a ham carving station, an omelet station – and these were just the savory stops! Spread as far as the eye could see were Monte Cristo Sandwiches, Chicken Apple Sausages, Brioche French Toast, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Short Rib Hash, Caesar Salad, Turkey Bolognese…in all honesty, I’m convinced that I blacked out shortly after realizing what was in front of me. Perhaps 30 minutes later, I awoke to find myself sitting in front of three empty plates, and greedily casting my gaze toward the dessert bar to my left. Having reached the point of no return, I piled my poorly sized saucer high with Larchmont Grill’s famous Carrot Cake, fresh berries and an embarrassingly oversized dollop of whipped cream, and returned to my table ready to finish the final miles of this marathon meal. While one might have expected my taste buds to have been numbed by the countless flavors and textures they had already endured, the incredible combination of earthy layers of shredded carrot and golden raisins and sweet creaminess of buttery white frosting played the perfect performance to end my feasting festival. At the end of the afternoon, I felt no regret, no shame, no humiliation for my gluttonous greed as I was rolled out of the dining room and down the stairs to my car, which was waiting at the valet. All I felt was intense satisfaction and the incredibly powerful urge to sleep for the rest of the day in my comfy sweatpants. If this glorious meal didn’t encompass the idea of Easter festivities, well, then I’m not sure what does.

Larchmont Grill
5750 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

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