COMING AROUND AGAIN

Part 2 of 2

We were in L.A. for a few weeks, catching up with friends after the Covid-forced hiatus from travel. And much of everything else … except sourdough starter.

This weekend would be spent with my chosen sister Agat.

Since she’s French, we had stopped at Trader Joe’s to bring Brie and baguette for our aperitif. And Agat made her guacamole … my favorite version! … with just salt, pepper, lime juice. We enjoyed a bottle of Argillae Pinata that we brought to share with her.

For dinner, we began with a salad of avocado, grapefruit, and arugula … a smooth, sweet-sour, and peppery combination. Then from the grill, we savored flavors of the American southwest with TexMex tri-tip and of the French southeast with lemon-rosemary marinated chicken and roast potatoes. The cheese course included chunks of warm baguette. (Or is it warm chunks of baguette …?) For dessert, Agat treated us to homemade apple crumble with vanilla-bean gelato plus fresh blue- straw- black- berries and lightly-whipped cream. Our wine pairings included rosé and red.

The next night, we went to SUSHI SONG in Santa Clarita, and since it was late-ish, the dining room was not too crowded. Agat and David shared hot sake … and since I’m not an enthusiast, had green tea.

We shared tasty salmon tartare surrounded with thinly sliced cucumbers and topped with sprouts. Tender salmon sushi. Eel sushi, sweet and fishy. Delicate yellowtail sushi. Uni, soft and succulent. Ponzi-topped giant clam. Spider roll, crunchy and flavorful.

Dessert was back at Agat’s … Trader Joe’s vanilla ice cream-chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. Yum.

WHEN THERE WASN’T EVEN ANY HOLLYWOOD

Lunch found us at MALIBU MUTTS GRILL on Cross Creek Road. Part of an outdoor mall, the large grassy, tree-shaded area makes it feel like a park. Burgers … hot dogs … the requisite vegetarian fare, we decided on Middle Eastern. We both had pita wraps. Mine was falafel … sp good with crispy, fried chickpea globes and luscious tzatziki, the shredded lettuce fell onto the paper wrapper with each bite. David chose chicken … equally tasty, he said.

Dinner was with Debbie & Nancy … and SANTA MONICA SEAFOOD provided albacore and salmon to grill at the guesthouse. Sharing the plate were sweet potatoes plus tortellini with butter and grana, followed by Nancy’s salad tossed in her lemon dressing. The wine was extra special … Debbie had learned to love Vermentino on her recent visit to Sardegna, and she brought an excellent bottle, minerally and bright. The meal culminated in Debbie’ famous key lime. It was better than she said it would be … limey lusciousness, topped with whipped cream, then sprinkled with grated lime peel.

AND IT’S A LONG DAY LIVIN’ IN RESEDA

We were meeting Marty for dinner. After discussing and determining driving distances, we finally decided on a sure thing … DOJO SUSHI on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

The meal started with tasty grilled brussel sprouts (which I’ve come to learn are now ubiquitous in L.A.) with slivered almonds. To drink, we opted for wine by the glass … pinot grigio and Sauvignon Blanc … plus green tea.

Sitting on the patio that months before had been a parking lot, we enjoyed an assortment of sushi … the usual suspects of uni, salmon eggs, yellowtail handroll, ahi, salmon, scallops (for David), fried polenta topped with crab (for me), fried shrimp handroll (for Marty), polenta topped with minced salmon. All of the fish was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and when combined with interesting textures, delicious tastes, mixed temperatures, and new temptations created total yumminess.

NOBODY’S WALKIN’ WALKIN’ WALKIN’

Lunch in Santa Monica found us at EL CHOLO on Wilshire Boulevard, one of L.A.’s classic Mexican eateries. The chips and salsa came and went without photos [wink]. David enjoyed pork asada, served with Spanish rice, unphotogenic refried beans, and guacamole … very flavorful, he said. I had my usual guacamole on flour tortillas … very good, with tomato and onion and lots of lime.

My dinner plan included a jumbo sweet potato. I used a knife to make little slits so it wouldn’t explode, put it onto a plate, placed it in the microwave, clicked “Start.” Beep. Not yet cooked …I reset it for more time.

Click “Start.”
Beep, check.
More time.
Click “Start.”
Beep, check.
More time.
Click ………

I cut it into quarters … still nothing. The spud just wouldn’t cook. We don’t own a microwave, and the last one we had (10 years ago) was used for storage.

I gave up.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we realized … yep … the microwave was broken.

SIXTH STREET, WE LOVE IT

David wanted Mexican food, and in West Hollywood, there is a legendary choice … EL COYOTE on Beverly Boulevard. The parking lot had been converted to a dining area, with socially-distanced tables under a big open tent.

We started with chips and salsa [with photos] … then moved to a quesadilla. These always remind me of my oldest friend Laurie … her dad used to make them for us. This was a tasty version … Monterey Jack cheese melting and oozing from flour tortillas, made extra yummy with guacamole. Then David had carne asada with shredded beef and refried beans. The guacamole was served in a crispy tortilla shell; there was even butter to spread on the warm flour tortillas. You know I enjoy everything avocado … I was even able to squirt extra lime juice onto my guacamole.

BACK IN L.A.

The day started seeing our Italian friend Paolo and meeting his fiancée Christina at EDO BITES in Pacific Palisades. It was lovely sitting in the late morning sunshine, in the garden-like setting created by impresario Caruso. We lingered, chatted, reminisced over assorted coffee drinks and flaky croissants.

For dinner, we were invited to my dear friend Susan’s. We were neighbors when her three sons were in the single digits … now they’re well into their 20s.

Our antipasti included yummy garlic hummus, rosemary crackers, carrots, red pepper, celery, grapes, and Vermont Cheddar. We then segued to the table for her signature meatloaf. It was moist and flavorful, a perfect comfort meal with baked potato and a blend of cauliflower, broccoli, and green beans. David opened a bottle of Barolo … and yes, it’s a great pairing with meatloaf. Susan bought a dark and white chocolate cake, which she served with mint chocolate chip ice cream. She even gave us a care package!

ROUND ROUND GET AROUND, I GET AROUND

Dinner was in the beautiful home of cat-lovers and Italophiles, Jeff and Susan. Their three kitties … Maggie, Maude, Theodore … were nice enough to greet us. Aperitivi included Prosecco and sushi with an assortment of tasty ahi, salmon, eel, yellowtail, and veggie rolls.

At the table, our hosts decided on an all American menu … a BBQ feast. Grilled sausages were flavorful, melt in the mouth pulled pork, tender brisket, spicy chicken, and succulent smoked ribs. The “sides” were tasty red cabbage slaw, crispy pickled carrots and zucchini (like giardinieri), and molasses-infused porky-baked beans, plus hickory barbeque sauce. Then Susan baked an absolutely amazing dark chocolate and fresh fig cake … fabulously fudgy and seductively soft, the unsweetened softly-whipped cream served alongside was just right. Yes, I asked for the recipe! Perfect during fig season.

I SEE THE SIGNS FOR CALIFORNIA / TRADE THE SHADE FOR SOMETHING WARMER

The morning started with a walk to NOAH’S BAGELS on Sunset Boulevard. We bought six … 2 pumpernickel, 2 plain, 2 ancient grain. Sitting at one of the outside tables, people-watching, the pull-apart soft bagels were yummy with a schmear of cream cheese.

Tonight was dinner with Mark and Sandy. They picked BOAR DOUGH (say it outloud) in Oak Park … and we sat on the patio as the sun set. As we reviewed the menu, a loaf of warm sourdough appeared, a fan favorite. I picked the obvious … salmon filet with avocado. It was juicy and delicious, with heirloom tomato pico di gallo. Unfortunately, the chopped green herb on top was NOT parsley, but tastes-like-soap cilantro (easy to scrape to the side of the plate). David enjoyed his Chilean sea bass over polenta … and my pico di gallo. Sandy and Mark were happy with their grilled brussel sprouts (like I said, they’re everywhere you want to be), salmon, and French fries.

HOPE IT DON’T FALL INTO THE SEA

We rendezvoused with Susan and Jeff at BROADWAY BY AMAR SANTANA, in Laguna Beach. Perusing the menu … full of culinarily-creative combinations and detailed descriptions … two comments stood out. First: “there are food allergens in our kitchen.” Second: “no substitutions.” That sort of separates the wheat from the shaft (pun intended.)

The sommelier is a friend of Jeff, but it was his night off. So Jeff picked an always enjoyable Prosecco … the subtle flavor was the right light accomplishment to our meal.

Dinner was amazing.

Jeff began with duck confit on a bed of braised red cabbage … it looked delish. David had the egg-yolk “raviolone” (the menu using proper Italian for “one jumbo raviolo”) stuffed with ricotta and duck prosciutto, then drizzled with balsamic glaze and sage … it was very wonderful. Susan and I both started with roasted beef marrow, served with oxtail-mushroom marmalade, garlic confit, Celtic salt flakes, and grilled sourdough … each element was stellar, from the perfect cloves of garlic; the rich, robust marmalade; the succulent, smooth marrow; the distinct texture of the salt; the crunchy bread. Wow.

As a main course, David and Jeff both enjoyed the tender and juicy Pan-Roasted Scottish Salmon with wild mushrooms and red-wine risotto … full of amazing flavor. Again, Susan and I were #twinning, and ordered Herb-Roasted Branzino with cauliflower purée, pickled clamshell mushrooms, and truffle jus … tender, flaky fish with crisp skin; a new-to-me mushroom that is so delicate and flavorful; evocative truffle, enough said. Wow.

We decided to share one dessert, but there wasn’t one with enough chocolate to catch my eye. David picked the warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with poached pears and guiness [sic] ice cream. All of us were pleasantly surprised by its smoky, sweet, irresistible … “just one more small bite” … goodness.

CLOSE YOUR EYES AND YOU’LL BE THERE

En route to the airport, there was a quick visit with Barbara & Peter … at YOGURTLAND, on Sepulveda Boulevard. It reminded me of the old days, when frozen yogurt was invented [wink] … a lunchtime staple in Century City. We all enjoyed our custom creations. Mine was a generous base of chocolate … a small layer of peanut butter … a sampling of white chocolate-pistachio … more chocolate to swirl and spire above the rim. It did not disappoint, light enough before travel and a good substitute (albeit late) for breakfast.

Arrivederci hometown … I’m heading home now.

SALTED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE SQUARES

2–½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
1–½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup red wine
½ cup olive oil
½ cup dark chocolate chips
Coarse salt … for sprinkling

- Preheat the oven to 350°F (170° C). Line 2 cookie sheets with silpats.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then add wine and oil. Stir to create stiff dough.
- Turn dough out onto a wooden board, and cut into 4 pieces.
- Roll into a log about 8 inches long and 1 inch wide and ¾ inch high. (The dough will be a bit oily.) Press the top and sides to “flatten” the log.
- Cut into 1 inch slices.
- Place on cookie sheets. Grind coarse salt over each cookie with coarse salt.
- Bake for 15–18 minutes until just firm.
Makes about 32 cookies.
Enjoy!

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Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.

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