Saturday, June 04, 2016

Southern California - Part 2 - Los Angeles

Hi readers (all 5 of you!)
Who wants to know about the rest of my trip to Southern California?
Ok, here goes.


More breweries, as we drove from San Diego to Los Angeles. First up, Alesmith. More flights of beer. I was designated driver so stuck to having a bit of whatever stout looked most interesting to me. A took full advantage of having a personal chauffeur. We kept exclaiming over how spacious breweries and tap rooms are in the US, compared to the squashed confines of railway arches in London. Plus, as we were doing a weekday brewery hop during a late morning / early afternoon drive, there were only a handful of other similarly geeky beer tourists around. Good if you want to spend your time tasting / discussing beer with the knowledgeable staff. Bad if you want atmosphere.

Ballast Point was next door. They are more established, which was obvious from the much more expensive décor and fully bustling restaurant and gift shop. I am appalled that I did not write much down but there were definitely some beers here that were right up my alley. Too bad I’ll never remember what they were.

As it was a Monday, another brewery close by wasn’t open (Green Flash) and we decided to skip Karl Strauss as we’d had a few of their beers in San Diego and two breweries in a morning seemed like a pretty decent achievement.


Back to what I care about – lunch options! Both Kotija Jr Taco Shop and Carnitas’ Snack Shack are in Del Mar, and why eat at one when you can eat at both? We started with a fish taco and taquitos at Kotija – again a pretty great example of what a bit of freshly grilled fish and shredded cabbage can be when done right, and the taquitos were full of greasy childhood nostalgia. Then we hit up Carnitas’ for their famed Triple Threat pork sandwich (our AirBnB host in San Diego raved about this). I’m glad we tried it, but it was just too over the top for me. Deep fried pork loin, pulled pork, and bacon smothered with aioli and relish – even having half of it made me feel a few years closer to a heart attack.


With some lunch, A was ready for another brewery so we went to Stone’s headquarters in Escondido. It was really difficult to find as there isn’t much signage out front and looks like a weird office building complex, but in the back there is a pretty incredible beer garden. While this is where they do most of the brewing for their mainstays, the location in San Diego has a lot more experimental beer, so if you were choosing to visit one, I’d recommend going to the San Diego location (which is also surrounded by a lot more stuff to do).



While Rip Current and Latitude 33 were also on our map, we were keen to get to LA before dark so we ended up skipping them. Leaves us some places to visit on the next trip…


Our first two nights in LA, we stayed with C in Pasadena. She took us to a great casual Italian place for hearty bowls of pasta and broccoli rabe which helped me cleanse after the crazy pork sandwich for lunch.


The next day was a downpour unlike anything I’ve ever seen in LA. This meant that A and I could only see things from the car – Griffiths Observatory was a bust, and we made a quick stop at Squirl for some avocado toast (fine) and bread pudding (way more than fine, I would eat this over and over again). Maybe the rain is the only reason why we managed to find a table and get served without a long queue. We then proceeded along Sunset Blvd heading west, going at a crawl and pointing at things through the blurry windows. 



Another stop at one of the many outposts of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, for, you guessed it, chicken and waffles – we really liked the fried chicken as it was juicy and crisp. I know it can be variable in quality but we hit a good one. We decided to hide out at the cinema and watch The Hateful 8 in 70mm, as the rain just never stopped, and afterwards drove around Hollywood and Beverley Hills, gawping at mansions, until it was time for our reservation at Pizzeria Mozza.




Pizzeria Mozza gets its own paragraph. I’ve heard endless raves about the pizza, the butterscotch budino, the warm atmosphere, both here and at its sister restaurant next door, Osteria Mozza. It lived up to it all – my friend K met us for dinner (C couldn’t make it, sadly) so between three of us we attempted to stuff ourselves silly. Arancini and bone marrow for starters (A’s first bone marrow!) and then two phenomenal pizzas (mixed mushrooms, and a Brussels sprout and pancetta special). A, whose top gripe about pizza is when the crust is too thin/soggy to hold up to toppings, pronounced these excellent and we had no trouble finishing it all. Then, because we couldn’t decide between the butterscotch budino and the caramel coppetta, we got both. A preferred the caramel, I preferred the butterscotch, K didn’t discriminate. It was perfect. I love it when places meet your high expectations.


The next day, the same downpour meant another curiously indoor day. The Broad Museum was my kind of place – small enough that you could see the whole thing in a couple of hours, big enough that the collection was interesting. Also your free tickets come with an audio guide that really helps you understand what you’re seeing – I am getting really into audio guides lately as they are transforming my experience of museums. After, we headed to Little Tokyo for lunch. I don’t have pictures or the name of the restaurant, but it was a pretty standard bento box experience and we’d go back, if we could ever find it again. For dessert, we hit up The Pie Hole, which was doing a special Yoda pie – green tea and salted caramel. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about pie. I think I like it? But then when I look at the picture I don’t crave it.



A and I stumbled across Joe’s Restaurant Office while we were on Abbot Kinney and took advantage of their happy hour margaritas. The bartender was outstanding (and outstandingly friendly) but sadly their website says they have closed after 24 years…




Then we met up with K again in her neighbourhood and went all out for dinner at Leona. There was some homemade cheese, another mushroom pizza, duck confit, beef shortrib, fries and roasted Brussels sprouts. Again, lots of exclamations of delight (and the two lovely bottles of red that K brought didn’t hurt!) I think we were too full for dessert (or I just didn’t take any pictures).


Finally, on our last day, LA showed off what it’s known for – sunshine and warmth, even in January. Thank goodness, because I think A was starting to think that I was a massive liar. With bright blue skies and T-shirt temps, we headed to the beach, first to Venice, where we shared a breakfast burrito at The Sidewalk Café. It was fine, but the view is the real draw. Then we visited the Getty and soaked up sunshine at the outdoor amphitheatre, and took the PCH up to Malibu. 


We capped off this drive with one of my favorite meals of the trip – fried clams and grilled fish at Malibu Seafood. Something about fresh seafood by the seaside in blazing sun just amplifies the blissfulness of each individual component. 



And the last thing we did before catching our flight was getting a quick Double Double at In N Out – can’t come to California without at least one stop there.

Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake in One Bowl

I love the UK method of doing most baking recipes by weight as you can just add ingredients straight into the bowl without dirtying loads of measuring cups and whatnot.

A requested a yogurt cake, he has fond memories of this one, but as soon as I saw the Barefoot Contessa had a recipe I had to try that one out.

So here we go:

Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake in One Bowl
Adapted from Food Network

Makes one loaf sized cake

Ingredients

210g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
245g plain whole-milk yogurt
225g sugar for cake, plus 1/3 cup sugar for syrup
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
75g vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners' (or icing) sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method

Preheat oven to 350F / 180C. Grease a loaf tin. You can line with parchment paper if you like, but I use a silicone tin so never bother with that step.

Combine yogurt, 225g sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk well until smooth. Add flour, baking powder and salt and whisk well to combine until smooth. Fold in vegetable oil until combined.

Pour batter into loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup - combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice in a small pan (that was roughly 2 lemons worth of juice, which works well with the number needed for zesting). Heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.

Let cake cool for about 10 minutes, but while it is still warm, poke some holes in the cake with a tester or skewer, pour the lemon syrup over the cake and let it soak in. Cool completely.

For the glaze, which is optional, combine icing sugar and lemon juice, then drizzle over the cake.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Southern California – Part 1 – San Diego

A and I were lucky enough to be able to plan a week in Southern California before coming back to London. We decided to split our time between San Diego and LA – I went to both quite a lot as a kid, but A hadn’t been to either, so we had plenty of exploring to do.

San Diego was exactly as expected – sunshine, dudes in baseball caps, and a booming craft beer scene. We stayed in North Park for the first two nights, which is full of breweries and hipsters and made us feel right at home. A few of the places we dropped in on, in roughly chronological order:


Mike Hess Brewing – you can get flights here (which come with a souvenir glass which is shaped like a beer can and labelled with one of their brews). A loved some of the IPAs he tried; I struggled a bit more as I’m a wimp when it comes to hops but did taste every stout/porter they had on and liked the seasonal pumpkin one the best. I’m such a sucker for seasonal pumpkin flavours, mainly because they’re not common in the UK so I go a little nuts on them when I’m back in the US.


City Tacos – we needed a quick snack after an evening of trying beers so picked up a mahi mahi taco and a carnitas taco. Both were decent but were topped with the same mango salsa, which A and I both found too sweet and fruity for our tastes.


Breakfast Republic – this place was rammed already at 10.30am on Saturday, but there’s free coffee for those waiting and it’s warm and sunny outside, so A and I get caffeinated and bask in the glow. When we finally secure a table, we know what we want – crab cake benedict and French toast with fresh strawberries. I think the anticipation that built up over the wait and seeing how eager other people were made our food a slight disappointment – nothing was wrong, but it wasn’t the kind of breakfast that you talk about for the rest of the day, either. My hash browns were distinctly undercooked. But lovely outdoor seating and a friendly waiter.


Barleymash – we stopped in here for an afternoon drink while walking around downtown. I had a hard root beer (why is this deliciousness missing in my life?!) and A had another IPA (surprise!). While drinking, we looked at the menu and got fixated on the range of mac&cheeses they do. So… we came back for dinner and split the version with confit duck and duck scratchings. Again – something that had been built up in my head for too long; the sweet hoisin-esque sauce ruined it a bit for me. I’m really glad we shared it, we saw another couple start with a giant pile of nacho fries, then order a separate mac&cheese each, which I’m pretty sure should kill you on the spot.

Cat Eye Club – we headed here after dinner to catch their Saturday night happy hour – they do an excellent mai tai for $5 until 8pm. We couldn’t stop drinking these. The balance between sweet, dry and bitters was absolutely perfect, and then the jazz band that came on added to the atmosphere. Sadly I discovered that three mai tais is my limit – but we headed home feeling like we’d stumbled on some magic place.


Urban Solace – our AirBnB host recommended the Sunday bluegrass brunch and I’m glad we went with it. The band was great – they play outdoors in a covered patio area. I had the beef cheek hash (YES!) and A had the full kitchen sink – sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy (YES AGAIN!)

At this point we moved on the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina for one night – I have no idea what this place is like in the high season, but it was quiet, luxurious and very well situated for our stay.


El Pescador Fish Market – stunning selection of fresh fish. We tried the fish tacos – because they forgot our order, they also brought us some clam chowder on the house. Clam chowder was good (but not as good as the San Francisco sourdough bread bowl one we had a few years ago) and the fish in the tacos was fresh, but sadly pretty bland. A hell of a lot of shredded cabbage.


Oscar’s Mexican Seafood – another attempt at a fish taco. This one was my favorite, and finally helped A understand why people go nuts for them. Grilled fish, avocado, crispy cheese, just enough cabbage for crunch. This is when I started to realize that fish tacos are not fast food – every place so far was making them to order, which is fantastic, but it does mean there is a bit of a wait.


Stone Brewing World – this is the touristy outpost but actually the more interesting of the two, since they do smaller batches of more creative beers here but they still have the full list from the main brewery too. It being January and Sunday, the place was pretty empty, but that just made it all the easier for me and A to get two flights of beer. They do food too, but my constant fish taco ingestion made that unnecessary.


Modern Times – my favorite interiors of all the breweries we visited (though many were pretty spectacular). One, they had a mural of Michael Jackson with his monkey, made out of post-it notes. Two, they had a wall made out of book covers. Three, there were some spectacular lights / chandeliers. And of course the beer was good too – their unusual addition is their own coffee, cold-brewed and available by the growler. When you’re brewery and a coffee producer, you obviously then make some beers with that coffee, and I really liked the one I tried.


Pizza Port Ocean Beach – A and I were both a little surprised by how casual this place is (and how many tv screens there were showing various sports) – they make their own beers and there are certainly some unusual options available. I think I had some version of a hefeweizen, I’m assuming A had another IPA, and then we ordered kale salad and a pizza. What surprised me most is that the kale salad was one of the most delicious things I’d eaten all day, and the pizza paled in comparison. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a pizza place, but go for the kale salad?


Hodad’s – couldn’t resist popping into this burger joint staffed by a bunch of surfer dudes who were the friendliest, most chilled out waitstaff you could ask for. There were definitely some strong weed scents floating out from the back, accompanied by drum solos on the grill played with spatulas, but they delivered a juicy burger and fries quickly and competently (and even pre-sliced it in half since they knew we were sharing).


Olive Café – our last meal in San Diego and we wanted a traditional American breakfast. This was perfect – pancakes, eggs, hash browns and bacon (it’s one dish but A and I split it and it ended up being just the right amount to fill us up for the morning). A quick walk on the beach and we were ready to hit some of the breweries between San Diego and LA.

Phew.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Muesli and banana muffins


It is not unusual for us to have a banana lying about the kitchen, all brown and mottled and overripe. I don't eat bananas, and even A's love of bananas doesn't stretch to the squishy ones, so the more ways I have of using them up, the better.

There was also a spare bag of bircher muesli sitting around so a quick search for banana muesli muffins turned up this recipe. I halved it and tweaked as I only had butter, so here's my modified (but still tasty) recipe using ingredients I usually have in the house. This made 9 moderately sized muffins.

Muesli & Banana Muffins

Adapted from The Crazy Kitchen

Ingredients

90g Self Raising flour
60g Muesli
1/2 tsp Baking powder
25g Caster sugar (I used golden)
1 banana
1 egg, beaten
40g butter, melted
75ml milk
sprinkle of cinnamon

Method

  1. Mix the flour, muesli, baking powder & caster sugar together.
  2. Mix the banana, eggs, butter & milk into the dry ingredients - do not over mix, it should be lumpy. Sprinkle cinnamon over the mix and stir in.
  3. Divide mixture between muffin cases.
  4. Bake in a preheated 180 C oven for 18-20 minutes.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Old Coastguard




The Old Coastguard
The Parade
Mousehole, Cornwall TR19 6PR

Another treat from the August Bank Holiday (shhh I know that was many months ago!). C booked us into lunch at The Old Coastguard, one of a group of pubs that are all excellent (see Felin Fach Griffin in Wales and Gurnard's Head in Cornwall). The prix fixe lunch at £14 for two courses is an absolute steal, what with the astonishing quality of the cooking and ingredients. You'll see my choices above - pork rillettes to start, followed by some of the best grilled mackerel I've ever had. We were being greedy pigs so also got a starter of crab to share, which we loved, and A's prix fixe starter of tomatoes with goat's curd was also superb. We were sadly too full to squeeze in dessert (hardly surprising after three starters) but maybe on a return trip?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Watch House




The Watch House
1 The Square
St Mawes TR2 5DJ

August Bank Holidays are often spent in Cornwall visiting C - a perfect time of year to sit outside and stuff our faces with seafood while admiring the views. St Mawes is just across the river from Falmouth so it's a pleasant trip - this time we took the car and ferry, but sometimes we just shoot across on a boat. The Watch House is right about where the boats land and has a reputation for super fresh seafood so we gave it a try and loved it. C's starter of scallops won that round (the monkfish cheeks above were pretty good too but no comparison to the scallops) while for mains, A and I both braved the fish specials which involved whole fish - mine was Dover sole, his was plaice. A has come so far from when I met him - he bravely made a good attempt at dissecting his fish and was still able to enjoy eating it. I of course was in heaven - simple, freshly cooked fish with solid, flavorful sides - no fuss needed at all. C enjoyed her fish and chips as well. One to revisit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Barge House


Barge House
46a De Beauvoir Cres
London N1 5RY

To be honest, I'm not even sure if this place is still called Barge House - it has undergone quite a few name changes / menu changes / possibly ownership changes across the years that I've been running past, but basically it's the restaurant next to the Towpath Cafe. On a sunny stroll past around brunch time, A, C and I thought about stopping for another amazing cheese toasty and tomato-on-toast at the Towpath, but there weren't any available tables, so we went next door. Thankfully it was also delicious - you'll see my steak salad above, while A had a reuben and C opted for a pan fried cauliflower steak on cauliflower puree (can't get enough cauliflower!) Everything was polished off and the bright sunshine just made it all better.