Thursday, March 23, 2006


Our dinner at Babbo was probably the most highly-anticipated meal of the trip. My love for the Food Network is only surpassed by my adoration of eating thick, hearty food in cold weather. And New York in March is frosty cold. Frigid, in fact.

When Nicole and I arrived for our 9:15pm dinner reservation, we were hungry. I’d only had a bowl of soup and some water that day, and she’d had little more. We were cold and hungry, and when we still hadn’t been seated by 9:40pm, we became cranky. Luckily they were able to stop us from sending diners still savoring their desserts dirty looks by seating us.

Upon sitting, we were promptly brought a garbanzo bean and balsamic vinegar bruschetta starter. I don’t know what it tasted like, and at the time, I didn’t care. It was just enough nourishment to allow my eyes to refocus so I could read the menu and order some real food.

We decided to skip the antipasti course, in order to share one of the larger first-course plates. We briefly considered both the pasta and the more traditional (pasta & meat) tasting menus, but Nicole didn’t want dessert and I couldn’t eat any of the three desserts due to the presence of chocolate. (Days left in Lent: 19) Instead, we started with pappardelle in a wild boar ragu.

The pasta was perfectly al dente, and even divided in half the portion was more than I could eat as a starter. The sauce was also tasty, though the diced boar chunks were slightly bland. As Nicole and I were discussing the starter and commenting on the lack of seasoning, I noticed the background music for the first time that evening.

Prior to discussing how and why the background music was entirely inappropriate, I think it best that we all be aware of the restaurant’s appearance. Babbo is a small, “white tablecloth” Italian restaurant, in the moderate-to-expensive price range. It’s very cozy, with dark wood paneling encapsulating the bar and bench-seating along both walls. The waiters wear ties and replace your silverware between every course. Babbo is what most of us would call “a nice restaurant.” That’s why I was surprised that Led Zeppelin was the choice of the evening. Not that I don’t like Led Zeppelin, because I do, but I think there is a time and a place for the “Black Dog” album and it wasn’t a Tuesday night at Babbo.

Our main courses came out and they were huge. Nicole ordered the largest pork chop I’ve ever seen in my life – it must have been twice the size of the one I’d had previously at Cookshop. It was enormous, and topped with a small mountain of artichokes, mushrooms and tomatoes. Then the waiter ceremoniously poured an aged balsamic all over it. It was beautiful. Tasted good too. I’d ordered the lamb chops, and was shocked by how many I received. There were seven, three-quarter to half-inch chops. I don’t even purchase that many when I’m cooking for two. They were perfectly prepared, but tasted like lamb chops do. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t have made for myself at home. At least, that’s what I thought until I tried the meat with the accompanying yogurt sauce. It was lemony and minty, creamy without being thick, and completely transformed the lamb into something that I definitely couldn’t have made for myself at home.

Although every portion of the meal up until this point had been tasty, the true star of the meal was the side of fava bean bartolo, which translates into lima bean risotto. It must have had a half pound of parmesan cheese in it, and at least as much butter and cream. It was divine. I would return to the restaurant for that side dish alone.

Total Price? $144, but it left Nicole with enough meat for at least 2 additional meals, so it was worth it.

Pipa: At least what I remember of it

Not all dining experiences are trips down the highway of gastronomic delight. Sometimes, we eat out of necessity. Such was the case at Pipa.

What we drank:
2 bottles of red wine
1 martini, each

What we ate:
stuffed peppers
shrimp in sauce
fried mushroom thing-ies
apple cobbler
ice cream
other stuff

Let's be realistic: I was drunk, there was food, and I ate it. I think the restaurant was pretty.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cookshop: Nicole's Redemption

After the Pastis experience, Nicole felt that she owed me. Honestly, I wasn't holding her personally responsible for the change in kitchen staff, but if she wanted to try again, who was I to stop her? And I wanted to go to Cookshop.

Well, actually I wanted to go to the champagne bar at Country, but we got our proverbial wires crossed and ended up with a reservation for four at Cookshop. Thank God we did, because Cookshop was phenomenal.

Cookshop serves hearty American food that is comforting, if not comfort food in the traditional sense. On the menu, right next to the obligatory half-chicken and salmon dishes are also roast suckling pig and squab. Upon our waiter’s suggestion, I ordered the roast pig only to have to re-order a few minutes later when he came back and told me they were out. Obviously, I was a little disappointed but decided to fulfill my pork fantasy anyway by ordering the pork chop, which came with a sausage link on the side.

Both Becky and Heather (Nicole's friends) ordered the NY strip, and Nicole ordered the short ribs with cheesy grits. We were all extremely satisfied: the short ribs were tender and “falling-off-the-bone” and the steak was well-prepared. The pork was large and moist (wow, that sounds dirty) and I was only mildly annoyed that a piece of gristly fat hadn't been removed prior to serving. I was content. Until I tasted Becky's creamed collard greens.

Nicole has this whole theory of "food envy" that I've come to adopt. When ordering her meal(s), Nicole explains that she wants the absolute best meal on the menu. Some people want what they want, whether it be fish or filet, whether it be the specialty of the house or not, and order accordingly. Nicole wants the best food the kitchen can provide. At no point in the meal does she want to look over at another diner and think, "I wish I'd ordered that."

My pork was good. But it was NOTHING in comparison to Becky's side of creamed collard greens. I had food envy. Besides the fact that it was served in an adorable mini square cast-iron skillet, it tasted've almost got it...Velveeta. Green, leafy, creamy, fattening, Velveeta-enhanced well-seasoned mushy vegetation. I know I'm not selling it well, but I don't care, because the less people that order it, the more for me. The waiter had to wait till I turned away to pull the skillet out from under my hovering fork.

To order anything else would be wrong.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Pastis: a sad story of disappointment

I was so excited. I'd read about Pastis online and in magazines. It was regularly featured as the place to brunch on "Sex and the City." Last time I was in NYC, Nicole had tried to get us reservations but it was booked solid. She was bound and determined that I eat well on this trip, and made sure we got reservations.

My hopes were high. As we walked into Pastis, still bulging with people waiting for breakfast at 1pm, Nicole announced, "This is the best brunch ever." So needless to say, when our pathetic egg dishes appeared, we were less than impressed. We were actually dumbfounded by the meal's mediocrity. Nicole, a woman who prides herself on knowing good food, was mortified.

My Eggs Hussard was bone-dry, and I needed a steak knife and excessive force to cut into the toast. The poached eggs? Overcooked into slimy little frisbees. The proper amount of Hollandaise sauce could have salvaged the meal, but they were stingy. Which is a shame, because my love for Hollandaise is well-documented. Nicole's Eggs Sardu, while pretty enough sitting on a sauteed spinach throne, were equally unacceptable. Her artichoke heart was not properly cleaned out, and was full of those little hairy bits. Her eggs were also overcooked. We were not happy.

And then, they had the nerve to serve us orange juice that may or may not have been from concentrate, but it certainly tasted as if it did.

Total Cost? $46.87. Disappointing.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Off to the Big Apple

On a red-eye tonight to JFK! Not that I want to be responsible for the extreme jealousy my loyal reader(s) will be forced to endure, but I can't help but gloat. I've already got reservations at:

  1. Mario Batali's Babbo
  2. Cookshop
  3. Pastis

I'm so excited that I'm positively giggling in anticipation. The hell with the mall -- I'm outta here!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Piccolo Ristorante in Venice

Clearly, I live in a cave and am the only person in Santa Monica who hasn't heard of (let alone visited) Piccolo Ristorante Italiano in Venice. Not only had I not heard of the restaurant, but I couldn't even find the street it was on. How did I find out about it, you ask? A foreigner took me there. Not a non-Angeleno, but a real-life foreigner. The kind with an accent. Of course, I expressed my dismay at having to be introduced to restaurants in my area by a foreigner. I found his response troubling. Actually, I believe his exact words were, "I trump you."

Which he did. So I called him a foreigner. And he called me a xenophobe*. And then I had to ask him what that meant.

The restaurant is located on a short walking street just off of Speedway and a few steps from the beach. It’s small, only 15-20 tables, with an exposed kitchen. The wait staff is extremely friendly and attentive, without being overly so. I don't know much about Italian wines, but my dining partner did something I've heard that people do, but never actually seen done. He ordered a bottle of wine, and when the waitress poured him a taste, he sniffed and nodded. No swirl and sip; just a sniff. As far as I'm concerned, it gave him instant credibility. I'm totally going to start doing it.

Unfortunately, I can’t really say much about the food either because I wasn’t that hungry and didn’t order much. But what I did have (beet-stuffed ravioli) was delicious. Slightly sweet, slightly rich and very, very pretty! Every restaurant should have at least one dish in that same alarming shade of fuchsia.

In summary: I don't know where the restaurant is, I don't know anything about the wine list and I didn't eat much. But go to Piccolo anyways, you'll like it.

*xen-o-phobe : A person unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ash Wednesday

March 1 was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I'm not normally a very good Catholic, but the guilt-ridden years of Catechism, Confirmation courses and Youth Ministry catch up with me every spring right around Girl Scout Cookie time. (Why? Why?!) All my mother has to do is mention Ash Wednesday and the next thing I know I'm standing inside a half-empty church in Van Nuys getting ashes and soot smeared across my forehead. And for the next forty (40) days, I'll be as good of a non-church-going Catholic as I possibly can be.

This year's Ash Wednesday physical challenge was to get from work (in Sherman Oaks) to church (anywhere with an English language mass) to the Walt Disney concert hall (downtown) by 8pm, without eating or cursing. The fasting portion of Ash Wednesday is always a challenge for me, but the cursing (which I have given up for every Lent since I learned what "C U Next Tuesday" meant) is close to impossible. My friends had gotten tickets to hear Salman Rushdie speak, and I figured that it was probably the only way I was ever going to learn what to do should an Islamic government issue a fatwa against me. Obviously, I had to attend.

I made it, with time to spare and only two funny looks at my forehead. As expected, it was worth it. Rushdie is a great speaker. You wouldn't (well, at least I wouldn't) think that a man who spent nine years in hiding would be funny. But he was. He was poignant and relevant and extremely entertaining. I don't know if I'd have paid $80 to see him, but I'm glad I went.

While he did discuss a myriad of topics, the two that stick out most in my mind are his views on religion, and subsequently that pesky little fatwa. I did (and still do) find it ironic that as the man went on and on about the dangers of organized religion and how it nearly killed him, I'm sitting in the audience with a massive ashen cross on my forehead. I know he was referring to extremist Islamics, but...just the same. It was funny.

Now, I didn't pick up any tips on exactly how to "live on the lam" should an oppressive regime ever make numerous attempts on my life, but I did pick up a little something that will help me get through Lent. When asked about what it was like after finding out that Iranian clerics wanted him dead, Rushdie said, "Or as we say at my house, 'when the excrement hit the ventilation system.'"

Now, to most people, that would just be funny. But to a girl with the mouth of a sailor who can't curse for forty (40) days, that's sheer brilliance. Simple, but to-the-point. Who would have thought that of all people, Salman Rushdie was going to get this little potty-mouth through Lent?

You don't know...

You don't know drunk until you're holding onto grass to keep from falling off the Edge of the Earth.


Until you've spent five (5) hours drinking and singing karaoke at The Gaslite.

Riddle me this: Does making-out with a foreigner count as a "culturally-enriching activity"?