Capo Hits a Triple

Restaurant: Capo [12, 3]

Location: 1810 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-394-5550

Date: September 14, 2011

Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences

Rating: The food here is really very very good.

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Capo is an occasional favorite of mine and I’ve reviewed it before HERE and HERE. They have a particular high end (but not formal) blend of California style (Farmer’s Market ingredients) and Italian tradition. But it’s not a strictly traditional Italian, more interpreted through a vaguely Tuscan / California vibe.


The intimate dining room.

They have very good bread at Capo, particularly the crispy things.


Capo always puts out this little humus-like spread. I suspect it’s fava beans. It’s addictive though.

We settle down to examine the MENU, which is big, and always a difficult decision because there is so much great stuff on it. They have an odd menu format, in which each item is identified by only it’s principle ingredient, forcing you to guess or ask how it’s actually prepared. Plus they have “fill in the blanks” on the menu which are filled in by a separate sheet of daily specials. No big deal, but it’s kind of bizare. Doesn’t matter though, as the food is great.


I got this 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva at the vineyard in Tuscany. It was just released as it’s aged for 5-6 years in old oak. “From vines in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, is gorgeous, layered and elegant in its violets, tar, licorice and cherries. The finish is long and impeccable, but this is a somewhat ethereal style, with aromas and flavors that are already a touch forward relative to most 2004 Riservas. Ideally the wine is best enjoyed within the next decade. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020.”

It’s worth noting that Capo has a peculiar corkage policy (I rant on it here). In short, you can bring one and no more than one bottle, and that it must not be on their list.


The amuse, a cone of tomatoes. Essentially like a tomato bruschetta — in a crispy cone.


“Heirloom tomato vegetable salad.” Very fresh Farmer’s Market vegetables.


The same salad, but with Burrata. Which, like bacon, makes everything better.


“Burrata black truffle bruschetta.” Besides the shaved vegetables and the bread underneath this is a big blob of burrata, fresh truffles, and a whole poached egg! It was pretty good, but decidedly rich. In some ways similar to my special eggs, in some ways like the famous Melisse truffle egg.


“Steak tartar.” The fries and aioli are obvious. The meat was delicious! There was a lot of pepper in there, and olive oil. But mostly it just tasted of wonderful raw beef. One of the better tartars I’ve had. Maybe a little shaved parmesan would make it even better!


We killed the first bottle (from my cellar) and bought this one off the list. It makes a horizontal of sorts, being another 2004 Brunello Riserva. It was good, but not quite as good as the Potozzine. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino comes across as lean and powerful in its expression of red cherries, tobacco, spices and earthiness. The aromas aren’t perfectly clean and the wine’s structural components seem to have the upper hand over the wine’s density and richness of fruit, suggesting the tannins will ultimately dominate the wine’s overall balance. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2018.”

“White corn ravioli.” You can’t beat fresh pasta in a butter sauce.

This is “buccatini with lamb ragu,” and it’s one of the best pastas I’ve ever had.  I’ve come back like three times for it. I love a good ragu, and the buccatini (spagetti with a tiny hole in the middle) is perfect. The dish is rich and meaty, divine. I always order it.


Capo has an impressive wood fire in the corner that they cook a lot of the entrees on. The prices are pretty punitive, but they’re good. Plus the fire lends a wonderful wintery smell to the whole dining room.


Bronzino, grilled, with vegetables.


Dover sole.


Veal chop, nice and rare.


This is the “chocolate soufflé,” an excellent implementation of the classic. You have to preorder it at the beginning of the meal.


And they add a big dollop of fresh whipped cream.


The “chocolate volcano cake,” also with whipped cream, also preordered.

And this. This was to die for. “Meyer lemon semifreddo,” with a blueberry or blackberry sauce. Everything about this was spectacular, one of my all time favorite deserts. The cold-soft texture, the bright lemon flavor, and the tart sweetness of the berries. OMFG!

A nice plate of little petit fours, not so usual at American Italians, more french. In Italy sometimes you’ll get treated to little almond cookies and shots of grappa or sambuca.

So to conclude, Capo is hands down delicious. The food is VERY VERY GOOD, and the service is top notch. The intimate little atmosphere is great also. It’s just very expensive – definitely not a good value — perfect if someone else is paying :-).

Two other Capo meals HERE and HERE.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Or for a legion of great eating in Italy itself, here.

Friday Night Heights – Shabbat Dinner

On Friday, September 2, we hosted a small Shabbat dinner party. This was a non-dairy (meat) kosher meal, which can be well done if you care (and most kosher restaurants don’t). As usual with our events everything was homemade. Almost all produce came from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.


For appetizers we served fruits and nuts. There was also some homemade humus and eggplant dip (that one of our guests generously brought), but I forgot to snap a photo.


Wine is one area where we go normal. Kosher wines are uniformly awful. Hideous. Wretched.

Parker gives this silky Rosso 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.” I’d rate it perhaps 91-92, with a little boost for understated style.


And the sweet option. Parker 91. “Donnhoff‘s 2009 Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett – ultra-delicate at only 9% alcohol and with considerably more overt sweetness than its Krotenpfuhl counterpart – is scented with buddleia, white peach, toasted almond, and a fusil note of crushed stone, and offers subtle creaminess, lusciously juicy refreshment, and minerally interactive persistence. This illustrates slate as a sort of sounding board as well as support structure for fruit such as one also encounters in the best residually sweet Mosel Rieslings. Donnhoff routinely expresses acute awareness of a duty to make something truly special out of the cooler ‘wrong-side-of-the-river’ Oberhauser vineyards that until the latter part of his father’s era constituted almost the entirety of his family’s acreage. That duty has here once again been deliciously discharged.”


What would Shabbat be without Challah. Raison Challah to be exact.

After going to Spain last year I’ve been on a bit of a Gazpacho kick, despite my general aversion to raw tomatoes (which I’ve been overcoming). And then about 5-6 weeks ago we went to Jose Andres’ Tres for brunch where they have a wonderful Gazpacho bar. So afterward I dug up his recipe on the internet and we tried it.

When I get into cooking certain dishes I like to perfect them. I’ve been working on this with my Ultimate Pizzas, my Spanish Eggs, and my Margaritas. This is our second stab at Gazpacho. It tasted great the first time but the texture was too chunky, so in this instance we whipped the living bleep out of it in the ever-reliable Blendtec. This batch is made with heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers from the SMFM and premium Spanish extra-virgin olive oil.


But first the garnish. This is a bowl prepped. The basic approach is to do this, and then to ladle in the soup itself table side, then dress it with a bit of premium Spanish olive oil. This garnish is croutons, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, spring onions, and chives.


The olive oil is on the left. On the right are homemade croutons. These are rustic bread fried (by hand) in olive oil and garlic, and seasoned with a bit of parsley.


Some of the gorgeous tomatoes used as garnish. Other cool looking ones are in the soup itself.


Chopped chives.


I’m kicking myself, but I forgot to photo a finished bowl with the soup. This one is three-quarters eaten :-( It was darn good though.


For the main course we made a homemade Morrocan Basteeya. This is prior to baking. This is a savory pie of chicken and spices, slightly sweet.


Out of the oven.


You can see into it here.


One of our guests brought this lovely salad.


We also made this baked Israeli-style eggplant, with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers (all from the SMFM too).


Here it is baked.


And my mother’s amazing fruit crumble. This one had SMFM peaches, blackberries, and apples. With a sweet crust and pecan topping. Due to the fact that my mother was on the other side of the country, and the written recipe a tad cryptic, the crust turned out a bit “different” than her more crumbly variant.


Still, it tasted great after baking!


And some farmer’s market fruit to finish.

For more home cooked meals look at the bottom of the food page.

More Drago – Via Alloro

Restaurant: Via Alloro

Location: 301 N. Canon Drive – Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Phone: 310.275.2900

Date: August 5, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Very nice

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The Drago brothers have an ever expanding little empire going in Beverly Hills. This includes Il Pastaio, Enoteco Drago,  Piccolo Paradiso, and Il Buco. Plus several others on the westside, the valley, downtown etc. I’ve reviewed Celestino Drago’s flagship Drago and I’ve been to most, all are very good.


Via Alloro is new, managed by brothers Giacomino and Tanino, and only two blocks from Il Pastaio. We decided to grab a quick lunch there and check it out.


Lots of good choices on this menu. The PDF.


Excellent bread as at all Drago restaurants.


A slightly different take on fried zucchini flowers. Stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella. Then served over a light tomato sauce.


“Vitello Tonnao. Chillded veal in tuna sauce, with parmesan and capers.” This was damn good, with the very tasty zesty salty sauce really bringing out the flavor of the meat.


Lots of great pastas here — no surprise. “Homemade ravioli filled with sweet corn, served with truffle fondue.” Hard to beat that.


And “Saliccie al forno. baked sausage with mama Drago’s stew.” This is a very Southern Italian dish and I have to say it’s the best Italian sausage I’ve even had. Incredibly succulent, with fennel, and a very bright and zesty “gravy.”


Expresso to recover!

Off to a great start on the latest BH Drago Italian. I’ll have to come back for a more extensive dinner.

Click here to see Eating Italy posts.

Or for more LA Restaurants.

Eating Santa Margherita – Hotel Miramare

Restaurant: Grand Hotel Miramare (Dinner)

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 25, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Old school

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Finally, we enter the final phase of our epic trip: Liguria. This is another seafood area, but quite different than Milano Martittima. Here we are on the Riveria, at the top of the Ligurian Sea instead of the adriatic. Near to France and home to Belle Epoque grandeur.


Our hotel — the white one — the Hotel Miramare, on the western end of this lovely town. We got lazy the first night and decided to try out the hotel restaurant.


And the view from the dining terrace. It sucks to be in the Italian Riveria.


The menu. A slightly unusual fixed price one at that.


An amuse. I can’t for the life of me remember what. The “spoons” are edible bread though.


A nice light white Ligurian wine. I liked the easy-drinking whites in the region. They go well with seafood and don’t last.


Grapefruit juice. Yes, this is a bonafied option for the anti-pasta!


Or instead you could choose these very nice local Morrone fish fillets, marinated with a small salad.


Borraggine herb rolls with egg-plants and buffalo mozzarella. Borraggine is a kind of nettle. The dish was, however, delicious!


Taglierini with local scampi. This is a classic pasta type. Very simple with fresh tomatoes and garlic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Baked sea-bass in herb flavors. Very nice fish, also local.


Glazed ribs of veal with rosemary. Duchesse potatoes and spinach coupole Mornay. Old school, but tasty.


They also have a full salad bar you can help yourself too. It was fairly extensive but I took it easy and got only simple greens. I’ve never actually seen a salad bar in Italy, and here it was at this five-star hotel! There were also some local cheeses at the salad bar you could grab.


Petite fors.

There was an extensive dessert cart. Sachertorte.


Grandmother’s torte (with pinenuts).


Tiramisu.


Creme Caramel. One of my favorites.


A kind of berries and cream torte.

This was a peculiar and slightly old school restaurant, but the food was tasty, and the view and terrace impeccable. No complaints.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Chili Addiction – The Heartstopper

Restaurant: Chili Addiction

Location: 408 N La Cienega Blvd. (323) 203-1793

Date: May 7, 2011

Cuisine: Comfort Food

Rating: Tasty!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Last Saturday a good friend of mine had a bunch of people over for a BBQ. He got all his food from Chili Addiction, a comfort food joint over in West Hollywood. This is not a complete review, although the place is good. I just wanted to show my evil creation.


Two HUGE sausages (the dark one is Italian, the light Jalapeno & Cheddar), over a bun, smothered in some kind of spicy meat chili (I don’t know which exact flavor).


Then I added some of their “mellow yellow” homemade mustard, some “lethal injection” Habenero sauce, ad a ton of cheddar cheese. Oh the arteries!


Rolling back a second, the dogs on the grill.


Chili addiction also makes homemade ice cream. It’s not bad, but nowhere near as good as their chili and dogs, or Sweet Rose Creamery (review) for that matter. The mint had the fake green, and wasn’t real mint leaves. It wasn’t bad or anything, but not super either. The vanilla was better, a very tasty french vanilla, probably a 7/10.


This homemade tiramisu baked by another guest on the other hand was a 10/10.


Creamy goodness.

Ford’s Filling Station

Restaurant: Ford’s Filling Station

Location:  9531 Culver Blvd, Culver City. 310-202-1470

Date: April 28, 2011

Cuisine: Gastropub

Rating: Always great for lunch.

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It was a gorgeous day (again) in LA, so I headed out to find another good lunch spot with outside dining. We ended up in Culver City with its rather large selection of good lunch spots and specifically at Ford’s Filling Station, which is run by Benjamin Ford, son of Han Solo. The place has been around awhile but before this he had another place in Beverly Hills which was very good — but I can’t remember the name.


Notice the “pig country” sign. They offer on the menu a 8 person minimum whole pig dinner with a whole roast pig!


Outside, there are two different patios. In general, Culver city has a lot of outside dining which is nice. For some mysterious reason LA restaurants often lack al fresco. This makes no sense given our weather.


The menu.


“Bacon wrapped dates, stuffed with cheese.” Um yum! I love this dish, and I’ve had it at many places (like recently at Upstairs 2). These were as good as any, showing off the sweet and salty.


“Shrimp Curry, jasmine rice, marash pepper and applewood smoked bacon.” Also a really great dish. Very similar to the one I had at Gladstones. The bacon made it even better.


Sliced serrano peppers in has you want to spice it up.

Pulled Pork Panini, melted gouda and spicy pepper relish.” The beans were awesome too, with a nice smoky porcine flavor.


A close up of the sandwich itself. I had expected something like a North Carolina pulled pork sandwich. That’s kinda tangy. This was more the succulent roast pork with cheese. Yum.


The dessert menu.


“Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich, chocolate chip cookie and mint chocolate-chip ice cream.” The ice cream was great, very similar to the mint ice cream I had at Sweet Rose Creamery, tasting as it did of fresh mint leaves. The fudge was good too. The cookie needed more butter, it was a little dry. Not bad, and the overall dessert was still very good, but with a really awesome cookie, it could have been… really awesome.


Inside, the stripped down old-school culver city building provides a nice deconstructed interior. I’ve never been here at night but I bet it’s a good watering hole.

Another good Culver City place is Fraiche, here for review.

Mark’s Duck House

Restaurant: Mark’s Duck House

Location:  6184 Arlington Blvd # A, Falls Church, VA 22044  703-532-2125

Date: April 23, 2011

Cuisine: Cantonese Chinese

Rating: Very very good cantonese.

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This seeming hole in the wall in Falls Church Virginia features some of the best Cantonese food I’ve had in the states. So much so that wine guru (and foodie) Robert Parker is constantly eating (and tasting) here.

You can spot an authentic Chinese restaurant by the unassuming facade.

The minimalist decor.

The menu of sketchy meat cuts unsuited to white-bread American taste.

And the rack of roast ducks!

This was a late night family dinner, so Chinese beer seemed to suite the mood.

I’ve loved hot and sour soup since I was a kid, and this is an exemplary example. Basically perfect.

Classic Har Gow, little shrimp dumplings wrapped in rice pastry. Delectable too, as good as at various Dim Sum joints like Ping Pong, The Palace, or Xino.

They even have their own special sweet and vinegary soy for them.

And the deadly hot chili oil.

But there is one real reason why one goes to a restaurant named “Mark’s Duck House.” The pecking duck! Crispy roast whole duck is carved off the bone and brought to the table.

With the traditional scallions.


And my all time favorite, the plum sauce. This stuff has a sweet and tangy quality typical of Chinese cuisine that I just can’t get enough of.

All of the ingredients are combined in a pancake.

And then rolled into a burrito like shape. This is a delectable mix of textures and flavors. The rich duck meat, the crispy skin, the hot dripping fat off the duck, the tangy sauce, the scallions, the dry texture of the pancake. Yum! And this is as good a duck as I’ve had in the states. We wen’t to a place in Bejing a couple years back where we had three whole ducks each done a slightly different way and flayed at the table by a master carver who could have had a part in Kill Bill. That was some serious duck, and slightly better. Still, you don’t have to go all the way to China for great duck like this.

Lobster, causeway style, in crispy garlic, chillies, and chives. I’d never had this exact dish before, but it was wonderful. The closest I’ve had was at a Chinese friends 20-some course wedding banquet where the lobster was sauteed in a ginger garlic sauce. This version is dry (more or less), a little bit hot, and vary garlicky. But damn good!


Sauteed chive blossoms in oil and garlic. We asked the waiter for a vegetable recommend and out came this seasonal dish. Chive blossoms. I didn’t even know there was such a thing, and it looks like a big pile of chives. It turned out to be one of my favorite Chinese vegetable dishes in the states. Again in China I had some crazy good stuff, including one or two great all vegetable meals, but these were nice and garlicky again, piping hot.

Mark’s Duck House never fails to disappoint, but the menu is gigantic and potentially perilous. There are like 12 pages of densely packed dishes. Abalone, sea cucumbers, shark fin, you name it. One time a couple years ago we ordered oysters in garlic and ginger sauce and got this plate with three monstrous oyster beasts we nicknamed the “Grenades.” Each was about the size of a World War II weapon of the same name. Just the meat of the oyster, the size of a grenade!

Taking back Little Saigon

Restaurant: Little Saigon

Location: 6218 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044-3210 (703) 536-2633

Date: April 22, 2011

Cuisine: Vietnamese

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One of my favorite places back “home” (Washington D.C.) is Little Saigon, a local hole in the wall Vietnamese place with absolutely stellar food. I reviewed it once before, but I’m back again for more.

This is just a page of the 6 page menu, for the whole thing look at the older review.

A nice sparkling wine goes well with Vietnamese.

My dad also brought this old cab. But it was corked, and probably not the worlds best wine to begin with :-).

Table condiments.

This is marinated raw beef, soaked in fish sauce, with onions, chilies, and basil. Not a typical American flavor, but amazing nonetheless.

These are an interestingly different take on these classic soft Vietnamese rolls. Besides some of the usual veggies (lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, vermicelli, shrimp, etc) they also have a bit of spicy pork sausage.

With the crucial dipping sauce. These are really tasty.

This is a four person portion of the rice noodle pork soup with some kind of dumpling. There’s also cilantro, scallions, peanuts and who knows what else. But it’s certainly delicious with one of those complex flavor and texture profiles that is typical of good Vietnamese.

The individual bowl (approximately a quarter of the first bigger bowl).

Chicken wings sauteed in butter and garlic. Basically Vietnamese fried chicken. Sweeter and crunchier than the American equivalent and way strong on the garlic. Very good for sure.

Crispy orange duck. This must be Chinese inspired, but it’s amazing, totally amazing. The duck is perfect, and the sweet/bitter tang of real orange peels (not to mention the schechuan peppers) delectable.

Mixed seafood (all the S’s – shrimp, scallops, squid) in lemongrass sauce. Nice tasty subtle flavor to the sauce. This is a fairly exotic taste, but really good.

Little Saigon never disappoints. And this whole meal was like $80 for four!

Fogo de Chao – Beef!

Restaurant: Fogo de Chao

Location:  133 North La Cienega Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211-2206  (310) 289-7755

Date: April 21, 2011

Cuisine: Brazilian Grilled Meats

Rating: Meat meat meat!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I’m not normally a big fan of chains, but Fogo is one that works for me. It took the formula found is various independant Churrasquero restaurants and made it into a solid reliable festival of meat. And at lunch it offers tremendous value, particularly in comparison to a typical good American steak house. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this is a style of Brazilian BBQ where skewered meats are pulled fresh off the fire and carved at the table.


The fully carnivorous menu of meats. Fogo only offers two dining options. Salad bar, or salad bar + meat. Both are all you can eat.


The salad bar is extensive enough by itself, offering not only some token vegtables but a range of cheeses and cured meats.


Potato salad type salads.

Bacon!


Regular salad.


Dressings.

Cured meats and cheeses.


A giant full drum of real parmesan.


More salad.


I go sparingly in this department because I’m really here for the seared flesh.


The way things work at this kind of Brazilian BBQ is that the servers bring by the skewers of up to 15 different meats and cave them onto your plate. Fogo’s innovation here — and believe me it is a solid innovation — is this magic disk. Each person has one and you can flip it over. Above is the stop side.


And the go side. They key here is that you can control the awesome flow of meat onto your plate. Before the disk invention, you either got barraged or you were forgotten. Now, if you need a fifteen minute breather, no problem. Go red, then back again!


Beef sirloin. Delicious pure beef.

Prime rib eye. Fatty goodness! Actually, a bit too fatty for my taste, but many love it.


Chicken legs and pork sausages. They manage to make even chicken taste great, and the sausages are rich, hearty and delectable.


Here is all that, plus some pork rib, loaded on the plate. The rib on top, chicken and sausages on the left, sirloin on the bottom, the ultra fatty prime rib in the middle.


The pork BBQ ribs. This is one of my favorites.


Watch that soft piggy cut!


Filet minion. Lean and tender.


The garlic sirloin. This had an awesomely intense garlic beefyness to it.


Garlic sirloin on the left, filet on the right.


Lamb chops.


On the plate. Super tasty and tender. Sizzling hot.

Chicken breast (left) and filet (right) wrapped in bacon.


bacon truly does make everything better. They chicken might even have been tastier than the beef.


Picanha, one of the house specialties. A bit of prime sirloin seasoned with sea salt.


The bacon-wrapped filet, pork rib, and picanha (left to right). The last is a really tasty cut.


Fogo also throws a lot of sides on the table (included in the price). Cheesy mashed potatoes.


Fried polenta with parmesan.


Fried plantains. There is also cheese bread, but being passover, we didn’t take any and so I don’t have a photo.


The decor is sleek and modern, and they have a lot of hearty wines.


It’s easy to let your eyes exceed your stomach here. This refuse is just one person’s “leavings.” At lunch all this gluttony costs only $32.50, which is pretty impressive. You can easily make an entire day’s meal out of it!

For another take on excessive BBQ meats, see the Japanese Secret Beef joint.

Passover Seder 2011 – day 2

This year we hosted the first seder (SEE HERE), but my Mom cooked the second. That means a very high bar of quality.


Parker 91 for the 2001 Opus One. “Tasted twice Deep garnet-black colour. Still a lot of primary fruit with dark cherry and blackberry aromas complimented by cloves, cardamom and a hint of mint. The medium to full bodied palate provides a medium+ level of very finely grained tannins and medium+ acidity. Long finish with lingering earthy / mineral flavours. Drink now to 2019. Tasted April 2009.”

The 1998 Haut Maillet was a typical mature pomerol. Tasty, but a bit sour.


The seder plate.


The ubiquitous matzah.


Horoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and other spices.


Mom’s homemade horseradish, sweetened and colored with beet juice.


The fully set table.


The components of the Hillel sandwich, a combination of matzah, horoset, and horseradish.


A sample Hillel sandwich. For more details, see here.


The salad.


Plated, endives, other greens, and smoked kosher trout. Very refreshing, and tasty.


Homemade matzah ball soup. The classic chicken broth and light fluffy balls.


Broccoli Rabe.


Sauteed with pine-nuts and currents


Brisket braised in sweet and sour sauce. Cooked to extreme tenderness.


Extra gravy.


On the plate.

To see the first night of passover, click here.

For the Hillel Sandwich, here.