El Rincon Criollo – Cuban fun

Restaurant: El Rincon Criollo

Location: 4361 Sepulveda Blvd. Culver City, Ca 90230. 210-397-9295

Date: September 3, 2011

Cuisine: Cuban / Spanish

Rating: Garlic!


We took our son to the “train store” in Culver City (he loves trains) and this Cuban joint happened to be next door.

They curb sell with this cool 50s era car.

The menu. Mostly Cuban classics.

Bread of course.

Some croquettas (ham and cheese potato fry-balls) with banana chips. I’m not much of a banana fan, but these taste pretty much like potato chips.

And are extra good in this pure garlic sauce.

My son got plantains rice and beans. He loves bananas but for some reason knownst only to 2.75 year-olds would not try them.

But he did like this banana smoothy.

This is salmon in garlic sauce with onions. Rice, fries, and beans on the side.

And shrimp in garlic sauce. The garlic sauce is pretty uber actually, particularly poured over the rice. It did give me a carb coma though.

With the check are these weird little Cuban coconut caramels. Pretty good by my taste.

I’m not a serious Cuban aficionado — yeah I’ve been to various places a dozen or so times, but I’m no expert — but this was certainly tasty. And I do love garlic.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Rustic Canyon 3D

Restaurant: Rustic Canyon [1, 2, 3, 4]

Location: 1119 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, Ca 90401. 310-393-7050

Date: February 25, 2011

Cuisine: Farmer’s Market Californian

Summary: Excellent Seasonal New American


As a seasonal market driven California restaurant Rustic canyon can be counted on to mix up the menu a bit fairly frequently. It’s a friday night favorite for us, and we return every two months or so. Many of the specific dishes change, but the overall types and categories stay consistant. If you are interested in the previous meals at Rustic Canyon, meal 1 here, meal 2 here.

The current menu.

Spanish style – olives on the table.

The current wines by the glass.

I had two wines tonight. The “2008 Yves Bruessin, Vouvray, Loire.” and the “2009 Domaine des EscaravaillesLes Antimagnes’ Cotes du Rhone.” The white was pretty much as expected, the red was a little rough around the edges.

“Local sardines, Crostone, Olivada.” Grilled sardines on the crunchy bread, with a sort of olive tapanade. I had hoped these would be a bit more marinated, like typical Spanish Boquerones-anchovies. It was tasty, but not for land-lubbers — Sardines always have a bit of the… sardine taste.

“Prawn and pork belly Spiedino, Garlic, Rosemary, Lemon, Chilis.” A lemon butter sauce with a strong garlic-rosemary thing going on. The pork was very soft. Essentially a variant of bacon wrapped shrimp!

“Roasted beets & farro, roasted beets, feta, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, fennel, yogurt.”

“Crispy white polenta, wild mushrooms, sunny side farm egg, parmigiano-reggiano.” Interesting mix of textures, crunchy soft. Very cheesy.

“Ricotta Gnocchi, braised duck ragu, parmigiano-reggiano.” Incredibly soft gnocchi, very nice cheesy/meaty ragu. Classic Bolognese type taste, but with the soft pillowy texture of the risotto.

The dessert menu.

“Lemon cornmeal sundae, meyer lemon sherbet, toasted cornbread, whipped cream.” The cornmeal was a bit like cornflakes, giving me this Japanese vibe. The sherbet had a great soft lemon flavor, enhanced by the whipped cream, which had an almost creme fraiche vibe. This all gave it the overall flavor profile of a lemon cheesecake. Refreshing.

Quick Eats: Sunnin

Restaurant: Sunnin

Location: 1776 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024 (310) 475-3358

Date: December 24, 2010

Cuisine: Lebanese

Rating: Cheap tasty Lebanese


A couple years ago I had an office a couple blocks from Sunnin, and we used to go at least once a week. In those days Sunnin was across the street from where it is now, in a total hole in the wall. There they served on styrofoam with plasticware. It was it its best with “mama” behind the counter. The sons served (slowly), but the humus was amazing, and the garlic paste for the grilled chicken. Now they’ve moved across the street and they have real plates, a bigger space, and slightly higher prices. The sons still loiter about. The food hasn’t really changed.

The menu can be found HERE.

“Deep fried Cauliflower served with tahini sauce.” Fry, as usual, what’s not to like. Cauliflower has a lot of surface area, better to pick up the fry, and the sauce, which cuts the fry nicely.

“Fresh yogurt and cucumber slices mixed with garlic and dry mint.” I love yoghurt sauce, and it’s a fundamental part of what I call the “lamb yogurt flatbread continuum,” that band of culinary couplings that roles from Greece all the way to north India.


“Sanbousek, Homemade dough stuffed with ground beef, onions and pine nuts.” Tasty thick pastry stuffed witha  savory mix of meat and spices.

“Lamb Kebab. Cubes of lamb grilled on a skewer served with hommos, rice, Lebanese salad and pita bread.” Tender lamb chunks. Zesty salad, and the humus. I’ve always loved the humus here, it has a lot of garlic, and a good amount of lemon in it. Then it’s brightened up with Lebanese olive oil (I’ve seen the jugs) and paprika.

Beef instead. The beef is more tender, but the lamb has a bit more flavor.

The chicken kabob is great here too, and it comes with the garlic paste — I love the garlic paste.

Gjelina Scores Again

Restaurant: Gjelina [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, CA 90291. (310) 250-1429

Date: Jan 11, 2011

Cuisine: New Californian

Rating: Perfect lunch!


My brother and I love Gjelina’s for lunch. Nowhere else in LA is the casual New American done so right. This is my second review, you can find the first here.

Today’s menu. It changes up constantly, although there are similar themes.

They always have Burrata, which my loyal readers know I just adore (CLICK HERE for my home version).  This is “Burrata with Salted Anchovy, Pepperonata & Mint Pesto on Toasts.” Interesting. This has a vague resemblance to the classic Spanish dish done so well at Botin in Madrid (CLICK HERE to see). The anchovies were the salted kind, although good ones. I would have preferred the fresher Spanish fish, but it was still a soft and tasty dish.

“Wood Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Chili.” We always get this here, as it’s one of the best Cauliflower dishes I’ve had. Sour, tangy, and a tiny bit spicy.

This was a new pizza I hadn’t tried before. “Duck Sausage, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Garlic, and Mozzarella.” Good, but not as good as their “Lamb Sausage, Confit Tomato, Rapini, Pecorino & Asiago.” Or perhaps I’ve just become jaded by Ultimate Pizza.

Pizza at Gjelina’s always comes with the red pepper, parmesan, and oregano. A sort of high class variant of what you’d have on the table at a New York or Jersey pizza joint.

Niman Ranch Lamb Burger with Harissa Aioli, Roasted Tomato & Arugula,” is usually on the menu, and for a reason. Not only are the seasoned fries great (particularly with the aioli and the harissa), but the burger is totally succulent lamb city.

Close up of that pink!

And the best thing at Gjelina: “Butterscotch Pot de Crème with Salted Caramel & Crème Fraiche.” This is an absolutely perfect desert to my taste. Rich creamy butterscotch creme, carmel, and a bit of salt.

No disappointments here.

If you liked this New American, click for reviews of similar places: Rustic Canyon (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2), Tavern (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2), or coming soon, Fig.

Ultimate Pizza – The Sauce

This is part 3 of my comprehensive coverage of our New Years pizza making, following the article on Dough and the one on the Pesto. Upcoming will be toppings and the pizzas themselves.

Here are the ingredients. Two types of marzano tomatos from Italy. Crushed and pulped. Garlic, lemons, salt, pepper, oregano, and fresh basil.

We use this recipe from the excellent pizza making book American Pie as a basis, but wing the proportions.

Dump a bunch of stuff in, and blend. This is super easy and makes a much much fresher and better tomato sauce than any canned sauce. One could use fresh Marzanos, but they can be a bit of trouble to find.

The vat.

As a tease, here is the “pizza oven” in preparation. I have two ceramic pizza stones and I shove them in a Viking outdoor gas range. If one pre-heats an hour in advance it will get up to 800-900 degrees F — hot is good for pizzas.

Southern California, December 31, 2010. 62 Degrees and gorgeous.

At the last minute I decided to try and make some of this herb oil.

I through all sorts of herbs together, including fresh rosemary from the garden, and some garlic.

Dumped in some olive oil and stirred vigorously (picture is before the stirring). We’ll see how it tastes in a couple hours.

Please CONTINUE HERE as we get closer to Ultimate Pizza.

Ultimate Pizza – The Pesto

This is part 2 of my series on Ultimate Homemade Pizza. For Part 1 (on Dough) CLICK HERE. We prepare a lot of different toppings, including homemade pesto, which makes an excellent substitute or compliment to tomato sauce. Most toppings will have to wait for the day of, but pesto can be made a day or two in advance.

The ingredients. Fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil (fine single vineyard), and parmesan.

One can do this by hand or with the Food Processor. Today was rainy, and we felt lazy. It’s also hard work to get a really fine texture with the mortar and pestel.

All ingredients in.

Bass-o-matic! A little pepper tossed in too.

The final result. Intensely basil — and green!

This is a photo of another time when I did it the hard way. Takes some serious elbow grease.

The Ultimate Pizza guide continues HERE.

The New American – Gjelina

Restaurant: Gjelina [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, CA 90291. (310) 250-1429

Date: December 16, 2010

Cuisine: New Californian

Rating: Everything just tastes great!


My parents flew into town but their flight was four hours late so we needed to find dinner after 10pm. This can actually be a problem on the westside, but it turns out that Gjelina serves until midnight! Now Gjelina has gotten lots of rave reviews, and for good reason. It’s also one of our favorite lunch spots. They serve fairly casual fare, American with all sorts of influences, and most things are farmer’s market driven. The kitchen is just really good — so everything tastes great. The menu changes constantly.

“Squash-Farro-Kale Soup with Grilled Bread.”

“Charred Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Dates & Vinegar.” One of the things about Gjelina is that they can make even vegetables incredibly delicious — yes I’m a bit of a carnivore. These brussel sprouts aren’t bitter at all, and the thick chunks of smokey bacon (more pancetta really) are incredible.

“Lamb Sausage, Confit Tomato, Rapini, Pecorino & Asiago Pizza.” They make great pizzas too. These are very thin neo-neo Neapolitan pizzas baked very fast in a wood wire oven. The crust is very crispy, and there is a strong charcoal grill taste. This one has a nice cheesy, herby flavor offset with the very yummy lamb sausage.

“Wood Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Chili & Vinegar.” Another example of the unusually yummy vegetables. This cauliflower has a nice double tang, vinegar and chili. Crunch Zing!

“Grilled Radicchio, Bacon, Fontina & Tomato Confit Pizza.” Another great pizza. The bacon makes it of course.

“Potato Gnocchi with a Short Rib Ragout & Pecorino.” Melt in your mouth.

“Charred Niman Hanger Steak with Watercress-Horseradish Pesto, Red Onion & Piquillo.”

Inside they have both regular and communal tables, and outside they have a fantastic patio. It was pretty crowded at 11pm, with down tempo blaring on the speakers. Even on a chilly December LA night (roughly 50 degrees) the fire pit and heat lamp made me take off my jacket. Serious LA ambiance — and food!

Quick Eats: Andy’s Spanish Eggs

Although I’m a ludicrously obsessive Foodie, I don’t cook that many things. However, those that I do make, I try to do to the Nth degree (anyone who knows me knows this to be true of me in general). One of my breakfast specialities is Spanish Poached Eggs. The original recipe was taught to me personally by Mark Peel of Campanille at a cooking class. I’ve made a few small improvements (adding Burrata and arugala). The result is below:

First, you need to make some homemade Romesco sauce. You can do this a couple days in advance if you like (I do).

Adjust the oven racks to the middle and upper positions, and preheat theoven to 350° F.

Drizzle the tomato halves with a teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place the tomatoes. cut side down, on a baking sheet, and roast on the upperrack for 45 minutes to an hour, until they are soft and the skin has wrinkled and blackened slightly. Allow to cool, remove, and discard the skin.

In a very small ovenproof skillet, saucepan, or dish, combine approximately 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the garlic cloves, to cover the cloves halfway. Roast in the oven on the middle rack about 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft and malleable. Allow to cool, and squeeze the pulp from the cloves. Reserve the oil and set aside.

Turn the oven down to 325°.

Spread the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking sheet (in separate piles). Toast on the middle rack in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Place the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel, and rub them together to remove the skins.

Meanwhile, on a hot grill or directly on the stovetop over high heat, char the pepper over an open flame, turning frequently until the skin is blackened on all sides and the flesh becomes tender. Place the pepper in a plastic bag or in abowl covered tightly with plastic wrap to steam until cool enough to handle.Using a towel, wipe off the charred skin. Remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Coarsely chop the pepper.

In a small skillet, over medium heat, warm the reserved olive oil from the garlic. When the oil is hot, fry the bread on both sides until lightly browned. Remove the bread to a paper towel to drain.

In a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the nuts and bread until they form a coarse paste. Add the tomato, roasted pepper. vinegar, garlic pulp, cayenne pepper and salt and pulverize or process until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining cup of olive oil and stir or process until combined. Season with salt to taste. lt will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

For the actual dish you will need:

  • Lots of eggs, one per dish
  • A loaf or two of good rustic bread. I use La Brea Bakery rustic italian or similar. Cut into big slices.
  • A huge bottle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • A bag of arugala
  • A tub of fresh Burrata, no more than two days out of the creamery. In LA you can buy it at Bay Cities Deli. If you live somewhere (most places) where you can’t get this tub of heaven, then you will have to use some good mozzarella.
  • A couple Meyer lemons (regular will suffice if you are feeling lazy)

Next up is the bread. This can be prepared right before, or even a couple hours before eating. Get a real cast iron pan. No mamby pamby modern pans allowed. Fill it halfway up with olive oil and bring to a near boil. Be careful, if you get it too hot the oil will ignite and you will have to stick a lid on it (have one handy for snuffing fires) and wait for it to cool. Hot olive oil spontaneously combusts in the presence of oxygen.

After the oil is hot, quickly fry the bread slices. This makes a mess, but they fry in 5-10 seconds per side.

You end up with this, a plate of fried bread. This is yummy by itself or smeared with the Romesco.

Wash your arugala and put it in a bowl, toss with black pepper and Meyer Lemon juice.

Now that we’ve done the hard stuff. The following you do while your victims (guests) sit around the kitchen. This is sort of frenzied assembly because it needs to be eaten VERY soon after the egg gets poached (in the hot olive oil). So prep your bread.

Take a piece, smear generously with Romesco and add some tossed arugala. Have the Burrata (or Mozzerella) handy nearby.

Then add a nice blob in preparation for the egg. Burrata, when fresh it’s creaminess is visceral.

You can use your same hot olive oil (keep the bottle on hand to refill) to poach the egg. Have a slotted spoon and tongs ready. Crack an egg carefully into the oil. I use a small bowl, into which I crack the egg first, so that I can slip it quickly into the oil without splashing a lot of boiling oil onto my hands (a little is just a small price to pay for this dish).

It poaches (I prefer not to think of it as fried) in about 10 seconds. Spoon some hot oil over the top. You want it crispy and fluffy, but the yolk totally runny. Then get it out of there fast with the slotted spoon, drain, and onto your prepped bread.

Here it is again. Eat instantly. The yolk will run out and soak the crunchy bread. If you’re a more moderate person you could leave out the Burrata, or even not fry the bread, but the full monty is much better.