Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Eating & Drinking Options Along the Great LA Walk

Almost sunset @ Pier 
No ocean views at the end of this year's walk, but that's OK.

I can't believe it's time for the Great LA Walk again this Saturday, my favorite of the organized urbanhikes in the area. This time, walkers will be tackling "the Valley" with the fearless Franklin Avenue leading a 17+ mile hike down Ventura Blvd from Woodland Hills to Universal City, then an upward swing to NoHo via Lankershim Blvd.

Of course, equally exciting is the prospect of checking out some of the eats/drinks in the area, since I don't find myself in this area all that often...

...and this quickly turned into a behemoth list of a to-trys & to-revisits, so figured I might as well share this map with fellow Great LA Walkers too.
Hopefully, this will disprove any notion of the Valley being devoid of good food & drinks. Whether you want something casual but tasty (Mendocino Farms, BatterFish), more exotically ethnic eats (e.g. Apey Kade, DarbinZ), a refreshing glug of potent potables (Boneyard Bistro, Murph'sThe Local Peasant) or a guilt-free, healthy bite (LYFE Kitchen, SunCafe), there's something on the map that should fit the bill. And failing all else, I also put in a few markets for stocking up on hiking provisions.

Now the hard part is figuring out where I will be stopping along the way... (asides from the official afterparty @ District Pub, obviously.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seven favorite bites & sips in San Diego

Even though SD is only two hours away (less... if you drive like a speed demon), with so many going ons in the rest of SoCal I'm lucky to make it down there twice a year. So when I do have the occasion to go, I try to make every moment, bite and sip worthwhile.

This most recent expedition (where I was helping out at a friend's wedding, then took a few extra days to explore on my own) was no exception. 

Of course, this made the task of narrowing down my favorites even harder, but I manage to eke out a top seven from the area . . .

7) Rye So Serious from Groundswell Brewing (Grantville)
Groundswell Brewing
While I'm no stranger to the burgeoning craft beer scene down here (and I did visit my longtime favorites of Ballast Point & Lost Abbey this time around), I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting breweries to try. Thanks to @VisitSanDiego's pointer to check out Grantville area breweries, including recently opened Groundswell Brewery.

Although the tasting room is pretty bare bones, they more than make for it with their whimsically named, creatively-flavored beers. My favorite of the four I tasted is definitely the pumpkin-infused Rye So Serious, where the typical spicy-bitterness of the rye ale is nicely balanced with the earthy-sweetness of the pumpkin. Alas, since this is a seasonal beer I don't expect it to stay on the menu long, but at least my runner-up (the Ginger Saison) is in their standard year-round lineup!

6) "Garden & Grains" from Juniper and Ivy (Little Italy)
Garden & Grains @ Juniper and Ivy
From a quick search for popular SD restaurants, this seems to be the *it* spot of the moment so I made a timely reservation to check it out (and it wasn't until later that I learned it was headed by Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais.)

Given my overindulgence earlier that day, I opted for a lighter meal . . . and super thankful that I did. Their simply named "Garden & Grains" was a vegetarian (perhaps even vegan) delight that even omnivores could enjoy. Crisp, fresh vegetables played nicely with the toothsome mix of ancient grains (incl. amaranth, wheatberries & quinoa) and sweet swirls of red and golden beet purees. As an added bonus, this dish saves fantastically well, from the half I boxed up and chowed down on the morning after.

Another practically a must try (from all the orders I've seen sent out from the kitchen), the decadently beefy and tender carne cruda asada with quail egg on toast.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Few Fave Flavored Teas For Fall

Because I'm an alliteration addict, but I digress...

Now that the weather's finally cooling down, I can regularly embrace steeping teas on a regular basis. And although I do enjoy a clean cup of sencha or a robust Darjeeling, lately I have been exploring flavored teas. No, I'm not talking about something that smells like a Bath & Body Works (I'm looking at you, Teavana!) but ones that are more nuanced and delicate, working with the tea leaves natural aromas & flavors rather than trying to mask it.

And here are a few of my favorites for varying moods & occasions:

Something fruity: Thé des Alizés from Palais des Thes'

This Parisian tea company was the one that began my intrigue (& eventual embrace) of flavored teas, back when they were used for Jin Patisserie's afternoon tea service. While it's hard to pick a favorite flavored tea from this company, I'm particularly enamored with this one because the lush, juicy notes of peaches, kiwi & watermelon plays so nicely with the delicately sweet-grassy notes of the green tea. And it's great one to have year-round, since it works amazingly well as an iced tea too!

Something floral: La Vie en Rose from American Tea Room
While this tea shop has a floral-centric signature American Beauty blend (which combines white tea with roses, jasmine, lavender and mint), I prefer the singular, more focused aroma and flavor of this one, which smells wonderfully fragrant without being perfumey. Combine that with its mildly fruity taste and a clean finish and you got a tea that's incredibly easy to drink (another great choice for iced tea).

Something sweet: White Coconut Crème from Art of Tea
This one threw me for a doozy, since it smells so rich & creamy (think coconut flan or panna cotta) but actually tastes rather light. And unlike most other coconut-scented things, I love the restraint in this tea, resulting in a just noticeable enough aroma and not bonking you over the head with the actual fruit. Another great perk: it's great for those watching their sugar/calorie intake, since it smells sweet & when steeped properly, this tea is not astringent at all, so you can easily drink this as is without the need for sugar & milk. (Lastly, the loose leaves are so pretty thanks to the cornflowers & safflowers blended in.)

Something spicy: Reena's Chai from Chado Tea Room
Of course, I can't really talk about flavored teas without mentioning the oldest & most traditional of them all: masala chais whose history dates back a few millenia ago. Like all spice blended things, everyone has their own favorite ingredients & proportions; for masala chai, Reena's is my consistent favorite since the bold sweet spices (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla) hold its own against the robust black tea leaves and stand out even after mixing in sugar and milk. With its spicy aromas, this is great with desserts or even just after a meal (especially for those who don't do coffee.) For the caffeine-sensitive, Chado also offers a herbal version of this blend too!

Something seasonal: Winter Dream Tea from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
One blend that I look forward to every year as the days get shorter and (slightly) chillier. This spice-infused black & rooibos blend is all sorts of comforting (especially in the form of a slightly sweetened latté), with gentle notes of sweet spices and rich mouthfeel, as if your tongue & tastebuds are being covered by a liquid security blanket. Thinking about this makes me wish the the pumpkin spice mania is over all the sooner so that this can debut!

Of course, tea purists will probably scoff at all this adulteration (hopefully they realize some of the classics - like Earl Grey - are flavored teas too!) but if you're open to a little flavor beyond sweeteners & milk in your tea, hope you'll give these a try … and share some of your favorites too!