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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Recipe: Peachy-Basil Sangria

Summer may be rolling to a (too fast) end, but there's still Labor Day weekend & plenty of warm days ahead.
Peachy-Basil Sangria
And per my summer potluck/party tradition, that also means it's sangria time! And this year's version might be my favorite yet, since it goes down so easy but has a few touches to keep the flavors interesting. On top of lusciously sweet & fragrant peaches, I've also added a hearty helping of refreshing aromatic basil and a pinch of sweet spices. Then the batched syrup is spiked with a nice slug of gold rum and ready to be combined with some crisp white wine & served when needed.

Peachy-Basil Sangria (for 2 pitchers' worth, approx. 10 to 16 servings)


3 ripe medium peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced (alternatively, a 12 oz. bag of frozen peaches)
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 handful of fresh sweet basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
3/4 cup gold rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse)
2 bottles of light and crisp white wine (I used Flip Flop's pinot grigio)
Ice cubes
1 medium ripe nectarine, for garnish (optional - and I only opted for the nectarine because I don't care for peaches' fuzzy skin)
Virgin option: Omit the rum, swap white wine for dry ginger ale.


1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, peaches, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Allow it cool on stovetop for 10 minutes afterwards.
2. Place the mixture in a blender along with the fresh basil leaves, then pulse blend until the leaves are pulverized and incorporated. Then add rum to the mixture. The color/appearance will be a bit unseemly but this will improve when combined with the wine. (This mixture can also be stored up to three days in a fridge.)
3. In a pitcher, combine the wine & syrup in a 2:1 ratio and give it a quick stir, garnish with additional basil leaves and nectarine slices. Serve over ice.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fun Facts Learned During California Avocado Grove Tour

Since Cinco de Mayo is one of the highest avocado-consuming days of the year, I figured its timely to post about my California Avocado tour in the Temecula Valley. And even though my love & familiarity with this buttery fruit spanned decades, I was surprised by the number of things I learned during this one-day outing.
avocado on trees
Our first stop was Persea Tree Nursery in Fallbrook, a nursery & greenhouse facility that grows, grafts and sells avocado rootstocks to groves and orchards. 
Avocado Nursery
As we toured through the facility, including an "avocado dark room" & swelteringly hot greenhouse (the humidity helps these young plants — which are native to the tropics — thrive,) I picked up on these fascinating tidbits:
  • a single avocado pit can supply enough energy to start up to 6-7 plants.
  • when properly cared for, a tree can start producing edible fruit in 2 years.
  • when stressed, the trees have a tendency to bear fruit on alternate years - resulting in a cycle of high & low yields (and consequently, prices in the market.)
  • 95 percent of avocados produced in California are of the Hass variety (I knew they are the most popular, but wasn't aware of how big a majority they made up; meanwhile, I'm crossing my fingers for the giant, round Reeds - my favorite varietal - to take up more of the market share & be more readily available.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pleasure of a Weekday Off at Copa Vida, Petrossian LAX & Crustacean

When given the option of an extra day off, most folks I know prefer to bookend their weekends, tacking on a Monday or Friday. Me? Personally, unless I have an out-of-town excursion, I actually prefer taking midweek days off. It splits up the workweek, I can "staycation" on a mellower day of the week, and not worry about the traffic & crowds from other long weekenders too.

Of course, being able to partake in some tastings was the icing on that cake. So that's exactly what I did last Wednesday.

My first pleasure was, to no one's surprise, sleeping in. Even though I did freak out and bolted up on my usual workday time, upon realizing "oh yeah, I took today off" I went back into the bliss of the warm bed and slumbered for another lovely 2 hours.
After finally getting up & ready around 10:30 a.m., I had a quick but leisurely breakfast at Copa Vida, my new favorite "fancy coffee" place in Pasadena. 
Normally I wouldn't hesitate to order their divine open-faced Croque Madame, but there's another food affair coming up soon so I opted for their ham-cheese-caramelized onions stromboli. And of course, one of their fantastic pourover coffee of the day (this time it's the Colombian El Roble estate roasted by 49th Parallel.)
Following the late breakfast, I headed to LAX; not to fly anywhere, but to check out Petrossian's newly opened shop at their new champagne & caviar bar at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (which has gotten quite a facelift recently). There, we were treated to caviar & roe-topped bites by Giselle Wellman, who heads up the kitchen here & at the Petrossian West Hollywood Restaurant/Boutique. They were all delicious, but my personal favorite were a simple spin off the classic caviar presentation—with a dollop of creme fraiche on a buckwheat blini.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Recipe: Express Tiramisu

Back in the mid-late 90s, tiramisu was the "it" dessert. And thus, it was something I consistently order every time I see it on the menu, all the while feeling very sophisticated about the layers of cake & custard, with a hit of coffee and sometimes a splash of booze.

And even though this dessert has already seen its heyday, it's still something I whip up regularly for gatherings. Just saying that you're bringing tiramisu to a party lends a whole sense of "Ooo la la," even though it's impeccably easy to make. Moreso given the time- & effort-saving shortcuts I take, which means it's really a little prep work (namely, brewing then cooling down some coffee), half an hour for mixing & assembly and then a few hours' (or overnight) in the fridge before serving.

Express Tiramisu (serves 6-8)


  • 18 ladyfinger cakes (readily available at Italian markets)
  • One 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cup espresso or strongly-brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 oz. simple syrup (1:1 sugar-water mix)
  • 3 oz. Amaretto, or your liqueur of choice (optional)
  • Chocolate shavings for garnish (I used a vegetable peeler on a bar of dark chocolate)
  1. In a shallow pan or dish, combine coffee, simple syrup and Amaretto, set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese, ricotta cheese, half cup of sugar and vanilla extract; mix until smooth
  3. By hand or machine, whisk together half cup of sugar with the heavy whipping cream until it has soft-to-medium peaks. Then gently fold into the cream & ricotta cheese mixture.
  4. Dip ladyfingers, one at a time, into the coffee mixture - gently rolling both sides until they start to soften, then place in a 8" x 8" dish or pan. Repeat until you have one layer of coffee-soaked ladyfingers in the dish (feel free to break apart the cakes as needed to fill any big gaps or holes.)
  5. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture until the ladyfingers are no longer visible.
  6. Repeat with another layer of soaked ladyfingers & cheese mixture. 
  7. Top with chocolate shavings, cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 3 hours (or overnight). Serve chilled.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Recipe: Grilled Halloumi w Pickled Onion

Grilled Halloumi w Pickled Onions & Arugula 
This is one of my standby appetizers when I'm going to a potluck or hosting a party. It's vibrantly colorful with translucent, jewel-like red onions set against bronzed slabs of halloumi and a bed of fresh greens and more importantly for gatherings—this crowd pleaser is a cinch to make, so you can actually enjoy the party too rather than slave away in the kitchen.

Simply give the onions a quick chop & pickling an hour prior, then pan fry some halloumi on a pan just prior to serving. Then voila, a plate of oozy, salty cheese (which is what I love about halloumi, its high melting point means you can get a crispy char on the outside while it retains a softened, almost but not quite melted texture within) whose richness is cut with acidic onions and peppery arugula.

In hindsight, I kinda feel guilty even calling this a "recipe", but the results are definitely splendid.

Grilled Halloumi with Pickled Onion

Ingredients (serves approx. 8)
14 oz. Halloumi cheese, sliced into quarter-inch slabs
1 small red onion, cut in half vertically, then thinly sliced so you get semi-circles out of the rings
4 oz. red wine vinegar
1 oz. water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups arugula, washed & dried (or your leafy greens of choice)
vegetable oil

1. About an hour before serving, put the sliced onions in a bowl or a jar and add vinegar, water and sugar. Swish or shake occasionally, making sure all the slices have some time to immerse in the vinegar mixture.
2. 10 minutes before serving, heat up a skillet on medium-high heat for 30 seconds. While skillet is heating, put the arugula in a platter.
3. Add enough vegetable oil to coat the surface of the skillet, then put the cut slabs of halloumi cheese in.
4. In about a minute or two (when you see the edges of the cheese getting golden brown & bubbly), flip the halloumi and allow it to pan fry for another minute.
5. Put the halloumi on top of the arugula, then the pickled onion slices.
6. Pour half the pickling brine onto the skillet to deglaze, then drizzle over platter and serve.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fave Bites & Sips from Vegas, Dec. 2013

With T-24 hours before I head to Las Vegas, so Sin City's definitely been on my mind lately — and it's a good a time as any to reminisce some of my favorite bites & sips from my last excursion there... a month ago.
Mr. Ho's Burger @ Bachi Burger
I know, gussied up burgers aren't anything new - but I definitely dug Bachi's Mr. Ho's burger, when the burger was given an Asian treatment with garlic, ginger, sauteed mushrooms and lop cheong (Chinese sausage) - the last ingredient, with its sweet-savory fattiness, is what made it extra memorable. And kinda makes me want to buy some and put it on everything!

We also tried their famous foie-gras Shogun burger too, while that was good too -- the foie totally got lost within all the other ingredients.
Garden of Hermitage @ Vesper Bar
Drinks-wise, a return to Cosmpolitan's Vesper Bar was a must. While the near-unanimous favorite with my friends is the One Night in Bangkok from a former menu (a refreshing Thai twist on a Ramos gin fizz), from their current menu I loved their Moscow Mule spin -- the Garden of Hermitage with Enlightened Spirits' Rosemary-Lavender vodka, Thai basil eau de vie, basil, ginger & lemon. I was afraid it'll be too perfumey at first, but the aromatics were nicely balanced and gave this effervescent drink that uniquely fragrant je ne sai quoi.

Other modern interpretations there that I love: The Last Samurai (a Rob Roy twist with Japanese whisky, punsch & amaro nonino) & Chai One On (Brandy milk punch given a spicy twist with chipotle, Masala & even a Yogurt liqueur!)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Embracing fitness for the new year...

Shadow selfie
A shadow selfie during one of my urbanhikes
around Socal.
... I know, not a very novel concept around this time of year, when gyms are filled to brim, workout classes are booked to the max, and people are generally scrutinizing every calorie they consumed & burned.

But for the Type B me, I'd much rather take a relaxed approach to fitness & healthfulness. And thus, some of the "goals" for the year include:
  • Finding more activities I enjoy and just do them.
  • Naturally incorporate more activity throughout the day (taking the stairs, parking further from destination).
  • Focus on how I feel after the workout.
  • Progress on my exercise performance without over straining.
And for something more concrete, putting in the recommended 150+ minutes of activity a week & hitting my 11,000 daily steps at least 3 days a week.

All of these were notions that were reinforced in a resolution-themed tweetchat I participated in last week under my @foodie_fitness alter-ego*. The two biggest takeaways, doing anything is better than nothing at all . . . and unless you're really enjoying the workout itself—as opposed to its effects—it's all too easy to throw in the towel.

With this in mind, I plan on going on a little "fitness dating" (a term I'm borrowing from Jeanette DePatie a.k.a. The Fat Chick, who co-hosted the tweetchat) this & next month, just so I can have a few more fun workouts to add to my usual mix of tennis, hiking, rollerblading, cardio-dancing & kickboxing, yoga and good ole fashioned jogging.

Here's to a healthy & fit 2014!

*Disclosure: City of Hope, the other co-host of the tweetchat, is where I punch my 9 to 5. But thoughts, opinions expressed on the @foodie_fitness twitter handle are my own.