Monthly Archives: March 2009

Never-Ending Salads at Itzik Hagadol


APOLOGIES FOR THE PHOTO–ONLY HAD MY PHONE ON ME

Itzik Hagadol’s Israeli experience, as authentically chaotic as it may be, is at least partially lost in translation. The restaurant’s Encino outpost is Hagadol’s first in the US, the initial foreign offering from a chain that’s something like the Tel Avivian equivalent to Beirut’s Zankou Chicken. But if Zankou has earned a reputation of simplicity, Hagadol is working towards one of confusion, with uncertainty arising from both the quasi-take-out counter (complete with illuminated menus) that’s actually a server station and the menu that offers what seems like a dozen permutations of the same foundational combo.

That basic building block is Itzik Hagadol’s never-ending salads, which arrive in such volumes that the restaurant shames even the most serious spread of banchan. Contained in the basic order are plates of falafel, fried eggplant, roasted pepper paste, cole slaw, cubed beets, hard-boiled eggs, Moroccan-spiced carrots, pickles, baba ghanoush and more. Also strangely available is guacamole and big bowl of what essentially equals pico de gallo. Paired with the salads is a pizza-sized piece of airy, sesame-studded pita.

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Leftovers: Fig

The Fairmont Miramar’s new ultra-seasonal eatery:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Fig is an exceedingly principled place, an organic-minded restaurant that bows before the open-air temple that is the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Although the market guides nearly all of the serious kitchens on the Westside, Fig is a particularly dedicated disciple – the restaurant even goes so far as to designate an official “forager” who’s charged with sourcing only the most pristine produce. Because of that farm-to-table adherence, Fig has sowed a garden-defined identity that at other restaurants can place origin over taste. But Ray Garcia’s food is distinct enough to slough off that stereotype – Fig does simple California cuisine at its freshest.

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Leftovers: Baba Ghanouj

Long Beach’s newest Lebanese restaurant for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Baba Ghanouj is brushed with the kind of rustic, earthen patina that colors all of Long Beach’s Lebanese restaurants, a brassy sheen that instantly cultivates an antique atmosphere. It’s a calculated design decision that not only lays out the restaurant’s commitment to the usual Lebanese tropes, but also makes the place already feel like a years-old fixture. This maturity is crucial because Baba Ghanouj is but a months-old newcomer, a Bixby Knolls restaurant far away from the Second Street stalwarts that control so much of the local Lebanese cooking.

Alone as it is in uptown’s so-called Little Italy, Baba Ghanouj doesn’t have to deal with the constant competition that drives spots like Open Sesame and Sunnin. But because of that relatively frictionless existence, the restaurant, which took over the Atlantic Avenue space vacated by Four Olives, can be comfortable in its classicism—Baba Ghanouj doesn’t deliver any surprises, but it nevertheless charts a steady, pleasant course.

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To Do: L.A. Cupcake Challenge


PHOTO by SUGARBLOOM CUPCAKES

Drink:Eat:Play tries to find out who has the best cupcakes in Southern California on March 29 with its Cupcake Challenge. Competitors include the Oinkster, Delilah Bakery, SusieCakes and more. Tickets are $40 and include cupcake samples, free coffee and all the necessary cupcake accompaniments. The challenge is being held at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel at 1755 North Highland Avenue. Visit drinkeatplay.com for details.

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Leftovers: Scottie’s Smokehouse

Old Towne Orange barbecue for the Times:


PHOTO by CHRISTINE COTTER / L.A. TIMES

Every order at Scottie’s Smokehouse in Orange passes through owner Darren Scott’s hands, whether it’s a blackened slab of brisket awaiting a deft swipe of the knife or a golden-skinned chicken about to be pulled apart. It’s an exacting process, but that control is crucial because Scott has barbecue in his blood.

He inherited the necessary low-and-slow genes from his grandfather Darwin Scott, who worked his barbecue joint in Santa Ana from 1935 to 1943, when the war channeled the country’s meat into servicemen’s rations. Hanging near the kitchen is a photo of the original Scottie’s — a square shack carved out of a forested corner of the still-nascent city — that serves as proof of the family’s slow-smoked history. And that’s all Darren Scott needs. “In this family,” he says, “barbecue is just something you know you’re probably good at.”

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Cook’s Library To Close

After 20 years, Third Street stalwart the Cook’s Library is preparing to shutter. According to the L.A. Times, the culinary bookstore has suffered with the rise of Internet resellers like Amazon despite the store’s longstanding ties to the community and choice events and book signings, which brought in such featured chefs as Eric Ripert, Ferran Adrià, Alice Waters and others. An unfortunate clearance sale (starting at 20% off and increasing each week) is going on now until the store closes on April 30. Visit a final time at 8373 W. Third St.

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To Do: Riva’s Italian Wine Class

Riva, the Santa Monica restaurant from Jason Travi (also of Culver City’s Fraiche), continues its monthly Italian wine classes on March 21. Led by Sommelier Thierry Perez, the two-hour class is will explore wines from Italy’s Piedmont region. Travi will also be whipping up food pairings to accompany the class. Call (310) 451-7482 or visit rivarestaurantla.com for details.

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Leftovers: Xiang Wei Lou

Stomach-scorching Hunanese for CityBeat:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

There’s some fiery foreshadowing in Xiang Wei Lou’s dining room – garlands of chiles dangling from the walls and one diner wearily padding the sweat from his forehead. The restaurant has what might seem to be all the makings of a sadistic meal – a place apparently fond of the most unearthly kind of heat. But Xiang Wei Lou doesn’t indiscriminately do spice for the sake of spice. Every dish here is measured and attuned to a careful proportion of capsaicin.

The still-shiny San Gabriel restaurant – a clean but not uncomfortably sterile space in the shadow of the marbled Hilton San Gabriel – specializes in Hunanese cuisine, the chile-charged cooking of China’s southeastern Hunan province. It’s food famous for its adrenaline-chasing burn, one that’s often compared to that of the nearby Sichuan province. But Hunanese dishes pursue a different, drier heat.

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Leftovers: LB Hangover Helpers

Big breakfasts for the morning after from the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

It always seems like a good idea at first sip, a dehydrating desire born under that dim barroom light that can make anything (or sometimes anyone) seem doable. It isn’t until your head starts wobbling under its own drunken weight and your tab rolls well over the double-digits that you even reconsider the first few beers. But however steely your stomach, that path is one that will lead you nowhere except to a brain-busting hangover.

There are dozens of varyingly irrational ways to cure a hangover (a morning shot of Maker’s isn’t an option in the real world), most of which are derived from inexplicable and dubious origins that nevertheless possess near-medicinal reputations. But because there’s really no perfect prescription, the best bet for a quick fix is something far simpler: a big, bestial breakfast.

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Leftovers: Downtown Bar Food Crawl

Cole’s, Library Bar and Redwood Bar and Grill from CityBeat:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

It was a burger that first broke ground: a high-concept creation sweetened with caramelized onions, smeared with an applewood-bacon compote and glued together by Gruyere and Maytag blue cheese. Father’s Office’s self-titled Office Burger stormed the culinary world, causing drunken late-night crowds to queue up in claustrophobic scrums and kitchens to plow through patties in hopes of reproducing that success.

But if Father’s Office revived the formerly fossilized concept of the gastropub, downtown is where the best bar food has taken hold. It’s in part due to concentration – within a few disorienting blocks are dozens of restaurants and bars (and all those permit-dodging places in between) that care just as much about their food as they do their drinks. Because of that, the best way to absorb all that bar-bound cooking is the crawl, stopping in for a boutique beer here and a carefully constructed slider there.

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