Saturday, March 31, 2012

Santa Monica Farmers Market - Wednesday Mornings For the Pros

Santa Monica Farmers Market - the Wednesday morning one - had always been the stuff of legend among food lovers. The one that pro chefs go to.  The one whose inaccessibility to mere (i.e. working) mortals who don't live/work in the area adds all the more to its near mythological appeal. No, it wasn't inaccessible because of some elitist VIPs only rule or some financial filter of an astronomical admission fee.  It's just that it's open only during hours that most people are at work - and if your office doesn't happen to be within walking/short driving distance of the market - then you're just out of luck.
So it was, that when I found myself with a few weekdays off, in between a job in the Valley I had poured nearly four years into, and a new one I was incredibly excited about to kick off a new chapter of my life - that Santa Monica's Wednesday market came to mind as something I can finally do, before I plug back into the 9-6 work day!

I'd be remiss not to start the tale of my adventure with a confession though: still not a morning person (never was, never will be), I didn't get up at the crack o' dawn to go.

I arrived at the market - a block from the beach, under sunbathed blue sky and shiny happy towering palms - in time to catch the last hour of the market, when lunch was being served.  So the first stall I noticed of course was FIG Santa Monica, super appropriate as its Executive Chef, Ray Garcia, is known for his farm to table approach to seasonal California cuisine.  So what better place to have an outpost, than at the nearby Farmers Market, close to sources of the amazingly fresh ingredients of his dishes?  The descriptions on the blackboard alone made me drool, but you can also watch the chefs in the tent cooking on portable grills in the open kitchen.  Loved this, but as I was going to have lunch elsewhere soon - and I knew I could always hit the lovely Fairmont Miramar down the street for FIG's fare, I didn't end up eating from the stall that day.  But many locals did, in their shirts and ties and pencil skirts, perched on bar-tables set up closeby for the lunch rush.
Perhaps befitting the neighborhood, or just because I got there around closing time, I didn't really see any other cooked food stalls beyond that. Moved on to check out the produce and other offerings!  There were a few things that I haven't seen at other markets - like Zutanos, a type of avocado with skin that's a lighter green and thinner than what you normally see at grocery stores.  And prices are not that bad at $1 each!
There were also kumquats at $1.50 a basket!! 
Flower vendors offered all kinds of herbs in planters, and some flowers I haven't seen before.  Like the huge blossoms of cabbage flowers - apparently not for the plate as they're not edible, but great as table or garden decor. 

I actually did expect to see a more eye-opening assortment of exotic produce, herbs, fruits etc. - unusual things that would catch your eye on a menu at a fine dining place.  I guess I may have romanticized the SM Farmers Market in my mind as sort of this Shangri-La of markets, overflowing with greenery and surprises.  But again maybe I just missed all that earlier in the morning - perhaps the pros and all the good stuff are both gone within the first few hours.  In any case, I was still excited to have been able to experience the place. 
Where SMFM was more impressive than other Farmers Markets in the city, was in the meat 'department'.  There was lamb, rabbit, and grassfed bison!  Would have loved to grab some fresh lamb and bison - if only I hadn't been on my way to lunch elsewhere and missed grabbing my cooler bag in my rush to get out to the market before it closed!
Seafood of course is also for sale, though I'm sure most restaurants have their own private suppliers for that.  It was nice to see Ventura Fish Company at SMFM (they are also at Studio City Farmers Market Sundays) - and this time they had more info on their quarterly(ish) buy-fish-fresh-off-the-boat events (which will be a seaprate post coming soon!).  Their rep was kind enough to provide a bag with ice, so I was able to grab some of their Spicy Smoked Skipjack to take home (so delicious spread over crackers!).   
Another vendor I've seen at Hollywood Farmers Market, Yasutomi Farms, was also there with their lovely Japanese produce from Momotaro tomatoes (less acidic than beefsteak ones) to Komatsuna (spinach), to Mizuna (water greens).  The difference was, at least with the Mizuna - every leaf was impeccable, and the greens seem to be grown in individual bunches, each with a sponge attached: its roots are embedded in it and constantly retains moisture - so that they last a lot longer!  I couldn't believe these perfect greens were only $1.25 a bag - I bought some to put in semi-fresh ramen from Nijiya Market, and they stayed perfect in my fridge (no wilting) for a week, and were delicious!!!
At other Farmers Markets, I love visiting LAFunghi for their exotic mushrooms.  There wasn't any other vendor as big / well branded as them at SMFM, but they did have a purveyor of exotic mushrooms offering Yellowfoot Chanterelles, Black Trompettes, and...wait for it...
...domestic white truffles!  I almost missed it, as they needed to be kept cool and out of sunlight, so the vendor had them hidden away in a small cooler, with a small signpost above it, the only indication of their existence. 
So there was (in my overactive imagination) an element of intrigue, almost like you're buying contraband or something, as he carefully lifts the cooler lid just a tad, enough for you to 'see the goods' which are still out of sight from other guests strolling through the market.  These babies are from Mount Shasta up in Oregon, for $20/oz.  I got a small pebble-sized one for $6 to shave over soft scrambled eggs and was in HEAVEN.  You do get what you pay for, so it wasn't the most fragrant white truffle I've ever had, but for $6 an affordable splurge for a foodie in between jobs!
One more stall I was excited to check out was Two Peas in a Pod: purveyors of all kinds of beans, many of which I had not seen before - like 'mauve runners' and 'money beans' (white with purple speckles)!
They also had cute little jars of mixed beans that would look great sitting on a counter - before you turn it into something delicious.  I was intrigued by this and the free recipe that they gave out for soup (and I don't even normally like beans! Or recipes with lots of steps as I just don't have time after work!).  But this one looks so good I just might try it one weekend.

Two Peas in a Pod Bean Soup
1 pound dried beans
4 cups sliced yellow onions (about 3)
1/4 cup olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves minced
1 large rosemary branch (6-7" long)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tsp kosher salt to taste
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper to taste
1. In medium bowl, soak beans in water covered by at least 1", and leave in fridge for 6 hours to overnight.
2. Drain
3. In large stock point over low to medium heat, saute sliced onions with olive oil until onions are translucent, about 10-15 minutes
4. Add garlic and cook over low heat for 3-4 minutes
5. Add drained beans, rosemary, chicken stock and bay leaf
6. Cover and bring to boil. Simmer 30-40 minutes (bean should be very soft)
7. Remove rosemary branch and bay leaf
8. Blend soup with hand blender in pot or place in bowl of food processor/blender and pulse until coarsely pureed
9. Return soup to pot.  Reheat and add salt & pepper to taste.
10. Serve hot.  Makes 6 servings.


All in al, though on this visit I didn't find the legendary SMFM Wednesday market life-changing, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to go and check it out for myself (and scored a $6 white truffle plus flawless mizuna to boot!).  If I ever happen to have another Wednesday off I may go again, and try to get up earlier in the day to see if it's any different.

Until then, Hollywood Farmers Market (aka "The HFM") remains my favorite farmers market in LA for representing the flavors of LA: its abundance of produce and fresh herb selection, diverse and large variety of street food, and entertainment value (with people watching and street entertainers).  The peoples' farmers market.

[Feast on more photos from fantastic farmers market finds around LA at my Facebook page!]


Santa Monica Farmers Market 
Wednesdays 8:30am - 1:30pm
Arizona Avenue (between 4th & Ocean), Santa Monica, CA 90405  
Parking: Public parking structures free for two hours (closest on 2nd St between Santa Monica & Broadway)


Friday, March 23, 2012

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

  • Free donuts at LACMA - in the name of art: Around the Clock: 24 Hour Donut City event 3/24 starting @ noon FREE donuts at a 24 hour pop-up shop (ForYourArt, 6020 Wilshire Blvd) with donuts from around the city, curated by LATimes contributing food/travel writer Krista Simmons, to coincide with.  Free donuts include those from Krispy Kreme and UMAMIcatessen!  Deal found via The Daily Meal
  • Nola's. $35 for $70 dinner for two w/ live jazz in New Orleans style restaurant in downtown LA. Deal from Travelzoo
  • RH at Andaz West Hollywood $79 for $136 3-course dinner for two with wine (truffle risotto is one of the entree choices!). Deal from Travelzoo
  • Cafe Livre $18 for $36 towards dinner at this Culver City restaurant serving up Frence & North African dishes. Deal from GiltCity
  • Travel + Leisure magazine subscription - 1 year for $6!
  • Jamba Juice $2 fruit smoothies at The Grove location, with coupon, only until 3/25 


  • Top Chef Sweepstakes - enter for chance to win trip to Vancouver and Whistler, and recreate your own experience from finale of Top Chef: Texas - dine at Coast or Black + Blue and ski at Whistler Blackcombe (ends 4/13/12)
  • SLS Hotel South Beach Sweepstakes - download their free mobile app for a chance to win a vacation at the new SLS Hotel South Beach opening in June 2012! (The app also offers updates and specials across key SBE businesses - an example includes free pizza at Mercato di Vetro!)


This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Battle of Pay for Play Deals: BlackboardEats VIP vs Savored

Today BlackboardEats serves up a brand new VIP program - they've revamped it since the debacle about a year or so ago (asking fans to pay either a 'nominal' $1 fee for each discount passcode, or an annual fee of $25) - the model was not well received, and eventually eliminated.

That BlackboardEats was free, was a key reason it's been one of my favorite food-focused deal sites, and why I prefer it to Savored.  But do the perks of the new BBE VIP program justify the $25? 

Here's a look:

To avoid public outrage, the standard BlackboardEats site will still offer free passcodes with its 24 hour window to get them.  In addition, the BlackboardEats VIP program offers:
  • Get passcodes at any time during run of special (vs. 24 hour window)
  • Personal Passcode - passcode stays the same no matter the offer, so you don't have to remember / print (or say to the server) different passcodes
  • Extended Redemption - get 1 month longer to redeem codes, "as often as possible"
  • Virtual VIP card - code appears on BBE app so you don't have to say the code aloud
  • Pre-sale on special events
Is all this worth $25? The biggest true values (vs gravy) it seems would be 'get passcodes anytime' during promotion window, extended redemption period, and pre-sale on special events.  Personally, I check deal sites every day, especially BBE every Tuesday when codes are issued - and since codes are free on the standard site, for me there isn't any risk of 'missing out' on a code, I'll just download every one.  So that really leaves extended redemption as a true value, and pre-sale on special events.  But it's not clear at this point what those would involve - as the wording about the 1 month extension being "as often as possible" is sort of vague, and no examples of special events are given (with no point of reference as I don't believe BBE had hosted / offered a lot - any? - events in the past).

Savored on the other hand has a clear explanation:
  • Prepay $10: make a reservation through their site or OpenTable to get 30% automatically taken off your bill at the restaurant of your choice (from their list of participating restaurants) when you show up for your reservation
  • Conveniently partnered with OpenTable, so you can just choose and pay for your deal while you're already at OT booking your meal.
But, the offer is not nearly as attractive as 'free'.  And you have to commit to a date/time when you're going to use the deal.  Cancellation/ changes are only available up to 2 hours before the reservation time.  The list of participating restaurants also isn't very large or exciting (vs BBE). You'd also have to order at least $35 worth of food to make it worth your while (breakeven on your $10 fee) though this shouldn't be hard at the higher end restaurants. You do have to pay the fixed cost of $10 every time you dine though - whereas with BBE VIP - the $25 annual fee can be defrayed:  your per meal costs goes down the more you dine, or the higher value of your meal (you can easily make your money back in savings - for example after 2 x $42 meals = $25.20 in savings or 3 x $30 meals = $27 in savings - the benefit over BBE standard of course being a possibly longer time to use the codes)

Disclaimer: I've only used Savored once, through a friend - and she had to remind the server to get the discount - as I've never had the inclination to pay for the discount and feel like I would rather go where the free deals are (with BBE standard).  And I haven't had plans to go to the restaurants participating in their network.  But the restaurants they do have are higher end - ones you won't see often on a 'group buy deal' site - like Campanile or Asia de Cuba.

Here's how the deals break down head-to-head:
As mentioned, the BBE VIP service just launched so it remains to be seen what the value of their offerings are; and I have yet to try Savor myself.

But based on program descriptions alone:

The clear winner for foodies on a budget: Blackboardeats VIP (if you're flexible with venues, and like trying new things, you get your money's worth vs. Savored if you just dine 2.5 times a year)

For those who want to eat at a specific restaurant on a specific night: Savored

What do you guys think?  Would you pay $25 for the Blackboardeats VIP program?  Does anyone out there use Savored?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ramen Yamadaya: 20 Hour Tonkotsu and That's Not All They Got

I admire domestic goddesses.  But Susie Homemaker is just not in the cards for me, for many reasons - including my propensity to choose high stress day jobs that don't leave me in the mood to spend hours in the kitchen before and after elaborate meals, especially on weeknights.  Plus, I love what pro chefs serve up too much.

So I always appreciate places that can feed me on a regular basis - get me in and out for little time and money - and feed me well.

Ramen Yamadaya is one such place, that I can hit up on my way home from work. They slow cook their tonkotsu broth - breaking down the essence in pork bones - for 20 hours - something I would never have time to do at home - and would certainly never be able to do as well as them! 
And they have a fantastic dinner set that leaves me with delicious leftovers sizeable enough for lunch the next day!
It's a no frills, small storefront with a handful of tables.  You can choose a la carte items or pick a set. 

I liked the deal for the dinner set and went with: Yamadaya Ramen (everything in it) + Fried Rice + Fried Chicken (4 pcs) for $9.95 + $4.80 = $14.75. (Students can also get an extra noodle or steamed rice for free - how's that for hospitality at Yamadaya?) My Fried Rice ($6.80 on regular menu, size difference unknown) came first: it was a deliciously fragrant and generous bowl - I almost couldn't stop eating, but I knew that I still had two more dishes to come and fried rice is easier to take home than ramen.  I got a to-go box for this and had a nice and filling lunch the next day.
Next up:  Karaage (Japanese style fried chicken), 4 pieces ($5.80 for 10 pieces on regular menu - so you're getting a $2.32 value for 4 pieces with the set meal).  I loved the actual chicken - juicy, flavorful and fall-off-the-bone-tender, but the batter could have been more crisp and coherent - I wanted more flavor and less of a dry powdery texture.  Not bad for a side dish for a couple of bucks though.

Then the centerpiece of the meal made its dramatic entrance: Yamadaya Ramen ($9.95 a la carte from regular menu).  The thing to note when ordering your ramen, as it was confusing for me as a first timer - is that you can customize your bowl, to a certain extent. You pretty much choose the meats and other additions you want to your bowl (out of the four options available: "all stars", "extra chashu pork", "mouth melting big pork belly" or "deep fried huge pork loin"), AND the broth you want used. 
As far as additions: not sure what mouth melting refers to - temperature or spice, perhaps?  Or that the pork belly is so tender it will melt your soul?

Additions: I was drawn to the description for the Yamadaya option: "All stars topped with two kinds of chashu pork, egg and fried pork skin".  
Broth: You can choose from any of the four options at the top of the menu, from basic pork to soy sauce flavored, to "rich and fatty" with black garlic oil, or spicy.  I LOVED the monthly special at Ramen Jinya that has the black garlic oil, so that's the one I went for.

One taste and I was a believer.  They are smart to trumpet the "20 hour tonkotsu" as their slogan - you can really taste the love that went into this in the amazing, rich pork-packed broth.  And I devoured on sight, the luscious tender chashu, counterbalanced by crispy pork skin, tempered by a delicious egg with soft, creamy yolk.  And the embellishments of two crisp, toasted sheets of nori.  My only note is that I found the noodles just ever so slightly too chewy for my taste - I still prefer the more malleable noodles at Ramen Jinya.

In any case, loved the TWO meals I got out of Yamadaya for under $15, and will definitely be back way too much. It's hard to make a gourmet meal for party of one and make it worth my time -and I'm unfortunately not big on eating the same thing for days - once it goes into the fridge, aka black hole for leftovers, it's pretty much dead to me. But next day leftovers as tasty as Yamadaya's fried rice - I'll make a point not to forget.   So, Ramen Yamadaya is such a great option for busy people like me who just want to have a quick but delicious meal, cooked with care - ready when you are, and no dishes to take care of after! 

(And when the Sherman Oaks location opens in April, which I am so excited about, I will have another option close to me and be able to hit up either one on my way home from work - yes!)

On a 7 point scale:Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Ramen Yamadaya
11172 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232Ph: 310.815.8776
Parking: Free lot in back of restaurant

Ramen Yamadaya on Urbanspoon

Naya Sunset / Lounge: A Whole New World, Parts 1-3 in Silverlake (CLOSED)

How did it take us this long to get to Naya?

I vaguely remembered reading about Naya, back in November when it opened. Within that haze was something about incredible, inspired interiors - some blurry impression of it being a cinematic, palatial space, accompanied by the assumed inaccessible prices.

So recently when a great friend, Subliminal Rabbit, offered to take me anywhere I'd like to go for a birthday dinner,  Naya came to mind again (she is vegetarian, so Indian is always a good choice as a SR-friendly cuisine that doesn't skimp on flavor!).  I was shocked when I finally took the time to look, that prices at Naya were not outrageous (and happily fine for our dinner excursion!)

As with movies, often I intentionally avoid detailed reviews beforehand in order to have a pure experience (plus, I love surprises).

With Naya - beyond press coverage of its launch, I didn't do any research other than a quick glance at the menu/prices. So it was that its location also took me by surprise - I don't know why I 'remembered' it being in Hollywood when really it's in Silverlake.  An unassuming stretch of Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake.

A pleasant surprise - it meant, hopefully, lower risk of being in company of d-bags and scenesters (hipsters though could be another story).

I got there uncharacteristically early, so set out to explore the grounds a bit.  From the moment I set foot inside, I felt like I was transported to another world, like I was stepping into a succession of what would be several very different movies.  The hostess stand was a barely lighted island surrounded by dramatic floor to soaring ceiling curtains, thick, lush and dark velvet panels that beckoned with a thrilling sense of (Eyes Wide Shut style, before all the sex) mystery.

Which path do I choose first?  Left or right?  Pulling back the curtain to the left revealed a cavernous lounge, dark with soaring ceilings criss-crossed by Moroccan-style arches with jagged ridges, enclosed by exposed brick walls. It was Gotham City meets Casablanca.  The space was breath-taking.  And then to find out I still had a few minutes left to catch Happy Hour (6-7:30pm daily)?  With super friendly bartenders? I was in love.
When Subliminal Rabbit arrived, we lingered at the lounge for a bit: I had a Spa in Goa cocktail - tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, jalapeno, cucumber - and Subliminal Rabbit had a red-colored drink that I can't remember the name of.  Both were fairly good, refreshing drinks - and they didn't skimp on the alcohol either - I felt it as soon as I stood up later.

Despite dinner reservations, we also had to try one of the bar bites to take advantage of HH pricing: we got the Goat Cheese Salad ($5) sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, red onions, mixed greens, fried goat cheese. An interesting presentation with skewered fried goat cheese balls over greens.  It wasn't mindblowing, but a fairly decent bar bite.

So on this visit, while drinks and food were not bad, in the lounge anyway it was more about enjoying the space.  But there are other items on the HH menu that sounded enticing - from Tandoor Drumsticks to lamb burgers, to naan pizzas.  Will have to come back and try.

For dinner, we could choose to eat in the more formal dining room, or the casual back patio, complete with luxe looking metallic upholstered stools and open fireplaces.
Since it was a little cold that night, we decided to see what's behind the other curtain (to the right).

The dining room was a complete 180 from the lounge - light, airy, serene, with flowing translucent floor to ceiling veils and softly glowing, seemingly floating blocks of light - paired with soothing ambient music, the space felt and sounded (and, with an aromatherapy-like fragrance, smelled) like some ethereal, soul-restoring spa in some remote island resort in Southeast Asia. Or some luxury liner asail in outer space (a la Serenity - if Inara's ship had been done in all whites & creams with punches of red).  
Candle holders at each table, with flecked designs casting a lovely starry-night like glow, like hearts of mini-galaxies in their own imperceptible orbits all over the dining room - were a nice finishing detail that added to the beautiful ambience.

With decor this amazing, there's got to be a catch - their food must be awful and a rip-off, right?  Happy to report that Naya (Hindi for 'new') deviates from the expected here as well (for most of the items we tried).

[Sorry for the dark fuzzy pics in this post  - the ambience was amazing but not point-and-shoot-friendly!  Someday I'm going to save up for photography class and better gear...] 

Our meal started with Indian chips & dips: a plate of papadum - wafer-thin, beautifully brittle seasoned cracker/ flatbread fried and sun-dried - with a trio of chutneys for dipping. All were delicious: we had to drag ourselves away from these, knowing there was still a meal to come!   

As appetizer, we got the Samosa Platter ($7) - you can choose 3 out of 4 varieties; we picked spinach and tofu, potato and peas, and feta with arugula and walnuts.  As far as I know, these aren't typical combos for samosa stuffing - but while we liked the innovation with ingredient combos, which were tasty, I did want the shape and preparation to take more from the traditional - the thin fried dough wrappers made them feel more like triangular spring roll patties, when what we love about samosas usually is the golden brown crisp but hefty 'shell' yielding to steaming hot, soft and flavorful bites inside.
We fared much better with the mains: Patagonia Chilean Sea Bass apricot curry, black rice ($26) - LOVED this.  I don't think I've seen this combination of ingredients in Indian cooking before. The fish was incredibly fresh, tender and juicy, its natural sweetness enhanced by smokey char from searing, and a surprisingly pleasing combo of subtle tartness and heat from the apricot curry. Served with a dramatic tower of black rice, and a delicate yet bold fuschia colored flower that I've never seen before for garnish - according to our server, this is a "Firesticks" flower.  Love the name.
Of course, an Indian meal would not be complete without baked flatbread - we got Garlic Naan ($4).  I wanted to love this, and perhaps had taken too long with picture-shooting, but by the time we got to this it was sort of cold, not very soft and fluffy, but more chewy and not much flavor.  It does not compare to the naan at Great India Cafe in Studio City - my fav so far from places within short driving distance (disclaimer: I have not made my way to Artesia yet) - which comes steaming hot, and super fluffy with fragrant dough flavors (even if it does take me a while to commit it to memory (card)).

For her main, Subliminal Rabbit got an off-menu item: Paneer Tikka Masala?! (price unknown) we loved this as well - lush, creamy tomato sauce over Indian cheese curded at just the right consistency.
For the sweet finish, we chose the most unusual looking item on the menu: Cardamom Infused Rice Pudding & ice cream ($6) you get to choose from a list of flavors, and we chose rose.  There was some confusion over what elements would be rose flavored - but turns out rose would be used in the fresh made syrup that they drizzle over the rice pudding, and the ice cream would be the chef's choice as to what would pair best with those flavors. In this case, pistachio, with a sprig of mint on top.  

We wanted to love this original sounding dessert as well - but while the cardamom and rose were nice additions to the rice pudding, the pistachio ice cream was...not creamy at all.  There were actual bits of ice in there - I forget which one of us joked at one point that it would make a nice shaved ice treat instead.

Despite the menu being hit or miss, the space was amazing - we really enjoyed our delicious chips & dips and mains, and they did not cost second mortgages on houses we don't have.
Skeptics may say, this doesn't look authentic, and still costs a lot compared to your favorite neighborhood hole in the wall spot. And they would be right - but I think there is room in LA for elevated ethnic cuisine, that takes inspiration from traditional dishes and takes them to the next level, both in terms of creativity and raising the bar with a fine dining experience.

In a way, it's like reverse discrimination/snobbery to automatically dismiss ethnic cuisine that is presented at a higher level based on concept and price alone.  If the quality is there, and they are doing something new (just like Shanghai No. 1 Seafood is doing with Chinese food) I say give them a shot.

And again, not every dish is going to be a hit - anytime a chef is willing to take a risk to try something new, there are going to be successes and things that miss the mark.  But I respect them for taking the risk at all - without risk, whether in food or other areas of life, there can be no worthwhile accomplishment.  I'm trying to learn that lesson for myself as well.  And we like what we saw at Naya - a solid start.

Looking forward to visiting again soon!

[Note: We were there early on a Friday night, and were able to enjoy a serene dining room - note that they also have a DJ weekly in the patio after dinner hours, and the place turns into a club - so expect a different crowd after that time.]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 95% 

Naya Sunset / Lounge
3705 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026
Ph: 323.663.826

OpenTable: Look for reservations (and points!)


Naya Sunset on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 16, 2012

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)
Happy grazing!

  • Lexington Social House $60 for $100 of food & drink.  Deal from DailyCandy (sale ends 3/30)
  • THE Blvd $99 for $196 3-Course dinner for 2.  Deal from Travelzoo (~7 days left to buy)
  • Momed $29 prix fixe brunch for two with two glasses of mimosas or $60 for 5-course dinner for two to share with bottle of wine. Deal from GiltCity (ends 3/19) 
  • Royal/T Cafe $10 for $20 of food and drink.  Deal from LivingSocial (ends 3/16)


This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nom Nom Truck - Offal Sandwich Extraordinaire

It was my first few weeks at the new job on the Westside - and I was going to say I was 'still' in my honeymoon phase, but with this one I think that feeling is going to last!

On top of the excitement with new responsibilities, I was also happy about the whole new world of lunch options that are now open to me - and that is not just about restaurants, but extends to food trucks as well (some of which did not make their way to the Valley, at least not by my old office!).

When I saw that Nom Nom Truck (which Food Network fans might recognize from The Great Food Truck Race) was by my new work one day, I practically leaped out of my chair. I had tried their infamous Bahn Mi (Lemongrass Chicken) before, and while it was good, it wasn't mind blowing. What I really wanted to try was their Deli Special sandwich - packed with a combination of things that would make my non-foodie friends cringe, but which sets my Spidey Foodie Sense a-tingling!

What's in it? According to their menu description: Vietnamese head cheese, meatloaf, ham, pâté. The last time I encountered Nom Nom Truck, they had been out of this. Ever the optimist, I set out that day hoping to catch the Deli Special for lunch.

And: cue triumphant music: they had it!! Perched in a 'cookie cutter', all-business-business-park that day, I was pretty much the only one in line that was excited to give the offal sandwich a try. The 'suits' loss, my gain.

So what exactly is head cheese? It's definitely not dairy or, in people's worst imaginations, some form of mucous-y extrusion from the cabeza of a four legged beast. It's just a well-intended but misguided and epic fail of an euphemism for a cold cut made from various bits of meat taken from the head of a cow or pig - if you like beef or pork cheek, that's one of the bits of meat you can get from the head.

I loved the sandwich, with its intriguing mix of various textures: cold cut of head cheese, slightest crunch, with more hefty tasting bites of meatloaf and juicy smooth ham with creaminess of pâté (mousse made from duck liver). And the signature flavors of Vietnamese cuisine with savory and sour and sweet all coming through at the same time, all in balance with each other. All in a fresh and delicious baguette.

LOVED. Can't wait til Nom Nom Truck comes back around again.


Nom Nom Truck
All over Los Angeles (and in San Francisco too!)
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Nom Nom Truck on Urbanspoon

1MB Travels: Singapore: Old Airport Road Hawker Center

A trip to Singapore is not complete without a pilgrimage to one of its meccas of insanely delicious street food for crazy low prices - aka "hawker centers". 

Hawker centers are essentially a collection of street food vendors, in tiny stalls piled aisle upon aisle within giant industrial looking open warehouse spaces. Flanked by rows of food-court style tables.  The better for convenient, quick 'shopping' and dining among massive selections of every key cuisine represented in Singapore, from Malaysian to Chinese to Indian to fusions or unique creations born of any or all of the above.

You could have a meal made of different courses from several different stalls, and sample the best of street versions of all these cuisines, quick service style, no frills, just authentic, good food for cheap. It's a place where office workers, still in suits, are as at home as the blue collar diners in shorts and flip flops - they come for good food, not a 'scene'.

Before our family vacation there this holiday, I had gotten a huge and amazing list of types of food I must not leave Singapore without trying from Sofia of Burp and Slurp, and a rec from globetrotting food maven miffyeats for the hawker center on Old Airport Road. 

Out of Sofia's list of signature Singapore eats, I was most excited to try barbecue stingray - it sounded intriguing to me, and not something you can find easily anywhere else (definitely not in LA that I'm aware of!)  So it was actually by happy accident that we ended up at the Old Airport Road hawker center - we had a short amount of time to slide in a quick visit to the closest hawker center before 'proper' dinner - and so my 'strategy' (or rather, lack of) was to jump into a taxi and let one of the friendly drivers (who so far have been self-appointed, proud tour guides and ambassadors for the city) take us to the closest place for stingray.

We somehow ended up with the one cabbie on the island who was grouchy as hell though, and when he recommended something that at first didn't sound good to us - and we asked him to take us elsewhere, he sort of had a little tantrum and griped very vocally about how we were making a mistake!  Anyways, all is well that ends well - despite his grumpiness and poor social/communication skills - he ended up bringing us to Old Airport Road hawker center - so it all worked out!

It was exciting to stroll through the aisles looking at all the unfamiliar dishes - I was in heaven and wanted to order a huge spread, fan them out over several tables and spend the rest of the night working through them all!!!  My dad was weary of the cleanliness of it all though, and was merely 'tolerating' the space for my benefit (my mom is the adventurous diner) - so I knew the clock was ticking and I could probably only fit in one quick dish.

We asked fellow diners at the communal tables the best place for bbq stingray (love that everyone is at least bilingual - if not trilingual or more - in Singapore) - and got directed to a stall that seemed to specialize in all kinds of sea creature deliciousness. There were fresh plates of clams, and live crabs their cramped little cages.

And then I spotted the sign / photo (i.e. for me the holy grail): "BBQ Stingray".
Photo: Jeremy.Collins via Wikipedia

So, what did we expect stingray to taste like?  Even my mom, the adventurous foodie, was skeptical it would be good - stingrays are kite-shaped marine animals that seem like they would have either a gelatinous, or tough, muscular texture like swordfish (check out the photo, they don't look like they would have much / soft meat, right?)

But, what arrived on the plate looked soft and tender, served up on the ubiquitous banana leaf, smeared in lush barbecue sauce, topped by onions and cilantro, with a side of lime and a translucent orange sauce that looked like it would taste sweet and sour. 

I think that was one of my favorite things about Singaporean foods - lots of bold, unabashed flavors with lots of (sometimes complex) interplay of layers working fantastically together - there is never anything that is just single note or bland.

I also loved that the stingray is served with skin-on - I always appreciate it when chefs leave the skin on with fish, it adds nice flavor and texture as well as gets points for presentation!
With the stingray, once I cleared a path through the sauce and toppings, I could see that it was decidedly fish-like, with smooth, tender texture and structure of narrow strands that remind me of skate wing, one of my favorite fish ever!!!
    The interplay of slight heat from the robust bbq sauce with bitterness and crunch from delicate strips of onion with clear, smooth sweet and sour fish sauce, over the softest, flakiest but sweet and flavorful fish - was amazing. In short, I LOVED it!!!  Wish I could have gone back for more.  There were also a ton of other must have dishes that I left without trying - like peanut pancake, radish cake, and char kway teow (though I ended up having a version of this at another restaurant later in the trip).

    But, I was really glad to have had this adventure with my parents - these are some of the best memories that we will have of our awesome travels together.  Sharing new discoveries, the sense of adventure - and the joyfulness and sense of accomplishment that comes from pushing ourselves to continually see and learn and experience new things (even if it is at first uncomfortable to get out of our comfort zone!).  Which I realized I may not have had the appreciation for when I was younger - when I was a little more rebellious, and a much more self-conscious wallflower.  Now older, not at all wiser but much more appreciative of my parents, and their unconditional love and support (indulging, encouraging and enabling this little passion project of a blog) - I am grateful that we can have these kinds of adventures together - thank you for being the best!!! :)  Ok sorry for the temporary bout of sentimentality. 

    So, fantastic time at our first Singaporean hawker center, as one of many stops and great eats on this trip.  Hope to be back again soon!

    [For more photos and stories from our visit to Singapore, check out the album of over 120 pics on my Facebook page!]


    Old Airport Road Food Center
    Block 51, Old Airport Rd Geylang, Singapore


    Friday, March 9, 2012

    1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

    Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)
    Happy grazing!

    • Waterloo & City $15 for $30 of food & drink Deal at LAWeekly VOICE Daily Deals (~2 days left to buy)
    • The Churchill - morning after St. Patty's deal special: $27 for $60 3-course brunch for 2 with two hours of bottomless mimosas 3/18 only.  Deal at Thrillist LA, ends 3/18
    • Mulberry Street Pizzeria Buy 1 slice of pizza get 1 slice free at Mulberry Street Pizzeria during month of March with coupon  (via Eater LA)
    • Bird Pick teas - March Green Tea Sale- 20% OFF all green teas (via Twitter @BirdPick)
    • Travel Channel March Sweepstakes - Enter for chance to win 6-day trip for two to Sydney, Australia (ends 3/31/12 11:59pm ET). Official rules here
    • Lucky Magazine Dream Trip to Hawaii Sweepstakes - Enter for chance to win 5-night trip for two to Hawaii, worth over $12,000! Stay at the St Regis Princeville resort in Kauai and get VIP treatment including a personal butler and daily delivery of handcrafted truffles (ends 4/30/12 11:59pm ET)! Official rules here 


    This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


    To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Farmshop - Brunch of Champignons

    Farmshop has one of the best brunches I've ever had in my life. 

    On a bright Sunday morning, my brunch buddy "Curses" and I headed out for the first time to the restaurant slash marketplace in the heart of Brentwood Country Mart - which would feel like a place straight out of Napa Valley, or some quaint little semi-rural gathering place in the South of France, if not for its population of characters who look like they just came from the set of The Hills (complete with costumes), a photoshoot for Anthropologie, or some unaired pilot for the Real Househusbands of Brentwood.
    The space itself, we loved - airy and awash in natural light, rustic with wooden tables and trim, while sophisticated and chic at the same time with cool exposed bulbs hanging from lush woven silk ropes and carefully placed, minimalist greenery.  It almost made us forget the 15 minute wait (even with reservations...) and people passing us by, who we thought had arrived after us.  But within minutes of tasting the food, we would see why this place is always, always packed.

    We started off with the Pastry Basket choose three pastries, seasonal preserves & spring hill butter ($12.50) - actually Curses wanted to get this and at first I objected, as the 'hot' menu items seemed so much more exciting and I wanted to save room for that.  But Curses is much wiser than me - you can only have so many egg dishes - and the pastry basket (well, really, pastry plate) turned out to be mindblowing.  We went with our servers' recommendations, and they were all unbelievably fresh and delicious - we had the Huckleberry Pear Danish ($3.50 a la carte):  Lemon Yogurt & Preserve Muffin ($3 a la carte): Herb Goat Cheese Scone ($4 a la carte).  

    Our hands down favorite was the Herb Goat Cheese Scone - this was so light, fluffy and buttery it was more like a biscuit than a scone. Served steaming hot like it just got pulled from the oven, and fragrant with herbs so fresh we could imagine it being plucked from the garden minutes before.  So, savvy saveurs might say wait, the prices of the individual pastries add up to less than $12.50...I guess the extra charges are for the freshmade, gorgeous golden preserves (yes, you can taste the sun peeking betwen the oranges on the tree before they made it to your plate) and luscious slab of butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt (do they keep a cow in the back?)
    As our second 'appetizer', I just had to have the Deviled Eggs once I read the description - it's served with smoked Idaho trout, upland cress & tarragon ($8) a bit of an unusual combination, and turns out the fish is worked into the hardboiled egg yolks for a tasty, stepped up, surf & turf inspired, brilliantly glammed up version of a classic egg dish.  For those who might balk at fish for breakfast - the taste of trout is very subtle.
    I'm a huge seafood and mushroom and egg lover, and Curses already predicted before we even set foot in the place that I would dive right in for the Coddled Eggs as my main - served with smoked salmon, mushroom conserva, toast ($14.50).  This may have become one of my favorite brunch dishes of all time.  Eggs (that tasted like they just came out of a hen) were mixed with water and steamed into an incredibly smooth, light custard, then topped with beautiful mushrooms and chives for counterbalancing crunch and rich, earthy flavor.  The refined / restrained taste of the egg dish is then offset by lush slices of salty smoked salmon.  I was in heaven with every bite. Didn't even get to the toast - which I totally ignored.  LOVED the egg, and I wanted 10 more bowls... 

    We must have been on some unspoken mushroom + egg kick, as Curses also decided on a funghi focused dish for her main: Frittata roasted wild mushrooms, melted leeks, drake family farm chevre, za'tar oil ($18).  This also blew our minds.  With this and the coddled egg dish, Farmshop manages to infuse creativity into breakfast/brunch, a meal that is not known for innovation - and unexpected world cuisine influence as well, with the oil made with za'tar, a middle eastern blend of spices, sesame and salt, and the preparation of coddled egg reminding me of a Chinese classic home cooked dish, steamed egg.  And leeks, with eggs? Genius.  Loved this dish.  Some may say $14-$18 for egg dishes is pricey - but I would say those people have not tried these eggs.  They're worth every penny.

    We were also entertained by the couple next to us - the guy (complete with bold scarf and non-prescription glasses) was shocked, and possibly outraged, when in answer to his question, the server said the ingredients of his dish would be organic, but not sustainable.  It must have been with great restraint that he was able to bring himself to settle for the 'unethical'.  Thus, the concept of costumed brunch was born - looking forward to the next venue selection with Curses and what roles we would play for the meal.
    Anyways, after our fab brunch, we were excited to walk it off by strolling through the open marketplace attached to the restaurant.
    There was the bakery counter with perfect little croissants and meringued tarts, case of gourmet cheeses, and of course a small section to earn its name - farm fresh produce.  They had some gorgeous chanterelle mushrooms as well as beautiful green beans, onions, shallots... 
    ...and a perfect stash of multi-colored carrots.  Next to gourmet bags of beans and grains. 
    The cured meats section looks amazing as well!
    I felt like a kid in a candy store, with the selection of gourmet goods spread around the market as well - from Duck Rillette in a jar, pates, Straus ice cream in the freezer, all kinds of gourmet salts...  
    ...and my love for Farmshop was cemented, when I spotted little jars of SQIRL jams and preserves on a shelf.  (They even had my all-time fav: Nagami Kumquat & Chamomile preserves!!) So appropriate as SQIRL preserves are as farm fresh as you can get - they are literally sunshine preserved in a little jar.

    Outside of Farmshop, you can also enjoy a leisurely morning strolling through the cute little boutiques at Brentwood Country Mart - there's a great book store, handprinted paper goods store, a few clothing stores, a candy store and nice spots for coffee or gelato.

    Yes, Farmshop (and Brentwood Country Mart) definitely makes me feel like I'm on vacation without huge expense.  A staycation spot, if you will.  A little taste of the gentrified countryside, without ever leaving the city.  Amazing food and people watching.  I can't wait to make another trip.

    On a 7 point scale:
    Flavor - 6.5 bites
    Presentation - 6 bites
    Originality - 6 bites
    Ambience - 6 stars
    Service - 5.5 stars
    Overall experience - 6 bites
    Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
    Probability of return visit - 100% 

    Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Suite 25, Santa Monica, CA 90402
    Ph: 310.566.2400

    Parking:  Park in strip mall lot attached to restaurant


    Farmshop on Urbanspoon


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