Fig And Olive – For Lunch

Jason Chang is a regular at the Fig and Olive and so the perfect dining partner. He told me to order the truffle mushroom penne, but as usual, I decided I knew better and ended up eating most of his – as well as my own – meal. So it was hardly surprising when it took my stomach the rest of the day, and night, to recover!

The restaurant automatically brings you their specialty Rosemary bread with 3 different types of Olive Oil. The one on the left was my favorite, from Portugal. I love robust flavors and it was the richest with strong hints of pepper. The light, middle one was from North California and probably my least favorite and the one on the right was from Tunisia.

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To start with Jason insisted I try a selection of the crostini. You can either order 3 for $10 or 6 for $19.

We ordered the Crushed Tomato with Olive Oil; Proscuitto, Ricotta, Fig, Olive, Walnut; Mushroom, Truffle Artichoke, Parmesan. These were all divine. In fact, I could have just eaten crostinis for lunch. The tomato actually tasted of tomato, for a change, and the textures all worked really well together.

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I ordered the Striped Bass Papilliote, mainly because I couldn’t decide what to order and someone at the table next to us was eating it. The best thing about this dish is the preparatory show the server enacts in front of you. The fish is covered with cooking paper which the server tears into with a knife and fork and then rolls back to reveal the steamed striped bass filet and stewed vegetables. I hate dry fish and the texture was perfectly moist, although it was a little too salty and maybe a little too heavy to eat for lunch. It came with zucchini, eggplant, fennel, tomato, thyme, scallion and saffron served with olive oil mashed potato & chives – with a side of Arbequina Olive Oil drizzled over it.

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Penne Funghi Tartufo: Cremini and black trumpet mushroom, parmesan, parsley, scallion with white truffle olive oil.

This was reeeeally delicious, full of all the robust flavors you could want from a pasta dish. The only complaint is it was also a bit too salty – but on the other hand I love salt!

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My Favorite Restaurant in L.A… Providence

Last time I went to Providence I ordered all wrong and, as per usual, was enraged with serious food envy. But… Not this time!

We declined the 15-course chef’s menu in favor of the Providence Market Specials’ Tasting Menu, except I swapped out the fois gras for another round of….. TRUFFLES!!!!!

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First we had my favorite thing about the restaurant: their booze cubes! A Screwdriver Raviolo, served on an El Bulli spoon which utilizes the Adria technique of adding calcium aginate to a liquid – the effect is a thin film encasing the vodka and orange liquid so that it explodes in your mouth as you eat it. This was served alongside a Mojito-infused jelly cube. The perfect palate cleanser to start as you mean to go on!

And here’s what followed….

The vegetarian option for our first dish was an Oyster Leaf, which was apparently discovered in the Hebrides, Northern Scotland, and tastes just like an oyster.

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Black winter truffle with soft scrambled eggs and grilled brioche.

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Santa Barbara spot prawn with butter sauce (made out of prawn heads) served on a bed of twice cooked parsnips and parsnip purée.

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Black winter truffle pasta alla chitarra.

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Wild hock and line caught New Zealand John Dory wrapped in feuille de brique, lardo di bellota and black truffle, savoy cabbage, sunchoke purée.

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63-degree cooked egg (veg option). It’s the optimal temp to cook an egg, don’t you know.

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Australian wagyu style beef, winter vegetables, soba, black truffle emulsion. By this point, all I could do was look at it!

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Almond sorbet with cream and meringue on an almond biscuit… Just when I thought I couldn’t fit in one more mouthful….

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The Best Bloody Mary

I have scouted high and low for the ulitmate hair-of-the-dog tincture and mixologist Matthew Biancaniello’s Mother Mary recipe is by far the most superior comfort-drink I’ve tasted – hungover or not!

Please email me where your favorite Bloody Mary is served – or any recipe tips…. I’m on a mission to try them all: henrietta.tiefenthaler@gmail.com

Mother Mary

Mother Mary

Muddle cucumber slices, red bell pepper chucks, 2 cherry tomatoes and a pinch of the following: cilantro, chives, scallions, parsley and dill.
Add 3/4 oz fresh olive juice, 3/4 oz lime juice, 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice, a tbsp of Bubbie’s beet horseradish from Wholefoods, 1 oz of Stirrings Natural Bloody Mary Mix and 2 oz of Hangar One Mandarin Vodka.
Do not shake but roll back and forth between the two shakers, serve in a tall glass and garnish as you please (I would opt for a sprig of rosemary, thyme, an olive and a slice of jalapeño). I’m not sure if you could squeeze in any more deliciousness if you tried.

For more of Matt’s recipes, check out his blog, or taste his libations on select nights at the Library Bar in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Shintaro: The Best Albacore Crispy Onion

Albacore Crispy Onion

1900 N Highland Ave
Ste 5
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Neighborhood: Hollywood

(323) 882-6524

The Quest for the Best Smoothie

I’m mid way through my quest for the best veggie burger and have come to the realization that there are too many to sample in one consecutive run. What’s more, the sudden onslaught of burger buns – and alcohol – hasn’t eased my extreme fear of wearing a bikini in public this summer.

At the beginning of last week I said that I wouldn’t drink until Friday. I lasted through Monday, limited myself to two sips of wine on Tuesday, my friend flew in from London on Wednesday and I woke up with a hangover every morning thereafter. So, now it’s detox time and the perfect opportunity to divert my obsession of burgers to finding the best healthy smoothie instead.

I used to live off smoothies so I’m already a self-proclaimed expert. I’m going to post my favorite finds one by one, in no particular order.

No 1: One of my old favorite homemade concoctions is the Acai Banilla Smoothie:

Rio Bowl

Rio Bowl

I discovered the “Rio Bowl” while traveling around South America. Rio’s beach fronts are adorned with frozen acai berry stands, which can also be found scattered across street corners all over Brazil.

The juice is extracted from the small acai fruit by soaking the seeds in water to soften the thin outer shell and then squeezing and straining them to produce a very tasty, dense purple liquid, which is typically blended with sugar, tapioca and ice. The refreshing icy pulp is either served as a smoothie or in a bowl mixed with granola, honey and banana. Since the recent Brazilian/acai awareness explosion, I have noticed similar concoctions popping up at juice bars all over L.A. (VP Discount on Beverly Blvd., Earth Bar, Real Raw Live and One Life Natural Foods, to name a few.) And you can even buy bad ready-made imitations at supermakets. Acai is full of antioxidents and is also a natural stimulant – a perfect pick me up to replace coffee.

Ingredients:
2 sambazon açai berry smoothie packs or a few scoops of açai berry sorbet
1 almost overripe banana (for extra sweetness)
A splash of apple juice
A splash of vanilla soy milk (for extra creaminess). Vanilla SOY DREAM is my favorite brand
A big scoop of ice
Any seasonal berries (optional)

Blend all the ingredients together with ice in an electric blender. The more ice you use, the denser the smoothie will be. I prefer lots so that it’s almost the same texture as ice cream and the vanilla soy milk provides the perfect sweet, vanilla-y creaminess. Serve as a smoothie or in a bowl topped with granola, extra vanilla soy milk and any fruit of your choice.

Watch this space: More Best Smoothies Coming Up….

Best Tapastronomy: The Bazaar

The Vanishing Bar

The Vanishing Bar

It got off to a bad start. I entered The Bazaar with a hangover, bumped straight into an ex that makes my skin crawl, the table wasn’t ready, and we were shuffled off to a bar with a 10-foot barricade of surgically enhanced Hollywood monstrosities. I didn’t have the energy to push my way through the crowd so I just hovered while two of my friends went out for a cigarette to kill time. Granted, the chaotic, Philippe Stark-designed bazaar provided the ultimate distraction while we waited to be seated. The juxtaposition of the bar, patisserie, two dining areas, and a Moss’ retail counter – where you can purchase any of the random, protruding monuments in the SLS Hotel lobby (if you have a gazillion dollars to spare) – are catered to the restaurant’s ADD crowd. I prided myself on being the first to discover the portable liquid nitrogen-prepared caiphirinia bar, but, by the time my friends had all congregated and agreed to try a cocktail, it had vanished.

The compartmentalized chaos reminded me of a train station during rush hour – where you have to relentlessly fight through the mayhem to catch your train. There was an underlying sense of organization – albeit a vague one. The delay felt like it was intended to force guests to explore the museum-like premises – which it did – and the bill somehow follows customers as they wonder through the hustle and bustle.

Things didn’t get any better when we were seated on a rock-hard bench that immediately transported me back to the dreaded days of British boarding school meals. Our chirpy waitress came over and politely asked if this was our first time at the restaurant, to which the guy placed next to me flippantly responded: “No, it’s my last.” Once she had walked away with our drink orders, he murmured, “After this I’m going across the street to get Korean barbeque [at Woo Lae Oak].”

“Why?”

“So I can get a proper meal.”

Great!

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Caiphirinia Sorbet

My anxiety was not alleviated when the menu arrived and I was confronted with more kinds of tapas than I’ve ever seen in my life. One side is listed under Rojo (traditional tapas) and the other under Blanca (modern tapas). Seeing as I am the ultimate victim of both food envy and indecision, my poor hungover brain had a mental breakdown. I could have ordered the set menu – but I’m way too much of a masochist to choose the easy option.

The portable nitrogen bar came to the rescue and we were whisked up frozen caiphirinias at the table. They are prepared using pre-made cachaça-based mix, which is stirred in a bowl of liquid nitrogen and served frozen, much like a margarita but even more potent as there’s no ice involved. The sorbet is then garnished with edible flowers and a spoon to devour it with. One mouthful went straight to my head but I immediately had to have another. Yummee!

Olive Bombs

Olive Bombs

The Spanish chef, José Andrés, is a molecular gastronomy wizard who trained under some of the best chefs in Barcelona before venturing across the pond to conquer the culinary scene in Washington D.C. and, now, L.A. He has found imaginative ways to transform banal ingredients into culinary masterpieces and, conversely, gourmet delights into conventional dishes – with a twist. I mean, how extraordinary can a “Philly cheesesteak” and jamón plate possibly be? You’d be surprised.

Back to the food…. The waiter produced a jar of olives and proceeded to place four of them on a row of spoons so meticulously he reduced a middle-aged man into a fit of giggles. I popped one in my mouth to see what all the fuss over a green olive was about – and my eyes nearly popped out when it exploded with liquid. The olive was actually a gelatinous skin filled with olive essence and olive oil: an invention by Andrés’ former trainer, Ferran Andrià of El Bulli, one of the world’s most famous and influential restaurants. This explained the waiter’s ridiculous precision and made my hysterical friend laugh even harder as it burst in his mouth. In spite of the hoo-ha, the olive bomb actually tasted amazing, exactly how a perfect olive should taste but in liquid form. The dish was served alongside a plate of real olives stuffed with anchovies to emphasize the contrast.

Candy Floss Foie Gras

Candy Floss Foie Gras Lollypop

I had a mini air bread sandwich with mildly salty sea urchin and avocado, combining two of the most buttery non-dairy foods. It was to-die-for but a bit too adventurous for anyone else at my table, and too rich for me to attempt the last of the three bites. My friend ordered a “lollypop” stick of candy floss- (a.k.a cotton candy) and corn nut-coated fois gras, which she raved about but I only appreciated from a distance.

Guacamole-Filled Jicama Pouches

Guacamole-Filled Jicama Pouches

My favorite dish was the guacamole-filled pouches made of paper-thin jicama adorned with micro cilantro and Fritos. I love fresh guacamole any day but the avocados they used were perfect: there was a hint of spice and the jicama and corn-chip strip provided just the right diversity of flavor and texture, even though I would never have thought of combining them like this. I also loved the avocado-wrapped, melt-in-your-mouth tuna ceviche roll; sea scallops in thick, smokey Romesco sauce; the tastiest sautéed wild mushrooms I’ve ever had; and giant garlic shrimp, lightly cooked to perfection. The only disappointment was their brussels sprouts which were too undercooked for my liking and lacked flavor, despite the cloud of lemon-scented foam (which resembled bubbly washing up liquid).

Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Washing Up Liquid

Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Washing-Up Liquid Bubbles

For dessert, I skeptically ordered the waitress’ recommendation: hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazlenut praline. I was craving chocolate but usually don’t like mousse. This was different. It was hot, rich and salty like the molten center of chocolate lava cake. Small pear cubes, salty caramel, and crunchy, mini, dark chocolate balls were mixed into the orgasmic goo. All my favorite flavors and textures in one mouthful. Heaven.

The dishes averaged $10 each and we ordered a couple of bottles of Malbec for $35 each – insanely good value.

Despite the challenging start and unfortunate clientelle, once again food (and alcohol) saved the day!

Best Movie/Pizza Evening

I thought I loved eating more than anyone… and then I met Phil Rosenthal. A couple of years ago while working at Phoenix Books, I produced/directed the audiobook of Phil’s autobiography “You’re Lucky You’re Funny” and couldn’t believe my luck when Phil insisted on taking us out to lunch every day he came in to record. Then, when his book came out, Phil beat Pizzeria Mozza to its own launch party by hosting his book signing party there – and once again eating was part of the job.

Phil loves food so much that he’s invested in a bunch of restaurants in L.A., namely Jar, The Hungry Cat and most recently Pizzeria- and Osteria Mozza – all in addition to creating his show, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which recently ended after a 10-year run. Normally I only like cracker-thin crust, New York-style pizza but Nancy Silverton’s dough at Mozza is an exception. For me, it’s always about the texture, preferably all mixed together in one big multi-textured mush. I love the comfort of chewy cookie dough that gets stuck in every crevice of your teeth, as well as super crunchy, gum-splintering crackers (again, preferably together) – and the four-minute woodfire-blazed pizza at Mozza has both. It’s thin-ish with an extra crisp, almost-burnt puffy crust that’s slightly chewy in the middle, and, best of all, the pizzas are small so you can try all the toppings without feeling like a complete glut. Well, at least you can if you’re at Phil’s Sunday night movie/pizza evening where a new pie comes popping out every few minutes. He’s been hosting the pizza night for longer than I’ve been alive, together with his superwife, Monica. She played Ray Romano’s brother’s wife in the “Everybody Loves Raymond” (she still had to audition for the part) and, despite being an actress, she’s the most smiley and welcoming hostess I’ve ever met, making them – together with their two children – the most disgustingly perfect family I know.

When Phil invested in the Silverton/Batali/Bastianich enterprise, he clearly had an ulterior motive… to make his movie night indisputably perfect. “When I heard that Mario Batali, the greatest Italian chef in the world, and Nancy Silverton [from La Brea Bakery and Campanile] were going in together on a restaurant in L.A., I got on my knees and grabbed her leg and did not let go until she let me invest,” Rosenthal jokes. “I did it so I could get in.” Yeah right. He did it so that he could get a replica of Mozza’s pizza oven installed in his kitchen and their cook Gustavo Canseco to make pizzas for him and all his friends. He doesn’t even need to go to the restaurant anymore.

Replica of Mozza's Pizza Oven

Replica of Mozza's Pizza Oven

Now for the toppings…. I’m vegetarian so I usually cheat and pick off all the meat because I’m greedy and don’t want to miss out on any of the garnishes, but there’s still plenty of choice. My favorite topping is broccoli and garlic with caciocavallo (a Sicilian cheese), which is also made without cheese for vegans; for the sweet and spicy lovers, there’s a mozzarella and tomato pie, coated with a canopy of wafer-thin pineapple slices, sprinkled with jalapeños (my second favorite); for the adventurous there’s rapini (a cross between broccoli and a bitter herb) with cherry tomatoes and anchovies (which I don’t really like but I’ll eat anyway); there’s one with egg (I love egg on pizza) and bits of bacon; squash blossoms, tomato and burrata which is dolloped on like clotted cream (another favorite – it has great texture when mushed up in your mouth); a delicious one with clams, garlic and pecorino which I’ve never had elsewhere; and of course the staple margherita, which tastes anything but ordinary. Every time I go to Phil and Monica’s there seems to be another topping I haven’t noticed before, including fennel sausage, goat’s cheese, funghi, spek, salumi, and fingerling potatoes with gorgonzola dolce. The trick is to come early so you don’t miss your favorite because it’s rare for the same one to appear twice, no matter how sweetly you smile at the cook. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)
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Because Phil is such a food fanatic, he knows the best restaurant, dessert and café in every city he’s been to which comes in very handy when you don’t. When I was in Paris, he recommended that I go to Angelina for the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. So last October, I dragged my best friend Kimberley and two of her friends across town through the rain to rue de Rivoli, only to be confronted by a queue that went out the door. Annoyed, wet and hungover from excessive shopping and partying during Paris Fashion Week, we waited impatiently in this palatial and uncomfortably snobby café. It was well worth the huffing and puffing when our enormous serving of thick, rich, velvety hot chocolate l’Africain arrived, accompanied by whipped cream in a white ceramic pitcher. Phil was right. It was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and my foul mood subsided almost instantaneously so that I could continue to shop and drink with a smile on my face and a warm, comforting sensation oozing through my veins.

Unfortunately, Angelina doesn’t cater at Phil’s house but Thomas Keller – arguably the best chef in America and owner of The French Laundry and Bouchon – does. There are always the most amazing desserts sprawled out across the marble kitchen countertop, and I usually do my best to not get distracted from the pizza, but when everyone was making yummy noises and Ray Romano went for seconds and then thirds of the chocolate peanut butter cups, I had to grab one before they all vanished. YOU HAVE GOT TO TRY THESE – even if  you don’t like peanut butter. They are gooey, almost-liquid, peanut butter-filled, Vahlrona chocolate-coated cups with rock sea salt chunks that burst with flavor as the center immerses your mouth, leaving you not wanting to swallow in case you never get a chance to taste something this good again. I had planned to race straight to Bouchon Bakery to suck them dry of peanut butter cups, but of course none of Keller’s restaurants are local, and when I called all three Bouchon locations in Vegas, Yountville and New York, none of them would deliver (yes anyone out there, feel free to send me some….). But for those of you in L.A., don’t lose hope… at the end of the year, Keller is opening a Bouchon in Beverly Hills right next to Phoenix Books’ office, and I plan to be their first customer. (For those of you planning to join me it will be in between Beverly Drive and Canon, in the courtyard where the new Montage Hotel just opened, north of Wilshire.)

Last week there was more to-die-for dessert from another sugar haven, Huckleberry Bakery, which couple Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan from the Rustic Inn just launched. Zoe’s mother hand-delivered the cakes (of course) and after my 8th slice of pizza I vowed to stay away until my lack of self control took over and I wolfed down a slice of the best blueberry, custard cream tart you could ever possibly imagine. Rebecca and I also swiped a mini chocolate cupcake on our way out and found ourselves chewing the wrapping before we had reached the car. l

Once everyone has rushed to stuff themselves with as much pizza and dessert as they can before the movie starts, they shuffle into the luxurious sofa-crammed screening room, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the old-fashioned cart outside. Once everyone’s settled, Lily shouts out to make sure everyone has water and the 13 1/2-by-10-foot screen slowly descends from the ceiling. The screenings range from oldies to sneak previews, to Oscar-nominated pics and the annual Academy Award ceremony, to documentaries eagerly offered up by their producers (the creators of “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?” have both held Q & A’s while I’ve been there). There’s nearly always someone in the audience who either made the film or points themselves out while we’re watching it. I watched “Raging Bull” last week and the woman next to me whispered that she was an extra in one of the scenes, “It was on the Lower East side, boiling and took a whole week to shoot.”

First Phil plays a short live music clip of his choice (in Blue Ray so that it feels like you’re at an actual concert) and then the movie starts, by which point I’m usually stuffed so full of wine, pizza and dessert that I can barely stay awake. The very first time I went to pizza evening (before the days of the Mozza oven and their new house), I was so warm and cozy that despite my best efforts to prize my eyelids open, I slept through the entire movie. Shortly after, at Phil’s book signing, I was talking to a friend of his about how amazing his movie nights are, when she recognized me, “Oh, I sat next to you. I think you were asleep on my shoulder!”

To read more about Phil’s movie night in the “L.A. Times,” click here.

Now… it’s up to you to start the fight…. Feel free to comment if you think you can compete for best movie/pizza night. (I know it’s not apparent but you can comment by clicking on the highlighted comment link below.)

Other amazing pizzas worth mentioning are:

Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in Beverly Hills. The one with smoked salmon and dill cream, topped with caviar. (Nancy Silverton was once the head pastry chef there and Phoenix Books takes over the restaurant every year for its staple Super Bowl Party.)

Mulberry Pizza (which I just discovered was founded by Robert DeNiro’s wife in “Raging Bull”). The one with the breaded eggplant (aubergine).

And these ones I haven’t tried:

Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan; Spacca Napoli in Chicago; and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.

Go to the Pizza Share website to find the best pie hole near you. You can boost their ranking by clicking on “share.”