Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Favorite Lebanese (Cedar House)

My Facebook status after my first visit to Cedar House read something like "Finally, something good to come out of North Hollywood."

It's near my office, and a few of us hit it up for lunch on a lark. They're not busy during the day, so we were in and out in good time (the food isn't "fast," but fast enough).

The ambiance is comfortable and bright, and the Lebanese music makes you want to get up and dance ... which you probably don't want to do during dinner because you'll be competing with the professional belly dancers.

The kibbeh is pretty rocking -- perfectly tender and moist inside with a crisp crust. Still not on par with my grandmother's, but better than I've had most anywhere else. My cohorts had never partaken, but I made believers of them all.

Someone said the place was voted among the top five places in LA for hummus. I'm not sure it outdoes nearly everyone else in the city, but that IS some good hummus. The real surprise was the baba ganoush -- so light, great texture, good garlic punch.

We were joking about how their menu says the chicken is "expertly seasoned," but after trying the chicken shawarma and chicken salad, we conceded. I'd recommend getting the dressing on the side with their salads -- it's really thick and heavy.

I was a little let down by the beef & lamb shawarma. The beef was good, but the lamb tasted like it had been marinating too long and had broken down a bit too much.

Shawarma comes with a dollop of garlic sauce -- this is not the smooth, savory garlic sauce of Zankou ... it's PUNGENT. The garlic is raw and chunky. It's good, but you've got to have a strong disposition to handle it.

Prices on their sandwiches are $7-8, not bad for lunch. Plates are up around $15, but you get a ton of food -- you'll have leftovers for lunch the next day.

They're right across the river from the old hospital where they used to tape "Scrubs." I asked one of the waitresses if the cast ever used to come over to the restaurant. She said no, but I get the feeling she had no idea what I was talking about.

Find 'em at
4805 Whitsett Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91607

See it on Yelp!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Cha Cha Cha

We hit up Brazilian classic Cha Cha Cha the other night.

I'll go three stars out of five because my spidey sense tells me we didn't catch the kitchen on their best night. Prices were reasonable (and I don't mean LA reasonable)

The funky little dining room is cute, if not overly comfortable. We felt genuinely welcomed by the extremely friendly service, from our great server to the manager.

The goat cheese quesadillas would have been too strong without the welcomed spread of guava inside to cut the dairy. Try their vegetarian empenadaditas; they're crispy, doughy inside, and so comforting.

The downturn came with our entrees. Rice and beans came on the side of both our dishes. The rice was nominal. Beans were watery. My pork chops sounded good with the apricot sauce, but they were presented thin (menu said double cut) and overcooked. The sauce was tasty, but full of too much dried rosemary. The flavor was overpowering, and the leaves were too dry to chew.
cha cha cha pork chops
My girlfriend's gambas negras shrimp tasted a little fishy. The black pepper sauce was good, but if I'd had more than a bite, I think it might have started to get too strong.

I really wanted to love the place. Maybe I'll go back for breakfast sometime -- the banana French toast looked good.

Be aware, there's not much street parking, which forces you to use their valet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Early (or Last Minute) Thanksgiving Dinner




It's the night before Thanksgiving. If you haven't bought a turkey yet, or haven't started thawing the one you do have ... well, you're screwed. No main course for you.

Thankfully (see what I did there?), you don't really have to do the tired turkey thing for Thanksgiving. You know the pilgrims would have rather had a nice, thick cut of steak ... especially if the grocery store was all sold out of Butterballs.

The girlfriend and I are going to be apart this holiday, so we celebrated last week with a dinner for two. Since we'll each be having turkey at our respective destinations, we opted for a beef rib roast -- no thawing, basting, brining, or other time-intensive steps necessary. Use my recipe for any special dinner.

A note on the meat: I avoid the supermarket at all costs; their meat is terrible. I'd have gone to Costco, which has great meat at good prices, but for two people that's too much food. So I hit up Whole Foods' butcher counter. They cut me a single rib, which weighed in at just under 2 1/2 pounds and rang in at an obscene $31. It was great meat, absolutely. However, on a subsequent trip to Costco I discovered a whole rib roast (four or five ribs) could be had for the same price! Next time I'll buy big and just freeze the rest.

Herb-Crusted Rib Roast for Two:


Ingredients



  • Meat
  • 2-2 1/2 pound cut of rib roast

  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • Cracked pepper to taste



  • Veggies
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

  • 1-2 pounds fingerling potatoes and small or baby carrots (I used pretty colored ones from the Santa Monica farmers market, because if you're going to build a time machine, why not do it with a little style?)

  • 3 kisses from girlfriend (you have to find a good supplier for this ingredient)

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil



Directions



  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

  2. Mix chopped herbs in a small bowl or cup with oil. Rub mixture over all surfaces of the meat. Set aside.

  3. Arrange the root vegetables in a cast iron skillet (if you want to look cool) or a roasting pan and hand mix with remaining rosemary, salt, garlic, and oil. Add kisses to taste.

  4. Place seasoned meat over veggies, and place pan in oven. Roast for 10 minutes, then drop oven temperature to 350, and cook for another 40 minutes. A meat thermometer should read the internal temp of the roast at 110-115 degrees F for a gorgeous, tender, medium-rare pink interior.

  5. Take the roast out of the oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes (I went closer to 20). It'll still be hot, but will get more tender this way and stay juicy. The vegetables benefit from the dripping meat juices during the cooking process (because why shouldn't a potato taste like a cow?).




Serve this up with roast butternut squash, mashed parsnips and carrots, sauteed baby bok choy, a bottle of Marquis Philips Shiraz (actually, I'm not sure I'd go with that one again -- something bigger next time), and a hot apple crisp for dessert.




Farmers market's best


Look at that perfect marbling -- it takes the sting off the meat's price tag (a little)


The meaty, juicy payoff


The apple crisp is my girlfriend's secret recipe. If you want it, you'll have to date her yourself.


Sweet, (way) buttery, crumbly top puts the crisp in apple crisp


Thanksgiving on the coffee table -- this is our bohemian life

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Favorite Chicken Soup

The mistake a lot of people make with soup is dropping in their meat while the liquid is boiling, which shocks the proteins, making it tough and chewy. Let your soup come down to a simmer, with only a few more minutes left before the veggies are done, then give your meat just a few minutes of gentle cooking before you serve. The result is super tender.


Ingredients
    1 quart water
    4 bouillon cubes
    3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
    3 zucchini
    2 cups green beans, chopped to 1/4"
    4 medium red potatoes, quartered
    2 cups baby carrots, cut in halves
    2 packs sliced white mushrooms
    2 pounds chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into 1" chunks
    1 can coconut milk
Directions
  1. Bring water to a boil. Add bouillon, carrots, potatoes, and garlic. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

  2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook five more minutes

  3. Add chicken, coconut milk, and mushrooms. Cook five minutes.

  4. Just before serving, add green beans.

Serves 3 dinners and 3 lunches

Friday, February 29, 2008

My Perfectly Stinky Omelet

I love cheese.

Cheese, cheese, cheese. Here it goes down, down into my belly.

I haven't found any good cheese shops on the West Side, where I live, but have sampled the goods from the Cheesestore of Silverlake (amazing selection), and the Artisan Cheese Gallery on Ventura (outstanding grilled sandwiches, dripping with melty dairy goodness). In absence of "legitimate" cheese shops like this, I do just fine with Whole Food's extensive cheese section, and pick up something new every visit.

One of my more interesting finds could choke a cow with its pungency. Ciresa taleggio is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese with a musty rind. Imagine brie with the smell of the underside of a fallen log in a marshland. Straight, or even on crackers, it's too strong for me to stand.

But when cooked, a magical chemical process occurs. The flavors mellow slightly, and add a great punch to your dishes. I've enjoyed it blended with regular cheddar in a quesadilla. But the best delivery system is via omelet, where it plays off the blandness and fluffy texture of the eggs.

I made this one for lunch the other day. It came out perfectly light and golden. The trick is slower, lower cooking. The stuff in the background is applesauce. Zero points for presentation, but the sweetness offsets the sour and salt from the yolks and cheese. I always eat my omelets this way now.



Ingredients

    1 tablespoon butter

    1 1/4 cups fresh spinach, torn into small pieces

    1/4 cup shredded muenster

    1/8 cup taleggio (produced by Ciresa)

    2 eggs, whisked


Directions
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or omelet pan.

  2. Pour in the eggs, tilting the pan so they cover the bottom evenly.

  3. Immediately spread spinach evenly over eggs, and sprinkle both cheeses over the spinach.

  4. Cook 4-5 minutes, or until top of eggs are just becoming firm. Flip one side over the other, and move to a plate.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Passage to Porto's

We've picked up cakes from nearby Porto's Bakery before for coworkers' birthdays, and with the exception of the Parisian chocolate, they've all been pretty impressive. I've seen the place on a smattering of best-of lists, most notably for their Cuban pork sandwiches, but until today I had not partaken.

Lucky for my tummy, I had business that took me past the place around lunchtime today. I stopped in and braved the long (but moving) line for a steak torta and horchata smoothie (can't resist horchata).

Apparently, the place can be pretty cheap if you know what to order. My coworker, who was riding shotgun got out of there with two empanadas and a small salad for $4! Mine was over double that.

Horchata Smoothie (16 oz): $3.25
Pretty good, with all the requisite spices that make horchata taste like a little bit of Thanksgiving, but the blended ice waters it down too quickly.

Steak Torta: $6.55
Soft Cuban bread with a nice sour edge, but you can tell it was baked early this morning. That seems kind of lazy for a BAKERY. The shredded beef was seasoned and slow cooked. I think it'd have been great with some black beans and rice. On the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, guacamole (is that even Cuban?), and cotija cheese, it came off as ok, and not worth the money. It had the feeling of a decent -- not great -- burrito.

Overall, it was good, but I'm not sure I'd brave the drive or line again for that level of quality.