Monday, June 11, 2007

The Swedes Make a Mean Pancake

Solvang is somewhat lacking in a wide array of places to eat breakfast. But what they lack in quantity they certainly make up for with quality at "Paula’s Pancake House." Seeing a crowd forming outside their front doors in the early morning hours is nothing unusual. The people come for their three page breakfast menu, where you can contemplate having the popular Danish pancake, traditional buttermilk, or even the equally appealing and tasty omelets and sausage.

I ordered the Danish pancakes with strawberries, which costs slightly more then having it plain with butter and whip cream. But to me adding fruit to pancakes is a must, especially when you get to choose between blueberries (which my girlfriend ordered) or cinnamon spiced apples. I should mention that if you do get the fruit option it will come sans pads of butter and whip cream, which for health conscious people like me is perfectly fine.

It took only minutes for two super sized and thin pancakes to be set before me. They consumed the entire plate, were powdered with sugar, had a mound of beautiful strawberries, and sitting on top was a small decanter of golden maple syrup.

Forking a piece of strawberry, a slice of pancake, and only a dab of syrup, they tasted great. It’s hard for me to distinguish between pancakes, saying one I’ve had is better then another. But if I did have a list this would certainly rank high. Warm, sweet, and moist, this was certainly an above average satisfying pancake. I even liked it more when I used some of my girlfriend’s blueberries which tasted incredibly sweet and fresh.

I would go back to Paula’s if I was in Solvang during breakfast hours. Heck I might even stop by for lunch when they’re still serving breakfast. It may be touristy and have a long wait, but this is one place where the tourists are actually right. This place is certainly worth the wait.
Paula's Pancake House
1531 Mission Dr.
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 688-2867

Saturday, June 9, 2007

I Love Balls, Pancake Balls That Is

There are some people who go to Solvang for the windmills, cuckoo clocks, and wooden shoes, and then there are people like me who go for the aebleskiver. Popular in Solvang, stores sell the specially designed cast-iron pan so you can make your own, and more then one restaurant has it on their menu. Although believe me when I say every aelbeskiver is not alike. It was through some bad experiences that I found that the "Solvang Restaurant" is the only true place to get this warm golden brown beauty. They even go one step further in letting you watch them make the aebleskiver through an attached walk-up window, where you can quickly order and enjoy.

Served hot, drenched in raspberry jam, and sprinkled with powder sugar, for $3.75 you get three and it’s worth every penny. Eat it for breakfast, dessert, or an afternoon snack, an aebleskiver is good at any time during the day.
Solvang Restaurant
1672 Copenhagen Dr.
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 688-4645

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Swedish Alternative

When eating lunch or dinner in the tourist part of Solvang your choices are pretty much limited to the Danish restaurants that dot the street. For the everyday tourist this is great for getting the full Denmark experience, but for someone like me who has been here more then once, I’ve gotten past the need to eat a cuisine heavy in fat, meat, and fish. Although if this was your first time and you wanted the full Solvang treatment, I’d recommend either "Bit O’ Denmark" or "Solvang Restaurant." Both places offer menu items that are as authentic without actually flying to Denmark.

For this visit I was in the mood for something lighter so I turned to "Panino’s," a sandwich shop I stumbled into over a year ago with the goal of finding something non-Danish and not Subway. Panino’s sandwiches are gourmet and far from being even remotely similar to a fast food chain.

Walking in their menu items are written out on a large chalkboard that lists 30 sandwiches, 9 of which are vegetarian. They even have around 10 salads you can choose from. The process is simple: choose a number, pick a bread (whole wheat, ciabatta, or baguette), and place your order. They carry the "Kettle Chip" line of potato chips, and soda and beer comes in cans and bottles. When you’re done take a seat on the outdoor patio, pull up a chair, and wait for your food to be brought out to you.

I ordered the "sliced chicken with roasted red peppers and fresh garden basil" (#11, $7.95) on whole wheat.

My girlfriend settled on the "prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers" (#13, $7.95) on a ciabatta role.

Everything that went into my sandwich looked and tasted fresh. The lettuce was crisp, the red onions crunchy, and the red peppers a vibrant crimson hue. As for the chicken it was sliced into fine moist strips, and I was given neither a stingy nor a ridiculous amount. The taste of basil came through strongly and the honey mustard, while overly sweet, did compliment it nicely. Although the sweetness did become too much to handle by the second half, to which I remedied by ditching a lettuce leaf doused in it.

Still overall this was a great tasting sandwich and fit exactly what I was looking for. When you’re in Solvang and want something fast and different from where all the tourists are going, you can do no better then "Panino’s."
475 1st St.
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 688-0608

Monday, May 7, 2007

This Orris That

If you frequent Sawtelle in Los Angeles, then you’ve probably either been to or at least seen Orris; a small restaurant that serves French-Japanese fusion dishes tapas style. For me Orris was my inauguration into the food offerings on Sawtelle, but I was already familiar with the purple embossed sign that dons the cement and glass storefront. With a little research beforehand, I armed myself with a list of Jonathan Gold recommended dishes and departed.

When we arrived the place was bustling, but we were given the option of immediate seating inside at the sushi bar or outside on the front patio; we went outside. The waiter walked over and kindly explained to us what the restaurant was all about, and recommended we start with 5 dishes and order more if we wanted.

Opening the menu I was glad I had the list. There were so many things I wanted to try, separated into columns as hot or cold, but I didn’t want to break the bank either. It had already been a very long day of spending. It took some debate, but finally we decided on four dishes and ordered away.

The first to arrive was the “curry-infused shrimp tempura with curry dipping sauce and okinawan sea salt” ($9.50). Not overly greasy and with a nice golden color, the tempura tasted light and perfectly crisp. Interestingly as I was eating it I realized it only got better when you used a little bit of the dipping sauce and the side sea salt. It was the combination of flavors that really made this dish a winner.

Seconds later, the “lamb loin carpaccio infused with garlic and rosemary, topped with Spanish Manchego cheese shavings” ($9.50) was placed before us. Out of all the dishes yet to come, this one was the largest. Again the complexity of the flavors totally worked for this dish. Each piece of lamb was perfectly tender, and you could really taste the spices. Without the cheese I don’t think it would have been the same. It seemed to enhance every forkful, adding a very nice texture and taste.

Next on the list was the “ravioli filled with shrimp mouse and shitake mushroom sauce” ($8.50). This was ordered on recommendation by our waiter, who said it was a house specialty. All I can say is thank god for that waiter. It’s hard to describe the tastes that this dish seemed to emote. It was creamy and buttery, soft and complex. This made my evening. Next time I come here I’m getting two bowls.

At some point between the three aforementioned dishes, the fourth did arrive. But I neglected to snap a picture or even write down the name. It was a type of seafood salad with shrimp, octopus, and cucumbers. Honestly after going through each of the other dishes, this one failed to compare. It was good and was worth the cost, but it seemed to lack that little extra something that made the others so worth while.

If there was one commonality that I noticed amongst all the dishes, it was the care put into presentation. Each new item looked like it had been made just for us. I always forget that while taste is of course part of the equation in a good dining experience, food appearance is equally important. This is the difference between “eating” and “dining.”

In the future I would definitely go back to Orris, but with a few more people, a bigger appetite, and more money. I want to look more into the cold dishes, and if the other hot dishes were any indication I’m sure there are many other great ones to be found amongst them.
2006 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 268-2212

Friday, May 4, 2007

Quiche Anyone?

I’m not one to eat very unhealthy. But when the infrequent special occasion roles around, or if I really need some comfort food, I’ll let the health conscious side of me take a break. Yesterday was my girlfriend’s birthday so I chose two places I’d heard were great that had food I knew she’d love.One of these was "Amandine Patisserie," a Japanese owned French bakery in Los Angeles. Our mission was the quiche, which I’d heard through chowhound and yelp was one of the places to go if you were in the market for a good incarnation of the alternative pie.

Walking in the place was bustling, and since the location was a bit on the small side it did make it difficult to look at the menu board without disrupting the flow of traffic through the restaurant. Looking around I wandered to the far end past the register, where a mountain of drool worthy baked goods were calling my name. But I was there for the quiche and only the quiche so I tried to pretend they didn’t exist by pushing them from my mind. The large menu board behind the counter listed a great selection of omelettes, and on the smaller specials board were listed the special quiches for the day.

Since there were only two I ordered a slice both which were $4.25 a slice, and in a moment of weakness I found myself saying, “and a croissant.” So for $2.00 more I did end up with a baked good in the end.

Finding a table was tricky, taking three trips back and forth across the restaurant, but finally we snagged a table and settled ourselves just in time for the food to be placed before us.

The croissant looked and tasted great. It was soft and fluffy with a melt in your mouth buttery taste. I was glad that I ordered this even if it wasn’t quiche.

Pushing that aside I dug into the "Turkey, Spinach, and Cauliflower Quiche." Cauliflower seemed odd to me, but the trio of main ingredients worked great together. It was nice and creamy with a good flaky crust. My only qualm would be I wish they used more turkey. It was layered on the bottom in what looked like a big slice. Perhaps if they used chopped up turkey instead there would have been a much better distribution. Problem aside it was still a solidly good slice of quiche.

Next up was the "Bell Pepper, Zucchini, and Mushroom Quiche." I love mushrooms, I don’t love zucchini. I’ve always found it to be a rather bland vegetable that only becomes edible when it’s soaked in butter or grilled. In this quiche the zucchini didn’t go far to add much flavor for me, but I loved the bell pepper and mushrooms. In fact combined with the cheesy egg quiche I adored it.

I’d be hard pressed to decide which one of the two I liked more as both had qualities I liked. They both were good and came very close to greatness, so I’d say they were equally satisfying. If I had the option to make my own I’d combine the turkey, mushrooms, and bell peppers. Now that sounds like a great quiche.

I had a great time in "Amandine Patisserie," and if I find myself in the mood one day or if I’m in the area, I would make a return visit for a different quiche and more certainly another baked good.
Amandine Patisserie
12225 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 979-3211

Brunch at Bizou

For more then one special occasion I’ve gone to Café Bizou in Sherman Oaks usually for a quaint lunch or dinner. This past Saturday I found myself taking part in their brunch menu, a new experience for me.

The menu consisted of a nice looking selection of breakfast items like eggs benedict, and an assortment of salads, sandwiches, and entrees that will also appear later in the day as lunch or dinner options. I settled on the "grilled salmon salad with papaya, grilled red onion and passion fruit dressing." ($10.95)

When the salad arrived I was happy to see the amount of salmon they provided me. On my last visit I had the "grilled ahi tuna salad" which was a bit light on the tuna. This one however was salmon plentiful. Odd however were the slices of papaya and red onion, which tasted fine but didn’t seem ready-made for this salad. The papaya and pile of onions needed to be chopped up instead of just tossed on top. This was probably one of the first salads where I felt like I needed a knife to properly eat it like a salad.

The dressing was another area of contention for me. Described as “passion fruit” I couldn’t taste any such fruit whatsoever. Instead I was affronted with the overpowering sour and acidic taste of what seemed like limes. This was just bad and ended up being inedible. I requested balsamic and pushed this passionless dressing off to the side.

Brunch at Café Bizou was not a good experience for me, which is sad considering I’ve had such a nice time during their other meals of the day. If I ever do find myself back there for brunch in the future, I’ll just stick to the entrees that I’ve already had and enjoyed. Like the "sautéed sandabs," the "roasted chicken breast," or the "roast pork tenderloin."
Café Bizou
14016 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 788-3536

Monday, April 23, 2007

All Dressed Up

Whenever I’m looking for something healthy at a new restaurant, the first part of the menu I scan are the salads. It’s one of the few items where you can totally control what goes into your meal, and I’m all about customization. With this in mind I was happy to discover “The Dressing Room” in Sherman Oaks; a restaurant that puts a gourmet spin on the salad bar.

Entering you’re presented with two options: order one of their specialty salads where all the decisions are made for you, or take one of their salad checklists and select from all the possible ingredients. For $6.95 you choose a base lettuce, five toppings (each additional for .65 cents), a dressing from a very extensive list, and for an additional nominal fee any meat or seafood you can imagine. The price varies depending on what you choose. In the end you can decide on the bowl or if you want it wrapped. After exhausting all of your decision making capabilities, take your creation to the counter and away they go before you can say “crouton.”

For my salad I selected the mixed greens, avocado, mushroom buttons, broccoli, red and yellow bell peppers (this counts as one), and chopped tomatoes. The dressing was their low-fat honey mustard which I requested on the side, and I added blackened chicken for $1.95. If you like chicken you also have the option of rotisserie or grilled.

The salad master goes down the salad bar, putting all of their incredibly fresh looking ingredients into a bowl. Meanwhile, over at the visible grill another person tosses on a hearty piece of chicken. At the end of the salad line the contents of your bowl are dumped out onto a chopping block, and the salad master chops away with a mezzaluna (a large curved chopping blade). The colorful goodness goes back into a bowl, mixed with your dressing, topped with your piping hot protein, and served.

The salad tastes as fresh as it looks. Lettuce is no where near limp or wilted, each added ingredient has exactly the right consistency, and the blackened chicken has a bit of spice. Overall perfect and exactly what I wanted. The dressing only enhances things further, adding a honey mustard sweetness to the already great tasting salad.

“The Dressing Room” is where you go if you’re looking for a nutritious lunch for less then $10 in the valley. With everything made to order, and the tons of healthy options, it’s hard to go wrong. If you do, you only have yourself to blame.
The Dressing Room
14622 Ventura Blvd #103
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(818) 788-4882

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cici and Me

If there was one type of eatery I wish was more plentiful in the valley, it would be restaurants that specialize in breakfast. IHOP has been done to death, and while their smiley faced pancakes are cute, their food doesn’t surpass standard breakfast fare.

Looking for something different I stumbled into Cici’s Café, a somewhat new restaurant in Tarzana (right near an IHOP). Their breakfast menu certainly was extensive, offering a wide variety of pancakes and waffles with interesting sounding names, and at times bizarre ingredients. Take for example the “Pig in the Mud,” a pancake with chocolate and ham. They also offered a nice selection of omelets, as well as the usual breakfast items like oatmeal and fruit. Most breakfast items were in the range of $8-$10.

It took me a long time to decide on what to order. Normally when I go out for breakfast I look for egg white omelets filled with vegetables, oatmeal, and as a side I always get fruit if its an option. When asked about toast I always get wheat, but hardly ever eat it. It normally just sits pushed a safe distance away from me so I'm not tempted to eat two large and normally buttery slices. My decision finally settled on the "Ceec Omelet" as suggested by the waitress; an egg white optional omelet with turkey sausage, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, portobello mushrooms and boursin cheese. I hardly ever get cheese, but today felt like a special day.

My girlfriend opted for the "To Infinity and Beyond" waffles; waffles, banana’s flambé, and vanilla bean ice cream. The beyond part probably has something to do with a sugar high. I couldn't start the day with ice cream, but to each their own. If you do want to start the day with a waffle or pancakes check to see if the restaurant offers a whole wheat option, if not stick to the plain variety. Treat syrup like I treat dressings; on the side, and instead of poured on dipped into with your fork before picking up food. Or do one better and inquire if the place offers sugar-free syrup, or get a side of fruit to top off the waffle. This is a way to sweeten the deal without adding tons of calories.

The omelet was dense but fluffy, exactly what I wanted. The cheese which I was unfamiliar with wasn’t melted like I thought it would be, but plopped on top as well as partially spread on the inside of the omelet. I wasn’t a big fan of its cream cheese consistency, or its zesty herb taste, but luckily there wasn’t a huge amount of it to deal with. Sans cheese I found the omelet only alright. I was hoping it would have been crammed full of the mentioned ingredients, but primarily it was just chunks of turkey and some tomatoes (not sun dried) and mushrooms. It tasted fine, I just wanted more. The side scalloped potatoes that it came with were exactly that, scalloped potatoes. Nothing special to flavor it, they were just ordinary. Come to think of it that cheese probably would have been good with them.

Now my girlfriend’s meal was another story. Hers both looked and tasted great. A large and warm waffle with just the right amount of banana and ice cream, I should have gone for the waffles. They gave her syrup, but as she indicated there was no need. She also noted that because the waffle was warm she had to eat it fast; otherwise she’d be swimming in melted ice cream. Calorie wise it was probably off the charts, but as a once in the while treat it would be a nice reward.

The bill came to about $21 sans drinks, which seemed alright considering portion sizes. But would I go back? To try the pancakes and waffles yes, but I’ll steer clear of the omelets. It’s definitely a place worth considering when in the area.
Cici's Cafe
18912 Ventura Blvd
Tarzana, CA 91356
(818) 881-6704