Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Healthy Way to Start the Day

When I wakeup every weekend morning I always find myself pondering the same question, what will I eat for breakfast? I’ll be honest and say that I run with a healthy crowd during the week, usually beginning my day in a hum drum bowl of oatmeal with a side of egg whites. I know my body so I know that if I don’t start the day out right I’ll be a hungry zombie in an hour.

This is why I look forward to the weekends. It allows me the rare opportunity to have someone else make me breakfast, or eat something any doctor would raise an eyebrow to. Something that emerged from a pan grease or is stacked high and drenched in maple syrup.

Still there are Saturdays where I lie in bed feeling conflicted, not knowing if I really want to go all out but still knowing I don’t want to be eating celery sticks. Presented with this conundrum I go to such a place where everything on the menu is somehow bad and good for you at the same time, Hugo’s in Studio City.

Arriving in the early morning hours with my girlfriend I could park easily, a feat which would become impossible if I had arrived anytime after 9. Seating choices both inside and outside were plentiful, so I took a seat on their plastic enclosed patio.

Opening the menu and you’ll see why I called this place somehow “bad and good for you” all in the same moment. Hugo’s is all about using organic ingredients and manages to turn the usual greasy spoon fare into a zen like experience. They have various vegan and vegetarian options and a variety of egg, pancake, and even pasta dishes. That’s right, pasta for breakfast. One popular item is their eggs benedict creation “Eggs Blackstone,” which uses black bean cakes in place of an English muffin. They also have “Strawberry Chai Pancakes” that come with organic maple syrup. With all this healthy eating expect a price bump from the usual diner food with everything hovering around $10.

For our breakfasts my girlfriend ordered the “Gluten-Free Carrot Cake Pancakes” off their specials menu. It was described as including “shredded carrots, walnuts, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg,” and coming topped with “sliced bananas, maple candied walnuts, and agave sweetened vegan cream cheese icing.”

I on the other hand couldn’t decide between the “pumpkin pancakes” or “cinnamon swirl french toast.” Since I couldn’t make up my mind I asked our waitress what she would pick, to which she gave me an even better option. I could order half and half and save myself from orderer’s regret. Thanks for the tip!

As far as looks are concerned Jenn's was certainly the most appealing. I could see someone ordering those for dessert. Although I was glad to see that my french toast wasn't just some generic swirl imprint but in fact rolled and sliced bread. The pancake appeared to me like any old pancake.

For the first few bites I actually thought it might be. I couldn't detect any pumpkin and started to think they left the pumpkin out of their pumpkin pancakes. But the more I ate the more pumpkin like it became. It seemed to me that maybe the batter wasn't stirred properly and perhaps led to this fickle cake. My french toast on the other hand was great. The cinnamon shown through brightly and I loved its pull apart consistency. The maple syrup I could tell wasn't some generic high fructose blend. This was the real deal. If you are faced with choosing between pumpkin or cinnamon, go cinnamon.

My girlfriends choice I think looked better then it tasted. When she cut into it I could see the carrots but the pancake tasted weak. I think Hugo's seriously needs to up the signature ingredients of their pancakes if they want to make them more of a winner. Still I should mention that they do have their cooking technique down. Both our pancakes were light and airy. A quality I look for in a well made pancake. I also loved the toppings that came with the carrot.

Usually when I go to Hugo's for breakfast I go for their egg dishes, with this visit being my first foray into pancakes. My experience is that they execute them very well and I've never been disappointed. So I think next time I'll either do the same or order the cinnamon french toast to assure I leave with a smile.
Hugo's Restaurant
12851 Riverside Dr.
Studio City, CA 91607

Get Directions
(818) 761-8985

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Parking My Butt at Luna Park

I have a personal issue with brunch. For the rare special occasion it can be a lovely thing and something to do on a slow Sunday morning. The menu from place to place is generally the same, consisting of various poached egg and fish offerings with the usual bubbly champagne. I go for “Mother’s Day” and “Easter,” and other random days throughout the year at the behest of friends.

My personal preference is to have breakfast and lunch separate. I like waking up to an omelet or french toast, then progressing a few short hours into something like a burger or sandwich. When I go to brunch I feel pressured to make a decision between the two, leaving one sacrificed and me normally dissatisfied throughout the day wishing I’d chosen the later. A few Sunday’s ago I braved the decision at “Luna Park,” a trendy restaurant on La Brea known for its mojitos.

At around 11:30 in the morning the place was practically empty and we were seated in one of the few wooden booths. On busier nights these would be ideal if you’re looking for privacy. There’s even a curtain you can close to give you and your party a feel of seclusion.

The brunch menu was certainly varied but I could clearly see some breakfast bias. Breakfast was divided into a “sweet” and “savory” section, with “sweet” being carbs and “savory” being protein. I was disappointed in the lack of sugary options. If you want something like pancakes forget it they only have french toast, cream of wheat, and granola for anyone with a sweet tooth. If you’re all about ham and eggs then consider yourself set with triple the options. Lunch was what I expected, consisting of appetizers, a few salads, and a wider assortment of sandwiches.

I found myself juggling between either the fried egg or pastrami sandwich, finally settling on the fried egg. My girlfriend was toying with the idea of french toast but ended up with the salmon and brie frittata. For a starter we both agreed on the goat cheese fondue which comes with bread and apples for dipping.

The fondue arrived quickly. So quickly in fact that while it was wooshed to our table the candle went out. It took some time for us to flag down someone to relight it. For me the appetizer was cute but ended at that. I don’t know why but I always think I’ll like goat cheese more then I do. There is something about the texture that I always find off putting. Plus when you think about it this close to $10 appetizer was just goat cheese and apples, nothing special. I was hoping that lunch would make up for my appetizer ordering faux pas.

Our selections arrived a short while later and the results were in. It didn’t as far as my ordering skills were concerned. My egg sandwich was bland and messy with the fries being forgetful. A big complaint I had was with the cream cheese, which for this sandwich just didn’t work. It needed something stronger like melted cheddar to pull it all together. My girlfriend’s choice was the much better of the two, being something I actually wish I would have ordered. I grudgingly ate the rest of my sandwich and watched her all smiles consuming hers with glee.

Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon, Avocado, Arugula, and Cream Cheese on Brioche with Fries

Smoked Salmon and Brie Cheese Frittata with a Green Salad

Moving beyond our meals we looked at the dessert menu and gave it some thought, but after my previous two choices we decided to leave and make our way to “Joan’s on Third” for some tried and true cupcakes.

Luna Park
672 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-2110