On Sunday we returned from a whirlwind trip to L.A.--four perfect days of eating, walking around, seeing friends, spotting celebrities (Dennis Rodman and Bobby Flay--not together), drinking cocktails, and in some seriousness envisioning a move to the southland. We spent a few nights at a posh hotel in West Hollywood and one night in Venice Beach, and I really couldn't tell you which we enjoyed more. Hollywood has Book Soup, Osteria Mozza (more about this in a moment), and that grungy mix of new and old, crystallized in a place like the Formosa Cafe, a noirish bar/Chinese restaurant inhabiting an old railroad car on Santa Monica Boulevard, where we had drinks and listened to a waitress complain about Christian Slater ducking out on a tab. But Venice has the ocean, surfers, lots of dogs, and that magnetic quality that only beach towns can have, which makes you think that living there would be a permanent vacation.
The first night we arrived, we headed to Jar, which we picked on a whim. It's basically fancy comfort food, and the menu is set up like a steakhouse: pick your main, your sauce, your sides. Plus, they specialize in braises. The husband opted for their trademark potroast, and I chose the "BBQ char siu-style" pork chop. Anyone who has eaten with me a lot knows that when I go out, I like to order things I don't or can't make at home. You will not catch me ordering chicken, unless I'm at Zuni, in which case, bring it on, because only a robot could resist that perfectly roasted bird served family-style over an arugula and bread salad. But--I digress.
The pork chop arrived burnished red and sweet from the hoisin glaze, chewy and moist, with the perfect border of fat around the edge. Incidentally, if you are going to eat pork (or duck, or beef), eat the fat, is one of my rules. People who order these lovely meats and then trim off all the fat, what's the point? Anyway, it was good, although truth be told the marinade was maybe a bit much for a whole chop. I think the Chinese way of doing the char siu as a component of a dish is more my speed.
The next day we hit the Farmer's Market at Fairfax and 3rd, where we picked up some gifts for friends, perused the sunny-looking produce, and ate enchiladas in mole.
That night we joined the very young and the very old by eating dinner at 5:45pm, the only time I could get reservations at Osteria Mozza. This was certainly the star of the vacation, at least to me. We started off with a fresh, creamy burrata which had just arrived from Italy the day before, served over braised leeks and olive oil with grilled garlicky bread. This was the kind of dish that sends me into a little trance. I have no idea if we spoke at all while eating this dish. I do remember looking at my husband and exchanging a deep look of love, but I can't confirm that it was not for the cheese.
We followed that with a stinging nettle tagliatelle with lamb ragu--mild, minty, delicate, delicious. I chose the duck confit finished under a brick to make it crispy, served with a firy pear compote and mustardy Brussels sprouts. The husband had a stunning whole grilled orata (sea bream, we learned), stuffed with dark greens and wrapped in radicchio. Dessert was perfectly sweet-tart cassis and clementine sorbets. All told, it was one of the more memorable dinners I've ever had.
The other notable discovery of the weekend, food-wise, was Pinkberry. What can I say? I'd heard all the hype, was prepared to reject it, and I found it quite addictive.
The most fun we had though, food and otherwise, was hanging with our friends in Venice. My friend said she wanted to cook for us, and when I asked what we were having, she said, "Grilled shrimp, salad, cake," which was exactly what we had and it was perfect. I think no matter how great the restaurants are that you're lucky enough to eat at, nothing beats sitting around a table with good friends, drinking wine, and eating food someone cooked just for you.