Le Pain Quotidien: Chilled Gazpacho

I didn't understand why Chilled Gazpacho was under "specialty" on Le Pain Quotidien's menu and why in heaven they served it everyday.  Chilled Gazpacho neither sounds appetizing or welcoming; the word "gazpacho" which sounds very similar to gestapo gives me visions that rises some kind of fear inside me.  But of course this is all because I'm a naive American, I'm sure in Spain gazpacho sounds nothing like gestapo or gives even an inkling to compare the two.

Even so, curiosity got the best of me and I ordered a bowl of the Chilled Gazpacho.  A pureed tomato based cold soup with herbs and Le Pain Quotidien's secret ingredient, bread, which gives this gaspacho a slightly thick and runny texture.  The Chilled Gazpacho at Le Pain Quotidien is highly recommended, it is refreshing and flavorful and surprisingly filling.  The Gaspacho comes with a side of two slices of bread which of course you could eat with your gaspacho...

or save it for last to eat with Le Pain Quotidien's many spreads! - This is how I do it of course!  The Praline spread is one of my favorites but if you're better friends with jam then I suggest the apricot jam which is absolutely mouthwatering!

Total Damage: $7.00 +/-
1 Chilled Gazpacho

Le Pain Quotidien
113 N. Larchmont
LA CA 90004
(323) 461.7701

Larchmont Bungalow's Gluten-Free Fish Tacos

The Mexican Mocha and Gluten-Free Orange Almond Muffins is usually my regular order at Larchmont Bungalow.  I often come here for little to go snacks as I have the strong opinion that the food here could be hit or miss, and I don't think there is anything I dislike more than not knowing what to expect.  

But for months now I've stood in line at Bungalow waiting to order my coffee and muffin perusing the gluten-free menu that stands on the counter.  Recently gone gluten-free (albeit in a lenient manner, I am a foodie afterall) the food listed on that particular menu sounded interesting, Huevos Rancheros, Fish Tacos, Bison Chili!  Hmmm? (As I like my chops).  What's even greater I have to admit is not having to dissect the meal yourself, figuring out if what you're ordering is gluten-free can be quite bothersome if you don't have the energy.

While out running errands today at Larchmont Village I decided to stop in at Bungalow and grab some lunch.  Taking a look at their gluten-free menu I decided on the fish tacos.

The Bungalow loves to use their long elongated plates for many of their food, the fish tacos came in three... on an elongated plate with a side of sour cream and black beans, it looked beautiful and exciting.  Wetting your appetite by feasting with your eyes is something Bungalow definitely has down.

I took a close look at the fish tacos, grilled fish, cilantro, guacamole, cucumbers, dill, chives? (or was it?), then slices of mango and papaya.  

And while the black beans was just simple heated black beans the sour cream contained a couple different herbs (one of which tasted like chives) and bits of mango.  It was delicious.

So how was Bungalow's gluten-free fish tacos?  It was ABSOLUTELY delicious!  And I mean absolutely.  The slight sweetness of the mango and papaya with the crisp refreshing slices of cucumbers and the base of the main ingredient: char-grilled fish, went together all very nicely.  It was indeed the most unique fish tacos I ever feasted upon.  And who says you can't eat anything if you're gluten-free.

Total Damage:  $14.00 +/-

1 Gluten-free fish tacos

Larchmont Bungalow
107 N. Larchmont Blvd
LA CA 90004
(323) 461.1528

A very Russian experience at Kashtan

What can I say about Russian's and eating?  "Vodka and lots of, lots of food great food".  From what I've gathered so far from having dinners with Mr. Borscht's family every now and then is that drinking wine and/or vodka with dinner which usually consists of many salad dishes followed by a main meat entree then followed by sweet (aka dessert in the states) is the way it is done.  A meal seems to not only be about eating good food and enjoying it but also about being with family and/or friends and enjoying their company.  And boy do they know how to have a good time.  They can sit and eat for hours, slowly eating, tasting a little bit here and a little bit there, cheering to acknowledge the good happens between every few bites, everyone is cheerful and in a good mood, exchanging stories that are interesting if not funny.  Through sitting and eating dinners with them I've learned that the Russian people know how to truly enjoy life and appreciate- and they do this through eating, thus eating a meal is not just eating a meal but something more, this something I find lacking, unfortunately, in other cultures.

A celebration for any occasion whether it's Christmas, New Year's or a birthday is done through having family and friends sit around one table and eating a long meal, there will be not only drinks, food and laughter but also music and maybe a little bit of dancing between dishes.  I was fortunate to have been invited to one such celebration recently held at Kashtan, a Russian restaurant in Los Angeles' Little Russia located in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard.  The restaurant was small, there was small dance floor and a deejay, the lights were dim... and there was a table full of delicious Russian food!

The Mackerel, eat with a squeeze of lemon and some dill pickled onions

Pickled tomatoes

The beginning dishes and salads included a variety of salads such as a tomato salad with cucumbers, red onions and dill; pickled tomatos; and shrimp pineapple salad.  Small meat dishes there are also in variety such as Mackerel, there was also a cured meat dish that included prosuitto, pork and ham, and a couple different cured filet fish.  Then there were more traditional and odd small Russian dishes such as the Chicken broth gelatin with pieces of chicken floating around in the gelatin.

Chicken broth gelatin

The many side dishes that takes up 2/3 of the time of dinner is followed by a meat entree, at Kashtan it was a few different meats: chicken kabob, ribs and lamb over roasted potatoes.  Needless to say, this too was absolutely fabulous.

My personal preference is to have a home-cooked Russian dinner, nothing seems to beat home-cooked food.  While their home-cooked dinners are less extravagant meaning more salads and less meats it is still infinitely more delicious.  And while a home-cooked Russian dinner is my preference I would still suggest trying a dinner at Kashtan, at least to get to know Russian cuisine, and if you have Russian friends or family to go with- all the more better!  Because as you may have picked up on this post, it's not only about eating in Russia.

7707 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood CA 90046
(323) 654.8713

Kate Mantilini

An early Father's Day dinner at Kate Mantilini's located in Beverly Hills, my father's favorite restaurant.  The atmosphere is not a bit trendy but a bit swank, packed with business-like people averaging an older age group, mums and dad's, people in their late 30's and up, these sort of people, people that have sophistication that comes with age.  You won't find 20-somethings coming here to have dinner and drinks before clubbing all night long, and with this results a certain ease about eating a nice dinner here at Kate's.  But do not mistake the sophisticated age group for a quiet atmosphere, with Kate's restaurant structure that boasts very high ceilings and slick cement walls gives off a rather mid-city vibe where the sounds bounce off walls to floors to ceiling, the clink of dinnerware and the chatter of diners reverberate... but pleasantly.  Louder than a quiet steak-house restaurant you won't be afraid to actually have an actual discussion over dinner, there will be no straining to hear your companions' story and feel it ease speaking in your normal voice, you will not be afraid that you will be the loudest there.  This particular din at Kate's gives off the impression that the restaurant is casual and I suppose it is up to a certain point, it is the perfect mixture of casual but swank and sophisticated, in this way it is the perfect place for a first, second or third date.

The menu is just under enormous with a wide variety to pick from, seafood, chicken, steak, soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pasta!  They seem to have it all.  And with a large party of 12 it is perfect, there is something for everyone!

Friday night and I'm tired, Tired, TIRED from a rather long week just lived, so I begin with a Mocha.  Large round cup, the kind of cup that can probably be shared by two.  I take a sip... delicious, chocolatey mocha, my favorite kind of mocha.  Mmmm, and I think to myself breakfast here won't be so bad either I bet.

Mr. Borscht orders the Chicken Pot Pie which is only made on weekends and stated in the menu as voted L.A.'s Best, how can you bypass a statement like that?  At around $18.00 it is considered mid-priced on the menu.  I suppose 'voted L.A.'s Best' would heighten anyone's expectation but I was a bit disappointed in the chicken pot pie.  The crust was not crusty but instead soft, this is a big deal of course, it's chicken pot pie afterall!  Any chicken pot pie fan will tell you that the crust is VERY important, thick and crusty it must be!  Not thin and floppy.  The filling was equally disappointing, lacking in full robust tastes of thyme and other herbs.  The pie also lacked in texture of that smooth creaminess we all think of when considering chicken pot pies.  I suggest, if a good pot pie is what you desire, to make it at home, which is actually very easy to do and much more tasty.  Nothing beats a home-cooked chicken pot pie in my experience.

On this night I'm feeling healthy, light but filling, and still delicious.  Can I find this at Kate's?  You can rarely find this combination anywhere.  Often times you have to except the fact that the healthy options on the menu isn't exactly mouth-watering although it may not be bad-tasting at all.  I peruse the Healthy Alternatives on the menu, Stevie T's Sliced Chicken Paillard catch my eyes, layered with chopped garlic spinach and a choice of white or brown rice with tomatillo salsa.  I order Steve T's with white rice.

The entree looked delicious and enticing, the layers of pounded thin grilled chicken, the sauteed garlic spinach, white rice and the beautiful green of the tomatillo salsa excites the heart through the eyes.  A bite of the chicken... grilled, slightly charred, moist... delicious!  The entree was exactly what I wanted and was indeed all those things I spoke of: healthy, light but filling and still mouth-watering good!  I almost couldn't believe it.  The tomatillo salsa was especially nice as it gave that added extra zing with each bite should you find that simply the chicken with garlic spinach and rice just wasn't doing it for you.  I ate to my heart's content and had no guilty feelings about it before bed :D  Perrrrfect.

Total Damage:  $50.00 (-/+)

2 Mochas
1 Stevie T's Sliced Chicken Paillard
1 Chicken Pot Pie

9101 Wilshire Blv.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 278.3699

Lemon Marmalade from scratch

There are some things that just seem super complicated, for example, Souffle and Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Here are two dishes that when I simply think about getting a recipe for to try it out from scratch gives me a mild head-ache, literally.  Actually I have a mild head-ache right now just discussing it.  Another dish grouped into this category of 'give-me-mild-headaches' is marmalade.  It is very likely I feel this way about marmalades because it was always one of those breakfast condiments that I bought at the store, I had never seen anyone make fresh marmalade or jam before, my mother definitely did not.  Years of store-bought pre-packaged marmalade and jam has been pressed into my head that I never even thought to make it myself, why would I anyway?  Wasn't the reason why store-bought was so popular because it was so difficult to make?  This is what I thought, until I tried to make it myself one day.

Feeling energized and extra adventurous I gave it my all to follow a recipe for orange marmalade from one of my cookbooks.  Determined to make the orange marmalade right the first time was high on my list of goals for this one cooking occasion, mainly because it took over-night to make- I didn't want to have to try it again or throw out two- days worth of work.  I followed the instructions carefully, four large oranges and two lemons, seedless, thinly sliced into half moons; 8 cups of water and 8 cups of sugar.  Bring to a boil, let stand over night, bring to a boil, simmer for 2 hours and bring to a boil once more until temperature reaches 220 degrees, and finally you are done.  I even bought a temperature gauge specifically for this purpose.  In the end however, even with 'the all' I gave it I was less than impressed with the recipe, did I do something wrong?  I still don't know, I suppose it wouldn't surprise me if I did make a mistake somewhere along the way, I often do.  Anyhow, the orange marmalade came out too hard for my liking, it was a struggle to spread on toast- sad, sad, sad.

The orange marmalade incident still sat at the back of my mind, sometimes my thoughts would meander to the orange marmalade incident only for me to push it away.  I had such high hopes for that orange marmalade!  I'm almost sure I followed the recipe exactly and still it had come out sadly.  After all this time had passed I still, inside, couldn't admit to defeat because I was sure I had followed the directions.

10:30 PM Friday night, I lay in bed getting cozy for my daily dream-escape, the orange marmalade is on my mind again, after 15-minutes of frustration I get out of bed and go pluck a single lemon from the lemon tree in the yard.  Here goes, round two.  But this time the lemon marmalade was under my jurisdiction though I still followed the general guidelines of the orange marmalade recipe.

On the counter I lined up my ingredients:

3/4 cup of Turbinado sugar (instead of plain sugar)
1 seedless lemon sliced in half moons with its juices (instead of orange)
1 cup of water

The original orange marmalade recipe required a sugar/fruit ratio that was 2:1, which = quite a bit of sugar.  Following the original recipe would have then asked for 2 cups of sugar for 1 lemon, I cut this down quite a bit but not as much as I would have liked, in the end I figured I was dealing with lemons which are a lot more sour than oranges.  I also used Turbinado sugar instead of plain white sugar, I've made this change in my diet quite recently and had no plain white sugar on hand for the marmalade, but I figured sugar is sugar.

And thus I moved calmly along to make my own lemon marmalade from scratch.  This is how I did it:

1.  Put sliced lemons and the juices into a small stainless steel pot along with the 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.

2.  Once the mixture comes to a boil turn off the heat and add all the sugar.  Stir the mixture until sugar is completely dissolved.

3.  Once sugar is completely dissolved into the liquid mixture, put the lid on the pot and let sit at room temperature over-night.

4.  The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil.  Once the mixture begins to boil, turn down the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes.

5.  After 30 minutes of simmering, turn up the heat and allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil for about 15-30 minutes (the less you allow it to boil the softer the marmalade will be, boiling the marmalade for 30 minutes will result in a slightly stiff marmalade that is still spreadable).  During this boiling step take the time to skim off any foam that gathers at the top of the mixture.

*Note:  the marmalade will be runny when you jar it but will harden in the jar as it cools.

Happily the lemon marmalade came out to my liking, sure the turbinado sugar (which is brown) resulted in a brown-hued lemon marmalade but it tasted of semi-tart lemon marmalade all the same.  Most importantly I learned that making marmalade from scratch is actually very simple, there really isn't any temperature reading that has to be done and no specific cups of sugar that needs to be used.  If you favor much more tart-flavored marmalades use less sugar, if you want it runnier get the marmalade mixture off the heat faster.  Marmalades are definitely something to be adventurous about!

You don't have to use this recipe but allow me to list the general guideline of ratios when dealing with marmalades so you have a general sense of it and know where to begin to tweak it to make your own marmalade recipe.

Sugar-to-water ratio (1:1)
Sugar-to-fruit ratio (2:1)

L'Epicerie Market, the escargot shines

Mr. Borscht and I have been to L'Epicerie Market on one other occasion, for a birthday lunch.  I remember asking if they had escargot then and remember being sorely disappointed when the waiter answered that escargot was only served on the dinner menu.  And so on this night, a chilly Thursday evening at 7:30 PM at L'Epicerie Market on Culver Boulevard for yet again another birthday dinner, dressed in our casual best to meet family and friends for a quiet celebration and idle catch-up chatter, I have in the back of my mind a pulsating but pleasant thump of anticipation that echos in the depths of my ears and head "escargot~".  But allow me to leave the high-light of the evening feast to last.

To begin Sauteed Field Mushrooms, a fancy way of saying mushroom crostini (pictured above).  A mound of sauteed mushrooms tossed in Black truffle vinaigrette and laid out beautifully on toasted country bread topped with arugula and grated parmesan.  I love mushrooms, it's nearly my most favorite vegetable if not the favorite but this aesthetically appealing dish ceased to impress me as the natural earthy flavors of the sauteed mushrooms were quite lost in the heavy-handed Black truffle vinaigrette, and all my palate was able to discern was the sweet tangy Black truffle vinaigrette.  And however fancy this Black truffle vinaigrette may be it will never be fancy enough to stand up to my love of the natural earthy flavors of mushrooms, which again, was terribly lacking in this mushroom featured appetizer.

Second app, beet salad consisting of colorful beets, romaine hearts all tossed together with a sherry vinaigrette and topped with grated parmesan (pictured below).  Sadly another heavy handed job on the sherry vinaigrette which resulted in the loss of natural flavors from the beets being exemplified, instead I was met with beets that were too sweet from the vinaigrette.

I feel partially to blame for Mr. Borscht's slightly bland Halibut, as I told him to choose this dish over his other choice.  Halibut laid ontop of mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach with a bit of capers lemon sauce and brown butter (pictured above).  My first impression after getting two fork fulls of halibut, spinach and mash potatoes was that it was.... blaaaand.... and because of it quite boring, almost put me to sleep- another sad story indeed!  What I should have done was taken one for the team for the sake of my conscious and traded Mr. Borscht my plate for his since I suggested this bland Halibut... But I just couldn't, my little angel apparently wasn't speaking loudly enough amongst the loud din of the restaurant.

Duck Confit, fried leg of duck laid ontop of buttery soft sauteed potatoes sarladaise that was tossed with a couple of strips of green onion, slices of garlic, and the kicker?  Chanterelle mushrooms (pictured below)!  The potatoes with all the goodies was absolutely wonderful and perfect (and I did leave half of that for Mr. Borscht) but lets not forget the main feature of this entree the leg of duck.  The skin was crispy which leads me to believe that this duck was either fried or roasted very well, the duck meat?  Very sub-par, I found most of the meat to be tough, chewy, sometimes even stringy.  Okay, so I may have had a couple of bites that were absolutely moist and delicious but they were hidden and very rare treats.  I may not have had many potatoes as good as the ones in this dish but I surely had duck that was better.

This 2.85 Star restaurant review finally gets to the high-light of the evening, Escargot a la perigourdine, Escargot cooked and tossed in White wine sauce, bits of garlic and topped with thin slices of Serrano ham (pictured below).  The escargot itself was cooked to perfection, soft, moist, not too chewy... more, buttery in texture than anything else.  The flavor of the escargot mingled just right with the white wine sauce and garlic, allowing the flavor of the escargot and the white wine sauce to come through nicely together and separately at the same time.  Most times I find that escargot cooked in its usual manner: butter and garlic, is a bit too buttery and garlicky which results in a rather heavy-feel for such small creatures, but the escargot a la perigourdine at L'Epicerie Market was a very pleasant change that lightened the dish considerably, and I dare say I prefer it in this manner than the traditional.  Escargot fan?  Give this escargot dish a try.

So while all the other dishes of the night may have been a miss and in the case of the Duck Confit, a near miss, at least I can say that the escargot was absolutely delicious.

Total Damage:  $84.00 +/-

1 Sauteed Field of Mushrooms
1 Beet Salad
1 Escargot a la Perigourdine
1 Duck Confit
1 Fish of the Day

9900 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 815.1600


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