Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yes, Intelligentsia Was Worth the Wait

Ok, so Intelligentsia officially opened their doors on Friday at noon slowly building into a hectic yet family-friendly and happy evening community gathering in their new home of Silver Lake.
As we made our approach to the grand opening party, I was struck by the, forgive me, good vibes emanating from the small groups laughing, smiling, chatting, eating and drinking, and just welcoming Intelligentsia with a warm embrace. The great dj, fruit and cheese nibbles, and free coffee drinks certainly helped put everyone in a giddy mood. The staff were understandably overwhelmed as the place was hopping. But they were genuinely friendly and expert coffee crafters.

M and I gravitated toward the famous Clover machines where two Intelligentsia guys were constantly brewing for the endless people in line. I knew it may be a pain in the tuchas, but there's no way this little lady could drink caffeine at 7pm so I asked if I could order a decaf coffee from the Clover. The nice guy who was helping us happily accommodated my request even though I could tell it threw them off for a moment. The coffee was grand, rich, and wonderful.

This morning we headed back after yoga and before the area was crazy as this is Sunset Junction weekend. Much more mellow and amazingly already a community hub with young families and a colorful assortment of Silver Lakers enjoying their Sunday morning. Already way overheated, I ordered an iced latte. Whoa, this was unlike any iced latte I had ever consumed: The espresso was strong without any bitterness and it had the most subtle creaminess. Exceptional. My own little coffee snob who adored Intelligentsia during his Chicago days reported this morning's latte was as good as he remembered with a beautifully formed foam.

I love the people who work here too. They remind me of my favorite book store staffers: knowledgeable, friendly, authentic, and take pride in their work. I love their patio with an incredible tile. This is not Starbucks, friends. This is a true blue gem. Thankfully they picked our little Silver Lake to settle in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Santa Barbara With Mom

My Mom's husband's annual pilgrimage is Hot August Nights, a 10 day classic car extravaganza in Reno. Mom and I usually use his trip as an excuse for a girls getaway, just the two of us and this year we spent a couple nights in Santa Barbara.

Our first meal was dinner at Opal on State, a warm little bistro. Starting with cocktails, I had the Mexico City (Hornitos tequila, cranberry juice, lime, and triple sec) and Mom had a ginger mandarin cosmo. Both were excellent and potent. We shared four courses: the phyllo wrapped tiger prawns with a coconut curry dipping sauce to start, followed by a caesar and a salmon encrusted with crab meat. For dessert, a fabulous jack daniel's bittersweet chocolate creme brulee.
Overall, Opal was just fine, not amazing but good enough. Highlights were the cocktails which were creative, delicious, and strong and the dessert. Our server was a sweetie, the rest of the staff were friendly and conscientious, and the space was warm and inviting.

On Saturday morning, after a long walk along the harbor, we headed over to the Tupelo Junction Cafe on State for breakfast. I had been once before with Germ so I knew Mom would love its homey interior and Southern-influenced dishes. We split the smoked salmon, scallion, and cream cheese scramble with a toasted bagel which was good, I just wished they would have mentioned that it's actually a bagel sandwich. Not a big deal but the scramble made the bagel slightly soggy and a tad hard to eat. But the flavors were there and, all in all, we both enjoyed it. A side of fruit made our breakfast a little more healthy, though Mom isn't a fan of fruit in general - crazy, I know!
After a big breakfast and a stroll along State, we made a stop at the Paradise Cafe, one of my all-time favorites, for a snack and a glass of wine. The Paradise is quintessential Santa Barbara: garden patio with flowers and wrought iron, sunny servers, leisurely meals of oak-grilled fish, steak, or their too good burgers. I pray to the restaurant gods that the Paradise never closes (unlike the Earthling Bookshop, my old love driven out by Borders...but I digress).

As it was 3pm with dinner on the horizon, we split the grilled shrimp served over red and green salsas. Beautifully and simply prepared, smoky from the oak grill.
For dinner, we were having a hard time deciding between the Palace, an old favorite and Square One, coincidentally doors away from each other. The Palace is always a rambunctious time with cajun cuisine in a New Orleans-themed setting. But Square One is fairly new, has an ambitious menu, and seemed like a must. Square One was able to fit us in last-minute so we hurried over.

The scene at Square One is serene and elegant yet laid back. Mom and I shared four courses: Sweet Corn Soup Three Ways, Little Gem Salad, Filet of Beef, and Duo of Bananas.

I'd say our favorites were the Sweet Corn Soup Three Ways - corn-bacon succotash, corn custard, spiced corn froth and the dessert. Not only did the soup look stunning, it tasted incredible. And the dessert was innovative, beautiful, and delicious.

The Little Gem Salad, with anchovy-caper relish, black pepper tuile, parmesan, and garlic dressing tasted suspiciously like an ordinary caesar. And the filet, wrapped with house smoked bacon, escargot bourguignonne, and pommes maxim, was sadly just ok. I'm glad we tried it, but next time we'll go for the party and the beignets at the Palace.

Dinner ended pretty early so we were able to stroll down to the Arlington for the last showing of the "Bourne Ultimatum" which, to the surprise of our guys, we loved. And the Arlington is just gorgeous.
The weekend's last breakfast, much to my mother's dismay, was a breakfast burrito at the Cantina in Isla Vista. I know some of my college ladies think Cantina breakfast burritos are heaven on earth and, truth be told, back in the days of hungover mornings they were pretty wonderful.
But now that we have Villa Corona in our back yard, I have to say our Cantina burrito was just ok. It did bring back memories, especially when followed by a lovely walk around IV, to the Co-op, down DP, and through Anisq' Oyo park. We ended up at Sands beach relaxing under the sun and relishing our time together.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Viva Hot Vegas - Part One

We are never going back to Las Vegas.

I've always thought it was too noisy, smoky, and filled with an overabundance of extremely obnoxious people. But it had been a few years and I was lured in by the possibility of restaurant adventures. While the Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon's of the world were out of our reach, there were plenty of other middle of the road spots to keep us busy.

Long story short: We made a fateful decision to walk around in the 117 degree heat, I developed heat stroke, and left early. On the upside we had some great meals, our hotel room was cheap (I got a ridiculous deal online) and lovely, and we didn't lose any money on gambling.

But onto the trip report:

We stayed on the 31st floor of the Paris Hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio Fountains.

Our flight arrived at 8am so we were ready for breakfast which consisted of a chocolate croissant and a couple coffees at the Lenotre Patisserie in our hotel. The croissant was so-so, but it eased us into our first morning.
After we settled into our room we gambled a bit and then walked to Mario Batali's casual place at the Venetian. Our first long walk which wasn't in terms of distance but the heat and the crowds made it exhausting. Enoteca San Marco's menu is similar to Mozza, is set in the middle of the Venetian near the canals and the piazza, and it's beautiful in a surreal way.

M had an iced tea served with a tiny carafe of simple syrup. Loved this!

Do you see what I mean about it being surreal? It's charming, pretty, and totally fake

For our first course, we tried the Insalata di Acetaia, red oak lettuce, egg, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, pecorino, and sweet balsamic. Sweet, salty, meaty, green. Excellent.

Moved onto the pancetta and goat cheese pizza with tomato, carmelized onions, and Coach Farm cheese. Again sweet, tangy, and quite rich.

As usual, the service was pure Batali: smart, impeccable, knew every inch of the menu, and sweet and authentic.
As we were heading out we noticed there was a Bouchon Bakery. Having room for a post-lunch dessert, we grabbed a vanilla eclair. As you can probably guess, it was perfect.
On our way back to the Paris, we stopped by the Flamingo to see the tribute to Bugsy Siegal, who built the hotel which opened in 1946 and started the first Vegas building craze.

Home sweet home.

To be continued....Mesa Grill, Lotus of Siam, Jean Phillipe Patisserie, and Bouchon.