Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Life and Times in Sunset + Vine, LA - Part 1

This is my much delayed post on my culinary expeditions around the Sunset and Vine area, mostly within half a mile radius

Baja Fresh
Light, fresh, inexpensive no nonsense Mexican food. I found that Mexican food sits rather well on the homesick Indian palate. I tried most of what they had to offer but I liked the Tacos and Quesilladas the best. Everything is served with nachos, salsa and guacamole and makes for a filling meal. Their slogan is No Microwaves and no MSG (I think) and they live up to their 'Fresh' slogan completely. It’s the usual noisy eatery, quick token based service and you needn't tip as its self service all the way.

A meal for one here will cost about $10 to $15

Zen Zoo Tea Cafe
This exotic little eatery is nested beside the Borders book store. The food served is oriental and was definitely music to my spice starved palate. It has both here and to go options and has little Feng Shui knick knacks on sale too which you can browse while you wait for your food to arrive. It also has a collection of fine teas from the Far East which you can order.

I tried the Dim Sum Platter which was served with hot (rather mild as per Indian palates) chili sauce and a very sharp mustard which brought tears to my eyes. The dim sums had all kinds of fillings - spinach, shrimps, pork and there was something called pot stickers as well which had a bread like covering with pork filling inside. It was served in the steamer it was cooked in and has 12 dim sums in all. Beef and Broccoli with brown rice was also good and so was the Citrus Chicken (very much like sweet and sour chicken in Chinese restaurants in India). Though I thought that the chicken was too fibrous and needed a lot of chewing.

A meal for one here will set you back by about $15

A Japanese restaurant which seemed to do very good business. It took me a few days to venture into this place as I have never had a brush with Japanese cuisine before so the fear of the unknown kept me away but I overcame it soon enough. I tried their sushi platter which .... tasted .... different! But it wasn't bad either. The taste of the rice seemed to be more dominant than that of the fish inside - a dunk in the wasabi and soy sauce ensured that it tasted like something.

I also experimented with a tempura platter with miso sauce and sticky rice. This was a much happier experience - the crispness of shrimps and vegetables is amazing and everything is a perfect golden glow. The tempura is served on a bed of salad consisting of lettuce and tomatoes. The miso sauce was interesting though the rice was avoidable.

A meal for one here (any one item) will cost about $20

Fabiolus Cafe
Fabiolus Cafe is an Italian eatery which has a nice informal environment. It’s got a cheery and friendly ambience where the manager / owner or whoever the person may be welcomes each individual with a big smile and a warm greeting and showed me to my table. I had set my heart upon on any kind of a risotto and thankfully it features on the menu in many forms. I opted for a risotto with over roasted Italian sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and parmesan cheese. While I was waiting for the risotto to arrive, I nibbled on some bread and an olive based dip. The risotto tasted good but I think there is better - the texture was more watery than creamy and the rice was slightly undercooked. It was the typical assembled quick fix risotto with no trace of white wine, which I believe is an essential ingredient.

A meal for one here will cost about $25

One can always depend on this eatery being open till the wee hours of the morning (3 AM) and it serves traditional American food. There are indoor and outdoor dining options and if you choose indoors, the interiors are fairly pleasant. I came here to satisfy my cravings for steak and mashed potatoes and thankfully it was there on the menu. I ordered something called 'Skirt teak with mashed potatoes' - it tasted excellent though the portion of meat was rather modest. The brown gravy from the steak and the buttery mashed potatoes was the best thing I have ever eaten. If I had time I would have come back another time but this was my last meal in LA.

An average meal for 1 will cost about $25 to $35

The Hungry Cat
This is the most trendy and chic eatery in the vicinity and is tucked away a little inside the Sunset + Vine complex, every time I walked past this place - which was everyday as I lived in the same apartment block, I always heard sounds of cutlery on china plates and a lot of animated chatter. It was always crowded and with good reason. I ate here on two occasions, the menu does not have a lot of choice and usually its best to go with the 'Today's Special' I had a crab frittata which was a no nonsense crab frittata with lots of shredded crab meat and a suitable amount of egg to bind it and was lightly seasoned. It tasted fresh, light and excellent - if one has white wine to go with it - it's even better. The next time I went there was for dinner, a sort of a last day in LA all by myself celebration. The seating and the ambience is somewhat rustic, there is a candle on each table, I sat outdoors and had this most divine meal of raw scallops marinated with orange and ginger oil and garnished with cilantro accompanied with a drink called orange juyola (or something like that) which was a lovely orangey and lemony vodka based drink. The Hungry Cat is an elegant seafood restaurant which is more on the expensive side but well worth it.

An average meal for one here will cost anything from $10 to $35 depending on your appetite.

Los Balcones Del Peru
The first time I entered here - it seemed that it was some long forgotten place stuck in a time warp. The interiors have a rustic Peruvian (?) feel. The selection is not long enough to confuse you and is not short enough to leave you wanting for choices. All menu items are available in beef, chicken and sea food options. Toasted bread and green cilantro and chili based dip is served as a starter while I waited for the food to arrive and it took quite a while. Unfortunately I cannot recollect the names of the dishes I ate but it tasted wonderful and was this combination of fried prawns, rice, tomatoes, bell peppers and fries with some divine sauce. On another occasion I tried the sea food spaghetti which was also excellent. It is also popularly known as Mario's and definitely worth a few visits.

An average meal for one costs about $15

Borders Cafe
The coffee served here is termed as 'Seattle's Best Coffee'. A fair amount of variety is there in both hot and cold coffees. I tried something called Raspberry Mocha Twist which tasted good. The cheese cake was divine and quite perfect. The place has inside and outside seating and is a good place to browse through reading material while drinking coffee.

Zankou Chicken
The ultimate in fast food - quick, delicious and cheap. Though it’s not exactly in the Sunset + Vine locality but is a few minutes drive away. I tried their trademark item called the Tarna which was roasted chicken, tomatoes filled in pita bread served with a garlic and horseradish sauce.

A meal for one will cost about $6 to $10

There are plenty of fast food chains in teh vicinity as well which I avoided as most of it except Mexican is available in India.


Nautilus said...

Gotta print out this list next time I plan to go to LA :-)

ichatteralot said...

I dunno why - I developed an affection for that city - specially the Hollywood area!

Kausum said...

I guess the glamour from bollyhood to hollywood ..

Nothing abt wine tasting areas ?

Di said...

ur post made me hungry!ever considered a job as a food-critic.. ?? :)

ichatteralot said...

@Kausum: I was tempted to take a napa valley wine tasting tour but my 'populist' urges kept me in SFO around the more well known sights. I did bring home 2 bottles of wine though...

@Di: Actually I ADORE food and it shows in the wrong places... *SIGH* ... Good job though - food critic - I'll get to eat!