Friday, October 24, 2008

Nicole’s Gourmet Imports, South Pasadena

I can’t believe I’ve never blogged about this shop/cafe before as it’s one of J and my favorite places. It used to be more of a gourmet shop and catering company more than anything else, but over the last couple of years it’s evolved into those two things combined with a café which serves lovely French sandwiches, among other yummies.

Nicole’s is truly a gem- it has almost everything you need to throw an impromptu dinner party-. Hunks of foie gras mousse pate, packets of duck confit, boxes of exotic crackers, a beautiful selection of cheeses, ready-made mini and full sized savory or sweet tart shells, bottles of fruity olive oil all line the shelves and I never, ever tire of walking through the small shop looking at it all. The prices are extremely reasonable as well.

J and I will often ride our bikes to Nicole’s and order our favorites- the smoked chicken sandwich and a plate of her farro salad- grab a couple of glasses of rosé , sit outside and enjoy the quaint cuteness that is South Pasadena. What better way is there to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon? I certainly can’t think of anything!

If you haven’t had a chance to go, I highly recommend you check it out. In addition to the sandwiches, she has at least five varieties of salads in the deli case as well as some of the best prosciutto I’ve ever eaten. Got a sweet tooth? Wait til you get a load of the lemon tarts, pain au chocolat and a seriously drool-inducing apple tart tatin.

So this will be my last post for a bit as I am off to Bogota, Buenos Aires and Santiago for 10 days, following my husband's band who is touring there. It's my first trip to South America and I am very excited to see what I've heard are some of the most beautiful areas of the world! I will definitely try to post while I am there but I'm not taking my computer so I'm not sure how much access I'll have to one. If not, expect a lot of South America posts upon my return!

Nicoles Gourmet Imports

921 Meridian Avenue, Unit B
South Pasadena, CA 91030
(although the website says they are closed Sundays, they recently started opening for brunch and are actually open until 3:00 PM)

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Comfort food. Those two words put together usually conjures up images of gooey macaroni and cheese, a slab of homemade meatloaf with piles of fluffy mashed potatoes or a big bowl of boeuf bourguignon. Being half-Japanese, however, means sometimes a comforting meal is found in some katsu-curry, a big bowl of ramen, or a nice teishoku, or “set meal.” Teishoku usually consists of some sort of meat or fish, rice, miso soup or a salad, and some pickles on the side. I always eat my teishoku in a circular order- take a bite of fish or meat with the pickes, then rice, sip some miso soup, eat some salad and then start over. It’s always a perfect combination of flavors and textures and tastes best when you eat it that way.

The other night, my teishoku was comprised of:

Hiyayakko- or cold tofu. This time I topped it with a mixture of kuro goma (black sesame seeds), grated shoga (ginger), shoyu (soy sauce), a little sugar, goma abura (sesame oil) and su (rice wine vinegar) all topped with some chopped green onions:

Grilled saba (mackeral) seasoned with sweet miso, served with a side of celery pickels made with rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger and jalapenos. Those are definitely not your traditional Japanese pickles but boy, they were good.

Daikon salad with wafu (Japanese style) salad dressing and cilantro. My sushi chef, Toshi (as in the sushi chef at my local sushi joint, not my personal sushi chef!), often uses cilantro in Japanese dishes and it seriously works, so I've started adding it to my dishes as well!

Put them all together with a bowl of nutty brown rice and you have a teishoku supper! Next time I'll make some miso soup but it was too hot that evening for soup so I left it out.

Most of these things can be purchased at your local Japanese supermarket (depending on whether or not you have such a thing in your city!). Why not try to make your own teishoku supper? It's healthy, hearty Japanese comfort food.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuna Toast Ten

This week we've put a gun to the head of LA's own Lesley Balla, Editor of Eater LA, to answer the ten questions on the minds of hungry people everywhere (or just here). If you haven't checked Eater LA, you should- it's the best place to hear about restaurant openings, restaurant closings, chef news, sightings of celebrities noshing (proof that some of them actually DO eat!) and other Los Angeles food-related happenings.

Name: Lesley Balla

Occupation: Editor, Eater LA; freelance writer
City, State of residence: Pasadena, CA
Website/blog/thing you'd like to pimp: Eater LA of course

1. The best restaurant meal I've had recently is:

I feel like I've been to more events/parties than actual dinners lately, so I have to say the spontaneous lunch at Pizzeria Mozza is a standout. Not only did we get a great seat at the pizza bar (and not too long of a wait), the clam pizza, meatballs, burrata with pesto, and budino rocks it every time. [Ed note: the budino is, IMHO, hands down, the best dessert in Los Angeles. It really does rock it in a way nothing else can.]

2. If money wasn't an issue, I would want to eat at:

El Bulli first, Urasawa second.

3. The food I eat most often is:

Coffee, some version of pizza, sushi. Pretty much in that order.

4. No great meal is complete without:

A great martini, fine wine, good company.

5. The best cheap eats in my neighborhood:

I don't eat in my neighborhood as much as I should. When I do, it's usually for lunch because I'm off galavanting all over town for dinners. If I don't just whip up something easy at my office (home), I probably grab a sandwich (chicken salad on rosemary currant bread) or pastry from
Europane. Cheap eats, considering. [Ed note: I love this place myself....the turkey sandwich is insane as is their bread]

6. There's no way in hell I'd ever eat:

I hate saying that I'll never try anything, but tripe stands out. I don't know if I can handle any of those nasty soups Zimmern and Bourdain eat on their shows, but who knows.

7. My go-to dish I'd cook for guests is:

I honestly don't have one go-to. I cook whatever inspires me. I make a mean cornmeal-crusted fried chicken, damn good short ribs, and anything with pasta. I love to bake. [Ed note: Mmmm fried chicken......]

8. Man can't live on food alone, so my favorite libation is:

You'll most likely see me drinking a gin martini (love the Hendricks) or a glass of wine. I love beer, too, though. Can you tell I'm indecisive today?

9. My favorite guilty food pleasure is (c' HONEST!):

There's this roasted artichoke dip from Trader Joe's that I just love. But it's dangerous: I can polish it off with some crackers in one sitting, so I try not to buy it.

10. My favorite food-related website/blog is (no obligation to list
TT, we're completely objective over here!):

I could say Eater LA, but that's cheap. I really scan way too many on a daily basis to pick just one. Let's just say this: I'm addicted to my Bloglines feeds.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tasca Wine Bar

Disclaimer: I suck at taking photos in dark restaurants so please excuse the fuzzy photography!

I rarely eat dinner out west of Los Feliz, which automatically leaves out many of this city’s best restaurants. I wish I felt more motivated to make the drive from my Eastside home, but my love of wine and non-love of a DUI pretty much keep me close to home. Call it lazy, call it lushy, call it whatever- it’s something that, as a food lover, I’m a little embarrassed to admit and I spend way too much time trying to find new restaurants to hit on the Eastside instead of driving the 10 extra miles to go anywhere beyond Silverlake.

Well, a visit to Tasca Wine Bar has changed all that- not only because I must return multiple times to that establishment, but also because it ignited the motivation to get off my butt and explore another area of town.

Tasca………..where do I begin? For frequent readers (all three of you) of this blog, my love of small plates and tapas is a familiar theme throughout Tuna Toast. I almost always prefer to share a few appetizers than to order one main plate of food for myself. I am on the constant lookout for fantastic hors d'œuvre or inventive mini foods on menus and have been constantly disappointed at the lack of anything resembling a tapas bar near my home. Vertical Wine Bistro is one of the few shining examples, but there’s only so many times one can go to the same place each week.

Ok, back to the review. Tasca Wine Bar is located on West 3rd street in the cluster of many beloved restaurants. We walked in and were immediately struck by the cozy atmosphere and friendly staff. There’s a long bar and the instant I laid eyes on it I knew I wanted to sit there instead of at a table. We took two seats at the near end of the bar and looked over the menu. Ah, the menu………..I couldn’t have written a more Tuna Toast Fantasy Menu myself. Lots of small plates dominated the menu and J and I spent quite a bit of time trying to narrow it down to a non-gluttonous number. Our friendly bartender poured us some prosecco, we finally put in our order and waited for the tapas parade to start as we munched on thinly sliced bread dipped in pungent olive tapenade.

We started with the ceviche, which came nestled on a bed of micro arugula and topped with a generous slice of avocado. J took one bite and immediately stated that he loved it. It was perfectly balanced and with just the right amount of acidity and not a hint of fishiness. It was mild, mellow and the perfect way to whet our appetites for the dishes to come.

Next came the Gambas Al Ajillo- sautéed shrimp in garlic sauce. Six large shrimp came swimming in a pink-hued sauce that just demanded bread to sop up all it’s delicious garlicness with. All I can say is that this dish should be on every tapas menu in the city. Savory, perfectly cooked and just mouthwateringly, bowl-lickin’ good.

Our next dish was courtesy of our bartender who, when I ordered the Croquettas de Pollo (chicken and bacon croquettes, romesco sauce), recommended that I get the Arancini (wild mushroom risotto fritters, truffled sauce) instead. She was so confident that we’d be blown away by the arancini that we obliged, and thank goodness we did. Two perfectly round, deep fried balls of risotto came out and they were heavenly. Light and creamy on the inside, they were what I had hoped my dense and unflavorful risotto balls I had made a couple weeks back would taste like. The only downside is that now I dream about them.

The Moules Frites were good, but we didn’t find them to be anything special. J wasn’t keen on the fries which he found to be not of the skinny, shoestring variety which often come with mussels. Being a fan of anything deep fried and salty, I munched on a few but wanted to save my room in my stomach for the next course.

We ordered one thing off of the specials menu- handmade gnocchi with a rabbit ragu as well as a couple glasses of red. The gnocchi were light and airy pillows of soft potato pasta- I just love homemade gnocchi and they are so much better than the store bought variety. The rabbit ragu suffered slightly from too much salt, but we polished off the entire plate anyway.

Wanting to end the meal on a sweet note, we had the chocolate mousse. Dense yet airy at the same time, the dark chocolate concoction caused J and I to once again display our gluttony as we pretty much scraped every last bit of it from the glass. The tawny port J ordered was a nice compliment to the bittersweet dessert.

So here I am, writing about this a few days later and I feel a tinge of heartbreak that such a restaurant doesn’t exist near my house. Don’t get me wrong- Tasca will be visited again and again by yours truly- but I live between two areas (Eagle Rock and Pasadena) that need a place like this. I’ve pretty much given up on Old Town with its chain restaurants and yogurt shops, but maybe Eagle Rock could be the birthplace of a truly good tapas and wine bar? I hear rumblings of something in Echo Park so there’s hope, but I would love nothing more than to see a few more of these kinds of places pop up on the Eastside.

Speaking of tapas- I am leaving for my very first trip to South America in a week. We will be in Bogota, Buenos Aires and Santiago. If anyone has recommendations – tapas bars specifically—I’d love to hear them!

Tasca Wine Bar

8108 W. 3rd St.

Los Angeles, CA

323 951 9890

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuna Toast Ten

This week, the lovely Nicole Landau joins us to tackle the questions on everyone's mind (or maybe just mine?), The Tuna Toast Ten. Nicole is a very talented artist and incredibly adept baker who specializes in scones. Art and yummy eats? Sign us up!

Name: Nicole Landau

Occupation: Artist
City, State of residence: Los Angeles, CA
Website/blog/thing you'd like to pimp: This weekend, join me at Affaire in the Gardens Art Show in Beverly Hills. Between Rodeo and Rexford on Santa Monica Blvd. October 18th and 19th from 10am to 6pm. 200 Artists. Wine. Food. A beautiful day in the park.

1. The best restaurant meal I've had recently is:
Farfalla. They have the best homemade spinach and cheese ravioli I have ever had! My mouth waters just thinking about it. The seafood salad is perfectly seasoned with olive oil and lemon. And who really drinks Chianti? But their house Chianti is perfection.

2. If money wasn't an issue, I would want to eat at:
Katsuya all the time.

3. The food I eat most often is:
Sushi if I go out and vegetarian if I stay in.

4. No great meal is complete without:
Good wine

5. The best cheap eats in my neighborhood:
The Alcove. Not exactly the cheapest, but the atmosphere on the patio is great!

6. There's no way in hell I'd ever eat:
Foie gras. Why would anyone eat the liver of a tortured animal? I think it is bad karma. [Ed note: guess I'm doomed to be struck by lightning then!]

7. My go-to dish I'd cook for guests is:
Shrimp Ceviche & Goat Cheese Tomatillo Potato Tacos with homemade Mango Salsa. Homemade scones or lava cake for dessert. [Ed note: Uh, I'd like to be a guest at your house!]

8. Man can't live on food alone, so my favorite libation is:
The Burning Mandarin at Katsuya. That slice of Serrano Chili Pepper will have your lips tingling and on fire.

9. My favorite guilty food pleasure is (c' HONEST!):
Lucky Charms. Yummy! [Ed note: they are magically delicious!]

10. My favorite food-related website/blog is (no obligation to list TT, we're completely objective over here!):
The Food Network website is really my go-to website. I am always looking for new recipes to make my own. I like to see what Bobby Flay and Giada DeLaurentis is cooking.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Asian Chicken Sausage Rolls

As someone who checks out other food blogs constantly, I have a stack of recipes that I’m anxious to try and have stockpiled in my brain at all times. With so many food bloggers also doubling as professional-level photographers, how can one resist not rushing into the kitchen after seeing such works of art? I want to cook them, eat them and serve them to friends and family as soon as possible….which wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t so many drool-inducing food blog posts out there. I mean, what on earth is a girl to do?

mise en place

I made a teeny weeny dent in my “I-Need-To-Make-This-Now” list this past weekend by recreating Rice & Noodles’ Oriental Chicken Sausage Rolls to take to a football viewing party at a friend’s house. The minute I saw these golden rolls of Asian flavors I knew I had to make them. Not only were they beautiful but I could practically taste them by looking at the lovely photos.

First of all, it’s a brilliant recipe. You can make a lot for little effort- everyone likes that, no? The rolls are also as beautiful as they are delicious, plus they are a nice departure from traditional sausage rolls and the element of surprise is always nice. The scent of chopped garlic, ginger, chilies and fish sauce reminded me very much of gyoza filling, and it came together so quickly and easily that I’ll definitely plan to put this recipe on my permanent list of go-to party foods.

These turned out so well and were a huge hit. They really did remind me of my favorite gyoza or shumai except for the light and flaky crust which just added another element to the dish. I may try adding diced Chinese sausage instead of pancetta the next time, or maybe even try phyllo dough or pizza crust. There are lots of variations that would work well with this original concept.

Maybe you can whip these up to serve as you cheer on the Dodgers tonight???

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Some recipes you try once. Maybe it’s the sexiness of the accompanying photo in the cookbook or magazine you first see it in, or fantasies of pulling together an elaborate dish for your friends that draws you to the recipe in the first place. Although it’s good to go through the process of executing a complicated recipe, those are not the ones you go back to or dream about when you’re really craving something GOOD….at least, not me.

The recipes I go back to time and time again are ones that produce rustic comfort food. Ones where I’ve toyed with certain ingredients or techniques to make an already fantastic recipe more my own. Ones I don’t even have to look at since they’ve simply become a part of my cooking repertoire.

One recipe that is the king of this category is the Zuni Roast Chicken, and I have no doubt that it has secured it’s place in the hearts of cooks the world over. Why? First of all, what could be more comforting than a roast chicken, the smells permeating your house while it cooks in the oven? Second- there is nothing better than a favorite comfort food perfected, and the Zuni Roast Chicken is the most perfect roast chicken you’ll ever eat. I know that’s quite a grand statement, but I tell you- it’s true.

Now I do tweak the recipe a bit, depending on my mood or herbs that I need to use up in my fridge. However, I always make sure to follow a couple of key steps that make this recipe so perfect. Make sure you wash the chicken and dry it with paper towels thoroughly. Season the bird a day or even two days in advance, cover it and let it sit in your refrigerator. When you season make sure you massage the salt and pepper into both the skin and underneath the skin without breaking the skin. Preheat a cast iron pan (what I use) or roasting pan until it’s raging hot, then put the bird breast-side down and put the whole thing into the (very hot- 475 degree) oven. Roasting time depends on the size of your bird but a smaller bird works best.

These techniques create the crispiest, tastiest skin and moistest, most savory meat on a roast chicken you’ll ever have. The addition of some finely chopped thyme, rosemary and parsley rubbed under the skin (like I did last night) only adds to the flavor but it’s perfectly fine without. Served with another old standby (and Tuna Toast original) of Sautéed Green Beans with Mushrooms and Balsamic Carmelized Onions, it made a perfect supper and J and I found ourselves sucking the bones clean. The original recipe includes a bread salad (in which to rest the bird on while cutting it so the juices all soak into the bread....oy, I'm hungry again!) which I know I'll get around to making one of these days but the bird itself is so good that I'm totally satisfied for now!

Super upclose and unglamorous photo of Sautéed Green Beans with Mushrooms and Balsamic Carmelized Onions

Old classics are the best, aren’t they?!?!

(PS- sorry for the unglamorous photos but when a you have such a good lookin’ bird sitting in front of you, eating becomes the priority, not taking the photo!)


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Tuna Toast Ten

This week, our noodle-slurping friend and amateur comedian Rameniac steps up to tackle the Tuna Toast Ten.

Name: Rickmond, AKA Rameniac
Occupation: Ramen eater
City, State of residence: Los Angeles, CA
Website/blog/thing you'd like to pimp: Rameniac

1. The best restaurant meal I've had recently was:

Just tonight, at Setagaya Ramen in the East Village, NYC. Or two nights ago, at Ippudo Ramen in the East Village, NYC. A toss up?! Find out soon at you-oughtta-know-where...

2. If money wasn't an issue, I'd want to eat at:

Money is never an issue. Not because I'm filthy rich in these dire times, but rather because my momma raised me right and taught me not to skimp on food. Although she probably wasn't thinking of Urasawa when she said that. With all that in mind, I'd still be eating $5 chicken pho at Hoan Kiem.

3. The food I eat most often is:

Bolthouse Farms Blueberry Smoothies... Monday - Fridays, four servings a day! (Ed note: Wow, who knew you were such a health nut!)

4. No great meal is complete without:

A drunken companion and an indiscriminate fumble resulting the droppage of some really small pieces of fabric. (Ed note: Hey hey! This is a family blog…..not sure what this means but it sounds dirty……!)

5. The best cheap eats in my neighborhood:

$5 chicken pho at Hoan Kiem.

6. There's no way in hell I'd ever eat:

Poo. Some people are into that, but no. That would be crossing a very firm line. (Ed note: I may have to re-phrase this question since I mean what FOOD wouldn’t you eat. But poo is a good answer I suppose…..and everyone reading would probably agree with you.)

7. My go-to dish I'd cook for guests is:

What is this "cooking" thing you speak of?

8. Man can't live on food alone, so my favorite libation is:

…..ever-changing like the fickle wind. Or whatever gets the job done.

9. My favorite guilty food pleasure is:

I don't feel guilty about much of anything. As a recovering Catholic, the guilt cortex has been permanently lobotomized from my brain.

10. My favorite food-related website/blog is:

Rameniac! I check it every day, in fact. Even when I don't post an update.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Random Thoughts- Debate, Farmer's Markets, Zane's Hermosa Beach...

So yeah- that's a pretty random title, I know. I'm pretty excited for the debate's rare that an event like this holds so much entertainment value but if it's anything like Palin's recent interviews with Katie Couric, I see many LOLs in my evening tonight! If you missed Letterman's Top 10 Things Heard at Palin Debate Camp last night, be sure to check it out. Hi-la-ri-ous!

Anyway, back to food. For any Los Angeles locals, tonight is the South Pasadena Farmer's Market which happens every Thursday. Although the debate will likely keep a lot of people home, try and check it out beforehand if you get a chance. In addition to a wonderful array of produce, there are lots of food stands (corn, pupsas, chilaquiles, etc) and stuff to do for kids. Here are some snaps I took with my cell phone camera last week:

Yummy Middle Eastern eats.........

Sweet treats......

...all served with pride and a smile!

This past weekend I found myself in Hermosa Beach, at a little Italian place called Zane's, getting cocktails with friends. I believe it used to be something else but it's now a charming little restaurant serving thin crust pizzas (which looked soooo good) and other Italian delights. Since we had made reservations elsewhere, we only had drinks but we'll be sure to try it for dinner next time. The warm, fluffy bread and trio of tapanades you see here were complimentary and delicious enough to keep us coming back.

So that's a short update for now. Anyone have plans to view the debate at a favorite bar? Do you have viewing party plans tonight? Guess it'd be pretty easy to have a Palin-themed menu for a viewing party.....salmon.....crab......Baked Alaska....whole roasted pig with lipstick...ok, I'll quit blabbing now.