OMG Food!

Soup's on, folks! I'm Tina M. Courtney, aka PoetKitty -- a Los Angeles based food writer audacious enough to think I can critique all manner of eateries. It's a labor of love, and I'm honored to welcome you. Grab a fork and let's get this party started.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

SushiZo - Go Go Go!

9824 National Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
9.25.06 - Monday, 1:00 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Best. Pastry. Chef. Ever.)

I'll just come right out and say it - this is going to be a crappy review. Not because the offerings were at all sub-standard - quite the contrary - but because I was a social little beast and did NOT pay attention to all the greatness that was flashed before me. And promptly thrown into my welcoming belly. So you've been warned.

I got lost finding SushiZo. Something happens to me when I venture west of La Cienega, where streets make no sense, curve randomly, and change names without warning. National is tres guilty. But I clicked on my raw fish homing device, and eventually found my way.

Like many magnificent sushi joints, Zo is in a strip mall, street side. The space is clean and minimal - it screams of sanitary goodness. It was woefully empty, however, save myself and my beloved dining companion, but I never mind when the chef can focus. It was an indulgent omakase day, so I craved his attention. Chef K, I believe, is the name he goes by - a delightful gentleman with strict instructions on how to eat every offering. I, for one, appreciate such audacity - I'm not Japanese, and I'm not the chef, and if he tells me no soy sauce, by god, I'm listening. We made it clear there were no limits as to ingredients and preparations, so, you know, the bar was set.

OK, so as I warned you, I didn't take notes. I can't even tell you how m any courses (or rather, bites) we had, but I'll list the highlights to get you salivating. I'll just say it was *divine* - every bite. Even sushi pieces I don't normally go bonkers for seriously satisfied me. No, this isn't Urasawa worthy, but who is, besides maybe some NYC and Tokyo joints? Zo served up one of my fav omakase experiences thus far, and for an impromptu, spontaneous lunch indulgence with bueno company to match, you won't hear an ounce of dissension from these parts.

Zee highlights, as I remember 'em:

Toro - always a highlight, but this was exceptional. Melted on contact with my happy little tongue. Mmmm tuna belly fat.
Sweet shrimp - best I've ever had, complete with the roasted shrimp head. I didn't eat all the crunchy legs, but I still loved his brains. Dear god, did I just write that?
Salmon roe - I've never been crazy about these egg wonders before - they've rather reminded me of eating bath beads. These, however, were so super fresh and bursting-delicious, I was completely won over.
Salmon - tied with R23 for the best bite of salmon I've ever had. Buttery smooth with just a subtle hint of density, seaweed, and lemon. Amazing.
Albacore - it's hard to mess this up, in my book, but the quality just shot this one out of the stratosphere. It's rarely THIS good.
Scallop - not as good as those at Tama, but also tasty - an amazing firmness that melts away in an instant. Like eating the softest seashell in the world - so ocean-fresh and citrusy.
Yellowtail - probably my favorite of the meal; so delicate and flavorful, I got a little veklempt.
Eel - hot, fatty, and slathered with that phenomenal sauce; we ended things on a sweetly delicious note.

The biggest standout at SushiZo isn't so much the fish, as this kind of quality is available in a few spots across the city. No, what both my companion and I noted was the rice; the temperature was warm and soothing, and contrasted perfectly with the coolness of the fish. The melding of the two matched so harmoniously, it gave each bite a memorable, melt-in-your-mouth appeal. So. Incredibly. Good.

We ate for a solid hour or so - the total for 1 green tea, 2 beers, and 2 omakase was $168, before tip. Sure, that's a pricey lunch, but for this kind of treasure, I would have paid more and not batted a lash. Zo is a fabulous little raw haven.


Ambiance - B-
Service - B+
Food (Taste) - A-
Food (Presentation) - B
Wine/Drinks - (Can't rate - didn't have anything except tea)
Value - B
Vibe/Energy/Scene - D+
Overall Experience - B

Final word - It's on my sushi fav shortlist, plain and simple.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I'll Drink to That - Top Five Date Bars

I am dangerously close to rejoining the world of socialdom and perhaps *gasp* dating again. It's happened in sporadic bursts in the last few months, and I can't help but miss the bliss of getting-to-know-yous, goodnight kisses, and cocktail hours. Is it so wrong that the latter is the one I miss the most?

With that in mind, I felt it appropriate to list my current Top Five Date Bars in Los Angeles. Places to suck down a martini, make eyes at your hot internet score, and ponder what debauchery the night will bring. It's a combination of fabulous drink offerings, kickass bartenders, and ambiance galore that lands a spot in my little alcoholic heart, and while I can be a fickle bar-hopper, these gems keep me coming back. So, go forth, date, and drink. And send me some juicy stories. Yum.

1) El Carmen
This is a bit of a mystery to me, as I don't even love tequila, but El Carmen was a stone's throw from my old apartment, and as such, she won my heart. I had many-a-first internet date on those luscious red stools, sucking down fruity tequilas and the best margaritas in town. Hands down. The bartenders are spot-on fabulous too. Oh, the memories.

2) The Bowery
I have so much love to give for my little neighborhood hideaway. Some love the New York vibe, some hate it, some say it's not authentic, I don't give a rat's ass. I adore the staff, the magnifique drinks, and oh my, they make some MEAN sweet potato fries. That's gold in my book.

3) lounge. on Sunset.
The name sucks, the restaurant is so-so (good food, but there's something about it that smacks of ordinary), but Lounge, the not-so-little bar tucked behind Eat, lands a spot in my current top-five for one reason alone: a special listing of drinks containing Red Bull. They have a FULL SECTION for this most momentous drink, called The Bull Ring. I am humbled.

4) L'Scorpion
How can it be that I'm not even that much of a margarita head, and yet two tequila bars land in my top five? Ambiance, people - I love the darkside, and L'Scorpion especially delivers the absolute best. Lush reds and blacks in lighting so dark you might convince yourself that's Mark Ruffalo staring back at you. How is this ever a bad thing?

5) Cat and Fiddle
Like El Carmen, I've just had too many good times here to not give it props. Cat's got THE best outdoor area for drinkin' in the city, and a nice selection of brewskis and liquors as well. Food? No. No no no. Don't go hungry. But do go to feast your eyes on a gorgeous scene.

See, now I'm ready to hit the big time and develop a new top 5 list. Now accepting applications :)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Matsuda Sushi - Internet Date + Raw Fish = Sweet Sweet Love

Photo courtesy of

Matsuda Japanese Restaurant
11837 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA
9.1.06 - Friday, 8:00 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Internet date, Mr. Fireman)

All right, so sometimes I can be a smidge sneaky. A few weeks back, a lovely lad pinged me on the infamous MySpace (I know, imagine that, an eligible, likeable bachelor on that kooky site!), and after watching him do stand-up at The Comedy Store (read my heinous experience with the wait staff here), I agree to a bona fide date. Like, with food. And conversation. And judgment and sexual tensions and small talk, oh my! It had been a while since my last dating excursion. In any event, I declined to mention my hardcore foodie status, and as he volunteered to pick the restaurant, I saw an opportunity. A chance to test his chops.

I knew it would be a Japanese joint - he allowed me to pick the cuisine. When he pulled up to Matsuda, I felt a little surge. I had never been there, but remembered a favorable mention or two on the Chow boards, so things were looking up. Plus, we had delightful conversation in his Prius (brownie points for being a fan of the planet!). Good start, people! Happy me!

Matsuda is a no frills, home-style Japanese joint. It was a Friday eve, so the place was kickin'. We placed our name on the list and settled down to near the sushi bar to drool over the offerings. I established myself as the more adventurous eater of the duo, but in true gentleman fashion, he stated he was open to trying anything. Nice move. We were finally seated in the corner, and our uber-polite sushi chef took our order right away.

Before I dish the listing, I'll give you the moral of the story - sushi rocks as a first date option, and my companion, a very handsome Irish boy into acting, comedy, fire-fighting, and life-saving (he's also an EMT), spoiled me. Let this be a lesson to you, guys - take a lady to a killer raw fish experience on night one, and your chances for a second date? Pretty much guaranteed. I had a luscious little blast.


We opted for a large, very dry sake to begin with - their sake list is just so-so, but this was tasty.
Then, we moved on to Sapporo. Always a hit :)


Albacore sushi, Salmon sushi, Yellowtail sashimi
The highlight was the yellowtail - a chef recommendation. Buttery smooth, an ocean-fresh flavor, and a huge hit with us both. The salmon was OK, the albacore really good. Fresh and high-quality offerings all around.


House special roll
* Spicy tuna and albacore with salmon on top
Our chef whipped us up something by request, and this was the result - he added a sauce in there I couldn't identity, but while this was good, it was a tad boring. I wanted crazy adventurous - this didn't quite fit the bill.

Blue Crab hand roll
* Blue crab with cucumber and avocado
Reallllly nice flavor and texture on zee crab, and heaps of it. Home run here.

Spicy crunch albacore roll
* Albacore with a spicy mayo, a smidgen of tempura crunch, and ponzu
Oh heck yes! Not too much mayo at ALL - just a hint, and so freaking yummy!

I wanted ankimo (monkfish liver) and uni and toro, too, but they had none of the above. I do wish they were better stocked, but what they had hit the mark.


Ambiance - C
Service - C+
Food (Taste) - B-
Food (Presentation) - C+
Wine/Drinks - C+
Value - N/A - I didn't get to see the bill :)
Vibe/Energy/Scene - B
Overall Experience - C+ (If you're counting the company, that goes up substantially)

Final word - Fresh fishies and luscious staples, but not much for the adventurous palette.

Still in the mood to read? Visit the Kitty!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Killer Cookies - Mascapone/Raspberry Gems + Choc-o-late Hazelnut Darlings

All modesty aside, I'm known for baking a mean batch of cookies. I can't reveal all my secrets, but I will say I believe in the notion that whatever you're cooking is infused with more than the ingredients - I put love in my little sugary morsels, and honey, you're a cold hearted 'burg if you aren't melted just a wee little bit.

Recently, I had something to celebrate. A past love-of-life, a Navy JAG who first wooed me in Budapest, Hungary and then in Catania, Sicily, moved into my fair state. He was re-stationed in Coronado, and we had a homecoming - a year + in the making. Our last face to face was in the sad, bustling airport in Catania - I was all kinds of tearful because I knew our chapter was ending, and he was his strong, stonefaced military self. These would be much better terms. The occasion clearly called for cookies - two kinds at that.

I grabbed a favorite, basic sugar cookie recipe and added some oh-so-Italian marscapone cheese. Then, before baking, I made a little circular indentation in the mini sweet thangs, which I filled up with melted, seedless raspberry jam, once they had baked. Oh heck YES, these were spot-on, melting-on-contact beauties.

Next-up, the must have chocolate fix. I grabbed a recipe from Mario Batali's "Babbo" cookbook - a cookie with dutch processed cocoa, hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate of the highest quality, and the usual suspects. Also a freaking fabulous little morsel.

JAG was wooed, our friendship clearly cemented, and all because of a little baking action.
Next up, I'm aiming for world peace. That's gonna take peanut butter, crazy-good chocolate, and maybe even oatmeal. Plus the highest dose of happy, hug-thy-neighbor vibes I can muster.

Visit my virtual home - PoetKitty

Pete's Cafe and Cafe - Downtown's Watering Hole

Pete's Cafe and Bar
400 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA
8.31.06 - Thursday, 12:00 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Noah)

Pete's Cafe and Bar sprang up earlier this decade, and to me, it's was a big neon sign that downtown LA - most notably, the bank district - was now officially a yuppie's mecca. I don't mean that in a bad way, necessarily, but this homey, brick-filled watering hole seemed to solidify the transformation of the area, for better or for worse. In the early days, Pete's struggled a bit, as the locals weren't enough to fill the spacious venue's tables night after night. These days, however, it's a vibrant, happening locale for visitors and residents alike. Downtown is a different world now, and Pete's had impeccable timing.

I had the chance to swarm in for a lunch catch-up session with Noah recently, and it was my first visit in eons. Filled to the brim with hipsters, suits, and tourists, I barely recognized the place - noisy, vibrant, and not a homeless person in sight. I could expound on the good and bad aspects of the neighborhood gentrification, but in the end, when I sit down to eat, I just want a good meal and a good value. Could Pete's deliver, even amidst the maylay and chaos?

The menu is a tasty specimen, full of old standbys (salads, burgers, sannies), and a few enticing/unique offerings (curried egg salad, asiago/goat cheese mac & cheese, mussels with chipotle cream). The prices, however, are just too high. $12 is the average for a regular sandwich, and if you want special fries (yes, yes I DID want special fries), that's an extra $1.50. It gets expensive rather quickly here. Service was super efficient and cordial - absolutely no complaints there, except the staff really was *busy*. Noah and I had a tough time deciding, but in the end, our choices were ample and tasting.

Zee breakdown:


Sodas and Ice tea - nothin' exciting here.
Wine list is small, and not overly impressive.


Curried Egg Salad Sandwich
* Served on ciabatta bread, with garlic fries
Good, definitely not great - I wanted more curry, to be honest, and this sandwich just teased me. Really heavy on the mayo, too - to the point where I was so conscious of the fatty spread, I couldn't only eat about a quarter of the sannie.
Now, the garlic fries? That's a whole 'nother ball game. Land SAKES these were good! Not flash-fried with garlic oil, as I expected, but instead served with OODLES of chopped garlic, basil, and tomato. I would go back for the fries alone - SO good.

Bacon Cheddar Burger
* Served with cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, onion, and tomato, and a side of fries (non-garlic)
A very healthy/fat/juicy burger with a so-so bun. His fries were ye old standby, and couldn't hold a candle to my garlic goodness. Still, he loved this, and I thought it was above average for sure.

RESTAURANT REPORT CARD - Pete's Cafe and Bar, Visit 2

Ambiance - C+
Service - B
Food (Taste) - C+
Food (Presentation) - C
Wine/Drinks - C
Value - C
Vibe/Energy/Scene - B+
Overall Experience - C+

Final word - Decent food, killer fries, lovely service, but prices that just don't quite compute.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Small Town Bar on the Sunset Strip - Red Rock

Red Rock Bar
8782 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
9.2.06 - Saturday, 4:30 PM
Myself + 1 guest (The JAG)

Red Rock's got a personality disorder. It's OK, it happens to the best of us.
Nighttime - especially on a weekend - finds this Sunset Blvd. staple chalked to the gills with sorority drunkards and frat boy sake bombers. It's not pretty. If you're past the age of 22, you might feel old.
Daytime at zee Rock - especially on a weekday - is bliss. There' s crowd of tough-edged drinkers, sports enthusiasts that also come equipped with brains, and pleasure seekers alike. You walk into the wooden nirvana, upstairs and down, and feel like a time warp has hit the bustling strip. It's small town in the largest town, and it's a rare, wonderful thing. The bartenders are a bit surly and crusty but no less kind and helpful, and the drinks are stiff and yummy. They taste better without the frat brats around; trust me on that one.

Saturday was a big day. The JAG came to visit. He's a former boyfriend, one I loved madly through a long-term long-distance affair. We met in person in Budapest, Hungary after an online fling, than romanced each other across the globe for a year. He fought a war in Baghdad - I stayed home and cried. When he returned, we jetted around the country together, and I ended up in Sicily for a summer of love. Which was the end of us, and poetically so.
It's been a year since the good-bye, and now he's stationed in Coronado. We're relabeled as Very Good Friends, and this was our chance to prove it. He arrived via the train at Union Station, and we had huge dindin plans at Providence. So first stop was a cocktail or two, and Red Rock, just down the street from his hotel, sounded purrfect.

We drank Guinness and fell into a new groove, a new rhythm of friendship. Drew, our bartender, kept our drinks full and our smiles genuine. The other patrons had love for one and all, through scowls at the UCLA game and various outbursts made the visit all the merrier.


Ambiance - C+
Staff/Service - B
Wine/Drinks - B
Value - C+
Vibe/Energy/Scene - B+
Overall Experience - B-

Final word - It was a big day, and Red Rock was there for me. I am most grateful.

I muse a lot. If that sounds appealing, Visit Me.

Monday, September 04, 2006

It's Funny Cuz It's Irish - Largo on Fairfax

432 Fairfax
Los Angeles, CA
Cross Street: Oakwood
8.30.06 - Wednesday, 8:15 PM
Myself plus 1 guest (Scoo!)

There's a lot you can gripe about at Largo. The tables are smashed side by side, the chairs are pretty damn uncomfortable, and the food - well, you're lucky if it's warm, isn't leathery, and is actually what you ordered. Over the years, the less than stellar menu has shrunk to meager status, and what's left can be lackluster and oogie. Don't go gettin' saucy and changing how things are served, either - you're likely to get a backlash from the chef. The drinks are weak, too - you'd be best to stick to Guinness and skip the mixed variety, even though Ellen the bartender is sweet as cane sugar, she isn't making a mean martini.

So why on earth do I keep going back?

It's paradise. All of Largo's inadequacies somehow add to it's charm, like a boyfriend you just adore, even though you see the flaws so clearly. Largo gets some of the best comedic and musical talent in the *world* - it's an ultra-special spot run by a truly classic Irishman named Flannagan that knows how to book and pamper talent. I've seen such extraordinary performances here, year after year, that they could serve me sauted tennis shoes, and I wouldn't much care. It's all about that stage.

On this particular night, the caustic and hilarious Greg Proops was hosting his monthly "Greg Proops Chat Show," featuring a couple of kickass guests. Proops is a wildcard, because he's so witty and harsh that he can lose the audience, and if he senses we're waning, he comes back full force with biting punishments, insults, and dreadfully long monologues. This time, however, he was on like Donkey Kong and dropping laughs in a staccato-fast tirade. Grant Lee Phillips opened the set with some acoustic gems, and Greg got us all riled up before the first guest even hit the stage. He then excitedly introduced his first guest, a very special one, he proclaimed, and then screeched all hail Lindsay Lohan. Out walked Drew Carey. He broke character a time or two, but overall, the whole bit was done with Lindsay and Greg, using words the real Miss Lohan couldn't even pronounce, let alone use in a sentence, and it was fantastic.

When Mr. Carey vacated, the star of the hour was ushered out - the incomparable Margaret Cho. Proops and Margaret are San Francisco natives that go way, way back, and their familiarity and respect for each other only heightened the humor. She later danced cabaret to a Phillips tune and the whole combo of esoteric humor, self-degrading giggles, and hyper-intelligent banter made for a spec-tac-ular evening. Despite the uncomfortable seating, unpredictable climate control, and so so food. Which reminds me. There's a new chef in town, and while the menu is the same, I am quite pleased to report things actually tasted a bit more delectable. Here's a rundown:


Black and Tan - one of the only safe drinks here, it's smooth and Irish-perfect.
House Merlot - surprisingly spicy and fruity - also a good bet
Iced tea - average


Plain white french slices with too-hard butter. All-ways.


Twice Baked Honey Chicken
* Flattened and battered chicken breast baked in a honey sauce and served with salad and mashed potatoes
Wow, this is SO much better than the old days. By flattening the chicken, it's tastes so much more tender and smooth, and while it's clear the mashers are still the instant variety, at least they were fully cooked and warm this time - improvements!

The damage for 2 drinks, 1 iced tea, and 2 entrees (we both had the chicken) was about $44. Worth every laugh-filled penny.

RESTAURANT REPORT CARD - Largo, visit 500. Or so.

Ambiance - B-
Service - C+
Food (Taste) - C-
Food (Presentation) - C-
Wine/Drinks - C-
Value - C+
Vibe/Energy/Scene - A
Overall Experience - B-

Final word - The grade is inflated because this is such a special place - just know it's about the talent, and not the food. On that scale alone, Largo is an A+.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

The Comedy Store - A Comedy of Errors

The Comedy Store
8433 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
8.27.06 - Sunday, 8:30 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Val-Val)

Mmmmm k, let's get this straight - the so-called World Famous Comedy Store first cracked open the tacky black doors back in 1972. That's long enough to hire decent cocktail waitresses, no?
No. No, it's most definitely not.

The skinny this past Emmy's eve involved my partner in crime Val, the delightful La Boheme restaurant in WeHo, and the funny ha-ha spot-du-jour. I had to cover the eatery for a food column I write, and see, a few weeks back a cute and sassy comedian dropped into my MySpace inbox. Turns out he was stage-bound that evenin', and he was nice enough to offer me two free tickets. Now that takes serious mojo; offering a potential date the chance to judge and critique your every non-funny word. I said yes. Yes yes yes plus more yes.

Dinner was the best it's ever been at La Boheme, and Val and I jetted off to The Store with smiles. Mr. Jokemaster met us out front with the tix, and wow, he's a looker. Score one for the comedian! Smiles got wider, tickets were graciously accepted, and we were seated just like that, ready to drink. There's a two minimum, I was up for three.

Our waitress swarmed in quickly, rattling off beer options and asking if she could take both our drink orders out of the gate. But of course! We ordered wine and beer and sparkling waters.
And then we waited.
The comics hit the stage - 15 were slated for the eve, a handful of minutes each.
A few comics later, I was thirsty.
But still, we waited.
About eight comics in, the drinks FINALLY arrived, but the wrong ones at first (this poor girl was striking out everywhere she went - SO disorganized and freaked), and when we did finally get the right ones, woof, they were still wrong. HORRIBLE white wine, flat sparkling water, nasty foamy beer - what the HELL? This was just inexcusable for a place that's been around for decades and has a so-called rep. I was pretty flabbered. We couldn't get another drink even if it was an absolute must, which clearly, it wasn't.
Then came the task of chasing down our bill. Many tables bolted without it - they were SO slow. I had to pay with a credit card, and then I lost my waitress yet again.
Long story long - nightmare experience overall, except my boy was cute AND funny, and next up is an actual date.
I'll take bad drinks over a bad date any night. So let's see if balance still reigns supreme.


Ambiance - C-
Staff/Service - D-
Wine/Drinks - D
Value - D
Vibe/Energy/Scene - C
Overall Experience - D+

Final word - Most of the comics rocked, but the drink experience - ohmygoodgod, it doesn't get any worse.

For more of the kitty's wisdoms, visit The Greatest Site Ever.