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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Los Balcones del Peru - Oh, Just Marry Me Already

Balcones del Peru
1360 N. Vine St.
Hollywood, CA
10.06.06 - Friday, 1:00 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Fellow food/writer extraordinaire, Jess)

Where do two devoted and hardcore foodies/bloggers go for a first-time luncheon gathering?
We go ethnic, baby. All the way to Peru.

Los Balcones del Peru has received a lot of hullabaloo since it's opening, and for good reason. The ever-popular Mario's, just south of this haunt, deserved a little Peruvian competition. It hasn't been all raves and lovefests, but for the most part, Balcones is adored. As a recent visitor to the country in question, I was absolutely craving an experience here. So, when world-famous writer/food blogger Jess, of LA Food Crazy fame, tapped me for a lunch powwow, I had a prompt answer to the age-old 'Where should we go?" question.

I did my homework first. I read the many reviews, scanned the Chowhound postings, and landed on a very informative breakdown from blogger Alejandro on his Peru Food blog. Not only did he review the food, but he offered an awesome history of the famous balconies in Lima, for which the restaurant is named. Good stuff. Made me hungry.

Jess and I got acquainted and salivated over the menu. Beef, chicken, seafood - it's all covered. And more ceviche options than I ever thought possible. It's times like these that I wish I had an insanely efficient metabolism and an appetite to match. Oh wait, I have the appetite. Curses.
Anyway, we ordered two of the most-oft raved about dishes, but shied away from Jonathan Gold's beloved favorite - not because I don't believe Mr. Foodie, but because I felt like living on the edge. So crazy, I am.

Service was prompt and friendly, but the place was almost empty. The space is dotted with small replicas of Lima's famous balcones, and that's the only offered ambiance. Tidy, spacious, but certainly not wow-worthy.

Here's what we had:


Just sodas. Nuttin' fancy.


Nondescript thin bread


Los Balcones del Peru Ceviche
-- Calamari (both fried and raw), a luscious white fish, and shrimp marinated in lime yumminess and spiced up to an impressive degree, served with various veggies and real-deal Peruvian corn from le Andes!
Oh.My.God. I could live happily ever after with this dish. It's just insanely good. Super fresh seafood, and calamari so tender it's almost as if Mr. Squid is posing as a stick of butter. The heat was intense but didn't overpower the other flavors, and that gigantic Peruvian corn is the perfect compliment in taste and texture. I loved this all over the place.

Saltado de Mariscos (pictured at the top)
- Strips of seasoned beef and veggies served on fresh cut french fries and a side of white rice
My my, this two was outstanding. Such an awesome carb + protein combo, although I feel the rice is unnecessary. The smoky flavors and awesome texture contrasts made me ecstatic. I've since tried the chicken version, and it's equally delicious. The quality of ingredients, for the price, is stellar. I'm sold.

Damage for 2 sodas and 2 entrees was about $25, before tip.

RESTAURANT REPORT CARD - Los Balcones del Peru, Visit 1

Ambiance - C
Service - B
Food (Taste) - A-
Food (Presentation) - C+
Wine/Drinks - N/A (just had non-alchies)
Value - A
Vibe/Energy/Scene - C

Overall Experience - B

Final word - yeah, so, it's a wee bit lacking in the ambiance department, and this isn't your fancy pants palace, but the food is original, inexpensive, and absolutely outstanding.
And how fabulous it was to meet Jess!

Go! Now! Eat!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Vivoli Cafe and Trattoria - The Real Thing

Vivoli Cafe and Trattoria
7994 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
10.12.06 - Thursday, 8:00 PM
Myself + 1 guest (My old pay Piz)

Sometimes dinner isn't just dinner.
I had a dear, freaking close as can be friend to reconcile with. It'd been almost a year since our last face-to-face, and for mysterious reasons, we had drifted. I'm of the opinion that pasta can change the world, so Italian was on the menu for a re-bond. Beloved Chowhound peeps have often given warm raves to Vivoli, so the date was inked.

Vivoli is in a strip mall across from the Virgin Megastore on Sunset. She's pretty nondescript, and oh so very cozy. I waltzed in a bit early - immediate impressions:
"Wow, this place is small. This place is busy. It smells goddamn good."
Our table was ready (yay) but had to be jostled from the back edge so I had room to squeeze past the other nearby tables. I say nearby like it's a small thing. We're talking the length of a matchbook here. It's a good thing I showered.

The menu is quite lengthy and loaded with Italian standards and interesting combos. I wanted to try the Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings with Browned Butter and Sage - but alas, no, they had none. Boo. The recommended second choice delivered - details below.

Service - well, hmmm. That's a mixed bag. Landsakes the men in here are lovely, truly Italian, and nice as can be. I adored the service - when we actually had it. Very slow, unfortunately, but I'm so forgiving because A) Piz and I had much to discuss and B) did I mention how bloody nice they are? Seriously.

Vivoli really is the neighborhood pasta place that transports you to Italy. All the dishes tasted fresh, grandma-style delish. I would definitely go again, just never when I was in a hurry.

Now, on to le details:


Prosecco, by the glass - house. GOOD stuff.


Crusty, a wee overcooked, but well seasoned and served with olive oil.


Baked Eggplant
-- Thinly sliced eggplant slathered in tomato sauce and mozzarella. Baked up and served a tad too cold, but really flavorful. Outstanding tomato sauce - crazy fresh, with notes of herbs and spices. The consistency of the eggplant was off the hook too - not too tough, melty and delicious.


Mine (Pictured above)
- Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Marinara and Parmesan
Ohhhh - velvety delicious. Ravioli can be quite bland, but these pillowy creatures had a gorgeous spice, thanks to that divine tomato sauce. This is what comfort food is all about.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
-- Also magnificent. Hints of olive oil danced with the woodsy, exotic mushroom flavors, and the risotto was cooked to complete perfection.

These boys can cook Italian. Heck yes.


Blueberry Tart, with Chocolate and Caramel Sauce
-- This little honey took eons to finally arrive, but surprisingly, she was worth the wait. Very delicate, not too sweet, and loaded with juicy blueberries. The tart had a strong citrus twang and the texture gave me goose bumps. Me likee.

Damage for 2 glasses of Prosecco, 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, and 1 dessert about $80, before tip.

RESTAURANT REPORT CARD - Vivoli Cafe and Trattoria, Visit 1

Ambiance - B
Service - C+
Food (Taste) - B
Food (Presentation) - C+
Wine/Drinks - B- (Nice Italians and Californians)
Value - B
Vibe/Energy/Scene - B

Overall Experience - B

Final word - despite flaws, I'm a fan. Down home Italian gems in an authentic and lovely environment.

Visit me. I don't (often) bite.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Made It Mahself - Sea Bass with Sweet and Sour Fig Sauce

Meandering through Whole Foods a few days back, I spied a stunning basket of figs. We're at the very, very tail end of the season, so I snatched up these vibrant beauties for a last hurrah.

I read a recipe a while back about a sweet and sour fig sauce, and thought I'd pair it with a luscious white fish. Here's the lowdown:

Sea Basst with Sweet and Sour Fig Sauce
* Served with Eggplant, onion and mushroom mixture

(Serves 2)

1 Eggplant, medium-sized
1 small white onion
1/2 cup wild mushrooms
1 Garlic clove
Lots of olive oil for sauteing
Pinch of parsely
Sea Salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup white wine
1 TB heavy cream
2 5-6 oz fillets of sea bass
2-3 fresh figs
1 1/3 TB Balsalmic Vinegar

-- Preheat oven to 350
-- Slice the eggplant in half; rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Wrap in foil and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the insides are soft.
-- When the eggplant is cool to touch, scoop out the insides and set aside. Save the hollow eggplant as a serving dish.
-- Heat about 2 TB olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. When smokey, add the mushrooms; saute for about 10 minutes, until golden. Remove from heat and set aside.
-- In the same skillet, add another TB or so of olive oil. Cook the onions and garlic for abou 2 minutes, until golden. Add the mushrooms, eggplant, white wine, parsley, and cream - stir and heat for about 1 minute. Place mixture inside the hollowed eggplant and keep warm.
-- Add another TB or so of olive oil to the skillet. Place the fish, skin-side down (if applicable) and cook for about 2 minutes. Don't budge the fish at all while cooking. Turn the fish, and cook the otherside for another 2 minutes. If the fish is thick, throw it in the over for a few minutes to cook all the way through.
-- While the fish is cooking, take the pulp of the figs and add the vinegar, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
-- When fish is ready, place it on top of the eggplant mixture, and drizzle the fig sauce around the whole plate.

Serve while super hot. So good!

This tastes like a vinegar-punched, figgy dream. I loved the delicateness of the sea bass paired with such a strong and powerful sauce. Enjoy!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Providence - The Obsession Continues

5955 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
9.30.06 - Saturday, 5:30 PM
Myself, Best Friend, and 5 additional friends

I'm not exactly in the closet about my undying devotion to Providence. I was lucky enough to discover this restaurant earlier this year, still in its infancy, and with each magnificent meal, I fall more in love. The staff is as phenomenal as the food, and although it's definitely pricey, it's worth every penny to me, every time. I save them like crazy so I can indulge. Some folks splurge on clothing or jewelry or spa treatments. Me, I eat. It's a love affair.

My best friend had a birthday recently, and she chose to live it up right. Seven of us descended into Providence for a monumental tasting extravaganza. This was an honor on so many levels, as the majority of my friends had ever experienced a meal like Michael and Adrian create. Couple that with the special day of my favorite girl, and well, it's a celebration I knew we'd never forget it.

I took great care in photographing every course, but I'm afraid I failed miserably in the wine department. Get more than one glass of vino in me, and logging things in my noggin no longer works. Had I been really smart, I would have written down the wine pairings. Next time, I promise. Oh, mercy, I can't wait for next time.

So, here's my best effort to recreate the magic. Some ingredients will escape me, but the pictures say more than I ever could anyway . . .


Drew Langley, my absolutely favorite sommelier, took immaculate care of us. When you visit, trust him implicitly. He is simply blessed and delightful, and he looks like Ewan McGregor. All kinds of fabulous.

That's myself and pal Eddie, who was also celebrating a birthday. I do love me some Libras!


A large, crusty roll with butter and (yay!) rock salt - so good, as always.

Amuse Bouche One:

Crispy Salmon Skins with Creme Fraiche
* We all thought this tasted like the most elegant pork skins ever - with the creme, the light crispness melted into a creamy heaven. Such a great wake-up call.

Amuse Bouche Two:

Clam Fritters
* We were told these were the result of a recipe from Michael's grandma. The batter, while thick, melted on contact, just like the previous course. I am salivating at the memory of this texture. Oof, so good.

Course One (pictured above):

Japanese Hamachi
* This incredibly delicate sushi lay in a light bath of tomato delight - a tomato sorbet, chunks of the luscious in-season fruit, along with parsley and an additional root vegetable - an absolutely perfect beginning, it ticks off a beautiful bond with the freshness of the sea, and the tomatoes in this dish just sing.

Course Two:

Sabayon with Uni, Brioche, and Truffles
* Just look at this breathtaking presentation . . .the kind of beauty you hesitate to devour. The sabayon, with its foamy texture and rich custard-like flavor, swam atop the hyper-fresh, punchy uni. This is an ingredient I either love or hate, but this evening, it tasted like liquid gold. The earthy, buttery zing of the truffles matched the buttery brioche quite perfectly, melding with the unique uni flavors and that to-die-for smooth softness. Exquisite.

Course Three:

Satueed Day Boat Scallop
* One large, perfectly cooked scallop was served with a delightful root vegetable, savory bacon slice, and, if I recall correctly, a red pepper relish. Michael, of course, included bazillions of other intricate ingredients, but these were the showstoppers. So fresh, salty, and sublime.

Course Four:

Salt Cod with a Poached Egg and Summer Truffles
* Holy. Crap. My FAVORITE. The cod's firm yet gently smooth texture merged with the jelly-like egg, and the truffles unified all the flavors - part simplistic, rustic heaven, part decadence, allllll perfect. What is it about truffles + eggs?

Course Five:

* White fish with Artichokes, Chorizo Sauce, Powder, and Foam
I was in the ladies' room when this puppy landed, so I cannot for the life of me recall what fish this was - my best guess is halibut. The chorizo powder and foam, however, were the stars - that, and the basil reduction. The herb-pizzazz with the potent and fiery chorizo completely dominated the fish flavor, which simply added a gorgeous texture and substance to the dish. Outstanding, and so original.

Course Six:

Big Eye Tuna, Caramelized Cauliflower, and Bone Marrow
* Yup, you heard me, that lovely little white dollop is fatty bone marrow, and it was PHENOM - the tuna was the best I've had outside of Urasawa, and the little streak of carrot reduction was a delicious jolt. Mmmmm mmm mmm!

Course Seven:

* Cheese!
We sampled just about everything on their magnificent tray, from stinky French unpasturized cow's milk cheese to a rosemary crusted American goat's cheese that made me feel religious. Matched with marvelous fresh figs and honey, with a crunchy, flavorful nut bread. Wheee!

Course Eight/Dessert One:

White Chocolate Lollipop with a Liquid Apricot Center and Saffron Threads
* Oh heck yes. This little morsel came with strict instructions - eat the whole thing in one bite or be sorry. After popping it, I understood - the apricot liquid inside exploded on contact, and the combo with the white chocolate and that subtle but amazing punch of saffron - so magical. I loved it, and I'm just not a white chocolate fan. It's usually way, way too sweet - but the balance was perfect here.

Course Nine/Dessert Two:

Grape Sorbet with Brioche and Peanut Butter Powder
* This was a heavenly deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The grape sorbet had an immensely fresh-from-the-garden zing, and the surrounding powders suited the pairing perfectly. The brioche powder combined with the scrumptious, mouth-puckering peanut butter nirvana just hit the spot. Not quite like mom used to make on the surface, but the familiarity of the flavors totally took me back.

Course Ten/Dessert Three:

Miniature Churros with Sliced Apples, Raisin Puree, and Horchata Ice Cream
* So, you're at Disneyland, and your mom has just announced you can have one - and only one - dessert. Admit it - you are bypassing the boring ass cotton candy for some churro action. Oh, the memories! Adrian hit a home run with this puppy, and it's not just because of these little churro gems. No, the score on this plate was the raisin puree - I'm quite certain he infused it with crack. SO freaking tasty, with the Horchata ice cream and the apples, which offered up the nice, crunchy texture. He shoots, he scores.

Course Eleven/Dessert Four:

Bacon and Maple Syrup Ice Cream with Brioche, Banana, and Peanut Butter Powder
* There's just no way I can properly describe this incredible delicacy with any true accuracy - just go try it. It's as if, all these years, bacon has been wrongfully kept on the savory side. There is finally some justice.

Parting Gifts:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups - Eat your heart out Reese's; these are succulent, rich, and perfect in every way.
Lychee Gelee - Little squares of jiggly sweet and sugary goodness.
Vanilla and Chocolate Caramels - A handful of each to take home; seriously, what don't they think of here?

So there you have it - a very happy birthday for my very favorite person, in the greatest culinary destination to hit LA this century.
Yes, I know how lucky I am.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Off Vine - We're Talking Way, Way Off

Off Vine
6263 Leland Way
Hollywood, CA
10.04.06 - Wednesday, 1:00 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Miss Patrish)

During my previous experience at Off Vine, which transpired some months ago, I fell in love with the space. The restaurant is lovingly located in a gorgeous old craftsman house, immaculately restored and oozing with Hollywood charm and history. The food wasn't much to look at or taste, and the service halted to a near stand-still, but I was willing to forgive and overlook, assuming it was a bad day. How could such a special space hold such mediocrity? No, I had to try try again.

One of my top girls joined me for a recent leisurely lunch. We wanted fab eats and a gorgeous backdrop by which to gossip and catch up on all manner of life-goings-on. Off Vine sound delish. Aside from the astoundingly perfect ambiance, however, this place is world of no. From service to food, I really can't recall a more disappointing experience this year. Our server even had a shadow - a waitress-in-training. Perhaps she was intentionally showing her What Not To Do - one can only hope. Our drinks and water were bone dry for most of the meal, things came at a colossally slow rate, and trying to get our check felt like we were asking for a winning lotto ticket.

And then there's the issue of the food. Oy. Vey.
Let me explain.


Soda/water, but not much of it. Wine list isn't interesting.


Mine (Pictured above)
Duck Breast Salad with Spinach, Mushrooms, and a Wasabi Dressing

-- I freaking love a good fowl, and mushies? What's not to adore? This salad also came with pine nuts, and I'll admit I thought the combination sounded strange, but strange enough to maybe work. Yes, well, I was dead wrong.
The spinach was nice, let's start there. No e-coli, so that's a victory.
The duck - overcooked, dark, dry, disgusting.
The dressing - SO full of wasabi, absolutely no other flavors could creep through. I like a spicy kick, but honestly, this was ridiculous.
The pine nuts - didn't work at ALL.
The mushrooms - I'm not sure what they were marinated in, but all I could detect was salt, and a horrific consistency.
This salad SUCKED - shamefully so. It didn't look appetizing, and the flavors smashed each other into an unsavory oblivion. Nothing matched, texture or taste. All. Wrong.

Chopped Chicken Salad

-- comparatively speaking, this was an absolute treasure, but still - ick. Some of the veggies were wilted and old, and one hunk of tomato still had the Del Monte sticker attached. Tacky!

Poor Off Vine either had one Off Day, or, as two times would tell me, this is simply not a high-quality eatery. Such a shame. I love that house.

Damage for 2 drinks and 2 salads - about $28, before tip.


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

Overall Experience - C-

Final word - I've learned my lesson. I'll just enjoy the view.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mustard Seed Cafe: Nasty Icky Evil Awful Bathroom!

Mustard Seed Cafe
1948 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Feliz, CA
9.26.06 - Tuesday, 12:45 PM
Myself + 1 guest (Noah Zee Lunch Buddy)

Mom tells me that when I was a wee one, I judged a 'rant by its bathroom. Well, old habits die hard. I almost always take a peek into the ladies room, whether or not I'm in need. There's an element of pride and care one can gather by taking a gander at this intimate spot, and my feeling has always been this: if the bathroom's a mess, dear god, I don't want to know a thing about the kitchen.

The Mustard Seed Cafe is a quaint joint tucked on a Hillhurst corner, in the heart of Los Feliz. It sports the kind of cozy green awning that catches your eye as you pass, and makes you ponder, "Hmm. Looks cute. Could it be a diamond in the rough?" I wonder this for ages. I heard a nice thing or two. I finally had a chance to give it a whirl.

Here's the scene: it's the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, prime lunching, and the place is rather quiet. I grab a perfect outdoor table, waiting on my companion, and the service is immediately fab. I have a cute, laid back waiter, and am perusing a menu in no time. OK, fine, the usual suspects here, but I'm intrigued. Noah arrives, and we order in a jiffy.

The food plops down just a short spell later, and it's . . .average. Looking, tasting, the works. Somewhere mid-meal, I whisk off to the Forbidden Zone - the one and only Mustard Seed Bathroom, tucked in the back, next to the dishwasher's station. There's someone in the coed closet, so I linger, noting some nasty, musty smells, and a very disgruntled worker. It's so awkward, I can't even tell you. Finally, the door zips open and I usher inside, looking for tranquility. OMG. No such luck. One of the nastiest bathrooms I've been in, outside of the third world visits. Dirty, foul, with crumbling walls and no effort to even feign a sense of cleanliness.
Welp, that does it. Mustard Seed blows.

You still want details? MASOCHIST!


Nothin' but soda - they have a sad little wine list, but there were no takers.


Roasted Salmon Salad

-- A nice slab o' fishie goodness with a bland roumelade and a healthy dose of greens, dosed in balsamic. Ehhh, the fish tasted tough and greasy (overcooked), and the salad was just so-so. I did appreciate the smattering of veggies, like carrots and broccoli.

BLT on white
-- Toasted bread absolutely crammed with bacon (heaps of it!), avocado, lettuce, and 'maters. Decent sannie for sure, but wayyy too much of the meaty stuff (hard to imagine a bacon overload! Better to have TOO much, however . . .) Potato salad was the side, and I suppose it was decent, if you're madly in love with mayo. Woof.

And that's all she wrote.

Damage for 2 drinks and 2 entrees - about $25, before tip.

RESTAURANT REPORT CARD - Mustard Seed Cafe, Visit 1

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

Overall Experience - C-

Final word - A world of no. As in, no reason to return, clean bathroom or not.