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Milk & Lemonade

Fudgy Brownies Make My Day

 

[Some dummy forgot to take pictures. So, these are from Yelp.]

I cried during X-men: Apocalypse. So, let’s start there, shall we? After venturing to The Grove for my fairly consistent weekend movie-going experience, I settled into my seat just as the film was about to begin. Fast-forward two hours and I was forcibly prying my eyes open, because the wave of tears cascading across the lips of my eyelids was nearly unbearable. What else could I do? I certainly couldn’t wipe them away. No… then people would judge me. And as I’m sure we’re all well aware, complete strangers in dark theaters are the most judgmental of all. Thankfully, before too long the credits began to roll and I had the perfect opportunity to dry my eyes as the masses shuffled their way back into the lobby from whence they came.

I’m not sure what weird childhood connection my brain made to make me react as such, but I’m sure it had something to do with memories of the 90s X-men cartoon and perhaps a repressed memory or two. Regardless of the circumstances, it admittedly left me feeling a little hungry for some more nostalgia in my life—which, of course, means sugar. However, being the adult that I am, I decided to preface it with something a little better for me. You have to balance these things out after all.

I made my way west and headed to Lemonade LA. Having never been to one of their locations before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’d always heard good things about it though, which ultimately prompted this visit. The Beverly branch turned out to be a charming little restaurant that more closely resembles a patio than it does an eatery. What I didn’t know is that they do service cafeteria style—a perfect fit for riding my wave of nostalgia. So, I nonchalantly walked up to the counter and was greeted with a warm smile from behind the line. I then proceeded to order a rather diverse and delicious meal.

Roasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins, Almonds and Curry Vinaigrette. Watermelon Radish and Seared Ahi Tuna with Snap Peas, Ginger and Sesame Vinaigrette. Pineapple Chicken with Green Beans, Toasted Coconut, Jalapenos and Jerk Dressing. How incredible do those selections sound? And that was only half my plate! After all, 6 portions are only $12.50. I mean, how on earth could I pass up such a deal; especially with that many mouth-watering choices sitting just out of arm’s reach?

After taking a seat in their large outdoor dining room, I was followed shortly by a group of local firefighters, who had dropped in for a quick bite. I listened in for a bit, while they each described their week at the station. But, unfortunately, I never got to hear the conclusion to a single tale, as duty soon called them away once more. That’s when I threw on my headphones and finished my meal, while taking in the sunshine that had eluded the LA area for the past few days. When my plate was finally empty, I considered popping back in for a helping of the Roasted Brussels Sprouts I spied earlier, but my stomach knew better. Besides, there was far food more to come.

With an already satisfying day under my belt (aside from the unexpected tears), I gleefully backtracked my way down Beverly, until I hit a familiar site that I’d passed many times before, but never took the time to visit. Milk Bakery. Once I stepped inside, I was awash in the decadent aromas of baked goods and that slightly sweet chill you feel in your nose upon entering an ice cream shop. After pausing a moment to take it all in, I headed for the counter and began to wonder how I could ever possibly choose from such a heavenly assortment of goods. The best I could do was narrow it down to 3 items. A gooey chocolate chunk cookie; a peanut butter brownie; and a cookies and cream ice cream sandwich with chocolate chip cookies. It’s a pretty good selection, if I do say so myself.

Service was swift and before too long I was out the door and on my way. I must’ve looked like a complete dope walking down the street, grinning ear to ear and once again indulging in a little piece of childhood bliss. Literally, everything I ate on that stroll was breathtakingly delicious. The cookies had nice crisp edges and soft, chewy centers—also known as the perfect ratio. The ice cream was smooth, rich and full of flavor. The brownie was so fudgy and delicious that after one bite, my brain immediately turned off any sense of how many calories I was consuming in that moment. Savoring every crumb I could see, I finished my treats just as I was rounding the corner to my apartment.

For a moment, it almost felt as if I were going to cry again and then I realize it was just sheer, unadulterated joy from experiencing the best of adulthood and childhood—all in one day and all in the form of delicious, delicious food. 

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Belly & Snout

Delicious, Despite the Intruders

On this particular Saturday, my plans were completely up in the air. You see; there was talk of a backyard barbecue going down in the valley. But, once word came ‘round that the shindig was postponed; I immediately set out to find a suitable replacement that could satiate my hunger for meat. After narrowing it down to two K-town favorites—Beer Belly and Belly & Snout—I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the inventive and inviting dogs of the latter choice.

So, I threw on a pair of shoes, loaded some music into my headphones and set out to have another culinary adventure. Once outside, I could tell this was a near perfect day to explore the neighborhood. The sun was shining and a slight breeze washed over me like a wave of warm cotton. I headed up the block and made my way down Western Ave. until I reached my destination. At first, it was hard to distinguish from the shops and stores that adorn much of the street. But, once I reached the opposing corner, a large white sign with an equally predominate pig silhouette was there to announce I had finally arrived.

Once inside, the cozy restaurant felt warm and welcoming. A long, wooden counter split the room in half with the kitchen hidden away behind it and a few tables tucked into the corner of the foreground. My attention was immediately drawn to the farthest wall, where a multi-colored chalk menu alerted me to the day’s offerings. After taking a few moments to decide, I landed on three separate dishes that would allow me to sample a little of everything this place is known for.

I started with a Two Buck Taco, filled with chicken adobo. Next, I chose the Oxtail Chili Dog that came slathered in peanut-braised oxtail, cotija cheese, garlic crema, black and red beans and cilantro. Finally, I paired these with an order of the Sisig fries, topped with pork, fried egg, red onion, chicharron, green onion and garlic crema. Admittedly, even as I write these words, it’s making me hungry for more!

After ordering, I took a seat in the corner and while looking around, I noticed a plaque for Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on a wall behind the counter. As a self-loathing fan of the show, I found it a bit odd, as I had never seen their episode before. It all made sense soon enough though. While waiting on my meal, I began to cycle through my social media and when tagging the restaurant in a #foodporn post, I saw that the ever-curious enigma known as Guy Fieri had actually filmed there just a few days prior. I was Guy Fier-ious! I can’t believe I missed my chance to be on one of my favorite shows. Especially one I love to hate and hate to love.

This is when my experience took an unexpected turn. While sitting there in my seat, indulging in a bit of Snapchat vanity, a couple barged in with their young child. And as soon as they reached the register, the large male of the group began to make his presence known in boisterous fashion. He leaned (too) far over the counter, began reading through the menu in a loud tone of voice and carried on an internal conversation that was surely deafening for everyone within earshot.

Luckily, my food arrived shortly thereafter and I was once again at peace. I made quick work of the taco; an easy feat given how succulent and juicy the chicken was. Then, it was on to my hot dog, which despite my greatest efforts, I could not fully enjoy due to the couple sitting a table away. The man continued to talk louder than anyone in such an intimate space ever should and to make matters worse, he kept yelling to the kitchen staff in an attempt to ask them questions about Mr. Fieri.

Couple this with his wife (or girlfriend?) taking duck-lipped selfies right in front of me and it left me with no other choice, but to sigh my way through an otherwise delectable dog. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the man began to speak to his child about time—again, much louder than anyone should—and he proceeded to cycle through a span of fifteen hours. “Do you know how long that is?” He asked. “One hour… two hours… three hours… four hours… five hours… six hours… seven hours…,” This continued until he reached fifteen. That’s right; he actually went from beginning to end.

By this time, I had started into my fries, which ultimately helped drown out the man’s piercing voice that continued to permeate the room—much to everyone’s dismay. Thankfully, about halfway through, their to-go order was placed on the corner and the couple went on their way. At last! I had nothing but peace, quiet and crema-covered French fries. I took my time savoring each and every piece of golden goodness that sat before me. One-by-one, I slathered the fries in a pristine mixture of toppings and floated higher into the heavens with every bite. And upon reaching my final fry, I smiled one last smile, before concluding my K-town conquest.

From there, I gathered my composure and tossed my well-worn napkins into the garbage, before wishing the Chef a good day and exiting the establishment. For a brief moment, I stood outside, the sun’s warming rays shining down upon me, and I remembered just how much a good meal can change one’s outlook on the day—even if you do have to briefly share it with people that don’t understand the meaning of personal space. 

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Wolf Dining LA

What makes an exceptional dining experience?

I had just visited Floyd’s Barbershop on Cahuenga. I remember the sun fading in and out of the clouds, causing a brisk but rather pleasant day—ideal for exploring the city by foot. It was nearing late afternoon and I had decided to make my way toward The Grove in Fairfax, because the new films of the week would be starting their Thursday evening showings soon. So, after a quick glance at my phone, I decided on a movie and began to walk.

Once I hit Melrose, I remember feeling a slight rumbling in my stomach, signaling there would need to be food in my future, if I were to ever make it through the movie without purchasing a large tub of popcorn. I had recently sworn off snack foods, so I needed to find an alternative solution to satisfy my hunger. That’s when I remembered I’d soon be passing Wolf, a new dining establishment created by former Top Chef contestant, Marcel Vigneron. Having been a huge fan ever since finding myself watching his season with an almost religious fervor, I knew I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to dine on his delectable dishes.

A few blocks later and I found myself standing in front of the oversized, rich mahogany doors that adorn the intimate and upscale space. Nestled in, adjacent to its soon-to-open sister property, Beefsteak, I immediately felt as if I were far too underdressed to enter the establishment. I timidly approached the hostess, who was currently addressing another customer on the phone. She glanced at me during a break in the conversation and I asked if it was OK for me to go in, being dressed as casually as I was and without a reservation. She smiled and nodded in unison, while giving me a thumbs-up for good measure. I returned the gesture and made my way through the doors.

Upon entering, I once again felt a little self-conscious about my attire. Lit by small table candles and a few decorative overhead lights, the space was upscale and accommodating all at once. As I walked toward the back bar, I saw table after table prepped and ready for the impending dinner service. Menus were placed at perfect angles and cutlery-filled napkins were set neatly at each table’s corner. Clearly, this is a staff that takes great pride in presentation—a theme that would resonate throughout the evening.

Once I reached the bar, I was greeted with a smile by the bartender, as I pulled out my seat and set my newly-purchased Target backpack on the ground; taking great care to hide it as much as possible. I was presented with a menu, but it didn’t take long to place my order. I started with a drink known as, “Ode to the Cove,” because rum is always my go-to spirit of choice. As I watched the bartender whip up my drink, another patron approached the bar and sat a seat away to my right. After being greeted, it was instantly apparent this man originated from Australia.

I received my drink, which offered just the right amount of sweetness and astringency to make for a smile-inducing introduction of what was to come. As I sipped away, trying not to down this beverage at my usual pace, I listened in as the bartender and my fellow patron began to discuss some rather interesting topics about his home country. It was revealed that the bartender actually performed on stage several years back, portraying an Aussie character. And just as he was attempting—successfully in my opinion—to remember some of the dialect, my appetizer arrived and I quickly entered a world of my own.

Placed before me was an artist’s vision of Burnt Carrots with coconut, passion fruit, tarragon, macadamia and lime. My mouth began to water almost instantly. I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath, before I could even muster the strength to reach for my utensils. If this was course one, I couldn’t even imagine where the meal would go from here. I took my time to craft a perfect bite, each and every time. For such a thoughtful dish, I knew I had to marry the individual flavors together to truly understand the vision behind it. It was astounding. Plain and simple.

Once finished, the bartender and I began to chat about a few of my tattoos, as I could hear more and more people entering the establishment behind me. Clearly, others had a similar idea of what to do with their evening. I can’t blame them, because in that moment, I knew the right decision had been made. But, before I could produce another thought, my next two dishes were presented to me.

Braised Beef Cheek with Jerusalem artichoke, turmeric peppercorn sauce and baby chicory. And to its side, a surprising large portion of Brussels Sprouts and Tokyo turnips, bathed in fish caramel and lime. Not only was this course crafted as beautifully as the last, but the care that went into preparing and cooking these items were on full display. The deep aromas danced around in my senses, before I even took my first bite. Then, taking a moment to collect myself after being floored by these decadent plates, I finally dug in and indulged in their glory.

Everything was cooked to perfection and the seasoning was absolutely ideal. The chefs in the kitchen were able to achieve something in these dishes that you often have a hard time coming across, even in a city like LA—Authenticity. From the moment the first morsel touched my lips, I could sense the love and dedication that went into making it. These weren’t just some ingredients slapped on a menu in hopes of charging higher prices and attracting lucrative clientele. This was an item that clearly resonated with the Chef. It was a dish he knew would excite the palate and offer an experience that would leave you satisfied in every sense of the word.

Although my main course didn’t last as long as I would’ve liked (I’m a bit of a glutton, so I only have myself to blame), I couldn’t find a single flaw in anything that took place on this evening. Then again, I knew I couldn’t end my time at Wolf Dining LA without tasting one of their desserts. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long, because shortly after my plates were removed, my final course took its place before me.

Banana Bundt with burnt honey ganache, habanero hibiscus ice cream and toasted coconut—I don’t even think my words could do this dish justice. Another elegant addition to the evening, it was rich, succulent and offered a dizzying display of craftsmanship. The spice of the ice cream, when combined with the subtle sweetness of the bundt, created a heavenly bite that offered you a mouthful of pure bliss and unadulterated happiness.

Upon finishing my meal, I turned to exit and noticed the restaurant was quite full now. Everyone was dressed to the nines; a mix of chinos, button downs and cocktail dresses. Yet, none of that mattered to me and I don’t think it did to anyone else in the room. I knew that as I threw on my backpack, adjusted my studded belt and draped my hood over my head, I was just another satisfied customer—the same category each of these individuals would soon fall into. After a meal like that, nothing else really mattered to me in that moment anyway. I was flying high on a cloud of cuisine that offered me a joy I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

This wasn’t just another meal for me to enjoy. Wolf Dining LA offered me an experience that transcended the ordinary and created something all its own. My only question now is, “When can I try their brunch?”

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