FOH – “FRONT OF THE HOUSE” A FEAST FOR THE SENSES...

              I was invited to try a new menu at a super-cool restaurant in Downtown LA. I hesitated at first, knowing that it was going to be a long journey from Santa Monica to Flower Street. But I braved the traffic anyway, always game for a new menu tasting. The restaurant was FOH, which means “front of the house.” Cute name. We walked in. Cute waiters. Cute place. My husband and I were shown to a comfortable booth. Guess where? At the front of the house! We settled in, ready for a good time. What we didn’t know was how large the “tastes” were going to be! Yowza. We ordered our drinks first. FOH has an eclectic wine list, with a decent price range. Scanning the list, my eyes traveled to Italy, France, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Australia, even Serbia before heading back to California. I chose a Cuvaison Chardonnay from the Carneros region of the Napa Valley. It’s $15.00 a glass, or $58.00 a bottle. While sipping my wine, I begin to survey the cocktail list. Whoever designed the menu was a computer programmer prior to becoming a mixologist. The drink menu was designed like a navigation page. “In the Sticks” was one area, “Nice and Refreshing” in another area, as well as “Good and Strong” (how I like my drinks and my men) and Well Worn Path (the way I felt after the drive from Santa Monica). For example, a drink listed in the “In the Sticks” section included the “Tourist Trap,” made from FOH Rum blend, lime, Orgeat, Tiki mix and bitters. The limit on ordering this was only two. A good first date drink. Another example was the “Nooner,” located in the “Nice and Refreshing”...

This Place Stinks

I love cheese. I crave cheese. Any type of cheese. For several months, I have been driving by this cute little place on Montana with a sign outside that says “This Place Stinks!” I take a closer look, and it’s Andrew’s Cheese store. Cool. So my friend and I go in, in search of the stinkiest cheeses. The minute we walk into the quaint European-style fromagerie, I get a strong whiff of what’s to come. Then I see, stacked tightly side by side behind a glass encasement resembling a meat counter, every kind of cheese one could imagine. Wow. Across from the counter are wines, oils, and other gourmet items that I am sure I couldn’t live without. We introduce ourselves to Andrew and settle in to taste some of his smelliest cheeses. Check this out — Andrew tells us that some of the first smelly cheeses were created by Trappist Monks who would press the cheese with their feet while making it. The smelly bacteria on their feet, called b-linens, gave the cheese the pungent odor. Hmmm, doesn’t sound too appetizing, but Andrew assures us that the b-linen (brevibacterium) bacteria is safe and is no longer made with the help of someone’s smelly feet. Andrew also informs us that stinky cheeses come in orange washed rinds (washed usually with a saltwater brine that helps to create the b-linen) and are best at room temperature to savor the flavor and complexity of the cheese. Soon, we are tasting five of the stinkiest cheeses in the place, while Andrew gives us colorful descriptions of each: 1. Epoisses de Bourgogne — “If you’ve never tasted Epoisses, you need to. It’s the sexiest food you will ever eat. It’s creamy and has a rich, luscious taste. If...

Detour to Italy

Last night, on the way home from work, I decided to take a detour from my usual dinner pick up spot (think crazy charbroiled chicken) and head over to Bay Cities Italian Bakery and Deli. I have lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years, and had never been there! Do you know why? Because it is always so crowded I could never get a parking space! I zoomed down Lincoln Blvd., prayed to the parking gods, and voila – someone was just pulling out of a great space in the lot! The minute I walked in, I now knew why I never got a parking spot without the help of the gods. The quaint gourmet grocery store, established in 1925, was packed with amazing, one of a kind food items in its well stocked narrow isles. To my right was a deli counter, taking up the whole wall, from front to back. The front part served hot homemade Italian dishes for takeout, like lasagna, chicken Parmesan, eggplant Parmesan, spaghetti with sausage or meatballs, and other Mediterranean dishes. In the middle of the counter was a deli, serving a plethora of pasta and cold salads, such as antipasto, caprese, fusilli/pesto, seafood and many others. At the end of the counter there was a meat market, serving freshly sliced meats and sandwiches. Momma Ma! What a selection of italian meats – Breasola, Capi Cola, Copa Seca, Serrano ham, Mortadella, Pancetta, Prociutto, Salami, Sopressa, and many others. The sandwiches looked amazing as well. There was one called the Godmother, with Genoa salami, mortadella coppacola, ham, prosciutto and provolone all wrapped in a freshly baked Italian roll. I chose a dry salami to go with a cheese I would choose later. This whole area was packed, three-deep...

Adding Spice to Life

The front window facade and the lighting fixtures have the look of an old-time country store, and when I walk in I somehow feel that I am at my grandmother’s house. A vintage kitchen displays merchandise, the wood floors give the place a warm, homey feeling and then, there’s the smell of a myriad of spices. Like a kid in a candy store, I want them all! Usually, I go to my local grocery store to buy them, but today my culinary talents took a huge step forward by making a visit to Penzey’s Spices. There’s one in Santa Monica, and I’ve always wanted to check out what they offer. When I was first starting out in my cooking adventures, I would follow the recipes exactly, to the smallest detail. Now, it’ so much more fun changing it up, especially with different spices. What’s really impressive about the place is the huge selection — more than 250 salts, peppers, spices, rubs, seasonings, seeds, dried peppers and other dried fruits and vegetables from all over the world. I don’t know where to start! I am always looking for new spices for roast chicken and BBQ steak, so I start there. Do you know how long spices are good for? I ask one of the helpful sales people. She tells me that ground spices last up to one year, and whole spices last up to two years. Storage of the spices, she said, is also key. Spices must be stored properly to maintain their original intensity and freshness. They can be stored in a glass container and be free of exposure to light, moisture, air and heat. Good to know. So many spices, so little time! As I meander down each isle looking for the perfect...

A Pearl of a Place

After moving back to Santa Monica this past year,  I am thrilled to see that Santa Monica Seafood, (a place I frequented for years when it was on Colorado Blvd.) has set up shop on Wilshire Blvd.   I walk into the light, airy, large market to find a fresh catch for lunch.  It feels a bit like an East Coast fish market but much grander. In front of me is a really large circular, enclosed glass case filled with a huge selection of seafood, including sea bass, salmon, trout, grouper, halibut, shrimp and many other species, as well as a large area filled with water to hold live Maine lobsters.   Obviously, this is the centerpiece of the place. To my left, there is an ample selection of wines, cheeses, breads, and gourmet foods that could be great company for my lunch selection.  To the right of the entrance, there’s an area with several small tables, nestled right next to the raw bar.  In back of the raw bar, there’s an area to order steamed clams, grilled fish, fish tacos and other seafood items that you can take back to your table and eat on premises.  There are also wines by the glass.  Great place for a bucket of steamed clams and a glass or two of wine on a Friday night! I come across a selection of oysters at the raw bar and make my lunch decision.   I’ve always loved the little guys and now I have the perfect opportunity to become a real aficionado with a fresh oyster tasting!   I take a seat at the bar to begin my adventure.  You can purchase one single oyster, a half dozen or a dozen.  I choose the half dozen to try all six they have...

My Secret Mexican Meat Market...

Ok – I don’t mean the kind of meat market you might be thinking this is — it’s a real meat market in an unassuming little shop in a barely-noticeable mini strip center, called Carniceria Reynoso Meat Market, and it’s located on 17th and Pico, right across from Santa Monica College. I found this place on the internet; I was doing a search under “meat markets in Santa Monica.” I read the online reviews: Zarah wrote, “My local favorite! The good: meat, spices, sweet bread, Bolilos (dinner style rolls), friendly service and great prices.”  Juan wrote, ” Awesome chorizo! Fresh meat and tortillas! Plus they got great Mexican bread – yum! The only place in Santa Monica to have authentic Mexican products!” This sounded great. The next day, my companion and I visited the market, and felt a little out of place. There was a large sign in the front written entirely in Spanish, which I could not read, because I did not know the language. I walked in, not knowing if I could communicate with the proprietor. (I’m such a gringo!) When I introduced myself to Alex Reynoso, he explained in perfect English that he and his father have owned the market for more than 20 years. They are the only Mexican meat market in Santa Monica and cater to a predominately Latino customer, as well as Santa Monica College students from across the street. Alex informed us that the Spanish-language sign outside the door listed the cuts of steak they offer, as well as other meat specialties. Ranchero (specifically for making Carne Asada) Espadilla (a marinated thin steak,) Chorizo (Mexican sausage), Castillo De Res (Beef Ribs), Trosos De Res (Beef Stew), Pollo (chicken – I knew that one), Bagre (Catfish) and Jamon...