Saturday, December 10, 2011

Milo and Olive

For me, any which way you slice it, pizza can do no wrong. Wether it is the 3a.m. microwavable abomination at the gas station, or a pie hand tossed by Wolfgang Puck himself, if there is melted cheese on some form of bread, I am a fan. Admittedly, I am not the toughest of customers. However, after tasting Milo and Olive’s version of the pizza pie, it had me asking myself, “Do you think that piece of cardboard and mozzarella you had delivered the other night is still acceptable?”

To be fair to the ma’ and pa’ pizza parlor, or even Domino’s for that matter, Milo and Olive is not the place to call if you need ten large cheese and ten large pepperoni’s delivered to your house Super Bowl Sunday. Nor is it the ideal place to bring 15 screaming little leaguers after a big victory. It is a pie of a higher calling. Being from the same folks that brought us the popular Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon restaurants, if you have of heard of these two places, you will know what I mean.

For owners Josh Loeb and his wife Zoe Nathan, the idea behind opening up a third restaurant on Wilshire meant two things. For Josh, it was to bring a better pizza to the Westside. For Zoe, it was to have the ability to bake a higher and wider variety of breads which was not doable with their limited space at Huckleberry. Josh and Zoe’s proverbial move to the suburbs put them in a larger property with bigger ovens, and a sizable yet inviting dining area too. The new space which is outfitted with a large convection oven, rotating deck oven, and wood burning oven, is ideal for firing up plenty of pastries, breads, and of course pizzas.

Zoe, a seasoned baker, collaborated with Rustic Canyon’s Executive Chef Evan Funke, who specializes in rustic Italian cuisine, to come up with Milo and Olive’s menu. This translates to an eclectic mix of homemade bagels, baguettes, and breads in the morning and a handful of daily pizza offerings in the afternoon, and well into the evening. Of course they focus on locally made cheeses, farmer’s market produce, and small wine and beer bottlers showing that life long Santa Monica resident Josh Loeb knows how to keep it real.    

My first bite of their mixed mushroom pizza conjured a mixed bag of emotions.  The first being the kind of happiness only melted cheese and crisp chewy crust can deliver.  Nostalgia set in because of how the oils from the melted fontina and parmesan cooked the crust rendering it quasi-fried similar to the fried dough my grandmother used to make years ago. Finally jealousy reared its ugly head by the perfection of the crust in both flavor and texture. To elaborate on my spite, a passion of mine has always been pizza making and for years now I have toiled with different recipes, techniques, and ingredients. It was explained to me that after much experimentation their pizza dough recipe it all came together two weeks before their grand opening in the beginning of December.  Thrown off by the wood burning oven the pizzas are not Neapolitan style. Neapolitan pies are super thin and cook super fast which can result resulting in crust like a politician, no integrity and soggy in the middle. Conversely, it is a slow bake dough resulting in a magical sweet spot of not too thick, thin, crispy, or soft crust. I suppose I should leave the real pizza making to the experts, and I will stick to eating it.

For Josh and Zoe, it appears the trilogy of restaurants on Wilshire is complete. I asked Josh what was the next venture, sushi, fondue, Brazilian BBQ?  In which he responded, “rest.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Locanda del Lago

With the holiday season underway The Third Street Promenade gets even more crazy with a flurry shopping madness. Locanada De Lago, which is situated in the middle of the mayhem, is offering some pretty enticing drink specials that are certain to appeal to weary shoppers looking for a little break in the action. The deal is, come into the restaurant with a receipt proving that you bought something in or around the Third Street area that day, and get a discount on any of restaurant’s seasonal cocktails. High end drinks with designer names are the general theme for this promotion. Wether it is the mixed berry mojito called The Versachi, or a pumpkin vanilla martini named The Prada, just show the receipt and get a drink for $9 instead of $14, or a 1 liter carafe for $20 instead of $34. Buy a pair of Dockers, and wash it down with a Gucci. With each libation offering up ingredients bought from vendors at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, and the deal being based off people buying local, it is good business for everyone. And with the high levels of shopping commotion, finding solace in a $20 carafe is not a bad option. Armani, Gucci, Missoni, take your pick. Rest assure these drinks are no knockoffs, not to mention Locanda De Lago has been cooking up great Northern Italian inspired cuisine for 20 years plus.   


Friday, November 18, 2011

Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

With a kaleidoscopic arrangement of food trucks, trendy clubs, and upstart restaurants, Abbot Kinney street in Venice, just on the peripheral of Santa Monica, is a great place to venture out to try something new. Catching wind of a restaurant opening, was enough to ride the bike over to see what was going down.
The name of the restaurant, in a total departure from the uber trendy, one word, one syllable, seemingly obligatory spectacle that has overtaken the restaurant and club scene, business partners, head chef’s, and long time friends, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga went with something totally opposite - Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. The cuisine is a departure from both chef’s backgrounds as well, which is in fine dining. Both chefs agree that foams and purees in the shape of swans are not in this restaurant’s future. 
Chef Brain explained to me that Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing can be best described as non pretentious, country style comfort food, as he breaded a piece of head cheese ready for the fryer.
“It’s not fat kid food, either!” chimed in Chef Kris
He elaborated having a good relationship with local growers, farmer’s market vendors, and never flying in produce is essentially Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’s mantra. With almost almost all of their wine and beer coming from California, the restaurant is keeping their libations in state as well. 
“The soul of our food is good simple ingredients, and keeping it super local” explains Chef Brian.
Over countless coffees, beers, and years of collaborating Chef Brian and Kris’s dream has finally come to fruition. For these two Venice natives it was really Abbot Kinney Street or bust. With the soft opening, November showcases a taste of what is to come. Their full menu and official opening will happen in December. If you want to take a bite out of Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, come on down to Venice and they will be happy to find you a seat.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

California Monster Salad

Pinkberry meets The Farmer’s Market, at California Monster Salad you will feel like a kid in a candy store- a very mature, healthy, sugar free candy store. Fun none the less!Proprietor Daniel Radell has certainly created something special with the one and only California Monster Salad just east of the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and 4th Street. Essentially, California Monster Salad is a high-end, create your own salad place. They boast an array of unique as well as standard salad toppings, and also offer a collection of signature Monster Salads too. While it may seem commonplace to have a green eatery in the middle of the high food IQ city of Santa Monica, it is the details that separates the California Monster from your standard salad store.
From the eco-friendly paint down to the bio degradable forks and salad bowls, lettuce is not the only thing that is green at California Monster Salad.  Another nice touch is, as you enter, it is almost a guarantee you will be offered a sampling of one of their daily made juices. Some of their beverage mainstays are iced teas, kale lemonade, and my favorite, the cucumber mint lemonade. The California Monster Salad also offers a delivery service. So no more ordering salads from Domino’s Pizza, a better option has arrived in town. The restaurant also offers homemade breads, soups, and organic gluten-free desserts. Aside from fresh drinks, soups, and desserts the real meat and potatoes at this place are their salads. Offering ten or so signature salads with fun names like the Greek Bikini, Kalifornia Kale, and Mermaid Medley are all tempting options, but it is the create your own Monster Salad which is a customer favorite.  
The first step is to select one of five different greens, which are all stowed away in large salad style humidors. From the popular Romaine to the hearty Kale, you also have the option to mix and match your greenery. Step two is select up to five different toppings. With almost fifty toppers to choose from, this is your opportunity to really get nuts, literally. The third and final step is to select your dressing. Knowing that a dressing can make or break a salad, California Monster Salad puts a great deal of emphasis in making things right.
“You can make a beautiful salad and it can be ruined with a dressing. We make sure everyone taste the dressing so it is exactly what they want.” Explains owner Daniel Radell
With no added salt, sugar, mayonnaise, California Monster Salad whips up their dressings daily rather than using any bottled brands. Ironically enough, due to great popularity, the restaurant will be bottling their stuff in the near future.
With so many salads to choose from, in an ‘only in Santa Monica’ moment, I went with the salad in a bread cone option. Chef Stacey tossed up their signature Coastline Chicken salad, pouring it into a cone-rolled flatbread. In that moment holding my salad-cone, I was that 31 year old yoga practicing, documentary watching, bill paying kid in the health conscience, eco friendly, high fiber candy store. It was one of the best salads I have ever had and certainly the greatest salad cone I have ever eaten in my entire life. The California Monster Salad is truly a new gem here in Santa Monica.       

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Earth Wind And Flour

It was thirty years ago that Dennis Klempner and his business partners were sitting around a table banging their heads together trying to figure out a name for their new restaurant on Wilshire blvd. Through the ordeal, a song by Earth Wind and Fire came on the radio, the proverbial lightbulb flickered on, and Earth Wind and Flour was born.  Pizzas and pastas being the featured items on the menu, flour is indeed the foundation to this Santa Monica staple. 
Dennis gained an affinity for Italian eating from his upbringing. Surprisingly enough, origins of the Klempner name are not Calabrese, Neapolitan, nor Florentine. Dennis is not from ‘the old country’ but when he was fifteen, he learned a thing or two while working at an Italian restaurant in The San Fernando Valley called the Pizza Peddler.  Fast forward to today, and you will find Earth Wind and Flour loaded with Italian-American offerings. 
Besides the obligatory pizza and pasta specialties, Earth Wind and Flour also has a variety of sandwiches, salads and burgers. They also have a full service bar adjacent to the dining area, and advertise $5 fru fru Martinis as well as your standard selection of beers. The pizza is made ‘Boston Style’ which can probably be best described as a cross between New York thin crust and a Chicago style deep dish. It is baked in a pan, so the outside crust rises high, but the middle is not quite as thick. I will be very inclined to give it a shot next time around. 
Going with one of the pasta specialties I indecisively felt like I was picking out of a hat. From pasta primavara, to lasagna, to eggplant parmesan, I randomly selected the chicken scallopini. The chicken was tender and covered with plenty of garlic, capers, and thin lemon slices. It was served with lightly steamed veggies all on a bed of linguine which was plain but al dente. Accompanied by a basket of warm sourdough rolls that I drowned in a dish of olive oil the meal was satisfying and reasonably priced. Individual pasta plates range from $9.99-$13.99 and family-style portions that serve 2-3, are $15.99-18.99.

With saw dust on the ground, hundreds of playing cards stuck to the ceiling, and floral paintings that looked like they were purchased at the Holiday Day Inn garage sale, the decor is indeed an amalgamation of funky furnishings.  Like Lady Gaga, this restaurant was born this way.  All the more reason to come as you are. Plus, every Sunday night from 5:30-8:30pm is magic night with Johnny Ace Palmer (which explains the playing cards stuck to the ceiling). 
This is prime example to why you should explore the neighborhood and seek out something never before experienced. You just might like what you discover. Start with a super casual scene, add some interesting art, fine pizza and pasta, and sprinkle in some Sunday night magic, and you will have yourself the best named restaurant in Santa Monica, Earth Wind and Flour. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

O.P. Cafe

East on Ocean Park boulevard boasts a variety of great restaurants, burger joints, and local eateries, but no place personifies your ‘neighborhood nook’ better than the Ocean Park Cafe. Pitted up against the intersection of Ocean Park and 31st., commotion runs high with traffic, noise, and seemingly endless construction. The O.P. Cafe is indeed a haven from the outside madness offering patrons a fail safe combination of great food at affordable prices.
We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch, but The O.P. Cafe could serve up one of the best breakfast deals in town. Their 2-2-2 breakfast which consists of two eggs, two bacon strips, ham slices, or sausage links and two pancakes is only $3.99 if you get there between 7-9am. Or if your are really hungry you can double down and get a 4-4-4 for $7.98, or 6-6-6 for $11.97 and so on and so forth.

Another popular breakfast item amongst the regulars is the Diablo Burrito. It is a breakfast burrito consisting of eggs, chorizo, bacon, black beans, and home fries, in a tortilla with the house made spicy Diablo sauce. The crisp fries and bacon mixed with the heat of the chorizo and Diablo sauce, is a great blend of flavors, textures, and ample spice. While the Diablo Burrito may seem sinful, it is paired with a side of fruit for a nicely balanced meal.

Along with a selection of burgers and salads, the lunch menu offers up a list of panini’s and wraps. Many of the sandwiches can be converted into wraps and vice versa. The simplified menu is appealing, easy, and a nice departure from restaurants that seat you and hand you a phone book of menu options. There is something unappetizing about being able to order a frittata, spaghetti, and a side of egg rolls all in one sitting.
Along with outsourcing Chef John Fanali to makeover the menu, proprietors Mark and Lani Verge reached out to Ricky Kline to give the cafe a much needed face lift. Recipient of the James Beard award in restaurant design, Ricky Kline is responsible for overhauling noteworthy downtown hotspots such as Cole’s and The Varnish. Taking his talents to the westside, Mr. Kline has done an outstanding job with revamping The O.P. Cafe.  
The rebranded logo was inspired by an old aviation base which stood on the very grounds of the cafe, long before it was built. The exterior truly stands out with a captivating, bright yellow and blue accented facade. Since lifeguarding in Santa Monica runs deep in the Verge family, the 1940’s beach theme, seems authentically nostalgic, rather than another restauranty gimmick. Friendly service is another plus that makes this place popular amongst locals.
Change is good in the case of The Ocean Park Cafe. The restaurant has had its fare share of owners, makeovers, and menus. But in its 30 plus years of existence, it is safe to say things are looking, feeling, and most importantly, tasting better than ever at the O.P. Cafe.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wurstkutche: Venice

The uber popular restaurant, Wurstkuche has made its way here to the westside. The “purveyor of exotic grilled sausages” which has enjoyed great success at its downtown location has opened its doors at a second stop on Lincoln Blvd in Venice. With no shortage of hype, long lines, or savory delectables, Wurstkuche has taken the Venice encased meat scene by storm. With Octoberfest in full swing and the initial grand opening buzz starting to dissipate, now more than ever is a good time take a stroll down Lincoln to see what Wurstkuche is churning out.      
The long lines resemble something outside L.A.‘s hottest nightclub scene more than anything else, so avoiding peak hours is advised. From the entrance, you enter into a small room containing a showcase of Wurstkuche’s gourmet sausages, and a long line of tapped beers. Sausages range everywhere from your classic brat and bockwurst, to the higher end mango jalapeno, to more exotic flavors like rattlesnake and rabbit, or alligator and pork Andouille. The beer selection is eclectic and exclusively Belgian and German, with the exception an Old Rasputin and the hipstertastic PBR.    
After you select your sausage, toppings, and beverage, you pay at the register, are given a number, and proceed down a long corridor to the dining area.  The dining room is a large open space that seems like a cross between a German beer hall, and a hipsters loft. Long rows of tables and benches meet an industrial chic design. Filtered light softly fills the dining space. A d.j. booth and an additional bar area hint that this place indeed gets a bit raucous during the later hours.
Not leaning on the side of cation, I bypassed the more traditional bratwurst and went with the highly recommended and exotic duck and bacon with jalapeno topped with caramelized onions and sweet peppers. Admittedly, my palette is not quite astute enough to discern each ingredient. I can say after a couple big bites, it was determined that my selection was delicious. Another plus were the Belgian double dipped fries. Double dipped is a nicer way to say that they were deep fried twice. The second bath in the frier rendered a crispier outside but maintained a smooth rich interior. Big points on chipotle aioli for not being too overpowering or mere mayonnaise, but a great accompaniment to the twice fried fries. Washed down by a Spaten Oktoberfest made the meal a full bodied experience.  
By ordering more exclusive beers, exotic sausages, and all sorts of other add-ons, it is easy to run up a big bill at Wurstkuche as I found myself doing. For the high end beer connoisseur and sausage sommelier, it is a dining experience that is certainly worth it.  Wurstkuche today is like David Hasselhoff in his prime- German meat with L.A. attitude. 
And as an added bonus, today Wurstkuche will be holding a Belgium Trappist Beer Event. They will be showcasing beer brewed by the monks of Belgian Trappist monasteries. It is a tasting of fine Trappist beer paired with sausage, cheese, and desserts for $40 at the door from 2-5 p.m. today October 22nd. It is not everyday that the monks belt out their brew, so if you want to sample some celestial suds straight from God’s keg to your lips come check out Wurstkuche today and today only. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tender Greens

For as long as I can remember the corner of Arizona and 2nd Street laid home to The Lighthouse Seafood Buffet. For me, all you can eat seafood lost its luster somewhere between a bad experience at the Tropicana buffet table, and the documentary The Cove.  For many Santa Monicans, organic, hormone free, and portion controlled cuisine has become more than just a trend, but rather a way of life. With many people changing up their eating habits, it was only a matter of time that The Lighthouse indeed went dark. But out of the vacant Lighthouse sprouts up a new restaurant with fresh fare and ideas, as Santa Monica welcomes in Tender Greens.
This being the newest of its seven California locations, Santa Monica seems to be a good fit for the franchise, and is more of an extension of the Santa Monica Farmers Market, rather than an imposing chain. Chef turned Tender Greens manager, Rian Brandenburg admits that the food is his priority at the 2nd Street location. Much of the ingredients are purchased at the Farmers Market happening right outside Tender Greens front door every Wednesday and Saturday. Fresh local grown produce going from the stand to the kitchen in five minutes is one of the perks of the restaurants prime location. 
Natural, antibiotic free, and sustainable fare is certainly a draw for people trying to eat right. With a menu that boasts a variety of salads, as well as hot plate items, at a flat rate of $10.50, sustainability on the wallet is another plus. Although with add-ons and some really tempting desserts strategically placed by the cash register, it can be easy to go above that mark.
The salads range from your classic Cobb, to the more creative Grilled Octopus and everything in between. The hot items are your choice of marinated steak, chicken, albacore, or grilled veggies presented on a hot plate or sandwich both accompanied by sides. You can pick your protein on a simple salad as well. There is nothing too complex about the menu, just quality ingredients that are able to stand on their own rather than being masked by over seasoning or drowned in sauce.
This was the case with the Chinese chicken salad I ordered. The sesame dressing was very light and was more of an accent rather than a gloppy mess. Most notably, it rendered a serious crunch from the carrots, wontons, and roasted peanuts. Upon finishing I was very much satisfied but not rolling over and slipping into a food coma. 

With windows everywhere, the dining room is bright and inviting. Recycled tables, microfiber organic carpet, compressed hay ceiling seem more expected than anything with the franchises all natural, eco friendly mantra.     
With the name Tender Greens, salads are obviously going to be a staple, but it appeared that the hot plate items were just as popular with the customers.  As the weather starts to cool down, it is nice to know that there is some healthy, fresh, and easy access comfort food amongst mayhem of the 3rd Street Promenade.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Komida Opens In Hollywood

It is certainly a nice compliment to get invited to the grand opening of a new Hollywood hotspot. Either that, or an e-mailer went out to me as well as 100,000 other people. Either which way, with my ego fed, it was time to venture out to the heart of Hollywood to fill my stomach for the launching of the newest Asian fusion eatery- Komida.
Biking out of the friendly confines of Santa Monica up to Hollywood can be a harrowing yet rewarding experience, especially if you decide to take Santa Monica Blvd straight through. There is the good- Long stretches of bike lanes in West Hollywood, as well as Century City. There is the bad- Poorly paved and scarcely lit, Santa Monica Blvd takes a turn for the worse through the length of Beverly Hills. And then there is the Ugly- Gridlock engulfs Santa Monica Blvd from 26th to the 405 during the early evening rush hour. While cutting through the congestion on my bicycle is great, using the bus line which I sometimes do, was completely out of the question. 
I try to avoid touristy areas, so venturing to Komida in the Kodak Center on Hollywood Blvd was like riding straight into the Death Star of tourist traps. But tucked away on an unassuming wing of the mega structure, Komida is thankfully off the beaten path of trinket filled kiosks, hoards of tourists, and creepy vagrant looking super heros. While this scene embodies the area, Komida rises above the riff-raff with their cuisine.   
Achieving much acclaim as head Chef at Yamashiro, Brock Kleweno made a name for himself as an elite taco creator at the Yamashiro weekly farmer’s market sum two years ago. Now his heavy cult following, sightseers, and everyone in between can enjoy Chefs Brock’s creations.  
Komida offers a collection Asian Fusion inspired tacos with premium contemporary fare. Old school meets new school as family honored recipes are fused cohesively with an Asian inspiration. Menu items include Japanese Miso Sake Black Cod, Korean Braised Short Rib, and my favorite of the evening, Chinese Hoisin Duck Confit. The Duck Confit taco was paired perfectly with the nectarine agave salsa. The spicy surprise of the night was certainly the Wasabi Guacamole which in my opinion is the best use of Mexican-Asian fusion I have had.

Coming into an existing space, Komida has a brighter more cheerful interior than the previous digs of the H Wood lounge thanks to paintings and murals contributed by local artists. Operating as a ‘fast casual service” restaurant, orders are placed at the counter and table delivery is provided. Komida was able to retain H Wood’s liquor license offering a variety of beers as well as a very refreshing white-lychee fruit sangria.   
The taco prices range from $4-6, which is a big difference from you $1 taco truck offering. However, the tacos are twice as big and three times as fancy so if you do the math it still makes for a very worthy experience. I realize Santa Monicans are not going to be spending their free time meandering about on Hollywood Blvd, but if Auntie Barbara is in town and just has to see Madame Tussauds Wax Mueseum, or you find yourself in the area for any other reason, you may want check out some great Asian infused tacos at Komida.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Santa Monica Breakfast Burritos

The breakfast burrito: quick, convenient, and quintessential. While the burrito is inherently Mexican, the bacon, egg, cheese variety is as American as the hard shell taco, or the sizzling fajita platter. Not necessarily authentic as Huevos Rancheros, the ‘gringo’ variation, as it is often referred to as, is probably the most popular. The breakfast burrito is by no means the most sensible morning offering, but more a first meal treat. So I guess I treated myself across the west side trying to find the best of the best. I covered many miles on the bike, went to a variety of restaurants, and of course ate my fair share of breakfast burritos. Rome was not built in a day and neither was my mass consumption of breakfast burritos. These are my findings...
Thoma’s on Lincoln and Rose had a decent offering but with a high flow of vagrant traffic the dining experience is somewhat sketchy. Right next door the Whole Foods has a breakfast burrito with premium ingredients but the price tag can set you back. Staying on Lincoln, Pancho’s breakfast burrito was hitting on all cylinders, but not being able to discern their salsa from tomato juice marred the experience. I enjoyed the Original Tommy’s variety on Lincoln and Pico, but it is tough to bounce back on the day after a chili injected breakfast burrito. Tom’s Family Restaurant’s breakfast burrito was all show and no go. It was humungous and rather cheap, but the the potato was too plentiful and the bacon was scarce.

Traversing Santa Monica trying to find the best breakfast burrito is admittedly daunting.  I did my best sampling a variety of different restaurants that hand some real merits as well as some pitfalls. There were a few surprises and few places that excelled in atmosphere and of course the food.
The best tasting breakfast burrito may have been from Tacos Por Favor situated on Olympic Blvd. Tacos Por Favor is the Mexican version of Bay Cities Deli in the sense that everything on the menu is very good, dare I say exceptional? With seemingly fresh ingredients, crisp bacon, and a fantastic salsa bar, the Tacos Por Favor breakfast burrito was on point. The only stipulation is that everything at Tacos Por Favor is a bit pricy, including the breakfast burrito.

The Bagel Nosh, on 17th and Wilshire, offers a pretty pedestrian breakfast burrito at best. Served up with a small bowl of El Paso, Tostitos, or some other store bought ‘jug-o-salsa’ solidified the meals mediocrity. But the Bagel Nosh gets five stars, two thumbs up and the blue ribbon for ambiance. The dining room is clean, comfortable, and inviting. The Bagel Nosh is certainly a fine dining experience, even if the burrito was just so so.  

The biggest surprise came from D.K.’s Donuts on Santa Monica and 16th. The eggs are not scrambled but over-hard, which was a first. The burrito also contains a preformed deep-fried hash brown patty. The kicker is they throw the hash brown patty in the donut frier. Each bite has a sweet donutty accent making this version one of the more unique breakfast burritos I have had. Not making the breakfast burritos fresh to order are set backs but understandable coming from a donut shop.  

So many breakfast burritos, so little time. All of them found their way to my stomach. And some of that bacon grease found a little place in my heart. All the more reason to  keep biking, and keep exploring what Santa Monica has to offer.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Firehouse

In an area jam packed with restaurants it is easy for a simple diner to get overlooked, even if that diner is the biggest brightest building on the block. I have rode my bike past The Firehouse on the cusp of Venice and Santa Monica on Main Street countless times but never really gave it much more than a glance.  Little did I know that the Firehouse was full of all sorts of surprises. 
Confirmed from what I presumed by owner Lekio Hamada this restaurant was indeed originally a firehouse dating back to 1902-1907 depending on who you ask. It was not until the mid 50’s that it ceased to be a firehouse and it was not until 1986 that Leiko purchased the property. One of the keys to owning a former firehouse is finding a good painter. Leiko went through three different painters until she found one who was able to give The Firehouse a deep red coat that could stand the sands of time and not fade away into an unappealing pink. The enormous building truly has a tale of two halves. It is essentially two different restaurants under one roof.  
They made a name for themselves back in the mid to late eighties when the area was a body building mecca. Golds Gym being blocks away attracted many body builders asking for an egg white breakfast. While the The Firehouse offers up your standard omelets, breakfast sandwiches and from what I hear a very good eggs benedict on the weekends, the diner developed a menu catering the body builders palate. The Bodybuilder Breakfast consists of 8 oz. scrambled egg whites, 3 pancakes or oatmeal, and a choice of 6 oz. chicken breast, steak, or other meat ranging from $8.95-14.95 in price. Ask any strongman and they will tell you that is a lot of protein bang for your buck. 
While the back area serves up food to regulars and bodybuilders alike, the front of the house is a different story. In 1993 director James Cameron opened a post production company blocks away from the Firehouse. In uncanny timing the restaurant just received their liquor license and subsequently opened their bar up front. Alcohol to editors is like egg whites to body builders. It is not a rare occurrence to see post production people discussing their projects over rounds of beers at The Firehouse.  Along with a solid selection of beers and wines, the kitchen offers up an eclectic mix of salads, entrees, and of course fireman’s chili. The Firehouse has a pretty enticing happy hour menu as well. From 4:30-7:00 p.m. they offer up $3 domestics and $4-5 imports, and an assortment of $5 appetizers. In another twist, the front area also has a sushi bar. While usually this would be out of place in such an establishment, the fact that Lekio used to own a sushi restaurant before The Firehouse gives it merit. Plus how could you complain with $5 rolls during happy hour?
With the Google offices moving in down the street things may get even more hectic in the area. Certainly good for business, but Leiko confessed she did enjoy things when they were quieter years back. The Firehouse attracts a variety of different customers but locals and families are still their solid base.  The menu at first glance may seem completely random, but once you know a little of the history of the 100 plus year old firehouse, you start to realize everything is there for a reason. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Umami Burger

What is there left to possibly say about the most critically reviewed, dissected, and highly acclaimed burger in Los Angeles? A mouthful, if you are one of the people like myself that are late in the game to scratch this contemporary hotspot off your burger bucket list. Yes I do have a list and Umami Burger was at the top of it. After encountering a few gasps, arm grabs and cries of “You’ve never had Umami Burger!?”, I found it my duty more than anything to give it a go.  
Umami Burger is listed at 500 Broadway although countless bike rides up and down this street show nothing more than the ivy facade of the Fred Segal. The Umami Burger is actually tucked away on Fifth Street right next to the high end retailer.  Like Fred Segal, Umami Burger is trendy, contemporary, and quite chic. The two certainly go hand in hand. And while I am not necessarily going to use my rent check to purchase a spiffy little hand bag, I can be enticed to penny up for a super fancy fine dining experience at Umami Burger.
My server was very friendly, prompt, and I had no issues in being seated.  However, with its cramped dining area and large crowds I could imagine a party of four could run into some problems. Space is certainly at a premium but since I was dining alone, there were no worries.  
With a relatively long list of burgers to choose from, making a final decision could have been a challenge. Ultimately going with the restaurants namesake, ‘The Umami Burger’ seemed most appropriate.  While ‘The Umami Burger’ obviously is the standard at no other place than Umami Burger, it is anything but conventional. It is the details that make this burger a new L.A. staple. The parmesan disk for example adds great flavor, texture, and a certain level of fanciness. And I never thought I would be praising catsup, but Umami’s version transcends your standard Heinz 57. The meaty greasiness of the burger, added to the salty crisp parmesan disk, along with the rich flavors of their house catsup, grilled onions and mushroom, meld together, absorbed perfectly in their signature bun.
Not to be outdone or over looked by the burger are the Umami sides. The sweet potato fries are indeed sweet, savory, and delicious. And the tempura onion rings were great too. (although I believe you could deep fry a car tire in tempura batter and I would like it) The standout side was definitely the smooshed potatoes. The geniuses at Umami take Dutch yellow creamer potatoes, fry them, smashed them down, and fry them again. They are like really big thick potato chips.    
I have heard people criticize Umami for having burgers too small in size. Others think they are perfectly proportioned. I suppose it is a matter of preference. I am usually all about gluttonous burgers, but sometimes its nice to walk away from a meal without the meat sweats. I must say I felt pretty good about my first experience at Umami Burger.
It is admittedly a bit tough to review the most critically acclaimed burger in L.A. Part of me wants to go against the grain and pan the burger just to stir up some controversy. But alas I cannot. Bowing down to the gastronomic trends and succumbing to its popularity, I too love this burger as much as the masses. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Big Dean's

The passing of Labor Day here in Santa Monica means many changes but no more noticeable than down by The Pier. The Twilight Dance Series is over, the beaches are much less crowded, and the leaves on the palm trees start to turn (well not really). With the unofficial end of summer amongst us, the droves of tourists seem to subside, but never completely dissipate from The Santa Monica Pier. With less crowd congestion, post Labor Day is a great time for us locals to see what is happening at The Pier or in this case, below it. At the base of the Pier situated on Ocean Front walkway, underneath most of the street musicians, gyrating silver mimes, and other hoopla, is a hotspot for both tourist and locals alike, Big Dean’s “Muscle Inn” Cafe. Before Big Dean’s, it was Sidney’s Cafe back in the 70’s, and it has been running as a cafe since 1901 making it older than the Pier itself.

Big Dean’s claims on their menu that The Big Dean’s Burger is ‘The burger that made Santa Monica famous.’ Could it be possible that Santa Monica gets its world acclaim not from the beach, Pier, or city itself, but from a burger? The answer is no. Big Dean’s sarcastically coined their burger ‘world famous’ in a way to play with tourists as well as poke fun at the idea that nowadays almost everything and anything is historic and or famous. World famous or not, locals and regulars know that the Big Dean’s burger is a goodie. Double the meat, double the cheese, and grilled onions makes for one fantastic burger. The only problem with the burger was its height to width ratio. Let’s just say it is a tall burger and problematic like an SUV on a curvy road. The high center of gravity, melted cheese, and slick onions made it a tough burger to hold onto. Thankfully the 32oz. beer special washed away any control issues I may have been experiencing. One thing that should be noted about the burger and beer is that they are very reasonably priced, especially being in such a prime location where everything seems to be jacked up.

“You have to cater to your regulars, you can’t jack up the price just because tourists are in town.” explains General Manager T.J. Sorady.

T.J. realizes that if you gouge your customers then Big Dean’s becomes just another tourist trap along the boardwalk. Big Dean’s prime sightseeing location juxtaposed to its local customer base is what makes it so unique, and a fun place to hang out. It is a place to go with your friends as well meet some random couple from Sandusky, Ohio. It is an embassy that serves cold beer and from what I learned a really good hot wing. T.J. went to college in Buffalo and brought his wing sauce recipe here to the West Coast.

“I’ve had people from Buffalo in here eating our wings telling me that these are the best wings that they have had outside of Buffalo” Said T.J.      

The wings are indeed meaty, have a decent crunch, and have a fantastically tangy and spicy sauce. Leave it up to the guy from Buffalo to bring some kick butt wings to the party.

Big Deans offers up good deals on beer, has a ‘world class’ burger, and makes some of the best wings outside of Buffalo, and all just in time for the start of football season. Some general food and beer for thought if you decide to venture out to The Santa Monica Pier.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sonny McLean's

Sonny Mclean’s serves food? That was my initial reaction as I bellied up to the bar for a cold one. The barkeep enthusiastically showed me a menu and pointed to a bunch of cooking trophies behind the bar won by their head chef. A new menu, bigger selection of beers, and a burger claiming to be the best on the West Side were compelling enough reasons to see what this new look Sonny’s had to offer.

Originally McGinties, then Red Setter, and as of not so recent, Sonny’s McLeans, this establishment has always been an Irish Pub at heart. Recently purchased by New Zealander and restauranteur Grant Woods, the main goal was to improve upon what needed to be improved, as well as preserve what makes Sonny’s Sonny’s. Revamping the menu and beer selection were necessary changes but the traditional Irish Pub food needed to stay. Executive Chef Joseph Feldmann had other plans bringing in his own inspired menu. The final compromise, a bigger menu with both schools of thought. This did not mean adding to the existing menu but rather an entire overhaul. Subsequently, Chef Joe had to start from scratch, literally and figuratively. This means almost everything is made in-house, and not plucked out of the freezer and thrown into the deep frier.

“Before I got here everything was deep fried. Everything was frozen. Nothing was fresh.” says Chef Joe

Originally brought on as a food consultant, Chef Joe took the title as executive chef and has been trying to get the word out that Sonny’s is more than jalapeno popper’s and mozzarella sticks. Freeing up freezer space by reducing Sonny’s frozen items to peas, french fries, and gelato was his first step to taking a fresher approach in Sonny McLean’s kitchen.

“It’s all about freshness and people think it’s cheaper to go the other way, but it is just as cheap to go fresh”

Chef Joe practices what he preaches by making frequent stops at the 3rd street farmers market. With a blend of Mediterranean influences, traditional Irish Pub food, as well as your jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks (which are both house-made) the menu has made a dramatic turnaround.  With a larger selection of beers and wines, Sonny’s has taken things to a new level.

Watering hole turned gastropub, Sonny’s has the ammo to rival some of the best bar food in the area. The Chef’s Burger with caramelized onions, honey bacon, chipotle aioli, tomato confit, gruyere, a bed of baby arugula, on a brioche roll is a prime example of the menu’s makeover.  While it is though to anoint any one burger as the the best in town, Chef Joe’s creation is on point with any of the other high end burger places in the area.  Sonny McLeans has achieved a good balance of high class food without a hint of pretentiousness. It is still a neighborhood place to have a pint and watch a game. They just have some seriously good grub, if you’re into that kind of thing. When asked if infamous Boston gangster and recent Santa Monica resident Whitey Bulger used to drink at Sonny’s, Chef Joe could not confirm nor deny such claims. And we will just leave it at that.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Langer's Delicatessen

Eating good pastrami in Santa Monica does not involve more than a quick bike ride up Wilshire to Izzy’s or Fromin’s. Both establishments are classic Jewish Deli’s with great family friendly atmospheres, and excellent pastrami. However, if you are willing to go the extra mile (or thirteen) up Wilshire all the way to MacArthur Park, the neighborhood may not suggest that you died and gone to pastrami heaven, but enter through the pearly gates of Langer’s Delicatessen situated on the corner of Alvarado and 7th, and prepare yourself for a celestial experience. 

While the sandwiches at Langer’s are nothing less than heaven sent, I am by no means unearthing a hidden gem. Langer’s Deli has been reviewed, documented, and profiled by every local news outlet, The Food Network, Heull Howser, even Santa Monica City TV’s very own Cheap Eats. They have received much acclaim including the restaurant industries version of ‘The Oscars’, The James Beard award in 2001. Not to mention the millions of patrons whom have walked through the doors from its humble beginnings 64 years ago. So for me to tell you that they have good food may result with a big fat “duh!” But as an enthusiast of slow cooked meats and reporter of all things delicious, a cycling jaunt to Langer’s was a necessary pilgrimage.

What makes Langer’s great is the food. What makes Langer’s an institution is how it is run. The delicatessen was established by Al Langer back in 1942. Three dining room expansions and four million pounds of pastrami later Al Langer’s son Norm has made a definitive point to preserve what his father worked all his life to build.

“I’m here six days a week. I’m here to watch the product, I’m here to taylor it, to make sure it goes out the way my dad originally prescribed it. The minute I walk away it’s subject to change.” Norm explains.

I cannot imagine Mr. Langer takes many days off. Imagining the restaurant on one of Norm’s vacation days is like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when he had guest hosts. It just does not seem appropriate. Being the consummate professional Norm is, you will never hear him utter the ‘F’ word- franchise.   

“To open up more restaurants means the product is going to suffer. Anytime something is run by family, it’s a living breathing part of you and that’s what makes it a success.” says Norm.

Steadfast and uncompromising on tradition and service, are qualities that hold true to Langer’s both inside and out. A stalwart establishment in a neighborhood that has witnessed much change for good times and bad, Langer’s has always been that community mainstay. Throughout the years, opportunities have presented themselves for the honored delicatessen to relocate, but like every other aspect of the business, Langer’s has stayed the course.

“This neighborhood has been very good to my family and there is no reason I should leave it. I owe the neighborhood for my existence today.” states Norm

Surprisingly enough in a place so set in tradition, there is a little leeway on the menu. Adjusting to the times, Langer’s has added salads and vegetarian selections for a more calorie conscious public. One item that you will never see on the menu, adamantly stated by Norm, are bean sprouts. While bean sprouts and soy pastrami are not in the restaurants future their signature sandwiches have been the same since 1947. The most notable and famous creation at Langer’s is their Number 19. Its makeups are, hand cut pastrami, swiss cheese, cole slaw, Russian dressing, on warm crispy rye bread. A meld of flavors and a synergy of textures, the 19 enhances the pastrami rather than overpowering it with accoutrements. This was original owner Al Langer’s creation, and for great reason, is still the deli’s best selling sandwich.

Wether it is the timeless pastrami on rye, a sky high club sandwich, or the dressed up Number 19, at Langer’s it is hard to go wrong. And with the 720 Metro Rapid practically taking you to the front door, public transportation is a viable option. Of course a brisk bicycle ride from the west side is the best way to earn your lunch. Any which way, Langer’s Delicatessen is certainly worth the trip.   

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fritto Misto

Only steps away from tourist magnets like the Santa Monica Pier and the newly erect Santa Monica Place, Fritto Misto seems to mostly go unnoticed among the hustle and bustle of summer sightseers. Adjoined to the other small businesses all sharing the same coordinated turquoise awnings, at a casual glance you may think it was just another chiropractor, law office, or pilates studio. Certainly a different scene from the cafes, bistros, and restaurants jostling for business, blocks away on the 3rd street promenade. It truly is in that sweet spot of being centrally located, making it a quick bike ride away, no matter what part of Santa Monica you may reside, but also is just enough off the beaten path that it is not mobbed by tourists. However, be warned that it will be packed during peak hours. It is no secret that Santa Monica loves Fritto Misto. And I have a hunch that Fritto Misto loves us back.
To celebrate their recent 20th anniversary, Fritto Misto hosted a party for 500 of their closest friends treating their guests to free beer, wine, and food. Not too difficult to fill the seats when you are giving everything away. If you missed the celebration, the 25th is just around the corner. 
For being as popular as it is, advertising has never been a key component for the restaurant’s popularity. Fritto Misto flyers will never be littered on your doorknob. They do not have coupons in the weekly mailer. And you will never see them vying for local airtime unlike the omnipresent ChoSun Galbee commercials that seem to be running every time I turn on the tube. Fritto Misto relies on the most vital form of publicity, word of mouth. 
“It’s local people, they tell each other, they bring their friends, when mom comes to town they bring her. It’s that kind of place” explains Fritto Misto owner Robert Kerr
Plus it sure beats hiring a sign twirler. 
“Our original idea was this; you go to a pizza place and you pick all of your toppings. Why not do that with pasta?”
And with that, the ‘create your own pasta’ option began. Choose from over a dozen freshly made pastas, pick from even more sauces, and select any number of add-ins from anchovies to walnuts. You may come up with a tricolor fusili in a carbonara sauce, with sauteed calamari, and roasted capers. Or perhaps a fettuccini in a sage cream sauce, with pancetta, kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts.  
With a list of daily specials Fritto Misto likes to keep things fresh and are always full of surprises. I would recommend the pasta/salad combination. Pick a rich pasta, balance it out with a light salad and find yourself in a happy place somewhere in the middle. With so many options, daily specials, vegan friendly, and variations on classic dishes, it is a great place to try new things as well as have that go-to dish that beckons you back.
“If I tried to take someones dish off the menu, they would be lined up outside with pitchforks and torches”  
Fresh food, at reasonable prices, and personable service is an automatic recipe to a restaurant’s success. If you prefer not to eat fresh Italian food with a real local vibe, go a couple blocks down to the mega franchise Bucca De Peppo, I think they just cracked open a can of bologna parmesan.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

L.A. Chili Expose

Biking and dining the Santa Monica scene can be fun and diverse, but not necessarily ambitious. While the bounty of restaurants in this city could keep a food writer’s plate full for years, the cycling dynamic falls flat in the process. There is only so much one can write about the Main Street bike lane, the hill on Ocean Park or the pathway along the beach. Venturing outside the Santa Monica city limits on two wheels opens up a brave new world into the culinary abyss. Biking Los Angeles can be daunting, and the Summer heat indeed compounds matters further. Throw chili into the mix and that is when things start to get greasy. The assignment- three chili-featured restaurants, on two wheels, throughout the course of one day. A citywide, dusk till dawn, L.A. chili expose- yeehaw!
Embarking from the Santa Monica Pier and heading eastward bound, the ride is relatively smooth with a good portion of the commute paved with bike lanes. The road gets rough once you merge onto Beverly due to crumbling streets, congested intersections and zero bike lanes. But the light at the end of the tunnel is situated at the corner of Beverly and Rampart. There lays home to L.A.’s chili mecca- The Original Tommy’s.
Famous for the chili and infamous for its messiness, The Original Tommy’s has been a favorite pig out to Angelenos for over 65 years. Tommy’s serves up a condiment style chili, which has a smoother consistency and is intended to be slathered over burgers, dogs, and as of recent, their breakfast burritos. The burrito is pretty standard on all accounts with the exception to a healthy injection of their time honored chili. To my surprise, upon presentation, the burrito was tidy and sealed tight like a capped oil well. Instead of being the star of the show, this chili played part to an ensemble cast, acting cohesively with the other breakfast innards. Despite the harmony, I would not endorse eating such a goodie before activities like karate practice, or yoga in the park. While the dance of meats, cheeses, and chili starts in burrito, the after party occurs in your stomach. It is a good special occasion burrito which was certainly warranted after the morning ride from the Santa Monica Pier. That being said, I devoured the burrito and set a course to my next chili destination in Burbank.
Trekking up Vermont through Los Feliz, then Griffith Park, will spit you out into the San Fernando Vally. The good news is there is flat land as far as the eye could see. The bad news is it is always 10 degrees hotter in the Vally than anywhere else in L.A. News to be determined good or bad- I have been, and will be eating more chili. 
Despite all of my literal and figurative belly aching, Chili John’s in Burbank proved to be a perfect chili oasis amid the summer heat. Like Tommy’s, Chili John’s has been around for 50 plus years. Unlike Tommy’s, their chili is not condiment style but rather the main course. I ordered the bowl of the half-spicy half-mild and softened the blow by getting it on a bed of spaghetti. The chili was meaty, rich, garlicky, and rendered some serious grease. While some may consider grease a four letter word, Chili John’s has no bones about making their chili with plenty of the shiny stuff. This is real stick to your ribs (and whatever else it comes in contact with) kind of chili.      
Fully chili-charged, I was geared up to head into West Hollywood for my last stop on the chili excursion. Just past Warner Bros. Studios heading up the Barham Pass some of my loose camera gear got stuck in the spokes of my bike vaulting me over the handle bars. Grimacing in pain but carrying on down the hill I suffered a series of flat tires sending me to an impromptu stop to the bike shop for some repairs. As for my injuries, I found solace in chili.  Battered and bruised, I limped through the doors of Chili Addiction on La Cienega. 
Unlike my previous stops Chili Addiction is new on the restaurant scene. In a city where gourmet burgers have received recent popularity and acclaim in places like Umami, one may ask what about the high-end hot dog? Aside from over 70 varieties of chili, and some of the cities most under-rated ice cream, Chili Addiction prides itself on making fine quality homemade sausages and frankfurters. At first glance you may think that the price is steep for a chili dog, but at first bite you will realize you get what you pay for. I went the way of the chipotle and cheddar chili dog, accompanied by truffle fries, homemade ketchup, and truffle aioli. The sausage was succulent, the chili was not overpowering yet exquisite, and the truffle aioli was pure luxury. Biking across the city generates quite the appetite. Eating hungry tends to make food taste better, subsequently making myself susceptible to lax critiquing. However, hungry or not, it is easy to realize that Chili Addiction is something special. 
The final ride home was not overtly harrowing, nor totally pleasant. I was just relieved to make it back to the friendly confines of Santa Monica intact.  While chili may not necessarily be the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions, ultimately it was my driving force. When you add up three chili laden meals, deduct around 60 miles of biking through the city, it all balances out- give or take a few thousand calories. As always, I am just thankful to bike and eat another day in L.A. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Hungry Pocket

In the sprawling metropolis better known as Los Angeles, it is no problem finding cuisine from any corner of the world. However, compared to other big American cities like New York and Chicago, it is slim pickings on the West Coast when it comes to greasy little gyro stands or the late night shaworma shacks. That is why Santa Monica is home to such a gem in The Hungry Pocket Falafel House. The name is a mouthful in itself!  And a mouthful of falafel is exactly what you will get especially if you pop in Monday or Wednesday from 3-9 p.m. This is the Hungry Pocket’s all you can eat falafel sandwich night and a favorite dinner destination for people looking for a good deal. 
“The record is 9 falafel sandwiches. People try to beat it, but the record has been 9 sandwiches for about ten or eleven years now.” owner Mike Lafev recounts.
That sounds like an extreme amount of sandwiches to eat in one sitting. That also sounds like an open invitation and challenge to hungry Santa Monacans citywide. And the residents of this city do know a thing or two about the Hungry Pocket. While it has received plenty of acclaim from newspapers and bloggers alike, it is the neighborhood customers that are Mike Lafev’s bread and butter.
“Businesses come and go, but we’re pretty steady. We have alot of regulars coming back.” says Mike
The restaurant itself is rather unassuming. Nested in a small mini-mall across the street from the Santa Monica City college, the Hungry Pocket seats no more than 20 people. When school gets out, the place becomes a madhouse. It has been this way as long as most people can remember, and Mr. Lavaf is the best person to go to for a quick history lesson on the Hungry Pocket.
In 1968 an Israeli family owned the property, way back when the restaurant was named Uncle Mustache. From there a Lebanese family purchased the place and changed the name to Hungry Pocket. In 1984 Mike, an electrical engineer at the time, purchased the Hungry Pocket, made an instant career change, and has been running the restaurant ever since. Taking on the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality, not much has changed with the Hungry Pocket in his 25 years of operation. Except the Uncle Mustache name, everyone agreed that had to go.  
From Israeli to Lebanese to now Persian proprietary, the Hungry Pocket has changed hands from almost half of the Middle East. While ownership has changed, the menu has always stayed intact; shaworma, gyros, kabobs, and of course falafel. In a region that has been embattled in everything from politics, to religion, to border disputes, leave it to some simple Mediterranean comfort food to bring people together.  
“Israelis, Iraqis have there differences on the street, Turks and Greeks too, but in here everyone seems to get along, they can all agree on the food.” Mike explains
The Hungry Pocket Falafel House is not simply making Mediterranean food and sending people on there way. It is a place that is serving up solidarity one falafel sandwich at a time.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

D.K.'s Does Donuts Right

It was not too long ago that my 98’ Grand Cherokee bit the dust. As everything under the hood seemed to go up in smoke, so was the notion that I was going to be able to function sans motor vehicle in L.A. To the contrary getting rid of a three thousand pound hunk of metal, glass, rubber, and plastic was the most liberating thing I have ever done. Commuting via bicycle and public transportation in Los Angeles is a daunting to downright terrifying notion for most people. I would be lying if I said biking this city does not have its pitfalls, or that there are no crazy people on the bus, but with some street savvy and knowledge of the metro routes, it is a very doable endeavor. Sometimes forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is the only way try something that regularly would be out of the question. Converting from a recreational biker to one of necessity gives you an entirely new perspective on the city, its streets, neighborhoods, people, and food.  I am more inclined to check out a restaurant on a bike than in a car. Parking is not an issue, it does not take much to work up an appetite, and last time I checked the 405 does not have any eateries on the shoulder. Biking and eating in Los Angeles is nothing less than an adventure. I am not trying to spearhead L.A.’s anti-car culture, or lead some sort of green movement. I just want to have my Pastrami Sandwich, and eat it too.
Go Nuts for Donuts
The Donut is certainly one of life’s sweet treats. This well rounded deep fried confection is definitely in the hearts, minds, and stomach’s of Angelenos as well. Simply do a web search for donuts and you will find hundreds of listings peppered across the SoCal landscape. However, the mega franchises have little to no representation in the L.A. donut scene. Dunkin Donuts has zero locations in the Los Angeles area, and Krispy Kreme has a meager three shops. Which literally and figuratively says ‘you can take your corporate donut back to New York City!’ In L.A. the ma and pop donut stand is alive and well. In Santa Monica no place embodies the independent donut shop like D.K.’s
D.K.’s which stands for Dave and Karen’s was ironically the name of a big donut chain which fizzled out around the same time Cong Tao purchased the shop on 16th and Santa Monica Blvd. some 30 plus years ago. Today D.K.’s is still at the same location, but just a couple years back Mr. Tao hung up the old donut roller, retired in his home country of Thailand, and handed the reins to his son Sean. Being younger than the shop itself, yet still being around it most of his life, Sean Tao gives his own take on small business, service, and of course donuts.
“L.A. is a hip place, clubs open and close, shops open and close, we want to broaden our horizons. If there is something that our customers want we’re going to put it on the menu.”
While recognizing what customers want, which are the apple fritters, French curlers, eclairs, buttermilk bars, and glazed donuts, Sean understands the importance of keeping things fresh in the donut shop too. What better way to broaden your horizons than with a bacon maple log? You will find the bacon maple log, or simply the BML, on the top shelf along with D.K.’s other avant garde creations. One week there will be churros and the next week it may be crumb cake, or bread pudding, or something else. D.K.’s is like that box of chocolates. The one where you never know what you’re gonna get. That is the fun of walking into D.K.s. You may see something new and exciting but you can still always fall back on that familiar old fashion.
“Our customers come back. They know what old fashion donuts are like. These are handmade. They’re not made by a machine.” Sean explains
“D.K.’s is a staple of Santa Monica. We’re pro Santa Monica, we’re pro small business. We don’t like the corporate model. We keep it real. If you don’t see it on our shelves we’ll probably make it for you.”
D.K.’s certainly is a staple of Santa Monica. Perhaps it is not as famous as the Santa Monica Pier, but it has found its niche amongst the hospitals, car dealerships, offices, and residents in the surrounding area. It is always good to support your local business‘ so why not do it with a bear claw, coffee, and a big grin on your face at D.K.’s?