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.