Dr. J’s Vibrant Cafe: All the Health, All the Flavor

Rice Noodle Delight Bowl

It’s not enough, these days, to simply give a pass to vegetarian and vegan food. Going past crunchy, granola stereotypes often attached to a plant-based diet, I imagine, has to be a welcome option for those having adopted conscientious lifestyles.

Good thing there’s Dr. J’s Vibrant Cafe, a place you’ll want to visit for their teas and shakes but also their food – no matter what your diet. Because even if you’re an omnivore in Los Angeles, you’ll still eat out with some friends you might oblige with a more than the couple options than, say, what you might find on a menu at a BBQ place. (I know. The sacrifices you make.)

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My Top dineLA Restaurant Week Lunch Picks for Summer, 2013: July 15 – 26

RivaBella’s Nidi di Rondine

This summer’s dineLA Restaurant Week commences today and lasts 10 days – over two weekday stretches and one weekend. And since we’ve had a few of these by now, it’s probably time we got smart on maneuvering through the multitude of menus. The trick with dineLA prix fixe is that it may get people through the door, but it may or may not be quite the deal you had in mind. The danger is that you might just be stuck with fewer, albeit recommended, choices for about the same price you’d normally pay.

May I propose lunch? They tend to be better deals than dinner – often true between both offerings of the same restaurant – because there’s more incentive to increase lunch traffic with dinner reservations filling up more readily. So whether you’ve got a 9-5 in the area or are in a certain neighborhood for an audition or client appointment, there’s probably a great dineLA power lunch strategy wherever you end up.

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New Café on La Brea Presents a TWIST on the Basics

Counter at Twist

Sometimes, you don’t want something fancy, high-maintenance or completely out of the ordinary when you’re hungry, but you can always appreciate a reliably delicious, no-nonsense lunch at the ready.

Enter TWIST, a new eatery on La Brea, which has some pretty tasty selections that you’ll enjoy in a tasteful, slate and wood-tinged dining room with just enough industrial and cheery, yellow accents. Already a popular lunch spot, it’s easy to see why as the deli selections include a refreshing mint-beet salad, sumptuous greek orzo, spicy whole grain chicken salad and a subtly sweet chickpea and carrot salad. Since I’ve always been a “sides” kind of person, this is right up my alley.

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O Banh Mi: Nondescript, No-Nonsense Silver Lake Banh Mi

Storefront

It was a Saturday afternoon after a morning of Pilates followed by procrastination, and I was in need of a snack. I craved the sort of snack that could double as a quick, reasonably priced lunch. As with most things, however, you risk quality in favor of expediency and price.

And then I read Twitter.

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Urban Garden: Fresh, Casual Lebanese Fare on Fairfax

Tabouli, Fatoush & Falafel

Though there’s a new eatery in the neighborhood, its proprietor is anything but a stranger. George Abou-daoud’s newest venture (The Bowery, Rosewood Tavern, Township, The Mercantile) does not actually include a liquor license.

Instead, you’ll find fresh Lebanese made from scratch. Your trusty Mediterranean selections like babaganoush, lebneh yogurt, organic chickpea & quinoa falafel, tabouli, fattoush salad, vegetarian kibbeh, lentil mujadarra, stuffed cheese rolls, fried cauliflower can be found at Urban Garden for an average combo price of $9-$15 a pop. It’s a great addition to Fairfax Village, at once metaphorically and physically across the street from mainstays as historic as Canter’s and iconic as Animal.

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Favorite Dish: Rein Fall in with Mo-Chica’s Quinotto

Quinotto – Quinoa risotto, wild mushrooms, parmesan, parsley infused oil

I was loving the weather this past weekend in Los Angeles. At one time, I may have been one of those annoying Midwest ex-pats that complained about “missing the seasons,” but let’s be honest: Heat wave after heat wave into October does not a City of Angels make. We finally get to bring out the boots and maybe even sweaters. Late October is better than never, as they say.

Inspired by the grey clouds as well as the feeling that we Southern Californians will always have one foot in the sunshine, I recalled Mo-Chica’s Quinotto – a quinoa-mushroom dish that invokes the consistency and tastes of a mushroom risotto. Drizzled with parsley-infused oil, this savory dish is perfect for the grey clouds that have been finally adorning our skies.

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Palm Springs, CA: Cheeky’s Brunch Starts Your Desert Morning Right

Berkshire Pork Stew

Upon stepping into Cheeky’s on a Friday morning, I knew it was a place I’d enjoy eating at. Filled with natural light, it’s open Thursdays through Mondays during the breakfast-to-brunch time block. It makes sense, since the menu changes weekly – and it’s a delicious one dedicated to seasonal, local ingredients, at that.

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Simmzy’s is a Long Beach Neighborhood Delight

Daytime view from open patio at Simmzy’s Long Beach

Long Beach is that sister city, south of Los Angeles. If you are one who truly loves being an Angeleno – without the irony, that is – you accept The LBC as the L.A. away from L.A. Each block is potentially completely different from the next, and it’s one vast county hosting a cornucopia of cultures and backgrounds.

Blue Cheese Haystack

And then there’s Long Beach-Belmont Shore. At Simmzy’s second location, their corner on the block is bustling with flip-flops, beer and pub food. It’s a true pub without having bowed to the recent “gastro-” trends as of late. Besides, Simmzy’s are beachy places without the beachfront. People sometimes just want good weather, good beer (offered up by two dozen taps), a good time and good food – not groundbreaking culinary trends.

While I tend to think the Manhattan Beach location is a tad small, the Long Beach one also has no problems filling its space to the gills. They’ve got day-of-the-week special, which happened to be the Short Rib & Chocolate Porter Chili on Saturdays – a sweet, tangy treat. Though their crust is not a lot to write home about, their pizzas showcase some original topping combinations, such as a smoked Bacon & Date Marscapone, made with garlic, mozzarella, sage and balsalmic syrup for a slightly sweet treat.

And while I know that Brussels sprouts are a bit of a shoe-in for many places, I can’t say that I’ve had many executed so impressively as their carmelized rendition, with butter, garlic, lemon, anchovies, capers and bruschetta for a succulent yet zesty combination.

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Venga! Debuts Lunch & Sweets on Canon

Quiche

Correction (10/10/11): Venga! is now closed and will re-open at a future date as a Mediterranean Restaurant with an Israeli focus.

There is a new cafe, patisserie and gelateria all rolled up into one on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. No, it’s not Bouchon, but from one lunch experience, I ended up very surprisingly pleased with the results.

Canelé

You will appreciate the small, concentrated menu once you step inside the nondescript shop. Although it’s hard to tell exactly what they do since the dessert cases face sideways, it seemed like the neighborhood had at least mildly become acquainted with Venga! just two weeks into their opening on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Owner Shahriar Besharat and Pastry Chef Kriss Harvey (who has studied under the tutelage of Pastry Chefs all over the world as well as with Master in Gelato Giuseppe Scaringnella and in the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna; Joel Robuchon Las Vegas is on his resume) have cultivated a brightly-lit cafe with a minimalist look and menu – but the strength rests in these few items.

Macarons

For instance, the slow cooked chicken sandwich is prepared in a vacuum and packs punch with slices of jalapeno and carrot. It’s tender thanks to its preparation, but it’s also got great flavor. The Croque Monsieur (or Madame, should you choose to add a sunny-side up egg for $1, as we did) is delicious. Too often have I had a Madame with bread that was too thick and overwhelming. At Venga! the layers were harmonious in thickness as well as taste – not too rich, and just enough. The quiche with spinach, shiitake mushrooms was also tasty. The crust was golden and delicious. I almost wanted another slice. The tomato salad with whipped cheese and basil is also a beautiful rendition (perfect for before the end of summer) – especially with the heirloom varieties that are used.

Pastries at Venga!

But you mustn’t leave before you have dessert. This would be a grave omission. There are plenty of gelato varieties to choose from, but my favorite was the Almond with Caramelized Almond flavor. The Passion Fruit Sorbet was also super potent and a perfect flavor for a hot day.

The macarons are also delicious, and a tad denser than others that I’ve had. I can’t argue with more flavor in my macarons, however, and there are plenty of flavors to go around. I love the dustings on the outside of some of them, which add quite delicious details. Salted Caramel and Coconut are now my go-to.

A must-try is the Canelé, which is done quite expertly with the outside coated with a crispy beeswax. The inside was a soft, tender, almost-custard texture – just how a perfect Canelé should be. As you peruse the brightly-lit pastry cases, you’ll definitely have a hard time resisting all of the beautifully presented pastries in all their colorful glory. I’m due for a return visit to try some more.

Alas, I’ve learned that they have free wifi! This could be a dangerously indulgent destination (yet productive?) for me in the near future. Blog or eat? Lunch, dinner or dessert? Now, I won’t have to choose.

All food and drink were hosted.

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit
 

Sun – Mon

10 AM – 6 PM

Tue – Sat

10 AM – 10 PM

Menu
Beverages & Desserts Menu

Free wifi

Venga!
452 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
310.205.9400

@vengabh

Michael Voltaggio Preempts Ink With Ink Sack

Banh Mi

There’s a sandwich shop that just debuted last week and thus far, it has sold out everyday ahead of its scheduled close time of 5 PM. Dare I suggest, however, that it’s worth getting there right at its 11AM opening?

Menu

While I’ve often complained about the selection of lunch options near my office, I was happy to find on opening day that ink.sack was an easy to drive north – I got there in 7.5 minutes. It’s a school-themed enclave with standing room only (if even that). Ink and Ink Sack sandwiches the dessert landmark, Sweet Lady Jane between them on the designer shopping-laden end of Melrose.

The menu features a manageable dozen items with just more than half being 6-inch sandwiches ($4-6 each) and the rest being crispy salt & vinegar potato chips, compressed fruit seasoned with chili and cookies. On a normal lunch, I can devour about two sandwiches with sides.

Sack lunch, indeed. (With Mexican Fruit)

My favorites were the Jose Andres, or “The Spanish Godfather” (Serrano ham, chorizo, lomo, Manchego) and the Banh Mi (pork cheek, chicharrones, pickled vegetables). I also really liked the Maple Turkey Melt, complete with Camembert, mustarda and arugula. The bread is also solid and while good quality, doesn’t overwhelm the small sandwich.

I’ve yet to try the two chicken varieties (with cold fried chicken and chicken liver mousse, each) but rest assured, for the amount of hype the Voltaggio name garners, the bottom line is that each sandwich is a reasonably priced dosage of delicious goodness. Just remember that they’re so popular, Ink Sack has been forced to institute a 6-sandwich maximum per person.

Don’t forget your fruits. (The veggies are in the sandwich.)

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

Wed – Sun
11 AM – 5 PM

ink.sack
8360 Melrose Ave., No. 107
Los Angeles, CA 90069