My Top dineLA Restaurant Week Picks for Winter, 2013: January 21 – February 1

Braised Beef Cheek, Taleggio Pureed Potatoes, Chanterelles

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Also, what a joyous second inauguration day. In this case, it also means the very first day of dineLA Restaurant Week. If you haven’t, already, you best be making your reservations right now – or better yet, take advantage of your day off and find your prix fixe destination for lunch today.

I’ve done a bit of perusing the incredibly extensive list of restaurants and their offered menus around the city and came up with a few categories that struck me. With 3-course prix fixe as the standard, here are some standout menu offerings the week starting today, Monday, January 21 – Friday, February 1:

Best Opportunity to Try New Chef at Venue

Not new chefs by any definition (in fact, the tenure of this group is impressive especially by L.A. standards) – just new venues.

I associate my first experiences with potted rillettes, headcheese and pates in L.A. with Remi Lauvand, and he’s now at Le Ka, having just opened last September. Downtown workers can get their feet wet on the $25 lunch menu, but interesting dinner menu items include escargot cavatelli, lamb’s tongue and scallops with lentils and chicken skin – some things that may be too good to pass up.

With Vartan Abgaryan now serving at a venue in possession of one of the most enviable patios in Silver Lake, I can’t help but simply displace the delicious plates he was just serving at Public Kitchen & Bar and imagine them enjoyed in outdoor dim lighting surrounded by foliage. Sure, he’s changed up a few things, but I’ve always been a fan of his octopus.

Just a week ago, IDG’s RivaBella just started serving dinner in its brand-new, 8,000 square foot space, basically the antithesis of Angelini Osteria. You’ll have to settle for lunch if you want to do Restaurant Week here, but if Gino Angelini’s pasta (such as a green pappardelle in ragu) is part of the 3-course offering, that will always do.

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Moqueca: A Piece of Brazil in Oxnard

Lobster and Shrimp Moqueca

We came from wine country having made a total of five stops at Santa Ynez wineries and a tasting room and were ready to feast. Bill of Street Gourmet, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, Josh of Food GPS and I were on a Foodbuzz-sponsored trip celebrating Javier, the no-longer-Teenage Glutster and food blogger who had finally turned of legal drinking age.

Spicy Eggplant Spread, Malagueta Peppers With Olive Oil
Spicy Eggplant Spread, Malagueta Peppers in Olive Oil

Bill had tipped us off that Moqueca in Oxnard was one of probably only two places Stateside (the other on the East Coast) that served the traditional Brazilian stew – so the anticipation was brewing, as was our need to soak up the vino we had been consuming all day. When we arrived at the restaurant, located on the second floor of a plaza in view of the marina, I could smell the complex spices in the air and immediately started salivating.

Moqueca was near capacity this Saturday night. Bill impressed us with his Portuguese (“Brazilian women are hot,” indeed), whereupon it was decided with the chef that we would order a cod appetizer, three stews and a side of plantains for us five to share. Crostini topped with an eggplant spread or peppers in olive oil were our prelude. The salted cod, which broke our fast, was delicious and had a good, cakey-yet-moist consistency inside.

Not too much later, clay pots came to us boiling and red, and we immediately dug into the one containing lobster and shrimp – lest our precious seafood continue cooking in the stew and lose its tenderness. Of course, none of that diminished the fact that by now, we were starving.

Plantaines

Served over a bed of rice on our plates, the lobster and shrimp were perfectly cooked and as a component inside the stew, packed a ton of flavor. As a seafood lover, I think there are few things better than almost-sweet crustaceans served spicy. The other pot, which contained the same broth but with mahi mahi and angel shark was also incredibly delicious. The filets were perfect – firm enough to avoid dissolving into the stew yet still tender to the fork. Bobo de Camarao was a broth that is thickened with yucca – and at our table it was served with shrimp. It was good but I preferred it without the additional starch, though it came impressively blended and integrated with the stew.

Quindim

The Quindim (coconut-egg custard) was firmer than I expected and decidedly more coconut than egg. It was good, as was the Brazilian flan – which was also firm. I noticed that all three desserts we got were very subtly sweet and had rather mild flavors, which is a refreshing take on dessert itself. I often find things too sugary and cause for a hard crash later on, so I appreciated the three we tried that night. My favorite dessert, however, was definitely the Passion Fruit Mousse. It was light yet packed a huge amount of authentic, potent passion fruit flavor with none of the artificial cantaloupe coloring I’ve seen so many passion fruit-flavored things with.

Moqueca may be in Oxnard, but I would propose that if you are looking for a unique, comforting dining experience featuring stew incorporating perfectly-cooked seafood – the hour-long drive is worth it. No longer can our ignorance pigeon-hole the Brazilian food experience into chain churrascarias; after all, this stew has existed for over 300 years. Get into it.

Further reading:

Moqueca Capixaba – the traditional dish of Espiritu Santo, Brasil: “Moqueca” ups the stakes in LA – StreetGourmetLA

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A True Foodie’s 21st Birthday – Gourmet Pigs

Moqueca, Oxnard – Food GPS

Moqueca Restaurant
3550 Harbor Boulevard
Oxnard, CA 93035
805.204.0970