Healthy Goodness in Eagle Rock

Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup Four CafeBeyond the 5 freeway towards Pasadena lies a mystical land called Eagle Rock. Charming, hipster, and increasingly trendy, it’s a fun little place filled with lots of unique little boutiques and restaurants that I always remember I’m dying to try when I drive through. This past week I got to one of them – Four Cafe on Colorado Blvd, a fully organic restaurant boasting seasonal dishes made from exclusively local-bought ingredients. Structured like many restaurants are in Los Angeles these days,  you order at the counter, pay, then take a number and your food is brought to you. I’m not sure how I feel about this apparent fad in restaurant dining, but I guess I don’t have much choice. Besides, I’m a big fan of the earth-toned decor in this place. Rustic wooden tables, earthy wall treatments, plenty of outdoor seating, and an absurdly friendly girl behind the counter who had thorough knowledge of everything she was selling and was more than happy to chat us up about it – big points there. Nothing more attractive than a place that is proud about what they serve.

Now when one hears that a restaurant is fully organic and local, it can often lead to thoughts of boredom and salad and… vegans. But such is not the case at Four Cafe. Yes, there is plenty to choose from if you’re a vegan or gluten free, but they also have items like the short rib grilled cheese made with braised short ribs, gruyere, onion, and horseradish, served on foccacia. My friend Kevin got this and was not at all disappointed. A quick peruse of yelp and you can find huge praise for their fish burger, house-made with fresh mahi mahi served on a brioche bun. My mouth waters just typing this. But on the day I visited I was not super hungry, so I opted for a bowl of soup. For those of you trying to watch your weight, soup is always a good go-to in restaurants, particularly when they are house made and vegan like they are here. Supremely earthy and satisfying with just enough wild rice to add a pop of texture. It warms you up and makes you feel good about yourself for making such a good decision. In fact I felt so good that I opted for one of their vegan gingersnap cookies. Moist, spicy, and absolutely delicious. I deserved it. On my list of things to try are the fish burger (of course) and the roasted veggie root salad, which comes with a chili mint dressing. Also – brown butter apple pop tarts!!! Mmmm.  I have to say, I love when a restaurant like this isn’t afraid to have some indulgent food along side all their vegan local wholesome creations. It shows they aren’t pretentious – they really want to attract everyone, which is really important for a starving artist. Sometimes I want vegan soup, and sometimes I want an apple pop tart.

I think what gets me about these “take-a-number” kind of places is that at the end of the day I don’t feel like I’m saving any money by not having to tip a waiter. My bowl of soup and cookie came to $10.36. Worth it, yes, but I know if I had gotten a full salad or sandwich I would have been well over $15, which is not really a starving artist friendly kind of lunch. But in this case I’m ok with it because for one I know the ingredients are of the highest quality, and for another I am getting a meal that I can feel really good about eating. Let’s face it, eating out healthy is not cheap, but a place like Four Cafe is your best bet for getting a good healthy bang for your buck.

So, if you find yourself in Eagle Rock in the mood for a meal you can feel really good about (or a short rib grilled cheese!!), then definitely give Four Cafe a try.

Four Cafe
2122 1/2 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041

Click here to read my review on YELP

Hanging with Neptune

Neptune's NetSo I mentioned last week I was going on retreat with GMCLA in Malibu. Did you really think the starving artist would make a hike up the PCH into Malibu without indulging in some great seafood? No no. On Sunday morning two of my chorus friends and I were determined to get some beach time in before we headed back to real life, so we wandered out the camp ground, across the highway, and spent a bit of time basking in the glory of the alarmingly windy Malibu coast. Glorious. As we turned back we saw Neptune’s Net, a precious little beachside fish restaurant, staring at us from across the way. I had seen it on the way in (impossible to miss) and of course had been intrigued. We decided that even though the food at the campground had been quite good, it was worth at least a stop in to see what was going on.

Like any good beach-side seafood joint, Neptune’s Net is more of a shack than anything else. Plastic chairs and picnic tables outdoors, no-frills booths with self service on the inside, no shirts required, lots of motorcycles, colorful clientele, and real fresh-caught fish…. we must be on the beach. And we were. As if the atmosphere wasn’t enough, I looked at the menu and saw fish and chips for $9.95 – hesitation? no. Any quality seafood one can find for less than $10 is a treasure, but when I saw these fish and chips come out I was giddy. Why? The traditional/English way of doing fish and chips uses a thick batter, often made with beer, that coats the fish and creates a solid, crispy, cocoon-like shell around the fish. Where I’m from (Boston, baby!) we do the fish with a flour coating. It gives it a thin and crispy exterior – much lighter than a beer batter. Neptune’s Net makes it light and crispy. Not sure exactly what their breading is (not just simply flour), but whatever it was I looooovvvved it. Fresh fish, amazing crust. Took me home. Though I have to confess, their fries were a bit under cooked – gotta make ‘em crunchy, Neptune! I also tried the clam chowder, which was unfortunately way too thick to be taken seriously. My friend David went for shrimp tacos, which were excellent and served with a yogurt sauce reminiscent of Tzatziki: very fresh and very california. Malibu Coast Neptune's Net

Honestly, eating seafood at the beach on a day like this one? There’s just no way I wouldn’t be happy. But it definitely helps that Neptune’s Net is totally affordable, totally fresh, and totally rad. I can’t wait to come back up here with a car full of friends when I’m in need of a beach-and-seafood fix. Starving artist heaven!

Neptune’s Net
42505 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265

Click here to read my review on YELP

Quaint Thai in Silverlake

Vegetarian Spring RollsSome weeks ago, in the midst of the bitter Los Angeles winter (ha), my friend Sherri and I decided to combat the cold by seeking out some warm, soul filling Thai food. Sherri suggested an adorable little place in her neck of the woods called Leela Thai, a quaint little shack-of-a-place  on Silverlake Blvd that has an exterior brimming with foliage and quirk. The restaurant’s dining room is cozy, barely big enough for 20 people. Luckily the Los Angeles cold keeps the natives at home, so we were practically the only ones in there (which was admittedly still a little strange for a Friday night). It’s hard to get a read on the atmosphere with so few people in the place, but I can say that the family-run business absolutely felt that way with their warm and friendly staff. I was particularly enamored with their unique table dressings. Instead of just plain glass, they lined each table with handwritten notes, old polaroids, and various other memorabilia  from customers and family members. A very colorful touch to what would be an otherwise nondescript dining area.

As for food. We shared the vegetarian spring rolls, which were hot and delicious – easily could have railed through another order. I had their wonton soup, which was very well done and absolutely perfect for such a cold evening. For my entree I ordered a shrimp combo meal, which comes with rice (and allows you to add soup for only $2). Though tasty, it was not exactly what I was hoping for. A very scant portion of clumsily chopped vegetables and a few shrimp that really had to be combined with all the rice to make a substantial meal. However, a place that will serve brown rice without charging me extra for it always scores mega points in my book. Sherri got the pad thai, which they fouled up on the first pass by adding chicken (she is a vegetarian). The mistake was fixed quickly and with a smile – always a good thing. LeelaThai1

At the end of the day we were able to enjoy a meal with appetizers and soup for less than $30, which is never a bad thing for the always wallet-deficient starving artist. Though a quiet restaurant can be suspicious, it is always good for catch up and gossip, of which there was plenty. While I was not completely blown away by my experience here, I do look forward to returning when I’m in the mood for some cheap, decent thai food in a quaint and intimate setting.

Leela Thai
1737 Silverlake Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Click here to read this and other reviews on YELP

At Last

Grilled Polenta with Portobello MushroomsI rarely have the occasion to visit Long Beach these days. It’s a shame because I find it to be quite the charming town – lots to do, lots of beach, lots of gay. But when I do visit, like I did this past Wednesday to see a show at Cal State Long Beach, I always make it a point to visit the At Last Cafe, a cozy little place serving up irresistible comfort food.

Now when I say cozy, I mean there are barely more than 20 seats in this place, which is kind of perfect considering it’s decorated to feel like you’re sitting in your mother’s kitchen. And honestly that’s pretty much how it feels, too: friendly staff, intimate setting, always packed at dinner time. It even has free wifi so you can sit with your iPad and be totally important and LA. But we all know that the only thing that can really keep a restaurant alive and full is the food and THAT is the real reason one should come here.

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past several weeks you know I’ve been rather committed to my bootcamp regimen. I’ve been dropping weight like crazy and it feels fantastic…. but for a rare occasion at a restaurant like this I had to splurge just a little. For an appetizer I got their grilled polenta with portabella mushrooms – crispy polenta triangles with a rich, beefy mushroom sauce. Honestly I could have just eaten this for my main meal and I would have been more than happy. I’ve been dying to try their stuffed pork chop ever since I discovered the place through DDD in 2010, but alas I couldn’t go *that* far off my path. Instead I got their salmon special, which was crispy pan seared salmon with a caper and tomato sauce – utterly divine. There are few things that make me happier than expertly cooked crispy fish. The two friends I was with got regular menu items. The brick chicken was astounding – half a chicken grilled under a brick until crispy. The meat was tender and flavorful, crispy skin. I would probably drive down to Long Beach just for this. No joke. My other friend got the meatloaf, which I did not sample, but was apparently delicious. I am dying to try their mac and cheese since I am a proudly self-proclaimed mac and cheese whore… but not his time… Photo Feb 06, 6 13 04 PM

Dessert did beckon, wooing us with their homemade butterscotch pudding and some crazy sounding crispy banana thing – but alas, time was of the essence, so we departed without indulging (which, frankly was probably for the best, if only for my waist line).

Now I have to confess I did a little splurgy splurge on this meal so I racked up a bill that was nearly $30. However, all of their regular menu items are under $15 and their lunch is even cheaper. The brick chicken is only $10.50, pork chop $12.50 – totally a steal. This is without question a starving artist venue – atmosphere, price, and quality. If you find yourself in Long Beach, make sure you check it out. If you’re going for dinner a reservation is a must. You will not be disappointed!

At Last Cafe
204 Orange Ave.
Long Beach, CA 90802

Click here to read my review on YELP

A Bright Spot for Brunch

Brite Spot French Toast

Perhaps my two favorite things on earth are diners and breakfast. So you can imagine that having breakfast on Saturday at a diner I’d never been to before is my idea of a party. The Brite Spot in Echo Park is a delightful, hipster-y dive that boasts old school booths, friendly alternative staff, and a dessert case that would make Mariah Carey elbow Jenny Craig in the stomach. Now, being in bootcamp working towards a weight loss goal, I was unable to fully indulge in the majesty of their breakfast creations like the brussells sprouts and bacon hash or the house-made buttermilk biscuits with eggs and sausage gravy or the chicken fried steak with same said gravy…. however, the date I was with could. He opted to keep it simple and went with French toast and eggs, which were perfectly executed, rich and fluffy, and smelled divine. I opted for a bowl of oatmeal, which was perfectly thick, just the way I like it, served with brown sugar, walnuts, and raisins. A delightful way to fortify my Saturday. Our waitress was totally precious and indulged our questions about her new skeleton dolphin tattoo, which was apparently meant to be a tasteful nod to animal rights. Well done.

Despite being fully packed for Saturday brunch time, our food came out almost alarmingly fast. Our waitress never missed a beat – totally on the ball, very attentive. That damn dessert case was calling my name, HAUNTING ME the entire time, but I managed to run screaming from the restaurant before I could indulge. Next time, Brite Spot…. next time.

But I think what I loved most about this place is the atmosphere. You can tell it’s a community spot – people wandering in barely dressed and hungover, groups of friends laughing, locals stopping in to grab take out – it has that air, that feel that you can’t buy or force. It just has to be there; it has to be brought in by the food and the clientele. For me, this is exactly the characteristic that warrants a five-star score on Yelp.

In short, this is starving artist heaven. Affordable, relaxed, full of life, outstanding home made food. Can’t wait to come back and try all those baked goodies!

The Brite Spot
1918 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Click here to read my review on YELP