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

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

Perfectly Pleasant Paninis

Hello, friends, and happy Monday! First I must thank you for your support in watching, liking, and commenting on my first youtube cooking video that I released this past Friday. I’m really happy with the response so far and look forward to getting out the next one. Yay!

But for now, let’s talk about the weekend. My roommate found herself craving a panini sandwich on Saturday afternoon and I found myself having no friggin clue where one would go to find one. Well I can’t think of a better excuse to find someplace new, and that’s just what we did. I got on Yelp and in seconds I discovered an actual Italian panini shop within walking distance from our apartment, I Panini di Ambra on Hollywood Blvd. We’ve lived here for two years and I never had even inkling that this place existed. A few minutes later we found ourselves at the cute little shop (we totally didn’t walk… it was really hot… don’t judge). About 15 years ago I took a trip to Italy with my parents. I was in 7th grade. When we entered the shop I immediately was taken back as if one could have found this place on any street in Italy. The lady behind the counter who greeted us with her thick Italian accent made it clear that this was a family owned and operated business. As we stood examining the menu, a group of Italian men entered the shop speaking Italian and started bantering with the owner in their language. It was kind of amazing.

I decided on the Salame Sopresata, which had salami, smoked provolone, tomato, and arugula. If I wasn’t already reminiscing from the atmosphere of the place, the sandwich alone would have done it. It’s the bread. Many paninis you get in the US have this thick, dense focaccia that really takes over and weighs down the sandwich. The focaccia at this place was thin and airy – exactly what you would find in Italy. It cooks to a perfect crunch that is easy to eat and doesn’t get in the way of the meat and cheese. My roommate was equally impressed with her Caprese panini.

Truth be told, it took some time for us to get our sandwiches, but they were in the middle of assembling a huge catering order when we got there, so I couldn’t be upset about it, particularly for a small family shop like this. Besides, it gave more time for me to stare at the group of  attractive Italians sitting inside. We had a table outside and I kept wandering in to “look around”. She got nervous that I was getting impatient. Ha. Not at all my dear, not at all.

In addition to Italians and paninis, yesterday was the July Beer Garden at Tender Greens. Hard to believe an entire month has gone by since the last one. I’m sure you’re sick of me gushing over Tender Greens Beers Gardens by now, so I’m going to spare you… for today. Expect a full report on this month’s feast tomorrow.

For now go and get your Italian fix… and eat a panini too ;-)

I Panini di Ambra
5633 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles 90028

Click here to read my review on YELP