Monday, April 28, 2008


(310) 552-1080
1751 Ensley Avenue,
Century City, CA 90024

Adequately Fed: $10
Rare Roast Beef Sandwich***
Chocolate Chip Cookies*****
(Out of Five Stars)

This charming cafe off Santa Monica is a little difficult to get to and even more difficult to park. There's a small lot behind the restaurant, but the popularity makes this place crowded even in the late afternoon on a Monday. Clementine does know how to market themselves with self-branded cups and buttons. They are even conducting a grilled cheese mock campaign parodying the election year. Their "heat-at-home" entrees and sides and curbside pick-up make them an excellent take-out place as well.

It's nice to see truly rare roast beef. All too commonly, roast beef is overcooked and lacks that chewy texture and complexity of flavor. The popular rare roast beef sandwich at Clementine combines this tasty beef with marinated onions, arugula, and horesradish mustard dressing between a crusty rustic bread. The bread was so crusty that it tore the top of my mouth a little. But the sandwich itself was well-crafted. Unfortunately, the horseradish was too subtle and not prominent enough to add to the meat. The accompanying sweet pickles were a treat in itself though.

I do not bake at home precisely for the reason why the cookies here are so delicious. The chocolate chip cookies are so thin that the chocolate spreads out moist and melty to the point where I would hesitate to call them chips at all. Just a bite of the $1.50 cookie and I know how much butter has gone into its preparation. If I baked these myself, I would not be able to eat them with as clean a conscience.

I had issues with the slow service during my trip. After ordering at the counter, it took quite awhile for the food to come to the table. It is a rare sandwich after all; it should not take that long to prepare.

Recommendation: I think it is busy all the time, but maybe the curbside take-out service.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eating Veal is NOT Eating Babies

Reading my last entry, a review of Mio Babbo's, I realize that I may not have as many veal fans among my cohorts as I might believe. Though I do not think I can bring over the moral objectors with words alone, it would take a delicate veal chop to do that, I want to lay the groundwork for their first foray into the tender meat of calves.

All meats bear their characteristic flavors due to the lifestyle and genetics of the animal. When we say meat, we generally refer to the skeletal muscle tissue of terrestrial animals. This muscle is made up of water mostly, protein, and fat. Though different muscles have slightly different muscle fibers, muscles themselves taste relatively similar. The difference in flavor between different animals comes primarily from the fat. Since fat cells store any fat-soluble material that comes through the body, an animal's diet heavily influences the flavor of its fat. In cows, the forage plants create the distinctive beef flavor. Also, the older an animal gets, the more pronounced the flavors and the tougher the meat. Therefore, these calves are slaughtered at 5 to 16 weeks while their flesh is still tender and delicate in flavor. In comparison, beef in the U.S. is typically slaughtered at 15 to 24 months. Consider, if the cows are raised for slaughter anyway, why prolong their suffering?

In the United States, veal production is tied directly to the dairy industry. Dairy cows must give birth yearly to maintain a steady supply of milk. The female calves are nursed till maturity to produce milk also. Male dairy calves on the other hand, were previously routinely killed because they were unsuitable to be raised as meat. The rise of the veal industry has given these calves a new avenue for life, albeit short and ultimately doomed.

Veal calves are kept away from an ordinary cow's life as much as possible to prevent the development of common beef flavors. They're confined to exercise that will not darken or toughen their muscles and fed a low-iron milk supplement diet. Although in the past there have been claims of poor raising conditions for veal, these outrages have forced industry changes for more humane environments. Nowadays, most veal are raised in well-ventilated, climate-controlled barns with enough room to stand, lie, and move around.

The flavor of veal has been described as subtle, buttery, aromatic and more. In my personal experience, I find the delicate flavor of veal as a counterpoint to a hearty Angus beef. What I appreciate in veal is similar to how I appreciate good sushi, the texture and the marbling. Granted, veal is more expensive than beef, chicken and pork, but the price should not stand in the way of a new flavor experience. So look past your own prejudice and give this humble meat a try. As any decent foodie, you owe it to yourself to indulge a little. Try a veal piccata at your next Italian restaurant or try the simple recipe I have provided below.

all purpose flour
veal chops
dry white wine
chicken stock
garlic , chopped
lemon juice
capers, drained
unsalted butter
  1. Wrap the veal individually in plastic wrap and pound to as thin as you can without tearing.
  2. Salt each chop and dredge in flour.
  3. Heat a shallow pan and add a layer of frying oil (vegetable, corn, canola, peanut, NOT olive).
  4. When a drop of water sizzles immediately upon contact with the oil, add the veal. Do not crowd the pan. Work in batches if necessary. Flip the chops when lightly browned on the contact side. It should be only a few minutes per side.
  5. After all chops have been cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Then bring up the heat and reduce the wine. Add chicken stock, garlic, lemon juice, and capers to taste.
  6. Work in a pat of butter to thicken the sauce until it is nape (when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). Add the veal back to the pan to warm. Plate and serve.
Goes great on a bed of pasta.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mio Babbo's

(310) 208-5117
1076 Gayley Ave
Westwood, CA 90024

Adequately Fed: $15
House Salad with Italian Dressing**
Spaghetti Pomodoro***
Veal Piccata*****
(Out of Five Stars)

After reading the chapter on meat in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking explaining the science of cooking, I felt compelled to order a veal entree. McGee writes that meat gains flavor from life, meaning older animals with exercise and varied diets produce more flavorful cuts. Veal is on the opposite end of this spectrum. Calves are deprived of movement, fed a fatty milk diet and slaughtered young to maintain supple flesh. I'm not going to enter into the morality of eating baby cows, but foodies should be able to appreciate an especially tender cut of veal.

A short walk from UCLA, Mio Babbo's is an unassuming restaurant small in size with a decor of simple elegance. The interior looks like a restaurant from the twenties. Private booths separate several tables in the small restaurant. My waiter and busboy were helpful and attentive, although the design of the tables allows for a great deal of intimacy with your dining mates.

Each entree comes with a salad or soup. My first course came quickly, dressing on the side, a delight compared to the soggy lettuce of some restaurant salads. The greens were topped with olives and chick peas, straightforward but a little different. Italian dressing was slightly bland for my tastes, but I like my sour foods on the tart side. Soon after the salads, the pasta and veal came. The simple tomato sauce over the spaghetti had a complexity that belied more complex herbs that I couldn't readily identify. Although it was tomato heavy, it was not overly acidic. While the pasta was decent, the veal really exemplified Mio Babbo's. Its lemon and white wine sauce enhanced the natural flavor of the meat and the layer of spaghetti below made a great companion.

Overall, I enjoyed this meal and rate this restaurant solidly. Every time I walk by, I take a glance at the daily special on the board in the window. Maybe next time, I'll have that instead.

Recommendation: I don't know if I would make it a point to visit, but I would come if I were in the mood for convenient, unassuming Italian.

Coral Tree Cafe (Breakfast)

(310) 979-8733
11645 San Vicente Blvd
Brentwood, CA 90049

Adequately Fed: $10
Sciliana Breakfast Panini***
Marcella Scramble***
(Out of Five Stars)

The reason that this review is noted specially noted as breakfast is due to my own admitted prejudice against the early morning meal. Heavy breakfasts weigh me down and I can never finish more than one or two eggs in one sitting. I came to Coral Tree Cafe at 11:00 and the menu was still breakfast oriented. Rather than opt for the sugary items more suitable to my morning palettes such as the pancakes or the French toast, I ordered a panini.

This is a self-order counter restaurant; armed with a plastic number, I traversed the weekend brunch crowd for a table in this rustic, barn-themed cafe. Ashamedly, I am not a coffee drinker so I did not take advantage of Coral Tree's extensive java menu. However, if I had arrived later, I might have tried the numerous wines featured by glass or bottle. I might even have bought a jar of nutella to take home with me if I weren't on my way to another destination.

Given the crowd, the panini didn't take too long to come out. It is served with either roasted potatoes or a fruit medley of cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew and pineapple. The sandwich had roma tomatoes, pancetta, mozzarella, red pepppers and much fried egg. The later ingredient unfortunately unsettled my stomach and I could not finish the sandwich. Even the bread for the panini was dry and uninspired. Besides my own dish however, the breakfast burrito, pancakes, and French toast looked splendid.

The scramble included egg whites, sundried tomatoes, spinach, penne, mushrooms, and parmesan reggiano. This managed to be light and not weighed down by grease common in bad omelettes. The egg dishes come with the option of whites only, which in retrospect, would have been a wiser choice.

I cannot give an objective review of Coral Tree Cafe because I just can't enjoy breakfast on that kind of level. I would be happy with a glass of milk and a bowl of cereal, plenty satisfied and not feeling bloated or greasy. Therefore, I will consider coming back to Coral Tree one day for lunch.

Recommendation: Supposedly, the cappuccino are amazing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chocolate Skittles

When I was a kid, I made the mistake of confusing Skittles with M&M's. As I grew up and understood more and more about how the world works, I also came to recognize that these two confections occupy different spheres of the candy world. M&M's and Skittles represent two separate kingdoms and should remain that way. This abomination of sugar (and/or high fructose corn syrup) tries to cross a border that should never be transgressed and the result is not worth your money or your mouth.

Both Skittles and M&M's are owned by Mars, Inc., one of the largest private companies in the United States. Considering that these two candies are therefore not competitors, it is unlikely that they are targeting the same consumer. Admittedly, some days I will fancy a fruity chew and others will be candy coated chocolate days. But if ever these two days converge, they will be in two separate bags of candy. This incestuous offspring is a taste disaster. There is a reason why the previous line of chocolate Skittles were discontinued in 2001. No one likes to buy bad candy.

Vanilla, S'mores, Chocolate Caramel, Pudding and Brownie Batter are the five hideously colored flavors of this new product line. Ignoring the fact that vanilla does not actually contain any chocolate, all these flavors blend together in a bitter mess. They do not have the distinct personalities of the other Skittles flavors that make each bag a treat. The quality of good chocolate is not in artificial flavor. I would argue that chocolate without the rich, complex, and versatile texture is hardly chocolate at all. Chemists have identified more than 600 different kinds of molecules in chocolate that give it its pronounced balance of bitterness and sweetness. I fail to believe these chocolate Skittles capture even a portion of that complexity. Instead, when I bit into my chocolate skittle, it crumbled and dissolved. It even lacked the satisfying candy shell of both Skittles and M&M's.

Both Skittles (any of the more standard flavors such as original, tropical, wild berry, sour, smoothie, even the short-lived mint) and M&M's are excellent candies. Their bastard child Chocolate Skittles is a poor attempt to bring together the best in both. But despite my clear disgust at this new candy, I do recommend going out and purchasing a bag yourself. Don't open it though; one day it'll be worth something as an exhibit in unmitigated candy fiasco.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Counter

(310) 399-8383
2901 Ocean Park Boulevard,
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Adequately Fed: $15
2/3 lb. Beef Burger**** topped with:
Grilled Onions
Sauteed Mushrooms
Horseradish Mayo
Fifty-fifty Sweet Fried and Onion Strings****
(Out of Five Stars)

After my trip to Father's Office, I've been meaning to explore this Santa Monica upscale diner to try their famous burgers. Having already been overwhelmed by the Office Burger's lavish toppings, the Counter proved its burgers could be just as elaborate.

Located near the Santa Monica airport, this restaurant actually has very little around it. This means ample street parking and even a lot. With the state of Los Angeles transit, parking is the little necessity far too often overlooked. The decor is a modern take on a Fifties diner, the eponymous counter running along the side of the restaurant. Paintings by a local street artist adorn the walls, images of street art graffiti and Nikes. Apparently, there is a monthly featured artist, as well as monthly special shakes and burgers. One wall consists of an innovative glass-paneled garage door allowing outside dining inside. Arriving at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon, there was a wait of about twenty minutes. Once seated, our server did not come for another 5-10 minutes. Be aware that this place is busy.

This place's claim to fame is the customization of your burger order. Each diner receives a clipboard which lists the burgers and available toppings. Beef, turkey, chicken, and vegetarian burgers are available. The list of toppings is exhaustive, filled with common items such as tomatoes to the more unconventional grilled pineapple. Along with an extensive list of sauce, this menu makes the diner feel in control.

The sweet potato fries were thick and fried to a crisp, delicious exterior. Onion strings were mediocre, reminiscent of the Awesome Blossom at Chili's or any other casual dining restaurant. A deep fried onion has the highest ratio of delicious first bite to greasy, bloated feeling afterwards. The fifty-fifty comes with three sauces, barbecue, horseradish mayo and buttermilk ranch. All three tasted fine, the barbecue especially outstanding. The ranch was too thin for a sauce.

I ordered the 2/3 lb. burger topped as listed above. In retrospect, 1/3 lb. would have been more than generous and a whole pound would be suicide. With all the toppings, the burger was a mountain of beef and accompaniments. The bun had a crunchy, lightly toasted consistency and the toppings were fresh. I admired that the sauce was served on the side to dress how you please, a good way to avoid oversaucing, a plight so common in American restaurants. I'm always suspicious of any dish which relies on sauce to convey flavor. The Angus beef itself was juicy and superior to the beef used at Father's Office. Grilled to medium doneness, I savored each bite before letting it slide down my throat. With beef that good, the burger should really be simpler. Too many toppings detract from the beef, which is really what makes a great burger.

Besides the burgers, there is a wide selection of beers and wines for a burger restaurant. Admittedly, it is an upscale restaurant playing up cheap food as gourmet, but nonetheless, the drinks are impressive. For the non-alcoholic, they serve shakes and malts.

Recommendation: Order the 1/3 lb. burger with simple toppings. Anything more is just excessive.