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For a family brunch, romantic dinner or drinks with friends, L’Ami aims to please

2017-03-10 (1)Before I appraise the food at L’Ami in Santa Monica, I would be remiss not to mention another recommendation of this charming restaurant, the atmosphere.  This Mediterranean oasis, in the middle of Los Angeles, adjacent to the popular Brentwood Country Mart, is a heavenly retreat on a summery day, where patrons can sit on the patio surrounded by olive trees and imagine they are basking in the sun in St. Tropez.  Or, on one of those chilly LA days, when the temps dip way down, to the low 60s, guests can cozy up on shearling covered bar chairs next to the blazing fire inside the dining room, where the radiant heat of the stone hearth exudes a comfort equaled to the warm hospitality of the staff.

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For those lucky enough to encounter the owner Marc-Antoine Ramaud, whose childhood culinary experiences inspired the menu, you will understand from where the spirit of friendliness emanates. Ramaud aims to please his guests in every way, beginning with creating a romantic and inviting setting, and then complementing the experience with offerings of fresh, organic and seasonal dishes that capture the Mediterranean culture and cuisine.

The menu represents the varied flavor combinations along the Mediterranean shores, such as the exquisite appetizer of carpaccio of hand dived scallops with truffle vinaigrette with Jerusalem artichokes, chives, mache leaves and shaved black truffle; or a homemade foie gras au torchon on brioche toast with fig chutney and frisée salad.  And if you love French onion soup, this is the place to have it, served with caramelized onions, gruyere cheese gratiné and croutons – scrumptious next to the fire on a cold day.

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For dinner, some of the standout excellent dishes include Baby Lamb Shank, oven roasted and served with mashed potatoes, spinach and candied carrot; Couscous Royale, in a lamb stew with chicken, merguez sausage and harissa; and you can’t go wrong with the White Sea Bass, served with seasonal vegetables and a medley of quinoa and harissa emulsion.

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On weekends, it is time to indulge at L’Ami with decadent and delicious entrees such as Grilled Filet Mignon Benedict on brioche toast with beef tenderloin medallions and hollandaise; or Farro and Goad Cheese Risotto Benedict with green lentils, kale and hollandaise.

The brunch menu also features a kids menu for $12 with a beverage and kid-friendly sections like and French toast, mini waffle with eggs and bacon or a Breakfast Pita of scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage.

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While the food deserves high acclaim, the drinks cannot go without mention.  The resident mixologist serves up favorites like 1792 Old Fashion Angostora and Peychouls Bitters, with sugar cane, 1792 bitters; and surprising and exotic mixes like Seasonal Rhubarb Beluga Vodka, a blend of organic rhubarb and  lemon juice; the Moscow Mule Vodka, a cocktail with a kick made of ginger beer, and organic lime juice;  or the refreshing Marco’s Mojito Flor, blended with De Cana Rum, fresh mint, and organic lime.

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L’Ami is located at 246 26th Street, Santa Monica, California, on the Westside boarder of Santa Monica and Brentwood.  Its entry is tricky to find, hidden behind a wrought iron gate covered in ivy, but well worth the hunt.

 

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The term “family restaurant” means different things to different people.  At Locanda del Lago it means many things.  The traditional Northern Italian restaurant at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade has stood the test of time in LA where eateries go in and out of vogue with the seasons, but a typical bustling multigenerational Saturday night crowd shows this family favorite has staying power, not just as a restaurant where children are welcome, but also where diners are treated like family.

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Greeting guests at the host stand, an affable JD, in a snappy bow-tie, sets the tone for visitors. At first I thought JD mistook me for someone he knew, since his welcoming was so enthusiastic, but I later learned from our server, John, that JD is always this way.

John, who by his movie-star good looks and his expert recitation of the daily specials I presumed — and confirmed — was an actor, was pleasant and patient as my dining companion and I mulled over our options.  We decided to start off with one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, since JD had told us that the ingredients were fresh sourced just the day before from the local farmer’s market.  We chose the blood orange martini — delicious and fruity, and the raspberry and lemon drop martini — very sweet, accented by a sugared rim.

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We moved onto the appetizers — Burrata e Zucca; a creamy Burrata cheese with a savory-sweet butter squash compote; and the restaurant’s popular sampler of fried shrimp, calamari, smelts and zucchini. The former was a generous portion, making us wish we had ordered just one starter; and the latter was made interesting by the smelts, but overall this plate was a bit more crispy than hoped for, and since we were saving room for our entrees we had this bagged to take home.

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For entrees we chose the fillet, assuming we “could not go wrong,” and John in fact reinforced this idea using these exact words.  We also opted for a lobster pasta, which John highly recommended and informed us was the Chef Gianfranco Minuz’s own favorite dish to eat himself, whenever he was lucky enough there was any left at the end of a night.

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While the fillet was more on the medium than the medium-rare requested, it was still a tender piece of beef with a rich Porcini mushroom sauce and served with sautéed broccolini.  The pasta dish was a surprising pale green color, almost like tinted glass noodles, and while neither of expected to like it, we were pleased that it was, as promised, an exquisite treat.

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We finished our dinner with a molten lava cake, which unfortunately was still chilled in the center. Nevertheless, we polished it off, and though I was certain John would have offered us another dessert if we had complained, we were quite satisfied overall with our meal.

By the time we left, after pacing ourselves through an enjoyable two-hour dinner, we noticed most of the tables around us were the same guests as when we sat down.  The tables were filled with families — of grandparents, parents and children.  We were amused to see one table complete filled with children — the proverbial kids table — next to their parents who were clearly savoring their long evening of dining and visiting with family.

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As we made our way out, JD introduced us to the affable Michelin-starred Chef Minuz, whose menu was inspired by the tastes of the regions of Lombardy and Lake Como, and they saw us out the door, as good hosts always do at the end of an evening spend with familia; and they invited us to come again, which we certainly will.

CervetecamenuGuest post by Stephanie Houfek

Just open a month, Cerveteca Downtown LA is bustling on a Friday night like a trendy and happening spot that’s been around for years. Other than a few newbie servers still learning the ropes, the place seems settled in like the artsy-techie neighborhood’s mainstay it is destined to become, serving up delicious Mexican comfort food blended with modern style, straight from the generations-old recipe box of the Hermosillo family owners.
Operations Manager Yvonne Garcia says the restaurant is a family affair. She works the floor along with her brother, who is one of her fellow business partners, along with her two strikingly handsome grown-up twin sons. Her mother, known as Chef Mama, is busy getting prepped dishes out of the kitchen, with the help of a cousin.

cervetecainteriorThe eatery’s signature family inspired dishes include the La Puente Backyard Original, a fat and tall burger dressed with a thick cut of pork-belly bacon — just like Mama used to make on the grill; Pescado a la Veracruzana, a red snapper heaped with castelvetrano olives, capers, tomato and garlic with arrozajillo; and the restaurant’s already famous Hangover Spicy Soup, a mouth-enlivening concoction of shrimp, clams, fish, chayote squash and carrot.
Other specialties on the menu include appetite-whetting starters called Chicano Cheese Pots, a trio of like a trio of stringy cheesy dips with mixed with corn and spices, served with guac; and sides like grilled plantains with a mild sour cream; and healthy options like Quinoa ‘n Kale, tossed with roasted corn and spiced cashews.

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Like the surrounding ‘hood and the city center in which it resides, Cerveteca is a melting pot of LA cultures and tastes. Its inspirations include Mexican and Asian fusion and Greek and Peruvian influences. The restaurant also pays homage to its predecessor, R23, a Japanese restaurant that occupied the 923 East 3rd Street site for nearly two decades, by repurposing the sushi bar with a marble-top raw bar offering a changing menu of ceviche, oysters, and other raw fare. The desert menu includes Mama’s homemade bread pudding, flan and the Cerveteca sundae.

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The eatery’s hardwood floors and brick-walled interior remain intact, but the entranceway off of the alley has been altered to bring the outdoors into the dining space, which seats nearly 100.
Cerveteca Downtown LA is part of the Hermosillo restaurant family, joining its sister restaurant Cerveteca in Venice, which also features some of the elements from the new restaurant, such as the charcuterie and cheese, crafted beers and wines carefully selected by wine director and partner Norma Alvarado, but also with distinctions, such as the fully stocked raw bar with a wide variety of ceviche, and a daily happy hour from 3-7pm with the unbeatable deal of $1 oysters.

“Personally, I think there’s wonderful and similar creative and cultural energy between Venice and Downtown’s Arts District,” said Hermosillo. “The richness and artistic qualities of the two neighborhoods are connected, so being in both locations make perfect sense for Cerveteca.”cheesetrio

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For epicurean kids, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar unveiled its new children’s menu last month, with smaller portions of some of their most-famed dishes, like smokey friend chicken, and the PCB (Plan Check Burger) Jr., sans onions. The ambiance of this bar and restaurant is decidedly grown-up, but even after 7 pm on a Sunday night, the place is crawling with young kids, out with the ‘rents for a family dinner.friedchick800pickles800

While the kids menu throws in one can’t-miss favorite of grilled cheese, the other offerings are suited for kids who have a bit more adventurous palate. My seven-year-old son went for the BBQ chicken stix, which are definitely not your typical chicken fingers.

stix800 These tender and tasty skewers, swathed in tangy BBQ sauce and sprinkled with crunch cheddar ban bacon bits, presented in a mini iron skillet on a bed of fries, were just to my son’s liking, though for those who prefer breaded nuggets, these fingers would have gone untouched.
While the kids menu is called such, even the drinks — fountain soda, lemonade, or iced tea, eschew the usuals — juices and milk, and are served in a tall narrow glass — no plastic sippy with a straw here. For sure, this kids menu is not your standard, and like the atmosphere — a bit noisy, hip and happening — the menu is exciting enough for adults, but tame enough to appeal to kids.

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For the of-age crowd, the upscale comfort food is divinely satisfying. The portions may seem small, but the food is filling as it is scrumptious.

chips800The sweet potato waffle fries, made with beef tallow, pop with flavor as vivid as the bright orange color, and the smokey fried chicken earns its reputation as mouth-watering — one of those dishes where you take a bite then your eyes go wide when the flavor saturates your soul.
The cruller donuts are the final treat to finish off such a delectable meal. The cinnamon-coated dough twists come with a dipping cream sauce and cream mousse along with banana slices for the ultimate donut fix.
Plan Check Bar + Restaurant is smart to be so different from its neighbors. It’s not what you would expect in the middle of LA, which makes you wonder, “Where else could you go for a meal like this?” The answer is nowhere I can think of. And that makes it even better.

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The crowd is eclectic. In addition to the sprinkling of families, there was a large contingent of stylish (assume gay) men, attractive single men and women at the bar. Prices are reasonable, with burgers and sandwiches $12 to $13, and other entrees from $13 to $16. Some of the snacks and apps are particularly unique, such as the selection of pickles and a wire basket of exotic veggie chips with avocado dip.

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Plan Check, which takes its name from its original location across from the Building and Safety Department, where architects, engineers and the like would lunch while reviewing plans for permitting. Two current locations are at 351 N. Fairfax and 1800 Sawtelle in LA. A downtown location on Wilshire is due to open soon.


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