Dana Harris's Profile

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Long Marinated Slow Cooked Pig - PSA

I'll probably be pilloried for this, but I just did a Matteo's minireview for The Knife, on Pig Night... it's authentic, but it feels like it's being prepared for another world, one that's a lot colder than LA. I still miss the Norman's version.

Sep 05, 2007
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

El Metate in Highland Park- yummy

yeah, magic. went two daze in a row

Nov 02, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

just got back from first visit to El Metate (courtesy of wifey dragging me) ... OH ... MY ... GOD

I hate to gush, being gushy is not cool, in an oh-so-cool world, but -- it was maybe the best mex food I've had in LA.

Had the chicken enchiladas, per wifey's instructions -- wonderous. not baked, not dry like usual, the toppings were slightly different than usual -- all magnificient.

And, I watch them make the refried beans from scratch in a big-ass frying pan. Then ordered them. OH ... MY ... GOD. I had to have two orders.

Which, is one of the nice things about this place -- the portions aren't hoggy. They're not miserly, but they don't make you feel like a lump afterwards.

And, given some of the comments I've read about El Metate, I thought it would be sort of a cramped, dingy, beat-up place. Nope. Very sheek, metallic, almost like a trendy Silver Lake Eatery, complete with somewhat modern plastic chairs at the tables. Yeah, tiz small, but didn't feel cramped.

No sign outside. Simply sez "TACOS." It's right across from the Green Lions with the Yellow Manes on Figueroa. 5305.

Oct 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Larchmont Grill review (Long)

I hate it when the people are so much better than the food.

Niceties do matter to me now, which means I’m getting old. When I was a restaurant critic (13 years ago, thanks for asking), my editors were constantly reminding me to describe service and setting. Warm? Cozy? Pretentious? Hostile? All fair questions that I routinely ignored in favor of what was on my plate. That was the reason for being there, after all. If the walls suggested a greasy grocery sack and the maitre’d smirked when I asked for a table for one, all could be forgiven if the tomatoes were dead ripe. (Ah, youth.) Now I’m a few days away from 39, which means I’m remembering my visit to Larchmont Grill with some affection.

Larchmont Grill, on Melrose just east of Vine, is in the space that formerly housed House. And the eastern portion of Melrose is on a roll. Just west of Highland there’s the just-opened Red Pearl Kitchen (formerly Meson G) and the Nancy Silverton-Mario Batali juggernaut Mozza is soon-to-open. Then there’s Providence, wine bar-bistro Lou and La Buca, soon to undergo a much-needed expansion.

Silverton gave me a tour of the Mozza construction site last week and it’s going to be an enormous operation, one that will bring attention from the national food press and the entertainment community. Lou’s has the city’s best wine bar (and, more importantly, frisee-bacon-egg salad). Providence has taken residence on the city’s best-of lists. And La Buca is my new favorite Italian restaurant – kickass homemade pasta, killer thin-crust pizza and you can bring your own wine! Pretty heady stuff for a once-skanky stretch of street.

So now, Larchmont Grill. Cute space – as the former tenant’s name suggested, it’s an old house, one with a wraparound porch. Inside there’s a (working) fireplace, the walls are an airy beige, the chairs a sharp shade of green. (Special shoutout for the chairs; they’re the same kind Neal Fraser has at BLD’s bar and that Ammo has outside. Made of a plastic-leather material that’s somehow firm, giving, comfortable and washable. They’re going to be the new must-have restaurant accessory for people who don’t cook.)

And the service – charming. The waitress was cute and enthusiastic, with the fresh-scrubbed look of a college student (as opposed to, say, the polished praying mantises who are often stationed at our city’s hostess stands). Jay (the owner) came by to introduce himself to the restaurant’s only inside customer (others were on the porch). He was a little giddy, as the owner of a week-old restaurant is wont to be.

Then I get the menu and it goes to - well, hell’s too strong a word. Does hell have suburbs, nice ones with wide sidewalks and pretty landscaping? The restaurant has a (charming!) slogan - “Food from the neighborhoods of America’s great cities.” However, that manifests in a menu that’s one of my least-favorite breeds, uninspiring comfort food that looks to love and serve all. (I recognize that quality may also be its saving grace – there’s already a few raves for Larchmont on the board.) Me, I’ve never been to a restaurant that can pull it off. It’s like watching a movie that wants to be a mystery-thriller with romantic dramedy.

There’s steamed mussels with chorizo, crab cakes with garlic-basil aioli, macaroni and cheese with Gruyere and cheddar, veal sausage with Parmesan polenta and pork belly braised in sherry and honey. There’s a Caesar, an iceberg wedge with blue cheese or 1000 Island and crab-and-avocado with “gazpacho salsa.”

The entrees read like the last 15 years’ of Bon Appetit covers: Pasta with spicy chicken, black beans, corn and cilantro cream, “vegetarian pasta” with broccoli rabe, Kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes and penne with chicken, broccoli and “lots of Parmesan.” Then there’s chicken (grilled, roasted), steak (flatiron, strip), short ribs (Korean, not), thick-cut pork chop, a burger, tuna “nicoise style” and a salmon that sounds like it has the same sauce as the aforementioned pork belly.

Oh, woe. It’s like meeting a guy who seems swell online, only to discover that in person he squeaky-horselaughs at things that aren’t all that funny. (Married seven years, but I remember it well.)

Full disclosure: I’m a full-fledged (a)vocational food snob. I go to a lot of restaurants. I eat well. And I recognize there’s nothing terribly wrong with this menu -- but there isn’t a whole lot that’s right.

I love mussels, but here they make me nervous. The restaurant is almost empty (no criticism meant – it’s their first week), which ups the odds that the mussels will be less than fresh. Those suckers demand a lot of turnover. It’s the same logic that makes me edge away from seafood altogether unless a restaurant is known for it, which usually means a menu that shows some dedication to it and that’s not this. (Not to mention that while steaming mussels is easy, treating a piece of fish well is a lot harder than it looks.)

I really don’t get pork belly – I know it’s trendy, but it seems like a lot of fat for little reward. Veal sausage with Parmesan polenta - maybe in a couple of months; it’s still warm enough to wear sleeveless dresses. Stack of heirloom tomatoes – hope they plan on changing the menu soon; their season’s almost over.

Finally, I order the soup of the day (gazpacho) and rigatoni Bolognese that claims “plenty of gravy.” It’s a no-expectations sort of dish, hard to screw up; I really want to give this place the benefit of the doubt. Bread comes; two uninspiring baguette-shaped rolls with the dull, hard outside/cottony interior that I recognize from cheap restaurants in France. I remember what Craig Claiborne said about the bread basket being an indicator of the meal to come. Then I push it out of my head – he was a total crank in David Kamp’s “The United States of Arugula.”

So, soup. And it’s tomato juice with a lot of nicely chopped red and yellow peppers and, incongruously, what appears to be a whole balsamic-roasted shallot plopped in the middle. As it turns out, the shallot is kind of delicious (if clumsy) against the tomato juice. And I like peppers, so I eat it all -- but it ain’t gazpacho.

The rigatoni comes and it’s nice rigatoni – good ones, not the cheap stuff, topped with a flurry of Parmesan. The sauce doesn’t look like Bolognese - more like finely ground Sloppy Joes and I don’t see the gravy – but if it’s homemade, I’ll be happy enough. Really, pasta with meat sauce; what’s not to like?

I’ll tell you what: undercooked pasta. Not so it’s crunchy, but enough so that if you bite a noodle in half you see the ring of white all the way through. This isn’t al dente; it’s tough and it sticks to my teeth. And pasta water does more than boil noodles; it’s a silky, starchy substance that rounds out a sauce and gives it a texture that lets it coat the pasta without overloading it. Great stuff, and there’s nowhere near enough of it here. The meat sauce would have been much better with a good hit of it and the poor pasta has none to give. So the dish is cranky and at this point, so am I. (A glass of wine might have mellowed me out, but on the night I visited their list needed real help – a lot of Trader Joe’s wines like Mountain View and Rock Rabbit. However, their website now shows an improved list that includes Andrew Murray, Plumpjack and Hitching Post.)

I ask for the pasta to go; Titus will get it for breakfast. Then I get the bill and I feel guilty. It’s $27 – and that includes my 20% tip.

Twenty-seven dollars? I haven’t had a bill that low at a restaurant this nice since... well, since I was a critic. And that was Dallas. And these people are so nice. They’re so nice that when I forget my leftovers (as I often do), they saved them for me. (I know this because a couple left right after me and told me so. I thanked them, but at that point I was getting in my car and was too tired. Sorry, Titus.)

So, now what? Based on service and sincerity, I’ll probably give it another shot. And a week in is a work in progress; I was really surprised (and pleased) to see the sea change in that wine list. But for now, it’s a nice restaurant with mediocre food.

Sep 15, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Dining out - Seeking specialty steaks

Good idea. Any recommendations?

Aug 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Dining out - Seeking specialty steaks

Hi, revets. We tried skirt and the gaucho last night, and we both preferred the skirt. Even with the roasted jalapeno stuffing and the chiichurri sauce (the sauce was great, btw), the skirt steak was more flavorful. As my husband noted, it was a lot like the steak-and-eggs he gets at our local Mexican breakfast joint, La Parilla.

Aug 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Dining out - Seeking specialty steaks

Hi, Liquid - Carlito was a bummer on a few counts. The steaks had no particular flavor (and the skirt steak was tough enough to suggest it hadn't seen a marinade). The chimichurri sauce was quite oily; it seemed to be made from a bland oil, chopped curly parsley and garlic. The space also has a dingy mausoleum feel (at least in daylight - we went for lunch), although I probably would have found that charming if the food was better.

Aug 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Dining out - Seeking specialty steaks

And now you've inspired me to check out Ciudad... will report back.

Aug 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

The great pastry trek is over... (Long)

Cripes. You are right. Which is unfortunate for my survey, because their baked goods (which I tried after my original post) are stellar.

Aug 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Dining out - Seeking specialty steaks

I agree re: Cut - that's already on my short list - but I wanted to find some others, too.

Aug 29, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Dining out - Seeking specialty steaks

Not the standard steakhouse stuff (though if any of these were found in a steakhouse, that would be swell). I'm looking for great skirt steak, great hanger steak, marinated steaks, Argentinean steak with chimichurri sauce, Italy's tagliata (Steak marinated in rosemary and olive oil, served on top of arugula, with lemon squeezed on top of the hot steak to make instant vinaigrette)... you get the idea.

I've already tried Carlito Gardel (disappointing, but the garlic fries were great); Drago's tagliata was not a high point of an otherwise excellent meal. And I'm not seeking porterhouse suggestions (although I do love the salt-crusted off-menu steak at Table 8). Looking forward to hearing from the 'hounds.

Aug 28, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Pinkberry?

Pinkbery will open a Melrose Ave. location Sept. 15 - right next door to M Cafe de Chaya. As if that parking lot wasn't impossible already...

Aug 28, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

The great pastry trek is over... (Long)

Hi, Briggs. I've got nothing against the east side; I live here and love it. However, Europane, Pastries by Nancy and Petite Beaujolais are all more than a year old. As I said in the rules o' engagement, I limited the sampling to bakeries that had opened *in the last 12 months.* Auntie Em's falls under the mark (they opened last October), but I don't really think of it as a bakery; I've always seen it as a restaurant and catering service that also sells some baked goods. (And they're best known for their cupcakes, which I'm not including in this tasting - I wanted to find out what L.A.'s new bakeries are offering beyond the great cupcake frenzy.) Having said that, I'll go by tomorrow to see what they have.

Also, please see an earlier post I made when I outlined this plan and sought suggestions of other bakeries.

Aug 27, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

The great pastry trek is over... (Long)

And to tell the truth, it was a little less than all that.

All told, we visited eight bakeries. Left Highland Park at 10 am; back by 2:45. Didn’t try Bluebird; it’s closed on Saturday. Dolce Forno is open, but may as well be closed; there was almost nothing in the case. Most items were sampled after we got back to the house.

The rules of engagement: All were bakeries less than a year old. We selected sweet items that were:

1) visually appealing
2) and/or recommended by staff
3) and not a cupcake.

The bad news first:

Sophie's Bakery & Café. Hard to find (in Bel Air, about a half mile off of Mulholland); not worth the search.

• Apple tart had a thick, tough crust and oversweet apple-raisin filling
• Mini key lime cheesecake: artificial color and flavoring
• Éclair was fine
• Tough, squishy napoleon that tasted a little of the refrigerator
• Also depressing: the shop/cafe smells more like cleaning solution than a bakery

Hotcakes Bakes. (I feel badly about this; the women working there seem really earnest and sincere.)

Two good things:
• The cannelle (better than Surfas)
• A blueberry muffin (berries sank to the bottom, but there was lemon zest in the batter. Still, needed a browner top and more moistness.)

Everything else we tried was just short of terrible.
• A muffin-like thing, described as topped with crème fraiche and sugar: Dry and nothing-flavored. Not a nice thing to do to someone.
• Greasy filling in a tiny cream puff.
• A cinnamon roll that had almost no cinnamon or roll – pulled apart, it looked like a dry and oversized biscuit with frosting.
• A chocolate-chip cookie had a margarine aftertaste. (Would a bakery like this use margarine?)
• And the chocolate cookie that a friend described as “one of those cookies you made as Christmas ornaments – after spending five years on the tree.”

Surfas Bakery. Squarely in the “eh” category. (I know many sing praises of the lavender lemon bars; they were out.)

• Cookies were fine but not great; a little dry and heavy. They’re made from the prefab dough you can buy in their freezer case – great if you’re a kid. (If you can vote, you’ll want something else.)
• A plain cannele was fine; the banana canelle was made with artificial flavoring that reminded me of the banana chewy candy I liked (again) as a kid.
• Other baked goods came from LaBrea.

Jamaica’s Cakes
• I liked the cinnamon roll; filled with a sort of cinnamon paste, nicely browned.
• An oversized chocolate chip cookie was very good
• Eclairs were enormous – five inches around and almost all cream filling
• The cream puff was not for me, with a bittersweet (but fluffy) chocolate mousse filling.
• The “Scottish oat” scone was as dry as breadcrumbs.

Susiecakes
• Love the butterscotch pudding
• Don’t love the chocolate pudding; strange aftertaste
• Whoopie pies are cute, but inedible for anyone not actively pursuing adult-onset diabetes. (Even if you were, there are tastier ways to do it. Those cookies were thick and tough.)
• Iced molasses cookies were nothing special.

The best for last:

City Bakery

• Caramelized French toast caramelized French toast caramelized French toast They sell it at room temp in the pastry case; when they run out, you can order it a la carte (and it’s hot. But why serve it with maple syrup? Talk about gilding the lily.). Hot, cold, room temperature – it’s my green eggs and ham.
• An excellent oatmeal-chocolate cookie
• And a shout-out for the pretzel croissant; it was a red herring in this horse race (mixed metaphors! My favorite!), but based on reputation, I had to try it. I don’t really taste pretzel, but there is enough salt to cut the sweetness you usually get in butter croissants. And damn, that’s a flaky croissant.

However...
• More than a morsel of the melted chocolate chip cookie seems like overkill – can anyone actually eat one?
• I really liked the baker’s muffin last time; today, it seemed bland and a little doughy.
• The scone was the size of a tablecloth and approximated a dry muffin (what is it with scones?)
• A blueberry cornmeal muffin was dense and... not very nice.
• A coconut-blueberry tart was mostly the former and too sweet.

BreadBar

• Apricot tart with custard and almond-chocolate croissant: Winners both.
• Didn’t care for “Wall Streets” – small rounds of chocolate or vanilla cake, made moist with nut paste. They’d be nice next to a cup of coffee to end a meal, but nothing I’d crave.
• A blueberry-custard danish teetered between good and sweet overkill
• Pain au chocolat was fine (but I’m hard pressed to get overexcited by pain au chocolat)

Maison du Pain: The day’s most pleasant surprise.
• Excellent pain aux raisin, made with golden raisins.
• A square of just-sweet puff pastry, crisp on top, moist in the center and topped with pear.
• A chocolate chip cookie was fair, as was a bite-sized éclair.
• The big disappointment: a napoleon that tasted as if someone forgot to add sugar.

What I learned:

a. City Bakery for caramelized French toast and an oatmeal cookie fix.
b. Breadbar for apricot tart and almond croissants.
c. Maison du pain for pain aux raisin.
d. Even with so many new bakeries in L.A., there is still room for more – and a really great one will clean up.

Finally, while I tried to be fair and thorough in this process, I know it falls short. Bakeries may have been out of items that, had I tried, I would have loved. I may have overlooked as something that I should have bought. And, of course, I am one big fat personal opinion covered in skin, but what the hell: It was my pastry trek.

- dh

Aug 27, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Going on a bakery spree this weekend

And adding one more: Dolce Forno.

Aug 25, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Going on a bakery spree this weekend

Whoops - taking off Backdoor - it's older than I remembered.

Aug 25, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Going on a bakery spree this weekend

Again, thanks to everyone.

Wanted to give you guys my semi-final hit list. I'm only (!) going to 10 bakeries, selected by vintage. (I will definitely visit the other at another time, but I will be swamped only by visiting places that opened over the last 12 months!

They are:

Hot Cakes Bakes

Jamaica’s Cakes

Surfas

Maison du Pain

BreadBar

Bluebird Bakery

City Bakery

Sophie's Bakery & Café

Back Door

Susiecakes

Aug 25, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Going on a bakery spree this weekend

I'm definitely going to Susiecakes - tempted by chocolate pudding and whoopie pie. Thank you for all of the Asian bakery suggestions, but now I'm wondering if I should separate them for another trip - there's just too many.

Aug 25, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Going on a bakery spree this weekend

This is great - thank you! Promise to report back.

Aug 24, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Going on a bakery spree this weekend

I plan to hit every new(ish) bakery in Los Angeles. Would love to hear any specific recommendations/warnings Chowhounds have (Great cookies? Tragic cream puffs?) and, of course, let me know if there's another place that should be on the hit list.

(A clarification: I am open to everything except cupcakes. Nothing against them, you understand; I just think we need some time apart.)

Back Door Bakery, Silver Lake
Bluebird Bakery, Culver City
City Bakery, Santa Monica
Delilah Bakery, Echo Park
Hot Cakes, West L.A.
Sophie's Bakery & Cafe, Bel-Air
Susiecakes, Brentwood

Aug 24, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

New bakery on Centinela?

That's it! Many thanks. Please see my next post, "Going on a bakery spree this weekend."

Aug 24, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

New bakery on Centinela?

Drove by it Sunday - it was closed - and I can't remember the name. (It's not the venerable Angel Maid; it's much closer to Washington and on the other side of the street.) Anyone know of this place?

Aug 24, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Road trip! LA to Napa and eating en route

Interesting re: the 99 - I will look into it. And I totally forgot about the Basque region.

Jul 26, 2006
Dana Harris in California

El Metate in Highland Park - Great new Mexican

Just came back, based on your recommendation. Thanks very kindly. They were a little overwhelmed (1 cook, 1 cashier and that's it) but it was well worth the wait. Of note: Best refried beans I've had in memory; rice was also great.

Jul 26, 2006
Dana Harris in Los Angeles Area

Road trip! LA to Napa and eating en route

I am driving to Napa next month - Hwy 1 / 101 on the way up, the 5 on the way back. I want to find the best-possible road chow in both directions.

On the hit list is Santa Maria BBQ, although I haven't chosen a specific spot. If the timing worked out (but I don't think it will), I'd stop at American Flatbread (damn their wacky hours!). However, I am open to any and all suggestions.

Thanking you in advance,

Dana

Jul 25, 2006
Dana Harris in California