Chang’an Restaurant and Bar in SGV

One of the best things about living in the San Gabriel Valley is the sheer abundance of Chinese food (which just so happens to be my favorite cuisine!)

So I was more than excited to have to opportunity to attend a tasting at Chang’an Restaurant and Bar along with some other LA foodies.

Chang’an Restaurant and Bar
227 West Valley Blvd, #358 (Hilton Plaza Top Floor), San Gabriel, CA 91776

Chang’an is literally a hidden gem, tucked away on the 3rd floor of an unassuming strip mall. I had a little difficulty finding it at first, and I hope others won’t be discouraged by its elusive location, because this place is certainly worth seeking out!

Upon entering, I was greeted by Minda Zhang, who along with her husband, Hao, runs the place. Her enthusiasm and passion for her restaurant was evident in every dish that I tried, as you’ll soon see.

Continue reading “Chang’an Restaurant and Bar in SGV”

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Market City Caffe: Brews and Bites in Burbank

For the entire month of January, I endured Whole30, which meant no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar, no alcohol, nothing of all the things I love to eat. So when February rolled around, I was only too happy to say “Ahola30” and dive back into the world of eating whatever the heck I want. There was one thing I was craving especially, and it was Italian food. Breadsticks! Pasta! Risotto! Cream sauce! Need I go on?

Market City Caffe in Burbank was exactly what I needed to fill the Italian-food-shaped hole in my stomach and I was excited to sample a number of their dishes paired with beers by 156 Verdugo West Brewing Co.

Market City Caffe
164 Palm Ave, Burbank, CA 91502

Market City Caffe is a casual, but classy, restaurant located on a bustling stretch of eateries in the heart of Burbank. The vibe is warm and lively with a welcoming, unpretentious air, and an open kitchen affords a view of meals being prepared under the care of executive chef Robert Chaidez.

Continue reading “Market City Caffe: Brews and Bites in Burbank”

Alex and Tania Go To Ocean Market Grill In Long Beach

TANIA: When Alex asked me if I wanted to join her for dinner at Ocean Market Grill in Long Beach, I said, “Hell yes!” even though it’s a bit of a trek for me. We used to be roommates, and now that she lives in San Diego, I gotta get my Alex time in any chance I get!

ALEX: I happened to be back at home for Thanksgiving and was so excited to have the opportunity to check out Ocean Market Grill. This style of a fish shop is one of my favorite things, and since I was an hour and a half closer to Tania than I usually am, I knew I needed her to join me!

It was a rainy evening, and after a quick hug in the parking-lot-turned-swimming-pool we hurried inside.

OCEAN MARKET GRILL
6332 East Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, CA 90803
http://www.oceanmarketgrill.com

ocean-market-grill-exterior

The interior is clean, minimalist, and casual, with nice lighting. They had the place decorated for Small Business Saturday as it happened to be the day after Black Friday.

ocean-market-grill-interior

The menu somehow managed to be both simple and expansive, with multiple options of fresh fish prepared with different cooking and presentation styles, seasonings, and sides. Not to mention all the appetizers and salads that are also available!

ocean-market-grill-menu

TANIA: To start with, Alex and I ordered the OMG fries, which are served with a topping of clam chowder and delicious bacon. Alex doesn’t eat bacon, so I was more than happy to take one for the team and finish every last bit! The fatty and crispy bacon bits added just the right amount of salt to go with the creamy chowder on top.

ALEX: As Tania very willingly ate all of the bacon off of these fries for me (what a great friend!) I started digging into the fries, and these did make me say OMG! I’m not typically a huge clam chowder fan, but I could not stop eating these. The fries held their crispiness well, and the addition of red potatoes made these unique and extra delicious!

omg-fries

TANIA: For my main dish, I was excited to see that Yellow Tail was an option, as that’s one of my favorite types of fish to eat. The Yellow Tail and Ahi are sushi-grade and come lightly seared. That sounded so good; I decided to try the tacos, one in each style.

tacos

I had the Yellow Tail lightly grilled with garlic butter in an OMG-style taco, served with cilantro aioli, romaine, and Watermelon Pico-de-gallo. This was my favorite taco of the two. It was light, fresh, and had a nice combination of bright flavors. The fish was also wonderfully flaky and tender.

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For the Ahi taco, I had the fish blackened and served in a Cabo style taco prepared with Cabbage, Poblano Crema, Salsa, Pickled Onions, and a dusting of Cojita Cheese.  This taco offered a much more intense and smoky Cajun flavor, which was good, but I thought it overpowered the flavor of the Ahi. Next time, I’ll pick a different fish such as Salmon or Rock-Cod to go with this style of taco.

tacos3 For my side, I got brussels sprouts, and these were just delicious. I loved the crispy charred edges and with a zesty lemony flavor tossed in. The chips and salsa were also a nice side to go with my meal – I could tell the chips were made fresh.

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ALEX: I attempted to regain at least some semblance of health after the OMG fries so I ordered the Paleo plate, and decided on my favorite fish mahi-mahi, blackened, to go along with the sweet baked yams and broccolini. The Mahi on this dish was prepared perfectly, and the seasoning had a little kick that added to the fish without overwhelming it. While these sides were both very simple, they were prepared so well, especially the yams, which I didn’t even need to dress up with any extras because they were delicious on their own!

paleo-plate

alex

TANIA: To finish off our meals, Alex and I decided to skip dessert and go healthy. We shared a CA Artichoke Salad which comes with half a grilled artichoke, mixed greens, tomatoes, charred corn, avocado, cojita cheese, radish, tortilla strips, cilantro, and tossed with a spicy ranch dressing. I thought the salad had a nice mix of flavors, and I liked the dressing in particular. And it came with a side of tasty, crunchy garlic bread – SCORE!

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artichoke-salad2 artichoke-salad3ALEX: It was so nice to see Tania and do what we do best (eat), and everything we tried was so fresh and prepared so well! I will be bringing my family back to this spot whenever I am in the area. Ocean Market Grill has something for everyone, from the healthiest in the bunch, to the one who wants to chow down on a seafood burrito!

TANIA: It’s always nice to share a meal with a friend, but even nicer when that meal is fresh, healthy, and doesn’t weigh you down. Ok… so we might have visited a candy shop across the street after our meal, but still.

smallbizsaturday

The Gallery Westlake: Keeping Us Very Happy in Westlake Village, CA

I’m a big fan of the happy hour concept. My budget is usually stretched pretty thin, so happy hours are the perfect time to get a deal on quality menu items for less money while mingling with a lively after-work crowd.

The Gallery is a hip spot in Westlake Village known for its gourmet New American cuisine and fresh seafood. It serves up a happy hour on weekdays from 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm that’s not only friendly on the wallet, but is also super-delicious.

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The Gallery Westlake
30768 Russell Ranch Road, #C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
http://www.thegallerywestlake.com

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My friend Liz and I arrived right at the start of happy hour and took a seat at the bar, noting the elegant, yet inviting decor. I also couldn’t help but scope out the fabulous looking raw bar nearby. We visited on a Wednesday, but take note—during Thursday night football, happy hour includes .99 cent oysters!

raw-bar

Once we got settled in, Liz and I intended to make the most of our happy hour(s), so that meant drinks needed to be ordered straight away!

Liz ordered the gorgeous Violet Moon, which is a mix of Fords gin, Crème de Violette, and lemon juice, garnished with a caramelized orange wheel flambéed by the bartender with a torch.

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Her drink was as tasty as it was pretty, with smooth floral flavors leading to a tart finish.

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I decided to go with a good ol’ glass of wine. House wines are only $5 during happy hour, but I decided to upgrade to a Foley Estates Chardonnay which was still five bucks cheaper than the regular price. It was rich and buttery with hints of sweet caramel and toasty oak. It was so good, I could have guzzled several more glasses. (Don’t worry—I didn’t. Well… just a couple!)

chardonnay

As we sipped, we chatted with The Gallery’s owner, Karim Megji, who showed us some photos on his phone from a local farm. He had just been picking tomatoes a short while ago and told us that many of the things grown at the farm are used in menu items at the restaurant. Always a good mark in my book—nothing beats fresh, locally grown produce!

My appetite was fully whetted, so we tried our first happy hour appetizer, an impressive mound of Champagne Shoe String Pomme Frites.

pomme-frites

They looked intimidating at first, but it’s ridiculous how quickly we devoured these. Made with Bouvet Sparkling wine and topped with lemon and cayenne, they reminded me a lot of my favorite potato chip flavor- salt n’ vinegar. Only, you know, more fancy—but equally as addictive!

Next, we tried the Ahi Tartare Tacos, with fresh and meaty chunks of raw tuna tossed with sesame, chili oil, and sriracha, nestled inside crispy wonton shells and topped with avocado. These were so good, Liz and I were side-eyeing the last taco until we finally agreed to split it.

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duck-egg-rollsNext up, based on Karim’s recommendation, we deviated from the happy hour menu to try a regular appetizer, Duck Eggrolls. (Even better, these were easily shared with two for each of us!)

I often find duck to be a little gamey for my taste, but these were fantastic. Maybe it was the delicious sweet chili sauce the meat was drizzled with, or the crunchy mix of veggies and herbs within, but it tasted tender and delicious and actually reminded me of pulled pork.

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Next, Karim suggested Roasted Bone Marrow, and how could I refuse his advice after he led us to the delicious duck egg rolls? I’d never tried bone marrow before but I was certain that if there was a place to try it, this was it.

When the plate arrived, I couldn’t help but think about how jealous my dogs would be if they could see me. But the question was… would I like it?

bone-marrow

The answer is a big YES. In fact, it might have been my favorite item of the night. Liz described the flavor as the “essence of beef”, and she was right. It was melt-in-your-mouth juicy and meaty and was even better spread on crostini. It was also seasoned really nicely with herbs and hints of jalapeño. If you like the fatty part of meat (i.e pork belly), you will love this. The only downside is that there wasn’t actually as much marrow as it seemed. It was gone far too quickly!

Liz and I were getting pretty full at this point, but we were still feeling meaty after the bone marrow experience, so we tried the short rib tacos to finish out our meal.

short-rib-tacosMade with tender braised short rib mixed with dijon aioli, cabbage, and queso fresco, these were another winner. Like everything else we had tried so far, the meat was tender and nicely seasoned, and the slaw added a nice crunch and a pleasant finish to our meal.

Did I say we were finished?

tania-at-the-galleryWell, not quite. We had to try dessert, obviously.

Apparently Peanut Butter Turnovers are a very popular item at The Gallery, and we could see why. The presentation alone made me forget that I was feeling full and I was eager to dig in!

The pastries were crispy and caramelized on the outside, and fluffy on the inside with just the right amount of warm, oozy, gooey peanut butter-chocolately goodness sandwiched within. The vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries drizzled with caramel were also a welcome addition. This was one of the more unique desserts I’ve had in some time, and I can see why people return to The Gallery for this treat alone!

peanut-butter-turnover

I’d say Liz and I had a very happy happy hour at The Gallery. I’d recommend going with friends and splitting several things—it’s definitely worth trying everything on the menu, and the prices are totally reasonable. Next time I’m coming back on a Thursday… those oysters are calling my name!

True Food Kitchen in Pasadena: The Next Great American Chain Restaurant

I’d heard good things about True Food Kitchen from my friends, so I was excited to learn that a new location had opened in downtown Pasadena last month. Naturally, I had to give it a try!

True Food Kitchen
168 West Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105
http://www.truefoodkitchen.com

true-food-kitchen-interior1I brought my vegan friend Sarah along, knowing she’d especially appreciate True Food Kitchen’s mission, which is to provide healthy, yet flavorful food that adheres to the principals of an anti-inflammatory diet with fresh, organic, and locally sourced ingredients.

I was immediately won over by the hip vibe of the place, including a gorgeous and expansive outdoor patio strung with lights. Sarah and I were seated inside beneath the warm glow of large circular lights suspended overhead.

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The place was really bustling on a Friday night, so if you plan to coming here on a busy evening, I’d recommend making a reservation and being prepared to wait for your food to arrive. Sarah and I were happy to chill with a glass of wine and chat while we waited for our appetizers.

First up was an order of the insanely delicious Edamame Dumplings. I had expected the dumplings to be pan-fried, but these were more like tender pillows of ravioli, bathed in a delicious dashi soy-based broth with white truffle oil, and Asian herbs. The mixture within each dumpling was creamy and herby, and my only regret was there were so few!

edamame-dumplings

Next, Sarah and I shared a vegan and gluten-free salad, the seasonal Autumn Ingredient Salad. This salad was a vibrant mix of roasted brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cauliflower, white beans, pomegranate arils, and toasted mulberry, dressed with a zesty horseradish vinaigrette. I loved the robust and nutty flavors of this salad, and it really evoked the feeling of autumn with its toasty and colorful presentation.

autumn-ingredient-salad

For my entree, I ordered another autumnal dish: Pan Roasted Chicken in a rosemary jus with maple glazed squash, cannellini beans, and swiss chard. The chicken was nicely flattened with a crispy skin, and the gravy had a lemony zing, which I really liked. This felt like a healthier version of comfort food, and it didn’t leave me feeling heavy afterwards, which was a definite plus!

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tania

Sarah ordered a vegan Butternut Squash Pizza with smoked onion, organic kale, dried cranberry, and homemade vegan almond ricotta. I tried a slice and, while this wasn’t my favorite dish of the night, it had a nice tart flavor balanced with sweetness from the butternut squash and cheese. I’d actually never tried vegan ricotta until now, and was impressed with how creamy it was.

butternut-squash-pizza

sarah

True Food Kitchen lived up to its name with its seasonal and fresh ingredients that felt as real and un-tampered with as food should be. The menu changes seasonally, so I’ll definitely be returning to see what future menus offer!

#tacotuesday!: Acapulco Restaurant in Downey, CA

When I had the opportunity to head down to Downey to check out Acapulco Restaurant’s new and improved menu, I jumped at the chance—and not just because they’re located across the street from my beloved Dunkin’ Donuts!

acapulco-exterior

Acapulco Restaurant
9021 Firestone Blvd., Downey, CA 90241

I grew up eating authentic Mexican food cooked by my mom, and as a result, I’m a little spoiled when it comes to South-of-the-Border cuisine. I’m generally not a fan of Americanized or Tex-Mex style platters which are usually lacking in flavor and spice and overflowing with filler (mushy beans, rice, and iceberg lettuce—UGH!). I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect at Acapulco. At the very least, I was hoping for a good margarita. Well, not only did I get one of the tastiest margaritas I’ve had in a long time, but I was simply blown away by their new menu. So much so, that I wish I lived closer to Downey so I could eat there more often. Right now, the new menu is only available at the Downey location, but I’m hoping that it will eventually be added to the other locations as well.

Walking in, I knew I was in for a treat when I saw their display of their new Poke Tacos, with fresh cubes of raw ahi tuna nestled in crunchy chipotle flour shells, and drizzled with wasabi-guacamole, topped with arugula and cheese. Yum!

poke-tacos

The next thing I knew, I had a drink in my hand—the Acapulco Sunset. This is my dream drink. It’s fruity, it’s spicy, and for me, it’s so nostalgic. It’s their version of the Mangonada or Chamango, which is a classic Mexican fruit drink made from mangos, lime, and chamoy (a chili-spiced condiment made from pickled fruit) often sold out of carts or fruit stands in Mexico.

acapulco-sunset

The Acapulco Sunset is even garnished with a traditional tamarind candy straw and this adult version kicks it up a notch with the addition of Cuervo Silver tequila and triple-sec.

¡Salud!

tania-acapulco-sunrise

Next up was a sample of the Ceviche Rojo, which was tasty mix of mahi mahi and shrimp, mixed with chunks of pineapple, guacamole tartar sauce, and a zesty mango relish. The shrimp was so meaty, for a second I thought it was lobster. Three bites in and I was already fantasizing about digging into a massive bowl of this with a bag of chips on the side.

ceviche-rojo

My daydreams were interrupted as the next dish arrived- a wonderful seafood pozole. Comfort food at its finest, and perfect for autumn! It was brimming with seafood: mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, and mahi mahi, all mingling with crunchy cabbage and radishes in a creamy, limey broth that packed a nice amount of heat.

seafood-pozole

Next up was the seriously awesome carne asada. The platter is nothing short of a feast with an 8oz grilled skirt steak, cheese enchilada, a cheese-stuffed chile, Yucatan-style charro beans (with a stick of bacon!), and corn on the cob.

carne-asada

This was no average corn on the cob—it was Mexican-style elote slathered in smoky, peppery goodness with a tantalizing mix of Peruvian chiles, black pepper, lime, mayonnaise, and chili piquin, topped off with crumbled bacon bits. Sooo good!

corny

The steak was also fantastic. Very tender and juicy and seasoned nicely with garlic, Anaheim chiles, and salsa de molcajete. I’d definitely return just for this dish alone.

The good times kept on rolling with a new drink to try: the Moonlight Melt, so named because the mix is added to a generous puff of blue cotton candy which instantly melts into a sweet and colorful concoction made with Cazadores Blanco and orange juice. If you’re like me and enjoy sugary drinks with the flair of tableside preparation, this one is for you!

moonlight-melt

The next dish was another winner: Tropical Tacos al Pastor. Like the other dishes before it, this was the vision of executive chef Enrique Tayun and a real delight to eat.

enrique-tayun

The carnitas are made from juicy pork that has been marinated for 24 hours in a mixture of chiles, spices, and pineapple juice. True to its name, the meat was bursting with tropical flavor, and I really enjoyed the small, street-style tacos they were served in.

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The best part was a very thin slice of grilled pineapple at the base of each tortilla that added even more juicy flavor to the mix.

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By now the sun was setting and being on the patio afforded the best view. The restaurant has not only revamped its menu but its interior as well, and I really dug the sophisticated island vibe of the place, especially once the fire-wall around the perimeter was lit. Talk about mood lighting!

patio

After all this food and drink, I began to feel like I really was on vacation, but it wasn’t over yet! The next dish to be served was a fantastic Tropical Salmon. I have to admit that salmon isn’t my favorite fish in the world, but the way they prepared this dish may have converted me. This had more of a fusion feel as it was served with sautéed bok choy in addition to other veggies. The fish itself was meltingly tender and flaky, seared in a garlic butter sauce and glazed with a sweet roasted pineapple and ginger salsa. The tangy sauce really complimented the rich flavor of the fish well, and I began to rethink my position on salmon altogether.

tropical-salmon

Surprise! It was time for another drink. This was the margarita I mentioned earlier—a coconut margarita, to be precise. I’m actually shocked at how much I enjoyed this because coconut, like salmon, just isn’t my thing. But this was clearly a day of challenging my preconceived notions about things I normally don’t like and, holy moly, this drink was so good! Made from Sauza Blue Reposado, Cruzan Coconut Rum, coconut cream, lime juice, and topped with fresh coconut shavings, I felt like I was instantly transported to the beach. It was another sweet drink, and very smooth. This would make a great dessert cocktail.

coconut-margaritaSpeaking of dessert, I was pretty full at this point, but I could not resist digging into the final dish: Fruta Bionica. A delicate, honeyed basket made from pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts and sesame seeds held a scoop of vanilla ice cream, mangoes, bananas, apples, blueberries, raspberries, and creamy roasted walnuts, sailing on a plate of strawberry drizzle.

fruta-bionicaIt was just the way I like my desserts to be: fruity, light, and leaving me wanting more.

Chef Tayun and his colleagues did an amazing job with this new menu, and I really think they managed to elevate what would be a predictable dish in any other restaurant with unique and surprising flavors all inspired by real Mexican cooking.

tania-with-chef

Even if you don’t live near Downey, it’s worth the drive to try some of these new items and share a drink with some friends on the beautiful patio as you watch the sun go down. Who would have thought you’d find a real slice of Acapulco in Downey?

Mediterranean in SoCal: Luna Grill in La Cañada Flintridge, CA

Until recently, Southern Californians would have to drive to San Diego or Orange County to enjoy a meal at Luna Grill, which offers quality, fresh Mediterranean cuisine in a casual yet contemporary setting. Fortunately for Los Angelenos, a new location has recently opened in La Cañada Flintridge, so I decided to check it out.

Walking in, I could see how it was cross between fast casual dining, and a full-service dining experience. The decor was warm and inviting with cozy booths and modern decorative touches, but food is ordered at the counter. After choosing my items and taking a seat,  I was pleased to have my food soon brought to me upon elegant tableware.

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Their menu features a wide array of choices, from their signature kabobs to gourmet salads to wraps and burgers. They boast non-GMO ingredients that are locally and responsibly sourced without added growth hormones and free-range meat options, which is always a huge plus with me. (They also offer craft beer and wine selections – another plus in my book!)

It was difficult to narrow down my choices so I decided to try an appetizer, main dish, and a dessert. First off, I went with the appetizer sampler platter which includes falafel, a couscous medley, and hummus with pita bread. Usually it includes stuffed grape leaves, but unfortunately they were out when I visited. Must be a popular item!

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The falafel had a great crunch and was drizzled with a zesty taihini sauce, and the couscous medley was also refreshing and light with chopped onions, peppers, cucumber, and parsley. I’m a sucker for hummus, and theirs did not disappoint, though I do wish I had opted to try the spicy hummus option. Next time!

Next, I enjoyed my main dish, which was the Bistro Filet Beef Kabob. The beef was tender and wonderfully seasoned, and the accompanying bell-pepper and onion slices were nicely charred. The basmati rice and side salad were a welcome addition to the plate, as was the cucumber-yogurt dip. Each plate also comes with the option of a carrot or grilled tomato garnish. I went with the tomato, which was popping with juicy flavor.

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Lastly, I tried a couple of their desserts: a mini chocolate nut roll and a mini baklava. (I love mini desserts because it means you can try more things!) The nut roll was delicious and reminded me of a gourmet candy bar, but my favorite was the baklava which was perfectly flaky with a sweet pistachio filling. I only wish I had room to eat more than one… le sigh.

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I’m glad to have Luna Grill close by where I can pop in for a quick Mediterranean meal with quality ingredients, and I hear there are plans to open even more locations in L.A, so keep your eyes peeled, Angelenos!

A Dog Day Afternoon at The Lincoln in Venice, CA

If there’s one thing I love as much as food, it’s dogs! So when I heard that The Lincoln, a craft cocktail bar in Venice, was hosting “A Dog Day Afternoon” to benefit No-Kill LA (an initiative of the Best Friends Animal Society), I knew I had to be there!

The Lincoln
2536 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

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The Lincoln is a industrial-chic bar that fits right in with Venice’s gritty and eclectic vibe. It evokes the style of a 40’s auto-shop with vintage decorative touches and repurposed materials such as barstools made from car-jacks, and glass from a Sherman tank factory. When I arrived at the brick, open-air patio with sunlight filtering through wooden beams, it was bustling with a lively mix of people and their canine companions.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Patio

I brought my dogs, Max and Oliver, along for the experience, and they were happy to mingle with some of the other pups as I perused the special drink menu for the event.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Menu

Being a wine lover, I had to try the Rose Wine Flight right off the bat! For $12, the pours are generous, and it was a treat to sample the different flavors of rose from various regions.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Wine-Flight

The first, a Grenache/ Cinsault blend from the Famile Sumeire winery in Provence, France, had a bright berry flavor with hints of spice balanced with a subtle minerality.

The second glass, a Grenache/ Syrah “Funk Zone” blend from Santa Barbara was my favorite. Crisp and dry, it was a mellow wine, perfect for a Sunday afternoon; that offered flavors of honeysuckle and strawberry with notes of citrus.

The third wine was also a hit; a Chenin Noir by Domaine Brazilier of Loire, Franc. This was the most complex tasting, and it boasted a strong, almost cidery vibe, with flavors of ripe melon, lemon zest, and pepper.

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Any of these wines would have paired perfectly with seafood or a summery strawberry salad, and I may have to hunt down a bottle or two to keep at home. The Lincoln doesn’t serve food, but for this particular event they had 100% beef hot dogs available for free, and I helped myself to one only to earn jealous glances from Max and Oliver.

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Luckily for them, The Lincoln provided free doggy treats and fresh water for all the visiting pups to enjoy. (I can also say that the rose flight pairs quite nicely with a good, old-fashioned hot dog!)

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog-Treats

I was also tempted by the cocktails offered on the special menu, so I tried a “Bark at the Moon”, made with gin, amaretto, mandarin, lemon, and egg. This cocktail was deliciously citrusy, creamy, smooth and totally refreshing. The whipped egg whites on top offered a light and foamy touch – it was like drinking a lemon meringue pie!

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Cocktail

I would have tried more cocktails if I didn’t have to make the drive back to Pasadena, so I worked off my buzz by wandering the patio, saying hello to some of the other dogs and their owners. There’s no better ice-breaker than a dog, and I found that everyone at The Lincoln was friendly and eager to chat. I loved the neighborly vibe of this bar, and I only wish I lived closer so I could become a regular.

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I also made sure to visit the NKLA booth at the back of the patio. Every donation made that day was pledged to be matched by The Lincoln, so I was happy to contribute $20 to the cause, and pick up a t-shirt as well. For those that don’t know, No-Kill LA is a fantastic organization whose mission is to serve as a model for how the rest of the nation’s animal shelters can become no-kill. Since their launch in 2012, NKLA has reduced the amount of animals killed in Los Angeles shelters by 66%, thanks to a variety of programs including spay/neuter clinics, pet adoptions, and fostering. They aim to make Los Angeles a no-kill city by 2017, which is great news for pet lovers everywhere.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-NKLA

NKLA also brought along Sabrina, a three-year-old Terrier and Pitbull mix with a goofy personality, who was up for adoption. If I didn’t already have two dogs (both of whom are rescues), I would have been tempted to bring Sabrina home with me! She was such a sweetheart, and I hope that she finds her forever home soon.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Sabrina

Dogs are always welcome on the patio of The Lincoln, but I was glad to learn that “A Dog Day Afternoon” will likely be a monthly event where local dog-lovers can gather to support an excellent cause while enjoying delicious craft cocktails in one of Los Angeles’ hippest neighborhoods. It was well worth the trek for me, and I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Tania

The Luggage Room Pizzeria in Pasadena

Who doesn’t love a good slice of pizza? I know I do. The problem is, it’s so hard to find a pie that combines the right ratio of toppings, cheese, and crust. Too often when I eat pizza, I find myself wishing there was more or less of one ingredient or the other. Luckily, I’ve discovered a pizzeria in my hood that strikes the perfect balance between all the necessary pizza elements, and does so with unique combinations of fresh farmer’s market ingredients!

The Luggage Room Pizzeria
260 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105
http://www.theluggageroom.com

The-Luggage-Room-Pizzeria-PatioThe Luggage Room is a charming spot in the heart of Old Town Pasadena right next to the Gold Line Del Mar station. In fact, true to its name, the restaurant’s building was once the station’s luggage room back in 1934. Today, the interior still retains that classic feel but has been updated with sparkling chandeliers, bright red walls, and modern art. I was there for lunch, so I chose to take advantage of the summer sunshine and sit outside on the bustling patio, which overlooks Pasadena’s Central Park.

To start things off, I ordered a refreshing summer cocktail by the name of “Ingo’s Greyhound”: a mix of Ford’s gin, fresh grapefruit, lemon, and mint served over crushed ice. It was crisp and delicious – just right for a hot summer’s day!

Ingos-Greyhound-Cocktail

I also tried a “Mind the Gap”, made with Ayelesbury Duck vodka, fresh cucumber, serrano peppers, and cardamom. This drink was smooth with a nice kick of spice on the tail end. Both cocktails reminded me of fresh-squeezed juice from a farmer’s stand. Can a cocktail taste healthy? Because these did!

Mind-the-Gap-Cocktail

For an appetizer, I was going to order a salad… until I spotted “Cafe Deviled Eggs” on the menu. I am a sucker for a good deviled egg, and these appetizers brought over from next door’s La Grande Orange Cafe did not disappoint! Each egg was generously piled with fluffy filling, but with a light enough texture that I wasn’t left feeling full before my pizza arrived. I enjoyed the smoky paprika flavor, mixed with a dash of chives. A sprinkling of crisp bacon on top added a nice, salty crunch to each bite.

Cafe-Deviled-Eggs

Onto the best part – the pizzas! I was simply blown away. The Luggage Room boasts a vast selection, and it is hard to narrow down my choices, so I ended up trying three different pies. The first was a special brunch pizza called “Love U Brooklyn.” It’s only available on Saturdays and Sundays from noon till 3 pm and features The Luggage Room’s signature crust topped with smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese, and red onion with herbs and lemon zest. I have never tried a salmon pizza before, but I’m definitely sold on the idea now. The blend of all the ingredients was perfect – the cream cheese was not too overpowering, and it provided the perfect base for the buttery flavor of the salmon, while the crisp red onions, bright lemon, and briny capers added just the right amount of pop to each slice.Love-U-Brooklyn-Pizza

Next, I tried “The Padre”, which my friendly server recommended. This one featured prosciutto di San Daniele, dates, blue cheese, all topped with a heaping serving of fresh arugula. I enjoyed the sharp flavor of the cheese tempered by the sweet dates and zesty greens. The salty prosciutto and fresh shaved parmesan on top rounded out the flavor nicely.

The-Padre-Pizza

And can we just talk about the amazing crust for a minute?

Whenever I eat pizza, I’m one of those people who tends to leave a pile of discarded crusts on my plate. This is usually because I operate under the belief that crust takes up precious real-estate in my belly. Too often, the crust is bland or dry, and I’d much rather eat the part of the pizza that has, you know, all the stuff on it.  Well, this was not the case at The Luggage Room. I can safely say that their amazing crust deserves as much praise as their toppings, and I ate every last crumb.

Their dough is made in-house using a genuine live starter and is free of extra fats and hidden ingredients. After cooking in their wood-burning oven (with olive wood for added flavor), the crust comes out fluffy on the inside, and crisp on the outside, with a nice wood-burned sear on the edges.

The Padre’s crust had an extra glaze of rosemary-infused olive oil that brought out that springy sourdough flavor.

The-Luggage-Room-Pizzas

Now, If you’re gluten free and can’t try The Luggage Room’s traditional crust, fear not, for they also offer a gluten-free option, also made fresh each day. For my last dish, I tried their vegan pizza, “The Dalai Lama”, which comes with the gluten free crust, and is brimming with seasonal veggies. This pizza was simply beautiful to look at- what a riot of color!

The-Dalai-Lama-Pizza

I love food that tastes as vibrant as it looks, and this pizza was no exception. It featured a lively combination of cashew cheese, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, yellow peppers, kale, and brussels sprouts. All the veggies were fresh and bursting with flavor, and the gluten-free crust was crispy and nicely seasoned. Vegans and non-vegans alike will certainly enjoy this light and healthy palate-pleaser.

The-Dalai-Lama-closeup

Alas, I was too full to sample The Luggage Room’s desserts, which were an assortment of gelato, red velvet cake, key lime pie, and chocolate pave. However, I did help myself to one of their complimentary French sea salt and chocolate chip cookies on my way out. They were freshly baked and thin with a chewy center, and the sweet and salty combo was the perfect cap to my meal.

tania-with-french-sea-salt-chocolate-chip-cookie

I’m confident I’ll become a regular at The Luggage Room Pizzeria, especially since I’m lucky enough to live so close to it, but its convenient location to the Metro station means that anyone across L.A can quickly hop over for a satisfying meal in a beautiful, historic setting.