Alice Checks Out Shutters

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One Pico at Shutters on the Beach: Escaping LA

by Alice Greczyn

“Have you been to Shutters?” my date asked me, spur of the moment after finding out our restaurant of choice had been unexpectedly closed. Hunger crazed, I shook my head. “Oh,” he smiled, “you’re going to love this place!”

Once I stepped inside the fire-lit lobby, I was smitten. Hotel guests sipped champagne and nibbled on cheese, a happy hour of sorts. We walked through the lobby and up the stairs to the restaurant, One Pico. I was dazzled, hoping desperately there would be seating available for us. Fortunately there was. Walking to coast-shutters-6our table, I took in the child-size row boats that hung from the ceiling, and the sand in the glass hurricane vases cradling candles that cast a golden flicker throughout the space. The walls seemed to be entirely windows, and huge glass lanterns hung from the ceiling.

As my date and I sat in the elegant blue chairs, I indulged in the wonderful simplicity of crusty French bread and butter. It struck me that not many restaurants offer this complimentary appetizer anymore. Most have been reduced to dry breadsticks, or nothing at all, hoping to make more money from guests ordering starters off the menu. The occasional fine Italian establishment might serve warm bread, but often with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I adore olive oil, but the nostalgia and flavor of creamy butter on white bread is, as I stated, simply wonderful. Especially while watching the sun set, painting the clouds colors of sherbet above the horizon. The black outline of the palm trees swayed against the sky.

Braised beef ravioli is not something I would typically order at a seafood restaurant, but for some reason sounded just the ticket. I like the word “braised”. It makes me think slow-simmered and seasoned, strings of beef stuck together in their juices and wrapped in the delicate dough of ravioli. They were indeed savory and delicate. The Truffled Cavatelli Gratin, a fancy version of macaroni and cheese, had tiny mushrooms floating throughout, centering me with their earthy flavor, swimming in my mouth alongside bites of cheddar and the soft texture of split noodles.

Dessert was miniature doughnuts, served with cold vanilla custard. I fought with my date over who got to have the last finger-swoop of custard from the bowl, heavily peppered with clumps of cinnamon-sugar that had fallen off the doughnuts when dunked. We had very carefully tried to be equals in this battle over dessert, so I’d sliced the fifth doughnut ball in half, and we each took a turn dipping the bite sized fluffs into a thick, creamy heaven. I admit, I dipped deeper than he did, but justified it because hadn’t he said something about watching his figure for a shirtless scene coming up? Only in LA…

Shutters Hotel has a gift shop, which we perused through while digesting our dinner. Amidst plush towels and buttercream-scented body souflees, I found a tall book with a glossy cover over it, that read “The Summertime Anytime Cookbook”. What luck! It had the recipes from One Pico inside it, by author and executive chef Dana Slatkin. It was my favorite kind of cookbook, full of simple, concise recipes with almost all of them printed next to a photograph of the finished outcome. I like seeing what a dish is supposed to look like before I attempt making it, and photographs of food are always inspiring to flip through when trying to decide what to make for a dinner party. I had to have it, and my date knew that when he saw me smiling at the cover. What a lucky girl I am that he said he wanted to buy it for me.

Come to One Pico at Shutters on the Beach for sunsets, ocean breezes, buttered bread, fresh fish, candlelight, and spacious elegance. Doughnuts just make it even more appealing, and a cookbook to make it all happen at home says something about the generosity of the owners. I highly recommend One Pico to anyone planning a special date or anniversary, or to anyone who wants to feel like they’ve escaped from LA if only for an evening. Make it a true mini-vacation by booking a night at the Shutters Hotel, so you can unwind after dinner in the comfort of your breezy, ocean-inspired bedroom overlooking the sea.

One Pico is located at, you guessed it, 1 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Their phone number is 310-458-0030, and to check out the hotel and see pictures of the restaurant, visit http://www.shuttersonthebeach.com/.

Asia de Cuba: Overpriced for a Less-Than-Satisfactory Dining Experience

By Alice Greczyn

I had heard that Asia de Cuba, a Latin/Asian fusion restaurant claiming to be the first of its kind in LA, was absurdly overpriced and remarkably good.

I decided to find out for myself what all the hype was about.

There were stunning views to be had looking out the large windows, but unfortunately my jolly Dominican hostess sat me along a glass wall toward the back of the restaurant. I had not made a reservation, as it was only a Tuesday night, but I wished I had as I envied the eight o’ clock crowd that got to sit at the window booths, against the sparkling backdrop of Hollywood. The service was slow (I waited twenty minutes just for a waiter to ask if I’d like to start with water), the valet $15, and indeed, the prices on the menu were steep. The food had better be good, I thought, as I eyed the cockroach that was creeping up the glass wall to my right. I worried at any second he might lose his grip on the slippery surface and plummet into my hair. After finally getting my waiter’s attention, he tried to reassure me that it was only a water bug. Later I found out that water bug is just another name for the American cockroach.

My food arrived at last, and here the restaurant almost made up for drastically lost points. The meat dishes were definitely better than their sides. For my starter, I tried the Braised Beef Spring Roll with Cuban Black Bean Papaya Salsa. Tasty to be sure, but maybe I was just so starved by then. The Thai Coconut Sticky Rice that accompanied my Cuban BBQ Chicken was disappointing. It looked very pretty, wrapped tightly in a bright green leaf, but tasted bland, not sweet at all. The chicken, however, was lip-smackingly good. The Char Sui Beef Short Ribs were tangy and tender, yet the Lobster Mashed Potatoes were too buttery for my taste, and I’m a gal who loves her butter. Then there was dessert…

The Mexican Doughnuts alone are reason enough to return, even if I only ordered them to-go… Sweet Brioche Donuts Rolled in Cinnamon Sugar with Toffee Sauce. Every granule was the sweetest, spiciest crumb of fluff it promised to be, and the toffee sauce was addictive. I licked my fingers, not caring I was making smacking noises that all the elegant people could hear. The sugar melted on my tongue as I scraped it off. The Cuban Opera Cake was silky and dark, dense with moisture and seductively rich.

My bill? $161.57 with a moderate tip, and I had not even ordered alcohol. Far too pricey to justify a dining experience for two that was anything less than impeccable. Views? Check, if you made a reservation and requested a window table. Food? Check, depending on what you order. Service? Unfortunately slow, when the restaurant is not even full. Worth the cost? Possibly for an extravagant occasion, such as an anniversary, but with drinks and valet and tip, be prepared to spend over $200.

Asia de Cuba is located inside the Mondrian Hotel at 8440 West Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. Call 323-848-6000 to make a reservation, which I highly recommend. I could not find the restaurant’s own website, but for images and hours, you can find the link for Asia de Cuba on the Mondrian’s website, www.mondrianhotel.com.

Alice Loves a Taste on Melrose

ALICE’S FOODGASMS

TASTE ON MELROSE: Casual Fine Dining at its Delectable Best

There are always happy diners on the front patio outside Taste on Melrose. I have seen them on sunny afternoons spent on Melrose Place, my arms laden with shopping bags from Dolce Vita and Marc Jacobs. I have passed them on my way home from a dance class I used to take regularly, driving by this little restaurant and making a quick mental note to try it out one day. It was attractive (I love outdoor dining), and there were always people eating there, which I think is a very important indicator to a good restaurant. If there’s lots of people, it means the food is probably decent and the service not too shabby. Also, eating in an empty or near-empty restaurant has always creeped me out. I would wonder while sitting in the vacuous space, Is there something going on in the world that I haven’t heard about yet? A terrorist attack? A natural disaster on its way? Are Brad and Angelina outside? So a good crowd is a good sign, when judging a food establishments.

I finally made it to this particular establishment on a recent evening. A friend of mine was running a bit late, and I had arrived a bit early, so I had a good twenty minutes to sit and pretend to read the menu. If there’s anything I hate more than sitting in an empty restaurant, it’s having to sit in a busy one by myself. I have always pitied the poor soul sipping his lemon water and checking his phone for any texts or calls he might have missed. But I decided to bravely put down the menu and own the fact that yes, I was a young girl out at night by herself, for the time being. And the funny thing was, no one seemed to be pitying me the way I would have if I weren’t me.

As I waited, I took in my surroundings. The ambiance is very pleasing… Bare light bulbs lined the beams on the ceiling. A candle was on every table, surrounded by red glass, the kind that looked like it was trapping champagne bubbles in frozen prettiness. Altogether, the lighting created a sexy, warm mood, and I was pleased to note that the music volume was low enough to have an actual conversation. Also, the tables are far enough apart from each other that this would be an excellent place to bring a date to. I don’t like when my intimate evening for two starts off with us shouting at one another above our neighbors’ shouts, which are less than a foot away.

Speaking of dates, if you have a hot one coming up and are looking to impress with something original, but not too over the top… Taste on Melrose has a fun little advantage for you: Full Moon Aphrodisiac Nights, every full moon and the days before and after. They create a special menu designed to “stimulate your senses”, and I must say, I am intrigued. I may have to find myself a date, just so I can try this out and see if I am any more turned on by so-called aphrodisiac food than I already am by delicious standards that don’t have this mysterious and lofty claim. We shall see.

By the time my friend arrived, my hunger headache was killing me. I did wish they had brought out bread or something to nibble on. However, when the Prosciutto & Fig Pizzetta came out, I was in appetizer heaven! The fig jam was spread on thick, covering a crisp, bubbly crust. Thin slivers of prosciutto were beautifully melted into gorgonzola cheese. What a brilliant pizza-inspired idea. I was jealous of the chef who thought of this before I did.

For my entree, I ordered the Cumin Spiced Pork Chop, which pleasantly surprised me. I’m not the biggest fan of pork chops, since I grew up on rather tough cuts of this meat covered in sauerkraut, which I think is awful. But this pork chop looked like it might be better, and it came with a side of White Truffle Oil and Mushroom Mac & Cheese, and that’s what I was really after. Once I took a bite of the juicy, tender meat, I realized it was nothing close to the German-inspired midwest fare I would rather forget. This…was…delicious. The sauce and spice were tantalizing, exotic, yet comforting. This was no ordinary pork chop. The side of Mac & Cheese was equally scrumptious, and I noticed that it wasn’t really macaroni; it was pasta shells. Amidst the gooey cheesiness and the earthiness of the mushrooms, I tasted a faint hint of barbeque. Inexplicably unexpected, but in a good way.

For dessert, my friend and I shared the Chocolate Pot de Creme. Just the name of that sounds cute. I don’t speak French, but in my head it translates as a little pot of chocolate with cream. That’s pretty much what it is, and it was divine. Silky, light, and rich of cocoa, the perfect thing to satisfy the sweet urge I get at the end of a long day. Lately I’ve been eating Trader Joe’s chocolate ice cream by spoonfuls, so this was a welcome alternative to my chocolate binge.

This attractive restaurant really is a gem. It is charmingly contemporary in decor, with little framed mirrors adorning the walls. Candle lanterns hung from the edges of the roof. The menu is simple and globally infused, and the food is, well, tasty. The location’s great, they offer valet parking, and while the prices are in the upper mid-range, the food is worth every penny. All the ingredients tasted fresh, and the portions weren’t the size of my palm. The restaurant also has clever weekly specials besides the Full Moon Aphrodisiac Night: Happy Hour from 4-6, Good Neighbor Nights every Sunday, and Wine Discovery Mondays, when every bottle in the house is half off. I myself am looking forward to the next full moon.

Taste on Melrose is located at 8454 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069, just east of La Cienega. For reservations, call 323-852-6888. Visit www.ilovetaste.com to view the menu and their hours.

Photo of Alice Greczyn by Theo Greczyn

Alice’s Foodgasms

By Alice Greczyn

BREADBAR

Bread… Doughy, chewy, bubble-crusted, soft, beautiful bread. In a town where the word is all but banned by the carb-unfriendly, a sign caught my eye as I walked through the Westfield mall in Century City: BREADBAR. A bar that serves bread. My imagination was hooked, fantasizing of the fluffy croissants that must be in there, of the hearty baguettes just waiting to scoop up spaghetti sauce. My stomach growled while my heart skipped simultaneously. I must!

I walked up to the tucked-away bakery, where beyond the glass windows I could see walls and walls of various shapes and colors of bread. Awed, I stepped inside, the humble way one might enter a temple. Brown loaves dusted in flour sat together in baskets, proudly facing me from mounted shelves. Oblong loaves were displayed next to them, with a card underneath that read Golden Fig. Of course the hearty baguettes were there, begging to be torn apart and drenched in olive oil. Indeed the fluffy croissants were waiting for me behind the counter, seducing me with the chocolate that oozed out of their delicate middles. The shiny tops of sweet rolls winked. The long, twisted braids of honey-colored goodness writhed. Pastries of all sorts beckoned me, promising sweet satisfaction.

I gazed at the astounding variety for several minutes. Did I want to try a slice of the Curcuma Hazelnut Loaf? Perhaps take home an Olive Petit? Or eat a sandwich made with the Sierra Redwood Rye? But it was the simple, plump little bun with the pointy top that I ordered. I just kept coming back to it. It felt safe. It was sprinkled with coarse beads of sugar, with a thin golden brown crust that gently encased white fluff.

Once back inside my car, where I could enjoy it properly without distraction, I tore off a tender piece of the Sugared Brioche. It almost melted in my mouth. The flakiness of the blatant white flour reminded me of lighter, carefree days, when whole wheat and gluten-free weren’t even in my vocabulary. I slowly ate piece by buttery piece, trying to savor every cloud-like crumb. I pressed the brioche into the pearls of sugar that had rolled off and into the bottom of the bag. Too soon, my heavenly little bun was gone.

The next day, I went to the BREADBAR on Third Street. The hustling vibe of the Beverly Hills lunch crowd faded to background noise as I gazed at the beautiful loaves. I had to have my Sugared Brioche again, but I also ordered the Grilled Cheese on Rustic Millstone Bread. The melted mozzarella and cheddar bubbled out of it. The onion confit and sun-dried tomato spread were perfectly balanced, and I didn’t even try the delicious-looking side salad. Who could waste their bites on lettuce when there was bread and cheese to be had?

I flew to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival the following weekend, dreaming of getting back to LA to try BREADBAR’S tasty-looking breakfast. Would I try the Breakfast Basket for Two? What must their French toast be like, or their house-made granola? I have a feeling this artisan bakery/cafe might very well become a regular favorite. With locations in Santa Monica, Century City, and Beverly Hills-adjacent, I just pity my friends who live in the Valley.

Photo of Alice Greczyn by Theo Greczyn

The Little Door Next Door

ALICE’S FOODGASMS

By Alice Greczyn

A sensual tour of LA’s eateries.

LITTLE NEXT DOOR: The Boulangerie-Cafe That Made My Cheeks Blush

I have eaten at Little Next Door twice now. The first time, was the last time me and an ex-boyfriend ever ate a dinner together. Needless to say, the company was rather tense, but good food has always been the one thing guaranteed to make me smile. At least for an hour in the midst of emotional limbo. The second time, with my mother visiting from Colorado, I was able to further appreciate this fetching cafe-deli. It is often overshadowed by its equally hard-to-find sister restaurant, the enchanting Little Door. Both are on Third Street, and both have accolades galore that merit each for their distinctive specialness in Los Angeles. But I will focus on the more casual of the two, Little Next Door (although when I say casual, I mean that in the most French way possible, as it is a French establishment).

To charm you right off the bat, the hanging sign that lets you know you have found the right place has a depiction of the most adorable black cat on it. Like a child’s painting, it adds a whimsical informality to an otherwise chic atmousphere. Copper-paned glass walls define the outdoor seating area, and there is an overall feel of lavishly cluttered gourmet coziness. Once Mom and I were seated, we both exclaimed over the stunning cobalt blue walls. Gilded chalkboards informed us of today’s specialties, and both our eyes strayed back to the glass-guarded pastries that looked photo shoot ready. I definitely inherited my sweet tooth from my mother.

And now for the food… First off, the ingredients are locally farmed and organic. So aside from basking in how tasty everything is, one can also rest in the comfort of knowing their chances of food-related cancer and their carbon footprint have both been reduced by eating here. I believe a good meal should engage all of one’s senses at rapturous attention, and this one certainly did. The Croque Madam (a fancy version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a sunny-side-up egg), looked too vulnerable and cute to eat. Once I took a bite, my mouth was bursting with salty, gooey piquancy . It was the epitome of comfort food. The “Hambourgeois” with harissa mayonnaise had a spicey earthiness I’ve never found before in a simple burger. The pomme frites were super thin, crispy and fluffy. The Wild Mushroom Chicken Breast was free-range, and I tried not to let a single drop of the creamy sauce go to waste. The chicken was tender, the mashed potatoes simple and divine.

The only thing that disappointed me was the French Onion Soup. While the broth was rich, a deep, flavorful brown, I kept detecting the barely mistakable pungency of goat cheese in the bubbly topping. Now, I am not a fan of goat cheese. In fact, I find it gag-worthy, and I know many connoiseurs will be horrified by that comment. I asked the very European waiter if there was perhaps Chevre in the blend, and he assured me in his sexy accent that there was not. Hm. I wanted to believe him, his eyes were so sincere, and so very blue… But I wasn’t quite convinced. If it wasn’t goat cheese, it was something else very similar. My mother loved it, regardless.

But it was a piece of dessert that sent both Mom and I into pure TBO bliss. A friend of mine, Cindy, will exclaim, “TBO! TBO!” whenever something is rocking her mouth. “It stands for Taste Bud Orgasm,” she once breathlessly told me between bites of an eclair.   TBO indeed. Whatever this dessert was, and I could shoot myself in the foot for not remembering the name of it, was sending me into an eyes-closed, hand-gripping-the-table, time-stopped-moving ecstacy. The chocolate was like ganache, and so soft. The crust was made of black chocolate crumbles, saturated in sticky caramel. Unexpected traces of sea salt surprised my tongue in the most heart-racing way. After sucking on a fudge-like mouthful until it melted, I swallowed reluctantly, only to urgently take bite after bite until it was gone. And yes, I moaned.

Post-TBO, my face was probably glowing and my eyes were half-closed in peaceful gratification. The candles flickered sleepily, and I noticed the bossa nova music for the first time. Mom left the table to use the restroom, and I leaned back and luxuriated in the  utter satisfaction I felt. Then, the European waiter, who had been speaking French to his colleagues, approached my table. Now, I dread being approached, even by blue-eyed Frenchmen. Was he going to drop some cheesy line about how he’d never seen me here before? Did he recognize me from a TV show or a film I’d done? Was he possibly going to say that dessert was on the house…? To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded the latter so much. But he did none of those things. He knelt down to my eye level, smiled, and said very humbly, “I just had to tell you, you are very elegant.” Not beautiful, not pretty. Elegant. I was taken aback. No man had ever told me something like that, and I liked it. “American girls,” he continued, “… they have nothing refined, there is no elegance. But you remind me of European girls. It’s refreshing.” He bashfully stood, gave a slight bow with his palms pressed together, and ducked back into the kitchen. He didn’t even ask for my number, I realized, which made me want to give it to him.

I was so caught off guard and flattered that it made me shy. And I’m the girl oft-accused of being brazen! Here I was, too shy to give him my number, or to even look in his direction again. Damn these Frenchmen and their tongue-tying spells. I hadn’t felt a blush cross my cheeks since I was thirteen years old. I was like a European girl… I giggled inside. Was it my diamond earrings? The fact I’d worn my hair up? My posture? Whatever it was, he had noticed, and in a town where aesthetics are noticed first and valued far more than refinement–even talent– he’d complimented my elegance.

The Little Next Door. Harboring pain au chocolate, fancy entrees that taste of everything fresh and flavorful, racks of fine wine, jars of marmalade and caramel, and authentic French-made macaroons. All at tres reasonable prices and with valet parking to boot. And if you’re like me, a handsome Frenchman will approach your table and compliment you on your refreshing un-Americanness.

Photo of Alice Greczyn by Theo Greczyn