Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Edelweiss Chocolates

Remember that episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel get a job in a chocolate factory? Of course you do! Along with the grape-stomping scene, it is one of the classics of physical humor. The conveyor belt in the Edelweiss Chocolate Factory, located right in the center of downtown Beverly Hills, was the inspiration for that scene.

Edelweiss has a huge selection of chocolate-dipped fruit, including some unusual selections like mango and pineapple. The arancini orange peel bark is an acquired taste, but once it is acquired, it stays, and nothing else will satisfy that craving. But the one treat that draws me back is the chocolate-dipped cherries, which you can order with or without brandy. Another huge draw is the fresh marshmallows. My favorite are the milk chocolate-dipped marshmallows with caramel.

They cater to diabetics with some delicious sugar-free selections, particularly the English toffee, whose buttery richness makes sugar unneccesary.

Another popular feature is Edelweiss' novelty chocolates, shaped like various pieces of sports equipment, toys, and what-have-you. They can be on the pricy side; I would rather get the equivalent weight in marshmallows than give someone a giant chocolate golf ball.

If the I Love Lucy connection is not enough of a Hollywood pedigree for you, Edelwiss was a favorite of Katherine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra. Previous owners include Marty Engels and Shirley Jones.

Current owner Madlen Zahir is happy to give a tour of the little factory in back to anyone who asks. On the afternoon I finally got up the nerve to ask for a tour, she encouraged me to return in the morning to watch the conveyor belt in action.

Make mine chocolate-covered cherries. With brandy.

Edelweiss Chocolates
444 N. Canon Dr,
Beverly Hills, CA


Fresh, pillowy marshmallows are a refreshing change from the usual chocolate, and surprisingly addictive. My nephew's girlfriend, Julianna, whipped up a batch of these last Christmas and people are still talking about them. Check out The Brownie Points Blog where Julianna found the recipe. It is also reprinted here after the jump for your convenience.

Marshmallows will keep for several weeks at room temperature in an air-tight container. Try them in your Hotta Chocolata or Hot Chocki.


4 gelatin envelopes
¾ cup water
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 cups sugar
¾ cup water
1 ¼ cups corn syrup
½ tsp salt
Rice flour
Confectioners sugar

Line a 9” x 13” (8” x 8”) pan and a loaf pan with parchment paper. Coat the paper with vegetable oil or non-stick spray.

Fit a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. In the mixer bowl, combine the ¾ cup of water (¼ c plus 2 Tbs) with vanilla extract. Sprinkle the gelatin over the liquid to bloom (soften).

Add the sugar, salt, corn syrup, and remaining ¾ cup water (¼ c plus 2 Tbs) to a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil with the lid on and without stirring. When this mixture is at a boil, remove the lid and continue to cook without stirring until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240 F).

With the mixer at medium speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl into the awaiting gelatin mixture. Be careful as the hot syrup is very liquid and hot at this point and some may splash out of the bowl - use a splashguard if you have one. When all of the syrup is added, bring the mixer up to full speed. Whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff, about 8-10 minutes.

Pour marshmallow into the parchment-lined pans and smooth with an oiled offset spatula if necessary. Allow the mixture to sit, uncovered at room temp for 10 to 12 hours.

Mix equal parts rice flour and confectioners sugar and sift generously over the rested marshmallow slab. Turn the slab out onto a cutting board, peel off paper and dust with more sugar/starch mixture. Slice with a pizza cutter into desired shapes. Dip all cut edges in sugar/starch mixture and shake off excess

Recipe reprinted with permission.

Dine LA The other Side of the Story

We've spent the last two weeks critiquing the DineLA restaurants. Last week I just happened to run into a restauranteur who was participating in DineLA. Being the ever-prepared girl reporter that I am, I whipped out my digital recorder and did an on-the-spot interview. It seems only fair that the restaurants get the last word.

(Names of specific dishes have been omitted to help protect the innocent).

How has DineLA changed the type of patrons you’ve been getting?
I would definitely say it has probably brought in some people that would usually not come to our restaurant. Our prices usually run 75 – 80 dollars per person, even sometimes if you do wine or a bottle of wine it’s a lot more, so paying 34 dollars is good exposure for people, because our restaurant is more like where people come out on special occasions. But I don’t think these people are going to be coming on a regular…so…

So it’s not going to bring you return patronage?
Nah, …I’d probably say, probably like 5 or 10 percent. But it’s great exposure for people to come in. We’re looking for new regulars, and I don’t think it’s going to bring new regulars. It’s probably going to bring people only on special occasions once a year, for birthdays and anniversaries.

How did you select the Dinela menu or make it different than your normal menu?
Obviously we have a priceline we have to go by, we have cost, so we try to operate the best that we can. We cannot offer the most expensive steak or seafood items. But we did have a [expensive dish] so you can try the quality of our meat. We wanted to do it in a way where if you don’t eat red meat, you can have chicken or seafood, because we have a really good seafood selection. For the appetizers, we offer [expensive seafood dish], which for us is a very high-priced item, but it’s good because it brings people in. It’s one of the most popular items we have. As far as the dessert, we wanted to do something very traditional, that people would be looking for, but also something like the style of our restaurant.

Did the prix fixe menu disrupt service in the kitchen?
I’ll be honest with you, we definitely saw a huge slump in business after the holidays, but we’ve been actually tracking how much DineLA brought us. 50 to 60 per cent of our business in the last weeks was DineLA so it definitely helped us. The first couple days we were not the most prepared because we didn't expect we were going to have that much. Like if we were doing 300 covers, 200 of that was DineLA. The first couple of days we ran out of a lot of stuff we didn’t have, because we did not expect we were going to get such a high turnout.

It seems like some restaurants have not been prepared for the amount of people that were going to come in. Did you have to call more servers in?
We had to call people in, we had to prep more in the kitchen. Like the first couple of days we thought we would probably do 30 or 40 of them. We did 240 of them the first night.

Did you recoup the fee that you had to pay?
Well, for us, we're running a very high cost to be offering that price, but we think it's worth it in the long-term. So even though we might not make new regulars, it will definitely bring people in and show the people that we have a good product.

Do you find that the DineLA patrons are more demanding, are the restauranteurs, like, "Oh no! Another DineLA person!"
Oh no, not at all. I'll tell you from a restaurant point-of-view, the servers are not happy with it. Because obviously, a check averages anywhere from 75 to 80 bucks, and they make good money. And now it's 30 and 40, so they're making less in tips. But what's cool about it for us, is an average diner is there for 2 1/2 to 3 hours with fine dining. But with DineLA they're not demanding; they've usually already checked out the menu online. They know what they want so they're in and out. We're turning tables a lot faster - in an hour, an hour and a half, they eat and they're gone. So sales are plateauing as opposed to if we were selling things at a regular price, they would cost more, but we are turning so many tables they are basically evening out

Are you getting something back on the liquor? Are they buying wine?
Initially, that's what I did. I was pushing people to upsell, because people, you know, especially foodies, may think, "Oh my god! I'm only spending 34 dollars, I can splurge a little". I can't speak for anyone else, but at least in my restaurant, it hasn't. You get the occasional wine table where a party of four orders one glass of wine, but they are not big drinkers

Would you do DineLA next year?
Yeah, I definitely would. Business has been down, and the way the economy is, we haven't had the frequency of business that we were having. Since the end of the summer til now, business was definitely down. To bring this in, it helped us out, labor is better – we can give more hours because we do have more business. It definitely helped out.

You may be surprised by the repeat business. A few of the places I've been to are now going to be my regular places.
I think its a great concept. I know they do it in New York and Chicago. This is the first time in LA. It's a good concept. Even if you don't make regulars, it gives people the opportunity who don't want to pay 200 dollars. It's also great for new places that are just opening up. It's great exposure. When I read about it, it was also for tourists. One thing we are doing is offering it to everyone. I don't know if other restaurants are...

Most are putting out the two menus together
I know there are other restaurants that won't tell you about it unless you ask about it. We didn't want to upset anyone, like one person is paying one price for something, and another person is paying another, so we were offering it to anyone - especially with business - it being January and February, people have spent their money on the holidays - the timing is so crucial

That was the goal. They know this is restaurant slump time. They want this to become a destination week. People are coming here for Disneyland. I don't know if people are coming here for DineLA week. But foodies might.
I went to Chicago for Taste of Chicago.

Yeah. Foodies are obsessive.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dine LA: Cobras y Matadors

Cobra Pork Sushi

cobras y matadors pork roll

The second location of Cobra & Matadors is a warm, inviting restaurant that invites lingering. Diners share small plates and feed each other delicious bites that are exotic, yet comfortingly familiar. It is hip enough for your most fashionable friends, but cozy enough that you always feel at home.

The DineLA menu provided a wealth of options that made it difiicult to choose. My companion decided to order from the main menu, and I could not resist adding a few more tidbits from the extensive list. To start, we shared the "Bacalao Salt Cod Cakes with Aioli" I will admit to ordering cod cakes only to please my guest. I was pleasantly surprised. Heavy on the potatoes and devoid of any fishiness, the cod cakes were one of the standouts of the evening.

The main course was a real Sophie's choice. Paella, skirt steak or game hen with guava and apples in a port reduction...decisions, decisions. We finally chose paella, since it's difficult to get a good paella in this town - and Cobras & Matadors is a Spanish restaurant after all. The seafood was delicious, and the spicing was spot on. Unfortunately the rice was gloppy, like a wet risotto.

Vobras y matadors spanish tortilla

The desserts did not seem that impressive at first - chocolate cake, churros or french toast. Ho hum. The chocolate cake turned out to be exactly the right choice. It was light, with a hint of cocoa and just sweet enough to satisfy. It was a relief from the cloyingly sweet desserts that have become so popular. The gentlemen at the next table were really enjoying the french toast, and after reading the food forums that seems to be a house specialty. Next visit perhaps.

cobras y matadors artichoke and goat cheese croquettes

The DineLA menu would not have been satisfying enough on its own, so we were lucky that we had ordered a number of other favorites. The sweet potato fries were delicious, if a little predictable. I enjoyed the Spanish tortilla, a potato-filled omelette that a Spanish room-mate got me hooked on years ago. The salmon was thinly sliced and had such a nice char it was almost crispy. The artichoke heart and goat cheese croquettes are probably one of the best things I have ever eaten. I never even imagined such a perfect dish could exist. An order of pork rolled with ham and cheese was pounded and fried like a cutlet, but served sliced like a dragon roll - it was an Atkins follower's dream - pork sushi! For me, it was Creosote's last mint - wafer thin - the final straw that made me practically explode. The food was so delicious I could have eaten myself to death like a goldfish.

cobras y matadors fish cake

The ambiance was lovely and the food was exquisite. Cobras & Matadors was like a dream. Unfortunately, it was also one of those dreams where you are invisible, and no one can see you. One of those dreams where you try shouting, but no one can hear you. The only thing that marred the near-perfect evening was the service.

I saw a lot of my waitress. She constantly passed by our table. And passed and passed, eyes straight forward. We were completely invisible. Never once did she glance at the table to see if we needed something. At one point she dropped a dish off and I asked, "What is this?" She mumbled "Lentils" as she whizzed off. We did not order lentils. It took me over five minutes to flag someone down to tell them they had brought the wrong dish. The music was so loud, and the acoustics were such that no one could hear me, including my dining partner across the table. This is tapas, the kind of restaurant where you are supposed to order as you go along, like sushi or dim sum. I don't see that happening with this kind of service. Luckily we had ordered all at once. At one point I finally got her attention to fill my empty iced tea glass. She did not fill my companion's glass, which was also iced tea. I don't think I'm a needy patron; I don't need coddling. But if there is a problem, I would like to be able to get somebody's attention to rectify the situation - someone - anyone.

I will definitely return to Cobras & Matadors. That artichoke and goat cheese croquette is already calling my name. But I might try the original location on Beverly - or maybe Sgt. Recruiter.

cobras y matadors salmon

Cobras & Matadors (323) 669-3922
4655 Hollywood Blvd Hollywood, CA 90027

cobras y matadors chocolate cake

Sunday, March 9, 2008

DineLA: Ciudad

Last week I put on a fancy dress and hit Ciudad. Of all the DineLA restaurants so far, this was the highlight. The open expanse of the room seemed a little chilly and impersonal at first, but little touches like homestyle drinking glasses and retro 1950s accents warmed the room. This restaurant runs with Disneyland-like efficiency. You know those musicals with dancing waiters twirling through the room in perfectly choreographed symmetry? That is what the service at Ciudad brought to mind. Even a party of 20 next to us could not throw a wrench in this well-oiled machine.

In lieu of a traditional bread basket, crisp breads arrive with two dipping sauces - an olive tapenade and a hummus with hints of various spices dominated by cumin that made it taste very much like an Indian samosa.

The first course of tamales negro set the tone for the entire meal. "The 2 Hot Tamales" put their own spin on Mexican food in a way that makes perfect sense. They tweak it just enough to intrigue the palate and sometimes leave you guessing, but with complete respect for the original dish. The tiny, almost transluscent sweet shrimp that tumbled from the tamale were so delicious I could have eaten a plateful of them and gone home happy. The Aji Amarillo Chile Sauce left a slight afterburn, but not enough to mask the delicate flavor of the shrimp.

I wondered if the masa was tinted with squid ink or huitlacoche. Of course, the word "huitlacoche" does not roll easily off of my tongue, so I asked, "Is this corn fungus?" Instead of giving me the strange look most servers give me when I ask questions like that, the waiter responded easily, "Huitlacoche? No. It is just the tiniest bit of squid ink."

My second course of carnitas was unembellished; they were simply killer carnitas. Why mess with perfection? Alongside a black bean puree and plantains, the yuca sat nestled in a cornhusk. I have never been a fan of yuca, but Ciudad made a believer out of me. The whipped yuca was soft and comforting, like mashed potatoes, and blanketed with cheese. Later when I asked what cheeses were so scrumptuous as to turn me on to yuca, I was surprised to learn that they were the usual Ranchero, Cotija and Fresca. I cook with those cheeses; you can find them in any grocery store. But Ciudad must have a farm-fresh supply - this was the difference between store-bought mozzarella and fresh buffallo-milk mozzarella.

The arctic char was offset with fresh fennel. The barest scent of licorice went surprisingly well with the flaky salmon-like fish. The fennel had been cooked in an herb-scented broth. Here they had me. My tastebuds were overwhelmed and beaten into submission by the exciting flavors. I have no idea what those spices were. Foiled!

The tres leche cake was unusually light and delicately flavored, plated with swirls of pomegranite and orange coulis. The coconut pound cake was solid, and the lemon curd made it seem like you were tasting with heightened senses

As I walked out amongst the downtown lights, I started walking towards the taxis. I was so relaxed and sated that I had forgotten for a moment that I wasn't on vacation.

Ciudad The DineLA Menu (213) 486-5171
445 S. Figueroa Street (it's on the left side of the northward traveling one-way street)
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Friday, March 7, 2008

DineLA: Vermont

Vermont was my favorite neighborhood "upscale" joint when I lived in Los Feliz. Not only was the food outstanding, but the service was attentive to the point of obsequiousness. Once during a particularly romantic meal, a waiter casually dropped a large cloth napkin on my table and gave it a few pats, then continued on his way with great aplomb. I was confused by the intrusion until I realized that I had set the table on fire. Talk about sang-froid!

Sadly, that waiter seemed to have called out sick the other night, along with most of the staff. That can be the only explanation for the uncharacteristic gaps in dinner service. Once our first drink orders were filled and dinner orders taken, we did not see much of our waiter for the next two hours. Although the busboys were manically clearing and pouring, we were virtually abandoned.

Our appetites were kept at bay by the bread basket, which is one of the best in town, with fresh walnut bread and focaccia. I am not a big fan of their spinach-pesto dipping sauce, but the busboy brought me fresh, clean-tasting unsalted butter in record time upon request (I know, I know, how gauche am I?).

The first course arrived relatively quickly. Mixed greens with homemade chutney, walnuts and pear made a nice winter salad. The deep-fried goat cheese on top was cut in half, and the soft melted cheese that oozed out was delicious with the chutney, although the pears were somewhat flavorless. I hate to nit-pick, but really, half a cheese? It was a decent serving, but couldn't they just have formed it into a smaller round? It gave me the impression that the "usual" salad came with a whole round of cheese and made me feel a little gypped.

Then we waited and we waited. Busboys removed our glasses when they had sat empty for too long, and no one asked if we would like more wine. I have heard the participation fee in DineLA is steep ($1000) and they could easily recoup that on liquor sales if they poured a little more aggressively - or at all. Finally the waiter returned and asked us if we had eaten our main courses yet. I realized they were treating this more like a wedding banquet than a tasting menu. Our waiter didn't even know what was happening. My husband took the opportunity to order a second glass of wine, but the waiter didn't ask if I would like another glass of champagne.

At last our main dishes arrived. My oxtails were worth waiting for, or maybe worth half the wait. The sweet, rich meat fell off of the bones, and even mouthfuls of fat were delectible. It was paired with a generous helping of barely wilted baby spinach dotted with pine nuts and sultanas. When my husband Bob tried it, he commented on the sultanas, 'I can see what they are trying to do - balancing out the sweetness of the meat" and I realized how many episodes of Top Chef I have forced him to watch. The plate was perfect for a low-carb lifestyle, but I did secretly crave polenta or some other soft, creamy carbohydrate.

The fettucini was in a bland, slightly watery cream sauce. It did not do the homemade noodles justice. But when I tried the heavily salted chicken it made sense. Only when eaten together did the seasoning for the chicken and pasta work. The chicken was properly cooked, with both crispy skin and moist breast meat.

The pastries at Vermont are always a highlight. Even when eating at another restaurant, we would often stop by Vermont for dessert. And once again, they did not disappoint. The light chocolate cake was delicious with homemade hazelnut ice cream, which was so light it was more like an ice milk. The praline cake was stellar, vying with the oxtails for the best plate of the meal. Paper-thin layers of fresh meringue alternated with a homemade hazelnut pastry cream. Bob protested the use of the word "praline" when no pecans were involved, but considering the things they call "Napoleons" I give restaurants a wide leeway in wording their menus.

All in all, including one glass of champagne, one carafe of sparkling water, two glasses of wine, two coffees and tip, the bill came out to $158. I guess I should be grateful that we were unable to order more wine. I look forward to returning to Vermont on a better night.

Vermont (323) 661-6163
1714 North Vermont LA 90027

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Leimert Park Eats: Mama's House

I think I have found it. I have found The One. True, I have not eaten at every soul food restaurant in LA (yet), but if I had to pick the one to settle down with, Mama's House would be it. Hidden away in an old-fashioned strip mall on Crenshaw Boulevard, Mama's House has been quietly gaining fans for the last seven years. The room is comfortable, filled with family photos and bric-a-brac. It almost takes a minute for you to recognize the Japanese windows and realize you are sitting right in the middle of a sushi restaurant, sans sushi. Instead of raw tuna, the glass display case is now brimming with sweet potato pies. Not a bad trade, really.

When "Mama" Juanita Penland reached the age of 68, her kids decided to buy her the restaurant as a present. In the relatively short time since they opened their doors in August of 2000, they have won two prestigious Hoodie Awards as well as the heart of the community.

Mama's house has a deft hand with meats, turning out succulent short ribs and smothered everything. The sides are also stellar, particularly the yams and the macaroni and cheese. The greens, grits, red beans and black-eyed peas do not disappoint. The banana pudding is the genuine article, made with evaporated milk the Southern way. It dominates the banana pudding playing field, which is not easy around here. To be able to compete with The Cobbler Lady a few doors down, you know their desserts have to be good.

Breakfast may be the most uneven of all meals. Mama's chicken and waffles are impressive, with chicken wings that are so huge they look like deep-fried bats. The waffle is not quite Roscoe's but you really can't complain. The turkey links are also a standout, although on one visit they were cold.

The service is either shockingly fast, or noticeably relaxed; it is just kind of at random. Take-out orders are sometimes left sitting unless you remind them twice, and the friendliness factor can vary. Ride with it. The food is worth it. Especially the catfish.

The first time I ever ate their catfish, a feeling of tranquility and well-being settled upon me. As I realized there was no way I could finish the entire meal and leaned back in my chair, the waitress passed and asked, "How was everything?" I said. "I just found Jesus."

Mama's House (323) 290-0657
3864 Crenshaw Boulevard, LA