Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Cloud Nine, a Mile-High

A week ago at this time, I was high above the world, flying home from a weekend trip from Denver. I had a great time visiting two of my best friends and discovering the Mile High City.

I had always heard incredible things about the city, but the element of juxtaposition in Denver is what I loved most about this fantastic city. For decades writers have attempted to illustrate this favorite literary motif that Denver so seamlessly brings to life. The urban spread surrounded by the natural beauty of mountains. Sophisticated restaurants in a laid-back environment. The typically antonymous states that often side well with either city living or small-town life co-exist in Denver, bringing an unusual and fresh synergy to the city.

The restaurant scene is on par with that of LA or Chicago - led by restaurants like Rioja and Encore. Rioja, located downtown, offers a menu inspired by Mediterranean ingredients and influenced by local and seasonal products. The ambiance is elegant and simple. My favorite part about dining at Rioja? The gigantic bread basket that the servers brought not once, but twice to the table while we waited for our entrees. Filled with home-baked rosemary and goat cheese biscuits, lavender and orange rolls, and other mysteriously delicious morsels.

Rioja via

Encore on Colfax, located in the former Lowenstein Theatre Complex, adjacent to the Tattered Cover Book Store, offers an American cuisine with modern twists. Items like blueberry lemon ricotta pancakes and fig jam, prosciutto and arugula flat bread pizza are popular items on the brunch menu. The bottomless mimosas are said to be another favorite item as well. The simplistic and modern environment parallels what patrons love about Encore's menu.

Encore's long, narrow dining room. Via

Biscuits and maple sausage gravy and eggs. My childhood favorite!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hangin' with Jack Bauer

As if it's not distracting enough to work in an office, where nearby conversations, furies of keyboard clattering and different musical preferences are forced to meld together, add a Hollywood shoot to the environment and the level of perplexity becomes immediately intensified.

From Wednesday through Friday, the cast of the hit Fox show 24 took over the lobby, elevators and outdoor area of my office building, One Bunker Hill. Kiefer Sutherland and gang could be seen throughout the day acting in various different scenes, from some sort of bank heist, to action scenes in the elevators and on-foot chases overtaking the sidewalks.

Kiefer playing chess during a break on the set.

Freddie Prinze Jr. getting ready for shooting to begin.

Freddie and Kiefer in between takes. Photo taken from inside Coffee Bean, my coffee shop of choice.

It was clear from the hot dog stand, long line of yellow cabs, and extras dressed in buttoned-up black that the episode is meant to take place in NYC rather than LA. The only thing that remained true to the laid back style of the West coast was the relaxed nature of the crew, including Sutherland, who was nice enough to pose for a shot with me.

Kiefer and I before his next scene began.

Monday, January 25, 2010

BabyCakes: Open in Los Angeles

This past week in LA, the rain seemed to take over the city. It poured from morning to evening, and through the night for several days over. For whatever reason, the break from the sunshine made me want to slow down a little bit, and find new refuges to escape the divergent SoCal weather.

Via Style Section LA

After a long day in the office last Thursday, I decided to duck into BabyCakes, a new NYC-based bakery that just opened in downtown LA in Pacific Electric Lofts. The charmingly kitchy environment, casually cluttered with retro records, mismatched furniture and vintage artwork was a pleasant contrast from the seemingly endless rain that poured outside.

Via Style Section LA

Between the delicious carrot cupcakes with rich vanilla frosting, and the Alice-in-Wonderland reminiscent decor, BabyCakes definitely boasts an environment contrasting to that of your average cupcake shop. The antique-inspired plates and hidden-away location of this bakery make it feel quaint and almost mystical.

And, in a city where it's common to cross paths with filming locations and spot the occasional celeb, there's something to be said for that new, unique place that can make you forget make-believe is simply a state of mind.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Memories of Food Down Under

As part of a work assignment this week, I was looking through a stream of Flickr photos captured by a random assortment of tourists who had traveled all over the world. From Alaska to New Zealand, my eyes were darting all over the globe in a matter of minutes, but came to a painstakingly abrupt halt when I landed on a picture of Sydney.

I recently visited Australia for a week with my boyfriend and had the time of my life; I guess it was too soon to see a picture of the city I fell in love with taken from a stranger's camera. Maybe that sounds like a bit of an overstatement, but spend any amount of time in Sydney and you will relate. Everything you hear about the land down under, from the picturesque scenery to the out-of-this-world shopping, is no mere myth.

Phenomenal cuisine is also one of Australia's claims to fame. Fusions of multicultural culinary influences produce taste altering experiences, while traditional staples like fish and chips and sausage rolls provide a taste of everyday life as a Sydney-sider.

Meat pies from Harry's Cafe de Wheels near Chinatown.

Bar food from Martin Place Bar: potato wedges, barracuda, squid, and chicken curry egg rolls

My most fond memory of dining in Australia was lunch at the Cafe Sydney, a restaurant on the rooftop of Customs House that overlooks the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. It was a long relaxed meal surrounded by a crowd of easy-going Sydney-siders, sipping wine over light gourmet food. The flavorful peppered beef tenderloin -- perfectly complemented by Swiss brown mushrooms, baby spinach and Bearnaise sauce -- almost made me forget that I half-heartedly swore off red meat at one point in my life. Great food makes me do that sometimes; forget an at-the-time Earth shattering idea I propose to myself. The best food however, like the type I enjoyed daily on this trip, creates memories that will forever remind me of the places I have been and the loved ones I've shared those experiences with.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Catch of the Day

Lately tilapia has become my newest seafood obsession. You can typically buy a pound for under five dollars and it's relatively simple to prepare, depending on the complexity of the recipe you choose, of course.

If you want a preparation technique that deceivingly tastes like you've spent all day in the kitchen, try broiled Parmesan tilapia. It's quick, filling, and you won't have to feel overly guilty about eating it if you're calorie counting.

In terms of simplifying the ingredient list, you can substitute sea salt for celery salt and can nix the onion powder as well. The Parmesan and basil are prominent enough flavors that you can easily forgo some of these other additional seasonings.

My favorite thing about this recipe? It gives me that same warm, happy feeling that homemade mac and cheese or buttery mashed potatoes provide, without the extended prep steps and high-fat content that usually define comfort foods. Hey, when you love to indulge in food as much as I do, you almost have to have a least one healthy go-to comfort food.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Simple Salads: My Bridge Back to Reality

In the weeks that follow the holidays, I find myself engaging in a uphill battle against the sugar and carb addiction I've somehow managed to solidify between Christmas and New Year's. This ritual consists of slowly weaning off a sugar and sodium-rich diet by finding tasty, yet healthy alternatives to fill my open meal and snack slots with.

Although I'm usually not the biggest cucumber fan, I decided on a whim to create a cucumber and tomato salad after reading online about it. After all, I love any vegetable when its accompanied by olive oil and vinegar.

Step one: Slice up one cucumber and one medium-sized tomato

Step two: Toss with light vinaigrette or unlimited vinegar (red wine works well)

Step three: Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil

Step four: Stir and enjoy!

For only 125 calories per recipe, you could conceivably expend more calories preparing this dish than you actually take in consuming it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Newsroom Cafe: Hot (and Fresh) off the Press

I was a little hesitant to dine with my vegan friends for our first-ever brunch together. Luckily, we were able to find a restaurant that made me forget immediately it was initially chosen as a compromise: Newsroom Cafe on Robertson in LA. After reviewing the cafe's diversified menu, which features numerous vegan and non-vegan options alike, it seemed like an attractive brunch spot for all involved.

The atmosphere is casual, despite rumors of a celeb-dotted environment, and the food is even better. Fresh, flavorful, and reasonably priced, you really can't ask for much more. Oh, except prime people-watching on Robertson -- if you're fortunate enough to snag an outdoor table.

My unwavering craving for seafood was finally satisfied (at least for today) after enjoying Newsrooms' crab and shrimp quesadilla. Packed perfectly with fresh crab, shrimp, and a light amount of cheese, the taste was outstanding. I can't remember the last time I dined out and ordered a quesadilla that wasn't overpowered by the taste of cheese. (Don't get me wrong, my love for dairy products is immeasurable. But, love quickly turns to dislike when it starts infringing on my enjoyment of seafood.) Topped off with a slightly spicy avocado salsa and garnished with a few sprigs of cilantro, the simplicity of the entree speaks for itself.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Does Sprinkles Have Competition?

There are few things I love more than cupcakes, but competition is one of them. There's nothing like the freedom of options to either move your preferences from point A to point B, or to make you realize there's nothing better than that one bakery, shop, restaurant etc., you've been claiming as your favorite all along. That being said, I'm wondering if I should reexamine my love for Sprinkles Cupcakes after reading about a new baked goods manufacturer in The New York Times.

Photo via Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Melissa Bushell recently opened up Baked by Melissa, a bakery selling bite-sized, vibrantly-colored cupcakes in NYC. Because I have yet to taste these tiny treats, I'm blaming my curiosity primarily on the cupcake's cuteness-factor. My secondary enticement with these cupcakes is their value; prices start at $3 for three. I'm not sure if Sprinkles can beat that, but until I travel 2800 miles to NYC and find out, I'll just have to continue curbing my sweet-tooth with the original cupcake bakery.

Baked by Melissa is located 7 East 14th Street in NYC.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Toast: Overcooked and Overrated

To say that riding the metro (subway) in L.A. is "interesting" would be quite the understatement. I've seen near-brawls, traveling bands (which I love, by the way) and everything in between. Although I admit, I'm a little jaded by my overexposure to transit oddities, I couldn't help but eavesdrop today on an early-morning scuttle between two men waging conversational war in a battle of McDonald's vs. Subway. Each overly-zealous male was taking turns shouting what he liked best about his favorite fast-food establishments. Verbalized preferences for each side began with a match of fried vs. baked, but then quickly and predominantly focused on good customer service and taste. How could what originally began as an idiotic conversation turn out to be a logical reminder of what every restaurant patron should be entitled to when eating out?

Image via

As I slipped out of the train station and hustled into my office building, I couldn't help feeling a little shamed. This weekend I had fallen prey to dining at Toast, a trendy breakfast spot in LA, and was utterly disappointed in my experience. I had heard the restaurant was overrated, but I guess I had to get burned before conforming to this opinion.

I arrived at Toast around 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon thinking I would beat the brunch rush, but still had to wait 45 minutes for a table. During this time period, there were multiple cars that drove by and screamed comments expressing what seemed to be the general consensus of "Toast Sucks." It wasn't until I sat down and had my first brush with the waitress that I realized how close to truthful those comments were; after waiting an additional 30 minutes to order, unsuccessfully asking for coffee four separate times, and observing the blatant disdain our server had toward us, I was less than happy.

The food on the other hand wasn't completely a disappointment - but it wasn't a subject of great excitement either. The breakfast burrito contents (scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, sharp cheddar and black beans) were delicious, but the haphazard manner that the burrito was thrown together in was distracting from the overall enjoyment of my meal. The rosemary potatoes on the side were average as well; they would have been better had they not been slightly overcooked.

After mulling over my experience at Toast, I can only help but wonder: how did Toast become so popular? Maybe it was the eatery's appearance on "The Hills." Or maybe it was the restaurant's close proximity to 90210. Either way, I don't want to have to be Sandra Bullock to get the sub-par service I've gotten used to receiving, and now, actually appreciate.