Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Restaurant Review: Manhattan Beach Post

I thought it could never happen to me. I never thought it would. But after years of traveling around town in hopes of bearing witness to the most unique and inventive food that LA's chefs have to offer, it hit me: I am not easily impressed. I thought my palate could withstand the sweet, savory and sometimes scary stuff that I have eaten over the last decade or so, but lately, I haven't felt that "thing." You know, that moment when you close your eyes for just one second after taking the perfect bite, letting the flavors mingle and linger for a bit and realizing that you were tasting something so special. That thing. This weekend, it--my idealism about food--came back, confirming that all it takes to make me flutter my eyelids is that serendipitous meeting of olfactory perfection. The scene: Manhattan Beach Post, just two blocks from the Pacific Ocean and the new object of my affection.

Much like Gjelina in Venice, another LPG favorite, M.B. Post sits at the center of a buzzing beach town. Airy, industrial and rustic, the setting encouraged communal dining and had a laid-back vibe perfect for the lingering, sun-dazed crowd. The menu matched the sophisticated yet sedate clientele, and was a clever mix of seasonal, artisanal ingredients inspired by flavors from all around the world. Like the steamed mussels in green curry served with Chinese sausage and coriander rice. Holy moly. Not only were the mussels the most soft and buttery I've ever had, the curry packed a powerful punch that had me sweating--literally. Luckily, I had ordered the Matchstick Men cocktail, a G'vine Floraison gin collins with kiwi, elderflower and mint, which was hands-down one of the best drinks I've had. Refreshing and sweet, a clever blend of flavors and the most beautiful shade of chartreuse.

After a chance encounter with the Post's famous bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits and maple butter (thank you, oblivious server, for accidentally delivering them to our table), we dove right in to the ricotta-filled squash blossoms, which were delicately fried and served with a red pepper sauce reminiscent of a marinara. I couldn't stop eating the green beans that featured moist, salty bits of pork that elevated the earthy flavor of the veggies. The confit pork belly, a gussied up variation of eggs benedict, was the most daring of the dishes we tried. The meat was perfect and the combination of cholesterol-rich ingredients left me oh-so-satisfied. Fatty meat + egg + Bearnaise sauce...I was in heaven. The chicharrones weren't my favorite, but that didn't stop me from eating them.

If only Manhattan Beach weren't on the other side of town, you would find me there on the daily, lounging in lofty dining room, buzzing in the salty air that I would order if it were on the menu.

Matchstick Men cocktail and dem biscuits

Steamed mussels in green curry

Ricotta stuffed squash blossoms

Blistering Blue Lake green beans with Thai basil and crispy pork

Confit pork belly with grilled asparagus, chicharron, bernaise and fried egg

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Restaurant Review: Bar Ama

When a friend asks you to travel from Malibu to Downtown LA on a Thursday evening to try a new restaurant you've been dying to try, you go. After sampling chef Josef Centeno's bacos a few weeks ago, I knew I had to expand my Centeno repertoire by swinging by his latest Mexican eatery, Bar Amá.

I found the menu to be connected, quirky and representative of Centeno's inventive and playful nature. Dishes like bubbling queso, Frito pie and Mama's enchiladas were no doubt inspired by the Mexican comfort food dished up by Centeno's mother and grandmother in his youth. With the wunderkind chef's signature twists and turns, the homestyle classics were given a facelift to appease a hipper crowd.

The setting was a rustic, industrial space, where distressed wood panels decorated massive columns and aqua blue Spanish tiles adorned the bar walls. Jeweled pendant lanterns illuminated the dark, almost smoky interior with whimsical sparkle reminiscent of a south-of-the-border speakeasy.

We started with the fresh-made guacamole, which had a uniquely chopped texture and was served with house-made tortilla chips, and cauliflower and cilantro pesto, in which the cruciferous blooms were smothered in a tangy, herbaceous dressing. Paired with a crisp rose wine, it was the perfect start to an exciting meal. Though not on the menu, we requested to try the grilled shrimp puffy taco, which was a Bar Amá signature before its untimely removal. You must order this! The flaky, lightly fried shell was the perfect complement to the juicy and briny shrimp stuffed inside and jalapeno cream drizzled throughout.

Cauliflower and cilantro pesto

I had never tried goat before, so when I saw the goat hash on the menu, I knew I had to have it. The ground meat patty rested atop perfectly dressed greens and sat just below a perfectly cooked egg. Interesting flavor combinations, but its parts were greater than its sum. The goat was a bit flavorless and tougher than I expected. It wasn't a bad dish--I would recommend it for the salad alone.

Goat hash

We capped off the evening with an interesting dessert: Leche Quesada, similar in texture to an Italian budino. Centeno's incarnation was meant to taste like burnt milk--and it did. So much so, that it was difficult to finish the dish. I found myself going for the freshly whipped cream more than the caramel pudding portion, but it was a bold end to a vibrant meal.

Leche quesada

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