My birthday week – week 2 of culinary school.

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Last week was a very busy week.  Not only was it my week 2 of my academic culinary career, it was also the week I turned 30.

Since it was my birthday week, I was very fortunate to have been taken out to my favorite Downtown LA restaurants, and to receive a rich and beautiful red velvet cake made by my sister, Riva.

On my birthday, Peyman took me to Water Grill- a wonderful restaurant that serves up some of the freshest seafood in Los Angeles.  They also have an amazing wine list –  they even won an excellence award from Wine Spectator magazine.  We started off our memorable meal with a glass of Pinot Noir and a red Zinfandel, then we devoured the oyster sampler.

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I loved the presentation, with each oyster in it’s original shell – some looked manufactured even, like Ariel’s bikini top in the little Mermaid.  The 3 sauces that were served along with the oysters were mouthwatering…I’m salivating as I type this.  My favorite was the champagne sauce.

After the oysters, we asked for the waiter’s salad recommendation.  He easily convinced us to order a lovely green salad with apricots and bread crisps.  It was beautiful and delicious!IMG_9168

For our main courses, Peyman ordered and loved the Chilean Sea Bass, and I ordered the swordfish, which was excellent.  My swordfish was cooked perfectly, with mini beets on the side with a sweet potato puree that I found to be very nice and surprising.

Swordfish

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We finished our meal with a scrumptious dessert that consisted of a cheesecake, vanilla bean ice cream (I think it was vanilla), fresh fruit and a delightful guava glaze sauce.  It was so good. Between the cheesecake and the ice cream were fine pieces of cheesecake crust, which added great texture and another element of surprise, along with the guava sauce.  This was paired with the recommended dessert wine.  Not sure what it was, but it was sweet, and very satisfying.  Peyman sang the birthday song to me.  It was a lovely meal.  I was a happy 30 year old!

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The next day, Riva and the twins invited me over for a surprise.  They made me beautiful birthday cards and a red velvet cake that I’ve been wanting to try – Bobby Flay’s recipe from his show, “Throwdown”.  He beat the legendary Cake Man Ray with this recipe.  It was good, but I still love the red velvet cake from Lisa Bon Appetite and Every Bundt Cakes.  I am so lucky to have such a loving, caring, and sweet sister that loves to bake and buy baked goodies to share with me!IMG_9218

On Saturday, my friends arrived from Northern California, Orange County, Pasadena, and Santa Monica to celebrate my big 3-0.  We went to my favorite sushi restaurant in Downtown, Izayoi.IMG_9207IMG_9206

I, of course, ordered my favorite green salad with the magical, feel good salad dressing.  Can someone figure out what’s in the dressing?  I love it!  I want to eat it everyday!  I also order my typical yellow tail sushi varieties.  I don’t enjoy tuna as much anymore and I’m allergic to shrimp.  This yellow tail is fantastic!  We paired our Japanese fare with sake, pitchers of Kirin, and I had a Sopporo.  I was happy to hear that everyone enjoyed their meal, well maybe not everyone… Rosy ordered a very authentic Japanese dish that is unusual and strange to outsiders – she ordered sweet potato with a raw egg sauce… when she was moving it around in the bowl, she didn’t make it look very appetizing.  Who knows, she may have liked it.  Like I said, besides Rosy, everyone thought the restaurant was a hit.

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After dinner, we headed over to the mysterious and “exclusive” club, the Doheny, where cameras and cell phones (texting ok) are prohibited.  We met a few folks at the Doheny from school, Bryan Hustle Bowens (the DJ) and Brian (formerly known as Bob).  We danced to House, Deep House, Techno – electronic music.  It was a great time!  Aside from eating delicious food and spending time with all those I value most, I love dancing with this group of girlfriends…we all have interesting styles and everyone’s a great dancer!

As for drinks at the Doheny, I stuck to those with vodka since I don’t get hangovers with vodka.  I forgot the unusual names of the drinks…when I ordered my drinks, all I said was, “I want the best drink you can make with vodka”.  They were very good, sometimes a bit too sweet, and very strong.  After my 3rd drink, I couldn’t believe I couldn’t dance anymore.  My balance was off!

Although I couldn’t continue my love for dance on Saturday night, I was so happy to share delicious food and memories with those I value highly and love very much.  I am thankful and very blessed for all the goodness in my life.  Thank you, God!

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My Restaurants of Choice

When I was introduced to the Zagat guide in 1999, I didn’t want to waste my time or deprive my taste buds.  In doing so, I visited several restaurants ranked 24 and above in food, according to the Zagat – now that was living!  Today my favorite restaurants include Lucques, Izayoi, Loteria Grill, Crustacean, and Water Grill in Los Angeles.  For 5 years of my life, I lived in Santa Cruz. My favorite spots in Santa Cruz are Star Bene, Cafe Brasil, and Pink Godzilla.  Why are these my favorite restaurants?

My most memorable lunch took place at Lucques.  I actually ordered a brunch item, eggs benedict.  I remember taking my first bite, which almost brought me to tears and gave me goose bumps.  This eggs benedict was like no other.  The poached egg, canadian bacon, bread and hollandaise sauce were so light and perfectly balanced.  It sat on a bed of greens that were magical. I remember asking myself, “how did they do this? what were these leaves tossed in? I want to know what’s in this dressing!”.  As a self-claimed eggs benedict connoisseur, I named Lucques’ eggs benedict the world’s best eggs benedict.  It brought on pleasure that I’d never experienced before…in food.  Sadly, Lucques no longer serves this. However, everything on their menu is excellent.  I’ve loved  just about everything I’ve tasted there, especially their soups and desserts.

Izayoi is the Japanese spot where my boyfriend and I have dinner religiously every week.  We start with their green salad, my favorite! It’s packed with beautiful color and texture from an assortment of greens and thinly sliced onion.  There’s also a nice crunch from what I believe is thin strips of fried daikon.  The salad dressing is wonderful with a special miso flavor- I could easily eat this everyday!  Izayoi has a unique menu.  They have your traditional raw fish varieties as well as small plates that have an authentic feel and taste.  Some are very inventive, like the toro katsu.  While the food has an authentic feel, the restaurant is contemporary in style.  If you’re ever in the Downtown LA area, give this place a try.  I love this place.

Loteria Grill at the Grove’s farmer’s market is really special.  Whenever I’m at the Grove around lunch or dinnertime, I walk over to Loteria Grill and order the same thing over and over, chicken enchiladas de mole.  It is so good!  It’s served with black beans and their signature green rice.  The rice has an usual yet nice flavor.  It’s fragrant, almost minty or cilatro-y flavor – not sure what it is, but I like it.  It’s delicious.  I always pour salsa into my rice since I like a lot of heat, but without the salsa it’s still delicious.  Growing up in Chula Vista (it’s about a 5 minute freeway drive from the San Diego/Mexican border), I was always a fan of mole.  Mole’s flavor is almost chocolate-like and I’m a chocolate-lover.  I love mole’s sweetness and richness.  When you take a bite into Loteria Grill’s chicken enchilada smothered in mole sauce and add a little rice and beans to your bite, it’s like dynamite..an explosion of some of the most sophisticated flavors I’ve had in Mexican cuisine.

Crustacean is a restaurant everyone should try at least once in their life.  This is a great place to have a birthday, anniversary, or any special occasion dinner.  My recommendation is to have a glass of your favorite white wine with an order of the restaurant’s famous roasted crab – cracked whole dungeness crab with a secret garlic sauce. And don’t forget the garlic noodles!  Crustacean’s garlic seasoned crab is the best crab I’ve had.  The first time I tried it, I couldn’t stop talking about it!

Water Grill is another restaurant that is perfect for a special occasion.  My boyfriend brought me to Water Grill 2 years ago for my birthday and the staff made my day extra special.  Upon being seated, on the table was an envelope with my name handwritten on it.  It was a birthday card from the restaurant.  Also, the menu had my name printed at the top of it.  I loved the personalized touches.  They have a wonderful wine list.  To start we had mouthwatering oysters served with several dipping sauces, the champagne sauce (my favorite) is so divine.  Their seafood is fresh and delicious.  I had the scallops and they were rich and succulent, dripping with flavor.  The dessert paired with a recommended dessert wine made the experience even more memorable.

Pink Godzilla in Santa Cruz is so much fun.  They have a creative sushi menu.  My favorite roll is the Jimmy roll.  It has tuna, avocado, cucumber, macadamia nuts, and sesame seeds.  As you can imagine, it’s packed with a great crunch from the cucumber, macadamia nuts, and sesame seeds, and it’s delightfully fresh with the avocado and cucumber in the mix.  It’s refreshing and satisfying.  Their other rolls are great too.

Star Bene is a very intimate and authentic Italian restaurant in Santa Cruz.  They have the best gnocchi I’ve ever tasted.  The texture is perfect- they almost melt in your mouth.  If you’re ever in Santa Cruz, I recommend trying their gnocchi.  The gorgonzola sauce is really good with pancetta and peas.

Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz is a nice breakfast and lunch spot.   In college, there was great energy in this cute, bright and cozy restaurant.  Cafe Brasil serves up delicious food, some of it is vegetarian too.  My favorite lunch was the Grilled Chicken Breast A Francesa.  The grilled chicken breast is served with sauteed onions, green peas, ham, and amazing french fries.  Rice, farofa, and salad is served alongside.  If you’re ever in Santa Cruz, I recommend breakfast or lunch at Cafe Brasil.

One more place in Santa Cruz that’s worth mentioning… Chocolate.  It’s a cafe where they serve food and sell chocolates.  I love their rose truffles.  They are so light with a touch of rose water… so nice.  When in Santa Cruz, I try to pick one or two up.  I actually have more recommendations, but I’ll put that list together some other day!..like Marianne’s Ice Cream‘s pumpkin ice cream… ok, I’ll save this for later.

Restaurants I still want to try are Mozza in Los Angeles and French Laundry in Yountville.

I came close to dining at French Laundry last year.  My boyfriend, Peyman, surprised me with a trip to Napa Valley for my birthday.  He knew I always wanted to go to French Laundry but he didn’t know we needed to make reservations a few months in advance.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to taste their famous, full-of-emotion creations.  However, we were able to delight ourselves with fantastic wines in the surrounding area, Napa Valley.  Luckily, one of my best friends works at a vineyard and was able to give us a nice tour while comping a lot of our tastings! (thanks, Rosy!)  We loved wines at Darioush and Caymus vineyards most!  I love full-bodied wines like Shiraz and Zinfandel and I enjoyed everything I tasted at those two wineries…even the Merlot (at Darioush)!

In Napa, we stayed at the Cottages of Napa Valley, which I highly recommend.  When we arrived, there was a little bucket of gourmet snacks, a bottle of wine, and other special touches.  I loved waking up and having a basket on the porch filled with fresh pastries from Bouchon Bakery, fresh fruit, orange juice, and a newspaper.  What a special place!

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This entry is pretty long so I will end it here.  I hope you were able to learn a little about me and what I consider to be delicious.

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