Thursday, April 28, 2016

Where to Eat: The Weekend Brunch @ Republique

The Eats: Decadent pastries, buttery breads and impeccable desserts

The Location: Mid-City

The Vibes: Airy, open, charming

Good for: Alone, dates, large groups

When-To-Go: Weekend brunch, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Saturdays & Sundays

The $ Factor: Foods $4 - $17; Drinks $4 - $16

The Names behind the scenes: Owners Walter Manzke and Margarita Manzke

The 4-1-1: Charlie Chaplin built the location, in the 1920s

Parking Situation: Free + metered street parking, slightly hard to find in the area

I’ll Be Back…: For the cinnamon dusted beignets!

Apparently, I’m late to the food game at Republique.

This widely popular restaurant on La Brea Ave. debuted back in December 2013, but it was only after a chance restroom stop here earlier this year, that I discovered it. During my dash to the ladies’ room, Republique's immaculate layout — the vibrantly rich colors, the warm ambiance and soaring ceilings — caught my eye and sparked my curiosity. So, I vowed to return soon and stay longer than 10 minutes next time.

Fast forward to a couple months later, and good to my word, I came back. This time, with friends, an appetite and a plan to check out the weekend brunch.

Like most brunch hangouts on any given Sunday in the city, Republique looked packed. Driving by the front of the restaurant, I noticed the line to enter stretched long and far down the street. Fortunately, it actually moves (fairly) quickly.

The line that starts outside eventually takes you inside, past an amazing display of pastries and desserts (pictured below), before you order at the cashier. You're then given a number and must find seating in one of the multiple dining areas available. There’s plenty of options: sitting at a bar, next to large windows, in cozy enclaves towards the back…at communal tables, at individual tables…upstairs. It’s really rather impressive how many different options there are and surprising how it doesn't feel crowded inside, especially after seeing just how many people are trying to get in.

One detail that's almost impossible to describe is just how fantastic Republique smells inside. There’s an on-site bakery (pictured below), and the subtle scent of baking breads and fresh croissants wafts through the entire space. It’s fun to watch the bakers in action, but it’s even better to inhale that delightfully intoxicating aroma. I’d literally come back here for the smell alone.

Because the breads and pastries looked and smelled so good, there was no doubt we'd be ordering copious amounts of them. We started off with a large baguette, pictured below. It comes with regular butter, jam or honey, but you can also order a special type of French butter for $7, called "Normandy Butter." Apparently, it’s supposed to be smoother, creamier and richer. We tried it, and I honestly don’t think it’s worth it; the baguette alone is satisfying enough and literally melts in your mouth.

Next up were entrees. While standard brunch selections like French Toast, omelettes and salads are available, our host recommended trying options exclusive to Republique. Following his suggestion, I opted for the Smoked Salmon Tartine, pictured below. It’s thick cuts of smoked salmon piled high onto a slice of multigrain toast, with avocado, capers and onions. Filling and flavorful, I would definitely order this again!

We ended our brunch excursion with an assortment of pastries, including this fantastic little chocolate puff, pictured below. Aside from the desserts in the display in the front, there are also daily specials, such as our cinnamon croissants with hot chocolate.

I would definitely stop by Republique again for brunch. It's a great place for groups of friends, tantalizing pastries and breads, and the gorgeous decor provides the perfect backdrop to pass a few hours.

See you there soon!

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Where to Eat: “Not Your Average Fried Chicken Wings” @ Comfort LA

The Eats: Fried chicken wings splashed with “that sauce,” plus an assortment of soul food sides

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Casual, laid-back, hella chill

Good for: Alone, Dates, Groups

When-To-Go: Closed Mondays & Tuesdays, open late until 3 a.m. on Fridays & Saturdays

The $ Factor: The Dinner Special $12, a la carte items $6 - $20

The Names behind the scenes: Owners Mark Walker and Jeremy McBryde

The 4-1-1: No thighs, breasts, legs or backs...just wings here!

Parking Situation: Free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For The $12 Dinner Special - six wings, two sides and cornbread!

Over the weekend, I checked out Comfort LA for the very first time. 

Originally launching as a pop up shop, Comfort LA has been at its new 7th Street location only for a couple of months. Décor is low key, with long wooden tables and benches taking up the majority of the space in the one-room eatery. Ornamentation is minimum — just a couple of black-and-white photos of L.A. landmarks hanging on an exposed brick wall, an old-school boom box, a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf filled with books and vintage records, and a few portraits of characters from The Simpsons — painted black.

Like the physical space, the actual ambiance is mad chill and all good vibes. When we were there, Chef Jeremy warmly greeted guests all night long, often dishing out hugs and complimentary chicken wing tastings. The soundtrack was an amazing blend of laid-back hip hop, R&B, rap — think J. Dilla, James Blake, Bryson Tiller. And, board games, cards and dominoes were available, to anyone up for a friendly game.

But, most importantly, the food!

The highlight on the menu are the Not Your Average Fried Chicken Wings, splashed with a special concoction known as “that sauce” and fresh chives and spices. The wings come in individual portions, or in a platter option that’s big enough to share with a large group (or to eat all by yourself, if you’re greedy). You can also order sides, such as cornbread, yams, greens, mac’n’cheese and red beans & rice. My favorite side were the greens, which have a sweet, tangy kick to them. 

While Comfort LA doesn’t serve alcoholic beverages, you can BYOB — at no additional charge (!).They also have a selection of beverages, including their very own Ginger-Aid pictured below, a blend of Kool-Aid, ginger, lemon and lime. And, speaking from experience, the Ginger-Aid tastes great when you add a dash of champagne.

Not to be missed is the signature dessert, the Sweet Goodness. Served warm, it’s an intoxicatingly sugary slice of cornbread, topped with strawberries. The perfect way to end a meal.

So, the next time you’re in the downtown area and craving wings, perhaps after a late night out, I recommend stopping by Comfort LA.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Where to Drink: Tequila-Based Martinis + Margaritas @ SOL Mexican Cocina Playa Vista

The Drinks: 70+ artisan, premium and ultra premium tequilas — served neat, in margaritas and also in other signature cocktails

The Location: Playa Vista

The Vibes: Casual upscale, indoor-outdoor, earthy and warm

Good for: Alone, Dates, Groups 

When-To-Go: Daily, 11:30 a.m. until close (which is 10 p.m. Sunday – Thursday / 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday)

The $$ Factor: Libations - $7+; Apps - $4.50 - $15.50; Entrees - $15 - $38

The Names behind the scenes: Deborah Schneider, (executive chef). Colin Pflugradt (beverage director), Matt Baumayr and Rich Howland (restaurant partners)

The 4-1-1: Playa Vista is the third SOL location; there are others in Newport Beach and Scottsdale, Arizona

Parking Situation: Ample free street and garage parking

I’ll Be Back…:  Once SOL launches its daily happy hour and Taco Tuesdays, hopefully soon!

Nowadays, when I'm in the mood for a really good margarita, I've been heading to one particular place: SOL Mexican Cocina Playa Vista.

I'd first been introduced to SOL during a media fiesta back in January, when I sampled some of the most popular items they’re known for: guacamole, street tacos and of course, their margaritas.

The margaritas, which come in two sizes — regular or grande — are made with a variety of different tequilas. Customers can select from labels like Don Julio and Patron, and even SOL’s very own tequila, a Single Barrel Reposado Tequila that's custom blended at the Casa Noble Tequila distillery in Mexico.

While SOL’s margaritas might be flavored with fruits like watermelon, pomegranate or strawberry, what's great is that they’re not artificially or overpoweringly sweet. Instead, flavors are subtle and muted, highlighting the true essence of the fruits. One of my favorites is the Pineapple Serrano Margarita, pictured below. Made with Corralejo Blanco tequila, it’s a zesty blend of fragrant pineapple and spicy chili.

I also appreciate that SOL serves tequila-based martinis. If you love martinis and you love tequila, well, here you have it. There are two to choose from: Horchata, pictured below, and Pineapple & Vanilla (both can also be ordered as shooters). Again, like the margaritas made with fruit, these martinis aren’t too sugary. Although note of caution: the tequila deceptively blends so well into the drink, that you literally can’t taste it. But, you’ll feel it!

Aside from libations, SOL also puts its own spin on “traditional Baja Mexican cuisine.” Street tacos are one of the selections they're well-known for. Fillings range from chicken, sweet potato and beans, pork, beef and the ‘Canarditas’ duck, pictured below. A deep-fried duck leg confit is accompanied by avocado, chopped onions, a tequila-laced blackberry Serrano salsa and tortillas, to make your own tacos. However, the duck is so tender and delicious on its own, you may be inclined to eat it by itself!

Some other notable options to call out — the Grilled Sweet Corn, pictured below. An upscale version of the widely popular street food elite, corn on the cob is lathered in butter, lime, chile, chives and cotixa cheese, and topped with a chipotle sauce. A server cuts the corn off table side, so there’s no messy mishaps and the appetizer can be easily shared.

The Baja-Style Corn Chowder with Crab is a filling soup made with corn, potatoes and a creamy wine/lobster broth. It's topped with a dash of crab sitting on a grilled slice of buttered bread, directly in the soup. It's a pretty large portion, so it can stand alone as an entree or pairs well with a taco.

The restaurant also creates its own Guacamole SOL, a colorful twist on guacamole with additions like sweet mango, goat cheese and pepitas, or pumpkin seeds.


See you there soon!

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