Monday, April 17, 2017

Where to Eat: Mexican Street Food @ Cocina Condesa, Studio City

The Eats: Mexican Street Food, including favorites like tacos, elote, four types of guac and more

The Location: The Valley (Studio City)

The Vibes: Lively, rowdy, Southwestern themed

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (large and small)

When-To-Go: Daily

The $$ Factor: Apps $7 - $13, Entrees, $14 - $22, Cocktails, $12

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Eddie Garcia, Executive Beverage Director David Rubin

The 4-1-1: Chef Garcia has worked at a ton of well-known L.A. restaurants, including City Tavern, Malo’s, Sweeney’s Ale House and The Woodman

Parking Situation:
Valet and free/paid street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Guacamole Loco!

Weekend brunches. $5 Margarita Mondays. Taco Tuesdays. Daily all-you-can eat taco lunch buffets and afternoon happy hours. 

Clearly, Cocina Condesa is trying to get us to come visit, and never leave. 

This airy, brightly colorful bar / restaurant on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City offers a variety of reasons to saunter in on any given day, whether it’s to stuff our faces with endless rounds of tacos or to sip on mezcal margaritas to kick off the week.

In a playful, lighthearted manner, Cocina Condesa makes unconventional and fun twists on traditional Mexican fare, juxtaposing many different flavors — from crispy and chewy, to sweet and spicy. And, apparently, many of the recipes also come from and have been in Executive Chef Eddie Garcia’s family, for generations.

Here’s a look at some of what's caliente at Cocina Condesa …

The four guacs. There are four guacamoles to tickle your fancy, ranging from a house guac to super spicy and a fruity one with pomegranate seeds and dried apricots. The most unusual one is probably the Guacamole Loco, pictured below. Fresh avocado gets mixed in with spiced mango and lime, all topped off with cojita cheese and toasted crickets. Yes, toasted, crunchy, surprisingly absolutely-delicious crickets.

Antiojos. A wide variety of Antiojos — appetizers, or “little cravings” as they call it — are up for grabs, from vegetarian friendly options like Fried Sweet Plantains to heaping, filling portions, like the Empanadas, pictured below. Two fried dough shells are packed tightly with juicy shredded, braised chicken and topped with creamy manchego and cojita cheeses.

Having grown up in SoCal, I’m also a huge fan of elote — a.k.a. Street Corn — and Cocina Condesa’s version of this glorious snack is on point. Corn-on-the-cob comes slathered in cojita cheese, chili powder, lime juice and a spicy Tapatio aioli. 

Happy Hour findings. Cocktails and small plates are discounted like at any other given happy hour in the city, but what makes this one stand out in particular is the $7 Two Tacos with Rice & Beans plate, pictured below. You get so much for what you order, and, you can mix and match any of the ten tacos off the regular menu. There are the standard taco fillings like chicken, steak, and carnitas, but then there are more one-of-a-kind fillings, including short rib with sriracha salsa and mescal braised Brussel sprouts with raisins. 

Desserts. And, save room for desert! You can’t go wrong with  the decadent chocolate brownie with fried vanilla ice cream, topped with dulce de leche sauce...

... or with the churros and dulce de leche dipping sauce.

Libations. The creativity doesn’t stop with the food; the signature cocktails hold their own weight, too. With names like “Boyz in the Hood” and “El Chapo,” these drinks are serious business, smoothly blending super fresh fruits, juices and purees with extraordinary ingredients, like grapefruit bitters and cinnamon simply syrups. The Spicy Mango Margarita, pictured below, is a refreshing combination of mango puree, tequila and agave, with a chili-lime salt rim giving it a zesty kick.

Other notable spirits / beverages: Five different tequila flights for those who prefer their tequila untainted and straight up; the Bronco, the Cocina Condesa version of a Moscow Mule; and, a respectable house margarita (pictured below).

So, as you can see, there are quite a few selections to enjoy here. Choose to sit on the sizeable outdoor patio or inside, by the bar area which can get loud and boisterous, depending on the time and day you go. Wherever you sit though, don’t forget an order of the Guacamole Loco.

See you there soon!

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Where to Eat: Sunday Brunching @ Firefly, Studio City

The Eats: An assortment of light and spring-inspired brunch options

The Location: The Valley

The Vibes: Trendy, cute, quaint

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (large and small) 

When-To-Go: Sundays, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., for brunch

The $$ Factor: Entrées range from $14 - $26 

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Perry Pollaci 

The 4-1-1: Firefly is also open for dinner, daily

Parking Situation: Valet parking and plenty of free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Thick Cut Brioche French Toast!  

Firefly is a bar/restaurant/lounge in Studio City that somehow manages to be simultaneously chic and chill. With a rather dapper crowded, an unmarked entrance covered behind a wall of vines and a somewhat happening vibe, the space makes it feels like you’re in a trendy part of WeHo or DTLA, rather than in the Valley. Firefly is absolutely gorgeous, and IMO, one of its biggest selling points is its semi-enclosed outdoor patio, complete with a roaring fireplace and secluded, tucked away seating areas (pictured below).

I’ve been a fan of Firefly for quite some time now, but I had only been for dinner and evening cocktails. 

Last month though, I saw another side of Firefly, when I was invited for a media tasting event to check out its Sunday brunch. Although brunch here has been offered for a few years now, Chef Perry Pollaci came onboard last Fall 2016 and has been busily putting his own personal touch on the menu. Now, there are eight main entrees, a handful of sides and a few breakfast cocktails. 

We had a chance to sample almost every item on the menu, and if I had to describe a common thread between everything, words like light, fresh and flavorful immediately come to mind. 

With that said, here's a quick snapshot of a few brunch items worth mentioning:

The Cocktails. Firefly boasts a host of breakfast libations to pair with any item. There are three types of flavored Bellinis — peach, berry and strawberries — and two types of Bloody Marys, including a super hot and spicy one that’s made with Sriracha sauce. There are a few more additional specialty cocktails, including the Pineapple Express, pictured below, made with vodka, elderflower liqueur, lemon and pineapple. Pretty to look at, and delicious to sip!

The Pastries. Firefly features an assortment of pastries from the well-known La Brea Bakery. I typically wouldn’t rave about pastries — especially if there are so many other more filling options — but there is one here that’s totally worth mentioning: a fabulously decadent croissant. Fluffy, flaky and oh so buttery, it’s topped with a sugary almond butter spread and chopped almonds. Not to be missed!

The Avocado Toast. Firefly has its very own twist on this L.A. staple. Creamy avocados cover a warm, toasted baguette; red and orange chili flakes on top provide a subtle spicy kick. 

The Egg Scrambles. There are two types of scrambles: one with veggies and one with lobster. The ingredients in the veggie scramble change weekly, depending upon what’s in season and available at a local farmer’s market right up the street. The lobster scramble is exquisitely rich and fancy, made with truffle butter and topped with caviar. 

The Thick Cut Brioche French Toast. As the sweetest entrée offered, it’s like this French Toast is on steroids, with such indulgent and over-the-top garnishes. It’s not only maple syrup; it’s spiced maple syrup. And it’s not only whipped cream; it’s vanilla whipped cream. Brandy roasted apples also come alongside the French toast, which itself is crunchy and covered in cinnamon and sugar.

Bonus – The Hamachi. While not on the brunch menu, the Hamachi can still be ordered upon request. There have been several past Hamachi renditions, and this most recent one has a pleasant juxtaposition of crunch and smoothness, thanks to a tower of crunchy root vegetables and soft hearts of palms piled high on top of a bed of ahi tuna. A tangy Yuzu Kosho sauce covers it all.

Other brunch items on the brunch menu include the Steelhead Salmon, a Market Kale salad, a Wagyu Burger, Jidori Chicken and a Hanger Steak.

So the next time you're looking to do some al fresco brunching on the weekend, especially as we ease into spring, consider Firefly. It has the perfect ambiance to bask in beautiful weather and also an array of vibrant breakfast and lunch items to enjoy. 

See you there soon! 

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