Supper Liberation Front – Earth Day Kurmaliance Dinner @ Tacos Punta Cabras

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Supper Liberation Front – Kurmaliance Dinner @ Tacos Punta Cabras
2311 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 917-2244
http://www.supperliberationfront.com/

While Supper Liberation Front (SLF) has been around for a few years, I had just found out about the pop-up/underground dining club while dining at Tacos Punta Cabras (TPC) a couple of months ago. SLF is the brainchild of Chefs Josh and Daniel, who also run TPC, and have quite the impressive resumes before starting SLF and opening the restaurant. Usually, the dinners are $65 for 9 courses, cash only and BYOB, held once a month at an undisclosed location. However, the dinner I attended with The Offalo last Monday was an additional charity one at $75, $25 of which was donated to Kurmaliance, an organization that aims to save sea turtles and preserve their ecosystems (on Earth Day too – how appropriate). For this dinner, Josh and Daniel were joined by Chef Brad from Inn of the Seventh Ray restaurant in Topanga. And the dinner was indeed held at TPC, whose cozy beach shack-esque interior proved fitting for the cause and casual atmosphere.

There were 2 seatings for the April 20 dinner, the latter of which we chose to attend at 9:30pm. We were told that the dinners do tend to run longer than the quoted time, and that was indeed the case, as we were seated around 10:15pm, and didn’t leave until close to midnight. However, there was never a dull moment that night, and it was a fun way to introduce myself to the world of pop-up/underground dining. Peter and I took advantage of the BYOB policy, and ran through bottles of beer and ginger beer (we fancy huh) at the dinner. The chefs actually paced the dinner pretty well, bringing out each course themselves for the most part, while describing the course served. The progression of each course, while inconsistent with standard expectations, was interesting in that they tried to alternate the heavy and light courses. Where better to experiment and defy expectations than at an underground dinner, right? Below are photos of each course with brief descriptions, in order:

mcgrath’s sunflower (root, heart, petals) dobin mushi

mcgrath’s sunflower (root, heart, petals) dobin mushi

The bonito-based dobin mushi (which I suspected was too developed in flavor to be completely vegetarian, which proved to be correct) was excellent in conveying an umami richness while being light in flavor. Along with the dashi, there was sunflower served 3 ways: the root, which was diced and served in the broth with English peas and some tempura bits; the heart, tempura-fried (the batter which was actually the one TPC uses for their tacos); and the petals, served with some pea sprouts as a simple salad over the fried hearts. I believe it was my first time eating sunflower, and the root and heart’s texture was similar to that of artichoke/heart of palm – quite interesting.

razor clam, carrot tapioca pearls, duck bacon, daikon, smoked leek milk

razor clam, carrot tapioca pearls, duck bacon, daikon, smoked leek milk

As you can see, no razor clams, sadly. Due to sourcing conflicts (along with the hotaru ika in a later dish), the chefs had to substitute clams (I think they were Manila) last-minute – which really disappointed Brad in particular with respect to this dish. But it definitely worked as a play on the clam chowder. The combination of the duck bacon and the smoked leek milk broth really gave it a nice smoky, creamy flavor, while the clams added a needed brininess. The carrot tapioca pearls, while cool-looking and added a nice coloring when dissolving into the broth, didn’t add too much in terms of flavor.

seared monkfish liver, salted pickled cucumber, maggie’s mustard & seeds, miso-vin jaume

seared monkfish liver, salted pickled cucumber, maggie’s mustard & seeds, miso-vin jaume

I actually thought that by breading and searing the ankimo, the fattiness of the “foie of the sea” was cut down by the added texture. Great dish that went well with the accompanying sauces, and the sunomono of sorts helped cut down the fattiness/searing some more.

jellyfish tom yum ka, young coconut, galangal sorbet, basil seeds

jellyfish tom yum ka, young coconut, galangal sorbet, basil seeds

Fun presentation of being served in a hollowed out coconut shell, the meat of which was incorporated into this dish. This was an ode to the the sea turtles we were helping out, as jellyfish is part of their diet (ha). Definitely succeeded in delivering on the Thai flavors, although the flavors and chilled nature reminded me more of a som tum (green papaya salad). Also, don’t think I got the galangal sorbet here.

lobster, masa, daikon, avocado, onion sprout, pineapple fluid gel

lobster, masa, daikon, avocado, onion sprout, pineapple fluid gel

This dish was definitely influenced by the chefs’ current restaurant, which wouldn’t be out of place as a daily special someday. The heat from that pineapple fluid gel (basically the pineapple habanero salsa from TPC), however, was a bit overpowering for me. I handled it okay, but thought that it kind of overshadowed the rest of the dish. Solid though.

lamb belly fries, siracha ranch, saffron, lime gel, espelette, slaw

lamb belly fries, siracha ranch, saffron, lime gel, espelette, slaw

When I saw the dish description, I was imagining a poutine dish of sorts, perhaps with a lamb belly ragu/gravy (maybe I’ve eaten at Animal/Seoul Sausage too many times). But here, the “fries” were the lamb belly, fried in a batter from which I tasted some cornmeal. The sauce was “sirancha,” a combination of sriracha and ranch, which went well the the contrast of sweet and tart flavors from the slaw, and there were some aromatics in the form of mint which were nice.

beef & firefly squid, sendres 7 flavor vinaigrette, farmers market vegetables

beef & firefly squid, sendres 7 flavor vinaigrette, farmers market vegetables

The final savory course was supposed to be a surf and turf of sorts, with beef and hotaru ika. However, as mentioned previously, the firefly squid was not available last-minute, so the chefs substituted ika somen, or squid noodles. There was a strong cumin flavor in the squid, which was interesting, but I really wanted to see how the creaminess of the firefly squid would’ve worked with the leaner beef. The beef was cooked to a perfect rare and had a nice char, but the flavors (or lack of) didn’t deliver, and the meat proved to be a bit chewy. Not bad, but probably my least favorite dish of the night.

gloria’s strawberries, black tea biscuit, fried platano, eucalyptus frozen yogurt

gloria’s strawberries, black tea biscuit, fried platano, eucalyptus frozen yogurt

The first of 2 desserts was a refreshing one, the effect provided by the cooling eucalyptus frozen yogurt. The fried platano was more of a brulee, and went well with the biscuit and strawberry.

Flavores of Scotch: Butterscotch, Smoked Pete Ice Cream, Vanilla Meringue, Scotch Gelee, coffee cake

flavors of scotch: butterscotch, smoked pete ice cream, vanilla meringue, scotch gelee, coffee cake

The latter of the two desserts was a nice contrast to the previous one. The flavors of scotch were butterscotch and…scotch, and they were playfully presented in various flavor and textural forms. Fun dessert.

My first pop-up/underground dinner proved to be a delicious and very fun experience. Each course was very playful, and provided plenty of experimentation with regards to flavor profiles and ethnic influences (the dinner was fairly Asian-influenced, for the most part). The chefs were warm hosts, eager to present the labors of their hard work, and serving without any pretentiousness. Thanks for inviting me, Peter, and I’m sure I’ll return to another one of SLF’s dinners. In the meantime, the food at TPC will do (a couple of the daily specials from this past weekend used ingredients from the dinner, and were actually influenced by it).

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
(Pop-Up) Santa Monica $$$$ N/A
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Tacos Punta Cabras

Fish Taco

Tacos Punta Cabras
2311 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 917-2244

You might not know it, but the opening of Tacos Punta Cabras is a pretty big deal. The search for legitimate, quality tacos in the western part of LA (particularly of the seafood variety) is similar to that for Chinese food. For example, to find authentic, good Chinese food, the long-running (and correct) argument is that you have to drive east to the SGV (or just East LA for tacos). But that hasn’t stopped diners from searching for that diamond in the rough here on the westside, though their efforts are essentially that of a 16-seed facing a 1-seed during March Madness. For a micro-level analysis, take a look at ROC Kitchen on Sawtelle Blvd. A Chowhound thread regarding the anticipation of the restaurant opening was active for months, accumulating almost 200 replies from prospective diners anxious and hopeful of it becoming the westside Chinese messiah they’ve been waiting for. And I’ve been seeing a full house every time I drive or walk by the restaurant. But enough about Chinese food – let’s talk Mexican.

While there isn’t nearly as much buzz, Tacos Punta Cabras is deserving of the comparable hype…and acclaim. Take out the novelty (or drunken) idea of ordering from a run-down food truck late at night on the westside (let’s draw the line at west of Leo’s), and I think most people will agree with me in saying that for the most part, the food itself isn’t especially memorable. That changes, however, with Tacos Punta Cabras entering the big dance – playing with a short bench of a limited menu of mariscos tacos and tostadas (sorry for the March Madness references – it’s that time of the year). First of all, keep in mind that it is still located on the westside, in Santa Monica. That means it probably won’t win any blind taste tests against the likes of Ricky’s or Tacos Baja Ensenada. But there’s no point in trying to live up to that comparison, and Chefs Josh and Daniel know that, instead wanting to “just make good food.” And if that type of good food is finally within reach, all the better for everyone in West LA.

The restaurant is located on Santa Monica Blvd, in a small space in the middle of the block surrounded by minimal parking. There is no signage, although there is a low-hanging, tacky banner that belongs in an UFC octagon ring. Enter the restaurant, and there are a dozen or so seats and a counter where you place your order. On a random Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I got a fish taco and scallop tostada for dine-in, and some more fish and shrimp tacos to-go. The tacos had a nice, light batter, though I wish they were a bit more crispy – somewhat difficult when considering how they don’t have a stove or gas, using what I’m assuming are just non-commercial deep fryers. The tacos were more acidic slaw and less salsa and crema, but that works here, especially with the wonderfully-griddled tortillas that tasted like a blend of corn and flour. The chefs assured me that this product would travel well, and it sure did. The star though, was the tostada. The bay scallops, which I’m not usually a big fan of, were fresh and briny, and the tostada was more refreshing than heavy. The salsa was light, including some Persian cucumbers, and was accompanied by a spicy cashew puree that reminded me of tan tan mein. It’s just a quality mariscos dish. Finally the day has come when westsiders have a Mexican seafood joint to call their own, with fish tacos you can actually eat near the beach.

Scallop Tostada

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Mexican Santa Monica $ B+

Tacos Punta Cabras on Urbanspoon

Huckleberry

Photo Credit: Food GPS

I have a confession: unlike the majority of diners in LA, I was never too crazy about Rustic Canyon and Milo and Olive (but I love^3 Sweet Rose). I’ve had better meals since the initial ones I’ve written about, but not to the point where they made me want to write entire new posts. But I’ve never been too keen on making an effort to try Huckleberry, as my perception of the place was that it was the “weakest” of the Nathan/Loeb family of restaurants. I don’t wake up early enough for breakfast on weekends anyways.

But something changed. Huckleberry began a “Thursday Night Family Dinner” not too long ago, and I recently read some glowing reports of these dinners (although I believe they were all hosted). Sounded like the 3-4 course dinners you’d find at nearby Farmshop, but at a much more accessible price point ($30/person including tax at Huckleberry, as opposed to around $50 for Farmshop). I was definitely intrigued enough to put the restaurant back on my radar, and when I went on the website to check this week’s menu, I saw “FRIED CHICKEN.” Sold.

So I dragged Eugenia and Linh-Nam along this past Thursday, and headed westward bound for Huckleberry around 7pm. After a short wait, we were seated at a communal table. Not sure how the service is usually at the restaurant, but it was great at our dinner. Very quickly, we were met with an “amuse” of spiced nuts, followed shortly by a spinach salad with pears, pickled red onions, hazelnuts, and a light mustard vinaigrette. Solid x2 (same can be said about the dessert at the end), but we were anxiously waiting for the next course…

…which was the fried chicken, the pièce de résistance. Along with two pieces of chicken per person, there was also a small bacon biscuit for each of us, some maple butter, mashed potatoes, and green beans on the side. First of all, these pieces of chicken were HUGE. I used to be able to devour an eight-piece chicken dinner with ease, and I was barely able to finish my two pieces. The other two were barely able to eat one. And this is with a fried chicken that, despite being a bit heavy with the batter, was not greasy at all. I suspect the frying process involved baking? No matter – it was great.

And the sides? I’ll say this – I am clueless about local artisan farms, but one that I’ve heard of is Weiser Farms. And I also know that their produce comes at a premium. So this farm-to-table family dinner definitely justified the $30/person. And those mashed potatoes were good. Even better? The biscuits and the butter. I asked for some extra maple butter to take home along with our leftovers. We even got some pastries and cookies from the restaurant to take home – awesome. Overall, just a great dinner (and VERY filling). Completely changed my perception of the place.

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Spiced nuts

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Windrose Farm spinach salad, Comice pears, mustard vinaigrette

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Free range country fried chicken, Weiser Farms mashed potatoes, country gravy, sautéed green beans

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Whole wheat apple butter cake, Sweet Rose Creamery vanilla bean ice cream

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Chris Hei grade: B+

Huckleberry
1014 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-2311

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Milo and Olive

Photo credit: miloandolive.com

For my last meal “dining out” (we technically picked up the food for to-go), Milo & Olive was the choice. I was supposed to have dinner with Ben and Danno a couple of Fridays ago, but I was needed at the apartment. So the guys were nice enough to come over and eat in. I had actually already ate a light dinner beforehand, but couldn’t refuse the offer, so I thought of places we could order to-go/delivery from. Somehow, Milo & Olive came to my attention, and I decided to order from there (FYI: they have curbside service).

So Ben and Danno picked up the pizzas, three of them. One of the sausage. It seems like every one of these gourmet pizza places needs to have a signature sausage pie on the menu, and this one was supposed to be their specialty. It was a good pizza, though I wasn’t too impressed. Same thoughts go out to the mushroom one. But the butternut squash one was a pleasant surprise. What was supposed to the be the third option turned out to be my favorite of the night. The squash and onions worked well together, and an egg on top is icing on the cake.

I liked the pizzas from Milo & Olive. The crust, the heart and soul of a pizza, was very solid. Nothing that amazes, but has a nice crisp texture and is just thin enough. What does amaze me is that they were able to get such results using whole-wheat flour. You don’t have to order just pizzas however, as they have some other stuff like pasta and other rustic dishes that are similar to what you’d find at big brother Rustic Canyon, along with a bunch of baked goods that earned raves from LA Weekly. Overall though, the best pizza within walking/jogging distance to me.

House Made Pork Belly Sausage

House Made Pork Belly Sausage ($17) –  braised greens, tomato, fresh mozzarella

Mixed Mushroom

Mixed Mushroom ($20) – Fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano, thyme

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash ($18) – fresh mozzarella, caramelized onion, sage, brown butter, farm egg

Chris Hei grade: B

Milo and Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 453-6776

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Stella Rossa Pizza Bar (2)

Paul really wanted to try Stella Rossa during his lately visit to LA, since he’s a self-proclaimed pizza snob and I’ve told him good things about the place. So the two of us and Danno went on Christmas Eve, right before they closed at 9pm. The three of us split four pizzas, two of which I tried to-go the first time around (mushroom and sausage ones), as well as the heirloom tomato and spinach ones. The heirloom tomato one is basically a margherita pizza with slices of tomato. Pretty good. But a small problem with that and the sausage pizza is that the sauce is a bit on the tart side. Good, but not great, choices. The white pizzas are the real stars at Stella Rossa. I already raved about the mushroom one last time. It really is an amazing pizza, and the best of the foursome that night. I also thought the spinach pizza was excellent. The contrast of the spinach and crispy kale worked wonders. I’m glad I had a legit experience at Stella Rossa, and I hope to be back in the near future.

Heirloom Tomato

Heirloom Tomato ($13.95) – fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, sweet basil

Shaved Mushroom

Shaved Mushroom ($13.95) – gruyere, melted onions, black truffle, torn parsley, rosemary, thyme

Bloomsdale Spinach

Bloomsdale Spinach ($13.95) – crispy purple kale, young pecorino, cracked black peppercorn, organic extra virgin olive oil

Housemade Organic Italian Sausage

Housemade Organic Italian Sausage ($14.95) – tomato, fresh mozzarella, hand-picked oregano, fennel pollen

Chris Hei grade: B+

Stella Rossa Pizza Bar
2000 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 396-9250

Rustic Canyon

Photo credit: Dig Lounge

Came here with the Los Angeles chapter of The FML (Fourteen Man League), our “expert” fantasy football league, which consisted of myself, Daniel, Kenny, Kevin, and Lawrence. We decided to come on a Monday late last month because the restaurant has two specialty burgers on the menu every Monday. I had heard many great things about Rustic Canyon, especially about their burger, which is consistently ranked atop of best burger in LA lists. The burger itself isn’t cheap ($18-20), but I’m willing to pay for quality if it’s worth it. So was it?

Well, I ordered one of the specialty burgers, the Patty Melt. It was a good version of a traditional patty melt, with toasted rye bread and Swiss cheese, and I believe there was some type of aioli in the burger as well. The problem was that the patty was a bit too salty, and I’m a person with a very high sodium tolerance. Also, the burger itself was very greasy. Still, a solid burger. The fries that came with the burger was pretty good as well.

Maybe I should’ve ordered their regular burger, but I felt like I could order that version any time I wanted, as opposed to this specialty one that might never see the light of day again. And since the regular one is the one that’s frequently listed as the burger in LA, that’s the one thing I have to get next time I’m at Rustic Canyon. Amongst other things ordered at the table, the other specialty burger, the Thanksgiving Burger, was just okay. It was just a piece of turkey with some cranberry sauce and mashed potato, which really weighed the burger down. Lawrence and I split an order of the polenta, which was pretty damn good. For now, I’ll consider Rustic Canyon to be a good restaurant with a solid burger, but will reserve the right to change my mind once I’ve had the original burger.

Thanksgiving “Burger”

Patty Melt

Rustic Canyon Burger – sharp cheddar, onion fondue, housemade pickles, herb remoulade, hand-cut french fries, + farm egg

Crispy White Polenta – wild mushrooms, sunny-side farm egg, parmigiano-reggiano

Chris Hei grade: B

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 393-7050

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Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery

A few weeks ago, I came home and had this waiting for me on the dining table, courtesy of Eugenia and Linh-Nam. I’ve been wanting to try what is arguably the most popular sandwich in LA (The Godmother), but have heard horror stories regarding the wait. Sure, you can order online, but I’m not going to fight a crowd to enter. Not for a sandwich. And certainly not this sandwich.

A lot of people in LA have claimed that The Godmother is the best sandwich in town. Imagine the sandwich as an all-star team of Italian ingredients: genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone. But like the case with all-star games, putting these stars together doesn’t necessarily mean that the game itself will be good. It was a good sandwich, but it just feels like every ingredient is fighting for attention. And as great as getting it with the works sounded, after an hour or so on the dining table, and all the condiments weighed down the sandwich and made it a bit soggy.

Still, there is no denying that there is a joy in eating such a behemoth of a sandwich. The bread is amazing, and each bite had every ingredient and condiment stacked on top of one another. A salty and sour bite at that, but really, quite delicious. But in the end, it’s just putting a bunch of things together. Not much to it. At least not worth going out of my way for. But I’ll be happy every time The Godmother shows up on the dining table.

Chris Hei grade: B

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
1517 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-8279

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