ИконописиконографияikoniсондажиLast week was the husband’s birthday, and it’s been our tradition every year that we go out to dinner to celebrate, anywhere he chooses. This year, we had a whole new slew of restaurants to choose from, since we live in the Valley. So, the husband went with one of his new favorites - Versailles - for amazing Cuban food.
Versailles actually has a five locations around LA, but the closest to us is the Encino location. Tucked into a strip mall - as most good restaurants are - Versailles is always busy. In fact, this is probably the most popular cuban restuarant in LA - fans are completely addicted to the slow-cooked meats, flavorful beans, and sweet plantains. At least, I know that I am!
My husband and I are both fond of shredded meats, but while he is more drawn to the swine, I am a fan of the cow. This works out well, as then we can both try a little bit of each other’s meals.
However, before either of us were able to dig into our delicious dinners, we were first presented with Versailles’ garlic bread.
Coated in oil and topped with garlic, this stuff is seriously addictive! And, since I always judge a restaurant on the quality of its freebies, I knew from my first visit that I would love the food.
Now, on to the entrees. I believe the husband and I both ordered two of the more popular dishes on the menu. The husband ordered the lechon asado (Cuban shredded roast pork), which is served with sliced onions, rice, black beans (not pictured), and fried plantains.
The pork has a savory, sour flavor. It is marinated in garlic mojo criollo sauce, which I assume includes lime juice, vinegar, or maybe both. It is extremely tender and flavorful, and I really don’t think the husband would ever order anything else.
I ordered the ropa vieja shredded beef (translation: old clothes, which it doesn’t taste anything like!). It’s shredded flank steak prepared in a tomato and wine sauce, with bell peppers and onions as well. It is also served with rice, black beans, and fried plantains.
You can see the black beans come seperately in a cup. I loved this dish - it’s very beefy in flavor, and the sauce is amazing. The meat is so tender and flavorful, and contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the plantains. I also love how the rice can sop up both the beans and the sauce from the meat.
Another of the most popular dishes at Versailles, which I have never tried due to my love for the beef, is the famoso pollo versailles - a half chicken marinated in garlic sauce and garnished with sliced white onions.
As you can see from the above pictures, Versailles does not skimp on portions. In fact, you will most likely get two meals for the price of one with all of the food that you get. And, the prices are very reasonable. This very large dinner for two cost about $30 with tax and tip.
The other thing I like about Versailles is that it is very casual. You can definitely bring a large group here for celebrations, young children, or anyone who enjoys a good, home-style meal. The atmosphere is laid back, with simple tables and chairs, and the waitstaff are very friendly. I know that the husband and I will return to Versailles many more times in the future, and I highly suggest that you readers give it a try.
Versailles Cuban Restaurant’sValley location is in Encino at 17410 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91316
Phone: (818) 906-0756
Nestled near the 101/405 interchange, across from Whole Foods, is a tiny tavern called the Blue Dog. It’s been open for just over a year, and, even though I shop at Whole Foods regularly, I never noticed it. Mainly, this is because it’s also next to a dog grooming place, and I really thought they were one in the same. It wasn’t until the Husband came home, mentioning some “dog place” that was always packed.
“The grooming place is that popular?” I asked.
“I think this is a restuarnt”, he replied, “next to the grooming place”.
It was at that point that I knew this would be our next meal out.
The place itself is very small, and decorated top to bottom with photos of dogs. They pride themselves on their large beer selection, both on tap and in bottle, and have a separate menu just for beers. There are at least four plasmas crammed into the tiny space - the night we went there was a USC game on, so all attention was drawn to the screens. The overall feel is definitely one of “taverness” - all wood walls, floors, tables, and chairs. It’s a comfortable place to relax, eat, and watch a game.
The service was particulary friendly and casual. I liked that the kitchen was open and visible, and since we sat near by, allowed us to chat a bit with the cook/manager.
The menu was suprsising - it was a California version of tavern fare, as they made sure to include some vegan options, including the vegan chili which I ordered. There were also salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, and calzones. Oh, and one very heart-attack worthy item: the option to turn your calzone into a panzerotti (for those who are unaware as I was, a panzerotti is a deep fried calzone - the chimichanga of Italian food).
As I said above, I decided to go with the vegan chili, as I was sold on the description of ten vegetables and four beans. I was in the mood for something healthy and light, and the chili hit the spot. Oh, I should add that I de-veganized it by adding cheese (you can also add chicken and onions, if you choose), and that it came with a side of garlic toast. Here is a picture:
The chili had a very good flavor - almost like a bean soup, but thicker. The cheese really added to the chili. Even though the bowl was small, it ended up being very filling and hearty due to all of the beans. If it had been any bigger, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it. Overall, it was very good. But not nearly as good as what the husband got:
A chili cheeseburger! The chili that topped this burger was not the veggie chili that I got. No, I am talking meat on meat. The flavor of his chili was deep and rich, and the burger was incredibly flavorful and tender. Best of all, their burgers are served on a potato bun, the softness of which was the perfect complement to this meal.
Overall, The Blue Dog is a great neighborhood joint - leave all pretentions and presumptions at the door. This is a great spot to kick back and tuck into a good meal.
The Blue Dog Beer Tavern is located in off Sepulveda at 4524 Saugus Ave, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403.
Phone: (818) 990 BLUE
So, ever since moving to the Valley, my husband and I have been on the lookout for a great, non-chain Mexican restaurant. Our old favorite standby, Don Antonios, is just too far away for us now. Finally, after a lengthy conversation about how much I missed chips and salsa, I finally decided to get myself on Yelp and find a new place. The reality is, there are many Mexican restaurants in the Valley, but I didn’t want to go to a bad one. And, it’s impossible to tell. The best Mexican spots are holes in the wall, but so are the worst! So, off to Yelp I went.
I typed in “Mexican” and “Sherman Oaks”, and then sorted by top rated. The best, closest restaurant happened to be in Van Nuys, called Salsa and Beer. The only bad things that were mentioned were complaints about lack of parking and long wait times. I figured this had to mean the place was good! Seeing as how it was 5pm on a Wednesday, I wasn’t too concerned. What sealed the deal was all of the fabulous reviews on the free spicy bean dip that came with the chips. Sign me up!
So, we reviewed the directions, and off we went. Salsa and Beer is located in a strip mall, so that was the first sign that things would be good. When we got out of the car (one available spot!) our noses were filled with delicious smells - sign number two! I was getting excited. And, when we got there, the evening rush hadn’t started yet, so there were plenty of tables available.
The wait staff were all extremely friendly. Right away we got our drink order and our chips and bean dip. (You can also get multiple salsas from their salsa bar):
The picture above doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know what is in that bean dip - some sort of crazy mixture of lard and crack, I guess - but the stuff was amazing. Even better, this is a preview of the refried beans that come with most meals. Needless to say, the husband and I went through two of these dishes of dip.
Next, it was on to choose our meals. Honestly, I think this was the biggest menu I have seen at a Mexican restaurant. They have a whole page devoted to different types of enchiladas! The husband and I didn’t know what to choose, so we decided to ask our waitress. She suggested the three meat fajitas (shrimp, chicken, and steak), the molcajete burrito, the fish tacos, and the shrimp tacos. From those choices, we went with the first two: the husband got the fajitas, and I got the molcajete burrito with chicken.
As you can see from the picture, the fajitas is a huge meal. Not only are there three, perfectly seasoned meats on a bed of veggies, but there is also a side of rice, beans, and a small salad. What specifically stood out to the husband was the shrimp. Typically he is not a huge shrimp person. Sure he’ll eat it, but he doesn’t really get to excited about it. But he could not stop raving about this shrimp. Even a week later he was mentioning that he couldn’t get over how well it was seasoned. Even though this meal is huge, he ate the entire thing. Oh, and you can’t forget to mention those beans again - amazing!
Ooh, and above is my malcajete burrito. To be honest, I didn’t know what malcajete was. I was used to restaurants saying, do you want red or green sauce with your burrito. But, basically it’s a red, tomato-based, spicy sauce with a hint of lime. Very yummy. And then they top it with cheese? Crazy. The biggest thing about this burrito is that the chicken was grilled and chopped white meat. Normally, burritos have shredded meat in them, which is good too, but not this one. This was the king of burritos. The chicken was so well cooked. It was also loaded with more salsa, onions, and who knows what other kinds of deliciousness. You do have to be careful of the whole, dried chilies that seemed to be randomly stuck into the burrito. But, this was definitely worth ordering, and very big. I only got through about half of it.
Salsa and Beer is our new Mexican standby. I am not sure there is any reason to ever go anywhere else, at least in the Valley. Just writing this blog, I can’t wait to go back.
Salsa and Beer is located at White Oak and Van Owen at 6740 White Oak Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91406.
Phone: (818) 609-8877
It’s been a very long time since I have posted any entry in here - too long, I am afraid. A lot has happened to the husband and I since my last post - we have moved from Brentwood to Sherman Oaks via the purchase of our condo. Also, we are expecting a new arrival! A little mini-foodette, as it were. So, things have been busy and expensive. Eating out has definitely taken the back seat. In these economic times, I am sure that is the case for many of you, too. However, there are still nights were I can’t bear to cook at home, and need to go grab something. That is where healthy, “fast”, and cheap eats can come in handy.
California Pita is just the place to qualify for all of the above. Further bonuses - it’s within walking distance to our home and we got coupons in the mail over the weekend! Dinner, solved.
California Pita is a small, local chain with five locations: Sherman Oaks, Brentwood, Woodland Hills, LA, and Beverly Hills. They specialize in gyros, falafel, and other Mediterranean fare. The food is pretty good - maybe not the best you can find, but always tasty, and a good value.
The husband, who is a big gyro fan, went with the regular gyro sandwich. The meat was both tender and flavorful, and not too greasy, either. The best is the yogurt cucumber sauce that it’s served with. Our suggestion is to ask for extra of the sauce - it doesn’t come with everything, and they only give you a small amount. But it’s cool, refreshing, and tangy, and if you like yogurt cucumber sauce, you will want lots of extras.
I ordered one of my favorite things: the falafel plate. The plates are an even better value than the sandwiches. For just a couple of dollars more, you get rice, salad, and hummus, not to mention pita. The falafel are deep fried until crispy, but still soft on the inside. They are full of flavor. This plate does not come with the yogurt cucumber sauce, but I highly suggest asking for it. It is the perfect accompaniment to the fried patties.
With California Pita, you get what you pay for - it’s not the best Mediterranean food, but it’s still very good. For a quick bite that doesn’t cost much, I would definitely suggest it.
California Pita is located in Sherman Oaks at 14568 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Phone: (818) 380-0005
кухниAnother Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I am sad it’s over (but of course thankful that I had such a wonderful long weekend with my husband eating good food). This year, I did a few new things, and kept other things the same as previous years. I am happy to report that I finally got the turkey part down - mostly due to the fabulous brine. Also, I think I finally put the thermometer in the right place of the turkey, because it was actually done when it said it would be! Therefore, I was able to let it rest before doing any carving, so the juices stayed exactly where they should have been - in the turkey.
I think the best way to describe the day is to write about it in the order of my timeline. Yes, I made a timeline. Honestly, it’s the only way to make sure you remember everything, and to make sure you eat when you expect to. It’s the only way I can possibly make a multi-course meal with any sort of success. So, without further ado, the meal….
11:30 - 12:30: Because I had done so much to prepare the night before, I didn’t have to wake up early. I even got to squeeze in a run before the marathon cooking (note to self, running was not a good idea, as I was totally exhausted from standing for five hours after running). Anyway, two of the new things that I wanted to do this year were mashed potatoes with crispy shallots on top, and salad with homemade buttermilk ranch dressing. So, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and use buttermilk as part of the batter process of the crispy shallots. I soaked sliced shallots in a 3/4 of a cup of buttermilk for about ten minutes. Then, I removed the shallots and moved them into the flour to coat. Meanwhile, I put the remaining buttermilk aside to use for the dressing - this was perfect as the shallots really helped flavor the dressing.
Once the shallots were coated with flour, I fried them in about a quarter inch of olive oil until they turned just golden. It’s really important not to let them brown, or they will taste burned (as you can see from the picture below, I learned that from experience!). It really only takes a couple of minutes for them to fry up. Then, I removed them from the oil, let them drain on paper towels, and sprinkled a bit of Kosher salt on them. Here are the mini onion rings:
They were very crispy and delicious, but a lot of work. Although I enjoyed them, I am not sure I will do this again for Thanksgiving. Still, it was a good thought, and something I would repeat if I ever have a need for crispy onions. Definitely much better than the canned stuff.
Next, I took the reserved buttermilk and added 1/4 cup of mayo and seasonings to taste: garlic powder, celery seed, paprika, oregano, black pepper, and salt. I stirred that all together, and that was my dressing. This is a great ranch, and even makes a good potato chip dip out of the leftovers.
Finally, I washed and cut the romaine lettuce, and put the prepared leaves into the fridge, along with the dressing, to keep cool while I made the rest of the meal.
12:30 - 1:30: This is when I took the turkey out of the fridge to come up to room temperature. I left it out for an hour, and still the meat thermometer said it was below 40 degrees. Oh well. I also took the store bought mini apple pie out of the fridge. Yeah, sorry, but I just can’t do the whole dinner from scratch and dessert and hold down a full-time job. At least, not yet…maybe next year!
While the turkey was out, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, and started on the cranberry sauce. I used the exact same recipe that I always use, and have already blogged about it here.
Anyway, the whole process takes around half an hour, and here are the delicious results:
I like to make the cranberry sauce early in the day, because I prefer to eat it at room temperature, not hot. I just covered it and kept it out of the way until it was time to eat.
Because I put the juice of half a lemon and half an orange in the cranberry sauce, I used the rest of the citrus juice directly on top of the turkey. Then, I cut the squeezed lemon and orange into wedges and stuffed them into the turkey cavity, along with some onion, garlic, sage, thyme, parsley, carrot, and celery. You know, whatever there was room for. I threw anything that didn’t fit into the roasting pan, along with about a cup of white wine. Note: the wine was not enough. Next time, I will also put a few cups of stock in there. Otherwise, all of the liquid burns off, and there isn’t much to make gravy out of. Not to worry, I was able to make gravy, but just barely!
Anyway, here she is, stuffed and trussed:
Let me tell you, buttering and seasoning the bird the night before was very helpful. Next year, I will also stuff and truss her the night before, because it’s just so much easier to not have to touch raw turkey the day of Thanksgiving.
1:30 - 2:00: At this point, the turkey had been out of the fridge for an hour, and the oven had preheated. I stuck the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, and put her into a 450 degree oven for thirty minutes. At that point, I turned the oven down to 350.
2:00 - 4:30: While the turkey roasted, I worked on the stuffing and the potatoes. (Note: at one point, I noticed the breast was getting very dark, so I put a foil triangle on the turkey to protect it.) Anyway, first I made the stuffing, using the cubed Challah that I had made the night before. I used the same recipe as always, which again, can be found here.
For the mashed potatoes, I boiled about a pound of quartered, skin-on, Yukon golds (the absolute best for mashing) in salted water. When they were fork tender, I drained them off and added them back to the pan. I mashed them with a masher along with a quarter cup of the boiling liquid, butter, milk, buttermilk, a bit of cream, parsley, and black pepper. Once they were all mashed together, I put them in an oven proof dish.
At that point, I had my potatoes and my stuffing all ready to throw in the oven, once the turkey was done. And, at 4:30, done it was.
4:30 - 5:00: I took the turkey out and removed it from the roasting pan. I covered it with foil and let it rest while I threw together the rest of the meal. The stuffing went in the oven first (still 350), as that had to be in for thirty minutes. During this time, I put the roasting pan on the stove, deglazed it with white wine, and proceeded to make the gravy as usual, recipe found here.
I also put together the salads:
At around 4:45, I put the potatoes in the oven to keep the stuffing company, and so everything would be hot at the same time. When 5:00 rolled around, I removed both the stuffing and the potatoes from the oven, put the shallots on the taters, and both items on the table.
Here’s the stuffing:
And, here’s the potatoes:
Oh yeah, and the gravy was ready, too:
You can’t really tell by looking at it, but it was thick and lump-free! Yeah, I know. Next year, I will get a gravy boat!
Finally, it was time to carve that beautiful turkey. Here she is before we cut into her:
Look at all of that brown deliciousness!
And here she is on the plate:
The taste really was perfect. I could really taste the brine. In fact, there was really was no need to season the turkey any further after the brine, not that it hurts. You definitely don’t need anymore salt, though. I always get so scared of under salting the meat, but the brine does all of that for you.
Anyway, everything was great. The husband ate thirds, and we have been living off of leftovers all weekend. I am so sad it’s over, but hey, there’s always next year. I don’t think there’s much that I will change from this time, except maybe now I have the confidence to invite people over to enjoy it with us.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!