A Post-Birthday to Remember

Uncouth Gourmands

Josie has the ability to occasionally blow my mind. After making a 5 course birthday dinner for me and a group of people that I invited, which included an LA Weekly food writer, she still felt obliged to take me out. How is that possible? On Friday, after a long day that caused our investor to walk in to our office/conference room with a bottle of wine and gourmet nuts saying that we put in a good week, we still had some energy to go out. Josie let me pick the place and I chose 38 Degrees in Alhambra after reading great things on Yelp, especially from a Yelper that I used to date, and reading their weekly beers on tap from Food GPS’s LA Beer Blast. It’s funny because while I feel like I am in Alhambra all of the time to eat I never go to this downtown area and had no idea how bustling it was on a Friday night. Everyone was dressed up in their hoochie mama clothes and I felt like such a nerd in my stripes. They were letting a lot of drinks on draft run out because they were preparing for Oktoberfest the following day. Josie was still able to have a sampler and I began with a Framboise (girly, I know). We were hungry girls and I was in burger mode, which usually only happens once a month, and yes it is before that time of the month. I had the Smokehouse Burger and Josie had the Mini BBQ Short Rib “Sloppy Joes”. The food was well-priced and pretty darn good for any gastropub. Like a good Jewish girl I gave Josie the bacon from my burger and she said it was homemade and perfection. I had no complaints and we both cleaned up our plates quite nicely.

38 Degrees Alhambra

sloppy Joe sliders

burger fries

We talked to the beer sommelier and the general manager while eating and learned a lot more about this place and the concept. Basically, they wanted to bring the food from their favorite restaurants: Smitty’s, Parkway Grill, and Houston’s to Alhambra. We get that, but was most impressive was how reasonably affordable they were compared to the named restaurants. I am not that big of a beer connoisseur but my other half is and she was impressed by their selections. It was the same thoughtful selections that you see at Lucky Baldwins but are so often overlooked at the big chains like Yard House.  When Josie was busy chatting with management and ordering dessert, I had a long chat with the bartender. I was asking him if he had this amazing bottle of beer I once had, it was a white Belgian from Canada. I tried it once with the former bartender from Lucky Baldwins at Old Towne Pub. He ordered it for me because he knew my beer taste. It was love at first sip. This bartender knew exactly what I meant and pulled it out of the fridge and kept it on ice for us. So what is the name of my most favorite beer? La Fin Du Monde, which translates to the end of the world, and it is brewed by Unibroue. It is so good and I split a bottle with Josie who almost died when she saw that it was $19 a bottle. I am worth it, or at least I keep telling myself that.

best beer

After this delicious bottle it was nearly 1:20 and Josie suggested we go to the Langham for last call. I had a glass of bubbly and Josie had a beer more to her dark liking, an Old Rasputin. While Josie and I are virtually the same person and can even at times share a brain we do have some very strong differences. I am a Blackberry and she is an iPhone. I am Diet Coke and she is Coca-Cola Classic. Perhaps the image of a flute of champagne and a pint of dark ale is our best summation. Regardless, after her thoughtfulness and generosity I worry that the lesbian rumors about us may have to be forced into fruition because it will be impossible to ever find a man so caring and aware of my neurotic and constant mention of likes and dislikes. She keeps track and knows that I always want artichoke hearts, egg salad, and bamboo shoots. She also knows to always put mochi and yogurt chips in my fruity fro-yo. I know that she always requires extra dressing, a huge bowl of rice, and lemon slices galore. I make sure that she has granola and graham cracker crumbs in her tart, chocolate, or peanut butter fro-yo. We are building some type of lasting relationship and we are both equally Uncouth Gourmands, which is our strongest bond and allows us to toast regardless of what our glasses are or what they are filled with.

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After a full work week and endless birthday surprises from my partner, I headed home to see the other woman in my life, my mama. I flew in to San Jose on Saturday afternoon and I began celebrating a long weekend in Santa Cruz with my family. My mom picked me up at the airport and I told her that all of LA is abuzz about a restaurant in Los Gatos called Manresa. Los Gatos is a small affluent town in between Silcon Valley and the beach town of Santa Cruz where I grew up. It is where I spent a lot of my high school days when I wanted to get away from my hippy upbringing and wanted to get in touch with my preppy side. I actually think that the reason I live in Pasadena is because it is so similar to Los Gatos except in a big city. Pasadena is equipped with a Bentley dealership, J. Crew, and an Old Town area just like that of Los Gatos. It is close to interesting areas (read: a LOT more culture)  but somewhere where I, as a girl, am totally comfortable living alone and walking freely at any time of night.

Manresa is closed from Monday to Wednesday so we made a reservation and showed up on Sunday night at 5:30 just the two of us as my brother had a babysitter. I told the babysitter that we would be back at 9pm at the latest. I know how tasting menus work and yet we didn’t even finish dinner until 9:40. My mom said when making the reservation that it was my birthday and upon walking in we were seated right by the window and there was a discreet birthday card waiting for me signed by all of the staff at Manresa. It was a charming touch. My mom and I both wanted the full restaurant experience from Chef David Kinch, who beat out Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, and went with the tasting menu. It was not cheap at $160 a person with no wine included. I had a few glasses of a sparkling riesling and my mom got a chardonnay. We were told by our fabulous waitress, Debbie, that the menu would start at the sea, go to the garden, go back to the sea, then to land with a poultry and a meat dish, and finish with two desserts. She mentioned that it changes over the course of the night and that it is best to get there early. The first thing we were served were some amuse-bouches.

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The very first thing looked just like dessert but was actually quite savory. It was a black olive madeline and a red bell pepper gelee. The next thing we were served came on the waiter’s platter and was a foie gras croquette they recommended taking it all in one bite as it was hot and could squirt. I really am not trying to be uncouth/vulgar, I swear. However, I had to eat so quickly I forgot to take a picture and I was kindly asked by the host to not use flash, I apologize for the sub-par photo quality. However, this foie gras one bite was hot and delish, it warmed me up and definitely tantalized my palate.

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soft boiled egg

The next amuses were a foie gras soup with a fried squash blossom on top and a soft boiled egg with sherry vinegar and maple syrup. It was all delightful little one bites and I could tell my mom was loving it but wanting something substantial. It was around this time they brought out fresh bread and butter. My mom has never been to France and I always tell her that the number one reason to go is for the butter. She has yet to have french butter but was going crazy about the butter they presented to her. She told the waitress and she mentioned that they have a cow in Watsonville and that they make their own butter. My mom used to teach special ed in Watsonville and was once again impressed by all of the touches.

eating bread at Manresa

Manresa in Los Gatos

garden salad

The real courses began with oysters that were a little to salty for both of our tastes but I could tell instantly that they were extremely fresh. I wish they were plain instead of covered in seaweed and buckwheat. However, I heard the table next to us with a surfer remark that it was so salty it reminded him of just picking an oyster up and eating it on his surfboard. I think that is a great compliment. I have always been more a fruit person and my mom has always been a little bunny (it’s no wonder I am a funny bunny) that loves vegetables so she loved the Into the Vegetable Garden salad. We learned that they have 2 acres on a farm in the Santa Cruz mountains area of Bonny Doon where they grow everything. This sealed the deal. I was in love. It was like he was making and serving my backyard. Chef David Kinch even oned up his Bobby Flay victory when it was revealed that he lives in Santa Cruz. I knew I had to meet this man and the waitress arranged a kitchen tour for us at the end of the meal. I was now on my second glass of bubbly and was ready for whatever courses would be thrown my way. The next one was by far my favorite, it was an abalone soup with sea urchin and foie gras in a light gingery broth. It was incredible. Sea urchin has become one of my favorite foods and I was amazed that we had now seen foie gras in 3 dishes.

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black cod

manresa chicken

The next few dishes were black cod and a farmed chicken breast both were good but not mind blowing like that soup. The last dish once again won me over. It was a Napa Valley spring lamb and tongue confit with carrots with orange purée and exotic spice. It tasted very Moroccan to me and as someone that normally doesn’t love either lamb or tongue, I was truly impressed. I couldn’t get enough of this particular dish.

lamb manresa

We asked if we could get both dessert courses at the same time as we had a babysitter to get back to and they happily obliged. I am quite positive that this is the kind of restaurant that never says the word, “No” unless of course it has to do with camera flashes. The dessert course was the The Flavors of New Orleans equipped with beignets, bananas, and pralines and then a pumpkin soup which was poured over ice cream. One of my other favorite touches was that the last thing brought out looked just like the first, except it was a regular madeline cookie with a strawberry gelee. It was the perfect bookend to an absolutely exquisite meal.

dessert manresa

We were taken back to one of the cleanest and best run kitchens I have ever seen. The only one that compares is the Baazar and they have a much larger operation going. There was something so charming about seeing the chef working, knowing the area where their garden is, knowing where their cow and thus butter comes from that made this meal so enjoyable.

manresa kitchen

Uncouth Gourmand with Chef David Kinch

Chef David Kinch made sure we enjoyed our meal, which of course we did and I can honestly say it was one of the top dining experiences of my life. It was also so special for my mom to get a taste (pun always intended) of the food world that I have become such a fan and groupie of. The next day my mom made me lasagna and she was back in her own kitchen. We may not have had our napkins folded back in to a cone every time we went to the bathroom but it was no less of a great experience. I think 2 weeks is a long enough birthday celebration. I am done. I can buy my own food and drinks now, but thank you to all that joined in my festivities. I am sure that this will be a truly great year in my life.

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Janis Ost and Carina Ost

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Relaxing Week in Santa Snooze

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Perhaps not as much relaxing as it was perfecting my wrestling moves with my 8 year old brother, Cody. My trip to my hometown, Santa Cruz, was most excellent some of the highlights include:

#5 Making brownies with Sunshine (real name – strangely she’s not from Santa Cruz but rather from Orange County). She had a brownie craving but sadly only knows how to successfully “bake” rice krispy treats. I helped and recommended two additives that I can now no longer go without in my brownie batter and that is banana slices and marshmallows. You can see that fork imprints are a good substitute when you don’t have a toothpick to check doneness.

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#4 Painting Rocks, Manis and Pedis, Betty’s Burgers, Dharma’s Salad and Cody’s impressions of our grandpa. We purchased a glass rock painting kit and all painted while watching Baby Mama. Here are all the rocks that I made. The UG one is for Josie who I missed a lot during my trip home.

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Had great manicures and pedicures at Tracy’s Nails by the lovely Nina from Vietnam. We spoke at great length and she helped me plan my dream foodie vacay to Vietnam and Singapore in about six months.

I had my first Basic Burger from Betty Burgers and now have the ultimate Santa Cruz food question: Betty Burgers or Jack’s Burgers? The verdict is still out for me.

The main food I always crave when I am away from home is the Gardner’s Salad from Dharma’s with the miso honey dressing. I grew up on this food and go crazy over it, I also love their hot and sour soup. It is one of my favorite vegetarian/vegan places.

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My grandpa is a brilliant man with giant rubber band ball and nothing made me laugh more than seeing my brother’s impression of him.

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#3 Going to Los Gatos. I love Los Gatos and always have; it reminds me so much of Pasadena where I have lived for the last two years. We went to the town with our favorite neighbor, Buzz. The boys got matching shirts at Gap Kids, I bought the dogs delicious treats at Bow Wowzer , and my mom bought this filled pancake pan, batter, and lemon curd that combined makes the best pancakes from Williams Sonoma.

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#2 Having Lunch in the City with the Sis. I met up with my sister in San Fran. We haven’t seen each other in about a year and it was great to catch up. She told me about this super cool new feminist art magazine, Art XX, that she has founded and acts as managing editor of. We had a silly rainy afternoon of vegetarian Japanese food at Cha-Ya, hard cider at The Phoenix, wig shopping, and looking at a ton of murals. Sadly, all of our dad’s murals have been painted over but the new ones of hamburgers and sandwiches on the Golden Gate Bridge and with camels and sharks are just as good. Like I have said millions of times, San Francisco is a city all about food and eating. Oh and we were bummed that Spork was closed for lunch.

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#1 Sri Lankan food in Santa Cruz. The best part of my trip was, of course, experienced last. I wanted to have a great last lunch before I drove home with my mom, my grandpa, and his “trainer” Pilar. I had heard a lot about this Sri Lankan restaurant called Sri and wanted desperately to go there. We all arrived and were so sad to see that they were closed on Monday. We sat in our cars and formed a Plan B. All of the sudden a beautiful woman walked out and apologized that they were closed. My mom, who can be a bit dramatic said how disappointed she was and that she thought the menu said open everyday for lunch. She also added that I had a long drive ahead of me and was hoping to eat there; there’s nothing like guilt from a Jewish mother. The woman, who turned out to be the brand new owner named Ayoma, felt bad and invited us in even though she was just supposed to be there to change a lightbulb and have a light lunch. We felt guilty but my mom nudged on so we entered. My grandpa who is a New York Jew complained about the lack of people and we had to remind him that they are supposed to be closed. Ayoma brought mango lassi out for the table and made us fresh Chai with delicious pieces of ginger inside. She answered a ton of questions about her home country and told us about her dreams for the restaurant that she has just taken over. Her plans include changing the name to Pearl of the Ocean and bringing in furniture from Sri Lanka that should be arriving shortly. My mom requested to see pictures of her mom and dad on the wall in the near future. Ok, on to the food…phenomenal! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

img_1569img_1570img_1571img_1573img_1572The most amazing thing I ate was the triple mushroom curry, the kale with coconut, and the mango curry. Everything was delicious, the service was beyond accommodating, and I can’t wait to come back when the owner makes all of the changes. Ayoma used to be a Los Angeles local and I recommend you all try this place when in the Bay Area. We all left with a full tummy, a hug, and a delightful aftertaste. It was the perfect ending to a great week home. You will be impressed. I guarantee it!

img_1576I will definitely make this place a regular destination on my trips home. I will be returning soon for my grandpa aka King Arthur’s 90th birthday party next month.
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