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Executive Chef Nyesha Arrington. Image via businesswire.com

I checked out Nyesha Arrington's menu at Wilshire in Santa Monica last night. The restaurant's new executive chef is on her way to becoming a house-hold name after winning 'Chef Hunters' on The Food Network and competing on this season's 'Top Chef: Texas'.

So I was surprised that the joint was kind of dead, until I realized it was Monday night after Thanksgiving weekend. More than likely most folks were happily at home eating up their leftovers as I took a seat outside on the patio where I could admire the dancing flames in the fireplace and the knobby trees draped in glittering lights. I wouldn't miss those leftovers one bit.

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image via flickr.com
Studying the menu revealed that Arrington had obviously picked up a few tricks from her mentor, Josiah Citrin. She has, after all, worked with him at Lemon Moon in Culver City and Mélisse in Santa Monica. Not to mention the invaluable skills she must have acquired through osmosis, simply rubbing elbows in the kitchen with the legendary, award-winning French chef Joël Robuchon. A little of that Michelin star dust must have settled nicely into her culinary repertoire after having worked at his L'Atelier and at The Mansion in Vegas.
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We ordered the octopus salad to start. I had read that Arrington's Korean grandmother had introduced her to the unique flavors of kimchi, bulgogi and octopus from a young age, and she's been known to incorporate these flavors into her dishes. This dish turned out to be a small revelation. The octopus was soft and tender and not plagued by the oftentimes natural chewiness associated with the mollusk. They were considerably large pieces and yet as soft as a scallop. It was accompanied by fresh parsley, tomatoes and slivers of cucumber for a refreshing kick.

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Next up for review was the pork belly. It arrived with french lentils and a poached egg (which is always promising). It's hard to go wrong with pork belly and a well-executed poached egg. My gut was right, and the dish was rich and hearty with smoky notes and garlic confit. Little croutons delicately soaked up the egg yolk, after a soft nudge of my fork had it spilling over the lentils, the same way that sunshine pours into a dusky room and quickens your pulse.

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The halibut arrived and with an excited glance I predicted greatness. I was sadly disappointed. It was dry instead of tender and the sauce that accoutred it barely enhanced it at all. I expected the first bite to melt away in my mouth after seeing the crispy, golden brown hues but there was nothing buttery about it. Finally, the earthiness of the king trumpet mushrooms was a slight consolation.

As was the wild boar papperdelle. This meat dish was both savory and sweet with perfectly textured al dente noodles. It had bits of olive which complimented the meatiness of the wild boar and the sweet mixture of vegetables in the sauce. It was a welcome reprieve from the halibut and was gone before I could get a picture! Please do find it in your hearts to forgive me.

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Dessert was a no-brainer. I ordered the sticky toffee pudding with crème fraiche ice cream probably because I know it's Princess Kate's favorite dessert. I remember reading the recipe and loving the fact that it's naturally sweetened with finely chopped dates. I can't go to Palm Springs without stopping for a milkshake made from the palm dates that grow on all the palm trees. Anyways, the moist sponge cake came in a pool of toffee goodness, and the crème fraiche ice cream had just the right amount of sourness to avoid sugar sensory overload. 


Check out the creative menu at Wilshire below and see for yourself!
http://wilshirerestaurant.com/menus/dinner/
 
 
Chi town knows how to eat. Can't argue with that. Where else in the world could you find a hot dog stand that boasts a menu with 10 specialty dogs? All of the encased meats are made in house and so the possibilities are truly endless. Check out the specialty menu: http://hotdougs.com/menu.htm

From foie gras duck sausage topped with foie gras mousse, fleur de sel and truffle aioli to a chardonnay and jalapeno rattlesnake sausage with prickly pear raita and asiago cheese, Doug has established a thrilling destination spot for adventurous foodies looking for a food coma.

This joint took forever to find which was an adventure all on its own. My imbecile soon-to-be brother in law insisted that it would be worth the 20 min train ride, 15 min bus ride and 10 min walk that it took to find. We did not expect to see others making the same pilgrimage. Turning the corner we were stunned to see the line wrapping around the block to get into Hot Dougs! But we had come this far, and were in it to win it.

40 min later, in a frenzy of excitement we ordered 9 varieties of hot dogs and fries drenched in goose fat. The food came. We all stared in awe and I arranged the plates for a photo. I pleaded with them all not to touch a thing and they obliged, appreciating the calm before the storm. I stood on my chair, I took a picture, I felt like the conductor of a great symphony, like Esa Pekka Salonen must feel giving the nod to his orchestra. I snapped the picture and the eating began.

We are champion eaters and this day was no different. We left stuffed but proud of ourselves for this accomplishment. We piled into a cab feeling sorry for the poor souls stuck in the cold who would never make it into Hot Doug's before closing. They wouldn't meet Doug or see the sausage art in the bathrooms. They wouldn't get to go home and nap off their gluttony induced food comas.
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mural at Hot Doug's in Chicago
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American Gothic from the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. image via audiviator.com
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Mural at Hot Doug's in Chicago. Image by David La Porta
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Magritte's painting from the collection at LACMA, image via tidbitsfromanordinarymind.blogspot.com
 
 
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In the open kitchen with chef Michael Voltaggio and food lover Adam Richman, host of the Travel Channel's 'Man vs Food' show

Ready for some Ratatouille-style-fireworks-in-my-mouth last night when I sat down at Ink after walking past the open kitchen. The scent of hunger filled elation in the air. I quickly picked up the menu. My first thoughts "Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it, Oh my god..." this place cares about quality.

I glanced up at the waiter who offered me a choice of flat or sparkling, on the house... I can't recall the last time I didn't have to pay for bubbles and I liked it. Then I spot none other than Man vs Food' host Adam Richman seated right across from me. Evidence! Evidence that Ink will live up to my heaping expectations.

We ordered everything. The menu has 15 items and the portions are small so it was the obvious choice. I loved it. All of it. The standouts are the lamb neck, the beef tartare, the jidori chicken and waffles, the berkshire pork and the charred avocado. And the squid ink spaghetti. Ok, basically the entire menu for crying out loud!
Just make sure you get the kale salad to balance out the rich flavors with a refreshing bite of citrus to cleanse your palette between dishes. And if you go in December, you will get to try the Omakase tasting. For now, I'm mostly impressed by the skillful way Voltaggio unsuspectingly incorporates flavors into his dishes. The whipped fish sauce and mushroom flavored toast that topped the charred avocado are pleasant surprises. And the horseradish snow that adorned the kobe beef tartare. And his humble, friendly attitude when you head over to meet him.
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apple, creme caramel, burnt wood sabayon, walnut dessert
For dessert, the apple caramel is the way to go. Hands down.
 
 
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Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio. Image via Bravotv.com
Finally tonight I get to try the food at Ink!! Not easy to get a reservation and so I can't tell you how excited I am for dinner in an hour! I have high expectations since I love the menu and concept over at Michael Voltaggio's 'Ink Sack'. If you haven't scoped out the sammers there yet, it's about that time.

Right next door to Sweet Lady Jane, the 20 or so feet of sidewalk that make up Ink Sack are quickly becoming my lunchtime mecca. From chicken liver mousse to a curried chicken skin BLT, Voltaggio's creations are new and exciting. (My go-to is the spicy sushi grade albacure tuna)

Voltaggio's star is rising ever since winning season 6 of Top Chef and he is taking LA by storm. I can't friggin wait to see what he's got (other than tattoos) up those chef's sleeves...


 
 
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If you heart ramen soup, and pork belly buns, then you have to eat at Ippudo on 65 4th Avenue! This NYC gem is a popular chain over in Japan where there are now 43 locations from Tokyo to Osaka. "Ramen King" Shigemi Kawahara has mastered the art of the rich, flavorful broths, perfectly al dente noodles and array of tender delicious toppings which make this soup worth the 45 min wait you will most likely endure before you are seated. 

It's all good though because the chefs welcome everyone through the curtain with familiar shouts, like we were all college drinking buddies once, and the host offers you hot tea while you browse the menu options. Of course it's just soup, but the options seem endless. Pork broth, chicken broth or seafood broth? Or a combo? What sized noodle, what toppings?

I recommend starting with the pork belly buns while you decide. They are a bite out of heaven, and I still drool a tiny bit when I think about them. Do yourself a favor and head over to this joint next time your stuck in the NY rain and get a heartwarming bowl of ramen soup.
Afterall, it is MY SOUP DU JOUR.