_The people behind Umami Burger have brought us a pizzeria worthy of your next pizza craving. Right behind the Hammer Museum in Westwood, you're likely to see a line wrapping around Lindbrook Dr. comprised of hungry UCLA students and LA residents, all waiting their turn to choose the fresh ingredients that will top their Neopolitan style pizzas.

The pizzeria is open till 2 am nightly and has a super efficient ordering process. All you need to do is point to the ingredients you want, or just order something from the menu, and watch as the wheat flour dough is kneaded by hand and then baked in front of you in under a minute.
_Seven of us went and ordered a pie each. I have to say, the winners are the pollo with gorganzola and carmelized onions, and the margherita with its spicy tomato sauce. The pie is crispy and tender and the mozzarella cheese is fragrant without being too heavy. The sausage and peppers pizza is also a great one. Some other fun ingredients to play around with would be the rock shrimp, garlic, anchovies, and artichoke. But not all together!

The roomy dining area with high dome ceiling and clean white tiles has plenty of table seating for you and all your friends. To wash it all down, there is a Ferrari designed soda fountain that offers everything from sparkling water to peach soda. And if you've decided to check your will power at the door, the best part is the L.A Creamery gelato bar. The creamiest of ice creams with surprisingly fresh flavors. The chocolate chip will blow your mind how much it tastes like fresh mint.  

_It might be time to plan that pizza party.

800 Degrees
10889 Lindbrook Dr.

When you're in NYC, it can be difficult to decide where to go for a clean and delicious meal. Well, unless you've tried Jean-George's ABC Kitchen. It's the perfect place to slow down and enjoy natural, local and organic food in a serene setting. From hand-crafted artisan dinnerware and natural fiber table settings to wooden beams and candle glow, this kitchen is bringing it back to the A-B-C's of basics. With artful design and exquisite farm-to-table food, it's no wonder the James Beard Foundation awarded it the honor of  Best New Restaurant of 2011. 
image via abckitchennyc.com
Here is how the lovely meal began.
You guessed it, crab toast. With dill and aioli on a thick slab of toast, this was rich and creamy. A few good squirts of lemon really livens it up and highlights the freshness of the crab which is sweet and vibrant in it's own right..
The sweet shrimp with horseradish and olive oil was sweet and spicy. Served raw, these baby shrimp taste wet and have a sticky coating and firmness to them. This is a unique dish that is definitely worth trying if you enjoy trying new and interesting textures.
Pizza with proscuitto, dates and ricotta has a smokey flavor from the the small bits of proscuitto that enhanced the smooth creaminess of the cheese. The sweet dates and spicy greens brought an additional kick to the palette that made this thin crust, whole wheat pizza all the more delightful.
The farrow salad with cranberries, sweet potatoes and blue cheese was thick and creamy as risotto. All that full-bodied flavor and richness, without the gluten. These incredibly healthy grains are hearty and satisfying, and the tang of blue cheese made this silky salad even more luscious.
The grass-fed beef burger with pickled jalapenos was a triumphant choice, as most good burgers usually are. The beef was perfectly medium-rare and juicy, even though grass-fed has 1/2 the fat of corn-fed beef, less saturated fats and more omega 3s. This lean cut of tender beef was delicious and I didn't feel sluggish afterwards like I sometimes do after eating fattier cuts of grain fed steak. I had a full night ahead and was still in party mode.
Instead of fries I opted for the sea salt mashed potatoes. They were deliciously dreamy enough that I had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake. I wanted to dive inside that dish of perfectly pureed mash and lose myself in there forever.
The dark chocolate cake with layers of ganache and toasted marshmallow was fit for a goddess, just divine. I couldn't get enough of the chocolatey, fudgy ganache. The tiny chocolate pearls were airy and lightly crunchy and the whipped marshmallow was sweet and fluffy. And hey! They say dark chocolate is full of anti-oxidants that are good for your heart.

Next time you want to enjoy yourself and have a delicious dinner before going out NYC style, make a rezzie at ABC Kitchen. You can eat your heart out and not feel like you're dragging your feet around after. Sometimes being good to yourself in NYC is as easy as A-B-C.
For those of us who appreciate fine chocolates, we look forward to Valentine's Day whether Cupid's bow has hit or not. Happily coupled or alone, treating yourself to some sweet chocolate is quite simply, de riguer this time of year. And I know just the place to get the job done right!

John Kelly Chocolates has delicious little gems of all natural, premium quality chocolate. Each piece is made by hand and wrapped with care in this cozy Hollywood factory. If you want to see the process first hand, just pop your head into the retail space on Sierra Bonita and see for yourself. The creamy fudge and caramel clusters are made in-house, and only a glass door separates the shop from the work space.
The gift towers are perfect for Valentine's Day, and the chocolates are generous enough to split in half if you're inclined to share. They are a little steep at $3 a piece, but the quality and flavor are remarkable enough to make it worth it. One bite of these luscious, red ribbon wrapped, Belgian chocolates will overpower you. Let yourself go and fall truly, madly, deeply in love.
To order online, visit the website and browse the chocolate varieties to find your personal preference. Or check out the LA store at 1506 N. Sierra Bonita Ave and ask for a few samples!
Last night I was invited to a Tasting Dinner at the Hotel Angeleno in Bel Air. A Joie de Vivre restaurant, 'West' has been revamped and the new digs is bursting at the seams with dinner-and-drinks-panache. I started with a Bacardi cocktail with almond syrup and then switched to one with muddled blackberry and mint that I loved. It was sweet without being too sugary and had just the right amount of sour tang.
We sat down at our table with a view overlooking Santa Monica and were served rose champagne and warm and crispy bites of baguette with butter. The top floor views were sparkling and so were the blown glass chandeliers. A sleek and shiny bar and big leather booths made this space even more inviting.

_The 9 course tasting menu began with an amuse bouche of sunchoke soup with brown butter powder and shaved truffle. It was a great way to kick up our appetites and get the excitement bubbling up in the room. The soup was warm and the gentle truffle aroma was like a soft kiss on the mouth, building up our anticipation for the rest of the meal.
The first course was a roasted baby beet salad with triple creme goat cheese and a beet caramel. The goat cheese was made by the executive chef himself and was a heavenly mix of cream and warmth. The beet caramel added a divine dimension and depth to the dish that was sublime. The classic pairing was exceptionally good, and I found myself impressed, even by this dish which I have enjoyed many, many versions of in my lifetime.
The second was a seared foie gras with quince jam and ginger bread. The foie gras was beautifully seared, melting on the tongue and very rich. I was surprised by how large the portion was, and with 7 courses to go I wasn't sure if I should finish it all. Ahh, as if I could stop myself.
The third was a braised pork cheek with crispy potato and apple mustarda. The meat was soft and tender, and the potato crisp had a nice crunch. And the small bites of apple were a refreshing touch.
The fourth was a crispy egg with bacon jam and aragula. Here, the moment of truth lay in what would happen after I split the egg in half. 
Success! The yolk was runny and the bacon jam and spicy aragula brought out a peppery flavor. I thought the bacon jam would bring an element of salt to the dish, but it was more on the sweet side. In fact, I expected the dish to be saltier and would have appreciated a few grains of sea salt to satiate the craving. It's not often that a fried food is lacking in that department, but I'm sure everyone agrees that it's preferable to be under salted than over salted.
Now that we were almost half way through the menu, it was time for a palette cleanser. The chef brought out an orange sorbet with lemon cream and topped with pop rocks. The small sugar crystals exploded on my tongue like fireworks and made us all laugh as we reminisced on our playground days. A fun pause in the meal. 
The rest of the courses were shared plates. We greatly enjoyed the stuffed quail with brussel sprouts, chanterelles and pancetta.
The quail was stuffed with a creamy corn and herb mixture on the inside and had a golden brown crispy skin on the outside. The quail was succulent and juicy and full of flavor. The chanterelles and pancetta on the side smoothed down the bitterness of the brussel sprouts and made for a nice medley of smoky, earthy flavors.
The lobster macaroni with sun dried tomato and lobster foam was unbelievable. The macaroni was thick and the sauce was excellent, with the sun dried tomato adding a punch of flavor and hints of herbs and sweetness to the lobster. A favorite and a total crowd pleaser, I dare anyone to try this and not like it.   
The seared scallops with raisin puree and rainbow cauliflower were seared with lots of butter and had a slightly crispy layer. They were thin for sea scallops, but perhaps they were flattened in the sautee pan. They were too rich for me by this time of the meal. The raisin puree was very sweet, and I liked the concept of the sauce and the cauliflower pairing. The rainbow selection of vegetables was beautiful and the meal certainly needed some fresh garden elements.
Dessert was a dulce de leche and chocolate aero with caramel ice cream and popcorn. The caramel sauce was blissful and milky and soothed me into a nice calm state. The ice cream could have been creamier, but the popcorn was light, airy and crunchy and brought a playfulness to the plate. I thought I might skip the dessert, but it wasn't overwhelmingly rich and I enjoyed every last bite.

The tasting menu at West exceeded my expectations. The ingredients were spectacular and each dish had a wine pairing to accompany it. Chef Mathew Woolf created simple and refined food that was flavorful and consistent. With exceptional food and drinks, I will make note of this place the next time I'm looking for fine dining and some joie de vivre.