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When I searched for “vegetarian friendly dinner” in the financial district of San Francisco, one restaurant that caught my eye was Cotogna.  Its colorful website was bursting with pictures of fresh vegetables, so I didn’t have to feel silly about calling them and ask if it was a good idea to take a vegan there.  It just so happened that the night we were dining there was also a Sunday Supper night, which I was looking forward to.

I had the regular set for Sunday Supper while Will had a modified vegan set.  I didn’t get to take too many pictures because I was both starving and trying to hold an active infant in my lap for the start of the meal. Luckily, the staff was nice enough to borrow another highchair from a nearby restaurant so that we could put Robin in it and eat like somewhat-civilized people. Robin seemed to enjoy the food as well.

One thing Cotogna is known for is their fresh pasta and it did not disappoint. My taglioni was the perfect amount of al dente — I expected no less. What really impressed me was that they had to use dried pasta for Will’s dish since most fresh pasta isn’t vegan and even their dried pasta dish with tomato sauce, which sounds boring, was really good.  Will declared that he would be happy to return to the restaurant soon.

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There was also a beet salad appetizer. While it was good, it didn’t blow me away. I’m just bored of beet salad.

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In lieu of a meaty protein dish, Will got this hearty bowl of fresh corn and chanterelles. He really enjoyed this and was happy it wasn’t yet another salad. The only odd thing about this dish was the choice of purslane for garnish. It made the dish look pretty, but the lemony taste of the purslane didn’t really mesh well with the rest of the elements in the bowl. I had the same thought about the fennel fronds in my lamb dish.

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Other than the odd taste of the fennel in the lamb, I enjoyed my meaty main. The lamb was not overcooked and the eggplant puree served with it added the necessary pop of flavor to an otherwise heavy bite.

Since I picked Cotogna because it was vegetarian friendly, close to our hotel, and had something special for Father’s Day, I have to say it was a hit. It could be the Aperol flip that I had to start with, but I also thought the wine selection by the glass was both interesting and reasonably priced.

The only downside to dining at Cotogna is that it’s going to be hard to decide between eating there or Barbacco next time I’m in SF and want that type of Californian-Italian food for dinner.

Cotogna
490 Pacific Avenue,
San Francisco, Ca 94133
415.775.8508

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When we heard that a friend was the executive chef at a new bar downtown, we knew we had to pay it a visit.  With the baby in tow, we got to Beelman’s pub at the old-person dining hour of 5:30 in the afternoon.

Beelmans pub

The chef, Tom Block, bought us a round of drinks and we ordered the Phantom Limb and Airplane Mode.  The Phantom Limb was balanced, fragrant, and really good. The Airplane Mode, an interesting draft cocktail, was smooth and herbal.  At the time, I thought, “If the drinks are this good, the food must be great too.”

The food at Beelman’s isn’t fussy, but also isn’t your typical pub burger and fries. Yes, if that’s what you want, they do have burger and fries on the menu. The fries were actually really good — fat, crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside. But I encourage you to branch out and try some of their other dishes.

Beelmans pub

The smoked beet salad surprised both Will and me.  Living in LA, we’ve had our fill of boring beet salads. It’s up there with kale salad as the most overdone type of salad.  But this one was so good that Will ordered seconds.  The smoke flavor was subtle and the dressing was spot-on.  We ordered this with a vegan modification and didn’t even miss the dairy. Our second serving came with grated horse radish on top that made it even better.

Beelmans pub

Then there are the green beans, which were good, but not as exciting as our other dishes. They had a snappy bite to them and the bits of chile pepper were a nice addition.

Beelmans pub

I can never say no to smoked salmon, so I ordered the house-smoked salmon.  It was great!  I loved that the slices of bread were not over-toasted so that they shattered as soon as I bit into them. I loved the slight spice rub on the salmon. It was like eating a delicately smoked pastrami, except made of salmon.

Beelmans pub

I wavered on whether or not to get the spaetzle since I wasn’t that hungry, but Will said I should and I’m so glad I agreed. The spaetzlel was one of the highlights of the meal.  Rich, cheesy, and comforting the way I imagine mac and cheese is to other folks.  The fresh peas and favas was just icing on the cake. I was sad to come back from feeding the meter to see a good portion of my spaetzle was stolen by Robin.

Beelmans pub

The chef then sent out the roasted mushrooms for us to try. These were oyster and hen of the wood mushrooms cooked with a splash of sherry vinegar for brightness.  They were really tasty and I could imagine them going down well with a tall glass of beer.  I wanted to try the grapefruit lager, but it was so popular that it was sold out that night.

It’s amazing how many great dining options are popping up downtown now that it’s being revitalized. If I were working downtown or even lived there, I could see this becoming a regular place to stop by, have a few bites to eat and something to drink.  I’m already planning for another visit there to meet a friend who lives nearby.

Beelman’s Pub
600 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Downtown

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Crispy quinoa salad with kale and apricots was a success. #vegan #vscocam

People are often impressed (or pretend to be impressed) when they see our garden. They think it’s because we are serious about hyper-local organic vegetables but the real reason I keep a garden is because I’m often too lazy to go to the supermarket and like the convenience of foraging for veggies in the backyard when I need to cook dinner.

Our apricot tree is just starting to bloom.  In the usual race to pick ripe apricots before the birds and squirrels get to them, I wanted a way to use not quite perfect apricots as well as a way to use the bountiful kale that’s in the garden.  I had some leftover cooked quinoa in the fridge I also wanted to use up.

As with all my dishes, I free-styled this one, so there’s not so much a precise recipe — more like a suggestion of how to throw things together.

Ingredients:

  • lacinato kale
  • 4-5 ripe but not too soft apricots
  • 1.5 cup cooked quinoa
  • almonds
  • a few sprigs holy basil
  • 1 shallot
  • orange marmelade
  • sherry vinegar
  • olive oil
  • aleppo pepper
  • ground cumin
  • ground ginger
  • salt and pepper

Instructions:

De-stem the kale, wash, and thoroughly dry. I use a salad spinner for this, but swinging it around in some kitchen towels also works.  Chop the kale roughly so the pieces are smaller than a dime. Put the kale in a large salad bowl and throw in a pinch of salt and a couple glugs of olive oil.  Now use your hands and massage the kale, making sure to distribute the oil and salt.  Don’t be afraid to squeeze the kale. After a minute of massage, set it aside. The kale will tenderize while you prepare the other ingredients.

Put a tablespoon of oil on a skillet and spread about half the amount of cooked quinoa out on the bottom of the skillet.  Sprinkle on some aleppo pepper. The quinoa should be in one layer.  The heat on the pan should be high enough that there’s a slight sizzling sound.  Keep an eye on the quinoa and toss and re-spread every couple of minutes to prevent burning.  In the meantime, in another pan, toast the almonds, tossing every few minutes to prevent burning.

Remove the pits from the apricot and chop roughly to the size of M&M’s.  Put the apricots in the bowl with the kale.

Now for the dressing. Get out a glass jar with lid to mix the salad dressing in.  Mince the shallots and put in the jar. Top with a few tablespoons of oil and 1/3 as much vinegar.  Throw in a pinch of salt and a pepper.  Put in half a teaspoon of orange marmalade, or more if you like your salad sweeter.  Put in a small pinch of cumin and a small pinch of ground ginger. Cap the jar and give it a good couple of shakes to mix everything up.

Finely chop the holy basil.

When the quinoa is toasted (took me 10 mins) the almonds should be done too. Chop up the almonds and add them to the kale.  Add the rest of the (untoasted) quinoa to the kale, and then add everything else (toasted quinoa, holy basil, toasted almonds) to the bowl. Top with the salad dressing and mix, mix, mix.  Taste the salad and add more salt if needed.  Serve and eat immediately.

I thought I had made enough to eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, which would also give me a chance to see how well this salad kept, but we ended up eating everything for dinner, so I have no idea if the quinoa would stay crispy or not, sorry.

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After doing a lot of research, playing around with specs, hemming, hawing, I had finally decided to call Tesla and schedule a test drive. The nearest place I could try out one of these new-fangled all-electric cars is in Costa Mesa, so a week after I called for an appointment, off I went.

On first glance, both Will and I thought it was weird that there would be a car dealership in a mall.  Technically, I guess it’s not a dealership, but more of a retail space. Kind of like an Apple store, but for very expensive gadgets.  Half an hour before my appointment, I received a call confirming that I was still showing up — yes I was.  When I got to the store in Costa Mesa mall, I was surprised to see two cars parked in there and a handful of people looking at it and taking turns sitting in the driver’s seat. I did not expect two full-sized cars in a store the size of a Sharper Image store.

One of the sales reps checked me into the appointment, got my driver’s license number to make sure I was a valid driver, and asked that I wait for another rep to come and take me for the test drive. The wait was longer than expected because another sales rep had mistakenly taken both sets of key fobs for both cars on the test drive they were on, so my sales rep and I had to wait for them. When we finally walked down to the garage, it turned out my rep had picked up the fob for the wrong car (I wanted to test drive a setup closer to what I would purchase) and had to go back up and switch.

When I finally sat behind the steering wheel, I was a little surprised. The car was parked in a tight spot that would have been pretty hard to back up out of had there not been parking sensors and that fish-eye rear camera. I wonder if that was intentional. Backing out of that was easier than I thought, but if I were the sales rep sitting in such an expensive, scratch-free car, I’d be biting my fingernails the whole time.

My first impression of the car was that it was wider than what I was used to and not as quiet as I was expecting.  My regular car is a Prius and that’s already plenty quiet, so maybe I was expecting complete silence in a Tesla. Maybe because the roads were still wet with rain, but I could definitely hear driving sounds.  The handling was also a bit different because acceleration was so much better and smoother than the acceleration in a Prius.  Because of the way the car was weighted, turning was more responsive or twitchy and probably something I’d have to get used to.

When we got to the freeway onramp (after a pretty sharp turn!) the sales rep said I should probably stomp on it to get up to freeway speed and I did and WOW, that sold me the car right then. I was at 75mph before the onramp even ended and it was not a long onramp! What impressed me the most was how smooth acceleration was. Maybe it’s the lack of gears shifting, but I barely felt it.  The instantaneous throttle makes it very easy to get to a high speed without even realizing it.

After deciding that I would like to purchase the car, I was dreading sitting for the next few hours getting it finalized.  If you’ve been to a traditional car dealer, you know what I’m talking about. I was unprepared for the Tesla soft sell.  The sales rep asked if I wanted to go over any of the different configurations or options and I declined, saying I already went over them on the site and I knew what I wanted.  We sat down to confirm the specs I wanted, he explained some add-ons that I had questions on but wasn’t pushy about it at all. He even agreed with me about the silliness of some of the options. After what seemed like only half an hour, he put in my information on the Tesla site, confirmed again that it was what I wanted, I gave him my credit card for the deposit amount, and then we were done!  He then disappeared to get us some “special gifts” for buying the car and returned with a folder of orientation and confirmation paperwork, two Tesla hats, and we were done!

It was the easiest, best, car buying experience I’d ever had.  I’m sure part of it was that I was buying an expensive car, but I was so happy not to have to deal with pushy sales people or hidden fees.

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There used to be a strange sounding Chinese restaurant bearing the word “Denmark” in its name and serving steak on their menu. I wasn’t ever curious enough to try it out but when it shuttered and a new Hunan place sprung in its stead, I was game.  If there was going to be a good Hunan restaurant near my house, I wanted to be the first to know.

On my first visit there, the restaurant was a little disorganized.  I saw that the table seated next to me got an interesting fish dish that I wanted to try too, but when I attempted to order it, the waiter admitted that they couldn’t make another serving because they couldn’t defrost the fish quickly enough.  When I asked if the corn in the corn and pine nuts dish was fresh, he said of course it was fresh — they get a fresh bag of frozen corn with each produce order.  The waiter was amazed when I told him it was possible to buy corn by the cob.

Although my conversation with the waiter left me a little apprehensive, I ordered food anyway.

Hunan Spicy Taste

The star of that meal was the hot and sour stir fried tendon.  Its rich, savory flavor was heightened by the powerful chili peppers and slight dash of vinegar.  The tendon itself was not melt-in-your-mouth soft, but had a satisfying chew.  I ordered this medium spicy and it had enough kick to give me pause.  By the time I got halfway through this dish, I was in pain but couldn’t stop eating it once the heat in my mouth died down.

Hunan Spicy Taste

Will ordered a few modified-to-be-vegetarian dishes that were decent.  The sliced tofu stir fried with green pepper was simple, but good and with a moderate amount of heat.  The stir fried napa cabbage with chili peppers was surprisingly good even though it sounded boring.  The fish-fragrant eggplant was supposed to be made vegetarian by omitting the meat, but it came with ground pork on it anyway.  Even with the pork, it didn’t taste that good.

Hunan Spicy Taste

The second time I visited, I ordered another round of the tendon, also medium spicy and it was even spicier than the first time.  As usual, I couldn’t stop eating it even though my mouth was in serious pain.

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Because we had more diners at the table, I was also able to order one of their specials: steamed fish head.  It was gigantic, with a good amount of meat on the head.  Picking the tender, perfectly spiced meat off the bones reminded me of eating tender fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs.  If there’s more than 3 people in your party who likes fish, I would recommend getting this dish.

For the vegetarian at the table, we got the stir fried cauliflower with chili peppers.  The florets were tender but still had a little bite to them and the chili gave it a different flavor than I’m used to when eating cauliflower. I thought the spice went well to cut down on the slightly stinky sulfur taste of cauliflower.

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We also ordered the water-boiled preserved bamboo, which had a good flavor, but was a little tough to chew in some spots. I don’t know if some of the bamboo was too dry or if the dish was supposed to be that chewy, but the pieces that were tender were pretty good.

Hunan Spicy Taste

Then there was the marinated Hunan noodle, which came with one type of noodles the first time I ordered it, and then came with a different type the second time.  I preferred the noodles from the second time because they were a bit thicker and had a chewy al dente texture that highlighted the cold, tender slices of braised beef laid on top.  If I were dining on my own, I’d probably just order that dish for a comforting lunch.

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There were some inconsistencies amongst dishes the two times I’ve visited Hunan Spicy Taste, but it’s close enough in the neighborhood and new enough that I’m willing to give them some leeway.

Hunan Spicy Taste
120 N San Gabriel Blvd
Ste C & D
San Gabriel, CA 91775
(626) 285-2966

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It may be presumptuous to say I’ve tasted the best burger of 2014 and it is Bel Campo’s cheeseburger, but hey, if I end up tasting a better burger, it will be a good problem to have.

This burger was the best I've had in a long time. Bel Campo knows how to make a good patty.

This $12.50 burger without fries was well worth it.  Happy, until humanely killed for their flesh, cows do taste better.  The patty was a loose, chopped patty that held together very well, but still managed to taste light.  The cheese enhanced rather than distracted from the beef flavor (I’m looking at you, Father’s Office blue-cheese-bomb burger).  The bun was airy but solid enough not to fall apart halfway through the burger.  The whole thing was juicy without being greasy (like an Umami burger).

In the guise of eating something more healthy, I ordered the spicy fried broccolini, which were the best broccolini I’d ever had.  The green was deep fried so the floret was crispy but the stem was still tender.  Tossed with an assertive, lemony and spicy dressing, it was the perfect foil to a perfect burger.  I didn’t even miss not having fries.

The only bad thing I can say about Bel Campo is that it makes choosing another sandwich from the menu or  anywhere else to eat in Grand Central Market very difficult.

Belcampo Meat Co.
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Disclaimer: LA Weekly is comping me 2 general admission tickets.

Tacolandia Flyer

Do you like tacos? Yes? I do too. That’s why I will be at Tacolandia in June.

Who: LA Weekly Tacolandia
What: 40+ Taco vendors.
Where: El Pueblo de Los Angeles (DTLA)
When: 3-7pm on June 28th
Why: Because tacos are delicious.

Some of the vendors I’m looking forward to:
Chichen Itza, Colonia Taco Lounge, Coni’Seafood, Mariscos Jalisco, Rocio’s Mole De Los Dioses.

General Admission tickets: $25
(Use the pre-sale code NAKEDSUSHI if you’d like to purchase tickets as early as Tuesday the 22nd.)

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