Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dining in Los Angeles: Old Favorites


Earlier this week, I shared some classic LA eats that should be on everyone's list for a visit to the city of angels. I also have some personal favorites that may be off the radar, but are definitely on my list of nostalgic spots. Today, I will share a couple of those here on Mission: Food. If I had been writing this blog back when I lived in LA, these would have definitely gotten their fair attention :)


One of the perks of working at the Simpsons, much like working on any television production, was free lunch every day. The difference at the Simpsons, however, was that we had essentially no limit on our food budget. We could order as much food as we wanted! We would order lunch every day from one restaurant and also from the commissary at Fox, and sometimes the bill at the restaurant alone would top $700, although a more average bill ranged between $300 and $500 a day. That's a lot, folks. We were feeding anywhere from 20 to 30 people per day. It adds up. And the restaurant was only half the food. Each day we would select a different restaurant. We had our binder of favorites, and one of the overall favorites of the staff was Clementine, a few short blocks from Twentieth Century Fox Studios.


Clementine is a family-owned bakery-cafe featuring a seasonal menu. How many bakeries do you know that change their menu five times a year to ensure fully fresh and seasonal offerings? Not a whole lot! Clementine makes everything in house and by hand, from their perfectly balanced sandwich options (which now include a design-you-own grilled cheese) to their ever popular specialty salads, and from every cookie and brownie that they produce. It is all lovingly and artfully prepared year-round. They also feature two fresh soups a day that change regularly. You can call or check the website for the daily options. I had many favorite dishes throughout the year, and each new menu brought back old memories.


My (and every Simpsons employee's) favorite time of year at Clementine was when their incredible Sloppy Joes returned to the menu. They are currently on their summer menu, so I was thrilled for the opportunity to have one during my trip back to LA. They are better than any Sloppy Joe I have ever had, way better quality and more flavorful than anything that comes out of a school cafeteria (or can). It shouldn't even be in the same food group as the others, that's how good this sandwich is! The meat is flavorful and juicy, topped with sharp cheddar, and all encased in a soft and golden brioche bun. When getting it to go, expect it to be wrapped in foil, and be a lot messier to eat than if you get it at the cafe. It was a lot less messy during my visit this time around than on previous to-go orders. They also serve their delicious homemade bread and butter pickles on the side. Another favorite sandwich I remember is their rare roast beef sandwich, though I don't think there is a single item I ordered (and I think I tried EVERYTHING on the menu at least once... remember, I didn't have to pay for any of it, muahahahaha) that I didn't like.

Sloppy Joe Sandwich $9.50

Another seriously popular menu item is Clementine's chocolate chip cookies! I know, you think you've had the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. I've honestly never been to Levain Bakery in NYC, and I know they are famous for theirs. I think every bakery makes theirs differently, but for what it's worth, with every order from Clementine we also ordered 2 dozen cookies, and a good bunch of those were chocolate chip. In fact, many people (including yours truly) would order a couple chocolate chip cookies separately from the 2 dozen cookies just to make sure we got our chocolate chip fix before the boxes of cookies were completely ravaged. They are thin, somewhat crisp around the edges, super chewy, and gooey. A well-balanced chocolate chip cookie for any occasion.

Chocolate Chip Cookies $1.75 each

In a city as large as Los Angeles, dining options are spread out, but Clementine is one of my favorites. Not only have I actually tried almost everything on every seasonal menu, but I loved it all! Clementine is a stand-out dining option in Century City/Westwood, and a great idea for a bakery fix on a drive to the beach (it's right off of Santa Monica Blvd). I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did and still do :)

Clementine
1751 Ensley Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 552-1080
www.clementineonline.com


Another consistent favorite was and is Locanda Veneta, a well-respected Italian eatery in an unassuming location across from Cedars-Sinai Hospital near Beverly Hills. It is a favorite among celebrities, and also my friends (who are celebrities in their own right). On the pricey side, this is more of a special occasion spot (unless you're swimming in the Benjamins, and then feel free to splurge any time). I have spent my own and friends' birthdays here, farewell dinners, welcome dinners, it's a pretty solid choice for a nice meal. They also used to have a really good-looking waiter there named John Mark I used to enjoy oogling at, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't work there anymore... *sigh*. From top to bottom, I used to love every single thing on the menu (including that waiter *wink wink*), although on this recent visit, I found the bread to be seriously disappointing for an Italian restaurant. The interior was exceptionally doughy. They serve a pesto spread with the bread, which is fairly tasty, but some of my friends don't care for it. Olive oil is a standby choice.

Fresh Fettuccine with Black Truffles (Special) $38

I love their spaghetti with lentils, roasted tomatoes, and spinach, which my former roommate orders every single time she dines there! I've shared the recipe on my blog in the past in case you're interested in recreating it :) Their fagottini melanzane (eggplant rolls) are a good choice as a starter, as is a seasonal special of fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese. Their squid ink ravioli stuffed with lobster and served with a creamy saffron sauce is one of their most popular dishes! I've tried this and loved it (and the recipe is featured in their cookbook as well, though I have yet to make it myself). They have a great pappardelle with strips of filet mignon and mushrooms in a flavorful sauce that is a good pasta option for meat-lovers. Most recently, I couldn't resist one of their specials, a mixture of fresh fettuccine and black truffles. $38 is was not too shabby for the amount of black truffle shaved over the top! I would have liked the noodles to be a bit firmer, but otherwise, it was a really great dish. Note that some of these photographs were taken years ago before I polished up my photography skills :)

Locanda Veneta
8638 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 274-1893
www.locandaveneta.net

Fried Zucchini Blossoms (Special Appetizer) $14

Fagottini di Melanzane - Eggplant rolls, stuffed with Mozzarella and Basil, baked with Tomato Sauce $12.95

Spaghetti with Lentils, Spinach, Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic $20.95

Squid Ink Ravioli stuffed with Lobster Meat in a Creamy Saffron Sauce $25.95

Pappardelle with Strips of Beef Filet Mignon, Wild Mushroom and a “Barolo” Sauce $27.95


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