Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Visiting Southern California

An overcast run along the Santa Monica boardwalk

I have often considered myself a California girl. I wasn't born there, but Southern California is a place I visited frequently growing up, before my family called it home. And after attending high school in south Orange County, I moved to Westwood to attend my dream school and my parents' alma mater, UCLA. Going to school in a big city gave me ample opportunity to explore, including dining at restaurants across the culinary spectrum. Los Angeles serves up everything from the neighborhood doughnut shop to hole-in-the-wall bar to the critically acclaimed restaurants of top chefs. And because of the diversity of the city itself, you can take a culinary tour of the world without ever leaving the the Southland. In fact, it was during my senior year at UCLA that the idea for Chasing Crumbs was born out of these experiences and my love of writing.

In the past month I returned to my beloved Southern California twice, first to spend time with my grandmother and parents in Newport Beach and then again to visit some of my closest friends in Santa Monica. And as is often the case, I discovered some new gems that I am excited to share.

Two-scoop upside-down cone, Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw
Ever since I heard Salt & Straw was expanding to L.A., it moved to the top of my list for an upcoming visit. The vaunted Portland ice cream shop is known for out-the-door lines and collaborating with local farmers, chefs and artisans on flavors that range from the traditional to what some might call bizarre. Take the menu at the the new Larchmont shop, which includes California-inspired avocado and strawberry sherbet, tomato water and ojai olive oil sherbet and black olive brittle and goat cheese ice cream.

So, when I met my friend Brittany for the afternoon, I told her that the only thing I planned was an ice cream trip. Luckily she's accustomed to and flexible enough to follow along with all my foodie whims. True to form, there was a line out the door at the L.A. Salt & Straw, but it took us little time at all to reach the counter to sample some flavors before ordering double scoops.

I could've walked away with far more than two scoops because every other flavor screamed "try me." When I return, not if, I think I'll be ordering the sampler, which allows you to get smaller scoops of four flavors. My first scoop was the seasonal California peaches with lemon crumble, basically my favorite dessert turned into ice cream. Fresh peaches were caramelized with brown sugar to create a thick jam running through the vanilla ice cream studded with lemon cobbler. For my second, I wanted something that would be a good pairing and opted for the sea salt with caramel ribbons. The ice cream uses a house-made burnt caramel and salt from Mark Bitterman's Portland salt shop. It's one of Salt & Straw's signature flavors and I can see why it's their most popular. It's definitely my favorite of all the salted caramel ice creams I've tried.

Sidecar Doughnuts
Sidecar is not your ordinary doughnut shop in Costa Mesa. I first tried a bite of their wonderful treats in the cinnamon apple donuts ice cream at Salt & Straw and couldn't resist a detour to try sidecar doughnuts from the source. Sidecar specializes in doughnuts made with fresh ingredients and fried in small batches. I opted to try two of the monthly doughnuts. Huckleberries are a favorite of mine (it's probably my northwest roots), so I had to try the huckleberry cake doughnut. It wasn't too heavy, and studded with plenty of sweet whole berries. Malasadas are a treat that are hard to find, so when I spotted a malasada with apple jam, I had to give it a try. It was airy with just the right amount of filling, and a light dusting of sugar on top. All in all, it made for a perfect afternoon treat.

Seasonal blackberry and bourbon cocktail, SideDoor 

SideDoor is nestled inside one of my favorite restaurants, Five Crowns in Newport Beach, known for great prime rib and charming inn setting. The bar at Five Crowns was long styled like a traditional English pub, but in 2009 the bar was reopened as an English-style gastropub with it's own entrance and menu.The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, small plates, cheese and charcuterie and artisanal cocktails. However, you'll still find some signature Five Crowns dishes re-envisioned on the SideDoor menu.

I went with my Mom, Nana and I went to SideDoor on a Monday evening and it was packed. Lively conversation flowed through the relaxed atmosphere of the pub. We opted to get a few items to share among the three of us. I enjoyed the smoked bacon and addition of egg in the wedge salad. We watched as the chef at the charcuterie stand assembled our french onion press. As it sounds, it was essentially eating french onion soup in sandwich form, and it was delicious. The onions burst with flavor and balanced perfectly with the sourness of the fresh bread. And of course, one couldn't ignore prime rib, so we ordered the prime rib chili cheese fries, a popular choice at tables around us as well. The chili was rich with generous amounts of prime rib and the fries perfectly crispy underneath. After all that food, I still couldn't turn down dessert. The espresso creme anglaise that accompanied their doughnuts was perfection, in fact I took home the leftover sauce to add to my coffee because I didn't want to waste one drop of it.

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