Awash (Los Angeles, CA)

Hubba Hubba!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ethiopian food is my all time favorite food ever; if I had to eat one cuisine for the rest of my life this is it! In college, I literally ate at Berkeley’s Ethiopian Restaurant twice a week. So when I moved back to West Los Angeles, the berbere glazed arms of Little Ethiopian comforted my little broken heart.

Awash is located just off the main Fairfax strip—on Pico where parking is infinitely easier. From your prime parking spot, meander behind the black metal security gates into the florescent lit dining room. Ignore the ‘lived in’ quality of the space, although it will send germaphobes running. Personally I could care less: the tables are clean, the bread is warm and the rickety wooden bar is packed with beer drinking Ethiopian men.

Awash (Los Angeles, CA)

Saito’s Sushi (Los Angeles, CA)

Furry green pods… it tastes better then it’s description…

In a benign strip mall, on Sunset Blvd, hides a sushi bar that many people refer to as “the best in town!”  Saito’s Sushi is walking distance from my prime Happy Hour haunt, Tiki Ti, and has become the number one spot my friends and I hit up after sloshing it up on rum and pineapple and Toro chasers! Er…  I realize tropical drinks plus sushi sounds like a terrible idea, but there have been no ‘regrettable moments’ from this mix: A testament to the quality of Saito’s fish—and vegetables. The interior is sparse, a somewhat understated mess, with a simplicity reflected in the sushi.

Saito’s Sushi (Los Angeles, CA)

The Veggie Grill (Los Angeles, CA)

All Hail Kale? Okay!

The day I moved (back) to Los Angeles was wrought with peril. But a cross-country flight, two terrified cats and the abandonment of life as I’d know it could not quash my higher function: Hunger. As vegetarian-orientated as California is, the caliber of the local vegetarian options simply does not compare the echelons of New York. I was ready for disappointment. Fortunately, I was met at LAX by my parents and a Thai Chickin’ salad from The Veggie Grill.

The Veggie Grill (Los Angeles, CA)

Heirloom LA Catering (Los Angeles, CA)

The elegance of brown paper

This weekend is my dear friend Dani’s wedding but perhaps more importantly, my first ultra vegetarian-friendly wedding dinner! Catered by Heirloom LA, I was lucky enough to attending the tasting a few weeks back.

Perfect bites, no really!

Kicking off the wedding with inspired tray passed appetizers. The twice-baked potato with crème fraiche are perfectly savory and soft, topped with delicately sharp chives and homemade crème fraiche. But it’s the unassuming yellow disk of lemon polenta that stands out. The chives and wild mushroom ragu atop a crispy lemon polenta cake are an unexpected bite of acidly citrus that is thoroughly addictive!

Heirloom LA Catering (Los Angeles, CA)

The Vegetarian Option: Weddings

Getting into the spirit!

It’s wedding season… again! A menagerie of formal sit down dinners, buffets, and lowered expectation. Vegetarians often suffer through meals which the cook –I hesitate to say chef—probably didn’t even bother to taste. We all love our friends no matter the quality of the event, but I can’t help but hold those with outstanding vegetarian options above the others. As I ready for this year’s weddings, which will take me from LA to NYC to South America, here’s a look at the most notable meals from last year’s season:

The Vegetarian Option: Weddings

Cha-Am (Berkeley, CA)

I put this on top because I can't even remember what it was...

I’ve dined at Cha-Am for many years, but can’t seem to remember why. Perhaps it’s the whimsical treehouse dining room, overlooking Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. Maybe it’s the food, but nothing springs to mind. And so, in this state of uncertainty, I selected Cha-Am for dinner with my Beau’s best friend.

The orange dining room

Walking through the door, everything looked familiar—orange walls, bamboo-colored wood, potted plants strewn about. The menu is typical Thai-American fare with plenty of vegetarian options. Once the food arrived, however, it struck me. This restaurant is completely forgettable, except for one ‘best of show’ dish: The Cha-Am-Fresh Roll.

Cha-Am (Berkeley, CA)

Manpuku (Berkeley, CA)

The hand roll is blurry because it is irrelevant

The evolution of vegetarian sushi stalled a long time ago. I love kappa maki, avocado rolls, inari, futomaki and tomago as much as the next vegetarian, but after years of eating these monotonous platters over and over, I’ve grown completely disenchanted. So whenever I come across ANY vegetarian sushi innovation, my attention is piqued. Manpuku (Berkeley, CA)

La Note (Berkeley, CA)

There's never enough room for all the good eats!

When you visit Berkeley, you’re faced with many tempting options, from South Indian chaat at Vic’s to Michelin-rated California cuisine at Chez Panisse. Be sure, however, to reserve at least one morning for my absolute favorite brunch spot in the East Bay—La Note. In my college days, I spent leisurely hours between classes nibbling on baguettes with raspberry jam in the dappled light of the garden patio. Today, their provincial French breakfast plates are just as I remember them…easily worth the 500 mile drive from Los Angeles.

The colors are not accidental! It's as delicious as Christmas morning!

My favorite dish is the elegantly simple Tartine Mistral ($7.5). A skinny toasted baguette—slathered with *just enough* goat cheese—then  topped with mounds of basil chiffonade and slick roasted peppers. Despite its minimalism, every mouthful is an event. With each bite, the crisp baguette crust crackles in your mouth, followed by a clingy pull of wooly white bread. As the sharp goat cheese prances over your tongue, sweet peppers burst between your teeth and your nose fills with the fragrance of fresh basil. It’s an edible symphony! La Note (Berkeley, CA)

Mario’s La Fiesta (Berkeley, CA)

The taco's look great, but I'd rather eat two burritos!

In 1999, I moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, where I discovered the world of Mission-style burritos. At first I was dazzled by the baby blanket-sized tortillas stuffed with whole beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, pico, crema, guacamole… so big, so filling! But it wasn’t long before I grew weary of these overpriced behemoths pouring out of every taqueria in San Francisco (for a time, you could find me at Taqueria el Buen Sabor every weekend). That’s when I met Mario’s. Mario’s La Fiesta (Berkeley, CA)

Falai: A study in two visits (New York, NY)

Chapter 1 – Victory
As I (very slowly) packed up my Brooklyn apartment, my mom came into town for one last NYC hurrah. As a dedicated Food Network viewer, she arrived with many “Have you heard of X Y or Z?!” suggestions—many of which I, of course, had heard of…except for Falai.

Delicately rich

We headed over right after work and so it was no surprise to walk into an empty restaurant. Once seated, the waiter came by with a tray of various breads. Now, our reason for choosing Falai in the first place was Chef Iacopo Falai’s notable stint as Executive Pastry Chef at Le Cirque 2000, so our expectations were high. Two petit brioche nuggets were plucked from the tray and served with a shallow dish of olive oil and balsamic. The brioche was—dare I say—perfect! Like a buttery bonbon, we savored the sweet morsels and prepared for the next course: more bread!

Follow the sweet onion down the rabbit hole

After placing our order, the bread monger reappeared and offered us fresh Pane Dolce wrapped around sweet onions. Like a savory rugelach, we nibbled through the rich, flaky spiral toward ribbons of sweet white onion. Falai: A study in two visits (New York, NY)