Pay Day Ahi

Ahi Avocado SandwichI know it’s common practice to associate “starving artist” with poverty. And rightfully so – I mean, they call it “starving” for a reason. This is no different for me, though, as you can see in this blog I am never *really* starving. And that’s because much of my life is spent being creatively frugal with what I find. But one of the things I love most about being a starving artist is that, every now and then, all the hard work and struggle pay off. The stars align, the paychecks roll in, and suddenly you find yourself with a bit of extra cash to spend. It’s a wonderful feeling. What’s even more wonderful is when you have enough cash to catch up on your bills and still have a bit left over to treat yourself to some divine cuisine.

July has found me in this very position and true to form, I have wasted no time in making a higher end food investment. Those of you who are loyal readers should be not at all surprised to find that it is seafood. One of my best friends, whether I’m rich or poor, is Costco, and one of the things that I’ve always looked longingly at is their fresh seafood counter. A bargain, yes, but still an initial investment beyond my normal budget… until a few days ago. I made two purchases. A beautiful large whole filet of wild caught sockeye salmon for $35. And a pack of two sizable fresh wild ahi tuna steaks for $20. Honestly, considering the purchase, these prices are a steal. Hefty, but not so much that I’m going to be totally broke and have nothing to do with it. And, what’s better, because there is so much, that means I have lots more to play with. Bargain AND multitasker? The starving artist’s dream.

For this post I’m focusing on the ahi. First, because I saw no point in freezing this gorgeous fish for later use, I decided instead to cook it right away and use it over the next few days in various ways. Cooking ahi is best kept simple – super super high heat, brush with a thin layer of olive oil, sear for two minutes on each side, done. No seasoning  (that comes later), no fuss, nice rare tuna with an even sear layer on all sides. Gorgeous.

Tonight I was inspired to make a sandwich. It turned out to be one of the best things ever created. The key? Simplicity. Above you see the fruits of my labor: seared ahi tuna sandwich with avocado and wasabi spread. Are you freaking out? You should be. Here’s the run down.

  • 2 slices of toasted Ezekiel bread (it’s flourless and low glycemic – try it)
  • 3 slices of ahi, cut against the grain, seasoned with kosher salt
  • sliced avocado, seasoned with kosher salt
  • 4-6 paper thin slices of cucumber (shave it with your vegetable peeler or use a food processor)
  • wasabi spread (1 tbs soy free veganaise, 1 tsp prepared wasabi, few drops soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, mix all ingredients thoroughly)

And that’s all there is, friends. Toast the bread, cover both slices with generous amounts of wasabi spread, layer on the tuna, the avocado, then the cucumber. Simple, elegant, and utterly divine. I won’t lie, I ate two of these, and also gave one to my roommate. It was so good that I felt he needed to experience it. And the best part? I still have another tuna steak!

Heavenly Pasta Pillows

Gnocchi ai Porcini Osteria Mamma Los AngelesSo this weekend I decided I needed a break from the bootcamp diet – a “cheat day” if you will. Actually it wasn’t so much a whole day as it was just one meal. Sometimes it’s needed. No shame. My dear friend Anthony who lives not far from me in the Larchmont area had been talking about the gnocchi at Osteria Mamma for months. When I called him last night to see what he wanted to do with our Saturday evening, he said he was first and foremost hungry. We tossed around ideas, he mentioned gnocchi, and before I knew it I was in his car on our way to a reservation for two.

Anthony and I walked from his place, past an art school that was in session drawing a rather attractive male model in his underwear. Quite the amuse bouche (wink). The restaurant is a warm, bustling place on the corner of Melrose and Lucerne, just one block over from the popular and charming Larchmont Ave. Not too big, not too small, full of life and pleasantly appointed with modern yet rustic Italian touches. We were sat promptly by a pleasant staff who were working quite hard to keep up with the demands of a completely full restaurant. All of them are equipped with iPad minis to put in orders and take payments – so impressively hi-tech.

The menu is like some heavenly tome full of everything I would ever want from an Italian restaurant: linguine alla carbornara, tagilatelle bolognese (all homemade pasta of course), a seafood risotto special… I was so tempted by so many different things, but I managed to stick with Anthony’s glowing recommendation and got the gnocchi ai porcini – housemade gnocchi in a light cream sauce with porcini mushrooms and free range chicken. Friends, it’s like eating the pillows taken from the bed of God. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Each bite becomes better in an exponential way, much like, I imagine, becoming addicted to drugs (is there really much difference?). Anthony got the other gnocchi dish, which is again a light cream sauce of ham, peas, and white mushrooms. Equally as heavenly, though I do have a partiality for anything involving porcini mushrooms. We were in such a state eating these divine pillows that the people sitting around us chimed in to see what it was we were eating. Having fun with strangers – it’s how I roll.

After the gnocchi was dessert. When we first walked in I had seen a gigantic piece of tiramisu land on someone’s table and I knew it needed to happen. The best I’ve ever had – light, creamy, airy, a little chocolatey. Like an espresso-soaked cloud. No joke.

Though this place is spendy for the starving artist’s humble wallet, it is really reasonable considering the experience. At entrees, appetizers, and specials ranging from $15-30, it is the perfect payday spot to spend a bit more and know you are getting world-class food. Definitely make sure you have a reservation. One should should definitely visit ready to spend and ready to indulge because it really doesn’t get better than Osteria Mamma.

Osteria Mamma
5732 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
www.osteriamamma.com

Click here to see my review on YELP

Sushi in Venice

Even though I’ve been in Los Angeles for three years now, I’m still tickled by the amazing food one can find in strip malls. This is exactly where you’ll find Irori Sushi in Marina del Rey. I was out visiting my friend Joe who has a lovely little house in Venice. He and my friend Sherri had been raving about this place for weeks, so I finally forced them to take me there. Nestled amongst a SuperCuts, a nail salon, and a Pavilions,  this unassuming location houses a quaint and authentic Japanese experience. One stashes one’s shoes in a cubby before proceeding to one’s table. But you won’t find chairs – instead you’ll be sitting on a pillow with your feet dangling into a cutout in the floor beneath your table. It’s terribly cute and fun, but, unless you’re sure you won’t need to use the restroom, I would highly recommend wearing socks… yeah…

As you might guess, the starving artist doesn’t make a habit of eating sushi because it is largely not wallet friendly. But it is such a refreshing treat… especially when the weather gets hot… clearly I’m not that good at being a starving artist…. When I do get a craving and find myself at a sushi place, I usually go for a combination platter, which offers a filling variety at a reasonable cost. My 6-piece combo was $19.50 and worth every penny. We also shared some of the house’s special rolls, including the “Irori Roll”, which had smoked salmon, crispy rice, and cilantro. Nothing overwhelming to look at, but utterly amazing to eat. I also quite enjoyed the albacore on a crispy rice square (in the picture at the top right) – a lovely melding of textures and flavors. Fresh and crispy. Mmmm.

Now, I never thought I would find myself saying this, but the service here is almost too thorough. I know, I can feel your rolling eyes and snickering. But check it out. At one point Sherri had taken the last piece of Sushi from one of the plates and, before she even got it to her mouth, a waitress swooped in and snatched the plate from beneath her. Similarly, I could barely take a few sips of water before someone was grabbing my glass to refill it. At first I thought this was impressive, but after a little while I began to feel almost claustrophobic – like they were hovering over me anxiously awaiting for me to make a move. And let’s face it, whenever a waiter comes to the table the flow of conversation gets interrupted, which in turn just exacerbates the claustrophobia. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine – the staff was all incredibly friendly. But, I couldn’t help but take note of this… enthusiasm.

Much to my surprise, Sherri ended up treating me to dinner here, which was quite a generous and unexpected gesture. I love my life.

The verdict: I really enjoyed my experience here, even with overly thorough service, and look forward to returning and trying more of their house rolls. If you’re in the mood for something fresh and a little different, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Irori Sushi
4371 Glencoe Ave
Marina del Rey 90292

Click here for their YELP page and to read my review

France in Santa Monica

It is a very rare occasion that I find myself eating authentic French food, mostly because it doesn’t even come close to a starving artist’s budget, even for a splurge day. No escargots for me. But, what I love most about being a starving artist is that I have managed to fill my life with amazing, generous people. And it just so happens I was with one of those amazing people last Friday when I visited Le Petit Café in Santa Monica. My dear friend and mentor Byron Adams, to whom I affectionately refer as “Auntie Byron,” treated me to lunch here. She assured me that the food was to die for, and she was not wrong.

The restaurant is beyond charming, small, with décor that oozes French countryside. Hand-decorated plates adorn the walls and matching cloths cover the country-style tables. We were waited on by Neil, son to one of the owners, who is a delicious 6’4″ piece of French cuisine. Terribly sweet with that French accent and ponytail. I could not resist ordering the French onion soup (pictured above). It was utterly divine. I also enjoyed a house-made vegetable quiche and side salad. Also fantastic. Byron got a Salade Niçoise, which, we both noted, is a REAL Nicoise with high-end canned tuna. Normally I forgo dessert, but I simply could not. Byron insisted I try the chocolate mousse, which was beyond thick and indulgent.

The verdict: This is without question a payday destination, but I can assure you it would be well worth your money, particularly if you appreciate good French food. I adored eating here and look forward to returning when my wallet (or benefactor) allows.

Le Petit Café
2842 Colorado Ave
Santa Monica 90404
www.lepetitcafebonjour.com

Click here to read my review on YELP

Outrageous Brownies

Literally.

So a joyous thing happened this week – my roommate and I got a new oven in our apartment. Like, a legit, modern oven with an oven light and digital temperature control. It’s gorgeous. Now that I think of it I’m pretty sure I’ve never had an oven in my adult life that has had both a window AND a working oven light. Yay us! So, of course I suggested that we celebrate our new oven by christening it with some ridiculous new recipe. I have had Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies recipe in my book for years, but have never had the occasion, nor the balls, nor the motivation to make them. I mean, come on, the recipe calls for one pound (4 sticks!!!!) of butter, one pound of chocolate chips, 6 squares of unsweetened chocolate, 6 eggs… it’s literally outrageous… but let’s not kid ourselves, with that much butter, they’re bound to be more than delicious.

My roommate and I were recently discussing brownies as I was deciding what I would make for 4th of July. I gotta say, I’m not generally a brownie person, but when the mood/occasion strikes I always reach for Ina’s Brownie Pie. I made it for my roommate for the first time a month ago and she was totally blown away. I confessed to her that in addition to the brownie pie, I’ve had this other recipe in my book for years and years and have never made it…. when I described it to her she freaked out – holy s**t you have to make these!! And I agreed. The time had come. Why sit on such a sure fire knock out? Well, money of course. This is a payday recipe if ever I saw one. But still, the amount of brownies you get (an entire half sheet pan) make it pretty worth while. And again, you know they’re going to be mind-blowing. Since it had been on the table for the past couple of weeks, what better occasion than the christening of our new oven. And so it was done.

Friends, let me tell you, these brownies are absolutely deserving of their name – totally outrageous. Moist, full of chocolate and nuts. If you’re a brownie person, you will heartily approve. If you aren’t, these will be your exception. This is perfect if you’re looking for something to make for a big party… or for just you and your roommate… but seriously we had friends over. It was glorious. A little indulgent, yes, but let’s face it, the starving artist loves to indulge, especially if it brings people together. Friends come running when you call them and tell them you have fresh baked goods. And I just love it.

Happy weekend!!! :-D

Ina’s Outrageous Brownies Recipe