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Thursday
Feb232012

Berries and Cream, Berries and Cream...

If we can all agree on one thing, it’s that there’s never a downside to splicing different species into something outside of our Lord’s plan: Zebroids, Bassuggs...those are the only two examples.  Herein, we’re focusing on the humble boysenberry: a SoCal-born experiment marrying raspberry, loganberry, and blackberry into a farmer’s market staple that’s even more delicious than deep-fried Bassugg (awwwwww...tasty.)  Oh, and it also single-handedly created Knott’s Berry Farm; not a bad pedigree.

There’s no need to complicate things: just cram a bunch of those fuckers into a pie and call it a day.  You can get a slice at the House of Pies, but if you don’t hate yourself you can also exit the 101 on Laurel Canyon and get comfortable at the Four ‘N 20 diner.  Describing this place will ring familiar to diner fans: brown decor, a lot of senior citizens (I imagine I’ll be eating at diners exclusively come 2072), a bunch of dudes in suits discussing Madonna lyrics one table over.  So will their menu: eggs, bacon, pancakes, and everything else that makes life worth living...none of which I’ve tried, because I only ever order the boysenberry pie.

I don’t mean to mince words: this is one of the best goddamn slices of pie I’ve ever tasted (take that, Mom.)  Despite being one of the cheapest items on the menu, it’s a meal unto itself: a steaming, hearty pile of baked fruit -- combining the sweetness of raspberries with the tang of blackberries -- topped with a crisp, flaky crust and a giant tower of whipped cream (‘cause that’s how we do things in America, Comrade.)  Or, for under twelve bucks (less than they charge for a steak sandwich) you can bring home an entire freaking pie, a siren song I’ve thus far avoided for fear of my inevitable transformation.

Fun fact: the “Four ‘N 20” is actually a meat pie popular in Australia.  I’ve never tried it myself, because just look at it.  Did that ruin your appetite?  Good, maybe that’ll keep your dirty hands away from my boysenberry pie.

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WHAT: The Best Damn Pie Period™ at Four ‘N 20
WHERE: 4723 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Valley Village, 91607
WHEN: Mon-Fri 7 AM-10 PM; Sat 7:30 AM-10 PM. Sun 8 AM-10 PM
$$$: $4.50 per slice

Wednesday
Feb222012

E-I-E-I-Oh Yes!

Does the promise of anything offered in finite quantities tip your needle from jaded to intrigued?  (Here's lookin' at you, Kidrobot weirdos.)  If yes, then The Farmer's Kitchen might be your ideal hunger stave-off station.

Located at the corner of Selma and Morningside (call it Vine Street for sanity's sake), the eatery's close relationship to the Sunday Hollywood Farmers' Market extends beyond just the geographical.  It's a farm-fresh caffe that's actually an extension of the weekly market.  Not only does it aim to bring fresh, healthy, and affordable food to Hollywood locals, it also serves as a commercial teaching, processing, and retail kitchen, using revenue from prepared food sales to support nutrition education programs and job training as part of the Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles.

So, if you're about to get your gluttony on (which, you really ought to), you can do so without a shred of sin.

The ever-changing menu at The Farmer's Kitchen allows me to flaunt my most refined skill and talent-- indecision.  After a torturous struggle, I managed to narrow the spread of stomach-rumbling options down to three.  Pumpkin Quesadilla eventually took home the bronze, leaving me with a neck-and-neck race between the Scrambled Egg Bahn Mi and the Fried Egg Reuben.  Reuben won, and I found myself with a sandwich so fresh and perfect-looking that I wondered if it descended to Earth from the fantasyland heavens of menu photography/food styling.  One local, organic fried egg on a bed of house made sauerkraut with Russian dressing and Swiss cheese between two toasted slices of Village Bakery 12-grain.  Plus my choice of side?  $10 and well worth it.

Who knows how long it'll be on the menu?  So, like a cartoon-patterned hoodie, get one before they're gone.

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• WHAT: Fresh, healthy, delicious local fare (with a purpose!)
• WHERE: The Farmer's Kitchen, 1555 Vine St # 119, Los Angeles, CA 90028
• WHEN: Lunch, Tuesday - Friday 11 - 3 * Brunch, Sunday  7:30 - 2
• $$$: $5 - $10

Friday
Feb172012

Mr. Farenheit

Chef Anthony Carron once spent a year hanging out in Italy and eating Neapolitan-style pizza four times a day. (Yes, he's somehow still alive. And no, you can't take over his life Talented Mr. Ripley-style, no matter how appealing that sounds.) From his time abroad, he learned the art of crafting the perfect thin-crust Italian tomato pie. Earlier this year, the globe-trotting, Brother Ali-resembling, Michael Mina protoge teamed up with the Umami Burger guys to bring you 800 Degrees -- a bustling UCLA-adjacent joint that manages to appeal equally to foodie pizza purists and broke-and-hungry college kids. Call it "miracle in Westwood."

The concept is Chipotle-level simple: belly up to the long counter and choose your sauce (marinara, margarita, or bianca.) That sauce gets lovingly ladled over a freshly hand-rolled disc of the simplest dough -- just flour, salt, water, and wild yeast. Which you then guide down an assembly line of toppings both traditional (sweet Molinari Italian sausage, oven roasted eggplant, kalamata olives) and new-school (charred broccolini, rock shrimp, truffle cheese), before finally watching it get slung like an unrepentant sinner into a wood-burning oven, where the whole shebang cooks in under 60 seconds.

Is it softer and floppier than you're probably expecting? I wouldn't use those words (I'd say supple and perfectly chewy) but yes -- and it's supposed to be. This is Neapolitan-style pizza, and Neapolitans don't go for that crispy-crust nonsense many of us have learned to associate with thin pizza after growing up on "fit-only-for-Guantanmo-prisoners" franchises like Domino's. Don't let that bother you. The pick-and-choose nature of the 800 Degrees allows you to discover flavor combintions you never dreamed of, as Calabrian chilis provide a nice kick of heat against carmelized onions and salty soppressata. Oh, and the average price of a pizza is $8, i.e. close to what you'd pay for valet over at Mozza.

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Friday
Feb032012

The Curiosities Of Topanga Canyon

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 2003, the first thing I did was buy a whole lot of hookers and cocaine taffy-red surfboard. The second thing I did was ask the surf-shop clerk about the best way to get from North Hollywood to the beach while avoiding the 405. He planted his finger on a map and said "Topanga." Thus, for the next year, three times a week, I'd strap my board to the roof of my rattling 1992 maroon Toyota Corolla (AKA "The Panty Dropper") and take the winding, tree-ensconced corridor of Topanga Canyon as my weekly commute. And the first time I came slaloming out of the mountains to be suddenly confronted with a vast sapphire blue ocean... the breath caught in my throat and I fell in love.

But oddly enough, in my nine years as an Angeleno, I never explored Topanga outside of a moving car. I only recently discovered what I'd been missing out on...

1: Pat's Topanga Grill -- a rustic cabin turned country diner, complete with a hitching post and a front porch where the human-to-dog ratio is about even. It's crowd is a mix of bikers, hippies, and outdoorsy types of all stripes. Surreal, locally-produced art adorns the walls. The menu is boilerplate and the service goes at "Topanga speed" (everyone involved in the preparation and delivery of your food will seem slightly high), but the restaurant has a frozen-in-time quality that's hard to find in progress-obsessed LA.

2: Eagle Rock Loop Hike -- up in the wilds of Topanga State Park, there's a glorious 7-mile ass-kicker of a hike that gives you a little taste of everything. There are sweeping views of the Pacific; there are ridgeline  fire-roads overlooking the valley; there are narrow corridors of sycamore trees and marshes; there are grasslands where entire packs of deer come to snack at sunset; and there's, of course, the titular Eagle Rock itself, a massive stone edifice jutting out from the mountain like an Easter Island head. Climb on top of it and beat your chest proudly. You earned it.

3: Froggy's Fish Market -- imagine someone took half a block of Mexican shanty-town, attached it to a Viking dining hall (complete with a towering fireplace), set it in the middle of a wooded canyon, and then started selling sushi out of it. That's the level of WTF Froggy's has to offer. This place literally has to be seen to be believed, and the fish ain't bad either.

Thinking back to that surf-shop where I first heard the word "Topanga", I realize: I owe that clerk a "thank you."

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Thursday
Jan262012

Full Moon Rambler

Maybe this is just the fantasy-nerd in me talking, but if you're going to call your organization "Treepeople", there better be some 30-foot-tall half-tree/half-human motherfuckers up in there. Otherwise, you're just inviting disappointment. 

Alas, Treepeople failed to live up to my imagination. (Most things do.) They turned out to just a non-profit that owns an open-to-the-public "urban forest" atop Coldwater Canyon. But what they lack in Lord Of The Rings-style ambulant fauna, they more than make up for in other ways -- for example, full moon hikes.

How it works: RSVP online (the next hike is on February 7th), get to the park before 7:30 PM, pick whatever hiking level you feel comfortable with (long, medium, kiddie hike), and a young hippie-ish guide will lead your group off into the darkness to SACRIFICE YOU ALL TO PAZUZU show you the splendor of tramping through a forest by moonlight.

Flashlights bouncing, you descend the wooden steps of an outdoor ampitheater and on through tunnels of trees. Distant mansions distance flicker like candles in the black. You'll hump your way up hills and down gulleys. Mountain bikers with headlamps snake past like lightning bugs. Packs of prowling coyotes can be heard in the hills, shrieking to cause disorientation and panic in their prey; it's not a coincidence that they sound like the stabbing violins of a horror movie score. You find yourself overlooking the glowing sprawl of the  valley, blankets of sodium lights looking almost ethereal in the haze. The night ends with you and your fellow ramblers pausing atop a perch to howl at the moon. It's all tinged with a rare kind of beauty and danger.

Bring water, a flashlight, and a week's worth of frustrations to howl at the heavens.

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