Farmshop (Santa Monica, CA)

Farmshop
225 26th St. Ste 25
Santa Monica, CA 90402
Dining date: 6/30/13

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My previous visit to Farmshop yielded one of my favorite singular dishes in Los Angeles – their fried chicken. Golden brown and crispy on the outside, while juicy and moist on the inside, it’s the best fried chicken I’ve had in this city. It’s been a while, but when recently pondering the choice of best spot for a fried chicken meal, a re-visit to Farmshop was in order.

Farmshop typically serves a seasonal/local a la carte dinner menu, but Sundays are reserved for a family style feast centered around the fried bird. The ever-changing three courses are $48, making this one of the steeper fried chicken meals you can get around here. Surrounding the main dish are typically lighter salads and sides which showcase the season’s produce.

Since my last visit, Farmshop has expanded to include a small marketplace full of artisan goods. Unfortunately it closed before our dinner ended, but my brief glimpses revealed some top-notch meats, cheeses, and a variety of other items a home cook would love.

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San Tung (San Francisco, CA)

San Tung
1031 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
Dining date: 12/24/12

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San Tung is consistently one of San Francisco’s most popular Chinese restaurants, known for its long waits almost as much as its food. Located in the Sunset district of the city, the first-come first-served restaurant always seems to have a crowd waiting outside, especially on the weekends. Its 3,000+ Yelp reviews (currently a 4-star rating) place it in the top 10 of most-reviewed S.F. restaurants and I feel like I always hear it mentioned when people talk about “must-try” dishes in the city.

What’s the must-try dish? San Tung is known for noodles and dumplings, but their real signature is their “dry fried” items. Shrimp, calamari, flounder, beef and chicken are fried by the batch here, then glazed in a sweet-savory sauce. The most popular, by far, is the chicken wings.

We came early on a Monday for lunch and got one of the last tables available.

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Lexington Social House (Hollywood, CA)

Lexington Social House
1718 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Dining date: 1/8/12

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I first took notice of Lexington Social House during last year’s Taste of the Nation, where their fried chicken was one of my favorites of the afternoon. My second encounter with the restaurant was at The Taste where, again, the fried chicken was one of my favorites of the event. In both instances, white meat was served and it was full of juicy flavor with a crunchy batter. Addicting. It quickly became a restaurant I wanted to visit.

Located at the intersection of Hollywood & Vine, it definitely fits into the lounge/bar “nightlife” category where I always seem to be skeptical of the food. However, who says a trendy Hollywood restaurant can’t also be serious about the food?

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My skepticism peaked when we were the only ones in the restaurant at 6:30. For a restaurant with a sizeable dining room and expansive lounge, I was a bit surprised. “It’s early” we told ourselves; actually, we were one of only two parties in the restaurant throughout the duration of our meal. For shame; the restaurant was better than that.

We ordered some cocktails to start.

THE HONEYVINE pisco porton, st germain elderflower, honey syrup, lime juice, fresh cucumber, lavender bitters

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MAPLE HILL blended scotch whisky, maple syrup, angostura bitters, orange bitters, islay scotch rinse

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THE LEXINGTON earl-grey infused woodford reserve bourbon, honey, lemon juice, orange bitters

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LA CURA casa noble tequila, mescal rinse, lemon juice, ginger syrup, agave nectar

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I was just coming down with a cold so I didn’t try anything other than my cocktail – the Maple Hill. Flavors of maple and citrus were the main flavors I got from this one, balancing the bite of the scotch.

FENNEL CURED SALMON TARTARE dill aioli, cucumbers, capers, red onions

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The salmon was good, albeit a little fishy. The dill aioli was a nice touch for the classic dill-salmon pairing, while fried onions added some delicate texture.

CELERY ROOT RAVIOLI black truffles

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This was one of the appetizer specials – the pasta was cooked well with a warm, creamy filling from the celery root. A light butter sauce complemented the pasta, but the black truffle flavor was fairly muted.

SONOMA PORK BELLY honey chipotle glaze, local apples, fennel, orange vinaigrette

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6706129777 bafe6427cb Lexington Social House (Hollywood, CA)

Fatty and meaty, the pork belly had a welcome crispiness to it and was quite flavorful. The accompanying slaw of apples, fennel and vinaigrette were cool and refreshing, and I thought they did a nice job of cutting through the richness of the belly.

HAMACHI COLLAR grapefruit, pomegranate, shishito peppers, cilantro, soy

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Given the relatively straightforward (safe?) nature of the menu, I was a little surprised to see this on the menu. I liked the presentation with everything stacked on the hamachi collar.  Lightly grilled, the smoky flavor definitely came through, while pomegranate and grapefruit helped to counter the smokiness and complement the fish.

SHORT RIBS creamy polenta, sauteed wild mushrooms

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The big hunk of short rib was rich, beefy and tender while the polenta was nice and creamy. Nothing particularly special, but this was a homey and satisfying dish.

FRIED CHICKEN smashed potatoes, bacon braised kale, mustard sauce

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Ah, what brought us in. I found the chicken to be good…but not as good as I remembered/expected. It wasn’t that moist (though not dry) but did have pretty good chicken flavor. The crust was flaky, but I thought there was more batter than I recalled from my prior tastes – slightly higher batter:meat ratio than I would’ve liked. The smashed potatoes were too thick for me, having an almost sticky consistency.

NY STRIP crispy potatoes, sprouting broccoli

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A couple of my favorite comfort foods on a plate – a hunk of crusty-seared steak cooked a perfect medium rare and some crispy, fluffy potatoes. This was probably my favorite entree as the steak was juicy and beefy, while the potatoes gave the texture and starch that I was looking for. Not unlike the spuds from Short Order, these potatoes appeared to have been baked/par-boiled, smashed and finally deep fried. Quite nice.

On to desserts; we ordered four.

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE almond milk cream

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6706112345 f2f2f47e44 Lexington Social House (Hollywood, CA)

The server raved about this chocolate souffle, but I found it to be fairly standard. It was rich, fudgy and served hot, just not particularly memorable.

VANILLA BEAN PANNA COTTA pomegranate, aged balsamic

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The panna cotta was light, creamy and sweet with a present vanilla flavor. I thought the pomegranate added some fresh fruit flavor, as well as texture from the seeds. However, I’m personally not big on the seeds and I didn’t think they paired well with the delicate custard, texturally.

BEIGNETS strawberry rhubarb jam, strawberry powder

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I was expecting these to be light and airy, but rather these were very dense and slightly chewy. Totally unexpected. Raspberry sauce added some sweetness and acidity.

MONKEY BREAD brown sugar, pecans, banana ice cream

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This may have been the best of the desserts with a double dose of banana flavor from the bread/cake and the ice cream. Served warm and soft, the bread exuded a buttery banana flavor, while the pecans and banana ice cream fit it well.

Lexington Social House exceeded expectations – the food was flavorful and fairly well-executed. There was nothing particularly standout in the menu full of hearty, comforting dishes but it was a very satisfying meal. In a scene full of restaurants/lounges where food takes a backseat, Lexington presents a legitimate food option when in the area.

Fried Chicken @ Farmshop (Santa Monica, CA)

Farmshop
225 26th St
Santa Monica, CA 90402
Dining date: 9/17/11

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I always hear about Farmshop in discussions about the best brunches in LA. I’ve wanted to try it for some time, but given its Brentwood location I haven’t made it out there yet. However, the restaurant just began dinner service, something that clearly expedited my first visit.

Chef/owner Jeff Cerciello left Thomas Keller’s side last year to pursue his own project. Cerciello had a hand in all of Keller’s projects, but Ad Hoc seems to be the one that struck him most…at least for dinner service. The concept for the dinners seems truly to be inspired by Ad Hoc’s. Dinners are market-driven 3-4 courses served family-style ($40-$60), continually rotating. I’ve known that Farmshop was planning to serve dinner (and an Ad Hoc-like fried chicken) for a while now, so when it was announced that this past Sunday would be the first fried chicken night I had to drop by.

Heirloom Tomato Salad reed avocado, pickled red onion & opal basil

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An appetizer duo came out first. The salad was light and refreshing; I thought the meaty chunks of avocado went really well with the sweet acidity of the tomatoes and pickled red onion, while the fresh basil added some depth.

House-made Ricotta & Pistachio Salsa Verde

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The whipped fresh ricotta was a little more interesting and pretty tasty. The consistency was like a light whipped cream with some citrus (lime juice?). The flatbread was a little thicker than expected; combined with the pistachios I thought it was sort of a textural overload.

Herbed Fried Chicken

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Next came what we’d been waiting for…the chicken. The crust was richly and uniformly browned, topped with an assortment of herbs. Upon my first bite (into white meat), I was impressed with the juiciness of the bird. It was full of flavor and displayed a lemon-herb essence from the brine. Expectantly, the dark meat was moist as well with a wonderful depth of flavor. A little bit of the crunchy crust in every bite made for some great fried chicken.

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The comparison to Ad Hoc’s chicken is unavoidable. They’re pretty similar actually, but I thought this chicken was more moist than the Ad Hoc chicken served at Bouchon Beverly Hills, and maybe even more than I remember at Ad Hoc (maybe – I need to return soon). There’s more of a lemon flavor coming through in the meat too, which I liked.

Two sides came with the fried chicken.

Cabbage, Fennel, Cucumber & Poppy Seed Slaw

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Sweet Corn & Peppers

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Both of these had just a few carefully chosen ingredients. I thought both dishes made good companions to the chicken, mainly for the sweetness of the peppers and corn and the crisp, cool acidity of the slaw.

Poached Peaches frog hollow farm peaches, lemon curd & oatmeal cookies

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6193094269 ca517dd364 Fried Chicken @ Farmshop (Santa Monica, CA)

The peaches were delicious and sweet, while the curd added a countering tartness. The oatmeal cookies were pretty good too, adding the textural element. Would’ve preferred them warm, but still good. I appreciated ending with something rather light, showcasing some “farm-fresh” ingredients (notably, the peaches).

Within the same complex that houses Farmshop is Sweet Rose Creamery, a shop I see on ‘top ice cream’ lists over and over. This would be the perfect opportunity for me to finally visit.

Sweet Rose
225 26th St
Santa Monica, CA 90402

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A number of flavors are available each night (some permanent, some rotating), as well as some sweet treats like ice cream sandwiches, bon bons, milkshakes, floats and sundaes. Given it was our first time (and we were already kind of full), we kept it simple.

Toasted almond and chocolate hazelnut

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Salted caramel, chocolate waffle cone

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Coffee and chocolate hazelnut

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The ice cream was pretty money. While none of us liked the almond (it was too grainy), everything else was very good. I really liked the coffee (made using Verve coffee beans) – it had a really deep, rich coffee flavor. Felt like it was gonna keep me up all night. The salted caramel was top notch too, and probably the best I’ve had in the city (even over Carmela).

Overall, I was pretty impressed with Farmshop’s meal. The food was rather simple and well-executed, showcasing some great ingredients. Most importantly on this night, the fried chicken was delicious and has to be some of the best gourmet fried chicken in the city right now. I’ll be curious to see what else is being offered for dinner and would try them out too.

The atmosphere/decor is pretty casual, but somewhat uncomfortable. Even though we had reservations, we were seated at a center communal table with benches. I understand the casual atmosphere, but unless I’m in a bar/lounge or quick-serve restaurant, I’d really appreciate an actual chair as my back starts to hurt after a couple courses.

Wayfare Tavern – 11/29/10

Wayfare Tavern
558 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94111

exterior1 500x335 Wayfare Tavern   11/29/10

Wayfare Tavern is Food Network star Tyler Florence’s first restaurant – opened in June. Florence has been on Food Network for a while, and the only restaurant I remember him being associated with is Applebee’s. Honestly, that didn’t inspire too much confidence. I do enjoy the show Tyler’s Ultimate on occasion, so I was interested in trying this place out. That, and I’ve generally read pretty strong reviews of the place.

My mother and I came in for a weekday lunch stop. We were first served these popovers. Light and airy, with a crispy exterior, they had a subtle cheese flavor. Quite nice.

popover 500x335 Wayfare Tavern   11/29/10

POUTINE braised short rib, French fried potato, truffle Jack cheese, veal jus

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We started off with the poutine – always a heavy appetizer. The fries were nice and crispy, but I thought there wasn’t enough meat. There was one large chunk, and smaller pieces spread throughout, but I felt most of my bites were just the fries and cheese. I liked the addition of the black truffles, though scant. When I could get a bite of fries, meat, cheese and truffles altogether – this was really good.

SEARED WILD ALASKAN SALMON mustard braised brussels sprouts, chanterelle mushrooms, ham hock, smoked honey

salmon1 500x335 Wayfare Tavern   11/29/10

I thought it was interesting that they cut this into small chunks before cooking it instead of serving a larger fillet. It was nicely cooked and the addition of the chanterelles was a key component, adding an extra earthy flavor. I liked that the skin was crisped up into something like a chip! The brussels sprouts were tasty – tender and well-seasoned.

POTATO PUREE shaved truffles

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We ordered this one side. The potatoes were very smooth and creamy – nothing exceptional, just a good plate of mashed potatoes. Similar to the poutine, the truffles were primarily an aesthetic feature; there weren’t a lot and their flavors were not really evident in this dish.

ORGANIC FRIED CHICKEN buttermilk brine, roasted garlic, crisp woody herbs, lemon

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This has to be Wayfare Tavern’s most popular dish. It’s a generous portion of a half-chicken cut up. I thought it was pretty good – the batter was crispy on the outside, and the chicken was pretty moist. However, the white meat wasn’t too juicy, but I wouldn’t call it dry. Not exactly memorable, but good.

In all, I would say my meal at Wayfare Tavern was solid. Nothing was particularly memorable, but everything tasted good and there weren’t any real disappointments. This is just the first of Florence’s planned restaurant openings (Rotisserie & Wine has already opened in Napa) as he builds up his presence in the NorCal area. It’ll be interesting to see what else he comes up with.

LudoBites Truck – 8/14/10

LudoBites Truck aka LudoTruck
Locations around the city

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I don’t typically review the food trucks I visit, but the LudoBites truck is a little different from the typical food truck. Based on the now-famous fried chicken served at previous LudoBites engagements, the truck serves a few varieties of fried chicken, as well as a number of sides that compliment the chicken. Not yet ready for regular day-to-day service, it “pops-up” at various locations and events around the city with relatively minimal advertising – a way to limit the masses from overwhelming the truck (see: first LA Street Food Fest). Given the buzz currently surrounding everything LudoBites-related, it’s understandable that they are easing its way into normal service.

I was taking a gardening class at Cube LA’s downtown offshoot (Yes – I do have a small home garden), knowing that the truck would be paying a visit at noon – coincidentally, the class’ end time. I’ve had the chicken twice before, at the aforementioned LA Street Food Fest, as well as at LudoBites 4.0, and I was eagerly anticipating a third taste. Given that I was already on the scene as the truck arrived, our party was first in line to order!

truck arrival 500x335 LudoBites Truck   8/14/10

The truck’s menu features chicken prepared three ways, with a number of sauces, sides and desserts.

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Provencal Pepite “Chicken Ball” with Herbs de Provence, Crunch Buttermilk Strips, Honey-Garlic Glazed Wings and Coleslaw

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The chicken strip and wing are relatively new, with the ‘chicken ball’ being the staple. These were all quite good – the chicken strip was moist and tender, though the breading was a little thick. The wing was also moist with just the right sweetness, and the ‘chicken ball’ was as tasty as ever, though smaller than in previous incarnations. Served piping hot, the juices literally run all over once you bite into it.

Of the four sauces, I was able to try the honey whole grain mustard, piquillo, and Ludo’s hickory smoked BBQ (from left to right).

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I’m familiar with the piquillo sauce from prior visits; while good, my favorite was probably the hickory smoked BBQ sauce. Smoky, tangy and sweet – it really complemented the chicken, especially the fried variations.

“Perfect” Three-Day Fries

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I’m not sure why these are three-day fries, but they were relatively simple for Ludo’s standards. And that’s definitely not a bad thing; the fries exhibited a very nice crispiness while keeping a fluffy and moist interior…and hey, who doesn’t love fries with their fried chicken?

Honey Lavender Biscuit

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Ludo’s honey lavender butter served at LudoBites 4.0 was one of the best butters I’ve ever had. Using this butter to create a moist, yet flaky biscuit – voila! A really great biscuit, and it was great to see Ludo’s take on this southern classic.

To wash this all down, the truck offers soda, water and two agua frescas. Pictured below is the strawberry-watermelon.

aqua fresca 500x335 LudoBites Truck   8/14/10

I really liked this. More watermelon than strawberry, it provided a very refreshing cleanser on this summer day.

The only other truck present was the Coolhaus truck, which offers some really good (and unique) ice cream sandwiches.

coolhaus 500x335 LudoBites Truck   8/14/10

I really enjoy their ice cream sandwiches, and is there a better way to cap off a meal on a warm summer day in LA? Well, yes. I opted for another helping of the “chicken balls.” I couldn’t help it.

fried chicken 500x335 LudoBites Truck   8/14/10

I was really happy to be able to enjoy this chicken once again; in fact, I had been looking forward to it for most of the week. It did not disappoint one bit, and I can’t wait for the LudoTruck to begin regular service!