Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Recon: UPPER WEST

West LA, CA


I want to take a moment to talk about a place called Upper West. We (my posse and I) first went here on my birthday (post brunch, urgent care and el cholo) and then again for Andrea’s birthday (when happy hour goes from 5-10!) and it really is a fantastic joint that very few people seem to know about. First off, their happy hour menu has great prices and delicious drinks and food. And the staff is very generous with their birthday shots. They like to celebrate and care that you’re having a good time, which Brooke, our resident bartender befriender, whole-heartedly approved of. There are a few items in particular I want to touch on…


BACON BLEU CHEESE FRENCH FRIES. I really shouldn’t need to type anything after that because that noun-phrase up there is completely stand-alone, but for those of you who like information, details and reassurances, let me just tell you, these were amazing. I’m pretty sure they take the fries, hot out of the fryer, and toss them in a large bowl with blue cheese and bacon and let it melt all up in there and then they add some diced tomatoes for flavor balance. The bleu cheese is not overwhelming and the flavor is spot on for only $6. To quote Starsky and Hutch, “Do it. DO IT!”


Their bar burger, only $7, is a nice, doable size, made with a dry aged beef blend, balsamic caramelized onions, arugula and pasilla goat cheese spread on a toasted bun. It has a distinct gourmet flavor that I will credit the goat cheese and arugula with. Arugula is undervalued in my opinion. If you want to try a bunch of their other bar hors d’oeuvres, share the burg and have the lamb nacho bites, or the mac n cheese off the regular menu.


Let’s talk booze. Upper West has a great cocktail list, each cocktail only $6 during happy hour. I am particularly partial to the Cucumber Martini with vodka. It’s refreshing, makes you feel fancy, (even though, let’s be honest, when am I not fancy?) and it counters well with the heavier flavored menu items I mentioned above. They also do a beer sampler that can be fun with a group of people, I personally love the Tangerine Wheat beer, but there was a chocolatey beer we had that was quite interesting as well.


And finally, the bread pudding. I am not a person that looks at a dessert menu and says, “YES! Bread pudding!” However, they brought it out with a fabulous candle on my birthday and it was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was like cinnamon, vanilla, gooey, heavenly yum. Go for it. Step outside your comfort zone and say in your best English accent, “I’m feeling British and I think I’ll order the bread pudding.” But be careful, once you’ve had it some things in your life will pale in comparison.


It’s a restaurant/bar, so dudes, this is a great place to wow a lady you want to take on a proper date, and it’s great at accommodating group gatherings. Anyway, go enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Recon: 26 BEACH

Venice, California

26 Beach is big but has sort of a split layout with a bar in the middle. You can eat in the dining room or in the garden, but they’re both kind of indoor/outdoor spaces. D├ęcor is eclectic- faux copper ceiling, sparkly chandeliers- 26 Beach definitely has delusions of grandeur. I gathered with a team of three other attractive ladies to do some burger sampling.  We started with salads- which were delicious.  Meredith and I shared a Caesar that I very much enjoyed. Andrea and Megan opted for a house garden salad. We chose two burgers: the 26er and the Napa burger.


The 26er is best described as a grown-up version of an In N Out burger. It’s classic ingredients and flavors (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo and special dressing) left us feeling reminiscent of our fast food days in the most mature way possible. The Napa burger has avocado, heirloom tomato, goat cheese, mixed greens, mayo and Dijon on a wheat bun. I bet you’re shocked I didn’t order anything with bacon. The Napa burger was refreshing. The avocado and goat cheese definitely stood out, in a good way, and complimented the meat.  Both burgers were made with angus beef but the restaurant does offer a veggie burger as well as a turkey burger. Presentation was tidy and a little tall. We explained to the waitress we were sharing, but nothing came out cut, so we asked for a knife and stabbed away. Cutting the burgers turned them real messy, real quick, but they never got soggy and stayed together ok.


This place is all about flavor combination. Some of the burgers might seem a little odd at first glance; there’s a sushi burger and PB&J burger that I might initially throw a side-eye at, but my gut says Chef Mori knows what’s up.  We saw several other plates of awesome looking food coming out of the kitchen and it definitely piqued my interest in the rest of the menu. Thursday nights are half off wine night- I swear I didn’t know in advance, it was a happy coincidence- so we ordered the Uppercut Cabernet Sauvignon and I liked it, may be a little woody/dry for some of you but I enjoyed. Tuesdays, it’s buy a burger and get another half off, so you can bet when we go back it’ll be on a Tuesday and we’ll get four burgers. They were generously sized; if I skipped the salad appetizer I could probably eat a whole one.


Now for a wee bit of the negative, the fries were boring. Thick cut, lacking flavor, in all seriousness, get the salad. Burgers come with either or, and I say eat your veggies on this one. We asked for mayo, ketchup and Dijon so I was able to make a dip at the table that livened up the fries but really, skip ‘em. Service was so-so.  Everything we asked for they brought us, but I felt like we had to ask for things that should have been automatic.  It was a nice place to sit and chat with friends and would be a good spot for a date as well. Our bill was $76 and felt reasonable for what we ordered. If you’re feeling brave or open-minded dash over to 26 Beach and sample a more imaginative burger- they have more burgers in the restaurant than listed on the online menu!