hippo

I love discovering tasty, new-to-me places in my (or a close by) neighborhood. Hippo in Highland Park had been on my radar for a while now- multiple friends had raved about it, and I couldn’t help but drool over their Instagram. So when we had good friends in town staying with us recently, I knew just the spot for dinner. Nestled off the busy street, just behind Triple Beam Pizza (another fave!), Hippo’s rustic, Italian-American vibes make it seem very New York to me. Perhaps that’s why I liked it so much from the moment we walked in, but once we tasted the food, it truly won me over. The bread basket of housemade focaccia was perfectly crusty and chewy, and I strongly suggest you start with the burrata di bufala (imported from Lazio-Italy!), served with even more delicious, carby goodness. I was a huge fan of the veggie starters- from the cool haricot verts with serrano chili toasted hazelnuts & Frenchie vinaigrette, to the griddled cauliflower with cauliflower “tahini” & walnut raisin caper relish, the flavors were truly unique. Of course, several housemade pastas are on the menu (and worth an order!), including the semolina spaghetti with guanciale, tomato & spicy pickled peppers, as well as the winter squash cappellacci with browned butter, sage & amaretti! Carefully handmade pasta, perfectly cooked to al dente, truly makes all the difference. Be sure to check out the rest of our meal in the slideshow above- there were honestly so many noteworthy dishes! We actually already had plans for ice cream after dinner, so I didn’t get a chance to try Hippo’s desserts- but there’s always next time! Post-baby, I’d like to go back for “Hippo Hour”, their version of happy hour, for some tasty small plates and a cool cocktail as well!


misi

Where do I even begin with Misi? This South Williamsburg beauty from celebrated chef Missy Robbins focuses on handmade pasta dishes and vegetable antipasti inspired by simple Italian cooking. That’s truly just it. The menu is very straightforward- ten antipasti and ten pasta- but everything is executed with such finesse, that it feels like a luxury dining experience. You may remember Chef Missy Robbins from Lilia, her in North Williamsburg hotspot in a converted auto body shop. She’s back with a bit simpler concept, but doesn’t skimp on taste or flavor. Misi had been on my husband’s and my must-visit list for some time now, but since we've been spending so much time in Los Angeles, we still hadn’t gotten the chance to stop by. Finally, on a recent trip to New York, we decided to walk in early on a Friday evening (risky with no reservation!), and were lucky enough to be greeted by Missy herself! After a private tour of Misi’s beautiful pasta room (check out my Instagram story highlights for more), we were seated at some of the best seats in the house overlooking the open kitchen, and started to devour the menu while watching the sunset over the Williamsburg bridge.

It was hard to narrow it down- so many dishes sounds appealing- but we ended up with three antipasti and three pasta! A nice, light meal for two people, no?! Scroll through the slideshow above for details on each dish, but honestly I’m not sure I could even choose a favorite. The raw fennel & celery salad with parmigiano & walnuts was the perfect light, crunchy complement to the garlicky, grilled runner beans. And as simple as the fettuccine with buffalo butter, parmigiano extra vecchio & black pepper was- wow- it truly blew us away. There’s sometimes nothing better than fresh, simple ingredients done right. Missy even told us that the fettuccine was the first dish created for the menu at Misi, before the restaurant was even open! Definitely a must-order if you’re lucky enough to go. We were both pretty full by that point, but I’m never one to pass on dessert, and once again Misi keeps things nice and simple. There are six housemade gelati available (plus the current off-menu pistachio!), as well as a nice offering of digestivi like grappa & amaro. We went with the super creamy pistachio gelato (loved the chunks of toasted nuts), as well as mint stracciatella gelato, which was smooth and refreshing, with just the right amount of mint infusion. We had such a delicious and memorable meal thanks to Chef Missy Robbins, I truly cannot thank her enough. The passion and care that goes into her food is evidently clear, and as a #chefswife myself, I respect her so much for that! Cheers to plotting our next visit sooner than later!


bavel

baba ganoush // smoked eggplant, charred bell peppers, red walnuts, lemon chili salt, fried pita

One of my most memorable dining experiences of 2018 was at Bavel in Downtown Los Angeles. That may have been partly because it was a celebratory dinner (our wedding anniversary!) with my husband, but in all honesty the food and atmosphere stole the show. Offering a similar chic, downtown vibe to their previous hit, Bestia, chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis truly blew us away with this Middle Eastern gem. Both chefs have family roots in Israel, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt, which is evidently clear in their dedication to creating inspired, yet traditional, flavors. I absolutely loved the mix of fresh ingredients and slow cooking techniques, as well as the variety of flatbreads and spreads, veggie-focused small plates, and larger format meat and fish dishes. Carbs with dips are always a highlight for me, and the delicately fried pita served with smoky babaganoush was divine. I’d heard from multiple people that we just HAD to order the slow roasted lamb neck shawarma, and being the dutiful diners we are, that is just what we did. Just wow. The lamb was fork tender and literally melted in your mouth, and I couldn’t stop creating the perfect bite with a bit of lamb, tahini, and pickled veggies all wrapped up in the chewy laffa. By the way, the sommelier was super helpful in guiding us toward a full bodied, yet well-balanced biodynamic wine to pair with dinner. I loved the giant jug it was decanted in too! Never one to skip dessert, even after being extremely full, we went for the roasted fig tart. The baharat spiced semolina crust was super unique and nicely complemented by the brown butter cream. What a sweet treat and perfect ending to a truly memorable meal. Both my husband and I are plotting a return trip soon!

slow roasted lamb neck shawarma // tahini, pickled vegetables, laffa


felix trattoria

Pasta, pasta, pasta! I had been told by many a pasta-finatic that if you’re on the hunt for delicious Italian food in Los Angeles, you head straight to Felix Trattoria. Being that it’s in Venice, it’s not the quickest dinner venture for us (not to mention reservations are hard to come by), but when I was planning a recent date night with friends, I made Felix a top priority. Chef Evan Funke’s take on traditional, regional Italian cuisine enriched with local Cali ingredients is nothing short of spectacular. Pasta and bread are the true standouts, and you can even watch them get made right before your eyes! The pizza bianca (with melt-in-your-mouth buffalo mozzarella) and the classic focaccia sfincione are not to be missed. You really can’t go wrong with anything from the handmade pasta menu, which offers various regional specialties from all around Italy. I love an orecchiette, and this one served with sausage, broccoli, peperoncino, and canestrato was delectable down to the last bite! Even the veggies at Felix were memorable: I loved the mint and pesto Siciliano coating the green beans in the fagiolini verdi dish! Also impressive were the branded ice cubes in my negroni- how fancy! Even though we were pretty stuffed by this point, you know I don’t skip dessert. The torta della nonna (a perfectly moist olive oil cake) really hit the spot, and allowed us to finish our meal on a not-too-sweet, but totally satisfied note. Scroll through the slideshow to check out the rest of our meal, and trust me when I say- get there soon! Felix (Latin for “happy” or “lucky”) easily gets my vote for best Italian in LA, and I already cannot wait to return in the new year!


mh zh

Mh Zh had been on my list of places to try in LA since before we ever came here, and it's pretty obvious why. It checks off all the boxes of what I want in a dining experience- Middle Eastern flavors, great bread, wood-fired veggies, lamb, & fish, and outdoor seating! All ideal things in my book. The only thing missing is a great bottle of wine to pair with such delicious food! (They used to be BYOB & are currently working on their liquor license). The space itself is quite small and doesn't take reservations, so we hadn't ventured over for dinner until recently, and wow, I'm so glad we finally did! The whole experience is very "Silver Lake"- with brown paper table cloths, silverware in a jar, and menus casually written on paper bags, all happening right on a cute little corner of Sunset Blvd. But trust me, the food couldn't be further from that boring, cookie-cutter fare you'll find elsewhere.

If you're feeling super hungry or with a group, I highly recommend you "fire menu", which is essentially ordering everything on the limited menu, and makes for a great smorgasburg of shared plates. My husband and I ordered a la carte, and still managed to try a wonderful assortment of dishes, many straight out of their Josper oven. Anything served with Bub & Grandma's bread, which is stocked at many popular restaurants in LA, is always a highlight, so we dove right into it with bowls of tehina and ful . Mh Zh's ful is a white bean stew of sorts, and comes laced with schug, a super flavorful Israeli hot sauce packed with green herbs and garlic. Yum. The grilled beets seemed so simple, but the depth of flavor involved was truly remarkable, and we both consider them some of the best we've ever eaten! The nightly special was lamb chops, which we love and naturally felt obligated to order. They were so juicy, and paired nicely with a creamy, herby chimichurri sauce, and the whole branzino was cooked to perfection in the Josper oven! I already cannot wait to go back, and considering how close I live, there's no excuse!


tartine manufactory

San Francisco is such a great food city, but one that I really haven’t gotten the chance to explore all that much. A few months ago when I was spending a night there before heading out to wine country, I made it a top priority to make dinner reservations at Tartine Manufactory. You’ve probably heard of Tartine Bakery before, or at least drooled over their tasty looking baked goods on Instagram, but did you know they also have a chic restaurant in a bright, industrial space in the Mission District? I’d been following them for a while, and practically every dish I see is calling my name. The menu draws from local, seasonal California ingredients, and of course offers some killer pasta and bread. There’s a huge bakery in the restaurant, and I can only imagine how many fresh loaves of sourdough they’re churning out each day (check out all those proofing baskets stacked up below!). It’s worth having a glass of wine at the bar and just watching the entire process unfold. Serious bakers are practically my idols! PS- if you’re looking to get into baking yourself, I highly suggest you start out with the critically acclaimed Tartine Bread book. It’s full of foolproof classics that are sure to satisfy your cravings.

Getting back to our meal, it did not disappoint in the least. We tried a bunch of dishes (as evidenced by scrolling through the slideshow above), and while it would be easy to say the bread was the highlight of the meal, that really wouldn’t do the rest of the food justice. The lamb meatballs were delicately spiced and served with a deliciously creamy, yet earthy fava bean purée. One of my faves was the marinated artichoke with fennel and pistachio- such a unique dish, and a total flavor explosion. The slightly sweet, caramelized fennel paired perfectly with the hearty pistachio spread. Yum! Most people would agree that once you’ve tried homemade pasta it’s hard to go back, and Tartine’s pasta will really do you in. Classically simple, non-fussy, and perfectly al dente! Of course my favorite part of any meal is dessert, so I naturally (greedily?) chose the one that serves 2-4 people! Although it was not my first time devouring the PB&J ice cream pie, it was just as decadently tasty as I remembered. Seriously, the peanut caramel and peanut cookie crust take this treat to another level entirely. Don’t forget to stop by the ice cream counter on your way out for a cone to-go, and definitely take a freshly baked loaf of bread for to enjoy at home! Good news for those in Los Angeles- you don’t have to drive eight hours to enjoy all that Tartine has to offer- a Southern Cali outpost is opening soon!

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