Tasty Places :: Number Nine

Tasty Places :: Number Nine

My fro-worker Kristina sits just beyond my office door. If I need her attention, I can hypothetically toss a stress ball in her direction with a good chance of nailing her in the back of the head, even with my bad aim. Behavior like this is generally frowned upon, especially since I’m her boss.

This past Tuesday, I didn’t throw anything her way or yell out her name but instead loudly drummed my nails on my desk until she finally turned around (I can be annoying like that). I asked her if she’d even been to Number Nine on Fourth Street, as I’d unwittingly come across their website – their tagline: noodles + beer. She told me that yes, she’d been to Number Nine and added that she’d once offered me an invitation to join her there – didn’t I remember? – for bún, for phở, for bánh mì, to which I’d emphatically said no. But that was Diane of a year and a half ago. Ethnically unadventurous Diane. Bland-palated Diane. These days, I’m new and different. Okay, slightly so.

But Number Nine intrigued me. So the idea soon came for a visit the next day; a treat for those of us unfortunate enough to have to come in to work on Christmas Eve. We labeled it Lunchmas, seven of us taking the ride to Retro Row during our lunch hour – the first to arrive as we were anxious to get away from the office in an effort to speed the day along.

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The simple starkness of Number Nine hits you right away when you walk in. Clean and bright and quaint. I love spaces such as theirs, although I commented that it’s really suited for dainty folks. Looking at the benches, I couldn’t imagine bringing my six-six husband there, especially if we couldn’t get a seat along the boothed wall. My husband sitting in the little chairs would be a similar experience to him trying to get comfortable at back-to-school nights in my kids’ early elementary school days when he had to fold himself into the desk chairs meant for 7-year-olds.

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Didn’t matter for us. We’re a small bunch so we fit fine – disaster averted. And anyway, we were there to feast, though we couldn’t help but wonder how much better our meal would be if we joined it with a cold beer or glass of wine. Perhaps it was the anger talking, a few of us puffed up with envy at those who had the day off when some of us talked of just ordering a drink anyway – who would find out (I was warned not to take any pictures)? What was the big deal? It was lunch! But when our waitress came to take orders, the most salacious beverage ordered turned out to be the lemonade, noted as pleasingly sour by its taker.

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Water it was. We were big talkers. What we lacked in alcoholic beverages, however, we made up for in our dishes, with a full round of appetizers brought in. And I got two entrees just because I was feeling a tad crazed (I didn’t make it halfway through either one).

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My take home lesson here was that I need to open myself up to new dishes. This was my first bún endeavor – cold vermicelli rice noodles served with vegetables and a choice of protein (I did five spice chicken and crispy shrimp). As happy as I was for this discovery, I’m bummed that it took me so long to try it – their chicken was beautifully grilled, both sweet and succulent; the crispy shrimp delightful little nuggets that soaked up the juices, the sauces from the noodles; the noodles themselves firm and flavorful. And with bún, you get egg roll! – a crispy, finely fried delight – I might order a dozen or so of these on my next visit. And while the seats might be dainty, their portions were not. My leftover game was on point from this meal. I even held back while enjoying Christmas Eve dinner so that I could return to my remaining noodles in the fridge later in the night.

So who knows what new find I’ll fall in love with in 2015. I’ve yet to go for it fully with Korean or Indian or sushi spots. But I know there is surely another bowl or two or 12 of Number Nine’s bún in my future.

Number Nine
2118 E. 4th Street in Long Beach
(and one other location in Hermosa Beach)

Ladies Who Dine :: Komo’s Cocina

Ladies Who Dine :: Komo’s Cocina

It’s been a while since the Ladies have gotten together for an outing. We’ve had babies, promotions, band concerts, PTA meetings, work trips, and fall vacations that have kept our nights and weekends full, so it’s been challenging to assemble a critical mass. But Christmas Eve eve proved to be a splendid night for a fair number of the Ladies to sip cocktails and indulge our bellies while chilling in Naples.

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You see, the LWD restaurant club launched with seven co-workers, all of us wanting to experience food beyond our Chili’s/Mimi’s Café/CPK lunch rut. Since its start in 2011, we’ve taken on other career opportunities, added new Ladies, and created LWD spinoffs (such as Ladies Who Wine and the Boozy Book Club) that included yet additional peeps. Since many of us no longer work together, the catching up part of our outings has become just as important as the food. So at Komo’s Cocina, we were so happy to see each other, so consumed with chatting that we forgot to eat. We drank (margaritas and wine). We appetized (guacamoles, grilled corn, queso fundido, carnitas chilaquiles). But none of us ended up ordering an entrée with the exception of Mario, who’d quickly requested the mussels with chorizo from the waitress upon his late arrival, thinking the rest of us had already ordered.

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Perhaps the margaritas did it, so potent that three of us lagged leaving with the others in need of some sobering up time, offering us an excuse to get dessert – the churros, all cinnamony and sweet, perfectly crunchy yet gooey and soft on the inside, stood out as my favorite bite of the evening, especially when double dipped in the warm chocolate and butter sauces served alongside of them.

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Komo’s is indeed a bright new spot among the expanding collection of boutique restaurants that LB locals are thrilled to have nearby. Also billed as a tequila bar, Komo’s offers tequila flights and a long list of inspired cocktails. The attentive and welcoming staff only help seal the deal in making Komo’s a hot spot for elegant, simple Mexican cuisine. My big regret is that I didn’t get a taste of their enchiladas. Luckily, Komo’s is but a hop and a skip from my daughter’s volleyball practice gym, so if ever I decide to ditch my run (how I prefer to spend part of the two-hour block of her bump/set/spike/block sessions), I may just mosey over to Naples for more of their zesty, hearty food. I’ll just be sure to skip the margarita so my kid won’t have to wait for me to sober up before getting her.

Komo’s Cocina
5730 E. 2nd Street in the Naples neighborhood of the LBC

Lunch Date :: Restauration

Lunch Date :: Restauration

You may recall that I have a work son. There’s also a work wife, a work daughter. A work sister. I claim a work baby daddy, but he hasn’t yet been told of his familial bond with the rest of us. He’s too normal, wouldn’t get our extreme connection and need to define ourselves beyond friends. As if working together eight hours each day isn’t enough, we find excuses to get together in the evenings and on the weekends. We do concerts in the park in the summers and exchange gifts for Christmas and go to karaoke. We really like each other. The work fam is surely the biggest perk at my job.

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For his first birthday (as my son), I thought it important to take William (that’s work son’s name) for a special meal. Brunch. And something local, because we love the LBC. And because there are so many new restaurants to try in our fair city these days. So I picked one of the recent arrivals to Long Beach’s Retro Row, a spot called Restauration, boasting a mix of quintessential SoCal fare and freshened up diner favorites. Work sis (William’s work auntie) joined the party, making it a Sunday afternoon trio.

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Since it was brunch and William was driving, I went for the bottomless mimosa. They don’t play around with this. Unlike most spots, where a waitress visits just every 25 minutes or so to pour you another slim glass of watery champagne juice, Restauration keeps you happy with pulpy fresh OJ suffused with plenty of bubbly, a thick carafe of the stuff left at the table. Surely worth the $15 I spent on it. I could definitely settle in at this place on a future visit, finding a corner to relax in on a weekend afternoon, getting my tipsy on over a book.

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And a good bite to eat along with it. I tasted many a phenomenal bite over our triple date (thank goodness for sharesies). While I didn’t try my son’s BLAT (braised pork belly, bacon, watercress, avocado, and tomato), I did steal several of his fries, each of which were fried, fluffy dreams. Work sister’s pizza, the Get Shorty, sounded wonderful with short rib, peaches, watercress, and blue cheese, but I barely had enough stomach space to finish my sweetly plated huevos rancheros, especially with the mimosa and all the fries I stole, and the bread and jam we ordered just for fun. All was tasty, playfully plated, and very fresh. I’m so happy Restauration has landed on 4th Street – a definite plus for our little city.

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The best discovery, however, was finding that my neighbor works there. I’ll be sure to hit him up the next time I see him outside watering his lawn about his choice for best dish at Restauration. And maybe he’ll be able to hook me up with my happy weekend corner with my book, a carafe of mimosa, my own fries, and more huevos rancheros; and possibly the French toast, as I always order the French toast at brunch (don’t know why I didn’t do so this time). Whether I get my corner time or not, Restauration is sure on my return list for more eating, more celebrating with friends. It’s another wonderful example of what makes Long Beach a fabulous place for me to live, work, and dine.

Restauration
2708 E. 4th Street in Long Beach

Tasty Places :: Willie Jane

Tasty Places :: Willie Jane

Sometimes you don’t get to pick your restaurant; sometimes, it picks you.

I hadn’t intended on a Sunday supper in Venice, but late in the week I was happy to receive an invitation to a birthday dinner for one of my dearest friends. Wonderful as it was to have a bit of a getaway from the LBC to look forward to, the chance to try out a new restaurant was the real thrill. Right away, I googled the name, familiar to me for some reason – Willie Jane. Quickly I learned that it was another restaurant of Post & Beam‘s Govind Armstrong (I’m quite the fan), a freshly touted location serving what my birthday pal referred to as hipster soul food. Just before heading out that evening, I flipped through my restaurant notebook to add this spot when I noticed it was already in my book – starred!; and I couldn’t help but wonder how I could have forgotten about it. Perhaps Willie Jane knew I was coming. Maybe Willie Jane picked me.

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If I didn’t think I’d maim some flip-flopped pedestrian as I drove, I would’ve spent more time taking in in the bustle that is Venice’s Abbot Kinney Blvd. It’s a happening piece of street busy with beach goers, boutique shoppers, pressed juice drinkers, and satiated diners. It has presence. When Willie Jane finds me again, I’ll arrive early to check out its neighbors and to people watch; to purchase a plant from the garden next door, a place that adds life and delight to WJ’s lovely patio. The entire area is primed for savoring.

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Once there, I caught up with both old friends and new acquaintances, then settled in behind my plate, studying the menu in distress, stuck between a few choices. Thankfully, someone ordered a couple plates of sumptuous appetizers, including a crusty sourdough bread that I lathered with pimento cheese – why haven’t I been eating pimento cheese all my life? And it was here and then that I enjoyed likely the moistest, tastiest, most excellent cornbread ever whipped together. Really, it couldn’t help but be great with all the butter I painted on the first, then another slice. There would have been a third piece eaten but I was too slow. I might have cried about this but then the birthday girl arrived!

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With the merriment of the night, I was a little off my game, not taking a quick pic of the drink menu so I don’t recall the name of the cocktail I ordered once, then ordered again after sucking down the first one so easily. But you could taste the freshness of it; its sweet and herby simplicity, which made sense with Willie Jane harvesting produce from its own garden, the scratch-made culture of the place evident with even a cocktail. You can imagine how psyched I was becoming about my dinner plate.

The catfish ended up being my choice, a popular one among the table. Same with the macaroni and cheese side, but how could I go to a “hipster soul” Govind Armstrong place and not get the mac & cheese? And so glad am I that I did – rich, gooey, and breadcrumb topped, just how I like it. After finishing mine, I had to stop myself from taking a spoon to the plate of a dinner mate who stopped short on her macaroni, saying she was full, had to save room for dessert. If I knew her a little better, I would’ve gone for it.

The fish was pretty amazing too – breaded and softly fried, the fish buttery and moist. I’m only 80% sure that what rested underneath the fish was a polenta, but 0% remained once I got through. Yes, this was a no doggy-bag required night.

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The night ended sweetly with a few bites of a brownie sundae with caramel and peanut butter-filled chocolate balls, both elegant and decadent. Those at the table who’d gone with the prix fixe meal were lucky enough to be served WJ’s peach cobbler. I’m no cobbler girl, but I couldn’t help but sample someone’s crust, and just that made me want to get up a clap. So glad that everyone was in a sharing mood.

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Birthdays come and go, and as long as we keep living, all of us get to spend one every so often. But how wonderful is it to celebrate those we care about, tell them we love them, remember good times, and laugh about the silly gifts we decide to give them. And even more wonderful, to break bread with them, especially when that (crusty sourdough) bread comes from one of Govind Armstrong’s kitchens.

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Happy birthday, A!

Willie Jane
1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, CA