Tasty Places :: Working Class Kitchen

Tasty Places :: Working Class Kitchen

Working Class Kitchen is the newest gift to Long Beach from Michael’s Restaurant Group. The folks that brought the southland’s most celebrated pizza to my city (from Michael’s Pizzeria if you didn’t know – now, you know) – in addition to the elegant Michael’s on Naples and new Naples favorite, Chianina Steakhouse – now offer an every day kind of place for people like me – I certainly am what you’d call a working class kind of gal.

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A sort of gastro-butcher, WCK packs sandwiches with fresh meats brought in daily from local sources. You can pick up a sandwich stuffed with smoked ham, meatloaf, or corned beef, or grab a freshly butchered rabbit or a pork shank as fixer uppers of your own. For lunch, the gang and I were on our way to Los Compadres (as usual) when I noticed a sign for WCK parked on the sidewalk near the Walgreens on the corner of Redondo and Anaheim. Seeing the word “kitchen,” I had to investigate further, Googling the place instantly and deciding that I’d try it out the next day. Sandy agreed to go with me, so the two of us left behind our Los Compadres leftovers the following day, ready to add something new to our lunchtime repertoire.

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I really wanted to try the Chianina burger, which received high praise from those sharing about WCK online. But deciding to postpone a Burger Quest mission to a day when I’d have more time to savor, could pair my burger with a beer, I went instead with the grilled cheese, a wonderfully crisp and melty construction, enlivened with roasted red peppers. Sandy got the smoked ham, a good choice, she said, balanced and rich. My favorite find here, however, were their frites – you know I’m not just a fly girl; I’m a fry girl. And these fries did it for me, greasy and chewy and fluffy, the way fries are meant to be. Can’t wait to have more of these with my burger when I return.

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I was glad their food met my expectations (which were high) but also, the place has a cool factor that is digable. Industrial and bare and rustic, the vibe says it’s a place to sit, to hang, to revel. It’s just what we working class people need. Their motto Sine Labore Nihil is Latin for Without Work, There is Nothing – a stance WCK seems to take on with pride, and one I appreciate, especially when I can treat myself to local spots like these using my hard earned money.

Working Class Kitchen
1322 Coronado Avenue in Long Beach

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)

Tasty Places :: TLT Food

Tasty Places :: TLT Food

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching my second oldest daughter’s volleyball team, the University of San Diego, take on the beloved team of my hometown, Cal State Long Beach, during the first round of NCAA playoffs at my alma mater, UCLA – just a game in a big arena for everyone else, but quite an event for me with so many of my worlds colliding, causing me to reflect and twaddle on, my youngest kid rolling her eyes, tuning me out at every mention of where I used to live, hang out, and get my hair done; how all my favorite stores and restaurants had been replaced.

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I’d hoped to return to my old college campus today for San Diego to take on the winner of the second game (which turned out to be UCLA). Instead, Long Beach swept USD in three, bringing our tournament hopes and my daughter’s last season to a close. [Sniff]

But why not take advantage of being in such proximity to so many new and remote restaurants (yes, I know UCLA is only 25 miles or so away from the LBC, but traffic to get there is a u-know-what). After some deliberation, I made my way to TLT Food, the storefront of the much-hyped winner of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.

And it was there that I officially named Friday, December 5th Sandwich Day, with me as the Earl, as I took down my third sandwich of the day (see Black Sheep GCB) with my trip to TLT. Okay, I suppose three sandwiches isn’t exactly a binge, but it did send a message to me that perhaps I have a thing for protein between two slabs of crusty carbs. The only thing that might have made Sandwich Day better is a breakfast item of some sort – perhaps next December 5th, I’ll begin with a visit to Burger King for an egg and cheese Croissan’wich.

My choice at TLT Food was the Bangkok Chicken, a lively dish flavored with the spices and textures of Thailand. Most enjoyable for me were the bits of cashews that dazzled and delighted me every few bites, surreptitiously tucked into a zippy slaw. The sliced chicken was delicate, kicking you in the taste buds only once you’d found the sweetness, the juiciness of it. What brought (and held) it all together was the bread, a perfectly crisp Ciabatta roll toasted just enough, and proportioned right for the sandwich stuffings. As tempted as I was to throw into my order a taco or their Chimi Wings, I honestly was still pretty full from sandwich #2. Instead, I asked for the two-buck side of roasted corn – a half cob slathered with chipotle-honey aioli and cotija cheese. The sweetness of the honey emboldened the already luscious corn, but the cheese and aioli curbed things nicely, providing quite the quixotic combination.

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The only unfortunate thing about TLT Food is their lack of a liquor license, one I didn’t realize they didn’t have until after I’d ordered their spiked limeade, made alcoholic not with tequila but a tequila-flavored wine. A cold beer would have been a better choice, but I didn’t want my 12-year-old (who begrudgingly joined me because I was her ride home) to give me the frowny eyes. Still, the fact that I downed my limeade means I can’t complain too much, even if the downing only served to speed along the agony that is tequila-flavored wine spiked limeade.

Overall, TLT Food amazed and awed and left me wanting more once I fully digest these three sandwiches. Perhaps by next December 5th? Let’s hope.

TLT Food in Westwood (there’s a 2nd location at the Irvine Spectrum)
1116 Westwood Blvd.

*Note to self and the other 7 readers of Dianderthal: TLT also offers a brunch that appears un-pass-upable, featuring breakfast burritos, breakfast tacos, and breakfast nachos; a sourdough French toast, and bottomless mimosas – feel free to hit a sista up if ever you want to roll early on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon. You can drive. 🙂

Tasty Places :: Cochon Butcher

Tasty Places :: Cochon Butcher

It was just supposed to be a sandwich. I was on a break – 30 minutes to hustle down a few nutrients before returning to the New Orleans Convention Center for the next round of my public health conference. The food court at the convention center touted Big Easy favorites like po’boys, etoufee, and jambalaya, but I was seeking something a little less flashy.

Enter Yelp! and its dandy nearby search function. As much as I delight in researching cuisine in lands both far and near, I’d done very little preparation for my latest trip down south. My schedule has just been too dang crowded to get into obsessive and crazed Dianderthal mode. So I decided to trust Yelp! this time and happy was I to see the first listing had a 4.5 rating. And it was so close. And familiar – I recalled passing it the day before, thinking it a dapper place to unwind after a heavy conference day (they served wine!). Turns out it’s a pretty popular lunch spot too, the line out the door filled with ravenous and bleary-eyed conference goers. Some of them sipped on cocktails and idled about while they feasted (likely the attendees of the techie conference in the halls further down from my meeting – perhaps their firms didn’t frown on noontime drinking; or folks who just didn’t give a damn – why’d I have to be a responsible and professional public servant?). The sandwich, I had to remind myself.

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But then I saw the menu, once inside. Quickly opting for the turkey sandwich, I let my eyes wander over the other selections, curious about their desserts, their side dishes; figured there might be a coleslaw or potato salad I’d quickly pass up. Instead, I found those magical words that spark my salivary glands so easily: mac-n-cheese. It was plain and simple. Not a four-cheese mac-n-cheese. Not a bacon or a truffle or a tomato mac-n-cheese. Just MNC, 8 bucks. Sign-me-up.

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They might have been right to call it crack mac-n-cheese because after one taste, I was hooked. I’m an addict. A fiend. A mac ho. I might do illegal things to get that MNC again. Leave it to me to try this dish the afternoon before departing Louisiana, just hours before having to hop on a plane to head some 1,600 miles away, leaving me with a MNC jones that truly hurt. Unless I can find a version in LA that can rival, my taste buds, my belly, and the rest of me will have to suffer until my next trip down to Nawlins. It will prove challenging to find something as rich, creamy, savory, and zesty, or with a crackling crumb topping as melt-in-your-mouth gorgeous. If I had just an ounce less of pride, I’d have licked the plate clean. Thanks to Butcher, I’ll be daydreaming of cheesy macaroni for weeks.

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Neither forgettable was my sandwich, although I didn’t have room to start in on it until later, finally finishing it on the plane (to the envy of my mile-high up neighbors within smelling distance). Packed with the most boldly smoked turkey I’ve ever tried, the sandwich was purely satisfying with avocado, sprouts, and a basil aioli. It may have just been a sandwich, but it made me breakdance mentally (to Slick Rick’s The Show).

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Lastly, I was the easy target for counter merchandising efforts, the bourbon-soaked pumpkin cake begging me to buy two pieces – one for me, one for the husband since I was returning home on his birthday. Or one for me, another for me in case I liked the first so much that I might go into pumpkin withdrawals if I didn’t get a second piece soon.

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With plate after plate of touristy food going in (and out) of me over my brief visit, I was thrilled finally to fnd the palatable, scrumptious dishes New Orleans is known for. Butcher gave me hope and high expectations for my next trip to Louisiana which, thanks to Butcher’s mac-n-cheese, will be sooner than later. And that time, I’ll have come for the mac-n-cheese, a slice of cake, a cocktail, a pretzel with cheese (spotted at the table next to me), and – yes – the sandwich.

Cochon Butler
930 Tchoupitoulas St. in New Orleans, LA

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

Tasty Places :: La Boulange de Sunset

Tasty Places :: La Boulange de Sunset

This kind of a cheater post because I’ve already written up La Boulange de Sunset’s young Southern California cousin, a bustling new spot on La Brea, but why miss an opportunity to share tasty food pics. Besides, for this particular outing, I ordered  brunch instead of a late evening burger – the differences in experiences at these locations were practically day and night! 🙂

My girls and I were visiting my parents in Stockton, but took a little drive west to cheer on my work son William as he crossed the finish line at the San Francisco Half Marathon. He’s such an overachiever – now on his third half of the year, me with just two under my belt. Am I jealous of the special medal he received for doing both San Francisco and Surf City marathons? Definitely yes.

La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants

But I still said I’d give him a ride across the bridge back over to the Oakland BART station where he’d left his car – only if we could stop and indulge ourselves in some vittles, however – my girls and I hungrier than William and his 13.1 miles. Yelp! helped us find La Boulange not far from the finish line, a spot among many in the area. We kind of rolled the dice and went for it.

La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants

French toast was on the menu, so of course I asked for that when I ordered; a brioche toast that was kind of mushy in the middle. I didn’t mind the mush, although perhaps because I thought it was intentional; and the flavors of the brioche were so bright, the edges crispily sweet. My kid would have liked hers a little more well done. William was pleased with his post-race choice of a sausage and chips.

La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants La Boulange Sunset || on dianderthal.com :: #laboulange #sanfrancisco #restaurants

Perhaps next year, we’ll come here again – only difference is that I hope to have a very special medal around my neck too.

La Boulange Bakery – Sunset Location
1266 9th Avenue in San Francisco (and other locations)

Tasty Places :: The Beachcomber Cafe

Tasty Places :: The Beachcomber Cafe

Those of us who live in Southern California may not always appreciate our coast. The fact that, within minutes, we can drive to it – watch the waves, play in the sand, sun bathe, play beach volleyball, catch a dolphin swimming just offshore, run with our dogs barefoot. I don’t do most of those things on a regular basis, but I CAN if the itch to do so ever comes. What I did do recently is sup a wonderful breakfast beach side at The Beachcomber Cafe at Crystal Cove.

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Even if the food were mediocre, it makes a dandy little getaway, just 35 minutes or so from my crib in the LBC. Sitting right on the beach along with the wooden Crystal Cove rental cottages, The Beachcomber is easily accessed via a slight and leafy walk that eventually winds under the Pacific Coast Highway to Crystal Cove (the Beachcomber shuttle will also drive you over for $1.00 – kids under 12 ride free).

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The scene itself would be good enough, almost cinematic. But then there’s the food! I can only speak on breakfast, but what I’ve tasted so far has been sublime. The turkey chorizo scramble is savory and balanced with a piquancy that soothes for those who may have enjoyed a bit too much champagne the night before. The brioche french toast is delicate, robust in its vanilla and almond flavors. Perhaps my favorite is the crabcake benedict, the stream of egg and Hollandaise mixing together and syruping into the crabcake is unparallelled. For a starter, the beignets are a nice treat as well – tiny, sugared puffs that melt in your mouth.

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So yes, it’s definitely worth the drive if you’re coming from the LA area. Get there early, though, or make a reservation as the place gets busy weekend mornings (does not take same-day reservations). And once you get there, rent some beach toys and hang out. Or, if it’s cold outside, Fashion Island is a 10-minute drive away – shopping can help burn off your Beachcomber calories. Bon appetit!

The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove
15 Crystal Cove
Newport Coast, CA 92657
Parking at the Los Trancos Parking Lot on the east side of PCH – $15 parking ticket validated with a purchase at Beachcomber of $15 or more