Ba Restaurant (Los Angeles, CA)

Anyone who has read a book authored by Julia Child or M. F. K. Fisher knows the compelling and historical context of French cuisine. Much of western cooking is driven by the pâté laden, coq au vin covered, lorrained or moules frited plates of this lovely tradition… but none of it persuades my vegetarian interests. So when I stumble upon a French restaurant with tantalizing vegetarian options, it’s a cause for celebration.

And that is exactly what I found at Ba Restaurant in Los Angeles’ Highland Park. The stand out dish is the Mushroom Brûlée ($11), a shallow ramekin of roasted wild mushrooms smother in buttery brie. Flamed licked, the charred edges of cream and rind deliver a faint bitter note, offsetting the earthiness of the dish. A mellow and magnificent starter, far too rich to eat alone.

The menu rotates through various—obliviously market driven—vegetarian dishes. I caught the kitchen on an evening filled with goat cheese dotted roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted fingerling potatoes with endive and a summer salad. The plate was topped with a glistening ruby red tomato slab. All arranged over fresh tomato sauce, it may not pack the flavor punch of duck confit or grilled pork chop, but it’s s delicate and filling entree that leave plenty of room for dessert—which was so good I forgot to photograph it.

One of the most striking element of Ba is the interior. Not so much it’s visual impact (although it is quite lovely inside) but the care the designer (who happens to the chef’s wife) took to ensure an acoustically sound meal. Large heavy curtains drape over the dinning room’s entrance, muffling the noise of service and guests. The upholstered walls and slatted ceiling finish the job, making this one the the most hushed and cozy dinner I’ve experienced in a long time.

Ba Restaurant
5100 York Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90042
restaurantba.com

La Note (Berkeley, CA)

There's never enough room for all the good eats!

When you visit Berkeley, you’re faced with many tempting options, from South Indian chaat at Vic’s to Michelin-rated California cuisine at Chez Panisse. Be sure, however, to reserve at least one morning for my absolute favorite brunch spot in the East Bay—La Note. In my college days, I spent leisurely hours between classes nibbling on baguettes with raspberry jam in the dappled light of the garden patio. Today, their provincial French breakfast plates are just as I remember them…easily worth the 500 mile drive from Los Angeles.

The colors are not accidental! It's as delicious as Christmas morning!

My favorite dish is the elegantly simple Tartine Mistral ($7.5). A skinny toasted baguette—slathered with *just enough* goat cheese—then  topped with mounds of basil chiffonade and slick roasted peppers. Despite its minimalism, every mouthful is an event. With each bite, the crisp baguette crust crackles in your mouth, followed by a clingy pull of wooly white bread. As the sharp goat cheese prances over your tongue, sweet peppers burst between your teeth and your nose fills with the fragrance of fresh basil. It’s an edible symphony! Continue reading