MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza (Los Angeles, CA)

“Menchie’s CEO to debut fast-casual pizza concept”

Yeah, that headline didn’t catch my attention either. Another businessman entering the quick service assembly line pizza game is old hat these days. Executive Chef Peppe Miele is another name I glossed over. Then I saw Senior Chef, Mario Vollera, and immediately booked my visit to MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza.

Mario and I met in the kitchen at Il Piccolo Ritrovo back in 2013. Standing over a mixer we talked dough hydration, tomato selection and fermentation times…  Later that year I ran into him again at his own pizzeria, South End, pouring outstanding wines and slinging one of my favorite pizzas in all of Los Angeles. In my experience, any restaurant where Mario Vollera is found makes a guaranteed good pie.

MidiCi is the first assembly pizzeria in Los Angeles to challenge 800 Degrees’ Neapolitan* domination. Hand stretched dough runs down the line on a wooden peel where topping—price per item, this isn’t an unlimited affair—are  selected from a colorful offering. Some of my favorites include purple kale, bosc pears (these are from the salad station, but work well on pizza), fingerling potatoes and pistachios . Midici offers a Udi’s gluten free crust (not vegan) and Daiya Mozzerella (vegan).

*Side note: I’ve done an unhealthy amount of  research into this trend and have come across three district styles of Assembly Line Pizzerias:
1) James Markham-style: Pressed Dough, unlimited topping (Mod, Blaze, Project Pie, Pieology, Pizza Rev…)
2) Family Style: Thick dough, unlimited topping (Uncle Maddio, Top That!)
3) Neapolitan: Hand stretched dough, wood fire oven, price per topping (800 Degrees, Persona, Firecrust)

“So, what makes MidiCi different from 800 Degrees?” we asked CEO Amit Kleinberger.

Kleinberger leans in, “Are you done with this pizza?” he asks, hand hovering over our half eaten pie.

“Um, yes?” I respond. He picks up a slice and hold it vertically, a tail of dough and topping dangling limply.

“You see that! If this was 800 Degrees all the topping would be sliding off.”

He is correct.

The interior of MidiCi is a standout. With a soaring wood beam ceiling, olive trees and brass accents throughout. But the high end touches don’t creep into the menu prices. A plate of wood fire-roasted vegetables is $5.00, the Red Marinara pizza is $6.50 (+$1 per topping) and the wine list runs between $6 to $9 a glass. With an aggressive franchiseing plan already in place, MidiCi is playing a trump card in the assembly line pizza game.

MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza
14612 Ventura Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 91403

All food hosted.

The Vedge: The Springs LA

Life changed a lot this year. My beloved Slice was laid to rest along with my monthly pizza column. Unsure of future writing pursuits and research, I meandered through restaurant news in Los Angeles but have been mostly disconnected from it all. Slowly, the void filled with vegan food options research throughout Southern California. In the most lovely happenstance, just as I was feeling comfortable speaking on vegan dining options, The Vedge put out an open call for writers. I had a new writing home with a new vegan focus.

The Vedge writers are a dedicated group located across the country who will be sharing national vegan food news and reports. I’m thrilled with my first post, The Springs LA Combines Raw Vegan Food with Yoga, Music, and Pure Class, and look forward to sharing many more vegan adventures.

Kimberly Helms (Co-Founder of The Springs) and Joyce Rockwood (Colon Hydrotherapist) sharing a sweet moment during our tour of The Springs.

Zoetic Supper Club: A Vegan Pop Up Dinner (Los Angeles, CA)

The Californication of Detroit’s popular vegan pop-up dinner series Chartreuse unveiled this month as the Zoetic Supper Club.  In the spring of 2013 Chef Corinne Rice moved to Venice, CA, bringing her organic, plant-based pop up dinners with her. A graduate of the raw culinary Matthew Kenney Academy, her dinners express restrained elegance bursting forth with complex flavors that I’ve rarely encountered in raw vegan dining.

All of Zoetic menus are organic, gluten- and soy-free elegant displays of local produce and healthful intent. With roaming locations and musical accompaniment, each Zoetic Supper Club experience will be unique; no two venues, menus or musicians will ever be the same.

I was fortunate to attend the very first of the series—held May 22, 2014 at the G2 Gallery—and enjoyed an evening with new friends and four artistically crafted courses. The incredible Sasha Mari played tunes for us throughout the evening; and through she has directly behind me her music was like a hushed secret in my ear. An intimate dinner like Zoetic brings together like minded people, so although I arrived alone, I carried on conversations with everyone around me. I left with the contact information of a found wood craftsman, a new found interest in exploring the culinary offering of Reno, NV and a new PETA-employed friend.

At my seat I found a BYOB glass of wine and eatable words. Nestled in each napkin was a poem by Jacqueline Suskin to guide us through the evening.

To begin we pluck purple from earth
and know the tender tune of carrot,
sweetness of pea and all hints
of bitter blended with cool cream,
with kind herb and gentle seed.

Follow this with the warmth
of soup that sings its healing verse,
spice of ginger, bright bloom
of chamomile and bold bite
of nasturtium yo balance the cure.

Reliable brassicas steady
the tradition of curry
made sweet by calming coconut
and even sweeter by the grand guide of grape.

Southern sugar sends the final
message with what Mexican reds
can conjure in custard and pulling
its weight in purity the pistachio
provides proof that all can be good
when topped with wisdom
of relish held well by chocolate
and smoked salt.

first | purple carrots. peas. brussel chips. avocado cream. mint. basil. black sesame foam.

This was my favorite dish of the evening. Young peas and floral herbs play so well together. But it was the curls of purple carrots, crisp and smoked with a subtle ‘bacon’ flavor that  amazed me. Before this meal I’d never encountered these flavors in raw food. Simply astounding!

second | ginger. chamomile. nasturtium.

The unexpected soup, different from the published menu. Afterward Chef Rice explained she felt the menu might be too puree-heavy so changed this course to a vivid vegan consommé.  A mild broth with the heat of ginger and one peppery bite of nasturtium.

third | brassicas. saffron coconut curry. cilantro pesto. grapes.

The pale green puree hide a simmering spice that lingered after every bite. The plump florets of rainbow cauliflower, steeped in the coconut curry, were a satisfying end to the savory courses. I swept up every last bit of the cilantro pesto… with my finger!

fourth | Mexican red velvet custard. pistachio pastry. reishi chocolate sauce. smoked salt.

A stunning end. Two quenelle of raw chocolate custard splatted in chocolate relish—a ruddy mushroom—sauce holding a delicate pistachio wafer. It tasted as beautiful as it looked.

The next dinner will he held Saturday July 26, 8pm at C.A.V.E Gallery 1108 Abbot Kinney, Venice… and it’s BYOB!

Dominick’s (Los Angeles, CA)

When people describe a restaurant as “Classic Italian,” I’m often confused. Do they mean dried boxed pasta drowning in red sauce or hand rolled al dente noodles bathing in olive oil. I always hope they mean the lather and I always hope it’s just like Dominick’s.

The thought of eating dried pasta at a restaurant haunts me. If it’s not made in house, I’d rather eat at home. But, since fresh pastas of usually made with egg, it hinders my growing interest in vegan dining…er… which this menu is not an obvious example of. I spoke with the manger about their vegan options, and she informed that their fresh pasts is made with flour and water only! Although we didn’t order any during this meal, you can count on me returning for a vegan feats!

The deep fried, risotto wrapped, molten mozzarella Rice Ball ($4 on the The Five O’Clock Meeting menu!) is my all time favorite. Cracking into the rice ball, a  puddle of cheese oozes fourth, tangling in my fork’s tines as I stab at the crisp shell. Powdery Parmesan and minced parsley cling to the molten cheese it’s scooped into my mouth. This is the very best dish on the menu. Always.

The petite bowl of Spiced Marcona Almonds & Parmesan Cheese Chunks ($8) is loaded with flavor. The generous chunks of Parmesan and oil slicked almond are heavy—slowing me down, savoring each bite. Though small, it’s far too much for one person. It’s a great dinner accent and something to nibble on between a meal’s courses.

The Grilled Artichoke ($12) is a simple dish. The nearly unadulterated vegetable arrives with charred edges and a burnt lemon. It’s absolutely delicious but a overpriced to anyone who knows have to prepare an artichokes.

The light Bibb Lettuce with Lemon, Creme Fraiche & Crispy Leeks ($10) is the subtle sleeper of the of the menu. A translucent film of cream clings to the buttery bibb lettuce. Shoestring leeks are crisped in a delicate tempura-like batter and carry a faint saltiness. The flavor of this dish is fleeting, drawing you back to the pale leaves for more and more and more…

As long as late summer figs are still dangling from the trees, I hope the special Fig Salad clings to the menu. Stuffed with a cube of mozzarella, the sauteed fruit is served on a vinegar wilted bed of mixed greens.

Though we didn’t order a vegan pasta, we did order was the Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce, Basil, Pecorino ($16). Smooth cylinders of tender gnocchi drenched in a light tomato sauce that tastes of nothing else. It’s exactly what you would expect from this dish. No more, no less.

I forgot to mention our waitress! My friend instantly spotted her as a favorite instructor at Pop Physique. It was with her permission that we indulged in the Warm Skillet Cookie ($8). The cast iron pan of chocolate chunk cookie is littered with salted almonds and topped with Rocky Road Gelato. It’s a rich with a satisfying warmth that leaves you craving a cardio workout.

As rich and indulgent as chocolate is, the Oven Roasted Peach Shortcake ($8) was my favorite dessert. A polenta shortcake encased in a crystal sugar shell atop housemade peach jam and whipped mascarpone. Served with a side of lightly oven roasted peaches and scattering of rosemary, it the perfect ending to any dinner.

8715 Beverly Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048

Goldie’s (Los Angeles, CA)

An impromptu weekday lunch with my mom finally brought me to Goldie’s. The living wall beckoned us from the street but offer little shade for a midday meal. Fortunately, the interior proved to be lovely. Designed by the restaurateur Nick Mathers, it’s been described as Frank Lloyd Wright-meets-lumberyard which doesn’t make any sense to me at all. This is clearly a mid-century derived design accented with Moroccan tiles and knock-off Wegner Elbow chairs.

The smoky kitchen air wafted through the elegantly slit wall directly into the dining room. We figured if we are going to breathe all this smoke we might as well start off with the Grilled Flatbread ($8). Slathered with honey, rosemary and ricotta, the flatbread arrived unsliced on a wooden platter. With butter knives we dully sawed into the tough bread—neither crisp nor chewy—leaving deep groves in the gorgeously finished wooden plate. The ricotta was flavorless, topped with such a scant amount of rosemary and honey that the kitchen may as well have left it off. Flatbreads are no longer on the menu. I understand why.

The Kale Salad ($12) was a much better event. Tender leaves of mixed-age kale tossed in honey dressing with thin slices of granny smith apple and finished with toasted sesame and blushing pink pickled onions. Large and filling, this salad was woefully overdressed. It was so unfortunate considering the how well all the other elements worked together. I definitely would order this again, but with half the dressing.

The Grilled Baby Leeks ($14) were another head-scratcher.  The slender stocks of what looked more like scallions then baby leeks (we asked the waitress and she said they were scallions) were almost impossible to cut through. The pungent puddle taleggio fonduta balanced out the acidity of the pickled seeds. Finished off with a tangle of crispy onions, I found the onions more palatable then the tough leeks.

Finally, the Roasted Carrots ($12) arrived. The charred exteriors, filled with tender sweet flesh, are cooked perfectly. The buttermilk bath envelopes the crunch of the spiced pistachio. This was a phenomenal dish. Too bad the rest of the meal couldn’t match its quality.

8422 W 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

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

The Vegetarian Option: Weddings 2013

My 2011 post on vegetarian options at wedding remained one of my most viewed posts on this blog! In the past two years, wedding have become all the more vegetarian friendly… so for your brides, caterers or food porn lovers out there searching for silent/loud/delicious vegetarian options for your affairs, here are my favorites from the past two years:

Dani and Andrew (Los Angeles)

One half of this couple is vegetarian, so options abound. Catered by HerloomLA, this is by far my favorite of this post. You can view the tasting for this wedding here to contrast expectation verses reality.

The Cheese Course, set out before the ceremony even began!

Chives and wild mushroom ragu atop a crispy lemon polenta cake! These totally met the expectation of the tasting samples.

Twice-baked potato with crème fraiche. Not as pretty, but still delicious!

Various breads, pizzas, and fondues. The smoked mozzarella and pumpkin parmesan fondues held up well, but there were no forks out at this point of the service, making this a messy smack. The cheesy pizzas got soggy piled on atop each other in this presentation.

The Spring Pea Salad, full of fresh and crunchy vegetables, held up to its light dressing throughout the evening.

There were a million different kinds of cake in there, each layer was a different flavor. I don’t remember what I had, I was still stuffed from the cheese course!

Malibu Wedding

Over the summer I worked at a wedding at the gorgeous Villa Cascata in Malibu. Again, half the wedding party was vegetarian so there was plenty to gorge my vegetable loving belly on!

Simple Salad with Mango dressing, a flat of Mac’n cheese and a view of the Pacific Ocean! A stellar start to dinner.

The salad was actually not that simple with spinach, avocados, strawberries and pistachios.

Veggie Samosas!

Chewy Chapati. Delicious on its own, but even better with:

Herb and onion flecked Fried Tofu, little Falafel patties, vegetable laced Couscous and Grape Leaves!

The bride’s southern roots appeared in the baskets of Sweet Potato Fries and Cornbread Muffins!

Urban Garden (Los Angeles, CA)

I am not creature of habit. But after nearly 5 years working in NYC’s Murray Hill there were two things you could count on:

  1. Finding me at the Patrick Kavanagh Pub after work
  2. Eating mujadara from Kalustyan’s at least once a week

When I moved to Los Angeles, the crisp onion and smashed lentils of Mujadara exited my life. But two years later, thanks to an invite to try a new vegetarian/vegan friendly menu at Urban Garden, it’s back in my common rotation! But, while UG’s mujadara is decent, what sends me over the edge here the Garlic Sauce!

The garlic sauce doesn’t sound like much, and it really isn’t–just olive oil, garlic and salt–but I refused to believe it was vegan until it was confirmed by the chef. Whipped into a creamy white paste, the olive oil radiates with an obscene amount of sharp garlic. It tastes great on absolutely everything… including my bare finger.

Since the initial tasting, I now eat here all the time. The Fried Cauliflower is a favorite. Despite the occasionally over cooked batch, when the tender white flesh is seared with blacked caramelized tips, it’s perfect in a wrap or on with a platter—dipped in garlic sauce of course. The heavy smokiness of the Baba Ganoush is spot on, though it proved too much for one of my blander friends, this is by far my favorite of their dips options.

When I’m not in the mood to risk it with cauliflower, the organic chickpea and red quinoa Falafel has never failed. It always arrives with a thick, but not oily, shell holding moist innards… which again go perfectly with the garlic sauce. The Vegetable Kibbeh is a special indulgence. Kibbeh, a torpedo-shaped bulger dumpling, is normally filled with goat or beef or lamb or whatnot. At Urban Garden (and The Little Door) it’s not only vegetarian, but vegan friendly! A little sweet, full of flavor—and pine nuts—it’s a must try for any veg since it’s so hard to come by.

The Spicy Cilantro and Garlic Potatoes are not as spicy as they sound. The subtle sauce can get lost against the bold flavors of other choices, like the Kale, Quinoa & Beet Salad. Yes, I just called a salad bold. Dressed in a deliciously super tart dressing, this salad benefits from being paired with the subtle nature of the potatoes. At least until I douse those potatoes in the dreamy garlic sauce.

The only thing that drives me a crazy at Urban Garden is that platters max out at 3 choices. It’s more than enough food, but with so many options, I have the darnedest time limiting myself to just three.

Urban Garden
446 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Mustard Seed Café (Los Angeles, CA)

My ideal sandwich!

It was meant as an insult. A pastrami pocketing New Yorker once told me that I like “salad between bread” not “sandwiches.” I dissagree. I mean hello, I love bánh mì, grilled cheese, the ‘Shroom Burger from Shake Shack and so on. Still, I do love a “salad between bread!”

Getting a wad of vegetables balanced between bread—in terms of flavor and stackability—is a challenge many restaurant refuse to acknowledge. The key is thin slices carefully arranged, plus the use to vegetable cradling alfalfa sprouts, to prevent a vegetable sandwich from collapsing into the proverbial salad. One of the best examples I’ve found is at Los Feliz’s Mustard Seed Café. The Veggie Sandwich ($9.95) is served on toasted olive bread with tomato pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, swiss cheese, red onions, and avocado. It’s carefully constructed, guaranteeing every veggie in every bite. The tomato pesto—instead of humdrum mayo—adds a tangy undercurrent to the briny bread, plus makes it easy to turn this sandwich vegan (just order sans cheese)!

The lightly dressed Red Cabbage Slaw is my side of choice. Crisp cabbage tossed with a barely-there oil and vinegar blend finish off a perfect lunch. Light on the belly, easy on the wallet… very, very, sort of similar, but not at all, exactly like a salad!

A lesser construction, but still a damn good sandwich!

Mustard Seed Café
1948 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 660-0670

Spitz (Los Angeles, CA)

A muddling of tasty colors… like a eatable Monet painting

I’ve grown weary of falafels. I don’t dislike them, but will restaurants please think of some more original ‘vegetarian options.’ That said, if I am going to eat a falafel, it better be damn good.

Is Spitz’s damn good? Er…  not exactly. But all the junk they pile on top/inside/around the falafel is!

Spitz’s take on the quintessential vegetarian option is Zesty Feta Doner ($8) with falafel. A once crisp falafel is wrapped in lavash and stuffed with lettuce, red onion, green pepper, cucumber, tomato, feta, olives, hummus, tzatziki and chili sauce. It’s a hefty! It’s really good! Flavor forward—with a sharp briny presence—the mediocre falafel add bland balance against the assault of toppings.

The sauce is more spiced than spicy

With hallmarks like Burger King selling Sweet Potato Fries, these sweet fried sticks have lost much of their allure. But this is where the topping save the day. Alone, the sweet potato fries (small $3.05/regular $5.05)—served with a spicy looking but not at all spicy aioli—are unremarkable. But with a slight modification they become the most awesome fries ever…

Mediterranean poutine!

The Street Cart Fries ($7.35)! Loaded with tons of garlic aioli, feta, onion, green peppers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, pepperoncinis and chili sauce, these are the star of the menu. Ask for the basket to be 50/50 regular and sweet potato and you’ll be in french fry flavor country!

2506 Colorado Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 257-5600