Beverly Hills

With its glitzy and glamorous reputation, Beverly Hills is a good place for people watching if that's your thing. I did find it a little too sterile and while walking the streets of Rodeo and Beverly Drives, I struggled to come up with words that would describe the character of Beverly Hills. The streets were wide and very well maintained which made it wonderful for strolling, though with the very few palm trees scattered along the streets, it lacked personality. Nevertheless, it's still a great area to spend an afternoon sipping latte at Urth Caffe. Even if you don't intend to buy anything from Rodeo Drive, it makes a pretty fun couple of hours just to look at the different facades of the luxury goods boutiques. For those who think that shopping in Beverly Hills is all high-end, Beverly Drive which is just a street over from Rodeo Drive has approachable everyday stores. The Beverly Canon Gardens designed Italian-style offers a wonderful reprieve in the park. Or if you feel like indulging in a cupcake at the popular Sprinkles Cupcake on Santa Monica Boulevard, they have recently installed a cupcake ATM machine just outside the store where you can satisfy your cravings 24 hours a day.


Fundamental L.A.

Fundamental L.A. may at first seem a little out of place among the other restaurants in Westwood or in L.A. but we are confident it is here to stay. Note that I mean out of place in a good way. The vibe of Fundamental L.A. is reminiscent to what we will find in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Bare cement floors, wooden communal tables and tables, and light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, it feels very much like one of those bare and minimalist places that attract young urban foodies and scenesters. Fundamental L.A. is best described as abstract in its decor, if it even can be said that there is any decor in the first place. At this chef-driven place, the laid back and friendly servers are dressed in flannel shirts and jeans. As unpretentious as this place sounds, the major driving factor of Fundamental L.A.'s success is its food. Think of it as fine dining quality food meeting its very casual counterpart in atmosphere.

Portions are meant to be shared so it was a fantastic way of communal dining. After all, what's better than having shared plates at a place like Fundamental L.A. where people can get together with a loved one or friends over good food and drinks. We started off with the spring salad and though there was nothing about the salad that was over the top. we loved the purist way of the salad preparation. The greens were lightly tossed with vinaigrette and the fresh and crisp halved hazelnuts stood out in the salad.

The duck liver jar that was topped with a delicate layer of vanilla gelee paired so well with the toasted brioche that we requested for more toast which our server was absolutely glad to bring more to the table. The spread had a combination of savory and sweet tastes from the liver mousse and vanilla gelee.

Fundamental L.A. makes its pasta in-house and the tagliarini was cooked to a perfect texture of al dente and had a firm and yet nice chewy texture to it. When a simple dish of fresh egg noodles just tossed with green garlic, shaved pecorino, and herbs can taste that good, the kitchen must be doing something right.

We ended the meal with the veal breast and it turned out to be better than what it was called on the menu. It wasn't just breast meat but the cut of meat likened to veal belly with a layer of fat in the center. The fat that was rendered during the cooking process helped make the meat flavorful and moist.

Towards the end of our meal we became curious when we saw many people around us with a milky drink in a tall glass. After asking our server about it, we found out that it was their popular house made vanilla cream soda. In fact, word has it that it's the best vanilla cream soda in the city. That's enough of an incentive for us to want to return and try it.

Don't be deceived by this spartan restaurant. It might look bare but it is hip with seriously noteworthy good food.

Fundamental L.A.
1303 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024


Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery

I'm not so sure if there is ever time when Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery in Santa Monica is not busy and bustling with people. I walked in on a Tuesday at about 11 o'clock in the morning, saw that all tables were taken, and several people were standing around waiting for a table to open up. I went up to the counter and proceeded to order my food; Huckleberry's system is such that you walk up to the counter and place your order before seating yourself. I lucked out as shortly after I placed my order, two ladies got up to leave their table. I heard that on weekends, a long line awaits at Huckleberry with people spilling out the door. Well, lucky for me, I was on vacation in L.A. and had the luxury of going on a Tuesday. The entire time I was there, the place was busy and noisy. As soon as people left, some would come in.

My soft baked eggs were served with roasted tomato sauce, white beans, basil, and parmesan cheese. I must have loved the white beans and sauce so much because before I knew it, I was putting spoonfuls of it into my mouth as though I was drinking a really hearty soup or eating stew. I wanted to finish up the entire roasted tomato sauce in my bowl. The slice of freshly baked rustic bread helped soak up everything in my bowl. I was full but I was also very happy.

Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery is a husband-and-wife owned and run place which adds a local charm to this place in Santa Monica. Zoe, the wife, learned to bake at Tartine in San Francisco, and given the very respectable credentials of Tartine, this itself speaks for Huckleberry. It seems like any famous pastry chef today takes pride in having interned or worked at Tartine though that is no surprise. T and I have been to Tartine in San Francisco and it has become one of our favorite bakeries since. Huckleberry's food items are inspired by local, seasonal, and organic produce at the farmers market. Their shelves are lined with rustic breads and pastries baked fresh every morning.

Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery
1014 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401


Urth Caffe

Urth Caffe produces beautiful latte art. Lest you think it's only about the fancy art foam, Urth Caffe makes mean lattes as well. It is pretty incredible how this place manages to not only produce lattes that are espresso-based but they also have lattes made from matcha (green tea powder), South African rooibos tea, and red Thai tea. The creativity is not what makes this place great but the execution of the creativity that makes the lattes taste so good. The flavors work so nicely together and the unique additions make the creative lattes work perfectly whether it is matcha or steamed condensed milk.

It was love at first sight between me and the Japanese tea latte. The deep green from the matcha was the first clue to the intense flavor of the drink. Too much matcha could sometimes give out a slight bitter taste but to my surprise, the latte had a natural sweetness to it. I think the adorable art foam in the form of a fish also made me like it more. The Spanish latte was made with steamed condensed milk, just like how traditional Spanish lattes are made. When it comes to coffee with condensed milk, we mainly only get to have it at Vietnamese restaurants so the Spanish latte at Urth Caffe was definitely a treat although of course very different from Vietnamese coffee. Growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, adding condensed milk to coffee (and tea) was a common sight that we miss very much.

The deep dish blueberry pie had me at hello. I knew I had to have it the minute I saw it sitting on the shelf that also had a myriad of other delicious looking pastries and cakes. But my heart was set on the blueberry pie mainly because it was labeled as deep dish pie. That could only mean two things: more crust and more blueberry filling. It also helped that the sugar sprinkles on top made it look rustic. There were actually whole blueberries in the filling and no, the blueberries did not get completely mushed up in the baking process. The entire filling was also not too sweet which made us feel like we could kept eating it. The shortcrust pastry was flaky and yet dense enough to hold the pastry together.

The last I heard, Jessica Alba frequents Urth Caffe and if that's true, she has good taste for their beautifully made and equally tasty lattes. And pastries.

Urth Caffe (has several locations)
67 South Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90212


Ramen Yamadaya

Don't be confused by the slightly misleading sign that is big enough to see from far away that says "20 Hours Tonkatsu Ramen." Blame it on the vague wording, T's co-worker once asked, Why would a ramen place open 20 hours a day? No, that isn't what the sign is trying to tell you. Ramen Yamadaya dedicates 20 hours everyday in boiling at the highest temperature the broth with pork bones. The resulting pork bone broth is rich in flavor and creamy in color. Preparing the broth should never be underestimated as it can make or break a bowl of ramen and Ramen Yamadaya gets it. Ramen Yamadaya in L.A. made me crave for it even after a week of returning to Chicago.

Ramen Yamadaya has several locations in L.A. and the one we went to was in Westwood. It was lunchtime and people in business suits and dresses were there seeking the tonkatsu ramen as much as students from the nearby University of California- Los Angeles campus. For those dining alone at Ramen Yamadaya, there is a short stretch of counter seating with the table top narrow enough in width just to place the bowl of ramen and perhaps a side order.

How the menu works is that you choose the type of broth and all of them are tonkatsu-based broth. I am a purist so I went with the original tonkatsu ramen which came with the basic pork bones broth. Don't let the word basic undermine your initial impression of it's flavor. My ramen was absolutely tasty and intense in flavor. Every spoonful of broth that went into my mouth was delightful. There was also an option to choose the level of spiciness and I went with Level 2 which came with a dollop of chilli paste and a spoonful of chilli powder on top of the ramen. For T's ramen, he chose the tonkatsu shoyu broth which came drizzled with black garlic oil over the ramen. Additional ramen toppings can be ordered such as chashu pork, pork belly, or pork loin.

Though not mentioned in the menu, if you love garlic, be sure to request for a side of raw garlic cloves. The small plate will be brought to your table along with the garlic press and simply add some crushed raw garlic into the ramen. We tried a little bit of our ramen prior to adding the garlic just so that we could compare the taste of the ramen with and without the garlic, and no doubt the garlic added a kick to the ramen.

A place that prides itself with boiling the tonkatsu ramen broth for 20 hours has our vote.

Ramen Yamadaya (has several locations in the L.A. area)
1248 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024


Le Pain Quotidien

Picture taken at one of the NYC locations

The year so far has been filled with life-changing events for us both. The first one being that T is traveling so much more in his new job since the beginning of the year. This week I started a new position in the industry (which means no more working in the academia!). Having a husband who constantly travels for work means that I sometimes get to travel along with him whenever I have a reason to. Or, frankly speaking, do we need really need a reason to go on a short vacation every once in a while? Last week was the perfect time for me to fly to L.A. with T before I started my new job. He of course had to work but I took the opportunity to just enjoy the area.

We first fell in love with Le Pain Quotidien when we stumbled upon one of the locations in New York City. We usually aren't crazy over chains but these Belgium-originated bakeries really are quite charming. When we were in L.A., I found myself returning to Le Pain Quotidien twice for breakfast; once with T, and the second time by myself. This bakery and cafe offers a rustic feel with their wooden communal tables for customers dining in. Freshly baked organic breads grace their shelves every day.

For bread lovers like us, the Breakfast Basket was quite a treat that allowed us to try different types of bread. The basket came with a choice of croissant or pain au chocolate, accompanied with a baguette slice, two slices of raisin and nut bread, and two slices of bread roll. A glass of organic juice and a hot beverage come with the Breakfast Basket. We got an order of soft boiled eggs on the side and soaked up the soldiers (buttered toast sliced lengthwise) with the runny yolk.

What make Le Pain Quotidien special are the housemade spreads and jams that are placed and served on each table at the bakery.  They include white chocolate, praline, blueberry, and apricot and are really lovely when spread on bread. My favorite has to be the praline spread that comes packed with flavor but not too sweet. The bakery sells jars of the housemade spreads and jam and if it wasn't because my hand carry bag was tight for space, I would have taken home a jar of the praline spread with me to Chicago. Maybe Le Pain Quotidien will open a location in Chicago someday? Here's to hoping.

I liked Le Pain Quotidien so much I returned by myself when T had to work. Dining alone with the light and fluffy omelet with avocado and tomato sauce was all worth it. I even got a pain aux raisins to go. I really couldn't get enough of this place.

Le Pain Quotidien (has several locations)
1055 Broxton Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90189