Sunday, September 26, 2010

Andy's carbonara pizza

Having an enthusiastic and talented chef as a roommate definitely has its perks. For as much as Andy can appreciate and manipulate dishes of magnificent quality, he is equally passionate about some of the lower echelons of culinary exploration, such as the quintessential pizza and beer combination. Truly, if there is a better pairing of food and drink I haven't yet found it.

Having said that, there's certainly nothing wrong with run-of-the-mill pizza pies from any number of chain establishments or your grocery's freezer; there's always a time and a place for some cheap eats. However, if it's something a bit higher class that you yearn for and you don't mind putting a little elbow grease into it, I recommend the herb pizza dough available at Trader Joe's. I find it to crisp up nicely while leaving a gooey trail within the crust. For our particular experiment this night, we gathered up some of the best dry and sharp cheeses, along with some fresh arugula and herbs smattered on top of a thick, creamy, mushroom sauce that smothered the misshapen pie to ultimately be crowned with a halo of fresh eggs (cracked at the very end to ensure maximum runny-ness while avoiding that pesky salmonella). I can't truly explain the details without my mouth suddenly becoming full of saliva in a desperate yearning for a recreation of the glory, so perhaps a visual is necessary.

When confronted with a particularly savory group dish, a quandary often presents itself soon into the meal. Does one A) scarf it down with relish to ensure as much possible goodness is selfishly consumed by oneself, or B) does one maintain a sense of decorum and savor each bite to maximize the pleasure time? Let's just say with two hungry boys standing between me and my fair share of the pizza, the entire concoction was gone within moments. A glorious triumph for pizza lovers everywhere.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Veggie Grill, Hollywood, CA

I've said it once, I'll say it again- I expect to be disappointed when a restaurant caters to an exclusively vegan or vegetarian clientele. Moderation, in my opinion, is held in higher esteem than exclusion. That being said, when my fears prove to be unfounded, it's an extra thrill to experience some great eats sans meat. Veggie Grill in L.A. and Orange Counties is one of many of my friends' favorite haunts, and there's not a month that goes by where at least a carload of people pile into a car and head to the nearest location in Irvine for vegan goodies. I'm told everything on the menu is animal product free, and they assured me that I should have higher than usual expectations for the (strike one) CHAIN, and (strike two) VEGETARIAN ONLY restaurant.

Our latest trip to Hollywood brought us to one of their locations, and the menu surprised me at first glance. Nachos? Thai chicken? Not just the usual veggie burger and salad options, I see... a positive start. As I had ruined my major appetite with a sandwich earlier, I couldn't indulge in an entire meal, but went with an orange theme and got their all-natural carrot cake and side of mac n' cheese.

I have absolutely no idea how they did it, but this carrot cake was one of the best slices of dessert I have ever had. Completely moist and light without being gritty or having that strange off-texture that non-cow milk will sometimes incur, it was fresh and wonderful. A complete surprise.

I was told that if I tried only one thing it would have to be the mac n' cheese. Made with Daiya cheese, it was a first for me, and I found it to be one of the best alternative cheese options I've had to date. Not overly sticky or melty like a plastic crayon, it was the closest thing to actual cheese that I've tried thus far. Not by any means do I consider myself a faux cheese expert, but I've had my fair share and this was definitely in the top tier. The whole wheat noodles were topped with a toasted bread crumble, and the textures paired beautifully.

All in all, I was floored by the quality and variety of offerings and while I may not yet be a total believer in the all-vegan meal's ability to top its animal equivalent, Veggie Grill has taken me one large leap in that direction.

West Hollywood
8000 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Phone 323.822.7575

Plaza El Segundo
720 Allied Way
El Segundo, CA 90245
Phone 310.535.0025

Irvine – University Center
4213 Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92612
Phone 949.509.0003

Irvine Spectrum Center
81 Fortune Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
Phone 949.727.9900