A few weeks ago I promised to write more about great places to eat in LA that I’ve recently visited. All of these places are worth checking out if you’re in the City of Angels, so without further ado…
Best. Burger. Ever.
I know this is a bold claim, and I’m sure plenty of people will dispute this and say they have the best burger at their favorite burger joint in their own town, but if you like burgers, then you must, must, must go to Plan Check in West LA. I don’t eat burgers that often, so when I do, I want to make it worthwhile. The Plan Check Burger is more than worth your while. It’s worth traveling from afar for. Maybe even a dedicated trip to LA just to have a burger. There are now hourly shuttle flights from San Francisco to LA–get on one. Go and eat there you meat aficionados! (And if you live outside California and love food, plan a foodie trip and hit up both SF and LA!)
Plan Check is affectionately named for the city of LA’s Building and Safety Department, which is next door to the resto. If you need a building permit in LA, you are required to come to the Building and Safety Department to have your “plans checked” in order to get building permits. According to the website:
The Plan Check name and brand stem from its location, adjacent to the Building and Safety Department, where hundreds of Architects, Developers, Designers and Engineers flock daily to get plans reviewed for permitting. It embodies the architectural/creative lifestyle and the culture that surrounds it, effortlessly blending vintage architectural office elements with industrial pieces, rich materials and a warm atmosphere.
The menu is a pretty eclectic mix of upscale comfort and retro foods, all of which are made in house–as in house-made pickles and crab dip to fried chicken and pot roast. They make their own veggie chips and beer nuts. They make their own ketchup (more on this later). And, oh yeah, donuts–I can’t forget the donuts!
My brother had been talking this place up to me for while, particularly the truffle burger he had there for Father’s Day, which completely made that holiday for him. I made sure to have a salad for lunch so I could accommodate a good burger for dinner. My brother was in luck the day they took me there–they had a truffle burger special again, which he couldn’t refuse.
We decided we should have some veggies to go with all that meat, so we first ordered their Baby Kale Caesar Salad and their Pickled Beet Salad. My love for beet salads has been well documented on this blog, so I’m not even going to wax on about this one with its pepper cress and pomegranate molasses and goat cheese. If you like beets, just get it. I really loved the kale caesar. I know people are starting to get sick of kale, kale everywhere–it’s even become a topic of comedic ridicule by people like Kristen Wiig, who recently asserted that kale needs to “go away” or some such on GMA. I happen to really like kale as a salad green though and I think making it the star of a classic caesar is a great idea, especially since kale just packs so much more punch nutritionally than romaine lettuce. Well done, Plan Checkers!
Speaking of well done, don’t order your burger well done here. One of the best things about burger culture in California is that, unless you’re a fast food joint, no one uses crappy beef that needs to have the hell cooked out of it so that a bunch of bad guy bacteria don’t take up residency in your colon and make you sick. So order your burger medium–you’ll thank me. Because it’s just that good. There are a couple different options for burgers on the menu, including one that has “pig candy” on it–I have no idea what that is, but I’m assuming it’s some sort of caramelized, sweetened cracklin’ or fatback or something that hog aficionados will drool over. I went for a classic combo–the Plan Check Burger, which includes americanized dashi cheese, ketchup leather (yeah, you read that correctly!), schmaltz onions, mixed pickles and a crunch bun. That combo should have you drooling over your keyboard right now. Like I said, Best. Burger. Ever.
Here’s what makes this so great. First, who the heck makes their own American cheese? Although my trusty DIY cookbook has a recipe for it, American cheese has, well, a bad rap–and deservedly so. It’s crappy cheese. It’s cheese product. Not real cheese, like a fresh burrata. Still, it’s one of those things that most of us–at least those of us born before 2000 and the food revolution–grew up with. One taste of this “americanized” dashi cheese and you will never look at another Kraft Single the same way again. I don’t know how they make this stuff–certainly it’s using seaweed as part of its definite umami flavor–but it’s freakin’ amazing. And on the burger it was so oozy and melty in your mouthy that it put the melting powers of a Single slice to shame (and let’s face it, there is no better melting cheese than American–it’s made for melting). Schmaltz onions? Well, there can’t be much wrong with onions sautéed in chicken fat, so there you have it. The other thing that makes this burger is the ketchup leather. Whoever came up with the idea to turn ketchup into what would otherwise be a fruit rollup is ingenious. It comes on the burger in a large square slice–as if it were a Ketchup Single. Like a good fruit rollup it gets soft when warm, so that’s a plus because the heat of the meat gives it an even more pliable consistency that adds to the melty quality of the cheese and onions. Plus, no drips! Ingenious!
For the record, I did also have a bit of my brother’s Truffle Burger, which was so out of the this world that I don’t think I could actually have eaten a whole one. One bite was almost enough of a touch of truffle heaven. I think I might have experienced umami overdose if I’d had anymore. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing that you’ll spoil it if you have more. I think an entire truffle burger would have done that to me. Instead I live with the memory of a perfect bite…
Finally, as if all that weren’t enough and you still have room, do get the crullers. They are like a happy marriage between a Dunkin’ Donuts French Cruller (hey, I lived in Massachusetts for a long time, I have to be partial to Dunkin’!) and a churro. Get them.
Plan Check Kitchen & Bar
1800 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Sandwiches worth going out of your way for…
If you’re in Westwood and want to visit a great cheese shop and get an awesome sandwich, visit The Cheese Box at Wally’s Wines and Spirits. Wally’s is really a wine shop, but next door they have a specialty cheese (and wine accompaniment) shop that not only has great cheese, but makes great sandwiches. Their deli is fairly small but the quality of the meats and cheeses is excellent. Although their sandwich menu is not extensive–there are only nine selections to choose from–they’re damned good and, as might be expected since this is a cheese shop, cheese is often the star of the sandwich. Sandwiches can either be ordered grilled (panini style) or cold.
The grilled sandwiches are toasted on a really nice eggy, sliced brioche, but shaped like Texas Toast – as in the slices are square in shape, not rounded on the top like most sliced bread. This kind of semisweet, and yet somewhat sturdy, bread is perfect for grilled sandwiches because it really toasts well and doesn’t get too soggy after it’s taken off the panini press. This is important because The Cheese Box is primarily a take-out place–they have some outdoor seating in the behind the shop in the parking lot, but unless you want to picnic in the parking lot, you’re likely going to be taking your sandwich to-go, so the fact that the bread can make it home after being wrapped in butcher paper and still be toasty is a plus in my book.
My six-year old niece is partial to their plain grilled cheese sandwich, which is really not so plain by most grilled cheese standards–it’s a combo of gruyere and emmentaler–think fondue on toast (but not Welsh rarebit!). You can also get a grilled truffle cheese sandwich there, which I can only imagine is pretty outstanding even though I haven’t tried it. I have had their croque monsieur-esque grilled ham and cheese which included aged gruyere and smoked, shaved ham and a bit of dijon–all of these things are great, but I really think it’s the bread that makes their grilled sandwiches. The texture and sweetness of a crunchy brioche in contrast with tang and smoke flavors just go together really well–which is probably why there is always a line for sandwiches at Wally’s.
There are also a number of cold cut based sandwiches served on ciabatta rolls. Their fresh mozzarella with sun dried tomato, basil and balsamic is also a winner. My brother’s stand-by is their hero–which includes a cornucopia of deli meats–copicola, mortadella, ham, etc. It’s a guy sandwich if there ever was one. And my sister in law likes their prosciutto, gruyere, field greens and butter.
If you’re lucky, you may be offered some cheese tastings while you wait. I’m a big fan of gouda, and I tend to like super strong, tangy, sharp cheeses–my favorite gouda is this super tangy, almost crunchy, Unikaas Reserve that I’ve gotten at Whole Foods a number of times. But after having a milder gouda with honey and lavender that the cheesemonger at Wally’s offered me while waiting for sandwiches, I may have to reconsider my favorite cheese. After looking at their website, I think it’s their Honey Bee Goat Gouda. Being goat cheese, that’s probably why its milder than cow’s milk gouda. It was simply one of the best cheese I think I’ve ever had–the subtle combination of honey and lavender in the cheese is worth making a long, long drive and fighting LA traffic for.
The Cheese Box (at Wally’s Wines)
2107 Westwood Boulevard
Los Angeles California 90025
Sinfully Good Santa Monica Spots – Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry
If you saw my post a week ago or so on Welsh Rarebit, you’ve already heard me wax about Rustic Canyon’s potatoes with Welsh rarebit sauce. As lick-the-serving-plate-clean yummy as that sauce was, it was only one of a lot of great things to be had at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. Because the menu is based on seasonal ingredients, it changes daily. On the day I was there for my sister-in-law’s birthday, we decided to go for a mixture of small plates and then we also split an entree between us. In addition to the rarebit potatoes, we also had a burrata salad (which was great), ricotta gnocchi with ham broth, and halibut. It was actually the second time that week that I’d had gnocchi that was a non-traditional shape–these were little 3D squares–unusual, but delicious. The ham broth also had white beans with it and greens, perfectly wilted–like with the rarebit, I couldn’t stop myself from spooning the broth into my mouth. The halibut was cooked perfectly–flaky, moist and tender. I almost wished I would have ordered my own entree of it, except that with all the other small plates, it would have been far too much food. The fish also came with corn, potato and little “tomato raisins,” which were called “tom-asins” on the menu. Everything was simply delicious.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but have since found out that the executive chef there is none other than Jeremy Fox, who is famous in the Bay Area, for his Ubuntu restaurant, which was open in Napa for a few years, and earned Fox a Michelin Star, as well as kudos from–well, all over–the NYTimes, every food pub in SF, etc. Now I know why Rustic Canyon is so damned good. I had lunch at Ubuntu for my birthday a number of years ago and to this day it was one of the best and most memorable meals I’ve ever had. AND Ubuntu was a completely vegetarian restaurant. Jeremy Fox does with vegetables what no one else can–he elevates them to levels of crazy goodness that will astound you. I have never been that big a fan of cauliflower, but I had the most amazing cauliflower dish–three ways–pureed, whole and sliced–and baked in a crock with vaudovan, which is a Southern French and Indian spice mixture with turmeric, curry, cumin, etc. It was simply amazing–I have literally craved that vaudovan cauliflower every time I’ve seen one of those funny white tree looking veggies ever since. That is some powerful vegetable magic that Mr. Fox dreamt up! Now that he’s cooking non-vegetarian food at Rustic Canyon, I have no doubt that resto is going to be atop many a list–they are already on LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold’s best beach city eats and they’ve also been featured in the NY Times–can another Michelin star be far behind?
Just down the street on Wilshire about a block away is Huckleberry, another venture from the same husband and wife team Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan that opened Rustic Canyon in 2006. Huckleberry focuses more on artisan baked goods, salads, sandwiches and soups. I went there this past Sunday for brunch. You’ll have to wait in line to order and it may take you a while to get a table if you eat in, but it was one of the better brunches I’ve had because–again, like Rustic Canyon–the focus is on really fresh, high quality ingredients and seasonal cooking. Aside from their copious baked goods, the menu is really healthy for a breakfast/brunch spot. This is not your average eggs and bacon. For instance, the one of the specials was poached eggs with seasonal vegetables, pesto and breadcrumbs–that’s what I ordered and it was terrific. I was even asked how I wanted to have my eggs poached–soft, medium or hard. To be able to poach an egg yolk with three different consistencies takes mad skill in my book–I ordered medium and they were–they also looked like perfect little quenelles–also a skill to poach the whites in that manner. They came atop a combination of fresh sweet corn, dino kale and cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes and kale were cooked just to wilting and the corn was still crisp–great texture combinations–a bit of corn crunch with the satisfying little “pop” that a cooked cherry tomato makes when it’s in that perfect state between raw and hard and collapsed and mushy. Getting some good veggies like that on is a great way to start a Sunday.
Of course, I had to try some baked goods, as well. My six-year old niece insisted on having a donut, of course. They were huge–about the size of two regular donuts put together. She chose the frosted donut with cacao nibs on top. Thankfully she knows how to share! I had a bite and the inside was really fresh and nicely doughy–great consistency. The frosting didn’t over power. And who can resist a cacao nib? Not me! I also got a maple bacon biscuit. The biscuit was actually more of a scone consistency, I thought, than biscuit-y. I think of biscuits as being a lot more flaky and moist than this was–this was fairly crumbly and tight, whereas I think of a good biscuit as having a bit more air and softness to it–usually due to copious butter or even buttermilk. I’d actually call this a maple bacon scone, but whatever. It was still good–nice chunks of crisp bacon throughout, a sweet maple/egg wash on top. Pastry chef Zoe Nathan is a Tartine alumna, so I wasn’t surprised to see some pretty impressive bread loaves on the shelf for sale there, too. (And I’m pleased to report that her croissants were nicely browned, not borderline burnt like I feel they are at Tartine–I think I’m probably the only person in the world that thinks it’s not OK that Tartine nearly burns their croissants and everything else, but I do!)
Loeb and Nathan also have an ice cream shop, Sweet Rose Creamery, and a pizza place, Milo and Olive. Can’t wait to try those!
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen
1119 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery
1014 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Apologies for not getting photos at Plan Check, Wally’s or Rustic Canyon–but now I have an excuse to go back!
All recipes and photos copyright of Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes.