Inspired by California-Mediterranean cuisines and farmers markets, I cook healthy, flavorful dishes that are easy-to-prepare yet elegant. I write for Zester Daily, One for the Table, Luxury Travel Magazine, Huffington Post & New York Daily News. My latest Amazon eCookbook is 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes. My handcrafted chocolates are available at www.dchocolates.com.
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Two Restaurants for Mother's Day: Michael's in Santa Monica and Maison Giraud in Pacific Palisades
Mother's Day is a special time to appreciate our mothers and the mothers of our children. A leisurely meal in a pleasant surrounding is the perfect way to celebrate the women who are so central to our lives.
Brunch is the preferred meal for Mother's Day, when a sunny late morning adds to the celebration.
Michael's Restaurant (1147 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310/451-0843), located on Third Street in Santa Monica, half a block north of Wilshire, has an elegant dining room with the relaxed feeling of a private home. Surrounding diners at the rear of the restaurant, a lush patio garden obliterates all traces of the busy city a few feet away.
By staying focused on farmers market fresh, seasonal ingredients, owner/chef Michael McCarty has pulled off a magic trick, staying contemporary and innovative even as the culinary landscape changed. When the restaurant opened, market fresh produce was a rallying cry for a few talented chefs. Nowadays, just about every restaurant says it buys locally and seasonally.
The difference then as now is that fresh ingredients are a good beginning but to be something special, they must be prepared by a talented chef with a great palate.
For the West Side, Michael's is a member of a small group of upscale restaurants. On the spring menu, starters are priced from $18 for a half dozen raw oysters to $22 for the Maine lobster gnocchi with mains ranging from $34 for the Jidori half-chicken to $44 for the rack of lamb and New York steak.
But Happy Hour at Michael's is a bargain and it begins early (Monday-Friday 5:00pm; Saturday 6:0pm). Michael keeps Happy Hour happy until closing. With flavors inspired by the larger menu, the snacks are as varied as an crostini with duck confit or with burrata, arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano, truffle-thyme fries, Andouille sausage with beer caramelized onions, piquillo pepper and avocado salad and an upscale riff on Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in the Jidori wings with maple syrup and chile salt (addictive!).
For Mother's Day, Michael's has a Sunday brunch from 11:30am-2:00pm. The prix fix menu for adults ($65.00/person) and for children under ten ($30.00/person) has four to five choices per course in a three course brunch. The dishes are elegant (oysters with blood orange mignonette, petit prime filet with English peas, Shimeji mushrooms and white corn) and familiar (Eggs Benedict, Cobb salad, blueberry pancakes with chicken sausage or smoked bacon). Dessert is sensible (strawberry-oatmeal crisp with creme fraiche ice cream) or complex and rich (dark chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate ganache and raspberries).
If you want to toast mom, Michael's has an excellent wine cellar, including wines McCarty grows and bottles at his Malibu home, and a selection of delicious cocktails (a blood orange mimosa, Stoli bloody bull, "smoke love" with single malt scotch and smoked mescal, the "dark side of the moon," a wicked mixture of gin, vermouth, orange juice, lime orange oil simple and Creme de Violette! and a "frozen white lady," a sweet, ice cold, lemony confection of a drink).
Up the hill from Santa Monica, Maison Giraud (1032 Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272; 310/459-7561) is an outpost of French cuisine in suburban Pacific Palisades. Paired down and minimalist, the dining room is elegantly efficiently. Outside on the covered patio, diners enjoy eating at sidewalk tables, shaded by trees.
Alain Giraud wants the restaurant to be a relaxed gathering place for everyone wanting a good meal in a quiet setting. Like McCarty, Giraud is a habitué of farmers markets, looking for the freshest, best tasting, seasonal products he can find.
In the bakery he shows his deft hand with buttery, effervescent croissants, brioche, Danish, and other sweet and crisp pastries.
For Mother's Day, Giraud will serve brunch from 10:30am-2:30pm featuring the usual menu with a selection of omelets, custardy scrambled eggs, French toast, Nicoise salad, grilled salmon, quiche and Eggs Benedict. For Mother's Day, he has added a green asparagus salad with citrus vinaigrette, roasted halibut and spring vegetables and for dessert, a strawberry and pistachio confection.
Besides dining at the restaurant, Mother's Day can also be celebrated at home by ordering from the bakery and the take-out menu.
My mother and grandmother disagreed about many things as mothers and daughters do. They especially disagreed about the proper way to make egg salad.
Real egg salad, my grandmother said, was made with hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise with a little salt and pepper. My mother used those ingredients as a starting point. To her egg salad she added finely chopped celery and, sometimes, scallions. My grandmother thoroughly disapproved.
As a kid, I often found myself caught between the two of them. Siding one time with my mother, another time with my grandmother.
About egg salad, I definitely agreed with my mother. Chopped hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise cried out for more flavor and texture. The celery and scallions were a good start but, ultimately, I decided there were so many more ingredients that would improve egg salad why not add whatever you wanted, as long as the ingredients did not over power the eggs.
I tried lots of ingredients. Mango chutney (not good), raisins (not good), pitted gr…
New Year's Eve is fast approaching. Super Bowl Sunday isn't that far off. Perfect for both or any celebration, a flourless chocolate cake proves the maxim, a little taste goes a long way. Because the dense cake has so much flavor, a thin slice topped with freshly made whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is more than enough to end a meal or celebrate a memorable occasion.
Many years ago I read my first flourless chocolate cake recipe in Esquire magazine. As created by Jean Banchet, the celebrated French chef, the basics were straight forward. A good quality dark chocolate is melted together with sweet (unsalted) butter. In a separate bowl egg yolks are sweetened with sugar. Egg whites are whipped into peaks. Then, the three are mixed into one bowl.
Like a souffle, a flourless chocolate cake is a delicate confection. Jostled or treated carelessly, the egg whites so carefully aerated will collapse.
My contribution to this classic was a few flavorful ingredients. Instead of a lique…
A year ago we visited Cuba to attend the Havana Film Festival, the first time since 1999 when the country was celebrating the Millennium. A lot had changed since 1999. We were able to fly directly to Havana, without a stop over in Mexico. We asked to have our passports stamped at Cuban Immigration instead of asking them not to do that. The old city had been refurbished, with construction indicating more improvements to come. Hotels were being built. The restaurant scene was as thriving as those in Brooklyn and Downtown Los Angeles. The music was as wonderful as before, with bands playing in neighborhood bars and radios on window sills serenading people passing by. There was much to enjoy. But also Havana's decay was more evident than in 1999. The old city and prosperous suburbs were bustling. Walk a dozen blocks away from the tourist areas and the streets and buildings in the heart of the city were more crumbling than sixteen years before. Only the colorful street art that took ad…