It all started as a normal enough day. I woke up and decided after I ran a few errands, I would reward myself with French toast. It was a weekday, so I make my way to one of my favorite breakfast places, Sqirl. On a weekend, the line at Sqirl is brutally painful. It makes my eyelashes hurt it’s so bad, but it is completely bearable on a weekday, especially on my day off when I’m in no particular rush. Somehow after Sqirl my day spiraled out of control. By day’s end I had somehow visited 10 separate dining establishments in what I would deem a dine-around of epic proportions. If you aren’t familiar with a dine-around you are certainly missing out. A dine-around is typically a meal in which you have drinks, an appetizer, an entrée, and dessert each at a separate establishment. I have participated in numerous dine-arounds throughout my adult life, however an all day dine-around had yet to occur…until this week. The following is an account of, what I now refer to as, The Best Day Ever.
As I previously mentioned the day began, innocently, with French toast. Often when I’ve done a particularly strenuous task, or in a celebratory mood, I will reward myself, with food of course, from a short list of my favorite dishes from around LA. I received some excellent news while running some work errands, and was thrilled to treat myself to my favorite French toast. The French toast from SQIRL in East Hollywood/Silverlake is pretty much magical. It’s a thick cut custard soaked brioche toast stuffed with a seasonal jam (typically strawberry) and topped with crème fraiche and seasonal jam (this time it was SQIRL’s Seascape Strawberry & Rose Geranium. If I could start my day with SQIRL French toast every day I would be VERY happy. “Today is going to be a good day,” I thought. I was right.
Making my way downtown to meet my sister-in-law, and one of my preferred food friends, I took a quick break at Cerveteca. As the heat outside was creeping slightly higher than the tepid 72 degrees us Angelinos are accustomed to, I clearly needed a respite or I was sure I would die a slow and painful death. A quick stop at Cerveteca provided a refresher in the form of a thirst-quenching Watermelon Agua Fresca. Ahhhh.
Go here now. Blacktop Coffee was the reason we headed downtown. Originally I planned to have toast for breakfast and lunch and Blacktop Coffee was a destination I was anxious to try. I was certainly not disappointed. We ordered one of the seasonally changing toasts that can be ordered prior to 2pm, the Nectarine and Burrata toast topped with arugula and a balsamic reduction. This toast was one of the most delicious bites I’ve had in a long time. Truly sometimes simple food really is the best food, this toast was a clear testament to that ethos. This toast is what catapulted us into dine-around territory as we were certain we needed to continue chasing the food high we experienced at Blacktop. It has been decided. We shall dine-around!
Badmaash is yet another restaurant that has been on my list for quite some time. Knowing we were in for several more stops that day, we decided to limit our order to Chickpea & Chips (papri chaat,) and two Samosas (traditional and butter chicken.) Unfortunately Badmaash ended up being more disappointing than exciting. The Chickpea & Chips were interesting, flavorful, and thoroughly enjoyable. The Samosas were an overwhelming failure. Eh, on to the next!
Finally! We get to try the wholly anticipated and newly opened Pok Pok Phat Thai, a fast casual version of Portland’s famous Pok Pok restaurant. The meal I had at Pok Pok Portland was one of the most memorable I had during my last Portland trip. Needless to say I was ecstatic to try the condensed version that debuted here in LA. Pok Pok Phat Thai focuses primarily on the thai street food, Pad Thai, a popular rice noodle dish. Kuaytiaw Khua Kai is a wide noodle stir-fried chicken, prawns, or duck with cuttlefish, egg, green onions, and chopped lettuce. While Pok Pok Phat Thai wasn’t nearly as life changing as my Portland experience, it was a heartening comfort food experience.
Wait. What is that I see as I’m eating my Pad Thai noodles? SCOOPS! Scoops is an artisanal gelato shop owned by a super foodie (the owner now writes for Eater.com.) Scoops also happens to serve one of the best flavors of ice cream or ice cream like substances out there, Brown Bread, a vanilla gelato with Grape-Nuts cereal. Remember Grape-Nuts? Yeah, Grape-Nuts, that weird cereal with an even weirder name. Well leave it to the geniuses at Scoops to turn weird cereal into a delightful creamy treat. The Chinatown location apparently wants me to love Scoops even more by serving Bianco Bread, which uses mascarpone ice cream instead of vanilla. Bliss.
Ok so it was inevitable that one out of ten would be a total bust. Escala ended up on my list of places to try as most of the “foodies” I trust have blogged about Escala and it is helmed by chef Chris Oh of Seoul Sausage. It MUST be good, right?! Um, no, it is not. We walked into one of the ugliest spaces I have ever laid eyes on. No worries, I can deal with ugly as long as the food is decent. We ordered the most crave-worthy sounding item on the menu Fritos Bandito, described as a roasted chili mac ‘n cheese with housemade fritos, cilantro crema and pico de gallo. What arrived at our table was an inedible abomination; beyond overcooked macaroni swimming in a sort of alfredo sauce topped with way too many green onions, cilantro, pico de gallo, and about 5 strips of the tortilla strips that come with every tortilla soup you’ve ever ordered. All this combined tasted like sour cream ‘n onion dip mixed with said alfredo sauce with way too many green onions and cilantro but only after it had been digested and regurgitated by a mama bird back onto a plate and served in a misguided impression that all diners have had their tongues cut out and only eat to feel warm food slide down their gullets. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT put something so delicious sounding on a menu and serve me garbage. I will clearly not be pleased.
My dining companion had lost all faith in me. I needed redemption and fast. We headed down the street to EMC Seafood & Raw Bar. Already this felt better. We ordered the Hokkaido Scallop Carpaccio with yuzo kosho, ponzu, EVOO, and smoked salt. We also added two mini rolls, the lobster roll and the crab roll to our order…because I have a serious weakness for lobster rolls. The winner of this stop was far and away the crab roll, with tarragon butter and seasalt on a soft buttered brioche bun. Thank you EMC Seafood for making things right.
Ok, now we are feeling it. All was fine and good before Beer Belly. We were feeling A-Okay, so perhaps leaving the heaviest dish for the end of the night was not the smartest idea. We pressed on because…research. Beer Belly’s menu is a food porn glutton’s paradise. Duck Fat Fries, Jidori Chicken Wings, and every dessert is deep fried. We opted for the Beer Belly Grilled Cheese, described as a quad-deck 4×4 sandwich with cheddar, asiago, gruyere, and goat cheeses melted between 4 pieces of bread stuffed with bacon and topped with a drizzle of maple syrup, because…research. Painful, but SO worth it. No pain, no gain (of 10 lbs?) is the saying?
I’ve decided. Instagram lies. I have seen countless photos of deliciously seductive looking ice cream sundaes from people who visited this Koreatown window. Don’t get me wrong. There was ice cream. It was good. Was it special? Not really. Honeymee is similar to IN-N-OUT in that it essentially has 3 things. Honeymee is not similar to IN-N-OUT in that those 3 things are not all that good. We both ordered the Sweetie which seemed to be the most innovative sundae option. The Sweetie is a milk ice cream with a natural honey swirl. Sounds boring? It is. It’s good, but very very boring. Eh, c’est la vie.
So we ended the day on a neutral note. All in all we had one low in a series of highs and a few “mehs.” I’m ok with that. Everything can’t be Blacktop Coffee and Sqirl toast because then they wouldn’t be special anymore, and that my friends would be a travesty.