I@MyLastBite My Last Bite Food Travel Writer Blogger Jo Stougaard
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Read my scouting report for L.A. Times here. Do order the lamb belly!
When I was twenty-two years old, I had the ridiculous pleasure of living in the Caribbean for a few months. It was 1986 and my then-boyfriend Perry (a newly licensed pilot) scored a winter job flying for Air St. Thomas / Virgin Air (no connection to Sir Richard Branson). The small island-hopping airline was based in the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Thomas, so we made our home above the hills in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie.
Always a photo buff, I spent most of my time photographing and getting to know the island. I loved pretending to be a “local” for those few months, and on Perry’s days off we would rent a small boat and head to the nearby British Virgin Islands.
Our favorite spot was Sidney’s Peace and Love in Jost Van Dyke Island’s Little Harbor, just 7 miles northeast of St. Thomas. Once docked, I would pick out a live lobster from a trap near the shore and the cook would grill it on the spot. Perry always ordered barbecue chicken (he didn’t like seafood) and we BOTH drank heaps of rum at the attached open-air bar. It was “serve yourself” at Sidney’s, and also “total the bill” yourself if you weren’t too drunk. An honor system that you just didn’t mess with in the Caribbean.
My favorite shop on St. Thomas was called Sunny Caribbee, where I picked up island spices, oils and trinkets for the kitchen. There was an elementary school nearby and I loved listening to the students pounding on steel drums in the afternoons.
We left the Caribbean when Perry was offered a job with United Express, the commuter division of United Airlines. He now lives with his wife and kids near San Diego. (More about Perry here)
Walking into Roy Choi’s Sunny Spot for the first time made me smile from ear to ear. I flashed back to 1986 and was suddenly transported to my carefree, twenty-two year old, vagabond self.
After several visits (including dinner and brunch) I still get that happy feeling when I walk in the door. It’s a mini-holiday, a few hours of vacation. A delicious and less expensive trip to the sunny Caribbean, that’s for sure.
Left: Fleur-De-Lis: Gin, Hibiscus, Honey, Chartreuse, Lemon
Middle: Death in the D.R.: Dominican Rum, Lime, Honey, Absinthe, Champagne
Right: Dry Harbour: Pot Still Rum, Lime, Absinthe, Habanero Pineapple Shrub
822 Washington Blvd
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Note: This restaurant is closed.
Pork…. the other white meat. If you enjoy tubed meats as much as I do, then you’ll surely love the Boudin Blanc at Cafe Wa s. Chef Alex Reznik’s plump pork sausage was for me the perfect comfort food. Each bite topped with a dollop of velvety potato purée, with kale and tart red grapes on the side. My husband Peter had the Daube de Bœuf (red wine braised pot-roast) and it was delicious, but this morning I woke up craving a full English breakfast… banger sausages, fried eggs, grilled mushrooms, tomatoes and beans on toast. That’s what Peter and I have every year on Christmas morning. It’s our yearly special celebration breakfast feast. The Boudin Blanc last night tasted like Christmas morning!
Our evening at Cafe Wa s definitely felt special… like Baz Luhrmann and his production designer wife Catherine actually created the whimsical “ooh lala” Moulin Rouge decor. The revolving piano… the staircase to nowhere… and of course the Absinthe bar… bring on the green fairies!
We went with our good friends Tomy, Lacy, Dean & Steph. Our table was directly next to the wonderful (and slowly spinning) piano player. It really made us feel like we were part of something exceptional. Owner Ivan Kane dropped by several times to check on us (he is a friend of Tomy & Lacy), and I noticed that he really made an effort to greet EVERYONE… not just his friends. A very gracious host indeed.
What we all shared: Blinis aux Saumon Fumé (scottish salmon / crème fraiche) $5. Médaillon de Crabe Napoleon (lump crab / heirloom tomatoes / avocado) $15. Pâté de Campagne (country-style paté / cornishons / radishes) $13. Escargots (garlic confit / european butter / pernod) $14. Betterave (roasted beets / goat cheese / arugula / lemon oil) $11. Boudin Blanc (pork sausage / potato purée / red grapes / white kale) $18. Daube de Bœuf (red wine braised pot-roast / potato / red wine jus) $24. Gratin de Macaroni (mac ‘n cheese) $6. Pot de Crème (langues de chat / cardamom banana brulé) $8.
Address: 1521 N. Vine St. in Hollywood (just north of sunset)Hollywood, CA 90028 (323) 466-5400
About the name – from the CafeWas website: Wanting a vintage sign to help the disconnect from the modern structure of the Sunset and Vine building into his bohemian restaurant. Ivan Kane searched through neon junk yards in Vegas, where classic neon signs go to die. One day, there in the distance, the sun reflecting off it, he saw a CAFE – ALWAYS OPEN sign, which lay dented and rusted, beckoning him to plug it in. Once doing so, the CAFE neon illuminated brilliantly, while the ALWAYS OPEN struggled to come to life. Eventually – and intermittently – only the W, A and S in ALWAYS OPEN flickered on, buzzing and faltering every few minutes. It was a marriage made in heaven. Ivan had his sign – and his name. Ivan Kane.s CAFÉ WA S. With the help of a sign maker, the sign was restored and repaired (almost). Ivan Kane’s was riveted on top and piano keys were added to the bottom… but the WA S stayed as it was (excuse the pun). Ivan Kane’s Café Wa s. What was… is!”
Note: Boudin is the French term for the blood sausage, or ‘pudding’, made with the blood of the pig. Boudin blanc is a white sausage made with pork but no blood. Boudin Noir is a dark-hued French blood sausage.
I love pub food. My father lives in Bridge of Weir, a small village near Glasgow, Scotland. Whenever I visit him our last night out is always at a local pub called the Fox and Hounds. After a few pints of Velvet beer we head upstairs to the Huntsman restaurant. Now, I’m a huge fan of fish-and-chips and bangers-and-mash type pub food. But the dishes upstairs at the Huntsman are always extra special… the amazing local salmon, aged sirloin, charred crayfish & scallops. The casualness of the pub, combined with the first-class meals upstairs just make for a really special evening.
I always wished I had a local pub near me that felt like I was back in Scotland, but not the coerced feeling I get when I visit an “authentic British pub” in Los Angeles. Too many union jack flags and portraits of princess Di, with terrible versions of scotch eggs and shepherd’s pie. Like Disneyland these theme pubs are fun to visit every once in a while, but they could never be a regular hangout for me.
Laurel Tavern. I love the name. It sounds like it’s been on Ventura boulevard for years, but it’s only been open for a few days. Last night we (my husband Peter, and my best friend Laur) went for drinks and dinner. Walking in and taking a seat near the back felt so comfortable. Like we’d been going there for years.
I was expecting the usual American bar food… burgers, maybe a grilled fish taco… Burgers yes (delicious) but Pork Belly Skewers and Marrowbones on the menu? Woa. I think I’ve found my kind of pub! Casual? Yes. Inviting? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Now if only I could get my parents and little brother to fly out from Scotland for dinner tonight… it would be perfect.
What we ate:
We started with the Heirloom Tomatoes and Burrata ($10) then had the Grilled Artichoke filled with Lemon Garlic Walnut Pesto ($10). The Hickory Burger with Caramelized Onions, Tillamook Cheddar and Hickory Sauce ($9). Everything was terrific but my two favorites were the Crispy Pork Belly Skewers served with Lime Wedges and Cilantro ($6 we ordered two) and wait for it…. Hand-cut Fries cooked in HOT PORK FAT ($6). I’ve had fries cooked in duck fat (Citrus at Social) but not PORK FAT! Brilliant! Those were so good and filling that I wasn’t able to order the Roasted Marrowbones… or the Chorizo Fondue… or the Pork Belly Sandwich. I’ll be trying those on my next visit.
Slow-roasted Crispy Pork Belly Skewers.
Hand-cut French Fries cooked in hot PORK FAT, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.
Heirloom Tomatoes with Luscious Burrata.
11938 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91614
More Laurel Tavern Photos