I can never remember what the sister city to Beverly Hills is? Is it Paris? London? New York? Aspen? Newport Beach? I like to think it's Brooklyn.
Let’s face it--half of us are from there, but I bet I’m the only one who goes back 3 or 4 times a year! And enjoys it! Seriously. But I come back ten pounds heavier each time because there’s no better food anywhere.
You all know I’m right. Think of it--REAL pizza, the pastrami, Carvel, Nathan’s. I could go on, but why torture us. I know we now have a mini-Nathan’s and a recently opened Carvel in LA, but somehow, it doesn’t seem the same.
Sidebar: I had a birthday party in Brooklyn the year after 9/11 because my friends were all so down and needed a silly diversion. I had ALMOST my dream table set: Nathan’s hot dogs (called frankfurters on the east coast, which seems so weird to me now), EIGHT Spumoni Gardens pizzas, deli potato knishes, and not one, but TWO Carvel ice cream cakes (which have nothing to do with cake, but who’s complaining.)
In the middle of the party, my pal, Fred Levy, looked at the table and said, “The only thing missing is White Castle burgers.” I had actually gone to get them, pre-party, and was at the drive-through window ordering a case load, when Mr. X realized what I was doing and was so horrified at the thought of foisting them on my guests, that I left without them.
That was four years ago and I can’t get over it!
As of this reading, I’m in NY again, covering the Fancy Food Show. (Where else for a fancy girl?) The sacrifices I make for you, the reader! I’ll report my findings in this column in about 2 weeks. (Yeah, I’m sure you’re all rushing to your Palm Pilots to jot down that info.)
Fancy Food Show Jacob Javits Center New York July 9-11
There are a lot of people in the world I look forward to seeing, but one person I always bill as “worthwhile” is the unflappable John Cole, who grew up here, and even did a stint at Gucci in BH. So, when he visited this week from Chicago, by way of NY, I wanted to show him a special time. One of the loveliest dining experiences to be had is afternoon tea.
There are many and varied places that serve tea locally, all of which I plan to tell you about in future columns. This time, though, I wanted to make more of an experience of it, so we ventured to San Marino, a beautiful community adjacent to Pasadena, to dine at The Tea Room at Huntington Library and Gardens. I had been here several times in recent years, and enjoyed every moment of those visits.
I started my tea-mania while living in Malta back in the day, so I never wanted the ritual to veer from the way I learned it, which is each course served separately and at my leisure. So when I first took tea at Huntington, I was horrified at the partial self-serve aspect of it. (All but the tea and scones.) That is, until I realized I could gorge myself on all-you-can-eat! And gorge I did!
The problem is that for some unknown and unnecessary reason, they changed the menu in the past year. Where the sandwiches were actually hearty before, John pointed out that they’re all mainly bread with a thin paste of filling. The former chicken salad ones were the most delicious and popular, but have been replaced by a shadow of their former selves.
The tiny scones are cute, but not as flavorful as before and they now use whipped cream instead of clotted cream! That’s a sin, in the world of afternoon tea! Thankfully, there are still strawberries and cream, but even that has lost its luster.
Perhaps most surprising of all, because it doesn’t cost anything (as John noted) is that there was no classical music playing, which is the thread that had pulled it all together. At least they round out the plebian desserts with fresh fruit, which is always welcome.
That being said, we still enjoyed ourselves due to the exquisite surroundings. If you’ve never been, or haven’t been lately, you must see the Huntington Library. It houses the classic paintings Pinkie and Blue Boy. Viewing them up-close and personal is really something else.
Just walking on the grounds themselves makes you feel like you’re in a Merchant-Ivory film. I actually craved a parasol! And it was about 100 degrees, so it may have come in handy.
The Huntington Tea Room 1151 Oxford Road San Marino 626-683-8131 huntington.org
Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens
The next day, still reeling from the onslaught of dough (the bakery kind, not what you get at a bank) we decided to have a truly LA experience and lunch at Asia de Cuba. For the first time ever, I was glad they didn’t serve bread or chips or the like.
Many people think of it as just a hot dinner scene, or the way to feel like they’re part of the SkyBar crowd when they can’t get in, but it’s also one of the most peaceful lunch destinations. Especially if you dine outdoors amid the giant pottery, which John and I did. I have a feeling sharing a Tiki Puka Puka didn’t hurt, either!
It’s a beautiful tropical drink, served in an Island bowl, with exotic fruits and a plethora of alcohols.
I wanted to taste it, though I don’t usually imbibe, but I was having a tad of trouble with the super-sized straws. I was trying to be polite and not let the liquid that had built-up in the straw wash back down, so I had to hold it out of the bowl, and up, to not drop any, until I could finish it.
John thought I was going to shoot someone with a poison dart! The drink was a whopping $26 and worth every penny, for the fun of it.
We went during the week because I’ve heard that on week-ends, it’s the site of many a bridal or baby shower, two events you know I won’t be needing anytime soon.
Our time was so relaxing, we spent three hours. We were there so long, the whole staff changed! I’m not kidding. But I was happy about it because the nighttime host, Paul, is so good-looking. Nice, too.
The only person who dines here more often than I do is Randy Jackson, of “American Idol” fame. Seriously. He’s having dinner whenever I am, and now lunch, too. And we flew back from NY in April on the same plane, though he was in First and I was only in Business.
Appears to be a nice guy. But I digress. Majorly.
Asia (I’ve eaten here so often, we’re on a first name basis) has some new additions to the lunch menu.
The Sweet Sambal Shrimp appetizer was incredible. It comes on half a grilled pineapple, which is quite the combo. We probably should have sampled more items this time, but after three days of nothing but eating, John and I were beginning to resemble Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee! Except for John.
We had filled-up on the new thick-crusted Margarita Pizza, which was good enough, but not half as delicious as most of the other dishes.
So, when our Miso Cured Alaskan Butterfish entrée arrived, I figured I’d take the balance of it to my very own fish expert, Mr. X. He said it was the most delicious fish dish he had ever tasted! He wanted to call the chef and ask how to make it! I’ve rarely seen him this enthusiastic about a food item, except of course, my famous Bavarian Cream Jello. Maybe I‘ll offer the chef a recipe swap.
The desserts are always presented so beautifully, as is every dish at Asia de Cuba, that we forced ourselves to have two. John had refreshing lychee-melon sorbet with fresh fruits, while I opted for the strange-sounding Coconut and Cinnamon Jelly, which was more like a delicious flan, served with mole ice cream.
As always, the staff was over-whelmingly pleasant, the surroundings gorgeous, and the guests at the pool, full of themselves. Exactly what we wanted from our Sunset Strip outing. We left with smiles on our faces.
Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian Hotel 8440 Sunset Blvd. 323-848-6000
Karen’s Restaurant Revue airs on July 11 at 9PM on Adelphia Cable, Ch. 98, 77, or 3. Check local listings for your area.
|Outdoor patio at the Mondrian Hotel/Asia de Cuba restaurant