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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Favorites Meet at the Table

For Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, we'll enjoy the holiday with 18 family members and friends. We know the dinner will be a lot of noisy fun, but until then, there's lots to do so the meal runs smoothly and everyone has what they want to eat.

We began preparing last Sunday when we shopped at the Pacific Palisades farmer market. This morning we picked up the turkey and a few last-minute ingredients at the Santa Monica farmers market. For "fuel" I ran into Starbucks to have a double espresso.
To prepare the turkey I'm consulting my own e-book: 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes.
As important as having good recipes, good planning and sharing the effort makes all the difference: Planning Well Makes for a Better Thanksgiving

Step 1 - invite the guests and see who will bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish
Step 2 - pull out the recipes we want to make
Step 3 - clean the house
Step 4 - borrow extra chairs
Step 5 - pull the extra table out of the garage
Step 6 - shop
Step 7 - cook
Step 8 - eat
Step 9 - clean up
Step 10 - lie down

Dietary restrictions are part of the calculations since some guests need to avoid gluten, some land based-animal proteins, others eschew sugar and for a few nuts are an issue. Avoiding those ingredients doesn't mean missing out on the fun.

Included in the mix of dishes there will be a pan charred salmon seasoned simply with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. The galette, this year's "apple pie," will not have almonds.

For everyone who can enjoy the traditional favorites there will be a large turkey stuffed with my wife's Corn Bread Stuffing with Italian sausages, pecans and dried apricots, which is a labor of love because she eats neither corn bread nor sausages (nor, for that matter, turkey).

The appetizers will include my personal favorite, deviled eggs with anchovies and capers, as well as delicious cheeses--supplied by our friend from Paris who stayed with us last week--,a selection of olives, charred pistachios in the shell flavored with dried spices, sea salt and cayenne pepper and turkey liver-shiitake mushroom pate, another personal favorite.

For side dishes there will be freshly made cranberry sauce, roasted whole tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes--the little ones which are sweeter and not starchy--, garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, oven roasted Brussels sprouts--quartered, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar and roasted whole tomatoes.

Salads this year will be one with arugula with persimmons, a beet "carpaccio" salad, a toasted hazelnuts and cheddar cheese, black kale salad dressed with a vinaigrette and homemade rosemary croutons and--another personal favorite--frisee with blue cheese and chopped green olives.

And there will be pickles: kosher dill and Moroccan mixed vegetable pickles.

Friends are bringing desserts--a big bowl of mixed berries and selection of ice creams, a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie. I will contribute a plate of my almond-dark chocolate ganache chocolates, the apple galette and a slow cooked passion fruit custard.

Have a great Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the recipes for our dinner.

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1/2 - 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add 1/2 cup of the stock, toss well and summer 15 minutes. Add more stock as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. 

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.



Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasoning, put in a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 F degree oven 30-45 minutes, turning every 5-10 minutes for even cooking.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.

Roasted Whole Tomatoes

A side dish, full of flavor and perfect to serve alongside turkey and stuffing.


Ripe and over ripe tomatoes work best. If you shop at farmers' markets, keep an eye out for discounted tomatoes. 

When they're roasting, tomatoes give off a clear liquid. The flavor is pure essence of tomato. The wonderful chef, cookbook writer, and founder of Fra'ManiPaul Bertolli was famous for hanging tomatoes in cheese cloth and capturing the clear tomato water that he called "the blood of the fruit."

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the whole tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes. When the tomatoes are removed from the pan, be certain to spatula off all the seasoned olive oil and tomato water. That liquid is full of flavor. Spoon the liquid over the tomatoes.

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately.



Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Dishes Added to Thanksgiving Day's Favorites

My mother loved Thanksgiving. For her the day was the best holiday of the year. A time, she felt, when family would gather around the table and enjoy a meal with so many favorite dishes.
To prepare the meal, she would include my sister and myself as helpers. My father was old school, so his responsibilities involved showing up at the table when the meal was ready. Which was fine with my sister and myself. We enjoyed the time in the kitchen chopping vegetables and stuffing the turkey, which meant my sister and I held the turkey butt-up as my mom spooned in the stuffing.
For dessert, my favorite was her apple pie. My mom tossed peeled and sliced apples with lemon juice and brown sugar mixed with raisins. The combination of sweet and tart was kind of ideal. For this Thanksgiving, I'm going to make an apple dessert but a galette instead of a pie because I like the folded crust on top and it is easier to make.
For a new dish I'm going to make truffle macaroni and cheese, a dish demonstrated by chef David Codney (the Peninsula Beverly Hills). The recipe and video are on Zester Daily. The dish is elegant and easy to make and it's perfect as an appetizer or a side dish as a companion for Thanksgiving's more rustic fare.

I've been experimenting with dry sautéed nuts. The one I like a lot, which I'll make for Thanksgiving, is raw pistachios in the shell tossed with sea salt, thyme and rosemary. It's easy and quick with a carbon steel pan that can take the heat.

Have a great Thanksgiving.


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Impact of California's Drought on One Farmer - James Birch and Flora Bella Farm

Much of the time when I'm at the farmers market I'm so intent on what I want to buy I'm focused on  the produce only noticing the farmers behind the flat tables loaded up with fresh leafy greens, stone fruit and root vegetables when I pay.
Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2001

Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2014

Years ago I hung out with one of the farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market because we were talking about doing a cookbook together (he would talk about the "farm," I would talk about the "table").









James Birch has a farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Fresno. The farm has a lovely name: Flora Bella Farm. But these days the farm has a problem. The area where he lives is called Three Rivers. Right now there are no rivers.


Flora Bella Farm 2014
For Zester Daily, I wrote a profile of James and the way the drought is threatening agriculture in the West and California in specific. When the Water Runs Out: Farming in the Drought.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Need A Pan That’s Smokin’ Hot? Reach For Carbon Steel

Carbon steel sauté pan on high heat, smoke rising from the blended oil. Credit: David Latt

To create beautifully charred meats and crispy skin fish filets, restaurant chefs use sauté pans designed to take high heat. Searing caramelizes the outside and locks in flavor. In the home kitchen, cast iron and stainless steel pans are favored by many, but carbon steel has advantages over both. No health issues are associated with using carbon at high heat and cleanup is easy. Like woks, once a carbon steel pan is seasoned, the surface turns black so there is no need to brandish a scouring pad and cleanser.

Working with carbon steel


Available in cooking supply stores, the heavy duty pans are half the cost of stainless steel and twice the price of cast iron. In Southern California, Surfas Culinary District carries the pans in their stores and online. Once seasoned according to the manufacturer’s directions, the pans are virtually indestructible and designed to last a lifetime.Some additional care needs to be taken. Never soak a carbon steel pan in water or place in a dishwasher. Simply scrub with a little soap to remove particulates and grease, rinse, then heat the pan on a stove top burner until dry and the pan is ready to use again. Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice and tomatoes can affect the seasoning of the pan, but that is easily remedied by following the manufacturer’s directions.
The pans I use are the heavy duty de Buyer and the Paderno 12.6-inch. A bit lighter than a comparably sized cast iron pan, the extra long handle never gets hot when used on the stove top. At high heat, the surface of the carbon steel pan becomes nonstick with the smallest amount of oil.
Very much like Chinese stir-frying, cooking at high heat requires all ingredients to be prepped before cooking begins. To avoid risking a burn, experts suggest using a pair of long metal tongs, 12 inches or longer to manipulate the ingredients in the pan.

Get ready for some serious heat

A good exhaust hood with a fan above the stove is also necessary. High heat’s sweet smoke can turn from pleasure to pain if unvented. Many a meal has been spoiled by the annoying screech of a smoke alarm.
Use an oil that can tolerate high temperatures. A proponent of high-heat cooking to prepare his signature crispy salmon filet, chef Taylor Boudreaux of Napa Valley Grille in West Los Angeles, Calif., recommends a blend of canola (80%) and olive oil (20%).
Keep a premixed bottle on hand in the kitchen and you’ll always be ready for a smokin’ good time.
latt-carbonsteel2
Picture 1 of 3
A medley of vegetables -- carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions and garlic -- sizzling on a carbon steel sauté pan. Credit: David Latt

Pan Seared Bone-In Ribeye Steak

I believe a little bit of steak goes a long way, so my preferred portion is 6 to 8 ounces. Quality rather than quantity makes the difference in this supremely easy-to-make, protein-centric dish. Buy the highest quality steak available.
A good steak deserves good accompaniments that are entirely personal in nature. One person draws pleasure from a side of fries, another prefers a baked sweet potato with butter. Some diners wouldn’t eat red meat without a glass of red wine. I enjoy a charred steak with caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms served alongside garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, a carrot-broccoli sauté and an ice-cold perfect Manhattan up with a twist. But that’s me.
The times indicated in the recipe are estimates. The thickness of the steak will affect how long the meat needs to be cooked to reach the desired level of doneness.
Serves 1
Ingredients
1 bone-in ribeye, T-bone or Porterhouse steak
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon blend of canola oil (80%) and olive oil (20%)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional, see variations)
1 garlic clove, peeled, root end trimmed (optional, see variations)
½ teaspoon finely chopped chives, or the green part of a scallion (optional, see variations)
Directions
1. Wash and pat dry the steak. Season lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
3. Place the carbon steel pan on a burner on a high flame.
4. When the pan lightly smokes, drizzle the oil into the pan. In seconds the oil will smoke.
5. Using tongs, place the steak in the pan. Press down gently along the edges and the meat next to the bone. Pressing too firmly will force juices out of the steak which would diminish the flavors.
6. Allow to cook and sizzle. Steaks are best served medium-rare. Make adjustments as to time if you prefer yours less or more cooked.
7. After 3 to 5 minutes, turn the steak over. After another 3 to 5 minutes, press against the middle of the steak. If the meat feels solid, it is cooked. If it can be pressed down easily, then it probably requires more cooking. To be certain, use a sharp paring knife to make small cut in the middle of the steak. Inspect and determine if the steak has cooked to the state of doneness you enjoy.
8. Serve hot with your preferred sides and beverage of choice.
Variations
1. Use a combination of stovetop searing and oven baking, as many restaurant chefs do. To do this, sear the steak for 2 minutes on each side, then place in a 400 F oven for 5 minutes. To remove the pan from the oven, remember to use an oven mitt. The handle that rarely gets hot on the stove top will be very hot after spending time in the oven.
2. Test for doneness as before. If not cooked to your preference, place back in the oven.
3. After removal from the oven or the stovetop, drop a teaspoon of sweet butter and a crushed garlic clove (peeled) into the pan. Spoon the butter-garlic mixture over the steak, bathing it in the sauce. Discard the melted butter and garlic before serving. Place the steak on the plate with the sides.
4. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives or the green part of a scallion over the steak just before serving.

Caramelized Farmers Market Vegetables

Perfect as a side dish or as an entrée with noodles or rice, the vegetables should be charred but not overcooked so their texture is al dente. Using the freshest, highest quality vegetables will create a better tasting dish. Butter is optional, but a small amount can add a level of umami that turns a good plate of vegetables into an outstanding one.
Serves 4
Ingredients
2 large carrots, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds or 1 -nch oblongs
1 medium onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, julienned
3 garlic cloves, skins and root ends removed, smashed, finely diced
2 cups broccoli florets, washed, sliced long ways into bite-sized pieces
2 cups Brussels sprouts, root ends trimmed, cut into quarters or julienned
1 cup shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, stem ends trimmed, thin sliced long ways
1 teaspoon blend of canola oil (80%) and olive oil (20%)
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Directions
1. Assemble all the vegetables on the cutting board, ready to use. If serving with steamed rice or cooked pasta, have that prepared as well.
2. Set the burner on the highest setting. Place the carbon steel pan on the burner. Allow to heat until a small amount of smoke begins to form.
3. Drizzle in the blended oil. When it smokes, add all the vegetables.
4. Using the tongs, toss the vegetables frequently to prevent burning. Toss for 3 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked al dente.
5. Remove the pan from the burner. Because the carbon steel is still very hot, continue tossing the vegetables. Add the butter and cayenne (optional). Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional sea salt and pepper.
6. Serve hot as a side dish or with the pasta or rice.
Variations
— If caramelized onions are preferred, cook them separately until they take on a golden color, then add the other vegetables.
— Substitute or add vegetables you enjoy, such as zucchini, turnips, kale or kohlrabi. Since some vegetables cook more quickly than others, learn which ones need to go into the pan ahead of the others. For instance, small diced turnips and kohlrabi would go in first before adding the other vegetables.
— Instead of adding butter and cayenne (optional), add 2 tablespoons soy sauce or an Asian sauce (optional), and for added heat, add 3 tablespoons finely chopped Korean kimchi (optional).

Monday, September 22, 2014

These Days I Spend As Much Time at Starbucks as I Do at Home

Right now Starbucks has a "Sweet Receipt" promotion that rewards customers who stop by in the morning and return after 2:00pm. Bring the morning's receipt, choose any of the pastries and pay $1.00 instead of $2.45-3.45.
The promotion has been on-going for several weeks. Starbucks has promotions through out the year. Usually they are advertised with inclusive dates. The baristas I've asked don't know how long the promotion will last. "Sweet Receipts" was on my receipt today, so that means it's still going on. The next time you stop for your morning beverage and breakfast, ask for the receipt and read on the bottom to see if the $1.00 offer is still in effect.
You can have any of the baked goods: the almond croissant blossom, muffins, coffee cakes, sliced loaf cakes, croissants and scones. My personal favorites are the pecan tart and the George Washington Apple pound cake. Ask for them heated, on a plate.

Specialty coffee stores vs. Starbucks
The explosion of specialty coffee shops like Intelligensia Coffee & Tea, Caffe Luxxe, Stumptown, Groundwork and Handsome Coffee to name a few shows that people care more about their coffee than they used to. As a matter of personal taste, I prefer Starbucks. That's as much for the coffee as for the culture of the stores that invite customers to spend as much time as they want.

On a press tour I attended Starbucks Coffee College in Seattle. The experience was similar to a wine tasting. We were shown how to "cup" coffee to taste if it was full-bodied. And, just like a wine tasting, there was a lot of sniffing, swirling and spitting into a bucket. We learned about the growing and harvesting process in a slide show. At the end, we were led into a cavernous room stacked high with heavy sacks of sun dried coffee beans. In the middle of the room there was a large barrel shaped roasting machine.
The room was scented with the thick aroma of warm coffee.You could taste the thickness of the coffee-secented air as it floated onto your lips.
Starbucks looks like a college study hall
Starbucks is the best place to write. The stores have air-conditioning and free WiFi. All the stores in our area have been recently built or remodeled using a clean, airy design of dark wood tones and large picture windows. In the Southern California area, I have visited probably two dozen stores in the past year. No two have the same design.
I'm amazed at Starbucks' business model. Stop by most Starbucks stores these days and they look like college study halls. Just about every seat is in use. Long tables, four-tops and easy chairs are taken by people reading, writing or talking for hours on end.

The easiest way to engage with Starbucks is to download the APP and put money into your account. Depending on how often you use your account, you will be offered rewards and benefits, which include free brewed coffee refills every day and a free beverage or food item after 12 purchases or stars.

I don't need the "Sweet Receipt" promotion to encourage me to stop by Starbucks, but it is definitely nice to have the pecan tart at the end of the day as a break from writing.

I'm glad this business model works for Starbucks.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer’s Last Salad - Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

How can summer be over? Honestly, it seems only a few weeks ago that we were in the park watching 4th of July fireworks. Now every day the sun leaves the sky earlier and earlier. 

Walking through our farmers market, the tell-tale signs that fall is closing in are everywhere. The mounds of corn at our farmers market are smaller. The tomatoes aren’t as acidic-sweet as they were last month. The peaches still look beautiful but they aren't as full of flavor with firm flesh.
In these last moments before temperatures plunge and skies cloud over, now is the time to seize the day and celebrate summer before it disappears completely.
Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage against the dying of the light” (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night). Personally I prefer a good chopped salad to ragging against the inevitable.

Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Always examine the ears of corn closely before purchasing. That is always true but at the end of summer, choosing ears carefully is even more important. Ideally the husks should be green and pliant, the tassels moist and the kernels plump. Dimpled kernels are a sign the corn is losing its sweetness. A worm or two isn't a problem. The presence of a live worm says the corn is organically grown. Just cut that part of the cob off and discard.

Use whatever fresh vegetables you enjoy.

My preference is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they are similar in size to the corn kernels.

Charring the corn adds a smoky-sweetness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 basket or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut into eighths
2 ears fresh corn or 4 cups of kernels, husks and tassels removed, washed, dried
1 large bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, stem cut off and discarded, cut into a fine dice
1 medium avocado, washed, skin and pit removed, small dice
1/3 cup green and black olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 red or yellow pepper, washed, dried (optional)
1 cup croutons, homemade preferable
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar (made from 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduced on a low flame)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the ears on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Char the ears of corn either on the barbecue or in the oven. On the barbecue turn the ears frequently over medium-high eat to char but not blacken. Remove and let cool. If in the oven, preheat to 350F, place the ears on an aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet and roast fifteen or twenty minutes, turning every five minutes for even cooking.

When cooled, remove the kernels from the cobs with a sharp chefs or paring knife. Place in a large mixing or salad bowl.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame. Allow to cool.

If using a pepper, char a whole red pepper on the barbecue or over an open flame on the stove. When the skin has turned black, remove and allow to cool. Under a stream of cold water, rub off the blackened skin. Place over a bowl. Using a paring knife, remove the stem. Cut open to release and capture the oils inside the pepper. Discard the seeds. 

Finely dice the cooked pepper. Add 1/4 cup to the salad. In a sealed jar, reserve the remainder to be used in stews, soups or another salad. The cooked pepper will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Add the reserved pepper oil to the salad.

Add the cut up pepper (optional), cherry tomatoes, avocado, parsley, olives, carrots and croutons to the bowl with the corn kernels. Toss well. If desired, add crumbled feta cheese.

Season the salad with olive oil, reduced balsamic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Variations

Use grated cheddar or crumbled blue cheese instead of feta.

Add a chopped protein like cooked chicken breast or grilled shrimp.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped red onions or scallions.

Add 1/4 cup fresh chopped bell peppers, preferably red and yellow.

Add 10 asparagus spears, woody bottom part removed, washed, charred on the barbecue or roasted in the oven, chopped.




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Old School Mexican Food Rocks at La Fiesta Brava on Venice's Rose Avenue

Long-time locals know that when you want an affordable, home-cooked Mexican meal, park in the Venice Ranch Market's small parking lot on the corner of Rose and 4th Avenues and walk into La Fiesta Brava (423 Rose Avenue, Venice, CA 90291, 310/399-8005, open 7 days a week 10:30am-9:00pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner). 
Crowds fill the restaurant and the dining room buzzes with laugher and conversation. La Fiesta Brava is a fun place to hang out and enjoy a well-made meal.

For decades, mom and pop businesses have served the largely Hispanic community in the surrounding neighborhood.  

But Rose Avenue is changing.

Challenging Abbot Kinney's reputation as Venice's restaurant row, between 5th and 6th Avenues on Rose Avenue, half a dozen trendy restaurants with outdoor patios are filled with upscale diners.

Cafe Gratitude, Simon's Provisions ("Wine. Draft Beer. Provisions."), Hostaria de Piccolo, Cerveteca, Venice Beach Wines and Superba Snack Bar have attracted a hip crowd, eager to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere with servings of quality food and beverages. 

And then there is La Fiesta Brava. 

Opened twenty-three years ago by Samuel and Evangelina Camarena, the intimate dining room looks more like a living room with tables and chairs than a restaurant. A family affair, Samuel and Evangelina managed the restaurant with their kids, Jasmin, Nancy and Sam Jr. Four years after Samuel's passing, the family continues to run the restaurant with the kids juggling work and school. The night we were there, Sam Jr. was waiting tables, taking a break from his business administration classes at El Camino College.
Samuel and Evangelina came from Jalisco and the menu reflects the dishes they prepared at home in Mexico.

Not bound by any one regional cuisine, what they serve is what they like to eat. The menu features stews with beef, chicken or shrimp, seafood sautéed with a variety of sauces, burritos, tostadas, fajitas, shrimp cocktails, enchiladas, moles, tacos, quesadillas, Huevos Rancheros, flan for dessert and hamburgers and fries.

Many of the dishes sound familiar. Who hasn't had a fish taco? But the one served at La Fiesta Brava was unlike any I have eaten elsewhere.
The small plate arrived with the taco topped with shredded lettuce and a sprinkling of chopped tomato. The sea bass was grilled not breaded and deep fried. The piece of fish was longer than the plate was wide. Beautifully prepared the moist filet tasted fresh and sweet. Another pleasure of the dish was the price. At under $3.00, the fish taco was a bargain.

I am a sucker for shrimp cocktails, a legacy of having to accompany my parents to upscale restaurants when I was young. While they excitedly feasted on prime rib, spaghetti Alfredo and chicken Kiev, nothing on the menus ever appealed to me except for the shrimp cocktail. 

European style shrimp cocktails are elegant affairs, with shrimp hanging on the rim of a champagne glass served with a catsup-horseraddish sauce and a lemon slice. The Mexican version is a more primitive artifact. The one at La Fiesta Brava gave me a great sense memory back to trips I have taken to Tijuana, San Jose del Cabo and Playa del Carmen.
A large cut-glass goblet arrived at the table with a plate of lime wedges. A dozen sweet shrimp and fat chunks of avocado floated in a tomato sauce flavored with lots of chopped white onion and fresh cilantro. The sauce was good but I happily added to the flavor with a generous squeeze of the lime wedges and a good dousing of the housemade roasted chile ancho salsa. Delicious.

My wife ordered the garlic shrimp. Sautéed shrimps shared the large plate with generous portions of refried beans and rice. The garlic was pulverized and coated each shrimp in a spicy crust. The beans were sweet. The rice was moist.
Even though La Fiesta Brava does not have a liquor license, as Sam Jr. explained, they encourage guests to BYO. The "corkage" fee to bring your own wine or beer is $1.50. Yeah, you read that right. $1.50. This is a friendly restaurant!

We're looking forward to our next visit so we can sample more of the menu. The quandary is, we really enjoyed the dishes we ordered the last time. The solution is simple, we'll bring friends so we can order more and share everything.