a visit to Grandmas Kiwi Kitchen — Down Under

On my recent trip to Australia visiting family, I caught up with several old friends and naturally, food was involved. One of the restaurants my friend Charlie, who is originally from New Zealand, took me to — TWICE — was Grandmas Kiwi Kitchen. This little eatery is run by a family and you immediately feel the welcoming warmth the minute you enter.

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The food is cooked to order and I love the sign displayed at the front proclaiming that you’re not getting fast food here! I will gladly wait for good food cooked to order.

20140808_113515We started with some cappuccino and iced coffee — the latter was an insane mason jar filled with coffee, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream — not just an iced coffee, but a dessert in itself.

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Our meal began with an order of Steak Eggs & Chips (AUD18/$16.80) a piece of Scotch fillet, or what we know as ribeye, two fried eggs, and chips (fries). Kiwis like their meat well done so if you want it cooked less, let them know.

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One of the best omelettes I’ve ever tasted is Whitebait Fritter (AUD8.5/$7.90), a perfectly fluffy omelette generously dotted with whitebait, a baby fish widely consumed in New Zealand. Delicious and a perfect breakfast item.

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Kiwis love fried foods so Battered Mussels (AUD6.5/$6) is right up their alley. Plump New Zealand green lip mussels are battered and fried creating a beautifully light mouthfeel. The home-made tartare is lovely but a squeeze of lemon suffices.

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Fush & Chups (AUD9.5/$8.85) is fish and chips pronounced the Kiwi way. You can select between battered and fried or oven baked. We chose our hoki (blue hake) fillet oven baked which arrives topped with spinach and tomato slices en papillote (wrapped in a parchment paper parcel). Served with chips (as everything is) and house-made tartare sauce, I really enjoyed the steamed fish, allowing its own flavors to come through. Nothing is overly seasoned and the freshness of each ingredient comes together harmoniously.

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If fried fish is your thing then opt for the Hoki Fish Sandwich (AUD12.5/$11.65). Battered hoki is sandwiched between toasted Turkish bread. Lettuce and tomato, along with beet slices and a fried egg are added. Aussies love beets in their burgers and sandwiches so I wasn’t surprised to see it in the sammie.

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An array of house-made desserts are available ranging from carrot cake to these deliciously rich fudgy chocolatey biscuits (cookies).

If you’re ever in Brisbane and want to get some really good homey grub Kiwi style, stop by this spot and enjoy. On the weekends, they offer hāngi — a method of cooking similar to how kalua pig is prepared, under the ground with hot rocks.

Grandmas Kiwi Kitchen
Shop 6/1, Murrajong Road
Springwood, QLD 4127
Tel 0403-143-201

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a re-visit to Dominique’s Kitchen

It’s been more than six months since we last visited Dominique’s Kitchen. It had left such an impact on my son that he wanted to go there for his birthday, so we made the drive to Redondo Beach and re-visited the little French bistro we were so enamored with so many months ago.

The menu remains the same, with several specials available the evening of our visit. We were eager to try some new things as well as some my son was anticipating again.

Our server aptly repeated the specials of the evening and we decide on the Seafood Trio ($9.99), comprising marinated white anchovies, octopus, and mussels. Every dish is prepared well, the seafood perfectly executed, tender and not chewy. I especially loved the white anchovies with a lovely vinegary finish.

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Another special of the evening was Pork Rillettes ($4.99) which Chef Dominique is extremely adept at. In fact, get any of the pates or rillettes and you won’t be disappointed.

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Soup of the Day ($3.99) was lobster bisque and seeing it is one of the birthday boy’s favorites, we had to order it. Absolutely delicious! Creamy with bits of lobster floating within the rich, flavorful soup. I can’t believe how reasonably priced it is.

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French Onion Soup ($6.99) is one of my personal favorites so I thought we should try it. I really loved the robust nature of the broth and the well-caramelized onions. However, there was way too much bread which soaked up a lot of the broth and made it too doughy and goopey especially with the amount of cheese used.

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Another of the boy’s favorite is Escargot ($9.99) and he was quite specific this was what he was coming for. Classic baked snails in garlic and butter is executed well. They are tender and not at all rubbery. When you are done, dip some bread into the sauce so not to waste it.

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Spicy Lamb Sausage ($5.99) is something we’ve had before and loved. The sausage is made in-house and possesses good texture and flavors. Served with organic quinoa tossed with mint, raisins and almonds, I am always surprised when I enjoy this because I do not usually care for sweet in my savory dishes.

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We decide to break up the flavor profiles by selecting Californian Goat Cheese ($4.99) next. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. Goat cheese is not something I am particularly fond of because often, it can be pungent with strong gamey, grassy notes. This goat cheese from James Farms is subtle and very creamy. Add to that the honey and crunchy almonds, it becomes a perfect start or midway break between dishes.

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Our final dish of Lamb Chops ($21.99) is generous and laden with a gorgeous roasted garlic and thyme au jus. It is savory and pairs exquisitely with creamy polenta. In fact, I would have liked more of it! A stellar entree selection executed immaculately.

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Dominique and his wife Liza should be very proud of their neighborhood eatery. It is quaint, cozy, and a perfect example of what a French bistro should be. The menu is solid and prices so reasonable. My only complaint is that they are so far from me. Still, I hope to visit twice a year to see what Chef Dominique is up to. If I don’t remember to do so, I know my son will bug me enough that we will! He loves this place!

Dominique’s Kitchen
522 Pacific Coast Hwy
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Tel: 424-247-9054

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a perfect meal at The North Left

I was never a big fan of The Crosby’s menu, so when it closed I wasn’t too sad about it. However, the restaurant which now occupies that space is a whole new story. Chef Ryan Adams of 370 Common is one of my favorite chefs in Orange County, and when I heard he had taken over, I was excited and pleased because I knew it would be a place where I would love the food and libations as well. If you’re not familiar with the space it’ll be hard for you to see it from the street simply because of the way the light reflects off the windows during the day. It is right next door to the Starbucks if that makes it easier. DSC04221 Chef Ryan spends his time at both restaurants which means he had to elicit the expertise of some trusted members of staff to keep the place going when he isn’t physically there. One of the notable personalities is Chef Aron Habinger, executive chef of The Crosby since its inception until about a year ago. I’m not a gin drinker, but agreed to try Cucumber Gimlet ($10) because I trust everything Chef Ryan does. The cocktail is refreshing with cucumber and lime with a good balance of sour for my palate. DSC04257 Order Salmon Belly ($14) if you are a seafood fan. The cured egg yolk shavings add a wonderful salty component to the delicate fish. The incredible asparagus spears are sous vide in beef fat — yes! how awesome is that — and light salad is refreshing and palate cleansing. A very respectable offering. DSC04265 I’m torn between the over-use of Brussels sprouts on menus and my love for them, but when push comes to shove, I will always order them, especially when they’re crazy good. Brussels Sprouts ($9) is a combination of my favorite flavor profiles — tart and salty — San Joaquin Gold cheese provides the latter. Hazelnuts add a lovely crunch for textural contrast. Divine! DSC04230 Have you ever had fresh chick peas? If not, Garbanzo ($8) is a perfect place to start. Garlic, chile, arugula, mint, what’s not to love? Squeeze some caramelized lime over skillet and it’s an ideal side for sharing. DSC04242 Even though this is a vegetable dish, Mushrooms ($12) is anything but vegetarian. Discs of King trumpet mushrooms are cooked in wagyu beef fat, topped with smoked maitake possessing a rich, robust flavor I can only smile about. DSC04249 If you’re a fan of Three Seventy Common’s fried chicken, then you’re in luck! You don’t have to wait every month to get some. Chicken Nuggets ($15) are just as good as the fried chicken Chef Ryan prepares at his Laguna Beach restaurant. In fact, I might like these just a tad more probably because they’re just that much crispier. The biscuit is amazing and the maple bourbon barbecue sauce is more tart than sweet — can I say I’m in love? DSC04233 A palette of colors makes Sea Bass ($19) not only pretty to look at, but it is equally delicious in my mouth. Charred pickled onions, espelette pepper powder, cauliflower, pistou, shallot soubise — so many flavors, all mouth-popping good. I love the balance of acid in every dish. Here, the pickled onions are just intoxicating. I want a bowl of it! DSC04253 Scallops $18) with smoked paprika, chorizo, roasted corn, popcorn — yes, popcorn — avocado and lemon is sublime. Now, there are two things I will always order when I see them on a menu. Scallops is one of them. The mollusks are cooked to perfection and the use of avocado works surprisingly well, although I’m not sure about the popcorn. I didn’t dislike it, I just wasn’t sure if adding that texture component was necessary. DSC04270 I don’t need dessert at the end of meal, but when it tastes like this, I say, “bring it on”. Strawberries ($9) is not as simple as it sounds. I have nothing but praise for Chef Andrea Guzman because she got me to take more than one bite — actually, I ate half of this bowl. But then again, panna cotta is one of my favorites and this is exceptionally smooth and the consistency is spot on. The strawberry granita adds some texture, while the cereal adds crunch. This is my kind of dessert and one of the simplest, yet most memorable, I’ve ever eaten. Bravo! So there you have it. The North Left is open and it is good. Really good. Grab a few friends and head on down. Sip on some cocktails, share some bites. I am confident you won’t regret it.

The North Left 400 N Broadway Santa Ana, CA 92701 Tel: 714-543-3543

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jazz and more at Spaghettini

As usual, my skepticism sets in when I hear “Italian”, despite the fact that lately, I have been pleasantly surprised by places I’ve come across.

Spagettini isn’t at all how I imagined in my mind. In fact, my preconceived notions of the restaurant was not at all accurate. Because the restaurant is a hub for jazz musicians — think Dave Koz and the like — there is a lounge area specifically mapped out for this.

My friend and I are led to a booth while we wait for another to arrive. Our incredibly awesome server, Jill, was to be with us for our meal this evening.

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We began with some cocktails — Blood Orange Manhattan ($14) for the guy, and Water Cooler ($13) for me. Our friend chose wine when she arrived. His Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Domaine de Canton, lemon juice, lemongrass and ginger syrup and tarragon drink is pleasant. However, my Bombay Sapphire Gin, St Germain, watermelon and lime juice, vanilla and mint syrup concoction is absolutely delicious, I have another.

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While we were waiting, some amuse bouche were presented to us while we perused the menu.

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We decided upon Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta ($14/$16 with goat cheese) served with grilled baguette. I liked how they serve the goat cheese on the side instead of slathering it on to the toast. Our server tells me that they do that in case someone is not fond of goat cheese. That’s a brilliant idea because there are times I’m not into a certain goat cheese that’s served.

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Pommery Shrimp ($24) may not look like anything much, but it is absolutely mouthwatering. The sauteed shrimp are plump and has a wonderful snap, however, it is the Pommery mustard cream sauce with white wine and shallots that steals the day. It is so rich and flavorful we were not going to let a drop go to waste. Bits of bread were broken off to wipe the plate clean.

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We thought it might be smart to break up the meal with something green, so Wedge ($15) salad it is. Honestly, this defeats the purpose of a salad, but I can’t think of a more delicious way to eat lettuce when it is smothered in applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese crumbles, bits of Roma tomatoes and red onions.

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However, it is the house-made pasta that catches my eye. Yellow Corn Agnolotti ($22) are pockets filled with a corn (which is currently in season) puree, tossed in a mascarpone sauce and topped with parmigiano reggiano. The salty sweet flavors are addicting and the perfectly al dente pasta is absolutely delicious.

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Another great choice is Seafood Conchiglie ($29) with lobster, shrimp and Dungeness crab. The cream sauce sits snugly in between the pasta shells and creates a luscious mouthfeel on the palate.

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We shared some entrees between us. First up, Beeler’s Pork Chop ($29), a hefty cider-brined chop with Yukon Gold potato puree and sweet apples. The combination of the three created a nice contrast of flavors, but unfortunately, the pork was a bit overcooked.

My favorite was New Zealand Lamb Rack ($44), a stunning rack of meat prepared perfectly medium rare with a rich, savory port reduction, served with a side of baby spinach and shallot & parmesan potato gratin.

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Come for the food, come for the jazz. If you happen to get Jill as your server, you’ll know your experience is going to be a very enjoyable one.

Spaghettini
3005 Old Ranch Pkwy
Seal Beach, CA 90740
Tel: 562-596-2199

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La Terasse & AIXimia winery — Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Another trip down to Mexico, this time to Valle de Guadalupe where a unique winery sits in the middle of nowhere like a flying saucer which has landed from space. I am here to visit AIXimia Winery with a group of food and travel writers and the newly opened La Terrasse San Roman restaurant, right on the vineyard’s premises.

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As our van stops in front of this architectural beauty, we notice some beautiful horses in the pastures greeting our arrival.

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The brainchild of Manuel Alvarez and his brother, vintner Alvaro Alvarez, a mathematician-turned-winemaker, AIXimia is a three-story circular building, an architectural anomaly of sorts. Its incredible beauty is awe-inspiring with its cathedral-like ceilings and soothing color-schemes. My photos do not do it justice, but I hope you will get an idea of how captivating it is.

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We start from the top, where the selection and de-stemming process of the grapes begin. Then, they travel to the second floor, for the fermentation process, then, to the bottom floor where they are aged in French oak barrels before finally, being bottled. The entire space can be experienced from up top, and it is a sight like no other.DSC04084

AIXimia stems from the alchemy of the combination of various elements in our universe. To reflect this, each bottle of wine — there are 10 — are all named for an element of nature. The labels display Gaia (mother Earth), Magma (molten rock beneath the Earth’s surface), Helios (sun) and Aqua (water), each significant when you put it all into perspective.

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After our tour, we sit down to a meal at the newly opened La Terrasse San Roman restaurant, by Chef Martin San Roman. It is al fresco dining at its best. A view of the sprawling vineyard serves as a backdrop for our lunch as we sipped on some selections from the winery.

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Chef Martin’s cuisine is French Mexican, and when our duo of appetizers arrive, it was quite evident. Tartin de Ratatouille y Parmesano (60 pesos/appr $4.60 a la carte) is a “tart” topped with a ratatouille of roasted French vegetables, fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese.

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Another, not on the menu, is a tartare of some sort, but we were not sure what sort of fish is used. Nevertheless, it is lovely.

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There is green salsa, smoky and spicy. We eat it up so quickly I had to ask for more.

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Carpaccio de Betabel Local (50 pesos/appr $3.90 a la carte) is a salad of fresh roasted beets, sliced paper thin and topped with capers, onions and basil. Resembling a beef carpaccio, it is a delightful dish vegetarians can enjoy. In fact, there are quite a few dishes suited for vegetarians at La Terrasse.

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I think if there is one dish we are all in agreement with is Ensalada de Nopales al Carbón (120 pesos/appr $9.25 a la carte). Everyone relished this flavor-packed skillet of Spanish sausage, fresh grilled cactus, tomatoes, onions and cilantro marinated in olive oil. The cactus is prepared well, not too soft, but gives way when you bite into it. The sausage is absolutely delicious, adding a beautiful saltiness to the mix.

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A beautifully plated Pierna de Cerdo al Horno (190 pesos/$14.65 a la carte) arrives next. The pork has been marinated in natural hibiscus and red wine and braised confit style before it is grilled on wood. The result is a richly flavored dish comprising traces of wine and a hint of tartness from the hibiscus.

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My favorite item of the meal is a simple dish called Lomo de Atun (500 pesos/$38.50). A one pound slab of tuna is grilled, brought to the table on a hibachi.

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The lightly seared tuna is perfectly rare on the inside and dipped in the lemon aioli sauce, is one of the best things I’ve eaten. Simple, fresh, and absolutely stunning. The menu says this item is meant for two people to share, but honestly, I could probably eat it all myself.

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Our meal ends with a sweet pastry filled with fruit. I apologize I do not have a description for it.

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If you are a wine aficionado, AIXimia Winery is a must stop. If you a foodie as well, then this is the perfect place for you. Take some time with the wines tasting the wines, then, sit down and enjoy a meal by Chef Martin. It is definitely worth it.

AIXimia Winery/La Terrasse San Roman
Km.3 the tiger country road (next ranch El Parral)
Valle de Guadalupe
Baja California, Mexico. CP 22766
Tel: Outside of Mexico 521 (646) 947-5256

The Republique of belly busting goodness

I’ve been wanting to visit Walter Manzke’s Republique ever since it opened. In fact, I wanted to visit the minute I found out about it, and that was a while ago when we were dining at Petty Cash and Chef Manzke stopped by our table for a minute to chat and told us about it — his family was eating at the next table. Many of my friends have dined there and I have heard nothing but praises for its libations and its menu.

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We arrived about 30 minutes after the restaurant opened on a Saturday night. We had no reservations and decided to wing it. Luckily, we were seated right away in the front of the restaurant against the window parallel to the bar. It was a good seat, a perfect vantage point for me to people watch. The restaurant is stunning with cathedral-high ceilings and seems to sprawl well on into the far back.

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I love the homage to Marco Pierre White, the original celebrity chef and enfant terrible (bad boy) of the culinary world — way before Gordon Ramsey or Anthony Bourdain made it fashionable.

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Our server Rosie was absolutely delightful. I had a lot of questions and she answered everything she could. Whatever stumped her, she immediately went to seek out answers.

We started with the essential cocktail, a Whiskey Fix ($12) comprising lemon, berries and rye whiskey. It was refreshing and not harsh at all which is really surprising. Even I liked it. If you prefer wine, there is an extensive wine list and there is a sommelier available to help you out if you’re unsure of what to select.

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The breads here are simply incredible. Complimentary baguette is brought to the table on a wooden block with butter. However, I highly suggest ordering the Normandy Butter ($5) as well as a side of Wood Oven Pan Drippings ($5) which arrives in a baby Staub cast iron cocotte. Be careful when you lift the lid as it is still steaming.

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The butter is creamy, thick, salty, everything I want butter to be. We slather it onto the warm baguette slices and watch it sink into the bread, melting into the crevices, before devouring it. The pan drippings are a whole ‘nother story. Dotted with bits of onion, this is what dreams are made of — well, MY dreams anyway. We went through the initial baguette, PLUS two more refills and we still could not finish all the drippings and butter on the board. This is definitely worth the 10 dollars, and I highly recommend it especially if you love good bread.

If you’re a Charcuterie aficionado, definitely order a board ($28/or $7pp) as everything is made in-house (I can see the meats hanging from where I’m sitting). It is simply breathtaking and absolute debauchery!

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If you’ve been to Chef Manzke’s Petty Cash, you will understand the concept of this next dish. Chips & Dip ($14) is Tasmanian sea trout tartare cubes topped over essentially what we know as raita (cucumber, mint, yogurt, cumin seed). But the best part is the cone of crispy pork rinds sprinkled with espelette pepper, za’atar and salt to use as your “chips”. At Petty Cash, Chef Manzke offers them with a guacamole topped with uni. It is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

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On the topic of uni, Manzke is a man after my own heart. His love of uni is possibly equal to mine. Therefore, when I scanned through the menu and did not see any uni in sight, I was perplexed, but also, disappointed. Turns out, the restaurant did not receive any uni shipment the day of our visit and therefore, no uni was offered. Guess I’ll have to make another trip.

Eggs on Toast ($11) typically with uni on top of scrambled eggs is instead substituted with smoked yellowtail and a disc of breakfast radish. This might be my least favorite dish of the night. Perhaps it was my pre-conceived notion of it having uni on top, but nevertheless, it was the only item I wasn’t excited about.

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If you happen to see Charcoal-Grilled Santa Barbara Spot Prawns ($16 each), order it. The tender flesh almost melts in you mouth and I can’t stop myself from sucking on the head for every drop of the shrimp tomalley (it is actually hepatopancreas in shrimp but tomalley sounds so much better) I am able to find. The corn, peaches and peanut accoutrements are surprisingly well-paired albeit, the Thai curry was a tad on the mild side making it difficult to detect.

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Crispy Fried Maryland Soft Shell Crab ($26) is possibly the priciest soft shell crab I have ever eaten. The crab is perfectly crispy accompanied by a Santa Rosa plum sauce, blistered green beans, slivers of garlic and julienned ginger. There is chile, but not enough to cause much damage. It is delicious, possessing familiar flavors of Asian cuisine.

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We finish with Spaghetti Rustichella: Carbonara ($19) style. The noodles are sublime, perfectly seasoned and unctuous on the palate. Unfortunately, the bits of pancetta are fatty and gristly. We move them to the side and polish off all the pasta.

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The restaurant becomes extremely loud as the evening goes by. The hoards of thoroughfare going through the bar area is frustrating. There is little space for people to hover — yet they do — while trying to snag a bar seat as soon as someone vacates their spot. It reminds me of dim sum in Asia where people are waiting for you to finish eating so they can take your table.

If you are unlucky enough to sit with your back against the bar, it will be inevitable that you’ll be knocked about by passersby who are trying to squeeze between you and the lingerers. There just isn’t enough room for so many people to be in one area without strangers touching you for no reason. My suggestion? Make a reservation and ask not to be seated by the bar.

Republique
624 S La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: 310-362-6115

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