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Monday, May 24, 2010

Brunch Roundup: Best and Worst Pancakes in West LA

I usually don't like to go out for breakfast or brunch but circumstances have "forced" me to eat out on these occasions and as a result, I've sampled seven places famous and not.

Here's my rundown:

Although I can't say I've tried all joints offering French toast, I can safely say that Amandine Cafe on Wilshire serves up a pretty good one. It's two slices of what tasted and looked like brioche bread, well-toasted on the outside and soft on the inside, and you can top it with your fruit of choice (I chose bananas once and strawberries another time). The cappuccino was also good. I would skip the omelet and stick with what it does best. The plain and chocolate croissants weren't bad but not as good as in Bread Bar.

The space is a bit cramped but it has its own parking lot so that's always a draw. I haven't tried the sweets but I'm sure they do a decent job of those.

I liked Bread and Porridge's sausage that are locally made gourmet sausages that come in seven varieties. Being a spice fiend, I, of course, chose spicy Portuguese and it didn't disappoint. Besides being a good sausage to begin with, the sausage was grilled to perfection, complete with beautiful grill marks. As I bit into it, I tasted the smokiness from the grill and the juiciness from the inside exploded with spicy and salty flavors.

The nice thing about this place was that it didn't look like the kind of place that would but accompanied with our order came a small bowl of black beans and another bowl of pico de gallo -- that wonderful fresh salsa! Unexpected but a very pleasant surprise that definitely complemented the food very nicely.

The other stuff, on the other hand, were nothing to write home about, including its supposedly famous corn bread, which was bland and dry, and its pancakes, which were mediocre.

Speaking of which, I'm not even a huge pancake person but I have to give it up for John O' Groats close to Westside Pavillion for making the lightest and fluffiest buttermilk pancakes this side of town. Its biscuits aren't bad either, but its ethereal pancakes will lift up your spirits, no doubt.

Ok, maybe the corn-based arepas from Venezuela aren't that exotic. But when you're not in the mood for the same ol' same ol', head over to Coupa Cafe in Beverly Hills for some hearty Venezuelan fare.

There is a special breakfast arepa that comes with scrambled eggs, gouda cheese and bacon. Not your thing? An item called perico has an arepa with scrambled eggs, peppers, onions and tomatoes. The latter, according to the menu, is allegedly a favorite dish of the new big-haired conductor at the Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel, who's Venezuelan.

It's worth trying their other non-breakfast-y items like empanada, which is deep fried corn dough filled with anything from ground beef, chicken to "fresh young shark," which I haven't tried.

The pabellon, filled with shredded beef, black beans, sweet fried plantains and queso paisa (stringy white cheese), was delicious. I also liked the sauces it came with, some infused with cilantro, parsley and some kick. Gotta love kick.

The Venezuelan coffee was not too shabby either. It also has outdoor seating, which makes for good people watching, if that's your thing. On one lazy Sunday a while back, I saw a sunglasses-wearing Julianne Moore walking by. So LA...

If you don't really know what to eat but want something healthy and good, go for a drive to Malibu and get thee to Inn of the Seventh Ray.

It's run by a bunch of new age hippies who appreciate solidly-made food. I usually don't like buffets unless it's Indian food, but this one had a variety of interesting salads, grilled vegetables and flavorful sauces that came with grilled fish. I didn't mind the steamed crab legs that I made sure to grab enough of. Another perk is the beautiful outdoor surrounding. You're smack in the middle of nature. It's also romantic if you need an unusual date spot. The ocean-side drive there filled with greenery is also spectacular. I felt transported out of the urban craziness and into the serene nature.

Now for the duds --places that get a lot of raves for certain specialties but did nothing for me. Wouldn't return to any of them.

Most overrated pancakes, fried chicken and waffles: Pann's Restaurant (Dry chicken, flat pancakes and waffles and hash browns that were drowning in bad-quality butter.)

Most overrated (and overpriced) pastries: Huckleberry (I love Rustic Canyon, as you may recall my recent post raving about its burger that just may rival my all-time favorite one at Houston's. But the brunch items were bland and weak.)

Worst overall brunch experience: Jack n Jill (That this place has lines despite poor food and mediocre service is a clear indication of a dearth of good brunch places in Santa Monica. So unremarkable.)

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