Foodie Friday: Mediterranean City Grill

Today’s installment of Foodie Friday finds me having a deja vu and discounted lunch at Mediterranean City Grill courtesy of Groupon.   A few weeks ago Groupon had an offer of two $12.00 vouchers for two people for only $12.00

Two for Two for $12. I think the deal is past now. :(

Two for Two for $12. I think the deal is past now. :(

This translates to two visits to the Mediterranean City Grill for just $12.00. What’s a girl to do? Well, buy them, of course! That’s exactly what I did.  This is my second visit to this small fast-foodish café in the heart of the urban loft/hipster area of downtown Los Angeles. 

The urban decor and order-at-the-counter atmosphere work with the location of this cafe.

The urban decor and order-at-the-counter atmosphere work with the location of this cafe.

It’s a good thing I liked the place enough to look forward to going back and using my Groupon again.  Even though I am using Foodie Fridays to help me out of my lunchtime rut, the last meal I had here was so good, I had to have it again, with a slight variation.

 I ordered the Greek Salad and added shwarma to it.  I liked it as much as the chicken that I added to the Greek Salad I enjoyed on my last visit. The serving was huge, with generous portions of fresh greens, feta cheese and kalamata olives.  The citrus/vinegar dressing combined with the saltiness of the cheese and olives,  made for a light-tasting and very satisfying lunch. 

When is a salad not a salad? When it comes with Shawarma!

When is a salad not a salad? When it comes with Shawarma!

Juan also ordered pretty much the same thing as last time.  This time however, he ordered the grilled plate without the chicken, so much for breaking out of our same-old-same-old routine.  His plate came with warm, thick and fluffy pita bread, which I shared with him.  

Q: When is a combination plate not a combination plate?  A: When it only comes with one meat.

Q: When is a combination plate not a combination plate? A: When it only comes with one meat.

The only downside to this place was the limited seating.  Both times I have been here the place has been full with loft dwelling hipsters, business folk and people who appear to be middle easterners. That says a lot about the broad appeal of the food. Lucky for us, we found a seat at the same table both times.  You think we would have spiced things up a bit and at least sat at a different table! Ah well! It was so hot we didn’t want to eat outdoors even though we might have been able to enjoy the view.  Maybe next time. . . .

Enjoying the urban view from the Mediterranean City Grill.

The urban view from the Mediterranean City Grill.

City streets near the Med City Grill. A neighborhood undergoing transformation.

City streets near the Med City Grill. A neighborhood undergoing regentrification.

Where do you like to eat lunch when you’re in a rut?


Foodie Friday: The Lazy Ox Canteen

I am introducing a new feature on my blog. It is my husband Juan’s idea to help me get blogging again, and it’s my idea to help us out of our “same old, same old” lunch rut. This routine involves brown bagging it everyday and eating at our desk or on a nice day, eating outside in the park. I am going to call this new feature “Foodie Friday.”

Foodie Friday will be my review of a local restaurant that Juan and I will enjoy once a week. And because we are parents of 4 kids and don’t have a lot of extra cash to throw around, I will review those places where we can eat at a discount. I mean discounts like Groupon, Living Social, Travel Zoo—any number of the sites which send me offers and I impulsively buy. (I can’t tell you the number of offers I’ve bought, only to have them expire). I figure a lunch out with my husband that doesn’t involve leftovers, or a turkey sandwich, and ends with a blog post, means that everyone wins! So, I give you my first installment of Foodie Friday.

The Lazy Ox Canteen

Juan and I work in the same building in downtown Los Angeles. It’s kind of nice to be in the civic center, but as far as restaurants go in this area, they are pretty scarce. Don’t get me wrong, Downtown LA is undergoing a huge revitalization, several blocks away. Grand Avenue is beautiful with its high rise apartments and office towers, Disney Concert Hall and what will be a stunning new museum, the Broad.  East of Grand, the area is crawling with Hipsters. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a young urbanite walking their dogs, or lounging outside coffee houses. Little Tokyo is another area which is experiencing some growth, perhaps due to the encroaching loft conversions and growing hipster population. This is great for those of us who work in the Civic Center because Little Tokyo probably has the most accessible restaurants, especially if you want Japanese food.

Not long ago a new restaurant (well, new to us anyway) appeared on the fringe of Little Tokyo, The Lazy Ox Canteen. Even more recently, I learned that Travel Zoo was offering a voucher, $29.00 for lunch for two, including two of their gourmet burgers and a flight of beer. I hesitated at first because after all, a flight of beer? On a work day? But then I remembered it was Friday, and how much work could I really expect to accomplish on a Friday afternoon! So I bought it and I’m glad I did.

We arrived after a short walk, made longer because it was blazing hot. It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit space, but once they did I could see that the place had a modern, upscale, tavern feel, and the majority of the diners appeared to be businessmen enjoying a cold one with their monolithic burgers. There was a chalkboard on the wall displaying the day’s beer offerings. We were seated immediately, but with only one waitress for the entire restaurant, it took awhile for her to take our order.

We ordered our burgers that were included with the Travel Zoo voucher and the waitress told us which beers we would be served. Not long after, she presented us with a “plank” of 4 glasses of 5 ounce pours of beer. They ranged in color and flavor, and maybe if I hadn’t enjoyed ALL 4 glasses and taken notes, I would be able to tell you what they were. Suffice to say, I liked them all.

Undaunted by the task ahead of me.

Undaunted by the task ahead of me.

The food was really tasty too. I love a good burger and The Lazy Ox’s was flavorful and cooked the way I like, even though the texture of the meat felt a little…crumbly? The best part of the plate though was the French fries. They were crispy but full of flavor. They came with a delicious aioli for dipping.

The fries and the aioli upstaged the burger.

The fries and the aioli upstaged the burger.

Between the fancy dipping sauce and the deliciously seasoned fries, it was a good thing Juan ate all his fries too because I could have reached over and finished his, even after eating my huge burger.

The walk back to my office took even longer, in part because of the heat, but more likely because of all the carbs I just ingested. Good thing there was a Starbucks on the way, and in keeping with my discount theme, I was able to use a gift card to buy us much needed caffeinated drinks. After a good lunch, a full flight of beer and a walk in the heat, I really needed it!

The finish to my carb loaded lunch.

The finish to my carb loaded lunch.

Hiding the Salami

When I was a young girl growing up in my family of six, I did not go hungry. My father worked to support us and my mother stayed home  to care for us, and of course cook for us. We did not eat fancy foods, beans were a major staple in our house.  We had meat on the table, except on Fridays during Lent when dinner was usually tuna salad and macaroni and cheese.  We ate well enough at home and we all appreciated the rare meal at a restaurant.

We also really appreciated the occasional “special foods” our mother would buy, like the bags of chips, the boxes of Hostess Ding Dongs, Twinkies and the packages of sweet rolls.  In fact, we so appreciated these treats that we coveted them. Literally. With four kids in the house, one of them my teenage brother with an insatiable appetite, we had to ration our shares. If we didn’t, my brother would get more than his share donuts, cookies, or chips. When a package of special foods found its way into our pantry, we would count how many treats were in the package and pronounce to everyone, our allotted number.  I quickly learned that in order to secure my treat, I had to put a label on it and hope my siblings honored my claim to rights.

Sometimes, if I really wanted to be sure that the treat would be there for me, I had to resort to more drastic measures. I had to hide my food. I sought out places to stash those foil wrapped Ding Dongs which looked like presents, or the cellophane wrapped Twinkies. If only I had known that someday the Twinkie would become an endangered species, I might have stashed more of them.

As an adult one of my pleasures is going into the grocery store and buying foods I like, knowing that I can savor them in the comfort of my own home. No labels. No hiding.

Until recently. My girls like food too. In fact, they like good food like gourmet cheeses, breads, snacks.  Juan and I will sometimes enjoy a glass or two of wine, with a cheese plate and maybe some nice meats, like the dry aged salami I find at Trader Joes.  When I realized that the girls began indulging in my stash, I became annoyed. Especially, when at the end of a long work week, I looked forward to pouring myself a glass of wine, making up a cheese plate, and having my own private happy hour.

This week I was at Trader Joes doing my usual grocery shopping when I browsed the cheese selection and spied the aged cheddar, the brie and the wine salamis. Ahhhh. I realized that the girls would probably appreciate the cheese and salami as much as I would and if they got their hands on it, it would all be eaten faster than you can say Bon Apetite. As soon as I got home from the store, I unloaded my groceries, and I hid the cheese and salami. That’s right, I HID THEM. I am back to hiding my food.

As the week passed I knew that my salami was safely squirreled away, waiting to be savored, I thought to myself that I had outsmarted them. Then, I decided it was time. It was Friday and the weekend was upon me. I was ready to enjoy my happy hour. I took the salami from its hiding place and was ready.

But, something distracted me, and I had to delay my wine and cheese soiree. So I put it in the refrigerator, promising myself I would return. As it happened I got sidetracked and my happy hour plans were derailed. That night Erica had a friend spend the night. I made them dinner and dessert then cleaned the kitchen. As I went to bed, I could hear the girls foraging through the pantry looking for something to snack on.  Really, could they still be hungry? I checked in on them as they found a box of cereal to snack on. I went back to bed, knowing that their appetites should be satisfied.

When I woke the next morning I found the girls asleep on the couch, an opened box of cereal, the salami and a stack of dirty dishes on the coffee table. I guess the girls had their own happy hour. Forget the hiding place, I think I need to put a lock on the refrigerator.

Is nothing sacred? And why does she need a knife that big?

 Do you hide food to keep others in your house from eating it? 



Avocado Inspiration

Recently I was selected to participate in an Avocados from Mexico promotion. I was happy to be included in this campaign because I love avocados. It wasn’t always like this for me. I can remember being a little girl and not liking avocados, even though I had never actually tasted one. Then, one day my parents encouraged me to actually taste an avocado, and I was hooked from that day forward.

Luckily, I don’t have to force my family to eat avocados, because everyone in my family loves them. In fact, I have a hard time keeping avocados in the house. One of my co-worker’s knows this about me, so every time she has an avocado, which in her opinion is too ripe, she will give it to me. There have been many mornings when I walk into my office and see an avocado waiting for me on my desk. (Thanks Ann!)

So, you can see that blogging about avocados is not a real dilemma for me. But what is more challenging is blogging about a recipe I use with avocados. Honestly, we eat avocados very simply, with a squeeze of lime and salt. Diego is a purist though, and enjoys his avocados sans lime or salt. Even though we love avocados, as I considered what recipe to share with you all, I was stuck. I decided to look through my pantry to inspire me to come up with an avocado recipe. Nothing. Then, I opened my freezer and I came across this.

Bags and bags of tuna.

Yellow fin tuna that Juan and the boys caught on a fishing excursion while we were on our family vacation in Cabo San Lucas. The guys caught a total of 18 beautiful tuna. The fishing crew cleaned, filleted, packed and froze it for us. The day we were scheduled to leave we went to WalMart, bought a cooler, packed it all in and brought it all home. We’ve been enjoying it ever since. Last week, while at a family barbecue my brother asked to use some to add to some guacamole he was making. Hmmm….

I was inspired. Now, not only did I have the two major ingredients–avocado and tuna, as it happened, I also had an occasion to cook something. All summer my next-door neighbors had talked about getting together on our porch for a happy hour. The summer was nearly over but we finally managed it. They planned to bring the mojitos, and I would bring the appetizer. I looked on-line for some guidance on what ingredients to include in my avocado tuna ceviche dip. I was missing some ingredients, but fortunately I had found suitable substitutions. I decided to improvise and this is what I came up with:

Avocado and Tuna Ceviche Dip. 

It was a hit. So easy, so good! I was so glad I could use the tuna that the boys caught. Then next day, I had unexpected company so I whipped up another batch. It was gone in a flash, but not before Olivia tried it and raved. She asked if I could make it for her to take to school. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of recipe you make and pack for lunch. Something about taking raw fish and avocado and storing it in your school locker until lunchtime, doesn’t sound like a good idea. Still, I was happy the kids tried it and liked it too. Even Diego, the avocado purist, loved it. But, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because the main ingredient was avocados!

Happy hour on the porch.

Here are the details:

1-2 ripe Avocados

1/2 pound raw good quality yellow fin tuna

2 tablespoons chinese chili paste

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Chop the avocado and tuna into bite-sized pieces, equal size. Finely chop onion and cilantro. Add the onion, soy sauce and chili paste to a bowl. Squeeze in some of the lime juice. Stir to combine. Add in the avocado and tuna. Stir gently to coat with chili paste mixture. Squeeze in additional lime juice and continue to stir gently to coat. Toss in cilantro. Add additional soy sauce or salt if needed. Serve immediately with chips, or crackers. Eat and enjoy. Repeat.

Do you want to try out an avocado recipe?  Go here for recipes. Or if you’re a purist like Diego then just use the coupon on the sidebar, buy the avocados and enjoy!

50/50 Friday – Week 49

I can’t believe in a little over two weeks I will be one year into my project of 50 Things to Do Before My 50th Birthday. One year down, and one to go. I have accomplished quite a bit, but honestly I thought I would be further along by this time. It hasn’t been easy to do much this month, since May is the month with Too Many Occasions. In this month alone, I will have 5 birthdays, 2 graduations, 3 recitals, Mother’s Day, prom, and the usual assortment of baseball games, scout events and church obligations. The impending one year anniversary of my project inspired me to get back on my cooking bandwagon–that and the purchase of the Pioneer Woman’s new cookbook.

The first new recipe I tried was Spicy Lemon Garlic Shrimp. There is one thing everyone in my family agrees on–we all love shrimp! I knew this was going to be a real crowd pleaser, and this recipe did not disappoint. I also loved the fact that it was easy and quick. The recipe said to serve it with bread for dunking into the juices, but I didn’t like the idea of greasy hands and dripping bread all over the table. Besides, there’s one more thing everyone in my family agrees on–we all love pasta! I put the shrimp over angel hair pasta. Yum!

Spicy Lemon Garlic Shriimp

The next recipe up was Peach-Whiskey Chicken. Once upon a time someone brought me a bottle of whiskey. I don’t drink whiskey. I don’t know anyone in my family who drinks whiskey except maybe my dad. The whiskey bottle sat in my pantry until the night I decided to stink up my house and cook with it. Unfortunately, it was also the night when Olivia invited her boyfriend over for dinner. Olivia, who has the nose of a bloodhound, was mortified when she walked into the kitchen. I reassured her that the smell would evaporate and her boyfriend would be able to drive home without risking a DUI. Then, I opened all the windows and tried to fan away the fumes. By the time her boyfriend arrived the odor had faded and the chicken was stewing in the oven. I thought the dish was pretty good, but it was not rave worthy. Fortunately, Olivia’s boyfriend is much too polite to say anything negative. The recipe called for chicken legs and I obliged. The chicken legs cooked until the skin was falling off so it was pretty messy to eat. Diego did not like it at all. He said, “I really don’t like naked chicken.” Well, I guess no more naked, drunken chicken for my family.

Almost naked, drunken chicken on a bed of noodles.

I have also been doing my part to check off two more wines from my list. My sister-in-law brought this one to a family birthday celebration dinner this month and I really enjoyed it. Robust but not spicy or tannic. On the extra positive side, it’s really inexpensive. It’s only $4 at Trader Joes. I picked up a couple of bottles.

Good, drinkable, any occasion wine with a good price point.

I also tried this one. I picked it up at Cost Plus for about $10. I like big buttery chardonnay and this one fits the bill. It’s a little bit of a splurge for me, but I loved the name of the winery and since I had been shopping for everyone else’s birthday presents I thought I would pick me up a little something too.

This one is better than any cupcake I've ever had.

The last thing I did recently was to take on a cause, number 27 on my list. I have been looking around for a cause I could add to my blog. A cause which really interested me. I have seen this organization before, but when I came across this campaign about giving up your birthday for charity water, I knew I found my cause. Clean water is something that most of us have available and something we probably take for granted. I know that when I have to bang on the bathroom door and tell my kids that 20 minutes is WAY too long of a shower, they are taking this resource for granted. I know that when I see several half-filled water bottles around the house and in my car, my kids don’t realize the value of a clean, constant water source. For this birthday and the next big one, I am asking for donations to this cause. I want everyone to have clean water. I want to impart this message to my kids. Besides, if I can pass up gifts for my 50th birthday, while doing some positive modeling for my kids, and contributing to clean water somewhere else, it almost makes turning a half-century bearable.

Two more weeks to go until my 49th birthday….One year and 19 days until the big one.