It’s Worth Investing Time in Historic Old Sacramento

I was born in California and never made it to the state capital, until now. One crucial part of that oversight is missing out on the Historic Gold Rush Town of Old Sacramento. For those interested in avoiding the same mistake, it’s a good idea to invest some time exploring this spectacularly preserved piece of California History. A good way to start is by moving right in, with a stay aboard the Delta King Riverboat Hotel. This gracefully refurbished paddleboat floats on the Sacramento River adjacent to Old Sacramento State Historic Park and is the ideal home base to immerse oneself in the slower pace of mid 1800’s California.

First and foremost, don’t rush. Give yourself some time to explore because there’s a lot to see and do. Two days would be the minimum and try to include a weekend which preserves the opportunity to experience the underground tour.

Established in 1849, Old Sacramento is alive and well with the spirit and fervor of the gold rush. Handsome turn of the century buildings are well tended and house a variety of businesses you can explore. Traipsing through the streets and shops is a full day excursion in itself.

Rest assured if you need to revive anytime during your wanderings, they offer the illusive pineapple soft serve frozen treat, Dole whip, also available in mango. Unlike Disneyland, it’s self-serve here, so you can crank out as much of the icy concoction as you can handle, baring a serious case of brain freeze.

And of course no self-respecting gold rush town would be complete without an assortment of saloons. The River City Saloon claims to craft the best bloody Mary’s in Sacramento, but you need be the judge of that.

And Fanny Anns has to be one of the most captivating memorabilia stuffed bars in California. Stopping in for lunch, a cold one or just to browse the wild collection should be high on your to do list.

But the absolute highlight of Old Sacramento, is the California State Railroad Museum. This is a must see appropriate for the entire family.

Start you visit  with the informative movie which explains the back breaking labor and dedication that went into building the North American transcontinental railroad system. If you time it right, call first to be sure, the movie will be followed by a free half hour tour of the museum. No matter how you feel about trains, the amazing dioramas, restored trains, exhibits, dining car, heavy china display and simulation of a nighttime traveling sleeping car, are truly momentous experiences.

Recognition is paid to the workers who slaved through bone-chilling winters and blistering summers from 1863 to 1869 in order to make the dream of connecting the east and west coasts a reality.

Guest can pass through glistening trains of the era that look ready to hit the rails, reminding us of the romance and ease the railway system brought to U.S. travel.

Many cars are manned by costumed docents eager to share how their particular train was instrumental in facilitating everything from delivering mail to providing fine dining for guests.

Mannequin run kitchens and period china recreate the rigors and necessitates of a continually operational system of public transportation.

Be sure to search out the night train sleeping car simulation which is rigged to feel precisely like the real thing.

You can also hone your skills driving the same simulator used to train bullet train drivers. See how well you do manning the helm, followed by the challenging maneuvering of a speeding trains glide into the station.

The California State Railroad Museum is at the top of its game, being both technologically advanced, while also preserving their unique vantage point in the history of railroad travel and California’s involvement in its evolution.

We have to say that Old Sacramento offers such an inspiring glimpse into the past that we wouldn’t mind falling back in time over and over again.

Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.

The Quintessential Hostess Gift

While in Sacramento, we were introduced to Nothing Bundt Cake and we have to say it was love at first bite. The great news is that they are a nationwide franchise. That means you are most likely situated near a local shop.  But if not, you can always go online and have one dropped off right at your doorstep.  Or make life easy and have the distinctively shaped cake delivered to a very deserving friend as a house warming gift, Christmas present, birthday surprise, hostess thank you or any other event worth celebrating.  Wednesday sounds like a great reason for bundt cake to us.

The locations are charming and filled will all manner of inspiration. We sincerely hope you visit a bakery near you. Not only to sample the latest flavors (we love free samples), but also to get a gander at the exquisitely gorgeous cakes in a variety of sizes from bite-sized buntinis to personal sized bundtlets to 10″ full bundts serving up to 20 people.

We visited at Halloween when the Sacramento store was decked out with fun bundtinis all costumed and ready for little monsters to devour.

The shop addresses the confusing questions of how to honor someone at a major milestone. The answer is presented within a number of sumptuously designed displays that color coordinate their cakes with accessory options, making the gift even more special.

Of course the main reason to visit is to taste their supremely moist and flavorful bundt.  On our first introduction we were immediately taken with the birthday cake version, which is packed with a spray of multi-colored sprinkles nestled in classic vanilla cake. Another visit had us swooning for the Pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting. But if those don’t float your boat not to worry, they have red velvet, chocolate chip, lemon, pecan praline, cinnamon swirl and a long list of other delectable flavors to choose from.

We are tickled pink by Nothing Bundt Cake’s aesthetic, simple yet powerful design elements and cake shape which make for an impressive hostess gift sure to wow not only on presentation but throughout the savoring sure to follow. #IFBC17

Easy Fresh Bowls of Plenty

Meals in a bowl are all the rage.  It’s the new fast food model dedicated to filling a vessel with guests choice of their favorite ingredients for a personalized, satisfying mix that can be as healthy as one sees fit. Here in LA, it seems there’s a new poke bowl or ethnic bowl establishment on every corner. That makes Carolynn Carreno’s latest book, Bowls of Plenty right on point.  And if you’re a fan of this strongly established eating style, you can cut out the middle man and take charge right in your own kitchen.

Carolynn is a James Beard Award winning food writer and co-author of over a dozen acclaimed cookbooks. And now she has pulled together a collection of grain bowls that are completely customizable to suit ones taste, while being just as delightful straight from the undeviated page.

Chapters start with Equipment, Tools and Gadgets and evolve into an undeniably thorough exploration of grains, giving home cooks the basic information necessary to proceed with complete confidence. Starting with Breakfast Bowls, Carolynn delves into unique offerings such as Japanese breakfast or Pastrami and Rye Berry Hash, always showcasing as much diversity possible. What follows are salad bowls, main bowls and finally, yes, even dessert bowls,

We were treated to a buffet which allowed each diner to carefully choose their ingredients and we have to say we found it such a fun, with lots of suitable options for everyone. For those who don’t feel inclined to clean that many dishes, its absolutely acceptable to serve the bowls already assembled.

The key of course is fresh, quality ingredients prepared with care and love. And Ms. Carreno provides encouraging advice with that as well.

Bowls of Plenty is the book for bowl lovers and anyone who wants to simplify meal preparation.  Click through the red link above to go straight to Amazon. Bowl Appetite.

The Perfect Blend Is Just That

Tess Masters, also known as The Blender Girl, always delivers an engaging wealth of information on eating healthy.  So it’s no surprise that her new book, The Perfect Blend, keeps up the tradition with one hundred blender recipes designed to energize and revitalize.

One of our favorite dishes from her stunning, image-rich book is, Gentle Lentils. This sensational soup is impossible to put down. The addicting qualities radiating from the bowl are due in part to the incorporation of her Basil-Is-The-Bomb sauce, which helps forward this transcendent pairing. Try this soup!

Tess puts a new spin on everything. The book is broken into chapters titled for what they can do for you instead of a more traditional organization. You can look up instruction that will help promote detox, energy, immunity, weight loss, probiotic formation, and so on. We love knowing how our meals are benefiting us. Bravo Tess.

Raw Broccoli Brilliance, transforms raw broccoli florets into a panoply of textures that complement the bright, tangy, sweet and spicy flavors of her dressing. You’ll find this one in the protein chapter. Be sure to check out the chart on page 2 of the introduction to discover which categories ingredients fall under. Produce, spices, herbs, seeds and nuts all play into a number of benefits and readers are introduced to a basic understanding of how each supports stellar health.

Cauliflower rice is a base which can be doused with a vegetable rich melange, featuring sweet potatoes, Swiss chard and roasted almond butter in Sustenance Stew. Supremely satisfying.

Tess believes that the blender is the greatest tool we have for making delicious, beautiful, healthy, fast food. This book enables home chefs at every level of expertise to easily incorporate plant power and body revitalization into everyday meals. Look for lots of unique produce like Melissa’s fresh coconut water, where the sweet, natural nectar runs circles around bottled alternatives.

There are also treats, from Classic Cheesecake to Chocolate Mint Mania, lest you think eating healthy is out of alignment with a sweet tooth. The two come together beautifully.

The Perfect Blend, dishes out practical step by step guidance and health benefits of blending, combining and cooking hero foods. Be prepared for a focus on eating well and having fun. What’s not to love about that? The Perfect Blend can be purchased on Amazon through the title links in red. It is definitely time to dust off the blender and enjoy mother nature’s delicious bounty.

 

Frozen Popcorn Is An Inspired Idea.

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We love California for embracing all cultures, lifestyle choices and new ideas, especially in edible delights.

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We heard about California Mad Poppers, also known as California Frozen Poppers and were so intrigued we had to stop by. Inside we found an ice cream case housing bins of frozen popcorn. Yes, frozen, popped and flavored popcorn. The point is to keep the well loved snack as fresh as possible and freezing does just that. Who knew?  We were informed that after snacking we can slide the zip lock bag shut and toss it back in the freezer as many times as we like, keeping the popped corn as fresh as the day we purchased it.

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The attributes of this popcorn are impressive. First it’s air popped, then handmade daily, with zero preservatives, it’s gluten free and crafted with a 100 year old secret family caramel recipe.

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If all that doesn’t impress, then sampling some of their concoctions should do the trick. Generous in allowing customers to savor the flavors, we tasted the famous family recipe Caramel, rich Peanut Butter, Garlic Breath for serious garlic lovers, a variety of the cheese flavors and the Nutty Midnight Madness.

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First thing that hits is how fresh, crispy and delightful frozen popcorn is. Then their dedication to flavor intensity shines through. The best selling spicy popcorn called Aztec Gold, seduces with a quick snap of spice, before revealing its sweet carmel undertones and then sliding down the throat with a slow burn. This heavenly balance of sweet, salty and spicy is a flavor profile we adore and exactly what Aztec Gold delivers.

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They have a buy 3 get one bag free deal at the moment and a slew of special flavors for the season. We left with a big bag of Aztec Gold and a promise to ourselves to try more flavors and bring some to our next party so we can turn our friends on to the joys of frozen popcorn.

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What we first imagined was a novelty has us now convinced that this is the future of fresh popcorn. We are excited to experienced the next incarnation of one of the worlds favorite snack foods. Thank you Mad California Poppers for the brilliant fresh storage idea, your commitment to healthy, chemical free snacks and tantalizing flavors, you’ve got a winner.

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California Frozen Poppers, 7138 Shoup Avenue, Ste 1, Canoga Park, CA 91307
Phone – 818-888-4767           web site – camadpoppers.com

 

Frozen Yogurt Stands Its Ground For 20 Years

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For twenty years we’ve been visiting the little yogurt shop in the mini mall on the south-east corner of Westwood and Olympic Boulevards and we’ve never been disappointed.  The line most nights snakes out the door, but things move fast and a light jovial atmosphere prevails.

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Frozen yogurt comes in and out of fashion, but with UCLA just a short distance up the road, The Bigg Chill appears to have a steady clientele in search of a healthier sweet.

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The creamy, soft serve, frozen yogurt comes in fat free, dairy free, wow cow and carbolite, to satisfy every dietary and calorie restrictive diet. Flavors change daily with some standards that are always on the menu like Chill Berry (a sweet, tart yogurt), vanilla classic, Ghirardelli chocolate and peanut butter.

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They also offer shakes, pies, ice blended mochas and a small selection of low fat, low carb, and low calorie baked goods and snacks.  But everyone is eating the frozen yogurt and that’s what we order also.

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Pretty cones dipped in chocolate and sprinkles are displayed, but we’ve never seen anyone eat one.  Most embrace the healthy spirit of the place and order their yogurt in a cup.

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Of course there’s no sense going overboard with the health and wellness philosophies and some toppings are on the slightly sinful side.  It’s up to guests to decide how healthy or not they want to take things.

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Being purists we like to dive into the unadorned frozen yogurt.  Last nights choice was a mocha fudge custard that didn’t need anything except a spoon to make the smooth, mildly sweet, coffee rich cupful a great end to a long day.  All the custard flavors have an extra creamy texture and intensity that we like.  We also took home a quart of the chill berry (also known as sweet tart) because it goes with absolutely everything and we love knowing we have a stash in our freezer for emergencies when something sweet and satisfying is desperately needed.

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Consistency in product quality and service for 20 years explains why the Bigg Chill still pulls long lines of happy students and neighbors in search of a dessert that tastes more decadent than it actually is.  It works for us every time.

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Bigg Chill Frozen Yogurt, 10850 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-475-1070          web site – thebiggchill.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Old And New At Grand Central Market

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Grand Central Market has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1917. Their current mission is to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles while preserving the legacy of this historic downtown landmark.

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A trip to Grand Central market any day of the week drops guests into 30,000 square feet of bustling produce markets, restaurant counters, fish, meat, cheese, spice and specialty item vendors.

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We have been visiting the produce markets here for decades and find the prices a  joy.  We haven’t seen organic or super high end greens, but we have enjoyed good quality fruits and vegetables at far below supermarket prices.

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A new trend out in the world that has been a part of Grand Central Market’s creative model, is offering lower prices on aging or less than pristine produce for those who would like to save money.  We found brown spotted bananas at $1.00 for 5 pounds alongside bright yellow unblemished beauties for $.59 cents a pound. Sometimes when baking banana bread or just because we like them, sweet mottled bananas are just the ticket and we appreciate the option.

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Grand Central Market has long been home to a variety of Latin and Asian dining counters and markets that serve hearty bowls and dishes at great prices. Such as China Cafe, whose counter has been filled with hungry patrons clamoring for steaming bowls of won ton soup, noodles and rice dishes since 1959.

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Since 1952, Roast To Go has been selling gorditas, tacos and burritos of carnitas, carne asada, chicken, beef cheek, fish, lengua, chicharron and al pastor. Bringing in new restaurant counters with higher price points is the new strategy and things are changing. The owners of Chiles Secos, a long time tenant, are fighting to stay in business as the gentrification of Grand Central Market threatens the customers and business that created the rich history of this landmark.

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One classic touch that the new upscale businesses are keeping is the neon signage, which was and continues to be a touchstone of the space.

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We sincerely hope that Grand Central Market can retain its commitment to serving its long time downtown Latin population while also opening doors for the new vitality and clientele that is emerging.  Only time will tell how this marriage works out.  Until then we will continue to explore both the old and new offerings, savoring the diversity and variety that has always been the benchmark of Grand Central Market.

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Grand Central Market, 317 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Phone – 213-624-2378        web site – grandcentralmarket.com

Classic LA

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We believe that anything that has survived in Los Angeles since 1947 must be doing something right and that applies big time to a little establishment called The Apple Pan.  We were fans as children and returned to enjoy the same quaint, old fashioned food and service we remember from back in the day.

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A squared horseshoe counter with red barstools surrounds the prep area. There is often a wait with people crowding the walls, jockeying for the next open stool. Yet we had no problem finding a couple of stools at lunch and sat down to enjoy the old standard.

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Two burgers, ham, tuna, egg and cheese sandwiches, plus drinks, fries and pies encompass the entire menu.

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The back of the menu lists where the family recipes came from.  This is not trendy food, it dates back to 1881.

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The sandwiches can be served on bread or on a plate as a salad.  We chose the tuna salad which is a pile of relish and mayo spiked tuna on a bed of iceberg lettuce served with olives and pickle chips.  It has an old fashioned taste that reminds of uncomplicated times.  We don’t expect modern interpretations, that’s not what they’re about.  They keep it real, using the same recipes they’ve used for almost 60 years.

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We order our fries well done and crispy, they are served how they’ve always been served, with a cardboard plate they fill with ketchup, and continually refill throughout the meal.

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The hickory burger is a childhood favorite that we still love decades later.  It is a meat patty drenched in a hickory smokey, barbecue sauce that sits on a hefty stack of iceberg lettuce, with pickles and a mayonnaise slathered bun. We always spring for the natural Tillamook cheddar that melts nicely onto the hamburger, bringing the diverse flavors into blissful alignment.

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Quality forever, is the motto here and it includes the service.  They spilt the burger so we could share it. They refill our drinks and ketchup plate when their eagle eyes determine it’s getting a bit low. They even fixed a shoe that broke a few moments after we sat down. The service here makes us feel very well taken care of.

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Our observant and attentive counterman brought our pie already divided on two separate plates after watching us split everything else. Nice touch.

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The banana cream pie starts with banana pudding then loads it with slices of fresh banana before sandwiching it all between a flakey crust and a thick layer of whipped cream.  On Fridays they have a killer coconut cream pie that we recommend very highly.

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For a classic taste of 1940’s Los Angeles, The Apple Pan is a visual, experiential and edible trip down memory lane. It can’t be compared to anything else and we appreciate them keeping 20th century history alive and well, a gift worth falling back into again and again..

The Apple Pan, 10801 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064                  Phone – 310-475-3585

 

 

 

Heat Wave Relief

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As our heat wave finally seems to be breaking, we couldn’t help but take advantage of the sweltering weather as an excuse to line up with the other cool seeking Angelenos and check out the frozen sweetness at Salt & Straw.

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The apothecaryish, old time ice cream shop atmosphere entices and emphasizes Salt & Straw’s commitment to ice cream that is handmade in small batches, with all natural dairy, local, organic and sustainable ingredients from California, as well as imported flavors from farms around the world.

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The most popular flavor from the classics menu is the sea salt ice cream with caramel ribbons. Made with Guatemalan fleur de sel and hand burned caramel, it achieves a perfect balance of sweet, salty creaminess. While the Stumptown coffee and Compartes love nuts, combine cold-brewed Guatemala finca el injerto coffee with Compartes chocolate-dipped , caramel coated pecans for a rich, smooth coffee ice cream blended bite.

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Ice cream can be purchased by the pint for $10.50, by the flight for $11.50 or by the scoop or double for $4.90 and $6.90 respectively.  Kids scoops, approximately the size of a golf ball, go for $3.90.

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Alongside the classics menu are late summer harvest flavors to entice. We went with the classics and chose a double scoop of sea salt and caramel ribbons on top of chocolate gooey brownie and a single scoop of black olive brittle and goat cheese in a cup with a sugar cone hat.  Now we understand that these prices are higher than we have been paying for ice cream, but we have to admit that the goods at Salt & Straw ooze with clean, fresh flavors like sultry goat cheese with hits of candied salty, sweet olive brittle.  In other words, every cent we paid to the cashier came back to us in the indulgent smooth and creamy frozen wonders of well thought out flavor pairings, high quality ingredients and artisan craftsmanship that blew us away.

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The same delightful ice creams of your choice are used in sundaes, ice cream floats and whole pint milkshakes if you choose to go that route.

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For a taste of some of the most well made ice cream we have ever experienced, an indulgence at Salt & Straw warrants a visit or two no matter what the weather brings.

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Salt & Straw, 240 North Larchmont Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90004
Phone number (323) 466-0485     web site – saltandstraw.com