Zapien’s Mexican Delicacies

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With Chef Marco Zapien presiding over the Grand Reopening of Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria in Pico Rivera, customers are guaranteed a delectable adventure through a wide variety of regional Mexican specialties. Named the best Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles seven times, Marco has a lot to be proud of and he took time out of his extremely hectic schedule to demonstrate the steps that go into the creation of their well regarded chile verde. The dish of tender pork cubes braised in tomatillo salsa is crafted with a melange of chili peppers, herbs, spices and the distinctly tart tomatillos, often referred to as Mexican green tomatoes.

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The restaurant’s menu is loaded with exceptionally flavorful dishes starting with a mildly spicy chipotle bean dip that is as addictive as any we have ever had the pleasure of digging into. And that’s just the beginning.

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Freshly made guacamole satisfies brightly with its use of perfectly ripe avocado, tomato, onion, and cilantro.

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The secret to the success of Zapien’s dishes is integrating only the freshest ingredients including the savory tortillas prepared throughout the day. Everything is made in house, so be sure not to miss the salsa ranchera which can be used to add a spicy dash of invigoration.

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Their potato tacos burst forth with an abundance of shredded lettuce, cheese and a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes. We love this refreshing interpretation that elevates the staple potato tacos to a higher level of refinement and gusto.

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The enticing artistry and scrumptious flavors of Zapien’s Enchilada en Mole, tantalize with chipotle braised chicken, freshly prepared corn tortillas, a slathering of their specialty mole poblano salsa and a creative drizzle of sour cream.  This rich and complex dish has us singing Chef Marco’s praises to everyone we meet.

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The extensive menu highlights Zapien family recipes including chiles rellenos, fajitas, carne asada and sopes to name just a few. Your favorite Mexican dishes are sure to be found here with Chef Marco’s innovative spins and traditional interpretations. For those as taken with the cuisine as we are, Zapien offers cooking demonstrations, each with a different theme.  The price of these classes include techniques, tips, all you can eat tastings and drink specials throughout the evening.

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When dining with the Zapien family, be sure not to miss the comforting and dense bread pudding with caramel sauce. It is a treat best savored slowly with coffee or tea for a satisfying end to a memorable meal.

Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria is located at 6702 Rosemead Boulevard in Pico Rivera.

Turkish Treasure

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The hard to find cuisine of Turkey has a new roving venue in Kuzine Foods Co., brought to us by Los Angeles and Orange County caterers extraordinaire, Eda Akarsu Smith and Hülya Nigar Aksu.

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The authentic flavors and dishes of their homeland are tastefully presented, allowing those planning parties to set a beautifully hospitable Turkish table.

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The exceptional baking skills of the Kuzine chefs is evident with each mouthwatering bite of the freshly baked traditional Turkish breads.

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Açma sometimes referred to as Turkish bagels, come plain or stuffed with Nutella, an inspired melding of sweet and savory.  Poğaça, often sold by street vendors, are stuffed with cheese, olive or potato as well as served plain wth tea at breakfast or as a snack. Catal, are a slightly sweet and savory pretzel shaped pastry that is also great for breakfast or snacks with tea.

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The Borek of Kuzine is loaded with tender spinach and tangy feta that simply melts in your mouth.  It is our dream snack and honestly we have been having a hard time finding versions this tasty anywhere in Los Angeles.

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Tabouli from Kuzine Foods is a well balanced mix of greens, onion, tomato, dressing and a sprinkling of bulgur, making for a most refreshing salad we could eat all day long.

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Cemen, a spicy red spread, explodes with the famous Turkish red pepper paste, tomato paste, ground walnuts, olive oil, garlic, cumin and bread crumbs.  This famous dish is not to be missed for its traditional taste of Turkey.

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Refreshing salads and starters abound on the vast meze table presented by these talented kitchen enchantresses.

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After salads and appetizers, the Turkish table is famous for its kebab and meatballs.

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Formed patties and skewered meats are available in a variety of styles based on what the host feels will be best for each particular event Kuzine will be catering.

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And of course no meal is complete without a sweet and what better way to finish off a meal than with flakey, butter layers of walnut baklava.

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For a new spin on a dinner party or event, the traditional preparations of the mesmerizing cuisine of Turkey is presented with grace and exceptional skill by the highly recommend Kuzine Foods Co., www.kuzinefoods.com    818-484-0757

 

 

 

Ramadan Celebrations

It is with immeasurable sadness and compassion regarding the continued attacks on Turkey, that we send prayers to all those suffering and choose to forge ahead with open hearts and minds. We desire to learn and share our personal experiences during the holy month of Ramadan which ends today, July 5, 2016.

Ramadan each year corresponds as closely as possible to the month Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received the Qu’ran from God. During this most sacred time of year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, observing with no food or liquids, from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, allowing the devout to contemplate their relationship to God and focus on positive attributes of the human experience. It is not only an introspective time, but also quite festive, with Iftar (breaking of the daily fast), welcoming a spirit of celebration among family and friends.

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We were fortunate to partake in an Iftar celebration at Orkide in Gaziantep, Turkey. The restaurant and patisserie is committed to perfecting their craft, as evidenced through a vast array of awe-inspiring fresh pastries, sweets, baklava and colorful puddings.

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Led to beautifully set tables, we could barely control our excitement as we began the memorable experience of a traditional Iftar dinner. A wide variety of meze (appetizers and salads) are laid out and we joyfully united with the Muslim patrons prior to sunset, awaiting the evening prayer call which signals the beginning of the meal just as the sun dips below its horizon.

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The Turkish table, especially in Gaziantep, is renowned for its meze, and we were dazzled by small plates of herb based salads, the freshest vegetables, olives, cheese, pickled dishes, savory stuffed pastries called borek, nuts, dried and stewed fruits, a rich clotted cream called kaymak and some of the freshest breads we have ever tasted.  Orkide is at the top of their game in this arena offering soup, refreshing greens and a full table top of traditional starters to the delight of guests.

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Another uniquely Turkish dish we have fallen deeply in love with is the cig kofte (pictured above), a bulgur, herb and spice mix formed into distinct peaked portions that diners douse with fresh lemon juice and roll in lettuce leaves, before biting into each spicy, refreshing packet.

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The main course changes nightly, but is always hearty and followed by their delectable sweets assortment.

We are huge fans of Orkide for their extensive talents showcasing Turkish cuisine, along with an infinite willingness to open their arms to those of us hungry to learn about their abundant table of delicacies. Thank you to the Turkish people and Orkide for sharing with us the heart of Ramadan celebrations and the true nature and generosity of the religion that encourages the best qualities of mankind through love, hospitality and a spirituality that nourishes in every way.

Orkide Pastanesi – Four locations in Gaziantep, please visit the web site to find the location most easily accessible to you.

Empanada Oasis

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We love empanadas and fortunately there are a number of choices in LA to get our fix.  We were excited to check out Nonna’s Empanadas which sits right across the street from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, convenient right?

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The charming sidewalk cafe is a lovely spot to watch the world go by while chowing down on some seriously tasty hand held treats.  At least that’s how they tell us to eat them.

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We definitely found our favorites, but of course everyone has their own taste.  One thing is for sure, you are going to want the chimichurri served along side.  This herby mix includes garlic, olive oil and whatever other secret ingredients only the chef knows for sure.  What we know is that we love the fresh grassy herb taste and put it on just about everything with stunning results.

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If you are feeling a bit spicy try the hot version, which definitely adds a kick to any empanada you choose to slather it on.

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Our absolute favorite empanada is the mushroom, an impressive mix of mushrooms, onion, garlic and cheese that Nonna’s knocks out of the park.  We could eat this little bundle of joy every day.  Click on the mushroom link above to get the recipe straight from Nonna herself.

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Another winner is the Cubano with its mix of pork, ham, mustard, provolone cheese and pickles.  We love the variety of international flavors represented here.

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Since we adore spicy we went for the chicken and jalapeño which is made with dark meat, onions, red peppers, olives, egg and of course jalapeño.  We added the spicy sauce to this one and realized how grateful we are for businesses that embrace spicy food.

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Nonna’s offers a number of salads to accompany the baked pockets of goodness.  We were fully refreshed by both the quinoa and the Greek salad.

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We shared three empanadas and two salads combing our order into one of their specials for a great deal.  Combo #1 includes 3 empanadas and a soda for $9.99, Combo #2 is two empanadas plus a salad and a soda for the same $9.99.

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They also serve the Argentinean sweet, alfajores, which are delights of dulce de leche (caramelized milk) sandwiched between two shortbread cookies.  If you like it sweet you will love this version.

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If cookies aren’t your style they also serve sweet empanadas in flavors that include, apple, banana, dulce de leche, cheesecake, chocolate, guava and nutella.

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Since we get a free drink with our meal we decided to live like Argentinians and try the cold Yerba Mate Sparkling Classic Gold.  This light, mildly bubbly beverage is just a little sweet and at first sip is reminiscent of ginger ale, then it takes a turn into a herbal finish.  Made from the leaves of the South American rainforest holly tree, it is naturally caffeinated and many believe it to have healing properties.  We don’t know how healing it is, you’ll have to ask a doctor across the street, we just love the taste.

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For a convenient, economic and quick lunch, dinner or snack, Nonna’s offers a nice spot to take a load off.  They also cater and sell empanadas by the dozen for $38.00.   Another sweet oasis in the middle of our very busy city.

Nonna’s Empanadas, 8570 W 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048                        Phone – 310-385-0445     web site – nonnasempanadas.com

 

 

Smoke On The Alley

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Delightful treasures can be found in the most unlikely of places, today’s find lies down a back alley near Pico and Robertson.  Elias Kabob is located in the parking lot directly behind Elias Kosher Meat Market at 8829 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.  The little window at the back of the building is often obscured by parked cars, but follow the smokey aroma of burning mesquite bricks and you will be led to the exact spot you want.

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There are no tables or chairs, this is strictly a to go deal.  The Persian menu offers mesquite charcoal grilled beef, chicken and fish kebabs served with either white or green (dill) rice, a vegetable kebab, fresh cucumber and tomato salad, lavash bread and includes a soda or bottle of water.

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Most of the overflowing plates run from $6 to $12 and are prepared to order so they are fresh, fresh, fresh.  Call ahead and let them know what you want if you don’t care to wait 10 to 15 minutes, or shop the front market for a wide assortment of Kosher delights while they cook your order to perfection.

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Today I chose the spicy chicken wings, a bargain at $6, and as tonight is the first evening of Passover, I was given matzoh instead of the lavash flat bread they usually serve.  If it’s important to you, the meal is Kosher, but regardless of your religious affiliations they put out a mean grilled plate here.  The slightly spicy, smokey chicken drumettes were juicy and a sublime complement to the char-edged grilled vegetables and heavily dill laden rice.

The back of the menu lists catering options with Persian, American and Moroccan dishes available for your next big soiree.  The charming staff are always smiling and happy to help.

Elias Kabab is located directly behind Eliass Kosher Meat Market which can be found at 8829 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019.  A drive around the corner and into the alley will land you in front of the tiny kitchen.  The phone for Elias Kabob is 310-246-9518 while the phone number for Eliass Meat Market is 310-278-7503.

The smoke here is intoxicating and fortunately you don’t need a prescription to indulge.

L’Chaim.