Rustic Canyon

Last night, Will and I finally made it to the west side for dinner. We’d been meaning to try out Rustic Canyon ever since we found out Jeremy Fox was now cooking there. It seemed like a good idea, since he’s been known to cook creative vegetable-heavy dishes and it wouldn’t be a stretch for Rustic Canyon to do some vegan dishes.


We started off with the marinated olives and marcona almonds.  The almonds flavored with sugar and lavender are said to be one of Fox’s signature dishes and it’s no wonder why. What at first smelled like a bowl of potpourri turned out to be a bowl of addictive, strangely spiced almonds.  The olives marinated with fennel, orange, and garlic were also a nice surprise. Everywhere in LA has a bowl of marinated olives now, so we were expecting more of the same, but something made these olives taste really bright and different.

DSCF1511 The beets and berries, as suggested by our server, was a slightly different take on the ubiquitous beet salad.  The dressing was overly acidic for my taste, and I like pretty sour stuff. It could have been balanced out had there been more avocado in the salad.  The addition of mint gave it an unexpected pop which I liked.

DSCF1514I also had the squid ceviche: a quirky combination of squid and melon that actually worked.  The squid was gently poached in salted water, so not a traditional ceviche.  Each piece was perfectly tender, and the entire dish was dressed well with a good balance of acid and richness from the sauce below the squid. I also liked the slightly sweet pickled slices of chili pepper.

DSCF1509We also had the focaccia with burrata and eggplant caponata. While good as a plate of bread and cheese, it wasn’t as successful as focaccia.  The top of the focaccia didn’t seem done enough and the bread was denser in the middle than I expected.  It seemed like the dough wasn’t given enough time to rise, or something.  I’m not usually one to complain about a dish to the restaurant, as long as it’s edible, but since the server asked how the bread was, I told him the truth. He assured me that this was a different “style” of focaccia, since focaccia differs from region to region and that it was meant to be rustic.  Fine. We’ve had focaccia up and down the west coast of Italy and this was not like any of the different focaccia in any region we visited.

Not pictured was a chickpea stew with tomato sauce which was really good, vegan, and tasted amazingly like meatballs with red sauce.



We also had a bread stew with tomato sauce, which tasted similar to the chickpea stew. This would have been a safe dish if not for the basil kimchi on top.  It was really spicy and unexpected, and gave what would have been a boring dish a little zing.

One of the hardest decisions of the night was picking between the Tcho chocolate cake or a scoop of sweet corn ice cream. The sweet corn ice cream won out and it was so good I don’t regret it at all.  The slightly salty, creamy, corn taste was exactly what I had pictured when I read it on the menu.  It was so good, I didn’t want to waste any time taking a photo of it.

My feeling about Rustic Canyon is a little mixed. I over heard the staff say that Fox wasn’t in the kitchen that night, so it might have been attributed to that, but I thought some of the dishes didn’t seem that balanced and leaned toward the too much acid side.  And while most of the dishes were good, nothing really blew my socks off.  I couldn’t help feeling that this was a case of a good chef and a good restaurant but neither being a good fit with each other.

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Breakfast Like a Shanghailander

sh_breakfast 6Step 1: Locate the breakfast spot, usually in a residential alley. Telltale signs are giant, bubbling pots, a charcoal oven with a huge bamboo steamer basket of rice over it, a precarious deep fryer with golden sticks of airy you tiao sticking out of the fry basket, and a counter dusted with flour.  We were lucky that the proprietors of our go-to spot was always shaping fresh dough for deep frying.
sh_breakfast 5Step 2: Order a piece of fried dough, most likely a you tiao and a bowl of savory soy milk.  I went to one place where the server gave me a bowl with all the savory toppings and some vinegar already in it. Then she fetched a steaming ladle full of fresh soy milk and poured it into the bowl so that the soy milk congealed on the spot.  Don’t forget to dip the you tiao into the soy milk.

sh_breakfast 3

Step 3: Also try out the fresh silken tofu. This is a more congealed form of the soy milk.  The savory toppings often contain green onion, pickled vegetables, tiny dried shrimp, and soy sauce.  You tiao also goes well in here if you tear it off into bite sized pieces to soak up the salty broth.

sh_breakfast 1Step 4: Order a rice hash brown (chi fan gao) for the road. It’s best to order this on your way out, because it is perfect straight out of the fryer. The outer layer of crunch is a perfect envelope to the sticky, dangerously hot rice packed in the middle.


Protip: If you’re vegetarian, you can order the savory items without the dried shrimp.


Dune — Frank Herbert never ate so good


I admit to being surprised about Scott Zwiezen’s newly opened restaurant in Atwater Village. The chef that I associate with Elf Cafe is known to be an advocate of raw, vegan and vegetarian cuisine. His new venture is not in Echo Park, is not completely vegetarian nor raw. Instead, it’s middle eastern food in the form of sandwiches and is a lot more casual.

Dune soft-opened on Sunday, January 18th with the bare minimum: three types of sandwiches, two house-made drinks, and a counter to lean against while you eat your sandwich. Tucked between a dance studio and a juice bar, it offers food that’s as easy on the conscience as it is on the palate.

Zwiezen wanted the food at Dune to speak for itself. Gone is the baggage and stereotype that comes with the labels ‘raw’ and ‘vegetarian’, which can intimidate people from trying a restaurant. With the lamb and soon-to-arrive fish on the menu, Zwiezen hopes to attract people who would otherwise shy away from an all vegetarian menu.

Multiple diners in line were overheard ordering the falafel sandwich, which is no surprise, as it’s one of the best falafel sandwiches I’ve had. The deep fried balls of chopped chickpea are held together without flour, which will please the anti-gluten crowd as long as they order it sans pita. Unfortunately, ordering it without the pita also means you will miss out on the cooked-to-order pita bread that’s made in house.


While the falafel sandwich is a no-brainer, the delicious beet sandwich was unexpected. What sounds on paper like an average beet salad served between two slices of bread was actually a playful combinations of flavors and textures. The earthiness of the beets was tamed by the briny pickle and onions, and further balanced with the rich yolk of the medium-boiled eggs. The tangy garlic sauce added a nice pungency to each sweet, savory, and tangy bite. I would say that this sandwich is easy to customize as vegan if certain elements were left out, but that would be ruining the combination that makes this a winner.


To wash down the sandwiches, there’s also house-made root soda, which has dandelion, lapsang souchong, and a few other ingredients. It’s just sweet enough, with a slightly herbal fragrance. Fair warning though, no beverage in the restaurant will help your garlic breath afterward, so bring some breath mints if you care.

To those bookworms: yes the restaurant’s name was inspired by Frank Herbert’s magnum opus.

3143 Glendale Blvd.
Atwater Village