Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Paradise Cove Beach Cafe

My husband and I love the beach, and thankfully, so does our 1-year old son. A typical beach day for us used to mean stopping at Trader Joe’s to fill our cooler bag with food on our way to Point Dume in Malibu. We passed the sign for Paradise Cove multiple times on our journey to and from the beach, and each time I thought, “ I want to go there sometime.” As I do, I looked up yelp reviews, and they looked favorable. Yet, a year or two went by since I originally noticed the Paradise Cove sign, and we still did our typical beach day at Point Dume. That is until last month.

I have now been to Paradise Cove 4 times, and the first time we went there was about a month ago. I think you can say we now have a new beach routine that consists of going straight to Paradise Cove, enjoying a delicious meal at the Paradise Cove Beach Café, and then hitting the beach.

This post is mainly about the Café, but let me take a minute to talk about the beach itself. It’s very family friendly. There are usually lots of kids playing in the sand and at the water’s edge. It’s clean, cleaner than most beaches you’ll find in southern California. It’s a beautiful place to go for a walk. Walk to the right, and you’ll see lots of rocks and cliffs. Walk to the left, and you’ll be walking in front of Malibu beach houses. If you’re too lazy to pack a beach chair, they have lounge chairs and beds for rent. What more could you want? Oh, something to eat and drink? The Café has you covered. There’s a “to go” service, which I’ve never used, but you can also eat inside or outside at the restaurant.

You’re going to want to eat at the Café. Parking is $40 if you don’t eat there, but you get 4 hours for only $6 with validation. It’s really silly not to eat at the Café. You’re going to be hungry while you’re there, and after all, the food is good, overpriced (you’re paying for the location), but good.

The first time I went to Paradise Cove, I went with just my husband while my mom babysat our 1-year old. We didn’t want to take him with us until we checked out the location first. We arrived around 4pm. We didn’t have a reservation, but we were given a table outside right away.

Here’s what makes Paradise Cove unique: you can order lobster while sitting at a table with your feet in the sand. And, there’s no dress code. You see everything from people dressed for the beach to business attire. I love it. It’s so California.

On our first visit, we ordered the Smokehouse BBQ Feast which is described on the menu as “a heaping platter of hickory smoked baby back ribs, kobe beef ribs, gourmet sausages and whole smokehouse BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, fresh coleslaw and our golden fries. It came with a loaf of sourdough bread and butter, which was basically what it sounds like it is. My husband was trying not to eat a lot of carbs, so we substituted the corn on the cob and the fries with sugar snap peas and creamed spinach. The sugar snap peas tasted healthy. The creamed spinach was amazing…until I saw an eyelash in it. That made me stop eating it. Let’s assume it was my eyelash…but probably not. I’m not a huge fan of ribs, but my husband liked them. I preferred the chicken and the sausages. It was a lot of food, and we didn’t have a lot of leftovers. Our son wasn’t feeling well the next day, and pretty much the only thing that made him happy was gnawing on the leftover sourdough bread to ease his teething pain. So, even though my son wasn’t with us, he benefited from the visit.

The next time we visited Paradise Cove, we brought our son with us. I was so excited that he was going to be able to sit outside and possibly even play in the sand while we waited for our food. We arrived at noon, and it was crowded. There was a 15 minute wait for a table inside or an hour wait for a table outside. We were hungry, so we decided to just get a table inside. We sat in the entrance and listened to music on the jukebox while we waited.

Even though we weren’t outside, we had a great table. It was right by the windows, and the highchair for my son was set up right at the end, so he could look directly out at the beach. He loved watching all of the beach inside and outside. So, no regrets about eating inside. It was a great experience, but I would still probably prefer to eat with my feet in the sand just for the novelty of it.

On this visit, we ordered the Hot Combo Sampler appetizer platter which is described on the menu as “hickory smoked BBQ baby back ribs, BBQ jumbo shrimp, papa joe’s fried fish, macadamia coconut shrimp, beer battered chicken tenders, crispy calamari and our golden fries.” My favorite part was the coconut shrimp. The fries were really good too. They were baby approved as well. (I know bread and fries aren’t the best for babies. I bring a banana everywhere I go so he has something healthy to eat, but I let him try what we’re eating too. Don’t judge.)

The next time we visited Paradise Cove, I made a reservation for 11am because I wanted to make sure we got a table outside. We arrived a few minutes after 11am, but I told the hostess about the reservation. It wasn’t a problem getting a table outside. I think we actually got the exact table we had on our first visit. The only thing to mention is that I later got an email from OpenTable asking why I never showed up for my reservation. Apparently, the hostess didn’t pay attention to the reservation. It didn’t matter; I just don’t want it to look like I flaked.

My son loved sitting in the highchair outside. He loved looking around at all the people. It seemed like we were in the kid section because there were kids in highchairs at nearby tables too. Like I said, this is a very family friendly place.

This visit was exactly a week after my birthday, so as a late celebration, I decided to splurge and order the Pineapple Mango margarita because it comes in a whole pineapple, and that’s just cool. It was overpriced, but it was quite tasty. The only real negative is that it was cut a little too far down, and the drink was leaking onto the table. Thankfully, we had an extra bread plate, so we just set it on top of that to hold the excess liquid.

My husband was going to order the tacos, but they only have corn tortillas. My husband and I prefer flour tortillas, so the waitress recommended the shrimp quesadilla. My husband wanted a minute to think about it, but I was like “order the quesadilla; it’ll be like Maui.” (If you follow my blog, you’ll remember the shrimp quesadillas I loved in Maui and how I now make shrimp quesadillas at home.) So, he ordered the shrimp quesadilla. We should’ve looked at the menu first though because it’s actually called BBQ Shrimp Quesadilla. I wasn’t expecting the BBQ sauce inside. It wasn’t bad, but next time I’d ask for the BBQ sauce on the side. It’s described on the menu as “3 layers HUGE! Ask Alex.” It’s a 15” tortilla. It really is huge!

I ordered Tim’s Seafood Burger which is described on the menu as “our mixture of crab, shrimp, clams & scallops.” I just thought that sounded unique and awesome. It was definitely a patty made out of seafood. I expected it to be a little bit more crisp somehow. My husband said it tasted a little undercooked. I wouldn’t order it again. Instead of the fries or coleslaw that it usually comes with, I requested a side of fruit. It was really good and refreshing. I gave the strawberry pieces to my son who loves strawberries.

My most recent visit to Paradise Cove was just last week. We noticed a definite change since it was after Labor Day. With kids back in school and vacation season over, the place had less than half the business that it did the visit before. And, we arrived at the same time, 11am. We sat outside again, and we probably had the best table outside. It was right on the edge next to the open beach. We had a great view.

My son loved sitting in his highchair scribbling on the kids’ menu with the provided crayons. Even though only a week or so had passed since our last visit, he had a much better understanding of using the crayons. The visit prior, he just wanted to eat them.

My husband ordered the Free Range Swordfish dinner, and he got it blackened. For his side, he requested fruit. His meal came with sourdough bread, and my son enjoyed snacking on that, but I think he also liked the swordfish. He does love fish. It was very juicy and flavorful but not spicy.

I think I finally found my go-to order. I ordered A Steak Sandwich which was described on the menu as “a filet mignon on sourdough cheese toast with onions & mozzarella.” It’s as good as it sounds, maybe even better. It actually comes on a sourdough roll, not just sourdough toast, and the bread is covered with grilled onions and melted mozzarella. I thought about asking for some mustard, but it was just so good that it didn’t need it. I got fruit for my side. I ate it all. I was so full, but it was just too good not to finish.

Thanks to Paradise Cove, we now have a new beach day usual routine, and I love it. I can’t wait to go back and try more things on their menu. I have my eye on the clam chowder and the chocolate cake. I'd also like to get there early enough to try some items on their breakfast menu. There are about three types of pancakes on the menu where the descriptions make me drool. Maybe next time.

Happy eating!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Masa of Echo Park

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. I gave her several suggestions about things we could do to celebrate, but she just wanted pizza. Originally, she wanted Pizza Hut, but when I told her about Masa, the Chicago-style pizza place in Echo Park that I heard about, she wanted to go there instead. I’m so glad we did.

Most of my life revolves around my baby’s schedule, so we left the valley and headed to Echo Park around 1:30pm, after my son’s nap. By “we” I mean me, my mom, my husband and our 1-year old son. Traffic was light, and Masa was easy to find. We got a metered spot on the street right next to the restaurant and headed inside.

We were greeted at the door. The place was pretty empty except for a couple families. We were given a table right by the window. Our waiter asked if we’d eaten there before, and when we said “no,” he told us that they specialize in Chicago-style pizza and that it takes 40-45 minutes to prepare the pizza. I had read that online, so we were prepared. We took a minute or two to look at the deep dish pizza options and decided to order a large Lots of Meat pizza which is described on the menu as “Masa's Secret Recipe Sweet Italian Sausage & Pepperoni...lots of it.” Our waiter placed our order right away.

We kept our menus to think about an appetizer or something to eat while were waiting. The waiter had already brought out a loaf of bread, which was round and perfectly soft. My son was eagerly munching on pieces of that while we looked at the menus.

Our waiter came back, and when we said we were thinking about ordering dessert as an appetizer, he said that a lot of people order the bread pudding to eat before their pizza arrives. The bread pudding is their specialty. It’s actually called “Warm Croissant Bread Pudding," and it’s described on the menu as "Masa's Signature dessert: chocolate, almond & butter croissants, pan baked in a vanilla custard & drizzled with warm caramel sauce.”

We ended up ordering three desserts. Bread pudding is one of my favorite desserts, so we had to order that. Crème Brulee is my husband’s favorite dessert, so we had to try the Chocolate Silk Crème Brulee which is described on the menu as “Silky, creamy, chocolate custard.” And, since it was my mom’s birthday, she obviously had to pick a dessert. She wanted to try the Classic Cannoli Italiano, which is described on the menu as “Crispy Italian pastry with a chocolate chip ricotta filling.” Basically, we tried every dessert except the carrot cake; we’ll have to try that next time.

The waiter brought out the desserts with a candle in the bread pudding since it was my mom’s birthday. That was sweet of him since we’d only mentioned her birthday in passing. She made a wish, and we all tasted all of the desserts. The bread pudding was my favorite. I mean, just read the description above. What’s not to like? It seemed less like bread pudding and more like the best French toast casserole I’d ever had. I mean that as a compliment. No complaints. My mom usually doesn’t like bread pudding, and she loved it too. I gave my son a few pieces of it, and he eagerly gobbled it up, a huge grin on his face.

The crème brulee was good, but I’m not a huge crème brulee fan. My husband isn’t a huge dark chocolate fan, so since it was dark chocolate crème brulee, it wasn’t his favorite. I think he preferred the bread pudding too.

The cannoli looked small compared to the bread pudding, but I think it was just that the bread pudding was massive. My mom liked it, but she said she wished the filling were a little thicker and the pastry weren’t quite as hard. I mean, obviously you want the pastry to be crisp, but it was kind of difficult to cut it with your fork. I thought the taste was great though. I broke off a little piece for my son. He looked hesitant to taste it at first, but after he did, he got an expression on his face that indicated delight. I think the cannoli was his favorite dessert.

We didn’t mind the wait for the pizza. I admired the décor. I love that the chairs are mismatched, and after seeing their vinyl tablecloths, I want to go out and get one for my house; it reminds me of my grandma’s house. Even the bathrooms were cute and eclectic. They were one-person bathrooms, but they were very clean. They even had the Hawaiian Breeze scented air freshener that I buy for my own house.

My son sat in a high chair that faced a TV screen that was playing an old black and white movie. He loved watching the movie, and he loved the big band music that was playing. He bopped along to the music and waved his arms like a conductor. I’ve never seen a happier baby than he was while waving his arms, a piece of buttered bread in one hand and a piece of bread pudding in the other. (I realize this is not health food, and I do not feed my son like this on a regular basis. He loves fruit and vegetables, but every once in awhile, you just have to splurge. Just sayin.’)

The waiter set up a small table next to our table for the pizza. It was ten huge pieces of thick, juicy deliciousness! I took a quick picture before the waiter served us. I broke off a couple little pieces of pepperoni and crust with a little cheese for my son. Then I dug in. 

In case you’ve never had Chicago-style pizza before, this is definitely pizza that you eat with a fork, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I hadn’t had real Chicago pizza in probably 20 years. (Wow, I feel old.) I grew up in Ohio, and Chicago style is real pizza to me. It’d been way too long. I loved the thick yet crunchy yet soft crust. I loved the thick, oozing, gooey cheese. I loved the mounds of chunky tomato sauce. I loved the pepperoni. 

The sausage was on top in a layer. It wasn’t my favorite. We all agreed that next time we’d get the pizza without sausage, but that’s just personal preference. Believe me, there will be a next time. 

Especially after polishing off three desserts, one piece each was all we could handle. We got a box for the rest.

Our waiter told us that in the future, if we want, we can call ahead, and they can start on our pizza before we arrive. That way we don’t have to wait so long. The only exception is when they’re really crowded. In that case, if they started our pizza before we got there, and if there weren’t a table ready for us when we arrived, our pizza would just get cold sitting in the back. The call ahead option is great to know about, but we really didn’t mind the wait. I mean, we needed time to eat our desserts!

As we drove away, we noticed that we were walking distance from the park that is Echo Park. There’s a beautiful lake with an island in the middle of it. There’s a nice playground, and there are boat rentals. There’s also a walking path around the lake. Next time, I plan to drive to Masa, place my pizza order, and then go for a walk around the lake while the pizza’s baking. Maybe then I’ll be hungry enough to enjoy two pieces!

By the way, the pizza is every bit as good reheated or even cold. We started with 7 leftover pieces, and we’re already down to 3. I don’t think the pizza will survive the rest of the day. Yum!

Happy eating!