Versailles, recommended to me by Joe Sheehan, is a local mini-chain serving authentic Cuban food and I ate at their location on Venice Blvd in Culver City. The menu is extensive, so I asked the waiter for suggestions, and without hesitating, he pointed to three. Figuring that was a good sign, I went with his pick from the list of pork dishes, lechon asado, pork shoulder marinated in a citrus-based mojo and then roasted for several hours at a low temperature. The meat should pull apart easily with a fork, which it did, and it had been largely trimmed of exterior fat. The sauce was too tart for me to just eat the pork on its own, but the buttery white rice that came with the dish was a perfect complement that cut the acidity of the meat. (I admit I followed the example of the young Cuban kid sitting next to me, who was inhaling a roast chicken dish by mixing everything together on his fork. His meal didn’t stand a chance.) The maduros were insanely good – who needs dessert when you have maduros? They are dessert – and the meal also came with a small cup of black bean soup that was a little bit thin but also not as heavy as most black bean soups I’ve had. I actually went to Versailles with an hour or so to kill before heading to LAX for my redeye and ended up in and out of the restaurant inside of a half-hour. You order, and in a few minutes, the dish is in front of you. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, though.
The rain on Sunday morning meant I could have a regular lunch before going to the MLB complex in Compton. The Waffle, on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, was hopping at noon on Sunday, and as you might imagine, they serve … waffles. They’re Belgian-style in shape, although they’re not as light as true Belgian waffles, which are made by folding beaten egg whites into a waffle batter that contains an absurd amount of butter. These were closer to traditional waffles that had been baked on a Belgian-style waffle iron, so they were on the dense side, and the plain waffle had a subtle taste of vanilla but otherwise tasted a little plain. The “house sausage” was good, not too greasy or too spicy, just solid-average.
The issue of Los Angeles magazine in my room had an article on the area’s twenty top bakeries, which was as clear a call to action as I’ve ever seen. One of the things I dislike most about living in Boston, aside from the permafrost, is the lack of decent bakeries. Aside from a very small number of good shops in Back Bay, we don’t have good ethnic bakeries or good high-end bakeries around here. I do a lot of baking, but there’s a difference between wanting a cookie and making an entire batch. I only made it to two of the twenty shops recommended, in part because one of the options, Amandine in West L.A., is still in business but apparently never open.
La Provence Patisserie, tucked into a strip mall on the south side of West Olympic in Beverly Hills, was more style than substance. Their almond croissant was very good, flaky, not dry, with real (possibly homemade?) almond paste inside, but their big seller, their macaroons, were insanely overpriced ($2 apiece for a tiny sandwich in any of a half-dozen fluorescent colors) and tasted like sugar rather than coconut. There was a clear see-and-be-seen vibe to the place, and since I have no particular need to be seen and no desire to see, that didn’t add anything to the experience.
The Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica was a better bet. They do cupcakes, and despite the name, they do a lot of chocolate cupcakes. I went with the sampler, three mini-cupcakes for $5, so I could try three flavors – mint chocolate chip, black and white, and chocolate raspberry. The first two were just chocolate cupcakes with different kinds of buttercream frosting, while the third cupcake was filled with raspberry preserves and topped with chocolate ganache and a fresh raspberry. The bottom line here is the cupcakes: moist and very dark with a strong cocoa flavor, while not too sweet. You get enough sugar in the frosting, so backing off the sweetness in the cake is the right call. They do have non-chocolate flavors, and their specific varieties depend on the day, but I didn’t see any point in wasting time on something that wasn’t chocolate.