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Hidden Gem: Altadena Farmers’ Market

30 Sep

One of the many perks of living in sunny Southern California is the presence of farmers’ markets all year round. I love strolling among the massive white tents filled with beautiful fruits and vegetables picked fresh from the farms. I incorporate seasonal produce into my baked goods whenever I can, and it’s inspiring to know that the ingredients I use come from local growers rather than mass producers in other continents. Take Chuy Mendez of Chuy Berry Farm, one of several top-notch vendors I discovered at The Altadena Urban Farmers’ Market. Chuy grows his berries in hot houses all year round, treating the crops with lime oil and ladybugs rather than pesticides. Mendez tightly manages his 10 acres of land, explaining why his berries are so naturally sweet and plump.  

I visited the Altadena market for the first time last week as an assignment for a feature in my school newspaper. All I can say is I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered this place earlier. The market, which debuted in late May and is less than 10 minutes away from my house, is Los Angeles’s best kept foodie secret. It boasts an impressive list of artisan vendors, including Sqirl Preserves, Plow & Gun Coffee Roasters, and Drake Family Farms Dairy, to name a few. One of my favorite purchases was the Chia Tea and Cashew Brittle from Morning Glory Confections, a local company specializing in refined brittles. Founder Max Lesser creates baked goods such as dense Valrhona Chocolate Brownies and fruit galettes exclusively for the market. The thin chocolate chip cookie, filled with chunks of Lesser’s signature Fleur de Sel and Peanut Brittle, is irresistible. Other things I highly recommend trying are the smoked salmon from Shucked Oyster Bar and the aged “Glacier” Goat cheese from Drake Family Farms. 

The market is sandwiched in between a lush public park and a community garden, away from the traffic and noise of busy L.A. streets. The setting is intimate and relatively quiet compared to better-known markets such as Santa Monica and Hollywood. The smallness enhanced my shopping experience as I was able to comfortably float from one station to the next rather than get run over by double-decker strollers and scraped by reusable grocery bags. The people were so genuine and pleasant to be around, generously offering samples and patiently answering my questions. 

So what are you waiting for? Now it’s your turn to discover this food-lover’s hole-in-the-wall heaven and enjoy it just as much as I did. 

Altadena Urban Farmers’ Market 
Loma Alta Park
3330 North Lincoln Ave.
Altadena, CA 
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Wednesdays, 3-7 p.m.

Proof Bakery L.A.

19 Jul
Proof serves a small selection of European-style sandwiches made with the bakery’s signature Stecca bread. From left: salami, manchego, and chive butter, beet, arugula, and goat cheese, and ham with heirloom tomatoes, gruyere, and grainy mustard.

I have a confession to make. There is this awesome, authentic French bakery tucked into a charming corner of Los Angeles that I have been frequenting for the past year. It’s called Proof and every day, the young, talented staff produces small batches of flaky pastries, thin European sandwiches, and refined desserts. All this time has passed that I have been munching on petite paris-brests and salted caramel tarts and I haven’t told you all about this bakery yet. Well, today is the day, my lovely readers, that you too will learn of this hidden gem of a patisserie.

I first discovered Proof 18 months ago when I interviewed the owner and creator, Na Young Ma, for an article in my student newspaper. Na Young is an alumnae of my high school and a firm believer in hand-crafted baked goods sourced from the highest quality, seasonal ingredients available. She purchases fresh fruits and vegetables every week from local farmers’ markets and serves artisan coffee from one of L.A.’s finest roasters: Cognoscenti Coffee. You cannot go wrong with any item on the menu, but some of my favorites include the Valrhona Chocolate Chip Cookie, the Almond Frangipane Shortcake with seasonal fruits and whipped cream, the Yogurt Cheesecake, and the Flourless Chocolate Torte. On the savory side: I adore the sandwiches, especially the Heirloom Tomato with Double Cream Brie and Basil. Sandwich offerings change daily and tend to sell out quickly, so I recommend arriving right at noon for an early lunch.

One of the limited-time selections at Proof includes this Devil’s food cake layered with milk chocolate ganache, whipped cream, and caramelized bananas. 

Walking into Proof is like entering a cozy bakery on a side street of Paris except with a hip, SoCal influence. The interior contains tiny marble tables and wobbly bistro chairs and a blackboard displays the menu options, hand-written in chalk. The front staff are pleasant and always willing to answer questions. The bakery is located on Glendale Blvd., in an up-and-coming neighborhood of Los Angeles called Atwater Village. The street hosts a handful of cute stores along with a famers’ market every Sunday, ideal for browsing on a lazy afternoon. 

Oh, and one more thing, just in case you aren’t convinced yet. The granola is incredible- the only one I eat. It has ended my search for the perfect granola and has inspired me to replicate the recipe on my own. 

Proof Bakery 
3156 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 664-8633
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Tuesday-Sunday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Closed Mondays 

Best Gelato in LA: Bulgarini

28 Mar

          Bulgarini Gelato, a modest shop tucked inside the alley way of a strip mall in Altadena, CA, may be the reason I never eat store-bought ice cream again. The gelato from this hole-in-the-wall store blew me away. Husband-and-wife team Leo Bulgarini and Eliabeth Foldi select the finest ingredients from around the world for their products, starting with milk from Broguiere’s Dairy in Montebello, CA. Unlike traditional ice cream, which contains 18-22% milk fat, Bulgarini’s gelato hosts only 2-4% milk fat. The low fat concentration allows the high-quality nuts, fruits, and chocolates to take center stage. The acclaimed pistachio gelato tastes like an handful of aromatic pistachios, hand-picked and imported from Sicily, have been freshly ground into each bite. The rich dark chocolate gelato is sophisticated and sinful all at once. The goat’s milk with cocoa nib gelato is earthy but not overbearing. 
          A small serving at Bulgarini starts at three golf-ball-sized scoops, forcing you to choose from a plethora of possible flavor groupings. If you become as overwhelmed as I was during my decision process, the patient and friendly staff will surely answer any questions you have. They are generous with samples and describe each flavor in detail to ensure that you enjoy your experience to the fullest. With its amiable employees and incredible gelato, Bulgarini is simply without parallel in L.A. 

Bulgarini Gelato 
749 E. Altadena Dr. 
Altadena, CA 91001
(626) 791-6174
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Monday-Thursday, 12 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Sundays, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

One of the Best Cakeries In LA: Sweet Lady Jane

2 Feb
A slice of Sweet Lady Jane’s signature triple berry shortcake. Three layers of airy, moist yellow butter cake separated by fluffy whipped cream and fresh berries.
          If you have not visited Los Angeles’s acclaimed Sweet Lady Jane, you are missing out on an incredible experience. This sunny city hosts a number of wonderful dessert shops, all so different and delicious in their own way that I cannot select one as my absolute favorite. What I can conclude, though, is that Sweet Lady Jane ranks in the top three on my list of best patisseries. 
          This cozy bakery offers a wide array of items from hearty loaves of homemade bread to rustic seasonal fruit pies, but its specialty is by far the cakes. With a variety of decadent flavors such as four-layer German chocolate, coconut with vanilla buttercream, and buttermilk red velvet with cream cheese frosting, choosing which cake to sample presents a considerable feat. It is virtually impossible to go wrong with any option however, as each recipe has been perfected over the 24 year period the bakery has been open. 
          Over the years, as new businesses moved in and out of the desirable retail spaces on Melrose Avenue, Sweet Lady Jane stood its ground. This homey, English cottage-style shop has become an LA staple, a go-to destination both for its magnificent baked goods and its irresistible charm.

Good Eats: Umami Burger

11 Aug

Juicy, angus beef patty, thin, paper-like parmesan crisp, sauteed wild mushrooms, and a watery, char-grilled tomato slice all pressed together within an airy, lightly-toasted brioche bun. That is what the first bite of an Umami burger tastes like. Their signature sandwich harmoniously combines these individually-distinct flavors into a single, heavenly dish. Each burger on Umami’s menu is carefully-assembled, incorporating various unusual tastes to create a brilliant final product. Featured in today’s Los Angeles Times food section, Umami has five locations within Los Angeles, each restaurant with its own original decor and ambience. During our visit, my family and I sampled the Umami, SoCal, and Earth burgers. All three exceeded my expectations. With its trademark beef, crunchy butter lettuce, savory house spread, and sweet, caramelized onions, the SoCal burger ranked highest on my list of menu recommendations. The pleasant, attentive service heightened the experience as each server patiently explained the menu items and enthusiastically answered any questions I had. I highly recommend Umami for its ideal mix of fresh, quality ingredients with new, innovative pairings that will surely leave you craving for more.