Nora

I’ve somehow wound up with a Saturday morning film reviewing gig on radio (I know, right?!) which has the pleasing bonus of causing me to be up and about way earlier that most Saturday morning foodies. All early opening breakfast spots are mine for the taking!

I’d been wanting to visit Nora since it opened – a Thai cafe serving Thai-inspired brunch meals, that’s a damn sight more exciting than plain old eggs on toast (not to disparage eggs on toast, but I consume A LOT of eggs on toast, change is good and healthy for mind and tum). It’s an extremely visually appealing space, coming across as half coffee spot, half art project, with an overall Scandi blonde wood look and the big table by the front window doesn’t appear to be for customers, instead displaying a tableau of the produce used in the menu. Very striking, although it must make things a bit crowded when there’s a full house.

The second thing you’ll notice after the space is that menu. Warning, it is LIMITED. Two options for vegetarians, out of seven dishes all up. But it’s an interesting menu, with things like smoked fish with nashi, beets and coconut ricotta, and the intriguingly named “Pig From The Ground It’s Raised From” (perhaps a nod to Ben Shewry’s renowned potato cooked in it’s own earth). Everything is just that little bit fancy, down to being served sparkling as the standard water option.

Out of the two vegie friendly options available, I decided to go with the ‘2010’ rice bircher, with longan, jackfruit, toddy palm, coconut and almonds. This was quite a visual and textural experience, being served in a heavy stone bowl, with the mass of purple-black bircher rice supporting crescents of jackfruit, ever so thinly sliced rounds of longan, roughly shaped shavings of coconut, the jelly-ish toddy palm and chopped chunks of almonds. The only component that didn’t really work for me was an unfamiliar nut or seed that had been combined in with the rice bircher and were shaped kind of like a gingko nut. These had an unpleasant texture that felt out of place, particularly in among the smooth creaminess of the bircher.

While I may not return frequently for Nora’s food given the small amount of options for vegies, I definitely will for their excellent coffee which really was gorgeous, perfectly poured with good colour, and not too strong. I’ve just started working in Carlton and Nora is within walking distance, which pleases me no end in terms of afternoon coffee breaks.

While Nora may not have enough on the menu to make regular diners out of those with specialty diets, if you are intrigued by any of their dishes I do recommend giving them a go. Perhaps you’ll even be able to snaffle one of their famous charcoal tarts, but be warned that they only make up to 100 a day, and they’re normally gone by noon!

Nora

156 Elgin Street, Carlton

www.noramelbourne.com

Blintz on Tour: Sage, Los Angeles

As the last stop on my trip, Los Angeles’ food unfortunately had to suffer from the fact that I was COMPLETELY LAID BACK IN SUPER HOLIDAY MODE by this point and was not taking notes as diligently as I should have been. I would have loved to have been able to cry rhapsodic about the first meal I had in town, an enormous stack of pancakes filled with layers of sliced caramel banana goodness which we had at a cafe near my friend Joe’s apartment and was close to the best thing I ate all trip, but I stupidly didn’t do the simplest thing of taking down the cafe’s NAME (if Joe reminds me I’ll update you all, make no mistake). Another old friend Jess took me out for a whirlwind day where we had brunch at Malibu Farm, which is right on the end of Malibu Pier, which I highly recommend, I had a delicious Thai-style tofu curry called the Vegan Coconut which I scoffed while watching fishermen try their luck outside. We also had an afternoon snack at Superba, an excellent bakery and food store where we shared a gorgeous cinnamon bun that was thick both in cinnamon seams and sticky white icing, and a beautiful little berry and custard tart.

But if there’s one LA restaurant I have to give the proper full-review treatment, it is Sage.

You can’t go far in Los Angeles without being reminded that the entire city rides on the back of the movie business. Sage, an all-vegan bistro that touts itself as “a cruelty-free plant based restaurant that meat eaters AND vegans and vegetarians adore” is apparently owned by Woody Harrelson. And as Joe and I ate our meal we spotted more than a few celebrity faces at other tables. But the real star here is the ENORMOUS menu, featuring purely plant-based bowls of green goodness to big mock meat extravaganzas, and everything in between.

We started with one of the specials, a plate of vegan ‘hot wings’ – fried cauliflower pieces that had been generously slathered in thick red hot sauce. They’re not lying about hot either (this is AMERICA, hot sauce is SERIOUS BUSINESS), I was glad I’d had the forethought to order a bourbon-heavy cocktail so I could gulp away the burn. With two pots of dipping sauce and sticks of celery and carrot to boot, this was a good-sized entree.

Next was the BBQ pineapple pizza: spicy housemade maple syrup barbeque sauce with grilled pineapple, Follow Your Heart mozzarella, with breaded seitan chicken. This was probably my fave, because how can you go past PIZZA especially when it has big chunks of well-seasoned mock chicken and pineapple all over it (pineapple on pizza haters TO THE LEFT).

Doubling our carbs, we also had the tuna melt sandwich: jackfruit tuna salad, heirloom tomato, avocado, iceberg lettuce, grilled red onion and mustard with spicy cashew cheese, with a side of spicy dill pickle slices and homemade potato chips. I was a little bit disappointed with this, I had a different idea of what texture the jackfruit would lend to the mock tuna and it was just a bit off from what I was expecting, which was clearly entirely my fault. But I love the idea of mock sandwiches, especially if they get served with crispy potato chips, so I would definitely recommend trying one of Sage’s many sarny options.

If I were to visit Sage again – and my goodness I really do hope I get to do so – I would probably not go as carb heavy and maybe have another of the pizzas alongside one of their salads or taco options, as by the end of this meal Joe practically had to roll me outta there. But oh, it was so very worth it, and the perfect way to cap my North America trip. Thanks Woody.

Sage

4130 Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City

Ph: +1 424 228 5835

www.sageveganbistro.com

Blintz On Tour: Craftsman and Wolves, San Francisco

CAKE. That is all we really care about, in the depths of our souls (people who profess to not like cake just haven’t found the right one, don’t worry they’ll catch up one day). I had been recommended Craftsman and Wolves by my friend Jess who had spent some time living in San Francisco and assured me that there was no better venue in town for baked treats.

Craftsman and Wolves puts itself forward as a modern patisserie.  The choice of ‘craftsman’ in the cafe’s name is deliberate to express the respect and dedication to the craft of creating sweet pastry delights. SOUNDS LIKE MY KIND OF JAM. The interior of the store was very impressive and inspired in me instant goodwill – lots of dark wood paneling and wide, golden-lit displays cabinets filled with pastry treats, set up just the right way to encourage optimum ogling.

There were many sweet delights to choose from, but rather than err on the side of something familiar, I decided to have something alongside my coffee that I hadn’t experienced before, and the cube cakes fit the bill. Cube cakes are apparently a bit of a Craftsman and Wolves specialty – perfectly squared cubes of cake that look like the consistency of mousse from the outside.

I went for an apple one, a perfect cube, colour like a sandy pebble, crowded with a semicircle slice of apple that had been poached to the point that it was bright red, like a sliver of blood moon, with a tiny mound of crunchy spiced sugar for the apple crescent to sit on.

Dipping a fork in (and it really is like dipping, the cake is so soft there is only the merest resistance, I have no idea how this thing retains it’s structural integrity), the texture was really similar to mousse with only the merest crumb fluffing. In the middle was a seam of pureed apple, coming across with a texture sort of akin to almond paste, but smoother. It was, altogether, one of the most enjoyable things I have ever eaten in my goddamn life. I have no clue how it was made, I don’t need to know, I just know it was a perfect cloud of delicious wonder and if you are ever in San Francisco you should plunge your face into one toot sweet.

Craftsman and Wolves

746 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Ph: +1 415 913 7713

www.craftsman-wolves.com