Levon's Obsessions

A gal whose obsessions lie within fat, sugar, carbs, caffeine, and beverages that could strengthen the heart or seal up a womb.

Impromptu El Torito Stop in Bakersfield, CA

After an epic fail of driving all the way out to a popular Bakersfield foodie favorite – Wool Growers, only to find out that it was closed for dinner, I ended up at an old faithful. El Torito is a very popular chain in CA and actually has pretty good food. Tonight was no different. To accommodate my massive appetite…


I naturally went with their most massive appetizer.  It consisted of Adobo Chicken & Avocado Rolls, Habanerno Wings,  Taquitos Rancheros, cheese quesadilla, beef tostaditas, and guacamole.  In addition to the tray of Mexican awesomeness, Tony added a bit of flair to the Latin cuisine moment with his superb bartending appeal.

So if you ever venture out into Bakersfield prior to 6:00pm and the “wool” is not “growing” on the eastside and you can take Mexican over Basque, then play it safe and head over to El Torito.


A Fairytale Martini – Yosemite Ranch, Fresno

Before I begin to dissect my visit at this local Fresnoan restaurant, let me just begin by saying this had to be the most incredible womanly martini I’ve ever had in my life.  I don’t even know how it got ordered because in all honesty I had my heart set on a nice dry glass of white wine.  None-the-less the Lemon Chiffon Martini made it’s way to my table, later to my stomach, and was absolutely amazing.   image

It had whipped cream flavored vodka and lemon juice.  I’m sure you expected me to name a series of ingredients.  Well you can put your smartphones back in your pocket and not worry about Googling the 19 rare ingredients you were anticipating me to name.  It didn’t pack the overbearing sweetness of a cheesy Pucker-rich cocktail nor did it bare any sour mix or any of that filler jazz.  It wasn’t screwface sweet, but instead light and smooth with a blatant zest of lemon.  It was the beginning to a beautiful story of a girl who wanted salmon…


..and she got it, and was in bliss with a fairytale ending.  No elaborate details, more like a kindergarten bedtime storybook.  The dish was their Butter Braised Salmon served with fresh spinach pan sautéed over a wonderfully roasted filet of salmon in vermouth, atop some rich, creamy golden mashed potatoes.  The mushrooms and shredded vegetables were a nice touch also.  My experience at Yosemite Ranch in Fresno was very simple.   Although the establishment was franchise-busy, it had a few calming trinkets to balance it out such as their indoor fire pit… imageTheir waitstaff were pleasant, seasoned (no pun) and most importantly confident.  I’m not sure which is worse, food that lacks flavor or waitstaff that do.  Yosemite Ranch started my workweek in Fresno off right and I think I will have sweet dreams tonight.  Goodnight kids.

Addams Family Meets Old West Bordello – Cowboy Ciao, Phoenix

Someone at Cowboy Ciao in Phoenix must have a hook-up with Amy Farges -aka- Aux Delices Des Bois and therefore went absolutely bananas with the grocery list when they concocted this mushroom infested dish.  None-the-less my psychologically-induced decision to beeline to their take-out counter from my terminal inevitably cost me $26 as opposed to what should’ve been $3 for a bottle of water.  I had every intention of grabbing a Fiji or Pellegrino from a nearby newsstand and heading straight to the gate since I still harbored all the shame and guilt from Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately my food obsession clouded all airport judgement and rationale, and therefore my sound reasoning was destroyed within seconds.

Minutes later I found myself drawn to this “Addams Family Meets Old West Bordello” restaurant and was completely engulfed in their menu.  Or at least that’s how one of their guests described it.  Interestingly enough, out of all the considerably decent menu selections, yours truly landed on the one menu item that had about a hundred different types of mushrooms in it.  The Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry…Image

It consisted of a perfect blend (or entirely overwhelming, depending on your level of obsession) of cremini, button, oyster, cepe, lobster, black trumpet, shiitake, morel, and yellow foot mushrooms in ancho cream over double-cooked polenta, topped with grilled portabellini, avocado, Roma tomato and cotija cheese.  Lucky for me, I have a vast appreciation for mushrooms.  Seriously.  I do.

The words that I would use to describe the sauteed mushrooms would probably segue into a link to another type of site where you would probably be forced to click on your birthdate… I’ll just play it safe and say it was Napa Valley on a plate for mushroom lovers and enthusiasts.  It was truly a mushroom lover’s fairytale.

Initially my unwillingness to negotiate the pairing of anything else with this fungi extravaganza made me skeptical.  Tomatoes, avocado and cheese? Will it be loose polenta or formed?  And exactly how much of this triangular polenta will be swimming at the bottom of this sea of caps?  These are the questions that bounced around in my head as I looked once and then twice over the menu, ultimately knowing in the back of my mind that it would boomerang directly back to the shroom dish.

So approximately 2.5 minutes later I placed my order.  Within 7 minutes my Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry came out, in addition to the bottle of Fiji water that was supposed to be my meal. And just to keep the “why stop here” caloric party going I had the lovely cashier throw in a slice of their famous Birthday Cake cake to satisfy an imaginary sweet tooth that I somehow developed in the midst of my mushroom excitement.  The exotic mushroom dish was expectedly bold in flavor due to all the various shrooms, the garnishes were surprisingly complimenting, and the polenta definitely added a bit of texture for a fitting balance overall to the entree.  The Birthday Cake left me feeling shameful and guilty, however stimulated in all the right foodie areas.  I quickly washed down all the evidence with my bottle of Fiji water and headed to my gate for my next adventure.

So there you have it folks, Old West Bordello and an exotic mushroom carnival at an airport terminal near you (Terminal B of Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l Airport more specifically). If you are a lover of mushrooms and all things unexpected yet good, you should probably come here.

Post Juanita Didn’t Disappoint – Baker’s, Detroit

You know your foodie chord has been touched when you start writing at the table where your food sits. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit is forcing me to do just that. For starters, I couldn’t wait to have the stereotypical debate about what real soul food is, given my southern North Carolinian roots and expectations, but I also couldn’t wait to see what their soul food menu was going to entail.  Contrarily, Baker’s showed me the midwestern side of southern cuisine and pushed me into a nostalgic place that wreaked of House of Prayer on Beatties Ford Rd in Charlotte, NC circa 1996.


After downing a plate of fried chicken wings, baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread, all I can say is post-Juanita did not disappoint. Juanita was the old cook that left within the last year and caused quite a stir due to her soulful culinary gift to mankind. I am here to tell all Livernois locals, there is no need to fear. Juanita’s recipes are still in tact.  So stop by when you’re in town for a little bit of live jazz, but more importantly some good ol’ post-Juanita soul food, and some extremely generous pours on the spirits. Cheers!

Max’s Cheesesteaks – Philadelphia, PA

Once you put on your hood blinders and bypass all the hood antics and foolery taking place outside of Max’s on Germantown and Eerie, all of your lunchtime dreams will come true. Whether you’re coating your liquor drenched stomach from the night before, or fulfilling your midweek cheesesteak craving, this is your place in Philly. In my case I was doing both. I watched Kyree (sp?) work his grill magic..


I exchanged a few words with the really pleasant lady cashier, allowed the music blaring over from the bar area to demotivate me for my remaining workload, and quickly headed out. I sat in my car, opened my massive 7″ sub and went to town.


I’m not sure who does the measuring at this place but I love them. The 13″ (I mean 7″) sub that I unwrapped like a kid on Xmas, was out of this world. Mr “alright, alright, alriiiiiiiiight” himself -aka- Kevin Hart was right. Max’s on Germantown truly does have the best cheesesteaks in Philly. If not in the country, truthfully.

Happy Hour Obsession of The Week – Pele’s, Jacksonville FL

With entrees like slow roasted kaluah pig, salted duck pizza, and broken meatballs I knew I’d be foolish enough to try this place. A spectacular fool’s choice it turned out to be as well as wallet-friendly, but foolish-sounding initially.

Whether you’re going on Magnifico Mondays, Ladies Night Wednesdays, or any day between 3-6:30pm, Pele’s Wood Fire has a pretty awesome happy hour amongst other things.  The biggest treat of all being the Wood-Fired Limoncello Wings.

Wood-Fired Limoncello Wings with shaved parmesan, crushed red pepper, oregano, and orange zest $3.95, Chardonnay $4.00

The wings were incredible, the sauce was amazing, and the shaved parmesan did more justice than damage.  The human element of the dining experience consisted of an “at home, in your favorite cousin’s living room” personal element, with a “I have been serving patrons for years and could do this with my eyes closed” level of customer service.  The service was impeccable, and the place was cozy with a really familiar vibe.

The food was actually in-house, and as one would imagine, local produce made for some really fresh ingredients being both refreshing and delightful.

I actually enjoyed,  and was so much impressed with the happy hour offerings that I stayed long enough for dinner.  I got another glass of white wine and ordered the Croxetti Pesto.

Pesto Croxetti with spinach, caramelized onions, pine nuts and pecorino romano in a white wine reduction

It had a great presentation, the portion wasn’t massive which really allowed you to carefully consider all of the ingredients, the sauce was flavorful but not overpowering, and the pasta was fresh.  It was incredible.

All in all, I would unquestionably list this experience at Pele’s Wood Fire as the Happy Hour Obsession of The Week, not-to-mention one of my Top Obsessions.  If you have an uncompromising palate for fresh pasta for dinner, or if it’s after work and you have $10 to spare, this modern Italian-American spot would be an excellent choice in the Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville.

The $2,499 Coffee Maker

So last weekend I had to work in Westchester NY, and had the pleasure of stumbling upon the Bentleys of coffee machines – the new Miele CM5 Countertop Coffee System.  It was dead smack in the middle of the mall where this hugely inflated coffee machine moment went down.  It was a part of the Simon Fashion NOW event at Westchester Mall where all kinds of goodies were being served and sampled from Benjamin Steakhouse, Thyme in Yorktown Heights, local bakeries, and obviously Miele .

Walking around this machine ($2,499 sticker price) was like walking around the new Continental GT Speed Bentley that’s on display in malls that contain a demographic miles away from the one that I fall in.  You inevitably do the walk around, but you do not dare complete a lead sheet.  Well this coffee maker encounter was kind of like that moment.

I was torn between accepting a sample and just walking away.  Did I want to experience coffee paradise, knowing the only other chance of me having that repeat experience would be at another mall event or coffee lovers tradeshow?  Or did I want to just go to the 1 out of 4 Starbucks in the mall and call it a day? I took the sample.  It was heaven.  My final opportunity at coffee heaven, but heaven none-the-less.

Happy Hour Obsession of The Week – Brio, Jacksonville FL

The Happy Hour Obsession of The Week goes to Brio Tuscan Grille in Jacksonville, FL. 

Sangria Rose – Sobieski Raspberry, fresh muddled pineapple and strawberry and Rosa Regale $5

Brio Burger (sectioned sliders) with provolone and homeade chips $3.95, Romano crusted ravioli topped with tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and a cilantro pesto drizzle $3.95, Tavolo Matto Chardonnay $5

All in all for a bill of less than $18, I was able to walk out of the bar feeling like dinner was well accomplished and my wallet didn’t have to spank me afterwards. 

Their ravioli was very tasty, and the portion was very generous for a little over three dollars..

Their sectioned Brio Burger was pretty good also..

So there you have it.  You can in fact have the Tuscan-American experience right in the heart of Jacksonville for the price of a Manhattan toll.  Cheers!



The Loeb Boathouse – Central Park, NY

The Loeb Boathouse Central Park -aka- the Boathouse offers a few things – scenery, food, drinks, people, a 150yr history,  and Central Park lakeside.

It is a very charming venue that apparently is the only restaurant that sits directly on a lake in Manhattan.

It’s a safe choice if you have the duckets and are in impress mode, or simply want to unwind.  We went one Saturday and it was packed.  We even took in a boatride in one of their Venetian gondolas to kill time as we waited on our table.  That and we engaged in a few drinks at the outdoor patio bar.

Their drinks were excellent.

We had the cucumber cocktail and martini with organic vodka, which were both perfect.

Once our table was ready inside, we quickly ordered a few courses.  I started off with the Arugula Salad with figs, ricotta and vinaigrette. (I didn’t include the photo because it came out way too blurry, unphotoshoppable blurry..)

I then ordered the seasonal Duck which I don’t believe was on the menu, while my FPIC ordered the Wild Striped Bass.  I then finished with a glass of Moscato and dessert.

The dessert was the Salty Peanut Caramel Chocolate Tart.

All in all I’d have to say the experience overall was great.  Their food itself however, was perfect in appearance,  lackluster in taste.  The duck looked amazing but its taste didn’t match up.  The bass was ok, and although the figs were a nice touch – the salad was a salad, and their was nothing special about the dessert.  This place earns its stripes in other areas obviously, but certainly not with the food in my obsessionista opinion.  If I were to go back, I’d head right to the outdoor patio and let the bartender work his magic and the gondolier serenade us with his Venetian vocals.  Preferably around sunset.

Robust Coffee Lounge – Chicago, IL

So at one point I firmly believed that Busy Bee in Brooklyn and that random drive through coffee shop in Portland were the only coffee spots who could perfectly concoct a white chocolate iced latte the way that they do.  Well.. It wasn’t until after a friend of mine suggested I drive a mile up to the President’s house since we were about a few blocks away in Woodlawn, which is the neighboring hood of Hyde Park where the President lives in Chicago.  Anyway, in doing so I passed a cute little wifi lounge/coffee shop and decided to drop in.  I went straight to the white chocolate section of the menu board at Robust Coffee Lounge.  Well not section exactly, but those were the key words I was looking for..

I then ordered their iced white chocolate latte.

I was in coffee lover’s heaven.  It was piping in white chocolate flavor yet #Robust.  Just the way I like it.  Creamy but packed with the intensity one needs from coffee.  A coffee diamond in the Chicago rough.  Thumbs up.

Salt Creek Grille – El Segundo, CA

Recently writing about Pera made me think of a really wonderful restaurant in El Segundo.  Salt Creek Grille is a very calming restaurant to say the least.  From the inside to the outside it has a very tranquil setting, sort of like Koi, but with a non-Asian menu and theme.  The man-made creeks, mini waterfalls, firepits, etc in the outside area are stunning.  It’s very similar to what you’d expect at a spa or resort.  It’s refreshing, and even with the massive amount of filled tables and the jam-packed bar, it still managed to have a quietness about it.

Photo Source LA Ink / Discover Los Angeles Site

To go with the all natural ambience, Salt Creek Grille also offers a very organic menu.  Like a lot of restaurants in and near LA, they offer fresh ingredients from a local produce.

I went with the Coffee Encrusted New York Steak.  It was awesome.  It was garnished with baby wild arugula & blue cheese, and came with roasted Yukon gold potatoes & bourbon caramel.  It was cooked to perfection, it was tender, and the accompaniments were fitting.

My FPIC who recommended this amazing place, ordered the Spaghetti Squash and Ricotta Ravioli.  It had corn, slivered almonds, snow peas, capers, cherry tomatoes, and kale & sweet heirloom tomato marmalade.  I tried her dish and although it was quite eclectic in taste, it was light yet filling, and it offered made-to-order pasta which I constantly crave.

There’s nothing like fresh, healthy food in a relaxing environment with a charming decor.  Salt Creek Grille – El Segundo was a great experience indeed.  It would definitely warrant a revisit.

Molly Darcy’s Irish Pub – Danbury, CT

Molly Darcy’s Irish Pub and Grill is a traditional Irish favorite in Danbury, CT.  I found that out when I was sent there for a training class a week ago, and our trainers took us out for dinner one night.  First of all the food was great.  It has a great bar, a really fun atmosphere, perfectly balanced decor – not overly upscale and not too cheap, and again the food is great.

Photo Source Raw Photo Design Site

It took everything in my power not to order the Buffalo Burger, which is what I kept staring at on the menu, but I decided to go with something easier which was the Chicken Pot Pie.

It turned out to be the best decision I could’ve made.  Their Chicken Pot Pie consisted of chicken pieces, potatoes, carrots, peas & onions, and was cooked in a white wine cream sauce.  It was excellent.  Then they topped it with an extremely light, baked pastry.  It was absolutely amazing.  Funny how sometimes when you expect the least you get the most.  I got our trainers’ money’s worth and then some.  Great place.

Korean Chicken Factory – Hoboken, NJ

Driving down Washington Street in Hoboken is always a treat for foodies.  They have a great array of restaurants down this long strip, and as a result are typically bustling during lunchtime.  Well the day I was scheduled to work in the Hoboken area recently was no different.  Washington Street was packed and parking was scarce.  As my FPIC/co-worker and I parked, we noticed the big and colorful Chicken Factory awning and decided to pop in.  My FPIC ordered the Sweet and Spicy Wings, which were packed with flavor but tiny.  They were also way more spicy than sweet, which should definitely warrant a new name – Hot as Hell.  My FPIC couldn’t even finish them they were so hot.  I think if I were to go back I would try the Soy Garlic instead, but with the drumsticks and not the miniature wings.  They were also a tad bit overcooked, which isn’t surprising because of how little they were.

I on the other hand got the complete opposite – the Bibimbap with chicken, which turned out to be completely cold.

Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish with rice, a bunch of vegetables and a meat.  What got me is that the vegetables are supposed to be sauteed and seasoned.  They were neither. They were raw vegetables with no seasoning.  Also, instead of brown rice they served it with white rice.  I was a bit baffled when it came out because of this.  Also, especially because of the portion difference with what was served to me and what was in the picture.  Granted I typically shoot my blog pics from a high angle so it gives off the impression that there is a lot more food than it is.  Take my word for it however, this was literally half the amount than what was pictured on the menu.  That or they foolishly served it to me in a huge bowl.

I think only because of our time constraints, did I not say a word to the woman at the register about any of it.  Although the sauteed dish that I expected to get turned out to in fact be nothing more than a $11 Korean salad, I can’t help but to wonder if I went to a different location would I have a much better experience.  I feel like their food is supposed to be great.  I really do.  I can’t help but to think I just went at the wrong time when the cook called in and the cashier was forced to play double role, and clearly shouldn’t have.  Ah well, better luck next time.  I guess.

Istanbul – Brooklyn, NY

I was working in the Bath Beach part of Brooklyn the other week and had been craving Turkish food for a while and decided to try Istanbul.  I had passed this place a few times and curiosity led me inside.  They have a sit down/dine-in restaurant and a separate take-out venue nearby on the same block.  It was relatively busy when I went into the take-out part of Istanbul, but busy generally means safe and popular.  From the looks of the exposed glass shelves of meat, I figured it was definitely authentic Turkish food.

The meat and the desserts were overwhelming as I went back in forth in my mind about what I was going to order, then not order, then go back to ordering again.  I’m referring to the infamous “I have no idea what I want because it all looks so good” game.

When the time finally did come for me to place my order I very randomly went from looking at the meats in front of me to opening the menu and choosing the first thing in front of me.  The Kubasili Pide for some reason was the first thing that stuck out.

About 15 minutes later, the pide filled with filet mignon, green and red Hollad peppers, and tomatoes & onions came out. It was tasty.  The bread was fresh, and I’d have to guess all the ingredients were also.  After that I decided I couldn’t leave without taking some Baklava.

The Baklava was extremely rich in taste and sweet enough to be packaged with just one.  It truly was a lot for one person. None-the-less, I was happy.  I had a serious sugar rush, but I’m convinced it was needed after that Kusbasili Pide.  I would certainly go back to Istanbul, but would definitely try out other parts of the menu.  Particularly the parts with eggplant.

Rice to Riches – NY NY

So Mott and Mulberry Street has this really bright and catchy, niche storefront that exclusively houses rice pudding.  They have drinks too but we weren’t feeling that adventurous, plus we had already come from dinner.  Rice to Riches is one of those spots that is easy to pass during the day but hard to miss at night.

With window front phrases like..

It’s hard not to be lured into this place.  Me anyway.  Alluring it is.  From the bright fixtures and the energetic staff, to the massive assortment of flavors..

And if there’s any type of guilt trip momentary revelation then.. Let them tell it..

So why not???

Asking for a sample at the least is inevitable when walking into this place.  I’m pretty sure I counted at least 21 flavors.  I tried the Fluent in French Toast and the Coast to Coast Cheesecake.  I believe my FPIC sampled the Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug.  It was quite a treat, given the fact that rice pudding isn’t exactly at the top of my “have to have” list.  I don’t think rice pudding will surpass the cupcake trend as of yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a few of these in LA.  It was a fun surprise for the evening, and I think next time I’m in Nolita I’ll stop in and try the Take Me to Tiramisu or Category 5 Caramel.

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