Real Talk: Why I hit pause on blogging

I am back to blogging. Why did I leave in the first place? My heart had been broken.

I was really on a roll in the Fall | Winter of 2013, I had been frequenting tastings, events, all things food – and blogging about them. Something had changed in my life, for the first time, I had a man in my corner who pushed me to be the best person I could possibly be. Never had I met someone from the opposite sex who embraced my strong will, encouraged my work, and inspired me every time we texted, talked on the phone or hung out. There were days that started with the sun out and ended with the moon shining bright, just straight hanging, goofing, and always, lots of eating.

This was not a romantic relationship, though it did start off with a Tinder connection. Did you just laugh out loud? Because I did. I wasn’t even feeling this guy when we first met, but he was a chef, so duh, I was intrigued. Months later he hit me up again to hang out, and we did, for about 4 months straight. What developed was something stronger than any relationship with the opposite sex since post break up with my long time boyfriend. A real friendship blossomed, with what I thought was a strong foundation. It was such a different feeling to have a man genuinely open up to me and happily say that I was his best friend. He was kind, courteous, charming, caring and eventually, as the tide had turned, incredibly handsome. This could be a really long story but I am not going to make it one. Maybe it will make it into the book?

I must not forget to mention that my girlfriends (smart women they are), sister and mother,  had started to warn me about this friendship. They saw something I obviously didn’t and repeatedly told me this friendship was becoming inappropriate. I think it all started when I mentioned that he fed me cake with his fingers.

Did I mention he has a wife and girlfriend? Go ahead, grab a glass of water. An estranged wife, and the girlfriend came after we were besties, AND after he told me he wasn’t looking for any relationships. Hilarious. This is all character building for me, don’t worry. I should’ve known there was a major problem when he was FaceTimed one evening and he wouldn’t tell his girlfriend he was driving around with me. My gut feeling warned me, but I didn’t listen. I must admit that when it comes to love, I have been naive.  When you grow up with an amazing father, who shows love and respect, like I did – well, let’s just say, I had faith in my friend, trusted him and believed his words, even when he was lying straight to my face. I didn’t understand why someone who said they cared about me so much would act otherwise.

When you live 100% your actions let it be known. Something had changed in me and I couldn’t keep it to myself. A couple months in, I had developed very strong feelings for my best friend. It wasn’t planned, but those things rarely are. I didn’t want to disrespect his other relationship, so not once did I act inappropriate or cross the line. And if you know how aggressive I am, then you know how difficult that was for me. Instead it culminated in very intense, tear filled (on both sides) conversation in my car, just down the street from Beard Papa’s on Sawtelle, where we were about to go eat cream puffs. I broke down and was straight up, and told him exactly how I felt. It was a really proud moment for me because I had finally learned that when it comes to love, honesty is number one. I gave him the chance to totally crush me, I said “just tell me you don’t have any feelings for me and that you just want to be friends.” In all honesty, I was ready for the quick blow and I knew I could get over it, it would be easier this way. Instead, the person sitting across from me, with tears in his eyes replied “but I can’t tell you that. I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

Needless to say, this only made things more difficult for the both of us. I was now unhappy that someone who had feelings for me couldn’t actually be a grown ass man and do anything about it. And he was unhappy because I wasn’t going to put up with this lack of backbone and was most definitely feeling the heat from his girlfriend who was bothered by all the time we spent together. He was going to have a girlfriend and it wasn’t going to be me, I had to deal with that. But why was I hearing all the things in his life that were meant to be shared with a significant other? Taking the high road, I told him I wished nothing but the best for his life and that all the time he was spending with me, he could now spend with his girl. I needed to be out of the picture because well, I don’t like to torture myself, and I have no interest in making someone else’s life more difficult, AND, I would never want to get a man that way. I’ve listened to enough Keyshia Cole to know better. I had more respect for his girlfriend than he did, but she would never know that.

I said it was best that we didn’t talk anymore, in any way, that I needed to just go away. Wished him well. Now if only he could’ve respected that.

Things took a turn for the worse in January 2014, which in turn became an extremely difficult month in my life. Without saying too much – if you only knew how short of a story this actually is in comparison to real life – I received a couple emails verbally assaulting me from someone I didn’t even know, from the girlfriend of this former “best friend”. He was cc’d on both of these emails, calling both of us out, but mostly telling lies on me.

It ends like that. The person who once called me his best friend, who asked me to push him to do better, who said he’d never had a friendship like this, said not one single word. I called him, he didn’t pick up. I texted him, there was no response. I was being called outside of my name, and there was not one peep from him. It was truly devastating. My heart was completely crushed, my spirit saddened. I didn’t leave the house much that month because when I did, my friends were so concerned about how much I wasn’t myself. If you know me, then you know my energy, vibes, loudness, everything. It was gone, but only temporarily.

I view things in life as either a blessing or a lesson, and this was a bit of both. It’s not difficult for me to say I still think about him, because whenever you’re lucky enough to get a piece of my heart, you’ll always be in my thoughts. Because he was the one really pushing me with my writing, attending tastings with me, and believing so much in me, when shit hit the fan, I simply didn’t want to write anymore. In fact, it even took awhile for me to attend tastings again. I had grown so accustomed to him joining me and giving me his invaluable feedback as well – I mean, he did work at what was ranked one of the top restaurants in L.A. – that now eating without him or having him cheering me on, made me really, really sad. It was a major loss in my life.

With any kind of struggle that comes my way, it doesn’t take long for me to address the situation and then thrive better than ever! What had knocked me down truly put perspective into my life. I began to think about how I spent my time, who I gave energy too and who truly deserved to be in my tight circle of friends. Like one of my best friends Jasiri said, I needed to be with people who deserved my blessings. I had decided what was most important of all was self love, which I always knew, but obviously needed to find new ways of practicing it – my life changed for the better because of this. I began volunteering again, which I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year. I promised myself I would spend more time with my parents, adoring them like they deserved to be. And I had decided that I simply wanted to stop buying things, wasting time, and use any money I earned to just travel the world. All I truly want is to eat delicious food, travel the globe and serve my community – when I get a TV show where I’ll be able to share that, even better.


My 10 Essential Burgers via First We Feast

Eggslut Cheeseburger, L.A. Food Blogyolk topped cheeseburger at Eggslut

I am incredibly happy to share with you my first editorial over on the James Beard Foundation award winning First We Feast.

My journey across our city’s culinary landscape was an amazing one. From the SGV to South L.A., I knocked out burger after burger while meeting some amazing chefs. The burger vibes were strong! It’s my hopes that this burger guide will get people jumping into their cars to explore parts of this city they may have not otherwise. I am very proud to say that 6 out of 10 establishments are minority owned, many of them by families. So many of them made me feel incredibly welcome as they shared their stories.

How many from my list have you been too and where’s your favorite spot to grab a burger?

See all my burger picks here »


The Powder Room, Hollywood

It’s not every day I find myself in Hollywood, but when I got word that there was a new bar serving alcohol infused milkshakes I had to see what was up. Enter The Powder Room, a cocktail dream factory with expert mixologist Luke Andes (formerly of Providence) at the head of all creations. With a stellar team that includes award winning mixologists Jayme Mandeville and Nadia Underwood, there was no doubt the cocktails would come correct + delicious. Having just bumped into Kanye West just outside the bar on Cahuenga, I knew I was in for an exciting evening and I couldn’t wait to start sipping on some libations.

The much hyped alcohol infused milkshakes were all I could think about. I took a seat on a white snakeskin stool at the glittery bar and rubbed my hands with anticipation. Out came a Strawberry Fields spiked shake, prepared with Marilyn Monroe strawberry cream vodka, blended with fresh strawberry puree, brandy, shortcake cookies and tapioca pudding. What could be any better than eating a dessert that gives you a buzz? I say eating rather than drinking because this baby was pretty thick, especially being packed with cookies. Even better was the boozy Adam’s Apple, a blended creation of Jack Daniels + fresh apples, caramelized with cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and vanilla ice cream. If you’re looking for an apple pie but in shake form, this is it, and you’ll be turnt! For those who like to live extravagantly, I must mention that Adrian Biggs (La Descarga) created a $500 milkshake with edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a take-home Swarovski Crystal ring for the menu. I unfortunately did not get to try that, ha.

On the light, refined + creative side, I would highly suggest the Morning Star, my favorite cocktail of the evening. Prepared with Tito’s vodka, house made hibiscus blackberry syrup, grapefruit bitters, fresh squeezed lemon and grapefruit juice, this unique combination whisked me away to summer. It wasn’t too sweet and the flavors were diverse, yet cohesive. The sugar crusted blackberry + basil leaf were just an added bonus! I followed that with The Pink Pussycat, made with Milagro Reposado tequila, Luxardo cherry liquor, Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blanc, fresh squeezed lemon juice and strawberry puree. If you know anything about my lightweight drinking you’ll know that I was feeling loose and already a resident of tipsy town. The Powder Room is that retro chic bar you’ve been waiting for in Hollywood. The vibe is fun, the cocktails superb, and it’s that spot you need when you’re looking for something a bit extra.

The Powder Room, 1606 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028

The Powder Room Hollywood, L.A. Food Blog

Powder Room Alcohol Shakes

Powder Room Pink Pussycat, L.A. Food Blog

Powder Room Cocktails

Powder Room Alcohol Shakes, L.A. Cocktail Blog

Gjelina, Venice

Gjelina had long been on my list of places to eat; it’s one of those restaurants in L.A. that you hear everyone talk about and rarely are bad words spoken. When a NY friend was in town, and might I add one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met, I decided this would be the perfect date spot for us. We pulled up for lunch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and to my surprise, our wait was only about 20 mins, though the restaurant was definitely poppin with a full lunch crowd. We took a seat, handed the menus and my date said the most beautiful words – “please get whatever you’d like, and if I may, I’d like to order us some wine.”

With these magic words spoken and me being in control of our entire lunch, I wanted to take the opportunity to order a variety of dishes, all which made for one of the most stellar lunches of 2013. It didn’t hurt that I also had such great company. From the small plates option on the menu, I selected the Grilled Peaches, Burrata, Arugula, Raddichio, + Prosciutto. Captivating in presentation and delicious with each bite, rarely anything makes me happier than thin slices of cured pork paired with fruit. The burrata was creamy and delicious, making this a great start to a moan-worthy meal. Out next was the Little Gems, Concord Grape, Crispy Prosciutto, + Blue Cheese Salad. Little Gems are some of my favorite lettuce leaves, with the feeling of soft blankets on the tongue, but still bringing an essential crunch. Again, another combination of fruit + prosciutto, both crispy and bursting with flavor.

It was now time to warm up and get a little cozy, and the Braised Pork Meatballs with tomato, parmesan and grilled bread really hit the spot. I passed on most of the bread, though tasty, as we had a pizza on its way, but the meatballs were a welcomed savory addition to the table. Following was a warm plate of Ricotta Gnocchi, prepared with cherry tomato pomodoro, parmesan and green olive oil. The delicate pieces of gnocchi had my hands in the emoji praying position if you know what I mean, each piece practically melting in our mouths. Stepping away from our pork heaven, we ordered a pizza with not one element of meat – a rare move on my part – but once you know that it was drizzled with truffle oil, I need not say more. Hot from the oven, with an exquisitely charred crust, our Mushroom, Fontina, Goat Cheese + Truffle Oil Pizza invigorated our senses with its impeccable fragrance. Thin crust pizza is my absolute favorite, and when each bite offers a diverse selection of flavor notes, I have no choice to completely surrender myself to the pizza gods. The only thing that could make my dining experience any better would be a bewitching dessert, and the universe must have listened, because when a bowl of Passion Fruit Panna Cotta presented itself, I nearly fell out of my seat, the consistency + flavor was that incredible. Hands down one of the best desserts (& meals) I had all year, and one that I have not stopped dreaming about.

Gjelina, 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

Gjelina Prosciutto, L.A. Food Blog

Gjelina Little Gems Salad

Gjelina Meatballs, L.A. Food Blog

Gjelina Gnocchi

Gjlelina Pizza, L.A. Food Blog

Gjelina Panna Cotta

Thai Food Fest, Los Angeles

This Fall I had the opportunity to attend L.A.’s first very Thai Food Festival. Like whoa, I couldn’t believe our city hadn’t been hosting these for years! I was especially psyched for this festival because I live for all things bold, bright + flavorful, and in my life, a little spice goes a long way. Hosted by chef Jet Tila and the Thai Trade Center, this afternoon of culinary wonderment was packed with all the delicious Thai food one could eat, Singha Beer, flower offerings and complimentary massages. Sounds like a little piece of paradise, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping there will be another one next year!

Thai Food Fest MB Post, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest Lukshon, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest shrimp donuts, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest

Thai Food Fest Los Angeles, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest

Thai Food Fest carved fruit

Monkey’s Cafe, Fair View Heights, Los Angeles

This weekend I spent some time with one of my best girlfriends, Whitney Jeffries, learning all about her family’s tradition of baking monkey bread for the holidays. It was a cold + rainy day in View Park (near Baldwin Hills if you are unfamiliar), and nothing sounded better than cozying up in the kitchen with friend baking, and of course, eating some fresh bread out the oven. Watching Whitney, under the tutelage of her mother, was quite the beautiful experience. Seeing each intricate step of the monkey bread making process had me even more eager to try the finished product, and I must say, I was blown away. If you have never experienced the richness of such a bread, do yourself a favor and rectify that sitch asap. Monkey bread is moist and puzzle like, with each piece easily being plucked apart and ready to eat! Not only is it delish, but it’s also fun.

Fortunately for us, the Jeffries’ family has Monkey’s Cafe, their very own monkey bread business, bringing smiles to all who get a taste. They have 3 incredible flavors to choose from: original, lemon, and garlic herb. It’s hard to decide which one is my favorite, though I must admit, the herb had me begging for more. If you love good bread, then you will absolutely love this. Passed down from generations, nothing tastes better than a perfected recipe.

Make your holidays brighter + order a batch at Monkey’s Cafe!

Monkey Bread View Park, L.A. Food Blog

How to make monkey bread

Monkey Bread Whitney Jeffries

Monkey Bread Los Angeles, L.A. Food Blog

Monkey Bread, L.A. Food Blog

Monkeys Cafe MonkeyBread

Tagine, Beverly Hills

Tagine is the ultimate date spot. Located in a very low key area off Robertson Blvd., this modern Moroccan restaurant offers a delicious hideout for those seeking a little spice + romance. Some know this place as the vision Ryan Gosling helped bring to life with Chef Ben, but celeb status or not, this establishment is a real gem among the usual in Beverly Hills. I had the privilege to enjoy Tagine’s tasting menu this fall, and it’s a dining experience that won’t soon be forgotten. For $71 per person, you can enjoy a six course meal, cozied up with Moroccan pillows, soft lighting and a good mix of indie rock.

Our meal started with a delicious amuse bouche consisting of an asparagus, baby zucchini, + carrot soup, paired a sauteed vegetable stuffed filo dough and a goat cheese spread topped with dates. Following that was the Moroccan Mezze, served with hummus, marinated olives, a tomato + cucumber tartare and a sauté of eggplants. Everything about the mezze spoke to my culinary desires; it was incredibly vibrant, fresh and the warm pita bread was nice touch. Out next in a cast iron skillet was a flavorful rendition of Black Tiger Shrimp, encrusted in herbs, and served with mini zucchini, mini squash, and spinach. Crunchy and light, this vegetable rich creation is ha perfect example of eating something healthy and incredibly flavorful. Much to my enjoyment came the Sea Bass Tagine, pan roasted and placed a top a bed of sauteed vegetables with a carrot puree. Delicate and moist, I gently pulled apart layers of the fish and swirled it in the tiny drops of liquid spice lending each bite a burst of flavor. The show stopping Lamb Chops concluded our savory portion of the tasting, and were so soft and rich, they practically fell off the bone. I didn’t want to waste time with a fork, so I coddled my chop with my fingers and began to gnaw on it. Any chance that I have to call upon my animal instincts, I will. Marinated in 7 different spices, these grilled chops played quite a number on my senses and I loved it.

Last but certainly not least, a unique dessert that I have never seen on a menu before: Chocolate Soup. Warm chocolate served in a carafe then slowly poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sounds incredible because it tastes just so. Maybe not the most beautiful thing in a cup, but the sweetness was just right and paired with a piece of baklava, made for quite the finish to an already stellar meal.

Tagine, 132 N Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Tagine Beverly Hills, L.A. Food Blog

Tagine Mezze Plate

Tagine Beverly Hills Tasting Menu

Tagine Sea Bass

Tagine Lamb Chops

Tagine Chocolate Soup Dessert

Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles x Popular Demand

Streetwear brand Popular Demand dropped a collaboration with Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles this week.  A VERY RARE ACCOMPLISHMENT as it’s the first in almost 40 years! Read my piece over on Foodbeast.

Roscoes x Popular Demand

Roscoes Popular Demand

Roscoes Popular Demand

Tsujita, Sawtelle, Los Angeles

I recently met someone who loves ramen just as much as myself. Our never ending texts dedicated to noodles, broth, and where we can find the next bowl has become a regular thing these days. Having been on numerous ramen adventures in the short time we’ve known each other, I approached my friend Brandon to be a guest contributor (a first) on NJ in LA, not just because he knows his ramen, but because his knowledge of food continues to impress me. Born and raised in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles, Brandon is a graduate of the Art Institute with 10 years of professional cooking under his belt, including 4 years in the military, 3 years in fine dining and time spent traveling, researching + further developing his skills in Asia and Europe. His craftsmanship has been seen in the kitchens of the Royal Mail Hotel, one of the most prized restaurants Australia and here in Los Angeles, at Providence, voted the best restaurant of 2013 by Jonathan Gold of the L.A. Times.

Now that L.A. has begun to cool down, it’s our goal to slurp as many noodles as we possibly can and share our detailed account of each bowl, from two different perspectives. It was pouring rain on a rare L.A. afternoon, Brandon and I landed on Sawtelle with nothing but Tsujita on our minds. Neither us equipped with an umbrella, we hit the ground running, trying our best to see amongst drops so large it almost felt torrential. Running in the rain never felt so good, knowing that a hot bowl of goodness was awaiting us. We finally arrived at Tsujita, with a line out the door and around the corner. We waited for about 15 minutes until we were seated at one of the hottest ramen houses in L.A., I have heard of much longer waits but then again our visit was on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Many have called Tsujita the best and friends have proclaimed it life changing. The time had finally come to enjoy my very own pipping hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen.

Natalie: I ordered the Hakata Nagahama Tonkotsu Ramen, which was decorated nicely with juicy pieces of char siu (bbq pork), ajitama (a seasoned boiled egg), nori (seaweed), green onion, wood ear mushrooms and men-ma (bamboo shoots). Complimentary accoutrements on the table included beni-shoga (pickled red ginger, my absolute fave) and a jar of karashi takana (hot leaf mustard), which we quickly polished off and then asked for a re-up. The first thing I noticed, aside from the incredible fragrance emitting from my bowl, was the almost gelatinous layer that was beginning to form atop my broth. This porky liquid, slowly simmered for 60 hours, is practically a form of liquid lard, so rich you know it has to be good for the heart! I had never tasted a broth of such consistency and with each spoonful, I felt delicious drops of liquid fat roll onto my tongue, coating it with intense flavor. The noodles were thin + straight, as they typically are with tonkotsu, but I prefer my noodles on the curlier side, the standard with shoyo (soy sauce). These particular noodles were most definitely a secondary character to the immaculate broth I could not stop spooning past my lips. The flavored egg, which is my most treasured possession in a bowl of ramen, once popped open, was a beautiful hue of orange-yellow and creamy like custard. Keeping up with all things savory, this bowl included wonderfully chunky slices of pork that made chewing pieces of fat feel like buttery pieces of bubblegum. I haven’t been the same since my trip to Tsujita, a ramen join that just stepped up the game and is well worth the hype.

Tsujita Broth, L.A. Food Blog

Tsujita Ramen, L.A. Food Blog

Brandon Grey ramen feindThis is Brandon slurping noodles at Ramen Jinya, one of our many upcoming posts!

Brandon: Ooey gooey gold best describes Tsujita’s Tsukemen bowl of ramen. The key attribute of this bowl of ramen is, YOU OWN YOUR OWN DESTINY of dunking your own noodles at will. Let’s start off with the broth. Its brown and murky in color, with the viscosity of cold chicken noodle soup. An 1/8 inch of pork fat sits atop of the soup and the pork fragments nestled inside does this bowl no justice by mere appearance. This savory pig juice plays with your senses because it’s enriched with fish undertones. Dried bonito, mackerel, and sardines give this bowl an umami blast to your palate and taste buds.

My noodles were thick and perfectly springy with a texture of fresh cut Udon. They were so good, I inhaled the first serving and quickly asked for another. This time around I enveloped my noodles with this mustard leaf condiment which tasted like a Japanese version of kimchi. Lets just say, “can I get the damn recipe” to this. I heavily contemplated asking for a to-go container to smuggle some of this spicy condiment goodness, as I knew how perfectly it would compliment the ramen I create at home. The slow poached egg, once cracked into, spews out runny molting yolk. It’s quite the addition to the bowl. Other accompaniments are the standard char siu pork, nori, and a lime wedge to marry all the notes in this harmonious symphony of flavors. #flavorsonflavorsonflavors Rain or shine, sleepwalking or awake, make your way down to the west side to experience this LA gem. Just be prepared to have cash on you and an appetite for gelatinous goodness.

Tsujita L.A., 2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

Tsujita Tsukemen, L.A. Food Blog

Tsujita SpicyMustard

Free Range LA x The Golden State, Fairfax, Los Angeles

I love collaborations of any kind, especially when it comes to food. It’s cool when real recognizes real, and people come together to create something for the public to enjoy. When my friend Brandon told me that there was a Free Range x The Golden State night in the works, I knew we’d have to go! Thankfully my peeps knew those peeps and we all came together for a night of delicious fried chicken sandwiches. Although this was going to be my first time indulging in Free Range LA’s most famous creation, I was well aware of their cult following, which quickly grew from slinging chicken goodness at the Melrose Trading Post every Sunday.

We pulled up to The Golden State, which was beginning to crowd with chicken lovers from all over the city. Funny enough, we both bumped into people we knew, illustrating further the immense fandom of Free Range LA. Jesse, the mastermind behind the whole thing graciously managed to steal a few minutes away from the kitchen and welcomed me into his pop up with open arms. The passion in this young man was evident, as well was his dedication to the craft. Above all, his positive attitude and hustler’s spirit is what had me wanting to know more. It’s absolutely refreshing to meet people who simply love food and want to share it with as many people as possible, with no pretension. Keeping it casual, our table only needed beer, potatoes, and chicken to make for a happy meal. First up was a basket of Loaded Baby Potatoes, packed with tarragon ranch, candied bacon bits and chives. They were almost too easy to pop in my mouth and are the kind of culinary creations I wish I could find at movie theaters or basketball games. Lots of flavor packed into one or two bites, so easy to eat.

The time had finally come for our Fried Chicken Sandwiches to be delivered to the table. Made with tempura free range chicken, jalapeño coleslaw, and whole grain honey mustard, I knew I was in for a treat. The meat was incredibly juicy + tender, with the bun feeling like two pillows in between my hands. The coleslaw added a flavorful crunch and before I knew it, my basket was empty and all that was left was a happy mess on my hands. A great meal with good company and a positive vibe. I’m so looking forward to round 2! Find me grubbing on the corner of Fairfax / Melrose, I hope you’ll join me.

Free Range x Golden State, 426 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Free Range Fried Chicken Sandwich, L.A. Food Blog

Free Range Loaded Baby Potatoes

Free Range x Golden State