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But it's Ruskell's breakfast pastries, desserts and chocolates that bring us to our knees in genuflection. Flaky croissants -- plain, cinnamon, chocolate -- burst with butter. Soft brioche are gorgeously fat with custard, almond cream and orange, cinnamon and almonds, cream cheese and fresh blackberries, or lemon cheese.
And what can we say about his hand-sculpted pastries, except, "Wow!" Our favorite is the light-as-air Tuzigoot, with vanilla Bavarian, fresh fruit and mango gelée.
Ruskell also designs custom chocolates in the winter months, adding such sensations as tangerine/caramel mousse to chocolates from Michel Cluizel, a family-owned chocolatier in Normandy. Oh, Maxine, we're not worthy. But we'll come anyway.
Vaquero's is open 24 hours a day -- a big bonus. There's an awesome selection, so we never get bored -- an even bigger bonus. Its meats are grilled to order, and paired with fresh extras -- the biggest bonus yet. Count 'em up: 23 combination plates, 12 taco choices, five tostadas, 10 tortas, four enchiladas, five shrimp dishes, and 20 burritos. Breakfast is served around the clock, with 11 options, and on weekends, there's homemade menudo.
Muy impressive, no? Sí.
All the basics are covered: powdered sumac, Turkish coffee, teas, zaatar (thyme and sesame seeds to be blended with olive oil and dipped with pita), and kadaifi (phyllo dough). The store's got the fancy stuff, too, like Israeli olives, Lebanese green beans, Bulgarian eggplant dip and a tasty variety of feta cheeses. And Yusef's has got novelties, like a must-have tobacco water pipe called a hubba-bubba.
Yusef's? You said it.
Peru is about potatoes, and Peruanitos showcases the spuds. We adore papas a la huancaina, layering thick slabs of boiled potato and onion strips with a neon-yellow, creamy cheese sauce, topped with sliced hard-boiled egg, black olives and a whole lot of heat from fiery rocoto or aji amarillo chile sauce dashed in. It's the perfect appetizer to lead us into carapulera, a classic Incan dish of papseca (freeze-dried potatoes) with large chunks of pork in velvety, mildly spiced, orange-colored sauce with nuts. And we lust after adobo de chancho, a succulent concoction of marinated, slow-cooked pork with an electric, spicy undercut of serious chile heat. It's moist and meaty, and cools down a touch with fluffy rice and chilled sweet potatoes.
And nowhere in town will you find a wider selection of the bottled bubbly (non-alcoholic variety) than at this fizz fanatic's paradise, a soda supermarket that stocks hundreds of hard-to-find carbonated potables.
Specializing in regional and imported sweetened swills you either haven't tasted in years or never knew existed, the inventory (some 300 brands) includes such arcane quaffs as Mexican Coca-Cola (despite Coke's official company line, it's far zingier than its domestic cousin), Dr Pepper from a maverick Texas bottler that still uses pure cane sugar, and Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, which tastes a lot better than it sounds. In short, enough effervescent nectars to finance your dentist's Malibu beach house.