I grew up with two sisters. Sandwiched between the brilliant one and the cute one, I was highly sensitive to comparisons. But compare us, people did. It's human nature. And I can't help but do it myself.
After disappointing experiences at the Fine Arts Center's Caf 36, I had just one thing running through my mind as I walked into its sister eatery, Nosh: "Be better." And better it was.
My girlfriend and I arrived at the Plaza of the Rockies for lunch on the patio. That it was windswept apparently isn't out of the ordinary, and is something management is working to fix.
Lunch offers salads, soups and main/sandwich plates. Surprisingly, nothing on the menu exceeds $7.
We split the arugula salad with herbed chevre, a beautiful mix of balsamic-dressed leaves with a thick tomato slice and goat cheese balls. It had excellent flavor, but there was no bread or crostini on which to spread the delicious cheese.
My friend's shaved pork, spinach and smoked cheddar on toasted sourdough was brought to perfection with caramelized onions. Russet and sweet potato fries accompanied the dish; the spiced orange fries blew the yellow ones away.
My seared tuna, with warm tomato and mozzarella salad, was nicely cooked, albeit salty. Extra care in the kitchen would make this a solid dish.
A happening happy hour from 3 to 6, featuring half-off drinks and select menu items, leads to a sexy, small-plate dinner menu. Apart from having to walk into a very un-sexy office complex to get to it, our only dinner hiccup came in arrival service. Standing at the door, watching people flutter about, we finally seated ourselves.
Colorful artwork lines the walls, hand-crafted, arched wine racks frame the back bar, and on this night, what my husband called Ocean's Eleven music completed a hip atmosphere. Once greeted by the staff members, their apologies and laid-back approach proved endearing. Without hesitation, we ordered the $2 "All the Time" Sangria, a fruity elixir of wine, brandy and fruit flavors. It went down all too easily.
Stars abound on the dinner menu. The nori-wrapped beef ($5) offered three deliciously tender beef bites. The Portabella Points ($5), stuffed with brie and sun-dried tomatoes, hit the spot.
The only speed bump came with the duck empanadas ($6). Listed as smoked duck, caramelized onion and spiced honey, it also included smoked cheddar, which made for a gummy and overwhelming texture.
Redemption came in the form of lamb loin with mint and shallots, roasted red pepper and slivered garlic, which made my eyes roll back in my head. At just $5, I could have ordered a double shot.
Nosh also doesn't mind changing what doesn't work. The pots de crme ($5) originally featured white chocolate, but chef Seth Elwonger said he couldn't stand behind it. Replacing it with dark proved not only a good sign showing that Elwonger is paying attention to the smallest details but a good choice, as it paired well with the sweet and fruity ruby port ($5).
But nothing compared to the lemongrass and ginger crme brule; it arrived with a citrus salad of lemon, mandarin orange and slivers of ginger on the side. Combining sour with creamy may not sound like it works, but that burst of citrus brightened the rich brule.
Sometimes one sibling is less awkward, more interesting and more aware of what people need than the other.
My advice to Caf 36: There's no shame in asking for help, even if it's from your snotty little sister. email@example.com
Nosh at FAC Modern
121 S. Tejon St., 635-NOSH (6674), nosh121.com
Hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; happy hour, Monday-Saturday, 3-6 p.m.; dinner, Monday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m.