Archive | February, 2012

Five Places to Visit Right Now (Feb. 2012 Edition)

22 Feb

Breakfast

Chive gruyere biscuit, Cortado, & a quiche make a blissful morning at Proof Bakery/Cog Coffee

PROOF & COGNOSCENTI COFFEE

Keep your candy and your chocolates, the way to my heart is with fresh pastries. Far too many beautiful mornings have been ruined with a nice cup of coffee paired with a dry, disappointing pastry – or even worse, a tasty pastry ruined by a lousy cup of Joe. Finding great pastries and excellent coffee in the same place is no easy task, and that is why Proof Bakery and Cognoscenti Coffee is my current favorite LA spot.

Proof Pastries

Proof pastries

Nestled in Atwater Village, Proof  Bakery offers excellent scones, croissants, quiche, and all the good things in life. My sole complaint is that the menu is rather stagnant, but that doesn’t stop me from filling up a pastry box every weekend.

Yeekai Lim and Western Barista Champ Nick Griffith

Cog Coffee owner Yeekai Lim and Western Barista Champ Nick Griffith

Completing the one-two punch is the excellent coffee provided by Cog Coffee. Located inside Proof and owned by Architect Yeekai Lim  (Masters from Columbia, worked with Frank Gehry – this is one smart espresso puller), Cog offers excellent coffee without pretension or intimidation. I usually order a cortado (espresso with a little milk), and a cup of single origin coffee brewed with a V60 cone. Cog regularly offers beans from top roasters Handsome (LA), Four Barrel (San Francisco), Heart (Portland), and Coava (Portland). If you want to learn more about the LA coffee scene, it’s also a great place to linger. One morning, I saw LA Weekly coffee writer Tien Nguyen, Tony and his crew from local roasters Tonx Coffee, and had a cortado pulled by Western Barista Champ Nick Griffith. The coffee geek in me knew that I was in the right place, and I’ve been back almost every weekend since.

proof menu

Proof Menu

Proof Bakery & Cog Coffee
3156 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039

CITY TAVERN

strand

Flight of Strand Beers at City Tavern Pint Night

City Tavern = Beer. Lots of beer, great beer – 22 taps of rotating craft beer to be exact. This Culver City restaurant is my current favorite place to grab a brew because there is always something unique on the tap menu, the staff is friendly and take care of their regulars, and it’s near my home.

Pint Glasses from City Tavern

My Pint Glasses from City Tavern

Another reason I love City Tavern is their pint nights. A couple Thursdays a month, City Tavern offers flights of beers from a single brewery, complete with tasting notes and a souvenir pint glass. Frequently you’ll even be able to share a pint with the Brewmaster. You can see my collection of pint night glasses above!

On Feb. 23, 2012, City Tavern will be hosting a pint night with Stone from San Diego. They we will be putting both the Stone 14th Anniversary and the 15th Anniversary beers, a double dry hopped Ruination, and from 2010 the Stone Imperial Russian Stout. Also making an appearance is the Old Guardian Seasonal Barleywine.

Charcuterie plate at City Tavern

Charcuterie plate at City Tavern

City Tavern is also making a name for itself as a cocktail bar. Assistant Manager Jeremy Back has curated an impressive liquor selection, and there’s no better time to test their cocktail program than a Sunday night with their new Market Basket Bartender program. Every Sunday from 3pm-close, diners can pick one of three options in three categories (spirits, fruits, and syrups), to create a custom $6 cocktail. I thought I was really challenging bartender Gia St. George by making odd ingredient selections on a recent Sunday, but she was able to whip up delicious drinks that were a steal at $6.

Once you see the beer list, you’ll end up wanting to order a ton of tasters and will need some grub to keep you going. The menu can be pretty hit or miss, but the The Brew Burger and charcuterie plate are always smart choices. Treasure Tip: If they are offering a special, order it! All of my best dishes at City Tavern have been specials by Chef de Cuisine Jessica Christensen. The skate special pictured below is probably the best thing I’ve ever had there.

skate

Skate Special at City Tavern

City Tavern
9739 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232

ZAM ZAM

Tandoori Chicken at Zam Zam

Tandoori Chicken at Zam Zam

Zam Zam is a tiny, hole in the wall gem that is equally delicious and frustrating. This Culver City Pakistani joint exists to serve the mosque down the street, but it lets the occasional white guy like me order its cheap and mind-blowing kabobs and tandoori. It’s frustrating because it’s not always open (only Thursday-Sunday usually), and to get the good stuff like lamb biryani, you have to reserve an order almost as soon as they open.

Beef Kabobs at Zam Zam

Beef Kabobs at Zam Zam

Don’t think of bringing a date here – the atmosphere is non-existent. Instead, call ahead an order (don’t forget the naan!), pick it up, and open a few IPAs at home. Treasure Tip: Bring cash and they won’t charge sales tax. Midtown Lunch has the full rundown. 

Chicken Biryani from Zam Zam

Chicken Biryani from Zam Zam

Zam Zam
11028 Washington Blvd, Culver City
310-841-2504


INK.SACK

The Jose Andrés

The Jose Andrés (aka the Spanish Godfather) serrano, chorizo, lomo, manchego

When tatted Top Chef Michael Voltaggio opened his hip sandwich shop ink.sack in Aug. 2011, the food blogosphere couldn’t contain their excitement. The byzantine process of getting approved by city health inspectors delayed the opening of his fine dining restaurant Ink., so Voltaggio threw the doors open to his casual sandwich first.

Spicy Tuna (spicy tuna miso-cured albacore, sriracha, mayo)

Spicy Tuna (spicy tuna miso-cured albacore, sriracha, mayo)

With GQ’s Alan Richman naming Ink the #1 best new restaurant in America, there’s no better time to check out Ink Sack if you haven’t already, or go show it some more love if you’ve been neglected it for other buzzworthy restaurants. Venture to Melrose on a beautiful day and fill your sack with a couple sandwiches, a soda, and a Gooey Mocha Hazelnut cookie.

Turkey sandwich

Maple-pepper turkey melt, camembert, mostarda, arugula

ink.sack 
Open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-8pm
8360 Melrose Avenue #107
Los Angeles, California 90069

SHOW AT BARRE, VT

Show at Barre is the ace up my sleeve when I need a fool-proof, magical LA night on the town. Cabaret, cocktails, dinner, beautiful people singing and dancing… all the good things in life are yours for the taking inside the Vermont in Los Feliz.

You’ve seen me rave about their cabaret shows based on films by the Coen Bros and John Hughes. Now, you can see their most crowd-pleasing and exhilarating show yet! For the Record: Baz Luhrmann features 27 songs from Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, and Moulin Rouge performed in a 360-degree theater by a rotating cast of talented Broadway and Off-Broadway beauties. Weekly performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 pm, and Wednesday and Sunday at 8 pm. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased online.

Show at Barre
1714 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Feliz

 

Lucent Dossier Experience Sneak Peak: When Lucent Found Herakut

17 Feb

Dance practice

Lucent Dossier Experience dance rehearsal at warehouse

This article originally appeared on LAist

Last time we checked in with the “unique, elaborate, and electric” Lucent Dossier Experience (LDE), we eagerly wondered where they’d show up next. Theatergoers craving more than the usual song and dance are in luck. The 20+ person avant-garde circus is bringing their magic back to the Palace Theatre Friday and Saturday night.

Dance rehearsal

Dance rehearsal

LDE Costumes

Costume Closet

The inspiration for the brand new show, When Lucent Found Herakut, is courtesy of Artistic Director Dream Rockwell’s trip to Costa Rica, but just a few minutes with the company, and you get the impression that they find inspiration everywhere and in everything. Their warehouse in Downtown L.A. looks like a playground, complete with a slide, but no one was playing during our recent visit. Everyone was working hard to get ready for this weekend’s shows.

LDE Costumes

Costume Closet

LDE members are never content just performing. While some performers are rehearsing their choreography, others are building sets, and the lead is busy sweeping the floor. Ask any performer what makes LDE so special, and they’ll tell you that it’s because everyone puts so much work and heart into each show.

Dance rehearsal

Dance rehearsal

Dance rehearsal

Dance rehearsal

In addition to a brand new set, costumes and music, Lucent Dossier is upping the madness factor by collaborating with internationally renowned German art duo Herakut. Show up early for pre-show activities, stay for the after-party and see Herakut’s paintings come to life in what looks like another sexy, creative and stimulating show.

LDE wigs

Wig Mania

LDE Costumes

New Herakut-inspired costumes for the Palace Theater shows

When Lucent Found Herakut plays at the Palace Theater February 17 and 18. Tickets are available online.

CITY Nights & ABC Pilot: Border Grill’s Hot Tamales Are Hot Stuff

10 Feb

Susan and Mary Sue Dem

Susan and Mary Sue Lead a Cooking Demonstration

Chef’s Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Border Grill have been fixtures of the LA restaurant scene since opening City Café in 1981. 31 years later, the Too Hot Tamales are having a bit of a hot streak. Susan appeared on Season 2 of “Top Chef Masters,” and Mary Sue was first runner up on Season 3 of the same show. Additionally, ABC recently ordered a comedy pilot set in the 1980s about the two chefs trying to make it in the industry.

The stock of the two chefs naturally fluctuates overtime, but with all of this tinseltown attention, it’s an exciting time for fans of these two veterans. A popular food truck, packed cooking classes, and on Feb. 29, fans can see where it all started with a CITY Night at Border Grill. For one night only, the celebrated chef’s will be serving eclectic dishes from their first restaurant CITY (1981-1994).

In honor of the special leap year feast, here are 12 facts I learned at a recent Border Grill cooking class.

  1. Mary Sue opened a restaurant so she doesn’t have to go to grocery stores. Instead, she does her grocery shopping at the Border Grill walk-in. She doesn’t waste her time with “water, junk-filled bacon,” and instead grabs tasty slab bacon.
  2. Put oil on your hands before chopping peppers so you can wash it off easier afterwards. Susan repeatedly reminded the men in the audience to wash your hands well between chopping peppers and going to the bathroom. Ouch!
  3.  The importance of utilizing acid in salads. Mary Sue: “Susan looooooves acid.” Susan: “Don’t listen to her. She’s had too much to drink.”
  4. Mary Sue’s ideal perfume: dried oregano and black pepper.
  5. Tequila originally had 42% alcohol content, but most brands have lowered the strength over time. Disappointed by this trend, the chefs used 42% anejo tequila when making their Cranhattan. Gift idea: jar of brandied cranberries, bottle of strong tequila, and the Border Grill Cranhattan recipe.
  6. The chef’s like to talk, especially after a couple of Cranhattans. Susan: “If you have a question, interrupt us.” Mary Sue adds without missing a beat, “If you can.” I could watch the chefs for hours. Susan was born for the spotlight, exuding positivity out of every pore, and it was wonderful seeing Mary Sue shine.
  7. Susan hopes to utilize blue foods for a Hanukah menu next holiday season: blue corn tortillas, blueberries, and plums.
  8. Mary Sue and Susan have been sending people to Anzan hardware in Little Tokyo to buy knives for so long, that there is an old, faded picture of them hanging in the store.
  9.  The Too Hot Tamales have a wonderful sense of humor. Best bits of the night included barbs about Susan “giving” her husband to Mary Sue after coming out as a lesbian, as well as poking fun at themselves for excessively pushing products that were for sale at the class.
  10. Both chefs learned from their parents. Both were great cooks, but froze absolutely everything.
  11. Mary Sue loves the Spanish and sherry vinegar, but has choice words for others. “Those Italians think they are so great with
    balsamic. I don’t like the French either.”
  12. If throwing a dinner party, put the salad in a wooden bowl and place it in the fridge with the dressing on the side. Toss in the dressing before serving.
Chilis passed around

Learning about chilis at Border Grill Cooking Class

Border Grill
445 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Red O: Rick Bayless and the $100 Margarita

2 Feb

Meatballs

Albondigas al Morita shortrib meatballs, smoky morita-tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, frisee salad, $18

There are some restaurants that elicit strong reactions in me before I ever step through the door. Red O in West Hollywood is one of those restaurants. There are plenty of reasons I’ve wanted to try the restaurant: alluring pictures of the interior designed by Gulla Jonsdottir of L.A.-based G + Design, Mexican food is among my favorite cuisines and I’m always curious to see how my favorite dishes can be reinterpreted and elevated in a fine dining scene,  and of course, Chef Rick Bayless. I’ll leave it to LAT critic SIV to tell you why consulting chef Bayless is such a draw:

“If you’re unfamiliar with Bayless, suffice it to say that he’s the best Mexican cuisine chef in the country, a favorite of President Obama’s, invited to cook at the White House for the president of Mexico the week before Red O opened. Bayless, winner of Bravo’s ‘Top Chef Masters,’ has three über-successful Chicago restaurants: Topolobampo, Frontera Grill and the new Xoco, plus his own PBS show. And, I almost forgot, he’s the author of seven cookbooks and an obsessive Twitterer.”

Wow. Quite the introduction. On the other hand, Rick Bayless, specifically his big mouth, is the reason I’ve avoided the restaurant until now. Bayless said in an interview before opening the restaurant that he was “intrigued… how the true flavors of Mexico, from central and southern Mexico, would play in Southern California” and implies that Mexican food in SoCal is not real Mexican food. While he comes off as full of hubris and ignorant of the wonderful Mexican offerings in LA, it was when he started to lash out at LA Weekly food critic/guru Jonathan Gold instead of backpedaling that I started to lose interest in him. Just when it seemed the drama had died down, Bayless did it again:

“People think differently about Mexican food in Los Angeles. People in Chicago are open to a wide variety of dishes. They are a bit more timid in L.A. — I think it’s because there’s such a tradition of California-Mexican food. In Chicago (because of the more recent waves of immigration), food is from one region of Mexico or another, and it’s not very Americanized. In Chicago, mole dishes are in every Mexican restaurant. Even ceviches. But once people eat the food at Red O, they get really excited about it.”

Ok, so Chef Bayless really does think he’s introducing authentic Mexican cooking to Los Angeles. Insulting for sure, but it meant that I really needed to see for myself if there’s something he knows about mole that Guelaguetza, Monte Alban, Gish Bac don’t. With the much-maligned door man at Red O long gone and some cocktail additions to the menu, it was finally time to see if Bayless could back up his bold words.

Red O $100 Margarita

Red O $100 Margarita (Michael Clifford Photography)

As all great nights do, the night started with a round of cocktails.  The best margarita on the menu was the Alacran, made with Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, Veev Acai spirit, Torres orange liqueur, fresh limonada, and serrano infused syrup to add some heat to the mix.  I had a fine Manhattan with Knob Creek bourbon, Antica Carpano vermouth, and grapefruit bitters, but my favorite drink of the night was something mixologist Steven Calabro was still working on: a Mexican Tequila Manhattan. Calabro mentioned to me that he had made one for Chef Bayless earlier in the night and it was Bayless-approved. I batted my eyes, hoping he’d offer to make me one as well. It was quite good, so hopefully it will make it on the next cocktail menu.

Calabro also made me a sample of the controversial $100 margarita. Yes, it’s clearly a gimmick. But I respect Calabro for taking the challenge to make a $100 margarita seriously. He could have just made a normal margarita, thrown some gold on it, and some people would still order it just because it’s $100. Instead, the 1% margarita is crafted with care: Three tequilas (Gran Patrón Burdeos, Partida Elegante, and Herradura Selección Suprema) are joined with Grand Marnier Cent Cinquantenaire and Louis XIII Cognac. Frozen lime sorbet replaces ice cubes as to prevent dilution as you nurse the drink. The drink is normally only offered on weekends, so my weekday visit meant that there was no blood orange “caviar” available. I did get the gold and kosher salt rim, however. The drink was complex and interesting, but I’m a purist – why try to improve upon a $75 shot of tequila? It was an interesting experiment, but I’d take the Alacran over the $100 margarita anyday.

Red O $100 Margarita

1/5th of a Red O $100 Margarita, so the Red O $20 margarita?

As for the food, it beat my expectations but nothing surprised or amazed me.  The corn goat cheese tamales were flavorful, the sopes were beautifully plated, the shortrib meatballs had that pleasant as-advertised smokiness – there were no real complaints. If it wasn’t for the inclusion of Chef Bayless’s name and his loose tongue, I would have approached Red O as another see and be seen Melrose restaurant that hired a solid chef to do good but pricey food. Instead, it appears to be trying to compete with places like Rivera, something that it just isn’t ready for (I had actually just eaten at the wonderful Rivera the prior evening). The food is better than Red O’s detractors admit, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit: a walk through the tequila vault, inviting some friends to take over the Tequila Lounge, and sipping on a tequila margarita and some bar bites. And churros. Plus, Red O really is a fun place to see and be seen. During my visit, my table noticed snowboarder Shaun White, Jenna Ushkowitz from Glee with some actor from the Vampire Diaries, comedian/host Howie Mandel, and the night’s most polarizing star: Chef Rick Bayless himself!

Red O
8155 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Note: This meal was hosted