Friday, December 28, 2007

Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup

Free Stuff: The PR rep for an Australian company that sells hibiscus flowers in syrup, that you put into drinks, offered to send me a sample and I gratefully accepted. They are just as the name suggests: a jar of Australian hibiscus flowers in simple syrup. They are meant to be placed in your glass, then pour in the alcohol.

Tasting: I brought them to my wine group meeting - we were tasting champagne that day, so I thought we could give them a while with the worst tasting bottle in the bunch (you never want to add mix-ins with good alcohol). They are very pretty and festive, but do not really offer much in the way of flavor, alone. When we poured in some of the syrup, we ended up with a sweet and tasty cocktail, that certainly helped our bottle of slightly corked champagne. I think these flowers will work best in a vodka martini - it is a good way to turn a strong drink into a user-friendly cocktail (as my friend calls, "a cocktail with training wheels).

Final Consensus: My friend didn't like the jar. He felt it was unrepresentative of what was inside. He suggest they package it in a tall, skinny jar, with the flowers stacked on top of each other to create a nicer presentation. I agree. I think these would be cute and festive at a party, but are not my bag.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Top Reasons Why a Dyed-in-the-Wool Westsider Sometimes Wishes She Lived East of the 405

An editor from the site contacted me to create a list, like a top ten, to post among others for their year-end round-up. Here is the list I came up with, followed by the link to Laist. I hope you enjoy.

Top Reasons Why a Dyed-in-the-Wool Westsider Sometimes Wishes She Lived East of the 405

1. Intelligentsia Coffee – simply the best coffee out there right now, made to perfection. Hard-core, no blenders!

2. Lou – Exotic wine list, best bar food around, and great Monday night suppers.

3. Pizzeria Mozza – The best pizza dough, and even better toppings. Short, excellent, all-Italian wine list. Lardo!

4. K&L Wine – Big, but not too big. Great weekly tasting, knowledgable staff, good prices.

5. Silverlake Wine – Their tastings are educational and social, small, yet carefully selected wine selection.

6. 750 ml – Cozy, intimate atmosphere, easy to navigate wine list, excellent, short menu., well-priced.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Akasha Opening Party - I Was Not Invited

Last night, on our way to a late night dinner at Fraiche, I noticed Akasha was holding it's opening party. They had a tent in the back for the cooks, tables of swag bags, and heavy security. It is in the old San Gennaro location on the corner of Culver and Watseka in downtown CC. It is huge. It is separated into two sections. The larger area has a nice large bar and seating, and around the corner on the Watseka side, it looks more like a take-out counter - possibly the area for the bakery. The interior is warm and modern - it reminded me of The Other Room on Abbot Kinney. On the Culver Blvd side there is a fairly large patio area. It still looks unfinished. Apparently it will not open for a couple more weeks. After our dinner, when we walked by, the party was breaking up, and the security guards had left thier posts, so we went in and snapped some shots.

9543 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Saturday, December 08, 2007

On the Wine Trail in Hollywood

Every Saturday afternoon K&L Wines in Hollywood holds a tasting. For their last one of the year, they poured champagne. For $20 we sampled 10 champagnes, ranging in price from $24.99-$114.99, and nibbled on some excellent cheese and crackers. And yes, the more expensive ones were better.

K&L Wines
1400 Vine St
Hollywood, CA 90028

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The World's Most Award-Winning Coffee

Intelligentsia Coffee recently hosted a tasting event at their Silver Lake store, giving guests samples of a coffee called Geisha, from Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama. Apparently this coffee is "the world's most award winning coffee," winning every competition it was entered in. It may also be the world's most expensive coffee, retailing for $99 per half pound. Unfortunately, my critical coffee tasting abilities were not quite advanced enough to fully appreciate all the complexities and nuances this coffee has to offer. It was very good, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I also really like their Los Delirios coffee from Nicaragua I bought that night for a relatively modest $15/lb. They got a good turn out. Coffee buyer Geoff Watts gave a presentation outside on the patio while my friend and I mingled inside, snacking on cheese and wine, watching the Clover machine in action. I also had the pleasure of meeting Doug Zell, the founder of Intelligentsia (who, by the way, said he read my previous Intelligentsia post). Doug, if you catch this post, may I put in a request? Open your next LA location on the west side. Preferably Mar Vista. Thanks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On the Wine Trail in Long Beach

The Wine Country is a wine shop in Signal Hill. It is nestled in a warehouse district, not far from the airport. They offer a decent selection of wine: the store is big, but not too big, so it is easy to navigate and all the employees can give advice and guide your choices. I dropped in on a recent Saturday afternoon to check out their regular Saturday afternoon wine tasting. Ten tastes for $20, this afternoon they were pouring a variety of Meritages. Meritage is any blend of grapes, which meant these were all very different in taste, structure, price point, and from all over the world. They had a table with some cheese and crackers to snack on in between tastes. The folks pouring the wine gave all the bottles a nice introduction, but I think the majority of the friendly crowd were more interested in socializing. At any rate, I felt it was a good value for the price, and it is always nice to taste wines I may not normally pick out on my own.

The Wine Country
2301 Redondo Ave
signal Hill, CA 90755

The Great Gatsby of Beverly Park

A couple Sunday's ago, my dad's friend invited us to a charity event raising money to help children with eye disease. It was held at the Beverly Park mansion of Paulette and Larry Cohen. The theme was "Gatsby in the Garden", complete with Gatsbyesque cars in the driveway. The party was held on the huge backyard lawn with a gaming tables, full open bars, passed hors d'oeurves, and high tea buffet. After the valet took our car away, we walked through the formal, carefully decorated living room to the garden, where we were greeted with a server holding a tray of rose champagne. Just right for a perfectly clear Sunday afternoon.

After several hors d'oeurves, including coconut shrimp, lobster spring rolls, and seared scallops, we strolled through the guest cottage - a quaint little one room "cottage" with a small kitchen, overstuffed chairs and daybead, and some nice reading material.

They had tables set up with fruit and cheese, and another area with tea, scones, tea sandwiches, and triffle (the caterer was British). Al Pacino was the celebrity guest, looking cool in all black and dark sunglasses.

The highlight of the house, for me, was the outdoor dining area, placed right in front of the vineyard. A copper kitchen - grill, range, oven and sink - surrounded by a granite bar. I can just imagine the host telling his friends, "just a casual dinner outside..."

After lunch we hit the roulette table. Just like Vegas - first I am up $150, then I loose it all. Good thing it was not real money. I had better luck at the blackjack table. After losing all of our fake money, the valet brought around our car and we drove back to Mar Vista.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Epicure Imports

Epicure Imports is an importer of gourmet food items, mostly French, with a warehouse in North Hollywood. They are open to the public a couple days out of the year, and last Saturday was one of them. We strolled though the aisles picking out French vinegars, wines, chocolates, olives oils, truffle oil, nuts, dried fruit, spices, and some middle eastern items like couscous and harissa. My favorite section is thier walk-in cheese refrigerator. They have many French and Italian cheeses you have seen in Whole Foods and Surfas, including Sottocenere al Tartufo, the Italian cheese with black truffle. They have all the D'Artagnon products like foie gras, and duck fat, and some Italian meats as well. Check their website for sale dates, and be prepared for a very slow check out, even when there is no one in front of you!

Epicure Imports
6900 Beck Ave
North Hollywood, CA 91604

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On the Wine Trail in Silver Lake

I went to a Thursday night tasting the the newly remodeled Silver Lake Wine. What a great, neighborhood (unfortunately, not in mine) wine shop. Same simple, modern interior, a longer tasting bar, and more space overall. They were pouring two flights: 3 Beaujolais and 3 Sauvignon Blanc. For $12, we each started with the sauv. blanc fight. We tried 3 very different wines, from Australia, California and France. This is the beauty of a focused tasting like this: comparing and contrasting the same varietal from different areas. For my fellow budding wine expert friend, this was as educational as it was fun. They served some bread and Presidente butter to snack on in between tastes (these are generous pours - my only suggestion would be to add a spit bucket). We moved onto the Beaujolais tasting, which we shared, and we still given good size pours. All wine featured in the night's tasting were 10% off, and were very reasonably priced. After driving for 1 hour in traffic, it was so nice to relax, sip some good wine, and learn a little something.

Silver Lake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Michelin Guide Release Party

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Michelin Guide release party at Les Deux in Hollywood. This is the first time Michelin has published a guide for Los Angeles, so it is a bit of a big deal for the Los Angeles food scene. The courtyard was filled with chefs and bloggers, including Eddie Lin from Deep End Dining! Eddie has lived out two blogger fantasties of mine: appearing on both Good Food and Visiting with Huell Howser!

I also had the pleasure meeting Jonah from LA Foodblogging and Digesty. We talked food and restaurants (of course), ate (not so good) hors d'oeuvres such as sliders, mac n' cheese, barbequed shrimp, and rubbed shoulders with Wolfie, Josiah, Joachim, Michael, to name a few. They handed out advance copies of the book, which comes out tomorrow. On the way out, we were given this bag of swag!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Brunello Trattoria

Brunello Trattoria on Washington Blvd near La Cienega just opend last month, and I tried it for the first time last night. It is a comfortable, neighborhood trattoria with pastas, pizzas, panini, salads and secondi. They have several daily specials in each category, and beer and wine. First off they gave us bread, which is thier pizza dough, with a some olive oil. Very nice bread, warmed in the oven with a thin crisp crust and chewy interior. We started off with the pizza daniele: prociutto, mozzarella, ricotta, & parmesan. Very nice with a thin crust - definately the highlight of the meal. Next time, I will get one all to myself. The salads were disappointing. I ordered an out of season panzanella: tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and bread. I should have known better than to order tomatoes in the winter. They were flavorless.

My friends Caesar was overdressed. She blames us, her foodie friends. Had her palate not developed by hanging out with us, she would have enjoyed her salad, she claimed. The mains were better. Two of my friends had one of the pasta specials, linguine with lobster, which they loved. My friend who started with the Caesar had the meat lasagna, and was disappointed yet agian. Our fault again, apparently. My carpaccio was nice. Thinly sliced and pounded meat with arugula, artichokes and parmesan. It was very light and refreshing, with a nice zing from the lemon.

We shared a great bottle of Rosso di Montalcino for $45 which was dry and easy going. They only offer about 5-6 wines by the glass. Most of the wine is in the $40-50 dollar range, but you can find a couple of bottles for under $35. Service was friendly and unobtrusive. The only flaw was we waited a bit too long for the bill, but that is much preferred over being rushed throughout the meal. They let you linger and enjoy the evening. Brunello Trattoria is a great little neighborhood restaurant. Well-priced, great pizza (and they deliver), and good wine. The decor and layout leave a bit to be desired - it looks like it was done on the cheap. My friend was convinced our waiter was also the carpenter. But that's ok. It is part of their charm.

Brunello Trattoria
6001 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

Monday, October 29, 2007

Casa Sanchez

A friend of mine was invited by Senor Sanchez to dine at his new Casa Sanchez restaurant in Mar Vista, in the old Marina Mago spot, just up the street from his taqueria. She brought me along to check it out (we ate for free). This place is a trip. It has a grand entryway with high ceilings and a large portrait of Zapata. There is a bar/lounge area, that overlooks the main dining room. At the end of the dining room is a stage where the 10 piece mariachi band plays (forget about being able to hear your conversation while they are playing - it is more like dinner theater than backround music). Very fancy, indeed. The places are set with salad forks and wine glasses, the windows are draped in fancy window treatments, McMansion style. Very festive. You do feel like you are not in Mar Vista anymore - my friend thought she was somewhere in Mexico, I was thinking more like Riverside.

He is trying to create an upscale dining experience, with traditional Mexican fare but with more focus on contemporary dishes with Mexican flare. They have the regular Mexican dishes like tamales, taquitos and fajitas, but the emphasis is on the chops and fish. These dishes are large - think about skipping the apps or taking it easy on the chips (which comes with a a dish of guacamole topped with salsa).

I had the steak smothered in a sweet wine mushroom sauce, that was much better with a little sprinkle of salt. My friend had the veal, also in a mushroom sauce which she enjoyed. The entrees are about $25, we had two drinks apiece, and 1 appetizer. The bill would have been about $100 - had I paid for it myself, I probably would have ordered less expensive dishes. The food is OK. If I am going to spend $25 for an entree, I would much rather go to Joe's or Lucques. I will go back to Casa Sanchez, though. I will sit in the lounge area, enjoy the margaritas and traditional appetizers, and the distance from the loud (but fantastic) Mariachi band. This is a great place to take the friends and family visiting from out-of-town for a festive meal out, that is not too exotic.

Casa Sanchez
4500 S. Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Vin Italy

Vin Italy is a massive wine tasting event in Italy held ever year. The Wine House hosted its own version Thursday night at the Skirball Cultural Center. The room was filled with distributors pouring samples of their wines. There were a couple of tables with snacks like cheese and bread, and wall to wall Italians. How can you tell one is Italian? They are good looking, well dressed, and wear sneakers with suits.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mozzarella Bar at Osteria Mozza

We arrived at Osteria Mozza shortly after 5:00 last Saturday and we were the first in line, waiting to rush the mozzarella bar (with Nancy Silverton at the helm) at their 5:30 opening. This is what you have to resort to if you do not have a reservation. If you have one, it means you made it one month in advance for a 9:30 Tuesday night slot (like we did), with no chance of being seating early (like we found out at 8:30). No reservations is the way to go. When the doors opened, I made a beeline straight for the mozzarella bar, only to find the hostess very expertly take a side step to her left and block my path with a perky, "2 for the mozzarella bar?" Yes. She seating us at the bar, and the fun began.

A couple months ago when I dined at a table, the waiter insisted we place our order for all the courses at once, so he can set the pace (which we hate to do - we like to set the pace; nice and slow). At the bar the service was much looser. We ordered one dish at a time, at our own pace. When I asked the difference between two kinds of wine, the server replied with the best answer, " let's try them!" Yes, lets. Served in my favorite size portion; the quartino. We were given an amuse bouche of a mozzarella spiral with olives, pesto and tomatoes. A perfect little fatty and salty treat to stir up one's appetite. Our first dish was the crostini with burracotta cheese, mint pesto, artichoke hearts, topped with pine nuts and currants (I believe you may find the recipe in Nancy's sandwich book). This was my favorite dish. Not too big, just the right combination of sweet and savory.

We moved on to the burrata from Basilicata. This burrata arrives from Italy every Thursday, and our waiter said they serve it through Saturday. It had just the slightest hint of sourness that burrata has after a few days, but it was still enjoyable. She served it with some leeks, and a couple of slices of thick bread, toasted and drenched in olive oil.

Remember: when I say things like "fatty, salty, drenched in olive oil," these are all words of praise. At this point we were a bit cheesed-out, so we moved on to grilled figs wrapped in procuitto. Once again, another fantastic combination of the good ol' sweet and salty. We looked at the dessert menu just for fun, but had to pass after all this cheese and bread. This is the way to dine at the Mozza's: arrive early, grab a seat at the bar, and enjoy.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ugo - An Italian Bar

I have been eagerly awaitng the opening of Ugo's bar right next door to his cafe in downtown Culver City. It is like the bars that are all over Italy - serving espresso, gelato, panino, pastries, liquor and more. They have all the bases covered: you can pop in for a quick morning espresso and pastry, or enjoy lunch from their menu of panini, antipasti, salad, and small plates out on the patio, or drop in for an aperitivo before dinner (or digestivo after dinner). Today I had an after lunch snack of torrone gelato and an espresso con panna. My fellow Italophiles will love this place. We can even attempt to practice our Italian with one of the Italian employees, who come from Sicily and and Naples.

Ugo - An Italian Bar
9501 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Taste at The Wine House

The Wine House on Cotner in west LA has opened a little tasting room (called Taste) in the store, just off of the Italian wine section. They have 4 Enomatics filled with wine available for purchase in the store. You buy a card (at the order counter in the rear of the store, not at the cash register up front), grab a glass, put the card into the machine and press the button for the wine you would like to try. Exactly like at Vinum Populi. I like being able to taste a wine before I purchase it. As a matter of fact, I did not like any of the wines I tried, and was glad I did not waste my money on a whole bottle!

The Wine House
2311 Cotner Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90034

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gaby's Express

I checked out the brand new Gaby's Express for lunch the other day in the old Spin location on Washington Blvd just west of Lincoln. My friends and I used to have dinner at Gaby's on Venice Blvd quite a bit. The atmosphere was lively, the food was pretty good, and you could bring in a couple bottles of wine and they usually would only charge us corkage for one. We would feast on middle eastern savory pastires, pita, baba ganoush, hummus, meats, ect. for under $20 a person. Gaby's Express, as you can guess, is a take-out version of the original. I ordered a perfectly good 1/4 rotisserie chicken with a side of steamed vegetables (I know, so healthy. This is what it has come too, after one too may cupcakes). It came with a Zankou-esque mystery garlic sauce. What is in that stuff? It is minced garlic, but held together by what? Gaby's version was good, but, or course, not as good as Zankou. But Zankou does not have a drive through. The rest of their menu had all the usual Mediterranean fare, at reasonable prices. I will go back, for sure.

Gaby's Express
3216 Washington Blvd.
Marina Dal Rey, CA 90292

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Birth of a Blog

Over a year ago I was searching for the website of one of my favorite haunts, The Metro Cafe. I stumbled upon Ellen Bloom's blog on a post she wrote about her experience at The Metro. In one of the photos, I recognized two of my friends at the next table! As a matter of fact, I was there with them, out of the frame. I posted a comment on her blog, and perused the Blogspot site. I quickly realized how easy they make it to create a blog, and Ellen seemed to have so much fun creating hers, so I set up my account. Ellen and I (and a few others) became Blogger-Pen-Pals. Last night I went to an art galley in downtown CC for a showing of an artist I collect, Shag. Guess who I ran into? I should have known Ellen would be there. If there is any cool, modern, tiki, knitting, architectual, wacky, fun event in LA to attend, she is there. Thanks for the inspiration, Ellen.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea just opened their first (and hopefully not their last) west coast store. It is in super-cool Silver Lake, right next to The Cheese Store of Silver Lake and Flea's music school. I got turned on to their coffee a few months ago by a friend who works for the company. The store is great. Spare, open design, outdoor seating, counter seating inside with a beautiful blue and white Nicaraguan tile floor. Small drink menu, just your standard espresso drinks, drip coffee brewed by the cup and no Sugar-Bomb-Blended-Coffee-for-Beginners drinks. I got a macchiato, which was perfect. I hope their will make it out to the west side soon, but in the meantime I will have to "settle" for Caffe Luxxe.

Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea
3922 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Joy of Food Blogging - Free Dogs

I was contacted by a rep for Hoffy Extra Lean Beef Franks and was asked to sample some. You want to send me free stuff? OK! They sent me a box of franks, small and large, to sample. These Lean Beef Franks are a new to Hoffy, who has apparently supplied dogs to Pink's. I never cook hot dogs for myself at home, I usually just enjoy them at sporting events. I rounded up a group of friends, who were initially doubtful about lean hotdogs (and, who are usually doubtful about lean anything!). What better way to remove that doubt than to wrap them up in bacon!

We had lean dogs in bacon, regular dogs in bacon, lean plain, and regular ones which came pre-wrapped in bacon (from our favorite cheap-meat-emporium, Top Valu).

We cooked them up on a cast iron grill pan, creating lots of smoke (luckily, the homeowners already disabled the smoke alarm). I was very surprised during the tasting. First of all, wrapping bacon around a hot dog does not add anything to it, flavor-wise.

That was a disapointment (actually, it is probably for the best that one does not aquire a new super-high-in-fat food item to crave). The Hoffy Lean's were pretty good. They were juicy, flavorful, and really didn't taste much different than the regular dogs.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Alibi Room - Now Open

Checked out the brand-spanking-new Alibi Room on Washington Blvd. in Culver City (the part of CC in the middle of Mar Vista). It was very cool - they must have the same designer as Beechwood. Modern, yet warm and comfortable. And the best part is - it is walking distance from my apartment!! They offer a small bar menu, heavy on the fried food: fried zucchini with dill sauce,

the Canadian (Quebec) national dish: Poutine fries with mozzarella cheese curds and gravy (our favorite of the night at $6),

and, my favorite chicken part: buttermilk fried chicken oysters with honey mustard sauce ($7). The oyster is the little nub of dark meat in between the thigh and backbone of the chicken.

All of these dishes were good, just a tad undersalted. My friend got the burger, with just lettuce tomato, American cheese and shallot butter ($9).

She ordered it rare, and it came out medium rare, and she loved it. Just a straight forward, American style burger. No blue cheese or bacon here, just classic flavors. The menu also includes crudite ($4), fried mozzarella ($6), curly fries ($4), and a philly cheese steak ($9), with your choice of cheese whiz or American.

Luckily, my friend opted for American. The thought of eating Cheeze Whiz just makes my stomach turn. I am very excited that we Mar Vistaites finally have a very cool bar to walk to. All the food was served in sleek cardboard containers, making for easy clean up. The bar is trianglular, with a lounge area and a small outdoor smoking patio. Full bar, good wine, interesting beers (Boddington's, Red Stripe, Dead Man, and a couple Japanese beers, and a Czech beer on tap) and friendly service. Can't wait to go back.