Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Roe Roe Roe Your Yacht: Petrossian

Petrossian has long been known as a purveyor of caviar, roe and smoked salmon. Last year the West Hollywood boutique and restaurant reopened and brought on Benjamin Bailly, the former sous chef at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, to create a menu that highlighted their signature offerings.

Bailly was nominated for a James Beard Rising Star Chef in February of this year and participated in the Star Chefs event at the Miramar hotel in Santa Monica in March, both of which raised his profile among the foodie and blogger set significantly. I had been meaning to try his food for a long time and when I realized that my Black Board Eats offer for 30% of a meal at Petrossian was going to expire, I took the plunge and stopped in for an impromptu feast.

My first course was the "Crispy Egg" with cipolini onion soubise (a bechamel sauce with pureed onion), smoked salmon, caviar. It is shown above with the soft boiled egg, which had been coated with panko (Japanese bread crumbs), cut open. I enjoyed the somewhat runny egg, although I would have preferred it slightly less cooked so that the yolk would run over the plate more. The crispy panko, the runny egg, the soft puree and the salty roe and smoked salmon made for a complex but satisfying dish.

My second course was the Napoleon Tartare: hand sliced steak tartare with a layer of caviar in the center and a dollop of caviar on top. This was served with crispy toasts and some greens. The caviar added a nice textural element to the classic steak tartare, by providing the "pop" of the roe in addition to the soft meat and the crunchy cracker. It was a different kind of dish than the more traditional version found at Comme Ca etc. While playful, most times I think I would prefer a well executed traditional tartare.

Last but not least was the Smoked Salmon Pizzette, with creme fraiche, red onions, capers, and generous dollops of caviar. The creme fraiche played the role that tomato sauce would play in a traditional pizza, with the salmon standing in for the cheese. The dish is a take on the Wolfgang Puck classic smoked salmon pizza from Spago, which has been one of Puck's signature dishes since the early 1980s. The salmon was very high quality and the pizzette crust was very thin, like a cracker. The size of the pizzette is large; this dish is meant for sharing. As with the other dishes, it was beautifully presented.

I was pleased to see that the restaurant was full; one can usually walk in as the packed restaurant was unfortunately not the norm. The manager Chris provided excellent service throughout the meal. The space is quite modern and was completely redone last year. Bailly is quite talented and I look forward to trying more of his dishes, particularly if his menu continues to evolve. This cafe is much more than a spot to buy caviar and while it is possible to spend as much on a meal as on a mortgage payment, there are delicious options for sailboat as well as yacht class budgets.

Petrossian: 321 North Robertson, West Hollywood. Telephone: (310) 271-6300. Website:

Martini Rosato - US Launch

Giuseppe Gallo, the Global Brand Ambassador for Martini, came to the US last week from his home base in London, to help launch the new Martini Rosato vermouth. At Copa D'Oro, Giuseppe discussed the origins of vermouth, the heritage of the Martini brand and the ingredients, flavors and uses of the new Rosato, which won a Gold Medal at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The origins of vermouth were in the aromatic wines made in Roman times in the Italian peninsula. For centuries, Piedmonte has been the center of the aromatic wine industry. The Martini & Rossi company was founded in 1863 and the goal of the founders was to achieve consistency in a product that had been highly variable.

Martini uses over 40 types of botanicals which are infused into its vermouth, through both maceration in the slow turn and through distillation in an English pot still. In order to achieve their goal of consistency, the firm searches out its desired ingredients and then establishes long term contracts with growers, rather than purchase supplies on the open market.

Martini Rosato is made using red, white and rose wines, in contrast to traditional vermouth which only uses white wine. Rosato also has a different set of botanicals infused into it, including clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, pomegranate and pink grapefruit. Caramel is also added to help give it its distinctive pink hue and pure sugar and alcohol are added to the wine to help preserve it.

In addition to presenting, Giusseppe mixed several cocktails for the attendees, including the Martini Royal and the Martini Summer Punch (recipe below). The Rosato cocktails were surprisingly refreshing; very light and crisp.

Martini Summer Punch
* 3 oz of Martini Rosato
* 3 oz of Prosecco
* 1 oz Strawberry Liqeur
* Fresh Berries
* Fresh Pineapple Chunks
* Ice Cubes

Natraliart - Bring on the Jamaican Patties

Natraliart is a small Jamaican grocery with a cafe attached. The vibe in the cafe is mellow and unpretentious and there is waiter service as well as a TV set on the wall, conveniently tuned to the World Cup the day I visited.

Note that none of the dishes at Natraliart contain pork, as the owner/chef is a practicing Rastafarian, and as such abstains from all pork products.

On prior visits I had enjoyed the curry goat, the jerk chicken and the beef patties. On a recent visit, my dining companion had the stewed peas and rice and I had the jerk chicken. The beef patties were not ready so we had chicken patties. The jerk chicken was not as spicy or flavorful as it had been on prior visits. It lacked the essential kick of the dish. It was served with plantains, rice mixed with beans,and some vegetables. Before the main dishes arrived we had the chicken patties, which were delicious; the best part of the meal. Salads were also brought at the same time. They were fine but perfectly ordinary.

No alcohol is served, although an extensive menu of juices is available. The lunch items were around $11 or so. Not particularly inexpensive considering the location, atmosphere and ingredients. If this was my first visit, I would not likely return, but as I have had several great meals here, I hope this was an aberration and not the new state of things at Natraliart. I would continue to highly recommend the patties. One could make a meal out of them and be very happy.

Natraliart is located at 3426 West Washington Blvd, at 5th Avenue. Phone: (323) 737-9277. Website:

What to eat & drink tonight in LA

When it rains, it pours. Tonight Los Angeles's food and cocktail enthusiasts have a cornucopia of choices:

Animal Restaurant: Animal is hosting chefs Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli from New York City's Frankies Sputino who will be cooking dishes from their new book. $60 pp (includes a copy of the cookbook)

Whiskey Social @ Wilshire Restaurant: 8 pm dinner at Wilshire Restaurant with each course using whiskey as an ingredient and paired with a whiskey drink $50 pp

Drago Centro Cocktail Contest Finals: The final four drinks will compete for a spot on the Drago Centro cocktail list. The event is also a launch of the Summer cocktail list. Summer cocktails will be $8 each, tonight only.

Top Chef Menu @ Water Grill: In celebration of sous chef Amanda Baumgarten's participation on Top Chef, Water Grill will be featuring a special dish featuring the ingredients she used on this week's episode, Barbeque Rib and Scallops

Malo Tequila Appreciation Night: 8 pm three course dinner at Malo paired with Herradura Tequila. $40 pp

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hide Sushi: No frills sushi since 1979

If you grew up in West LA, then you have probably been to Hide Sushi at least once. It opened on Sawtelle Blvd in 1979 and has been serving sushi and cooked Japanese food at reasonable prices ever since. Hide has always been cash only and has an ATM machine on the premises. For as long as I have been going there, Hide has had a wait to be seated at dinner. They have a dry erase board for diners to write their name on and hungry customers frequently check the board to see their position in the queue.

I have been going to Hide Sushi for roughly twenty years; I wouldn't eat sushi when I first started going there. They have a parking lot and my family went so frequently that the parking lot attendant would ask about anyone who wasn't with us on that visit, especially my grandmother. So I have an affinity and history with this restaurant.

On a recent visit I opted for the teriyaki and sashimi combination. This came with miso soup,rice, tsukemono (pickled greens) and sunomono (cucumber salad). I opted for the beef teriyaki and the salmon sashimi and added an order of two pieces of inari. The hot soup arrived quickly in a lidded bowl, along with the sides of tsukemono and sunomono. These sides are nothing to get excited about. The beef teriyaki comes with a great version of teriyaki sauce, with just the right element of sweetness. The teriyaki is served with a salad with the traditional ginger salad dressing.

The salmon sashimi was fresh tasting and nicely cut. The number of slices is greater than expected.

The inari (fried bean curd wrapped around sweet rice) look like little footballs. For me, they are a great dessert because of the sweetness, although they are really part of the meal. They are listed on the menu as six to an order, but you can order them in multiples of two.

If you go, plan on bringing cash. Your party must be complete in order to be seated and expect a wait. They turn the tables quickly so this is not a spot for a long drawn out meal. Their cooked food and sushi is a good value. They have a parking lot with free validation, although it often fills up and street parking can get tough on this stretch of Sawtelle, due to the large number of Japanese restaurants.

Hide Sushi: 2040 Sawtelle (between La Grange & Olympic), West LA. Phone: (310) 477-7274. No website.

In Search of Fried Chicken: Murph's Gaslight

When I was in Palm Desert looking for good food options, a friend of a friend recommended Murph's Gaslight for their fried chicken. Murph's is located at the entrance to the Bermuda Dunes Airport in Bermuda Dunes, which is in between Palm Desert and Indio, in the Coachella Valley. Murph's shares its facilities with the Bermuda Dunes Racquet Club, a facility with both a pool and courts, and has been in business since 1976.

According to its website, founder Ralph Murphy grew up in the South and then in the 1930s worked on luxury ocean liners where he learned the "French way with food." When he opened Murph's Gaslight, he "introduced his unique method of preparing pan-fried chicken by combining the best of Southern Cooking and of French food preparation methods."

In the summer off season, we were the only people in the restaurant less than 65 years old. The menu proudly states that Murph's is the "Home of the Original Pan Fried Chicken", so that is what we ordered. At lunch the fried chicken is served with french fries, cole slaw and the soup of the day for $9.95. We passed on the soup and went straight for the chicken, which arrived in a basket on top of the french fries. The chicken was just ok, it did not have that straight out of the pan taste to it. In fact my dining companion noted that he felt it tasted like the chicken had been sitting out.

So unfortunately after the detour to try it, based on this one visit I can't recommend Murph's fried chicken. It just was ordinary at best. Perhaps during peak season or on Sunday when they are continuously serving order after order of the chicken, there would be a better chance of getting it hot out of the frying pan.

Note that at dinner the fried chicken is served family style, for parties of two or more, for $17.95 per person. That includes all the traditional sides such as potatoes, gravy, biscuits, gravy, peas, vegetables etc. On Sundays the only dish served is the fried chicken meal, which is available from 3 pm until closing.

Through September 30, you can print this coupon to get two meals for the price of one.

Murph's Gaslight is located at 79-860 Avenue 42 in Bermuda Dunes. Phone: (760) 345-6242. Website:

Palm Desert Edition: El Gallito

The Palm Springs / Palm Desert area is not known for its bounty of good dining options. There are upscale steakhouses and spots in hotels, as well as value spots appealing to families and retirees but not so many good ethnic or interesting choices that are both good and reasonably priced. El Gallito (the Rooster) is an oasis in this environment, offering good Mexican food in an atmosphere that feels homey and lived in. Its not surprising that this Cathedral City restaurant is listed in Road Food.

El Gallito is located in a stand alone building with red trim, red fences and red benches. The restaurant is known for its rules: you can't order beer/wine without ordering food, chips and salsa will only be served after you have ordered your food, cash only, and no splitting checks. This is not the kind of spot that takes reservations.

In the winter months there is often a wait to be seated but in the heat of the summer, there was no wait and they even broke their rule (their house, their rules) by bringing me chips and salsa before I had ordered. I had a combination of an enchilada and a burrito. Both were good, served piping hot and arrived at the table quickly. I'd describe it as quality solid California Mexican. They are not aiming for fancy/healthy or regional cuisine.

The food is fairly priced, tastes good and is served in a comfortable environment. In Los Angeles, El Gallito would not stand out, but in the Coachella Valley its a great option.

El Gallito is located at 68820 Grove St, just off of Allen Avenue and within sight of Highway 111 / E. Palm Canyon Drive. Phone: (760) 328-7794‎

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ilegal Mezcal Los Angeles Launch

Ilegal Mezcal recently became available in California and to celebrate and spread the word, the brand which launched in 2007 sent Stephen Myers, their Global Brand Ambassador, on tour to talk about mezcal and about the Ilegal brand in particular.

Last week a crowd of mezcal lovers filled Las Perlas, the mezcal focused bar on East 6th Street in downtown LA, to hear a presentation by Myers (pictured at left). The attendees included Bricia Lopez, the legendary mezcal enthusiast who has cocktails named after her at three different bars, as well as local bloggers such as ThirstyinLA, MicroLiquor, StreetGourmetLA, FoodGPS, and Glutster among others. Myers, a charming Australian bartender, gave a talk about how he and John Rexer founded Ilegal Mezcal when they were operating a bar in Guatemela and their customers were enthusiastic about the mezcal that they were smuggling across the border from Mexico. You may be wondering why an Aussie was lecturing a bunch of Americans about mezcal. Myers was traveling across Latin America and took a bartending job at Cafe No Se in Antigua, Guatamela working for Rexer, to make money. After several years in Guatemala serving a growing demand for mezcal among the international visitors to their bar, Myers and Rexer decided to create their own brand of mezcal.

Ilegal Mezcal is an artisinal mezcal, made in small quantities, in the village of Tlacolula, outside of Oaxaca. Myers said that almost all mezcals are single village and small production products, in contrast to the mass produced tequila which dominates the export market for agave liquor. Mezcal like tequila is made from the agave plant (although unlike tequila is not necessarily from the blue agave). The heart of the plant is baked in earthen pit ovens and then distilled and mezcals are 100% agave and fermented in oak vats. As a small batch product, there is significantly greater variation in the end product than in the more mass produced tequilas.

Ilegal Mezcal is distilled twice and filtered once. The line includes 3 variations that I got to sample: Joven (unaged), Reposado (aged five months), and Anejo (aged for three years). The Joven has chocolate and grapefruit notes in the flavor. The Reposado was smokier and had more heft than the Joven with a medium smoke and pear flavor. The Anejo is aged three years in American and French oak. It is smooth but smoky with some caramel. My preference, and that of several other attendees was for the Reposado, which had a great balance without being overwhelmed by smokiness.

Due to its name, Ilegal Mezcal went through a struggle with the US government in order to use the Ilegal brand name and its preferred packaging. Despite the fact that the government of Mexico had already approved it for export, the TTB, the US government agency which must approve liquor labels in the US refused to allow them to use their name because it might confuse consumers who would think the product was illegal. After much research the partners were able to show that other brands with similar names were permitted and the agency relented. Fortunately for US mezcal aficionados, Ilegal Mezcal is now legal and available on the West Coast as well as its initial launch market of New York.

Here in Los Angeles, Las Perlas and the Tar Pit Bar both carry the range of Ilegal products. Although Las Perlas has a variety of mezcal cocktails, I recommend drinking the Ilegal Mezcal neat, particularly the Reposado. The only thing criminal about this product is that we had to wait so long to get it.

Gjelina: A Winning Patio & Menu

Gjelina on Abbot Kinney in Venice has been a tough reservation since it opened in late summer 2008. Travis Lett is the chef; he had previously been at NineThirty, the restaurant in the W Westwood hotel. In particular, Gjelina is known for its thin crust pizzas and for its patio in the back of the restaurant.

Last month I had a late lunch on the patio - on a beautiful day it is one of the most comfortable spots to eat in the city. We shared the Shaved Asparagus, Shallot Confit, Farm Egg, Sottocenere & Parmesan Pizza, the Burrata with an Olive Tapenade Crouton, Arugula, Lemon & Green Olive Oil appetizer and a side of Garlic Grilled Broccolini with Chili & Vinegar.

The burrata was delicious and a great way to begin the meal. The crostini with tapenade was crunchy; it had been toasted just shy of burning to give it that great texture. The burrata was smooth and rich. We ate every bite.

The pizza was thin crust and came to the table with a beautiful runny yolk. I have a soft spot for dishes with a runny egg component, so this was a must order. The sottocenere cheese is a cheese with truffle in it and the taste came through, which was a good thing. The pizza crust had a good char and chew to it. I'd order this again.

Lastly we shared the broccolini, which had a little kick due to the chili. We needed some green stuff amidst all the cheese and this dish delivered, cutting through the other flavors with sharp clean veggie and chili tastes.

We drank a domestic dry Riesling from Upstate New York, which had the crispness we needed to go with the food.

The ambiance is comfortable and Lett's menu is market driven. Like many restaurants that have opened lately (such as Animal), Gjelina will not modify items on the menu. The menu states "changes & modifications politely declined" and "we support local, sustainable & organic practices whenever possible." Gjelina has a certain way of doing things, and thats fine by me as long as the food continues to taste as good as it did on this visit.

Cadenhead's Green Label Rum

At the recent Mutineer Magazine party at Falcon, I was intrigued by the selection of spirits at the Preiss Imports table. Their representative mentioned that he had a bottle of Cadenheads Green Label Rum but was unable to get to his car to get it so it could be sampled.

I remembered this and several weeks later was able to sample this elusive spirit, which is made from Caribbean rum but is produced by Cadenheads, a Scottish distiller known for its single malt whiskeys, Old Raj Gin and its Demerara rum.

The Cadenheads Green Label rum is bottled from a single cask of matured-in-oak Demerara Rum. It is 100 proof and the rum is a dark golden color with a full flavor. Despite the high alcohol content, the Green Label is not harsh. This is a sipping rum that has some caramel, oak and vanilla flavors to it; I thought it tasted even better with a single ice cube to cool it down and just begin to dilute it. Based on the flavor profile, the aging and the manufacturer, I'd describe Cadenhead's Green Label as a Scotch drinker's rum. The finish was smoother than I had expected for a 100 proof rum and overall the Green Label is a good option to sip after dinner, or on a relaxing afternoon.

The origin of the rum is not disclosed by Cadenheads on the bottle, website or by the representative, perhaps in order to keep an air of mystery about the origins of the spirit. The only descriptor given is Caribbean, which is rather broad.

It is available online at Cask (from San Francisco) at $73 and locally in Los Angeles for $75 at Wally's.

Good Food Sunday @ Dwell on Design 2010

At this year's Dwell on Design, the design show at the LA Convention Center hosted by Dwell Magazine, Lesley Bargar Suter, the Dining Editor for Los Angeles Magazine, and Evan Kleiman, the host of Good Food on KCRW and the chef/owner of Angeli Caffe, curated a series of panels about food, under the rubric of Good Food Sunday.

Chris Nichols, an editor at Los Angeles magazine, moderated a panel on Mid Century Modern restaurant design, with a special focus on the California coffee shops with the Googie look. Designs for Panns, Denny's, Bob's Big Boy and Norm's among others were shown. The panelists included Victor Newlove, an architect who helped design many of the seminal buildings of the genre. Unfortunately most of the original buildings have been torn down. You can see my pictures and read about my dinner at Pann's here.

Lesley Bargar Suter moderated the next panel, "The Changing Shape of the Modern Restaurant." This panel focused on the rise of food trucks and pop-up restaurants in Los Angeles. Michele Grant and Dave Dahni from the Grilled Cheese Truck, Josh Hiller from RoadStoves, Nick Bognar from the Border Grill Truck, and Ludo Lefebvre from LudoBites and the soon to launch Ludo Fried Chicken Truck were the participants.

LeFebvre spoke about launching his first iteration of LudoBites, his pop-up restaurant, "It happened almost by accident. I was consulting with BreadBar and the restaurant was closed in the evenings. It was low cost. I didn’t need investors. It was an easy and quick way for me to open a restaurant, as I was looking to open a restaurant at that time.”
He enjoys being an entrepreneur and not having to run his business to meet investors’ expectations or to charge more in order to pay for an expensive restaurant buildout. “I am my own boss. Nobody can tell me what to do. With this concept [LudoBites] I am full every night. It is new all the time. The more money I spent to open a restaurant, the more I will have to charge my customers. A restaurant is about eating and not about chi chi. Maybe one day I’ll go back to that, but not now.”

One of LeFebvre’s signature items, fried chicken, has spawned its own food truck which will launch next month. LeFebvre said, “I really want to bring gastronomic food to the street, to everyone. When I created LudoBites it was accessible to everyone. Food is about how to meet people and to put people together. All my menu items on the truck are exactly the same food I am doing in a restaurant. Good food; fresh.”
The panel felt that food trucks are more than a fad; that they will continue to be a significant part of the food landscape. LeFebvre said, “Food trucks are here to stay. The good trucks are going to stay around, just like with restaurants. People don’t have the time [to eat leisurely] now. It is a great way to eat good food quickly.” Other panelists agreed, noting that the weeding out process of trucks without good food or good business plans has already begun, but that the most successful trucks have already expanded through additional vehicles.

Danhi and Grant from the Grilled Cheese Truck said that their idea to launch came from the Grilled Cheese Invitational and they love the flexibility of the truck. “It is liberating. You get to reach different demographics. We have way more direct contact with the people who love our food than we would in a restaurant. Social media is a huge component of our success. The interactive input from customers affects how and where we move our truck. The truck provides an interactive aspect to dining out. When you go to eat at a truck, you are not looking for the same experience as at a restaurant. Trucks are a little more social.”

The gourmet food truck concept is not as easy as it has appeared to some. As Hiller noted, ““You still have to be the chef and the cook and run your own business.” The Grilled Cheese Truck duo said, “You are dealing with a kitchen on wheels, with all of the issues of a kitchen and all of the issues of a vehicle. The limited space on a truck and the prepping are some of our key challenges.”

LeFebvre has found working on a gourmet food truck to be difficult, “To work on the truck is not easy, it is a nightmare” he said. The Grilled Cheese Truck team responded, “It may not be a nightmare but more of an adventure.” LeFebvre replied, “Maybe for you.”

The next panel was a demonstration of Molecular Gastronomy with Evan Kleiman and Fany Setiyo of Le Sanctuaire. Le Sanctuaire is based in San Francisco and is the premiere source for the ingredients required for molecular gastronomy cooking techniques. Setiyo’s demonstration used both peanut butter powder and nutella sand. At the conclusion the attendees were able to sample the two products. I felt the nutella sand tasted much more strongly of its product than the peanut butter powder did.

The final panel of the day was a discussion about “What’s New in Cheese” between Bargar Suter and Alex Brown, the General Manager of Gourmet Imports.

Attari Part I: A sandwich shop even more powerful than the 2600

Attari Sandwich Shop is hidden away in a courtyard in a building on Westwood Blvd amidst the stretch of Persian businesses that line Westwood from Wilshire to La Grange. The unobtrusive location is no hindrance to business as the patio tables are crowded with fans hungry for their popular tongue sandwich, oliveh chicken sandwich and the ab-goosht soup (served only on Fridays).

Simon Majumdar of Los Dos Hermanos and I stopped by recently to try their well known tongue sandwich and some borani (a yogurt dip with spinach).

The tongue sandwich was served on a baguette and has some tart pickles, lettuce and tomato, along with the slices of tongue in a baguette. The portion is quite large. The pickles really assert themselves in this sandwich and the texture of the tongue was softer than I had expected.

The borani was refreshing and a nice light counterpoint to the sandwich. If we had been eating spicy food, it would have made a great antidote.

It is quite pleasant to sit in the courtyard at lunch and eat at a leisurely pace.

Note: the entrance to the restaurant/patio is on Wilkins.

Attari Sandwich Shop: 1388 Westwood Blvd @ Wilkins, Westwood. Telephone: (310) 441-5488. No Website. Closed on Mondays.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thomas Keller does Hamburgers

Thomas Keller, the chef/owner of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, has been talking about opening a burger restaurant for years. In 2006 when Ad Hoc opened, it was supposed to be a temporary restaurant (an incredible placeholder) until his "Burgers and Half Bottles" would take that space. But Ad Hoc became so popular that it couldn't be closed, and the burger concept has still not come to fruition as its own establishment.

Thursday night, at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, hamburgers went onto the menu for the first time at a Keller restaurant, that I am aware of. These burgers are only available Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings after 9 pm. The burgers are ground on-site from a combination of cuts of beef (sirloin, brisket and chuck.) They are served with a mountain of Bouchon's famous french fries.

The first burger ordered went to a well known local chef who tried to order one at 7:30 on Thursday evening. No dice. So just after 9 pm, Chef de Cuisine Rory Herrmann brought out the first burger to the appreciative customer who had already eaten a full meal in the interim. There were no leftovers.

Last night a compatriot and I went to Bouchon to try this burger for ourselves. It is $21 and is not on the written menu. The idea is somewhat reminiscent of the midnight burger at Pulino's in New York or the 10 pm burger at Holeman & Finch in Atlanta, but don't worry there is no bullhorn at Bouchon, and no limit on how many burgers they will serve in an evening.

Our burgers arrived, beautifully presented, but alas overcooked. We sent them back and they were very gracious about it. They grilled us new ones and in the interim sent out Salade de Melon (summer melon salad with French feta, picholine olives, arugula & citrus vinaigrette) and Salade de Tomates (heirloom tomato salad with English cucumber, grilled red onion & young basil. Both were very good and the melon had been pressed to give it an intensity of flavor and color.

Then the main attraction arrived: two burgers cooked perfectly to medium rare. The meat was nicely seasoned and was loosely packed. The burgers had been cooked quickly and chef Hermann told us he was trying to get the same level of doneness the whole way through the burger, rather than the traditional way of having the exterior be significantly more well done than the middle.

The burgers are beautifully presented (I had mine without the tomato) and served with enough french fries to feed several normal people or half of the women in Beverly Hills. The overall verdict was that the burgers were quite good. I prefer the burger I had a few months ago at Comme Ca, because it had some char on the outside while still being medium rare in the center. If you are into char on your burgers, these are not the burgers for you, as that is not the effect that Chef Hermann is going for. I'll have this burger again, perhaps splitting it with someone, so I have room to eat more of the menu, such as the legendarily decadent foie gras in a jar.

We were pleased to see that in addition to the Animal sauce (ketchup, mayo, cornichons), Heinz ketchup was served (in small bowls, not bottles). As Hermann said, why mess with recreating something that everyone already knows and loves.

We sat outside on the balcony, which I think are some of the best seats in the house. There are heatlamps if you get cold, its quieter and you get the great view of the gardens and the Montage hotel.

Bouchon Beverly Hills is at 235 N Canon Drive. Phone: (310) 271-9910. Website:

10th Annual Lucques Rib Fest

Last Sunday Lucques hosted its 10th annual All-American Rib Fest. This was a variation of their legendary Sunday suppers, with a rib theme, and the ability to have more of whatever you want. Sunday was also the day of the fun but filling Taste of the Nation in Culver City, so I debated whether I could find the room to partake of a rib feast following the very extensive grazing that I had done all afternoon at the fundraiser. I got my second wind and decided that this rib fest was not to be missed and headed north to Suzanne Goin & Caroline Styne's classic restaurant to see how the 10th anniversary edition of Rib Fest stacked up.

The meal included saint-louis style pork ribs, braised beef back ribs, spiced lamb spare ribs, too-hot-to-handle chicken wings, an assortment of traditional sides, and dessert, all for $55. I asked for no pork ribs, and the server proactively made sure that I didn't have the baked beans, as there was pork in that dish as well. This is typical of the outstanding and thoughtful service I had throughout the meal.

Pretty soon my table was covered with dishes (above) including corn on the cob, grilled corned bread and wonder bread, watermelon and lime salad, and all the meats. The grilled corn on the cob was ok, not too sweet, as it is probably too early in the season for the sweetest ears. The table was literally groaning with the amount of food it was bearing. No small portions here.

The braised beef back ribs (below, top left) were tender and the meat was falling off of the bone. The single beef rib was very large and could have been a meal unto itself. Rich deep flavor. The sauce that came with the ribs (in a bowl) was a little too sweet for my taste, so I didn't use it but it wasn't necessary as the beef ribs were so flavorful already.

The lamb ribs (below, top right) were obviously smaller and were served several to a plate. The meat was dryer and less rich than the beef. The chicken wings (below, middle left) lived up to their "too hot to handle" moniker. The wings were served one at a time (seconds were available) and had a soft breading/coating. They were tangy and legitimately spicy. A real kick that crept up on you.

It was fortunate that Lucques served the watermelon and lime salad, which was very refreshing and put out the fire in my mouth from the wing. The watermelon salad included lime, onion, watercress, mint, olive oil, watermelon juice, in addition to watermelon itself. This salad was one of my favorite dishes in the meal and one I'd be happy to order again.

The grilled cornbread was dry for my taste and had grillmarks on it. The cole slaw was good, not tasting of mayonnaise, and the cabbage was crunchy.

Before dessert, I had seconds of the lamb ribs, the chicken wings and the watermelon salad. If you are going to have two huge meals in a row, you might as well go all in. This was a meal that required the use of several napkins.

I did not do justice to the strawberry rhubarb crumble with buttermilk ice cream (below, middle right) as I could only manage one serving. The ice cream was not too sweet, which was a nice way to end the meal.

The full menu is posted below, click to enlarge.

Alas there are no plans yet for a Lucques chicken wing and watermelon salad truck. But anything is possible.

Lucques Restaurant. 8474 Melrose Avenue (E of La Cienega). Phone: (323) 655-6277. Website:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Taste of the Nation 2010 Recap

Last Sunday over 1,500 food fans, chefs and vintners got together to raise money for Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to fighting childhood hunger in America, at the annual Taste of the Nation event in Culver City.

Over 40 local restaurants participated by providing sample size portions of their food. Attendees could try as many of the foods as they wanted, and fortunately the lines were manageable for almost all vendors, with the exception of the Gelato Bar, whose icy offerings were much in demand on a hot day.

Chef Michael Voltaggio of The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena did a cooking demonstration on the main stage and also got inked a new tattoo in honor of the charity event.

Mozza, Bottega Louie, Patina, Bar 210, Hatfields, The Bazaar, Sprinkles, and Loteria Grill were just some of the restaurants represented.

My favorite tastes of the day included the short ribs with potato puree from Hatfield's, the hamachi from Patina, the torchon of foie gras and the salad of heirloom tomato, watermelon and feta, both from Bottega Louie. Both of the Bottega Louie offerings were excellent and the watermelon and tomato salad was perfect and refreshing on warm summer day. I can't wait to get to the restaurant to try the full menu.

The FIG station was serving hot dogs, in order to promote their newly launched FIG Hot Dog Cart, which is available poolside at the Fairmont Hotel on weekends. It seemed silly to offer a full sized hot dog (they were quite large) at an event at which people were grazing from dozens of booths. I was also disappointed when after it turned out that both toppings on offer included pork (which I don't eat), they weren't willing to let me try one without the toppings (which I could see them adding literally in front of me.) "We are pork friendly," the smug member of the kitchen staff said. His attitude made me question whether I should bother returning back to FIG again.

Below are selected photos from the event:

Executive Chef Tony Esnault & Pastry Chef Waylynn Lucas of Patina.

Marcel Vigneron of Bar 210 with his pomegranate spheres.

Karen Hatfield of Hatfield's plating.

Sam Marvin of Bottega Louie.

The wonderful torchon of foie gras with apple gastrique and marcona almond brittle from Bottega Louie.

The albacore sashimi with onion sauce in a cocktail glass from K-Zo.

The delicious vanilla panna cotta from Mozza.