Friday, July 30, 2010

Ricky's Fish Tacos @ Angeli Caffe

Ricky's Fish Taco's did a special one night pop-up at chef/owner Evan Kleiman's Angeli Caffe on Melrose on Monday evening, courtesy of Bill Esparza of StreetGourmetLA, pictured above (center).

The menu was restricted to fish tacos, shrimp tacos or caesar salad, plus beverages and dessert. Angeli Caffe filled up early and stayed busy for the duration of the evening. Harriet Ells, the producer of Kleiman's KCRW radio program Good Food, pitched in to help seat people. Beers and tacos sold briskly.

I had two of the fish tacos, which were fried fish in a taco with greens, salsa and sauce. The fish was very light, not oily at all, which is a mean feat with frying. The home made salsas (red and green) made a good dish even better.

Several of us shared a sundae with Mexican spices, which was a decadent way to end the meal. Ricky's Fish Taco's is usually located on Vermont south of Sunset, and is a stand. Several other diners commented on how much they enjoyed being able to sit down comfortably and eat Ricky's food.

The only component of the meal we didn't enjoy were the Micheladas, which were just poor. Beer is the better option and went perfectly with the fish tacos.

I look forward to seeing who Kleiman and Esparza bring in next in their pop-up series as the dinner was not only good tasting but a lot of fun and involved much table hopping as Angeli Caffe and Ricky's Fish Tacos regulars mixed with the many bloggers and readers of Esparza's website.

Ricky's Fish Tacos: 1400 N Virgil, lunch only but check twitter first

Angeli Caffe: 7274 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. Phone: (323) 936-9086. Website:

White Plate Menu at Wilshire Restaurant

Last week Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica began a new dinner program in their bar areas in which the White Plate dish of the evening plus a beverage is available for only $15. The dish changes nightly:

Monday: Steak frites
Tuesday: Polenta fried chicken with summer corn salad
Wednesday: Meatloaf with fried egg and smashed red bliss potatoes
Thursday: Carlsbad mussels with shoestring fries and saffron aioli
Friday: Newcastle brown ale-battered cod and fat chips
Saturday:Spaghetti and your mama's meatballs with cheesy garlic bread

The beverage offered is a featured red or white wine, a draft beer or a specialty cocktail which include the bees knees or a margarita among other selections.

This is a tremendous value and is available in the entire front bar/lounge area near the entrance as well as at the bar in the patio. You can get dinner and a beverage for almost the same price as some of the cocktails.

Last week I tried the fried chicken (Tuesday) which came as a large boneless piece of thigh and leg meat. I was asked whether I preferred white or dark meat, a nice touch that I hadn't been expecting. The chicken is breaded in polenta, which not surprisingly tasted like a cornmeal crust. The chicken was served on a bed of summer corn salad. The chicken was reminiscent of the lauded fried chicken available on Fridays at Huckleberry (also in Santa Monica), so if you enjoy that chicken you will likely enjoy this version.

I opted for the Bees Knees, made with Junipero gin, house made triple syrup and fresh lemon juice. It was well made for a restaurant cocktail, although don't go expecting the precision of The Roger Room or the Varnish. It is apparent that consultant Alex Straus spent time training the staff how to make these drinks properly.

Overall it was an excellent value and I would recommend this deal, especially as you are not restricted to physically sitting at the bar to order it (there are bar tables in the bar/lounge area). Chef Andrew Kirschner has been improving the quality of the whole food program and this is a great way to bring people into the restaurant who might not otherwise have come to sample his cuisine.

Wilshire Restaurant: 2454 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica. Phone: (310) 586-1707. Website:

Ryan Magarian's Aviation Gin Hour at Rivera

On Tuesday evening bartender and partner in Aviation Gin Ryan Magarian hosted an Aviation Gin evening at the bar at Rivera, John Sedlar's downtown restaurant. Magarian, who is based in Portland, Oregon, was in Los Angeles straight from Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, and he mixed up eight classic drinks, using Aviation Gin instead of the original liquor. He is pictured above with Julian Cox, the head bartender at Rivera.

Magarian said that many claim that these and other drinks don't work with different gins or liquors such as Aviation but that the key is to adjust the proportions so that the taste is right. If you leave the proportions the same, its not surprising that the cocktails do not work with different ingredients, he said.

Each classic cocktail was available for $8 each and I sampled the Last Word (above) and the Bee's Knees (below). The Last Word was made with Aviation Gin, Green Chartreuse, lime juice and Maraschino. The Aviation version was noticeably different than the standard Last Word, a little lighter. The Bees Knees was fine but suffered in comparison to the best version of the drink I have had, last week from Chris Bostick at the Varnish.

Aviation Gin, which is based in Portland, is expanding its distribution and Magarian mentioned that it will be available in all 50 states by the end of the year. It is unusual to see a bartender have a significant ownership stake in a liquor brand and I hope to see more bartender/mixologist driven distilled spirits on the market following in Magarian's footsteps.

You can taste his style of cocktails in Los Angeles at Westside Tavern in West LA and at the Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, both of whose cocktail programs he designed.

Tinga: Now Open

Tinga restaurant opens today on La Brea Blvd, just south of 1st Street. The Mexican taco specialist is the first restaurant project for husband and wife caterers Jerry (pictured below) and Chris Baker. Last night I was invited to their friends and family opening celebration to see their new space and try the food.

The menu is built around five types of tacos, including cochina pibil, papas bravas, puerco especial, steak picado and short rib deshabrada. I tried the steak tacos, which were very clean tasting and had nice bright flavors. Others around me raved about the pork tacos and the potato (papas bravas) tacos.

The other signature dish is the tinga, which is shredded chicken served on a toastada with tomato chipotle, lettuce, crema and pickled onion. The tortillas, salsas, guacamole and beverages are all made in-house.

The team was especially proud of the horchata (pictured below), justifiably so, in my opinion. Very refreshing. Tamarindo, jamaica and watermelon lemonade are all also available.

My favorite of the dishes I tried was the grilled corn, which had spices and lime juice on it to give it a real kick. The corn was served off of the cob in clusters of kernels in a salad format and was packed with flavor.

The pistachio desserts were tasty treats and have a strong lemon flavor as well. Lemon is a favorite of mine in desserts, so I was happy to eat a second one when given the opportunity.

Tinga does not have a sign up at this time. Look for the open french doors and the large communal wooden table dominating the interior. The walnut stool seats and table tops were manufactured for the Tinga team by a maker of cutting boards, which is a cool design touch, although I don't suspect they'd like you to start cutting straight on the table...

Tinga does not have an alcohol license. The taco plates are between $5.50 and $8.50 and the fresh drinks are $3.75. Tinga's slogan is "The people, they like it!" and I'd have to agree with that sentiment.

Note: I was invited to this event and did not pay for my food or beverage.

Tinga: 142 S. La Brea Avenue (1st St/2nd St).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lunch on the wane? fewer options in LA

In recent weeks Bastide has ended its lunch service in favor of expanding to six nights a week, adding Monday, and Eva has shrunk lunch service to Thursday and Friday down from four days per week. Is this the beginning of a trend?

Sit down upscale lunch spots have been concentrated in the downtown and Beverly Hills / Century City business districts. Perhaps it is a location issue more than anything else?

As an Angeleno who enjoys eating real lunches and not just a salad or sandwich on the go, this is a disappointing series of developments and I hope this lunch retrenchment is over.

LAX airport restaurants eat-in at Patina

This morning the winning bidder for the largest airport food concession at LAX held an "eat-in" media event with their participating restaurant partners at Patina restaurant at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Pat Murray (pictured below), a Vice President at SSP America, spoke about his winning bid and the local restauranteurs that are participating in the vision for enhanced dining options at the airport.

Partner restaurant chefs/owners such as Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of the Border Grill, Megan Logan of Nick + Stef's, Rod White of Bertha's Soul Food and Andrew Cherng of Panda Express all spoke about their excitement at participating in the expansion and improvement of the dining options at LAX. Cherng (pictured below) referred to it as a "once in a lifetime transformation."

White of Bertha's Soul Food said, "We intend to make the best of this opportunity and show the world what true diversity looks like and tastes like. He then quoted Bonnie Raitt and said 'Let's give them something to talk about.'" The chefs each prepared a dish or dishes reflective of their restaurants. The offering from Border Grill Taqueria was Yucatan Pork Tacos, which Susan Feniger is pictured holding a tray of below.

Other dishes included Chiles Rellenos from La Serenata de Garibaldi and SweetFire Chicken Breast from Panda Express, both shown below on the table. Nancy Silverton's Sputino offered a spicy focaccia with roasted chilis and tomatoes.

The restaurants represented a diverse array of both cuisines and price points from coffee specialists groundwork and LA Mill Coffee to Asian restaurants such as Park's Korean BBQ, Geisha House and Panda Express.

Chef Tim Goodell from 25 Degrees served mini sirloin burgers and mini chocolate malts, both of which were particularly delicious.

The various chefs shared limited space in the Patina kitchen and the chef below from Panda Express is shown cooking the SweetFire chicken breast.

LA Mill Coffee (shown below) provided coffee and a selection of teas to the attendees, which included members of the media as well as representatives from the fifteen local establishments that are part of the consortium. Other local participants in addition to those mentioned above are Market Cafe, M Cafe de Chaya, Red Mango, Buttercake Bakery and Pete's Coffee.

The winning bid would displace longtime incumbent LAX food service provider Host Marriott. Today's event attracted protesters outside who marched and shouted that the airport needed affordable and flavorful food options. It was strongly hinted that these protesters were organized by Marriott and other news outlets reported that some protesters confirmed this.

Construction should begin at the airport in January 2011 and I look forward to having more options, at different price points when I travel in the future, than the meager options available now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tales: Cognac & Blues Lunch @ Arnaud's

A special event at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail was a Cognac & Blues Luncheon at Arnaud’s on Friday. This was a four course lunch with five paired cocktails, each featuring Cognac. The cocktails were designed by leading bartenders such as Dale DeGroff and the food was the classic cuisine of Arnaud’s one of New Orleans’s legendary old school restaurants. To accompany the food and cocktails, a blues band played in the room for the duration of the lunch; some attendees even began to dance.

Cocktail guru and author Tony Abou-Ganim (pictured above) attended the event and was duly toasted as it was his birthday. The service was traditional (women were served first) and each table was anchored by a cocktail industry personality. I sat at the table of Allen Katz, the Director of Mixology and Spirits Education for Southern Wine & Spirits in New York, as he is an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a number of years.

A unique element of the cocktails was that several of them were variations of classic cocktails which are not usually made with Cognac. The Mojito VSOP by Todd Appel was the most surprising and most successful of these twists. The mint and Cognac was very refreshing and lighter than I would have expected.

The menu was:

Welcome Cocktail: Cognac Summit by Brian Van Flandern
[The recipe for this cocktail is at the end of this post]

Ritz Cocktail by Dale DeGroff

Onion and Tomato Salad, Herb de Provence & Fried Brie
Mojito VSOP by Todd Appel

Roasted Chicken with a Summer Bean Cassoulet
Side Car by Ryan Margarian

Crème Brulee
Pimp My Julep by Francesco Lafranconi

Cognac Summit Recipe:
Place lime zest and ginger slices in the glass
Pour in ¾ oz. VSOP Cognac
Lightly press the lime and ginger 2-3 times using a pestle
Half fill the glass with ice
Stir well for 5 seconds using a bar spoon
Pour in ¾ oz. VSOP Cognac
Add 2 oz. of traditional lemonade and a cucumber peel
Stir well for 5 seconds using a bar spoon
Serve immediately!

Tales: Eric Alperin & Phil Ward dinner at GW Fins

Each year at Tales of the Cocktail, a series of dinners is organized on the Thursday evening, which are collectively known as Spirited Dinners. They involve guest bartenders creating cocktail pairings for a custom menu at each of 25 different restaurants.

I attended the Spirited Dinner at GW Fins, which was a collaboration between Chef Tenny Flynn and bartenders Eric Alperin and Phil Ward. Over a 5 course meal, Alperin and Ward paired cocktails to match Flynn’s seafood cuisine.

The menu was:

Salmon & Tuna Tartares (not pictured)
Pan American Punch (Phil Ward) (not pictured)

Wood-grilled Louisiana Shrimp: pineapple basil butter, melon Carpaccio [note picture is of same dish but with catfish]
A Brazilian on Holiday (Eric Alperin)

Peach & Prosciutto Salad: baby arugula, Ricotta Salata, pickled Vidalia onion (not pictured)
Watermelon Sugar (Phil Ward)

Alaskan Yukon King Salmon: sweet and smoky glaze, summer succotash
The Slight Detour (Phil Ward)(not pictured)

Passion Fruit Panna Cotta: fresh berries
Atomized Bitters with a Tequila Finish (Eric Alperin)[Note that the drink is the atomizer to the right of the panna cotta in the picture below]

Below Alperin and Ward work on producing the Brazilian on Holiday

At one point in the dinner, a green gorilla, courtesy of Leblon Cachaca, joined our table, next to designer Ricki Kline.

Overall the evening was a success with the food and drinks both delicious. The restaurant was especially gracious about substituting catfish for shrimp in the 2nd course. It can't be easy to make batches of drinks for 60 people but the drinks came out to the whole dining room at once and suffered no effects for being made in batches rather than one at a time.

The last pairing was rather unique, as it was served in an atomizer rather than in a glass. The ingredients in Atomized Bitters with a Tequila Finish included F Ocho añejo tequila and the following bitters: wooded wheat neutral spirit, bitter orange peel, cardamom, orris root, sichuan peppercorn, long pepper, dark chocolate, black tea, hibiscus flower, tangelo (pomelo & tangerine) and vanilla bean. The "cocktail" was meant to be sprayed on the dessert course, to taste.

Alperin and Ward each came out to the dining room with each course to introduce the drink that they had paired with the course. A Brazilian on Holiday was one of my favorites of the evening. Courtesy of Eric Alperin, the recipe is below:

A Brazilian on Holiday Recipe by Eric Alperin
1/2 lime juice
1/2 French Dry Vermouth
1/2 Leblon cachaca
1/4 Licor 43
1/4 Campari
Light toss w/ ice of above.
Strain flute
Top Brut Champagne
Cucumber strip garnish

Tales: Cabana Cachaça Bartender Olympics

The Cabana Cachaca Bartender Olympics at Tales of the Cocktail featured five regional teams competing for the title of the champion and the prize of the Golden Muddler. The regions were New Orleans, Southeast, Northeast, Midwest and West.

The winning team was our local West Coast team, evenly split between Los Angeles and San Francisco bartenders. Julian Cox of Rivera, Alex Straus of Wilshire & the Shangri-La, and Jason Bran from Roger Room represented Los Angeles. Josh Harris and Scott Baird, both of 15 Romolo, and Duggan McDonnell from Cantina, represented San Francisco. The team was captained by Straus and McDonnell.

Congratulations to the Champions, for representing the West Coast and brining home the Golden Muddler!

Tales: Grand Marnier Bar Room Brawl

One of the highlights of Tales of the Cocktail in 2010 was the incredible Grand Marnier Bar Room Brawl on Friday evening. Six bars were selected to compete and each bar recreated their physical bar in Generations Hall in New Orleans. A group of industry luminaries such as Audrey Saunders, Tony Abou-Ganim and Allen Katz judged the competition.

Each of the six bars was tasked with creating two cocktails; once the judges had tried all twelve drinks, all six bars opened to the attendees who could then sample their drinks. In the interim and continuing through the evening, there were also two large Grand Marnier bars with free flowing beverages.

Pictured above is the Varnish drink menu.

The bars in competition were Drink (Boston), The Varnish (Los Angeles), Dutch Kills (New York), Rickhouse (San Francisco),Florida Room (Miami) and The Drawing Room (Chicago). What made the event so cool was that the six bars faithfully recreated their design, including a great scrim behind the bar at the Varnish set up, and a huge ice block just like at Long Island City at Dutch Kills. For attendees who hadn't had a chance to visit all six in person yet, it gave a great taste of the whole experience of drinking at the bar, not just a sample of their drinks.

Pictured above are Chris Bostick and Marcos Tello behind the Varnish bar.

The People's Choice Award went to The Varnish, who had Eric Alperin, Chris Bostick, Marcos Tello and Matty Eggleston behind the stick. Eggleston now lives in Chicago and reunited with the opening team of the Varnish to assist in the competition. Ricki Kline who designed the Varnish helped recreate the bar down to minute details. Kline and Varnish partner Cedd Moses of 213 were there to cheer on the Varnish team and help celebrate their victory.

The Judges award went to Drink, whose team was led by Misty Kalkofen.

Marcos Tello with one of the models.

Erick Castro of Rickhouse preparing to make a beverage.

Chris Bostick with the Varnish's award plaque.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chris Bostick in as new Varnish GM

Tonight is Chris Bostick’s (pictured above) last night as head bartender at The Varnish, downtown’s hidden bar focused on classic cocktails. He will be still be at the Varnish, but stepping up to the position as General Manager, as current GM Eric Alperin will be spending less time at the bar as he works on outside (non-bar) projects. That means after Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this week, Alperin will now be behind the bar at the Varnish several times per week, a treat for the Los Angeles cocktail community.

If you have enjoyed Bostick’s beverages as much as I have, stop by the bar tonight for his last official shift. He has assured me that he will still make drinks at The Varnish when it gets busy or when people ask for him, if he is able to do so.

This is the latest in a series of changes in the management of several bars in the 213 family in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, Alan Katz took over for Joel Black as General Manager of Caña Rum Bar. Black left to work on projects with Rivera’s Julian Cox, with whom he had worked previously at Comme Ca. Black had been a bartender at Caña since moving to Los Angeles from Brooklyn earlier this year. In addition, Skyler Reeves has been promoted from his position at Tony’s Saloon to run operations for the 213 Group. His Manhattans will be missed.