Thursday, March 31, 2011

Free Grilled Cheese tomorrow at the Grilled Cheese Truck

The Tillamook Cheese Loaf Love Tour is coming back to Los Angeles on its second annual cross-country road trip.  What that means for you, aside from the opportunity to see a cute orange van, is free grilled cheese sandwiches tomorrow from the Grilled Cheese Truck.  To help kickoff and promote National Grilled Cheese Month (no this isn't an April Fool's Day prank), you can get a free Tillamook Loaf Love grilled cheese sandwich from the Grilled Cheese Truck from 11 am - 12 Noon at Beverly Hills Porsche.

It is on the early side, but the price is right.  Other sandwiches are not free, so be sure to ask for the Loaf Love free sandwich during the Hour of Cheese.  The loaf love melt will be available from the Grilled Cheese Truck during the rest of April, but not for free, alas.  You don't need a password or a coupon for this special.  While you are there you may decide to spring for a Porsche while you are at it.  But please do not customize it orange to match your sandwich.  That would just be wrong.

In related news, the Grilled Cheese Invitational will be coming back to Los Angeles Center Studios on Saturday April 23rd.  That gives you three weeks to get excited and prepare your system for an overload of cheese.

Beverly Hills Porsche: 8425 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills.  Just East of La Cienega.
The Grilled Cheese Truck:

Begin Your Countdown to Cinco de Mayo at the Border Grill

Cinco de Mayo only comes once a year (that's May 5th for you non-Spanish speakers).  But who says we have to wait until then to celebrate?  At the Border Grill in both Santa Monica and Downtown LA, they are having a $5 Five Margarita Countdown to Cinco de Mayo beginning today. They will be highlighting five tasty margaritas, a different one each week, for the five weeks leading up to Cinco de Mayo.

How can you get this bounty?  Just mention secret password "Cinco de Drinko" and the featured margarita is only $5 any time of day or night .  These cocktails are normally priced at $10 to $14, so this is a great deal, especially as you can go any time, not just during happy hour.  There is a limit of one per person per visit, but that just gives you an excuse to go more often.  The deal ends as of May 4th, and on the 5th Border Grill will be having festivities on a grand scale.

Weekly Margaritas
Week of 3/31 - 4/6: Anejo Margarita
Week of 4/7 - 4/13: Cucumber Margarita
Week of 4/14 - 4/20: Blanco Margarita
Week of 4/21 - 4/27: Reposado Margarita
Week of 4/28 - 5/4: Pomegranate Margarita

Border Grill Santa Monica: 1445 4th Street, Santa Monica. Phone: (310) 451-1655
Border Grill DTLA: 445 S. Figueroa Street, DTLA.  Phone: (213) 486-5171

Photo courtesy of The Border Grill.

A Juniper Scented Ride to the City by the Bay: Big Bar Tonight

Tonight Erick Castro, the West Coast brand ambassador for Plymouth Gin, will be guest bartending at Big Bar in Los Feliz.  He will be representing SF in a LA vs SF mix event, with Big Bar head bartender Juan Sevilla representing the City of Angels.  During this LA Loves SF event, bartenders will be crafting cocktails inspired by both cities featuring Plymouth Gin.

Big Bar Bartender and DJ Eugene Lee will be spinning tunes in keeping with the theme as part of his Mixtape Mixology series.  Song groups will include LA v SF:Battling Bands, Best Songs About LA, Best Song About SF.

The music and the fun all start at 7 pm and go until 1 am, so get ready for a juniper scented ride to the City by the Bay.

Big Bar: 1927 Hillhurst Avenue (Los Feliz). Phone: (323) 644-0100. Website:

Blogger Bar Hop: I Lived to Tell the Tale

It all started so innocently with an emailed invitation from Caroline on Crack: a blogger bar hop organized by Aidan Demarest and sponsored by our host Erick Castro from San Francisco, the West Coast Brand Ambassador for Plymouth and Beefeater Gins. What could possibly go wrong with such a delightful plan?

On the night in question I met up with our crew of esteemed cocktail writers and aficionados at the Spare Room, the new bar and bowling alley on the second floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where Aidan is the General Manager. My fellow passengers on the bar hop included Caroline on Crack, Daniel from Thirsty in LA, Esther from E*starLA, Lindsay William-Ross, the editor of LAist, Josh Lurie from FoodGPS, Elina Shatkin of Squid Ink and Toque, HC from L.A. and O.C. Foodventures and Aaron Vanek from the Examiner.

The evening began with games of bowling on the twin lanes at the Spare Room.  The shoes available with lane rental (1 hr = $100 for up to 6) are more comfortable than any street shoes I own.  Despite ample servings of the Blogger Punch (top picture), I bowled my highest score ever.  This was an auspicious beginning to the night.  We were issued score cards to keep track of the drinks we consumed and were tasked with trying five different cocktails at each of the five bars we were visiting. Thanks to Thirsty in LA, we all got lei'd and were properly attired to hit the town.

Above, Caroline on Crack (center) and Lindsay (right) photograph the punch as it was served by the bowling lane.  Once we had all had our fill of the first round, Aidan herded us like cats downstairs and outside where we boarded what would become known as "The Trolley of Death."  In the photograph below, Aidan is exhorting us slowpoke bloggers to board the trolley.  He was his usual subtle self.

And oh what a trolley it was.  We rode down Hollywood Boulevard as some more excitable members of the group shouted at passersby.  Was there booze consumed on the trolley?  Of course.  We followed the cardinal rule of bar hopping and were never more than fifteen feet from a source of liquor.  In transit, that meant we brought beer and champagne with us.

The evening was amply recorded on many cameras, as HC (below) snaps a shot of me photographing him.  Not only did our merry band of bloggers continue onto the next bar, but we absconded with bartender Naomi Schimek of the Spare Room and somehow managed to persuade her to join us for our next stop at Big Bar.

At Big Bar, my photography began a hiatus that continued until our fourth stop.  When we arrived at Big Bar, thankfully Juan Sevilla, the head bartender, had planned ahead and arranged food as well as Plymouth cocktails to sate our hunger as well as our thirst.  The crowd was impressed by the vittles and Juan mixed some very tasty drinks.  He and Mia Sarazen then each pulled a Naomi and joined us on the trolley.  Smart move!

The next stop was 1886 in Pasadena, where Aidan and Marcos Tello had collaborated on the menu together.  Below, the Rose Parade cocktail, a drink named after one of the signature traditions of Pasadena.  Tello had opened the bar especially for our group, as 1886 is usually closed on Monday nights.

Now we had a quorum of bartenders in our trolley (including Marcos Tello) and we headed downtown to the Varnish to stop number four.  We took the most direct route, the Pasadena Freeway, at a very high rate of speed.  It was cold and wild and one bartender or friend scared me by getting too close to the door.  Luckily everybody stayed in the trolley. Unlike on the way to Pasadena from Hollywood, I figured out that it was warmer inside so rode in greater comfort.  January in California gets cold at night.  One excitable person called some of the people "cats" for riding inside, but he had partaken of too much beverage, a cardinal sin for a cocktail blogger.

As Thirsty in LA noted in his write up, the Varnish stop seemed to go incredibly quickly.  GM Chris Bostick and bartender Devon Tarby made several tasty concoctions, including some Plymouth Gin Fizzes (below) which were out of this world.  I had to drink mine quickly as it was time to go onto the next and final bar, Seven Grand.  As we boarded the trolley, one blogger got into a verbal altercation with a homeless person.  The situation was defused and we left peacefully, but our veneer of sophistication was wearing thin.

Seven Grand was hopping but we had reserved a nook at the 7th Street side of the bar.  The fizzy drinks with gin and lime juice were barely presented to us when we were told we had to leave in a few minutes.  I gulped down as much of mine as I could before we had to head for the exit.

Five bars in one night and then the trolley pulled into what would be my downfall, The Original Tommy's in Hollywood where I had chili fries and a burger. It was my first and last chili fries. We headed back to the Roosevelt minus FoodGPS who insisted on walking home from the burger joint. Back at the Spare Room there was a line to get in, but Aidan ushered us past the line and the paparazzi and we said our goodbyes and headed into the night.

After the evening of excess I was in no condition to drive home and was preparing to take a taxi when Elina Shatkin graciously offered to drive me home in her car. I took her up on this generous offer and before I knew it was home. Next time I see her, I owe her a drink!

So much of the night is a blur and it is remarkable how many bars we hit in such a short time. I was neither the most sober nor the most inebriated and had a great time from start to finish. The night would not have been possible without the organizing skills and energy of Aidan Demarest. A big thanks to Erick Castro and Plymouth Gin, both for sponsoring the evening and for coming along the ride. I'm sure he got more than he bargained for. Lastly, thanks to Caroline for inviting me to join in the festivities. What little I remember of the night, I will never forget.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Says You Can't Get Blood from a Stone?: Cocktail of the Week

Tricia Alley, the head bartender at the new B-Side Lounge at Rolling Stone, originally created her Blood from a Stone cocktail at home for her boyfriend as a sort of joke.  She wanted to shock him and another friend, but instead they loved it and asked for refills.  Alley's boyfriend enjoyed it so much he encouraged me to try it on a recent visit to B-Side.  The cocktail is named Blood from a Stone because "it is what one is never meant to do, that is, Cask Strength Scotch in a cocktail", Alley said. This is a boozy drink with a citrus kick from the blood orange jucie and the orange bitters.  It is tasty and packs a wallop and is distinctive and delicious enough to deserve the title of Cocktail of the Week.

The recipe is below if you'd like to make one at home.  Cheers!

Blood from a Stone by Tricia Alley

1 Dash Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
.75 oz Cara Cara Orange Juice
.75 oz Cherry Kijafa
.75 oz Carpanao Antica
.75 oz Lagavulin 12 Natural Cask Strength

Shake over ice and strain into a glass.
And then, if your socks are still intact:
Flamed Orange Peel Garnish

Cocktails at the Eveleigh: Old Man Winter Warms You Up

The Eveleigh, a new restaurant and bar, sits quietly on Sunset Blvd nestled behind shrubbery, an oasis from the hectic boulevard outside.  Inside, Dave Kupchinsky manages the bar, creating a welcoming atmosphere and creating new cocktails and tweaking the classics, as his style continues to evolve.  He most recently managed the bar program at The Tar Pit and at The Eveleigh it is evident that he feels more at home as his cocktails are more confident and he is more relaxed.

Blood & Smoke
I was recently invited to sample some of the cocktails. I was joined at the bar by the legendary Yolanda Evans, a New Orleans native known to bartenders from Los Angeles to Paris as fan of all things spiritous. The first cocktail we tried was the Blood and Smoke (above) made with Mezcal, Serrano pepper, blood orange, cherry Heering, sweet vermouth and mesquite smoke. In this take on the classic Blood and Sand, the smokiness of the mezcal and the mesquite smoke was tempered by the rich blood orange juice.

Old Testament
The Old Testament, made with Noah's Mill Bourbon, nutmeg-bay leaf simple syrup and Forbidden bitters did not last long in my glass.  The simple syrup was infused with both the nutmeg and bay leaf.  Kupchinsky has been working on creating more infusions and the Old Testament is typical of the investment he has been putting into the bar program.  This cocktail is delicious on a Biblical scale.

The Eveleigh
The signature Eveleigh cocktail (above) is made with Hendrick's Gin, rose and lavendar rooibos tea, vermouth blanc, and Barolo Chinato.  This is a gin drink for brown spirits drinkers.  Attractively garnished with the flower but don't let that deceive you as the power of the digestive Barolo Chinato gives the cocktail a lot of backbone.

The Sad Bastard (below) is made with bourbon, gin, ginger, clove, lime juice and bitters, shaken and garnished with candied ginger.  I only got a quick sip of it, as my drinking companion enjoyed it so thoroughly.

The Sad Bastard

The Old Man Winter is named for the barman himself and as is described as best served with lukewarm by a grumpy bartender.  This is not a drink to begin the evening with as it will blow your palate.  No shrinking violet, the Old Man Winter includes Scotch, Campari, Benedictine, Fernet and heavy angostura.  This drink served neat in an old fashioned glass packs a wallop.  Boozy and stirred, this drink was created with imbibers like LushAngeles in mind.  I am not sure what Kupchinsky is trying to say about himself with this cocktail except "beware," as he has got a lot going on.

Old Man Winter
The Lucky Louis (below) is a produce driven drink that was a refreshing counterpoint to the Old Man Winter.  It is made with Rhum Agricole, kumquats, star anise, and lime juice.  This shaken cocktail served on the rocks has the kumquats floating in it, which gives the drink a festive look.  It is easy to drink and the combination of citrus and spices was enjoyable.

Lucky Louis

The cocktails are fairly priced at $12 (note that the Old Testament is $16), which can be a deal in the neighborhood, where many cocktails are suboptimal and overpriced.  The bar itself is comfortable and large and dominates the inside room.  Even when the room was busy, Kupchinsky and his team were able to get the cocktails flowing quickly; speed without sacrificing quality.

The menu looked attractive but as I had already eaten, I only tried one item, the chicken liver parfait with orange muscat jelly, pickles and toasts.  The chicken liver was delicious and creamy, easily spreading on the toasts.  The one drawback to this dish is that Eveleigh should serve it with more toasts.  More were brought when asked, but there seems to be an epidemic in Lo Angeles of serving dishes like steak tartare or pate with not enough toasts.  Toast is easy and cheap, please serve more.

So mosey on down Sunset Blvd, get an Old Testament and you might get lucky, or at least a Lucky Louis.  Worst case is you have some excellent cocktails and perhaps a snack to wash them down.  In any case you'll be sure to see the grumpy bartender, pouring his cold dark heart into these wonderful drinks.

The Eveleigh: 8752 West Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood.  Phone: (424) 239-1630. Website:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dish of the Month: Branzino at The Tasting Kitchen

Of all the dishes I ate in March, none stood out for me as much as the Branzino at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice.  The whole fish was prepared with meyer lemon, picholine olives and pine nuts.  The fish was flavorful and delicate.  The sauce was absorbed by the fish so that each bite was juicy and packed with wow.

This fish was a dish that I spent time to get every last scrap of meat off of the fish bones as it was that excellent.  At $30, it isn't inexpensive, but it is well worth it.  If you see the branzino on the menu at The Tasting Kitchen, order it.  You will not regret it.  Chef Casey Lane has a way with fish and the combination of the olives and lemon is deceptively simple.  No pressure cooker was required to make this dish...

The Tasting Kitchen: 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice.  Phone: (310) 392-6644.  Website:

Vertical Bistro: Sunday Night Fried Chicken

Lately fried chicken seems to be everywhere in foodie circles and restaurant menus, along with gourmet hamburgers and desserts with either salt or pork or both.  Vertical Bistro launches its entry into the All You Can Eat fried chicken sweepstakes with a $29 Sunday dinner, a concept that Eva Restaurant had success with last year and which Le Saint Amour also launched in this month.

On a recent Sunday the meal began with a first course of poached hen egg, bacon grits and frisee (above).  I ate the hen egg and skipped the rest of the dish with the pork in it.  The egg was cooked just right with a warm runny center.  The second course was the star attraction, the fried chicken, which came with a variety of sides including collared greens, slaw, loaded smashed potatoes and jalapeno corn bread.

The side dishes were great.  The slaw was refreshing and didn't include mayonnaise, which earned bonus points with me. The potatoes were rich, light and fluffy.  The sides were generously portioned and like the chicken were all you can eat.  The fried chicken (below) arrived alongside the sides and was good but not amazing.  The chicken was nicely crispy and the crispy outer layer stayed on when taking a bite.  (Nothing is sadder than seeing all the breading/crust fall off of a piece of chicken once it has been bitten or cut into.)  I just wish the chicken had been moister; it was too dry.  That did not stop me from having a second portion.

The jalapeno corn bread was a nice balance between the sweetness of the corn and the kick from the japapeno peppers.  This was not a dessert, as some corn breads often taste like.

Dessert was a choice of apple tart with vanilla gelato or blood orange & pear sorbet.  I chose the tart and was pleased.  The caramel and apple are a classic combination and this version did not disappoint.

At $29, for all the meal includes, the Sunday night Fried Chicken dinner is a good value and a fun way to eat. The chicken and the side dishes are served family style, and everyone can have as much as they want of anything.  For only $9 more you can have a generous carafe of wine with your meal, which I gladly did.  My dinner companion and I ate in the lounge and it was quite comfortable; I think I prefer it to the main dining room.

Vertical Wine Bistro: Upstairs at 70 North Raymond Avenue, Pasadena.  Phone: (626) 795-3999.  Website:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reinventing the Margarita: Alex Day & Dave Kaplan Bring Craft Cocktails to an Empire Built on Guacamole

El Mezcalito
Rosa Mexicana, the chain of ten high-end Mexican restaurants which began in New York, has hired Alex Day, Dave Kaplan and Devon Tarby of Proprietors LLC. to revamp their cocktail program nationwide.  Day and Kaplan, who gained prominence in the cocktail world for their achievements at Death & Co in New York City, took on the assignment of updating the cocktail program at restaurants best known for guacamole made table-side.  Tarby is a more recent addition to the Proprietors team, having met the others through her work at The Varnish, the downtown Los Angeles cocktail mecca and worked with them at Bar Kitchen.

Alex Day
Day (above) and Kaplan (below) were excited to take on the challenge of creating a program that could be replicated across the soon to be dozen Rosa Mexicanas across the country, while maintaining the standards upon which they have built their reputations and providing a range of beverages which customers would find accessible.  Mezcal has been introduced into the program, which also now includes sangrita, a new favorite of mine.

Dave Kaplan
I recently had the opportunity to try a variety of the cocktails and beverages from the new list and I left impressed.  I knew Kaplan, Day and Tarby would not attach their names and brand to any program they were not proud of, but the program they developed for Rosa Mexicana exceeded my expectations.  Whether it was El Mezcalito, a cocktail with strawberry, jalapeño infused tequila, mezcal, lemon and agave (top picture) or the La Pera Noble (below) with tequila, vermouth, pear brandy and cinnamon simple syrup, the cocktails were well balanced and refreshing. Tarby described what makes the Mezcalito work as the interplay of the strawberry and mezcal flavors, "Strawberry and smoke like each other, they tame each other. The sweetness of strawberries tames the smoke."

La Pera Noble
Among my favorites are La Mandarina (below) which includes fresh muddled tangerine and basil, tequila, lemon juice and agave and La Antigüa (The Old One) which includes cocoa infused tequila, bitters and an orange twist.  I tend to be skeptical of flavored spirits but the cocoa and jalapeño infused tequilas were both very tasty and had none of the cloying quality that I usually associate with such flavored vodkas or rums.  It is fun to be pleasantly surprised and have your expectations exceeded.  It is great to find wonderful drinks in the unlikeliest  places and to know that there is a spot to get cocktails made with fresh juices and care in LA Live.  Around the corner from the Staples Center and the Nokia Theater, now there is no excuse to drink poorly before a game or concert.

La Mandarina
These drinks are available in all Rosa Mexicana restaurants.  Here in Los Angeles the restaurant is located in LA Live, in downtown LA.  A second location will be opening later this year on Sunset Blvd.

Rosa Mexicana @ LA Live: 800 West Olympic Blvd, Downtown.  Phone: (213) 746-0001.  Website:

The full list of new cocktails and beverages at Rosa Mexicana is below:

Agitados/Shaken Cocktails
La Sandía
Fresh muddled watermelon, rosemary simple syrup, El Jimador silver tequila, fresh lemon

La Piñela
Silver tequila, pineapple juice, cinnamon simple syrup, fresh lime

El Mezcalito
Fresh strawberry, Tanteo Jalapeño-infused silver tequila, Del Maguey-Vida mezcal, fresh lemon, organic agave

La Mandarina
Fresh muddled tangerine, fresh basil, El Jimador silver tequila, fresh lemon, organic agave

Flor de Humo
Silver tequila, Del Maguey-Vida mezcal, St. Germain, orange marmalade, fresh lime

Movidos/Stirred Cocktails
La Pera Noble
Casa Noble Organic silver tequila, bianco vermouth, pear brandy, cinnamon simple syrup

La Antigüa
Tanteo Cocoa-infused silver tequila, bitters, orange twist

Águila Real
Hennessy VS, Kahlua, Licor 43, cream, chocolate mole bitters

Micheladas/Beer Cocktails
Tecate, fresh lime and spices, served over ice with a salted rim

El Betabel
Pacifico, beet juice, fresh lime and Cholula, served over ice with a salted rim

La Sangrita
Negra Modelo, house sangrita, served over ice with a salted rim

Taco Night @ The Golden State

Last Monday Mexicali Taco Co and The Golden State came together for a night of tacos and beer. It was a great collaboration to be able to have the tacos, vampiros and cachetadas of Mexicali Taco Co in the comfortable environment of The Golden State and wash the great food down with their excellent selection of craft beers. There are rumors that this may become a regular thing. Count my vote in the Yes column.

Vampiro and cachetada at The Golden State
Mexicali Taco Co is found at the intersection of 1st & Beaudry on Wednesday - Saturday evenings.
The Golden State Cafe: 426 N. Fairfax, north of Beverly Blvd. Mid City. Phone: (323) 782-8331.  Website:

Now Open: Mother Dough Pizza

Fans of Neapolitan pizza can celebrate a new addition to the LA scene, Mother Dough Pizza.  Mother Dough is named for the starter that contributes to the pizza dough.  According to the restaurant, "a piece of each day's batch [is saved and added] to the next day's dough mixture" and the term for this fermentation starter is mother dough.  The restaurant is located on Hollywood Blvd just East of Vermont Avenue and is across the street from Umami Burger and down the block from Bar Covell.

The menu is small with five pizzas, all of which use buffalo mozzarella, and and six starters.  The pizzas are made with imported zero zero flour and the dough is hand-stretched before being cooked for 60-90 seconds at 850 degrees in the wood-burning oven imported from Naples.  The Neapolitan style is thin crust and crispy.  The choices are: Margherita, Zucchini, Oven-Roasted Vine Tomatoes, Prosciutto and Arugula, and Sausage and range in price from $15 to $19.  There is a short wine list of about a dozen wines plus half a dozen beers, all imports or microbrews.

I ordered the Margherita Pizza ($15), which is always my tester pie at a new pizza spot.  The ingredients are: san marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, aged parmigiano-regiano, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.  The pizza was good but not great.  There was char as I expect with this type of pizza and oven, but a bit too much for my taste. The crust at the center of the pie is limper and chewier than ideal.  But the ingredients are great and the ratio of toppings to dough is as it should be.  I am hopeful and confident that as they get more use out of their oven they will gain experience and the pies will get better.  Do I think they will be a rival to Mozza?  No, but this is a much more casual operation and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

The Burrata Salad ($11) above was a very nice iteration of the dish.  The portion is enough to be someone's lunch or for several hungry people to share as a starter.  The portion of burrata in particular was quite generous.  The heirloom tomatoes came in a variety of colors and the whole dish was plated attractively.  The salad was simply dressed and some sea salt was sprinkled on it.  I'd happily have this again.  The other appetizers include raw almonds, duck crostini, a charcuterie platter, olives and a mixed green salad.  

The pizza oven
There are currently two desserts on the menu: oven roasted pears with chocolate shavings, creme fraiche and hazelnut liqueur; and triple chocolate mousse with caramel sauce and lavender sea salt.

Mother Dough Pizza is located at 4648 Hollywood Blvd in Los Feliz.  Phone: (323) 644-2885.  Website:  Note: website not currently operational

Breaking News: Jason Neroni in at Osteria La Buca

Osteria La Buca, which is preparing to complete its revamp launched last year, will reopen late next week with a new design and a new chef.  Jason Neroni, most recently of Saucebox in Portland, and known for his pork-centric cooking in New York City at Porchetta, will be joining the venerable classic Italian restaurant.  No news yet on how the menu will evolve.  It has been almost a year since owner Graham Snyder previewed the renovation plans created by designer Brendan Ravenhill while showcasing the wonders of Neve Ice.

I'm looking forward to trying Chef Neroni's food (the non-pork dishes at least) and seeing how the vision that was shown to me last April has evolved.  It will be interesting to see how the menu evolves.  Neroni got great reviews at 10 Downing and had been rumored to be coming to LA last fall when he chose Portland.  Hopefully Portland's loss is Los Angeles's gain.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First Look: Lukshon

Lukshon, the new restaurant from Father's Office chef Sang Yoon, has been packed ever since it opened last month in the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City.  It is an Asian restaurant and unlike either location of Father's Office, it takes reservations.  There is a decent sized bar, some communal tables, an interior and exterior tables.  The cocktail program is small, only five cocktails including their take on the classic Singapore Sling.  The Fujian Cure (below) is made with Isle of Skye 8 year Scotch, lemon, galangal and lapsang souchong black tea.  The cocktails are measured with jiggers, a good sign.  The cocktail was fine, a little smoky, but nothing to get excited about one way or the other.  The bar is only stocked with the ingredients for the five cocktails, so the bartenders do not have the flexibility to go off menu, even to make a standard such as a martini or Manhattan.

The menu states at the bottom "no menu modifications or substitutions please", which is not a surprise from Chef Yoon.  On a recent visit with writer Simon Majumdar and another friend, we began with the Spanish mackerel (below).  This was a refreshing way to start and the fish tasted fresh with the vinegar bringing out flavor.

Next to arrive was the beef tartare, which arrived in a row of little pyramids stacked on top of cucumber slices along a long rectangular plate.  The tartare also included chilies and herbs. The beef was diced into very small chunks and each serving could be eaten in a single bite.  The five on our plate did not last long.

The duck popiah were like a summer roll, with the delicate soft wrapper and the duck inside.  The sauce for it was a house made hoisin sauce, which went well with the confit of duck.  I enjoyed it, but preferred the beef tartare.  I didn't love the texture of the wrapper.

The spicy chicken pops lived up to their description.  These drumettes are seasoned with garlic, kecap manis and spicy sichuan salt.  They were not as sticky as they looked but packed a punch.  Not everyone in our party was into this dish.  When so much Asian food on the Westside (and sometimes Thai town) has the spice level toned down to Western tastes, it is refreshing to see a genuinely potent dish like this on the menu, although I wish the aggressiveness had been lowered just one notch to provide more nuanced flavor.  The concept of chicken lollipops is playful and they are easy to eat finger food.

A favorite was the lamb sausage roti canai with chana dal, cumin, mint and pickled cauliflower.  Others at my table quibbled with the description of the base as a roti.  The lamb, mint and garbanzo beans were a great combination.

A rice dish and the chang mai curry noodles were enjoyed by the others but were not photographed.  The Short Rib Rendang (below) is described as being prepared with Malay spices, red chile lemongrass rempah and coconut cream.  This dish was not what we had expected.  The meat tasted like cured brisked, more like pastrami than corned beef, but not like short ribs.  It was interesting and had a soft texture.  It was good but just different.  Not something I'd rush to order again.

The okra and potato side dish was one we had difficulty getting.  A runner first brought the brussels sprouts, which we hadn't ordered, but took it away when we said we had ordered the okra.  A bit later a new batch of veggies arrived, and you guessed it, brussels sprouts again.  We told the runner that we had asked for okra and this was the second time we had received sprouts.  He then said that he had brought us okra before and we had sent it back.  Okra and sprouts look nothing alike and all three of us at the table know what each one looks like.  The runner's obnoxious attitude was not appreciated.  It was annoying enough to have the wrong dish brought to us twice without the runner giving us attitude.  Our server was apologetic for the unprofessional manner in which the runner acted and comped the veggies, which were actually quite tasty.

We finished up with the complementary dessert.  It is a nice touch to offer each diner a small dessert on the house to end the meal on a sweet note.  We drank the 2001 Prinz Riesling which was recommended to us by the excellent sommelier.  The wine list was full of rieslings, gruners etc, which complement the food.  The main drawback to the list is that there are no red wines by the glass.  There are half a dozen whites, but no reds as they have yet to find a red that works well with their wine system of taps.  This seems kind of silly.  They are leaving money on the table by not having an option for red wine by the glass.  When we made it clear that we weren't interested in another bottle, the sommelier said he understood and was polite.  However our server was kind of pushing the liquor and wasn't exactly subtle about it.  No we didn't want another glass of scotch or a cocktail.

The service issues and the relatively high price point overall make it unlikely that I will add Lukshon to my rotation any time soon. I'd go back, but don't need to rush over there. Hopefully on my next visit they will be in a rhythm and will have figured out a way to make red wine by the glass work.

Lukshon: 3239 Helms Avenue, Culver City. Phone: (310) 202-6808. Website:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bonus Tracks: B-Side at Rolling Stone Lounge

As you walk North on Highland Avenue by the Hollywood and Highland complex you may notice an unmarked door on the left side of the street.   What is behind this door you may wonder?  B-Side, a tiny bar serving bespoke and classic cocktails in a chill rock and roll environment.  Who could have conceived of such a dastardly scheme?  Only Tricia Alley (below), of Providence and Eva restaurants, working with the owners of the new Rolling Stone Lounge.

Alley has created a short menu of cocktails; there is also a brief food menu, which is available due to B Side's status as both its own entity and part of the Rolling Stone Lounge.  The capacity of B-Side is small so plan ahead.  A highlight of the menu is the Highlander, made with Famous Grouse blended scotch whiskey, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, house made clover honey syrup and Regan’s No.6 orange bitters.

Each Wednesday night, Alley has invited a top bartender to show off their skills.  Last week Naomi Schimek of the Spare Room was the guest and tonight Marcos Tello of 1886 and The Varnish will be mixing cocktails during an evening sponsored by Cointreau.  The bouncer sometimes asks who you are there to see, so tonight the answer is Marcos Tello and any night the answer is Tricia Alley.  Just be prepared to drink something delicious.

B-Side: 6801 Hollywood Blvd (entrance on Highland), Hollywood.  Phone: (323) 464-4000

Bar Keeper

Bar Keeper, the legendary barware shop in Silverlake, began selling liquor in October of last year.  It already was known for its selection of bitters, shakers, vintage glasses etc.  Joe Keeper, the founder/owner, was able to get permission to sell bottled liquor, on the condition that he does not hold tastings, so alas there will be no gin, whiskey or absinthe tastings coming your way soon.  I checked in with him recently, to see how the first six months went.

Joe (pictured above) has a philosophy of stocking unusual and small production liquors where possible and has a vast array of vermouths for example (below, bottom).  He does not seek to be exhaustive but looks for the best variety of each type of spirit.  It is a curated selection, in the best sense.  You won't find anything you can get at places like Trader Joes.

The wall of liquor is impressive, with multiple shelves of bottles and an old fashioned library ladder to reach bottles on high shelves (for employee use only).  Knowing that the liquor display only took up a small percentage of Barkeeper's floor space (another condition of the license) I hadn't expected the selection to be so large or so prominent.  Keeper mentioned that sales have exceeded expectations and he has had to reorder bottles on a weekly basis.

In addition to individual bottles, Bar Keeper sells boxes with all the ingredients needed to make a particular cocktail.  The Manhattan box (above) retails for $100.  Both classic cocktails and signature drinks from some of the top bartenders in Los Angeles are represented in the gift box selection.  In addition to liquor, Bar Keeper still maintains the largest selection of cocktail bitters in Los Angeles, with everything from grapefruit, Angostura and Peychaud's to more unusual varieties including chocolate and chili pepper.

Welcoming customers to the store is a "cocktail shaker" a mannequin set to "shake" cocktails when Keeper pushes a button.  Bar Keeper's selection of barware, both new and vintage is a primary reason that the store is sought out by bartenders and cocktail afficionados both near and far, but the liquor selection is a welcome addition to the selection, making it a one stop shop with everything from shakers to metal straws to liquor to the glasses to drink out of.  Keeper's knowledge of liquors is deep; it is like going to a bookstore where the clerk seems to have read every book in the store and just a few clues from you can lead you to exactly what you are looking for, except with booze, which is more fun.  So get on down to Bark Keeper in Silverlake and shake it up!

Bar Keeper: 3910 West Sunset Blvd, Silverlake. Phone: (323) 669-1675.  Website: