Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grilled Cheese Invitational: The Gooey Recap

An entry drizzled with honey

Last Saturday was the 2nd 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational and the second year in a row it was at Los Angeles Center Studios.  The event, which had both amateur and professional competitions, brought together dozens of grilled cheese makers and thousands of eaters on a warm downtown day.  The Invitational, sponsored by Oregon cheese maker Tillamook, featured a series of head to head throwdowns in the Hot Knives Thunderdome, which produced a winner in Ricardo Zarate (pictured below right), who recently was named one of the Best New Chefs by Food and Wine magazine.  Zarate's winning entry was a lamb and chorizo grilled cheese sandwich.

This year felt more organized and less crowded than last year, due to using a lot more real estate and learning from prior experience.  The lines could still be long for the grilled cheese vendors, and sadly short for the Korean taco truck etc vendors, as if you came to the Grilled Cheese Invitational, kalbi is not what you want for lunch...  This was the second appearance in a week for the soon to open Daily Dose, the downtown cafe from Christian Page and Sarkis Vartanian, following their presence at last weekend's Artisanal LA.

Ironically all the Executive Judges I knew are at least part Jewish, yet this festival was held during Passover, the one week of the year Jews are supposed to not eat bread.  I hope they will consider that when scheduling this event next year as several of the people involved with the event told me the organizer was oblivious.  As such I can't comment on the quality of any of the sandwiches as I didn't eat any due to the holiday.  Fortunately I was able to eat some of the cheese provided by the sponsor, which tided me over.

The people's judges were able to get to try the sandwiches by hooting and hollering to get samples.  Each judge had to rate every sandwich they tried on multiple dimensions and submit their ballot to a voting station (pictured below).

The crowds were well behaved and the event was quite orderly.  People were having fun trying the grilled cheese sandwiches, cheering on competitors at one of the two stages and just enjoying the people watching on a beautiful afternoon.  This year also included a beer garden, with proceeds going toward Library Park in West Hollywood.

Below are an assortment of pics from the gooey afternoon:

Lines to buy grilled cheese sandwiches

Voting station

Judges waiting for food

Contestants grilling

Contestants grilling and vamping

A mustachioed entry

Judge Elina Shatkin sampling the sandwiches

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Mess With My Lamb: Lamb Burgers from Lindy & Grundy

Fairfax can be a little like the wild west, at least the stretch near Melrose Avenue.  I went back to Lindy & Grundy's butcher shop for some ground lamb to make lamb burgers.  When I went to the register, the person in front of me took my package of wrapped ground lamb with their items when they left.  At first neither the cashier or I could figure out what happened to my lamb, but then he described the clothing worn by the previous customer and I ran outside to chase him down.

Nobody messes with my lamb.  I looked in both directions but he was nowhere to be seen.  Finally I spotted the culprit in the coffee shop next door.  As I said excuse me for the third time to get his attention, I was joined by the cashier from Lindy & Grundy.  We explained that he had taken my lamb and he looked through the paper wrapped meats in his bag and lo and behold found my ground lamb.  Must have been an accident, he said.  We didn't belabor the point and I went back to the butcher shop, paid and left.  I was not about to let my lamb run off without me.

The lamb meat was coarsely ground, so I formed it into patties that were loosely packed to keep the texture.  I seasoned the patties with salt pepper, a little herbs de provence and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  I grilled the lamb burgers on my bbq and they came out great.  I'm glad that an "accidental" thief did not deprive me of this meal.

Lindy & Grundy: 801 North Fairfax Avenue, just north of Melrose Avenue. Mid City. Phone: (323) 951-0804. Website:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Asparagus Steps Into the Spotlight for Its 15 Minutes

As Spring has arrived, the bounty available at our local farmers markets has expanded and there are more varieties of tasty (and healthy) seasonal fruits and veggies available to us here in Southern California.  This week restaurateur Michael McCarty of Michael's restaurant in Santa Monica will be hosting a Market Meet-Up on Wednesday, April 27th that will focus on all things asparagus.

During these monthly meet-up events, McCarty invites participants to his eponymous restaurant to begin the morning with some fresh baked goods before strolling together to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers’ Market to learn more about what seasonal produce is available, as well as his tips and tricks for navigating the market and selecting the best ingredients. The walk is a scant two blocks, so no need to worry that you have to hike to earn your breakfast.

At the Farmers' Market, McCarty will show you around, introduce you to his favorite farmers, and demonstrate his "top secret" methods of picking the best ingredients. Following the market visit, you will walk back for a late breakfast featuring the monthly ingredient, which as stated above is Asparagus.  After munching away on some tasty asparagus dishes, you'll get the recipes too so you can replicate them at home.

So what dishes will McCarty be whipping up for your pleasure?  You'll begin with the Multiple Tastes of Asparagus: Pickled Pencil Asparagus with Chives Shaved Asparagus Salad with Pickled Ginger Asparagus Soup with Toasted Pistachios.  That is followed up with Seared Halibut: with Asparagus Ravioli, Zuckerman Farm’s Jumbo Green Asparagus and Dutch White Asparagus, Grilled Asparagus Beurre Blanc.  Not too shabby a way to begin your day.

The event costs $60 per person and for that you get hot out of the oven warm cinnamon rolls and cappuccinos, the market tour, breakfast with Michael and a copy of his cookbook as well as recipes to take home. Some vino will be poured to pair with your breakfast.  It all begins at 8:30 am on Wednesday morning at his restaurant, so be there bright eyed and bushy tailed to celebrate asparagus.

Michael's: 1147 Third Street Santa Monica, CA 90403

Reservations: (310) 451-0843

Thursday, April 21, 2011

SNAPSHOP! Cocktail Party This Saturday

During the month of April, Los Angeles is celebrating the Month of Photography and The Macallan Single Malt Scotch has gotten involved by sponsoring the Lucie Foundation’s First Annual Fundraising Gala to support SNAPSHOP! a four Saturday hands-on photography workshop program for at-risk Los Angeles high school children. The gala is taking place, Saturday April 23rd from 7-10 PM at Factory Place Event Complex in the Arts district of DTLA.  Tickets are $50 in advance and $75 at the door.

What do you get for the price of admission?  As you mingle at the party you will be sipping on drams of The Macallan and see footage of photographer Albert Watson’s 12-day adventure to document the journey of The Macallan’s signature sherry oak casks from the forests of Northern Spain to Scotland. These photos spotlight the latest project for The Macallan Masters of Photography Collection: covering more than 600 miles, Watson’s images follow the road trip of a young couple taking this voyage and the breathtaking backdrops they encounter along the way.  Passed hors d'oeuvres will be served and there will be a comfy lounge.  There will be both live music and a DJ set by Peanut Butter Wolf and even some photographic artworks by David Lynch to keep you on your toes.  A silent auction will allow you to further support the SNAPSHOP! project.

Now I know the words limited edition can send some of you into a frenzy, so be calm as there is another exciting element of this cocktail party.  A limited allotment of 200 bottles of The Macallan Sherry Oak 20 Year Old is available for purchase now in the U.S. The bottle arrives in a sleek black presentation box and includes a specially commissioned label by Watson alongside a set of 10 unique portfolio prints from this art project.  All this can be yours for $1,000.  With only 200 bottles and many fans, this could be a feeding frenzy.

Note that the bottles are not available for sale at the party. If the photographs you see and the Macallan you sip at Saturday's benefit pique your interest, you can arrange to purchase one of the 200 bottles of the 20 Year Sherry Oak by emailing

Factory Place Event Complex: 1337 E. 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013

Villainy Springs Forth at Villains Tavern

The new Spring Menu at Villains has arrived and be prepared to be scandalized by the dastardly deeds the menacing mixologists have planned for you there.  Even Lemony Snickett would approve of these libations.  Head bartender and partner Dave Whitton developed seven new cocktails and a new large format punch.  In addition, there is now a signature burger developed by former Comme Ca chef Michael David.

I was recently invited to sample the new menu, along with several compatriots including Helen, the founder of Gastronauts LA, Daniel from ThirstyinLA, Caroline of Caroline on Crack and several other criminal elements.

The Athena (above) is a Junipero Gin Martini with muddled cucumber.  It is clean and crisp. Extremely simple with no extraneous ingredients or flavors.  Whitton said that he loves Junipero Gin and that "the cucumber brings out the flavors in the gin." It is a very warm weather cocktail and the namesake goddess would have been lucky to have such nectar to drink.

The Geryon is made with Makers 46, kumquats, fresh grapefruit juice, lemon juice and bitters.  Whitton noted that kumquats go well with lighter fruits.  This is a well balanced cocktail that is simply delicious.  Grapefruit juice is another of my vices and it is a pleasure to sin with a drink like this.

The Osiris Punch comes in a vessel that can hold 15-20 glasses of punch ($125), which should sate more than a handful of your devilish companions.  There is something dramatic about such a large punch service, which is made with two bottles of Champagne, Rye Whiskey, hibiscus, mint, citrus, spices and bitters.

Osiris Punch being stirred by the hand of the Devil himself
Whitton mentioned that several ingredients on his new menu, such as kumquats and peaches are Spring fruits, which add an element of seasonality to the cocktails.  As the cocktail menu at Villains has evolved over the months, he said that he has earned the trust of his customers to have them try new things and so these cocktails play with your palate more than the previous offerings.

La Barbie, named after a Mexican drug lord, not the doll, is made with Hacienda Tequila, Aperol, citrus, red pepper, lemon juice, cranberry juice and Tapatio sauce.  Whitton told us that he used the Aperol to reduce the sweetness from the juices.  There is a spicy element to the cocktail, but it doesn't dominate and there is also a pleasant boozy undertone.

Many green teas were experimented with to find just the right one to add to the Loki, which is made with Haute Vodka infused with green tea, sage, house-made honey peach syrup, citrus and soda.  This was a rather mellow cocktail.

The Isis, made with Pisco, basil, cucumber, lemon juice, lime juice, egg whites and sugar sounded liked a very frothy cocktail but was not.

For a cocktail on the sweeter side, the Astarte is a good option.  Elijah Craig, cucumbers, strawberries, flower water, cane sugar and citrus are combined in one goblet.

The final new cocktail on the menu is the Ma'at, named after the Egyptian personification of truth and justice.  You can have your soul measured against the goddess's feather or you can simply sip the drink named after her, made with Sagatiba Cachaça, canteloupe, citrus, and chile salt.  Note that the menu says "Chilean salt" but what is meant is chile salt, not salt from the country of Chile.

Former Comme Ça Executive Chef Michael David created a "Great Burger" for the food truck Great Balls on Tires, who take over the Villains Tavern kitchen several nights a week.  The Great Burger is made with a half pound of coarsely ground Angus beef, bacon onion jam, cheddar cheese, grainy mustard aioli, raw red onion on a toasted brioche bun.  I sampled it without the bacon onion jam and it was rather tasty.

However I was surprised by the Great Balls on Tires Ballywood chicken meatball dish.  It is made with Garam Chiken Masala with saffron Basmati rice and several chutneys.  This dish (below) is now in my top two or three food truck dishes, along with the Buttermilk Truck's Buttermilk Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches.  The Ballywood so exceeded expectations that I am plotting when to try it again.  Fortunately for me, they cook at Villains frequently, so I know where to get these amazing chicken meatballs.

The Geryon is the highlight of the new cocktail list for me, although if I was with a group I think the Osiris punch is irresistible and a great value.  The new cocktails are $12 each, although the Athena is $13.  After all, she is the goddess of wisdom.  The patio space at Villains only gets more appealing as the weather gets nicer. With live music every night they are open, the patio is a comfortable spot to while away an evening drinking cocktails, enjoying the food, listening to music or buying souls.  Tuesday night is trivia night.

Villains Tavern: 1356 Palmetto St, DTLA.  Phone: (213) 613-0766.  Website:

A Cocktail Benefit: The Gift of Food for Japan

Next Tuesday, Umamimart, Yamazaki and The Eveleigh are cosponsoring a cocktail party to raise money for Second Harvest Japan, Japan's first food bank, which is providing food aid to the survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan. Earlier this month, a San Francisco version of this event raised over $10,000. There is no reason that Los Angeles cannot top that figure; organizers are hoping to double it.

Tuesday's event begins at 6pm with a small cocktail party hosted by Yamazaki Whiskey on the rooftop of PRISM, where you can enjoy the views as you sip on Yamazaki highballs and munch on appetizers from The Eveleigh and desserts by Fruit & Flour. At 9PM, the party moseys over to the back patio at The Eveleigh, where there will be an open bar of cocktails featuring SKYY Vodka, Partida Tequila, Campo de Encanto Pisco, and Combier, thanks to a generous donation of liquor.

Tickets are available for only $50 in advance and $75 a the door. You can purchase tickets here. If you can't attend the fundraiser, plan on stopping by the Eveleigh beginning at 10pm, as the patio bar will be open to the public, with all proceeds from the cash bar going directly to support Second Harvest.  For additional donations, exclusive limited edition posters and t-shirts will be available, designed by Clare Rojas.

This promises to be a very fun and delicious event and a wonderful way to help a worthy cause.  I have had Yamazaki before; it is one of my favorite whiskeys, and I can also vouch for the food and cocktails at the Eveleigh.  Whether you come for the cocktails or you come for the cause, please come and give generously.


PRISM: 8746 West Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood

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

Image courtesy of Umamimart

Hemingway's Lounge: Spring Cocktails

Hemingway's Lounge can be a like an elegant three ring circus, with barman Alex Straus as the ringmaster at the center of it all, making sure the mood is festive and the cocktails are delicious.  Straus invited Daniel of ThirstyinLA and me into the Center Ring to sample his new Spring Cocktails, before the acrobats, lions and clowns arrived.

The Peruvian Sangria is refreshing and a little boozy; the perfect drink for cocktail hour on the patio before dinner.  It is one of the new breed of cocktails that embraces wine as an ingredient; the muddled and whole grapes echoing the flavor note of the Chardonnay.

1.5 oz Pisco
.50 St Germain
.50 oz Simple Syrup
.75 oz Lemon Juice
1.0 oz Chardonnay
7 muddled grapes, plus 3 to garnish
Shaken and served over ice

Peruvian Sangria

The Smoke and Spice is spicy and springy.  Ready to drink; the smoke from the mezcal and the spice from the jalapeño syrup work together to create a cocktail with multidimensional flavors.  The Chartreuse and the lemon juice round out the drink and the bell peppers provide a dramatic visual effect.  This was my favorite of the list; unsurprising as I have a soft spot for spicy cocktails.

1.5 oz. Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
.50 oz. Green Chartreuse
1.0 oz. jalapeño-infused agave syrup
.75 oz. lemon juice
Red and green bell peppers
Shaken and served over ice
Smoke & Spice

Spring Rain is made with Akvinta organic vodka a wheat-based vodka that was new to me and which owns its own wheat fields, something unusual in the industry.  The pineapple and lime juice made this cocktail a citrus celebration.  In addition the flavor of the (unfiltered) cloudy sake comes through.  Spring Rain has a pleasant froth to it and the mint garnish floats on it effortlessly.

1.0 oz. Akvinta organic vodka
1.0 oz. Rock Sake Cloud
1.0 oz. pineapple juice
0.5 oz. lime juice
0.5 oz. simple syrup
Shaken and served in a coupe

Spring Rain

The Hunting Party is the only stirred cocktail on the Spring menu and feels like an Old Fashioned has been taken to the beach.  The predominant ingredient is the scotch whiskey but even small amounts of the Hum can have a large impact on the flavor profile and this drink is still a work in progress as the ratios undergo refinement.

2.0 oz. Benromach Scotch, a speyside whiskey
0.5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
.25 oz. Hum, a rum infused with ginger, hibiscus, cardamom and lime
Bar spoon lemon juice
Dash of Orange bitters
Stirred and served over ice in an Old Fashioned glass

Hunting Party
The new cocktails all evoke warm weather with their refreshing tastes.  I think Hemingway himself would have enjoyed them as he surveyed the heat and the bustle of Havana.  Look out for the Smoke & Spice in particular as it packs a wonderful wallop.  Hemingway's can be quiet early in the evening and very busy towards the end of the night, so pick the vibe you want accordingly.

Hemingway's Lounge: 6356 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood.  Phone: (323) 469-0040.  Website:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Impression: Jason Neroni at Osteria La Buca

As previously first reported here, Jason Neroni took over the kitchen at Osteria La Buca earlier this month following an extensive renovation by designer Brendan Ravenhill.  I had an opportunity to try several items on the new menu during a friends and family night visit.  As this meal was while the kitchen was in previews, so to speak, take this as more of an opportunity to see the kind of food Neroni is putting out, rather than the exact dishes you will encounter.

Ricotta Fritters are a fun way to begin a meal.  They are like savory donut holes, only lighter.  These bite size treats are airy and seem to disappear from the bowl at a rapid rate when dining with a group.

The spaghetti cacio y pepe ($9) with tellecherry pepper and perorino cheese (unpictured) is a simple dish that is easy to get wrong.  Neroni's pasta was perfectly al dente (that's for you Sam and Josh) and the salty cheese sauce was pungent with pepper and the tangy cheese.  This is one of those dishes like margherita pizza in which there is nowhere to hide; either its right or its not.  It isn't complicated; there are no fireworks.  It is just good.

The ouvo raviolo with ricotta, cavallo nero, brown butter and fried rosemary (above) is another deceptively simple dish ($16).  The ravioli is filled with a runny egg, which oozes all over the plate.  This dish was a favorite at the table.  I love runny egg dishes and this was a rich satisfying dish.  It was not oversauced, as the egg itself provided much of the liquid.  Order it if available.

Pollo ala Diavolo with panzanella salad, arugula and pine nuts ($22) was a large serving.  It was tasty although not particularly spicy and certainly not devilish.  However the croutons seemed to have done their share in purgatory as they had more of a kick than the chicken itself.

The overall design is sleek but welcoming.  The service was attentive and lived up to the sign above which proclaimed, "We're Glad You're Here."  Below, the chairs pictured on top of the shelves are the same ones that diners sit on at tables.  That was a creative touch, which helped to unify the design elements of the room into a whole.

Neroni is known for his pork dishes, so I am happy to report that the non-pork dishes on the menu receive as much attention from the kitchen as the oinky ones. Chef Neroni had been wanting to move to Southern California for a while and it appears that he has settled in. He mentioned to me that his son and La Buca owner Graham Synder have young sons that are the same age who play together. Promising for La Buca and Los Angeles.

Osteria La Buca: 5210 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood. Phone: (323) 462-1900. Website:

Grilled Cheese Month is Here: Ready, Set, Eat!

There are only three days left until the annual celebration of melted cheese known as the Grilled Cheese Invitational (GCI), at which one sandwich will be crowned the champion, and all others will be merely delicious accompaniments to tomato soup.   In preparation, six local restaurants are each offering their take on specialty grilled cheese featuring GCI sponsor Tillamook Cheese. These sandwiches are only available until Saturday, so that gives you four days to eat them all.

In addition, Tender Greens West Hollywood is celebrating Grilled Cheese Month with a different sandwich each day this week.  Their chef, Eric Hulme will be competing in Saturday's GCI. Through Friday, April 22nd at the West Hollywood restaurant only, these special grilled cheese sandwiches will be $10.50 (served with a simple salad) and will be posted on twitter daily.  That makes seven sandwiches for you to eat this week to get your Grilled Cheese merit badge.

Lastly, Clementine will be celebrating Grilled Cheese Month all month long with different sandwiches available each week.  The full menu is here.  This is Clementine's 10th Annual celebration of the sacred sandwich.

Chef Eric Hulme’s Quack Attack Grilled Cheese Sandwich
The six participating restaurants serving cheesy and delicious Tillamook melts this week are:

simplethings sandwich & pie shop
8310 W 3rd Street ô (323) 592-3390

Chef Carrie Cusack has created a Pork Belly Grilled Cheese with Tillamook Monterey Jack Cheese, Pork Belly, Smoked Tomato, Caramelized Onions, Avocado ($9.50)

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Avenue ô (323) 651-0915

Grilled Cheese Invitational veteran Chef Eric Greenspan will offer the Johnny Apple Cheese AKA Johnny Pastrami with Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, Sourdough Bread, Apple Mustard Chutney, Green Apple, Smoked Pastrami ($8.00)

8715 Beverly Blvd ô (310) 652-2335

Chef Brandon Boudet has created a sandwich featuring Tillamook Monterey Jack Grilled Cheese, Grilled Wild Ramp, Ciabatta Bread ($11.00)

The Oaks Gourmet
1915 North Bronson Avenue ô (323) 871-8894

From another Grilled Cheese Invitational participant, Chef Luke Reyes will offer a sandwich with Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, Black Forest Bacon, Homemade Tomato Jam, Sourdough Bread ($9.95)

101 Coffee Shop
6145 Franklin Avenueô (323) 467-1175

Chef Brandon Boudet has also created a Po Boy for Angelenos across town with Tillamook Medium Cheddar & Homemade Creole Hot Sausage Po Boy ($9.00)

crow bar & kitchen (Orange County)
2325 East Coast Highway ô (949) 675-0070

Grilled Cheese aficionado, Chef John Cuevas, will offer a melt with Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, Pickled Ramps, Smoked Bacon, Garlic Mayo, Fried Egg ($11.00)

Tender Greens West Hollywood is the only Tender Greens location with the grilled cheese specials this week.

Tender Greens West Hollywood
8759 Santa Monica Boulevard  (310) 358-1919

Clementine in Century City has a month of sandwiches:

1751 Ensley Avenue (310) 552-1080

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cocktails at Fig & Olive: Provence Arrives on Melrose Place

The West Hollywood branch of Fig & Olive opened last month with much fanfare on Melrose Place, across the street from Bastide. They have wisely hired Giovanni Martinez to create their cocktail program and he has created an approachable list that will appeal to a wide audience. Now that the weather has turned warm and spring is in the air, the cocktails lean towards crisp and refreshing. Some highlights from the program are below:

The Pompelmino is a take on an Italian aperitivo using both Cocchi Americano and Aperol. It has a pleasant citrus flavor from the lemon juice and grapefruit foam.  Yes, there is foam in this cocktail.  But it works to give you an extra bit of the citrus and air in your mouth as you sip on the drink.

Wild Strawberry is made with Martin Miller's Gin, fresh strawberries, orgeat syrup, lemon juice and Moët Ice Imperial Champagne on the rocks. Giovanni was able to simulate the wild strawberry flavor using orange blossom water as the precise strawberries he was looking for were unavailable.  This drink is light and refreshing; very summery. It is the perfect brunch cocktail, which has arrived just in time for the launch of outdoor seating at the restaurant.

The Matador is my favorite on the list. As attentive readers and many local bartenders know I am a big fan of spicy cocktails.  The Matador is genuinely spicy due to the inclusion of jalapeño. The cocktail is made with Zapopan blanco Tequila, Sagatiba Cachaça, house made cilantro syrup, fresh lime juice, and muddled jalapeño.  This may be my favorite cachaça cocktail.  Now this is the kind of spicy that with each sip you want to take another, not the kind of spicy that blows your palate and you have to struggle to finish it;  the spicy challenge at Jitlada this is not.  The drink tastes fresh and spicy at the same time, perhaps due to the muddled jalapeño, house-made cilantro syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice.

The full cocktail list is here, so get drinking as Spring has arrived and what better way to welcome Printemps en Provence than with a cocktail in hand?

Fig & Olive: 8490 Melrose Place, West Hollywood.  Phone: (310) 360-9100.  Website:

Closed on Mondays: Open for Business

Closed on Mondays, the brainchild of Aliza Miner, Savita Ostendorf and Marjory Garrison, is a recurring dinner series designed to support local food initiatives.  The dinners, which to date have taken place at Atwater Village mainstay Canele, take place on Monday evenings, when the host restaurant would otherwise be closed.  The dinners are a 3 course prix fixe with choices for each course and benefit a different local cause each time.

The most recent dinner took place on Monday April 4th and I attended for the first time, joined by my friend James and Jessica of TasterTotsLA.  The first course offered a choice of an escarole salad with anchovy-garlic dressing, breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese or chilled fat asparagus salad.  I couldn't resist the asparagus, which were if anything even fatter than I was expecting.  This (above) was a simple and well executed dish, which depended on the quality of the local produce to rise or fall.  Spring is definitely here.

The second course was a choice of house-made English pea ravioli or house-made ricotta gnocchi with lamb ragu.  Again, the choice was easy for me, for although I do like peas a lot, lamb is practically irresistible to me.  The ricotta gnocchi were light and the lamb ragu also included a healthy serving of olives.  The meat was tender and well seasoned.  Not as mind-blowing as the version I had last year at the Tasting Kitchen, which is etched in my mind, but very satisfying.

We all finished with the burnt sugar budino, which had a silky consistency.  The burnt sugar on top was as thin as glass.  Each spoonful of the budino with the whipped cream was smile inducing and the glass did not stay full for long.

The beneficiary of the money raised from the dinner is the Garden School Foundation, which focuses on garden-based school learning in parts of Los Angeles where children do not get exposure to growing vegetables.  The cost of the dinner was $35, excluding tip and beverage and is cash only.

Check out the Closed on Mondays website at to learn about upcoming dinners.

Canele: 3219 Glendale Blvd, Atwater Village. Phone: (323) 666-7133.  Closed on Mondays does not take reservations.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Magical Taste of Mystic Pizza

Mystic Pizza is the passion project of Lawrence, the pizzaiolo by night, office worker by day.  He is the Clark Kent of pizza makers, with a secret identity known only to a select few.  To the rest of the city he is the enigmatic "Mystic Pizza", a covert neighborhood dealer of homemade hand-tossed pizza.  He has been perfecting his craft and doing a series of pop-up pizza making at parties and events.  You can find him this weekend at Artisanal LA at Santa Monica Place.

Mystic makes the sauce and the dough from scratch and uses the highest quality cheese.  This is truly the definition of artisanal.  Seeing Mystic work is like a piece of performance art as the dough goes up in the air and spins.  My favorite part of the pizzas are the sauce; I'd happily buy jars of it to use as pasta sauce and as something to dip bread in, if they were available for sale.  On a recent pop-up party at his Lair, Mystic was selling several types of pies and I couldn't resist the margarita.  I was hungry and took a bite before photographing, so that should give you an indication of how good it smelled.  The pies were cooked on a pizza stone on a bbq and cooked up in under two minutes.

Mystic sources most of his ingredients at the Farmers Market and can make both vegetarian and vegan options.  He does cater private events, but can otherwise be found in the Los Feliz / Silverlake neighborhood, so his appearance at Artisanal LA brings him to an entirely new part of town.  Welcome to the Westside Mystic!

Follow Mystic Pizza on Twitter and on Facebook to learn more.  Email at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Front Page: From Jamaica to LAX without the plane flight

Some of the best eating in Los Angeles can be found in the nondescript strip malls that dot the region.  The ordinary exterior of Front Page Jamaican Grille belies the riches that await inside.  To say that it is a small restaurant is to make it seem grander and larger than it really is.  A little spot with more takeout business than dine in, the seating consists of half a dozen tables inside and a few outside.  The Inglewood restaurant near LAX has not gone unnoticed, as the menu's front cover highlights a positive review by Thi Nguyen that appeared in the LA Times in August 2010.  I had meant to try it, but had forgotten about Front Page Grille until I saw a writeup about it in the excellent new blog Aerospace Lunch.

The menu has a large variety of meals that all come with rice and beans, mixed steamed vegetables and fried plantains and can be ordered in small or large.  In addition to the typical Jamaican meat dishes such jerk chicken, oxtails and curry goat, they also have a large selection of fish on the menu.  (Note that fish dishes should be ordered 30 minutes in advance, so plan ahead if you want to order them or be prepared to wait.)

I began a recent visit with a Beef Patty ($2.50).  The crust was light and flaky and the ground beef inside had a good consistency but it wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped.  The appearance and texture were spot on, but it the patty needed a little kick to it to make it great.  Chicken, veggie and fish patties are also available.

One of the signature offerings is the Jerk Chicken.  You can get it breast only, which I did.  The small pictured below ($8.50) was more than ample.  The chicken was juicy and flavorful with just the right amount of spices.  Not a four alarm fire but with more than a little bite.  The chicken sat on a bed of rice and beans mixed together with a small portion of fried plantains and some cabbage on the side.  The chicken juice/sauce was delicious and enriched the flavor of the rice and beans.

A return visit offered the opportunity to try the much lauded goat.  The curry goat ($9.75 for a small)  was a healthy portion of falling off of the bone tender goat.  The goat meat lay on a bed of the rice and beans, with several plantains on top and some of the cabbage on the side.  Goat meat can sometimes be chewy or hard to get off of the bone, but the meat was well prepared and tasted like it had been simmering in the sauce for hours as the flavor of the curry imbued every bite.  While certainly not for everyone, if you enjoy goat meat, the effort to separate the goat from the small bones is well worth the reward.

 I have yet to try the fish dishes as they require half an hour's advance notice, but am already debating whether to get the oxtails or the fish on my next visit.  Next time I land hungry at LAX, I will forget about In and Out and head to the Front Page.

Front Page Grille: 1117 West Manchester Blvd, 1 block East of Aviation.  Phone: (310) 216-9521.  Website:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Zahra Bates at B-Side

On Wednesday B-Side Lounge at Rolling Stone continued its weekly guest bartender series with Zahra Bates of Providence behind the stick.  The proceeds of the evening went to benefit Japanese relief efforts towards the recent earthquake and tsunami tragedies.  Tricia Alley has been curating the series and on Wednesday Bates was not only making her own cocktail recipes but those of several other local bartenders such as Jason Bran, Brent Falco and Alley.

A highlight of the menu was Bates's Bamboo Gen made with Bols Genever, tokjai, manzanilla sherry, shiso bitters and a shiso leaf.  Genever can be hard to work with but when it works it really works and it did in the Bamboo Gen.  The shiso flavor acted as a unifying influence, bringing together the spirit and the two wines.  The Bamboo Gen is also a salute to two Los Angeles bartenders, Marcos Tello who has evangelized about Genever and Alex Day who has advocated for sherry in cocktails.

Go and see Bates at the bar at Providence to explore her other creations and be sure to stop by B-Side on Wednesday to see what Alley and her rotating guest bartender have up their sleeves this week.

Providence: 5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. Phone: (323) 460-4170. Website:

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

ColLAboration: A Pop Up Craft Beer Garden

Saturday's ColLAboration event combined two trends of the Los Angeles food and drink scene: pop-up restaurants and craft beer.  The event was a collaboration between four of the leading members of Los Angeles's craft beer scene: Ryan Sweeney of Eagle Rock's Verdugo Bar and West Hollywood's The Surly Goat, Brian Lenzo of Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood, Clay Harding of Alhambra's 38 Degrees Ale House and Tony Yanow of Tony's Darts Away in Burbank and the soon to open Mohawk Bend in Echo Park.

The event celebrated the 1 Year Anniversary of Tony's Darts Away and was the first in a planned series of pop-up beer gardens.  The inaugural event was held in a parking lot in Burbank, a block away from Tony's.  Tickets were sold in advance online or at any of the participating bars.  Your ticket came in the form of a glass and cost $10 per person.  Beers were either $6 or 4 for $20, via an efficient token system.

ColLAboration was by far the smoothest run food or drink festival I have ever been to.  Tickets sold out in advance, although a limited number were available on-site the day of.  They deliberately avoided selling too many tickets, so that attendees could get beer with minimal lines.  If you had purchased your ticket in advance there was no line to get in and most of the afternoon the lines for beer were nonexistent to two minutes with the exception of when a rare beer was announced over the speakers and a ten minute queue developed.

They provided ample bathrooms (port a potties) and even had a fenced in "smokers pen" for the cigarette fiends in the crowd.  No lines, a genial crowd, fair prices - what's not to like?  They even arranged for several local restaurants to deliver to the event, so people could get food to wash down their beer.  Tony's was also selling food on-site in the form of folks wearing hot delivery cases, ballpark style, walking through the crowd selling their vegan treats.

Sweeney (above) had told me about a Sierra Nevada Dubbel, called Oliva, which he thought I would like.  A couple hours later I was the first person at the event to get a glass of the elixir, which was even better than I had hoped.  I didn't know that Sierra Nevada made any Belgian style beers.  Their stock went up a lot with me.  I ran into several of LA's beer aficionado crew, including Jimmy Han of the soon to open Beer Belly,  HC of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures, Chris Day of Sotto, Steve Armstrong of ShangriLA Food Blog and Brand X, among others.  Unfortunately I left before Josh of FoodGPS and Esther of E*StarLA arrived.

There will be several more pop-up ColLAboration beer gardens this summer and I am looking forward to attending as many as I can.  If you went this past weekend save your glass, as it is your admission ticket to the next event.   Unlike some beer events where you pay one price for all you can drink, ColLAboration was all about quality over quantity, although the pours were rather generous.  Good beer, a good vibe and good weather; this event hit the trifecta.  Stay tuned for news on the date and location of the next fest.

Follow ColLAboration on Twitter and on Facebook.

Le Saint Amour: Walter Manzke does Fried Chicken

Le Saint Amour, the French brasserie in Culver City, recently hired former Bastide and Church & State chef Walter Manzke as a consulting chef to help them with their menu.  As part of the changes, a new Sunday night fried chicken served family style special has been added to the menu.

The chicken with sides and a dessert is $29 per person and included slaw and french fries on the evening I visited.  The meal is described as "A Volonte", which means as much as you would like, which is a more polite way of saying that the family style meal includes second helpings.  The waitress told me that "if my stomach told me it wanted more then I could tell her I wanted more and she would bring it."  Very cute.

The chicken itself had good flavor and was more moist than the version I had tried the week before at Vertical.  However, it was largely served off of the bone, which is a big drawback to making excellent fried chicken.  Despite this drawback I felt the chicken was better at Saint Amour than Vertical, though Vertical's side dishes were superior and overall offering felt more bountiful.  All in all, it was a draw, and I'd recommend either, if you are in the area, though neither is worthy of a long detour.

The slaw was light and I enjoyed it so much I had seconds of it.  The french fries were nice and crisp.  If the chicken had been on the bone, I would have been thrilled.  Although the menu emailed to me and on the chalkboard advertised dessert inclusive with the meal at $29, perhaps because I was alone it was not offered to me on this basis.

The brasserie itself has the genuine feel of a casual and lively brasserie in Paris.  If you have seen the film Avenue Montaigne, Le Saint Amour is reminiscent of the cafe at the center of the movie.  I would happily return but cannot place the fried chicken there in the top echelon in the city, as it does not compare to what Josef Centeno is making at The Lazy Ox Canteen or to Flossie's in the South Bay.  The hunt for the best fried chicken continues.

Le Saint Amour: 9725 Culver Blvd, Culver City.  Phone: (310) 842-8155.  Website: