Friday, September 21, 2012

Yup, its still about the Ground Beef & Pickle Tacos @ Mas Malo

Mas Malo, the "badder" DTLA sequel to the popular cantina in Silver Lake has a prime location, on the ground floor of the building that houses Seven Grand on 7th Street.  The space is a former jewelry store and has double height ceilings and is landmarked.  I was recently invited to check it out and was able to sample several of the dishes and cocktails.

Overall the dish I recommend most is the signature dish of the establishment, the ground beef and pickle taco.  It is filling, and at only $4 is a value.  The ground beef, pickles and shredded cheese is a homage to the classic cheeseburger.  Stuffed into the fried shell and dipped into the Serrano salsa it is surprisingly delicious and a crowd pleaser.

To share, the Chicken in Mole Poblano ($16) is also quite good.  The mole sauce is rich and complex and not overly sweet.  While it may not be at the level of Guelaguetza, this is a dish I can heartily recommend and would order again.  It is hard to not dip your chips into the mole; always the sign of a successful sauce.

The Medicina Latina with a chili salt rim was a highlight of the beverage menu.  I thought the other cocktails I sampled were just ok.  As they have 200 tequilas and mezcals on the list, exploring the deep list may be the optimal way to go.  Unfortunately Mas Malo doesn't have sangrita to accompany the great tequilas.

You can reserve their tequila vault for tastings or private dinners.  This room was literally one of the vaults used by the jewelry store decades ago.  The huge glass and steel door is impressive and leads to a small room with walls lined with bottle after bottle of tequila and mezcal.  The selection inside could inspire one to dig a tunnel underground and come up inside the vault, just to get to try them all.

Mas Malo carries the full Del Maguey line of mezcals, including the Pechuga, made with chicken breast.  The photograph below is but part of one wall of the tequila vault.  Reserving the vault for a tasting may be the best way to enjoy Mas Malo; it will certainly impress your friends.

Whether you are looking to sober up before or after a Seven Grand visit or are planning on having dinner and sampling the full menu, Mas Malo is a beautiful comfortable space with reasonable prices and a nice vibe.  The ground beef and pickle taco has some ineluctable quality that just draws me in.  Some things just can't be explained; they need to be experienced.

Mas Malo: 515 West 7th Street, DTLA | 213.985.4332 |

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tom Bergin's Irish Coffee of Dreams

Tom Bergin's reopened in May after a long closure to revamp the space, the cocktails and the food menu.  The classic Irish pub still exudes its traditional vibe, only cleaner and with better drinks and bites.  The cocktail menu was created by Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest of Liquid Assets, who included Irish whiskey in each of their signature beverages.

I stopped by when the renovation was first complete but was recently invited back to see Bergin's now that it has settled into its current comfortable form.

Not to be missed are two versions of Irish Coffee: Irish Coffee and the Sheridan Special.  The Irish Coffee is made with Bushmill's Irish Whiskey, hot coffee, demerara sugar and a generous serving of cream.  The Sheridan's Special, named after Joe Sheridan who created Irish Coffee at the local airport in Dublin in 1942 to warm up fliers, is a cold version of the signature Irish Coffee.  Their house coffee is combined with Bushmill's and Galliano Ristretto, stirred over ice and then poured into a glass and topped with hand whipped cream.  Decadent and dessert-like.  You can't go wrong with either.

Irish Coffee
When I first sampled the Cooper Union in May, I found it to be too sweet.  Either the recipe has been tweeked or the bartender is now making it properly as the current version is quite pleasing. Red Breast, St. Germain, Orange Bitters and Islay Scotch come together in this this cocktail served in an old fashioned glass.  Nicely potent without overpowering, this stirred cocktail is a pleasing aperitif.
Cooper Union
The Mascushla Manhattan, made with Black Bush stirred with Benedictine, Lillet and Angostura bitters, is a very mellow Manhattan variant.  Garnished with a lemon peel, this drink will relax quietly at the table rather than assert itself.

Macushla Manhattan
Bushmill's Whiskey, Blended Scotch, orgeat and lemon juice come together in the Cameron's Kick, a classic recipe straight from the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book.  The almond syrup stands in for sugar in this take on the Whiskey Sour.  This shaken cocktail is frothy and on the lighter side.
Cameron's Kick
The Irish Maid is the Emerald Isle's answer to the mojito with Bushmill's, sugar, lime juice, mint and cucumber joining forces in an easy sipping cocktail.
Irish Maid
The Peeled Irish Buck is garnished with candied ginger and made with Bushmill's, apple juice, ginger syrup, lime juice and soda water.  Bucks are a category of cocktail made with ginger ale, ginger beer, or in this case ginger syrup and soda water, and mixed with citrus and alcohol and served in a collins glass.  If you'd like to learn more, this excellent piece by Camper English goes into detail.
Peeled Irish Buck
The makeover did not end at the bar, but continued into the kitchen, as the menu consists of classic Irish dishes, executed well.  My favorite items were the lamb stew, the fish & chips, the fried chicken skin and the fried cooleeney cheese.  The Fried Spicy Chicken Skin (below) was crunchy and lightly spiced and was served with a Cashel Blue cheese sauce.  Fried chicken skin should be on more menus around town.  It isn't the most visually appealing dish, but it is delicious.

Chicken Skin
The French Fries in the Fish & Chips were among the best I have eaten lately, with enough crunch but not too soft.  The fish is also lightly battered, and not too oily.
Fish & Chips
The Fried Cooleeney Cheese with Irish curry apple salad is an unusual dish and is recommended.
Fried Cheese
The Irish Stew is a hearty stew with lamb, potatoes, carrots and onions.  I enjoyed it very much, but wish that there had been more lamb in it.  This dish would not fill you up by itself.
Lamb stew
The corned beef and cabbage is fine but not worth crossing town for.  Langer's this is not.
Corned Beef
The Cottage Pie is another well executed potato dish, made with braised beef, so a cut above a Shepard's Pie.
Pot Pie
All in all Tom Bergins is now a winner, whether you want to get a pint or a cocktail in the main bar area or retreat to the calm of the dining room.  The prices are reasonable (entrees above were $13 - $18) and the establishment is literally an LA classic.  As Tello and Demarest trained the bar staff, they can execute the classics as well as the cocktail list, but this isn't the place to ask for an esoteric libation.

If you come often enough, you may merit a shamrock on the crowded ceiling of the bar room.  An achievement worth striving for.

Tom Bergin's: 840 S. Fairfax Ave, Mid City | 323.936.7151 |

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mushroom Paella at Bow & Truss

The Earth Paella at Bow & Truss is a vegetarian dish from chef Stefhanie Meyers of Bow & Truss, who formerly worked under John Sedlar at Playa and Rivera.  This paella incorporates four kinds of mushrooms: shitake, button, hon shimeji and oyster; and is one of the best vegetarian dishes I have had all year.  The paella is savory and full of rich flavors; the rice is cooked just right with the crispy edges providing a nice textural element.  It is not very often that I eat a dish I can't stop thinking about and Meyers's Earth Paella is one such meal.  

The precision of Meyers's cooking and presentation is evident; she obviously learned a lot while under Sedlar's tutelage and has gone onto create winning dishes of her own.  As a vegetarian chef, she describes herself on twitter as a "tattooed girly vegetarian who chews the meat and spits it out."  Her Earth Paella is more satisfying than most meat dishes; it could handily please even committed carnivores.  Meyers said that she was looking to create a dish that as a vegetarian she would love to eat, while keeping within the traditions of paella.  This dish comes in individual or sharing portions ($11, $18) and is worth the drive to North Hollywood to sample.  Even better, you can sip on some delicious cocktails while you enjoy the paella.

Bow & Truss: 11122 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood | 818.985.8787 |

Summer Fun @ 1886

I have been a fan and advocate of 1886 Bar at the Raymond since it opened in November of 2010 in South Pasadena.  Marcos Tello & Aidan Demarest built a strong program by hiring talented bartenders, a thorough training, and encouraging innovation.  Garrett McKechnie, the head bartender, has continued to helm the program and all the bartenders have the opportunity to create cocktails on the seasonal menus.  At this point, 1886 is unquestionably among the top 5 cocktail bars in the Los Angeles area.  There is deep bench strength among the bartending staff, so that regardless of who is on shift, customers are guaranteed a quality craft cocktail experience.

I was recently invited to try the current seasonal menu focusing on summer cocktails.  Highlights are below.  I encourage you to check it out for yourself:

After Hours is a summer spiced rum swizzler that is a collaboration between bartenders Lacey Murillo and Brady Weise.  Weise is known for his beer cocktails, so there is no surprise that this drink is topped with hazelnut porter.  Spiced rum, passion fruit, pineapple, and a touch of bitters are the other ingredients.  This tiki drink walks on the wild side, and as the menu notes includes Rosanna Arquette and Griffin Dunne.  Marcos Tello, the godfather of the 1886 bartending clan, is a huge advocate of swizzles, so this drink fits well within that tradition, yet takes it to a new tropical destination.

The Kai Lani was originally conceived by Brian Miller (ex Death & Company) of Manhattan and head bartender Garrett McKenchnie has put his own spin on this modern tiki classic.  In true tiki style this cocktail includes two rums: an aged rum and Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican rum, as well as peach liqueur, fresh lemon juice and Garrett's Spice Mix #1. Adhering to another tiki tradition, McKechnie would not divulge the secret ingredients of his spice mix.  The Kai Lani  looks festive and the peach liqueur comes through loud and clear.  It is shaken, which gives it a cool frothy element.

The Tranquilizer is described as "a tropical delight that will knock you on your ass" and that description is accurate.  Wray & Nephew overproof rum and Batavia Arrack provide the kick, while coconut and pineapple juice provide the mellow disguise.  This drink is one of the tastiest on the list, each sip takes you one step closer to the islands, and to having your butt on the floor as this is indeed a powerful beverage.  Get a designated driver and drink these til the hula girls come home.

The Rosebud is an unusual flavor combination as it is made with house-made hibiscus liqueur, Benedictine, lime juice, Reposade tequila, and topped with Fever Free lite tonic water.  The flower garnish matches the hue of the cocktail, which is lightly fizzy due to the tonic water.  The flavor is tart and berry and light.  If you like the Mexican drink Jamaica, you will enjoy this, if not, steer clear because despite its color, this is no Cosmo.

La Brigada is another Murillo creation, this one inspired by her family trips to Baja California.  It includes mezcal, homemade agave liqueur, fresh pineapple and lime juices served over crushed ice with a shard of frozen coconut water.  It is also garnished with a chicharron (unpictured) garnish.  The mezcal provides a smoky element and takes what could have been a sweet drink into more complex territory.  The use of the chicharron is a whimsical touch, that showcases Murillo's creativity and her reputation as one to watch.

The Southern Belle Whistle is a collaboration from Greg Gertmenian and pastry chef Jeff  Haines. The whistle is a bottled soda pop made with with fresh yellow peaches, floral sweet black tea, and 1886 Buffalo Trace bourbon.  It is fun to open up a bottle and smell the sweet scent of peaches as they bring old fashioned soda pop into the 21st century in a playful way.  As Weise has developed expertise in beer cocktails, Gertmenian may be the premiere bottled cocktail mixologist in town.

The Strawberry Paleta created by McKechnie is my favorite cocktail on the menu.  Despite its appearance, this is no kiddie treat, but an adult popsicle that is nothing short of extraordinary.  Garrett has taken a traditional Latin summer dessert and innovated it by putting  fresh strawberries, cream and "a healthy dose of rum" in -300 degree Farenheit liquid nitrogen, creating something very special.  Served in a glass with a fresh strawberry, the creamy popsicle is boozy and refreshing at the same time.  As this is the first of their rotating summer paleta "pop shop", I can't wait to see what they have in store next.

Peter Lloyd Jones and McKechnie worked together to create the Summer Shrub Fizz.  Fizzes seem to be everywhere this year; they are alcoholic beverages with a vinegar base. With the egg white froth, the texture of this cocktail is key as is the contrast between the strawberry shrub and the meyer lemon essence.  The kick comes from both demerara rum and London Dry Gin.  It is a smooth and attractive addition to the menu.

For those looking for a classic stirred cocktail, look no further than the Dutch Kills, created by Eveleigh head barman Dave Kupchinsky.  This cocktail is especially apropos for 1886 as it includes Bols Genever, which Tello has evangelized.  Barrel Aged Bols Genever, Italian vermouth, bitters and a dash of apricot liqueur are all stirred together with ice in a shaker before being poured into a cocktail glass.  The barrel aging of the Genever gives this cocktail extra depth.

BBC aka Bols Genever Basil Collins is a simple drink of Bols Genever with lemon juice, basil, sugar and carbonated water.  Light and easy sipping, this Marcos Tello cocktail is just right for sitting on the 1886 patio and enjoying the sun go down on a warm Pasadena day.

The perfect snack to munch on while sipping on the summer cockails are the house-made potato chips, which are crunchy and unlike some chips, not oily at all.  The signature 1886 spicy ketchup is served with it to keep things interesting.

If you are hungrier for a more substantial meal, the best choice is the Roasted Lamb Necks & Afghan Bread.  The lamb is spiced with vadouvan and roasted til tender.  No knife is necessary to cut through the meat.  The afghan bread is similar to a lavash and with three dips, you can season the dish to your liking.

My favorites on the list are the Strawberry Paleta and the Tranquilizer but you can't go wrong with this menu.  Get to 1886 while you can.  Fall is rapidly approaching, and with it more exciting cocktails.

1886 at the Raymond
1250 S. Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena | 626.441.3136 |

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bow & Truss Brings Cocktails to NoHo

Bow and Truss opened last month in the NoHo Arts District in North Hollywood, bringing the second notable beverage spot to the neighborhood following the opening of the Federalist Bar last year.  The owners brought on the team of Aidan Demarest, Marcos Tello and Garrett McKechnie of Tello Demarest Liquid Assets to develop the cocktail program, including creating the list and training the staff.  The trio, who collaborated most notably at 1886 and who have had a hand in many of the top cocktail programs around the city, have developed a pleasing menu, heavy on sherry cocktails, to pair with the Spanish food.  Bow & Truss describes itself as a Spanish Taverna and serves a menu of Spanish cheeses, tapas and paellas.

The Bow & Truss take on the Fog Cutter, a tiki classic that originated at Trader Vic's is not to be missed.  The cocktail is refreshing, and as with many tiki drinks, quite potent.  The base spirit is Zaya Rum, and brandy, orgeat, citrus juice and cream sherry and garnished with fresh mint round out the ingredients and make for a bit of the tropics.  Perfect if you are fortunate to be sitting outside on the spacious patio.

Fog Cutter
Another highlight on the cocktail menu is the Dolores Park Swizzle, which was created by Thomas Waugh of Death & Co in New York, when he worked at The Alembic in San Francisco.  It is named after the popular park in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco and is made with Milagro Anejo Tequila, Amontillado Sherry, ginger and lime juice, and garnished with fresh mint.  The cocktail is made using a swizzle stick to get the wonderful melding of flavors.  The Amontillado Sherry reminded me of the Edgar Allan Poe short story the Cask of Amontillado, although unlike the poor nobleman Fortunato, you will fare far better after sipping on this delight.

Dolores Park Swizzle
A proprietary cocktail, the Amestoy Swizzle, is named after the last family of Basque ranchers to farm the Encino Rancho, and is a true tribute to Spain with Spanish Brandy, Amontillado Sherry, Velvet Falernum and apple juice and is served in a tall ice filled glass and garnished with a slice of apple.  The cocktail is food friendly and the apple notes play well with the brandy and sherry.
Amestoy Swizzle
My final recommendation is the Sherry Cobbler, made with East India Sherry, Curacao, and berries of the season.  Curacao stands in for sugar in this version and it is easy to see how this was the most popular cocktail in America in the latter part of the 19th century.  The light cocktail highlights the sherry and the fruit mellows it out.  This would make a wonderful aperitif.

Sherry Cobbler
Bow & Truss should be commended for including sherry in every single signature cocktail on the menu.  Sherry is an under-appreciated ingredient in cocktails, and thanks to pioneers like Alex Day it is making a resurgence.  Marcos and Aidan have another winner on their hands and have brought quality cocktails to another neighborhood that needed their assistance.  McKechnie, of 1886, brings a strong element of service and a notable palate to the venture as well.

With the recent heatwave, cocktails outdoors at Bow & Truss are a great way to end the summer and continue into fall.  North Hollywood lucked out with this one.

Bow & Truss: 11122 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood | 818.985.8787 |

Inaugural LA Fried Chicken Fest this Sunday

Fried chicken is on the rise.  It may be the pork belly of 2012.  In the continuing wave of upscale comfort food, whether fancy burgers or macaroni and cheese, fried chicken is enjoying its day in the sun.  A well deserved high profile after soaking in deep fryers for many long years paying its dues.  This Sunday will be the premiere of the L.A. Fried Chicken Fest, at the Coop (aka Gonpachi) on La Cienega in Beverly Hills.

Nine of LA's most popular and talented chefs will each be making their own take on Fried Chicken (that is eight versions as Marcel Vigneron and Haru Kishi are collaborating on their dish).  There will be Asian, Latin and European takes on the American classic.  The list of participating chefs is a whose who of recent award winners, such as Ricardo Zarate from Mo Chica and Pica  and Bryant Ng of the Spice Table, who won Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chef in 2011 and 2012, respectively.  

Tickets are $55 and are in limited supply.  No tickets will be sold at the door.  So get on the waitlist or do what you gotta do, as this fest is not to be missed.  Sunday, August 26th from 4 - 8 pm.  Where else will you get to see Beverly Hills housewives chowing down on golden bird?  Plus there is a charity component as 10% of proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength.  This is going to be one finger lickin' good afternoon.

134 N. La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Still thinking about the Foie @ Mezze

Micah Wexler has a way with foie.  My last bite of foie before the ban began was the Foie Gras Terrine at Mezze, the Mediterranean restaurant on La Cienega where Chef Wexler .  Crushed pistachios, grapefruit wedges and flowers all provided for both a visual and flavorful oomph of harmony.  The texture was creamy and perfect.  Rich but not maddeningly so.  This is the first foie dish I will look forward to when foie becomes legal again.

Red Sun BBQ Comes to the Sunset Strip

Overlooking the hubbub of the Sunset Strip, yet just above the mayhem, is Katana, the Japanese robata and sushi bar.  I was recently invited to visit their Red Sun BBQ, the weekly bbq party held on their patio each Sunday during the summer.  The patio is inviting and has a large seating area with tables as well as a lounge area with lower seating and coffee tables.  Lights are projected onto the building, which faces the famous Mondrian Hotel.

Highlights of the Red Sun BBQ menu include Yuzu Edamame ($5) which are pleasantly spicy with more of a kick than one would expect, which comes from the yuzukosho spice mix made from chili peppers, yuzu rind and salt.

My favorite portion of the menu was the fish selections, which in addition to Oysters on the Half Shell from the raw bar, also features Albacore Cannoli, Yellowtail Fresca, and a Koji Roll.  The Cannoli was a fun take on the classic Italian dessert, with a crunchy cannoli tube shell, filled with albacore sashimi, Maui onions, cucumber and a yuzu guacamole.  The crunch of the tube provided a great textural contrast to the contents.  Yellowtail fresca is a Latin take on sashimi as it is served with fresh lime juice and cilantro.

A visit to the Red Sun BBQ at Katana is not complete without the Salmon Tartare on Crispy Rice.  This signature dish of the restaurant is not specifically on the Red Sun menu but is available to those who ask and is not to be missed.  Katana does spicy right, whether in the Edamame, the Salmon Tartare or the Mustard (below), the chefs do not  shy away from heat and I commend that.  Spicy tuna or spicy salmon is often good but rarely truly spicy.  This version is and also benefits from the crunchiness of the crispy rice.

The menu also includes several selections from the robata bar, such as Kuributa Sausage Skewers with Karashi Mustard, Kurobuta Ribs and 40 Day Dry Aged New York Steak.  The Karashi Mustard served with the sausage skewer was a hit at my table due to its potent blend of ground mustard seeds and horseradish.  This sauce was powerful, and is not to be taken lightly.  The dry aged steak is cooked over bincho charcoals with a soy garlic sauce.

Kurobuta Ribs
Four signature cocktails are available.  They are by and large too sweet for my taste, although I found the Inochi Mizu, made with vodka, cucumber and lychee to be refreshing.  That is the best of the cocktails, though some of this izakaya style food lends itself better to beer, which is also available.

Inochi Mizu
The seafood such as the oysters and the albacore were highlights:

Red Sun BBQ at Katana
Sunday evenings through Labor Day: 8439 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood | 310.650.8585 |

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Superba Snack Bar: Jason Neroni Resurfaces

Superba Snack Bar opened on Thursday evening to crowds that have been enthusiastic, packing the small restaurant from opening til close (midnight on weekends).  The new project from Chef Jason Neroni, formerly of Osteria La Buca, is located on Rose Avenue, just East of Main Street at the border of Santa Monica and Venice.  The menu has an Italian focus and is divided into Cold Cuts (cured meats etc), Snacks, From Our Backyards (vegetables) and From Our Hands (house-made pasta).  The dishes are small plates and meant to be shared and while no substitutions are permitted, they do offer gluten-free pasta in a nod to the many celiac and gluten-sensitive folks in their demographic.

Five "cold cuts" are on offer and they are priced $8 for 1, $18 for 3, or $25 for all 5.  The term "cold cuts" brings up images of deli platters and casual sandwich buffets.  These are nothing of the sort, but rather meats and terrines that Neroni has cured or prepared in-house.  Julia's chicken liver mousse is served with balsamic cherries (note they still contain the pits) and is scooped out of a container like a perfect quenelle shaped chocolate ice cream when plated.  This is no ice cream, but silky chicken liver that spreads easily on the provided toast.  Even better is the Duck rillette with tarragon and pickled green strawberries.  The rlilette is served in a jar, is packed with flavor and has a pleasing texture.

The snacks section of the menu includes pan con tomato, olive oil and sea salt (2 pieces for $8) and an ocean trout crudo that looked beautiful and which I would have ordered, but it had chorizo oil in it but with the no modifications rule, this wasn't an option for me.  Fried duck egg, papas bravas, truffle vinaigrette & tuna prosciutto is a savory treat with the runny yolk coating the potatoes below and the duck prosciutto (they were out of tuna proscuitto) adding another textural element as well as richness to the dish.

The vegetables Neroni serves come from farmers who grow the produce for him, or from the farmers market.  The most umami of the veggie options is the Cherry tomatoes, dashi broth, smoked tofu and shiso/basil.  This lovechild of agedashi tofu and a cherry tomato salad is a highlight of the menu.  The dashi broth is better than at most Japanese restaurants and the smoked tofu paired with the ripe cherry tomatoes is an inspired combination.  One would be remiss in not ordering this dish, and in leaving any drops of broth left in the bowl.

Pasta dishes have become Neroni's signature and they have a pride of place on the Superba menu.  The bucatini with carbonara, pancetta, milled black pepper and Aracuna egg and the Gnocchi with burrata and broccoli necks are the most frequently ordered so far.  The Garganelli with lamb bolognese, black garlic, ricotta salata and mint is a hearty dish and a satisfying end the main part of the meal.  The pasta was cooked to a pleasing degree of doneness and the meaty sauce clung to it well and the proportion of sauce to pasta was spot on.

The Dining Room @ Superba Snack Bar
Desserts are available, although I did not sample any on my visit.  The room is comfortable, with a chef's counter, and a mix of indoor and outdoor seating.  There is a large print on one wall with a repeating stylized pattern of holding hands.  The wine program while small is well thought out and includes several unusual bottles, such as a Greek white wine.  The atmosphere is conducive to stopping in for a light snack or a full meal, although if the restaurant continues to be packed - I can't see customers be willing to endure a long wait just to get a snack.

Currently Superba Snack bar is open for dinner seven nights a week from 5 pm - 11pm (midnight on weekends) and lunch and brunch will follow later once they get a handle on dinner service.

Well worth checking out.  Note that while I was recognized, this was not a hosted meal.

Superba Snack Bar: 533 Rose Avenue, Venice | 310.399.6400 |