Friday, March 23, 2012


Ammo Cafe on Highland has been open for over 15 years, a discreet restaurant on Highland where locals and celebrities alike enjoy the reasonably priced quality Italian food in an unpretentious and comfortable ambiance.  Earlier this winter, the restaurant decided to raise its cocktail program to the level of its dining room menu by bringing on Jason Robey to consult on their cocktail list.

Robey, who gained notice in Los Angeles for reinventing the cocktail program at Michael's Restaurant in Santa Monica, has created a tasty list that draws on the local produce available at the farmer's markets, which both reflects his style and is a good match for the Ammo culinary philosophy.  Running the bar program is Laila Ayad, who executes Robey's list well and is excellent at the art of hospitality.  I am a fan of Robey's cocktails so was intrigued to see what was in store for me when I was invited to try the new menu.

The Johnny Green Spot (above) made with Tierra's anejo tequila, green chartreuse, meyer lemon juice, grapefruit juice, jalapeno and Thai basil was among the best cocktails I have had anywhere in the past year.  This is a destination worthy drink as the spicyness of the pepper and the tartness of the juices partnered with the herbal chartreuse and the kick of the tequila to just produce a beautiful combination.  Six ingredients can be the sign of too much going on in a cocktail, but I wouldn't lose any of them in this beauty.

Beer cocktails are having a moment right now, and the Belgian Sunrise deserves its place among the contenders as it uses not one but two brews in this cocktail.  Both Allagash White Ale and Lindemans Lambic Framboise mixed with Frambeau Liquor.  It is well constructed and the fruit in the beer mixed with the liquor gave it a sweet edge, which complemented the bubbles from the beer.

The smell of the burnt rosemary is the first aspect of the Maple Leaf Rag to hit your senses.  Black Maple Hill bourbon is a delicious product and mixed with lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters and finished with the aforementioned rosemary was a sensory experience that was both fragrant and delicious.  It may not replace the Japanese Maple created by Damian Windsor at the Roger Room as my favorite maple syrup cocktail, but it is a worthy libation.

At $18, the Grand Rep is the most expensive cocktail on the menu, due to the inclusion of the premium Ilegal Mezcal Reposado.  Ilegal is one of my favorite mezcals so I couldn't resist trying this smoky take on the margarita which also included Gran Marnier, lime juice, vanilla and applewood smoked salt.  Yes, smoked salt.  Because the smokiness of the mezcal was not enough.  Be sure to get some salt in every sip.

Alas even the Willet 5 Year Rye could not salvage the Citrus Fashioned (below) which also included lemon, orange and tangerine zest, maraschino jus and bitters.  I'd stick with a classic Old Fashioned any day over this concoction which did no favors to its similarly named relation as it was a watery mess.

The Highland Fizz (below) is effervescent as the house made ginger soda lightens up the lemon verbena infused vodka.  Nothing to get excited about but suitable for a mellow mood.

When light and bubbly is what you seek the Blood Orange Crush is a better option.  This Belle Casel Prosecco, Aperol, blood orange juice and fresh thyme is served on the rocks in a Collins glass with a blood orange slice garnish.  This is a classic Italian flavor combination and is pleasing as an aperitif or with a meal.

Another favorite, this time of the stirred variety, is the Dominicano, which is made with Citadelle gin and both Dolin Blanc and Rouge vermouths, Aperol and orange bitters.  Crisp and to the point, it was fun to see the incorporation of two Dolins in one cocktail.

The final cocktail on the list is the Sage Martini with Hendrick's Gin, lemon juice, lime juice and sage.

Fortunately there are bar bites to munch on that are great partners for the beverages.  The standouts for me were:

French breakfast radishes with Straus butter and sea salt ($4).  Sometimes simple ingredients with no fuss at all can be better than anything else and these radishes were simply crunchy and fresh.  A little butter and salt; I could have eaten the whole bunch.

The bread and crackers are not to be missed at Ammo ($3).  Apparently these crackers are a signature dish and they are addictive.

Baked Penne with aged white cheddar, fresh thyme and breadcrumbs ($8) is not to be missed.  My companions and I were battling for each forkful.  This puts what passes for mac and cheese in most restaurants in LA to shame.

Bar Manager Laila sent us into the night with some chocolate chip cookies which were really good.  The chunks of chocolate in the cookies were huge and they were a pleasant consistency - neither too soft nor too hard and crumbly.  

The neighborhood is lucky to have a Robey cocktail menu to sip on and Laila there to shake, stir and deliver an excellent experience behind the bar.  That Johnny Green Spot is something special.

Ammo: 1115 N. Highland Ave, Mid City | 323.871.2666 |

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: A Trip to Tokyo at the Movies

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a new documentary film directed by David Gelb that chronicles the life of Jiro Ono, one of the best if not the best sushi chefs in Japan.  The movie not only tells his story but also that of his family, particularly that of his heir and apprentice, his son Yoshikazu.  Jiro is 85 years old and still leads his restaurant daily.

The restaurant looks nondescript and those not in the know might not pay any notice to the little ten seat sushi bar in a Tokyo subway station.  But looks can be deceiving.  Jiro is a master who has been making sushi for decades and whose apprentices have gone on over the years to open some of the most highly regarded sushi establishments in Japan.  To get to experience Jiro's sushi, one must make a reservation long in advance, have a big budget and be prepared to eat quickly.

Meals begin at $350 excluding beverages and consist of a series of 20 pieces of sushi one after the other.  Jiro states that improvement is always possible and so each day he attempts to make the best sushi of his life.  After several months of waiting from when customers make reservations, their meal may be over in as little as thirty minutes.  Each piece of nigiri sushi is formed just so, with a precise amount of rice, an appropriate amount of wasabi added and then the fish draped on top with just a drizzle of soy sauce added on top with a paintbrush.  Needless to say this is a "no soy sauce" type of establishment.

Jiro's dedication has led to an interesting relationship between him and his son as the son has waited for decades for his father to retire, so he can finally be the head sushi chef.  I cannot imagine the patience that the son Yoshikazu endures nor the phenomenal drive that still pushes Jiro to come into the restaurant day after day when he could be enjoying his retirement, traveling on the gourmet circuit or spending time with his family.

When I walked out of the screening I was craving sushi.  Just watching Jiro prepare piece after piece of the highest quality fish was mouthwatering.  Food porn at its finest.  It was too late to get sushi that night, but I stopped in at Irori the following evening to get my fix.  It was quite good, but not quite the Jiro experience.

Here in Los Angeles, Jiro opens at the Nuart Theater in West LA on Friday March 16th.  It is already open in New York City and will shortly be opening in cinemas nationwide.  Don't go hungry or prepare for your own sushi craving.

A clip is below:

Blogger Bar Hop 2: The Mustache Ride

Last year bar impresario Aidan Demarest and Plymouth & Beefeater Gin Brand Ambassador Erick Castro led a group of cocktail bloggers on a journey across Los Angeles in the Trolley of Death.  This year the trolley was nowhere to be seen; in its place was the infamous Mustache Ride, only partly named for Castro's legendary stache.  The van that ferried us from bar to bar like thirsty lushes had an enormous mustache on the front of its grille, the better to deliver a full service and satisfying experience.  Blogger Bar Hop 2 was on!

The evening began at Neat, Demarest's bar in Glendale, where head bartender Arash Pakzad used Beefeater 24 to create a special cocktail with Spam and rosemary which were then torched to imbue the cocktail with their scent.

The next stop on the adventure was the Golden Road Brewery, where we munched on giant (enormous) pretzels that were served with legitimately spicy mustard.  To wash it down we sipped on pitchers of their signature Point the Way IPA and Hefeweizen.  Golden Road is only a short ride from Neat and it was a chance for two new neighbors to celebrate their openings and for us to get some foodstuffs in our bellies.

Aidan kept us on track, so we could be on time for our third stop at Tiki Ti, the home of Tiki cocktails in Los Angeles since 1961.  For 50+ years, Tiki Ti has been located in the same small spot on Sunset Blvd in Los Feliz.  It is only open four nights a week (Wednesday through Sunday) as the only employees are family members.  The small capacity can sometimes lead to lines at the door but Aidan had made arrangements and our merry band of revelers was welcomed with a round of potent cocktails that made us thankful for our designated mustache driver.

Tiki Ti in all its glory

Above Caroline on Crack enjoys her cocktail while Daniel Djang of ThirstyInLA photographs his beverage.
Below is a closeup of the cocktail from Tiki Ti before it was consumed, rapidly and gleefully.

Tiki Ti is cash only and thankfully there was enough cash on hand among the sponsors to pay for our cocktails as they don't take credit cards, even the Pernod Ricard corporate card.  Bartender Marcos Tello joined us at this point as Tiki Ti is his favorite bar, and he couldn't resist joining in the festivities.

Marcos Tello, Aidan Demarest and Erick Castro at the Three Clubs
Three Clubs was the fourth stop on our journey and it was nothing but efficient.  We walked into an almost empty bar and took  it over.  The bartender lined up ten martini glasses at the corner of the bar and proceeded to shake dirty martinis into all of them.  Within minutes of downing our chilled martinis, we were back on the bus.  There was no perusing the jukebox for tunes as we had to stick to the schedule as there were many bars still to come.

Number five is alive, or our adventure at Bar Marmont:  We found a robot made from liquor bottles and bar tools such as spoons, shakers and strainers.  The robot begged us to take him with us when left.  We got some light snacks and sipped on champagne cocktails but were not permitted the use of cameras inside.  The doorman/management was rather rude about the whole thing, so I cannot recommend this establishment.  Alas we have no pictures of our new robot friend, due to the camera prohibition.  I can only hope that he has escaped rather than be decommissioned.

Our spirits were revived and hunger and thirst addressed at the Eveleigh, where head bartender Dave Kupchinsky prepared a bevvy of farm fresh cocktails with Beefeater 24 and blood oranges at our sixth stop.  There was also a beautifully laid table of cheeses and oysters.  While I could not partake of the shellfish, they looked beautiful as did everything else Chef Toft prepared for us.  Kupchinsky's cocktail was a highlight of the evening.

Above, the Eveleigh cocktails.  Below bloggers in our crew celebrated at the Eveleigh.

Ah Skybar.  The seventh stop on our magical journey turned out to be a lame detour.  They gave our group much grief at the door before finally letting us in on the condition we do bottle service.  Once we were seated on a large bed adjacent to a couple who thought they were in their room with the drapes closed based on how they acted, we discovered that they were unwilling to sell us a bottle of Beefeater, despite prior arrangements having been made.  We had had enough and decamped to the eighth stop, an audible of Harvard & Stone.

Harvard & Stone was rocking on this Saturday night, which was also the farewell session for Lindsay Nader at the R&D bar there.  Bartenders such as Jaymee Mandeville and Nader's Pour Vous compatriot Devon Espinosa were there to show their love and the energy level rose to a crescendo.  Any annoyance at Skybar was forgotten as we celebrated the wonderful talent of LA's cocktail community with hardcore bloggers, talented bartenders and delicious spirits.  Such a great bonus that our final stop before returning to Neat included so many people who have worked to develop the cocktail scene in LA including those mentioned above, Pablo Moix of La Descarga and Alex Straus "in the House" of Hemingway's.

The ninth and final stop of the evening was back at Neat, where thanks to Caroline I was able to partake of one final round of beverages, as she was gracious enough to provide me a ride back.  Erick, Aidan and Caroline organized a blast of an evening.  This time there were no altercations with homeless people and we kept to the schedule; needless to say this was a classic night.  Good times to hop across town on a magic mustache ride with @carolineoncrack @thirstyinla @mikeprasad @squashblossom @mattatouille @LAOCfoodie and @foodgps

Saturday, March 10, 2012

ColLAboration Winter 2012

ColLAboration, the pop-up mobile craft beer garden from the collective fevered imaginations of LA's leading beer bar owners, finally held their Winter event on Oscar Sunday.  The fest, which had been delayed several months, more than made up for the delay with a doozy of a location and lineup of brews, including the ever elusive Pliny the Younger from Russian River and Dogfish Head World Wide Stout.

The location was the Belasco Theater, a classic from 1926 that was known for its burlesque revues in the 1940s and was extensively renovated to the tune of $12 million before it reopened last year as a party space.  This was the first of the ColLAborations to be held indoors and it was a dramatic location with the tiers of balconies overlooking the main taps areas on the floor.  There were also several outdoor patios which were quite popular on this sunny afternoon.

There were longer lines than at some of the prior events in the series; perhaps because of greater attendance.  Strange Brew played on a continuous loop to entertain the thirsty attendees.  Beers were sold via tokens, which were $6 each or 4 for $20.  This event premiered the new ColLAboration goblet glasses.  Your glass is your entry ticket at ColLAboration, so it makes sense to keep your glass from prior events. 

This was my first time trying the Pliny the Younger, which has developed a cult status over the past few years, as it is time consuming and expensive for Russian River to make, leading to small quantities produced.  The scarcity factor and reputation for deliciousness, along with the "passport stamp" effect in which drinkers want to try the latest hot thing has led to ever increasing ridiculousness each February when the Younger is released.  The Double IPA is rather delicious; it is hoppy but not a smack in the face.  Very tasty, but I can't recommend waiting in line for hours to try it, especially when there are so many other great beers out there.  Fortunately they handled their Pliny allocation well at ColLAboration by releasing it at staggered times at each of the three different bars, without notice.  This gave everyone a shot at trying it for themselves, and also ensured that the beer didn't disappear within minutes of the event's beginning.

Above, Ryan Sweeney of Verdugo Bar, Surly Goat and Little Bear enjoyed a beer on the upstairs patio during a break in the action.  Below the four collaborators/hosts toasted to the success of a well attended and well beveraged event.

Photo courtesy Helen Springut
I heard that the next ColLAboration event should happen later this spring.  Stay tuned for details.

Learn more about ColLAboration at their website:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bone Marrow Custard at Craft

Bone marrow is one of the most delicious and decadent foods imaginable.  It is literally the tissue in the middle of the bone and in cuisine, beef bones are most commonly used.  The bones are often roasted and the marrow takes on an almost liquid gelatinous quality.  Typically it is served in either vertical cylinders with small spoons to scoop it out, or in a trough, which is popular for bone luges.

When I got word that on rare occasions Craft Restaurant makes a Bone Marrow Custard I was more than intrigued; I was drooling.  I soon made arrangements to try this dish for myself.  Chef Ray England prepared this "meat butter", which was served with two pieces of toast and a red wine sauce.  This dish was extremely rich and lived up to its meat butter nickname.  I managed to eat this portion all by myself (perhaps not something to brag about) as I couldn't bear any of it to go to waste and I was solo for this adventure.

The aroma of the custard was heavenly.  The eggs gave the custard a wonderful texture and it spread easily on the warm grilled toast.  I soon ran out of toast, but before they could bring more, I had devoured the dish completely.  This dish practically begs for a Lipitor chaser, but a glass of red wine was the perfect accompaniment.  The bone marrow custard at Craft is 100% decadence and bliss on a plate.

Craft Los Angeles: 10100 Constellation Blvd, Century City. | 310.279.4180 | website