Little Spain – Tasty Tapas and Paella

As a third generation of Barcelona restaurateurs, Alejandro Pages comes from a tradition of serving royalty and commoners. His grandfather used to serve

As a third generation of Barcelona restaurateurs, Alejandro Pages comes from a tradition of serving royalty and commoners. His grandfather used to serve the Duke and Duchess of Barcelona and his family has had over twenty restaurants in Spain.

 Alejandro fondly remembers being in one of the restaurants before he could walk. “I sat in the kitchen and ate chips,” he shared with me recently when I dined at Little Spain in the Farmers Market. I bet it was exciting for this little lad to watch chefs prepare food and servers whisk the dishes away to guests in the dining room. “When I was ten-years-old, my family taught me how to make Crème Catalana. I’ve been perfecting it for the past 27 years,” boast Pages.

While on vacation in California, Pages fell in love and married an American girl.  He wanted to open a restaurant to support his new life with a wife. After studying Operations and Business of the Restaurant Industry at UCLA, Pages learned how to run a restaurant in America and opened Little Spain two months ago.

Sitting on the heated patio facing Third Street, we enjoyed authentic Catalonia and Valencia recipes from his family. The flavors brought back fond memories of our visit to Barcelona last summer. Alejandro cooks in the true Spanish style, slow cooking with the finest ingredients.

Our server, Belen (born in Spain), landed this job by going to a Facebook site for Spainards in Los Angeles. Pages announced the opening of his restaurant; Little Spain, and Balen contacted him for an interview and was hired immediately. She feels a sense of family working here.

Our dining adventure started with a glass of their white sparkling sangria with apples and oranges and various tasty Tapas. “The Albondigas en salsa, tastes just like the meatballs my family made at home,” Belen shared with a smile. “Alejandro’s great grandmother made this recipe and he follows it exactly,” stated Belen. The firm meatballs cook for hours in a scarlet red tomato sauce with onions, soft sweet peas, carrots and potatoes. It’s exquisite, better than most of the meatballs served in Spanish kitchens.

We also enjoyed the bite-size Croquetas Espanolas with chicken. Served with fries, they are not like the South American croquetas filled with rice or potatoes.  This tapa is cooked very slowly with vegetables and chicken, then breaded and fried.

Another favorite tapa was a dish of little shrimps coated with garlic, paprika and red pepper. Not too hot in flavor, but the red pepper and paprika gave it a little pizzazz. The Bombas are fried potato balls filled with spicy meat and the charming Empanadas are served with a side salad. All the tapas were an excellent value at $4.50 each.

Another pleasing appetizer that accompanies the refreshing sangrias is the Montaditos; small bites of bread with “something on top.” Pages places divine dried cured Spanish ham, dried cured meats, and Spanish cheeses that he imports from his home country. Three Montaditos are $4.5 and five are $7. If you love the taste of these Montaditos, Alejandro sells over 14 varieties of Spanish cheese and dried cured meats in his store attached to his restaurant.

Another good value is the seafood Paella for $12. It’s large enough to share with two to three people; depending on how many tapas you nibbled on first. The dish arrives with a mound of saffron rice, clams, mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp and vegetables. The Paella Valencia offers chicken, mussels, shrimp and vegetables and the vegetable Paella is 100% vegan.

Little Spain offers a nice selection of Spanish wines. We had a glass of a delightful red, Tapena Garnacha and a hearty Valdubon Crianza with our paella.  For dessert we had to try the Crema Cataluna. It arrived looking like a crème brulee, yet with a sweeter and creamier vanilla custard.

Pages stands firm on providing authentic Spanish food in a casual and comfortable setting. His dishes are similar to what his great grandfather presented to royals many years ago.

6333 W. 3rd St, #120, (323)634-0633, www.littleSpainLA.com

Published in the Beverly Press 1/20/11 via Little Spain.

A Healthier Way To Eat – Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop

For my 2011 New Year’s resolution, I promise to eat healthier. I’m going to cut out refined sugars, eat fresh produce and stay away from fatty foods. Recently, I dined at a restaurant in Beverly Hills that will help me keep my resolution all year long: Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop.

I met the owner of the restaurant, Jonathan Rollo, while lunching with a friend. We chuckled when she pointed to the back of Rollo’s chef jacket that read “Commander-in-Leaf.” He looks a lot like the actor Kevin Bacon, yet more handsome with adorable dimples.

Born and raised in Southern California, he earned a full ride swimming scholarship to Northwestern University, yet turned it down to go to Vanderbilt. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Organizational Development he flew home to enjoy one of his favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.   While helping his mom cook for 50 family members, he had an epiphany to become a chef. His mother said she would give him her blessing, if he would first make a croquembouche for the family feast. While whipping up over 100 profiteroles and filling them with chocolate mousse, he had sugar in his hair and flour all over the floor. He made a mess, yet the croquembouch was a success and his mother encouraged him to enroll in the Cordon Bleu in Chicago.

After graduating, he moved back to sunny Los Angeles and joined the Patina group. He became friends with another chef, Kristy Ritchey. Years later when Rollo decided to open his first Greenleaf restaurant, he asked Ritchey to be his Executive chef.

Rollo and Ritchey create the healthiest salads, sandwiches and pizzas in town using the finest organic and locally grown produce to create high quality and colorful dishes. They built the restaurant in an environmentally conscious way to use recycled and compostable products. Their delivery service is not by car, but by bicycle. It’s healthier for the environment and for the delivery person.

Ritchey lost over 110 pounds in less than one year by creating and eating the Antioxidant salad. I had to give it a try. Not that I need to lose that much weight, but wow, what a testimonial to lose and maintain her new ideal weight by having this salad as one of her daily meals. Chopped and mixed with the baby greens from Scarborough farms are red seedless grapes, celery, apples, dried cranberries, blue cheese, mint, red onion, cucumber and strawberries with pomegranate and whole grain mustard dressing.

My friend ordered the Lemongrass Chicken salad with baby mixed greens, grilled citrus chicken, mango, grilled pineapple, jicama, toasted coconut, cashews, Thai chili and Thai basil tossed with a lemongrass lychee vinaigrette. She read that Thai Chili helps boost metabolism and Thai basil offers anti-inflammatory benefits. All I know is when both of the salads arrived, they were big enough to share with three people. Besides their size and gourmet ingredients, they are a great value at $10 each. 

I felt guilty when the grilled chicken Panini with avocado pesto on foccacia arrived, because there was too much food on our table. Yet, after taking my first bite, I slowed down on eating my salad and devoured half of the sandwich. The avocado pesto is made with fresh avocado, garlic and basil. That’s it! It makes the most ambrosial sandwich spread. I took the other half home for dinner. This sandwich was not going to waste.

Located across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue, they also offer a build your own salad. Laminated cards and pens are near the register to check off the ingredients you would like in your salad. You chose what type of greens and then check off a choice of four toppings. There are 19 different vegetables, 7 different chesses, 6 nut (they roast their own) varieties, 5 legumes, 5 herbs and 8 kinds of fruit. Next, you can choose a meat and one of the 18 different house dressings. Just hand it to one of the super salad preparers and it will arrive at your table within minutes. Two gentlemen sitting next to us had their custom salad made with seared Ahi tuna on top. It looked marvelous.

After finishing one-third of my salad and half a sandwich, I felt energized and not weighed down. Greenleaf offers similar fare as many of the fancy hotel restaurants in the area, yet the service is faster and the dishes are much more affordable. Gourmet soup of the day for $3.50. Sandwiches, Panin’s and Pizza are all under $10. With success, Rollo opened a second Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in Century City. This location provides breakfast and lunch to all of the workers and shoppers in the area. Greenleaf also sells items to go at their restaurants and at Barry’s Boot Camp and some Equinox Gyms and Body Factory locations.

When it comes to eating right, Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop is an ideal restaurant to fortify your body and soul. Price: $.

9671 Wilshire Blvd. (310)246-0756 and 1888 Century Park E. (424)239-8700.

Hell’s Kitchens newest winner – Nona Sivley

Excited to be at the Hell’s Kitchen finalist party, I immediately recognized the two final contestants, Russell Kook and Nona Sivley as they walked into the Mixing Room at LA Live. Sivley glowed. She looked thinner, blonder and more glamorous than she did on one of Fox’s most popular television shows, Hell’s Kitchen. Over 17,000 chefs auditioned to be one of the 16 contestants. Within one hour, one of these two lucky and talented chefs would receive a $250,000 salary working as Head chef for “rock and roll chef” Kerry Simon, at LA Market. The winner will also be the spokesperson for Rosemount Winery.

Bold as I am, I approached Kook sitting next to a pretty brunette and introduced myself. This 29-year-old sous chef from Madison, Wisconsin didn’t seem really enthused about being at this event. While talking with him about his culinary training in Chicago, he constantly looked down at his cell phone. I glanced up while he was texting someone and noticed Sivley walking towards me. I excused myself from Kook and greeted his contender.

Sivley smiled while sharing stories of enrolling in a four year college to become a lawyer and then half way through quitting to follow her passion, cooking.  After attending a culinary school in Fort Worth, she dreamed of one day having her own restaurant.

Her husband, Curtis, joined us and shared how they were first friends. “Nona prepared a delicious Manicotti for me to take home to my girlfriend,” said Curtis. “Later I realized that Nona was the right girl for me.”

Now with a two-year-old son, Curtis quit his job in 2009 to stay home with him, allowing Sivley to focus and concentrate on the demands of Hell’s Kitchen. Filming wrapped up in late March 2010.  For the last nine months, both contestants had to lay low until tonight.

Waiting for Kerry Simon’s arrival, we nibbled on tender Tequila salmon resting on blue corn pancake and saucy pulled pork sliders. My favorite was the tempura jumbo shrimp with Yuzu and sambal aoile.

Simon strolled through the event with his signature black chef jacket and waved to the two finalists. I welcomed Simon to sit down next to me for a quick chat. I congratulated him on his new restaurant and bar/lounge. “When I agreed to open a restaurant in the LA Live complex, I never imagined it would be such a center point in the city and desirable meeting place in Los Angeles,” enthused Simon.  Home is now Las Vegas, where his restaurant Simon Restaurant and Lounge at the Palms Place and KGB, Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, at the Harrah’s Las Vegas. He is one of the busiest chefs I have met. When not in Vegas, he flies to Los Angeles to check on SimonLA across from the Beverly Center and LA Market. Then he flies to the East coast to check on Simon Prime in Atlantic City and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to supervise his latest restaurant at the Hard Rock Resort and Casino. No wonder he enthusiastically agreed to hire the winner of Hell’s Kitchen, this celebrity chef has no down time.

Simon spoke to the crowd about Kook and Sivley. “Whoever wins tonight worked their tail off to get as far as they did on Ramsay’s show,” expressed Simon.

We watched the final episode of Hell’s Kitchen while sipping on raspberry mojitos and biting into Simon’s signature desserts: little shot glasses of airy chocolate mousse, adorable cheesecake lollipops and cotton candy.

Sivley and Kook were sitting side-by-side and holding hands while watching the final episode. In the end, Sivley was congratulated with cheers and applause. As a gracious winner, she smiled and announced to the crowd “Russell was an amazing competitor. He got a bad rap on the show, but is a good guy.”

I yelled out “When do you start your new job at LA Market?”  With a giggle and smile she said, “In the beginning of January, 2011.”

Go visit Sivley at La Market and see why she beat out 17,000 other chefs to become Hell’s Kitchen’s Season 8 champion. 900 W. Olympic Blvd. (213)765-8630. 

Ulysses Voyage- Great Greek Food

For some of the best people watching in Los Angeles, sit on the patio of Ulysses Voyage at the Farmers Market, just adjacent to The Grove.

While sitting on the patio of Ulysses Voyage at the Farmer’s Market, I learned that most Greek restaurants in Los Angeles don’t serve traditional Greek food.  Instead, they offer Middle Eastern food. At Ulysses Voyage, the owner’s mother, Voula, from Kalamatos, Greece created the menu. She flies to Los Angeles four times a year to visit her son, work with the kitchen staff and fine-tune some of her tried and true recipes.

Eight years ago, when the real estate firm Curuso Affiliated built The Grove next to the Farmer’s Market, they renovated the area where Ulysses Voyage sits. The patio looks out to various retail stores, while inside there is a warm and cozy fireplace for more intimate dining.

My dining adventure began when I ordered the Caviar Taramosalta spread. It’s a lightly pink salmon egg dip with lemon and garlic, then whipped with Kalamata olive oil. Momma Voula only uses Kalamata olive oil in her recipes. It’s served with whole wheat and plain pita bread. The pita is warm and soft with a slight crunch at the ends. I learned from the manager, that a traditional pita does not have a pocket to stuff spreads, instead it’s a flat bread that you scoop up some spread and fold or wrap it before taking a bite. Whole wheat has become a popular request in the health conscious Los Angeles culture, so they added it to the menu. Ulysses receives a daily supply of pita bread from a nearby bakery that is half-baked, then placed on a flat oven to warm up and finish cooking.

Another divine spread is the Saganaki “Ouzo Flamed.” It’s a cheese, similar to Irish cheddar that arrives at the table with a spectacular entrance. My server poured a little Ouzo on top and lit the cheese to create a vibrant fire. It’s extinguished with a squeeze of lemon and presented to the table. The Ouzo gives the cheese a slight licorice flavor and is hot, gooey and savory on pita bread.

Many Greek salads have romaine or iceberg lettuce as a base, at Ulysses, the Greek salad is bright in color and filled with fresh and organic produce from Tutti Fruitti farms. There is no lettuce, just Persian cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, green, red and yellow bell peppers and Kalamata olives dressed nicely with Kalamata olive oil, fresh sea salt, lemon, oregano and pepper. It’s topped with a sizable chunk of heavenly feta cheese.

Ulysses does not have a lamb-laden menu, instead there are many vegetarian, chicken and beef dishes. My favorite dish is the Moussaka. Peter’s mother, Voula layers the dish with ground chicken, grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini and a layer of potatoes. On top is an exquisite Béchamel sauce that is baked until the cheese bubbles with a caramelized light brown topping. It’s light and filled with pleasing flavors, not heavy and thick like many Middle Eastern restaurants. The ground chicken has just the right amount of spices and herbs to give it a zip, yet doesn’t overpower the luscious Béchamel sauce. One can order it with ground beef or a vegetarian version with tomatoes and feta cheese.

Recently added on the menu is a lamb burger with Greek fries and a small salad.  The owner Panayiotis “Peter” couldn’t wait for Momma Voula’s next visit to the U.S., so he called her to get her lamb burger recipe. It’s scrumptious with a seasoned 8 oz. lamb patty, served on a grilled sesame bun with a slightly spicy feta spread and grilled onions on top. The Greek fries have a little bit of garlic and parsley to differentiate them from American fries. Peter explained that this burger is very popular, because lamb is a leaner and healthier red meat. His lamb does not have a strong, distinctive gamey taste or offensive smell. The first day Peter introduced his lamb burger on the menu, he sold 80 burgers by the end of the day. Women order as many lamb burgers as men.

Another popular burger is their Turkey burger with lettuce, tomato, hummus and mozzarella on a grilled sesame bun and for vegetarians there is a Feta burger.

Fully satisfied, I left my table and walked past a couple enjoying an octopus dish and something that looked like fries on their table. When I inquired, they said the dish was fried smelt. While squeezing a lemon over the smelt, they offered me to take a few. Never trying smelt before, I reached in and grabbed one. Not bad, in fact it was quite tasty.

Ulysses is a great place to dine before a movie or after a day of shopping for a delightful Greek meal. Who knows, maybe Momma Voula will be in town making one of her quarterly visits. 6333 West 3rd. Street #750, (323)939-9728.

via Ulysses Voyage.