A Culinary Jewel in Los Angeles

Out with the old and in with the new. When Executive Chef Jasmine Shimoda left downtown Los Angeles’ vegan oasis, The Springs, she and Gjelina alum Sharkey McGee dreamed of opening an affordable, plant-based casual dining spot in or near Sliver Lake. Their friend Coly Den Haan opened Hot Hot Food last year, and then Haan opened a new wine shop and social gathering place, Vinovore. Curating an inventory of dynamic wines made by female winemakers, Haan introduces her wines to the community through Wednesday wine tasting evenings. Since Haan was focusing on her wine shop, she asked her high school chum Chef Shimoda, if she wanted to partner with her in Hot Hot Food. Together with McGee, they revamped Hot Hot Food into a new concept, Jewel.IMG_8761

Jewel’s exterior features an appealing floral mural by Chef Shimoda’s brother, Danny Shimoda, and macramé hanging plants near the entrance.

Inside it’s vibrant, inviting, and hip, with a relaxed sophistication with blonde wood tables, cool blues and pastel colors offering a pop of creativity. The jukebox is still near the entry, and a pastry cabinet is filled with appealing vegan donuts and pastries. IMG_8723

Chef Shimoda isn’t hyper-focused in serving only vegan-forward dishes, she is happy to add an egg or two to any dish upon a customer’s request. While sitting down with a group of friends, Shimoda approached our table to talk about her philosophy for the restaurant. “Our goal is to separate Jewel from other health food restaurants, getting rid of the dogma and polarizing stances. We won’t ask you to make any affirmations or say ‘namaste,’ but we will serve you seasonal, local, and sustainable plant-based food without sacrificing flavor,” she said.

Shimoda has worked with legendary chefs such as Masaharu Morimoto, David Waltuck, April Bloomfield and George Mendes. Her partner McGee has also enjoyed a dynamic hospitality career, while managing for Jean-Georges Culinary Concepts in Atlanta and New York, and Pastis in New York City before joining Gjelina in Venice. IMG_8742

Both are deeply drawn to their food philosophy, restaurant ethics, and high standards. Shimoda enjoys cooking that is more aligned to her beliefs and eating habits. “I believe that people have a right to know where the ingredients come from and how they are cared for,” Shimoda said. She seeks out farms that go beyond “organic,” seeking those that also abstain from pesticides, practice sustainability, and have pride and integrity in their product. “Jewel is my dream project, marrying my love of cooking and design with my passion for wellness and the community.” She never uses refined sugars or processed ingredients in any of of her dishes.

I started with a two ounce shot of Wellness made with ginger, lemon, cayenne and pepper. It massaged the back of my throat with a little heat and offered a pleasant lingering aftertaste. To cool my palate down, I also ordered a Glow cold-press juice bottled by Made With Love Wellness Co. This smooth green juice is a combination of pineapple, cucumber, apple, spinach, kale, moringa (resembles horseradish), and chlorophy11. Other beverages include UNITY Fair Trade organic and locally roasted drip coffee. They make hot chocolate, matcha latte, hot and cold teas. For the time being, Jewel is BYOB, and encourages guests to walk a few storefronts down to Vinovore to buy a bottle to enjoy with their meal. Jewel will not charge a corkage fee.IMG_8743

While looking over the menu, I noticed even though it is a plant-based restaurant, the menu is not exclusively vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. Jewel offers something for everyone, starting with breakfast burritos and overnight oats made with almond “mylk” and chia seeds. They also make three different types of toast served on multigrain or sub gluten free seed bread. The L.G.B.T is visually spectacular toast offering a rainbow of colors made from lettuce, guacamole, tempeh bacon, and cut heirloom tomatoes. 

Another colorful toast has sliced avocado with cashew-herb spread topped with house pickles, and puffed quinoa togarashi. Togarashi is made from a spicy powdered mixture of dried red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed. It’s delicious. 

Seeking a salad Shimoda makes Ah! Sunflower salad with a scoop of vegan “tuna” made from ground almond and sunflower seeds mixed with shallots, dill, dulse (sea lettuce flakes) and dijon mustard. 

Hearty sandwiches include the LAPhil that is a vegan take on a Philly cheese steak. It’s made with braised yuba sheets, shiitake, romaine, caramelized onion, pickled jalapeño, cashew fondú, all rolled into a whole wheat wrap. This was a table favorite. 

Burger fans may discover that they like The Impossible Burger better than a real beef burger. It’s topped with grilled red onion, heirloom tomato, romaine, and a slightly spicy, beet enhanced 1000 island-style dressing.IMG_8750

What makes the pizzas at Jewel visually attractive is the activated-charcoal crust. We ordered a gluten-free pizza named Black Diamond. It’s topped with heirloom tomato slices, and spinach-artichoke ‘cheese.’ Diners can also build their own pizza on the same black crust topped with marinara and a choice of three toppings that include cashew cheese, mushrooms, kale, spinach, red or caramelized onions, olives and jalapeños.

Another kaleidoscope of colors and flavors is the Jewel Box that starts with either brown rice or sweet potato. It’s then layered with avocado, black beans, garlicky greens, turmeric tofu, pickles, raw veggies, amaranth-pumpkin crunch, miso ginger sauce. 

They make a Pad Thai with chilled kelp noodles, zucchini noodles, carrots, cabbage, coconut-tamarind sauce, crispy shallots, cilantro and fresno chiles pickled with vinegar, coriander seeds, sugar, salt, and peppercorns.

As with many restaurants, there is a secret menu. If the ingredients are available, Chef Shimoda will make a ceviche with thin slices of lychee fruit, chopped red bell peppers, cucumbers, citrus, red onions. The lychee almost has the same mouthfeel as scallops. You can scoop up this goodness with yellow and blue corn tortilla chips sprinkled with paprika. 

Another secret dish is the heart of palm and chickpea ‘crab cake’ topped with a pleasing aioli. It’s so popular that they feature it as a wrap on the menu. 

Even though we were thoroughly satisfied, we enjoyed little bowls of Ebony + Ivory for a sweet treat. It’s a chia pudding made with cashew milk, date, cacao, vanilla, berries, and delightful buckwheat crisps for texture and crunch. This is also a great breakfast dish. IMG_8729

Both Shimoda and McGee wanted us to taste a few of their vegan donuts. They brought two plates to our table holding maple donuts topped with coconut “bacon”, red velvet donuts, strawberry donuts, matcha donuts and a clean tasting churro. Since they are made with plant based ingredients, enjoying these sweet treats didn’t leave an unpleasant film on the roof of my mouth. Once again, they were better than a traditional donut. IMG_8784

Looking for a new dining destination for healthy and sophisticated plates for breakfast and lunch? Jewel sparkles and shines in Los Angeles. Stop in at Vinovore for a bottle of wine to pair with this delicious cuisine. There is no corkage charge at Jewel.

The restaurant opens on Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to  4:30 p.m. On the weekends it opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. $ 654 N. Hoover St. (323)522-6927.

This article was also published in the Beverly Press – Click here to read

Significant Other at the Geffen Playhouse

No one should go through life alone, especially a romantic dreamer like Jordan with a heart of gold.

Playwright Joshua Harmon explores how the dynamics of friendship changes when a significant other is introduced into the clique. It begins with the four lead characters getting liquored up at Kiki’s (Keilly McQuail, a gifted comedian) bachelorette party. McQuail’s lovable vapid, Valley Girl delivery is spot on. We learn Kiki was never looking for love, she just wanted someone to validate her. Kiki’s key in finding a husband was falling in love with herself, as she declares “I treat myself better than any man could treat me.” Splurging one evening at Jean-Georges restaurant, wah-lah she meets her husband-to-be Conrad (John Garet Stoker) and is the first of these college “besties” to get married. 

Next we discover more about nebish Jordan Berman (Will Von Vogt) who is happy for Kiki, yet with his obsessive tendencies, is afraid to become the grown up who lives alone. He would like to find a man and get married, yet life is a big mystery for Jordan.

Curly haired Laura (Melanie Field) and Jordan are the closest friends. At Vanessa’s (Vella Lovell) wedding, Laura and Jordan hold one another during the first dance and declare that “weddings are not fun, they are disturbing.” They discuss having two children, a boy and a girl, yet it’s a fantasy that can never come true for this non-traditional couple.

White globe lights hang down above the first five rows of the audience. Whenever a scene changes, lighting designer Eric Southern switches the colors of these globe lights to aqua, pink and purple before fading to black.  

The set by Scenic Designer Sibyl Wickersheimer opens with a simple low bench in the center. It’s transformed into a multitude of locations throughout the show, from inside the Museum of Modern Art displaying Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream”, to bachelorette parties, a work place, weddings and inside homes.

Sound designer Stowe Nelson plays an eclectic list of sappy wedding favorites including Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.”

One of my favorite scenes is when Will (John Garet Stroker again) rises from a pool of water with just a bathing suit on, and Jordan creatively describes him as having “biceps with the slightest hint of muscle.” Jordan has a crush on Will, the new man in the office. He thinks he is “precious and deserves to be treated with tenderness.”

Also in the office is Evan (Preston Martin) with his obnoxious laugh and colorful attire. Costume designer (Bobby Frederick Tilley) had a great time selecting costumes for Evan, as well as wedding dresses for each girl.

Both Stoker and Martin are multi-layered playing three different characters, including all the husbands. 

As the girls encourage Jordan to invite Will on a movie “date,” Jordan is giddy with excitement. Even though he feels the date went well, Will seems to be “meh” about it all. Jordan loses his patience waiting for Will and writes a way too long email professing his interest. While all the girls tell him not to send it, he does and regrets his decision the minute he presses send.

There are more bridal showers, bachelorette parties and weddings to attend as each of the girls finds their significant other.  

Seeking advice from his beloved bubbe/grandmother Helene Berman (Concetta Tomei), we learn that all she wants for her grandson is to find his bashert “soul mate.” Sadly Jordan is almost 30 years old and no man has ever told him that he loves him. 

When Jordan tells her that all his friends are pairing off and it feels as if they are dying, she tells him all her friends are dying too. Tired of being old, Helene says “Jordan don’t die young, but don’t get old, I feel so useless.” Each time they get together, they look over the same old photo album and reflect on the good ol’ days when life was less complicated. 

Eventually when Laura meets her significant other Tony, Jordan has had enough. At Laura’s bachelorette party, he unloads with a forceful and moving monologue about the emotional and financial cost attending all of the parties, showers and weddings.

At the end, during Laura’s wedding, the girls join their spouses during the first dance and Jordan stands alone. As a bright white light shines on him, he waves to the bride and the theatre goes black. 

This review was featured on OnStage Blog – Click to read it now.


Torn Between Two Lovers – Love Never Dies at the Pantages

I wanted to love the continuation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera in the sequel Love Never Dies. I was a huge fan of the musical when it premiered at the Pantages Theatre in the 1990s starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. I went back to see the beloved musical again, when television actor Robert Guillaume replaced Crawford in Los Angeles. He was the first African-American actor to play Phantom, and was a sensation.

IMG_1641With all of the show’s success, a sequel to Phantom was written by Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and Glenn Slater, called Love Never Dies. Adapted from the book The Phantom of Manhattan, it’s set in the early 1900s.

The Phantom opens the show sitting center stage while playing a black grand piano. We learn the Phantom produces a circus-style Mister Y’s Phantasma troop of performers in Coney Island. Regretting letting his cherished Christine go ten years ago, he covertly invites her to perform under the guise of Oscar Hammerstein. With her husband, Raoul, and 10 year old son, Gustave, they cross the sea to allow Christine to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House, unaware that it is the Phantom who has arranged the reunion.

IMG_1642This ultimate love triangle story is eye-opening with familiar characters in this sequel brought back from the original Phantom. It’s also more operatic with a charismatic Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes), exquisite Christine (Meghan Picerno) who is as good as Brightman and out-of-sorts Raoul (Sean Thompson). Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her aspiring-singing daughter, Meg (Mary Michael Patterson) are back in a more villainous role.

There are also a cast of new characters who are part of the Phantasma performing family. They come in all shapes and sizes, while dressed in colorful harlequin, fairy and circus costumes by Gabriela Tylesova.

The set (Tylesova) and lighting (Nick Schleiper) are visually beautiful with carnival silhouette lighting in the back of the stage, and an enormous Phantom mask framing the front with one bright blue light as an eye.

Director (Frederick Forsyth) and choreographer (Graema Murphy Ao) creatively have the ensemble and cast use the turntable-revolving stage throughout the show.

Here’s what I loved about Love Never Dies – I instantly felt goosebumps whenever these talented opera trained singers sang one of the original songs, especially the haunting Angel of Music.

A cleverly fun scene to watch is Bathing Beauty performed by Meg (Patterson) and ensemble.

After intermission, when Christine (Picerno) sings the title song of the show Love Never Dies, it’s pure theatrical perfection with the gorgeous peacock set, stunning peacock dress, and Picerno’s angelic singing voice. It’s just one of those moments, that no matter what happens before this scene, it’s so worth waiting to see this performance.

My only critical notes are the following – I wish the songs were as memorable as the original show. There are no falling chandeliers and no Masquerade numbers. I didn’t walk out of the theatre humming any of the songs.

Also, the show turns very macabre when the Phantom takes Gustav (depending on the night either Casey Lyons or Jake Heston Miller) down into the ominous underworld with skeleton puppets, glass pyramids with ghoulish characters inside, and zombies-like people crawling along the ground. Children under 12 may be terrified.IMG_1640

The surprising ending leaves one to believe there could be a threequel made to create a Phantom of the Opera trilogy, because the “angel of music” lives on. As the lyrics in the title song are sung “Love won’t let you go once you are possessed,” Phantom of the Opera fans will be surprised by the twists and turns, and in awe of the talent in front and behind the stage. The obsession with the Phantom of the Opera lives on.

My review is featured on OnStage Blog –http://www.onstageblog.com/reviews/2018/4/11/review-love-never-dies-at-pantages-theatre

Crustacean is Open and Better Than Ever

After eight months and a $10 million renovation, Crustacean has returned to Beverly Hills with not one, but two new restaurant spaces. The high-end upstairs section, named Da Lat Rose, will not open its doors until May, but downstairs, Crustacean offers a new menu with innovative Euro-Vietnamese fusion delights prepared by chef-owner Helene An and executive chef Tony Nguyen.

IMG_9707Outside the reopened Crustacean is a cherry blossom tree that changes colors throughout the night. Walking through the opening of the Vietnamese style double doors, one of the first people I noticed at the grand opening dinner was Executive chef Helene An, also known as Mama An. Wearing her crisp, white linen chef coat emblazoned with her name and title in gold cursive lettering, she stood near her daughter Elizabeth. Together they welcomed guests upon arrival with warm smiles. “What do you think of my new restaurant?” Mama An asked me. The first word that came to mind was – exquisite. IMG_9599
Mama An took me on a stroll along restaurant’s signature “walk on water” aesthetic pathway. “The looking glass floor has doubled in size,” An said. This water feature runs from the entrance on Bedford Drive to a window looking out to Santa Monica Blvd.

Mama An is a true American success story, as one of 17 children, she was raised in the Northern region of Vietnam. In 1971, her mother-in-law bought a 20 seat in San Francisco. During the fall of Saigon, the family had to leave everything behind when the Communist took over South Vietnam. After fleeing by boat in 1975, they arrived in San Francisco and soon turned the space purchased years ago, into Thanh Long, San Francisco’s first Vietnamese restaurant. “Elizabeth was seven years old,” Mama An said as she led me to my table. “She helped me in the restaurant.”IMG_9710-2 First impressions are lasting, and beverage director Peter Barriga bar program mirrors Mama An’s Yin and Yang cooking philosophy, by adding Asian spices and flavors to give a twist on cocktails. The classic Mule is served in a tall glass with turmeric-infused gin, turmeric syrup, ginger syrup, citrus and soda water. It’s visually pretty with a long cucumber slice ribbon for garnish. I ordered the coconut enhanced margarita garnished with orange, lemon and lime slices.IMG_9612
An innovative cocktail and food pairing started as an elegant cart was rolled to the table, and our server Ryan made us a High Tea Penicillin cocktail using black tea-infused Chivas scotch blend, with ginger and honey syrup added. Black tea and lavender steaming from an elegant pot created a cloud of aromatic steam. Elizabeth An came over to our table after our cocktail was made and asked “What goes well with Chivas scotch? How about a cigar.”IMG_9620
Ryan arrived at my side with a cigar box. Since, I’m not a cigar smoker, I was a bit perplexed until he lifted the lid and a pleasing smoky vapor revealed three beautiful, perfectly shaped cigars filled with tuna, instead of tobacco. What made this dish even more appealing was the black Tobiko (flying fish eggs) caviar at one end to give the appearance of a lit cigar. The crispy outside of this spring roll was made with brick de feuille, an authentic French non-buttery dough.

Other dazzling presentations included the surf & turf sashimi presented with thin slices of wild salmon and A-5 Wagyu beef. On top were crispy garlic, purple potato, and a splash of tobacco chili vinaigrette. The tuna and uni’ air bread looked like bite size pillows of tuna with a dollop of citrusy yuzu cream fraiche. IMG_9655The Karate salad arrived next with a mound of shredded kohlrabi, offering the taste and texture somewhere between cabbage and broccoli stems. This was enhanced with black truffle, crispy Kennebec potato, and garlic blossom.IMG_1475
The winner for best presentation was the Hearts of Palm vegan style “crab cake.” Served in a unique white serving dish that’s shaped almost like a taco shell, the raised side was decorated with chopped yellow, orange and purple nasturtium flowers. On the flat part was a generous sized pan fried cake that tasted just like crab, yet is made with Hearts of Palm and a swirl of spicy aioli.

Another vegetarian dish was the Kung Pao eggplant sticks. Instead of cubes, the eggplant was cut into long pieces and glazed with a slightly sweet and spicy sauce.IMG_9698
An elegant dish was the roasted bone marrow with Burgundy escargot and peppered lime. It was served with sprigs of rau ram, also known as Vietnamese cilantro.

I really enjoyed the two different types of dumplings paired with a flute of Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne. The Pho soup dumplings were topped with Holy basil, a popular Southeast Asian leaf that offers a slightly spicy anise and licorice flavor. Kaffir lime was squeezed into the rich broth balancing the onion, garlic, ginger, possibly star anise, cloves and cinnamon. The floral looking red dumpling was filled with braised lamb, Galangal Japanese sweet potato and butternut squash. Little puffed rice floated in this heavenly broth.

When a large Himalayan salt block was delivered to our table we appreciated the slices of prime all-natural rib eye still cooking. This paired nicely with a glass of Kaiken Malbec.

Steaming plates of An’s garlic noodles and a garlic roasted whole Dungeness crab arrived after the beef. We applauded our server Ryan as he expertly removed the shell revealing succulent meat. Elizabeth An walked by our table and told us to pick the pieces of crab up with our hands “It’s finger lickin’ good,” she said. We paired these dishes with a pour of Illumination.IMG_9658
Desserts included a black plate with passion fruit and pavlova chips, chopped tropical fruit, strawberry gel and coconut sorbet. The sweet potato pudding cake had a little miso cream, goji berry and a small scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

Before leaving Elizabeth told us we must come back in May for the opening of the upstairs Da Lat Rose at Crustacean. “It’s named after the beautiful city in Southern Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where Mama An grew up,” said Elizabeth. “It’s also the home of the graceful and rare Da Lat rose, and Mama is that very rose.”

The restaurant is closed on Mondays. $$$. It is open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner from 12 to 10 p.m. On Saturday it opens at 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday, it opens at 5 to 10 p.m. 9646 S. Santa Monica Blvd. (310)205-8990.

My review was featured in the April 5, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press – http://beverlypress.com/2018/04/crustacean-beverly-hills-reopens-better-than-ever/


10 Ways to Enjoy The Museum of Selfies

Why do people take selfies? Is it vanity? Pride? Posing with a celebrity? Over a million selfies are uploaded to social media every day. Why? The roots of documenting a feeling, accomplishment or event to share with others dates back thousands of years ago.

Created by Tair Mamedov (stand-up comedian, writer, director, and game designer) Tommy Honton (writer, game designer, and narrative experience creator known best for the escape rooms at Stash House in Koreatown) and produced by Abylay Zhakashov (investor, entrepreneur, and film producer), Honton was kind to give me and my family a tour of The Museum of Selfies in Glendale, CA.

Honton shared how “Selfies are not a new phenomenon – it’s something that people have been doing for 4,000 years.” This museum is an immersive, fun venue that enlightens participants through art, history, technology, and culture. It’s also a super cool place to take selfies in over 10 different interactive installations.

  1. Start at the entrance and drop a marble in either the “love” selfies or the “hate” selfies hole. At the end, if you were a hater, you might see selfies a different way and want to change your opinion. IMG_12202. #Timeline – Learn about the beginning of selfies along the gallery wall time line, starting 13.8 billion years ago during the Big Bang. Admiring various pieces of art on the wall, we learned that during 25,000 BCE, a realistic representation of a human face of The Venus of Brassempouy was carved in France. Wall drawings and paintings of people were discovered as early as 10,000 BCE in Brazil, and in the Cumberland Vallley Caves in Tennessee, USA. Honton showed us examples of self portraits drawn and painted in the 1400s. In the 1600s Rembrandt drew his earliest self portrait made in his early 20s.

    The Museum of Selfies also curates works from modern artists exploring the art of selfies. Whimsical portraits include Mona Lisa, American Gothic and Vincent van Gogh holding out a smartphone are hung on the walls.IMG_12413. Step into one of the best-loved Vincent van Gogh’s paintings – The Bedroom. It was painted in October 1888, when the artist was living in the Yellow House in Arles. The museum replicated The Bedroom to every detail.IMG_12474. Step into a Black and White Photo Studio and put on hats to replicate a 1920s photo studio for a dramatic selfie.IMG_13255. Do more women or men take selfies? #Selfiecity displays the results of a research project of 120,000 photos from 5 cities that were randomly selected. They discovered that WOMEN WIN! 1.3 times more in Bangkok with 55.2%, 1.9 times more in Berlin and 82% in Moscow. Bangkok and San Paulo selfie takers smile the most, while Moscow selfie takers smile the least. Most people were young, with Bangkok having 21 years old the average median age. New York City had the oldest average age of 25.3 years old. One interesting finding is Men’s average age is higher at 30+ when posting selfies on Instagram.IMG_13026. Walking into the #Food Selfies area with extra large food props. Eating is one of the most primal and universal aspects of being human. Break bread or broccoli with friends and family. A beautiful plate of food can be visually-stunning and a work of art. Food selfies are the most polarizing of all selfies.

    7. The “Narcissist” survey tallies the number of deaths from selfie-related accidents. Have fun in the exhibit highlighting reports of museum visitors who damage priceless works of art while trying to take the perfect selfie. That’s why selfie sticks are forbidden in most museums, but encouraged at The Museum of Selfies.IMG_13148. Where is the best-known selfie location? The Bathroom. Taking a photo in a bathroom mirror used to be a quick solution to snap a selfie. Now smartphones  features wider-angle lenses and front-facing screens with the touch of a button. Walk into the #Bathroom Selfie exhibit offers a creative illusion.IMG_13239. Another popular selfie wall is #Finish Line Selfies. Learn why people take selfies to share an accomplishment, share joy and connect with others. Don DeLeon shares his photos with The Museum of Selfies.

    10. Play in the visual artist #Darel Carey installation made with black tape for eye-popping selfies. normal visit should take about 60-90 minutes.

The Pop-Up museum opened on April 1st and closes on May 31st. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to explore. The Museum of Selfies is closed to the public on Mondays.

Admission is $25 and free for children ages 0-4

211 N Brand Boulevard, Glendale, CA 91203

Limited Engagement