Serenity at Sirocco Restaurant

Before seeing the show Mysterious Circumstances at The Geffen Playhouse, my friend Brenda invited me to dinner at the newly opened restaurant Sirocco.

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Below the Getty Center, on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and the 405 freeway in Brentwood, is the 162 guest rooms and suites Luxe Sunset Hotel. Inside is a serene and peaceful retro-modern interior by designer Mary McDonald, and onsite restaurant with Executive Chef Olivier Rousselle leading the kitchen.  Rousselle has cooked at Michael’s in Santa Monica and Camden in Beverly Hills before heading up the kitchens at Luxe Hotels.

Noticing my friend sitting outside on the airy terrace next to a waterfall fountain, I joined her at a marble top table and sat down in one of the comfortable and stylish charcoal chairs. The restaurant also has an intimate indoor dining space that seats 70 guests among soft, neutral colors with bronze accents.

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Starting with a glass of Jill Hammer Rose’ of Pinot Noir while looking over the menu, I appreciated its aromas of delicate rose, red cherries and raspberry. This dry, crisp and refreshing rose’ offers light raspberry and strawberry flavors. It pairs nicely with many of the Mediterranean flavors on the menu including roasted pancetta wrapped Medjool dates, Mediterranean Mezze dips with toasted unleavened bread, and grilled Spanish octopus that can be dipped in a chimichurri sauce and served with fingerling potatoes and arugula.

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My friend suggested we start with three mini and buttery New England style lobster rolls topped with sliced scallions and a squeeze of lemon. They were delicious and perfect to share, as was the crab cake salad on a bed of mixed greens with sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, radish, fennel pollen, and a dollop of herb enhanced tartar sauce.

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When the Provençal tuna tartare wrapped with ribbons of thinly sliced grilled zucchini arrived, I appreciated the time it took to prepare this picturesque dish. Topped with greens, there were slices of toasted olive oil crostini to scoop the raw fish mixed with capers, lemon juice and parsley. 

With no roof above the dining terrance, we noticed stars starting to appear in the darkening sky. Heaters were nearby if the summer air turned chilly.

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Our server Andres delivered Moroccan braised short ribs bathed in aromatic jus with dates. Next to the thick slices of tender meat was a side of toasted soft pearl couscous. Roasted carrots, potatoes and sliced turnips decorated the top of this hearty dish. 

Other entrées include herb-roasted rack of lamb with mascarpone polenta cake; grilled branzino with Provençale vegetable and fennel pollen; and shellfish bouillabaisse with a few tiger prawns, a scallop or two, clams, and chunks of branzino simmering in a fennel and saffron broth with garlic rouille tartine.

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For dessert, we shared Chef Rousselle’ signature upside-down Valrhona chocolate fudge cake with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream and a side of whipped cream with fresh berries. 

Before leaving we learned that on Saturday nights guests receive 50% off all bottles of wine. On Sunday, Sirocco serves bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys with brunch fare that includes French crêpes, omelette station, and artful displays of antipasto from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During the week, Sirocco Lounge offers a social hour featuring a selection of appetizers, artisan crafted cocktails, local microbrew beers and a rare selection of regional wines from around the world starting at 4 to 6 p.m.

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Next time you want to explore Getty Center, see a show at UCLA or the Geffen Playhouse, dine at Sirocco for a new culinary experience this summer. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Reservations are recommended. 11461 Sunset Blvd. (310)691-7584.

Fun Birthday Venues in Los Angeles

Planning a birthday is easy in LA. The city has so many fun celebratory venues for brunch, roof top soirees and festive dinner affairs.

When friends ask for my advice about a fun birthday destination, I always give them a list of three. Now my list has grown. Here are my favorite restaurants to celebrate with family and loved ones.

1. BARTON G. for over the top FUN – This is truly a one-of-a-kind, birthday experience nothing short of amazing. As servers bring artistic culinary presentations from the kitchen to the table, the cause the birthday party to ooh and ah. Every diner enjoys a glamorous and unique evening of avant-garde dishes complete with vaporizing cocktails.

2. Melody is casual French in Virgil Village near Silverlake. IMG_6958

  • Atmosphere: Set in a decades-old bungalow with breezy indoor/outdoor vibes.
  • Fun: There is a DJ area near the bar. Guests can rent out an interior back room that fits up to 30 people with the option to play your own music (records or compact disks are preferred but not required). Rather dine al fresco on the patio? Two large tables are available for up to 24 people.
  • Chef: Justin Abram (a favorite)
  • Food: Innovative “Lazy French” warm French baguettes, mussels, housemade agnolotti, oysters, wine bar and craft beer.
  • Price: $$
  • Brunch Hours on Saturday and Sunday (10am-4pm) open for dinner starting at 5 pm.

Reservation: via Opentable or call (323) 922-6037. For events and buyouts, email info@melodyla.com. Website: Melody

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3. Salazar
– Fun for families, dogs and millennials sipping mezcal cocktails. Created by Billy Silverman and Mexicali Taco co-founder Esdras Ochoa, Salazar occupies a former auto body shop near Silver Lake, the Golden State Freeway and Glendale Boulevard. 

  • Location: Frogtown
  • Chef: Jonathan Aviles
  • Brunch Hours: Saturday-Sunday are from 10am-3pm
  • Food: Sonoran-style BBQ chops, street tacos and killer guacamole. Terrific tequila and mezcal cocktails, craft beer and boozy slushies in the summer.
  • Reservations: Salazar does not offer reservations, but weekend brunch waits tend to be much shorter than dinner.
  • Price: $$
  • Read my review – https://beverlypress.com/2018/06/summertime-fun-at-salazar/
  • Address: 2490 Fletcher Drive, Los Angeles.IMG_1560
4. Baltaire specializes in elegant dishes in a fancy, steakhouse setting.
  • Food: The classic brunch fare includes Smoked Salmon Avocado Toast, Harissa Spiced Lamb and Eggs, and Prime Filet Benedict. This summer, Baltaire also offers a special “Toast to Rosé” menu, which pairs seasonal toast dishes with a special rosé – think Black Label Prosciutto De Parma toast with goat milk ricotta and baby squash paired with a pink Spanish Txakolina.
  • Chef: Travis Strickland (a favorite)
  • Price: $$-$$$ – Location: Brentwood – – Birthday Brunch Hours: Saturday & Sunday (11am-2:30pm).
  • Address: 11647 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles (424)273-1660.
  • Read my reviewhttps://beverlypress.com/2018/06/brentwood-brunch-at-baltaire/ .

  • 5. Jewel – Enjoy a birthday celebration inside the light and bright dining area with a jukebox or out on the cozy patio. This is ideal for a vegan and vegetarian birthday celebration.
  • Location: Virgil Village near Silver Lake.
  • Chef: Jasmine Shimoda
  • Hours: Open daily from 9am-4:30pm.
  • Price: $$
  • Food: Smoky Beet Pastrami, Avocado Toast, housemade vegan donuts, and chia pudding. There’s something for every dietary restriction or picky eater. Jewel doesn’t serve alcohol, so just BYOB or walk to the Vinovore wine shop. Here’s my review – https://beverlypress.com/2018/04/a-culinary-jewel-in-los-angeles/IMG_0126

6. Hollywood Rooftop Fun for brunch at Filifera. Take the elevator up 22 floors up to open to stunning views of Griffith Park, Capitol Records, and the Hollywood Sign. Skip the lines and the crowds.

  • Chef: James Wilschke
  • Brunch Hours: Saturday & Sunday (12pm-3pm)
  • Reservation:  Resy 
  • Food: Enjoy house-made sangria, fresh pressed mimosas, and dishes like Prosciutto Eggs Benedict. For events and buyouts, email events@filiferahollywood.com. IMG_2917

7. El Torito – Anyone celebrating their birthday not only receives a party hat, but also a birthday dessert.

  • Menu: Lively Mexican cuisine – tacos, tamales, burritos, enchiladas
  • Unique: Staff Ready to serenade “Happy Birthday” at your table
  • Setting: Hacienda style setting
  •  For more information and locations, visit www.eltorito.com.

8. SOCA is located in Sherman Oaks for Valley birthday celebrations. Guests will enjoy globally inspired dishes with tiki-inspired cocktails. During brunch larger groups can enjoy SOCA’s front patio for a secluded, yet light-filled space to celebrate.

  • Food: The Baller Brunch includes a 32 oz 30-day dry-aged Prime Creekstone Tomahawk ribeye, 6 fried eggs, sautéed onions and arugula, béarnaise for $145. Price: $$
  • Location: Sherman Oaks – Chef: Aaron Robins – Brunch Hours: Saturday (10am-3pm), Sunday (10am-3pm). Dinner opens at 4 p.m.
  • Address: 14015 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423 – Phone: (818) 301-4300. Menu and reservations: soca-la.com, opentable.com.

 9. Beverly Hills by the pool celebration at Viviane

  • Location: Inside the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills, birthday parties can be reserved in the colorful cabanas with seating for up to 10 guests. Enjoy  chic California cuisine in the heart of Beverly Hills from new Chef Michael Reed.
  • Hours: Breakfast starts at 7 am., brunch on Saturday-Sunday 7am-3pm and dinner follows.
  • Read my review of the former chef https://beverlypress.com/2015/11/viviane/.

Best Brunch at Baltaire in Brentwood

Last Sunday I saw Executive Chef Travis Strickland from Baltaire at the Taste of the Nation festival in Culver City. He prepared delicious Nueske cherrywood BLT lettuce cups topped with strawberry sambal and pretty flowering cilantro sprigs. It was a hit at the fundraiser benefiting No Kid Hungry. 

 

Chef Travis is a chef with a big heart. As an avid runner and cyclist, he co-founded a 5K “Run for Their Knives” event, benefiting a memorial scholarship fund that promotes health and well-being in the culinary community.

I’ve been a fan of this chef ever since I had my first lunch at Baltaire years ago. He revived the restaurant’s tableside service, with servers sautéing Dover Sole in a French copper pan, before filleting and deboning it in front of guests. 

Recently, I enjoyed Sunday brunch at Baltaire while sitting out on the light and airy outdoor terrace with a retractable roof. As I was admiring the serene green and grey hues offering a classy California vibe, my party and I received an amuse bouche of bright blue colored spiraling yogurt with fresh fruit compote, pecan granola, and a sliced strawberry on top.

 

While sipping Contratto Metodo Classico Millesimato Pas Dose 2012, I learned it’s the oldest sparkling wine house in Italy. The bubbles were nice to pair with Chef Travis special cinnamon monkey bread that was delivered in a black iron baking loaf pan. IMG_1560

Next we ordered three different toasts to share around the table. Chef Travis approached our table and told us that all the bread is made in-house with natural fermentation. Two were sweet – Nutella and sliced caramelized banana toast on a slice of homemade brioche with a brown butter streusel, and a ricotta and blueberry compote toast that had a touch of Meyer lemon and mint to enhance the earthy flavors. The more savory toast was layered with smoked salmon and avocado. It was adorn with pickled onion, radish, egg and a Basque crushed Espelette pepper. IMG_1571

A few friends at my table ordered the prettiest brunch cocktail, a lavender sensation known as The Lavender 75. It’s made with lavender infused Absolut Elyx and smoked honey syrup, with lemon juice before topped off with champagne. A sprig of lavender enhances this bubbly brunch classic. Bar Manager August O’Mahoney also makes a vegan cocktail named The Piccolo. It’s a take on the Cappelletti sour that is whipped with aquafaba (chickpea water). Baltaire makes hummus in house and reuse of the chickpea water. Not only does it cut waste, but it’s a delicious vegan egg white substitute. Aquafaba is ideal for those who fear raw egg whites in cocktails, or those who just don’t consume eggs. Some bartenders say aquafaba is a better substitute in sours and fizzes. What enhanced this cocktail was a little baking spice, lime and orange juice.

 

Our second course of brunch were an array of skillet dishes. After training at the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Travis cooked at the legendary Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. This experience inspired him to create decadent thick orange cornmeal hot cakes. It’s a take on Southern Johnny Cakes or Hoe Cakes. The orange zest is a nice touch.

 

Wine sommelier Melanie Kaman recommended a beautiful Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir from Mendocino County to pair nicely with the heavier skillet dishes. The bright salmon pink hue offered aromas of watermelon, strawberry, lemon blossom, and orange. The wine offered moderate acidity creating an enjoyable finish. It also cut the fattiness of the beautifully presented Chilaquiles with soft poached eggs arranged in a flower shape. What made this dish unique was the shredded cauliflower.

The last skillet was a Tunisian and Israeli dish called shakshouka. The skillet had eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, and spiced with cumin. 

 

We enjoyed the last two brunch dishes with a glass of wine Karman recommended. She loves Oregon’s Willamette Valley Croft Vineyard 2014 Haden Fig Pinot Noir. The wine offered a bright cherry and raspberry essence with a juicy acidity. It paired perfectly with slices of harissa lamb with an almond and olive relish and duck fat potatoes. It also went well with the popular Prime filet Benedict layered with avocado. 

Brunch at Baltaire will heighten your senses while enjoying the atmosphere, food presentation, cocktails and wine offerings. $$$ 11647 San Vicente Blvd. (424)273-1660.

This review was featured in the June 7, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.

Since its opening in 1989, Toscana has established itself as a sophisticated Hollywood celebrity dining spot in Brentwood. However, its more recent, 7-year-old addition, Bar Toscana has made a name for itself as well. I recently met some friends at the bar to try their new stuzzichini, or finger foods, menu.
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Executive chef Hugo Vasquez, a member of the founding team, believes the best food is the simplest dish. “You don’t need many ingredients as long as you have the freshest,” Vasquez said.

The warm and inviting space of Bar Toscano features brick-red leather chairs intermingled with taupe leather banquettes. Kathie Gordon and local designer Kathleen Hunt recently added a contemporary twist to the space with aged oak tables finished with a distinctive copper trim.

As I walked inside, I noticed how full the bar was with guests chatting and enjoying an array of authentic Italian cocktails and shared plates inspired by the luxurious Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy.

Towards the back of the lounge is an innovative and eye catching digital projection of floral art, created by acclaimed artist Jennifer Steinkamp. There are also four original collage pieces by Los Angeles-based artist Melissa Wenke, providing bursts of vibrant reds, orange, greens and blues to the space.

Some of my friends ordered an Aperol Spritz, while others sipped glasses of Negroni, as they enjoyed an artfully plated Tagliere di Salami served with homemade bread sticks and giardiniera (an Italian relish) with homemade strawberry, red onion jam and assorted breads. Burrata layered on bread with speck and green heirloom tomato jam was another stuzzichini.

A bright yellow dish, Insalatina di Barbabietole combined layers of yellow beets, a sprinkling of goat cheese, a few pickled plums and chopped hazelnuts.

IMG_0317However, my favorite was the Involtini di Melanzane served in a black cast iron dish. The beautifully rolled eggplant was filled with ricotta cheese and baby spinach and was surrounded by a light tomato sauce and adorned with basil leaves.

Another winning dish among the foodies at my table was the Lasagnetta di Carne made with homemade spinach lasagna, a thick beef ragu and besciamella (an Italian béchamel sauce) with shaved Parmigiano.IMG_0312

We ordered a few pizzas and savory T-bone beef sliders with truffle cheese and caramelized shallots. The flavor profile of the small sandwiches immediately produced smiles all around the table.

The chefs at Toscana make a variety of interesting wood-fired pizza, including a classic Margherita with melted Bufala Tartufo, and a Tonno e Cipolla with tomato, mozzarella, Italian tuna, red onion and capers. I really enjoyed the pizza with gorgonzola, prosciutto and sweet figs. Visit an old favorite with a new finger food menu with a group of friends for an entertaining evening.

Bar Toscana is open daily from 5:30 p.m. to closing. $$ 11633 San Vicente Blvd. (310)826-0028.

This review was published in the Sept. 13 issue of the Beverly Press – Bar Toscana

A little bit of Disney Magic at the Bel Air Bar + Grill

 

(Photo by Bel Air Bar + Grill)
(Photo by Bel Air Bar + Grill)

Driving off the 405 freeway onto the Moraga exit, I noticed a striking two-story glass bougainvillea flower window in the front of the Bel Air Bar + Grill. I was invited to a tasting dinner by the owner of the restaurant Susan Disney Lord. She is part of American royalty – the Disney family, and the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney and one of Roy E. and Patricia Disney’s daughters. Her grandfather and great-uncle Walt Disney, co-founded of The Walt Disney Company.

Lord is a true California girl growing up in Toluca Lake, she now lives near the beach and close to her restaurant. Besides owning this restaurant, she is the President of the Roy Disney Family Foundation, participates on the Cal Arts CAP council, and is passionately involved with the Alzheimer’s Association by serving on the Board. She is also a wife, and the mother of five children that include two sets of twins.

Walking up the stairs into the private dining room, Lord was the first person to welcome me. When I remarked about the flowers on glass, she enthusiastically told me about its story.

Lord bought the landmark Bel Air Bar + Grill a few years ago and renovated the building. She commissioned an artist that she has known for about 30 years, Amanda Weil, to make a dazzling first impression of the restaurant.

These two ladies walked a few blocks up on Moraga to gain inspiration from the beauty of this So Cal enclave. They both appreciated the magnificent magenta colors of bougainvilleas growing freely. After taking a few clippings, Weil went to work.
At night, the nearby Chevron gas station’s bright lights, backlight the exquisite flowers on glass creating a visually beautiful moment as you walk in the door.

I told Lord that Weil’s piece is the new Georgia O’Keefe of art on glass. It’s spectacular.

Since Walt Disney founded and created Cal Arts with Lord’s grandfather Roy O. Disney, up in Valencia in the early 1960s, Lord has always had an affinity to the school known as “The Caltech of the Arts.”

Disney staffed the school with an array of his talented artists. Most of Disney’s movies including Frozen, Tarzan, Pocahontas were all made by many Cal Arts students.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Lord displays Cal Art students artwork on the walls throughout the restaurant. They rotate a few times a year or when a piece is sold, with all the money given to the student.

Standing together, Lord and I remarked about Zach Eins piece over the bar and multiple pieces upstairs. This talented artist uses a blow torch to burn images of human eyes and faces on wood. They are exquisite.

After construction took about one year, Lord hosted a “I survived the 405” party and everyone in the neighborhood came to have dinner, drinks and bond.

(Executive Chef Chris Emerling and owner Susan Disney Lord - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Executive Chef Chris Emerling and owner Susan Disney Lord – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

New to the restaurant is Executive chef Chris Emerling. Born in Springville NY, Emerling told me that he didn’t dream of being a chef as a young boy, “I wanted to be a snowplow driver, because it looked so cool.” However, as he graduated high-school, he enrolled in the Pittsburgh Culinary School and soon worked in mostly private clubs and high-end French restaurants including a kitchen in Lussaine, Switzerland.

He’s a kind chef, with a beautiful smile, and a perfect fit to work at Lord’s restaurant, because he seems to add a little “pixie dust” to each dish.

Trays of his fish and braised short rib tacos were passed around the room. These weren’t your everyday tacos, the fish was cold house-cured salmon with a crunchy jicama ginger slaw and the short rib tacos were accentuated with a carrot poblano salsa, chipotle and avocado.

(photo by Jill Weinlein)
(photo by Jill Weinlein)

As we sat at a long, elegantly decorated dining room table upstairs, I felt as if I was in a scene of Disney’s “Be Our Guest” in Beauty and the Beast. Multiple servers paraded into the room with long white plates in their hands. Each plate offered three individual appetizers that included a burnt orange colored, pureed, and chilled gazpacho with dill weed. The pixie dust Chef Emerling infused was avocado dots. Next to this amuse bouché was a four-minute poached egg that had a delicious tapenade made with a classic tomato, oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Last was a luscious burrata topped with Emerling’s housemade duck prosciutto, herb poached mushrooms and sprigs of arugula.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Our next course was a colorful salad sampler trio, including the restaurant’s classic chopped salad that first appeared on the menu back in 1997. SInce it’s a Bel Air community favorite, Lord and Emerling kept it on the menu, and just heightened it with carrots, corn, garbanzos, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a sprinkling of honey balsamic on top. It was a real crowd pleaser the night I dined.

Another favorite was the Waldorf “Escoffier” salad. Don’t visualize a chunky mayonnaise salad, this one is pure elegance. In the 1930s, Auguste Escoffier was one of the world’s greatest chefs. A group of men in the Jantzen suite at the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria formed an epicurean organization who gathered at the Waldorf regularly and called themselves, “The Friends of Escoffier.”

Emerling’s Waldorf salad is not flat, but rises above the plate. Instead of chunky apples, his apples are sliced long and thin to peek out. Instead of celery, Emerling chops celeriac which is the bulb that grows from the stalks. Celeriac is the heart and soul of celery, offering a delicate and vibrant flavor to this fine dining dish. California walnuts are sprinkled around and then glistened with a delicate and vibrant 3880 French Escoffier secret sauce that only Emerling knows how to make so well.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Seafood dishes include grilled salmon that is half cooked and boosted with lemon, lovage – a herb that a few chefs are foraging in the local foothills, and dash of cream. It’s served with a potato and fennel sauté.
The scallops were served with four root vegetables that included carrots, kohlrabi, onion and celery. The roots change based on what chef selects at the markets. He makes a divine pickled pineapple to complement the scallops and drizzles an orange citrus emulsion before dusting it with a cilantro and red pepper luster. Emerling also creates this same sauce for the Market fish of the day.

Meaty entrees include a pan roasted juicy chicken with preserved cranberries and a delightful rosemary hash with chicken gastrique. His tender, slow braised pork cheeks were served with sweet potato gnocchi and peas, while his red wine braised short ribs are cooked for hours and served with roasted rainbow carrots, garlic mashed potatoes with charred poblano chilies to intensify the flavors.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

For dessert you must order the lemon tart with an Italian meringue. I didn’t care for the coconut infused chia pudding, however I know chia is the new ingredient to upgrade desserts. Expect to see more chia seed dishes on menus across Los Angeles, because they are high in fiber, high in omega-3’s, and plump up in liquid giving diners a satisfying fullness.

At the end of the feast, I walked back to my car, and noticed just behind the restaurant, a little cafe named The Shack. Owned by Lord, it’s a great alternative for to-go food from the same fine dining kitchen inside the Bel Air Bar + Grill. The Shack opens Monday through Friday for breakfast, snacks, soups, salads, sandwiches, coffee, smoothies and shakes from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Great-Uncle Walt and Grandfather Roy must be smiling with pride at Susan Disney Lord. Her winning culinary destination is an ideal spot to meet family and friends who live in the San Fernando Valley, or to go to before or after a UCLA basketball or after exploring the Getty Center.

The Bel Air Bar and Grill is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy Hour is available the same days from 4 to 6 p.m. Brunch is on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner is served nightly at 5 p.m. $$- $$$ 662 N. Sepulveda Boulevard. (310)440-5544.

Cafe Rockenwagner: Ingenious Cuisine with a German Flair

IMG_6621I’ve been fascinated with Hans Röckenwagner since the 1980s, when I used to take clients to his restaurant Röckenwagner in Santa Monica on Main Street. Out of town clients loved the unique interior design, splendid food, and his famous German pretzel rolls. It soon became one of the top restaurants in Southern California.

In my eyes, Hans is a rock star in the culinary world with his German good looks, charismatic personality, and flair for making innovative dishes.

I was so excited to be standing with him in his new neighborhood café on the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Barrington. Located on the bottom floor of the upscale housing community called BP, the design is modern and sleek.

Adding to the décor is a wall of German-style pretzels sprinkled with salt hanging on wooden pegs. There is also a glass display case filled with some of the most dazzling pastries in Los Angeles, baked by the talented Pastry Chef Cesar Bermudez. Röckenwagner lured him away from the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.

I also met business partner, Wolfgang Gussmack, who joined Röckenwagner in 2002, as chef de cuisine at his Santa Monica restaurant. Gussmack learned his skills while cooking in one of the only two-star Michelin restaurant in Austria.

I was escorted to the bar area for a glass of Prosecco and some exquisite bar snacks. My favorite was the smooth avocado crostini on grilled bread. There were also three different types of delicious breads with nuts and raisins to use as a base for edamame hummus dip, corn and jalapeno spread and a sweeter blueberry and orange. I joined a group of diners eager to be one of the first to taste many dishes from Café Röckenwagner’s creative menu.

IMG_6634His dishes are meant to satisfy the soul. Chef de Cuisine Kayson Chung makes a vibrant chilled shrimp salad accompanied with mellow avocado, crunchy jicama and horseradish vinaigrette.

I thoroughly enjoyed the grilled octopus with braised cabbage, puréed carrots and a green soy glaze.

One of the most popular appetizers or brunch dishes offered is the pain perdu made with brioche French toast, bacon roasted peppers and a fried egg. Jalapeno-maple syrup gives this beautiful dish pizzazz.

Entrées are comfort foods with a twist, such as the short rib braised for hours and then roasted with a pepper crust. It’s served with a seven-inch bone.

His juicy pretzel burger with caramelized onions is magnificent.

If you like pan-fried mussels, here they are bathed in a soy-brown butter and arrive in a bowl sprinkled with chorizo and cilantro.

“Los Angeles is the most metropolitan area with so many diverse cultures. I enjoy using Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and German ingredients into my dishes,” Röckenwagner said.

When a platter of desserts arrived, I had to take a bite or two of each. The rich dark chocolate cake, ethereal lemon round with a homemade marshmallow that looked like aIMG_6610 sugar cube, and colorful fresh fruit tarts filled with farmers market berries all satisfied my senses.

Many of Röckenwagner’s baked goods can be found at farmers’ markets from Beverly Hills to La Canada Flintridge.

For Valentine’s Day, Café  Röckenwagner is offering a variety of mouthwatering treats and pastries to buy for your loved ones. They have also baked two oversized raspberry macaron cookies, filled with passion fruit cream, fresh raspberries, and topped with a decorative chocolate heart. This pastry is big enough for two to share with a glass of Prosecco before exchanging Valentines.

Café Röckenwagner is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. $$ 1168 S. Barrington Ave. (310)478-6313.

This article was published in the February 13 , 2014 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Bar Toscana – Creative Italian Tapas

Working in a high rise building on San Vicente Blvd. in Brentwood, during the late 80s, I frequented the restaurant, Toscana. It was a block from my office and the maitre’d, Francesco Greco, always welcomed my guests and me warmly. He treated us as family with a friendly smile and a heartfelt hug. I usually ordered my favorites: Pennette alla Carrettiera with anchovies, olives, garlic, capers topped with a divine tomato sauce or the Risotto Ai Funghi Selvatici with a creamy Arborio rice and wild mushrooms. Both were always excellent. My clients were thrilled when the great Laker coach, Pat Riley sat next to us on day at lunch. Another time the actress Nicole Kidman sat across from our table. It’s a neighborhood favorite for many celebrities.

My only complaint was their tiny waiting area. Since it was always filled at peak hours with loyal patrons leisurely enjoying an authentic Italian meal, guests waited outside in a breezeway until their table was ready. All that has changed.  Bar Toscana recently acquired the gallery across the breezeway and has opened a delightful Italian bar serving small Italian tapas, priced between $7 – $16 and pleasing libations.

 My husband and I wanted to experience Bar Toscana since I am such a fan of the restaurant. I also wanted to see if my friend, Greco was still at Toscana.

The sleek and modern lounge was filled with an enthusiastic crowd on a Tuesday evening. We took a seat on two bar stools at the attractive black, white and chocolate brown colored bar and ordered peach Bellinis. The menu states that Giuseppi Cipriani, at Harry’s Bar in Venezia, created the original Bellini in 1948. It’s a luscious combination of prosecco and a slightly sweet white peach puree.

Our bartender/server, Nick, recommended the deconstructed pizza and the roasted veal for starters. I had my eye on the Insalata di Zucca with roasted pumpkin. The salad arrived in a round mound of frisee lettuce with a layer of thinly sliced pumpkin on the bottom, grilled chanterelle mushrooms and goat cheese. The delicate oil and vinegar dressing allowed the ambrosia pumpkin flavor to dominate the dish.

Next, the Struzzichino Toscano “deconstructed pizza” arrived with little squares of crisp Italian flat toast as the crust, a small jar of tomato jam as the sauce, and buratta, a blissful union of mozzarella and cream that produces a soft buttery spread. Lastly on the plate were crispy and zesty pepperoni slices. I opted to forgo the pepperoni and instead spread the crimson tomato jam and the rich buratta on the delightfully crispy toast. It’s an ideal snack with a cocktail before strolling across the breezeway for your dinner reservation. Just remember to drink up; you can’t bring your cocktail across to the restaurant.

When the veal arrived I learned that it had been slowly roasted for two hours at 200 degrees to lock in the flavor and moisture of the delicately coral colored thinly sliced meat. It appeared with tiny dollops of a green caper sauce and roasted red peppers. Served with homemade chips with a sprinkle of rosemary and sea salt. A gentleman sitting next to us exclaimed, “the lasagna tonight is the best in town.” After ordering it, we agreed 100%. The Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli, a native of Verona, designed the menu and his lasagna appeared not in a square or rectangle shape, but round with layers of roasted artichoke, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle and Fontina cheese. This small plate is a heavenly light meal.

The bar serves Italian spirits that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. They offer a variety of digestive and Grappas from various regions in Italy. The staff is extremely knowledgeable about the products they offer and will customize a drink to your liking.

As we were leaving, Maitre’d Greco appeared from across the way to guide patrons to their table. Our eyes met and he gave me one of his amicable smiles and comforting embraces. I’m not sure if he really remembered me from fifteen years ago, yet he sure made me fell special and welcomed. After exchanging a few words, I promised that I would be back again. Their creative Northern Italian specialties are definitely worth another visit. 

Bar Toscana may be small, however it provides a comfortable meeting spot before dining at Toscana or for drinks and a light meal with friends. Price: $$

Opened nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. 11633 San Vicente Blvd. (310)820-2448.

via Bar Toscana.

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