More Than Fine – Wood & Vine

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

In 2011, I gave the newly opened restaurant Wood & Vine a stellar review. The talented Executive chef Gavin Mills was very creative in the small kitchen (I’ve been told it might be the smallest restaurant kitchen in LA). Originally it was built as a gathering space for friends and neighboring locals to come enjoy the elegant 140-seat cocktail bar and restaurant serving farm to table share plates.

It’s located at Hollywood and Vine in the historic 1920s brick Taft building, that once housed the majority of radio and motion-picture businesses until the 1960s. The 4,000-square-feet of indoor/outdoor space, became very appealing to Pantages theater patrons due to its close proximity and chef Mills pleasing menu with dishes served in a timely manner.

Mills left to go work at Tavern in Brentwood and Executive Chef Marc Johnson from La Cañada-Flintridge, took over. After a few years at Wood & Vine, he left to lead the kitchen at Tipple & Brine in Sherman Oaks.

Bar Menu - Photo by Jill Weinlein
Bar Menu – Photo by Jill Weinlein

While Johnson was gone, some friends dined at Wood & Vine and complained to me about the food and service. They told me they would never go back again, unless some changes were made.

Happily, Executive Chef Marc Johnson is back at Wood & Vine. While attending a preview dinner last week (for tonight’s Sunset & Dine food festival showcasing some of Hollywood’s newer and established restaurants), I was introduced to the General Manager of the restaurant, Wally. He shared with us that the staff is gearing up for the opening night of two big Broadway shows: Book of Mormon and later Hamilton at the Pantages. “We make sure the dishes come out of the kitchen quickly,” Wally said. “When Pantages patrons told us they were seeing the recent hit, Beautiful, we fed them in less than one hour.”

Sitting at the center communal table on the redwood-decked patio, near wood shingle walls, among pepper trees, and a fire pit blazing in the summer night air, we sipped glasses of rose’ and a craft watermelon mezcal cocktail.

The atmosphere has a bit of a Brooklyn vibe with views of surrounding office buildings, the W hotel, and the charcoal colored night sky.

The restaurant was designed by Kenneth Brown, finding inspiration from Old Hollywood, with touches

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

of vintage wood, furniture, and exposed brick. Johnson was not in the kitchen, that night I dined, however the sous chef Natalie Soward took over and sent a bowl of potato chips intensified with truffle oil and sea salt to our table. They were so addicting, that I made a conscious effort to only eat 5 chips, otherwise I would have enjoyed the entire bowl within minutes. You have been warned.

When chef Mills ran the kitchen, he introduced fried chicken and waffles with a maple roasted squash syrup. It was a huge hit and one of the most requested dishes, even with Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles only two blocks away. Chef Johnson upgraded the sage infused buttermilk waffles with a little flash fried sage leaves on the crispy fried chicken. Pouring a little of the pure, high-grade Vermont maple syrup offers a sweetness to the savory protein and starch component.

Wally told us that guest sitting on the patio, enjoy watching nightly movies projected on the large blank wall of the W Hotel Residence (there are no windows). Their favorite movie request is Sixteen Candles with Molly Ringwald. “It’s the most photographed Instagram post,” Wally said.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

We all raved about the summer watermelon and tomato salad. Rainbow colors of green, yellow, orange and vibrant reds are served with watercress, cucumber slices and some pickled watermelon rind. On top is a sprinkling of blue cheese chunks and a light blue cheese dressing.

The menu emphasizes that meats served are from humanely raised animals, grass-fed and sustainable ranches and farms. Their suppliers include Mary’s poultry; Rocky’s chicken; Niman Ranch pork and Sunfed Ranch California grass-fed beef.

There are multiple gluten free plates that include a hamachi crudo with strawberries, hearts of palm, red onion, aji amarillo and Thai basil. My favorite dish was the slowly braised short ribs, served in a bowl of corn pudding, cabbage, cherries, chilies and light jus. It was fabulous.

The original menu offered a butterscotch pot de crème with a caramel ice cream and black molten sea salt. Currently the chefs substitute in bourbon ice cream and a sprinkling of sweet thyme crumble on top of the heightened custard-like dessert.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

Come back to a fun neighborhood gathering spot for your next pre or post-theater cocktail, relaxed dinner or late-night dining adventure.

The restaurant is closed on Mondays. It opens at 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday it opens at 4 p.m. $$ Valet parking available next door at the W Hotel (Argyle entrance); $10 for first 2 hours. $15 thereafter. Street parking and surface lots also nearby. 6280 Hollywood Blvd. (323)334-3360.

This article was featured in the September 1, 2016 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Clifton’s Cafeteria Quickly Losing It’s Luster

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

I almost dropped my tray at Clifton’s Cafeteria when I learned that the esteemed chef Jason Fullilove left Clifton’s last Monday!

After a three-year renovation, the new Clifton’s Cafeteria opened with a media blitz a little over one month ago. NPR had a great piece about the beloved spot that originally opened in 1932. When I heard that they acquired Executive Chef was Jason Fullilove, it piqued my interest even more. Fullilove graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, worked with Mark Peel at Campanile and The Tar Pit Restaurant on La Brea. Later, he joined the Patina Group and had a stint at LACMA cooking for special events, large parties, the Pop-up restaurant RED and a creative tasting menu inspired by the Stanley Kubrick film exhibit. Before Clifton’s, Fullilove was the darling of Malibu preparing innovative dishes at The Malibu Pier.

What a great idea! Foodies in LA know about Fullilove, so it will bring a younger generation into the cafeteria. I heard he had to keep many of the beloved food items to attract the locals and regulars who have been dining here for years, yet could add a little magic touch.

The last time my father, born in 1932, visited Clifton’s Cafeteria was 50 years ago. Recently, after attending a Hollywood High School reunion, he was invited to join a group of 80+ year-old men to their once-a-month lunch club. Each month they organize a lunch at one of their old Hollywood or Los Angeles haunts. Clifton’s was scheduled for the November lunch.

Since he isn’t as confident in his driving, as he used to be, I asked him if he would like to do a test-drive with me. I’d sit in the passenger seat and help navigate the 2 Freeway to the 5, then to the 110, and to exit at 6th, and find Broadway. Then we searched the most convenient parking.

I told him that I’ve heard that lines of people went around the block to get into Clifton’s, so I suggested we arrive after the lunch crowd.

Parking is tough downtown during the day. The closest lot was on 6th, just after Broadway for $9.50. We left the keys with the valet, walked up a flight of stairs into an exquisite marble lobby, inside a historic office building. Then we walked outside onto Broadway and down the block to get to Clifton’s. Where were the lines?

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

A sweet hostess guided us to the cafeteria and handed us trays to get started. The first item I spotted was a row of Candy Corn colored jello for 35 cents. Wow, now that is a deal! However, that is the only deal. A bowl of pumpkin or chicken soup is $6. Sandwiches are just under $10.

There are multiple stations to wait for roasted meats, hot items, soup and salad, sandwiches and desserts. The people behind the counter looked tired. It looked like the honeymoon period was over for them. Why? It’s only been less than two months?

Gazing over each station I hoped I could spot Chef Jason. When I asked if Chef Jason was here today? One counter person said, “No, he no longer works here.” WHAT???? When I asked what happened and where did he go? With downcast eyes, I was told no one knows.

Another disappointment was trying to get my Dad a glass of water. It didn’t exist! The only ice and water found in the cafeteria is from two fancy Coca-Cola machines. Both were broken. Plastic tubs of ice sat nearby the machines with a huge metal scooper that was too big to scoop and place in a plastic or take-out Coca-Cola glass. It was a mess and people were frustrated. Management tried to help customers scoop ice into their glass, and seemed irked too.

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

Once we paid for the items on our tray, we searched for a table on the first floor. Upstairs on the second floor had an even more interesting dining room, but without an elevator for the public, we had to walk up a flight of stairs with our trays in hand. Since my Dad needed to hold onto the hand rails, I carried his tray to a really cool area near a massive tree and a glass diorama with a burly buffalo. We sat on Bovine horn and deer antler chairs.

It’s Disney-like with the National History Museum stuffed fox, bear, deer and raccoons nearby. Guests enjoy standing in the trunk of the floor to ceiling tree in the center of the room and surprisingly find a fireplace inside. The long bar with wood stools attracts a crowd seeking an adult Cocktails of California ranging from $12 to $14. Beers on Draft are $6 and $ 7 and wine by the glass range from $10 to $17.

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

After eating our lunch (I will say the tuna salad did have a zip to it), we toured the multi-level cafeteria to learn why the “soul” is gone already. Sadly, trays of food weren’t being cleared up quick enough. I talked to some of the staff about Chef Jason’s departure. The responses I received were interesting – The staff could never keep up in the beginning. Instead of a soft opening, they were slammed with two big events. The next day they had to serve 3,000 to 4,000 people. Another employee told me, that some employees worked grave yard shifts to keep up with the demand of prepping, preparing and delivering the food from 10 am. to 10 p.m.

Next, I learned that some of the kitchen help stayed 24/7 and slept on a couch on the upper floors for a few hours, before getting back into the kitchen.

FullSizeRender-76When I asked if they still have long lines? I was told that the quality of the food slipped, because there was never enough time to prepare the food as they would have liked.

I hope management is dealing with these issues, otherwise they will be losing more of their core employees. We all know it costs money to hire, train and keep employees. It seems Clifton’s Cafeteria hired a great group of talented individuals, yet kept them on a treadmill cranked up so high, that a few are exhausted and ready to jump off.

An incurable defect in this multi-story building is there is only one Men’s and Women’s bathroom and it’s down in the basement. Guests have to walk down a flight of steep stairs from the first street-level floor. That’s two floors from the lively bar and whimsical dining room. For older and handicapped people, there are too many stairs at Clifton’s Cafeteria. ( After publication – a bartender from Clifton’s informed me – “I’m sorry your expectations at Cliftons were not met, but I can assure you that over the next few months we wil have lots more amenities, menu choices, and bars. Factually, you’re incorrect about the bathrooms. Two are open now and there will be four more all together when the rest of the bars are open. Thank you!”) Another bathroom is in the beautiful Peacock Lounge, however that was closed the day I dined at Clifton’s.

Without Chef Jason Fullilove at the helm of the kitchen, I’m not sure how this restaurant will fare. Don’t go for the food, it’s good, however through the years with all the restaurants opening downtown, it’s not epicurean.

FullSizeRender-78Families will enjoy the cafeteria experience with their young children. Youngsters under 12 get to pick a prize from a treasure chest. Go explore the artifacts and history of an establishment in Los Angeles that hopefully will solve its problems and rise up in popularity again.

648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014 (213)627-1673.

Loving LAMILL Coffee Boutique

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

My daughter and I enjoyed a lunch at this trendy Silver Lake coffee boutique earlier this month. While the coffee scene continues to explode in California, LAMILL Coffee is one of the only coffee roasting companies in Southern California that serves premium locally roasted coffee and tea at its own restaurant.

We walked in and found a diverse crowd of people sitting at the counter writing their latest manuscript or sitting in the dining area on cracked leather club chairs, enjoying a French Press with lunch after perhaps a yoga class. Moms periodically walked in pushing strollers to quickly get an excellent cup of Valrhona mocha and an orange-glazed cherry scone before strolling a sleepy child around the reservoir.

The restaurant’s interior is hip and fresh with vintage chairs resting on a concrete floor and ceiling to floor windows looking out to Silver Lake Blvd. A big brass chandelier hangs from the ceiling in the main dining room and one wall offers a whimsical black and white mural.

I learned from our server that the owner, Craig Min, loved the aroma and taste of coffee as a child. In 1991, Min’s father started a wholesale coffee business in nearby Alhambra, where Min learned everything about roasting and brewing coffee. He developed a rapport with the coffee farmers at eco-friendly cooperatives in locations where the world’s best coffee beans are grown. This “bean belt” between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer offers an ideal climate for beans to be cultivated, harvested and processed.

In 1998, the young entrepreneur was ready to take over the company. Min called the company LAMILL Coffee and also worked to expand his tea contacts and start a tea line. With the help of his skilled Master Roaster John Martin at the Alhambra headquarters, he learned how to carefully manipulate temperature, gas pressure, time and airflow to enhance the subtleties from the beans to produce the best cup of coffee.

Soon Min approached many of the high-end chefs in local restaurants and developed a partnership with Michael Mina, Michael Cimarusti, Tony Esnault and The Patina Group, to exclusively sell his coffee and tea. Providence, Church & State and Patina downtown at the Walt Disney Hall all serve LAMILL coffee and tea.

In 2008, Min opened the LAMILL Coffee boutique in Silver Lake. He commissioned chef Michael Cimarusti to design an inventive food menu to include breakfast, lunch and dinner fare to pair with Min’s hot and cold beverages. Since then, it has become a go-to destination for locals and visitors for a leisurely weekend brunch, an early weeknight supper, or a daily afternoon pick-me-up. The boutique also serves pilsner, IPA lager, blonde ale, stout and hefeweizen beer and French and California wines, along with their signature coffee and tea.

Recently Min hired chef James Trees as a consultant to revamp the menu at LAMILL Coffee boutique. Trees worked side by side with Michael Mina years ago, and serves LAMILL espresso at his restaurant Hutchinson Cocktail and Grill in West Hollywood.

The LAMILL boutique serves a variety of baked goods, including jalapeño-cheddar biscuits, masala-citrus cinnamon rolls and apple spice muffins, as well as equally delicious vegan and gluten free pastries.

My daughter ordered a tall glass of cold brew coffee. I asked her, “why cold brew?” As a college student, she learned that cold brew offers a higher level of caffeine and lower acidity than hot coffee, coming in handy for late-night studying. Cold brewing also allows the beans to soak for hours to achieve the true nuance and essence of the flavor profile because the coffee beans in cold-press coffee never come into contact with hot water. At LAMILL, the beans soak for 18 hours, leaching flavor from the beans to produce a much different chemical profile from conventional brewing methods.

I, on the other hand, was not sure what to order, so the waiter recommended a hot crème brulee coffee. “It’s similar to a crème brulee dessert,” he said. It arrived with a thin, yet hard burnt sugar shell on top. I had to crack it open with a spoon to sip the rich cappuccino, made with caramel and bruleed sugar. It wasn’t too sweet and I enjoyed every sip.

Since coffee and breakfast go hand-in-hand, LAMILL serves a breakfast menu all day long. House made granola, breakfast sandwiches, asparagus and poached eggs and even fried chicken with scallion-sage waffles are just some of the delicious signature dishes offered.

We opted for lunch fare when I noticed avocado toast on the menu. It arrived beautifully presented on a thick piece of bread topped with a generous layer of avocado, pickled red onions and a gremolata with crushed chili-almonds. I opted to add a beautifully cooked poached egg on top that burst with bright yellow as my fork pierced the deliciously runny yolk.

LAMILL’s menu also features a savory smoked salmon toast and a sweeter toast layered with house-made ricotta, macerated strawberries, toasted hazelnuts, basil and lemon.

We also tried the kale salad that highlighted the pleasing flavors of the tender baby kale leaves and braised Brussels sprouts. Crunchy farro and Marcona almonds gave this dish texture, while dried cranberries added a hint of sweetness. Sliced pink grapefruit added zing, as did the pickled onions. The salad was dressed perfectly with a light lemon vinaigrette. The shaved vegetable salad, another tasty entrée-sized dish, can include grilled chicken or a seared flat iron steak for an additional cost.

While enjoying our lunch, my daughter and I remarked, where else in Los Angeles can you sip an outstanding cup of coffee with food of this quality in a casual environment? This is not your neighborhood Starbucks. It’s much more refined, farm to table fare, with no plastic packaging.

Other lunch or dinner fare includes shrimp and yellow dent grits with a habanero-bacon jam, and a grilled Croque Monsieur with black forest ham and melted Gruyere cheese served with a small herb salad. A gentleman sitting at a nearby table enjoyed the LAMILL burger stacked with roasted tomatoes, romaine slaw, and melted Hook’s cheddar cheese on a brioche bun served with a heaping portion of French fries. He looked perfectly content taking bites while reading a book.

Not wanting to leave, we ordered a pot of Japanese pineapple papaya green tea. At LAMILL they know how to correctly brew tea with filtered water with a TDS – Total Dissolved Solids –between 10-30 PPM (parts per million), at the right temperature at about 185 degrees for about three to five minutes before removing the leaves. This process gives the cleanest taste of the tea blend. The tea here is fresh and doesn’t sit on the shelves for long.

We splurged and nibbled on hot brioche doughnut holes, which enhanced the sweetness and earthiness of the tea.

I urge you to support our local businesses and experience boutique dining at one of the finest coffee houses in Los Angeles, LAMILL Coffee. You may even see me sitting back, drinking a Black Velvet house blend, while writing my next restaurant review.

$$ Open on Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 636 Silver Lake Blvd. (323)663-4441.

This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on 7/30/15.

CPK Keeps Getting Better

DSC_0079In 1985, attorneys Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax opened a bright yellow casual pizza restaurant on Beverly Drive. It was located on a block in Beverly Hills that didn’t get as much foot traffic as the Beverly Drive north of Wilshire Blvd, however within a year the street became more of a social hub as locals and visitors flocked inside to try a unique barbecued chicken pizza and wickedly good chicken tequila pasta dish.

In 1992, with CPK at its height opening many new restaurants nationwide, PepsiCo bought the company for almost $100 million. Unfortunately, the restaurant changed. Regulars noticed the difference in quality and service. Flax and Rosenfield were not pleased and in 2003, this dynamic duo resumed control of CPK.

In 2011, hospitality expert GJ Hart became the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen. First, he renovated the flagship Beverly Hills restaurant, revitalizing the success of CPK’s future. It was received so favorably, that Hart and his team have planned similar makeovers at 80 CPK locations nationwide to celebrate the restaurants 30 year anniversary this year.

One of the most recent renovations is at the lively Hollywood and Highland location. The interiors have been transformed with reclaimed wood floors throughout and warm colors with a hint of the trademark yellow. Near the entrance is an herb garden and Restoration Hardware-style wine case. Artwork on the walls are photographs telling a story about Hollywood with its classic and whimsical architectural highlights.

The new Callfornia Pizza Kitchen’s menu is by chef Brian Sullivan, Senior Vice President of Culinary Development. Working at CPK DSC_0081for almost 30 years, he has kept many of the signature favorites, yet upped the menu with steaks and seafood.

Some of the new dishes are featured in Sullivan and Paul Pszybylski CPK’s Senior Director of Culinary Innovation cookbook – CPK “Taste of the Seasons.” It’s a collection of flavorful and wholesome salads, meals, desserts and drinks.

I really enjoyed the 10 oz. USDA Ribeye sprinkled generously with homemade Pinot Noir sea salt. It rests for 24 hours to tenderize before being grilled and served. With a dollop of creamy bleu cheese butter, it’s served with delicious crispy roasted fingerling potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and an arugula salad. The price point on this steak is half of the high-end steak houses in town, yet just as good or maybe even better.

There is also a hearth-roasted piece of white halibut served with slightly sweet butternut squash, crunchy farro, baby kale and grilled asparagus.

DSC_0076Soups include a new baked potato with bacon and Farmers Market with squash and a variety of vegetables with a touch of cream.

The seasonal California field salad has cubes of sweet watermelon and slices of strawberries with mixed greens, a sprinkling of feta cheese and California pistachio. It glistens with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette dressing. Guests can add grilled chicken, shrimp of sauteed salmon to this salad.

The General Manager Michael Palaski and Assistant General manager Matthew Ross circulate the dining room and try to touch each table checking on guests. They are pleased with the new renovations and feel the open dining room allows management and servers to offer better service to each guest.

Pasta dishes include eight different varieties and pair nicely with the seasonal harvest sangrias or 18 oz. draft beer. Wine flight of three – 3 oz. pours include California whites, California reds and adventurous wines with a pink Moscato.

Of course they still have hearth baked pizza made with a hand-tossed crust on the menu. In fact there are 19 varieties of pizza pies, including a Jamaican Jerk chicken and roasted artichoke. The new Tricolore salad has caramelized onions and large shavings of Parmesan cheese. It’s a pizza and salad on one plate with greens tossed in Dijon balsamic dressing.

They have five flat breads that include a new Maine lobster with fresh herbs. It’s similar to an open face lobster roll, DSC_0085yet had too much mayonnaise for my liking.

Save room for the desserts in a glass jar. They are fantastic.

For midday diners, the lunch duos on the menu offers a lunch size 7″ pizza with a salad or soup for $10.95. The half-sandwich with salad or soup is $8.95. Lunch specials are available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Come see the new and improved CPK in the heart of Hollywood.

$$ 6801 Hollywood Blvd. 2nd Level (323)460-2080.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press 2015 Dining and Entertainment Guide.

2014 – Halloween Culinary Haunts in Los Angeles

IMG_0980Here are some great spots to get into a festive and spooky Halloween spirit –

Sonoma Wine Garden Halloween
A Halloween bash will be held on the rooftop deck of Santa Monica Place on Friday, Oct. 31 starting at 9 p.m. Mixologist Rob Floyd will make his signature libations, and guests are invited to dance the night away to beats by DJ LE. Tickets start at $50 and include a complimentary house wine or beer. To purchase tickets, visit 395 Santa Monica Place #300. (424)214-4560.

Halloween at Andaz West Hollywood

Tarot card reader Sterling Mire will offer free readings to members of the public and hotel guests on Friday, Oct. 31 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Andaz West Hollywood. Participants must sign-up for readings in the hotel lounge, located on the first level. Visitors can also mingle at the Riot House Bar and enjoy happy hour specials prior to the readings. Sterling strives to help clients discover their inner selves and fulfill their greatest desires. Valet and self-parking is available. 8401 Sunset Blvd. (323)656-1234.


Halloween at Sassafrasimage001
The spirit and voodoo of New Orleans has arrived in Hollywood with the mystique of an old saloon and the sounds of blues at the Sassafras Saloon. The party on Halloween, Oct. 31, runs from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Guests can order specially priced Voodoo punch and Halloween cocktails. Reverend Tall Tree will perform live blues music, and a tarot card and fortune teller will entertain guests. A costume contest will also be held with prizes such as $100, $50, $25 bar tabs. 1233 N. Vine St. (323)467-2800.



UntitledFour Seasons Hotel Westlake Village
Visitors who celebrate Halloween in costume on Friday, Oct. 31 from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m will receive a 25 percent discount on food and beverages at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village. The bar’s mixologists are creating a special pumpkin spice martini for Halloween made with Fireball whiskey. Guests who take a photo of themselves in costume and post it on Instagram using the hashtag #FSHalloween will receive a cocktail priced $5. There is no cover charge for the Halloween soirée and costume contest, and guests can win prizes. 2 Dole Drive, Westlake Village. (818)575-3000.

Halloween at Fireflyimage003-2
The outdoor patio at Firefly will be turned into an eerie haven for Halloween revelers on Friday, Oct. 31 from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Special menu items will be available along with regular dinner service. The festive dishes and cocktails include a complimentary Amuse and liquid eyeball ravioli, or gelled watermelon mojitos topped with carbonated sugar and mint leaf. Guests with a sweet tooth can enjoy a dessert called “Listen to Me” that is made with peanut butter and white chocolate mousse “ear” dripping and raspberry and black currant “blood.” Parties of four or more who dine from 5 to 7 p.m. will receive a complimentary bottle of Cava when they share a celebratory photograph via Instagram, using the hashtag #FireflyHalloween. Costumes are not required, but guests are encouraged to dress up for the celebration. 11720 Ventura Blvd. (818)762-1833.


image008-2Family Fun in Malibu
Ghosts, ghouls and goblins are welcome to celebrate Halloween at the Malibu Pier on Friday, Oct. 31 from 2 to 5 p.m. Children are welcome to enjoy complimentary pumpkin carving at the Malibu Farm café before heading over for a sugar fix at the Malibu Beach Supply Co. Executive chef Jason Fullilove, of the Malibu Pier Restaurant & Bar, will also prepare items from a decadent children’s menu. 23000 Pacific Coast Highway. (310)456-8031.


Tortilla Republic West Hollywoodimage001-3
Tortilla Republic is hosting its annual “Boo Ball” on Friday, Oct. 31 from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., with specialty cocktails and bites, live music, a photo booth and festive décor. Menu items include seared albacore tuna bites with an ancho chile crust, mango and radish slaw, avocado and salted chili lime. Tortilla Republic’s “Boo Sliders” are three mini hamburgers made with premium American Wagyu beef, roasted poblano chile, caramelized onion, chipotle aioli, watercress and sweet potato fries with cilantro and lime zest. The prime tenderloin steak taco is made with a fajita rub, salsa de mesa and tequila slaw. Festive margaritas will also be available. 616 N. Robertson Blvd. (310)657-9888.

W Hollywood Halloween
On Oct. 31 from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., the W Hollywood is hosting a costume party and hotel-wide haunted house. Guests can celebrate in multiple rooms with different types of music. Tickets range from $25 to $1,200. The Silver Package includes a reserved table, two bottles of the guest’s choice, and four general admission tickets. On Nov. 1 from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., a Day of the Dead celebration will be held complete with a costume party and Top 40, hip-hop and house music. 6250 Hollywood Blvd. (323)798-1300.

slide1Día de Los Muertos at Gracias Madre
Gracias Madre executive chef Chandra Gilbert and beverage director Jason Eisner will celebrate the Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. with traditional and not so traditional offerings. Diners can enjoy the Pan de Muerto, a traditional sweet bread placed on altars and eaten at brunch, and a pumpkin cake with candied pumpkin and piloncillo glaze with vegan cinnamon ice cream. Drink specials include “Shot and a Beer”, in which guests will receive a pint from the restaurant’s fall draft selection paired with a vegan cucumber mint margarita jello shot that is shaped like a skull. It will be served with spicy chili salt and a cucumber wheel. 8905 Melrose Ave. (323)978-2170.

Halloween at The Wellesbourne
The Wellesbourne is holding its 4th annual “Jeepers Creepers” Halloween bash on Friday, Oct. 31. The Westside bar will be transformed from an elegant English manor house into a goose bump-inducing haunted mansion, with Selvarey spirits flowing from 6 to 9 p.m. Guests can enjoy complimentary tastings of Selvarey’s Panamanian white and cacao sipping rums with co-founder Marc Gold. DJ Eric Sharp will spin throwbacks, contemporary remixes and monster mash tunes, and party-goers can participate in a costume contest with prizes. Photographs can also be taken in a Halloween themed photo booth or by The Wellesbourne’s professional photographer. There is a $10 cover charge for guests who arrive after 9 p.m., and they will receive one complimentary glass of Selvarey Rum’s special Jeepers Creepers punch. 10929 W. Pico Blvd. (310)474-0102.


Blue Plate Oysterette

DSC_0223With the success of Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica, the Blue Plate Restaurant Group opened a second Cape Cod-style restaurant on West 3rd Street offering a fun, beach vibe. Located just East of Crescent Heights, this place was packed last Friday evening with locals enjoying fresh seafood, wine and beer while sitting inside or out on the outdoor patio underneath a bigger than life-size painting of a mermaid playing the guitar.

The beach shack motif offers blue and white colors with a modern look that is light, bright and appealing for dining. Inside the black vinyl captain chairs sit next to engineered stone counter tops with light fixtures that look similar to buoys.

The manager, Javier sat us inside along a banquette looking out to the lively bar and counter area and near the small oyster display bar.

Looking over the menu, I started with a glass of Rose’ wine. I was surprised when it arrived in a can. Since I’ve never tried Rose’ in a can, I was willing to give it a try. Pampelonne is a product from Germany. It’s actually a Rose’-lime slightly sparkling wine. The can describes it as a premium wine crafted with fine French wine and combined with six natural ingredients. It was a little too sweet for my liking, yet I sipped it with a plate of Kumai oysters from Mexico, Luna oysters from California, Fanny Bay from British Columbia and Misty Point from Virginia. The half shells were served with a champagne mignonette, housemade cocktail sauce, pickled shallots and freshly shredded horseradish sauce.

Next we tried Executive Chef Andrew Bice’s lobster tacos made with a super crunchy shell filled with large chunks of lobster. It’s served with a warm tomato and basil DSC_0226puree and chunky guacamole to enhance the dish.

My husband enjoyed the large crab cake with lump crab with a side of arugula and pink pickled onions. The creamy tarter sauce is one of the best in town.
Our server Reid recommended the mussels in a red curry sauce with a side of the coconut rice. It was fun pulling mussels from their shell, yet the sauce offered a kick and was slightly too spicy for me. Combining the curry with the coconut rice mellowed the heat. I also enjoyed a plate of fresh halibut bathing in a fennel and chunky mushroom broth.

If you don’t like seafood, they do offer a 14 oz. New York Strip Steak, an Angus beef burger, a half-pound Angus beef dog, and half a Mary’s chicken with herbs.
Side dishes include Yukon Gold Old Bay fries, garlic spinach, cole slaw and lobster mac-n-cheese or plain mac-n-cheese.

DSC_0231Save room for their extra-large slice of chocolate bread pudding and their toothsome Key Lime pie. Both will put a smile on your face.

Next time I visit Blue Plate Oysterette, I may go back for lunch to try their Fall lunch menu that includes a Ahi burger; fried oyster Bahn Mi sandwich with chips, salad or fries or a salmon quinoa salad with a sherry vinaigrette. Blue Plate Oysterette offers something pleasing for everyone and is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. $$ 8048 W 3rd St. (323)656-5474.

Published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on October 23, 2014

Crepes + Kitchen French Sweet Delights

DSC_0791The first thing I noticed when I entered Crepes + Kitchen on Wilshire Blvd. near La Brea Ave. was the friendly greeting from the owners Yafit Barades and Jacqueline Soletzky. These ladies are genuinely nice to every person who walks in their door. They are also passionate about dogs and have a jar of treats for their furry friends who walk up to the glass door. These ladies work with No Kill LA and are always happy to help a customer looking to adopt a dog.

Another passion for the two women is coffee. “Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee,” reads a sign on the wall. They sell great coffee by Longshot, an Australian roast based in Los Angeles. It’s a lighter roast than most American coffee chains and offers a subtle mocha flavor with a natural sweetness. Coffee comes in 8 oz. and 12 oz. sizes with a hot drip, espresso, Americano, traditional Macchiato and lattes. I started with a Chai Latte as I looked over the menu.

These charming ladies have been friends for years and share a common passion for food. They took over a crepe stand at the Brentwood Farmer’s Market five years ago. Soon they opened stands in three other farmer’s markets, including the Gene Autry’s parking lot and South Pasadena.

They made crepes to order, sold coffee and French bakery items. They also did an “old-school” trade with the farmers. If the farmers gave them fresh produce, they would prepare delicious crepes for them to eat.

Barades is an expert crepe maker, and I tasted her Italiano with turkey, melted mozzarella and cheddar, fresh spinach and basil, tomatoes, roasted peppers and pesto. The
DSC_0794thin crepe is served folded at the bottom and open face at the top revealing a colorful array of ingredients.

Barades grew up in Israel and has fond memories of going to a crepe shop located next to the town’s movie theatre. They sold sweet crepes made with Nutella and a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream with whipped cream. “It was an ideal treat after seeing a movie,” she said.

Soletzky is a master in salads and dressings. Her tuna salad is made without mayonnaise and instead mixes three different mustards with olive oil, lemon juice, artichoke, salt and pepper and lets it marinate overnight. I tried the tuna on a crispy French baguette and grilled in Panini machine brining all of the delightful flavors together.

All of the bread and pastries are from France Bakery on Fletcher near Silverlake. They deliver fresh almond and regular croissants, muffins, whole wheat and French baguettes along with a savory rosemary bread at 4 a.m. every weekday morning. “Whatever we have left at the end of the day, we give to our neighbors. We don’t like to waste food,” Barades said.

I sampled four of Soletzky and Barades salads and enjoyed each immensely. The organic Asian salad with chicken offers a dressing with a touch of peanut butter for sweetness. It also has paprika and cayenne to give it a hint of heat. The sesame oil soothes the flavors.
The couscous salad with housemade balsamic vinegar dressing offers a nice crunch of the cucumbers, orange bell peppers and ripe tomatoes. Kalamata olives give this salad a zing.

The Mediterranean salad is filled with chopped farmer’s market vegetables with Feta cheese. The Tahini dressing is made with soy sauce, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.

DSC_0800While eating, I admired the artwork hanging on the walls. I learned that the pieces were made by friends they met while working at the Gene Autry Farmers Market. One large piece in red and white has the words “Make Life Delish” with little white forks and knives in the background. Another says, “Cest La Vie.”

The cold display case offers patrons a peek of the salads made for the day. There are wraps available in sundried tomato, spinach or regular tortillas depending on the day.

While Barades was preparing two different sweet crepes to try, an attractive woman and her black French bulldog, Brasky, walked up to the glass door. Brasky looked in to see if his favorite human friends were inside. “There is our mascot,” Soletzky said. “Every French café needs a French bulldog.”

Barades made a simple cinnamon sugar and butter crepe with powder sugar that was a light and sweet treat. Barades also made a Nutella crepe with sliced strawberries and bananas topped with whipped cream. It was presented beautifully and tasted even better than it looked.

As I left, this darling duo gave me the same warm goodbye that they give their customers and a well wish to have a great day. Not only is the food worth coming for, but these gals make everyone who visits feel special and at home.

Open right now Monday through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Soon they may extend their hours and open for the weekends. Come in and meet some of the friendliest IMG_7278neighbors along the Miracle Mile, while enjoying their delicious French fare. $ 5223 Wilshire Blvd. (323)933-3403.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on April 3, 204

When Life Gives You Lemons, Brighten Your Day at Lemonade

DSC_0726You may have noticed a plethora of Lemonade signs throughout Los Angeles, not lemonade stands, but a modern, fast-casual, cafeteria-style restaurant. The co-founder, Alan Jackson is the grandson of the 50s and 60s actor Alan Ladd. His mother is Ladd’s daughter and his father is legendary Los Angeles talk show radio host, Michael Jackson.

Instead of following his family’s entertainment footsteps, Alan Jackson made a name for himself in the restaurant and hospitality industry in Los Angeles.

At the age of twenty, he started cooking at the prestigious Bel Air Hotel. Later, he opened the restaurants Jackson’s and The Farm in Beverly Hills.

Along with a successful catering company, he opened his first Lemonade restaurant in West Hollywood in 2007. Since then, Jackson, his wife Heidi and business partner Ian Olsen, have expanded their empire with 13 Lemonade restaurants and are working to open others in Southern California.

Raising three children and working full time, this entrepreneurial couple longed for a neighborhood café that they could take the kids for a quick, fresh and healthy meal.DSC_0725 They brainstormed and thought up the concept of Lemonade.

Of course, they sell eight different types of lemonade, from old-fashioned, to cucumber mint and blueberry mint to pair with their healthy dining fare.

Individuals and families grab a tray and peruse the rotating marketplace vegetables offering salads without lettuce. Alan doesn’t have a problem with lettuce, it just seems like filler. People rarely eat all of the lettuce, but they do dig into the robust flavors of chopped vegetables, pungent cheese and toasted nuts. The exception is Alan’s arugula, fig and blue cheese salad. The arugula gives the sharp blue cheese in this dish a nice peppery zip.

Most of the 16 to 20 marketplace items are healthy and vegetarian. Guests may choose up to six items for a light lunch, mid afternoon pick-me-up snack or fulfilling dinner.

The multicolored display entices children to try a new array of vegetables such as the zesty Brussels sprouts dressed in sherry vinaigrette and the cauliflower tossed with a mild curry.

DSC_0730For those who are looking for heartier fare, they offer protein dishes such as Ahi tuna with snap peas, smoked salmon, a variety of chicken dishes, skirt steak with balsamic Bermuda onions, and a Chinese-style braised duck with chard, pineapple, and cashews.

In the braised meat area, try the beef short ribs that have been cooked for hours, or the BBQ brisket. Both are tender and savory. Some days they serve a lamb tagine with figs, apricots and almonds and a roast turkey with dried cranberries and sage gravy.

Looking for a tasty sandwich? Lemonade has at least eight different types of sandwiches that include a Caesar club and a buttermilk-baked chicken with Vidalia onion and bacon cabbage on a pretzel roll.

Near the cashier is a tempting display case showcasing large classic chocolate chip cookies, and slices of various cakes, including a vibrant red velvet cake.

While enjoying lunch at the new Studio City location, my friend presented me with a copy of The Lemonade cookbook. Jackson co-wrote the appealing picture book with over 120 recipes, with producer and author JoAnn Cianciulli.

Many of the dishes I enjoyed at the restaurant are featured in the book. I especially like that they included most of the dressings featured in many of the marketplace vegetable salads.

Jackson has a kind heart and generously gives back to those in need by donating 5 percent of the proceeds from the sale of each cookbook to The Painted Turtle. It’s a DSC_0733non-profit organization dedicated to providing life-changing camp experiences for children with serious medical issues.

During National Lemonade Day last August, he donated all of the proceeds from the sales of his lemonade beverage from each café to this organization.

Next time you need your thirst and appetite quenched, visit a Lemonade modern café. 626 N. Larchmont Blvd. (323)464-0700, 9001 Beverly Blvd. (310)247-2500 and 505 S. Flower St. (213)488-0299. To find other locations, go to

This article is featured in the February 27 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News

Celebrity Chef Opens Old-School Seafood Shack

IMG_4563I was so excited about the menu, atmosphere and vibe at the new Connie and Ted’s restaurant, that I sent two tweets while there: “Chefs Sam Baxter & Michael Cimarusti  make a rockin’ lobster roll. It goes great w/a Hanger 24 lager.” The second tweet said, “Bravo to Chef Michael Cimarusti  for bringing the taste of Rhode Island to West Hollywood.”

Most foodies will agree with this statement – Cimarusti has the finest seafood restaurant, Providence, in Los Angeles. Now he also serves surperb New England fare in a more casual setting.

About three years ago, he started telling friends that he wanted to recreate an old-school seafood shack in Los Angeles. As a young boy, he used to fish with his grandfather Ted, while visiting his grandparents in Matunick, Rhode Island. They would fish all day and clean and filet the catch before going home to Grandma Connie to enjoy a fresh fish supper.

While securing space in West Hollywood, Cimarusti gathered a group of his Providence culinary team, including Chef Sam Baxter to replicate the lobster rolls, New England, Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders, and fried clams with or without bellies – all comfort food for Cimarusti.

Baxter and Cimarusti have worked with each other since their Water Grill days. Both take the freshest seafood andIMG_4555 enhance the dish with a light touch to bring out the simple flavors.

Partners in Connie and Ted’s include Craig Nickoloff, who with his father founded Claim Jumper, and Donato Poto, co-owner and General Manager of Providence.

Our culinary adventure began with a half-dozen oysters on the half shell. The platter of oysters had a fresh, ocean flavor with a smooth texture. We tried Kumamoto from Washington, Matunuck from Rhode Island, Little Island from Maine and Beau Soliel from New Brunswick. All paired nicely with a craft beer and glass of Rose.

There are a variety of bottled and draft craft beers that range from $6 to $13. They also serve 750 ML size beer bottles including Allagash, Curieux and Bourbon barrel aged ale ranging from $16 to $40.

Some excellent wines are served by the glass and bottle. Most are from California, Washington, Oregon and France.

For lunch, I scoured the menu for a simple grilled fish sandwich. Our server Molly informed me that the only fish sandwich was a batter-dipped cod with fries or slaw. Since I’m not a fan of fried fish, I asked Molly if the chef could grill a nice piece of swordfish for me. The servers are genuinely excited about the food and are warm, professional and polite. The chef accommodated my request with a tender and pristine piece of swordfish placed it between a housemade bun with shredded lettuce, crunchy pickles and tartar sauce. The side of slaw that accompanied my sandwich was not too saucy and had the IMG_4560right amount of vinegar.

My husband ordered the lobster roll. Molly asked if he wanted it hot or cold. Since the temperature outside was in the 90s, he opted for a cold roll. It arrived on the smaller side with crispy French fries. The house-made roll was filled with large pieces of fresh lobster dressed with mayonnaise and enhanced with parsley and multiple squeezes of lemon juice. It was very satisfying.

For two hours, we had a leisurely and nearly perfect meal. Tables near us were enjoying peeky toe crab cakes, a variety of salads, and soft shell clam steamers swimming in drawn butter and clam broth.

Some of the favorite sides include hot buttered rolls fresh out of the oven in a circular pan, wilted spinach with bacon, homemade dill pickles, and macaroni & cheese.

For those looking for “turf, not surf”, Chef Sam makes a hook burger with four-year aged cheddar cheese, pickles, onions, lettuce, thousand island dressing and an option of Nauske’s bacon. During dinner, they serve a bone-in rib eye and bone-in filet mignon.

If you are adventurous, order the spiny sea urchin to spread on buttered toast. They also serve oyster shooters for $5 with or without vodka.

We finished our lunch with a slice of pastry chef David Rodriguez’ flavorful peach pie with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Some restaurants have a learning curve before they succeed. Connie and Ted’s is run by pros with years of experience who have created a casual seafood restaurant with high standards, the first of its kind in West Hollywood. 8171 Santa Monica Blvd. (323)848-CRAB.

Currywurst – Authentic Casual German Cuisine

DSC_0748You never know who you will see while walking into Currywurst across from the CBS Studios. Sometimes talent from one of the CBS shows come over to this casual dining spot. Dustin Hoffman recently came in and ordered a smoked apple sage sausage. He liked it so much, he ordered another one. The staff is friendly, and the service is quick. One can get a meal for under $10 in less than 5 minutes.

I met with the founder of Currywurst, the personable Kai Loebach. Growing up in Wuppertal, Germany, Kai completed his culinary training in his country. “We have one day of class and 6 days of hands-on experience in Germany,” Kai said. His first job in the U.S. was at the Century Plaza Hotel when Kai was 22 years old. Later, he opened his own catering business. He has catered some of the most elite parties in L.A. for over 25 years. Two years ago, he opened the authentic Currywurst restaurant, offering authentic German food at a low-price point.

The most popular dish is Currywurst with French fries. Don’t be afraid of the word “curry”, it’s just the name of the most popular fast-food dish in Germany. It doesn’t taste like the curries you find in Thai and Indian restaurants. The curry powder is sprinkled onto the housemade ketchup and mixed with mustard to create a light gravy. If you don’t like curry, you can order a sausage without the curry powder.

Germans visiting Los Angeles light up with excitement when they drive by and see the words “Currywurst”. In their country, there is a Currywurst on every street.  “It’s a traditional dish in Germany,” Kai said. “What In-n-Out Burger is to Americans, Currywurst is in Germany.”

Many order a dish of currywurst after a night of drinking at the Hofbrauhaus. “It’s a sobering up dish,” he said. “In Germany, they don’t eat Currywurst with a bun. I introduced the bun, because the customers kept asking for one to soak up the sauce and tear off to put some sliced sausage inside.”DSC_0752

The bread is part French and sweet roll. It’s not brittle or flakey. It has an ideal roll.

The quality of the food at Currywurst Los Angeles is better than you get in Germany, Kai claims, and he’s a self-proclaimed  perfectionist. The place is extremely clean; Kai trains his staff to constantly clean inside and out. When I approached the restaurant one of the employees was washing the front windows.

Read the rest of my review courtesy of the Beverly Press, published in Jan. 31, 2013 –

Pitfire Pizza is Pleasing to All Senses

Pitfire Pizza 004Walking into the newest Pitfire Pizza on Fairfax Avenue, just one block north of Melrose, I sat down with a group of friends to try their new seasonal menu. Known for producing rustic, fire-singed pizza pies, they arrived at our table crispy, golden and topped with luscious ingredients. The dough is made with just three ingredients: flour, water and yeast.

first restaurant opened in North Hollywood in 1997. Lawrence “Larry” Rudolph is the General Manager of the five Pitfire Artisan Pizza restaurants.

“Our pizzas are part Neapolitan and New York-style,” he said. A Neapolitan pizza can be cooked in less than one minute, while a New York-style cooks in 20 minutes. Pitfire’s pizzas are finished between 5 to 7 minutes. The dough isn’t really wet, so it takes less time to cook into a golden crispy pie.

We tried four of the seasonal pizza pies. I enjoyed the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin pizza with Fontina cheese, toasted pepitas, and a sage roasted winter squash. It was sensational.

Next, a slice of the Brussels sprout and bacon pizza arrived. The aroma of the baked brussel leaves, cream, bacon, garlic cloves and fresh parmesan cheese made this pizza so savory with a crispy crust. Both are under $11. Pizza goes nicely with wine or beer. I enjoyed a glass of Pushback Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc from Napa. It had notes of honeysuckle, fresh melon and a wisp of banana.

They also offer craft beers for $6 or $18 a pitcher. Try a South Bay Strand Brewing Pale Ale with the pumpkin pizza. The Black Market Hefeweizen pairs nicely with the Pitfire Pizza 001tasty brussel sprout pizza.

The last pizza delivered was their “Tuscan” pizza. This is one of the original pizzas made 15 years ago. It’s a super simple, yet tangy pizza made with fresh local mozzarella cheese. It’s topped with roasted potato and sprinkled with rosemary, gorgonzola and a pesto drizzle on top.

We split the new roasted pear salad with Bosc pears, ricotta cheese, toasted pine nuts, mixed lettuce and a fig and olive vinaigrette. The sliced dates make this salad pop with sweet and slightly salty flavors.

Click on this link to finish the rest of my review, courtesy of the Beverly Press.

Published on 1/10/13 –

Canter’s Deli

I met three members of the Canter family last Thursday when they unveiled their new menu. Marc Canter and his sister Jacqueline greeted me near the Kibitz Room. Soon their cousin, Terri Bloomgarden, joined us.

Look again – it’s not your typical grilled cheese – it’s a grilled mac n’ cheese, loaded with sharp cheddar and bacon bits. Yum yum. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

They were eager for me to try a few of their new grilled deli-style paninis. The new menu also features new breakfast items and specialty cocktails. “People were asking for different items on a sandwich and less meat. We discovered that less meat, doesn’t mean less flavor,”  Terri said. They created about 14 different panini melt sandwiches to appeal to their customer’s requests.

“One can still get our thick corned beef or pastrami Canter’s sandwich, but now they have an option to order it panini-style,” Terri said.

The three of them grew nostalgic when Bloomgarden shared with me that at the age of three, while sitting in her grandmother’s lap (founder Jennie Canter), she passed out matchbooks to the customers with the Canter’s logo on it.

“We used to have a cigarette machine and everyone who bought cigarettes needed matches,” she said.

She also remembers when Hubert Humphrey ran for President and came into Canter’s for a meal. While working in the bakery, Bloomgarden tried to give Mr. Humphrey a free Danish. He looked at her and said, “No thanks, I pay for everything I get.”

Marc Canter, Jaqueline Canter, center, and Terri Bloomgarden show off some new items on the revamped Canter’s menu, most notably 14 new grilled panini sadwiches. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

Now Terri’s grandson, Milo, comes into Canter’s with his mother Deena to visit and eat some chopped liver, lox, or enjoy a bowl of hot matzo ball soup. The two year old is the fifth generation of Canter’s setting foot into this iconic restaurant.

Instead of passing out matches, Terri’s daughter stamped parking tickets for customers when she was a little girl. Later, she worked as a hostess, then in the bakery and as a waitress.

To read more of my article, Click onto this link’s-the-legendary-deli-changes-their-menu/