Cocktail of the Month: ABERFELDY Herbed Honey Smash

To raise awareness about the plight of honey bees, August 15 is the official National Honey Bee Day. It’s a day to raise awareness of the importance to protect bees as a critical species on earth. Beekeepers, beekeeping clubs and associations, and honey bee enthusiasts from across the United States celebrate and recognize honey bees contribution to human lives.

For the month of September it’s National Honey Month, and ABERFELDY Single Malt Scotch Whisky, known around the world as the “Golden” Dram” sent me bottle of their 12 years in oak Scotch Whiskey and a recipe to make a Herbed Honey Smash cocktail. This refreshing end of the day drink provided a sweet moment, while staying #saferathome.

Herbed Honey Smash Cocktail Recipe

Ingredients: 

2 oz Aberfeldy 12 Single Malt Scotch 

1.5 oz Lemon juice (or about half a lemon squeezed)

1 oz honey syrup 

*Honey Syrup: 100g of honey and 64g water, stir and leave to chill. Note: syrup will only last 3 days

4-6 leaves of soft herb (basil, mint, tarragon, etc.) 

Method: Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with ice. Shake vigorously and strain using a fine mesh strainer into a small rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with your fresh herb of choice and enjoy! 

Use any soft herb (basil, mint, thyme, tarragon, dill, marjoram or even cilantro) you’d like for different flavor combinations. For more herb flavor, steep your fresh herbs in your local raw honey before making syrup. 

I learned that ABERFELDY Single Malt Scotch Whisky has collaborated with the national, non-profit Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) organization in launching a Gardening Giveback Project, Together they are dedicated to working with beekeepers across the country to improve honey bee colony health and increase colony survivorship.

ABERFELDY has also committed a $10,000 donation to BIP to help support local beekeepers in their research, education and communication efforts to improve honey bee health and sustainability.

Right now, they are offering a limited-edition cocktail crate ($45) via ReserveBar, which includes everything you need to re-create the Herbed Honey Smash cocktail at home:

  • 1 bottle of ABERFELDY 12
  • 3 different flavors of honey
  • Seeds to plant and grow your own herbs / garnishes at home
  • Honey bear cocktail jars
  • Exclusive access to a virtual whisky and honey tasting on 9/17 with Holly Seidewand, BACARDI North American Malts Ambassador, and Miami beekeeper Nick Bofill (The Native Guy).

Through the Gardening Giveback Project, ABERFELDY and BIP are empowering beekeepers and bartenders across eight cities in the United States – Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Miami, Florida; Los Angeles, California; New York, New York; San Francisco, California to plant and maintain community garden-style bee sanctuaries by growing flowers, herbs and vegetables in dual purpose: to foster a healthy environment for bees while also cultivating ingredients that can be used in cocktails.

“As the single most important pollinator to agriculture, honey bees are a vital component in ensuring we have access to high quality, nutritious fruits, vegetables, and nuts,” Says Geoff Williams, President of Bee Informed Partnership. “We definitely appreciate ABERFELDY supporting our mission and are really excited to help bring the Gardening Giveback Project to life.”

10 Summer Beverages to Enjoy at Home

It’s summertime and due to COVID-19 many will continue to stay more at home than go out during the summer. I received a variety of beverages to try and review in time for Father’s Day and the beginning of summer.

Here are 10 of my favorites for sipping in the backyard, taking on a social distance picnic, or enjoying during a weekend brunch.

1. Cutwater Spirits transports you into a vacation state of mind while sipping their new Tiki Rum Mai Tai in a can. It’s a tropical paradise of flavors with a blend of Cutwater Barrel-aged Rum and Bali Hai Tiki Gold Rum. These two rums are mixed with pineapple, citrus and coconut flavors to provide a refreshing cocktail that can be poured over ice or sip from a chilled can. Tiki Rum Mai Tai won a 2020 GOLD Denver International Spirits. (It’s tastes like Hawaii in a can. This is a 12.5% ABV Mai Tai, so sometimes I dilute it with a sparkling water).

IMG_9212-22.Dads who love Bloody Marys on the weekend can make their own exotic concoction with Cutwater Sprits Fugu Vodka Spicy Bloody Mary It’s a Bloody Mary with a fiery bite. Just pour a can filled with Cutwater Spirits signature Vodka and our award-winning Bloody Mary mix. The flavor profile includes fresh ripe tomatoes, exotic spices and a generous sprinkle of pepper. Pour the 12 oz can in a jar glass, and add garnishes such as a celery stalk, skewers of cherry tomatoes, olives and gherkin pickles. For an extra special Bloody add a crispy slice of Applewood Smoked Bacon to absorb the zesty cocktail. (This Bloody Mary packs a punch in spiciness. I add ice to the glass and let it melt a little to soften the zesty kick with every sip).IMG_83813. Since Father’s Day is on Sunday, June 21, serve the World’s Greatest Father and family members 21+ Ohza Mimosas in a can. One 12-pack is equivalent to four champagne bottles of bubbly and a full juice carton. These mimosas are as good or better than making your own. Inside a 12 oz can is premium sparkling wine and real fruit juice, yet  80% less sugar and 60% less calories. (I love these mimosas and bellinis. They are sparkling, fun to drink and perfect to serve during Sunday Brunch).IMG_8159-24. Give dad a Crystal Head Vodka skull for Father’s Day. It’s distilled quadruple times and filtered seven times, with the final three filtrations through Herkimer diamond crystals makes this vodka easy drinking. It’s slightly sweet, silky smooth, and offers a hint of vanilla. Plus the eye-catching bottle is designed by world-renowned American portrait artist and landscape painter John Alexander. His work is featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Corcoran Museum and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. (Fun Fact: Actor and SNL Comedian Dan Aykroyd makes this vodka. He makes a beautiful rainbow colored bottle during PRIDE month).IMG_72565. For the tequila loving Dad, QUI Tequila offers a slight essence of hazelnut, vanilla and butterscotch characteristics. It’s a smooth and sophisticated tequila, not the type to down quickly with salt and a lime,” said Pete Girgis, president and co-founder of QUI. This spirit is named from the heart of the word te-QUI-la. They take the blue agave plants and discard the heads and tails, only using the juice of the heart. (This tequila is smooth and similar to a fine Scotch to sip slowly).34707FF1-D205-4C14-9CF1-E938335736DF6. The quintessential summer wine to sip during the day and weekend brunch is Domaine Houchart Cotes De Provence Rose served chilled. It’s an ideal summer wine to drink offering beautiful salmon color highlights, with hints of red berry and strawberry flavors. Notes of pear and peach, with a touch of goji berry and grapefruit give this wine an extra flair. Winning the TOP 100 BEST BUYS award in 2018 & 2019, Domain Houchart is a family owned 200-acre estate with 10 grape varieties located in Provence at the foot of Mount St. Victoire. The estate produces 55% rose’, 40% red and 5% white wines. (If you like Rose’ wine, you will love this one chilled and served with brunch fare or a charcuterie plate).IMG_74377. Canned cocktails crafted with Rogue Spirits are available for Father’s Day and this summer for home delivery or you can purchase it on shelves at Whole Foods. Rogue Spirits begins with two spirits – Rogue Bayfront Vodka and Rogue Spirits Gin. The vodka is the base for the Cranberry Elderflower Vodka Soda, Grapefruit Vodka Soda and Ginger Lime Vodka Mule. Rogue Spirits Gin is the base for the Cucumber Lime Gin Fizz. Go to buy.rogue.com for dad and family to enjoy. (These are refreshing, fruity and fun to drink).IMG_73248. Hard Ciders are the rage, especially an icy cold one during the summer. Austin Eastciders hard cider and spiked seltzers is lower in sugar and calories. It’s made with real cider apples that are sourced from Europe. These are rich in tannins and offer more complex flavors. With an alcohol by volume at 5%, these ciders contain about two-thirds less sugar than others. Plus they are gluten-free and certified kosher. (Popping open a can of Texas Honey Cider, I noticed a floral aroma and bubbly crispness. Taking a sip, the flavors include a hint of apple, and touch of Texas honey, cane sugar and brown sugar to produce a creamy caramel finish). 214917C9-BB93-435F-98E1-B09BD4E0FB589. GoKo Energy Drinks are excellent non-alcohol drinks and make a great cocktail mixer. They add natural flavor, a boost of energy and a sparkling kick to any mixed drink. GoKo Energy Sparkling Coconut Water Ginger & Lime makes a great Moscow Mule. Measure out three ounces of your favorite vodka (or any clear spirit will do) into a copper mug; add ice; then stir in GoKo Energy Sparkling Coconut Water Ginger & Lime. Squeeze a lime wedge and use as garnish to finish. (My friend Jeff makes these caffeinated beverages. Some are a little to sweet for my palate to drink alone, but as a mixer, these are dynamite).Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 8.21.34 AM
10. Pali Wine is a Lompoc-based winery, along the iconic Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. This ultra-high-quality wines sells bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Rose’ and Syrah at a fair prices. It employs environmentally friendly wine grape growing, and non-invasive winemaking practices. (Pali has tasting rooms that are a lot of fun to visit, especially in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone).

Weekends are extra fun sipping Ohza Mimosas

When four friends went out for the day to sail around Cape Cod, they brought a box filled with sparkling Brut, fresh squeezed juice cartons and cups to make their favorite brunch cocktail – mimosas. At the end of the day during clean up, they had to throw away bottles, cups and cartons. The environmentally friendly group realized that was a lot of waste and decided to reinvent how people drink mimosas. They discussed how there must be an easier way to enjoy fruit flavored bubbly mimosas without all the hassle and waste of plastic and bottles afterwards.

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After a lot of taste testing, these friends created Ohza Mimosas in a recyclable can. They discovered a premium quality Brut Sparkling Wine from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York to bring out a subtle fruity flavor.

Ohza offers a big party of fun with small footprint afterwards. One 12-pack is equivalent to four champagne bottles of bubbly and a full juice carton. Ohza has up to 80% less sugar and 60% fewer calories than one batch of mimosas served at a restaurant or bar. Each can is 140 calories of easy sipping with 5% ALC/VOL. I

When you purchase a classic mimosa 12-pack, $3 from every order is donated to the United Way Relief Fund.

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Besides classic mimosa, they recently introduced classic bellini and mango mimosa. Each one is ideal to sip not only during brunch, but can be enjoyed during a picnic in your yard or at a park, while cruising in a boat, by your pool, tailgate this Fall and hopefully soon at outdoor music venues.

Order Ohza Mimosas online to be shipped to every state except KY, MI, MS and UT. Shipping is free on orders of $50 or more.

This review was featured in JustLuxe.

11 Hot Spot’s For Cocktails on Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Celebrate Love with A Cocktail or Two!

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(Photos by Jerica Coert, Moretti Photo, & acuna-hansen)

Los Angeles has some of the most creative bartenders and mixologists in California. Here are 10 new cocktails that will be offered on Valentine’s Day at various hot spots in Los Angeles. If you don’t live in Southern California, here are the ingredients the mixologists shared with me to inspire you to make the same cocktail at home.Casita Del Campo- Pomegranate Margarita Blended

  1. Pomegranate Margarita at Casita Del CampoForget a bouquet of roses for your sweetheart. Instead, celebrate Valentine’s Day with a delicious spin on a classic margarita. It’s prepared blended or on the rocks with a pour of tequila, fresh squeezed lime juice, a splash of triple sec, pomegranate juice, and fresh pomegranate garnish. Open Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m; 1920 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles, (323)662-4255 www.CasitaDelCampo.com .
  2. Shot At Love at CHAYA Downtown  There won’t be any broken hearts for those who enjoy this libation created by Marco Currasco at CHAYA Downtown. Prepared with love with a pour of Deep Eddy Vodka, Yuzu Sake, muddled strawberries, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and garnished with a Campari heart and lime twist. After sipping this, enjoy the special Valentine’s Day menu offered from 5 to 10 p.m. 525 South Flower Street, Los Angeles, (213)236-9577 www.TheChaya.com.CHAYA Venice - Love Potion Cocktail (1)
  3. Love Potion by Erica Venning at Chaya VeniceThis beautiful cocktail will give your the courage to declare your love for that special someone. Tantalize the taste buds with vodka, lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and pomegranate elixir. Chaya Venice is also offering a Bottomless Rosé Brute all night for just $15 per person. Open 5:30 to 10 p.m. 110 Nacy Street, Venice, (310.396.1179) www.TheChaya.com.
  4. Just Footloose at Springwill inspire you to give your loved one a twirl. Mixologist Freddy De La Paz creates an elegant libation made with Tarea Silver Tequila, Grand Marnier, blood orange, agave nectar, and lemon. Open from 5 to 10 pm. 257 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, (213)372-5189www.SpringLosAngeles.com.Spring- Drink, Pray, Love
  5. Drink, Pray, Love at SpringFreddy De La Paz is preparing a special cocktail on Valentine’s Day at Spring’s romantic Springside lounge. Prepared with Hangar One Rosé Vodka, Dolin Blanc, Luxardo Maraschino, and rose water, this cocktail embodies romance with every sip. After ordering your drink look over special four- course menu. Open from 5 to 10 pm. 257 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, (213)372-5189. www.SpringLosAngeles.com.
  6. Actually Love Actually – Freddy De La Paz also makes a lip licking cocktail to toast with your loved one in the Atrium of Spring. It’s a blend of Burnett’s London Dry Gin, strawberry, basil, and lime. This cocktail is to be enjoyed until every last drop. Open from 5 to 10 pm. 257 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, (213)372-5189. www.SpringLosAngeles.com.Sunset & Vinyl - Off Sunset 1 (2)
  7. Sunset & Vinyl’s Off Sunset – Mixologist Devon Espinoza creates a pretty drink that will elevate your mood. Sit at the bar or lounge to sip a Tequila Blanco, grapefruit, house grenadine, and jalapeño cocktail. This drink will have you dancing while listening to the classic record player spin records all night long. Open for Valentine’s Day from 6 to 2 a.m.; 1521 Vine Street, Los Angeles, (424)646-3375. www.SunsetandVinyl.com.
  8. The FLATS in Beverly Hills – Sit in the hanging basket chair in the bar and order one of Mixologist Shaun Summers’ beautiful Angel Face cocktails. It’s made with cranberry infused apple brandy and gin blend, apricot liquor, Nocino, and garnished with a housemade fruit roll-up. This drink will make you swirl before enjoying Chef Paul Shoemaker’s creative dinner. 8400 Wilshire Blvd. (310)909-7549. www.TheFLATSRestaurant.comThe FLATS - Angel Face Cocktail (1)
  9.  The Raymond 1886 offers Cupid’s Arrow – Mixologist Peter Lloyd Jones will get you in the mood for love this Valentine’s Day while sipping a pretty drink made with hibiscus, cava, and lemon. It’s bright, bubbly and will liven your spirits as if you were just struck by Cupid. 1886 is open Midnight on Valentine’s Day. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626)441-3136. www.TheRaymond.comThey Raymond 1886 - The Sazerac Cocktail (2)
  10. The Sazarac Lover – The Raymond 1886 – Peter Lloyd Jones creates a soulful cocktail that will warm your heart. It’s made with Ritten House Rye, Peychaud Bitters, Absinthe Rise, sugar cube, and a lemon peel. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626)441-3136. www.TheRaymond.com.Twohey's Tavern - Rose Bowl Cocktail (1)
  11. Sip a Rose Bowl created by Patrick Tang at Twohey’s Tavern This blush colored cocktail has a rosebud garnish to brighten your spirits. Prepared with Pisco, gin, rosé syrup, egg whites, and strawberry, this effervescent cocktail is easy to enjoy during your romantic evening with that special someone. Open for Valentine’s Day for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m., with the Bar open until 11 p.m. 2835 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, (626)449-2337 www.Twohey’sTavern.com.

CUT Lounge in Beverly Hills is a cut above

The new CUT Lounge is a recently-opened Wolfgang Puck chic bar and refined lounge located in the former Sidebar space.

CUT Lounge at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills is the chic bar where Sidebar used to be located. The cuisine is “Wolfgang Puck” at its finest with innovative cocktails to match.

img_8203Since we had theatre tickets to see “Merrily We Roll Along” at the Wallis Annenberg Theatre, we needed a quicker dining option than the leisurely, fine dining experience at CUT by Wolfgang Puck.

Beautiful glass and metal doors open to the dark and cozy lounge, where we were led to a table for two in the middle of the room by Tracey Spillane, regional director of operations for L.A.

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Slinking into low, mid-century modern chairs around a contemporary table, Spillane shared with us that Wolfgang and his wife Gelila Assefa Puck worked with Waldo Fernandez to reimagine Sidebar and decorate the room in sophisticated hues of gray, brown and beige.

Terence Leavey, the new beverage director, has some interesting drinks on his cocktail menu, like the Pins and Needles cocktail made with Hendricks Gin, a rosemary sprig, sliced Japanese cucumber and lemon. It was refreshing to sip while looking over the menu. They carry a collection of rare whiskies from Scotland, USA, Canada, Taiwain and Japan. A vintage Negroni cart will soon be a featured attraction.

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To my delight corporate executive chef and partner Lee Hefter and chef Ari Rosenson promoted Hilary Henderson to chef de cuisine. She has worked for the Wolfgang Puck family for quite some time, and most recently, alongside Rosenson as sous chef of CUT Beverly Hills.

We started with the pâté, an ethereal spread served with dark brown bread. The pâté was crusted with honey mustard seeds and decorated with colorful micro flowers.

Another favorite dish was truffle grilled cheese rectangles made with grilled Gruyere and mozzarella cheese topped with decadent black truffle shavings. We also enjoyed the cleverly wrapped empanadas copetin made with Tuscan black kale and Gruyere cheese.

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I found the Alaskan King crab and Santa Barbara uni toast with avocado a fresh and clean tasting dish, with a pleasing cocktail sauce. For those who like oysters Rockefeller, the CUT lounge version is Fanny Bay oysters served tempura style in shells with cucumber relish, coconut and cardamom.

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Spillane has a professional team working in the lounge. Throughout our culinary experience, Dylan Resnik from Northern California dressed in a formal business suit, checked on us and delivered a small plate of grilled Maine Diver scallops dazzled with Meyer lemon, sage and celery root. The handsome Italian Corrado Alfano brought us cavatappi mac and cheese made with fusilli pasta and aged Canadian cheddar from Quebec.

Spaniard Esteban Paulin served us the most tender, dry aged American wagyu sirloin steak skewers placed on a pool of red harrisa aioli. The meat at CUT is grilled over hardwood and charcoal, before finished under a 1200- degree broiler.

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Even though we were in a hurry to get the theatre, I wanted to try two desserts by pastry chef Angela Tong, since she has worked under the direction of Spago Beverly Hills award winning executive pastry chef Della Gossett. Tong’s desserts didn’t disappoint, especially her espresso semifreddo that had a hard chocolate shell covering chicory coffee ice cream enhanced with dark chocolate crumble. The inside was mousse-like and heavenly in flavors. We also ordered her apple cider funnel cake made with beautifully roasted heirloom apples and a dash of maple and chopped pecans. The food, wine and cocktails are definitely a CUT above most Los Angeles lounges and many restaurants.

img_8207CUT Lounge is not participating in dineL.A. Restaurant Week, however CUT by Wolfgang Puck offers a special $95 multi-course Exclusive series menu. It features an heirloom apple salad; sautéed Maine Diver scallops with roasted Italian chestnuts and French black truffles, plus a steak duo of red wine braised short ribs and a dry aged New York steak with a green peppercorn Armagnac emulsion. For dessert, guests will enjoy the espresso and chicory semifreddo that I enjoyed so much. A sommelier will pair the courses for an additional $50 per person.

CUT Lounge is open 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Monday through Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. $$$ 9500 Wilshire Blvd. (310)276-8500.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on January 12, 2017 – http://beverlypress.com/2017/01/cut-lounge-in-beverly-hills-is-a-cut-above/

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.

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.

Creative Mexican Street Food and Cocktails at Cocina Condesa

It didn’t bother me that I was drinking out of a paper bag while dining at the new Cocina Condesa in Studio City. ButDSC_0478 rather than hiding a 40 oz. Modelo, the bag actually carried the crazy fun, barrio-inspired Boyz In The Hood cocktail, one of the most popular beverages at this new street food taqueria.

The cocktail is a refreshing twist on the classic gin and tonic created by executive mixologist and expert of agave spirits, Gilbert Marquez. His inspiration for this unique libation and whimsical presentation came from growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Orange County and witnessing locals drinking malt liquor in a paper bag while walking down the street.

Marquez creates a fun, fruity cocktail served in a plastic bag with a straw, reminiscent of the delicious bags of sliced fruit peddled by street vendors. The bag carrying the banana Platanito cocktail includes bananas, lemon, cinnamon, simple syrup and fizz and arrives in a small pine wood crate as a holder.

As a brand ambassador for Illegal Mezcal, Marquez has traveled throughout Mexico and Latin America studying the agave plant and the art of mixology. He melds his expertise with his own personal style, creating unique garnishes and containers for his Latin cocktails.

His margarita Condesa is made with Damiana, a liqueur made from a shrub in Baja California. He told me it’s named after the Central American goddess of love. Since the bottle is shaped as the fertility goddess, it is usually gifted to a bride and groom at their wedding. To make this margarita, the bartenders mix Damiana with tequila, lime, simple syrup and salt. Then they rim the glass with sugar, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper. The refreshing drink and tangy rim perfectly complement Chef M. Elena Vega’s street food.

We sat at a table inside the brightly colored restaurant that features refurbished wood on the walls and intricate concrete and wood accented flooring. The outdoor patio in the front is a prime spot to sit during sunset and in the warm summer evenings.

Wooden bowls arrived at our table with crunchy tortilla chips and a smoky brick colored salsa. Chef Vega’s DSC_0479guacamole is made with avocado, Mexican spiced dried mangos, cotija cheese, lime and toasted crickets. Yes, crickets. They are small, crunchy and complement the smooth creaminess of the dip.

Each dish we ordered arrived in a beautiful wooden serving plate. Vega’s beloved grandfather was a carpenter and she fondly remembers the feel and smell of his wood creations. She wanted to incorporate this sensation with her cuisine, inspired by years of cooking with her grandmother in the Mexican seaside town of Tuxpan in Nayarit. Because she and her staff put so much talent and time into the food, she is proud to show off her work in such beautiful crafted pieces.

Vega’s grandparents owned a popular, family-owned restaurant in Mexico called Restaurant el Costeno, from which she draws much of her inspiration. One of her specialties is corn. She makes a unique corn risotto served with slow roasted chicken, and has won numerous awards for this dish. Vega uses the entire ear of corn, cuts the tips of the corn kernel, scrapes the pulp, and adds onion, wine and other ingredients as you would add to make a risotto, except for the rice. Then she chops the stem and seasons the delicious simmering corn with salt and pepper. It’s spectacularly tasty and different from any corn dish that I have tasted.

There are at least nine street tacos to choose from on a daily basis at Cocina Condesa. On Taco Tuesday, patrons may order any two tacos for $5. Choose from a variety of tacos that include Al Pastor (succulent pork); Carne Asada (skirt steak); vegetarian cactus or Carnitas made from braised pork shoulder. While the tacos are served in traditional street style in corn tortillas, Vega and her team will serve them Paleo-style in Boston lettuce leaves when requested.

DSC_0481Be sure to order her street corn brushed with lemon aioli, cotija cheese, chili and lime — an amped-up, flavorful rendition of classic street corn on a stick.

Other restaurant specialties include chocolate mole chicken enchiladas, corn masa crepes, sopas, tortas and empanadas.

The menu features a variety of salads, including a healthy, grilled, chili glazed salmon with mesclun spring greens, orange sections, red onion, cucumber, avocado, jicama, and pine nuts dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and served in a large wooden bowl.

The servers at the newly opened restaurant are very personable and eager to please. It’s a fun, casual dining spot to go to before or after the Hollywood Bowl or to meet friends for cocktails served in a brown or plastic bag with a side of roasted crickets to perk up your guacamole.

Open at 11 a.m. for lunch and Happy Hour is from 3 to 6:30 p.m. daily. Dinner service begins at 4 p.m. $$ 11616 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (818) 579-4264.

This article was published in the July 16, 2015 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

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