Toca Madera: a dazzling Mexican culinary experience

One of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in Los Angeles is Toca Madera in Beverly Grove. Designer David Krumins of Davis Ink incorporated a mix of distressed metal, with concrete tiles, quartz stone, hanging rope, plush upholstery and leather accents throughout the dimly lit lounge. In the center of the room is a dramatic mammoth crystal quartzite center bar. The bar staff carefully pour cerveza, wine and ignite dramatic fiery cocktails.

Plantain chips and guacamole, as well as tortilla chips with salsa

Guests passing through on their way to the outdoor dining patio will notice an intimate lounge area behind the bar, with an in-house DJ spinning lively music that seductively pulsates throughout the restaurant. Moorish lights illuminate sexy Dia de los Muertos art that hangs on the walls.

The evening my husband and I dined at Toca Madera, the back patio area was full, so we sat in front at one of the sidewalk tables looking out to Third Street. Toca Madera translates to “knock on wood,” and throughout the evening, we felt lucky to dine at the upscale Mexican-style restaurant. Our server Whitney recommended we try the new chef’s signature menu prepared by executive chef Pablo Ibarra and his team. Each dish made quite an impression when it was delivered to our table. Both the food and drinks are decorated with edible micro flowers, and the smoky ones dazzled our senses.

Besides tortilla chips and salsa, guests receive a pretty bowl of creamy guacamole sprinkled with lime-enhanced pepitas and bright red pomegranate seeds.

I enjoyed the guacamole with my cocktail, La Vida, which is made with Espolon Resposado, fresh carrot and lemon juice, fresh ginger and wildflower honey.

Space heaters kept us warm throughout the night, which started with ahi tuna that arrived on three thin white medallions of jicama. On top was pickled kohlrabi, samba aioli, daikon sprouts and fried garlic. My only wish was that the base was thicker to hold all the layers, so I could pop each one into my mouth, instead of using a fork.

The second starter, taco el padroni, was spectacular. It was served on a circular wood base under a smoking tall glass lid. Once lifted, the aromatic vapors rose and evaporated, revealing an exquisite small blue tortilla that was topped with grilled Japanese A5 Wagyu. Dots of bright orange escabeche puree, made with pickled carrots and onions, elevated this taco to a new level. On top there was a slightly sweet and creamy whipped creme fraiche, sprinkling of micro greens and shimmering and edible gold leaf shavings.

For entrées, we ordered the Branzino Zarandeado served Jalisco-style. Chef Pablo butterflies the whole fish and grills it until the skin is crispy. It’s gorgeously presented on a platter with more escabeche purée, grilled tomatillos and avocado salsa, charred cherry tomatoes, sliced radish, cilantro and a sprinkling of greens and tiny purple flowers that tasted like oysters.

Another entrée on the chef’s signature menu is a 40-ounce American Wagyu named the Toca Tomahawk. It’s rubbed with a chipotle charcoal and artisanal salts, and cooked with garlic and truffle butter.

New side dishes include truffle mac and cheese, truffle fries and street corn in a bowl. The corn is cooked in boiling water with spices, herbs and salt and cut off the cob. It’s then mixed with lime juice, a little queso fresco and chile powder. It was simple, light and delicious.

Save room for the visually impressive desserts, especially the three-layer tres leches cake served with mixed berries, a mint leaf and flower. We also enjoyed a small key lime tart made with a slightly sweet graham cracker crust, and meringue that was torched gently until caramelized. Pretty yellow flowers offer a pop of color on the plate.

Sitting outside under warm heaters to enjoy thoughtfully curated food and beverages will ignite an unmatched sensory experience for guests dining at Toca Madera. $$$ Open weeknights at 4 p.m. and weekends at 11 a.m. 8450 W. Third St., (323)852-9400.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on Nov. 12, 2020

Peninsula Beverly Hills Chef’s Garden Grows

In 2016 when I dined at Belvedere inside the Peninsula Beverly Hills, I met the creative Executive Chef David Codney, while enjoying many of his signature dishes. In my Beverly Press review, I described the evening as an approachable fine dining experience, offering a distinctive flavor profile that lures guests to return for more.

Now with the global pandemic, the hotel had to close it’s beautiful interior fine dining room, yet Chef David is still at the Peninsula, and has stayed busy cultivating his “secret garden” on the rooftop of the hotel for outdoor dining venues.  

The Peninsula implemented an initiative encouraging their chefs to have a garden, and during the Spring, Chef David rode the elevator up to the fifth floor, where the 60’ outdoor pool and bubbling spa tub overlook Beverly Hills and the Century City skyline. Below the pool deck are plots of soil and a street sign that reads Peninsula Place 9882. He nurtured his garden at the beginning of the pandemic and harvested an array of heirloom tomatoes and herbs to include in his innovative menus.

Once Chef David could offer outdoor dining, he reinvented three dining options for guests and locals. One is le Petit Belvedere, located on a terrace, off the formally decorated lobby of the hotel. It’s an outdoor dining California-style brassiere concept. The menu offers saffron risotto croquettes, moules frites, steak au poivre, and a showstopping Grand Marnier souffle.

Guests can imbibe with a selection of signature cocktails, beer, wine, and Laurent Perrier Champagne.

He also has created a seasonal menu at The Roof Garden, near his secret garden. My husband and I were eager to try his freshly picked garden to plate offerings.

Stepping into the Peninsula Beverly Hills, we were greeted by a uniformed staff member and lead to stand on a mark on the floor to have a digital temperature reading, before gaining clearance into the hotel to dine. 

Riding the elevator up to the Chef David’s The Roof Garden, we stepped out onto a beautiful al fresco setting with yellow and white striped umbrellas, a teak bar, tables set for two to four guests, and a socially distanced lounge area with chairs arranged around a flickering fire pit. As the sun set, the lights of Beverly Hills and Century City high rise buildings illuminated the sky.

Waiting for our table to be throughly sanitized, we walked out to the end of the pool area to take a peek at the secret garden. Looking down we noticed rows of vibrant and colorful tomatoes, herbs standing tall and stalks of fennel.

Once we were seated, the friendly and professional wait staff each wore a mask and were careful in spacing each time they approached us. 

We started with a bright orange Aperol Spritz while looking over the menu, and noticed Chef David puts an asterisk next to each dish that offers ingredients from his garden.

First, we enjoyed spreading bright white burrata and vibrant red and yellow heirloom tomatoes with sprigs of basil from his garden, onto a variety of bread from a bread basket. The creaminess of the burrata was nice on flat parmesan cracker bread, and olive rolls sliced in half, especially when topped a tomato slice and basil before taking a bite. It was a perfect starter with our cocktails.  

Other menu items showcasing Chef David’s tomatoes include his Cobb Salad and BBQ Mary’s Chicken Salad with crunchy dried Russian corn, black beans, an array of tomatoes, mixed greens, and his special barbecue thousand island dressing.  

I noticed there were a handful of asian influenced items that included a Mandarin chicken salad, and an udon bowl with fresh cilantro, miso dressing, white soy mushrooms, cashews for crunch and daikon radish for some heat. He also makes sesame tofu with broccoli rabe, chopped eggplant, and a piquant crispy chili garlic sauce.

My favorite was the cilantro shrimp pad Thai that had a tamarind glaze. There were five large grilled shrimp, and sliced scallions, crunchy green papaya, crisp bean sprouts, diced peanuts and egg on top. Wedges of lime can be squeezed on top to offer a refreshing touch of citrus with each bite. 

 Chef David posts his garden vegetables on his Instagram page and educates his followers. In one of his posts he took a photo of his beautiful tomatoes and added a fun fact comment that said, “tomatoes are botanically a fruit but culinarily a vegetable…. the Supreme Court had to rule this for tax reasons on imports. In 1883 the court declared it to be a vegetable, as it was generally served with dinner and not dessert. This ruling was only for the tariff and not reclassify for botanical purposes.” 

One of the reasons why his tomatoes grow so well is because he also composts a lot of the restaurant’s waste into the soil to provide nutrients and moisture and help stop weeds from growing.

The last entree we ordered was a grilled swordfish steak that was cooked perfectly with secret garden fennel and an arugula salad mixed with dandelion greens, and Belgian endive. They were lightly dressed with a preserved lemon dressing.

Other seafood offerings on the menu include branzino with oven roasted tomatoes, and wild local Seafood Co Santa Barbara salmon served with quinoa and a corn salsa with chili, almonds and sesame.

Chef David makes two burgers, a Roof Garden BBQ burger with thick cut slices of Nueskie bacon, smoked bbq onions and aged white cheddar; and an Impossible burger layered with two Smash burger patties and garden tomatoes.

Be sure to save room for dessert, the whole wheat butterscotch blondie enhanced with ribbons of dulce de leche, chocolate sauce and a scoop of horchata ice cream with oven roasted, cinnamon sugar covered nuts on top.

Before leaving we learned Chef David is planting for the winter and soon will be changing his menu items to include his seasonally, fresh vegetables and herbs when they are ready to harvest.

Back by popular demand, Chef David is now offering his elegant afternoon tea outdoors at Le Petit Belvedere. It’s just a short walk through The Living Room, where it used to be set up before the pandemic. Guests can enjoy free flowing Champagne by Laurent Perrier, along with one of a kind teas and a tower of sweet items that includes a lemon thyme eclair, tarragon Mandarin layer cake, scones and gluten free zucchini loaf. Some of the savory sandwiches include his traditional cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, a pastrami sandwich with horseradish cream, house made pickles, pickled mustard seeds and micro parsley, and Maine lobster and caviar roll on brioche bread with herbs from his garden. 

Enjoy a meal up on the fifth floor The Rooftop Garden daily from 7 a.m., to 9 p.m. Le Petite Belvedere is open for dinner on Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m., and champagne and tea is now being served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11a.m. and 1:30 p.m. On Sundays there is also a seating 4 p.m. 

Take-out options are available with pick-up at the valet for those who prefer to dine at home. 9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd., (310)551-2888 and (310)975-2736.

New Chef at Harlowe in West Hollywood

When Harlowe opened in 2014 as a vintage-inspired cocktail bar, it soon became one of the most sophisticated neighborhood hot spots in West Hollywood. The beautifully decorated interior captures the feel of an invigorating social club from Hollywood’s Golden Era.

The kitchen had been hibernating due to COVID-19, but it was reignited in July when lauded culinary star T. Nicholas Peter, formerly at the Little Door for 25 years, was invited to create a new Harlowe menu.

Dimitri Komarov from 1933 Group, which owns Harlowe, said after the Little Door closed, Peter was pursuing new opportunities.

“We have been huge fans of the Little Door and chef Peter’s food since the beginning and truly can’t think of a better chef who has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ we’ve been envisioning for Harlowe’s return as a serious player in West Hollywood’s dining scene,” Komarov said.

Peter said he also had his eye on what the 1933 Group has been building over the years.

“I’ve been received with open arms to collaborate with people that are genuine, and they’ve invited me to do what I do best,” Peter said. “My food is who I am, and I have been wanting to find a way to keep doing that.”

As with his menu at the Little Door, Peter transports people to another place in time at Harlowe.

They creatively designed an al fresco dining area on the newly refurbished semi-covered patio, plus added a new outdoor seating area that expands into an easement facing Santa Monica Boulevard. There is an eye-catching black and white mural painted on one wall, a vine-lined trellis and festive bistro lights hanging above to illuminate the area in the evening.

The Harlowe team wears masks, and all guests must be masked on arrival. Tables are more than 6 feet away and there are hand-sanitizing stations.

“We’ve seen a very successful uptick in patio reservations. Lots of couples on a much-needed date night, and we’re so glad to be welcoming back locals and regulars in the neighborhood who used to hang out with our team weekly,” Komarov said.

Peter creates an appealing full-service French-Mediterranean dinner menu with so many tempting dishes. They are also providing take-out. Guests can place an order online and pick it up at a table near the valet stand in front of the restaurant.

Harlowe creates an environment of a French countryside bistro. To start, share a Mediterranean plate of romesco, hummus and tzatziki dips with olives, ribbons of red onion, sliced cucumber and grilled chickpea flatbread.

A French-Moroccan marinated octopus salad with al dente green beans, sliced tender fingerling potatoes and whole-roasted sweet cherry tomatoes combines a perfect balance of salty and sweet with the essence of the sea flavors. For an entrée, try the garlic, oregano and lemon roasted chicken breast paired with crispy polenta diamonds and green beans.

Baked almond-crusted whitefish was perfectly cooked and covered with finely chopped almonds. It was tender, flaky and enhanced with a coarse mustard tarragon sauce and smashed fingerling potatoes.

Other entrées include the Harlowe burger with Kennebec home fries. The burger is topped with caramelized onions, roasted porcini mushrooms and melted brie cheese. Peter and his team also grill a marinated skirt steak and make a Moroccan lamb stew and fresh pappardelle pasta.

For the piece de la resistance, we shared a strawberry rhubarb lattice tart with creme anglaise for dessert. Beautiful micro-flowers on top made this dessert visually appealing. The menu also offers a gingered peaches coconut cheesecake.

Enjoy a drink from Harlowe’s robust selection of classic and original, old-meets-new cocktails, and stay for Peter’s exquisite Mediterranean fare. For those living close by, delivery service is new for Harlowe and it’s been going well with a few platforms up and running. Make a reservation for dining at Harlowe starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday or order online at harlowebar.com for a scheduled pickup or delivery. $$ 7321 Santa Monica Blvd., (323)876-5839.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press .

Wolfgang Puck’s SPAGO Beverly Hills Opens

When award winning celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck opened Spago Beverly Hills, it not only became a local favorite fine dining restaurant, but also for visitors and tourists.

When the restaurant closed due to city and state Covid-19 mandates in mid-March, Puck and his team creatively started a takeout and delivery service.

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Since the health of the staff and customers is the top most priority at Spago Beverly Hills, they trained the staff to follow strict health guidelines. Staff prepared for the day when their guests were allowed to return to dine-in.  Recently with city and staff gave approval Spago Beverly Hills opened its dining room and expanded outdoor patio with the following protocols implemented:

Guests must make a reservation for lunch or dinner before arrival. To make the Spago experience during this transitional time safe and healthy for all, the staff has daily wellness and temperature checks, plus weekly COVID testing.

When a diner arrives at Spago Beverly Hills, they will receive an aromatic spritz from Spago’s housemade Manhattan hand sanitizer upon arrival. They also will be handed a Spago ‘Stash Your Mask’ bag, so they have a clean place to store their mask when sipping a cocktail and enjoying a meal.

Next, they will be asked a few simple health questions and have a quick infrared temperature check reading before they sit at their reserved table. Coat and Bag Check has been temporarily suspended.

To promote a rigorous sparkling clean sanitation regime, staff are required to wear face masks, gloves and face shields. Spago Beverly Hills asks all guests to wear face before being seated at their table, and when they use the restroom or leave the restaurant.

Diners will find improved service steps that include paper sleeves to protect flatware and napkins, tableside wine pours, virtual menus viewed via smartphone, and contactless payment coming soon.

The restaurant offers additional handwashing and sanitation stations, and distancing floor markings to promote servers and guests to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet.

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Health guidelines require Spago Beverly Hills to temporarily discontinue outside wine, food, décor or other items to be brought into the restaurant.

The current hours for dine-in include lunch on Friday and Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. Dinner service is offered from 5:30 to 9 p.m., on Wednesday through Sunday. Take-out and delivery is also still available from Wednesday through Sunday.

This review was also featured in JustLuxe.

71Above – Where the term “elevated dining” really means something

71Above, located on the 71st floor of the US Bank Tower, offers panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles and beyond. The OUE Skyspace, a 45-foot slide cantilevering outside of the high-rise building, while separate from 71Above, provides a thrilling start to an evening out.

Executive chef Javier Lopez prepares an elevated seasonal menu and adds a personal flair to many of his dishes.

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The restaurant is built around a unique 360-degree compass next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, which change in opacity as the sun moves across the sky, with an individual compass at each table.

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Sitting at a table overlooking Malibu to Palos Verdes, the uninterrupted panorama of greater Los Angeles is breathtaking during the day and very romantic in the evening.

Guests can choose from three different dining experiences: a reservation deposit for a prime window table, an edge table right at the window or one of the two chef’s tables that offer a direct view into the kitchen.

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Both the lunch and dinner menus are prix-fixe, with a two-course lunch menu for $35. Guests can also select an optional wine pairing for an additional $24 during lunch.

Our friendly server went over the menu and shared the staff favorite: a creamy and rich black squid ink pasta layered with shredded crab and slightly spicy Calabrian chili peppers.

First course items on the menu include a parsnip soup with pickled apple mostarda made from mustard seeds, shaved walnuts and pretty nasturtium flowers. Other selections include a burrata with sliced persimmon, and fried Brussels sprouts glazed with a Mandarin green apple curry sauce. We chose a yellow tail hamachi, a market salad and a roasted beet salad as our starters.

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The market salad was a colorful bowl displaying green and purple endive and Bibb lettuce. Thinly sliced Asian pears, parmesan cheese, chopped almonds and a light olive oil dressing delivered an earthy profile.

Artistically arranged with two rows of Japanese yellow tail, half of the hamachi was wrapped with thinly sliced cucumber and topped with sliced grapes, while the other half was topped with red beet medallions and sprigs of micro-greens.

Roasted beets were placed on a bed of ancient farro with a sprinkling of buckwheat grains on the top. This dish was dressed lightly and the texture of the grains balanced the smoothness of the beets.

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For the second course, we selected the New Zealand salmon filet. Cooked in a miso brown butter with coconut, the filet was served with three types of squash including a maple glazed squash and a puree.

Two large pan-seared diver scallops were served on a bed of farro risotto. Crunchy julienne leeks and a creamy leek foam dazzled the top of this dish. The third entrée was the staff’s favorite squid ink pasta.

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We finished with a bowl of coconut custard hidden under a bright green basil gelée. Dollops of Key lime curd, a scoop of strawberry sorbet, freshly cut strawberries and crunchy, flavorful sesame brittle decorated the top. The complexity and textures of this dessert offered an array of bright and clean flavors.

The second dessert was a round, crisp ginger snap tuile wafer on top of dark chocolate cremeux, smoked banana ice cream and a salted peanut crumble. Both desserts were pleasing in presentation and flavor.

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Pastry chef Vanesa Beltran oversees the program and will introduce a wide range of new artistic desserts including vegan and gluten-free sweets for the lunch and dinner menus.

Spur-of-the-moment guests can come in for dinner and sit in the bar or lounge without a deposit reservation. On a first-come, first-served basis, diners can order from the a la carte Bar Bites menu prepared by the same fine dining kitchen.

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Items on the menu include oysters, a potato and two-cheese fritter with truffles, a falafel with za’atar and pickled onion, and dates wrapped in bacon and blue cheese. Shareable plates include roasted beets, charcuterie with selected cured meats and marinated olives, and a chef’s selection cheese plate. Heartier fare includes steak tartare, octopus and Nduja Bolognese pasta.

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The bar makes cocktails inspired by neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including the Hollywood, which offers a spicy grapefruit essence made from jalapeño Grey Goose vodka and grapefruit cordial. The West Hollywood is made with apple-enhanced Hangar 1 Vodka, apple brandy, and apple and cinnamon cordial. Beers include a Lagunitas Czech Pilsner, Saint Archer white ale, North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial, and Almanac Sunshine and Opportunity sour beers.

71Above will be offering a special four-course Valentine’s Day dinner menu on Feb. 14 for $150 per person. Lead sommelier Catherine Morel will introduce some of her favorite wines with a supplemental $75 wine pairing.

Reservations for lunch during the week are recommended, but not required for the main dining room starting at 11:30 a.m. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner starting at 5 p.m. Reservations can be made on the restaurant’s website, and payment in full gives you a “ticket” with the number of guests and time of the reservation. Pricing varies and depends on the menu. $$$ 633 W. 5th St., (213)712-2683.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press on Jan. 23, 2020

Waterfront Dining in Marina del Rey

Executive Chef Job Carder prepares California coastal cuisine with a fusion of French flair that is visually as pretty as the silhouette of sailboats in Marina del Rey.

I met this chef years ago at a private holiday party, when he was the executive chef at The Proper in La Cañada. His grandfather co-founded Norm’s Restaurant in Los Angeles.

Later working under the direction of Joachim Splichal at Patina, Carder developed an artistic flair for presenting colorful salads, savory beef and fresh seafood dishes.

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Now at Cafe del Rey, he runs the kitchen smoothly and is preparing exciting fare starting with the warm cheese and rosemary crusted bread. It’s served with a garlic and olive tapenade.

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A selection of beverage options includes a Cucumber Del Rey cocktail made with Hendrick’s Gin, lime, white cranberry juice and a sliced cucumber float.

Cafe del Rey serves Tavistock Reserve Collection sparkling, white and red wines, including wine from the Platinum Collection. Other vineyards include Duck Hunter, Epiphany, Cline Estate, the Pessimist and Justin.

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I chose a Santa Barbara Epiphany grenache blanc to pair with a colorful Caprese salad. Creamy burrata is placed in between bright red, yellow and orange thick medallions of organic heirloom tomatoes. The plate had a few roasted pistachio nuts placed on top of pools of pesto, with fresh lavender-colored garlic flowers and micro-basil on top. It’s visually stunning.

Another winning salad is the soft baby beet confit, sliced and served with heirloom charred carrots. A sprinkle of feta cheese, a few mâche leaves and a drizzle of a fig balsamic and sherry vinaigrette balance the earthy flavors.

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The talented chefs prepared the most artful dish – hamachi tuna crudo. It arrived looking like a holiday wreath with a base of leek puree, topped with tuna wrapped to look like flowers. Pickled cauliflower, tiny shimeji mushrooms, bright red radish, pea and popcorn shoots are arranged in a perfect circle. To dazzle this dish even more, Japanese flying fish roe (tobiko), borage blossoms, a yuzu vinaigrette and smoked shoyu finish out the presentation and flavors.

The branzino filet is deboned and butterflied before arriving to the table. On top of the light fish is a stack of sautéed haricots verts, chopped earthy toasted almonds and a semisweet amaretto-butter sauce. This esteemed chef takes small red currants, pickles them and adds a few of the tiny deep red berries to heighten the bright acidity to the branzino filet.

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Another popular dish is a crispy Lake Superior whitefish served with a small lobster claw and white and green asparagus. Mushrooms, fava beans and brightly colored Chioggia beet puree offer a pretty pop of color.

Diners receive an elegant Laguiole steak knife made by the internationally renowned Jean Dubost when ordering the Australian wagyu, filet mignon or New York strip steak. Cutting into a sizable piece of wagyu, the tender and flavorful marbled steak offered a buttery flavor and caramel-crusted bottom with every bite.

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The short ribs entrée is prepared and served two ways. The plate arrives with braised short rib and an agnolotti filled with short rib. It’s served with pretty watermelon radish, crispy sugar snap peas and parsnip puree.

Cafe del Rey’s French pastry chef Salima Eddadsi makes a decadent royal chocolat filled with rich and dark chocolate mousse. It’s layered with a hazelnut dacquoise and thin, crispy feuilletine praline. The cocoa glaze on top makes this an exquisite dessert worth every calorie.

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Come enjoy a multitude of lunch, brunch and dinner dishes that are visually as stunning as the waterfront views at Cafe del Rey. $$-$$$ 4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey. (310)823-6395.

This review was also featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Enjoy Japanese delicacies at NOBU Malibu at a QUI Tequila dinner

When Nobuyuki Matsuhisa moved from Japan to Peru in the 1970s, he opened his first restaurant offering a menu filled with a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian ingredients. With its success, he later arrived in Los Angeles and opened Matsuhisa. Actor Robert De Niro was a huge a fan of the chef and restaurant, and convinced Matsuhisa to open a similar restaurant in New York City.

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Within the last two decades, De Niro and Matsuhisa have remained friends and business partners. Through the years, they opened Nobu Restaurants, named after shortening the chef’s first name. Another fan of Nobu is billionaire and founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison. Owning multiple homes in Malibu, Ellison joined Matsuhisa and De Niro’s Nobu Hospitality Group to help build the luxury restaurant and boutique hotel in his backyard.

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The aesthetically pleasing Nobu Malibu opened right on Carbon Beach, with an elegant Japanese minimalist design and a casual Malibu chic vibe. Located next door to the restaurant is the serene 16-room beachfront Nobu Ryokan. Guests who stay at the hotel get preferred reservations at the restaurant.

Besides Peruvian-influenced Japanese food with a Cali spin, Nobu is also known for its creative cocktails. With over 30 Nobu restaurants nationwide, the bartenders have a playful Grand Cordon cocktail competition each year. They enter their best drink recipe, all of which use one spirit as the base. This year, they used QUI Platinum Extra Añejo Tequila, and the winning mixologist, Lanee Kelley, from Nobu Newport Beach, won with her “Mayonaka Sour.” It’s listed on all of the Nobu cocktail menus for guests to experience during October and November.IMG_6430-2

 

 

To celebrate her win, the founders of QUI Tequila recently hosted a multi-course dinner at Nobu Malibu. Guests were invited to meet the founders on the wood deck, which is located off the oceanfront private dining room. Looking south to the shoreline lights, called “queen’s necklace,” we were each offered an old-fashioned glass with an extra-large ice cube and pour of QUI tequila. Taking a sip, I noticed 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.

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With our drink in hand, we were led into the wood-paneled dining room to take a seat at a large square-shaped table. Plates of edamame beans with crisp garlic chips and yellowtail sashimi with a thinly sliced jalapeno sphere on top and sprig of cilantro were arranged as a pinwheel on a plate. The coolness of the cilantro and spiciness of the jalapeno provided an outstanding balance of flavors.

Another QUI co-founder, Medhat Ibrahim, joined us and shared how this tequila is made in small batches in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. Ibrahim, Girgis and the third co-founder, Mike Keriakos, named their spirit from the heart of the word te-QUI-la. “We take the blue agave plants and discard the heads and tails, only using the juice of the heart,” Girgis said.

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He shared how this agave is distilled, filtered and redistilled to create the world’s first platinum extra añejo tequila. “It’s aged for three and a half years in hand-selected American whiskey and French Bordeaux barrels, giving QUI the rare and highly coveted ‘extra-anejo’ designation,” Girgis said.

When the Nobu food and beverage team were introduced to QUI, they agreed to stock and serve it at Nobu restaurants nationwide.

The mixologists at Nobu Malibu made and sent over a tray of the winning “Mayonaka Sour” for us to taste. Served in a Marie Antoinette glass, QUI is enhanced with a little creme de casis, lemon juice, organic egg whites and a black sesame orgeat sprinkled on top. This pretty pink drink offered a pleasing flavor profile that was slightly sweet and a tad sour. It paired nicely with one of Chef Nobu’s most famous dishes – his signature black cod. He was the first Japanese chef to prepare black cod with a miso-sweetened caramelized glaze. It’s often attempted at other Japanese restaurants, but it rarely tastes as good.

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The mixologists at the Malibu location made a “Taste of Jalisco” with QUI for the cocktail competition. This runner up is served on their “secret menu.” Ask for it, because it pairs nicely with platters of freshly made sushi and sashimi. It also is nice with a tender rib-eye steak topped with thin crispy onion strips, chives and heavenly truffle sauce.

Nobu restaurants are also known for their rock shrimp tempura bathed in a spicy cream sauce. The lightly battered shrimp has slightly creamy coating that offers the perfect amount of seasoning. It’s very addictive and I doubt you will be able to eat only one. The tempura shrimp is also available in a buttery lemon sauce.

Before leaving, we learned that QUI has been awarded the gold medal in the Spirits of the Americas competition, and will soon be served at all Nobu restaurants worldwide.

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Take a trip to the beach and sip QUI Tequila as a new beverage option with Chef Matsuhisa Nobu’s Japanese delicacies with a Peruvian and California flair. $$$ Open Monday through Friday for lunch at noon, and 11 a.m. on weekends. Dinner service is served Sunday through Thursday until 10 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, dinner is served until 11 p.m. 22706 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu (310)317-9140.

This review was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

 

 

 

Ocean Prime celebrates it’s success in Beverly Hills

Celebrating 5 years of elevated dishes, festive cocktails and genuine hospitality, Ocean Prime located in the heart of Beverly Hills has served 331,400+ guests, 15,000 slices of the fan-favorite Carrot Cake, 35,700+ plates of Sea Bass and 25,600+ of their most popular Berries & Bubbles cocktails since their debut in 2014 at this location.

Photos courtesy of Ocean Prime

In true Ocean Prime fashion, on Saturday, October 26th the restaurant will be hosting a special celebration with complimentary bubbles upon arrival for every guest on the red carpet entrance.

Additionally, Ocean Prime is rolling out a handful of new seafood dishes to celebrate, including the Miso Black Cod, with bok choy, hearts of palm and ginger sweet potato puree, the Ocean Roll, made with #1 tuna, salmon, Hamachi, avocado and chili garlic oil, and of course, a hearty 24 oz. Bone-In Ribeye.

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For dessert be sure to order a decadent and pretty slice of their signature coconut cake with pink icing in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Ocean Prime will donate $1 from each slice to The LA Pink Dragons for the duration of October.

The Los Angeles Pink Dragons are California’s first breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing team. The team is dedicated to improving the quality of life for breast cancer survivors through dragon boat racing. This organization provides hope, empowerment and inspiration through friendship, support, and camaraderie.

This review was featured in JustLuxe.

Inside the 2019 Emmy’s Governors Ball

This weekend the Television Academy is hosting the 71st Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. After the televised award show, the stars and guests will walk on a long red carpet to one of Hollywood’s largest dinner party.

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Cheryl Cecchetto and Sequoia Productions have created a gorgeous “Brilliance in Motion” theme for the Governors Ball inside the L.A. Live Event space. The multi-layered design dazzles in reds, corals, magentas and eggplant colors. On tables and throughout the event, Kevin Lee and his floral team from L.A. Premier enhance the dining and lounge areas with thousands of blooms in four different colors and fragrant aromas. Illuminated filaments create a shimmering cascade of color throughout.

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New this year, the home furniture and accessories retailer Living Spaces generously provided all of the sofas, settees and tables. Partnering with the Television Academy, the furniture will be donated to the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to furnish interiors of homes for those in need.

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L’Oreal Paris is offering celebrity touch-up lip color, powder and sparkle backstage at the Emmy Awards and inside the Governors Ball for photo-ready finishes.

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The night’s winners are treated to a glass of Sterling Vineyards wine while waiting for their personalized Emmy statuettes in the Emmy’s Winner’s Circle. Throughout the night Sterling Vineyards will pour 2017 Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon throughout the evening. They also are bringing bottles of their 2015 Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon and 2015 Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon for guests to taste.

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Governors Ball guests will also toast the evening with flutes of Ferrari Trento Blanc de Blancs Ferrari Brut and Ferrari Brut Rose’. Ferrari Trento was crowned Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2019 at The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships and the Producer of the Year 2019.

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Other beverages include bottles of FIJI Water on the red carpet and inside the Governors Ball, and Ketel One family-made vodka. For another year, award-winning bartender Charles Joly crafted an Emmy Awards Season cocktail collection including an exotic fruit and spice The Drapper Dragon, a pineapple juice, cold brew with banana chai foam called The Moonlighter and a twist on a classic Moscow Mule.

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Patina Catering will once again prepare elevated dishes for over 8,000 guests over three nights. The first catered party is The Creative Arts Governors Ball on September 14 & 15. During the televised Television Academy Emmy Awards on September 22, Patina Catering will prepare culinary delights for 3,700 Emmy nominees, VIPS and their guests.

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After the Emmy telecast, Governors Ball guests will enjoy a variety of elegant, free flowing tray passed hors d’oeuvres and small plates created by renowed chef Joachim Splical and his team including chefs Alec Lestr and Gregg Wiele. Instead of sit-down service, there will be a variety of epic stations that include a Chefs carving station with menu items from Joachim Spichal’s Nick & Stefs restaurant. Patina’s lavish tasting menu is designed to please all including vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diets.

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Don Francisco’s Coffee is providing 100% Arabica coffee to enjoy with Patina Catering Executive Pastry Chef Frania Mendivil desserts. There will be a display of mini verrines, chocolate cup tarts, homemade gooey chocolate chip cookies and warm double chocolate S’more brownies.

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Premium Swiss chocolatier Lindt will display Chocolate Pot de Creme and melting Lindt LINDOR truffles for guests to enjoy throughout the evening. LINDOR milk, white and fudge swirl will be given to guests for a sweet ending to a memorable culinary award winning evening.

The 71st Emmy Awards will air LIVE coast-to-coast from the Microsoft Theater at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 22 (8 to 11 p.m.ET/ 5 to 8 p.m. PT) on FOX.

Glamorous CLEO in Hollywood

Chef Martin Heierling, raised in New Zealand, offers a new seafood-centric Mediterranean menu at the newly reopened CLEO in Hollywood. He works with fishmonger Patty Glennon and a variety of California family farms to present the freshest seafood and organic produce for his mezze specialties, which include a new plant-based section and raw bar.

Founder and CEO of SBE Entertainment Group  Sam Nazarian and his team performed a major redesign with Dakota Development to seat 120 guests among rich velvet and jewel-tone colors, lush tapestries and Mediterranean fixtures. Mixed metals and marble create a vibrant, sexy and glamorous space. The restaurant opened in June, and a stunning Cleopatra portrait greets guests upon arrival.

Walking into the open dining room is a display of freshly caught seafood, including red seabream, Maine lobster, red snapper, branzino and snapper on ice.

The Brussels sprouts and the spicy brik pastry cigars filled with spiced beef and labaneh feta remain on the menu. New items include a selection of shared plates, starting with house-cured olives and bowls of vegetables pickled in dill, coriander, fennel and mint, and a trio of dips delivered with house-baked Jou Jou bread. It’s similar to pita bread and easy to tear open to spread baba ganoush, hummus and labaneh dips.

CLEO’S beverage program includes hand-crafted cocktails served in whimsical glasses, including a grapefruit bubbly named “Shell-shocked” that was served in a glass shell with a glass straw. The “Puffin Stuff” was served in a tall-stemmed glass shaped like a puffer fish. CLEO also offers a highly curated wine selection.

Delicious salads on the menu include a colorful Greek salad mixed with kalamata olives, crumbled feta, banana peppers, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers and capers with a handful of torn lettuce leaves.

The salt-roasted beets were a little too salty for me. It arrived with a ricotta salata, mint, dill, squeeze of lemon, crunchy pistachio and a tahini sauce. We also had a quinoa and tuna salad drizzled with a white soy and lime vinaigrette.

Heierling is very proud of his cured salmon – a trio of bite-sized natural, beet and truffle-cured slices.

A fried cauliflower from the plant-based section is enhanced with green chili, blue cheese, tahini and garlic chips. The charred asparagus was cut into bite-size pieces and dazzled with a Greek herb salsa, and the large marble potatoes were soft, creamy and sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt.

Grilled kebabs of the prime beef and a mixed grill assortment of lamb shawarma, crispy chicken and butcher’s köfte were well seasoned and tasty.

New seafood dishes include a whole branzino sprinkled with herbs. A squid ink and saffron paella is topped with fruits of the sea – clams, mussels, shrimp and chicken.

One of the most spectacular dishes was the signature Turkish Guvec. Flambéed tableside, a semi-hard cheese melts into shrimp, tomato, basil, spices, grape molasses and a squeeze of lemon. It’s served with crusty bread for dipping or spreading on top.

We finished with two wonderful desserts – an Israeli tapioca pudding with passion fruit on top and a Sorrento Meyer lemon curd and sour cream cheesecake. When it was delivered, our server poured a generous amount of limoncello on top of the cheesecake for another dramatic show at the table.

$$ Dinner begins nightly at 5 p.m. 1717 Vine St., (323)962-1711.

This Review was Featured in the Beverly Press.

Weekend Fun at Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach

One on the highlights of staying overnight during Labor Day weekend at Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach, was dining under towering trees on the al fresco deck at Oak Grill.

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Every Sunday through October, 2019 locals and hotel guests are enjoying an elevated multi-course barbecue dinner by the talented Executive Chef Brittany Valles. She oversees seasonal menus at both Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge inside the hotel. As a strong proponent of using locally produced ingredients, this talented chef utilizes the whole plant or animal for creating bold and bright flavorful dishes.

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Earning her Associate of Arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles, Pasadena, she served as chef de cuisine for seven years with one of LA’s hottest chefs – Michael Voltaggio at ink.well (now-closed). Her skills gained a prestigious nomination for Star Chefs’ Rising Star Chef in 2017 and she was the named “Sandwich Queen” in an episode on munchies on Chef’s Night Out.

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On Sunday’s the bar makes a Hometown Punch for $10. It’s a blend of Old Forester signature 100 proof, housemade oleo-saccharum syrup, water, and fresh lemon juice. They also make a “Smoked James Dean” that has become an Instagram favorite. It arrives in a glass case, and once the door opens, your senses are awakened with pleasing aromas  surrounding your table.

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Three of us dined on a Sunday night, so two of us ordered the special Slow Smoked Sundaze BBQ special, while our daughter ordered the Tuna Poke served with Taro Chips.

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On the menu each guest receives a flavorful cheddar cheese biscuit with a side of  fresno chili jelly and garlic herb butter, as well as a few house-made seasonal pickles. A bread basket also arrived with three different types of elevated bread: pretzel, olive and country rolls.

Next our friendly server Mike brought to our table a smoked salmon deviled egg, near a clear bowl holding a watermelon salad sprinkled with feta cheese, sorrel, basil and a squeeze of lemon. Both were delicious. Also on the plate was a pleasing fried green tomato topped with burrata, chopped country ham, and a herb chipotle aioli.IMG_3918

For our entrees we had a choice of two proteins that are served with Texas & Carolina style bbq sauce. My husband ordered the smoked chicken, cedar plank atlantic salmon, while I ordered the tender and flavorful bbq brisket and salmon.

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Our plate with two proteins arrived with a choice of three sides that included roasted corn & barley salad, carrot slaw with poppy seeds and dried cranberries, heirloom potato salad dressed in a champagne-mustard vinaigrette with red onion, fennel, and celery.

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This dinner special culminates with a choice of grilled peach melba on top of almond cake, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and side of raspberry coulis to pour on top, and an apple pie à la mode made with cinnamon spiced apples, and served with a scoop of caramel ice cream on top. We ordered one of each and thought the peach melba dessert was a quintessential Summer treat.

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This multi-course summer bbq dinner at Oak Grill is $45 per adult and $17 per child 5 – 12.

Walking back to our room, we stepped out on our balcony just before 10 p.m., and watched fireworks illuminate the sky from Disneyland in the distance.

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Staying in the spacious corner room number 1408, there is a large living area with a queen size sleeper sofa, and double doors leading into a premium king-sized bed and oversized marble bathroom with a full size bathtub, separate shower and plush, oversized bath towels and white bathrobes.

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This room offers two step-out balconies, one with two chairs and a table overlooking the Newport Beach Country Club golf course.

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Guests staying at the stylish Orange County resort can renew, repair and rejuvenate during their vacation by upgrading to the Island Club up on the 20th floor. Enter with your key card into a comfortable lounge offering various flat screen televisions, dining tables, iMac computer work area, a variety of nerwspapers, and a wall of windows looking out to the Fashion Island Shopping and Entertainment Center, Balboa Island and Pacific Ocean beyond. Step-out onto one of the balconies, for the best coastal view in all of Orange County.

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Benefits include a full enhanced Continental-style breakfast with hot and cold items. Later in the afternoon snacks and beverages are offered before “Wine Down” hour at sunset offering five different wines, beers, sodas, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and desserts.

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Other Island Club benefits include complimentary premium Wi-Fi, complimentary bicycles to ride around for two hours, a special pillow menu and 20% off spa retail. The Spa has multiple treatment rooms, a sauna and steam room. Guests receive a plate of frozen grapes and flute of champagne before or after a massage or facial. Spa specialists offer a new state-of-the-art technology, HydraFacial 30, 60 or 90-minute treatment. This non-invasive, non-surgical resurfacing treatment thoroughly cleanse skin, while boosting collagen and elastin, and reducing the signs of aging.
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The large tropical pool and 20 person hot whirlpool are located in lush gardens with fireplace seating, lounge chairs, food and beverage service, and weekend music. Near the pool areas is a ping-pong table, and an all day fitness center offering 28 machines, free weights, and flat screen televisions.
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Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach transports guests to a tropical paradise that reminds one of a luxury Hawaiian hotel, yet it’s only 60 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. Click on Fashion Island Hotel to learn about the hotel’s specials.

Mercado LA wins Michelin Bib Gourmand award

Innovative margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine with a contemporary flair earned Mercado Los Angeles a prestigious Michelin “Bib Gourmand” designation earlier this year. Michelin inspectors recognized the quality of the food and menu affordability. To qualify, a restaurant needs to be a step above the rest, while offering two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for less than $40.

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Located in the Beverly Grove area, I recently made a reservation to see why this restaurant stood out among thousands of Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles and why it appealed to the Michelin inspectors.

Mexican art is an integral part of all the restaurants. The large Mariachi Calavera painted skulls and ghostly figures by muralist Carlos Nieto III are part of Mercado’s design. The owners support local artists and proudly display their creative pieces. A colorful skull piece and symbolic American-Mexican flag made with serape blankets and embroidered stars on vintage nylon canvas by artist Andrew Atkinson hang above Mercado’s fireplace. In the Pasadena Mercado, the dining room has a striking skull art piece made from thousands of bullet shells by artist David Palmer hanging on a wall near the kitchen. 

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Co-owner Jesse Gomez is a local success story; he grew up in Los Angeles and helped his grandparents at their restaurant El Arco Iris in Highland Park in the 1960s. With his hands-on experience, he spent several years managing and operating restaurants in L.A. for Hillstone Restaurant Group and Innovative Dining Group.

Later he opened Yxta Cocina Mexicana in downtown Los Angeles, offering an inventive menu, artisan cocktails and creative art collection. With its success, Gomez co-created the Mercado brand with long-time friend and revered chef, Jose Acevedo.

Acevedo began his career in the kitchens of Wolfgang Puck and Hillstone Restaurant Group. Together, they joined forces at Yxta Cocina Mexicana and started the Cocinas y Calaveras LLC, now with seven restaurants, including Maradentro, Yxta, Mercado Taqueria and three other Mercado locations in Hollywood, and Pasadena. Soon a fifth location in Manhattan Beach will open in September 2019.

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Mercado’s bar pours over 70 premium silver, Reposado and Añejo tequilas and mezcals. The Mercado margarita is made with La Tarea silver tequila, triple sec and their own fresh sour mix. The Mercado sangria is made with wine, Altos Reposado tequila and fresh fruit.

We ordered a spicy cucumber margarita, hibiscus margarita and a Modelo beer while looking over the menu and sampling slightly smokey guacamole and chips. Hass avocados, chopped cilantro and red onions are mixed with crunchy pepitas, which provide a slight kick of heat.

Acevedo complements many of his dishes with a Yxta salsa brava to give them a tomato, garlic and red pepper touch of Spanish flavors and tangy heat.

The elote is cut off the cob and served in a bowl mixed with caramelized onions, Cotija cheese and a soft butter mixed with chile pequín to bring on the heat.

I ordered the vegetarian chile relleno upgraded with a red campana sauce. It’s served on a bed of Mexican rice with a large green chile filled with flavorful grilled vegetables mixed with melted Oaxaca cheese.

My husband chose the slow cooked carnitas garnished with salsa brava. The plate arrived with cauliflower al pastor and two large pieces of tender caramelized pork on top. A dollop of guacamole and chopped cilantro accompanied the dish with freshly made to order purplish-blue non-GMO corn tortillas.

Sweet jicama shrimp tacos were served with guacamole and salsa brava. Another popular item is Dos Gringas spit-roasted pastor with onions, cilantro and Oaxaca cheese, served with avocado salsa and flour tortillas. Savory nachos are topped with black beans, carnitas, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and a flambé’ of hot choriqueso – melted cheese and spicy chorizo.

A refreshing and lighter dish is the tostaditas de ceviche served on crispy tortillas topped with citrus-marinated white fish and shrimp, mixed with chopped mango, corn, cherry tomatoes, serrano and fresno chilies, avocado and chile de árbol aioli.

Enchiladas are filled with free-range chicken, Oaxacan mole, queso fresco, crema fresca, red onions, sesame seeds and served with Mexican rice.

They also offer tamales filled with the chef’s daily choice of filling, along with queso fresco, crema fresca and cilantro.

We finished with one of Mercado’s smooth flan accompanied by Rompope. Since I enjoyed Mercado Los Angeles so much, I also visited the Pasadena location. The menu features many of the same delicious dishes.

Come taste why Mercado Los Angeles is worthy of its Michelin “Bib Gourmand” award.Mercado Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Pasadena are open for happy hour and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Check lunch and brunch hours at each location. $$

LA, SM and HW open for dinner M-F at 5pm, Sat and Sun at 4pm. Pasadena opens for dinner at 4pm M-Sun.
7910 W. Third St., (323)944-0947; 1416 Fourth St., (310) 526-7121, 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., (323)512-2500; and 140 S. Lake Ave. #101, (626)345-5778.
This review is featured in the Beverly Press on August, 15, 2019.