Pleasing Peruvian plates at Los Balcones Hollywood

New chef Michelangelo Aliaga at Los Balcones in Hollywood incorporates proteins with Peruvian staple ingredients – corn, potatoes, peppers, quinoa, rice and beans to create authentic and hearty South American fare.

Raised in Peru by Italian parents who immigrated to South America, I learned that Chef Michelangelo’s grandfather inspired him to become a chef. After training and working in Spain and Italy, he came to California and worked in a variety of kitchens including Cecconi’s in West Hollywood and Primo Italia in the South Bay.

What makes this restaurant unique, is that it’s attached to one of the most iconic jazz clubs in Hollywood – The Parker Room LA. This small and lively lounge is a great place to meet friends, enjoy a cocktail and some bar menu items before a night in Hollywood or seeing a moving at the nearby Cinerama Dome and ArcLight complex.

It gets its name from the 1940s iconic bebop pioneer, saxophonist, and composer, Charlie Parker. He played here when it was one of the first jazz clubs in the country to have black and white musicians playing together on the same stage.

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Sitting inside the main dining room, I noticed almost everyone was drinking the Peruvian national cocktail, a Pisco Sour. At Los Balcones they serve it in a short Old Fashioned glass. It’s made with La Caravedo by Porton pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and a pour of angostura bitter in a pretty design on the frothy egg whites. They also make a Maracuya Sour made with the same ingredients plus passion fruit juice. Pisco is a colorless brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Peru by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. While ordering one of each, our server delivered a bowl of crispy plantain chips with a pleasing garlic verde dip to enjoy with our drinks.

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Looking around the dark room, the tables are close together and the walls are lined with bold yellow and red Inca symbols painted on top of reclaimed wood panels. It offers a fun atmosphere and was packed with people the night I dined.

We started with a mixto bowl of ceviche that had cubes of sashimi grade marinated striped bass, shrimp, octopus and squid with sliced purple onions, choclo (Peruvian corn) and chopped bright and flavorful Peruvian rococo pepper.

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Peru is known for their popular anticuchos grilled street food. On the Los Balcones menu, you can order a tasting plate by choosing three different proteins. For those more adventurous, order the most popular is beef heart. We chose the smokey deep red Peruvian panca pepper marinated chicken; balsamic glazed portobello mushrooms, and tender grilled sea bass belly with sliced green onion and sesame.

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For entrees the Arroz con pollo arrives on a plate with cilantro rice that has peas, carrots and corn alongside salsa criollo (onion relish). Yellow streaks of huancaina, a Peruvian staple made from boiled yellow potatoes, provides a creamy and slightly spicy sauce to enhance the crispy baked chicken leg and thigh.

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Next a plate of Seco de Carne had a thick and tender piece of slow cooked short rib in a cilantro beer broth. It was on top of Peruvian lima beans with sliced purple onions, and peppers.

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Desserts are the weakest items on the menu. We found the picarones (Peruvian sweet potato beignets) too greasy. The aftertaste of the tropical passion fruit syrup poured on top stayed with me for hours. I did like the flavor of the Lucuma (imported from Peru) ice cream. Lucuma looks like an avocado, yet has yellow flesh that is similar to a sweet potato. It’s flavor offers the essence of maple syrup, yet it’s not as creamy as regular ice cream and almost has the consistency of cooked egg yolk.

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Chef Michelangelo came out of the kitchen to deliver to us a new menu item he created, a lamb shank on a bed of polenta with crispy green beans and cilantro. He told us that he is so excited to be at Los Balcones and hopes to recreate many of the dishes that he loved to eat while living in Peru. Within in the few weeks, this talented chef will add additional dishes on the dinner and brunch menu. As the weather warms up, the restaurant offers al fresco dining on the front patio.

A new Los Balcones just opened in Studio City at the former Girasol location with a different chef, menu, and atmosphere.

The hours at the Hollywood location are Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. The restaurant stays open until midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Sunday. Brunch is available on the weekends starting at 10 a.m. $$ 1358 Vine St. (323)871-9600.

This review was also featured in the Beverly Press on March 21, 2019 – Los Balcones.

Robata Fun at INKO NITO

Following the success of Inko Nito’s first location in downtown’s Arts District, the Zuma group-owned eatery has opened its second location in Los Angeles in the former Bianconi space on Third Street.

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What makes eating at this modern robatayaki restaurant particularly fun is the open robata grill kitchen in the middle of the eatery. Diners have front row seats as seven chefs artfully maneuver around each other and the Japanese grill, tossing and roasting proteins and vegetables over hot charcoals.

For the best view of the chefs at work, sit at the large horseshoe-style bar that wraps around the kitchen. Inko Nito’s modern industrial décor, which mixes concrete, natural wood and exposed beams, offers a pleasant and understated backdrop that lets the food take center stage. For those wanting more fresh air, Inko Nito also features an inviting covered front patio, ideal for al fresco dining.

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During our visit, my husband and I started with edamame. Ginger soy and sea salt enhanced these glistening green bean pods and gave the dish a nice kick of flavor. For drinks, the menu, inspired by Japanese bar culture, offers cocktails, Japanese beers, five sakes, seven different California wines and five different nonalcoholic beverages.

I ordered the Inko spritz, made with watermelon, Aperol, yuzu and a splash of sparkling wine, and my husband tried the Japanese-style margarita, made with sakura tequila, agave, a squeeze of lime and pink grapefruit. Both paired nicely with the sushi and nigiri fusion dishes of the “nigaki” section of the menu. We tried the Cali roll, which arrived on a pinewood serving tray with a generous scoop of Dungeness crab on five pieces of dark green seaweed. Wasabi tobiko and a citrusy yuzu mayo topped off this dish and brought more gourmet flavors than a traditional California roll.

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Eyeing the grill as the spicy beef, yellowtail collar with brown butter and ponzu sauce, and the thick-cut salmon filet cooked alongside each other, my husband and I finally decided on the salmon. It was deliciously glazed with a grapefruit miso and sansho salt, which offered hints of basil and spearmint flavors.

The entertainment continued at the grill as another chef painted a corn on the cob with smoked chili butter and shichimi – a spice mixture that combines red chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, pepper and nori. This dish was a fan favorite.

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Our next dish, the tender beef cheeks, arrived on a thick wood board with two crisp butter lettuce leaves and a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds. Spicy Korean miso sauce to glaze the beef came on the side. For more toppings, try the pickled, flower-shaped daikon with sesame seeds. The tangy flavors paired perfectly with the juicy beef.

Other highlights of the evening included the prawn skewers glistening with garlic and lemon sansho, which added a peppery citrus essence tingling with heat, and the fire-roasted cauliflower bathed in garlic-soy aioli, Parmesan and panko crumbs.

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We also enjoyed the grilled Brussels sprouts topped with sesame furikake, a dry seasoning made of nori and sesame seeds, and served with a spicy wasabi mayo for dipping.

For those who like kimchi rice, Inko Nito has quite an entertaining presentation for the dish, which arrives in a large silver container. Servers do the “kimchi dance,” shaking the container at the table to perfectly mix the hot rice, Korean miso, spring onions, sesame and cracked egg. The dish was spicy, savory and plentiful – enough to feed up to four people.

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To wrap up our meal, we tried the charred coconut soft serve ice cream, topped with a drizzle of sweet soy and crunchy Japanese granola on top. Bright green Pocky sticks decorated this cool and light dessert.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed all the servers and chefs working together like a big family. They seem to have each others back, which I believe is instrumental in making dining at Inko Nito so interactive, lively and enjoyable.

$$ Inko Nito is open from on Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday the restaurant stays open until 11:30 p.m. 8338 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (310)439-3076. The downtown location is at 225 S. Garey St., (310)999-0476.

This review was also featured in the Sept. 20, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press – Beverly Press

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.

Become a Master of Taste on April 3, 2016

Photo Courtesy of Master of Taste
(Photo Courtesy of Master of Taste)

I’ve been on the field of the historic Rose Bowl for a fundraising event and it is really cool. Especially if you are a UCLA Bruin and have sat in the stadium multiple times to watch a home football game. You get that certain thrill standing on the field imagining what the football players are feeling during the annual Rose Bowl game or a championship soccer game, or concert by an award winning musical group. It’s a bucket list experience

This Sunday, April 3 from 3 to 7 p.m., you too can feel the magic standing outdoor on the field with up to 2,000 influential food and beverage enthusiasts. Some of L.A.’s most notable chefs, sweet masters, juicers, brew masters, and mixologists will prepare fare, beverages and signature handcrafted cocktails.

Learn about wine from participating wineries that include Alexander Valley Vineyards from Healdsburg, Paso Robles’ Anglim Winery, the premium boutique winery Ascension Cellars and Ventura’s Four Brix Winery.

Sip a variety of pressed juices, and hand-roasted coffee, while listening to live entertainment.

Here is a spotlight on a few of the professionals scheduled to appear at Master of Taste. Come learn, enjoy new flavors and know that by participating you are helping a worthy cause.

(Executive Chef Matt Bata - photo courtesy of Master of Taste)
(Executive Chef Matt Bata – photo courtesy of Master of Taste)

Participating Masters of Taste professionals include Matt Bata, from Alexander’s Steakhouse – Located in Pasadena, this fine dining interpretation of the classic American steakhouse with hints of Japanese influence laced into the menu.  Alexander’s Steakhouse features certified Angus Beef, corn-fed from the Mid-West. Their dry-aging room features 28-day dry-aged American and imported Wagyu beef. At Master of Taste, chef Bata is serving beef & foiestrami tartare on a buckwheat rye crepe along with their “notorious” Celery Cocktail this Sunday. Visit: alexanderssteakhouse.com:

Other chefs scheduled include:

Bernhard Mairinger of BierBeisl; Michael “Mick” Schepers of HACHÉ LA

YoyaTakahashi of Hamasaku; CarolosTomazos of Inotheke;

Sean Popcock of Made in Brooklyn; Kyle Schutte, of Wood & Vine

Neal Fraser of Redbird and Isaias Pena, of Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern.

Brewmasters include Alosta Brewing Co., Bootlegger’s Brewery, Iron Triangle Brewing, Indie Brewing Company and Golden Road Brewing.

(Photo courtesy of Master of Taste)
(Photo courtesy of Master of Taste)

NEKTER JUICE BAR will serve healthy juice to guests. The company started in 2010 creating healthy and affordable juice without processed sugars and artificial flavors. The first Nekter opened in Costa Mesa. nekterjuicebar.com

Proceeds from Masters of Taste benefit Union Station Homeless Services, a nonprofit organization based in Pasadena and committed to helping homeless men, women and children rebuild their lives. Services include street outreach, meals, shelter, housing, case management and career development.

A VIP Power Hour runs from 3 to 4 p.m.; General admission is from 4 to 7 p.m.

VIP tickets are $225; $125 for general admission tickets. Guests must be 21 and over.

1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena. www.MastersofTasteLA.com/Tickets.

Mexican flavors with modernist techniques – Dia de Campo

Dia-de-campo-tacos-224x300Sitting in a spacious wooden booth next to a window at Día de Campo, we watched two middle-aged surfers walk back to their car after a day at the beach. After putting their boards on car racks, they changed into dry clothes, flipped their hair a few times and walked inside Día de Campo for cerveza, tequila and oysters. We, however, were there for the tacos.

These aren’t your average tacos. Upgrade them to “machismo” style with double corn and flour tortillas (one of each), stuffed with additional cheese, and topped with a creamy avocado and zesty lime crema sauce.

My husband and I ordered a carnitas taco with a spirited tomatillo avocado sauce and a grilled fish taco with a pico de gallo sauce. One of the friendly servers, Fabian, brought a bottle of housemade habanero sauce to the table. He told us that it has no preservatives, so we should put the cap on after pouring some onto our plate. It was hot and spicy, but not unpleasantly fiery.

With a degree in Economics from UCLA, Dia de Campo executive chef Tin Vuong worked in the corporate world for a while and then enrolled in the California Academy of Culinary Arts. He was the executive sous chef at the acclaimed St. Regis Hotel and Resort in Monarch Beach for over five years.

In 2012, he was lured to Abigaile’s Brewery in Hermosa Beach by the Los Angeles-based Blackhouse Hospitality Group. Vuong created an exciting gastropub menu that reflected the unique history and re-design of the restaurant, that once was the rehearsal space for the most influential punk/hardcore bands in music history.

He expanded his restaurant empire with Little Sister in Manhattan Beach where he created a mostly Vietnamese menu. At the newer Steak & Whiskey steakhouse in Hermosa Beach, his upscale and elegant menu has received rave reviews, as has his elevated Mexican cuisine at Día de Campo with partner/restaurateur Jed Sanford. Since Vuong is very busy with all of these restaurants, his buddy Ken Johnson, from his St. Regis Monarch Beach days, now helms the kitchen at Día de Campo where he combines Mexican flavors with modernist techniques.

Gorgeous, hand-painted Mexican tiles accent the maple wood bar. A row of Mexican cervezas and local craft beers on draft line the back of the bar. Some interesting bottled beers are also offered.

For those looking for a unique cocktail, the tia sangria is made with white wine, brandy, passion fruit, peach and citrus fruit and comes in a pitcher or bowl. The Yucatan bowl combines tequila blanco, fresh pineapple, lime and mandarin oranges.

The bar has an extensive tequila collection with almost 30 blancos, at least 20 different reposados, almost 20 anejos, plus plenty of mezcals. We ordered a simple “skinny” margarita made with Azunia blanco tequila, Cointreau and lime, and The Sophia made with tequila blanco, Agua de Santa and Patrón Citrónge. Other cocktails have names like Passion over Function, Dirty Water and The Mule.

Ashleigh Moller, who has been here since the day it opened, manages this South Bay haunt.

At the oyster counter near the bar, diners can watch chefs shucking Kusshi and Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia, and Kumiai from the Pacific.

Known for their excellent ceviche-esque, aptly named because it is beyond normal ceviche – raw fish cured in lemon or lime juice is spiced with ají or chili peppers. The yellowfin tuna is served in a clay bowl on a layer of guacamole. The lightly marinated fish is jazzed up with a habanero aioli and crispy kale leaves creating a zesty Mexican essence. Fried plantain chops are ideal for scooping the ceviche and guacamole and providing a crunch.

Dia-de-Campo.corn_-224x300We ordered the vegetarian caramelized cauliflower with onions, egg and cotija cheese and the Mexican street corn pops. Chili mayo is spread on the cobbettes on a stick, then dusted with Parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lime. Both dishes were good, though I preferred the fantastic corn pops.
Many of the dishes are a balance of textures, like the wood grilled hanger steak fajitas served on a platter with house grilled onions, shishito peppers and cotija cheese accompanied with warm housemade tortillas.

Short rib empanadas, tostadas with fried avocado and pickled vegetables, plancha pork belly with chipotle mole, avocado, pico, and an egg are interesting items. Try the shrimp and chorizo enchiladas or live it up with a 10 oz. wood grilled ribeye with hearts of palm salad and shishito peppers.

Desserts include a tres leches with hazelnuts and a sprinkling of sea salt-chili, and three snowball coconut cakes filled with spiced guava jam and covered in toasted coconut.

After dinner we took a stroll to the end of the Hermosa Beach Pier and remarked that our evening was a mini vacation from the faster pace of Los Angeles, one that we would like to repeat again.

Dia de Campo offers a Bandito Power Hour from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 3 to 7 p.m. on Fridays with three oysters for $5. On Tuesdays, the chef choice oysters are $1.$$ 1238 Hermosa Ave. Hermosa Beach, (310)379-1829.

Published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers on November 11, 2015.

Honoring Veterans with Free Wine, Food & Movie Tickets on Nov. 11

To show appreciation and gratitude for those who have served our country, iPic Theaters, Major Dave’s Chicken, Sammy’s Pizza, Rock & Brews, Andaz and a few others are giving these men and women a special treat on November 11, 2015.

Here’s some special perks for our Retired Veterans and Active Duty Military  –

  1. IPIC THEATERS SALUTES VETERANS & ACTIVE MILITARY NOVEMBER 11 WITH FREE TICKET
(Photo by iPic Theaters)
(Photo by iPic Theaters)

IPIC Theaters will gift one free movie ticket of their choice to all Veterans and Active Duty Military with Proof of I.D. on Wednesday, November 11, 2015.

While watching a movie, new special menu creations for the month of November are available to purchase. Esteemed Chef David LeFevre’s makes a Brioche crusted crab cakes with lemon remoulade and pickles. The iPic Entertainment resident mixologist Adam Seger’s concocts a Martini Intelligence with belvedere vodka, mezcal, rothman & winter Austrian apricot liqueur, fresh sour, and moroccan tea.

Participants must show proof of service at iPic Guest Services with U.S. uniform services I.D. card or be in uniform. Seating in the theater is based on availability, and the offer cannot be reserved online. iPic Theaters nationwide will participate in this Veteran’s Day promotion during normal business hours on Wednesday, November 11, 2015. There are 11 locations with 81 screens in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin with a new iPic Theaters location launching in Houston on November 6. To find your nearest iPic Theaters location, please visit http://www.ipictheaters.com.

image0102. Major Dave’s Chicken Free Fried Chicken Sandwich

All day on Veteran’s Day Major Dave Caldwell, three-time Iraq and Afghanistan war Veteran and owner of Major Dave’s Chicken in Pasadena wants to thank all who have served and are serving our country by offering a free chicken sandwich to all Veterans and active duty this Veteran’s Day.
As a former Marine himself, Major Dave will also be celebrating the United States Marine Corps birthday on November 10th with free birthday cake, and will donate 10% of profits on both the USMC’s birthday and Veteran’s Day to the Semper Fi Fund.
Major Dave’s Chicken is as American as it gets. After three tours of war in Iraq & Afghanistan, Dave returned home and opened up his own shop featuring his family’s beloved chicken recipe, true to the American way. 163 N. Hill Ave. Pasadena, (626)460-8730.
SWP_Eblast_Veterans-Day3. Sammy’s Woodfire Pizza

All retired and active Veteran’s with Military I.D. will receive a FREE garlic cheese bread or hummus appetizer on November 11. Plus every day of the year, heroes that show their Military I.D. enjoy 20% off their bill. This cannot be combined with any other coupon or discount. To find a location close to you, go to http://www.sammyspizza.com.

image0044. Rock & Brews Gives Thanks

Rock & Brews co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS are offering active military members, veterans and first responders a complimentary pulled pork sandwich and a free side on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11 to thank them for their service. Sides include natural fries, house potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw. The special offer is available throughout the day on Nov. 11 at the El Segundo, Redondo Beach and Buena Park locations. Rock & Brews has donated more than $100,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project, local Veterans Administration hospitals and other organizations benefiting local veterans and military members. 143 Main St., El Segundo, (310)615-9890; 6300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach, (310)378-4970; 7777 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714)266-0314.

image002-65. Wienerschnitzel Salutes Veterans

Veterans and active duty military members can receive a free chilidog and small Pepsi on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at Wienerschnitzel locations nationwide. Customers can show a valid military ID, proof of service or wear a military uniform to receive the offer. Wienerschnitzel is also offering mini corn dogs for 25 cents. New fall seasonal handcrafted beverages are also available such as green apple soda, as well as creamy Tastee Freez apple pie shakes topped with whipped cream and graham crackers. 3619 W. Olympic Blvd., (323)734-8714.

250x140xcq5dam.thumbnail.250.140.png.pagespeed.ic.x-GSOBQQ1z6. Andaz Wine Tasting Event on Veteran’s Day 

On the Sunset Strip this Wednesday, November 11th from 5-7 p.m., Andaz West Hollywood will offer a complimentary wine tasting in partnership with V Wine Room. Each month, Andaz West Hollywood teams up with the experts at V Wine Room to guide wine-lovers through a selection of curated red and white wines from boutique California wineries. This month, the V Wine Room sommeliers will showcase a selection of spicy red wines perfect for pairing with your Thanksgiving feast. The event is free to guests and neighbors (21+). The event will take place in Andaz’s Wine Gallery on the first floor. Valet and self-parking are available for a fee, or guests may take Uber.8401 Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, (323)656-1234.

 

Clifton’s Cafeteria Quickly Losing It’s Luster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Vegan Day on Nov. 1

This Sunday is World Vegan Day! Here are 8 culinary spots in the Los Angeles to celebrate with healthy and delicious vegan dishes.

Chavela 

Plant-based Executive Chef Rachel Carr uses Latin inspiration in all of her vegan dishes. One of her signature dishes includes pumpkin blue corn tamales with spicy, organic blue corn tamale stuffed with sugar pie pumpkin, with anasazi beans, roasted red pepper-tomato sauce and sautéed market vegetables. Be sure to order a signature sangria inspired by traditional Peruvian flavors and seasonal California produce. www.chavela-la.com.

(Photo Credit: Lisa Romerein)
(Photo Credit: Lisa Romerein)

Crossroads

Artichoke Oysters, “Crab Cakes,” and Scaloppini Marsala are served alongside new dishes from Chef and Owner Tal Ronnen and Executive Chef Scot Jones. Attracting epicureans to its chic dining room, the vegan menu highlights autumn’s best ingredients such as pumpkin, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and squash. Ronnen’s highly anticipated cookbook Crossroads (Artisan Books) launches this fall featuring recipes for his ever popular and inventive plant-based cuisine.  http://www.crossroadskitchen.com

CafeGratitude-BLT-250x300
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Cafe Gratitude

The I Am….menu offers dishes named after affirmations to inspire you to love yourself, accept the world, and be full of gratitude. Try the I AM….EXTRAORDINARY sandwich. It’s touted as a BLT made with coconut bacon and layered with lettuce and tomato. It’s delicious and much more healthier than bacon filled with nitrates. http://cafegratitude.com

(Photo by CocoWhip)
(Photo by Rawberri)

Rawberri

In West Hollywood is an eatery serving up delicious cold acai bowls. These seasonal superfruit bowls are an excellent source of dietary fiber and natural energy. There are no added preservatives or artificial flavorings, and the bowls are full of vitamins, antioxidants and flavor.

Rawberri is the first in the U.S. to carry the world’s best non-dairy frozen yogurt – Cocowhip. It’s a vegan soft serve ice cream, made with coconut water. There is no added sugar and it’s naturally infused with probiotics. Plus it’s only 90 calories per serving! http://rawberri.com

Manhattan House

(photo by Manhattan House)
(photo by Manhattan House)

Chef Diana Stavaridis takes Manhattan Beach’s local gardening program by crafting her menu items from her own local garden, She works with farmers and purveyors within 5 miles of her Manhattan Beach restaurant. Passionate about supporting the local community, Chef Stavaridis has partnered with local garden center Deep Roots, where she sources hard to find herbs & veggies that are custom grown for her; Pacific Elementary School, where she has a community garden; and the local charity supporting education & sustainability, Growing Great. The result: local produce and a garden to table concept with a seasonal daily changing menu at Manhattan House, which offers a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options.

One of her most progressive dishes is Carrotology 2.0 – a masterpiece of orange featuring carrots prepared in eleven different ways! From carrot hummus, to sous-vide puree, to carrot caramel, this dish is not only visually stunning but also completely unique. http://www.manhattanhouse.pub

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

The Gadarene Swine 
Executive Chef Phillip Frankland Lee and Pastry Chef Margarita Lee feature whole plant-based food for dinner with Vegetables in a Box. The box is made with Yukon potato shavings placed on a bed of charred Japanese eggplant puree. Inside is an assortment of seasonal veggies roasted in white wine and garlic
For dessert try Margarita’s Pear Pie made with braised pear and a pecan pie ice cream (no dairy) and brown sugar streusel. http://www.thegadareneswine.com

(Photo by Gracia Madre)
(Photo by Gracia Madre)

Gracia Madre

Try the Gorditas made with grilled potato-masa cakes topped with warm salsa verde, avocado, and cashew cream or the Empanadas made with homemade pastry filled with grilled plantains, served on a bed of spicy mole sauce, topped with cashew cream. Be sure to add Guacamole con Tortillas made with mashed avocado with cilantro, onion, chile and lime. http://gracias-madre.com

(Photo by Daily Dose Cafe)
(Photo by Daily Dose Cafe)

Daily Dose Cafe 
Offers a Big Salad with seasonal mixed greens tossed in orange citrus vinaigrette with roasted seasonal veggies and house pesto. http://www.dailydosela.com

Enjoy eating healthy!

Rooftop Skyline Dining at WP24

IMG_6310I have a secret to share. I found the ideal al fresco summer dining spot in downtown Los Angeles. Not only does this outdoor venue serve an upscale, a la carte, Asian-inspired menu and seasonal cocktails, it’s now open for the first time to the public.

Last Friday, we handed our keys to the valet at the architecturally-pleasing Ritz-Carlton at L.A. LIVE before riding the elevator to the 24th floor. After we checked in at the WP24 (Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant) reception stand, a host escorted us to another elevator for a ride to the 26th floor. The doors opened to a large outdoor bar with glass punchbowls filled with white and red fruity sangria. Beyond the bar was a pool, luxury lounge area and chef’s herb garden cultivated for dishes served at WP24.

When a three-piece band played Paramore’s hit song, “Ain’t it Fun”, I knew it was going to be a great night. There is something wonderful about good live music, fresh air, sensational views, colorful cocktails and the scent of a sizzling grill. The outdoor dining lounge offers breathtaking views of the moon, city lights and passenger jets flying overhead.

General manager John-Andre Wielenberg said the area had been under-utilized during the evening. During the day, guests and residents of the Ritz-Carlton enjoy sunbathing, swimming and cocktails from the bar, yet this prime space was quiet during the evening, as guests explored the dining options inside the hotel or at LA LIVE.

When Wielenberg brought WP24 chef de cuisine John Lechleidner to the space, they brainstormed about making good use of the area and decided to offer an inviting ambiance with upscale small bites and table service.

They created an outdoor kitchen for their talented WP24 chefs to grill large prawns, mini sliders and Kurobuta pork. They hired bands to enhance the surroundings with live jazz and pop music.

We sat at a reserved table and ordered a glass of white fruit sangria and a tall mai tai. They also offer mojitos in kiwi, raspberry, mango, coconut, strawberry, peach and traditional mint flavors, and creative cocktails like a champagne float. A selection of beer and wine is available to accompany Lechleidner’s creative small plates. His dishes include fresh albacore ceviche with chilies, chopped Thai basil, cilantro and a splash of citrus.

The Kurobuta pork belly is served in a gem lettuce wrap. It was a little too fatty for me, yet very flavorful with gochujang — a savory, spicy and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. The lettuce balanced the heat of the dish.

We ordered a cold glass of Lucky Buddha beer that paired nicely with three American wagyu beef sliders served on freshly baked buns and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. They were topped with roasted tomatoes and melted Vermont cheddar cheese. FullSizeRender-3

A glass of oaky Inception chardonnay from Santa Barbara paired nicely with the chef’s take on Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, which he serves on French baguettes. Tender roasted Kurobuta pork with tart pickled vegetables, earthy cilantro and chilies give the dish a zing. The chef also serves confit pork belly sliders with grilled cipollini onions, arugula and apricot mustard.

The prettiest dish of the evening was the red curry large grilled spot prawns served on coconut sticky rice with pickled vegetables.

The new pastry chef Megan Potthoff is an expert at creative French pastries. She offers a fresh take on Asian-inspired desserts and makes whimsical treats like the hazelnut praline ice cream pops with a chocolate glaze. We enjoyed the tropical flavors of the coconut tapioca parfait with fresh mango and pineapple shaved ice. Her most creative dessert was s’mores with graham crackers, chocolate squares and house-made passion fruit marshmallows.

Dining is by reservation only. The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., through Sept. 5. $$ 900 W. Olympic Blvd, 26th Floor. (213)743-8824.

This review was published in the August 6, 2015 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Loving LAMILL Coffee Boutique

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CPK Keeps Getting Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIG & OLIVE – Mediterranean Diet Friendly

DSC_0988Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The key components of the Mediterranean diet include a splash of olive oil, instead of butter, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, legumes and nuts. A glass of red wine is acceptable too.

Fig & Olive’s menu offers dishes that are ideal for the diet, as Executive Chef Pascal Lorange’s prepares his Mediterranean dishes with herbs, spices and some of the finest olive oils from the Mediterranean region to enhance his dishes.

I recently dined with a group of friends at Fig & Olive on Melrose Place to enjoy chef Lorange’s new Spring menu Mediterranean dishes. We sat in the back dining room with elegant limestone stucco walls. The restaurant has live green rosemary and olive trees offering the essence of the Mediterranean. Visually, the open kitchen is illuminated by shelves of colorful olive oil bottles.
Guests receive a plate of rosemary olive oil bread with small dishes of three distinctive extra virgin olive oils from Spain, Greece and Italy.

We each chose a glass of wine or champagne from over 30 varietals from the South of France, Italy, and Spain. I sipped a nice French Rose’ made with Grenache/Syrah from the Château La Coste “Cuvée Bellugue” Côtes de Provence. It was floral, with hints of white fruits.

DSC_0985The wine paired well with a variety of crostinis. My favorite was the savory caramelized onion with goat cheese and chive. I also liked the Manchego with sliced fig and a Marcona almond.

Since the Mediterranean diet traditionally includes antioxidant-rich vegetables, Chef Lorange’s includes on his new menu, a cold gazpacho Andalucia with minced tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion, basil, Sherry vinegar and a splash of basil olive oil. There is a small scoop of Ayala goat cheese to enhance the dish.

Another winning dish is his rainbow heirloom tomato Caprese with luscious burrata and sliced figs to add a delightful sweetness. It’s lightly dressed with 18-year balsamic vinegar and basil green olive oil.

The crab and heirloom tomato appetizer is made with jumbo lump crab. It looked and had the texture of an elegant tuna salad.DSC_0991
To help promote health and prevent disease, fish is approved on the diet. Fig & Olive offers six different pescatarian dishes that include Mediterranean branzino; Chilean sea bass and yellowfin tuna a la Provencale. The Riviera salmon is also an excellent choice with seared salmon served with grilled asparagus and a flavorful braised fennel. The dish is decorated with a pea puree, Koroneiki olive oil emulsion and a spritz of lemon zest.

The most visually spectacular dish of the evening was the rosemary lamb chops served on a plate with a glass dome cover. Once the cover was released, a smokey vapor of Herbs de Provence was released into the air. The chops were accompanied with grilled polenta, braised eggplant, roasted bell peppers and a drizzle of rosemary garlic olive oil.

I’m not sure if the creamy fig and gorgonzola risotto made with Arborio rice qualifies as a Mediterranean dish, because it is so rich, yet it’s so satisfying and worth the splurge. It’s pure comfort food in a bowl.

Grains are important in a Mediterranean diet, so Chef Lorange offers a red quinoa salad with a variety of vegetables and dresses it up with a Arbequina olive oil.

DSC_0999All of the pasta and risotto dishes are vegetarian, however guests may add a grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp for some protein.
On the diet, poultry can be consumed twice a week. A good choice is the Provence roasted free range chicken from Mary’s farm marinated with Herbs de Provence and garlic. It arrives with a side of ratatouille and roasted potatoes.

My favorite is the colorful Fig & Olive Tajine with Moroccan spiced chicken cooked with figs, carrots, olives, apricots, zucchini, cipolini onions, tomatoes, toasted almonds and a couscous blended with cilantro and harissa. The olive oil enhancing this dish is Arbequina, an aromatic, buttery oil from Melgarejo in Andalucía, Spain.

Since red meat should be consumed no more than a few times a month, the filet mignon is an excellent choice. The 8 oz. Creekstone farm filet is marinated with thyme, garlic and rosemary before its grilled and served with farro risotto accented with black trumpet mushrooms, and two cheeses – manchego and mascarpone. The Béarnaise sauce for the steak is made with Arbequina olive oil.

For those seeking a romantic dinner, Fig & Olive offers a few tableside-for-two entrees that include a whole two-pound Branzino; 16 oz. Creekstone farm Black Angus Chateaubriand; and a 36 oz. Cote de Boeuf Creekstone farm bone-in Ribeye.

Save room for the light panna cotta a l’ orange with a cookie crumble. There is also a lavender creme brûlée with lovely lavender ice cream and a crunchy thyme shortbread cookie.

While at Fig & Olive, you can bring Mediterranean ingredients home with you to maintain the diet. The restaurant offers a retail collection of over 30 different types of extra virgin olive oil ranging from a fruity and delicate varietal from Provence to a peppery Tuscan olive oil from Villa Lucia. The restaurant also sells infused olive oils with truffle; basil, and lemon.

Open for lunch starting at 12 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday brunch at 11 a.m. Dinner service begins Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. $$$ 8490 Melrose Place (310)360-9100.