Little Spain – Tasty Tapas and Paella

As a third generation of Barcelona restaurateurs, Alejandro Pages comes from a tradition of serving royalty and commoners. His grandfather used to serve

As a third generation of Barcelona restaurateurs, Alejandro Pages comes from a tradition of serving royalty and commoners. His grandfather used to serve the Duke and Duchess of Barcelona and his family has had over twenty restaurants in Spain.

 Alejandro fondly remembers being in one of the restaurants before he could walk. “I sat in the kitchen and ate chips,” he shared with me recently when I dined at Little Spain in the Farmers Market. I bet it was exciting for this little lad to watch chefs prepare food and servers whisk the dishes away to guests in the dining room. “When I was ten-years-old, my family taught me how to make Crème Catalana. I’ve been perfecting it for the past 27 years,” boast Pages.

While on vacation in California, Pages fell in love and married an American girl.  He wanted to open a restaurant to support his new life with a wife. After studying Operations and Business of the Restaurant Industry at UCLA, Pages learned how to run a restaurant in America and opened Little Spain two months ago.

Sitting on the heated patio facing Third Street, we enjoyed authentic Catalonia and Valencia recipes from his family. The flavors brought back fond memories of our visit to Barcelona last summer. Alejandro cooks in the true Spanish style, slow cooking with the finest ingredients.

Our server, Belen (born in Spain), landed this job by going to a Facebook site for Spainards in Los Angeles. Pages announced the opening of his restaurant; Little Spain, and Balen contacted him for an interview and was hired immediately. She feels a sense of family working here.

Our dining adventure started with a glass of their white sparkling sangria with apples and oranges and various tasty Tapas. “The Albondigas en salsa, tastes just like the meatballs my family made at home,” Belen shared with a smile. “Alejandro’s great grandmother made this recipe and he follows it exactly,” stated Belen. The firm meatballs cook for hours in a scarlet red tomato sauce with onions, soft sweet peas, carrots and potatoes. It’s exquisite, better than most of the meatballs served in Spanish kitchens.

We also enjoyed the bite-size Croquetas Espanolas with chicken. Served with fries, they are not like the South American croquetas filled with rice or potatoes.  This tapa is cooked very slowly with vegetables and chicken, then breaded and fried.

Another favorite tapa was a dish of little shrimps coated with garlic, paprika and red pepper. Not too hot in flavor, but the red pepper and paprika gave it a little pizzazz. The Bombas are fried potato balls filled with spicy meat and the charming Empanadas are served with a side salad. All the tapas were an excellent value at $4.50 each.

Another pleasing appetizer that accompanies the refreshing sangrias is the Montaditos; small bites of bread with “something on top.” Pages places divine dried cured Spanish ham, dried cured meats, and Spanish cheeses that he imports from his home country. Three Montaditos are $4.5 and five are $7. If you love the taste of these Montaditos, Alejandro sells over 14 varieties of Spanish cheese and dried cured meats in his store attached to his restaurant.

Another good value is the seafood Paella for $12. It’s large enough to share with two to three people; depending on how many tapas you nibbled on first. The dish arrives with a mound of saffron rice, clams, mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp and vegetables. The Paella Valencia offers chicken, mussels, shrimp and vegetables and the vegetable Paella is 100% vegan.

Little Spain offers a nice selection of Spanish wines. We had a glass of a delightful red, Tapena Garnacha and a hearty Valdubon Crianza with our paella.  For dessert we had to try the Crema Cataluna. It arrived looking like a crème brulee, yet with a sweeter and creamier vanilla custard.

Pages stands firm on providing authentic Spanish food in a casual and comfortable setting. His dishes are similar to what his great grandfather presented to royals many years ago.

6333 W. 3rd St, #120, (323)634-0633, www.littleSpainLA.com

Published in the Beverly Press 1/20/11 via Little Spain.

A Healthier Way To Eat – Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop

For my 2011 New Year’s resolution, I promise to eat healthier. I’m going to cut out refined sugars, eat fresh produce and stay away from fatty foods. Recently, I dined at a restaurant in Beverly Hills that will help me keep my resolution all year long: Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop.

I met the owner of the restaurant, Jonathan Rollo, while lunching with a friend. We chuckled when she pointed to the back of Rollo’s chef jacket that read “Commander-in-Leaf.” He looks a lot like the actor Kevin Bacon, yet more handsome with adorable dimples.

Born and raised in Southern California, he earned a full ride swimming scholarship to Northwestern University, yet turned it down to go to Vanderbilt. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Organizational Development he flew home to enjoy one of his favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.   While helping his mom cook for 50 family members, he had an epiphany to become a chef. His mother said she would give him her blessing, if he would first make a croquembouche for the family feast. While whipping up over 100 profiteroles and filling them with chocolate mousse, he had sugar in his hair and flour all over the floor. He made a mess, yet the croquembouch was a success and his mother encouraged him to enroll in the Cordon Bleu in Chicago.

After graduating, he moved back to sunny Los Angeles and joined the Patina group. He became friends with another chef, Kristy Ritchey. Years later when Rollo decided to open his first Greenleaf restaurant, he asked Ritchey to be his Executive chef.

Rollo and Ritchey create the healthiest salads, sandwiches and pizzas in town using the finest organic and locally grown produce to create high quality and colorful dishes. They built the restaurant in an environmentally conscious way to use recycled and compostable products. Their delivery service is not by car, but by bicycle. It’s healthier for the environment and for the delivery person.

Ritchey lost over 110 pounds in less than one year by creating and eating the Antioxidant salad. I had to give it a try. Not that I need to lose that much weight, but wow, what a testimonial to lose and maintain her new ideal weight by having this salad as one of her daily meals. Chopped and mixed with the baby greens from Scarborough farms are red seedless grapes, celery, apples, dried cranberries, blue cheese, mint, red onion, cucumber and strawberries with pomegranate and whole grain mustard dressing.

My friend ordered the Lemongrass Chicken salad with baby mixed greens, grilled citrus chicken, mango, grilled pineapple, jicama, toasted coconut, cashews, Thai chili and Thai basil tossed with a lemongrass lychee vinaigrette. She read that Thai Chili helps boost metabolism and Thai basil offers anti-inflammatory benefits. All I know is when both of the salads arrived, they were big enough to share with three people. Besides their size and gourmet ingredients, they are a great value at $10 each. 

I felt guilty when the grilled chicken Panini with avocado pesto on foccacia arrived, because there was too much food on our table. Yet, after taking my first bite, I slowed down on eating my salad and devoured half of the sandwich. The avocado pesto is made with fresh avocado, garlic and basil. That’s it! It makes the most ambrosial sandwich spread. I took the other half home for dinner. This sandwich was not going to waste.

Located across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue, they also offer a build your own salad. Laminated cards and pens are near the register to check off the ingredients you would like in your salad. You chose what type of greens and then check off a choice of four toppings. There are 19 different vegetables, 7 different chesses, 6 nut (they roast their own) varieties, 5 legumes, 5 herbs and 8 kinds of fruit. Next, you can choose a meat and one of the 18 different house dressings. Just hand it to one of the super salad preparers and it will arrive at your table within minutes. Two gentlemen sitting next to us had their custom salad made with seared Ahi tuna on top. It looked marvelous.

After finishing one-third of my salad and half a sandwich, I felt energized and not weighed down. Greenleaf offers similar fare as many of the fancy hotel restaurants in the area, yet the service is faster and the dishes are much more affordable. Gourmet soup of the day for $3.50. Sandwiches, Panin’s and Pizza are all under $10. With success, Rollo opened a second Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in Century City. This location provides breakfast and lunch to all of the workers and shoppers in the area. Greenleaf also sells items to go at their restaurants and at Barry’s Boot Camp and some Equinox Gyms and Body Factory locations.

When it comes to eating right, Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop is an ideal restaurant to fortify your body and soul. Price: $.

9671 Wilshire Blvd. (310)246-0756 and 1888 Century Park E. (424)239-8700.

Hell’s Kitchens newest winner – Nona Sivley

Excited to be at the Hell’s Kitchen finalist party, I immediately recognized the two final contestants, Russell Kook and Nona Sivley as they walked into the Mixing Room at LA Live. Sivley glowed. She looked thinner, blonder and more glamorous than she did on one of Fox’s most popular television shows, Hell’s Kitchen. Over 17,000 chefs auditioned to be one of the 16 contestants. Within one hour, one of these two lucky and talented chefs would receive a $250,000 salary working as Head chef for “rock and roll chef” Kerry Simon, at LA Market. The winner will also be the spokesperson for Rosemount Winery.

Bold as I am, I approached Kook sitting next to a pretty brunette and introduced myself. This 29-year-old sous chef from Madison, Wisconsin didn’t seem really enthused about being at this event. While talking with him about his culinary training in Chicago, he constantly looked down at his cell phone. I glanced up while he was texting someone and noticed Sivley walking towards me. I excused myself from Kook and greeted his contender.

Sivley smiled while sharing stories of enrolling in a four year college to become a lawyer and then half way through quitting to follow her passion, cooking.  After attending a culinary school in Fort Worth, she dreamed of one day having her own restaurant.

Her husband, Curtis, joined us and shared how they were first friends. “Nona prepared a delicious Manicotti for me to take home to my girlfriend,” said Curtis. “Later I realized that Nona was the right girl for me.”

Now with a two-year-old son, Curtis quit his job in 2009 to stay home with him, allowing Sivley to focus and concentrate on the demands of Hell’s Kitchen. Filming wrapped up in late March 2010.  For the last nine months, both contestants had to lay low until tonight.

Waiting for Kerry Simon’s arrival, we nibbled on tender Tequila salmon resting on blue corn pancake and saucy pulled pork sliders. My favorite was the tempura jumbo shrimp with Yuzu and sambal aoile.

Simon strolled through the event with his signature black chef jacket and waved to the two finalists. I welcomed Simon to sit down next to me for a quick chat. I congratulated him on his new restaurant and bar/lounge. “When I agreed to open a restaurant in the LA Live complex, I never imagined it would be such a center point in the city and desirable meeting place in Los Angeles,” enthused Simon.  Home is now Las Vegas, where his restaurant Simon Restaurant and Lounge at the Palms Place and KGB, Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, at the Harrah’s Las Vegas. He is one of the busiest chefs I have met. When not in Vegas, he flies to Los Angeles to check on SimonLA across from the Beverly Center and LA Market. Then he flies to the East coast to check on Simon Prime in Atlantic City and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to supervise his latest restaurant at the Hard Rock Resort and Casino. No wonder he enthusiastically agreed to hire the winner of Hell’s Kitchen, this celebrity chef has no down time.

Simon spoke to the crowd about Kook and Sivley. “Whoever wins tonight worked their tail off to get as far as they did on Ramsay’s show,” expressed Simon.

We watched the final episode of Hell’s Kitchen while sipping on raspberry mojitos and biting into Simon’s signature desserts: little shot glasses of airy chocolate mousse, adorable cheesecake lollipops and cotton candy.

Sivley and Kook were sitting side-by-side and holding hands while watching the final episode. In the end, Sivley was congratulated with cheers and applause. As a gracious winner, she smiled and announced to the crowd “Russell was an amazing competitor. He got a bad rap on the show, but is a good guy.”

I yelled out “When do you start your new job at LA Market?”  With a giggle and smile she said, “In the beginning of January, 2011.”

Go visit Sivley at La Market and see why she beat out 17,000 other chefs to become Hell’s Kitchen’s Season 8 champion. 900 W. Olympic Blvd. (213)765-8630. 

Chaya Brasserie – Elegant Euro-Asian Cuisine

Driving through the Cedars Sinai campus on a warm December evening, I pulled up to CHAYA Brasserie in Beverly Hills, eager to see how they revitalized the restaurant and to experience newcomer Executive Chef, Harutaka Kishi’s (aka Chef Haru), unique fusion of Japanese and French dishes.

Recently, Chaya closed for one week to renovate the space and revamp their menu. While gauze curtains and a mini bamboo forest dominate the center of the restaurant, Chaya now has two distinctive dining areas, the “La Petite” side with an expanded bar/lounge serving small plates and the main dining room “Brasserie” serving a formal dining experience with its new prix-fixe tasting menu that changes weekly.

I ordered a holiday sangria and met my group for our dining adventure on the Brasserie side. Our six-course tasting menu began with the arrival of La Petite Chaya served in a quaint pine wooden house. Standing upright about one-foot tall, were three levels with beautiful little plates and bowls of bite size appetizers. Chef Haru’s hint of Japanese philosophy of the cuisine is apparent in his artistic execution. One floor had a flavorful yellowtail mole, another a bowl of pickled vegetables that exploded taste and texture with each bite. The salmon rilllette with wasabi cream was divine, and the bottom floor had a Moro miso wing that was savory, yet the bones got in the way of enjoying more of the meat.

As the beautiful braised Endive salad arrived with a slice of bleu d’Auvergne, candied pecans, bite sized gingerbread croutons and a dried Orin apple on top, I immediately pierced a crouton and enjoyed the pleasantly sweet crunch with the a fork full of creamy cheese.

The King crab risotto was decadent with its Japanese rice, maitake tempura crabmeat and sprigs of greens. Next, arrived the cedar baked Loup de Mer, presented on a bamboo tray with wild mushrooms. This dish was blanketed delicately with a lemon grass veloute. Two divine crispy scallops rolled in sesame seeds rested on a bed of mushrooms next to the tender fish.

Trying to pace myself, another entrée of Black Angus beef tenderloin and short rib duo arrived. Sitting together on top of a warm parsnip puree and accompanied with a pot of Farmer’s market baby potatoes, onions and parsnips. I couldn’t finish the rich meats and pushed it aside for the light pear foam dessert with chestnut cream and a bite sized green tea donut.  The pear foam dish lacked zip, yet the donut was scrumptious.

Chef Haru arrived at our table and shared with us how as a small child, he enjoyed watching his mother cook in their kitchen and often joined her on shopping adventures at the wonderful Parisian Farmers markets. His family had a restaurant in Paris where the young Haru worked. One night, the revered chef, Joel Robuchon dined there for dinner. Impressed with the food, he offered Haru a position at Robuchon’s Tokyo restaurant, La Chateau. From 1999 to 2004, Haru worked his way up to Chef de Partie (station chef). In 2004, Haru met another esteemed chef, Gordon Ramsay, while working at the Conrad Tokyo. After a mini-sabbatical to join with his twin brother, a master sushi chef in Madrid, Spain, Haru reunited with Ramsay to help open Gordon Ramsay at the Trianon Palace in Versailles, France and then as Executive sous chef for Ramsay at the London Hotel in West Hollywood.

I asked Haru what it was like working with Joel Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay?  “Robuchon likes to take young and ambitious chefs and help them become better, while Ramsay is strict and demanding. He did give me a lot of freedom to create new dishes and inspires chefs to focus on consistency,” shared Haru in his alluring French accent. “It was challenging coming to America and not knowing the culture. Kitchens run much differently in Los Angeles than in France and Japan,” admitted Haru. “However, I don’t feel like a stranger in Los Angeles and I enjoy riding my bike to work.

Before leaving I asked him how he likes his new position at CHAYA.  “I’m hoping to add a sushi bar,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. Since his twin brother is a master sushi chef, might he invite his brother to come to Los Angeles and work with him? Stay tuned to see if this talented and handsome chef’s wish comes true. Price: $$. 8741 Alden Dr. (310)859-8833.

via Chaya Brasserie.

Not All Burgers Are the Same – The Burger Kitchen

  There are three grades of burger restaurants.  McDonalds is the basic level, and   a Johnny Rockets style is a step up.  At the top of the burger pyramid is The Burger Kitchen that sells gourmet burgers from $9 to $50.  Is the quality of the beef and other ingredients worth the extra price?  I wanted to find out.

Opened less than a year on Third Street, it’s a family enterprise. Genevieve (Mom) is the designer of the warm and comfortable atmosphere. She grew up in New Jersey and wanted to design a friendly restaurant with a New York vibe for families, couples and an older crowd. Above the bar is a large screen television.  During the day she broadcasts classic movies from the TMC channel. Families’ start arriving from 4 to 6pm for early dining and the television is changed to cartoons upon request. Young and older adults grab a gourmet burger and drink, while watching a sporting event as the bar fills up with customers in the evening.

Daniel (son) is in charge of the beverages.  He went to NYU and frequented McSorley’s Old Ale House, where he became a bit of an aficionado. The Burger Kitchen offers a variety of unique beers. They list 25 draft beers with 10 on tap.  Some of the popular brews are Chimay from Belgian and Mama’s Lil Yella Pils.  Drafts come by the glass for $6-$7 or $20 to $28 a pitcher.  Daniel also has a nice selection of some of the finest Napa Valley wines. Coppola is the house wine at $6 a glass.

Genevieve shared that they have regular customers who order a bottle of a limited edition William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ’06 at $65, because it’s such a great wine to go with The Natural burger ($26).  When hankering a burger and only the best will do, this is the place for you.  The beef is flown in from Pat La Frieda meats in New York for The Natural.  It’s 40 day, dry-aged prime blend with a secret rub and served on a soft bun with butter lettuce (no iceberg here), grilled heirloom tomatoes and caramelized onions. You also get your choice of Camembert or organic white cheddar cheese.  It’s amazingly good and can only be found in California at The Burger Kitchen.

Alan (Father) and Daniel work as a team to create new special dishes and recipes.  When they introduced the Boars Head pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese, house made 1,000 island dressing and coleslaw onto their gourmet sandwich ($12) menu, they first served bit size samples to guests to get their feedback. It took weeks to perfect the sandwich before putting it on the menu.  Seeing that I was born and raised in Southern California, I never acquired a taste for pastrami. That’s a New York deli meat. Since Alan raved about the sandwich, I was game to take a crack at it. A decent amount of meat and cole slaw appeared on a brown and white rye with melted Swiss cheese oozing down and two pickles on top.  One bite and I became a pastrami believer.  Now I understand why my New York friends obsess this sandwich. It was terrific.

My daughter is a big fan of Caprese salads and sandwiches, so she decided to order The Godfather ($12). It’s a beef blend with mozzarella, spicy arugula, heirloom tomatoes and a house Italian spread.  Molto Buona! She thought it was divine.

I opted for the Veggie Burger ($9) with its vegan patty filled with healthy vegetables and served with sliced avocado, a red/purple heirloom tomato and yogurt and mint sauce drizzled on top.  With the delightful fresh bun, it was flavorful and gratifying.

Be sure to order the sweet potato fries to accompany your meal. They are crisp on the outside with a dash of salt and served with a scrumptious garlicky aioli dipping sauce.

 Looking over the menu, even a finicky eater will find something they will enjoy.  Some of the comfort foods offered are the tomato and basil soup with a grilled cheese sandwich or for Aussie’s there is a turkey with mushroom Australian Meat pie.

Desserts are displayed in a case filled with a triple chocolate cake tower, red velvet cake, and carrot cake. The homemade chocolate chip cookies are served best as a sandwich with vanilla ice cream from MILK. All looked yummy, but will have to wait until my next visit.

It’s a little Los Angeles, a bit of New York and a dollop of Australia all rolled into one great place for the entire family.

Don’t have anywhere to go today for Thanksgiving? The Burger Kitchen will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for $25.  Come enjoy the holiday with Alan, Daniel and Genevieve. 8048 Third Street, (323)944-0503,

Also read the article in the Beverly Press/Park LaBrea News via How to Build a Better Burger.

A Neighborhood Gem: California Chicken Café

 

While pregnant with both my daughters I craved healthy food.  Fortunately, I lived near a California Chicken Café and at least once a week, I’d pick up a Rotisserie chicken with sides or one of their delicious wrap sandwiches.

Years later, I happily discovered the original California Chicken Café across the street from my office.  Since the food is fresh and reasonably priced, I grab a wrap to-go once a week.

Talking with one of the owners, I learned that he and another USC graduate opened the first California Chicken Café on Melrose Avenue in 1991. They were hoping to open a casual restaurant that served good food at low prices. They wanted it to be a comfortable place for people eating alone or with friends.  

When they were building the Melrose restaurant, a neighbor came in inquiring.  He was hoping a Taco Bell or fast food restaurant would go in. “Everything at this location has failed,” he told them. “There is no foot traffic, no parking on the side streets and everyone shops west of La Brea,” he uttered disappointingly. About a month after they opened, the same man came in and walked up to the owners. With a huge smile on his face he said “I’m not surprised you guys are doing so well, the neighborhood needed something really good, congratulations.”

The most popular item to order is their ¼ white-meat chicken with two side dishes ($9).  The chicken is so moist and flavorful.  It’s served with white or whole-wheat pita bread.  One of the most preferred side dishes is the freshly steamed orange squash. It’s fat-free and extremely satisfying. Another delicious side dish is the hot red potatoes with sautéed onions, garlic and seasonings.  Don’t forget to get a couple containers of their fresh salsa.  Honestly, it’s the best salsa in town.  I put this salsa on almost everything I order.  It’s house made and lip smacking good.

My preference of the wrap sandwiches is the combo wrap with chicken, guacamole, jack cheese, sprouts, Italian dressing, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Fat-free mayo, mustard and green onions are available upon request.  All wraps can be prepared with white or whole-wheat pita bread.  They are all made to order.  You won’t see any wraps sitting in a refrigeration cabinet.

Another beloved sandwich is their Chinese wrap with chicken, crunchy Chinese noodles, Chinese dressing, shredded carrots, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.  It’s superb. They even offer a Veggie wrap for those who don’t eat meat.  California Chicken Café didn’t invent wraps, yet they sure have popularized them.  It’s an ideal lunch for those on the go, because it requires no utencils.  Just peel the paper and take a bite.  Wraps range from $6.25 to $7.75.

Also on their menu are six salads made to order. The Chinese Chicken salad is similar to the wrap but with romaine lettuce, almonds, plain pasta, and Mandarin oranges ($9) and they offer a low-calorie Veggie ($7.25) or Caesar salad ($6.25).  The owners are currently working on bringing two new salads to their menu, possibly a Southwest style salad and Chicken curry salad.  These will be offered in a wrap too.

Planning a holiday celebration? California Chicken Café caters small parties up to 800 people.  During Nordstrom’s big half-yearly sale, California Chicken Café delivers chicken, wraps and salads every couple of hours to feed more than 600 employees on that busy day.

It may not be an ideal first date restaurant, but is a terrific 3rd or 4th date place for a healthy lunch, picnic meal or dinner that will cost under $10.

Visit one of the seven California Chicken Cafes in the Los Angeles area.  But beware, the food is addicting. 6805 Melrose Ave, Hollywood (323)935-5877, 2401 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica (310)453-0477, 2005 Westwood Blvd. (310)446-1933, 424 Lincoln Blvd. Venice (310)392-3500, 15601 Ventura Blvd. Encino (818)789-8056, 18445 Nordhoff St. Northridge (818)700-9977, 22333 Ventura Blvd. Woodland Hills (818)716-6170. Price: $

Featured in the Park LaBrea News/Beverly Press via A Neighborhood Gem: California Chicken Café.

Tropical Trader Vic’s

LA LIVE is the newest spot for Dining, Music, Sports, and the Grammy Museum
Stepping into Trader Vic’s at the new L.A. LIVE near the Staple Center is like being transported back into the 1940s. It’s Polynesian decor, music, and food will entice you to unwind, close your eyes and pretend you are in an upscale restaurant in Samoa or Fiji.
The bar area offers live music on Friday and Saturday evenings and fruity libations in colorful glasses. Extra large punch drinks can be shared with four friends sipping straws from the same bowl.  I’m sure when the downtown working professionals leave their desk in the evening, they stop by Trader Vic’s for a Pupu platter and a Tiki Bowl or Navy Grog.
It all started in 1934, when Victor Bergerton mixed drinks up in the Oakland area at the saloon, Hinky Dinks. He dreamed of traveling to the South Seas to see the exotic ladies, taste the unique foods and swim in the warm water. When he returned home, he wanted to share the flavors, design and culture with others, so he opened his first Trader Vic’s.
Today there are 26 locations across the world with 10 locations in the United States (4 in California),2 in Europe, 10 in the Middle East and 4 in Asia.Our South Seas experience started with friendly servers and a basket of warm Taro bread, water crackers, and homemade peanut butter with coconut cream. WOW!  That’s different from the traditional bread basket and more fun to eat. We ordered the Trader Vic’s own punch and Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. Our daughter tried the Soft Mojoito from the non-alcoholic menu.
Next our waiter recommended we order the Cosmo Tidbits. Its a combination of appetizers; Spareribs (flavorful, but too tough and chewy), crab rangoon (like a wonton), delicious crispy prawns and pieces of pork.  It arrived with individual butterfly dishes with ketchup on one wing and spicy mustard on the other.
For entrees we decided to order the Sea Bass cooked in the Chinese wood fired oven, traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 20). Meats are cooked by the heat of the oven, not fire. The American Heart Association approves this type of cooking. The fish is served in a delicious Miso sauce. We loved it. Our daughter order the Crispy Duck that was prepared at our table. Our waiter brought 1/2 a duck, moo shu pancakes, scallion, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce. It was delicious. I selected the BBQ veggie and Tofu Curry from the Trader Vic’s Curry selection. What a colorful presentation!  The curry was a combination of potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, apples, red pimentos, onions and Trader Vic’s own blend of madras curry powder.  It had a KICK, however I softened the taste with the tray of sunflower seeds, currants, cucumber, banana, coconut, chutney, chow-chow and tomatoes.For dessert we had the sampler with four satisfying sweet tooth treats; a Polynesian snowball (vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut with pecans and bittersweet chocolate sauce), Tahitian coffee creme brulee, Chocolate kumquat spring roll and a scrumptious cheesecake. A perfect ending to a South Sea dining adventure.
For reservations call (213) 785-3330.  Trader Vic’s is located at 800 West Olympic Blvd. # A120, Los Angeles, CA 90015.

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Satisfying Every Appetite at the Grand Lux Cafe

Happy Hour
Rustic Pizza, Fried Pickles, and Goat Cheese salad

Walking into the Grand Lux Café on the corner of La Cienega and Third Street at the base of the Beverly Center, my daughter exclaimed, “I feel like I’m in Las Vegas.” The marble floors, rich jewel tones and gold accents reminded us of the Cheesecake Factory at the Caesar Forum.  Our waiter explained that Grand Lux Café was a brainchild of David Overton, Founder of The Cheesecake Factory. He was approached by the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to create an upscale, yet casual restaurant for the resort.  Overton was so excited about the opportunity that he traveled to Europe to study cafes, trattorias and bistros in Italy, France and Vienna.  The trips inspired his design concept, menu and décor.  He wanted Grand Lux Café to be a destination where anyone in the family or group could find a dish they like, so he offers food from around the globe. Recipes from Asia, America, Europe and even the Caribbean are featured throughout the menu of over 170 items.  Since his Las Vegas flagship was a huge success, he has opened others in eight states. 

While dining for lunch, I asked the waiter what dishes are popular? He replied, “The crispy calamari is the number one appetizer sold.” It arrived with a warm Marinara sauce and was a tasty treat.  Another top seller is their BBQ pork sliders topped with cole slaw.  I thought I would order something healthy, so I requested the beet and ricotta salad with arugula, fresh oranges and hazelnuts.  It was refreshing.  Next we were curious about the fried pickles.  How often does one see that on a menu? They arrived warm with a tasty Remoulade sauce and were crispy, yet soft in the middle. They tasted heavenly.  For an entrée, we ordered the Mahi Mediterranean. A crusted fresh Mahi fish arrived on a bed of mashed potatoes with roasted tomatoes, artichokes, capers, basil and topped with a olive oil and balsamic vinegar sauce.  The portions are large and can easily be shared by two people.  We were pleasantly surprised about how savory the sauce was in this dish.  It had a hint of sweetness, yet pleasant to our palettes.

For dessert, they offer freshly baked (order with your entrée, because they take up to 20 minutes to bake) molten chocolate cake, warm New Orleans beignets served with three sauces for dipping, warm rustic apple pie a la mode, or my absolute favorite – homemade warm chocolate chip pecan cookies (arrive by the dozen) or a box of four freshly baked chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  I wanted to try the beignets and the cookies, so I ordered both, ate one of each and took the rest home. Both were better than I expected.

Grand Lux Café serves lunch and dinner daily and offers a breakfast menu for Saturday and Sunday.  For those who like to dine early, the Grand Happy Hour from 4 – 6:30pm on Monday to Friday with selected well drinks and wines by the glass are $5.  Draft beers are $4.  The majority of the appetizers, tapas and mini bites on their Happy Hour menu are also under $5.

In today’s economy, the Grand Lux Café is a safe bet for a winning meal.

Fabio is Top Chef’s Fan Favorite

Walking up to the front door of the newly opened FIRENZE OSTERIA, I read a saying on the wall “In order to get a good hug, you have to give one first.”  This is a mantra that the owners Fabio Viviani, Jacopo Falleni and Lisa Long, teach their staff daily.

Fabio Viviana is living a dream come true and enjoying a wonderful new chapter in his life. No wonder he won Fan Favorite on the Emmy award show – TOP CHEF.  He exudes charm.

Born and raised in the Tuscany region, Fabio became passionate about food and cooking at the age of twelve. He loved hanging around a popular restaurant near his home. One night, when the head chef cut himself badly, he allowed Fabio to finish cooking the evening meals. It was his chance to prove himself as a creative chef, and impress every diner that evening. He succeeded. Fabio knew then, that being a chef was his destiny.

After attending the Culinary Institute in Florence, Italy, he spent months working for free alongside master chefs. Using cutting edge technology, he perfected his Northern Italian comfort-style cooking.

Friends since they were twelve, Jacopo Falleni, the famed mixologist (makes an incredible strawberry-balsamic martini), trained at a Sommelier school in Italy, and moved to New York City. After 9/11, he traveled to California and worked at Café Fiore in Ventura, CA.  When the restaurant needed a new Head Chef, Jacopo encouraged Fabio to fly across the Atlantic and start a new life in America. This dynamic-duo spent sixteen hours a day working in the restaurant. When an opportunity to open a new restaurant in Moorpark, CA was offered to them, they happily accepted the invitation and made it a success. Their restaurant, Café Firenze brought a dining sensation into the sleepy family community of Moorpark. The city embraced these two talented young men and Café Firenze was an overnight sensation.  William Shatner dined there often, as did others from all around Southern California.

After filming Top Chef, Fabio became a superstar. Bravo offered him to star in another show.  Executives from the Today show and Ellen extended invitations to appear on their shows. Fabio became a celebrity chef in demand.

When Lisa Long met Fabio and Jacopo, she realized they were the perfect team to revamp her restaurant in Universal City and offered them an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

As we sat inside the warm and romantic dining room talking about Fabio and Jacopo’s journey, we started with Pancetta wrapped Jumbo Prawns filled with Italian Sharp Gorgonzola on a bed of baby spinach. It was superb.  Next we tried the Crispy Duck Salad, with shredded duck, wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and toasted pine-nuts served on mixed greens.  Another favorite is Ravioli di Brasato – Braised Short Ribs Ravioli covered in a Taleggio Sauce and 25-Year aged Balsamic Vinegar.

The Los Angeles area has longed for a place like FIRENZE OSTERIA – Good food, a fun atmosphere and a great hug. FIRENZE OSTERIA, 4241 Lankershim Blvd. Universal City; (818) 760-7081.

Boy Meets Girl

It’s a great boy meets girl story. The boy is Nick Jacobs, a graduate from Beverly Hills high school and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.  After working with some of the top chefs learning the best “tricks of the trade,” he grew tired of the traffic and snow in New York and moved back to sunny California.  One day he met his future business partner, Adrian Sully and was offered an opportunity to open a restaurant/bar near UCLA.

The girl is a pastry school comrade, Renee Faris, one of the stars on TLC Cake Boss and winner of the prestigious Ultimate Cake Challenge. Jacobs invited her on the social media site, Facebook, to leave New Jersey and move to Los Angeles to be his pastry chef. She bought a plane ticket, found a place in Venice to rest her head, and whips up divine desserts daily at The Glendon Bar & Kitchen.

For those of you that remember Westwood in the early 80s, it was a destination people from all over the world visited for dinner, drinks, music and a movie.  When the Third street Promenade opened, it lured people closer to the beach.  As I drove to The Glendon Bar & Kitchen, I noticed the transformation of the street.  Retail is on the ground floor and housing is above.  It has a festive community feel. 

I met a friend at The Glendon for lunch. We shared a latte colored homemade pretzel served with a honey Dijon dipping sauce.  Next, a plate of California crab cakes arrived with a tasty avocado citrus purée and mixed greens. 

For my entrée I enjoyed the Protein Duo with one scoop of curry chicken waldorf and another of scrumptious tuna salad served on a bed of mixed greens marinated in sweet onion balsamic vinaigrette.

Renee’s flourless chocolate cake topped with a rich chocolate Gonash and served with mint-macerated strawberries and whipped cream was heavenly.

For theatre patrons, The Glendon is an ideal spot for a light Happy Hour dinner.  Served from 4-7pm, all well drinks are just $5 and selected martini’s $5 all day, everyday.  Everything on the bar menu is 50% off.  California crab cakes are $6; Glendon Sliders topped with caramelized onions and horseradish sauce are $5.  After the theatre, the Happy Hour resumes from 10pm-midnight offering the same value specials.

I returned on a Friday night to find the restaurant packed with happy patrons. The bar was filled with handsome young men and women in business attire and UCLA graduates enjoying a drink or two to celebrate the weekend. The vibe is friendly. Looking at the bar menu, I chuckled at the wine by the glass section on the back of the menu. For your first date, the wines are $8 a glass.  Second date wines are $10 and third date (lucky you) wines are $12 a glass. The Glendon Bar & Kitchen is a great place for another boy meets girl story to develop. 1071 Glendon Ave., (310) 208-2023.

Auntie Em’s in Eagle Rock

This is my favorite restaurant in Southern California for fresh and healthy breakfast dishes, soups, salads and sandwiches. Their cupcakes are delish.

Auntie Em's
Auntie Em's

This is my daughter’s and my favorite breakfast and lunch spot. Not only is food prepared from scratch daily, they cook by the season and use organic whenever possible. 

For Breakfast I adore the Bagels and Eggs – seeded bagel topped with Gruyere, grilled tomatoes and scrambled eggs, served with a delicious homemade salsa. The French Toast is super thick and the Homemade Granola with Strauss Dairy Organic Yogurt arrives with bananas and fresh berries.
For lunch instead of a BLT, they offer a BLAST – Applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, sprouts and mayo on a soft rosemary foccacia. Another favorite is the French Country Sandwich with Cypress Grove’s Humbolt Fog Goat Cheese, cucumber, baby greens, walnuts, honey on homemade wheat bread with pumpkin and poppyseed.

Save room for one of their 4 cupcakes: dark chocolate, red velvet, carrot cake and coconut. Auntie Em’s is at 4616 Eagle Rock Blvd. Los Angeles, (323) 255-0800. 

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