Be still my heart at Mi Corazon

After finding success with their first location of Mi Corazon (“my heart” in Spanish) in Glendale, husband-and-wife duo Jeremy and Vanessa Swan have continued to spread their love of food with a new location in Silver Lake. Situated in the former Maré space on Hyperion, Mi Corazon offers up delicious homemade Mexican cooking with a health-conconscious focus.

The focal point of Mi Corazon, is of course, a beautiful stained glass red heart in a wood frame surrounded by tequila bottles. However, much of the restaurant’s décor, with its ornate frames, carved crucifixes and flickering lanterns, is dark and slightly gothic – clearly inspired by Jeremy Swan’s nearby Broken Art Tattoo shop, where he serves as owner and talented artist, as well as where he has appeared on TLC America’s Worst Tattoos covering up other artists’ mistakes.

 

We started the meal off with a drink. The restaurant’s beverage program includes over 60 tequilas and mezcals, Mexican-style boilermakers, classic margaritas, and specialty craft libations, including a margarita with sliced pears and an exciting flaming blue cocktail. They also offer an array of beers that include Tecate, Modelo, Negra Modelo and Ocho Reales Pilsner. For nonalcoholic drinks, they offer horchata, Jarritos, Mexican cola and agua frescas.

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While sipping an el clasico margarita made with silver tequila, agave and lime juice, our server brought a basket of yellow and blue corn tortilla chips, along with four different salsas. The choices included serrano, smooth chipotle cream, Pancho Villa and a chunky pico de gallo with chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro.

My favorite starter was the queso fundido – a Mexican fondue made with melted Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo. It’s served in a black skillet on top of a flame to stay smooth and warm.

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I also thoroughly enjoyed a generous portion of elote, served in a bowl rather than on the cob so as to avoid a mess. What makes this street corn so tasty is the salsa aioli, lavish sprinkling of Mexican chili powder and Mexican cheese on top. Thinly sliced radished decorated the dish and offered a peppery bite.

Before moving on to tacos, steaming bowls of pozole verde were delivered to our table. Made with organic chicken stewed in a mild green chile broth, the classic soup also featured hominy, avocado and cabbage, which enhanced the soup’s base.

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My eyes really widened, however, when a large platter of beer-battered fish tacos arrived with an artful drizzle of white cream on top of shredded cabbage, and a chopped mango and tomatillo chutney. To follow up, we munched on grilled wild-caught jumbo shrimp tacos. Both were very delicious and as I learned, healthier than just your typical tacos. To ensure their tacos and platters are non-GMO and hormone-free, the Swans work with only certain vendors who supply grass-fed beef, organic chicken and wild-caught seafood.

Continuing our meal, we tried two hard-shell tacos – the potato with hominy corn, green onion, chipotle and Monterey Jack cheese, as well as the ground beef and pickle taco. Both were good, but the Mexican spices and pickle brought a pleasing kick of flavor to the beef taco.

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Mi Corizon also serves a variety of platters, including sizzling fajitas, red snapper with chopped peanuts, Mexican spices, and grilled vegetables with vegan rice and beans. The wild-caught jumbo shrimp is topped with a spicy red chili cream sauce, and the chicken mole is made with chicken thighs smothered with their house-made, 20-ingredient sauce that includes peanuts and sesame seeds. If you’re in the mood for something simpler, the restaurant also offers burritos and enchiladas stuffed with a vegetable medley, chicken, beef or cheese. The dishes can be topped with a choice of either salsa roja, mole or chile verde sauce for a bit of spice.

As a pastry chef, Vanessa proved her worth with her plates of flan, choco flan and gooey Mexican chocolate cake. I especially enjoyed the flan, with the flavors of cinnamon, cayenne pepper and burnt sugar caramel blending perfectly together.

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Beyond just the food, Mi Corizon offers a variety of specials to keep people coming back. On Tuesdays, they offer their two tacos and a shot of tequila or margarita special for $14. On Wednesdays, they serve a mezcal margarita for $8 and two vegan tostadas for $8. And Thursdays, customers pay happy hour prices all night long.

The restaurant also features a new bottomless brunch menu featuring Mexican classics such as the omelet de rajas, French toast made with Mexican bolillo bread dipped in a creamy cinnamon batter, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. And besides serving micheladas and bloody marias, they also offer bottomless mimosas.

Next time you seek authentic and healthy Mexican cuisine, head over to Mi Corazon for both your taste buds and your heart. $$. 2609 Hyperion Ave., (323)522-3320 and 402 W Kenneth Road, (818)500-8100.

This review was also featured in the March 8, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press.

Pine & Crane leaves you pining for more

I’ve often driven by Pine & Crane and have noticed a long line of people winding out the door. The popular Taiwanese-Chinese restaurant is a fast-casual operation where guests place their order at the counter and then find a table or spot at the wooden communal table. There’s room for 40 diners inside, or you can find a seat outside at the Sunset Triangle space, but, you must take your food to go.

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The vegetables used to make the innovative dishes are from chef Vivian Ku’s family farm in Bakersfield. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

My friend Mary and I looked over the chalkboard menu of shareable small plates, vegetables and noodles, and selected a beverage. There is a choice of exotic Chinese and Taiwanese loose leaf teas, iced teas including a floral jasmine green tea, passionfruit black tea, and bubble milk teas made with whole milk, house simple syrup and optional Boba pearls. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s. The taro milk tea is a creamy lavender color made with real taro, whole milk, taro powder and optional chewy tapioca balls resting on the bottom of the glass. Mary ordered the sea salt black milk tea topped with an in-house sea salt whipped cream. They also make a sea salt jasmine tea that is a delightful balance of sweet and savory.

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For beer and wine drinkers they offer a rotating selection of beers on draft including Smog City Little Bo Pils and a Boulevard Tropical Pale Ale that offers bright refreshing flavors of grapefruit and passion fruit accented by citrusy hops. It’s the perfect pairing with the beef roll.

Wine can be ordered by the glass or bottle. The rotating list might include a Teutonic Riesling from the Willamette Valley offering notes of apple, honeysuckle and pear. The Chahalem Chardonnay offers ripe golden apples with hints of peach and papaya. It pairs nicely with the autumn Kabocha squash dumplings.

For those looking for sake, they offer a Gekkeikan Nigori which is thicker, cloudy and creamier in texture. They also pour a connoisseur glass of sake, Sho Chiku Bai Junmai Ginjo offering a silky-smooth, rich texture with fruity flavor.

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We found a table for two along the wood banquette wall and admired the modern dining room with concrete flooring, light wood ceiling and natural light streaming in from the front windows. Our dishes were delivered to our table rather quickly and first to arrive were four panfried Kabocha squash dumplings. Kabocha is also known as Japanese pumpkin, with an orange, fluffy texture that offers a sweeter than butternut squash flavor.

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Pine & Crane’s owner and chef Vivian Ku offers organic, seasonal produce in many of the dishes. She gets her veggies from her family farm in Bakersfield. The Ku farm has supplied Asian markets in Southern California with their produce for over 20 years. When available, guests dining at Pine & Crane can purchase Ku’s produce to take home.

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We ordered the wood ear mushrooms grown at Ku’s farm. The chef adds sesame oil, soy sauce and a little rice wine to dazzle them.

The eggplant from the farm is sliced and sautéed with basil and chiles until soft in texture and filled with wonderful balanced flavors.

Our friendly server brought us a beef roll made with a deep-fried scallion pancake that is rolled like a burrito. This shareable dish is filled with pieces of seasoned beef shank, long slices of cucumber, scallions and cilantro. Cut into four large bite size pieces, I took one and dipped it into the accompanying slightly sweet hoisin sauce with a touch of ginger. Mary raved about this popular roll, and we noticed over half the diners were enjoying a roll on their table.

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The Dan Dan noodles at Pine & Crane are prepared Taiwanese style rather than the spicier Sichuan version. They’re milder, with more sesame, peanuts and just a dash of house-made chili oil. The large white bowl of noodles had long strips of cucumber, small scallion medallions and sprigs of cilantro. The sesame-peanut sauce adds a touch of sweetness to this shareable dish.

There are about a dozen items to choose from on the small plate menu and even more on the rotating cold appetizer section, plus noodles and rice. With so many more dishes to try on the menu, I plan to come back again soon.

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Pine & Crane does not take reservations, and seating is first-come, first-serve. I recommend calling ahead to see how busy they are in the dining room. Open Wednesday through Monday from 12 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. $$. 1521 Griffith Park Blvd. (323)668-1128.

 

Same-Same, but Different Thai Food

(A Hidden Gem in a small strip mall - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(A Hidden Gem in a small strip mall – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Longtime Rambutan Thai in Sliver Lake recently received a three week nip and tick transformation. Gone is the gold ceiling, and peachy colored walls. Instead of a small bar in the back, an additional long bar was added in the front and lined with wine bottles. The newly painted black ceiling offers an illusion of height, while the framed mirrors hanging on the walls, add a touch of glamour inside the the dark, romantic interior.

Near the entrance is a bright pink neon sign stating “but different.” This sums up the new partnership with Rambutan Thai owners – Katy Noochlaor & Annie Daniel with Last Word Hospitality – Holly Zack, Adam Weisblatt and Angus McShan.

(Same-Same, but different - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Same-Same, but different – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

This beautiful collaboration started when Weisblatt and his team looked at restaurant spaces in Los Angeles to open a Basque restaurant serving pintxos – Basque tapas with Txakolina sparkling wine, and Basque cider. After a trip to the new popular vacation destination; San Sebastian, Weisblatt wanted to bring the flavors of Spain’s Northern Coast to Los Angelenos.

When their broker took them to a strip mall near the corner of Sunset and Silver Lake, they met Katy & Annie inside Rambutan Thai. They learned this restaurant has a longtime following of take-out customers within the neighborhood. They also discovered these two women have big hearts and are loved by many locals. While exchanging hugs, Weisblatt decided to keep what was a sure thing in the neighborhood and just enhance it.
Walking into Same Same, partner Holly Zack welcomed us while pouring wine into glasses behind the bar. She introduced us to Weisblatt who led us to a corner table near the front of the restaurant. We learned he graduated from The University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in Hospitality, worked on Martha’s Vineyard, and trained at the Fairmount Hotels.

(Poured into a glass the authentic way - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Poured into a glass the authentic way – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Weisblatt wants guests to enjoy a little of Basque Country with Thai cuisine. He returned to our table with a tall, thin bottle of Tzakolina. Also known as Txakoli, it’s made from grapes grown along the coastal Basque country vineyards. What is very cool, is what happens to Txakoli when it’s poured. With a special pourer fitted on the green bottle, Weisblatt tilted the bottle the traditional way, from a height above normal to aerate the wine and increase the amount of bubbles. The higher the pour at a 90 degree angle, the more captivated we were watching the silver stream of bubbles enter the glass. This wine must be drunk within one year of bottling, as it cannot be stored for longer.

Sipping this aperitif offers a spritzy acidity and low alcohol content that refreshes and cleanses the palate. It goes great with the Thai street food snacks on the menu, that includes fresh spring rolls filled with prawns, pork, tofu, bean sprouts, chive and sliced cucumber. It’s sweetened with a tamarind sauce. Another great dish to eat is the Thai beef jerky made with crispy marinated beef and dazzled with a Northeastern Thai Jaew sauce offering a little essence of spicy, savory, tangy, nutty, and pungent.

(Spring roll goes well with a Singha beer - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Spring roll goes well with a Singha beer – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Noodle dishes include Kuaytiaw Reua (boat noodles), Kuaytuaw Tom Yum (hot and sour noodles) and Khao Soi (coconut curry noodles).
They also make my favorite Thai soup – Tom Yum Gai hot and sour lemongrass chicken soup. All the three soups on the menu can be made vegan and served in a cup or bowl.

Looking at the menu, I noticed a symbol of a cauldron with fire coming out of it. That means you will definitely want to pair the dish with a Singha beer or glass of wine to cut the heat. With the Northern Thai version Laab, chefs Katy & Annie prepare their family recipes using an elaborate mix of dried spices as flavoring and seasoning. Did I detect cumin, cloves, and a spicy long pepper? Maybe also star anise, cinnamon and ground dried chillies?

As my lips tingled, Adam Weisblatt recommended a pour of 2014 Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Spatlese from Rheinhessen, Germany. Normally, I don’t like sweet wines, however this sweetness balanced the heat profile, as did biting into to the cool cabbage leaves. Laab is the national dish of Laos. It is also eaten in Thailand where many Laotian people live. This laab is served with snake beans that are similar to a green bean, yet thinner and longer.

This fresh, authentic Thai food is different from many Thai restaurants trying to placate to the American palate. These dishes fondly brought back a happy memory of eating Thai street food while exploring Phuket and Chiang Mai in the 1990s.

The fried rice includes spicy prawns; Thai sausage; mackerel and a beef Jerky with dry green curry paste, Thai basil and Serrano pepper.

(Curry's are divine - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Curry’s are divine – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Curries come in green or Panang (red curry) with coconut milk or coconut cream. You can order them vegan style or with chicken, pork, tofu, market vegetables, beef, fish or shrimp. We decided on the Gaeng Kiew Wan (green curry) with tofu, coconut milk, bamboo shoots, basil and Thai eggplant. When sliced and cooked in the curry sauce, the green and white eggplant becomes softer and absorbs the flavor of the sauce.

Be adventurous and try the Kaijeow Goong Sab (Thai Shrimp Omelet) and Ka Nah Mu Grob (Chinese broccoli and crispy pork belly).
Weisblatt is very proud of his music playlist. It took him three months to create, “I want guests to get the same experience listening to my music, as I do with Quentin Tarantino’s eclectic approach to creating movie soundtracks,” Weisblatt said.

The friendly partnership has become one happy family. Katy and Annie like to stay in the kitchen preparing dishes they grew up eating. They fondly call Weisblatt “talking bird,” because he is always engaged with guests, while pouring wine, making suggestions and serving their dishes.
Come experience Same Same offering different, yet very pleasing Thai flavors.

Open daily for dinner from 5 p.m. to closing. $$ 2835 W. Sunset Blvd. (213)273-8424.

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.

El Cid: Dinner Theater Reborn on Sunset

In the 1960s, El Cid, a popular dinner-theatre venue, opened on Sunset Boulevard.  The Spanish-style tavern was housed in a 1905 structure, originally built by film director, D.W. Griffith, where he debuted his epic film “The Birth of a Nation”.

In its early years, El Cid was a frequent hangout for Hollywood celebs, including Marlon Brando. The nightclub, adorned with colorful tiles, fountains and paver-style flooring,  enjoyed many prosperous years before its clientele changed and attracted a rowdier crowd. Numerous complaints about the club were filed with the city over noise and traffic, and finally the club closed in 2011. This past summer, new owners took control and re-opened El Cid in the hopes of bringing it back to its heyday. The interior and exterior were spruced up a bit, but left largely intact. Wood beams, murals and red stage curtains complete the Spanish features of the open space, ideal for stage shows.

The newly hired chef, BJ Munoz, and General Manager, Laura Ann Masura, have carefully crafted a new dinner and cocktail menu. Many of the signature cocktails are made with Masura’s homemade jams, like the strawberry vanilla bean margarita, mixed with silver tequila, fresh lime, agave nectar and strawberry vanilla bean preserves. The Silver Lake Pinta mixes strawberry preserves with spiced rum, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. We tried one of each. I liked how the jam sinks to the bottom and can be stirred with a straw before each sip, drawing up some of the fresh preserves.

Chef Munoz went to culinary school at 16 years old and has worked at Traxx at Union Station, AMMO and Auntie Em’s Kitchen. He has added some delightful tapas to his menu, yet with opening just a few weeks ago, he and his kitchen staff are still working out a few details. For example, we were told the soup of the evening was a carrot and ginger purée. However, what we were served was a warm tomato and basil soup – still very tasty, but not what we expected.

To read the rest of my review, click on http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2012/10/el-cid-dinner-theatre-reborn-on-sunset/, courtesy of The Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News. Published on Oct. 4 ,2012.

NAYA – Innovative Indian Cuisine

 During the high winds last week, it was a relief to visit NAYA in Silver Lake to get out of the harsh elements. For those of you who remember the Indian restaurant Tantra Sunset, it’s closed. In its space is a newly transformed Indian restaurant, brilliantly designed by Spacecraft. The interiors are worth a visit with its dark, gothic sculpted arches and Moroccan lighting in the bar/lounge. Across the reception area is an ethereal light dining room with white lace curtains flowing down from the ceiling and red accent colors. Read the rest of my article courtesy of the Beverly Press/Park La Brea News published on 12/08/11.  Click on this link: http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2011/12/naya-new-indian-fusion-in-los-angeles/

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