Tesse is Terrific on Sunset

After developing and operating over 20 successful restaurant concepts such as Bestia, Petty Cash, République and Otium, restaurateur Bill Chait repeats his success with Tesse, his newest endeavor on Sunset.

The new dynamic duo Michelin-starred Executive chef/partner Raphael Francois and award winning partner/pastry chef Sally Camacho Mueller make quite a team at Tesse on Sunset. Chef Raphael worked with Marcus Mueller (Sally’s husband) and when the idea of Tesse came about, Raphael knew Sally would make a perfect partner.

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Tesse is a play on the French word “delicatesse,” meaning delicacy. It’s a thoughtful restaurant the minute you walk inside and notice Alexis Readinger of Preen, Inc., design. It’s modern with a teak bar, soft tan leather banquettes, a beautiful wood and cork ceiling, and interesting 3-D patterned rose colored cinder block walls throughout the main dining space.

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The first time I dined at Tesse was last year while attending a private dinner in the attached Boutellier wine room. Managing partner and wine director Jordan Organ opened this unique wine store and named Boutellier – a French title given to one in charge of the King’s wine. The logo of this space is a key, representing the only person with a key to the King’s cellar.

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Ogron travelled the world exploring unique partnerships with wineries, and brought hard to find and affordable wines to Los Angeles. During the evening, this wine store lined with bottles, is transformed into a private dining room for standing receptions or private seated dinners. 

Ogron’s wine list features nearly thirty wines by the glass that come in 3 oz. pours, and a list of thousands of bottle selections.  The 3 oz. pours enable guests to enjoy multiple varieties, however if diners prefer a traditional pour they can tell their server.

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They also offer two corkage policies. If you purchase wine at Boutellier, it may be opened in Tesse for $15 per bottle, no bottle maximum. All other wines will be charged at $30 per bottle for the first and second bottles, and $50 per bottle for the third and fourth bottles with a four bottle maximum.

The contemporary dinner menu offers a European twist that is influenced by chef Raphael’s recipe that he learned to make while growing up in Belgium and France. This esteemed chef has a resume that includes Michelin-starred dining establishments in Brussels, Paris and London. He cooked at Le Cirque in New York and Le DeSales in Washington DC. Now the bearded chef lives near the restaurant and gets around Los Angeles on a BIRD electric scooter to go to the Farmers Market.

Before drinking wine, I enjoyed a craft cocktail named Date Night designed by Nick Meyer and Julian Cox. It was a refreshing vodka based beverage enhanced with date syrup and cranberry juice. I sipped it while enjoying French specialities displayed on a long wooden board with thick slices of bread and whole grain mustard. There were pâtés, terrines, rillettes, saucisses and dates. 

Chef Raphael next sent to our table a classic beef tartare with a twist. It was mixed with caper berries, chopped shallots, on a Grana Padano cheese crisp with shaved cheese and a sprinkling of chive aioli.

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Bowls of colorful radicchio and kale leave had thin slices of peach, kernels of corn and a sprinkling of goat cheese. It was dressed with a pleasing beer vinaigrette and paired nicely with a beautiful Chardonnay Library Release Frostwatch 2014 from Bennett Valley. I learned the wine is a barrel fermented blend evoking layers of flavors that include ripe red apple followed by citrus notes of lemon, lime and orange peel. This wine offered a rich silky mouthfeel with just a nuance of well-integrated French oak.

This wine also went well with ethereal plump ravioli pillows filled with parmesan cheese, sweet currants and sautéed herbs.

Large scoop of burrata, topped with Oregon porcini duxelles arrived before my entree. Duxelles is finely chopped mushrooms with shallots, herbs such as thyme or parsley, and black pepper. It is all sautéed in butter and reduced to a paste. I grabbed another piece of this heavenly bread and spread this on top. Delicious!

A plates of beautifully cooked French classic skirt steak was set in front of me. The protein was cooked on the wood-fired hearth before it was topped with a bordelaise sauce, watercress, sliced grapes, and shallots.

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The last highlight of the evening was pastry chef Sally’s dessert. After graduating with honors from both the Culinary and Baking, and Pastry Programs at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, she gained recognition for her exquisite duck egg creme brûlée. I thought it would be savory, yet instead the creamy custard base sweetened with Muscovado, a robust flavor sugar from Mauritius. It’s high molasses content gives a strong lingering flavor. This beautiful ethereal brunt cream had a curled almond crisp tuile cookie dusted with powdered sugar on top.

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Enjoying the dinner so much, I brought my husband to Tesse for brunch on a rainy Sunday last month. Sitting in the main dining room, we started off with three of chef Sally’s pastries to share around the table. We chose a chocolate croissant, along with a fresh fruit danish and a small banana loaf. All were exquisite.

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Our friendly server recommended we start with fresh red beet and carrot juice, and a kale, celery and green apple juice. She also told us that we have never tasted a grapefruit like the one they serve at brunch.

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It’s half of a ruby red grapefruit with muscovado sugar sprinkled on top. When torched, it bubbles and browns to a caramelized brûlée. The blushing red sections burst juicy sweetness with each spoonful.

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During brunch the formidable culinary duo reinvent classic brunch fare into something special. We ordered chef Raphael’s special smoked salmon Benedict topped with an exquisite herb hollandaise. Instead of English muffins, the eggs are on top of two slices of housemade brioche bread. Lovely pickled tomatoes and smoked salmon finish this brunch favorite.

img_0089When the “Frenchy Pizza” was delivered, Chef Raphael arrived at our table to prepare the dish in front of us. On a large wooden round plate were two grilled crepes topped with olive oil. There were dishes of ricotta cheese, garlicky pesto, marinated tomato confit and crispy prosciutto. This is the only restaurant in Los Angeles where you will experience this unique and savory crepe style crust pizza. Chef finished it off by shaving French cheese on top. 

While enjoying the new brunch offerings, we glanced at the daytime cocktail menu, including the Drip Club for coffee lovers with vodka, demerara (a dark rum fermented cane sugar from Guyana), and coffee. The Tesse Bellini is a pour of Champagne and peaches, while the refreshing Gin Fizz Tropicale is a mix of Sunday gin, orgeat, pineapple, and lime.

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Looking around the dining room, I noticed almost every table had a stacked up high Tesse burger. It’s made with braised short rib, instead of ground beef, and is topped with a thick and crispy onion ring.  Baby bib lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, pickled jalapeños and housemade ketchup finish the burger served with a handful of duck fat fries.

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Before leaving, our sweet and efficient server Maureen encouraged us to walk across the breezeway to Fred Segal to see the newly opened Tesse Cafe and Bakery. It is open for breakfast and lunch serving French delicacies on Sunset.

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Tesse is open for dinner daily from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday brunch begins at 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tesse Cafe & Bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with lunch during the weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 8500 W. Sunset Blvd. (310)360-3866.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press on February 28. 

Dine Like a Celebrity at BOA Steakhouse on Sunset

(BOA Steakhouse -photo by Jill Weinlein)
(BOA Steakhouse -photo by Jill Weinlein)

Driving into the parking garage of one of the most prestigious pieces of real estate in West Hollywood, I noticed an impressive array of Bentleys, Ferraris and Teslas lined in a row.

The stunning modern high-rise tower on Sunset Blvd. was the headquarters of renowned architect Charles Luckman. In 2009, architect Stephen Kanner re-clad and re-skinned the exterior giving it modern lines, blue-tinted glass and a light-colored facade. The revocation attracted elite entertainment companies and the Innovative Dining Group (IDG) to open BOA Steakhouse on the street level of the building.

With its elegant decor, professional service and indoor and outdoor patio dining space, BOA Steakhouse has become an ideal power lunch and dinner destination for actors and models visiting Ford Models office, Abrams Artists or Atlas Entertainment and Media Talent Group located in the 14-story building.

In 2010, the private, members-only Soho House took over the two-story penthouse on top of the building, which served as Luckman’s personal residence, before he sold it to the Mani Brothers Real Estate Group.

(Celebrity Rob Reiner with writer)
(Celebrity Rob Reiner with writer)

I’ve dined at BOA Steakhouse for lunch twice and both times I have seen a few familiar faces. Recently, I enjoyed seeing actor, comedian, producer and director Rob Reiner. He stopped at our table and shared with me that he has two movies coming out, with one premiering in May, 2016.

What brings people back to BOA Steakhouse is the talented Executive Chef Jose Melendez. The amiable chef was formerly at Patina Restaurant Group before coming over to IDG. He creates the best chicken chilaquiles in LA. Who knew a steakhouse would make a plate of fresh tortilla chips layered with a green tomatillo salsa, cotija cheese and an egg on top. This egg is cooked to 61 degrees. When our server Corey pierced the egg with a fork, the sunny yellow yolk oozed onto the chips and Chef Jose’s secret lemon crema sauce dotted with a pinch of microgreens. It’s a heavenly combination of smooth and crunchy, mellow and slightly vinegary. The perfect balance and this dish is only available on Mondays during the lunch hour.

(Photo Courtesy of BOA Steakhouse)
(Photo Courtesy of BOA Steakhouse)

I enjoyed these chilaquiles with a group of six friends sitting at a circular booth outside on the patio. After this winning dish, we shared a Wagyu Flat Iron steak with Baby Gem salad. The beef is aged for at least 40 days and brushed with a glistening butter and red wine sauce when grilled. It’s sliced perfectly in a row, framing the Baby Gem lettuce leaves that are crowned with pickled mushrooms, breaded and crispy onions and shallots, and then dressed with a zesty Dijon vinaigrette.

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

We also tried a variety of Chef Jose’s new sandwiches on the Spring menu starting with an avocado and Burrata toast. He chars the edges of a sliced baguette, before spreading a thick and creamy white burrata cheese on top. Then he adds toasted hazelnuts, sautés king trumpet mushrooms, and adds a few spicy baby greens with a sprinkle of truffle vinaigrette. It’s served with either a salad, french fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings or fresh fruit.

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

A favorite at the table was the layered grilled chicken torta. Chef Jose calls this the “East LA meets Hollywood,” sandwich. He grills a chicken breast and chars panela cheese. It’s one of Chef Jose’s favorite cheese, because when he heats it, the cheese softens, but doesn’t melt. It’s a white and smooth cheese that is similar to Indian paneer, and exquisitely absorbs the flavors of the housemade escabeche vegetables of diced cauliflower, carrots and baby tomatoes. This is not a boring chicken sandwich, especially with the black bean chips layered between the two slices of bread.

An interactive sandwich is the smoked Wagyu Tri-tip that arrived to our table under a glass dome. The General Manager Brad Stewart removed the glass slowly, so we all could see and smell the smoke swirl out and dissipate upwards. That smoky essence continues between two pieces of bread with sliced Brie, roasted red peppers, thinly sliced Wagyu beef and a flavorful black pepper aioli.

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

The roasted turkey sandwich isn’t dull either, with its sliced turkey enhanced with smoked mozzarella, oven dried tomatoes and pickled chow-chow made with a variety of vegetables in a mustard slaw.

We all enjoyed the BLT with slightly sweet applewood smoked bacon, crisp lettuce, avocado and a pleasing creamy bacon dressing.

Lunch entrée salads include a blackened salmon quinoa salad with smoked artichokes, roasted peppers and lemon vinaigrette. Many of the starter salads on the menu are vegetarian and can have grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp added for protein.

Another popular lunch option is the three course Executive lunch with a starter of a Caesar salad, mixed salad or soup of the day. Entrees include a brick chicken with lemon roasted Weiser farms pee-wee potatoes, charred Spring onions and a dark green, fringed mizuna leaf that is a mild peppery flavor and less spicy than arugula.

(Photo of writer taken at BOA Steakhouse)
(Photo of writer taken at BOA Steakhouse)

For dessert with the Executive lunch, diners receive a generous scoop of ice cream with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. If it’s your birthday, they will insert a sparkler into the ice cream to make it a festive event.

When the sun sets on Sunset Blvd., BOA Steakhouse offers Happy Hour specials from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday in the sophisticated lounge with comfortable, oversized furniture and in the bar area.

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(BOA Steakhouse -photo by Jill Weinlein)

During the dinner hour the restaurant transforms into a romantic setting serving prime Omaha 40 day dry aged New York Strip and the bone in Rib Eye. They also grill up seafood, chops, and premium American Wagyu with a choice of rubs and house made sauces, including BOA’s own J-1 sauce.

A rolling salad cart is pushed throughout the restaurant for an interactive, custom-made Caesar salad presentation.

Sit back, relax, and scan the room, you never know who will be dining next to at this elegant steakhouse.

Valet parking is available or park in the building. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner service begins daily at 5:30 p.m. $$$ 9200 W Sunset Blvd. (310) 278-2050.

This article was featured in the April 7, 2016 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.  – This article is available on the GPSmyCity app –  https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/los-angeles-631.html

Innovative Cart Service at The Church Key

The Church Key earned a winning reputation with foodies and locals raving about their unique wheel cart dining service. Celebrating their second anniversary, Executive chef Steven Fretz and General Manager Joseph Sabato decided to introduce the cart service for a creative lunch experience. I invited a friend to join me for lunch last week.

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

A 1960s Pan Am beverage cart near my table was stocked with carafes of green tea, black tea lemonade, and little bottles filled with different housemade elixirs. Our server, Parker, recommended a eucalyptus elixer to be mixed with iced green tea. There is no alcohol, just pure, thirst quenching refreshment. Other glass bottles contained hibiscus, passion fruit and a Chai that Parker said goes really well with the black tea. “We make new elixirs weekly to change it up,” he said.

Fretz and Sabato started the cart service when they opened The Church Key to offer diners instant gratification. Instead of guests waiting for a server to take a cocktail or appetizer order, the wait staff approaches guests after they have been seated and offers a beverage and a dim-sum small plate. “Diners can sit back and relax while looking over the menu,” Sabato said. “For lunch, we thought an ice tea and lemonade drink cart would appeal to our guests. Arnold Palmers are instantly made right before their eyes.” He said they are thinking about decorating the Pan Am cart to look more like a retro-lemonade stand.

Each meal of the day is a unique dining experience. Chef Fretz graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and joined the Michael Mina Group before opening The Church Key. He earned a reputation for pushing boundaries and making classic dishes more exciting.
His lunch menu, printed on a white paper placemat, looks almost like a children’s menu in an easy-to-read font. A jar of pencils is placed on the table for guests to work on a maze on the menu, or try a word search. “We like to get playful and artistic with our dishes and dining experience,” Sabato said.

Lunch fare includes a Brussels sprout Caesar salad with slices of grilled chicken, shriveled tomato raisins bursting with flavor, crunchy sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese. You won’t find romaine lettuce in this unique take on Caesar salad.

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

The avocado croissant toast is layered with creamy avocado, pickled egg, Hatch chilies and layers of smoked salmon with lemon zest shavings and dollops of luscious creme fraiche.

My favorite dish was the bright green English pea falafel patty on a dark pumpernickel and oat bun. Be sure to add the fried egg to the truffled tahini and tomato mixed with parsley relish. A skewered tomato raisin, grilled green onion and clove of garlic accompany the veggie-style patty, making a pretty dish and oh so delicious.

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

Fretz’s creativity is evident in his French fries, which look like large steak fries, but are actually made from potato gratin. He prepares large trays of potato gratin, cools them, then cuts the gratin into long and thick sticks. Then he deep fries them and serves them with an aioli. They are a heavenly balance of salty, cheesy and creamy potato treats. Don’t be shy about asking for ketchup. I think these are the best fries in Los Angeles.

He also makes a tapioca crusted fish taco made with sea bass that is crispy on the outside yet moist inside. They are enhanced with a Serrano chili aioli, salsa verde, shredded slaw and chips with guacamole.

We had to sample dessert and ordered a plate of Fretz’s winning warm brioche donuts with a brown butter glaze and cinnamon caramel sauce. We each had one donut and took the last one home to enjoy later in the day.

Next time you want to celebrate a special occasion or want to meet a group of friends for lunch, brunch or dinner, reserve a table at The Church Key. The wheeling beverage cart service is one of Los Angeles’ most unique and fun dining experiences. $$ Open Monday through Sunday from from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., for dinner. Sunday Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 8730 W. Sunset Blvd. (424)249-3700.

This review was published in the October 29, 2015 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.

HYDE Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

A free-form mural at the entrance welcomes patrons to Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails. Talented visual artist and designer Gregory Siff was commissioned to paint the edgy abstract of Sunset Boulevard. He wrote quotes from people he overheard while working in the restaurant, including hundreds of poignant and whimsical questions, statements and requests. The motif continues in the dining room.

I met a group of friends at a table near the mural to sample “Top Chef” Season 9 fan favorite Chris Crary’s new summer menu.

We snacked on spiced fried chickpeas and enjoyed Kentucky Mules made with Makers Mark bourbon, lime juice, spicy ginger syrup, Angostura bitters and seltzer water. My friend raved about the Red Dragon cocktail with Bacardi Dragon Berry, freshly pressed lime juice, muddled strawberries and a pinch of fresh mint. I really enjoyed the Hornet’s Ankles cocktail made with Avion Blanco tequila, lime juice and house-blended clover honey syrup. It’s a twist on the classic Bee’s Knees cocktail. As we enjoyed the drinks, we toured the restaurant and lounge.

A huge basement is located under the bar. A metal floor near the bar can be pulled up, revealing a stairway leading to two walk-in refrigerators, a dry pantry and wine cellar. When the building formerly housed the Coconut Teaszer nightclub in the 1980s, the area had a winding staircase and was called The Crooked Bar.

Hyde started down the street as a beloved celebrity club/lounge popular during the late hours. It was a small, intimate and private setting where Lindsay Lohan, Brittney Spears and Nicky Hilton entertained friends.
When Michael Mena XIV closed its doors, Hyde moved to the site at the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon boulevards, and hired executive chef Chris Crary to head the kitchen.

The interior was design by Waldo Fernandez and art collector Guy Hepner. Huge photos are displayed of Elton John playing piano to a sold out stadium crowd, and David Bowie sitting in a chair with a joyful large dog standing on its back legs. Two cozy fireplace areas are ideal for intimate gatherings.

Crary knew he wanted to be a chef at the age of 12 while helping his grandmother in the kitchen and eating her Southern food. When the restaurant space was being renovated before Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails opened, Crary asked the contractors if he could keep the old wood flooring. He sanded, stained and glued pieces together to make serving pieces for his creative fare.

Crary was formerly with The Viceroy and Ocean 41 before coming to Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails on the Sunset Strip. He was cast on Bravo’s “Top Chef”. How could they not select him? Not only is he an incredibly talented chef, he is extremely handsome. While on “Top Chef” Season 9 in Texas, he made it to the group of Top 16 chefs, and was voted fan favorite.

The Hyde is known for its nightclub environment, and now with Crary, it is becoming a foodie dining destination. We started with a colorful plate of peaches and burrata with curled prosciutto. The sweet grilled farmer’s peaches were topped with verdant pesto, toasted pine nuts and thin slices of pretzel bread.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

“Mostly everything is made in-house, except the burrata,” Crary said. “The burrata is from Italy. We bake the brioche and breads.”

Crary’s street tacos, priced at $3 on Tuesdays, are delicious. He makes four varieties each week. For the carnitas tacos, Crary uses pork butt roasted slowly at 250 degrees for more than nine hours. His halibut tacos are topped with a delicious lime slaw, and his carne asada is spiked with zesty creme fraiche.

I also enjoyed the seared ahi tuna with radish, heirloom tomato, avocado puree, basil and compressed watermelon. Crary places watermelon cubes in a bag with soy and sriracha sauces and honey. He vacuum seals the bag to infuse the flavors before serving the bright red watermelon with the ahi. Another seafood inspired dish is fried calamari with sundried tomatoes, pepperoncini, parsley, citrus and wholegrain mustard.

Entrées include a sliced 14-ounce bone-in rib-eye steak with crispy smashed fingerling potatoes and brick colored walnut romesco sauce for dipping. Locally-caught black cod is served with miso cauliflower, kumquat puree and crispy puffed rice.

My favorite dish was Crary’s simple and pure chicken Bolognese with melted parmesan cheese. It had less fat than mac-and-cheese, yet was so comforting.

Side dishes include corn crowdie with pistachio, chile, buttermilk, diced jalepeños and herbs decorated with chile limon popcorn. Another side dish offered is Brussels sprouts marinated in sherry and honey before being flashed fried and drizzled with almonds and dates.

Guests must try the cinnamon spiced milk with Crary’s brown butter chocolate chip cookies and a demitasse of espresso. Crary loves to prepare deconstructed desserts that include s’mores with a large brownie cake smothered with fudge sauce. He tops it with crushed graham crackers, marshmallows and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. His deconstructed lemon tart features meringue peaks, lemon curd and a sprinkling of crumbled pie tart crust.

Could this be the quintessential Los Angeles restaurant attached to one of the hottest nightclubs? Only time will tell, but with Crary at the helm, chances are pretty darn good.

Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails serves brunch on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner begins at 7 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday; 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.

Every other Tuesday, a comedy show is held at 8 p.m. with five comedians and a host. A $20 standing room entrance fee includes admission and one beverage. A $30 three-course prix fixe menu is also available. 8117 Sunset Blvd. (323)940-1650.

This article was published in the August 20, 2015 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News. This review is GPSmyCity – https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/los-angeles-631.html

Cart Dining at Church Key

Cart Dining at The Church KeyDressed as a 1950s stewardess, Ashley pushed a vintage Pan Am airline beverage cart filled with the makings for a really good Bloody Mary cocktail through the dining room at The Church Key. As she approached our vintage table, we noticed the cart had house pickled carrots, celery, and asparagus in little glass jars to garnish the beverages. Guests have a choice of tequila or vodka to enhance the flavor. Our server prefers tequila in her Bloody Mary, because it’s more flavorful than vodka, and it goes well with the saltiness.

Ashley opened the side door to the cart and pulled out a can of Church Key Bloody Mary mix. In her right hand was a Church Key – a small metal device with a triangular point that punches holes into a can. It also has a rounded edge at the other end to remove bottle caps. She opened the can and poured the thick red liquid into a glass with ice and garnished it with our choice of vegetables.

Church Key is gaining a winning reputation with foodies who enjoy cart service dining. General Manager Joseph Sabato thought up the idea, because he likes the dim sum approach for dinner and brunch.

“Our society is becoming so fast paced. People search for instant gratification,” Sabato said.

Instead of guests waiting for a server to come take a cocktail order or sitting idle while waiting for a dish to be served, Sabato has his staff approach tables after a guest is seated to enjoy an immediate cocktail while looking over the menu. “Guests relax and enjoy the evening when they don’t have to sit and wait.” Sabato said. Carts laden with alcohol and food create excitement in dining at Church Key.

DSC_0124The elegant California modern restaurant also has a champagne cart server pushing a vintage Pan Am beverage cart to various tables for the new Sunday brunch service. Guests have a choice of fresh orange or peach juice in little glass bottles to mix with a little bubbly for mimosas and Bellini’s. After we ordered our sparkling drinks, our server stamped a card and placed it on our table.

A pastry cart followed with a variety of pastry chef Ian Opina’s sugary delights. There were orange glazed buns, cinnamon crumble coffee cake and croissants. Again, our card was stamped to alert the server that we had two from the cart.

The brunch menu includes some exciting entrees such as the Toad in the Hole – a Corque Madame served on brioche bread with an egg in the middle smothered in a Gruyere fondue and topped with crispy smoked bacon. Another dish is the grilled asparagus with a sunny side up egg and the most decadent smoked tomato Hollandaise sauce. Every egg dish should have this sauce. It’s exquisite.

Executive Chef Steven Fretz stopped by our table to check in on us. “Breakfast is my favorite meal to cook,” he said. “I love to be in the kitchen folding eggs.”DSC_0128

Chef Fretz graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and joined the Michael Mina Group. After working at Redwood Park, the San Francisco Chronicle and ARCADIA, he earned the reputation of pushing the boundaries with food and making classic dishes more exciting for diners. He moved down to Southern California to become Mina’s Executive Chef of XIV on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights before moving on to The Church Key.

In the evening he is outside of the kitchen inspecting the dishes coming out. He also likes to stroll around the dining room making sure all of the guests are happy and having a good time.

Our server Jamie recommended we try the deep fried French toast with whipped cream and blackberry maple syrup. After eating an entire orange breakfast bun, I decided I had my quota of sweets for the day and chose the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon. There are two on a plate. Chef Fretz likes to thinly slice the top and bottom of a whole English muffin and IMG_9034place it on the griddle to give it a slight crunch. If you want bacon, sausage, gratin fries, crispy potato cakes, or grilled avocado, it is extra.

As our brunch items were delivered to the table, a friend approached our table and insisted we order the brioche donuts with a brown butter glaze and pool of cinnamon caramel in the donut hole. My husband and I agreed to split one order and take the other two donuts home for later. The plate of fresh donuts arrived with a dish of an exquisite soft-serve espresso ice cream. It was a sweet ending to a fun and satisfying Sunday meal.

Next time you have a special occasion or want to meet a group of friends for brunch or dinner, reserve a table at the interactive Church Key. $$ Open Monday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday Brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.8730 West Sunset Blvd. (424)249-3700.

This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on June 24, 2014.

Al Bacio on Sunset Blvd.

IMG_6305Gourmet supplier Roberto Saracino, who owns and operates Liaison West, a high quality Italian food import business, partnered with Chef Christian Simionato to open Al Bacio, a new Italian restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.

The restaurant showcases Italian dishes made from the finest olive oils, cheese, dried pastas, specialty risottos, prosciutto, and black and white truffles.

Chef Simionato is originally from a city near Venice, Italy. As a young boy he would help his family prepare recipes that were handed down through different generations.

At the age of 15, he started in professional kitchens in Italy. Years later he cooked in London and opened a restaurant in Beijing, China combining the unique flavors of Asian and Italian cuisine.

Before opening Al Bacio, Simionato was a sous chef at the restaurant Andrea at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Orange County.IMG_6325

When he made the move to Al Bacio, he brought sous chef Gabriella Gomez with him. She is the pastry chef and works side by side with Simionato.

Al Bacio opened to the public in December, and my husband and I experienced it last Saturday night. We sat at one of the banquette tables on soft almond colored cushions with comfy backs and throw pillows. The stamped silver ceiling adds a touch of elegance to the dining room. The Italian background music, white linen table cloths, low lighting, and flickering votive glass candles creates a romantic atmosphere.

The manager of Al Bacio, Kevin Lepisto, welcomed us with a warm smile. He has worked at this location when the restaurant was the former Il Sole and Osteria Drago. NowDSC_0713 he runs Al Bacio smoothly. Lepisto is professional and attentive to every guest’s needs and makes each person feel welcomed.

We started with a glass of sparkling Prosecco while looking over the innovative menu. Fakih, our server, recommended a few signature dishes and brought out a basket of thinly sliced crisp Italian bread and thicker slices of soft, warm bread to dab on a plate of freshly poured olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

A delicious amuse bouche of creamy, purple cauliflower purée with caramelized onions and crunchy speck served in Mason jars was brought to our table.

For appetizers, we ordered the fresh scallops on a bed of sunchoke purée with grilled marinated Radicchio and a plate of soft white burrata cheese with a candied tomato and black label San Daniele prosciutto. The black label prosciutto was aged for at least 16 months and offered a delicate sweet taste.

IMG_6307Sipping a lovely, light bodied Italian Ribolla Gialla from Friuli -Venezia Giulia, we agreed it offered crisp acidity and floral notes that paired nicely with the scallops. At $42 a bottle, it’s a good value.

Next arrived a bowl of one-year-aged Acquerello risotto with a quail braised ragu. Lepisto explained to us the difference between regular risotto and aged. Known as the caviar of rice, it is aged and processed in a special way to maintain more proteins, minerals, vitamins and all the other micro-elements, as in brown rice. It also offers a more nuttier flavor than regular white rice.

Kevin recommended a 2010 Primitivo Tenute Chiaromonte Ele from Puglia to accompany our entrées. It’s a dark-skinned grape from southern Italy, also known in America as a Zinfandel. This wine was an excellent choice with the soft beef cheeks on a bed of Sobino polenta with sautéed seasonal mushrooms adorning the dish. The beef cheeks reminded us of beef short ribs with a smoother and less marbled texture.

The moist Atlantic black cod rested upon a layer of soft red lentils and thinly shaved celery.

I enjoyed it with a taste of the Italian 2009 Cantine Ascheri Barolo. Its aromas of dried cherry and roses had notes of raspberries and spice. On January 26, Chef Christian Simionato is hosting a cooking class from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Al Bacio. The class costs $45 and includes lunch and wine. The restaurant would appreciate those interested to RSVP by January 20. $$-$$$ 8741 Sunset Blvd. (310)657-1182. Closed on Sunday. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Al Bacio is scheduled to open for lunch starting January 14 on Tuesday through Friday at 11:30 a.m.

IMG_6324For dessert, Chef Gabriella makes a wonderful caramel ice cream and refreshing pear and green apple sorbet. Her tiramisu is visually pretty and tasted better than most tiramisus, as she serves her Italian favorite with a scoop of housemade chocolate ice cream.

This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on January 16, 2014.

RivaBella Ristorante – Sophisticated Italian Cuisine

DSC_0886Upon walking into the new RivaBella, I spied actor David Spade sitting in a cream-colored booth next to the windows. Later, Kyle Richards from The Beverly Hills Housewives walked in to enjoy renowned Chef Gino Angelini’s famous Italian dishes. Entertainment reporter on Channel 5 News, Stan Rubin, walked out with me to the valet stand.

Located in West Hollywood inside the old Hamburger Hamlet space, RivaBella is near Doheny and Sunset and directly across the street from BOA restaurant. It just opened two months ago.

Raised in San Clemente, Italy, Chef Gino developed a passion and talent for cooking by the time he was 14 years old. He lived near the richest food region, Emilia Romagna.

When he was 23 years old, Gino became the youngest chef of a five-star Italian hotel restaurant, The Ambasciatori. Later, he acquired the status of Master Chef as he prepared his signature dishes to every Italian head of state, including the Prime Ministers Craxi and Adreotti. Loyal devotees include tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and film director Federico Fellini, and Pope John Paul II.

DSC_0884Arriving in Los Angeles in 1995, Gino became a chef of Rex, il Ristorante. In 1997, he opened Vincenti Restaurant in Brentwood. Later in 2001, Chef Gino opened his own restaurant, Angelini Osteria. Now in 2013, he is the Executive Chef and partner at RivaBella. He works 16 hours a day everyday, because cooking is his passion.

The décor of RivaBella reminds me of a sprawling Tuscan farmhouse with comfortable modern furniture. The indoor space can instantly become outdoors with the touch of a finger, as the ceiling retracts allowing guests to view twinkling stars while sitting under warm heaters. Private parties or overflow diners can sit in the breathtaking bricked wine cave for more intimate dining. For those who seek privacy, there is a secret door leading out into the parking garage, in case one is in need of escaping from Paparazzi out in front.

Trees and plants are strategically placed to offer greenery and tranquility among the excitement of the crowd and food.

Our waiter, Jason, expertly explained each dish and wine as they arrived at our table. We started with Gino’s Beef Carpaccio Romagna style topped with wonderful spices and a heartyIMG_0900 salad. It was a pretty dish. I enjoyed that each setting had a utensil holder, so one doesn’t have to rest their clean or used utensils on the table.

My favorite salad was the roasted octopus salad entwined with potatoes, taggiasche olives and salsa verde. It was paired with a delicious Elena Walch Pinot Grigio 2010. Its pale yellow color offered delicate notes of apples and pears with a hint of celery.

For pasta dishes, I recommend the Nidi Di Rondine. It’s rolled pasta nested with sweet Italian ham and Parmigiano cream. Gino’s lightly breaded eggplant parmesan was one of the best I have ever tasted. It had the true elegance of simplicity and paired perfectly with a glass of deep garnet color Martin Ray Merlot from Napa. This wine drinks like a French Pinot with fresh cherry and a hint of chocolate flavors.

Our entrée was a Branzino on a bed of spinach with a lobster stock sauce and sliced sea urchin. I’m not a huge Branzino fan, yet this dish was satisfying.

For dessert, who could resist a rich chocolate bonnet with an Italian cookie? Jason also brought me an Italian favorite; Affogato. He put on quite a show pouring the hot espresso into a glass of vanilla gelato.

RivaBella is the 14th sophisticated dining destinations for IDG (Innovative Dining Group). Soon they are scheduled to open their 15th restaurant, Chi-Lin towards the end of April 2013. This new fine-dining Chinese restaurant is adjacent to RivaBella. Chinese culinary talent Cecile Tang of Joss is helping to create the menu. Designed by Studio Collective, this new West Hollywood restaurant will exhibit a chic, intimate atmosphere ideal for enjoying cocktails, appetizers, or dinner.

During the dinner hour, valet parking is $30 if you don’t get your ticket validated. It’s $10 with a validation. Street parking is not easy at this location. $$$ LUNCH is served Mon. through Fri. from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. to closing. Happy Hour is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. 9201 Sunset Blvd. (310)278-2060

Sexy Katana Robata and Sushi Bar

As I turned into an underground parking structure and left my keys with a valet, the sexy Katana experience begins at the elevator. Riding up to the restaurant, the door opened, and I was greeted by three attractive hostesses dressed in black.  I made a mental note; one must be beautiful to be hired at Katana. Looking good in a black mini skirt helps too.

My group was seated on the front patio facing the energetic Sunset Blvd.

The restaurant is located in a beautiful 1920s building that shares space with Miramax Films. Originally built as an apartment building for the entertainment elite, you never know who you might see while sitting in comfortable chairs next to heaters and flaming tiki torches.

The restaurant is dark and cozy allowing guests to snuggle up while sharing sushi and sake together.

Katana is different than most Japanese restaurants with its open robata grill. A robata is an ancient style of Japanese cooking with skewers.

To continue reading my review, click on this link http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2012/07/sexy-katana-robata-and-sushi-bar/ courtesy of the Beverly Press. Published on July 5, 2012.

Living on the Edge at Cliff’s

Hidden on the corner of Edgecliffe Dr. and W. Sunset Blvd in Silverlake, is an enchanted dining destination with its corrugated tin roof and large bamboo trees lining the outdoor dining terrace. Colorful, comfy pillows run along the open-air banquets making a cozy environment for intimate or group dining. The twinkle lights among an old ficus tree give the restaurant a festive atmosphere. Space heaters are situated throughout the terrace to warm guests on chilly evenings.

Pierre Casanova, originally from Corsica, is one of the three owners of Cliff’s Edge. He has been running this place for over 7 years. His excitement of acquiring Executive Chef Benjamin Bailly is contagious. Bailly cooked in France with Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse for years before coming to the United States as Executive Chef at Petrossian. Bailly also previously worked at Fraiche.

We started with a basket of olive and sourdough bread with a dish of oil and balsamic vinegar. Bailly adores lavender. He whips it into ricotta cheese with honey and olive oil. It goes nicely with a buttery Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay. A few bites and sips of the white wine and I immediately unwind and soak up the fun vibe. Keeping with the lavender theme is the Question Mark cocktail with lavendar simple syrup, and lavender goat cheese in the candy beets salad with orange and pistachios.

On weekends, locals gather up their friends and reserve tables for six to ten, enjoying cocktails such as Bee’s Knees with gin, honey and refreshing lemon juice on the rocks with grapefruit oils; or cucumber margaritas with orange blossom water made withHacienda Reposado and muddled cucumber with organic cane sugar and tangy lime juice.

Bailly enjoys preparing dishes with nuts too. He puts Marcona almonds in the pickled cauliflower and pine nuts in the green beans with feta, curry, raisins and capers. The delicate skate fish I ordered had pine nuts with mashed sunchokes, lemon, capers and frothy brown butter foam.

Chef Bailly also brought out a nutty essence in the rich tasting Taleggio risotto with fresh mushrooms, Tuscan kale and roasted pumpkin seeds. The lamb cheeks are adorned with a gremolata consisting of hazelnuts, lemon zest, garlic and parsley. For dessert, the restaurant offers a pistachio crème brulée.

If you sit outside, be sure to take a peek at the tables and bar inside. The interior reminds me of a cozy hunting lodge up in the mountains. There was not one stool available at the bar on the Friday evening I visited the restaurant. It was filled with happy locals celebrating the end of a work week.

To read the rest of my article click on via Living on the Edge at Cliff’s. Courtesy of the Beverly Press on April 11, 2012.

Aroma Bakery Café

The next time I feel a cold coming on, I’m driving to Aroma Bakery Café for a bowl of their vegetable noodle matzo ball soup. The yellow curry-colored broth is filled with carrots, zucchini, onions and celery with spices floating on top. The large matzo ball is nice and firm, not crumbly. After eating a big bowl of this soup, I feel fortified.

I’ve been to the Aroma Bakery Café in Encino twice and decided to try their second location on Sunset Blvd.

Open at 7 a.m. the café is filled with patrons sipping Turkish coffee and Café Americano while nibbling on butter and chocolate croissants. The extensive menu is filled with European and Mediterranean cuisine. On Mondays through Fridays, they serve three breakfast specials until 11 a.m. Breakfast #1 is two eggs any style served with fresh orange juice and a coffee or tea of your choice, along with a plate of colorful vegetable salad, feta cheese, olive spread and homemade jam to dab on a variety of freshly baked breads.

To finish my review, courtesy of the Beverly Press, published on Sept. 8, 2011, click here Aroma Bakery Café.