A fine Fellow in Westwood

After cooking in the kitchen of The Churchill, Cliffs Edge, and The Larchmont, Executive Chef Michael Bryant is now showcasing some of his beloved dishes and adding a few new ones at the upscale Fellow in Westwood.


I fondly remember meeting Chef Bryant three years ago while dining at The Larchmont, before it changed into FIN Asian Tapas. What I admired was his cooking style and presentation. Besides incorporating French techniques with what he learned from his mother while growing up Virginia, he has done basically every job in kitchens before becoming an executive chef.


Located in the former space of Glendon Bar & Kitchen and beloved The Moustache Cafe, four of us sat at one of the lounge-like window tables looking out on Glendon Ave. While perusing the menu, I happily recognized some of his signature dishes that I enjoyed at The Larchmont. Chef Bryant is a genius with sauces and his harissa seared scallops has a delightful slightly lemony hollandaise sauce.


This dish is enhanced with a large and crispy shaving of prosciutto and chopped smoked almonds. Chef Michael adds bright red pomegranate seeds for color and a burst of sweetness. The North African influenced harissa paste is made with various chiles and spices, giving this dish the right amount of heat.


I distinctly remember his charred Spanish octopus tentacle, and at Fellow he serves it with a wispy frisée salad with juicy pink grapefruit sections. There is a drizzle of smoked paprika and salsa verde on the firm tentacle. 

His Moroccan style Jidori chicken arrived on a plate with a beautifully browned thigh and breast surrounded by tomatoes, maitake mushrooms and a confit of gizzards.


Each dish that we ordered was a winner, including the stellar black pepper tofu. A bowl of firm tofu cubes are bathed in a light Mandarin orange sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. This soy protein is accompanied with thin green beans, sliced scallions and nutty flavor beech mushrooms. Biting into the slightly crispy exterior, the warm ethereal white tofu inside is perfectly cooked. 

California red and white wines and a variety of beers on draught are poured at the long sit down bar. Cocktails with bourbon are named Clint Westwood and Oh Draaaam! The Fellow Old Fashioned is made with coffee infused aged rum, and a gin favorite is named Strawberry Fields served with aperol, mint and housemade strawberry soda. Sitting at the bar, snacks include truffle mac n’ cheese; house pickles; tater tots and Sichuan spiced chicken lollipops. 

Salads include an ahi tuna bowl; Tuscan kale quinoa, and a burrata and cucumber with baby tomatoes, watercress and candied hazelnuts.


I noticed a parade of Fellow burgers with a handful of fries arrive at various tables. When I asked our server what makes this burger different than any other restaurant, she said “It’s an elevated In-n-Out burger on a toasted Hawaiian roll.” After ordering one, I enjoyed the gooey melted Cheddar cheese, crispy strips of bacon, savory grilled onions, juicy tomato slices, a couple of sliced pickles, sliced avocado, and a spread of Chef Bryant’s horseradish sauce. It’s bigger than the famous California chain burger, and just as juicy and more satisfying.


To finish the evening, Chef Bryant recreates The Moustache Cafe’s famous chocolate soufflé that takes about twenty minutes to create. For something quicker, we ordered the Nutella chocolate pudding with cardamom whipped cream and candied orange on top. It was a table favorite. Other desserts include a strawberry shortcake, pineapple panna cotta, and lemon beignets with a passion fruit curd.
As we got up to leave, we noticed a group of diners walking upstairs to the semi-private Mezzanine event dining space. This area overlooks the entire dining room and offers a private bar, full audio/visual capabilities and separate entrance.

Now there is a new dining place to meet friends in Westwood. It’s a great go-to-spot for drinks and food before a theatrical performance at the Geffen Playhouse or UCLA event. 

The restaurant is open for lunch on Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Come into the bar drinks and snacks from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Dinner is served daily from 5 to 11 p.m. The restaurant stays open with a late night menu from 11p.m. to 1 a.m. $$ 1071 Glendon Ave. (310)208-1071.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on March 7, 2019.

Lin-Manuel Miranda & his father Luis

Sitting center stage at the Geffen Playhouse, Broadway sensation and Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father Luis A. Miranda Jr., enlightened the audience for 90 minutes about theatre, Puerto Rico and Lin-Manuel’s new movie role in Mary Poppins with moderator Soledad O’Brien. Together this father and son team are very entertaining.

Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse

O’Brien: You are actively supporting the relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Tell us what you are doing?

Lin-Manuel: In the way of Maria, what began as where is my family? It took five days to finally reach our family. Then became how can I help the island. I amplify what I hear on the island and navigate from there. I have no political interest, I just want the island of Puerto Rico to be proud of me. Just like they did when I brought “In the Heights” to the island. It was the most creative week in my life. Since my father is in the political world, the Governor of Puerto Rico called up my dad after he saw ‘In the Heights’ to find out who was his son. I didn’t grow up in Puerto Rico, I just spent summers on the island. While growing up in New York, I felt different than other kids in Puerto Rico, because I spoke funny. When they noticed and embraced me in ‘In the Heights’ it was a proud moment. We would do a prayer circle before every show. A cast member in the show, Pricilla Lopez who played Camilla, told me – ‘You are throwing a rock in the pool and you have no idea how the ripples will come back to you.


O’Brien: Tell us about the delay of bringing Hamilton to Puerto Rico?

Lin-Manuel: After Maria, there were no roofs on any theatres. I’ve been wanting to bring the show to Puerto Rico since 2015. We took the harder path to update and rebuild the theatre to become a state-of-the-art facility at the University of Puerto Rico. The theatre needed a ton of work, including a new roof, before we could perform our show. Puerto Rico is looking for heroes. It’s a message in Hamilton that I hope the islanders can take away from the show. We take the show to a small island, the most coveted show ever, to make the people in Puerto Rico feeI special. Their recent experience with the devastation of Hurricane Maria echos Hamilton. When I read Ron Chernow’s book Hamilton, I didn’t know that a hurricane destroyed St. Croix and people on the island raised money to send Hamilton off the island to do better things.

O’Brien: Why did you get so involved in helping Puerto Rico? How are you raising money?

LIn-Manuel: I just have a megaphone to get the island noticed. We will perform Hamilton for three weeks from Jan. 8-27, 2019, at the Teatro UPR in San Juan. Proceeds will benefit artists, musicians, and traveling theatre groups on the island. If you are running a traveling theatre group in Puerto Rico, that is hard work. You are working a job during the day, traveling and performing at night. We have their backs to do what they need to do for three years. Giving sits in my gut and doesn’t want to leave me alone. When it keeps me up at night, that’s when I act. Both my father and I went to the Mayors in all the towns of Puerto Rico to find out their needs after the hurricane. When it’s gnawing on you and you let everything in, if something affects you – injustice, something that needs love, it’s a calling for you to act on it. I started the nonprofit,The Flamboyan Arts Fund dedicated to preserving, amplifying, and sustaining the arts and youth education in Puerto Rico.

O’Brien: Tell us how people can get tickets to see Hamilton in Puerto Rico?

Lin-Manuel: There are $10 tickets in the lottery and tickets up to $5,000 to help with the arts fund. There are only a few left at $5000.


Luis: Then they will go up to $10,000 and $15,000.

Lin-Manuel: We want to raise $15 million dollars.

O’Brien: Are you ready to play Hamilton again?

Lin-Manuel: It’s been two and a half years since I played the role. My problem is that I go back to every draft in my head. When my wife and I saw a performance of the show in London, I realized lines had changed. For the first time I listened to the cast album to help get ready for my performance. 

O’Brien: Luis did you always know your son would be a performer?

Luis: I wanted him to be a lawyer, because he was good with words. Lin-Manuel has one of the most incredible minds. During a filming of 60 Minutes at my house, he looked at my big vinyl collection and picked the Camelot album. He said “I will tell you where it skips.” He hadn’t played the record in 25 years, yet he remembered exactly where it skips.

Lin-Manuel: We used to listen to that record so many times as a family.

Luis: I knew he would be a writer as a child. He was making flip books, and when he visited Puerto Rico, his grandfather borrowed the bank’s video camera so Lin-Manuel could make movies.

Lin-Manuel: A teacher in 8th grade inspired me to write after I turned in an essay about Stephen King’s book “It”. My teacher wrote “You have been hibernating in my class unless the subject interests you. I hope you wake up for Spring Semester.” He encouraged me to join an on campus theatre club called Brick Prison and write for them.

O’Brien: How is Puerto Rico today?

Luis: San Juan is doing well, however as you drive farther away there is more need. The coffee growers are trying to redo from scratch. Coffee doesn’t grow back in a month, it takes up to five years.

Lin-Manuel: Puerto Rico is so proud of their coffee.
Luis: The majority of coffee on the island is from small farms, about 70% is from small farms with just several acres. The only way to grow coffee is from seeds, and the island needs seeds, so we reached out to Starbucks.

Lin-Manuel: Starbucks has millions of seeds.

Luis: Since it is against the law to bring seeds to Puerto Rico, we had to hire lobbyists to work with the Republicans to get approval, so Starbucks seeds could be planted in Puerto Rican earth. It will take 3 to 5 years to grow coffee again. If we don’t start today, it will take longer.

O’Brien: Luis are you proud of Lin-Manuel starring in Mary Poppins?

Luis: I didn’t like the first movie in 1964. I was 9 years old and loved Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, however the year it came out, Andrews was doing My Fair Lady on Broadway. Andrews robbed Debbie Reynolds of an Oscar in The Unsinkable Molly Brown and I was so upset. I was annoyed with Mary Poppins my entire life. When I heard Lin-Manuel was in Mary Poppins, I was pleased. When my kids are doing something fantastic, I approve.

O’Brien: Lin-Manuel weren’t you performing in Hamilton when you were cast in Mary Poppins?

Lin-Manuel: Yes, Rob Marshall took me across the street for a drink after seeing me in a matinee show of Hamilton and pitched me the role of Jack. I first asked who would play Mary Poppins, when Marshall said Emily Blunt, I thought that was brilliant. I had to check with my wife, because she makes the decisions. I never wanted to leave Hamilton and my home in New York, yet my wife loves to travel and wanted to live in England.

O’Brien: What was it like working with Rob Marshall?

Lin-Manuel: I loved his work turning the musical Chicago into a film. Working with Rob Marshall was like being in film school.

Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse

O’Brien: Locally in Southern California you offered acts of kindness by sponsoring a group of Cal State Channel Islands theatre students today. How did this happen?

Lin-Manuel:  These college theatre students were about to put on ‘In the Heights’ and then the Malibu fires started and their show was cancelled due to evacuations. They reached out to Gil Cates Jr. at the Geffen Playhouse and my team when they learned my dad and I would be in town. We are happy to have them here today.

O’Brien: Who is in the cast for the upcoming Hamilton?

Lin-Manuel: The cast is almost all new. This is the third national tour, and we cast this with a few from Broadway, others from the national tour company and then some new performers. After three weeks in Puerto Rico, the show will go to San Francisco. It’s a mix of old and new. Some have done Broadway, some have toured and some are new. The success of Hamilton is about seeing yourself in someone else’s story. When you walk a mile in someone else shoes they don’t become an “other.”

To purchase tickets for Hamilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, go to Flamboyanartsfund.org.

BIG Sandwiches at Fat Sal’s

Driving along Highland Ave., I’ve noticed people steaming into Fat Sal’s, located in a strip mall on the corner of Fountain Ave. Last week, my daughter and I parked in front of the restaurant to see what the buzz is about.


I learned that Fat Sal’s makes “Fat Sandwiches.” In the 1970s the Fat Sandwich was created by some guys from the famous grease trucks at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Fat Sandwiches were cheap for the broke college student and best consumed in the wee hours after a night of partying.

What is a Fat Sandwich? Picture a soft sub sandwich made with fatty ingredients from a fryer and griddle such as brisket, chicken fingers, bacon, fried eggs and mozzarella cheese sticks all between two pieces of bread. They aren’t sophisticated, they require a handful of napkins, because they are juicy and messy. Also if eaten daily, they might eventually clog an artery or two.


Inside Fat Sal’s is a lively, pop culture vibe. Hip-hop music plays in the background and doors slide open allowing a pleasing cross breeze.

We sat at a banquette with a high table next to families and young men devouring large sandwiches, fries and shakes. While looking at the extensive menu above the register, the owner and CEO of Fat Sal’s Joshua Stone, approached our table and introduced himself. His distinctive appearance could easily cast him to be a regular on the reality show, Jersey Shore. We learned both Stone and his business partner Sal Capek are from New York. They wanted to bring Fat Sandwiches with East Coast flavors to the West. So they opened their first fast casual restaurant in Westwood near UCLA. With its success, they opened other locations including this one in Hollywood. When I asked where the name came from, Stone told me, “My business partner Sal. He is not fat, he’s a robust man.”


We ordered a variety of items based on Stone’s recommendations. The first to arrive to our table were the chili fries bathed in melted cheddar & mozzarella cheese. The chili is enhanced with Italian sausage and juice from pickled jalapeños. Stone told me they have contracts with the national purveyors who supply McDonalds with their iconic French fries. They make at least nine different Fat Fries and their newest is Stromboli fries. “It’s a meal in itself topped with ham, pepperoni, salami, melted provolone and mozzarella and our housemade marinara sauce,” Stone said. Fat Sal’s does not believe less is more.

Looking at the menu board, I noticed a variety of Fat Sandwiches made on extra wide hero bread. There is a Fat Anthony, Fat Joey, Fat Mona, Fat Jamie and Fat Bahn Mi-ki. Some of these sandwiches were created by foodie fans who won their ultimate food challenge, by eating an entire Big Fat Fatty. I dare you to order one while sitting inside the restaurant. You must consume the entire sandwich by yourself in 40 minutes or less. If you do, it’s free and you get to create and name your own Fat Sandwich. If you can’t finish it, it will take you back $49.99. What is a Big Fat Fatty? It’s a 27 inch garlic hero layered with cheesesteak, cheeseburgers, pastrami, chicken fingers, crisp bacon, mozzarella sticks, a few fried eggs, fries, onion rings, a ladle of chili, marinara and fat sauce.


Stone told me they like to liven things up by introducing LTO’s (Limited Time Only) and wanted me to try the Fat pizza sandwich. “The earth hasn’t seen anything like this before,” said Stone. What I liked was the authentic Italian flavors and the soft sub bread made from a local French bakery that delivers it fresh daily.

“The quality of the ingredients are top notch,” Stone said. “When we buy our tuna for our Amazing Albacore Tuna sandwich, we don’t buy the $30 a case tuna, we purchase the $175 a case tuna to provide the best Fat Sandwich for our diners.”

My daughter’s favorite sandwich was the Fat Texas made with layers of bbq pastrami brisket, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, crisp bacon, grilled onions, melted cheddar and mozzarella. Fat fries and a spread of mayo and honey bbq finish out this garlic hero. She paired this with a #2 shake made with coffee ice cream, shaved dark chocolate and pretzel crumbs. I noticed their #5 shake is made with vanilla ice cream and a whole slice of NY cheesecake, a few strawberries and graham cracker crumbs blended together. WOW!


I wanted something a little more simple and healthy, so I ordered the standard veggie burger. Sal’s makes a variety of signature and standard burgers. It was excellent on a soft bun with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, and their homemade fat sauce. I asked Stone what was in the Fat sauce? “It’s a special blend of your condiment favorites – horseradish, Heinz ketchup, A-1 sauce, French’s mustard and other ingredients mixed together to give your taste buds an overload of pleasing flavors.”

They grill up signature 1/4 pound USDA certified angus meat burgers made fresh and cooked to order. There is a pastrami Western burger, pepperoni pizza burger and even a chicken teriyaki burger.

Stone excitedly shared with me his pop-up barbecue last weekend at Big Sal’s in Hollywood. He invited the BBQ King of Studio City – Burt Bakman to create a special two day only Fat Sandwich. “Barbecue is an art, not a science to Bakman” said Stone. “He traveled to Texas researching barbecue, while learning about the best rubs and types of wood.” Bakman smoked 25 lbs. of brisket for Saturday and another 25 lbs. of brisket for Sunday to make Fat Trudy sandwiches with purple slaw and housemade sweet potato fries. “In the two days, we had 34 hours of smokin’ going on.”

I told Stone that when I drive by, I always see people at Fat Sal’s. “You should drive by at 1 to 2 a.m., after people leave a club or bar. We are packed.”


As the college students at Rutger’s did years ago, come experience a Fat Sandwich or Fat Burger with an order of Fat fries, while sipping an outrageous shake. It’s so good, I dare you to finish it all. If you can’t, ask the friendly staff to wrap it up and enjoy it later for another meal. $ Open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Sundays, and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday through Saturday they stay open until 4 a.m. at the Hollywood location.

1300 N. Highland Ave.(855)682-4373. Other locations include 972 Gayley Ave. (855)682-4373, and soon 16901 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Eat More DönerWorks

At SpireWorks’ newest location in Eagle Rock, you will experience a döner – meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie similar to the Arab shawarma, Greek gyros and Mexican al pastor. I met the founder and CEO Bob Kaufman and COO Jeff Rosenthal last week at their grand opening, as they gave away free meals with a dessert and beverage to guests.
Rice bowls and sandwiches are part of the eclectic menu at SpireWorks featuring American diner.


Kaufman introduced himself and shared his story about how he grew up in Encino and now lives in Sherman Oaks. After graduating from Birmingham High School and UC Santa Barbara, he worked as a VP for Tower Records and later The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, which enabled him to travel the world. Along the way, he enjoyed the flavors from countries like Taiwan, Turkey, Japan and Thailand.


It was in Turkey that Kaufman discovered döner. He found a particular restaurant in Istanbul that had the flavors he was looking for and obtained the recipe from the chef. With the help from the food innovation and development company Pilot R+D, and Chef Kuniko Yagi as a consulting chef (she has worked with Chef David Myers as Executive Chef at Comme Ça and Hinoki and the Bird), they realized that the cattle in Turkey is raised differently than in the United States, and affects the beef’s taste. Together they worked with Glen Rose Meats to create the most delicious beef döner. It took 18 months to perfect. They also came up with a spit-roasted rosemary chicken.

To cater to vegetarians, they created a unique köfte, similar to a large falafel ball, yet moist and not as crispy on the outside. Chef Kuniko helped build the menu with seven different traveling destinations – Mexico, China, Italy, New York, Thailand, Turkey and the deep South offering pleasing flavor profiles.


Kaufman led me on a tour of his wilderness-themed café. Above the entrance, it appeared as if we were walking under trees. The tables are decorated with colorful flowered tops, and the green flooring tiles look like grass. On the walls are cork board and birch tree wallpaper representing wood. What stands out in the dining room is the handmade tree branch chandelier. “We found the branches and made our own light fixture,” Kaufman said. The room evokes a camping trip with whimsical retro photo of people standing in front of their VW Westfalia camper.


Kaufman encouraged me to try three different döner dishes. First you select a base of either their unique bread, multicolor wild rice or salad greens. I chose the fresh bread made only for SpireWorks. It’s a baked sesame seed bread similar to Ciabatta on the outside and a Turkish bread inside. It’s split to form a pocket for stuffing the fresh ingredients. Then I had a choice of three proteins – their special roasted beef, chicken or vegetarian option. “Both the beef and chicken are antibiotic and hormone free,” Kaufman said. I chose the sliced spiral chicken and had it made Peking style with hoisin sauce, green onions, crispy onions, angel hair carrots, cucumber spirals, and Rayu shaker. The spice reminded me of the aromas of the Chinese Night Market in Hong Kong.


The seasoning mixtures were developed by Chef Kuniko. She created the Japanese shaker Furikake, offering a seasoning that is popular to sprinkle on cooked rice from her native Japan. Kaufman wanted me to taste the New York shaker on the twice cooked baby Dutch yellow potatoes. “It tastes just like the breadboard crumbs after cutting into a double baked rye bread,” Kaufman said. “With Russian dressing and sauerkraut, this is a winner with the döner beef.” The potatoes were warm, soft and creamy and brought back memories of a New York deli.


Enjoying the flavor, I ordered a New York style mixed greens bowl topped with beef. Russian dressing, sauerkraut, shaved parmesan, cucumber spirals, angel hair beets and a few New York shakes were added to uplift the flavor profile even more.

Last I ordered a bowl with wild rice and vegetarian köfte balls made with cubed carrots, mushrooms, peppers and onions bound with chickpea flour and urfa briber – dried Turkish chili pepper. I had it made Bangkok style with Tamarind chutney, yellow curry aioli, green onions, pickled red peppers and a delightful crunchy Thai coconut curry crumble. It was a brilliant combination.


“The perfect bite is a combination of hot and cold, salty, sweet and sour, squishy and crunchy.” Kaufman said of my selections.

You can design your own bowl or sandwich with a variety of sauces that include tomato jam, zaatar labneh, yellow curry aioli, Russian dressing or hoisin sauce. For crunch there are options of pickled cauliflower, red onions, red peppers with Sambal or sauerkraut.


Coffee beverages are from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Nitro Brew Coffee. The iced latte is made with cream, Okinawa raw sugar and sea salt to create a satisfying beverage. They also have a Stubborn soda machine with a variety of flavors that include a root beer with no artificial sweeteners, no high fructose corn syrup and full of natural flavors.


Sweet treats at SpireWorks are slices of roll cakes in flavors of banana cream pie, dulce de leche, honey mascarpone, tiramisu, strawberry shortcake and chocolate ganache. These bite sized delights hit the spot, without being too sweet, heavy and filling.

Excited to try other destinations, I visited the Westwood Village SpireWorks before going to the UCLA basketball game. This was the first SpireWorks location and resembles a train depot with guests having the option to dine in a train car to mimic traveling around the world.img_0337

SpireWorks is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 4945 B Eagle Rock Blvd. (323)895-7888 and 1061 Broxton Ave. (424)220-6299.

This review was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on January 26, 2017.

Celebrating Dia del Los Muertos – FREE Taco

(Photo by Tacos Tu Madre)

Celebrate Day of the Dead at the new Tacos tu Madre in Westwood. It officially opens on November 1 with Free Taco Day!  This new inventive new concept envisioned by Joshua Pourgol and Oliver Mateen. To celebrate the launch of Westwood’s new Mexican street fare inspired walk-up window, guests can swing by for a free taco from 8 a.m. to midnight. Just show the cashier that you are following @TacosTuMadre on Instagram.

(Photo by Tacos Tu Madre)
(Photo by Tacos Tu Madre)

FREE Taco Specials Include:

Crispy Fish with shaved cabbage, citrus crema, house-made red pepper aioli, and pickled red onions.

Carne Asada, Carnitas or Grilled Chicken with pico de gallo, avocado coconut cream sauce, house-made red pepper aioli, and chili lime queso fresco.

Crispy Katsu Chicken with shaved cabbage, katsu sauce, house-made red pepper aioli, crispy onions, and pickled red peppers.

Birria Style Lamb with pico de gallo, avocado coconut cream sauce, house-made red pepper aioli, and chili lime queso fresco.

Pastor with pico de gallo, avocado coconut cream sauce, house-made red pepper aioli, chili lime queso fresco, and grilled sweet corn relish.

Chorizo & Egg with guacamole, fried egg, and chili lime queso fresco.

(Photo by Tacos Tu Madre)
(Photo by Tacos Tu Madre)

Located on Westwood Boulevard, the modern Tacos tu Madre has curb appeal with its eye-catching Day of the Dead inspired mural commissioned by The Art of Chase, a Belgium-born, critically acclaimed artist and designer who has painted more than 250 murals in cities around the world.

Under the direction of acting Creative Director Lauren Kessler, the grey and black color scheme, modern tables and ample counter space inviting patrons to sit or stand while they eat.

Tacos tu Madre isn’t a typical taco stand, it has an elevated breakfast, lunch and dinner rotating menu.

945 1/2 Westwood Blvd. in Los Angeles, California, and is open daily from 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m., and until 3:00 a.m. Thursday to Saturday.


A New Way to Watch a Movie

IMG_8824Walking into the lobby of the new iPic Theaters in Westwood is like walking into a posh hotel lobby. There is a full bar with seating areas to enjoy a martini or glass of wine before seeing a movie. The beautiful branch ceiling with lights is eye-catching.

Sitting in one of the large, plush burnt orange-colored leather seats, I arranged my pillow to my comfort level and pulled up a soft and cozy blanket to snuggle in and watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at the new iPic Theaters in Westwood. This is the ninth theater to join the iPic Theater Group across the nation. It’s the second location in Southern California, with the first being the successful iPic Theater in Pasadena.

Located in the former AVCO Center Theaters on Wilshire, iPic Westwood has six-auditoriums, and 424-seats. The stylish design, creative cocktails and innovative cuisine create this entertainment experience to be different than other movies theaters.

Guests have a choice of either Premium or Premium Plus seating. The Premium are the first three rows and don’t offer the reclining oversized chairs as in Premium Plus. IMG_8804Premium seating ticket holders sit in yellow leather chairs and may purchase food and beverages direct from Tanzy Express, an Italian sit-down restaurant, located within the iPic Theaters’ facility. Guests may carry their food and libations into the theater.

Premium Plus seating features reclining, oversized leather chairs, complimentary popcorn, pillows and blankets, as well as individual service-call buttons that summon servers to deliver signature dishes and hand-crafted cocktails from a gourmet menu designed by the renowned chef Sherry Yard. She serves as Corporate Vice President of Culinary Direction. The full-service bar offers an exclusive selection of hand-crafted cocktails presented by award-winning mixologist and master sommelier Adam Seger.

securedownload-34The popcorn was a little too salty for my taste buds, yet the Premium Plus seats are the way to go. The Premium seats are too close to the screen and aren’t as much fun.

iPic Theaters Membership is FREE and provides great benefits such as discounted pricing, advanced on-line purchasing of tickets, access to blockbuster films before the general public and more. Sign up today and join the iPic Community by clicking onto https://www.ipictheaters.com.

Ticket prices are $19 for non-members for Premium seats and $19 + a $10 VIP fee for Premium Plus. Members receive a discount of $15 a seat depending on the showtime of the movie. To learn more, so to iPic Theaters.

The Westwood Theatre is located at 10840 Wilshire Blvd. Westwood. There is a parking garage behind the theatre

Putting the W in Wow at the W Hotel’s NineThirty

IMG_3351Executive Chef Dakota Weiss has elevated comfort food at W Los Angeles – Westwood since she joined the hotel’s restaurants, managed by Choice Hospitality Group. She creates farmers’ market-driven, modern American cuisine at NINETHIRTY and creative California cuisine at The Backyard.

As a Bravo “Top Chef Texas” competitor, her philosophy to cooking is one main ingredient: fun. I joined a group of discerning foodies one night to experience some fun tasting her signature dishes at NINETHIRTY.

We had a lively good time nibbling on her signature potato puffs in a decadent black truffle fondue with tiny pieces of lardons and fresh chives.

“I’ll take favorite dishes and class them up, but I also keep it approachable. I want guests to leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside,” Weiss said.

Prior to W Los Angeles – Westwood, she worked as an executive chef at Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, Sunset Tower Hotel’s Tower Bar, and Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey.

Born and raised in Lancaster, California, Weiss’s love for cooking began at a young age when her IMG_3358mother, suspense novelist Charmaine Coimbria, introduced her to the kitchen and organic gardening. She graduated top of her class at Scottsdale Culinary Institute. While working at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta under the direction of Executive Chef Bruno Menard, she learned to cook not only with her taste buds, but her eyes, nose, and heart.

We all raved about the cousa squash carpaccio with crunchy tempura shishito peppers drizzled with a yuzu-pumpkin vinaigrette. If you love zucchini, you’ll enjoy the cousa squash. It’s a smaller, sweeter and a thinner-skinned variety of summer squash.

Next, we enjoyed the heirloom tomato salad with sliced apricots and stone fruit salad. Almost every multi-star restaurant is serving burrata in their salads. Chef Weiss makes a delightful ricotta cheese infused with lemon instead. “It’s less salty than burrata,” she added. It cut the acidity of the tomatoes and enhanced the sweetness of the fruit.

The third appetizer that piqued our interest was the beet cured scallops. Chef Weiss cures Maine Diver scallops in beet juice, rice wine, lemon and salt for about two hours. She slices them thinly and layers freshly shucked raw green peas on top to give the dish texture and crunch. “I saw an Instagram photo from another chef with pink hued hamachi,” she said. “It inspired me to create a similar presentation, yet with scallops instead.”

Her luscious corn soup is mixed with smoked queso fresco and jalapeno pistou. Pistou is basically a pesto sauce, without the pinenuts. It’s made with garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil.

“The next dish is a little messy,” Weiss said as she presented the oxtail and bone marrow lettuce wraps. Romaine lettuce is spread with a slightly spicy green Thai vinaigrette of cilantro, jalapenos and crushed cashews. We spooned marrow and tender oxtail meat on a leaf, place a sprig of chocolate mint on top to enhance all of the rich and wonderful flavors and rolled it up. We all had smiles on our faces after the first bite.

IMG_3365Our server Derek Caldwell was warm, professional and polite as he delivered each dish. When he delivered the two main courses that included tender halibut with a warm avocado yogurt puree and an excellent cut of steak with soft scrambled eggs topped with shaved black truffles, we all sang out “ooh and aah” with each bite.

Just when I was about to bid adieu to the group, a platter of “fun” desserts lured me to stay a while longer. The first to catch my eye was the maple bacon ice cream drumstick surrounded by Captain Crunch and a blueberry compote.

I also sampled of the sticky toffee pudding, chocolate lava cake with fresh coconut ice cream and colorful housemade push-pops in berry and crème fraiche flavors.

We all left with a parting gift – a box of Dakota’s gourmet popcorn. It had a chipotle, cinnamon and toffee essence with a touch of dark cocoa and toasted sesame seeds. She also sprinkles a little sundried red chile powder from Chimayo, New Mexico.

Walking away from the table, I shook hands with the staff and promised that I would come back soon for another fun culinary experience.

NINETHIRTY serves breakfast daily; dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. 930 Hilgard Ave. (310)443-8211.

Published in the July 1, 2013 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.


A Great Date-Night Italian Restaurant

It has been a family affair for the Clinco clan restoring the 1933 red-brick building to an iconic restaurant. Located in the heart of Westwood Village on the corner of Glendon Ave. and Lindbrook Drive, Skylight Gardens is the new “date-night” place for UCLA students, residents and professionals living and working in the community.

Owners and brothers, Peter and Michael Clinco remember coming here with their parents over 50 years ago to get ice cream when the space was Will Wright’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Later, Peter Clinco, a prominent real estate attorney, represented the Lewis family to secure a lease on the property to open Hamlet Gardens and then Gardens on Glendon over 20 years ago. The restaurant was known for its beauty, elegant dining and delicious table-side guacamole.

When the Lewis family decided to close the Gardens, the Clinco family needed to act quickly. “I couldn’t let this beautiful brick building wrapped around a huge skylight be turned into a nightclub,” said Peter Clinco with a big smile.

With the help of restaurant designer, Osvaldo Maiozzi, they kept the rotunda and renovated the building to look like a Tuscan estate. Skylight Gardens has one of the largest kitchens in Los Angeles with one upstairs and one downstairs.

Peter Clinco’s wife and sons are very involved in the project. Peter’s son David is in charge of ordering the beers. He is graduating from USC this year.

“I had the job of tasting over 200 beers to select some favorites for our menu,” David said. “We offer an extra cold Guinness that is served at 37 degrees,” boasted David. “It tastes as light as air when it’s that cold.”

The Clincos adore Italian food. They travel to Italy annually to sightsee and experience various authentic dishes. When a friend recommended Executive Chef Sebastian Gonzalez Bracco from Argentina, the Clincos found him a perfect fit for the family enterprise. Bracco’s experience includes working at elBulli, a Michelin 3-star restaurant in Spain.

The General Manager and sommelier, Oz Kolar, led my group on a tour to a private dining room off the bar area with a hanging antler chandelier and cozy fireplace. Next, we ventured into the library room with its hidden big-screen television behind cabinet doors. It’s an ideal spot to watch UCLA football and basketball games with a group of friends.

I commented about the great background music selection and was informed that Peter’s brother, Michael, created the eclectic music list.

The Clincos developed a Los Angeles based cocktail list with creative libations named The Bruin, The Hammer (Skylight Gardens is located across the street from the Armand Hammer Museum), The Getty, 10 Fwy, 405 Fwy and The Federal.

The wine list includes local Moraga Vineyards from the hills of Bel Air. Owners of the winery, Tom and Ruth Jones, produce some outstanding red and white wines in a microclimate similar to the Bordeaux region in France. Moraga has a Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for $225 a bottle at Skylight Gardens.

Read the rest of my article by clicking here http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2012/03/a-slice-of-tuscany-skylight-gardens-in-westwood/ courtesy of the Beverly Press. Published on March 15, 2012.

A new concept in Pizza – 800 Degrees

Who knew that if you place a pizza in an 800 degree pizza oven, that it could be cooked to perfection in one minute? In Westwood Village, there is a new Neapolitan Pizzeria across from the Armand Hammer museum, 800 Degrees. It made its debut just after New Year’s Day.

The Umami Group, Adam Fleischman and Allen Ravert, along with Executive Chef Anthony Carron have created a new concept in pizza that will forever change the pizza world.

“I woke up with this idea three years ago,” Carron said. “If I can cook a pizza in one minute, why can’t I set up a restaurant ‘Chipotle’ style?”

He traveled to Naples, Italy and tasted a lot of pizzas to perfect the ones he makes here in Los Angeles.

What I like about this new restaurant are the prices. Where else can you get a fresh, piping hot Neapolitan pizza with handmade dough and fresh ingredients for $5? The pizza Margherita with crushed local tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano, reggiano, olive oil and fresh basil is only $6. This is not a small personal pan pizza, rather a complete meal with 6 to 8 slices.

To read more, click on this link –http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2012/01/800-degrees-gourmet-pizza-in-1-minute/

Courtesy of the Beverly Press. Published on 1/19/12.

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.