TOP CHEF – Chris Crary Signature Sailing

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

Celebrity Cruises and Bravo Media are offering “Top Chef” fans and food lovers the opportunity to meet a new lineup of cheftestants on the Celebrity Reflection® sailing November 14, 2015.

The exclusive “Top Chef Signature Sailing” cruises to the Eastern Caribbean from Miami, Florida. Guests get an up-close-and-personal culinary experience with six former “Top Chef” competitors, including Los Angeles’ Chris Crary, the Executive Chef of Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails.

Other chefs include Nina Compton a Top Chef New Orleans runner-up; Tiffany Derry a Top Chef D.C. and Top Chef All-Stars contestant; Ash Fulk from Top Chef Las Vegas; Gregory Gourdet a Top Chef Boston runner-up; and Doug Adams, a Top Chef Boston finalist.

Passengers can choose from an array of exclusive chef-hosted shore excursions, as well as, new watch duel-style cooking demonstrations, where cheftestants battle each other while answering fans’ questions. The audience gets to choose the winning dish.

solstice_class_thumbFoodies on the cruise can enjoy exclusive and intimate experiences with the chefs by booking private cooking classes and private dinners to improve their skills and get advice on preparing sumptuous dishes at home.
Celebrity will continue to offer interactive Quickfire Challenges and “Top Chef”-inspired menu evenings on its modern luxury vacations onboard nine ships, for all sailings departing through June 2016.

The Quickfire Challenges put guests in the spotlight to get a taste of the pressure the cheftestants experience on the show. Plus, guests can indulge in a selection of the dishes the judges raved about on the series at “Top Chef Night” in the main restaurant.

The Celebrity Reflection® is a newer ship with an expanded deck, additional staterooms, more seating in the main and specialty restaurants, more sun lounge chairs on the pool deck, and more seats in the theatre. There is the new Lawn Club Grill celebrating outdoor grilling and The Alcoves offering cabana-style relaxation. Passengers can take a painting class with a Master Artist from the ArtCenter South Florida in The Art Studio, before or after a spa experience in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub®.

Bravo’s Emmy® and James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” will return for season 13 this fall. For more details about Top Chef at Sea, visit celebritycruises.com/topchef.

For more information about Celebrity Cruises call (800)437-3111 or your travel professional.

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

A Chef with a Big Heart and Soul

 The first time I met Chef Andrea Cavaliere was not at his restaurant, Cecconi’s in West Hollywood, but at Melrose Avenue Elementary School.  Dressed in a traditional white chef’s jacket, he was helping children age’s 6-11 plant eggplant, lettuce, parsley, lemon thyme and cilantro herbs in a unique Woolly School Garden along the backside of a chain length fence. Chef Andrea plans to buy the herbs from the school to use in his restaurant. The kids and Chef Andrea will also harvest this produce for a weekly salad bar in the school’s cafeteria.

I asked Chef Andrea how he got involved with Melrose Avenue School.  “I was invited to the White House last June along with other chefs from across America to meet with First Lady Michelle Obama,” he said with a smile.  “She kicked-off a new program, Chefs Move to Schools, which is part of the Let’s Move initiative to fight childhood obesity,” shared Chef Andrea in a melodic Italian accent.  The First Lady’s goal is by implementing this program, school breakfast and lunch programs will improve, and families will appreciate nutritious and healthy cooking. Who better to work with parents and school staff to teach children about nutrition than a world-class chef?  An adorable fourth grade girl walked up to Chef Andrea and handed him her journal.  She told him that she wants to be a chef when she grows up, because of him.  She then showed him a picture of a vegetable she drew and she asked, “How would you cook this chef?” He responded with “ You could steam or braise it.” With a perplexed look on her face she said, “What does braise mean?”  Chef Andrea crouched down to her level and explained the cooking technique that softens the vegetable and preserves the vitamins.

One week later, I went to Cecconi’s for dinner to observe Chef Andrea in his element.  Located on the corner of Robertson Blvd. and Melrose Ave., this site has had an illustrious past.  It was once Trump’s and then Morton’s.  Walking into the classic Italian restaurant we noticed the romantic outdoor patio area and then the centerpiece bar.  The bar is a replica of the one at Cecconi’s in London.  Enzo Cecconi opened his restaurant in the Mayfair area in 1978. It instantly became the late night, after-theater destination for the rich, talented, and royalty.  Madonna discovered Cecconi’s and is a regular guest. Model Kate Moss, and actors Sienna Miller and Jude Law also frequent this A-list dining establishment.  Chef Andrea became a celebrated chef with his beef carpaccio, pinched ravioli, baked gnocchi and Cichetti (Italian Tapas).

As we sat down, we gazed at the cocktail menu and ordered a pumpkin margarita and a traditional Italian, Casa Negroni.  Both were terrific cocktails to begin our dining adventure.  Chef Andrea stopped by our table with a warm hug, and said that he would prepare a special meal so we could sample some of the restaurant’s favorite dishes.

While soaking in the atmosphere, Janine Giesick, one of the restaurant manager’s, shared with us that she and Chef Andrea both worked in London together before flying across the Atlantic to open the West Hollywood restaurant in 2009.

“Many of their patrons from London visit when in Los Angeles. The Duchess of York had dinner the night before and Sharon Osbourne dined here last week,” revealed Janine. 

We learned that Chef Andrea enjoys cooking many of the items in a wood-oven with olive wood. The wood-oven baked meatballs came out first.  Dense and small, these meatballs were full of delightful flavors. Then, the grilled octopus with lemon, capers, thin celery stalks, tiny Italian olives, and heirloom cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of chili oil appeared.  The five-inch-long octopus legs were tender and superb tasting. The octopus bathed in white wine before it was grilled to perfection. I will declare this the best octopus dish in Los Angeles.

The baked gnocchi “Romana” Gorgonzola is rich and creamy, while the wood-oven scallops and pancetta speared with rosemary branches was divine.  I ordered a Summerland “Fiddlestix” Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 that accompanied the appetizers nicely.

When the Kobe beef tartare arrived, I noticed a cracked quail egg on top with yolk trickling onto the beef.  The British couple sitting next to us commented on the presentation and decided to order it.  When I shared with them my adoration for the octopus dish, they ordered that too. 

This is a restaurant where the final bill can be high, because of the black truffle dishes. Cecconi’s is the proud owner of the largest Truffle in town.  They have a great connection with one of the best truffle distributors. Our waitress, Nicole informed us that the three truffle appetizer specials were each $96.  The cauliflower soup with black truffle is $20 and the goat cheese pizza with black truffle is $40.  Without truffles, most appetizers are between $12 to $18, pasta dishes range from $14 to $22 and entrees begin around $24.

Save room for the desserts, because Monica creates an outstanding Chocolate Fondant with pistachio gelato and a baked ricotta cheesecake with fresh blueberry preserves.

Cecconi’s will be open Thanksgiving Day from 8am to 9pm serving specials such as butternut squash tortelli with amaretti crumble, parmigiano, butter and sage and venison medallions with sherry wine and morel sauce.

As we were about to leave, I noticed a gorgeous Damien Hirst (popular English artist, entrepreneur and art collector) art piece of a big red heart. Nicole said it’s worth approximately 1.5 million pounds.  While looking at the beautiful and colorful artwork, it reminded me of Chef Andrea.  He is a chef with a big heart and soul.  When he is not in Cecconi’s in Los Angeles, he is either at the Melrose Avenue School picking herbs with the students and creating a healthy lunch for them or flying to Miami Beach to supervise the newly opened Cecconi’s in the Soho House, next to the famous Fontainebleau. He is young, handsome, and full of energy. Of all the chefs in Los Angeles, Michelle Obama invited him to implement her new Chefs Move to Schools program.  Chef Andrea definitely has my vote. 8764 Melrose Avenue. (310)432-2000.

No Empty Tables at Wolfgang’s

Ryan Seacrest and Larry King  dined at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse last week.  It’s a great place for steaks and cocktails.

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse was 100% full at 8pm on a Friday night. It’s not Puck’s, it’s another lively place on N. Canon Drive in Beverly Hills.  People come from all over Los Angeles to order the Porterhouse for Two.  It’s a filet mignon on one side and a porterhouse steak on the other.  It large enough for two, three of four people to share.

While looking over the menu, we listened to the lively piano music played by the talented Aldolfo Alexi, while sipping on refreshing mojitios.  We started with a Jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail.  It arrived in an iceberg lettuce bowl with cocktail sauce on the side, and a plate with spicy horseradish, saltines and Tabasco sauce.  Wolfgang’s salad was also in an iceberg lettuce cup with diced tomatoes, green beans, red peppers, shrimp, Canadian bacon and large chunks of onions.  If you love onions, you will enjoy this salad.  The salad is tossed in a very light vinaigrette to reveal the true flavors of the fresh vegetables, shrimp and bacon. 

If you love steaks and chops, this is a great destination.  The steaks are U.S.D.A. Prime Dry Aged in their own aging box.  They offer a 16 and 8 oz. filet mignon, Prime NY Sirloin steak cooked and sliced to perfection, a Rib eye steak, lamb and veal chop. But what if you don’t like red meat?  Wolfgang’s serves a delicious grilled Chilean seabass, Alaskan wild salmon and Yellow fin tuna.  All arrive in large portions without heavy sauces to hide or blanket their true taste.  It’s simple and high quality food.

Some of the enjoyable signature side dishes are the German potatoes or “hash browns,” the creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms and onions, giant potato chips and creamed corn.  All can be shared by two or more people.

For dessert we had to try the apple strudel with house made “mit schlag” (whipped cream) and vanilla ice cream.

As I excused myself to visit the ladies room I was pleasantly surprised when I entered. Finally, European-style state of the art commodes in America.  Not only are the seats heated, but also there is a push button control panel with buttons to cleanse with warm water and to dry.

With locations in Park Avenue, Tribeca, Waikiki Beach, South Beach and Mexico City, we are lucky to have a Wolfgang’s in Beverly Hills. It’s high quality food prepared to provide the most natural flavors.  As we left at 10pm, the restaurant was still 100% full.  In today’s economy, that is rare to see.

445 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills – (310)385-0640.