BEST GIRL at the Ace Hotel DTLA

A James Beard and Michelin star-winning chef Michael Cimarusti returns to downtown Los Angeles with Best Girl located at the luxury boutique Ace Hotel DTLA. Cimarusti is known for his acclaimed restaurants Providence and Connie and Ted’s.

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Best Girl is an ideal pre-theater or downtown Los Angeles dining venue, offering a relaxed vibe and menus crafted towards farm-fresh comfort foods. Located on the ground floor of the Ace Hotel, it was one of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles in the 1920s.

Dining at Best Girl is a great people-watching spot. The wine list includes French sparkling wines, French and Californian chardonnays, rosé and select red wines. A nice selection of rotating draft beers, dry ciders and low-to-no alcohol beverages round out Clay Wendel’s beverage list.

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Fun fall cocktails include an “Indi Rose” made with gin, rose water and sweet vermouth. The “LA Intervention” is a tequila-based cocktail with a citrusy pamplemousse liqueur, and the “Osaka Sour” is made with Iwai Blue Label whisky and spiced plum wine syrup.

Thick grilled slices of Bub and Grandma’s bread arrived with silver containers of herb butter that offered a pleasing pesto finish and another container with Sicillian anchovies. A mixed garden salad with a handful of small yellow and red tomatoes, sliced radish and baked croutons glistening in olive oil. A light buttermilk dressing made this salad extra special.

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Another winning salad was the sugar snap peas tossed with thinly sliced radishes and red onions. Chopped hazelnuts tossed with Italian parsley and a pleasing crème fraîche dressing finished the salad nicely.

The Lumache alla Norma, one of their most popular dishes and one of the highlights of the evening, is comprised of Sicillian-style large macaroni-shaped pasta, dark purple eggplant, chopped simmered tomatoes and a generous shaving of pecorino cheese.

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We also enjoyed the grilled Jidori chicken with purslane, salsa verde and charred lime halves. A great plate to share with others at the table, the purslane adds a healthy greens to the dish. Its bright, lemony flavor enhances chicken or fish, plus the green leaves offer high omega-3s. Purslane is said to have high levels of melatonin to promote a good night’s sleep.

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Best Girl’s Pastry Chef Crisi Echiverri, who is Cimarusti’s wife, recently updated the dessert menu with her take on Eton Mess. Echiverri’s “Mess O’ Berries” is made with crisp meringue, whipped cream and sweet farmers market berries.

Cimarusti offers a Sunday Supper menu representative of his favorite meals he makes at home for his family and friends. Through the end of the month, enjoy a three-course meal for $35 with an optional wine pairing for an additional $18. One week, it might be a pizzieria salad and charred Jimmy Nadello peppers, and the next course might be chicken and ricotta meatballs with house-made spaghetti and garlic bread. Finish with tiramisu that includes a shot of Sambuca.

Best Girl is one of the best culinary options for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner when in downtown Los Angeles. $$-$$$ 927 S. Broadway (213)235-9660.

Read this review also in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News .

Le Grand is Bigger than Life in LA

Across from Bottega Louie in downtown LA on the corner of Grand Ave. and 7th Street is a new Mediterranean inspired restaurant, Le Grand. In the kitchen, chef/brother duo Alex and Chris Manos focus their brunch and dinner menus on local coastal California cuisine, yet add a French and Greek twist.

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The decor inside is similar to an elegant club-style restaurant. The booths are gold tones and mirrors line on wall. Green plants and ferns drape down at the lengthy bar and around column in the main high room. Dramatic light fixtures and glossy gray floors offer a modern touch. There is an outdoor, pet-friendly patio that allows guests and their furry four legged friends to watch others pass by.

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The brothers became chefs years ago after watching and working with their father. “In his 40’s, he had mid-life crisis and wanted to become a pastry chef,” said Executive Chef Alex Manos. “His passion led us to culinary school.” Since Alex is three years older than Chris, he went to culinary school first and then his younger brother Alex followed. Alex has spent time at Providence and Melisse, while Chris has worked at Michelin-starred Hytra and Spondi in Athens, Greece.

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My family and I met these handsome chefs during their first Sunday brunch service. While enjoying a plate of pastries that included a beignet ball served with a warm salted caramel sauce, and a beautiful flower shaped brioche filled with Nutella, fresh raspberries and a dusting of powder sugar, the General Manager Thibaud Duccini walked by our table. He stopped and we stared into each other’s eyes. I first met Thibaud at Patina when Tony Esnault was the Executive chef (11 years ago), then we were reunited at Wally’s Beverly Hills. Now he is expertly running Le Grand with the Manos brothers.

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The sublime buttermilk pancakes are different than any other round breakfast cake that you have tasted in Los Angeles. Pouring some Noble Bourbon aged maple syrup onto the stack, I remarked about the distinctive bourbon, maple and oak flavor profile. Scooping a forkful of lemon zest creme frache, before cutting into the three puffy levels, I noticed the golden spheres didn’t absorb the sweet amber syrup like a sponge and become thinner and soggy. Instead, they stayed puffy. Chef de Cuisine Chris Manos said ““It’s all in the technique. We make the buttermilk pancakes as one would make a soufflé.” Also on the plate was a sprinkling of delicious housemade granola, a scoop of red berry gelato and fresh blackberries.

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Other winning dishes included the Dungeness crab Benedict with a poached egg, Béarnaise, and jicama slaw layered on a soft and slightly sweet brioche bun.

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Another floral designed entree was the smoked salmon tartine. It’s enhanced with a creamy white ricotta spread on top of toasted turmeric bread. The lacy fennel fronds offered a delicate anise flavor. They were so tender that the fennel practically melted in my mouth. The pretty thinly sliced cucumber ribbons wrapped in a circular design were a creative, artistic touch.

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During brunch there are two impressive sandwiches, a Wagyu Burger with caramelized onions, and romaine lettuce, along with creamy, sweet and buttery brebirousse D’ Argental sheeps milk cheese. 

The second dish was made with an eye-catching charcoal black brioche bun. It was filled with soft shell crab and served with a black garlic aioli spread, sliced cherry tomatoes and crunchy jicama.

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For salads, the burrata with sliced summer yellow peaches is a winner. I hoped the  pistachio crackers would be crisper, yet the arugula leaves sprinkled with a pleasing 30 year old aged Balsamic vinegar was sensational.

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Healthier fare includes a large egg white omelette with cubes of tofu, kale, sliced tomatoes, scallions and shiitake mushrooms. It’s served with a bowl of summer berries.

I learned that the chefs make their own traditional dinnertime Greek dishes, including shrimp saganaki straight from the skillet and served with housemade pita.

I will be back to see if their dinner fare is as spectacular as the brunch dishes we enjoyed. Maybe on Father’s Day, as the brothers are offering specials on their Sunday brunch and dinner menu, plus every dad will receive a complimentary IPA on June 16. 

$$$ 707 S. Grand Ave. (323)303-2535.

This review was also featured in the Beverly Press.

Unbelievable Sights on a Magic Carpet Ride

In collaboration with OUE Skyspace LA and Disney’s new Aladdin movie, visitors can take a magic carpet mat ride at the Skyslide throughout the month of May.
This Disney-powered experience 1,000 feet above Los Angeles at California’s dazzling, tallest open-air observation deck, is on the 69th and 70th floors of the US Bank Tower in DTLA. There are Aladdin-themed decorations and photo opportunities on both floors.
Raise a glass at the new Skyspace Bar with a crisp beer from vibrant local breweries, or a glass of the crisp wine, while enjoying handcrafted bites. There are plenty of comfortable areas to sit, sip, and eat while enjoying 360 degree breathtaking views.
As the lyrics in Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” song, the ride will “open your eyes” and is “a fantastic point of view.” It’s also a popular sunset destination. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of Dodger Stadium, Glendale and Mt. Wilson. Look to the west towards the Griffith Park Observatory, Hollywood Sign, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica Pier and Malibu. Over to the South you will see Catalina Island on your magic carpet landing.
For tickets and additional information, click on OUE Skyspace LA633 W. 5th St. (213)894-9000.

Celebrating the seasons at Café Pinot

Entering on Grand Ave., I found my group of friends out on the beautiful garden patio sitting under twinkle lights strung in trees. Heaters kept us warm as we ordered a variety of items off Executive Chef Phillip Martin menu. Before heading up the kitchen at one of Patina Restaurant Group’s prettiest dining venues, Chef Martin was a chef at the group’s flagship, Patina and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

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Raised in East L.A., Chef Martin learned how to cook essentially from his father, a baker. His fondest memories were sitting outside with his dad watching him grill meat for a family dinner. While at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Martin interned at Drago in L.A. and Bouley in TriBeCa, New York City. When he returned to California, he was the chef de partie at Red Medicine in Beverly Hills, cooked alongside chef Ludo Lefebvre at LudoBites pop-ups, worked as a line cook at The Bazaar by José Andrés and became a sous chef at Alma. With all this experience, he now is in charge at Cafe Pinot.

To celebrate the autumn season, Martin recently unveiled a new menu highlighting fall flavors and a selection of comforting housemade pastas, vegetable forward small plates and savory proteins.

We each started with one of Cafe Pinot’s cocktails with names that include Double Black Manhattan, Heart of the Pina and Lavender Night. I selected the Sorbet Beret made with Absolute Elyx vodka, hibiscus flower tea and French wine-based aperitif lillet. It arrived in a tall glass full of ice with a pretty cranberry hue. This pleasing pink drink was garnished with a raspberry and orange slice.

The first starter to arrive was a bright pink hamachi crudo made with watermelon cubes compressed in a lot of mint. Sliced red Fresno peppers and tomatoes added additional color, while mint leaves offered a pop of green color into the bowl. There was a pleasing kalamansi citrus broth, that tasted like a cross between tangerine and kumquat. It was as sweet as lemon, as acidic as lime, as bitter as pink grapefruit and also offered a hint of passion fruit. 

Thick slices of French bread were served on wooden planks with pats of butter. Also on a wooden board were small dark Little Gem green leaves. Underneath was Australian beef tartare mixed with jicama, mushroom confit, tarragon and a slightly burnt tangerine aioli.

A fennel salad arrived with slices of ripe pear, crushed hazelnuts, crumbled Humboldt fog cheese and crushed black pepper. It was a favorite around the table.

The one dish I didn’t try, yet others enjoyed were the crispy lamb sweetbreads enhanced with goats milk yogurt, sliced cucumber, leeks, mint and cumin.

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The real star at Cafe Pinot is the pasta. We tried the cilantro chitarra, a thin, green pasta with a sprinkling of salty cotija cheese. Next to the noodles, the dish arrived with an array of perfectly cooked vegetables, including sliced yellow and green squash, red pepper and corn. “I could eat this daily,” said Martin. I could too. This dish is heavenly.

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Another stellar pasta was his tomato agnolotti stuffed with fresh ricotta and tomato water infused with basil. Heirloom cherry tomatoes adorn the bowl and creme fraiche tops this dish. Agrumato oil is drizzled on top to give the fresh flavors a spike of citrus notes.img_2856

The most interesting pasta was the squid ink fettuccine topped with bread crumbs, garlic and chili flakes giving the smooth pasta a bit of texture. It’s finished with a row of shrimp on the side, adding scampi flavors.

My favorite protein was the steak au poivre with creamy confit fingerling potatoes, bite-sized heirloom pearl onions, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. What made this dish spectacular were the shishito peppers soaked in this glorious steak sauce.

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Other proteins delivered to the table included seared salmon served with fingerling potatoes and shimeji mushrooms that offered pleasant, firm, and slightly nutty flavor. On the bottom of the bowl was a green hued buttermilk nasturtium sauce.

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The most visually appealing entree was the sliced duck breast served on a bed of crunchy quinoa, sliced figs, charred fig jam and five-spice pho broth. What decorated this dish and added to additional savoriness was an egg cooked at 64.5 degrees. Piercing the egg with a knife, the yolk blended in with the flavorful pho broth. It was divine.

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Dessert was an interactive experience that involved vaporing dry ice as Chef Martin stirred a large silver bowl, similar to a cauldron. Unfortunately the frozen foie gras on top of a caramelized banana brûlée with chopped hazelnut and maple sable was my least favorite dish of the evening.

Next time I will order the Devil’s food cake with glazed cherries, almond and spiced caramel chantilly.

With the winter theatre season approaching, Cafe Pinot offers a two-course pre-theatre for $42 per person. The menu features the Hamachi crudo, crispy lamb sweetbreads, or fennel salad that I enjoyed as a first course. Entree’s include rotisserie Jidori chicken, beef tenderloin, market fish or a vegetarian arborio rice porridge with foraged mushrooms, cauliflower, corn and shaved black truffle. Cafe Pinot promises to have diners in and out before the show, plus they offer complimentary parking for pre-theatre guests.

Address: 700 West 5th St. Enter on 535 S Grand Ave.  (213) 239-6500.

Hours: Monday 11:30AM-2:30PM, Tuesday-Thursday 11:30AM-9PM, Friday 11:30AM-10PM and Saturday 5PM-10PM.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – 

 

New Team of Chefs & a New Way To Dine at The Fields LA

Not too long ago, dining options near Exposition Park, USC and the California Science Center were a few fast food chains and mom and pop places. Then with the announcement of the 22,000 seat Los Angeles Football Club built by Gensler at L.A.’s Exposition Park, an exciting new food hall and full service restaurant was designed. Attached to the anchoring Figueroa corridor, The Fields LA offers dining opportunities to stadium-goers, locals, tourists, families, museum attendees, USC students and faculty. 

Home to the LA Galaxy and others, the Banc of California Stadium’s dining hall is open daily for lunch, a snack and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

While attending a preview earlier this month, I met with Victoria Frazier, Vice President of Event Sales for a tour of The Fields LA. Standing by the large bar area, she told me the exciting cocktail program is designed by Nick Meyer. There is also a beer garden outside of the stadium offering beer, wine, mixed drinks and boozy shakes. 

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Walking over to the elevated first floor food court, I discovered some of my favorite Los Angeles chefs in front of their counters at the spacious dining area. The first chef I recognized was Timothy Hollingsworth (Otium) at C.J. Boyd’s Fried Chicken. He offers sandwiches with names that include Malibu, East LA, K-Town, Buffalo and Otium. For children he offers Lil Biddie chicken strips, waffle fries and his signature banana pudding with a Nilla wafer.

Next door at Akko Port, the affable Executive chef Roy Ner offered a warm smile while handing me one of his Laffah rolls. He is a star chef in Sydney, Australia with two successful Middle eastern restaurants including ARIA. Taking a bit of his chicken laffah roll, I enjoyed the playfulness of the wrap filled with charcoal eggplant, golden beets, slaw and cultivated yogurt. Other items on his Middle eastern menu include falafel wraps, a smoked hummus bowl with a protein, old school pickles, organic grain and raw root vegetable salads. Staying near downtown Los Angeles, Chef Roy will be making the 14 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles every 10 weeks to introduce new seasonal delights to his menu. 

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Next to these two esteem chefs were two other favorites Jason Fullilove (Barbara Jean) and Shirley Chung (Ms. Chi). Fullilove prepares exciting American soul food that includes Jambalaya, slow cooked BBQ ribs, oyster Po Boy, crawfish mac n’ cheese, and a soul food bowl filled with braised greens, black-eyed peas, a sweet potato latke and bacon on steamed rice.

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Next door Shirley Chung excitedly told me that she will be opening her first restaurant in Culver City before the end of September. Known for her delicious dumplings, she fills them with chicken, shrimp, and pork. She also makes beef with sweet carrot potstickers, and a vegan potsticker filled with spicy tofu. Her noodles include vegetable chow mein, and a chilled glass noodle bowl. Chung offers three different rice plates and specialty tea beverages that include a Milk Tea, Jasmine green tea with fresh chopped peaches, and a signature cheese foam oolong tea.

Taking an elevator with Frazier to the second floor, she gave me a tour of the sit down restaurant and bar called Free Play. It’s Timothy Hollingsworth’s stand alone with a huge bar scheduled to open by October 2018.

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Above this restaurant on the third floor is a large and open rooftop for events. At sunset, the views of USC, Exposition Park, and Downtown were spectacular.

Taking me back down to the ground floor, I enjoyed small plates of shrimp ceviche and fresh shrimp and octopus tostaditas, chips with guacamole and salsa from Coni’Seafood. Connie Cossio of Coni’Seafood imports shrimp, whole fish and other fresh products from Sinaloa and Nayarit to prepare Nayarit-style seafood. She has one brick and mortar traditional Mexican restaurant on Imperial Highway in Inglewood and another on Centinela Ave.

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I met up with Alberto and Lauren Bañuelos at Burritos La Palma. Lauren told me they have a restaurant in El Monte and Santa Ana. Their house specialty Birria burrito with shredded beef was one of the late Jonathan Gold’s favorites. As they handed me one, it looked like a toasted tortilla tube. Taking one bite, I enjoyed the beef stew flavors and understood why Gold loved this beef burrito. They also handed me one of their griddled whole milk cheese quesadillas. “We were saddened to hear about Gold passing away,” said Lauren. “When he came into our restaurant and wrote his review, it brought so many people from all over the world.” She also told me that Alberto was so honored when he received a phone call from Jonathan Gold’s family inviting him to help cater Gold’s funeral. “We made a bean and cheese burrito, Jonathan’s favorite birria de res, and Gold’s son’s favorite burrito chicharrón prensado,” Lauren said.

Nearby another Gold favorite, Al Pastor by the Aqui es Texcoco team had street tacos and mesquite street corn made with cotija cheese, shaved off the cob grilled corn and mayonnaise.

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For sweets, I met Katie Hagan-Whelchel a finalist in the PBS Cooking Under Fire show. She and pastry chef Leah Chin-Katz have Sweet and Savory inside The Fields LA. They sell salads and snacks to go, along with baked item including cupcakes, teacakes, cookies, bars, and eclairs. “Go try our soft serve outside at the beer garden. We have vanilla and salted caramel,” Katie said. Kids can enjoy this cool treat in a cup, while adults can order this soft serve as the key ingredients for the boozy milkshakes for adults.

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Next to Katie’s space was chef Chad Colby offering a casual Piccolo Antico Pizzeria Focacceria. His team was making light, yet thick focaccia crust pizzas and sandwiches reminiscent of the style in Rome, Italy. There was a margarita, pepperoni, tomato pie, white sausage with sage and three meat pie topped with bacon, sausage and salami. His sandwiches on the menu include mortadella, salami, porchetta, sweet poppa and vegetarian ricotta. 

img_93312Before leaving I asked Frazier how these wonderful chefs and owners of restaurants were selected for The Fields LA. She told me “These are the restaurants a lot of chefs dine in when they finish the night in their own kitchen.” She also told me they wanted to provide game day fans, University students, and the broader community with new dining options from a newer generation of popular local chefs. Executive chef Michael Teich will supervise the operation of The Fields LA daily.  $-$$ 3939 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News –

LA’s newest Ice Cream sensation

Opening on Feb. 1, 2018 The Dolly Llama Ice Cream shop is the newest sweet treat in Los Angeles.

Its a Four Step process to achieve cones like these.

Step 1: Order a bubble waffle ice cream cone. They are currently a street food sensation in Hong Kong. Unlike a regular waffle cone, the Bubble cone batter is pillowy in texture. Once the batter is poured, it’s coiled into a cone. Black and white Dolly Llama paper is wrapped around it creating a unique, puffy edible ice cream holder.

Step 2: Choose an ice cream flavor. There are 8 different flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate, Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, Cookie Monster, Horchata, Green Tea and Coffee.

Step 3: Get Saucy with a selection of over 10 that includes: Nutella, Maple Syrup, Peanut Butter, Caramel, White Chocolate Matcha, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Speculoos, Red Berry, Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate.

Step 4: Top it off. There are almost 30 different fresh fruit, favorite candy and whimsical toppings. The topping section has Strawberries, Bananas, Raspberries, Blueberries, Pineapple, Mango, Almonds, Coconut Shavings, Gummy Bears, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs, Graham Crackers, Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips, Circus Animal Cookies, Kinder Chocolate Bar, Maltesers Malt Balls, Oreo, M&M’s, Reese’s Cups, Snickers, Sprinkles, Marshmallows, Brownie, Pretzel Balls, and Popcorn.

Stepping inside for a tasting, I was encouraged to build a unique ice cream filled with all my favorite flavors. My Bubble waffle cone had a generous scoop of salted caramel ice cream, peanut butter and chocolate sauce, pink and white circus animal cookies and gummy bears. It was delicious.

The staff also make Waffle Sticks dazzled with sauces and toppings.

Dolly Llama makes Shakes too. Four different creative flavors include :

1. The Dolly Llama made with Cookie Monster ice cream, whole milk, cocoa puffs, whipped cream, and sprinkled with M&M’s and topped with a Kinder Chocolate Bar.

2. Peanut Butter Shake served withvanilla ice cream, whole milk, Reese’s cups, and topped with whipped cream, peanut butter, crushed almonds and chocolate chips.

3. Cookie Snob made with vanilla ice cream, whole milk, speculoos cookie, whipped cream, and sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with Circus animal cookies.

4. Chocolate Lover made with chocolate ice cream, whole milk, Oreo cookies, whipped cream, and sprinkled with white and dark chocolate chips and topped with a brownie.

Other beverages include Hot-chata, Hot Chocolate or Hot Vanilla topped with marshmallows.

A second location is scheduled to open in Koreatown inside the historic Western Avenue gilded corner building near The Wiltern Theatre. Stay tuned for its grand opening.

The Downtown Los Angeles location is at 611 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014.

Escape to Downtown LA

When I was invited to participate in one of the Escape Rooms in downtown Los Angeles, you know those intriguing spaces where you’re given clues and a time limit to escape – I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My daughter and I joined six others in the Pyramid room, a secret tomb deep inside a Mayan setting. The physical adventure began as we tried to solve a series of puzzles to reach and uncover the secret Mask of the Jade Warrior to escape. Using clues and sometimes questions from our moderator to enter various themed rooms, our one hour time limit ran out before we could find the mask and escape. Learning only 41% of the participants escape from this room, we didn’t feel completely defeated.

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To pick up spirits, we met others who were in different rooms at Terroni for an Italian dinner. It’s only one block from Escape Room LA. Owners and friends Cosimo Mammoliti and Paolo Scoppio opened their first Terroni in Queen, Toronto in 1992. With its success, they opened two other Canadian Terroni restaurants. Then in 2007, they opened their first Los Angeles location on Beverly Blvd., before renovating this downtown 6,000 sq. ft. space in 2013.

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Walking into the restaurant, we admired the beautiful soaring coffered ceiling (They don’t build banks like this anymore), and elegant floor to ceiling arch windows along the sidewalk. There is also an impressive glassed-in wine room. The large bar offers an array of specialty spirit bottles to make creative cocktails, while in the main dining room there are cozy booths and a viewing window with hanging meat and sausage, bottles of cooking wine and cheese.

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Looking at the menu we noticed an array of creative Southern Italian dishes with starters including bread with handmade taralli and olives. Taralli is an Italian snack similar in texture to a cracker or breadstick. Other crunchy apristomaco (translated in English to stomach opener) includes deep fried zucchini flowers with ricotta & Parmigiano; deep fried arancini with meat and cheese, and fried calamari served with lemon.

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The chefs grill calamari and serve it on greens with sliced onions, a sprinkling of capers and tomatoes. Looking over the salad section, I ordered the Nizzarda and enjoyed the mixture of arugula, slices of Italian tuna, cubes of potatoes, sliced eggs, chopped red onions, tomatoes, black olives, green beans, and two anchovies. White wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil brought out the “Nicoise” flavors.

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The chefs come in early and work late to make all the handmade pastas offered on the menu. There are a couple of homemade spaghetti dishes, a bucatini, a potato gnocchi and a rigatoni decorated with dandelions and slices of homemade spicy Italian sausage. The tagliolini is topped with fresh clams, fresh mussels, calamari, scallops and tiger shrimp in a light tomato sauce. My favorite pasta at our table that we all shared, was a slowly cooked lamb rage on top of capunti pasta. This freshly made pasta resembles a short, oval and open peapod.

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With over 30 pizza varieties on the menu, we ordered two of the hand stretched, thin and crispy pies. My daughter enjoyed the traditional Margherita with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Another person at our table ordered the C’t Mang white pizza with ripe slices of pear, chopped nuts and a sprinkling of gorgonzola and mozzarella. There were long strips of smoked prosciutto and a drizzle of honey on top to balance the sweet and savory flavors.

Before leaving we noticed next door to Terroni is Dopolavoro (means after work in Italian), a casual Italian marketplace inside the bank building. The Terroni owners opened it for locals to swing by at the end of the day, to pick up some Italian delicacies and pre-made meals. The store offers olive oil, cheese, wine, bread, milk, eggs and handmade pasta to prepare at home.

IMG_5987Looking for a fun outing this weekend? Escape to downtown Los Angeles for a night of solving clues before or after a meal at Terroni.

Escape Room LA has space available through March, 2018. Click on this link to go online to select a date and time Escape Room LA. Prices are Tuesday – Thursday: $32 per person  /  Friday – Sunday: $37 per person. Book 2 or more games for the same day – get 10% off!*  /  Book all 4 games for the same day – get 15% off!* *Must book full rooms to receive discounted prices. Call (213)689-3229 to receive these discounted rates for booking multiple games. Escape Room LA is located at 120 E. 8th Street (between Main and Los Angeles Streets).

Terroni is at 802 S. Spring St. (213)221-7234 and Dopolavoro 808 S. Spring St. (213)954-0300. Terroni in the Fairfax area 7605 Beverly Blvd. (323)954-0300.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on Jan. 25, 2018.

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken is Out of this World

On National Creme Brûlée Day I visited Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken to bite into a creme brûlée filled glazed doughnut. The raised creme brûlée doughnut is filled with luscious cream, just like the traditional ramekin and it’s enhanced with a slightly burnt caramelization on top.

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Walking inside the modern interior, I first noticed a white painted wall with the words FRIED, STUFFED & GLAZED in big black letters. Below were dark wood tables and heavy reclaimed wood and metal chairs. There’s more seating on high stools near the glass display counter featuring an array of colorful doughnuts.

While there I met Art Levitt, the West Coast partner of Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken. The distinguished and tall Levitt was standing near the counter and I introduced myself, and asked him how he got involved with the doughnut and fried chicken concept?  “It started while I was interviewing for a job in Washington D.C. about two years ago,” he told me. “While walking by a tiny space, I noticed a huge line of people and decided to stop and see why it was so popular. It was worth every second of waiting to taste this incredible product.”

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The concept is two American favorite comfort foods: doughnuts and fried chicken with a modern spin of inventive seasonal flavors. They combine both into breakfast and lunch sandwiches offering an elevated new take on the traditional southern waffles and fried chicken.

Being a Harvard Business graduate, Levitt knew a good thing when he saw it, and introduced himself to the owners and co-founders Jeff Halpern and Elliot Spaisman. He learned that both grew up playing hockey in Montgomery County, Maryland. “They loved getting doughnuts after a hockey game,” Levitt said. Later Halpern turned pro playing on various hockey teams that included the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings. They took him out to the Astro Food Truck and laughed when they all noticed the truck was rocking and shaking on the street. “People in D.C. expect the Food Truck to open at an exact time, and will push and rock the truck if it doesn’t open on time,” Levitt said.

Believing this would do well in Los Angeles, Levitt told Halpern and Spaisman that he wanted to participate in the concept and open an Astro Doughnut & Fried Chicken on the West Coast. When they heard his resume, former President Disney Regional Entertainment; CEO of Fandango and CEO of Hard Rock Cafe, they agreed to a partnership. “The D.C. guys are the nicest people,” said Levitt. “They are here all the time, in fact Steve was here last week.”

Levitt took me on a quick tour of the extremely clean kitchen divided into sections. There is the grill next to the pressure fryer “this cooks under pressure to keep our chicken uniquely moist,” said Levitt. He showed me the “stuffing” station where they fill certain doughnuts with pastry cream or jam. There is also a topping station where they dazzle the doughnuts into works of art. “Fresh doughnuts come out every hour,” Levitt said. As they sell out a rack, “we refresh and re-bake.”

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The biscuits for the breakfast and lunch sandwiches are made from scratch too. There is one enormous mixer for dough and another large mixer for sauces and glazes. They have a special chicken warmer to keep the chicken moist and hot after it’s removed from the pressure fryer.

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On the menu chicken is offered different ways. You may order two pieces of dark meat; two pieces of white meat; four or eight pieces. They also offer some of the best chicken fingers in town. They arrive five in a box with a dipping sauce.

Since coffee and doughnuts pair nicely, Levitt offers two high quality coffees – a full bodied La Columbe coffee and LAMILL’s Nitro Brew and Cold Brew.

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As he excused himself to take a phone call, I ordered a few breakfast items before they started serving lunch to the downtown crowd. First I ordered two breakfast biscuits with chicken. One was on a fresh biscuit with a fried farm fresh egg and bacon in between and the other was a cheddar flecked biscuit with honey butter and fried white meat chicken pieces. These are only available until 11 a.m. They also make a French toast doughnut style roll served with butter and pure maple syrup.

During lunch the sandwiches are square instead of round and can be ordered on a savory doughnut; potato roll or Old Bay doughnut. On the sandwich guests can add blue cheese sauce, Sriracha mayo, Sriracha Buffalo, honey mustard, Ranch and BBQ to enhance the fried chicken with lettuce and tomato. They also make a fried chicken BLT sandwich on your choice of roll.

Sides include crispy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside tater tots and kimchi cole slaw.

Before leaving, I ordered a half dozen Astro doughnuts to take home. It was fun selecting a few of the daily doughnuts and a couple Astro special artisan doughnuts. They make four special flavors that rotate every month. The day I dined they had a dark chocolate caramel Macchiato; red peach Melba doughnut filled with fresh peach puree; a rack of bright magenta colored blackberry lime tart doughnuts, and an artistic Boston Cream with two bright yellow passion fruit thin lines going across the chocolate glaze and connecting on the bottom right corner.

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The daily donuts are a vanilla glazed with a cursive small chocolate “a” on the left side. The maple bacon is “the bomb” with maple glaze and chopped bacon pieces. My favorite daily doughnut was the PB&J. Biting into the raised doughnut filled with red jam, and glazed with peanut butter and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, took me down memory lane. It tasted just like the sweet red berry jam with crunchy peanut butter spread on bread I ate as a youngster.

Starting August 4 for a few weeks, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken launched four new seasonal flavors: Cannoli (Pillow doughnut with Italian cannoli filling of sweetened ricotta, mini chocolate chips and chopped candied orange peel. Then rolled in cinnamon sugar, dark chocolate drizzle), Mint Cookies N Cream (Rich chocolate cake circle doughnut, Mint Cream Glaze, Chopped Oreo Cookies), Summer Sweet Corn (Light and airy circle doughnut with a sweet and salty buttery corn glaze, topped with toasted corn nut crumble) and Yuzu Toasted Coconut – a tart cross between lemon and orange glaze with toasted shredded coconut sprinkles.

The classic four flavors Vanilla Glazed, Maple Bacon, PB&J and Crème Brûlée are available too.

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Open Monday through Friday until 5 p.m. On Saturday Astro is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s closed on Sundays. $ 516 W. 6th Street (213)622-7876.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – Review of Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken

Otium at The Broad

The last time my husband and I explored The Broad, we strolled over to the contemporary urban Otium restaurant designed by architect Osvaldo Maiozzi. With its striking box-like design, we peeked inside and admired the soaring ceiling and handmade glass pieces that resembled falling raindrops. The open elegant kitchen is near a long bar with floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with bottles lined up like soldiers. Bartenders were climbing and pushing the tall, rolling ladder from side to side to grab bottles up near the top. It was lively and fun, so we made a note to come back another time for dinner.

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Grilled octopus is brightened with a squeeze of lemon and complemented with tzatziki spread. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

With tickets in hand to the opening night of “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre, we decided to make an impromptu visit to Otium for a pre-theater dinner. Without reservations, we were seated at a long communal table next to another couple from Manhattan Beach. It was their first time dining at Otium too, before seeing a show at the nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall.

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We told our server we had theatre tickets for the 8 p.m. show and needed to leave by 7:45 p.m. He assured us that he would do his best, and recommended a few dishes that could be prepared quickly.

The chef of Otium, Timothy Hollingsworth, was once the chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, earning the distinctive James Beard Rising Star Chef award in 2010, so we were expecting a great meal.

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Even though we were dining indoors, it was near the outdoor patio, offering views of the 100-year-old olive trees gracing The Broad’s park-like plaza. Looking up, we gazed in wonder at the restaurant’s open mezzanine with a private dining area and vertical garden created by LA Urban Farms. Hollingsworth utilizes its herbs, vegetables and edible flowers to enhance each menu item.

The wine list offers more than 20 wines by the glass – some as much as $22 per glass – and an extensive offering of bottled wine. If you prefer to bring your own bottle, a $35 corkage fee applies.

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Freshly baked bread arranged in a cloverleaf pattern arrived in a mini cast-iron skillet glistening with butter, chopped chives, herbs and a sprinkling of sea salt.

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A plate of wood-fired octopus arrived next with a long tentacle sticking straight up saluting us. Hollingsworth combines octopus with a variety of spices, maybe a bay leaf, a pinch of thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. I’m sure he squeezed fresh lemon before and after grilling. The octopus was served on tzatziki spread with thinly sliced cucumber medallions and pickled red onion ribbons with a few arugula leaves offering a peppery enhancement.

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Another dish from the sea was the ceviche made with a combination of kanpachi (Amberjack or Japanese yellowfish), sliced squid, chopped green tomatoes, shrimp and avocado. A few squeezes of lime juice, chopped parsley, salt and thinly sliced aji peppers dazzled the fresh and chunky ceviche served in an artistic blue Irving Place Studios hand-thrown ceramic bowl.

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Avocado and grapefruit salad.

Our waiter recommended the falafel plate, with four deep-fried, ground chickpea balls placed on a puree of chickpea and eggplant with cucumber, Meyer lemon, parsley and micro greens. There wasn’t anything spectacular about this small mezze plate for $17. I’m unsure why our server singled it out, however his suggestion aboutthe grapefruit avocado salad was a winner, with ancient amaranth grains, thinly sliced radish, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and glaze of miso dressing.

Even though the service was friendly, our dishes took longer coming out of the kitchen than we had hoped. While apologizing repeatedly, our server inquired in the kitchen about my husband’s poached halibut several times, before finally bringing it out. At almost $40, it was a disappointing piece of bland fish, with an unmemorable Green Goddess glaze on top of a jardiniere of mixed vegetables and caramelized onions.

We paid our bill and ran to the theater as the lights were dimming. Fortunately, the show was better than our experience at Otium and the evening ended on a high note.

The restaurant is open for weekend brunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., lunch from Tuesday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., snacks Tuesday through Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and dinner nightly starting at 5:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays. $$$ 222 S. Hope St. (213)935-8500.

This review was also featured in the June 1, 2017 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Best Dining View Spot in LA – 71Above

The skyline in downtown Los Angeles has been transformed over the past few years. The US Bank Tower, erected in 1990, didn’t move or add more floors, but took things outside. OUE Skyspace opened the LA Skyslide in June, a 45 foot plunge outside of the building. The four-inch thick, clear glass slide, affixed 1,000 feet high to an open air observation deck is quite a thrilling ride.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

Also new to the US Bank Tower is the restaurant 71 Above, named so for its location on the 71st floor of the iconic building. Panoramic views from the sea to the mountains make 71 Above a must-see destination.

Dining is available in the main dining room, at the Chef’s table, in semi-private dining or at casual seating in the bar. All of the menus are prix fixe, with the option of adding wine pairings.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

The Chef’s table experience offers multi-course modern American menus from executive chef Vartan Abgaryan (previously at Cliff’s Edge at the Sunset Triangle) and his culinary team.

In the semi-private dining area, with views stretching from the Los Angeles basin to the San Gabriel Mountains and the Inland Empire, I enjoyed a three-course lunch with a group of friends.

We started with a choice of starters that included a creamy sunchoke soup with a sweet garlic puree, creme fraiche, smoked trout and dill. Our server described the flavor profile as a bagel with lox in a bowl.

Salad photo by Jill Weinlein
Salad photo by Jill Weinlein

I ordered the sea salt roasted beet salad with golden beet wedges, thinly sliced pickled beet medallions dotting a colorful array of greens, tart pink grapefruit sections, and a side of pleasing white pistachio flan.

My friend shared her heartier ricotta gnocchi with slightly fried pasta, sweet and sour carrot slices, chervil cheese and a slightly spicy chorizo Bolognese sauce. It was delicious.

Halibut photo by Jill Weinlein
Halibut photo by Jill Weinlein

The entrées included a nice slice of pan-fried halibut with crispy skin on a bed of sweet heirloom tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and pearl onions. The dish was glazed with aged sherry and a little coriander and tarragon.

My friend Shaena ordered the scallops, three large pieces resting next to asparagus spears, wild mushrooms, parsley and pretty micro flowers. What made this dish dazzle was a splash of Banyuls vinegar, made from a sweet wine from the southern region of France that borders Spain, and is more mellow than acidic red wine vinegar.

Scallops photo by Jill Weinlein
Scallops photo by Jill Weinlein

Other dishes include a Southern-style pasta made with durum wheat conchiglie and topped with shrimp, corn, chive, lime and Creole spices.

Vegetarians at the table enjoyed a dish of roasted zucchini with sunburst squash, garlic, pine nuts and a generous heaping of Parmesan cheese.

For dessert, we sampled a caramel custard made with a white vanilla soy gelee with a truffle-almond praline and a scoop of coconut sorbet. A sprinkling of pork and maple powder gave it a umami essence. Peaches and cream with sliced peaches were topped with peaks of black tea mascarpone gels. Classic white chocolate cremeux, that is similar in texture to pudding, was also served. The plate also had a matcha marshmallow and a sprinkling of candied lemon zest to create a sweet, yet slightly tart treat.

Elegant dessert photo by Jill Weinlein
Elegant dessert photo by Jill Weinlein

For a special occasion dining experience in the tallest building in Los Angeles, 71 Above will thrill you in views, cuisine and dining experience. There is self-parking and valet parking at the entrance of the US Bank Tower. Valet is $10 for the first three hours.

Reservations can be made on their website, and payment in full gives you a “ticket” with the number of guests and time of the reservation. Pricing is variable and depends on the menu.

USB Building photo by Jill Weinlein
USB Building photo by Jill Weinlein

Open for lunch and dinner on Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Thursday and Friday, 71Above stays open until midnight. On Saturday and Sunday the restaurant is open only for dinner starting at 5 p.m. $$$ 633 W. 5th St. (213)712-2683.

This was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on October 20, 2016.

Rooftop Skyline Dining at WP24

IMG_6310I have a secret to share. I found the ideal al fresco summer dining spot in downtown Los Angeles. Not only does this outdoor venue serve an upscale, a la carte, Asian-inspired menu and seasonal cocktails, it’s now open for the first time to the public.

Last Friday, we handed our keys to the valet at the architecturally-pleasing Ritz-Carlton at L.A. LIVE before riding the elevator to the 24th floor. After we checked in at the WP24 (Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant) reception stand, a host escorted us to another elevator for a ride to the 26th floor. The doors opened to a large outdoor bar with glass punchbowls filled with white and red fruity sangria. Beyond the bar was a pool, luxury lounge area and chef’s herb garden cultivated for dishes served at WP24.

When a three-piece band played Paramore’s hit song, “Ain’t it Fun”, I knew it was going to be a great night. There is something wonderful about good live music, fresh air, sensational views, colorful cocktails and the scent of a sizzling grill. The outdoor dining lounge offers breathtaking views of the moon, city lights and passenger jets flying overhead.

General manager John-Andre Wielenberg said the area had been under-utilized during the evening. During the day, guests and residents of the Ritz-Carlton enjoy sunbathing, swimming and cocktails from the bar, yet this prime space was quiet during the evening, as guests explored the dining options inside the hotel or at LA LIVE.

When Wielenberg brought WP24 chef de cuisine John Lechleidner to the space, they brainstormed about making good use of the area and decided to offer an inviting ambiance with upscale small bites and table service.

They created an outdoor kitchen for their talented WP24 chefs to grill large prawns, mini sliders and Kurobuta pork. They hired bands to enhance the surroundings with live jazz and pop music.

We sat at a reserved table and ordered a glass of white fruit sangria and a tall mai tai. They also offer mojitos in kiwi, raspberry, mango, coconut, strawberry, peach and traditional mint flavors, and creative cocktails like a champagne float. A selection of beer and wine is available to accompany Lechleidner’s creative small plates. His dishes include fresh albacore ceviche with chilies, chopped Thai basil, cilantro and a splash of citrus.

The Kurobuta pork belly is served in a gem lettuce wrap. It was a little too fatty for me, yet very flavorful with gochujang — a savory, spicy and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. The lettuce balanced the heat of the dish.

We ordered a cold glass of Lucky Buddha beer that paired nicely with three American wagyu beef sliders served on freshly baked buns and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. They were topped with roasted tomatoes and melted Vermont cheddar cheese. FullSizeRender-3

A glass of oaky Inception chardonnay from Santa Barbara paired nicely with the chef’s take on Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, which he serves on French baguettes. Tender roasted Kurobuta pork with tart pickled vegetables, earthy cilantro and chilies give the dish a zing. The chef also serves confit pork belly sliders with grilled cipollini onions, arugula and apricot mustard.

The prettiest dish of the evening was the red curry large grilled spot prawns served on coconut sticky rice with pickled vegetables.

The new pastry chef Megan Potthoff is an expert at creative French pastries. She offers a fresh take on Asian-inspired desserts and makes whimsical treats like the hazelnut praline ice cream pops with a chocolate glaze. We enjoyed the tropical flavors of the coconut tapioca parfait with fresh mango and pineapple shaved ice. Her most creative dessert was s’mores with graham crackers, chocolate squares and house-made passion fruit marshmallows.

Dining is by reservation only. The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., through Sept. 5. $$ 900 W. Olympic Blvd, 26th Floor. (213)743-8824.

This review was published in the August 6, 2015 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Bunker Hill – Downtown’s Hot Sports Bar

IMG_6645The downtown restaurant and bar scene has blossomed over the past few years. A newish-hot sports bar is Bunker Hill Bar & Grill, located on the ground floor of a downtown Los Angeles landmark building at Fifth and Flower. This comfortable lunch and after-work place joins the Kwan brothers group of restaurants that include multiple Wokcano’s, the nearby Le Ka, and Green Hut Café.

Inside are stylish wood, cocktail-height tables with low back stools and tables with cream-colored high back chairs. There are 11 flat screens showing different sporting events and one outside on the spacious patio overlooking the downtown public library.

During the lunch hour, people stream out of various office buildings for sushi, burgers and sandwiches, or healthy quinoa bowl. Choose from basil garlic marinated salmon with asparagus; pan seared chicken breast or a spicy green chicken curry. Interesting sandwiches include the brie and pear, the fried chicken with jalepeño sauce, and the Mexican BBQ pork belly. Prices range from mostly from $9-12, however, if you want to splurge at lunch, try the lobster roll with tarragon, melted butter and sea salt for $18.

After work, the well-dressed business crowd stops in for a small batch draft beer (a dozen taps to choose from) or creative cocktails that range from a Pimm’s Cup aperitif, to a whiskey inspired Bunker Hill Old Fashion or Gin Aquas Frescas with fresh lime, cilantro and cucumber juice. Happy Hour starts at 3 pm and goes ‘til 7, offering $5 beers on tap and a host of bar bites from sushi rolls, wings and wraps to tacos and sliders.

General Manager Jeffrey Midlam hand selects the beer menu. He offered us a taste of the Dales Pale Ale brewed by Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado. “This beerIMG_6652 goes nicely with one of the burgers or the spicy albacore roll with crispy shallots and micro greens,” Midlam said.

It has a golden orange color with bubbles and a head that dissipatesquickly. It’s slightly creamy with a hint of apricot and complex taste that lingers.

We ordered the beef short rib tacos that arrived two on a plate, and the truffle burger sliders to accompany the ale. The sliders were topped with sautéed mushrooms, arugula, Munster cheese and a unique truffle shaving sauce with shiitake aioli. These little burgers were wonderful.

Midlam really likes the beers from Maui Brewing Company in Lahaina. The Maui Bikini Blonde Lager is brewed with floral hops and is bold, smooth and refreshing. It goes well with a pasta dish or the prime rib eye with fries.

Midlam also offered a handcrafted Maui Coconut Porter. The silky smooth chocolate brown porter had a hint of coffee flavor with a toasted coconut and hoppy spice finish. I enjoyed this with a white and spongy Peking duck on a Bao bun and Peking duck wrap.

For sweets they offer two desserts – a chocolate bread pudding or ice cream cookie sandwiches filled with vanilla or chocolate ice cream between two-better than average housemade chocolate-chip cookies.

Happy Hour is 3 to 7 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday with all draft beer at $5 and the House Snap Dragon Wine from Sonoma at $4 a glass.

Valet parking is $6 in the building’s garage. Open seven days for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to midnight on Sundays through Thursdays. On Friday and Saturdays the restaurant stays open until 2 a.m. $-$$ 601 W. 5th St. (213)688-2988. http://www.bunkerhillbar.com

This article was published in the February 20 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.