INKO NITO Celebrates the fall season

Some subtle changes have occurred at the Inko Nito downtown in the Arts District. Diners can almost feel the heat from the open robata grill while sitting at the new dining counter. It’s an interactive experience as guests watch chefs prepare new seasonal dishes, as well as many beloved signature favorites.

When Inko Nito opened in January last year in downtown L.A., it became so popular that the Zuma team opened a pop-up on Third Street in Beverly Grove, which closed earlier this year. Now the team is focusing on their flagship location with a chef’s counter and 124-seat dining room designed by Studio Mai that offers communal seating and tables set for smaller groups of two and four guests. They built a larger full bar and added more greenery to the front door patio, softening the industrial design and adding a coziness for al fresco dining.

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Head Chef Randolfo Vaz added new items to the menu, including a sashimi section and a few robata dishes such as bone marrow and a sea bream fillet with saikyo miso and pickled red onion.

The drink menu is inspired by Japanese bar culture, offering Japanese beers, sake, California wines and some creative nonalcoholic beverages. Try the spritz made with watermelon, aperol, yuzu and a splash of sparkling wine. They also offer a Japanese-style margarita named Palomita – a combination of  sakura tequila, agave, a squeeze of lime and pink grapefruit juice.

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We ordered a cut corn on the cob and enjoyed it with a sprinkle of shichimi. Seven different ingredients combine to give the dish pizzazz, including red chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, pepper and nori.

Near the grill, a large container holds black charcoal logs called Binchōtan. Creating a beautiful flame that creates less smoke than wood, this charcoal produces high heat while preserving the flavorful juices of proteins and some vegetables.

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Each chef has his own station and responsibility. One chef marinates spicy beef and yellowtail collars with brown butter and a citrus-based ponzu sauce. Thick cuts of salmon filets are grilled and glazed with grapefruit miso and a sprinkle of sansho salt, which carries a little basil and spearmint flavor.

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Lighter fare includes an acidic empire salad layered with butter lettuce and mixed greens, slices of smooth avocado, small black quinoa for a slight crunch and an apple wasabi dressing.

An artistically arranged sashimi board arrived with two slices of salmon, toro and hamachi yellowtail and tender tuna belly maki with fresh wasabi, scallions and topped with rich, briny Petrossian classic shassetra caviar, as well as avocado and cucumber maki with wasabi peas, shichimi and yuzu.

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Four pieces of toast glazed with garlic butter accompany silky and buttery bone marrow topped with a smokey soy sauce. Another beef favorite, sliced spicy beef tenderloin, glistens with a caramelized chili and scallion sauce. The tender meat and appealing flavors made this one of our favorite dishes. We finished with a bowl of coconut soft serve ice cream drizzled in sweet soy and crunchy housemade Japanese granola on top. Bright green pocky sticks decorated this sweet treat.

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“We are like family working together, and we make sure each guests leaves satisfied,” said General Manager Nathan Merriman.

Inko Nito offers delicious fare, a pleasing atmosphere and attentive service. The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. daily, except on Saturday and Sunday when it opens at noon. $$ 225-227 S. Garey St. (310)999-0476.

Featured also in the Beverly Press.

HATCH Yakitori + Sticks

You can’t judge food by its appearance at the newer HATCH Yakitori + Bar located in DTLA’s The Bloc. If I did, I would have never tasted their delicious signature Japanese-style black karaage fried chicken on a stick.

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When it was first delivered to my table, I declined it. The two day brined chicken thigh meat is by far the ugliest item on the menu. It looks like nuggets of dry black coal, or a meteorite that dropped to earth from a far-off galaxy. This karaage gets its coloring by rolling the chicken pieces in squid ink powder, before deep frying and skewering with a stick.

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Noticing my friends animated and thrilled faces while devouring a plate of crispy black nuggets, I reluctantly squeezed a slice of grilled lime on top, dipped it in a black ranch aioli and took a bite. I will never turn up my nose again. The moist chicken meat has an exquisite balance of taste, texture, and aroma. The chefs use thigh meat, because it tastes better than breast meat. Legs of chickens are fundamentally different than drier and whiter breast meat. Thighs are built for endurance and contain a higher concentration of myoglobin which gives leg meat its characteristic dark color and umami-rich taste.

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What makes HATCH Yakitori + Bar unique is its Japanese style stick food and creative Japanese twist to cocktails. Bar Director James Fastiggi stirs things up by pairing fresh and innovative flavors with owner-partners Akarad “AK” Tachavatcharapa, Nara Latip, Partner and Executive Chef Daniel Shemtob’s exciting menu. 

When I requested a drink to start my culinary adventure, Fastiggi recommended the “Wassup Bae” made with Roku Gin, wasabi, cucumber, lemon juice, lemongrass syrup and a whisper of charcoal salt on the rim. He told me it’s a millennial favorite.

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Next I sipped a refreshing green Matcha Highball made with Iwai Whisky, coconut lemongrass nigori, lemon juice, house-made honey syrup and matcha powder. It’s poured into an ice-filled Collins glass and served with a metal straw. I learned that Iwai whiskey offers tasting notes of pear, quince, red fruits and vanilla. Matured in the finest Japanese handmade mizunara oak casks, it spends the last leg of its maturation at sea, with the salt air and ebb and flow of the tides enriching the whisky. This drink paired well with the crunchy avocado tuna toast on crispy rice with scallions and sesame seeds.

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While enjoying a “Mushroom Party” stick, I sipped a pleasing “The Rum Tum Tum” cocktail. It’s made with house-made tepache, a beverage of Mexican origins in which pineapples are fermented for seven days before spices are added, and then joined with Greenbar Spiced Rum, lemon juice, Demerara syrup and Angostura bitters. It’s a tropical vacation in a glass. There were three different types of grilled mushrooms on this “party” stick.

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Next we enjoyed sipping a Yuzu Sour paired with a plate of hamachi. This cocktail is a refreshing twist on a Pisco Sour and is presented with a pretty design on the creamy egg white foam. It’s also prepared with Iwai Whisky, yuzu liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup.

The prettiest pink drink named “For Goodness ‘Sake’” was decorated with an edible flower. It gets its dazzling color from a pour of prickly pear juice, dry sake, Tito’s vodka, lychee juice and pear syrup. This drink went well with chicken meatballs shaped as cigars on a stick and served with a side of savory egg yolk for dipping.

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A crowd favorite was the slightly sweet and spicy “Mangorita” made with Lunazul Tequila, house-made mango syrup, agave nectar, lime juice, orange bitters, and serrano pepper. The rim was slightly salty and peppery. We sipped this while enjoying a one bite Wagyu Beef A5 Nigiri. Chef Daniel cuts a thin slice the finest Japanese beef with delicate marbling evenly distributed throughout. He then brushes on a soy sauce they make in house, and lightly sears the beef with a cooking blowtorch before topping it with a crispy garlic chip.

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The “Tokyo Drift” drink has a pour of Kaiyo Whisky, Angostura & orange bitters, and a magic citrus elixir developed by Fastiggi. It was inspired by a savory sauce made by Chef de Cuisine Erick Cielo. This drink went nicely with the Agedashi Tofu. It’s a Japanese way to prepare silken firm tofu. First the tofu is lightly dusted with potato starch, cut into squares, deep fried until golden brown and served hot. The chefs top this tofu with umami flavor, paper thin bonito fish flakes and green chive ribbons.

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Besides cocktails, the bar also serves unfiltered and cloudy sake. American and Japanese beers on draft include Asahi, Sapporo, Orion, and Kirin, as well as Coedo Shiro Hefeweizen Wheat Beer, Samurai Blonde Ale, Delicious IPA, and the Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale. Two varieties from the Kyoto Brewing Company are served in bottles. They serve Kyoto Matcha IPA and Kyoto Kuromame Black Soybean Ale.  Ginger beer includes a 8% alcohol content Hitachino Ginger Brew.

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During Happy Hour Chef Daniel offers one hour of discounted oysters that can be ordered chilled, grilled, or fried accompanied by ume mignoette. There are plates of slow cooked miso pork spare ribs glistening with a spice blend, miso caramel and green onions. House sake, wine and beer by the glass are available at special prices.

HATCH Yakitori + Bar is open for lunch every Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for Dinner every Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m, Friday and Saturday the restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday dinner service begins at 6 p.m. Happy Hour is every Monday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. $$ 700 W. 7th St. (213)282-9070.

This article was also featured in the Beverly Press.

 

Maddalena Restaurant delights at San Antonio Winery

At Maddalena Restaurant, guests can enjoy the best eggplant parmigiana in Los Angeles and the excellent output of the San Antonio Winery, the oldest producing winery in L.A. and home to Maddalena.

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For National Malbec Day (April 17), I joined Melissa Gonzalo, the winery’s public relations director, for a taste of the eats and drinks at San Antonio Winery, which was named “American Winery of the Year” for 2018 by Wine Enthusiast. Part of the annual Wine Star Awards, the prestigious title represents the highest standard of excellence for an American winery and is based on a winery’s commitment to quality, innovation, sustainability and heritage.

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In the 1880s, the temperate Mediterranean climate made Los Angeles the premier city for growing grapes and winemaking in California, Gonzalo said. In 1917, Santo Cambianica from Lombardy, Italy, immigrated to L.A. and started this winery, which he named after his patron saint, St. Anthony.

However, over its 102-year history, San Antonio Winery has faced challenges. In 1919, the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act, which enacted prohibition in America. Cambianica partnered with the Catholic Church to make altar wines for communion, keeping the winery running when the Great Depression hit. Nearly all of the wineries in Los Angeles closed their doors, except for San Antonio Winery.

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After prohibition and with the help of his family – including Italian nephew Stefano Riboli and Riboli’s wife, Maddalena Satragni – the business bloomed. San Antonio Winery purchased vineyard properties in Monterey County in the 1970s and in the prestigious Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley in the 1980s. The family also planted vineyards in the Paso Robles region, where it opened a modern winery facility and tasting room.

The geographic diversity is on display in the spacious wine tasting room in Los Angeles, where a variety of wines are available, including many that bear family names: Riboli Family Wine Estates, Stella Rosa, Maddalena, Bodega San Antonio Sangria, San Antonio California Champagne and many more.

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Winemaking tours are also available, and visitors may receive complimentary wine sips or pay for a $15 artisan flight for premium tastes, including whites, bold reds, sparkling wines, or a sweet and semi-sweet selection. The tours are available on the hour on weekdays from noon to 4 p.m., and weekend tours are available on the hour from noon to 5 p.m.

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There’s plenty to offer for diners, too, and as we walked into Maddalena’s Restaurant, we admired many of the fresh pastas, grilled meats, gourmet salads, sandwiches and large desserts on display. Gonzalo told me the chefs make the best lasagna and eggplant parmigiana dishes anywhere in Los Angeles. We ordered both, as well as grilled salmon and a vegetarian burger with crispy fries.

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We enjoyed our Italian fare with a glass of Opaque Malbec made at their winery in Paso Robles. This family proprietary blend, made with Zinfandel, Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, petit verdot and petite sirah grapes, offers ripe raspberry and blackberry flavors, as well as notes of vanilla and spice. It paired perfectly with the lasagna and eggplant parmigiana.

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We finished with a tiramisu and cannoli filled with a sweet creamy ricotta. Gonzalo told me the pastry chefs make one of the best cheesecakes ever, but I’ll have to save that experience for my next visit to the trattoria-style winery and restaurant.

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Maddalena is a good spot for lunch, when you’ll find all types of Angelenos enjoying a meal, including Maddalena herself or other Riboli family members, as they’re very hands-on in running the restaurant and winery.

Many of the servers and staff have worked here for years. They know the regulars on a first-name basis, including ladies lunch groups, downtown L.A. lawyers, bankers and a handsome police helicopter pilot who sat near us and told us he eats here once a week.

Next time you are in downtown L.A., enjoy a fun culinary outing at San Antonio Winery for memorable Italian and American dishes with award-winning wines.

The restaurant is open every day for brunch, serving breakfast and lunch favorites starting at 9:30 a.m. The winery is open Sunday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parking is free in a lot at the winery. $$ 737 Lamar St., (323)223-1401.

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

Heavenly Hock + Hoof

Chefs and partners Kat Hu and Justin Yi turn offals and vegetables into gourmet fare at Hock + Hoof, next to the historic Hotel Alexandria in downtown Los Angeles. The restaurant, which opened last May, has already earned quite a following because of its creative options blending French techniques with Asian ingredients and flavors. These menu items pair well with their creative soju cocktails. While waiting for their liquor license, they are making a variety of innovative and pretty drinks.

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The interior is modern and clean with a brick wall, white subway tiles, strings of white lights, and a little greenery. Near the front door is a framed photo of Bruce Lee.

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I started the evening before seeing ‘Home’ across the street at The Los Angeles Theatre Center with a lavender colored Petit Pea. It was served in a dainty glass with a large ice cube and purple micro flower. Besides soju, it’s made with lemon juice, elderflower, butterfly pea flower and lemon bitters. Butterfly pea flower is known for its ability to change colors depending on the pH. It’s usually a hue of blue when steeped in hot water. When you add a little bit of lemon juice, the acidity changes the blue to a beautiful pinkish purple color. 

My husband ordered the Reyes Especial made with toasted spice soju, lime juice, tamarind, blackberry, demerara (a dark rum fermented from molasses) and mango bitters.

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Our server Chase shared with us that Chef Kat grew up in Nanjing, China, and learned how to cook in her grandmothers kitchen. It inspired her to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu. While in Los Angeles, Kat worked at the Ritz Carlton and the JW Marriott Los Angeles at LA Live, as well as at Cafe Pinot.

Chef Justin’s specialty is traditional Korean food, that he perfected in the kitchens at Bouchon Las Vegas, Patina Restaurant Group at LACMA and with Chef Kat at Roots & Rye up in Northern California, before coming back to Los Angeles to open Hock + Hoof together.

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Opening last May, the restaurant is getting quite a following because of its creative fare. Kat is a bit of an offal expert, respecting the entire animal. She has worked with Chef Chris Cosentino, the author of Offal Good. Kat’s philosophy is similar to Cosentino’s, she wants to make food approachable for everyone, and prepare unfamiliar into familiar.

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We started with oysters en croute that arrived on a plate of salt. Each oyster shell had a layer of buttery pastry baked on top. It was similar to an oyster Rockefeller.

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Next we bit into Tomahawk steak tartare layered on rectangular pieces of toated focaccia. The chopped red meat was topped with Santa Monica Farmers Market green garlic. Kat told us that when she found this mild and savory garlic, she bought 30 bunches to make a garlic confit relish with olive and grape seed oil. She shaved a radish and included pickled cauliflower and dumpling carrots. We were told to take a bite of the steak tartare and then pick up one of the pickled vegetables to cleanse our palate.

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When a plate with a generous scoop of soft, creamy and ethereal pink chicken liver mousse arrived, I took a big bite. I’m not a big fan of chicken liver pate, yet this plate was inviting due to the bright red gel dots made from Hawthorne berries, and two small puffy pieces of fry bread. Kat delivered it to our table sharing that she grew up drinking tea with Hawthorne berries. She gets them in Chinatown and told us they are very good for digestion. Once I spread the mousse onto the fry bread and topped it with the gel, I took a bite and was delightfully pleased with the flavors.

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Chase told us that Kat’s mother is an organic gardener. One day she brought in some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from her garden, and it inspired Kat to make a vegetarian dish. During this time of the year, she bastes turnips, cooks beets and pan fries Brussels sprouts. To balance it out, she adds some crispy shoestring potatoes. It’s delicious.

My husband ordered a local Angel City Pilsner and I selected a Raeburn Chardonnay from the Russian River area to enjoy with the rest of our menu items. My wine was a classic Chardonnay with intensive fruit characteristics and a creamy vanilla finish with each sip.

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Next arrived a long marrow bone, cut down the middle and topped with bacon panko. “It’s actually lap cheong, which is a Cantonese sausage,” said Kat. She tops the slightly spongy, soft and rich melted interior with panko crumbs. It’s a little bit like tasting melted butter with a slightly lighter, sweet and nutty flavor. This delicacy is served on top of an egg crepe. The texture of the crepe is light and easy to roll without tearing. Kat recommended scraping everything from the bone onto the egg crepe. Then we were to roll it like a Spring roll and add the fried scallions. Again there were pickled cauliflower and carrots to bite into to balance our palate. If you have a dog, the staff allows you to take the bone home for a special treat.

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Chase told us that Kat has her heart into this restaurant. She and Justin also have an artistic flair. Midnight black squid ink was smeared on the side of a white bowl before it was filled with forbidden black rice, sautéed squid and three different types of mushrooms – clusters of hen of the woods, meaty King oysters and long stems with petite globular caps Shimejis. Kat squeezes in a little lemon juice on top. This was another winning dish.

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Feeling adventurous we agreed to try her favorite item on the menu, a seared and braised beef tongue. It tastes similar to slow-cooked beef short ribs. After searing and braising a cow tongue, she pops it in the oven for hours. Afterwards she pulls off the tough skin to reveal a beautiful and supple piece of red meat. She dresses the plate with three different types of celery – a root puree, sweet and savory roasted celery and braised celery. Kat likes to add a touch of sweetness to her dishes, and on this dish she scatters bright red and tart pomegranate seeds for flavor and color.

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After this rich dish, we enjoyed the lighter Asian pear and creamy white burrata salad. Little sprigs of watercress give it an earthy essence. A drizzle of Osmanthus honey and slices of Asian pear add a zing of sweetness. A sprinkling of pine nuts add a touch of  saltiness and texture. Osmanthus is a flower that has a distinctive fruity and floral aroma. This salad is a good starter dish or dessert.

A local gelateria makes an amazing Osmanthus gelato for the restaurant, It’s creamy with apricot nuances, and an ideal ending before seeing a play across the street. 

Hock + Hoff is for the adventurous who yearn to try something different. What one person might consider food waste, Kat and Justin make it into something delicious. Open daily starting Monday through Thursday from  4 – 10 p.m., Fridays 4 – 10:30 p.m. On the weekends Hock + Hoof is open at 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It reopens at 5:30 p.m. for dinner. $$ 527 S. Spring St. (213)279-9983.

Enjoying Happy Place at L.A. Live

Just when you think the world needs a little more happiness, Jared Paul created a multi-sensory Happy Place pop-up experience to encourage Los Angelenos to smile, laugh and enjoy some whimsical fun.

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It’s a colorful place filled with 13 uniquely decorated rooms. Yellow is a predominant color, since it is also a happy-cheerful color. There are yellow and white gum balls lining two walls, and giant yellow shoes to slip into. Another nook has rubber duckies next to a yellow bathtub filled with yellow bubble balls.

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Bright yellow flowers are a fun exhibit to take a photo, as is the optical illusion bedroom, and rainbow where you can jump into a pot of gold. There are two confetti rooms.

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Sample tastes and treats of happiness along the way including white and yellow M & M’s with happy faces on the outside, and cake pops.

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After exploring the exhibit, hang out with friends in the “Backyard” filled with fun games, a Happy Place retail store and dining opportunities.

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Happy Food Vendors include Unicorn or Green Tea Sundaes by Yellow Business; Unicorn or Glow Cotton Candy or Rainbow Popcorn. My World On A Plate makes an ooey-gooey Rainbow Grilled Cheese sandwich. When you purchase a Iced Cold Lemonade at the Happy Lemonade Stand a percentage is donated to various carefully selected charities.

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THIS IS A TIMED ENTRY EVENT – It takes about one hour to explore.
Arrive 20 minutes before the half hour time slot you purchased (eg. arrive at 3:10 p.m. for a 3:30 – 4:00 p.m. Ticket) and no later than 20 minutes after the beginning of your time slot (eg. No later than 3:50pm for a 3:30-4:00pm Ticket). Tickets are non-refundable and non-transferrable.

Check out https://www.happyplace.me/faq/ for answers to frequently asked questions which will help to enhance and make your experience more memorable.

Address: 1005 Chick Hearn Ct. Los Angeles CA 90015.
Entrance will be located at the corner of Georgia St and West Rd.

 

Baldoria is a fun apertivo cafe in DTLA

What happens when a poet and a singer meet? They eventually open a restaurant together, obviously.

Pizzas are baked in a Mugnaini pizza oven until they turn a golden color with lightly burnt crust. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

After traveling in Rome, poet David King dreamed of opening an aperitivo bar offering a communal vibe where locals could gather for a drink and a light meal at the end of the workday. Then, while working at Cube Marketplace & Cafe on La Brea Avenue as the wine director, King met the chef Duke Gervais, a singer and graduate from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. The two paired up to realize King’s dream with Baldoria, a restaurant in the former Aburiya Toranoka space in Little Tokyo, just south of downtown Los Angeles.

IMG_3881As beverage director, King pours a creative craft beer selection and an exceptional list of handpicked spirits and wines, along with inventive cocktails with names such as Balder Cuba Libre, Freisa Azteca and Don’t Burn The Pig. Back in the kitchen, Gervais cooks up heat-blistered pizzas, short rib ravioli, lamb chops, spaghetti Bolognese and creative weekend brunches.

I was recently invited to a pizza-making dinner at Baldoria to meet King and Gervais. When I asked them how they came up with the name of their restaurant, Gervais told me they turned to Google.

“It means shindig – have a good time, wild party,” Gervais said. “This lends to the vibe, good food and drinks we offer.”

Baldoria does indeed offer a good time – a large white brick wall holds a TV screen playing the latest sporting game. The dining room features a long bar, as well as a low counter with seating near the kitchen. High top tables with communal seating run down the middle of the room. The space, ideal for large gatherings, has become a popular birthday party destination. Baldoria also offers rental space, with room for 60 people seated inside, or 80 including the patio.

For my pizza lesson, I donned a white apron and learned how to manipulate a ball of IMG_3887pizza dough into a thin crust. I topped the dough with one of four sauces, and a variety of ingredients that included cipollini onions, sliced figs and prosciutto. As my pizza baked in a Mugnaini gas-fired pizza oven, I watched a blast of hot air give it a nice color with a speckling of lightly burnt bubbles. After baking, Gervais topped my pizza with a brush of garlic glaze to enhance the flavors.

Sipping a glass of rosé while eating the delicious homemade pizza, I looked at the Baldoria menu. There are 10 pizzas with names that include Mrs. Croque made with Black Forest ham, Grand Cru Gruyere, browned butter béchamel and Chino Valley eggs. The Lil Tokyo Steak pizza is made with miso-marinated flat iron steak, yuzu kosho, shiitake, shishito, cherry tomatos and red onions.

IMG_3889There are a handful of vegetarian dishes that include pistachio-crusted grapes, ricotta toast with Black Mission fig compote, and crispy Brussels sprouts.

Carnivores will like the charred BLT wedges made with gem lettuce boats, smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes, egg and chives, or the Caribbean-spiced duck wings.

Desserts include a ricotta cheesecake, espresso cake and persimmon pudding.

On Saturday and Sunday, Baldoria offers a prix-fixe menu that includes a choice of one entrée with a side dish or pizza, plus bottomless mimosas or rosé for $30. Entrées include ciabatta French toast, spinach and three-cheese omelette or spicy fried chicken with apple-cinnamon waffle tacos with WhistlePig maple syrup. Sides include biscuits and honey, two eggs any style, smashed fingerling potatoes or an arugula salad. Pizza-making classes will be offered after the holidays. $$.

IMG_3890Open for lunch on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., weekend brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner nightly starting at 4:30 p.m. Happy hour offers pizzas for $8 and 20 percent off beer, wine and liquor every Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Baldoria is located at 243 S. San Pedro St. (213)947-3329.

This review was also featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – Nov. 30, 2017.

Fritzi DTLA is Fabulous

Right in the middle of the Arts District - Photo by Jill Weinlein
Right in the middle of the Arts District – Photo by Jill Weinlein

Executive Chef Neal Fraser and General Manager Cesar Lopapa are brilliant. They saw an opportunity to feed a slew of millennials drinking craft beer at the Arts District Brewery. They secured the space next door, popped out a wall for the Generation X & Y crowd to walk up to a counter and order elevated burgers, gourmet hot dogs, naked wings or salads to pair with their brews.

Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News readers know Chef Neal Fraser as a local boy who with his wife and business partner, Amy Knoll Fraser, opened the neighborhood café BLD in 2006. Later they secured a space at the Original Farmers Market and opened the gourmet and healthy hot dog shop – Fritzi Dog.

Step up to the counter at Fritzi - photo by Jill Weinlein
Step up to the counter at Fritzi – photo by Jill Weinlein

Fraser got his start as a line cook at Wolfgang Puck’s Eureka Brewery and Restaurant. Realizing that he wanted to open his own restaurant one day, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduating, this talented chef worked for Joachim Splichal at Pinot Bistro downtown, Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and Hans Rockenwagner’s at Rox. When he felt he was ready, Fraser opened his first restaurant, Boxer, in 1995, and later Rix in Santa Monica. With wife Amy they opened BLD, Grace, and next the acclaimed Redbird at Vibiana. He brought in his friend Cesar Lopapa to run it smoothly.

On television Fraser has battled with Iron Chef Cat Cora on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and became the first California chef to win the culinary competition. He also appeared on BravoTV’s Season 5 of “Top Chef Masters” and was victorious on the Esquire Network’s “Knife Fight.”

His newly opened Fritzi Eats is a beautiful symbiosis of a popular beer drinking destination interacting with a dynamic chef’s gastropub menu at reasonable prices. Watch out Umami Burger down the street, there is a new darling in the Arts District serving a burger patty made with a bacon and beef blend topped with fontina fondue, crunchy iceberg lettuce, a touch of Thousand Island dressing and Calabrese relish. It’s beyond good, especially with a pint of the easy to drink Mateo Golden Ale offering notes of fresh baked bread and subtle spices.

Located inside the Arts District Brewery - Photo by Jill Weinlein
Located inside the Arts District Brewery – Photo by Jill Weinlein

The Fritzi Eats window inside the brewery offers some of the same food as the casual sit-down just opened Fritzi LA next door. Using the same kitchen, the menu at Fritzi Eats has a few of Chef Fraser’s gourmet hot dogs that are popular at his Fritzi Dog. There is his one-of-a-kind, whole carrot sous-vide in 26 spices dog topped with a parsley gremolata and crispy Brussels sprouts. He also serves his Snappy O’Brien with smashed tots, grilled peppers, bacon, onions and cheese, and his Four Alarm Fritzi jalapeño chicken dog with jalapeno relish, Sriracha ketchup, and a super spicy mustard.

My Baby Boomer husband and I were envious of these hipsters wearing beards, plaid shirts and jeans, sporting man buns and playing Skee ball and darts throughout the cavernous brewery. We didn’t have a place like this when we were their age. We lived next to Park LaBrea and frequented El Coyote, City, and on special occasions Campanille.

Watching groups of echo boomers sipping beers while popping Fraser’s rock shrimp tempura with winter squash and yuzu kosho aioli in between foosball games, I realized, who cares if we are the oldest in the place, and inserted money into a Skee Ball machine to play a few games, before walking next door to Fritizi LA.

Cesar Lopapa and Jill Weinlein - Photo by Rick Weinlein
Cesar Lopapa and Jill Weinlein – Photo by Rick Weinlein

To my delight, my friend Cesar Lopapa was there and gave me a big hug. I met the handsome Lopapa in 2012 when he opened Short Order and Short Cake in the original Farmers Market. Besides being an expert in opening restaurants and hospitality, Lopapa has become a professional photographer exhibiting his pieces at the Hotel Normandie, L.A. Now he is helping Fraser and 213 Hospitality Group open and run this wood-fire rotisserie restaurant as the General Manager. Ingenious!

I learned he will soon be welcoming his first baby girl into the world. His enthusiasm and positive outlook was contagious and set the mood for our dining experience.
We stood at the front counter and noticed a retro black board with small white letters offering the cocktail menu. I ordered the Nitro Mai Tai made with Martinique rum, Jamaican rum, dry Curacao, fresh lime juice and orgeat. Fritizi staff member Stacey made the Mai Tai to my liking, not too sweet and garnished it with sprigs of mint.

Craft Arts District Beers served at Fritzi - Photo by Jill Weinlein
Craft Arts District Beers served at Fritzi – Photo by Jill Weinlein

We placed our order at the counter with server Alexandra. She gave us a number to place on our high top wood and metal table with matching stools. The ambiance is concrete flooring, high and low tables, white globe lighting and big metal windows looking out on Traction Ave. I wished Lopapa’s photographs graced the walls. They would give this dining room even more pizzazz.

Rotisserie Chicken at Fritzi - Photo by Jill Weinlein
Rotisserie Chicken at Fritzi – Photo by Jill Weinlein

My husband ordered a pint of Bonzai Pale Ale offering a citrusy aroma with hints of grapefruit. It paired nicely with the wood fired rotisserie chicken. Diners get a choice of mostly white or dark meat. The chicken comes with a vegetable of the day, tots, fries or two potato waffles. These potato waffles are another creative idea. They are a blend of hash browns, with an egg and butter mixture that are poured into a waffle iron. They rise like a waffle, and look just like a waffle, yet go better with ketchup, than maple syrup.

A twist on the original Wedge Salad - Photo by Jill Weinlein
A twist on the original Wedge Salad – Photo by Jill Weinlein

Our order of the baby iceberg wedge was different than a traditional wedge with small wedges topped with heirloom cherry tomatoes. Instead of the traditional crumbled bacon, the salad has pieces of moist rotisserie chicken and crispy chicken skin on top. It’s dressed with a pleasing Point Reyes blue cheese dressing. At first the crisp chicken skin looked like potato chips, yet when I bit into one, it was much more flavorful.

The menu has Steak frites with black garlic aioli and a healthier dish of Santa Barbara whitefish. Be sure to try the crispy tater tots that are slightly salty and pure comfort food.

For dessert right now they only have a selection of four ICDC ice cream flavors from restaurateur Amy Knoll Fraser and Pastry Chef Mariah Swan’s artisan ICDC, located near Fraser’s BLD. My husband wished for a bigger dessert menu with slices of pie to go with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.

Tantilizing Tater Tots - Photo by Jill Weinlein
Tantilizing Tater Tots – Photo by Jill Weinlein

After we said goodbye to Cesar and his staff, we explored more of downtown’s Art District. The nearby Angel City Brewery had just one lone food truck parked outside to feed its imbibing guests. Once the word gets out about the creative fare at Fritzi LA and Fritzi Eat, Fraser’s newest endeavor will be one of the most desired brew and casual food destinations in LA. $$ Fritzi is open daily for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 814 Traction Ave. (213)537-0327. Fritzi Eats is open Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Friday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. 828 Traction Ave. (213)537-0327.

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