Crack Shack takes fried chicken up a notch

Celebrity chef Richard Blais is known for his appearances on the reality cooking show Top Chef, and as San Diego’s top restaurateur with his fine dining restaurant Juniper & Ivy, and fine-casual fried chicken eatery The Crack Shack. 

Fine-casual restaurants are popping up all over Los Angeles since restaurateur Danny Meyer of Shake Shack came up with this culinary term. Now other chefs are taking off with this concept, blending speed and convenience of fast-casual with a chef-driven menu and upscale touches. 

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Blaise’s touches include an elevated food and bar menu showcasing innovative California cuisine and whimsical decor. He partnered with chef Jon Sloan and Michael Rosen in 2015 to open an all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner menu that revolves around chicken and eggs in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. The chefs fry, grill and prepare healthy, and not so healthy, but oh so satisfying dishes that appeal to all. 

This concept became so popular, that Blais and his team opened other “Shacks” in Encinitas and Costa Mesa. Now one is in Los Angeles at the Westfield Century City near Nordstrom.

Walking to the glass and wood “Shack,” we were greeted by an enormous white rooster statue, before following a long hallway to the order counter. Looking over the menu, we noticed the restaurant has a glass and metal Moët & Chandon vending machine located in the large bar area. It’s filled with hundreds of chilled small bottles of Imperial Brut or Imperial Rosé.

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Moët & Chandon first introduced the vending machine in London a few years ago, and then the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas became the first U.S. destination. Now Arnaud’s French 75 in New Orleans and The Crack Shack in Century City have one too.

Since Blais is also a James Beard nominated cookbook author, his books including – Try This at Home: Recipes From My Head to Your Plate are on displays for guests to look through or purchase. 

We decided to order one or two items from each “cocky” category on the menu to share family style. The “Other Cluck” section listed chicken oysters, Mexican poutine, deviled eggs, schmaltz fries and six mini biscuits. We noticed the deviled eggs come on a tray with four halved eggs topped with candied “crack” bacon and a french toast crumble. That sounded good. My daughter also wanted to try the fries and small biscuits served warm with a miso-maple butter spread. 

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My husband ordered one of the fried chicken sandwiches named Señor Croque. Others are humorously called Double Clucker, Malibu Barbie Q  and Coop Deville. I selected a healthier bowl called the Downward Dog. Others in the salad section are named “Anti-salad power bowl”, “Miso healthy bowl” and a Baja chop salad. 

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Since the Crack Shack makes milkshakes from Salt & Straw ice cream, my husband and daughter ordered a honey lavender purple shake and a deep brown chocolate one. I received a token for $20 to retrieve a personal size Moët & Chandon bottle. 

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Taking our number and looking for a table, we commented how the indoor dining room is large, light and bright with concrete flooring, metal chairs with plaid upholstered backs in soft blues and cream colors. There are whimsical wall posters featuring LA Galaxy, Los Angeles Dodgers, and LA Lakers players with chicken heads replacing the player’s face. It’s silly, yet adds to the fun of not taking itself too serious atmosphere. They even have chicken coop wiring above some of the booths near the full bar. 

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The large square style bar has mixologists making and pouring craft cocktails and strawberry frose’ slushies. There are a variety of beer options that include King Harbor, Beachwood, and Mother Earth. Wines can be poured in two glass sizes or ordered by the bottle. The selection includes a light whites, rose’ and reds. 

Since it was a lovely day, we sat out on the front patio at a wood table, under black umbrellas and waited for our food to arrive. I took my token back into the bar area and inserted it into the machine. A robotic arm moved to the number I pressed for a bottle of Imperial Rosé. With a soft mechanical sound, the bottle was taken from the refrigerated case and deposited into a tray that opened to reveal my selection. 

Returning to my table, a server brought a flute and shiny gold Moët pourer, so I didn’t have to drink straight from the bottle. The bubbles complemented the richness of our fried chicken, eggs and biscuits meal. 

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Taking a bite of my husband’s crispy chicken sandwich, I enjoyed the layers of bacon, a fried egg, melted cheddar, smear of miso-maple butter all between a brioche bun. It’s thicker than most, juicy and enhanced with “crack spice” a proprietary blend of spices from Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. 

There are six different handmade sauces to elevate a burger or fries even more. The sauce station offers “Crackup (ketchup)”, “Sweet Heat”, “Ranch”, “Sriracha 1000 Island” “Kimchi Barbecue”, and “Baja Hot Sauce.”

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My healthier bowl arrived with thick hummus on the bottom and up the sides, bite-sized local grilled carrots and beets, sunflower seeds, quinoa, and rocket arugula. It was delicious with a light lemon yogurt vinegar sprinkled on top.

Crack Shack offers a Happy Hour every Monday through Friday where guests receive special priced beverages and crack snacks from 3 to 7 p.m. These deals will have you “crowing” after a day of shopping or before an early movie.

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Before leaving we learned that Blais and his team are opening another Crack Shack in Old Town Pasadena on Green Street before the end of 2018. $-$$ 10250 Santa Monica Blvd. (424)320-0046.

This article was also featured in the August 16, 2018 – Beverly Press

A Peek Into The 2016 Golden Globes Awards

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This year the 73rd Golden Globe Awards will be seen in more than 192 countries. Sunday night, January 10 at 5 p.m. on NBC, you will watch over 1,000 nominees and their guests walk down the red carpet. You may not see on television that most will be presented with adorable mini Moët & Chandon bottles.

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

Once inside The Beverly Hilton legendary International Ballroom, they will stroll around the beautifully decorated room, chat with their contemporaries and receive a Moët Ruby Red cocktail. It was created by the winning mixologist Karen Grill, currently at Sassafras in Los Angeles. I learned from the handsome Charlie Farrell that Grill’s cocktail is a take on a French 75 cocktail, with her own whimsical touch. She pours vodka, instead gin and decorates the drink with a sprig of tarragon and slice of lemon.

(Moet's Charlie Farrell - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Moet’s Charlie Farrell – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Grill was inspired to create this cocktail for the Golden Globes based on one of her favorite movie’s – The Wizard of Oz. The raspberry red color represents the ruby slippers, the lemon symbolizes the yellow brick road and the verdant tarragon is the Emerald City.

(Mark's Garden Flowers - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Mark’s Garden Flowers – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

When told to take their seats, celebrities will gush over Mark’s Garden yellow and purple floral centerpieces. The elegant flower shop in Sherman Oaks ordered over 10,000 brightly colored roses, hydrangea and hyacinths from Holland and South America to make the festive arrangements. Celebrities are familiar with this florist to the stars. Jessica Simpson and Jimmy Kimmel both had all of their wedding flower arrangements designed by Mark’s Garden.

In the kitchen there are 40 chefs and 110 culinary staff members preparing a three-course meal for the majority of the guests. Some of the guests have special dietary issues that the chefs will happily accommodate.

Earlier this week I met with Executive Chef Troy N. Thompson and Executive Pastry Chef Thomas Henzi during a cooking demonstration of the dishes that they will be preparing for the Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

(Photo by Jill Weilein)
(Photo by Jill Weilein)

The first course is a chunky vegetable salad that offers clean and pleasing flavors. On the table will be magnums of Moët  & Chandon Grand Vintage 2004 and Moët Imperial Rose.

Next, guests will have a choice of two entrees. There is a surf-n-turf with a piece of marinara crusted filet of beef and steelhead trout with spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes. Vegetarians are offered a salt-baked heirloom sweet potato with creamed corn and winter vegetables.

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(Executive Pastry Chef Thomas Henzi)

For desserts, guests will enjoy an elegant flourless Grand Marnier carmellla, with a citrusy lemon and pistachio mousse croquantine and slice of almond cake for substance. Chef Henzi makes a strawberry, blueberry, kiwi, and mango coulis to give the last course a nice color. He places white chocolate sticks to give the dessert height.

The Beverly Hilton has been home of the Golden Globe® Awards a total of 45 times and for the last 41 consecutive years. Now when you watch the Golden Globe Awards show this Sunday on NBC, you will be privy to what the guests are eating and drinking when the cameras scan the room to find the next winner.