A fine Fellow in Westwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat More DönerWorks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Newly Opened Napa Valley Grille

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

For 15 years, Napa Valley Grille has been a dining destination for UCLA parents taking their college students to a fancy dinner. It’s one of my favorite restaurants before a UCLA basketball game. The outdoor patio is ideal to meet friends for a glass of wine and elevated fare before seeing a show at the Geffen Theater or exploring the Hammer Museum across the street.

After a $2 million renovation, Napa Valley Grille recently re-opened with a contemporary design showcasing warm earth tones and textures of stone, wood, tile and copper. The bar is now doubled in size and is decorated with an eclectic array of wood flooring, rattan weaved bar stools and classic lighting. On the wall in the main dining room is an interesting, large wooden collage made from wine crates from some of the most popular California wineries – Simi, Joel Gott and Napa Valley Cellars.

A new private wine room seats over 100 guests, and a beautiful, upgraded patio lounge features fire pits and glass walls to protect guests from wind and cut the noise from nearby Wilshire Boulevard.

Executive Chef Adrian Vela, formerly of Cafe del Rey in Marina del Rey, created a new menu that includes West Coast oysters, Wagyu meatballs, oven roasted mussels and crispy pork Milanese.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

We sat at a large booth for two in the smaller dining room, and received a glass jar filled with pickled cauliflower, cornichons and baby corn, that was a little too briny for my palate. Our server Phillip recommended the Wagyu beef meatballs with and a fried green tomato on the bottom of the skillet. The dish is dazzled with pancetta, fresh herbs, red pepper flakes and a lovely Romesco sauce offering a nutty essence.

We ordered the Fresh and White salad with roasted cauliflower, sliced grapes, thinly sliced Asian pear, frisee lettuce, chopped hazelnuts and a Mine Shaft Bleu cheese dressing. It’s a nice profile of sweet, crisp and savory.

The kale salad is one of the most popular with its organic black quinoa, toasted almonds, rum raisins with a lemon-Parmesan vinaigrette.

The chef sent an amuse bouché of a puffed pastry filled with foie gras and quince jam which gave the dish an appealing sweetness.

Philip paired several glasses of with our entrees. He recommended the shockingly good Seghesio 14 pinot grigio with the Fresh and White salad and my steelhead trout. It is from the estate-owned Keyhole Ranch in Russian River Valley, and offers a bouquet of bright sweet melon and juicy white peach flavors. The delicate acidity provided a clean finish.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

To pair with my husband’s grilled duck breast, he offered tastes of two of his favorite wines. The first was a Paso Robles DAOU Vineyard Pessimist, known as “A Pessimist is Never Disappointed.” It’s an earthy blend of syrah, petite syrah, zinfandel and tannat (a national red grape grown in Uruguay offering a smoky essence). The second taste was an intense, plum-colored Tavistock Malbec that offered a sweet, silkiness with non aggressive tannins. It was an excellent accompaniment to the grilled duck breast glazed in port.

Napa Valley Grille has expanded it wine list to include International wines, including a sparkling Tavistock reserve prosecco from Veneto, Italy, and two exclusive white wines – Tavistock reserve Sauvignon Blanc “Block House Vineyard” and Tavistock reserve Chardonnay “Bien Nacido” from Santa Barbara. Red wines include Red Tavistock reserve Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County and the Tavistock reserve Malbec.

Debbie Kofsky, the manager of the restaurant, checked on each table inquiring about the guests’ experience. She shared with us the secret 3-3 wine menu – three glasses of three ounce pours. You must ask your server about it because it isn’t featured on the regular menu. It’s a wine flight tailored to the dishes you order.

Kofsky poured one of her favorite wines – Bu Bruliam 2012 Zinfandel Rockpile from Healdsburg, CA. She said it’s the “Zin for Pinot lovers,” with a delicate nose, hints of dried dark fruit, Cassis, clove and soft tannins.

Kofsky said Bruliam Wines is a boutique vineyard built by two doctors. They source their own fruit from California’s finest vineyards and donate 100 percent of their profits to the breast cancer and alzheimer charities. It may be my new favorite wine too.

We finished our dinner with a butterscotch brioche pudding. It’s silky smooth with a caramel flavor and topped with brûlée marshmallow.

fullsizerender-47Another winning dessert is the cherry crumble with housemade rosemary ice cream. The pastry chef changes the crumble flavor based on the freshest and sweetest fruit available. The kitchen makes housemade sorbets and ice creams daily.

I’m so pleased with the newly renovated Napa Valley Grille. Stop in for a glass of wine and relaxing meal served by attentive and knowledgeable servers.

They are open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They also offer a popular Happy Hour daily from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It starts back up at 9 p.m. to closing. $$ 1100 Glendon Ave. #100 (310)824-3322.

This was published in the Beverly Press and Park La Brea News in May 2016.

Celebrating Dia del Los Muertos – FREE Taco

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(Photo by Tacos Tu Madre)

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

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

FREE Taco Specials Include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A New Way to Watch a Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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