The Best Things I Ate in 2015

Branzino, Maré

Los Angeles has been a phenomenal place to eat for the duration of 2015. In fact, it’s been really hard to keep up with everything going on in all parts of the city, but what a great problem to have. Better food is available in more neighborhoods, helping raise the standard of dining out in all parts. Hopefully all parts, anyway. We do have our native Roy Choi, doing what he can to make sure such positive change reaches otherwise forgotten neighborhoods, with his and Daniel Patterson’s project, LocaL.

But for all the Fig & Olives of the see-and-be-seen L.A. dining scene, there have been some indisputable favorites of mine to rise to the top. I see 2015 as the year we’ve surpassed the huffing and puffing about authenticity and what that even means for all the history and diversity we have in this city. It’s been exciting to taste how we’ve moved beyond all that to a place and time where chefs can confidently make their mark using flavors from all over the world as their paintbrushes.

So read on, and get to it. 2016 is just around the corner:

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Jeni’s Ice Creams Opens First West Coast Outpost in Los Feliz

Jeni’s Ice Creams Opening Party

There’s some fantastic ice cream now on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz and it comes by way of Ohio. It’s Jeni’s Ice Creams first West Coast outpost, and Los Angeles is all the better for it. What I love about Jeni’s is that the flavor combinations are quirky and the ingredients are top-notch, and while they glean ingredient inspiration at every new location they open, there’s still that special Midwest touch to everything they do.

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The Anti-Prix-Fixe Valentine’s Day Roundup

Carnival Cabaret at Big Bar

Single or not, you won’t find me exactly chomping at the bit to try any sort of prix fixe menu on, of all nights, Valentine’s Day, only the busiest dining night out all year. A night of fighting the crowds of twosomes to order up one of the multitude of prix fixe menus during a potentially service-distastrous evening is not something I can recommend to you in good conscience, so why pretend? Anniversaries and birthdays are as great as the dates they land on are unique to each couple or person, so when a calendar designates that one particular day is the day everyone is to express one’s affection to his/her significant other, I can’t help but get a little bit apprehensive.

Here are a few fun alternatives to Valentine’s Day that take that icky obligatory feeling out of your profession of love…

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MessHall Brings Los Feliz Front and Center

Seared Dayboat Scallops, Smoked tomato, Corn succotash, Gnocchi, Sherry Champagne Sauce

I didn’t think much of the space just south of The Greek Theatre when Louise’s, the trattoria chain, occupied the space. It was little more than a place-marker for street parking for those summer concerts. It marked the start of the ascent up Hillhurst from Los Feliz Blvd., the alternative to the stacked parking cattle call that was the official Greek parking.
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Top Ten Picks For L.A. Beer Week: September 20 – 30, 2012

Photo credit to djdphotos on Flickr

Beer cocktails. Beer floats. Sour beers. All-you-can-drink beer. Beer crawl set to music. Crappy-for-happy beer trades. Prickly pear beers from all over town. Los Angeles is comin’ up beer. And in its 4th year, not only is LA Beer Week bigger and better than ever, it’s also more unified. The camaraderie around the LA beer community is unmistakable – so get ready to drink some tasty brews while learning a lot and meeting some cool people along the way.

After perusing the 10-day schedule, I’ve come up with a few events I’d personally want to attend. With the LA beer scene at the strongest it has ever been, there’s bound to be some (or a lot of) conflicts during this extravaganza, but all we can do is do our best, right? While you’re at it, you might as well check off the four quandrants of this LA Beer Week Bucket List. Then, bring your four stickers to the LA Beer Week Festival on September 30th and get a free bottle of the official beer of the week, Unity, from Eagle Rock Brewery – a play on a traditional Berliner Weiss, yet jazzed up with a touch of rye as well as red and green prickly pear. You’ll also get to enter a drawing for tickets to the BAM Fest on October 6th in Santa Monica.

(If you don’t complete the bucket list, never fear – it’ll be on draft at select retailers throughout Los Angeles and Orange county as well as at the LA Beer Week Festival itself.)

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten of LA Beer Week:

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Do This: Alcove Brunch at the Bar in Big Bar

Crab Cake Benedict ($13.95)

We all have done it. We all have stood in lines. We may have even stood in lines for brunch, even though it’s our first kick-start of the day and can’t even function standing up in said line without that first cup of coffee.

Lifeboat Cocktail

So when I took my friends visiting from Milwaukee to The Alcove for the ultimate L.A. brunch, I was feeling pretty much like a sucker when I saw the line trail out their cute, tiny cottage door and onto the brick walkway. It was a Saturday morning – brunch time at one of the most popular brunch spots – and I dared think, “I don’t stand in lines.” Luckily, one of the staff caught my “explore other options” vibe and said, “There are seats at the bar in Big Bar, if you want to sit down.” I was fast as a rocket: “Is it full menu?” “Yes.” So I sprinted into Big Bar to claim our four spots in a flash.

Bar seating is underrated. I enjoy being a part of the action (the bar at Lazy Ox Canteen is one of my favorite places to eat solo) and witness to what goes into making the food and cocktails I’m about to consume. The best seats in the house were essentially unclaimed before we had arrived. And with Rosie Ruiz and Eugene Lee behind the bar, my friends and I were about to experience a cornucopia of delectable cocktails beyond our already-excellent Bloody Marys made with pureed in-house tomato juice and sinus-clearing horseradish.

I loved my crab cake benedict and my friends (two Jessicas and an Eric) blissfully enjoyed their scrambles and crab cake sandwich. It’s no secret that food is consistently solid at The Alcove, and I was relieved that that was still true even though it’d been awhile since I had returned. Truth be told, we stayed at The Alcove for over 3 hours, thanks to our willingness to be liquid guinea pigs and Rosie and Eugene’s gregariousness and hospitality at Big Bar’s…bar.

Plymouth Gin, vermouth, jalapeno

I never did sit in front of such a lively pair of bartenders in the morning with zero guilt. Usually, I’d validate morning drinking with a bloody mary – but why restrict it to just one cocktail? Eugene asked me what I wanted to drink next, and I picked gin. And so he put together a beautifully simple cocktail that had just the right amount of kick in it thanks to the jalapeno. Hand-crafted, tailored cocktails in the morning … I can handle that.

But I apparently can’t handle notes during brunch in the morning, since the coveted recipes are nowhere to be found in my phone. (Don’t worry, I can type without looking at my phone, under the bar. Look ma, no touch screen!) One of the lost notes includes the Lifeboat cocktail, which Eugene shared is a Kirsten Dunst favorite – to the point of returning a handful of times and bothering him during his meal to make the cocktail, just to skip out on the check.

Gah. Celebrities. It may not be Hollywood, but there’s no escaping that The Alcove is a scene, a place to be. Deservedly so. Just don’t take my seat at the bar.

P.S. – Eugene’s got tunes on the patio and at Big Bar on Wednesdays, the themes of which change every week. So, be sure to pop in for food and/or cocktails for what promises to be crazy, mid-week funtime. Big Bar itself also has some of the best bar bites I’ve had in town.

All photography by Jessica Kaminski…which is why it looks professional and stuff.

Mon – Wed

6 AM – 12 AM

Thur – Sat

6 AM -1 AM

Sun

7 AM – 12 AM

Breakfast available 1 hr after opening until 5 PM

The Alcove and Big Bar
1929 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027-2711
323.644.0100

@bigbarlosfeliz

Harvard & Stone Makes Bunker Drinking Beautiful

Main Bar at Harvard & Stone

If you were to hear that the guys behind La Descarga are opening up a new bar, it’s high time to put the opening of said bar on your calendar. So, that’s what I did. I was happy to find out in the process that Harvard & Stone is the next-best thing to walking distance from my digs; it’s two Metro stops and a skip away. And when I visited the WWII-esque bar last night for the opening, I found out it’s actually across the street from Sanamluang – that Thai establishment holding remnants of college nostalgia and my go-to place for Pad Kee Mow. It’s also open until 3 AM.

Mia Sarazen says, "You Can Do It!"

I see cocktails and late-night Thai food in my near future.

Back to Harvard & Stone, so-named after the intersection of Harvard and its stone exterior on Hollywood Boulevard: It’s a beautiful space. Though Steve Livigni corrected me about the decor: “Oh, it’s contrived,” I offered that it did a great job pretending that it wasn’t (it’s all in the incandescent lighting). He finally agreed. The distressed walls with exposed brick frame a centralized, rectangular front bar lined with old, hanging metal shelves suspended by chain links. Liquor bottles artfully sit atop them while glasswares hang below. Antique pieces like obsolete, rusty machinery and light bulbs are scattered along the bar and in display cases on the inside wall. High-top, metal tables with rusty rivets line those cases, should cocktailers want to be near the action but not right in it. By the door is a stage on which Livigni welcomes bands to perform should the “impromptu show” mood strike. Keep an eye on this place for any post-show after-parties. Before Harvard & Stone, industrial never seemed so hip.

Back Bar

In the back corner is an old, rustic fireplace where guests can crowd around and across the way, a private room partitioned off by antiqued, double sliding doors. And I can’t wait to peep the balcony, which wasn’t ready for the opening, but which also extends into the back “Test Kitchen” bar area which is half-open and coded for smoking. (Fortunately, there’s also a dedicated, narrow outdoor smoking patio, Eastside bar-style, for the committed smokers.)

But, oh…that Test Kitchen bar in the back! Every month, a certain spirit (February: Whiskey, March: Gin) will be featured in the cocktails on its unique menu, which is to change daily. Whatever the spirit, American distillates are the focus. According to Caroline on Crack in her LA Weekly Squid Ink article, this bar will also “stock a small menu of tequila, cognac and rum as well as recognizable brands.” For now, you can count on Elijah Craig, Fighting Cock and Evan Williams Bourbon to be stocked here.

Pablo Moix

The cocktail menu earns its Eastside cred with an Appletini Apple Martini made with Original Moonshine (apple syrup, lemon juice, whiskey barrel bitters). If using Moonshine to formulate a normally fru-fru, girly cocktail isn’t hipster, I don’t know what is (try: being a block away from Jumbo’s Clown Room). You also have a lot of other cocktails to look forward to if you go in the near future – not discounting their inevitably delicious successors, of course. Steve also said that the menu will likely double in size once they get the opening kinks out.

Baby’s First Bourbon: Bulleit Bourbon, St. Vincents Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, dash of Angostura bitters

Scaffa No. 1: Aviation Gin, Benedictine, Angostura bitters (neat)

Trinidad Sour: Angostura bitters, St. Vincents Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, root liqueur

Fernet Cocktail: Fernet Branca, Canton Ginger, Carpano Antica, lime juice, Begatta ginger beer

The cocktails are all $8-11 each, which, for the ingredients and labor involved, is a steal once you taste your drink (all delicious on opening night). I’m hard-pressed to name another mixology bar that charges less than $12 per cocktail off their regular menu.

So Eastsiders: Rejoice! Harvard & Stone is open for business. You never know what cocktails are in store for you on the back bar menu nor if a band will drop by and play a surprise show. It’s just the place to enjoy a great cocktail in an industrial-chic setting, without the attitude. I cannot wait to make this my neighborhood spot.

Harvard & Stone
5221 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323.466.6063

Friday is National Drink Wine Day

National Drink Wine day

It seems like there’s an official day for absolutely everything, but tomorrow is probably the day commandeering an act that should be performed every day: Drinking wine.

If you feel like going out, there’s a couple places around town that will make it easy to celebrate:

Corkbar (Downtown)

This downtown, California-centric wine bar will be offering a flight of 3 wines for only $10. If you unlock the Foursquare Swarm Badge by checking in with 49 other wine-drinking, social media hangers-on, you’ll also unlock the incentive to receive extended happy hour specials—that is, $2 off drafts, $8 select wine, and half-priced select appetizers— for the remainder of the night. (To note: Normally, happy hour runs from 5 – 7 PM.) Delicioso!

Napa Valley Grille (Westwood)

Feeling confident about your wine palate? Wine Director Christina Sherwood will be leading a “Guess the Grape” game for guests, who will get to guess the varietal of a wine not currently on Napa Valley Grille’s wine list. Should you guess correctly, you’ll win a complimentary glass of wine. Fun!

Obika Mozzarella Bar (Century City)

Stop by for “Aperitivo Hour” between 4:30 – 7 PM for some tasty, mozzarella-focused bites and half-off wine. Again: Delicioso!

Feel like celebrating with a loved one or with friends (ok – maybe yourself) at home? Visit one of my favorite shops, including Domaine LA, Wally’s Wine, Silverlake Wine or K&L for some great vino selections. Their staff are always knowledgable and can recommend a great bottle or two across all different price ranges for your enjoyment.

Another good idea is to stop by the excellent Bar Covell wine bar in Los Feliz for a glass or three. It’s got just my kind of ambiance – casual, cool and not uppity. Feeling like accompanying your wine with some great cheese? Head on over to Cube on La Brea. Be sure to make a reservation if you plan on visiting during the evening because even the bar seating is reserved – and trust me, it will be packed. If you’re on the Westside, stop by Pourtal for their normal happy hour (4 – 7 PM: $5 wine and apps) and pours from their enomatic machines.

Whatever the case and however you choose to celebrate, Happy National Drink Wine Day!

Mentioned in this post:

Corkbar
403 W 12th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Napa Valley Grille
1100 Glendon Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024

Obika Mozzarella Bar at Century City Mall
10250 S Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Domaine LA
6801 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Wally’s Wine
2107 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Silver Lake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039

K&L
1400 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Bar Covell
4628 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5408

Cube
615 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA

Pourtal
104 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

All Aboard: Blogger Bar Hop on the Trolley of Death

Trolley of Death

When Caroline on Crack (recap) asked me to join her and a bunch of bloggers, Plymouth Gin (represented by Erick Castro) and Aidan Demarest on a blogger bar hop, I could not turn her down. Lo and behold, the beauty is in the details and what we found out later was that our vehicle would be a half-open-air trolley, which would be used to take us to 5 bars in 7 hours.

Yes, 5 bars in 7 hours. With driving time, this amounted to capping our time at each bar at 45 minutes!

Plymouth Gin, a punchbowl and a couple bowling lanes

I prepared for the night by drinking plenty of water and ONE Coconut Water (great for electrolytes) during the day – which no doubt aided my endurance for the bar hop. We started out at The Spare Room and again, I got a few frames in (including a few spares – ha!) in between some beautiful cocktails – starting off with a Bloggers Brew (Plymouth Gin, pineapple, velvet falernum, lemon, Earl Grey tea and spices) – and finishing off with a punch bowl. My new cocktail from this bar was an off-menu You Drink Our Milkshake with vodka, cream, coffee liqueur, cacao – essentially a better White Russian. Delicioso.

We crammed into the photo booth to take our picture, polished off our drinks, filled up our score cards (that’s 5 drinks to hit at each of the 5 bars with a bartender signing off) and headed to the trolley for our stop at Big Bar, adjacent to The Alcove in Los Feliz. We also kidnapped a few recruits like Naomi Schimek. We got first tastes of riding in the open air trolley along Hollywood Blvd. on a Monday night while enjoying champagne (and later: PBR and bacon- and fig-infused bourbon bottled up and dubbed “Figgy Smalls”) supplied by Aidan. On board for this adventure were Daniel of Thirsty in LA (recap), Aaron the Savory Hunter, Lindsay of LAist, Josh from Food GPS, Elina Shatkin of LA Weekly Squid Ink, H.C. of LA OC Foodventures and the Examiner. Armed with the hashtag #bloggerbarhop, we set out for some exciting tweets during the course of the night as entertainment fodder for all our followers (Caroline and Daniel do a great job utilizing them in their recaps).

Slider with pork, guacamole and jalapeno at Big Bar

As a writer new to the group had repeatedly stressed at Big Bar, “The drinks were sooo good… Soo good!! Soooooo gooooooood.” The rest of us were just conscientious enough to let our palates enjoy that goodness, but yes. They were good, and so were the bar bites, with my favorite being a slider (yeah, I said it) with pork, avocado and jalapeno. Relief from that jalapeno was provided by heavenly bacon-wrapped, goat cheese-stuffed dates, a great lobster ceviche with chips and of course, the gooooood drinks. I definitely applaud Big Bar with successfully completing the task of feeding two handfuls of mostly professional boozers with a superbly executed bar menu in their truly small, cozy bar. I had a really great Aviation here amongst others – like Juan Sevilla’s Merry Widow (dry vermouth, benedictine, bitters & absinthe rinse) and will definitely return for more cocktails. Of course, we kidnapped Juan along with the lovely Mia Sarazen and Rich Andreoli as we left Big Bar and headed for 1886.

Rose Parade Punch at 1886

1886 is in Pasadena. The 110N is a common way to get to Pasadena.

Not to be deterred by, oh, nighttime Southern California lows or say, freeway-speed wind, and encouraged by a bonus two cocktails on the scorecard, I toughed it out in the open-air, rear section of the trolley while huddling with Lindsay on our wooden bench and the exposed staircase (with Aidan hanging off of it) on our right. After all, how could I cheer for a team that calls the frozen tundra home in the Super Bowl or call Mammoth my second home if I couldn’t handle this?

My fingers were frozen as they held the first cocktail that greeted us at 1886 – the Rose Parade Punch (Plymouth gin, roses, cucumber and soda). Everything else that was served at 1886 was delicious, like their Pimm’s Cup made with tequila and grapefruit soda and their Honey Nut Old Fashioned with peanut-infused bourbon. We even ran into a few industry Pasadena folk, so we knew we were in the right bar for having come so far.

Our kidnapping victim from 1886 was Marcos Tello, who rode the Trolley of Death with us to Downtown LA’s The Varnish via…you guessed it…110S. Score another 2 bonus cocktails as well as re-frozen 10 fingers for me from the trolley ride. I secured a Medicina Latina at The Varnish and it delivered as always. But it seemed that we had barely arrived before we had to leave for Seven Grand – just a few blocks away.

Old Fashioned, Whistle Pig Manhattan

Of course, Seven Grand was slammed as it always is and when we arrived we were 4th string at the already 3-deep bar. Before we skidaddled, though, Daniel was able to sneak in an order of a Whistle Pig Manhattan alongside someone else’s Old Fashioned. I stole a sip. 😉

Five bars, seven hours. …And Tommy’s. I stuck to chili fries since that was basically all I could handle, but it was a great way to soak up some of the evening’s suds. And back to the Spare Room we went. We tallied up our score cards while a member of our otherwise professional drinking group put his forehead to the bar – the ultimate no-no. To my pleasure, Lindsay and I won with a total tally of 22 cocktails (or make that, 18 cocktails + 2 outdoor trolley rides on the 110 fwy)! Free bowling for us!

I’d like to thank Caroline on Crack, Erick Castro of Plymouth Gin and Aidan Demarest for a wonderful time with some fun boozers. Let’s do it again!

The Spare Room at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Big Bar at The Alcove
1927 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

1886 Bar at The Raymond
1250 S Fair Oaks Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105

The Varnish
118 E 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Seven Grand
515 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Tommy’s Original World Famous Hamburgers
5873 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Dominick’s Introduces New Fall Cocktail Menu

Dominick's Bar

Sometimes, it’s not enough that you get a strong pour from the bar. You want that bar to be worth your time as you enjoy your drink. Fortunately, Dominick’s has not one but a couple beautiful bars (a smaller one is just outside on their newly re-done patio) at which you can sip – and it’s a perfect setting within which to try their new fall cocktail menu. Much of what was there in 1948 is still at Dominick’s now, and the place has the charm and hospitality to match.

Is West Hollywood not your speed? No problem – just hop on over to Little Dom’s in Los Feliz, where for the first time, they’ll also be featuring the same cocktail menu as Dominick’s. I was a latecomer to a preview first started off by Caroline on Crack, Daniel of Thirsty in LA and Aaron, the Savory Hunter, but got some pretty tasty sips in and deemed the Scotch Leaf my favorite original cocktail of theirs.

Find the menu below with their explanations. My notes (if any) follow each cocktail.

  • Scotch Leaf ($12) with Famous Grouse Scotch, Maple Bitters, Maple, Egg White, Lemon and Orange Peel 

It was probably the maple bitters that really did it for me. The egg white wasn’t too obvious and I love how everything just really worked with the Scotch.

Italian 75
  • Dom’s Manhattan ($13) with Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye, Carpano Antica, Angostura Bitters and Amarena Cherry

Not the best executed Manhattan I’ve had (pretty watery) but it paled so much in comparison to the others that I’ll call it a fluke.

  • Southside ($12) with Damrak Gin, Cucumber Slices, Basil Leaves, Simple Syrup and Lemon served up with a skewer of Cucumber and Basil (Didn’t get to try, so here are Dominick’s notes:)

This drink was created in the early 1920s by the Mob on the south side of Chicago. The gin at the time was not as palatable due to prohibition, so mint and/or basil and lemon were used to cover up the flavor. Dominick’s version uses basil and cucumber and a very floral gin, Damrak, from Amsterdam.

Patio at Dominick's
  • Pink Elephant ($12) with Plymouth Gin, Lime, Simple Syrup, Triple Sec and Raspberry served on the rocks with a skewer of Lime and a pink elephant Tiki garnish

Basing my assumption on the color (a bright pink), I thought this would be a sweet drink but I was pleasantly surprised at how nuanced it really was. It had just enough Triple Sec and Raspberry to compliment the juniper in the gin. Delicious. Apparently, it’s meant to replace the Raspberry Lemonade from summertime, and I’d say it’s a great adaptation.

  • Italian 75 ($11) with Plymouth Gin, Dimmi (winter wheat spirit w/Nebbiolo grappa infused w/peach & apricot blossoms), Lemon and Simple Syrup topped with Prosecco and a Grapefruit Peel
El Matador

This would easily be my mimosa replacement at any brunch time. So much more complex and even refreshing, with the absence of weighty orange juice.

  • El Matador ($12) with Crème Yvette, Ginger, Simple, Lemon, El Jimador Silver Tequila and Orange Bitters, served on the rocks with a flamed Orange Zest garnish
  • The solid tequila cocktail stalwart of the bunch. Very delicious and a great introduction – you’ll be hard-pressed to find another tequila cocktail that goes down smoother.

So head on over to Dominick’s or Little Dom’s and taste the new fall cocktails we were lucky to enjoy. They’re really good and with the charming atmosphere and neighborhood vibe, you just can’t lose.

Dominick’s
8715 Beverly Boulevard
West Hollywood, California 90048
310.652.2335

Little Dom’s
2128 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323.661.0055