Lesley Bargar-Suter, Eddie Lin, Krista Simmons, Bill Esparza – Photo by Dustin Downing
When I learned through the presses Twitter that Krista Simmons, my one-time (OK, one issue) editor, would be a judge on the upcoming season of Top Chef Masters, I was ecstatic that someone that I know, love and respect would get her enormous food TV cred. Wednesday night was a special night dedicated to her current Bravo Top Chef Masters stint, and pretty much the entire food community was there to support. The love was not lost on our star:
“I’ve wanted to have a cooking show ever since I was a little girl, so the experience of taping Top Chef Masters was sort of surreal. Getting to work with James Oseland, Ruth Reichl and Francis Lam really helped me grow as an on-camera personality as well as in my writing. But the best part of the whole process has been receiving the outpour of support from the LA food community. I can’t believe how many people came out last night! I feel so lucky to be part of such a talented group of industry professionals here in LA.”
Truth be told, I missed the boxing-themed episode with Sugar Ray Leonard also as a judge at the “viewing” party. Of course, it was because I relied on my DVR to pick up the slack while we caught up with old friends and celebrated with new cocktails from Library Bar and bites from Public Kitchen. Good thing she’s on plenty of episodes this season (the more space on my DVR dedicated to friends’ appearances, the better) – so be sure and catch her on Top Chef Masters Season 4!!
The bites are the kind of thing where you warm up to a beautiful place with just the right ambiance. The tastes are deceptively good. Then, you proceed to order more and more, ultimately staying for what accumulates to an all-out meal. I am a grazer, not a gorger; I love bites.
Crab Cake Crostini, Chicken Liver Mousse
Now, a great place to do exactly that is Whist at The Viceroy in Santa Monica – a place where the indoor dining options are just as charming as the outdoor, with the latter coming full circle thanks to poolside and cabana options. Chicken liver mousse with pancetta on crostini? Heavenly. Dungeness crab cake with yuzu on crostinis? Refreshing. And of course, it’s not enough to put just uni on crostini, but to add lardo? Indulgent. And perfect.
The real problem is that if you don’t have a few camarades with you on this little dining adventure, you’ll probably get real full before you either: 1) Get to try all the bites you wanted to, or 2) Get to any of the also-solid main dishes available. After all, you can’t forget about the juicy, flavorful Lamb Kafka Meatballs, topped with orange, pistachio and yogurt. Nor the beautifully cured hamachi with rhubarb “ponzu,” cucumber, radish and celery.
All this, while having to avoid getting full on their extraordinary corn bread, which Chef Tony DiSalvo makes with three different renditions of corn to achieve that robust flavor. Oh, and that perfectly prepared Grilled Octopus with romesco, potatoes and charred wild leeks. It’s the kind of octopus dish that converts all those naysayers who’ve assumed octopus, by nature, is chewy. The tentacles are tender and flavorful, yet finished with a crispy exterior.
But of course, I must move on to the mains, a favorite of which was the Broiled Halibut. The filet came perched on a bed of deliciously smoked potato-miso puree and paired with crispy asparagus and ginger. It was a surprising winner – simple but a perfect combination of flavors. The smoke was a nice and unexpected touch.
And as for some other mains, sweetbreads lovers will love this version prepared with morels and fava beans in sherry. But if you’re looking for something a little lighter than that, the potato gnocchi are just as much a treat (and doubles as a vegetarian alternative), with asparagus and morels rounding out its buttery essence.
If I were to pick the one essential dessert at Whist, it would be the Rhubarb tart with its buttery crust and walnut crumble on top. Of course, it comes a la mode with vanilla ice cream. Just try it. It’s just one of those desserts where if you thought you were full before, you’ll realize you do have enough room for dessert. All of it.
So check out Tony DiSalvo and Chris Crary’s new bites, served in their chic dining room or outdoors. The tastes are just too fabulous to allow you to get too distracted by the hotel, pool or any of the beautiful views and ambiance they afford.
I met a good friend of mine after he got off work on his vocational side of town, the famous and infamous Sunset Strip. I had heard about Night + Market, the adjacent room to Talesai whereby Chef Kris Yenbamroong is serving up campy (code for “street”) Thai food, and I was eager to get an introduction to this night spot by trying out their Happy Hour.
The decor, however, is far from it (it’s way more Sunset Blvd), and you’ll find yourself with plenty of natural sunlight invading the concrete-floored space if you visit during their opening hours – that is, Happy Hour (6 – 8 PM daily or all night Wednesday) this summer. Each plate is $5 and drinks include beer, wine, a Lychee Martini and a Mekong Old-Fashioned (again with lychee) at reasonably discounted prices.
All fried food came out piping hot and therefore fried-to-order, which was really important in maintaining the quality of the bites. My favorites? The pig tail (kind of a mis-placed pork belly since the meat has the same texture and consistency) and the chicken wings. Your server will ask you how spicy you want the dipping sauce for your wings (and be subsequently surprised if you say, “hot”).
Never fear, though, if you order the Papaya Salad. It’s a delicious and refreshing reprieve from all that hot sauce and fried food. The Pork Satay Skewers were also really good, tender and flavorful – and come through with 4 skewersÂ in all.
I went with the Mekong Old Fashioned, which, I had to try but was proved right when I suspected it might be a little sweet. There was lychee in it but not much alcohol; my recommendation would be to get a carafe of wine to share or the large sized beer.
Still, though, I loved the value of Night + Market Happy Hour. Indeed, I’m curious to go back and go for a full-blown dinner with some friends.Â The environment is contemporary (apparently, this also signifies communal seating) and the music selection was actually impressive. Zola Jesus!
Night + Market Interior
Remember, if you have a hard time finding it, you have to enter through Talesai. The doorway is on the right. And be aware that they may not have everything even on Happy Hour menu – as we would’ve surely had the Fried Salmon Head had we had the chance. But the selections on that menu were all solid, so we were very much happy with our experience. We came out with $27 per person after tax and before tip when all was said and done.
Reading this before Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 11 AM? Be sure to grab this freeÂ Blackboard Eats code, which wouldn’t apply to the Happy Hour but would be a great opportunity to get a free bottle of wine for your party as well as a small plate per person. It’s quite a steal (and a good reason for me to go back as mentioned earlier)!
Welcome to my first blog entry on an establishment in Marina del Rey. Yes, it’s true – I’m rarely in the area except to visitÂ fabulous divorcee girlfriends and out-of-town friends being put up in corporate housing. ButÂ VÅ«, located inside a curiouslyÂ named hotel called Jamaica Bay Inn (in an area that is the antithesis of Jamaica), is one of those destinationÂ islandsÂ in a marina wastelandÂ where you’ll find surprisingly unique and delicious bites inÂ VÅ« of a beautiful waterfront.
Â There are more than a few reasons to visit. Caroline on Crack covers a huuuge one – that, of course, being the simple yet imaginative cocktails by the talented, self-taught Jolie Klein. She only uses the freshest and natural ingredients, only bridled by the desire to create a cocktail that caters to the guest’s palate. My favorite cocktail of the night had to be the White Manhattan, made withÂ a spirit from my own home state of Wisconsin. Deathâ€™s Door White Whiskey – that is, newly distilled whiskey -Â is accented with Luxardo maraschino liqueur and The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomasâ€™ Own Decanter Bitters. I am a whiskey girl, and that also includes new make spirits. What a deliciously simple cocktail.
Beer After Branca
Now, places with a solid cocktail program definitely merit a visit (make sure Jolie is there to make your drink), but VÅ« also offers interesting, avant garde small plates by Chef Kyle Schutte. My favorites happen to be a spin on Southern specialtiesÂ (curious enough since Kyle is a Southern transplant). The Root Beer Jello atop Pork Belly and Crispy Grits actually evokes a chicken fried steak – just with some super flavorful pork belly in the middle.Â The root beer jello is, of course,Â the novelty of the bite but its temperature,Â flavor and consistency reallyÂ complements theÂ richness of the other two elements.Â WhatÂ Caroline and I thought it could be paired with was Jolie’s is Beer After Branca, essentially Fernet Branca, Canton liqueur and Averna chased by ginger beer. Yes, I am a fernet fan, and ginger beer is an appropriate, spicyÂ back to the fernet’s bitternessÂ - so perhaps it was a bit unfair to call this a shoe-in (sue me!). But altogether, the bite and cocktail would be a great voyage in sweetness andÂ richness, counteredÂ by the bitter fernet and finished off with the ginger beer. I could go all the way to Marina del Rey for another, and another.
Chicken Fried Watermelon, Pickled Rind ($5 during HH)
Speaking of chicken fried steak, how about some Chicken Fried Watermelon? The buttermilk batter surrounding the cubes of watermelon made the entire bite savory and sweet – while the pickled watermelon rind was just the perfect, barely-sour twist. I displayed probably my most thoughtful facial expressions as I piled in bite after bite.
Another one of my favorites were the Thai Mussels, which came on spoonfuls sitting in Green Curry Broth, Hamachi Salad, Coconut Jello, Scallion and Micro Cilantro. Curried mussels come and go, which is really no fault of anyone’s,Â but I appreciate the addition of the hamachi and coconut, which lightens things up and keeps the bite interesting.
The entrees are quite a jump, price-wise, from the various crudo, small plates (hot and cold) and cheese and charcuterieÂ that VÅ« has to offer. But that really shouldn’t bother most because the smaller items on the menu are the most interesting, offering the biggest range during a night at VÅ«.
Happy Hour ($6 cocktails/wines, $4 tap & $5 small plates):
Mon – Fri: 4 – 7 PM
Sun: 8 PM – Close
Seems like there’s quite a lot going on this weekend – and Taste of Abbot Kinney doesn’t really make the selection any easier. This event is for those looking to experience the overall vibe of Venice, since Taste of Abbot Kinney has changed a bit from last year, its inaugural event. One of the differences is that Intelligentsia and Lemonade aren’t participating, but there are plenty other outposts of their product. What you can expect is a unique VeniceÂ experience on a Sunday afternoon tailored specifically to you.
The biggest difference this year, however, is there areÂ ”tasting tickets”Â that you’ll exchange at each venue for food, drink or experience.Â The day, which benefits Inside Out Community Arts, will have options other than food available. Floyd’s will have a mobile haircutting booth, Nite Spa will provide mini massages and everyone is entered to win a 52″ Sony LCD TV, a night’s stay at The Standard Hollywood and more.