The New Winter Cocktail Menu Delights at Drago Centro

Coquettish Angel – Pierde Almas Mezcal, Boudier Parfait Amour, Meletti Amaro, lemon, egg white, Miracle Mile Chocolate Chili Bitters

It’s no secret that Drago Centro is one of my favorite places to drink and eat. And then drink, again. But it just wouldn’t be the same without Jaymee Mandeville at the helm of each seasonal cocktail menu. And the latest is a doozy. It’s inspirational with each cocktail proving their point of view and collectively, it’s her strongest menu yet. Though there’s diversity, each drink is well-balanced, with many even evolving through the end of each sip.

I’ve made some notes, with a pictorial at the bottom to aid you. So get thee to Drago Centro.

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Revisiting Baco Mercat for the Breakfast Baco and Banana Cream Pie Rice Pudding

Breakfast Bäco

Anticipation of Josef Centeno’s upcoming Bar Amá reached fever pitch recently as a result of Bon Appetit naming Bäco Mercat one of America’s 10 Best New Restaurants (Michael Voltaggio’s Ink also received a nomination in this category – bravo for Los Angeles). But nothing prepared me for the day on which my cravings  actually led me to leave the 49ers-Packers game on my TV during free DirecTV NFL preview week. I wanted eggs. I wanted a Bloody Mary. I also wanted a Bäco.

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Summer Hotel Rooftop Bites and Sips Around Los Angeles

Dark & Stormy, Thompson Beverly Hills

Who doesn’t love a good rooftop in the summer? Fortunately, there are a few hotels around Los Angeles that are holding special events designed especially for the high peaks from which we can enjoy our Southern California sun … or sundown. At night, the city lights make for a beautiful view. Why not watch a movie against the outdoor backdrop, high in the sky?

Blues & BBQ (Photo credit: Mi & Mo Photography)

The ION at JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE is hosting Blues & BBQ event every Sunday through September 2, 2012 from 12  – 4 PM at the outdoor poolside deck. Blues and soul musical guests like George Dez Blues Band and Gregg Wright “King of the Rockin’ Blues will be performing. For $18, you get one main entrée with side dish accompaniments

  • BBQ Chicken brined in fresh herbs
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with brown sugar spice rub
  • boneless Baby Back Ribs with pineapple-bbq sauce wash
  • slow-cooked baked beans, corn cobettes

If you’re more into Taco Tuesdays, they’re also offering $3 tacos, $3 tortilla chips and salsa with specially priced margaritas and Mexican beer from 5 – 8 PM.

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Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards: The Varnish is America’s Best Cocktail Bar

The Varnish, Downtown Los Angeles – Photo courtesy of 213 Nightlife

“Five years ago at Tales [of the Cocktail], it was just a small group of us from L.A. The guys from Portland, New York, OH MAN SAN FRANCISCO … would ask, ‘Where are you from?’ … ‘L.A.? Oh, that’s nice. How’s the bottle service?'” – Aidan Demarest, Tello Demarest Liquid Assets

“The Varnish didn’t just win. All of us, all of L.A. won.” – Cedd Moses, 213 Nightlife

I’ll never forget my first time in New Orleans this past weekend at the 10th Anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail. There’s something about getting to witness your favorite bartenders in your home city come together to celebrate their craft with their big shot counterparts from other cities. Going from seminar to tasting room to industry party to Spirited Dinner (while catching some not-to-miss eats of the city in between) in the humid, 90° swelt of The French Quarter was a new junket to me, but the presence of Los Angeles was unmistakeable, making Tales all the less intimidating and more familiar, much faster.

Post-Spirited Awards Celebration at One Eyed Jack’s

We are all bartenders, brand ambassadors, educators, writers, photographers and more – with many wearing more than one hat – and as with every year at The Spirited Awards on the last night of Tales, the best of the best are officially recognized. A winner in each category is announced after an initial top ten finalists are narrowed down to four. Though Eric Alperin and The Varnish have been our bastions of Los Angeles in these awards for the past couple years, it was the 2012 Spirited Awards when the L.A. bar community finally felt taken seriously.

There was a plethora of Top 10 finalists representing Los Angeles, announced back in May. Their mentions are below, with the Top 4 denoted by an asterisk: Eric Alperin(*) and Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d’Oro were recognized in the American Bartender of the Year category. The Huston Brothers and Steve Livigni’s and of course Pablo Moix’s Harvard & Stone and 213 Nightlife’s The Varnish(*) were both nominated for Best American Cocktail Bar(*) and World’s Best New Cocktail Bar.

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Baco Mercat Steps Up the Savory

Szechuan Chicken Ribs

I made my overdue visit to Bäco Mercat one cold-for-LA, weekday evening. I stationed at the full bar, in full view of the construction of both Bäzeracs I ordered for the duration of my meal. The red tinge of the storefront neon sign brought a welcome warmth, and it proved quite the perfect setting in which to enjoy each of the small plates that gradually came out.

Caesar Brussel Sprouts

They are all essentially small plates with big flavor. It sounds so simple, but only Josef Centeno can effectively achieve that. You could also oversimplify the Bäco as a sandwich, but that would be the same atrocity as calling its flatbread a mere pita.

I haven’t had any of the other Bäcos (an offense to be corrected over many future return visits), but the beef tongue schnitzel variety was absolutely divine. The combination of breaded beef tongue and spicy harissa with smoked aioli were like bites of heaven. And there are no words for that secret flatbread, in which Centeno uses “different fats and lebni” – you have to try it on your own. It’s more moist and dense than typical flatbreads while affording a fluffy consistency. I wanted to finish the whole thing right then and there. (Alas, I had ordered too much food.) If I had to move downtown for my daytime vocation, the lunchtime Bäco alone would be a huge consolation.

Beef Tongue Schnitzel Bäco

The thinly sliced pork headcheese with capers was a great way to start off. I also really enjoyed the brussel sprouts, which were made into a warm, chopped caesar salad. The Szechuan chicken “ribs” were to die for. They had a ton of spicy BBQ flavor and were super tender – and big.

The “Cocas,” or crispy, poofy flatbreads, are have a scrumptious texture further spiced up with tasty toppings – most pizzas will seem far and away plain boring in comparison once you’ve tried. Mine had a just-spicy-enough salsa verde topping with anchovies – a perfect savory treat.

There are many more dishes that I can’t wait to try at dinnertime. So between all those and all the different Bäcos I have yet to try, I definitely have my work cut out for me. The full bar is yet further  enticement. It’s clear that Josef Centeno is loving having a place to truly call his own – and we, the diners, are all the better for it.

Lunch: Mon – Satur
11:30 AM – 2:30 PM

Dinner: Mon – Sat
6 PM – 11 PM

Sat mornings ”hair of the dog”
9 AM – 11:30 AM

Closed Sunday

Baco Mercat
408 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
213.687.8808

Los Angeles Food & Wine: Lunch By Iron Chef Morimoto and Sara Johannes at WP24

Peking Style Duck | Warm Chanterelle Salad, Duck Skin Cracklin, 10-Spice Confit Figs - Chef Sara Johannes

I’m always appreciative of opportunities to try visiting chefs’ food. A couple weeks ago, on the occasion of the Lexus-sponsored Los Angeles Food & Wine‘s 70-event extravaganza, I had the chance to do so at one of the Friday afternoon not-so-power lunches held all over town (Though in the case of Chef “star power,” yes – it was very powerful). It was held at WP24 in conjuction with Executive Chef Sara Johannes, who contributed half of the 4 courses served at the sold-out lunch.

Kin Medai Snapper w/Geoduck, Papaya, Peanuts & Coconut Foam - Chef Masaharu Morimoto

With his title as one of the winningest Iron Chefs no doubt contributing to the buzz, Chef Morimoto and Chef Johannes sent out passed appetizers, a couple of which I never got to try. I’ll have to return to try out those seared foie gras bao buns and steamed XO scallops with hot oil, scallions & ginger – but the spoonfuls of Parmesan “Tofu” and Lobster & Scallop Shiu Mais were tasty enough as starters.

The true standouts, though, were the four courses at the center of the lunch. Never had I had geoduck so tender and the snapper tasted nothing short of beautiful. The papaya and coconut foam were perfect touches to the seafood. It was a refreshing start, and I couldn’t wait for more.

The next course that came up was Sara Johannes’ (and WP24’s) masterpiece – a Peking Style Duck Breast. It came with Warm Chantrelle Salad, the frisee of which tasted like roasted mushrooms, and Ten-Spiced Confit Figs and Smoked Duck Cracklin’. The cracklin was indeed a very nice touch, making a hyperbole of the importance of a crispy duck skin. The figs really completed the platter, adding a tenderized, spice component to the perfectly-cooked richness of the duck. I have to say that this was probably the best dish I’ve had in a very long time.

Washugyu Flat Iron w/Veal Cheek Tempura, Compressed Apple & Chili Soy - Chef Masuharu Morimoto

The Washugyu (a hybrid between Japanese Black Wagyu and fine American Black Angus) flat iron steak was incredibly delicious thanks to its beautiful marbling, but what really floored me was the tenderness of the veal cheeks within their slight, tempura breading. The veal cheeks were probably twice as tender as the already soft beef. The sweet soy was subtle enough to really enhance the flavors of the meat and let the cuts sing on their own.

The dessert that concluded our afternoon was no less impressive than any of the other courses, thanks to brand-new-to-WP24 pastry chef Cassie Ballard. Sure, you couldn’t really tell it was edamame ice cream until you read the menu (after that, it all clicks), but that sesame crisp is so simple yet ingenius. And tasty. Coupled with a Caramel Roasted Apple tart and Butterscotch Miso, the dessert really comes together. It was light enough weight to elegantly close out the wonderful lunch yet left all our sweet teeth satisfied (hello, caramel!).

If the food at WP24 is anything like the refined courses I had during this particular Lexus-sponsored Los Angeles Food & Wine event, it’s clear that there is much, much more to a reservation there than its stellar, downtown views. And now, for that special occasion to make that return visit…

All food & wine were hosted.

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Lounge:
Sun – Thur

5 – 10 PM

Fri – Sat

5 – 11 PM

Dining Room:
Mon – Thur

5:30 – 10 PM

Fri – Sat

5:30 – 10:30 PM

Closed Sunday

WP24
900 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213.743.8824

Giveaway: Tickets to Table 20 L.A.’s Best Bartender Competition

Video by LASates.com

These are the finals you all have been waiting for. After an exhaustive semi-final round, five finalists have emerged in Table 20’s 2nd Annual L.A.’s Best Bartender Competition. Fortunately, this final round is open to the public, and all are invited to take part.

On Sunday, October 9th from 3:30 – 7:30 PM at Elevate Lounge, you’ll get to do all of the following with your discounted (from $25), $20 admission:

And in case you need a reminder, these are the 5 mixologists and their drinks you can look forward to on Sunday. Get ready to taste some of the best cocktails in L.A.:

  • Joe Brooke, Next Door Lounge – People’s Choice
    “The Spicy Stränder”
  • Justin Pike, Tasting Kitchen – Judges’ Selection
    “Su Novia”
  • Brian Summers, Harvard & Stone – Karlsson’s Cocktail Challenge Winner
    “Blues in Orbit”
  • Devon Tarby, The Varnish – Judges’ Selection
    “Waltz #2”
  • Daniel Zacharczuk, Bar | Kitchen – Karlsson’s Cocktail Challenge Winner
    “Faster Young Fruit”

Judging the competition will be none other than Matt Biancaniello, who won the competition last year; Dale Degroff of “The Craft of The Cocktail;” Jessica Gelt of the L.A. Times; Johnny Iuzzini, pastry chef of Jean Georges; Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza and Marcos Tello of Liquid Assets.  Some serious star power awaits you at this event!

The Master of Ceremonies, Dan Dunn, The Imbiber, will be on hand to guide you through the best cocktail voting process. You’ll each get one token to be used to vote for their favorite finalist cocktail. Each bartender will receive a prize – but who will get the billboard and trip??

Also, admission to the after-party at Villain’s Tavern is included! It comes with 1 drink ticket and live band entertainment. Awesome.

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Even better? I’m giving away 3 pairs of tickets to this event. To enter:

  1. Comment with the name of your favorite contending cocktail. Be sure to include your email (which I won’t share) so I can get in touch with you via email and Twitter.
  2. Tweet: “I want to go to @LABestBartender competition, @estarLA! http://bit.ly/qFaH3S”
  3. “Like”  e*starLA on Facebook

You must do all 3 in order to be eligible. Contest closes at 5 PM on Friday, October 7, 2011. I’ll be contacting you immediately after. No response within 3 hours means I have to pick a new winner or three.

If you’re ready to purchase your tickets, use code “estarlatix” to get $5 off!! Score!!

Good luck!!

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

3:30 – 7:30 PM

Tickets: $25 $20 (code: estarlatix)

Elevate Lounge
811 Wilshire Blvd.
21st Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Burgers and Beer In Session at Public School 612

Pub Burger

The people behind The Daily Grill, one of the most recognizable chain restaurants in LA and beyond, have added gastropubs to their repertoire through Public School 612 – the sister and adjacent restaurant to The Daily Grill downtown since last March.

Pub Burger Cross-section

You order at the bar at this new casual hangout, but don’t leave the counter without first choosing your beer. They’ve 20 beers on tap with half of those rotating, and 12 more in bottles and 5 in cans. There’s a decent-sized menu for grub, beer and spirits so there’s pub fare for everyone.

When it comes to burgers, I’ve noticed there’s a complicated relationship between the customer, server and chef when it comes to the “wellness” of one’s burger patty. This became ever apparent since my guest at The Daily Grill was one who prefers “still moo-ing” to my medium rare. Though “pink through and through” is a real preference of his, I’ve known some to order their burgers one grade rarer as a result of chef distrust. Depending on the restaurant, there’s an assumption that the chef will always leave the beef on the grill too long for health code or safety reasons (Islands Burgers and e.coli in early 2000’s).  Then again, maybe the chef knows something about the meat that the customers don’t?

Bar

Public School 612 effectively brought out that seared, rare Pub Burger. It had really good flavor while still falling under the Classic Burger column. No toppings (or the variety of such) are used as a crutch, and, as if for emphasis, even the very delicious balsamic onions the Pub Burger comes with are left on the side so you can dress at will. The bun was perfectly buttered, toasted, textured and sized, to boot. It was a great, basic burger.

For those looking for something a little bit removed from basic, try the Colorado Lamb Burger. Yes, it also comes with brie and tomato cranberry jam – but you’d have to try it to believe just how well all these things work together. The lamb burger is served in the same stellar bun, and even a lamb-shy diner might change his mind after one bite.

Interior

I chose a pint of refreshing, summer-perfect Craftsman Triple White sage to wash bites of these burgers down. Be sure to visit Public School often to taste their rotating taps since they have a decent selection thanks to Hallie Beaune, one of two Beer Chicks. Also, the fries are fresh-cut and probably won’t disappoint. On my visit, though they were tasty, they turned out a tad golden – with the latter being an observation the GM made when he came over to the table. An aberration, he said.

If you’re not feeling the beer, they’ve also a couple cocktails but really, all the brown spirits you need to enjoy with or after your burger. The atmosphere is conducive, as well, with dim lighting, communal high tables but also an attractive and pleasant bar to sit at or order from – whichever you choose. I had a great time playing darts (free with your driver’s license on deposit) – and since the place is new the darts and board are still in great shape. All the better to lose three games of Cricket with, my dear.

Menu & Beer

It’s not as if Downtown L.A.’s Financial District was in lack of places to hang out, but it seems like Public School 612 provides not just the drinks and vibe, but also great food and games. In a time of my life where I’ve most shunned malls and chains, it’s ironic to see that perhaps Public School’s strength is derived from being an offshoot of a major chain (you can find The Daily Grill in Washington D.C. and Illinois as well).

Bottom line? The burgers, beer and spirits selection are solid and if you bring great company, there’s no reason why you won’t have a great time. Educate yourselves, Downtown Los Angeles.

P.S. – Though you can’t get a burger at a discounted price, check out their happy hour, anyway (M-F, 4-7 PM). Nothing is over $4 and they have $5 Margaritas and $10 carafes of wine. They also have a $4 tap handle available all night, so check out what that is.

All food and drink were hosted.

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Open 4 PM Daily

Happy Hour: M – F, 4 – 7 PM

Public School 612
612 Flower Street, #220
Los Angeles, CA 90017
213.623.1172

@ps612

LQ @ SK: Laurent Quenioux Nights To Shine at Starry Kitchen

Tai snapper, citruses, zucchini, tomatoes, Kohlrabi, smoked black sea salts

Since Bistro LQ had closed, I had been eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to experience Chef Laurent Quenioux’s food. Apparently, Nguyen and Thi of Starry Kitchen, Chef Quenioux and staff have been working a long time to make this guest appearance happen at their home digs.

Oxtail compote, pickled spring vegetables, Mustard Tapioca

In a couple weeks on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights and for most of the summer, you can experience 5 courses of LQ @ SK for $45. There will be a list of recommended wines that you can get from Domaine LA and enjoy them at your accord with zero corkage. If Laurent wasn’t reason enough to entice you downtown on an early-in-the-week night, the added reasonable price point and BYOB option should.

What I appreciated about all 5 courses was that though I knew Chef Quenioux to take chances, they reinforced that he is creative but not outlandish. No magic foams. Just well-integrated dishes that each express a simple statement.

To start things off, you’ll be treated to a surprise amuse. On the opening preview night, we were treated with Escamoles (ant eggs) smuggled straight from TJ that ran out during our run – complete with Sapporo chaser. Talk about taking “seasonal” to a whole new level – that is, to change by the day. It’s good indication you’re at an exciting place to eat.

Teriyaki rabbit albondigas, teriyaki foie gras, miso, green Garlic tempura

I loved the Oxtail compote, which was accompanied by a pickled cucumber slice and carrot stick, topped off with a dallop of mustard tapioca. It’s no LQ uni tapioca, which is a dish all on its own, but I really liked this sweet and sour flourish to the oxtail. While I tend to think “sated” whenever I think of oxtail, all the stringy, crunchy and ballsy (couldn’t help it) textures were the interpretive bells and whistles on the down-to-earth flavors of this first course. Wonderful!

The Tai snapper was perfectly cooked – its juiciness, tenderness yet mildness further highlighted by the citrus fruits and vegetables. A really simple dish yet pleasant and even refreshing, which served as a good reprieve for the rabbit, foie gras and sweetbread richness to follow.

If Panda Express gave me ill associations with teriyaki sauce or even flavorings, Chef Quenioux may have just reversed those very misgivings. So subtle – and not so sweet – was the “teriyaki” savory albondigas (rabbit meatball), I could enjoy the miso that was poured into the dish at service. The green garlic tempura was delightfully fluffy and crunchy, which was a great contrast to the seared foie gras in taste and texture. The foie gras itself? I don’t really need to talk about it. It was heavenly.

Chocolate chipotle mousse, lime serrano gel, Cinnamon soil

But those gloriously breaded and fried Veal sweetbreads. Morels and chanterelles really brought forth an earthy tone to the dish while the shishito peppers added a subtle spice while the pastiness of the yuzu kosho were a great way to add a kick while keeping up with the breaded texture of the sweetbreads. Were the sweetbreads really sweet, you ask? Almost. But it doesn’t matter – since the dish itself was fantastic.

And what topped the entire night off was no less than the most artful dish, doubling as a splendid dessert. Chocolate chipotle mousse and a churro sat with lime serrano gel (with basil seeds) and cinnamon soil, or crumbs from the churro. This was also the best wine pairing of the night (disclosure: no wines included during the pop-up) with the subtle sweetness of the NV Terres Dorees FRV100 cutting the spice in the mousse yet rounding out the cinnamon quite well.

Anyway. LQ @ SK. You should “pop-in.” This is Chef Quenioux at his most accessible, an opportunity not to be wasted. His dishes are playful, but they also have vision and thanks to the efficient staff, underwent a successful execution even on the very first preview night. Not bad for a test run. All I’m saying is, all systems go on this exciting and sure to be short-lived LQ run. Stay tuned for the official start date, which expects to be June 5th.

Now how about bringing back that cheese selection?

Update:  So it’s been announced that start date IS Sunday, June 5th and there will be two seatings at 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM. Prix fixe stands at $45 per person. Menu is subject to change whenever Chef Quenioux feels like it. Sorry, no substitutions. Parking is validated. Also, reservations are available online only, here, for dates: June 5-7,13-14, 19, 20. More dates will be added later. You are confirmed only when you receive an email stating so. Go, go, go!!

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Starry Kitchen
350 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
213.617.3474

The 2011 L.A. Easter Brunch Round-Up

Quail Eggs at Kaohsiung Night Market | Photo: hk_traveller on Flickr

I don’t remember ever having given up anything for Lent. But I always have celebrated Easter in non-ritualistic fashion – just as I eat and celebrate life. Every day is a rebirth, right?

Did I mention that I love eggs?

I compiled a bunch of Easter Brunch specials around town. There are plenty of restaurants offering up 3-course prix fixe menus for Sunday morning, but a lot of them have some pretty solid choices.

Go ahead…you can scan this post for the bottomless champagne or mimosa spots. I totally understand.

(By the way, I can’t believe how Westward this list skews… Do Eastsiders not celebrate Easter?) 😉

Happy Easter!!

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Eva (Beverly/Hancock Park): 12 -  8 PM

$39 per person.
Bottomless wine. 5-course prix fixe.

I know I said “brunch,” and I know Mark Gold calls this the “Eva Dinner Party,” but the noon start time has to count for something, doesn’t it? You get all of the following: Deviled Eggs, Nicoise Salad with Olive Relish and Roast Peppers, Chicken “Pallard” with Arugula and Mustard, Warm Potato Salad, Prime Skirt Steak, Grilled Asparagus and Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Creme Fraiche. I know. Amazing. This is where I’ll be…sometime during Easter Day.

7458 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036, 323.634.0700

Chaya Brasserie (Downtown, Beverly Hills, Venice): 11 AM – 3 PM

$37 per person, $15 per young adult.
Bottomless champagne. 3-course prix fixe.

You get a couple choices for your 3-course prix fixe, all menus of which vary according to location! Be sure to peep the right Chaya outpost for your menu.

A few highlights from what I can see on all three menus include French Toast with Granola Crust, Kabocha Squash Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi, Grilled New York Steak and Fries with Poached Egg, Pancetta-wrapped Gulf Shrimp with Provencal Grits, Meyer Lemon Mascarpone Cheese Tart. I think the Downtown location is where to be!

525 South Flower, Los Angeles, CA 90017, 213.236.9577

8741 Alden Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90048, 213.859.8833

110 Navy Street, Venice, CA 90291, 310.396.1179

Obika (Century City): 10 AM – 4 PM

$25 per adult, $15 per child under 12.
Comes with one mimosa or glass of Prosecco. Buffet-style plus one family-style pasta.

Not feeling the prix fixe but don’t want any hassle? Obika’s doing it up buffet style – at the mall. Mozzarella di Bufala along with a selection of Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon, Assorted, Salumi, Caponata with Pan Carsau, Artichoke Ricotta Quiche with Thyme and Mint, Ricotta Mousse and four (yes, four) flavors of Tirimisu will all be available. In addition, your table will get to pick one choice of pasta served family style, including Handmade Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage, Lasagnetta with Peas and Tagliolini with Artichoke and Mint.

10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067, 310.556.2452

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