Talking ABC’s The Taste and Petit Trois with Vanessa Lauren and Ludo Lefebvre

Ludo Lefebvre and Vanessa Lauren

If you’ve been following the third season of The Taste on ABC, you’re familiar with contestant Vanessa Lauren of Team Bourdain. Eliminated on last week’s semi-finale (ep. 6), Vanessa has somewhat since defected to Team Ludo – in the sense that since taping this season’s episodes, she’s been in Ludo Lefebvre’s kitchens at Trois Mec and now Petit Trois. I sat down with Vanessa Lauren and Chef Ludo the other day in anticipation of The Taste finale, which airs tonight.

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First Taste: Terrine, Whether For Dinner or Brunch, is a Delight

Charcuterie at Brunch

There have been a lot of openings as of late, and I’ve been lucky to catch a few, because it’s led to some not-so-surprisingly stellar food already enjoyed in the new year. Terrine was no exception during both visits I made: One dinner and one brunch, one week in from when these respective services were launched. Los Angeles has long-awaited this latest venture from Managing Partner Stephane Bombet and Chef Kris Morningstar, most recently of LACMA’s Ray’s & Stark Bar, and the early results show that the restaurant is actually living up to all the buzz.

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My Top dineLA Restaurant Week Lunch Picks for Summer, 2013: July 15 – 26

RivaBella’s Nidi di Rondine

This summer’s dineLA Restaurant Week commences today and lasts 10 days – over two weekday stretches and one weekend. And since we’ve had a few of these by now, it’s probably time we got smart on maneuvering through the multitude of menus. The trick with dineLA prix fixe is that it may get people through the door, but it may or may not be quite the deal you had in mind. The danger is that you might just be stuck with fewer, albeit recommended, choices for about the same price you’d normally pay.

May I propose lunch? They tend to be better deals than dinner – often true between both offerings of the same restaurant – because there’s more incentive to increase lunch traffic with dinner reservations filling up more readily. So whether you’ve got a 9-5 in the area or are in a certain neighborhood for an audition or client appointment, there’s probably a great dineLA power lunch strategy wherever you end up.

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Gorge: Uncharacteristically Fantastic French Food on The Sunset Strip

Charcuterie Board

There was a post I did awhile ago on “Bars That Don’t Belong,” and the essence of that article was that the particular bars listed weren’t categorically all good or all bad – just that their ambiance and drink were divergent from those of the surrounding establishments. What that entails is a problem with the diffusion of foot traffic from nearby establishments.

Belgian endives poached in aromatic broth, vanilla bean sauce, toasted almonds

Located on Sunset Boulevard, Gorge is just a few doors down from The Whiskey. It goes without saying that The Sunset Strip is not a place you’d expect to find a French wine bar, much less one that makes all their sausages, terrine and pâtés in-house, as a proper French wine bar would. So I was surprised as anyone that at Gorge, not only is the food delicious, but the food-wine pairings are exceptional thanks to Master Sommelier Darius Allyn, who just so happens to also be the husband of head chef Elia Aboumrad. It’s quite a departure from where he came – that is, the Montage Beverly Hills – but the results of their efforts have captured all my admiration for doing so. While the food and atmosphere is comfortably no frills, it probably leans towards exotic in the perspective of your typical Sunset Boulevard patron.

The same of which could be said of Night + Market, not too far west of Gorge. And so the culinarily adventurous restaurants along The Sunset Strip continues. Thank goodness both examples are on the mark in their respective disciplines.

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Open House at Vertical Bistro: Taste New Menu Items, Beers & Cocktails for $25

Invitation

If you live in Pasadena or the surrounding San Gabriel Valley, it will be worth your while to drop into Vertical Bistro tomorrow night between 7 – 10 PM. Chef Laurent Quenioux has some new dishes up his sleeve that he would very much like to share with you. And for $25, you can taste a few of them as well as wash them down with some new beers and/or cocktails.

Not a bad open house for the locals.

Make sure you RSVP to the appropriate email address below to reserve your spot. I expect there to be some real tasty French bites awaiting you tomorrow inside the newly renovated Vertical Bistro. There is even a new “library” for you to check out. Now there’s bookshelves in this wine bar thanks to the new addition, which is a 60-seat dining room. The space now overlooks historic Raymond Avenue. This open house sounds like a great opportunity to try the renovation on for size.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

7 – 10 PM

Cost: $25

Menu

RSVP: [email protected]

Vertical Bistro
70 N. Raymond Avenue (upstairs)
Pasadena, CA 91103
626.795.3999

Checking Out the (Off-)Menu by Chef Haru Kishi at Chaya Brasserie

Almond Three Ways | Milk, Roasted and Green

At 25, Chaya’s time in Los Angeles almost doubles my own. I was unsure whether I’d feel more intimidated by their history or blasé about the menu. Turns out that it was neither of those things. Chef Haru Kishi, who, for the first time, was recruited from outside the Chaya family, brings in a fresh approach. Though yes, the tuna tartar is right there on the menu, overall, it’s a strong departure from what was served before.

Saffron Pappardelle | Wagyu Bolognaise

It’s a pleasure to meet the chef, who himself personifies the Franco-Japanese Chaya tit for tat. Yes, this is Los Angeles, but I still don’t remember the last time I spoke to an ethnically Japanese man who speaks English with a French accent. His menu, however, has tinges of Southern influences. Vernacular and second languages aside, Haru speaks through his food ever elegantly – at least through the La Petite menu, which is the facet of Chaya H.C. and I were privy to on our visit. Not to be confused with the Chef’s Tasting menu or dining section of the restaurant, La Petite is your prerogative to go a la carte.

Our (off-menu) amuse was a sight and concept to behold and opened my eyes to one of the ways almond could be served: Young and green. The overall amuse was delicious and evocative of morning cereal thanks to the charred rice puffs

Coconut Sorbet, Compressed Strawberry, Agave Syrup, Black Peppercorn, Chocolate Dots

While I wasn’t crazy about the gravy consistency in the otherwise mouth-watering Scallop Pot Pie, the Hamachi Mole Pressed Sushi was pretty fantastic. I guess there are some things you can count on Chaya for – variations on that raw fish dish you’re sure to never tire of.

There are still entrees offered on the La Petite menu – and excellent ones from what I could tell.  Our small portioned (for tasting purposes) Saffron Pappardelle had that perfect handmade pasta bite with just the right amount of Wagyu Bolognaise sauce.

La Petite Menu Dining Area

My favorite cocktail was the Apple Knocker with Laird’s Apple Jack Brandy Blend, apple juice, pomegranate, citrus and bucket. With most of the drinks being vodka, acai and soju based, this was kind of a no-brainer. But the dessert! So good. Again, I am guilty of blogging about an off-menu item but maybe you can get Chef Haru to make a special case for you, as well. It had compressed strawberries enveloped in a fluffy coconut sorbet. But the details really made it a treat, with crunchy chocolate dots, mint and candied orange peel topping the heavenly dessert that made me close my eyes. So hopefully you’ll forgive me for teasing you with this dessert since I implore you to ask for it when you visit Chaya.

The end of it is that you’ll have a solid experience at Chaya. The conclusion of my visit was that it’s no accident that they’ve been around for such a long time. It seems that Chef Harutaka has successfully ushered in a new vision and diners everywhere (not just Cedars Sinai employees) have good reason to see what he’s up to.

All food and cocktails were hosted.

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Lunch

11:30 AM – 2:30 PM

Dinner

Mon – Sat: 6 – 10:30 PM
Sun: 5 – 9 PM

Bar, Lounge & Patio

Mon – Fri: 11:30 AM – Close
Sat – Sun: 5 PM – Close

Chaya Brasserie Beverly Hills
8741 Alden Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Mahon and Haskell’s Magnum Migrates To Royal T

Royal T, Culver City (Credit to Kawaiikakkoiisugoi.com)

The power duo is back – and they’re bringing back more options than ever to the Culver City cosplay cafe called Royal T. Chef Joseph Mahon and Sommelier David Haskell have expanded their thrice popped up pop-up to … you guessed it, three nights, starting on Sunday, April 17 and ending on Haskell’s 35th birthday, Tuesday, April 19th.

Mahon’s French cuisine will be paired with Haskell’s sake, Asian beer, and French and Italian wine selections. Choose from the five ($62), seven ($80), or ten-course menu ($118) with optional wine pairings ($45-92 additional) – or go for the special uni menu and separate wine pairings on Tuesday, April 19 in celebration of Haskell’s 35th birthday (The Feast LA).

Magnum is working in collaboration with Tomo Kurokawa to donate a portion of the event and silent auction proceeds to benefit the Japanese Sake Association and subsequently sake breweries affected by the tsunami in northern Japan.

Courses will include thoughtful selections such as:

  • Fennel Royale with Sea Urchin, Apple Cloud, and Nori Powder
  • Braised Baby Octopus with Leek Risotto, Pine Nuts, and Pancetta Vinaigrette
  • Miso-Cured Hangar Steak with Creamed Spinach, Shitake Mushroom Tempura, Sesame Seeds, and Ponzu Sauce
  • Yuzu Crème Brûlée with Poached Apricots

All wine, beer, and sake pairings will be announced the day of the event via Magnum and Royal/T’s Facebook and Twitter pages (@Magnum_dh and @RoyalTCafe).

At the bar, small plates and sake pairings will be available throughout the three-night series. Inspired by Royal/T’s newest street art exhibit “FACEMAKER, the bar bites will reflect graffiti’s free-form streaks, which include:

  • Sliders with Grass-Fed Beef, Potato Chips, Bibb Lettuce, and Chipotle Aïoli ($15)
  • Tuna Rolls with Crab, Jicama, Mango, and Spicy Mayonnaise ($19)
  • Oysters with Brown Butter and Lemon ($14)

Everything sounds absolutely delicious. Pop-up restaurants may come and go…and come and go…but this bigger and badder rendition of Magnum looks like one not to be missed. Be sure to call or email to reserve. Zeus The Cat will be standing by.

Also, be sure to check out the items up for silent auction, which are constantly being updated on Twitter and on the official Magnum website.

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Sunday, April 17 – Tuesday, April 19, 2011

6 – 10 PM

Call 323.798.4648 or email [email protected] to reserve your table.

Magnum at Royal T
8910 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(Restaurant phone number: 310.559.6300)

Wolvesmouth: The Supper Club Worthy of Being Kept Underground

Black Bass | tortilla puree, avocado, onion, cilantro flowers, lime

Underground supper clubs are all the rage these days, but there’s something to be said about the stress placed on their novelty. Does the fact that you are in-the-know and dining in secret digs wear out by the 3rd course? Are the setting, the ambiance and the company used to justify the food? Does defying health codes fail to elicit giggles at the table by the 5th course? Is that pillow you’re sitting on uncomfortable and superfluous dinner entertainment not…entertaining?

Celery Root | parsnip soup, crab, crouton

A night at Wolvesmouth doesn’t warrant a Yes to any of the above. To the contrary, this is innovative and thought-provoking food by Chef Craig. When you book a night at the Wolves’ Den, come prepared to embark on a 10-14 course culinary expedition. It’s not for the faint of heart but for the adventurous and ravenous. Each course is like an art piece, with ingredients being a sight for the senses as well (mmm, flowers). The dishes were each worthy of their own accord. If forced to guess which dish was inserted for “fluff” to fill the 10 course quota, I would have an extremely hard time choosing. The pacing of this underground meal would surprise you; dishes came out expediently and would shame places in which I’ve done half as many courses as at Wolvesmouth. I knew even before entering The Den that this meal was belated; rave reviews came in from friends on a consistent basis. Now, it was finally my turn.

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Solid French Brasserie Fare at Le Saint Amour

Moules Marinieres ($18)

It’s about time there was an approachable French Brasserie on the block; thankfully, Le Saint Amour is just that restaurant. With Walter Manzke having consulted on the menu and Chef Bruno Herve-Commereuc in-house to see that vision through, the Culver restaurant is putting out traditional French dishes that delight.

Country Pate, Duck Rillette, Galantine avec Pistachio, Toulouse Pork Sausage

During our media dinner, I even caught Maître Écailler (that is, shellfish expert) Christophe Happillon stopping by to visit old friends and enjoy dinner at the bar – proof that even an industry Frenchman will stop by Le Saint Amour to get his fix of back home.

All charcuterie, pates, sausages and terrine served at Le Saint Amour are made at the restaurant. Luckily, you can get your taste of them with little commitment, with a plate of pates and terrines starting at $11, or $12 including a serving of foie gras.

My favorite hors d’oeuvres of the night (besides the pates and terrine) was the Moroccan Merguez ($11), with refreshing couscous, arugula and baby carrot salad surrounding two tender, spicy and flavorful lamb sausages. This salad is a great way to start off a meal here, with pickled ribbons of carrot and radishes bringing bright flavors to the beginning of your meal.

Merguez | Moroccan lamb sausage, couscous, baby carrot salad ($11)

Or, you can order a traditional Escargots de Bourgogne, in which you get 6 for $10, each encased in their little containers for you to peel the buttery tops off onto which you spoon the snails in all their garlic and parsley buttered glory.

As for entrees, the mussels in white wine-cream sauce are definitely a must. They come with fries frites, which you can use as sauce and sop up all that goodness thanks to the crispy potatoes. Each mussel was almost like candy – you can’t have just one.

The Boeuf Bouguignon was also an indulgent main and one that I wish I had more room for. The peasant staple at Le Saint Amour was as well an executed dish that I’ve had in memory – though admittedly, my memory hasn’t spanned across numerous Boeuf Bouguignons. I think I’ll let it stand as being a dish of flavorful, braised goodness.

Boeuf Bourguignon | red wine braised beef cheeks, carrots, gnocchi ($21)

And don’t forget dessert. Their chocolate profiteroles (Profiterolles au Chocolat – $8) were delicious and appropriately hot and saucy on the inside, garnished well with a small scoop of banana ice cream, but what I really loved was the off-menu Blood Orange Granite, atop tangerine ice cream and panna cotta. This was a tart treat, a dessert that never made it so fun to suck in your cheeks.

All in all, you’re in for a rendezvous in France when you visit Le Saint Amour. The best part is, it’s not an experience that will break your bank. It’s down-home, approachable and traditional French fare that’s serious yet doesn’t take itself too seriously.  They’re also open for brunch, which will add a great weekend option to your calendar. 

All food and wine were hosted.

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Mon – Fri: 11:30 AM – 3 PM

Sun – Thur: 5:30 – 9:30 PM

Fri – Sat: 5:30 – 10:30 PM

Brunch: 10 AM – 3 PM

Le Saint Amour
9725 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
310.842.8155

New Chef and New Menu Bring New Favorites at Petrossian

Truffle Fontina Agnolotti | Asparagus, Mushrooms, Parmesan Foam, Prosciutto

The other night, I again had the privilege of visiting Petrossian on Robertson – the caviar boutique that doubles as a dining hotspot with a clean and casual ambiance. I know the space well from my numerous visits to Chef Benjamin Bailly and have even had the honor of judging a cold soup Dine LA Quickfire Challenge (recap) held in the boutique area.

But things have changed since the end of Chef Bailly’s year-long tenure as Executive Chef. He has moved on to Fraiche in Culver City and now, Giselle Wellman has taken over the kitchen. She has some big names on her resume, including New York’s Del Posto and most recently Beverly Hills’ Bouchon. Armed with just a basic pasta recipe by Tony DiSalvo, she taught herself how to make 20 kinds of pasta at his Jack’s La Jolla for the purposes of its reopening as an Italian restaurant – quite a feat that would be perfected by working in Mario Batali’s kitchen thereafter.

Smoked Sturgeon Risotto | Chive, Apple, Pressed caviar

And the agnolotti that I had at Petrossian happened to be my favorite dish of the evening. The house-made pasta was tender and the filling was perfectly cooked – with fontina being one of my favorite cheeses, of course. The pasta was topped with perfect prosciutto, accompanied by fresh asparagus and extremely flavorful mushrooms while finished off with a further savory, non-frivolous parm foam. Everything in this dish worked together extremely well in no small part by top-notch ingredients and good execution. Not bad for a chef in her new kitchen. (She still has Ben’s pistachio creme for the Pistachio Creme Brulee.)

My second favorite dish of the evening was the Smoked Sturgeon Risotto with pressed caviar cooked into the dish in order to fully integrate the eggs’ flavors. The topping of sliced apple slices was an elegant, sweet reprieve from the rich risotto. Everything on the plate made for a really delicious combination while the risotto itself was amazingly complex in its richness. If I weren’t so full, I might have licked the plate.

Of course, we had to have dessert and with a vendor like Petrossian and their delicious chocolates, it’d be premature to leave their dining room without having done so. Giselle was especially excited about her on-theme espresso pearls, which, of course, look like caviar. She showed us a video of her making them by dropping the espresso mixture into clear liquid with an eye-dropper. The result? A glorious topping to spread over panna cotta.

Vanilla Panna Cotta | Espresso Beads, Cardamom Shortbreads

The beads weren’t especially potent but they were indeed novel and well, espresso goes extremely well with vanilla. The cardamom shortbreads had good spice and were a nice, crunchy side note. This is definitely my go-to dessert at Petrossian.

Overall, I was impressed with Giselle’s new but solid menu – especially given that she just moved in a few weeks ago. It seems like she’s fitting in well into the space at Petrossian and will continue to evolve in that space, given her unbridled passion for cooking. I can’t wait to revisit to try more dishes, which she’ll have time to perfect. The blogger-friendly boutique-restaurant hybrid has great things to look forward to.

Also, Petrossian is participating in Dine LA (going through Friday this week and Sunday – Friday, January 30 – February 4 next week). Fortunately, the risotto, agnolotti and espresso panna cotta I’ve mentioned are all on that menu so this is the opportune time to try them out.

All food and wine were hosted.

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Mon – Fri: 11 AM – 10 PM
Sat: 10 AM – 10 PM
Sun: 10 AM – 4 PM
Happy Hour: Mon – Sat, 4 to 7 PM

Petrossian Restaurant & Boutique
321 N. Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048-2415
310.271.6300