First Taste: Neal Fraser’s Redbird at The Vibiana

Maine Lobster, gnocchi sardi, nettles, black trumpets

The long-awaited restaurant from Neal Fraser, Amy Knoll Fraser and Bill Chait is finally here, and all of Los Angeles is the better for it. With a cocktail program focused on the classics by Julian Cox and a wine list curated by Diane Pandolfini, Redbird will stand to be one of the most exciting openings of 2015 – something everyone can confidently say even while it’s still January.

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Favorite Moments of Los Angeles Food & Wine 2014

RivaBella’s Chef Luigi Fineo shaving black truffles over Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Parmesan – Lexus Grand Tasting #LAFW14

Food festivals come and go, but the multi-event Los Angeles Food & Wine always produces many noteworthy moments across a diverse set of mediums. From lunches combining famous visiting chefs with hometown culinary stars and cooking demonstrations to Lexus grand tastings and informative seminars, the extravaganza is a great way to see how the Los Angeles culinary scene somehow fits in with the rest of the world’s.

Here are some highlights from the daytime events I attended:

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Petty Cash Taqueria Bolsters Baja on Beverly

Aguachile en Molcajete

If the former Playa Rivera, as it stood on Beverly Boulevard, offered a somewhat intimidating Mexi-China concept for the price point at which it met its clientele, then perhaps Petty Cash Taqueria will benefit from all the lessons learnt. The menu is streamlined straight toward Baja, peppered with a beverage selection fit to satisfy the fussiest drinkers in LA. While quality ingredients are in the picture, that doesn’t begin to describe how well the tacos and flavor combinations are executed.

After all, who else would show the people of Hancock Park that a charred octopus taco is always what they’ve wanted?

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Bartenders Gather Their Talents for a Cause at Art Beyond the Glass II

Invention at the LAAC

As we all well know, cocktails are an art. But that doesn’t mean that many of the Los Angeles bartenders aren’t multi-talented, with abilities that reach far beyond the bar.

And for the second time this June 30th, dozens of LA’s top bartenders will gather for Art Beyond the Glass II, a fundraising event with, of course, cocktails, but also art, music and more – all entirely created and performed by bartenders. This year’s event will be at the exclusive, members-only Los Angeles Athletic Club’s new bar, Invention.

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Sotto: An Amaro Wonderland in Los Angeles

Dux di Lux – Luxardo Bitter, fresh lime, dry vermouth, Luxardo maraschino, egg white, housemade amaro “Sotto-pop”

With amaro cocktails being really popular right now – and with good reason – you can count on there being one to three of them on the menu of any semi-serious bar program. But I can’t think of any other bar that even compares to how Julian Cox’s program at Sotto has really advanced the cocktail classification in Los Angeles.

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Test Kitchen to Re-Open at Bestia Featuring Walter Manzke and Neal Fraser on October 16, 2012

Test Kitchen at Bestia

The story of Test Kitchen is something of a legend. Legends, though, are usually long gone – relegated to a time past. And yes, that was the year-long story of the Westside Test Kitchen (which now houses Sotto), but it’s about to be revived come next Tuesday.

The series, brought to you again by Bill Chait, heads downtown to Ori Menashe’s (formerly Angelini Osteria) new digs at Bestia and it runs from October 16 through November 11. Notable chefs hailing from Los Angeles and around the country will rotate, just like the 2010 incarnation. Future menus and projects as well as collaborative exhibition nights will be the focus, much like before.

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Baja Chef Series at Playa Rivera Has Launched With Paired Cocktails


Mini Tostada with Sea Urchin at 2011 Street Food Fest – La Guerrerense, “Best in Show”

I remember the anticipation we all felt when the Baja chefs came to Street Food Fest at the Rose Bowl in the summer of 2011. It was just the ingredient needed to take the festival to a new level. Not only would we be having access to some of the best street food in LA at one place, we’d also be experiencing the best of Baja.

Thanks to Reverse Coyote Bill Esparza, there’s been quite a bit of sharing going on across the California-Mexico border. We Angelenos get to reap the benefits at Playa, the playground of Sedlar’s latest experimentation. As he is currently changing the menus here, we’ll get to go straight to the sources of his inspiration thanks to this series.

Cue the installment going on now, starting with Sabina Bandera Gonzales of La Guerrerense, who will be cooking with Chef Sedlar now until tomorrow, Tuesday, September 18th – though the menus for each installment will actually be available all week long. Sabina brings dishes her top seafood stand seasoned with a variety of unique salsas. A la carte menu items are $5-$18 and include:

  • Tostada of sea urchin ceviche with clam on top
  • Tostada of sea snail ceviche with slices of sea snail on top
  • Tostada campechana (tuna fish ceviche with scallops, octopus, shrimp and sea snail on top)
  • Campechano cocktail (Cup of shrimp, octopus, scallops and sea snail)
  • Codfish ceviche (cooked in olive oil with vegetables, olives, capers)
  • Tostada of tuna smoked pate with scallops on top

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See You At L.A. Times’ THE TASTE: September 1-3, 2012

Flavors of LA: Plan Check Smoked Jidori Fried Chicken – Photo credit to naftels on Flickr

It took a few tries, but it seems as though the flagship food, cocktails, wine & beer event of our city’s flagship publication may have this Labor Day weekend on lock. So head on over to Paramount Pictures this upcoming 3-day weekend for a celebration of delicious consumptions and libations. Tickets cost $65 per event and come with unlimited bites and swigs. See below for a preview of dishes, cocktails & people you’ll have to look forward to:

Field to Fork: Saturday, 9/1 • 11 am- 3 pm (21+)
Times Food Editor Russ Parsons and Chef Ray Garcia of FIG host this session inspired by fresh, local ingredients in celebration of seasonal dishes. Look forward to cooking demos, a conversation with local farmers and a chef’s challenge. You’ll experience tastes from Cook’s County, Sunny Spot, Picca, Mo-Chica, M.B. Post and Canele, who will be plating their Shelled Bean Salad.

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The Weekend Brunch at Playa Rivera: Modern & Elegant Southwestern

Huevos Polenta ($11)

There may be many a nightowl in the circles I run, but I still can’t remember the last time I heard or read about breakfast. Brunch is the meal of leisure over sustenance and a time when friends can order eggs or sandwiches. Brunch makes it okay to drink before noon. And brunch brings purpose to sleeping in on a weekend morning.

Blue Corn Muffins

Enter Playa Rivera, Chef John Sedlar’s newest venture in the space that was formerly Grace. While dinner service may be pricey for some, Playa’s brunch menu (in lieu of happy hour) is a great foray into Sedlar’s Santa Fe-influenced cuisine. Entrees range from $10-15, with no shortage of the chef’s artistic expression – or cinematic appreciation, for that matter (you may find a scene from Clockwork Orange beneath your Tamal).

But do not start with the entree. The don’t-miss at Playa Rivera’s brunch is the blue corn muffins, which are made with organic cornmeal and furnished with almond butter (I could’ve spread that butter on anything). And if you do order a cocktail, be sure you look at Julian Cox’s full selection before you autopilot that bloody mary or mimosa. The sangria is no ordinary sangria, but a complex cocktail with a hint of sour. It’s so good!

Duck Hash ($14)

As for the entrees, I have resigned to the fact that in early-day weekend meals, eggs are king. In a recent episode of “Ladies Who Brunch” at Playa, I sorely wished that my Croque Monsieur Senor was a Senorita. The layers of chorizo and queso in each bite were really good, but when the eggs on three other plates waver at you with their perfectly poached, sunny and easy yolks, you can’t help but become envious.

The duck hash was one such example as two round eggs stood against a colorful plate of potatoes, delicious dark meat and arugula. It was as beautiful a display of savory as it was tasty.

For those more Santa Fe-inclined, go with one of the red chile-laden dishes, such as the Huevos Polenta. Once I was finished with my sandwich, I couldn’t help but steal spoonful after spoonful of Maya’s dish. Sedlar’s red chile really is that good, and dare I include “authentic.” (I am no expert, though I did enjoy a blitz in chile education during a weekend trip to Santa Fe with other food bloggers a year ago, in which we were lucky enough to observe Sedlar in his native environmental and culinary elements.) Ladled over the top of a bed of polenta, the red chile just makes for a super delicious soup.

Ice Cream Sundae ($7)

If you’re feeling like a tamale, you can enjoy that same red chile atop the Tamal – that of which are topped by some beautiful, sunny-side up eggs. Yes, you get the Clockwork Orange mural, as well. (In the latest series of dish art at Playa, expect a controversial radioactive theme – an homage to the chef’s native New Mexico.)

But just like the muffins, you best not miss dessert. The Sundae comes with a blue corn chocolate chip on a jar with goat’s milk ice cream, cocoanibs, hazelnuts as well as hazelnut syrup. If the blue corn muffins were mind-blowing, the dessert rendition is really the icing on the blue corn cake.

With just one experience under my belt, Playa Rivera brunch is in the ranks of being one of my favorite brunches in town. It won’t break the bank and isn’t one of your standard issue pancake-waffle breakfasts over mimosas. Not that those are necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a good idea to change the pace – and the cuisine – when the results come out this good.

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Brunch: Sat – Sun

10 AM – 2 PM

Playa Rivera
7360 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323.933.5300

@playarivera

What Carmageddon? Head To L.A. Street Food Fest on Saturday, July 16

Carmageddon - Credit to ml_kap on Flickr

We’ve been notified about this weekend for months, folks. And here it is: The 405 Freeway, on the stretch between the 10 and 101, will be closed Friday night (on-ramps begin closing at 7 PM, lanes at 10 PM) through Monday morning at 5 AM. What does that mean? Stay home if you can! Or find some alternative route (it’s hit the fan: even JetBlue is offering $4 flights from Long Beach to Burbank).

Or, you can make the most of it and, like me, Metro it on over to the other side of the 405. Pasadena, that is. I plan on taking the Red Line to the Gold Line since L.A. Street Food Fest will be providing shuttles from Memorial Park Station on the Gold Line to the Rose Bowl every 30 minutes. Plan on making it a Staycation? LASFF has also secured a special rate at the nearby Courtyard Marriott.

There are plenty of reasons to trek it on over to the Rose Bowl. Try these bites:

  • Chef Christian Page / Tione’s Quality Meats
    Sonoma Lamb Shoulder w/ Mediterranean Salsa
  • Chef Dan Moody / Relate
    Banana Bread Pudding a la Pecan Pie
  • Chef Ricardo Zarate / Mo-Chica + Picca
    Assorted Causas & Anticucho
  • Chef Javier Plascencia / Mision 19
    Grilled Oysters w/ Chicharron Short Rib,
    Serrano Chili, Ponzu Butter, Lemongrass Foam
  • Starry Kitchen
    Mystery Balls
  • Mariscos de Jalisco
    Tacos Dorado de Camaron
  • Sabina Bandera
    Uni Tostadas
  • Samosa from Naan Stop Truck
  • Naan Stop
    Samosas
  • Antojitos Carmen
    Alambre Taco + Mini Pambaso + Mini Squash Blossom Quesadilla
  • Guelaguetza
    Mole Tamales
  • Guisados
    Sopes
  • Ramen JINYA + Robata JINYA
    Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen
  • Luxe Lounge Mixologist
    Julian Cox

And if that’s not enough, head on over to Bill of Street Gourmet LA’s post on the LASFF, whereby he details the vendors he brought up from Mexico to specially attend this event with their delicious bites. Also try on the entire vendor list for size if you really want to know who’s going to be there. This event has surely moved on from a representation of the nouveau food truck oversaturation we’ve seen in these parts. Get ready for some O.G. tastes!

Steak Tartar by Ricardo Zarate

If you want to live it up and try on the Luxe Lounge for size, mixologist Julian Cox and his specialty cocktails would be the perfect reason to push you over the edge. It’s $15 more and now, only the afternoon tickets are available so be sure to jump on it ASAP. But wait, I’ve got a link for $10 off (courtesy of the famed Test Kitchen) tickets. Just look below.

And in case you were worried about the lack of culinary (and political) star power at the event, never fear: Michael Voltaggio, Mayor Villaraigosa, Jonathan Gold, Lesley Bargar Suter, Walter Manzke and Marcela Velladoid will be on-hand to judge the bites at the fest. It’ll be exciting to see just who wins in their respective categories.

So, I will see you there – with multiple bites in-hand. Don’t forget: It’s presale only and there are only a few hours left to buy so don’t sleep on this one.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

2 – 5 PM
6 – 9 PM

Presale only:
Discounted Tickets ($10 off) through Test Kitchen
Regular Presale

LASFF at The Rose Bowl
360 N. Arroyo Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91106