Willie Jane: Bringing Southern California Comfort to Abbot Kinney

Swordfish, Fried Chicken, Black-eyed Peas

When considering restaurants on Abbot Kinney and the recent upshoot of many restaurants serving Southern cuisine around town, it’s only proper that the Venice hub would receive its own outpost. Govind Armstrong, of Post & Beam and before that, ROFL Café (I know) and 8 Oz Burger Bar, is as recognizable a chef’s name as any other in L.A. and adds himself as another well-regarded name on the Boulevard, the others being Joe Miller and Casey Lane. Continue reading

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.

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

Essential Bites and Cocktails With a VÅ«

Pork Belly, Crispy Grits, Root Beer Jello

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 visit fabulous divorcee girlfriends and out-of-town friends being put up in corporate housing. But VÅ«, located inside a curiously named hotel called Jamaica Bay Inn (in an area that is the antithesis of Jamaica), is one of those destination islands in a marina wasteland where you’ll find surprisingly unique and delicious bites in VÅ« of a beautiful waterfront.

White Manhattan

 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 with a spirit from my own home state of Wisconsin. Death’s Door White Whiskey – that is, newly distilled whiskey - is accented with Luxardo maraschino liqueur and The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ 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 specialties (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. The root beer jello is, of course, the novelty of the bite but its temperature, flavor and consistency really complements the richness of the other two elements. What 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, spicy back to the fernet’s bitterness – 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 and richness, countered 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.

Thai Mussels

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, 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 charcuterie 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

VÅ« at Jamaica Bay Inn
4175 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
310.439.3033

Kaohsiung, Taiwan: Traditional Taiwanese Eats

Bah-Tzang or Zong-zi

Hello from Taiwan! These past few days while on vacation, I’ve been discovering a little (or a lot) about my roots. A large part of my cultural lesson during the beginning of this trip has been through the consumption of each meal in the major city near where my mother grew up – Kaohsiung, in the south part of the island. There is no better way to learn about a people than walking in their shoes – by eating what they do.

Milkfish Paste Soup

Fortunately, I’ve been exposed to a little bit of traditional Taiwanese cuisine since a lone Taiwanese American kid growing up in Wisconsin thanks to my mom’s cooking. Yes, she once made Bah-Tzang, the pyramid-shaped “Taiwanese tamale,” on a regular basis. I remember watching her fill the bamboo leaf-wrapped cones first with sticky rice and soft, boiled peanuts, then a mixture of slow-cooked beef cubes, black mushrooms and dried shrimp before folding over the leaves, tying the pyramid up with a string and boiling these neat-wrapped packages in the rice cooker. All this, while the only other things I wanted to eat were McDonald’s, bratwurst, ambrosia salads and macaroni casseroles like the rest of my friends.

But Bah-Tzang always was a near and dear dish to my heart and heritage while all other Taiwanese dishes were merely oddities with strange flavors and textures. That is, until my palate graduated to a level that could appreciate them. Sweet chili sauce and soy are the best condiments with which to appreciate bah-tzang – and as you collapse the steaming tamale with your chopsticks, notice the texture of the sticky rice and the delicious smell. This is folk food at its finest and most portable, enabling us modern eaters to freeze and nuke at will. Check out this post on Tiny Urban Kitchen: Taiwanese Rice Dumplings (includes history, recipe) for a break-down.

Wahgui | Bowled Rice Cake

Milkfish paste gravy soup is a delicious soup with the consistency of a liquified gravy and taste of a light broth – with the clear color to match.  Do not mistaken the milkfish for fish balls; the paste gives a more tender bite. If you see milkfish/swordfish ball soup, expect the soup to be a clear liquid. By tradition, milkfish paste soups are thicker in consistency with the help of cornstarch. Season it with white pepper and together with its minced green onions and cilantro, the simple soup will have you slurping til the last spoonful.

Wahgui, or translated directly, rice bowled cake with sauce, may be mostly glutinous rice cake, but make no mistake – the bowl gives it its name and shape. Mixed into the sticky, soft texture are radishes and dried shrimp, and a sweet, rich sauce (in translated name only, but I prefer “gravy”) – is heaped on top of it to give it that umami. Add a chili sauce to it to make it hot, if you wish, but this bowl of goodness is as decadent as Taiwanese food gets.

All three of the above dishes, which I had on the day I landed on Formosa, cost between 30 and 35 NT (New Taiwan Dollars) each – the equivalent of $1 USD. You may only know Taiwanese food as Xiao Long Bao, or juicy pork dumplings – especially in Los Angeles (see: Din Tai Fung) – but let’s set the record straight. This is traditional Taiwanese food; XLBs came to the U.S. by way of Shanghai through Taipei (in Din Tai Fung’s case – only after the Chinese Civil War) since Communists hardly let their people emigrate.


Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Savor Sundays Return to Whist at The Viceroy

Whist at The Viceroy

The weather lately has confirmed that it’s officially fall in Los Angeles, and you may be looking for a good spot for a Sunday dinner as you wind down your weekend. Thankfully, Savor Sundays at Whist are back and they’ve got four different rotating themes just to keep things interesting.

I had the opportunity to visit during their “Southern Favorites” theme and Executive Chef Tony DiSalvo as well as Chef de Cuisine Chris Crary did a great job comforting my guest and me with their buttermilk fried chicken. It was perfectly breaded on the outside and incredibly juicy and flavorful on the inside and out. The butter lettuce wedge had a perfect buttermilk dressing, as well.  The drinks were prepared nice and stiff. I’m curious to see how the other themed menus will turn out – and it’s up to you to find out.

Butter Lettuce Wedge

Nov. 14 – Southern Favorites

Butter Lettuce Wedge, Bacon/Tomato/Blue Cheese/Herb Buttermilk Dressing
Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Bacon Cheddar Biscuits/Collard Greens/Grits/Mashed Potatoes/Market Slaw
Pecan Pie, Knob Creek Caramel/Vanilla Ice Cream
Featured beverages: Mint Julep, Sweet Tea Bourbon, Root Beer flight

Oct. 24/Nov. 21 – Spanish Style

White Gazpacho, Crisped Jamon Serrano/Grapes/Almonds/Garlic
Valencia-Style Paella Shellfish/Chorizo/Chicken
Churros and Horchata
Featured beverages: white and red sangria

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Oct. 31/Nov. 28 – French Flavors

Frisee aux Lardons, Poached Egg/Hazelnuts/Shaved Truffles
Toulouse-Style Cassoulet, Pork/Sauccison/Duck Confit/Tarbais Beans
Tarte Tatin, Cinnamon Ice Cream Canele
Featured beverages: French 75, Rhone Valley wine flight

Nov. 7/Dec. 5 – Chinese “Takeout”

Hot and Sour Wonton Soup
Spring Rolls/Dumplings/Shrimp Toast/Squab and Lettuce Cups
Moo Shoo Pork, Peking Duck, Housemade Pancakes
Shrimp Fried Rice
Featured beverages: Tsing Tao beer, lychee wine, Greenteani cocktail

So be sure to make your reservation and enjoy a delicious fall Sunday dinner inside the beautiful Whist.

All food was hosted.

Every Sunday through December 5, 2010

5:30 – 9 PM

$35/per adult, $15/per child under 12

Whist at The Viceroy
1819 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310.260.7514