RivaBella: Where Bold Flavors Lend Themselves to Lush Spaces

Polibo con Patate e Olive – Roasted Octopus with Potatoes, Taggiasche Olives, and Salsa Verde

There’s a trace amount of apprehension I try to temper when I find myself dining in oversized spaces. The fear stems from the likelihood of spending time and money dining in a space that is less likely to feel personalized – whether in terms of physical sense of space and/or the quality of service enjoyed during the meal.

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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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Los Angeles Bars That Don’t Belong

R Bar - Photographed by: Alen Lin (www.alenlin.com)

We all love Los Angeles for the diversity it affords in all cross-sections of life. (Or, at least I hope you do.) But let’s be honest. When it comes to food, fashion and yes, even drinking, sometimes we’ve come to expect a certain type of scene based upon the neighborhood that we’re in.

You’ll find flip-flops accepted and even expected near the beach while they’ll likely be shunned as you head eastbound. Moustaches and more indie music? East. Button-downs over straight-cut slacks? West. Dress code? All over (unfortunately).

But recently I found myself in a few bars where the interior and auras had me confused – as if I really were in a different neighborhood. Here’s the rundown on my impressions – along with my favorite cocktail at each bar:

Del Monte Speakeasy: Located in Venice, but feels like you’re in Silver Lake

The PSA

Recently outfitted with Brandon Ristaino’s elaborate cocktail menu, Del Monte has upped their game with some pretty fancy – and complicated – recipes. With a new focus on housemade ingredients, the speakeasy menu has some wacky combinations in their drinks. It’s brave and takes risks, which I admire, but unfortunately I didn’t like the majority of the cocktails. While reading the ingredients of a drink off the menu would usually provide enlightenment in my enjoyment of the cocktail, the explanation of each drink was simply confusing as many of the components seemed to clash.

The speakeasy area downstairs, however, has a ton of charm – and has only very recently legally reopened. There’s a filled-in tunnel from the Prohibition days in their stock room and the stairs are so old that you best be looking down as you descend – lest you trip down the rabbit hole into this bar that doubles as a music venue! Recommended cocktail: The PSA, made with Pisco, Aperol, citrus, house prepared demerara syrup, egg white & Peruvian bitters (Caroline on Crack explains why).

Naya Sunset: Located in Silver Lake, but feels like you’re in Hollywood

Naya Sunset Interior

Granted, I was at the media opening, but I’m thinking from the dim lighting, loungey seating and 4-on-the-floor house music, Naya Sunset’s intent was to bring the club to Sunset Junction. With a side of Indian food and a little Southeast Asian flavor mixed in, that is. Thing is, Joel Black’s cocktails are better than most others’ available in the vicinity, so if you’re craving one of the aforementioned – or both – it’d be a mistake to pass Naya up should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

My favorite cocktail: The Rocky Patel is a down-and-dirty mix of Chivas 12 Year blended Scotch whisky, Laphroaig 10 Year Islay Scotch whisky and espresso bean infused Zaya 12 Year old rum with espresso bean garnish. The smokey flavor of the Laphroaig blended beautifully with the subtle coffee flavors of the rum. Delicious. Also don’t forget to try the others on for size, such as the Spa in Goa – a refreshing cocktail utilizing Aviation Gin, fresh lime juice, Persian cucumbers, fresh thyme and agave nectar. It tastes just like it sounds, except even better (gin always has a benefit over vodka, no?).

R Bar: Located in Koreatown, but feels like you’re in Eagle Rock

Don’t look for signage, because it doesn’t exist. And…you need a password to get through the door. Yes, it initially feels a little off-putting, like a douchey dance club, but the password can be found out either on their Facebook or Twitter. And once you’re in, you’re pretty much in dive bar paradise. Heavy-hitting jukebox, check. Stiff pours, check. Old, wooden booths and furnishings with sweet nothings and loud somethings etched into said wood, check. Other than the name, it’s not a pirate bar by the strictest standards, but sometimes I just want a no-nonsense bar with a campy, divey feel.

Play Action Trivia on Tuesdays, or if you really were jonesin’ for that part of K-town, you can also karaoke on Mondays (albeit on-stage, rowdy style and without the private rooms). As far as drinks, stick to the 1:2 pours or just go with whiskey neat. I’d be wrong to recommend it, but they do offer a “mystery shot” to bravely hapless drinkers.

***

I love unpredictibility. And I’ve always had a soft spot for outcasts. These little gems spread across the city offer scenes that are totally unexpected given the neighborhoods they occupy. Stop by one and prepare to be at least a little bit surprised.

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Townhouse/Del Monte Speakeasy
52 Windward Ave.
Venice, 90291
310.392.4040

Naya Sunset
3705 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
323.663.8268

R Bar
3331 W. 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.387.7227

The Best Pastries in West Hollywood: Luca on Sunset

Selection of Pastries

If you are ever reminiscent of France and in the mood for a beautifully buttery croissant, you need not travel any further than West Hollywood.

But not just anywhere in WeHo. Forget the scene and oversized, mediocre plates at The Griddle and walk two blocks toward Luca. At the cross-streets of Laurel and Sunset Boulevard lies the eatery that prepares some of the best pastries in the LA area. Only organic ingredients are used in all of their recipes, including organic flour in the construction of these beautifully baked goods – so you know that you’re only getting wholesome goodness.

The croissant is probably the best I’ve ever had. It comes out warm and embodies the perfect balance of flakiness, butteryness and finally, that pull-apart lusciousness in the center. The apple tart? To die for. The currant scone? A beautifully moist texture (despite the scone not having butter in its recipe). The blueberry muffin was super fresh. Clearly, no corners are cut at Luca – and this, I can tell from just the pastries.

And all this, without even having had a meal there, yet. I wonder what else is in store… (And I’ll have plenty of time to figure that out, since there’s free in-house WiFi.)

All pastries were hosted.

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Open daily

7 AM – 12 AM

Validated parking, Free WiFi

Luca on Sunset
7950 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
323.822.2900

Night + Market: The Best Happy Hour On Sunset Strip

Fried Pig Tail

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.

Fried Chicken

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”).

Papaya Salad

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 skewers 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. 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 free 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)!

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Open nightly

6 – 11 PM

Happy Hour: 6 – 8 PM Daily, All night Wed’s

Night + Market
(Enter through Talesai)
9043 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310.275.9724

The Huge Popovers at BLT Steak

Gruyere Popovers

This one is a bit of an oldie but goodie – and it appears on the blog today merely because my visit to BLT Steak is very belated. If you want to get a taste of the place without going for a full-blown dinner (which promises a perfectly-cooked steak, mind you), a good step to take would be to try out their Happy Hour, 5 at 5. It precisely means 5 available wine options plus 5 bar or lounge bites options at 5 PM. All of them are pretty solid.

You can handle that.

And even though popovers aren’t a part of the package, I recommend you get them, anyway. You won’t come across these big bad babies made nearly as well anywhere else in town. They’re crispy on the outside, soft and steamy (not too moist) with a touch of a gruyere on the inside. And the recipe below isn’t so sacred; each order comes with the recipe card. Could it be because they know it’s really that hard to replicate?

If you’re so enticed to try out Executive Chef Brian Moyers’ full menu as a result, all the better. After all, this is one of the few valid reasons to venture towards this end of Sunset Blvd. (Tip: The steak tartar is pretty awesome, too.)

BLT’s Popovers (Makes 12)

Ingredients:
4 cups milk, warmed
8 eggs
4 cups flour
1 1/2 heaping tbsp salt
2 1/4 cups grated gruyere cheese
Popover Pan

Preparation:
Place the popover pan in the oven. Heat the oven and pan to 350º
Gently warm the milk over low heat and set aside.
Whisk the eggs until frothy and slowly whisk in the milk (so as not to cook the eggs).

Set the mixture aside. Sift the flour with the salt.

Slowly add this dry mixture and gently combine until mostly smooth.

Once combined, remove the popover pan from the oven and spray with non-stock vegetable spray. While the batter in still slightly warm or room temperature (definitely not cool), fill each popover cup 3/4 full. Top each popover with approximately 2 1/2 tbsp of the grated gruyere.

Bake at 350º for 50 minutes, rotating pan half a turn after 15 minutes of baking.
Remove from pan and serve immediately.

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BLT Steak
8720 W. Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310.360.1950

Mondrian Sessions Offer (Good) Free Music, Poolside Vibe, Eclectic Crowd

Fool's Gold

Last week, I fortunately caught on Kevin Bronson’s Buzz Bands blog that LA-based Afro-pop group Fool’s Gold was playing at Skybar at The Mondrian for a free show. Sure, Arcade Fire was playing a surprise show the same night – and people had started lining up for tickets the night before – but that whole …shebang… was just not my bag.

It was Skybar and I had no trouble getting in. There were no sexagenarian gentlemen with appletinis and women half their age. In fact, it was a rather mixed crowd with a casual vibe. My Jameson, neat, was still $14 – no surprise – but more a product of The Sunset Strip than the fault of The Mondrian’s. This collaboration with IAmSound could mean that Skybar could be on to something and perhaps even turning a new page.

Fool’s Gold sounded great. With the exception of Surprise Hotel and Poseidon, the 5-piece (for the night, anyway) played all new material for over an hour. I was a wondrous hour filled with electric melodies – and lyrics in Hebrew – floating over African beats and rhythms. Saxophone, flute, bongos, guitar, drums – it really doesn’t get any more “world music” than this. I was surprised well everything was mixed.

So check out the dates for bands to come – including the awesome Dum Dum Girls tomorrow. It’s free – and all you have to do is email [email protected] to RSVP. Word is, the Lykke Li date is practically booked – but if you love her Swedish pop sound enough, it may be worth a try.

Thursday, February 17 – Dum Dum Girls
Saturday, February 19 – Ted Leo (Solo)
Saturday, February 26 – Zola Jesus
Thursday, March 10 – Lykke Li
Saturday, March 12 – Gonzales
Friday, April 8 – Twin Sister

See you poolside!

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Various dates: 8 PM – Midnight

Set time is usually 9 PM

RSVP:
[email protected]

Skybar at The Mondrian
8440 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Big Brew Selection With a Local Vibe at Beer Bar, Silver Lake

50 bottled beers, 5 taps

I’m a big fan of neighborhood bars – and a bar with a good vibe and beer selection is indeed a rare scene to find. Lo and behold, the people behind Bar Covell have occupied the adjacent space to Rambutan Thai and set up shop, offering 5 taps and over 50 bottles of brews.

Right wall of Beer Bar

Set at the scene of Silver Lake and Sunset boulevards, it’s a hop and a skip from Silverlake Lounge and Spaceland The Satellite – only two of the hottest places to see live music, making it a convenient place to come for a pre- or post-show beer…or five.

The list offers great Californias brews like Alesmith Speedway Stout, Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout and Russian River Valley Damnation – but if you choose to go European, they have plenty of that, too, with pours costing between $5-9 each. At the time of my visit, Lagunitas IPA, Urthel Hop-It, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, TAPS Barleywine and Allagash Black were all on tap. (Yum – especially the Urthel. A surprisingly well-balanced, hoppy blonde.)

That shuffleboard game thingy

They’ve also got a shuffleboard-air hockey-bowling type machine (don’t ask me, I never played it) if you feel like a game-of-something with your mates. Or just enjoy the perfectly-lit space and gaze at the upside-down canoe hanging from the ceiling. The ambiance is made in large part by the vintage neon signs hanging along the walls – a contribution by Joe Keeper, keeping the goods in the Silver Lake family.

Since opening a couple weeks ago, Beer Bar has also invoked their small menu of fried chicken and sides, prepared in the fryers of Rambutan, and only costing you $9 for a serving with two sides and $4 for fries. I’m jonesin’ to try the fried okra. Arrived after 10 PM on a weekday or 11 PM on a weekend (that is, after the kitchen’s closed)? Look no further than Hipster Pho, which neighbors Beer Bar and is actually an unmarked (thus the hipster) Thai place called Pho Cafe. Beer Bar generously lends its space to carry-in food, and even had the wares for me to eat my bowl of beef broth and rice noodles right at the bar. Ask the beer dude behind the counter to pair your food (pho or chicken – either way) with a beer of his choosing, and you’re set.

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Beer Bar at Rambutan Thai
2835 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
213.273.8424

Malo Celebrates Mexico’s Independence Day With Specials

Spicy Cucumber Margarita

In celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day tomorrow, Malo in Silver Lake will be featuring specials both at the bar and for dinner. The limited edition menu is a great occasion to celebrate Mexico’s independence with some unique cocktails – or, if you prefer, beer and tequila and special dishes created just for the night.

If are vegetarian or have vegetarian friends, this is also a great spot. Get the chewy or regular chips to dip in all of their delicious salsas and their special-to-tomorrow “Ghost Chile” salsa to start – great for everyone. Then finish off with some refried bean tostadas or braised beef with chile and cotija cheese. The crabmeat dish also sounds rather divine!

Check below for the full menu:

Bar Specials:

El Valiente
Can of Tecate with a shot of Milagro Silver $6

El Grito de Delores (The Battle)
Strawberry Mint Margarita $11

La Guerra (The Figther)
Cactus Prickly Pear Margarita $12

Dinner specials:

‘Ghost Chile’ Salsa and chips. Made from the Bhut Jolokia, (the hottest pepper in the world) with Grilled Tomatoes and Roast Garlic. $4

Mini Refried Black Bean Tostadas with Pico de Gallo and Tomatillo Crema (2) $5

Vegetarian Mashed Black Beans on Crispy Corn Tortilla Shells. $5

Beef Machaca Hard Shell Tacos with Salsa de Chile Chipotle Morita (2). $7

Braised Beef Cooked with Chile and Spices, then Shredded. With Cotija Cheese. $7

Red Chile Crab Salpicon on Cucumber Cups with Fresh Habanero Salsa (4). $10

Crabmeat mixed with chopped Chile, Cilantro, Lime Juice, and Escabeche Carrot. $10

Viva Mexico!!

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

5 PM – 11 PM

Malo Restaurant
4326 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA‎ 90029
323.664.1011‎

What I Learned From Getting Mugged

DeLongpre Park | Photo credit to mercycube on Flickr

There were many things about the place I moved from one month ago that had seen my tenancy surpass seven years, but the one that comes to mind other than affordability is that I was geographically in the center of Los Angeles. I never had to choose – I could drive as easily to Venice as to Silver Lake and come back again. But there came a point where I longed for my own home – even one that came with a neighborhood where I could walk and defy Missing Persons. A community. I was ready to commit to the community of my choosing.

A girl I met last week, subsequent to obligatory introductions, asked, “Into Hollywood?”

It didn’t bother me.

From Farmer’s Market on Sundays to the movie theatre, the largest independent music store and Trader Joe’s – I can walk anywhere, and I started to, immediately. What a nice park I have down the street. And as I walked in my new neighborhood coming to that park I saw the woman, darker-skinned and with waist-length dark brown and blonde dreads. 5’6″, 135 lbs (medium build). Orange tank top, jeans and jean shirt. I would sooner tell you I had no clue what her ethnicity is or countless haven’t surmised my own, eager to prove their ethnic guile and cunning. She crossed the street to turn her back to that fence and fiddle with her phone, as if that spot by that fence in front of me at the time was so much better than that other spot at which she just stood, I think, 15 feet away.

I had the headphones on – and of course this was a no-no after dusk but I was to learn, apparently also at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Targets are what targets do, and thankfully I wasn’t lost in my playlist as I heard those ungraceful footsteps run up from behind me. Instinctively, my right arm - the purse arm - tensed and clutched to my side. She grabbed my purse which was in my armpit and tried to run past. Instead, with my purse still attached to my shoulder, she boomeranged around back to me, whereby she started to land punches on my head and body. (So the witness told me, later. Calling the fight a “flash” in my recollection would be accurate.)

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