Archive for the Los Angeles Category

Went a little crazy at Bev-mo

Should make for several nights of good drinking.


We went to the LA Weekly/Jonathan Gold food festival at Smashbox studios in West Hollywood. Had a great time.

The preliminary info: We tried to buy tickets on Goldstar ($36) as soon as we heard about the event, but they were sold out. We found them at the full-priced supplier, TicketWeb, at $60. Since Goldstar had sold out, we made the purchase quickly on TicketWeb. Those were gone soon, too. We got two adults, and two kids ($10 – great deal). We opted for will-call rather than pay the $16 (I think) for them to be sent.

We rode our bikes over to the studios since it was a great day and we didn’t want to have to drive home after too much wine. We got there about 2:30 to get our tickets, but the didn’t open the gates, even for will-call, until 3:15. Then, we weren’t on the list, but fortunately I had brought a printout of my tickets so they just put bracelets on us and waived us through. The ticket area really had no idea of what was going on.

So the first area was an outdoor parking lot with maybe five stands and a Japanese beer stand. We had sausage slices from Wurstkuche (nothing special, but fine) and a good shrimp with habanero sauce from Babita Mexicuisine. But the real action was inside.

The first room was the largest, with a cash bar in the middle. That didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and they weren’t doing a lot of business there or at the other cash bar. With decent free wine and beer at the same level of the beer at the bar, who would pay? For the record, there were generally pretty good wines, and two great champagne vendors (Schramsberg and Piper-Heidsiek) but the beers (Singha, and, I think, Kirin) and the beers at the cash bar were all pretty low-end. I was surprised some better beer didn’t make an appearance.

In that first room, La Mill was serving cookies. I was a little let down that they didn’t have something better, and same at Beacon that had a simple snow pea and cheese salad. Then Providence has desserts only (which I came back for – not really my cup of tea). But then I hit Angeli and they had beet gnocchi over their insalate forte which are my two favorite menu items there. In addition, we met Evan Kleinman so it was nice to finally meet the woman who owns the place. That’s a regular haunt for us.

In that first room was also Renu Nakorn, who probably wins the prize for being most ready for the crowds. The food was good – the spicy, cold beef salad was fragrant and full of herbs. Definitely a winner.

Probably the second longest line of the festival was here, and I waited in it, and was rewarded. It was for Animal, and they were serving their pork belly with peanuts, scallions, kimchee (gone by the time I got there) and an asian sauce. I still don’t know how they do it, but it’s crispy and still falling-apart. They’ve got this down. I spoke to one of the owner/chefs – he had on the t-shirt from Au Pied du Cochon in Montreal, which has a very similar menu and vibe.

Then you go into a lounge with the other cash bar and the bottles of Fiji water and all the Pom drinks. I think they’re owned by the same woman (Linda Resnick?) and she really knows how to market. These have to have the cheapest ingredients on the planet, but a good story, and she makes a fortune off them.

OK – the next room has the longest line: Mozza, with Nancy Silverton dishing out burratta with pesto and roasted tomatoes (still on the vine). No question, excellent. The pesto wasn’t so strong as to overwhelm the cheese. And, maybe because we go there early, but the portion was really generous.

Next door was Clementine full of great desserts. Then, there was a restaurant called Alcazar that I hadn’t heard of. Of all the new places I found (not too many, really) this was hands-down the best. I’m linking to their site, but be careful. It’s loud. They’re in the valley but the owner said a new location was coming soon to Westwood. His muhamarrah was amazing, and the babagahnoush was smoky and the hummus was great, too. The falafel was crispy and light. The one thing I didn’t love was the spinach pie thing, but the rest was really, really good and I’ll definitely be a customer when I don’t have to go to the valley for it. I’m glad I found this place.

Next door was Lou, which I haven’t been to, but I had a good pulled pork on polenta concoction there.

At the big room in the back there were several restaurants I love. The first one was Loteria Grill, which is another place we frequent (both locations). They were serving potato and meat tacos, but also a new fried cheese taco with, I think, cactus, that was great. This place was swamped, but they were keeping up pretty well. They had some good drinks including a cucumber water that I liked.

Then there was Sona which had a complicated dish with salmon, salmon caviar, a gel of maybe ponzu, seaweed, and a radish from Chino farms. I probably had four of these. This was one of my top dishes. They also had a ginger and blood orange drink that even my kids liked.

More great restaurants in this room: Anisette, complete with Alain Giraud serving. I haven’t been there (yet) but now I surely will go. They served duck a l’orange on a stick with a peel, duck, and a piece of bread. My son dug it. But also, they had a frisee salad that was a real twist. It was a u-shaped toast with pancetta, frisee, and a lightly poached quail egg inside. It looked gorgeous (to me) and it spurted yolk in my mouth. Pretty perfect.

Hungry Cat had a great smoked salmon plate. They wrapped it around tandoori yogurt with dates. The tastes and textures worked really well together.

Lastly, Jitlada had their good spicy air dried beef and rice salad. As delicious as both were, I only went once. I found that and Renu Nakorn a little hard to deal with amid all of the European flavors. And I was concerned that the spiciness would numb me to the rest of the tastes.

I’m sure I left out some good items (Drago comes to mind, and there are more). I didn’t try Meals by Genet, but my wife loved it and the line was huge.

If I find any decent pictures in my camera, I’ll upload them.

Next year, we’re back, no problem. Just maybe some good beer? Maybe Craftsman even?

Renovation Update: More Demo

I had thought that the demo was largely done when I posted the last set of pictures, but that was not so. They’ve pulled out lots more, and they still haven’t yanked most of the windows. But in the meantime, they’ve done some framing and a lot of plumbing, so we’re making some good progress.

Now that the framing is in, we can see how the new layout will work. It’s not vastly different from what came before, but the tweaks are nice.

Started the Upstairs Renovation

Yes, yes, not the best of times to undertake a major home renovation, but we’ve been saving for it for years, and hopefully Christina’s job, at least, is relatively recession-proof. Plus, the contractors and subs want the work now, where two years ago, we’d have to wait in line.

So it’s happening. We’re now three days into demo, and as far as I can tell, 95% of what has to go away is gone. Some floor has to go, and the windows will go once the new ones arrive. But is pretty empty up there.

Here are the before pics and the first demo pics (from yesterday – even more is gone now):

Hopefully, I’ll have some pictures of the construction process soon. That, of course, will be 20x slower.

OK – this isn’t the greatest pic, but I think you can see what’s up. This is from the dinner I had at Rustic Canyon that I’m still dreaming about.

The descriptions are pretty much right on.

Last night, we ate at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. We don’t generally like to go out on Monday nights, but this was the night Rustic Canyon was having their seasonal beer pairing dinner. And it was worth it.

The dinner pairs six beers with four savory courses and a dessert. Here’s the set menu.

The first beer was basically a lambic, but brewed in the US, and without fruit: Jolly Pumpkin from Oro de Calabasa. Despite the name of the beer and the brewery, there was, thankfully, no squash involved. It was light, and served alone. This was pretty good – nice and fresh, and, as described by the beer sommelier, Christina, a good palate cleanser.

Then the food started. The bacon en croute looked very small and unassuming. But biting in made all the difference. Imagine a juicy chunk of soft bacon surrounded with flaky, moist dough, with rough salt on top. My friend Joe likened it to a high-end pig in a blanket. It was basically a juicy bite of bacon goodness. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture.

The bacon en croute was served with Black Orchard Wit from The Bruery. This was a dark wheat beer apparently, brewed in Upland. Frankly, although I like other beers from The Bruery, this one didn’t really do anything for me. It did a nice job of standing up to the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon without competing, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for it. I’d had the Orchard White before (at Father’s Office) and I liked it a lot, so I’m game for more from the Bruery – I might need to take a field trip down there.

The second food course was the persimmon, fig and fennel salad. I’m just recently starting to like persimmon, but this wasn’t like anything I’d had before. It was sliced thin and it was crunchy, almost like a green papaya salad at a Thai restaurant. In any event, the salad was very unexpected and delicious. But even better, the beer with this was from Browerij Bosteels in Belgium. It was their Tripel Karmeliet, and the information from Rustic Canyon said it was voted the best ale in some London tasting recently. It was amazing. I had three glasses. Monks don’t brew it anymore, apparently, but the recipe is 400 years old. This was the best beer of the bunch – similar to a Chimay Tripel (which seems to be part of the same brewery, maybe?) but better.

Then came the pumpkin ravioli, bathed in a brown butter sage sauce. Heavenly. And pretty good with the beer, even though the beer was, frankly, a little one dimensional. The Green Flash Nut Brown Ale was better than, say, Newcastle, but in the same ballpark. For this course, it was all about the pasta. For homemade dough, it was surprisingly rigid and really kept its form and had a nice bite. And it’s hard to not like pasta swimming in good butter.

So then came the main course – the duck confit. Crispy skin, juicy, fatty meat. Really incredible. I had a duck confit over at Comme Ca recently and it didn’t hold a candle to this. The veggies with it were fine, but the duck itself here was sensational. And the beer with this course was a winner also: Reserve, from Abbaye Binchoise (can’t find a link for the brewery). So maybe I have a weakness for Belgian beer, but this was another great one.

OK, so how do you finish a beer pairing menu with a dessert beer? You might think a chocolate beer would be the ticket, but Rustic Canyon went a different direction and finished with a chocolate cake, a plate of cookies (really good ones – gingerbread, shortbread, and lemon squares) and a beer that was finished in Jim Beam casks to give it a whisky-like flavor. That worked surprisingly well – and I had doubles of this one. The beer was Curieux from a brewery in Maine called Allagash.

I’m trying to figure out where to buy some of these beers in LA. The three I’m interested in are the two Belgians and the Allagash. They really floored me.

So after eating lots of wine pairing menus over the years, I finally found a beer menu. As much as I like wine, I’m not generally bowled over by how well it pairs with certain foods, nor am I really able to identify flavors as carefully as many. It’s not that I don’t like wine with food – quite the contrary – it’s just that I don’t usually recognize as much of a symbiosis between wine and food as I did last night with beer and food. And I feel like the range of wines typical in pairings like this just doesn’t go nearly as far as this went. Usually, you get some white, some red, and some sparkling wine. The breadth of different flavors in these beers just went further – and clearly, there are a lot more possibilities out there. And one of my least favorite types of beer – IPA – was totally absent.

I’ll definitely be going back to Rustic Canyon for another beer pairing menu. It sounds like they have one each season, but the winter one might be a bit late since the woman in charge, Christina, has a book coming out, and that’s taking up her time. But, if I can get four of these a year, one in each season, I’ll be there.

From the vantage point of four days after my half-marathon in Long Beach, certain thoughts have been recurring in my mind about the run. There are always several situations in which you wish you’d performed differently, figuring that a different action would have produced a different result. I don’t really consider myself a competitive person, but my time was slower than a previous time of mine, and I’ve been thinking about why.

One concrete mistake we made that day was in arriving a little too late. By the time you get through traffic (yes, the 710 freeway to Long Beach was completely stopped at 6:30 AM on a Sunday due to the race traffic), then get a parking spot, then wait for the bathroom line, and then enter the crush, you are nowhere near the front. In our case, our times put us in Corral A, up near the front of the pack. They space runners by expected finishing time to try to keep the traffic spreading out over the length of the run, rather than compressing, or forcing runners to pass each other. But we started too far back, so we spent a lot of time (and some energy) passing other runners, or being constrained to running slower than we would have liked. You could argue that running slower saved us energy that we could use later on, but I don’t think it’s a zero-sum situation. I’d have been better off running a bit faster in the beginning, rather than shaving almost a minute off my per-mile time for the second half.

So starting the race at essentially the four minute mark meant that I would need to pass a lot of runners in front of me who intended to run more slowly.

The image that struck me the most during the run was of a man about halfway through the race. As mentioned, I was passing a great deal of people who had stared in front of me. This one man in particular was probably about 60, and he was absolutely drenched with sweat. People definitely sweat different amounts, so this wasn’t surprising – he was probably just the type to sweat more. But as I got closer, I heard him huffing and puffing. When I got a look at his face, it was clear to me that he was operating at peak capacity – really pushing himself. By comparison, this made me realize that I was, in a sense, just phoning it in. If I were to run that hard, I’d have a much better finishing time, and I’d be totally wiped. I’d also get a much better work out. But I just don’t think I have it in me to go at peak capacity like that.

As always, I could have trained more, gotten more sleep the night before, carb-loaded more carefully, etc. But I’m pretty happy with my time. And I had felt that this would be my last run for a while, but, actually, it reinvigorated me, and so I’m ready to go again.

Missed it by *That* Much

I ran the Long Beach half marathon on Sunday, and, while I did much better than my time last year, I didn’t quite get under the two hour mark. Of course, had I known I’d miss it by two seconds, I’m guessing I could have powered out a few steps to pull it off.

I always say that next time I’ll train better, or carbo load better, or get more sleep, or something. In the end, I felt like I phoned in the prep work, but I really did fine. So maybe that’s the way to go: don’t prepare at all, and just go out and run.

I also claimed this would be my last run for a while, but I had a great time running with friends, and I wasn’t totally wiped afterward, so I think I’ll go again, when the time comes. I keep dreaming of getting under 1:50, but once I calculate it out, that seems wildly impossible. So I’m content, and next time I’ll shave 10 seconds off this.

I love Wordles!

Staying in Oakhurst at Chateau du Sureau

We don’t usually stay at such nice hotels, but it’s my wife’s birthday weekend, and we’re picking up the kid from camp, and the next-nicest hotel in town is the Best Western, so we thought we’d splurge. Just so you don’t think we’re crazy, we did spend the first night at the Best Western Yosemite Gateway for a quarter the price – and it was totally fine.

But this place is really pretty wonderful. It’s called Chateau du Sureau and also Erna’s Elderberry House. Erna has developed this hillside into, first, a restaurant, then hotel, then added a private villa, then a spa. It’s so different from anything else up here – just worlds apart.

The resort (maybe a strong word for a ten room hotel) started to be developed in 1984 – probably there was little in Oakhurst at the time, and it certainly wasn’t the strip-mall mountain community it was today. I picture this place having once been a mountain hideaway. Then the town grew closer and closer . . . but the hillside is private and gorgeous.

Breakfast table set for us outsideour breakfast table

We have a wonderful room, comfortable, well-appointed, with amazing beds, and, maybe best of all, no TV. There is a stereo, even with an iPod/iPhone doc, but that’s it in terms of entertainment. There’s a nice pool, although it actually got a bit crowded since it has only four lounge chairs. But the real key is the service.

From the moment you pull up, the staff is there to assist, and not in a stuffy way, but in a friendly way. For me, someone who isn’t really accustomed to fancy service, they made me feel comfortable from the first minute. They knew our names, offered us drinks and snacks, took care of the car and the luggage, etc. 

The restaurant was pretty extraordinary. For Los Angeles, this would be a high-end restaurant. For this area, this is a gem. The restaurant is in the style of something like Chez Panisse. There’s really no selecting what you get, except in the cases of dietary restrictions and kids. Many dishes actually contain elderberry reductions. Turns out, elderberries are actually native to the area, so that’s why Erna chose them to be the theme of the restaurant and hotel. They taste good too.

In trying to figure out why I found the Chateau du Sureau to be so comfortable, I think part of it is the great attitude – friendly, there to help, but not over-formal – and part is the all-inclusiveness. I’ll never forget another splurge-trip to Bacara above Santa Barbara, where every step I took entailed some extra charge, and the bill was itemized like from the grocery store. Not the case here. Pretty much everything is included, even the gratuities.

So, in the end, if you’re in this part of the state, and you’re looking for a nice break, I highly recommend the Chateau. Or if you’re looking for a nice getaway, it’s about the right distance from LA or San Francisco also.