Event: Food & Wine and Buick Discovery Tour

Buick Discovery Tour in Westlake Village

I stared blankly at the e-mail in my inbox, wondering how on earth she found me. Me, one of the rare unicorns who do not drive in Los Angeles. Yet there it was in my inbox. Buick. As in the oldest American automotive company still in production. Inviting me to the Food & Wine Buick Discovery Tour! Shriek!
I thought I was going to have to break our hearts and say no, no, I couldn’t possibly go to your event – but wait. What was that, Buick? You teamed up with Food & Wine Magazine to tour across the nation together with three top chefs who will be demoing their amazing, award winning food? Plus wine? At the Four Seasons? Well…all right. Time to zip along and give the 2013 Buick Discovery Tour a test drive!
You really twisted my arm there, Buick.

Buick’s first commercial car: The 1904 Model-B

Waterfall and Pond - Four Seasons Westlake Village
Pond & Waterfall – Four Seasons Westlake Village

The event itself took place in the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley, which I struggled to grasp why at first; upon realizing it was the Four Seasons, though, I understood perfectly. The above photo was taken in their majestic backyard.

Cheese Plate - Buick Discovery Tour
Cheese Platter

We arrived with just enough time to register and grab a plate of appetizers: cheese, crackers, fruits and meat. The day was divvied up into three rotating, 30-minute modules for three separate groups, organized by color. My group, Team Grey, was the first to be taken out to the Buick Test Drive.

Buick Discovery Tour
Buick Verano

Now, long time readers of Glass of Win know that your beloved hostess does not drive. I’d warrant to say most of you even know I do not, nor have I ever, possessed a driver’s license. I break out into hives and hyperventilate if I am put in the driver’s seat of a car. Any car. Hence, my lovely assistant and car enthusiast, mom. Mom and I are very close and half of our positive mother/daughter bonding during my childhood came from road trips. Being born with a chronic illness, it is all too easy to grow up with memories of ones parents exclusively associated with time spent at hospitals; thankfully, though, I have these road trip memories to balance that out.

Buick Discovery Tour - LaCrosse
Buick LaCrosse

Mom and I spent many hours going from central California to her little hometown in Southern California, then the big move across America had mom going warp speed down America’s great highway with her elderly mother, my older brother and my bratty 6 year old self. When it was time to say goodbye to New England, my mom refused to go without first taking a long, leisure camping road trip up and down the New England states – plus Washington D.C. for good measure. Our biggest road trip of all soon followed: three weeks trekking across the U.S.A. Just mom, a preteen me and my cat, Mr. Destiny. It was amazing and made our life living back east come full circle. We drove into Pennsylvania, and we drove out.

Mom test driving a Buick
Mom test driving her first Buick

Between the Verano and LaCrosse, mom enjoyed the LaCrosse. She described it as being an effortlessly smooth drive, “zippy” like a sports car but still practical and a good size. She was especially smitten with all of the technology going on on the dashboard. All right, mom, I know it’s called the Buick Discovery Tour and you want to drive off into the sunset, but we have to get going to the modules in my wheelhouse!

The Olive Orchard - Olive Oils
The Olive Orchard

As we waited for the next session to empty and be set up for our group, The Olive Orchard was demoing several of their flavored olive oils. My favorite was actually the hot pepper flavored olive oil. Yum!

Demo by Raphael Lunetta - Buick Discovery Tour
Chef Raphael Lunetta of JiRaffe

Raphael Lunetta - Owner and Chef of JiRaffe Restaurant
Food & Wine Magazine ‘Best New Chef’ Raphael Lunetta

Our first demo was provided by chef Raphael Lunetta, owner and chef at JiRaffe Restaurant in Santa Monica. You may recognize him as a guest judge on Bravo channel’s Top Chef. “The Surfing Chef” as he is known in some circles, is also a native Southern Californian, growing up in the same area as his restaurant now resides. As we’re always proud of our own, mom insists a trip to JiRaffe is in the near future. OK, the press kit she was eyeballing for the rest of the day might have influenced her declaration just a tad.

Filet of Beef with Potato and Pear Gratin
Filet of Beef with potato & pear gratin
red flame grapes, sautéed swiss chard, julienne hearts of palm, Madeira reduction

Working with limited space, 25 minutes and even a blackout, Chef Lunetta proved his mutton as he whipped up this amazing dish. The aroma of garlic, butter, shallots and Madeira was making my mouth water; the trays circulating the individual sampling’s arrived in just the nick of time! The message Chef instilled upon the audience was that good, quality and impressive food does need not take all day to prepare. He was able to take a couple of questions before our time was up, and I found this one to be worthy of passing on:

Q: Does meat need to be room temperature before cooking?

A: Chef Lunetta said this was an “essential” method for French cooking, and to be done especially if you intend your meat to be rare in the center.

Ben Roche at Buick Discovery Tour
Ben Roche of Baume and Brix

Progressive Pastry Demo by Ben Roche
Ben Roche

Time to move on to our third module: Progressive Pastry with Ben Roche. Oh, Ben. Ben. Ben. Ben. Firstly, I had the luxury of a front row seat and all I could do was resist the urge to banish my mother to the back of the room with a temperamental, “You’re cramping my style, mom!” and make moon eyes at the man on stage. Then he said something about being from Chicago, my heart was broken and I bravely soldiered on. Oh, well. At least there was going to be dessert to drown my sorrows in, right? OK, back to professional mode. Ben was the pastry chef at the famous (infamous?) Moto, known for its avant-garde molecular gastronomy as well as co-wrote and co-starred in “Future Food” on Discovery’s Planet Green network. His latest endeavor with colleague Thomas Elliot Bowman is the savory/sweet culinary adventure, Baume & Brix in Chicago.

Dessert: Yuzu Chiboust
Yuzu Chiboust
coconut rice pudding, caraway ice cream

I think there is something of a mad scientist inside all innovative pastry chefs; baking is indeed the edible side of chemistry and I think I caught a whisper of Dr. Jekyll in Chef Roche as his recipe began to spring to life. It was an instant crowd pleaser; I think I caught a few distinguished looking middle aged Asian women licking their plates. Just sayin’.
Favorite quotes from Chef Ben include:
“Don’t pour hot sugar in a high molten lava speed spinning bowl of death.”
“You use a candy thermometer. I have robot eyes. I can tell when it’s done.”
“If you happen to have liquid nitrogen just lying around…”
“If you need a big fire for a small amount of time, light up [some] rice noodles.”

Wine Demo - Buick Discovery Tour
Wine Demo with Michael Green

Michael Green schooling us on Wine
Michael Green, wine man extraordinaire

I don’t know how to adequately describe Michael Green. To say he is a connoisseur of wine would be an understatement. He is Bacchus himself: jovial, bombastic and utterly zealous about wine.

White Wine Sampling
White Wine from Rodney Strong Vineyards

How to Order Wine Demo
Our Wine Sampling

With his unique grandiose charisma, Michael taught the audience the “Six S’s of Wine Tasting”: see, swirl, smell, sip, swish and spit. He broke down the intimidating barriers of wine, delving into the nitty gritty of the glorious libation; making it fun and accessible even to the most timid of wine novices. We played with the ways food can influence the taste wine, using a lemon to enhance the sweetness of a Chardonnay and a nibble of high cacao chocolate to bring out the woodiness of the red. It was all very scientific, really. Of course, since this was a no spitting kind of demonstration, we had no choice but to enjoy our wine as the demonstration moved out to our final speaker.

Chef Michael Psilakis
Chef Michael Psilakis of Kefi | FishTag | MP Taverna | No Kitchen Required (TV)

The eldest first generation son in a traditional Greek family on Long Island New York, the self-proclaimed “Philosophical Chef” Michael Psilakis took us on a journey to help us appreciate his approach to food and life. Chef Michael had a pyramid of priorities that went something akin to: Food. Restaurant. Family. The food and work came first. All of the hard work, the accolades, the success – what more could he want? Then his father, the man who inspired him the most, dies and Chef sat down to write down his memories. Upon reflection, Chef realized that everything important his father ever said, advised or bonded with him was over food. His father used food as the catalyst to plant the seed for memories. Food is life.

Food Demo Monitor - Michael Psilakis
Food Monitor

As Chef Michael prepared his sampling, my eyes were continually drawn to this television monitor with the camera angled over the demonstration space. That way the audience could see what Chef was doing as he did it. Clever.

Michael Psilakis - Gyro Spiced Slider
Gyro Spiced Slider
Tsatziki sauce, cornichons to garnish

My mother’s eyes lit up as this beauty was served. She is a nut for Greek food, while I am a little more reserved about it. After taking a bite of this tender morsel, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to let Chef Michael steer me in the direction of more dishes from his father’s homeland. Simply delicious and unique enough to mix up the usual BBQ fare. Perfect to serve at a summer barbecue.

Yours Truly with How to Roast a Lamb
Yours truly with How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis

As a surprise, Chef Michael gifted everyone in the audience with a signed copy of his book, How to Roast a Lamb. Over 300 pages of gorgeous Mediterranean food to try at home!

Definitely not a terrible way to spend a Sunday. If you find yourself able to hop on the Buick Discovery Tour, I say take that ride.

Event: LACO à la carte Series

I could really never be accused of being a fancy-pants kind of person with fancy-pants tastes and inclinations, but I have been known, from time to time, to wipe the dust off my finest duds, slap on a couple pounds of make-up and run a brush through my hair for an evening of class. Case in point: the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra “à la carte” series, which runs annually to raise funding for LACO: benefiting their community engagement programs as well as the concert series so they may continue to bring music and joy to others.

What exactly is an a la carte series, you ask? From the press release: “Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) offers music lovers an opportunity to enjoy five intimate, elegant and entertaining “LACO à la carte” fundraising events pairing delectable international cuisine and exclusive musical performances in the spectacular private homes of the consuls general of the Czech Republic, Armenia and Austria as well as at Pacific Palisades’ historic Villa Aurora (Germany) and a magnificent private estate in Pasadena (China). Adding a special flourish to the season and illustrating that music truly knows no boundaries, each event features a different style of cuisine complimented by a salon performance by LACO musicians and guest artists.”

Out of the five programs, I was able to attend two: Germany à la carte, at the historic Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, and Austria à la carte held at the Brentwood home of the Austrian Consul General. Each night featured salon performances – which is an old world carry-over term for a small group of musicians performing in an intimate setting. I would guess that no more than 80 people seemed to be in attendance at both the Germany and Austrian a la carte evenings, so I count myself lucky to have been able to be there!

Food for both the Germany and Austrian à la carte was provided by The Spot Gourmet.

Germany à la carte

Official Description: Concertmaster Margaret Batjer is spotlighted on the occasion of her 15th anniversary with LACO at a cosmopolitan evening showcasing the culinary riches of Germany hosted by Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades. This spectacular artists’ residence and historic landmark, set high on a hill overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, is described as a “true castle by the sea” by German novelist and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann, who, along with playwright Bertolt Brecht and filmmaker Fritz Lang, is one of many famed émigrés to have socialized there with such icons as Charlie Chaplin. Batjer performs a selection of works tailored to the enchanted evening.

It was quite the journey to get up to Villa Aurora as it was at the tippy top of a hill, the very opposite of where attendees had to park. A van took people in sets of six, winding up and up until we arrived at a very unassuming gate. Going through said gate delivered guests to a fabulous tiled courtyard of the Moorish artists retreat Aurora Villa.

LACO Germany a la carte
Descending to the Courtyard

My favorite architectural feature of Aurora Villa:

LACO Germany a la carte
Carved Wooden Beam Heads

Wine, beer and water was available alongside appetizers whizzing by on carried silver trays. It took all of my will not to just follow them into the kitchen, or wait directly outside of the kitchen door so I could pounce on each fresh tray.

LACO Germany a la carte
Hollywood Blonde Beer. Even better with lime.

LACO Germany a la carte
Salmon & Sour Cream on Savory Pancakes

LACO Germany a la carte
Cobblestone Chardonnay Wine

LACO Germany a la carte
Bratwurst with Prepared Mustard

The back patio offered spectacular views of Los Angeles, stretching all of the way to the Pacific:

LACO Germany a la carte

LACO Germany a la carte

As much as I’d like to stick around and admire the views, it’s time for the salon performance.

LACO Germany a la carte
Piano in the Salon

LACO Germany a la carte
Margaret Batjer on violin

Our program featured Margaret Batjer on the violin, performing Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in G major, Op. 30 in three movements, and Brahms Violin Sonata in D minor, Op 108 with four movements.

After the lovely music, it was time to gather to the library for the buffet set up by The Spot Gourmet.

LACO Germany a la carte

LACO Germany a la carte

LACO Germany a la carte

My favorites included sauerbraten, roasted potatoes, baby carrots, rustic breads and the black forest chocolate cookie (with gooey cherries in the center!). My lovely assistant (AKA Mom) loved the salmon and cabbage rolls with sauerkraut.

We sat among German-born, the Chamber Music enthusiasts and patrons of the Arts, and the wife of the German Consul General. Our conversation took an interesting turn with Helena, an 80-something year old tapestry artist who had words of female empowerment and encouragement for both my mother and I. Her doting younger husband stood by her all evening, a human shield as Helena shuffled along with her walker. They were the cherry on top of an already enchanting evening.

Austria à la carte

Official Description: Karin Proidl, Consul General of Austria, hosts an evening at the stately Austrian residence in Brentwood that illuminates the dazzling cultural and musical vibrancy of Vienna with a lively performance by LACO Principals Josefina Vergara, violin II, and Nico Abondolo, bass, who are also husband and wife. Vienna, with its delightful sidewalk cafes, pastry shops, prized beers and white wines and compelling art, music and architecture, is also celebrated as a haven for gourmands with the emergence of a sophisticated culinary movement, embracing fresh, seasonal and local produce.

The Austria a la carte evening was definitely more intimate, as it took place in proper residence, owned by the Austrian government to house their Consulate Generals for something around forty years now.

Consul General of Austria in Los Angeles Karin Priodl and LACO a la carte Chair Mahnaz Newman
Photo Credit: Jamie Pham | via Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations

Representing her country with a welcoming grace and an air of strength every woman in position of power ought to possess was Austrian Consul General Karin Priodl. My feminist senses were tingling just knowing this single, childfree woman was our hostess of the evening. I had to fight the urge to hug her and cry, “ROCK ON, SISTER! SOLIDARITY!” Refinement is an acquired skill for me.

The evening started with h’orderves, wine and conversation.

LACO à la carte: Austria
Cheese Toast

I’m probably the best frenemy of an event server; I’m always happy to see them, but I want them to put a halt to their procession through the crowd so I can get in a quality photograph. Unfortunately, most of my photos were taken as other hungry attendees descended on these quick bites.

LACO à la carte: Austria
Proidl Wines

Soon it was time to gather in the salon and enjoy the set by husband and wife duo: Josefina Vergara, violin II, and Nico Abondolo, bass. It goes without saying that they are dizzyingly talented, but Nico also charmed us with his wit and commentary throughout the performance.

LACO Principal Violin II Josefina Vergara and Principal Bass Nico Abondolo in performance
Photo Credit: Jamie Pham | via Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations

The program was broken into five sprightly pieces: GF Handel – Sonata VIII for violin in four movements; Francois Couperin – Troisieme Concert in A major from Concerts Royaux in five movements; JS Bach – Sonata for violin and Continuo in E minor, BWV 1023 in two movements; Bela Bartok – Selections from 44 Duos for violins, arranged by Nico himself; and Astor Piazzola – Five Tangos for violin and double bass.

All of that culture certainly whips up an appetite, so it was time to head over to the buffet and enjoy some Austrian food provided by The Spot Gourmet Catering.

LACO à la carte: Austria

LACO à la carte: Austria

LACO à la carte: Austria
Dessert Tier

Once again, Spot Gourmet knocks it out of the park with this authentic Austrian feast. As I was sitting among both Austrian-born and Austrian-descendants, I heard first-hand just what was spot-on. My favorites of the night include: pork loin with dijon, red cabbage salad, spaetzle with garnet yam and chocolate cake with kirsch.

For me, the highlight of these event is not the food (GASP!) nor the wonderful music, but the lovely people I sat with at each meal and got to know over food. Music and food: uniting foreign relations since the dawn of civilization. Well played, LACO. Well played.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra


Event: Backyard Winemaker Dinner – San Luis Obispo

Apple Farm Inn and Restaurant

Last week I told you about Apple Farm Inn – the boutique hotel in San Luis Obispo, right off the 101 freeway. The purpose of my visit was to experience the Backyard Winemaker Dinner, a monthly dinner focused entirely around the wines of a featured local winemaker. On this evening, the wines of Pipestone Vineyards were sampled, and there to introduce and educate us was Jeff, who along with his wife Florence, operate and own Pipestone Vineyards. Specializing in handmade Estate Grown Rhône-style wines from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, & Viognier and a dry farmed Zinfandel, Pipestone Vineyards also boats sustainable green farming techniques such as solar-power, composting and drip irrigation system.

Pipestone Vineyards Apple Farm Inn and Restaurant

As the dinner focused around the wine, chefs Stephan Walls and Steven Smeets had the task of not only figuring out which dish would highlight which wine, but how to incorporate this dinner around their locavore and seasonal eating philosophy. Their Ode to the Tomato menu, initially designed in 2011 to highlight the tomatoes of Sycamore Mineral Springs and other local farms, returned to the dinner table once again.

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Crostini – Fig Jam – Manchego

We started our evening off with some nibbles and ‘champagne’ from the Apple Farm private label; mixing and mingling as diners filed out onto the expansive patio and found a seat for themselves and any company. Annette, my sister, and I grabbed our name placards and placed them down on two fine looking seats in front of the gazebo. I made her sit to my left, as I am left-handed and did not want to bump elbows with a stranger, thus making a jackass out of myself!

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn

As our hosts introduced the venue, vineyards and food, we started off with some snacks:

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Pickled Sweet Onion and Yellow Beets

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Casteleavano Olives

I love a salty-sweet bite to wake my taste buds up. I had just a nibble, though, because it was soon time for the first course and first wine pairing from Pipestone.

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Pipestone 2008 Grenache

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Tomato, Eggplant Soup with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

I was pleasantly surprised at how prominent the eggplant came across in this soup. I like that the cheese was light, though I did add some pepper for an extra zip.

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Tomato tartlet with duck confit, goat cheese, and roasted garlic

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Pipestone 2009 Zinfandel

I get a little nervous with any dish that carries duck because of how very wrong it can go. However, the duck here was pleasantly light and the crust of the tart easy to cut through. The zinfandel was definitely made for food; and not for my palate to drink on its own.

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Grilled Pacific swordfish with tomato balsamic reduction sauce
Tomato, bulgar and pine nut pilaf

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Pipestone 2008 Syrah

I wasn’t very fond of the swordfish, but the bulgar pilaf was was an overall crowd favorite. Something healthy, right? I did not finish the Syrah; it was too woody for my liking.

Serenading Spencer - Apple Farm Inn and Restaurant
Our entertainment

This is Spencer, the ridiculously talented son of the manager of Apple Farm Restaurant. He not only serenaded us the entire night, but took to our light jabbing at his young age and music knowledge with a good spirit. I was impressed when I saw him the next morning working as a server in the restaurant. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and is much deserved of this shout out. Holler, Spencer!

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Cabernet marinated flat iron steak with tomato chimichurri

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Pipestone 2008 Rhone style red

I ate more of this steak than I care to admit. I am sad that I could not get my camera to focus appropriately, but the masses were demanding their meat and I could not fiddle with it any longer. This dish inspires me to soak a nice cut of beef with some red wine and grill it. Hmmm – ideas…!

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn

Backyard Winemaker Dinner - Apple Farm Inn
Upside-down caramel pecan and green tomato pie
point Reyes bleu cheese creme anglaise

I was too full to eat the entire dessert, but it was a very sweet ending to a great night under the stars. The port, which I do not believe was Pipestone, was a rich addition that I appreciated. Man, I love port.

It was an incredible evening of good food, good wine and good conversation. I think more restaurant/vineyard team ups need to trickle down here in L.A. County, though I would definitely say this event is worth making the road trip for. My sister told me she’s never had a happier birthday and that sentiment alone is worth my endorsement of the Apple Farm Backyard Winemaker Dinner series.

Pipestone Vineyards
2040 Niderer Road
Paso Robles, CA


Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant
2015 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, CA


The meal and drinks were on the house, but all opinions and wording remain my own!

Drago Centro Fall Cocktail Tasting

I kid you not it was approximately 100 degrees on the day the fall cocktail tasting at Drago Centro was scheduled. I’m not being hyperbolic, either; I don’t need to be with 100 degree weather. It’s true fact. So by the time I sat down on the sofa of the outdoor lounge I was more than ready for a cool libation (or two, or ten.) Thankfully some bites off of the bar/happy hour menu were also provided so prevent outright disorderly conduct. Ben.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
autumn’s deluge
karlsson’s vodka, breckenridge bitters, white grapes, lemon, simple syrup, arugula, prosecco

When I read “prosecco” I foolishly assumed this would be sweet, but it was rather bitter. It kind of grew on me over the course of the night, but the highlight for me was the booze-soaked raisins.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
il tagliere di affettati | charcuterie

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
fried gnocco

While I wasn’t a fan of the fried gnocco, I could have eaten most of the charcuterie plate by my lonesome. Great house selection.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
break maiden
larceny bourbon, fig shrub, byrhh, mint

I wrote one word to describe this drink: “Burny.” I stand by my opinion. I would not care to order anything with bourbon; it is just not my liquor of choice.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
il tagliere di formaggi assortiti | cheese selection

The camembert with apricot and candied walnuts were amazing. It was very difficult to share this!

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
campfire dawn
pierde almas puritita mezcal, clear creek eau de vie of douglas fir, scrappy’s lime bitters, fee bros. mint bitters, sugar

Smoky and strong. In other words, I am too much of a pansy for this drink.

Drinks at Drago Centro
through the looking glass
oxley gin, earl grey tea, cardamaro, sugar beet syrup, citric acid, cream, nutmeg

Sweet and heady. Still a little too boozy for my sensitive palate, but I could handle this one better than most.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
la pizza al pesto
pesto, ricotta, spinach, bacon

An interesting combination of toppings that I would love to replicate, though I’d swap out the bacon for prosciutto.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
indochina ti
smith and cross rum, coconut milk, thai basil, red bell pepper, serrano date syrup, lime, angostura bitters

A little too outlandish for me, but this spicy potion was well received by the other guests.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
savoy rouge
bank note scotch, creme yvette, house rose vermouth, reagan’s orange bitters, cocktail kingdom wormwood bitters

Another “burny” drink that was appreciated by finer drinkers than I. Strong and stiff.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
la pizza margherita
mozzarella, tomato, basil pizza

This flatbread pizza was my favorite, as it was the simplest. At only $4.00, it is a sure-fire steal for a crowd pleasing happy hour snack.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
tapatio blanco tequila, prickly pear cactus, cardamom honey, chive, lime, orange blossom water

I was looking forward to this drink all evening, and was slightly disappointed that it did not meet my desire for sweetness. Still, this one was another crowd favorite and my palate eventually warmed to it, or at least was morbidly curious enough to continue to sip it.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
il calzone ai funghi e tartufo
filled pizza, ricotta, mushrooms, truffles

Get rid of the truffles and I’d be all over this. I’m over the truffle craze (truthfully, I never got on that bandwagon and cannot fathom it.) The truffles overwhelmed everything else and it was a little too heavy after everything we’d eaten. Great for soaking up a lot of alcohol, though, so apropos? I’m glad this was a favorite with the others; more margharita for me.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
American Hillbilly
bulleit rye, pancetta and rosemary infused maple syrup, lemon juice, bar keep baked apple bitters, forbidden bitters

My favorite drink of the night, hands down, and I’m not just saying that because I am the descendant of hillbillies. Or am I? Sweet, slightly savory, this was like a boozy spiced cider and really hit the spot for me. The rosemary was just the hint of outdoorsy that added a twang of banjo touch.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
i due kobe hamburgers
mini kobe beef burgers, mushrooms, fontina

I sneaked two of these tasty morsels. Definitely one of my favorite bar bites of the night.

Cocktails at Drago Centro
rosie carver
fords gin, aylesbury vodka, lillet rose, smoked infused ice

Another sturdy, medicinal drink. Can I just order a mojito? Whisky sour? Sidecar? These drinks are just too high-brow for me, someone who drank PBR in a non-ironic way.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
la panna cotta alla vaniglia
vanilla panna cotta, market berries, rosemary puff pastry

Another bit of food I was forced to share, but did not want to. For someone who went 29 years without trying panna cotta, I seem to be making up for it now.

Autumn Cocktail Preview - Drago Centro
long for yesterday
pink pigeon rum, espelette syrup, tempus fugit creme de cacao, miracle mile chocolate chili bitters, cream, soda

Another deceptive drink that I was expecting to be sweet but ended up being bitter. Ah, well. At least I enjoyed the chocolate dipped biscuit that adorned it!

If you’re into strong, stiff cocktails where you really taste every single one of the fresh ingredients and quality alcohol, I definitely recommend planning a cocktail date in your near future. This tasting was a celebration of bar manager and mixologist Jaymee Mandeville’s creativity, and a rather shameless exhibition of my taste in drinks. As for me, I’ll be eating the bar bites and sticking to the kind of drinks that come with little paper umbrellas.

Drago Centro
525 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, 90071
Tel: 213.228.8998

FTC Disclosure: While the drinks and bites were on the house, all wording and opinions remain my own!

Event: Burger Haven Grand Opening (Pasadena)

Not so long ago I mentioned that the glazed pork ears from Haven Gastropub was one of my favorite items at the LA Street Food Fest, despite having never stepped into their Old Town Pasadena establishment before. Bread and Butter PR decided to rectify this immediately and invited me to the inauguration of Burger Haven, the restaurant-within-a-restaurant casual dining experience from the masterminds of Haven Gastropub.

Powering through an unfortunate bout of food poisoning (from an upmarket grocery store that shall remain nameless), I still managed to make it just in time for the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Wil Dee, Chef Greg Daniels and Ace Patel

With the lure of a free juicy burger of their choice to the first 100 customers, it came as no surprise to me when I arrived to see a line wrapped around the corner, eventually stretching to Green Street:

Line for Haven Burger

Despite the heat, the crowd was strong and gaining in numbers. The staff of Haven Gastropub made sure to hand out menus to ensure an efficient ordering process once the time came to open the doors. One of the owners took the ribbon from the cutting ceremony and created a memento out of it by having everyone in line (before the doors opened) sign it.

Ribbon Memento

While the doors did not exactly open at 11:00am on the dot, as an eye witness on the inside, I can attest to the fact that the staff was doing a last minute quality control meeting, taking bites of each burger to make sure it was consistently matching the standards of which chef Greg Daniels envisioned.

Sitting among the ladies of Bread and Butter, we ordered four burgers between us:

McCormick Alley Burger
McCormick Alley Burger
paso prime grass-fed beef | grafton 2 yr. aged cheddar | bacon stout jam | shaved red onion | butter lettuce | house sauce

I almost did not order this burger because I usually do not like bacon on my burger, but not only was I assured that the bacon was part of the jam, it also did not smother the burger with an overabundance of bacon-y taste. How very correct my advisers were and I love that the McCormick is there for those of us who enjoy a traditional burger with a centralized twist.

Shake and Bake
Mary’s free range chicken | corn flakes coating | rosemary mashed potatoes | collard greens | gravy | honey mustard | jalapeno-habanero bun

A big winner at my table, the Shake and Bake is a superb alternative to red meat, or if you’re in the mood for a Southern inspired change-up. It was a wee too heavy on the starch for my liking, but the gravy and potatoes did an excellent job of masking the collard greens, which I typically do not indulge in. The chicken was very tender on the inside while maintaining a satisfying crunch on the outside.

The Veg - Burger Haven , Pasadena
The Veg
cheddar cheese polenta | vegetarian black beans | hatch chili | house sauce | fried green tomatoes | pickles | jalapenos

I cannot comment on this as I did not try it, but the two ladies who did split it said they enjoyed it quite a bit. I asked how prevalent the cheddar was within the polenta and received a so-so response from both. Nice to know there is a non-soy based vegetarian option out there, and bonus points for the ingenious use of fried green tomatoes.

Here's the Kicker - Burger Haven
Here’s the Kicker
paso prime grass-fed beef | habanero + smoked serrano powder | blistered jalapenos | pickled ghost chili + radish salad | jalapeno-habanero bun | sour cream

Saved the best for last! Though I only tasted a quarter of this smoldering hot burger, The Kicker was definitely my favorite. Though not for the weak stomached, Here’s the Kicker is sure to scorch its way to any heat lovers heart. This is the burger I instantly wanted more of and am still craving, nearly a week later.

Nutella Milkshake - Haven Gastropub, Pasadena
Nutella Milkshake

What better beverage to wash all of this gluttony down with than a Nutella milkshake? I’m pleased to say that it was as rich and luxurious as it sounds and definitely lived up to the standards of the Nutella brand. Made with Haven’s own ice cream, no less!

42 De Lacey Avenue (McCormick Alley side entrance)
Pasadena, CA 91105
Burger Haven Menu
7 days a week | 11a-3p for lunch

FTC Disclosure: The meal was on the house, but the opinions are all my own!

Event: LA Street Food Fest 2012

I was invited to attend the 3rd annual LA Street Food Fest on behalf of my new pal Mr. Pasadena. You can read my write up right over here. As that article gave all of the fancy logistical information I am not going to repeat it here. No, siree – I’m going to dive in straight to showing off the food. Some were a hit, some were a miss, and as it was quite possibly the hottest day of the summer yet, I had to pass up on a lot of food because it was PORK SMOTHERED IN PORK FAT DRENCHED WITH AU JUS GRAVY WRAPPED IN BACON WITH TRUFFLE OIL!
It was a touch ridiculous.
Okay, on with the show!

Kings Row Gastropub - Curried Al Pastor Pork Belly with naan
Curried Al Pastor Pork Belly with naanKings Row Gastropub

My Thoughts: The first eat of the day provided by my buddies at Kings Row. I would never, ever order this – UNTIL NOW. Holy shit was that good, and I’m not one for pork belly, either. I honestly thought this was chicken.

Jidori Potpie Chicken Poutine - Frysmith
Jidori Potpie Chicken PoutineFrysmith

My Thoughts: Frysmith…what happened? Last year I would have said that Frysmith provided my favorite sampling of the entire day. This concoction just did not compare. The vegetables look like they came from a frozen mix bag and the chardonnay gravy was so lackluster it may as well had not even been on there. Probably the biggest disappointment of the entire day, especially since I was expecting something as awesome as last year.

The Peking Duck Truck - Peking Duck Slider
Peking Duck SliderThe Peking Duck Truck

My thoughts: The debut of this truck met with mixed emotions from the crowd. I did taste a bit of over-seasoning, particularly with salt, but I also tasted potential. Keep at it, Peking Duck Truck! I know you have it in you. Just use a conservative hand with the seasoning and let the duck speak for itself.

Glazed Pork Ears - Haven Gastropub
Glazed Pork EarsHaven Gastropub

My thoughts: Another pork serving I was able to catch early enough before I had to throw in the towel on all things pig. I sure am pleased I did pick this up, too, because it is definitely in my top 5 favorites of the day. Sweet and crunchy with a tangerine and Fresno chili glaze, I could munch on these all day long.

Viet-Minced Beef-Tacular! Starry Kitchen
Viet-Minced Beef-Tacular! – Starry Kitchen

My Thoughts: Another favorite. Actually, screw it; this was totally my favorite. I’m terribly disappointed in myself for never venturing to Starry Kitchen and they’re about close and re-launch in a few months.

Kogi BBQ Truck - Short Rib Taco
Short Rib TacoKogi BBQ Truck

My Thoughts: My first Kogi Truck experience could not have been more perfect. Really, this would have been my favorite but I feel like that would be slightly cheating since Kogi is the King of Food Trucks for a reason. Oh, so delicious and mom gave me hers after one bite (she couldn’t take the heat). Really spectacular and lives up to their hype.

Mariscos La Guerrerense - Sea Snail Tostada
Sea Snail Toastada – Mariscos La Guerrerense

My Thoughts: Eating land snail is a bit of a no-no for me, morally speaking, but I permitted myself to indulge in its aquatic cousin. Though it was good in a squishy spicy kind of way, I am still living with the guilt. Yes, I’m weird.

Banana Bitz - Vintage Longboards Ice Cream
Banana BitzLongboards Ice Cream

My Thoughts: Out of all of the out of the norm desserts this one was my favorite. Frozen banana dipped in chocolate is not precisely exotic, but toss in a peanut butter drizzle and potato chips and now we’re taking about dessert evolution!

Coba Aguas Fresca - Guayaba
Guayaba – Coba Aquas Fresca

My Thoughts: While on the hunt for the elusive water mom and I came upon this and really enjoyed it. She had the mango but I went with the more exotic guava flavor. Very refreshing.

Picarones from Mo-Chica

My Thoughts: This sweet potato kabocha, Peruvian beignets were awesome on their own and did not need the addition of the star-anise, cloves, cinnamon, chancaca sauce – which was honestly too sweet and tasted like plain old maple syrup anyway.

Ori Menashe - Grilled Octopus & Calabrian Sausage over cannellini beans & preserved lemon
Grilled Octopus, Calabrian Sausage over Cannellini Beans, preserved lemon – Ori Menashe

My Thoughts: These good people fixed me up a bowl sans sausage but I still wanted to show off the entire dish. The octopus was a touch salty but otherwise grilled perfectly. Though I did not catch any lemon flavors, the beans were a lovely touch.

Sicilian Cannoli - Sotto
Sicilian CannoliSotto

My Thoughts: My favorite sweet treat, hands down. I love me a good cannoli and this gorgeous piece of confectionery made of ricotta, orange marmalade, pistachios and chocolate really stood out for its classic simplicity.

Playa - Cielo Verde Cornet
Cielo Verde CornetPlaya

Mom’s Thoughts: After indulging in too much rich and meaty fare, mom was desperate for some roughage and found a proverbial oasis in this little beauty made from chopped salad of rooftop vegetables and lettuces, Chipolte crema, avocado and micro amaranth.

Shrimp Taquito - Yxta Cocina Mexicano & Mercado
Shrimp TaquitoYxta Cocina Mexicano Mercado

My Thoughts: Another festival favorite. Simple. Delicious. End of story.

Strawberry Mint Sorbet - Sweet Lucie's
Strawberry Mint Lemonade SorbetSweet Lucie’s

My Thoughts: Very refreshing and easy on my palate as well as my stomach. A very appreciated break from all of the exotic offerings.

Beef Tongue Curry - Fat Spoon
Beef Tongue Curry - Fat Spoon

My Thoughts: A more generous portion than I’d have hoped for consider the nature of the event but I’ll not look a gift horse in the mouth. This was extremely flavorful and well cooked. I was actually surprised I enjoyed it so much, considering I’ve not really liked Japanese curry for a number of years because of its thick heaviness. I look forward to going to Fat Spoon in the near future.

VIEW MY ENTIRE SET ON FLICKR – See all 95 pictures I took from the event, including more food and drink not featured.

Top Five Street Food Fest Eats: Viet Mince Beef-Tacular (Starry Kitchen), Shrimp Taquito (Yxta Cocina Mexicano Mercado), Short Rib Taco (Kogi BBQ Truck), Curried Alpastor Pork (Kings Row), Glazed Pork Ears (Haven Gastropub)

Top Three Street Food Fest Sweets: Sicilian Cannoli (Sotto), Banana Bitz (Longboards Ice Cream), Strawberry Mint Lemonade Sorbet (Sweet Lucie’s)

The Event Itself
This year lacked the comfort and relaxing atmosphere of 2011, which was held on the grassy field adjacent to the Rose Bowl. Now situated on the blacktop concourse surrounding the Bowl, the heat was intensified, the vendors more spread out and it just made for a miserable combination on this sweltering day. While waiting for the media gate to open I noticed an ambulance to my immediate left already loading up some young girl into their vehicle. I don’t want assume anything about the situation – that it was related to the heat, that she might have been standing in line, in the heat, on blacktop, with no water/shade, with her family waiting for the event to open – but it was not the best of signs to kick-off the event.

I felt as if nobody from the LA Street Food Fest really gave a damn about the discomfort of their guests – particularly the VIPs, who paid $20 extra for those two hours of early admission. There was only one vendor providing water – Scion – and poorly at that, as those managing the booth seemed extraordinarily challenged at maintaining cold bottled water. My mother and I ventured to them twice – and twice we were handed extremely warm water bottles. We inquired after cold ones but the snippy girl behind the booth rudely insisted they had none.

While lines for the food were quick and efficient, alcohol still took a while and will be the next line challenge to tackle. If the organizers can show respect for the weather and plan accordingly to tend to their guests I think LA Street Food Fest could be nearly perfect. All in all, a lot of kinks to iron out but this is still definitely an event I feel has a worthy shot of becoming must-do event for Pasadena and the Southern California food scene.

For news on future events keep an eye on LA Street Food Fest official website

Mister Mighty Boba Man!
See you next year, Mighty Boba Man!

Event: Taste of the Eastside

Taste of the Eastside was yesterday afternoon at Barnsdall Park in Los Feliz.
In a nutshell: Taste of the Eastside is a food+drink festival that showcases the evolving and diverse food scene of the eastside neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Los Feliz, Atwater and beyond.

I caught a ride inward but was able to easily take the Red Line homeward – something I wish all food-related events in Los Angeles took into consideration as parking looked tight and complicated. NOT FOR ME! Bwahahaha. Metro Tap Cards Unite!

Anyway. I arrived a little early, which allowed me to admire the view.

The View from Barnsdall Park

That would be the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Park Observatory in the distance. Though the weather originally called for temperature spike to 90 degrees Fahrenheit it was a balmy, sunny, breezy high 70s and the perfect weather for an outdoor food event.
You’re ready aren’t you?
Gird your loins, readers.

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