Saturday, October 31, 2009

Review: Oliverio

Though I also wrote about it as part of my hotels Food Frenzy Roundup, I gave Oliverio at the Avalon Beverly Hills Hotel a full review on New chef Mirko Paderno's Italian menu was delicious, with lots of fun treats for every appetite, and the Italian-skewed wine list is concise yet full of great value bottles. I'll post some pictures below of the individual plates, but in the meantime you can find my review here:

Spicy Tuna Tartar over saffron rice cake with shallots and spicy sauce
Octopus carpaccio with wild arugula, lemon and olive oil

Pizzetta Truffle with goat cheese and black summer truffles
Tortelli with braised lamb, tomatoes and black olives

Breaded Veal Chop with roasted potatoes and lemon

Cranberry Pistacchio Semifreddo

Friday, October 30, 2009

Germany Series Day 5: Frankfurt

The final installment of my series about what's fun to do within an hour or two of Frankfurt takes as its subject...Frankfurt. Yes, I have decided to write about all that's fun and fresh about Germany's banking city itself.

It's true, Bankfurt has it all: museums, restaurants, hotels, special events, and even a pretty place to stroll along the Main River waterfront.

So next time you have stopover in middle Germany (and you just might, considering what an international flight hub Frankfurt is both for legacy carriers and Europe's slew of discount airlines), consider prolonging your stay and actually spending a day or two in the city. Who knows, you might actually choose it as your final destination next time...


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Luce at the Intercontinental San Francisco

Last June, I went to an Intercontinental Hotels presentation at the Intercontinental Century City where I happened to meet Chef Dominique Crenn. The Parisian native was named as Equire's 2008 Chef to Watch, and her restaurant at the Intercontinental San Francisco, Luce, has just received its first Michelin Star (for the complete 2010 San Francisco listings, click here).

Since I met Chef Crenn, who has been competing on this season of Iron Chef, I have wanted to get up to the hotel to try her menu, and I had the chance to do so this past weekend.

I'll spare you the details (though you can see photos below) of a meal that included exotic items like roasted bone marrow, kampachi tartare and squab with brioche veloute here, but to read about everything we enjoyed during our meal at the restaurant, take a look at my HotelChatter review here:


Roasted marrow bone with fried capers

Kona Kampachi tartar with celery sorbet

Squab with vanilla brioche veloute

Papardelle with short ribs and wild mushrooms

Huckleberry financier with coconut lime sorbet

Germany Series Day 4: Wine-Tasting in Ruedesheim

Second to last day on my Jaunted series about what to do in the Frankfurt area. One of the reasons I chose to spend a week there was that all the best wines in Germany are made within 2 hours of the city in places like the Rheingau, of which Ruedesheim is the most famous (and picturesque) town.
You've already read about my stay at the Breuer Schloss with its glockenspiel, but now it's time to learn more about the town, the wines, and all the fun things to do there:

Weekly Stir Fry: 10-29-09

Here's this week's roundup of dining deals and restaurant specials, tentatively titled: Cucpakes, Cassoulet and Champagne...all three things I love. It includes special menus at Bistro LQ, Michael Mina's XIV, SusieCakes, a champagne brunch at Casa Del Mar, and a wine dinner from Hewitson Wines Mad Hatter Shiraz at BLVD 16. All great reasons to step out and eat up!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Germany Series: Day 3

For the third installment in my series on what to do in the Frankfurt area, I focused on the nearby city of Mainz, with which Frankfurt shares its international airport. Not only is the city rich with history, but it is also extremely easy to get to, has a compact old city center that is easy to navigate, and some very interesting museums, including my dork-a-licious favorite, the Gutenberg Museum. Unfortunately, many of the Jewish sights have been completely destroyed, but at least you can see some Chagall windows in St. Stephan's Church that are a stirring symbol of the rebirth of the post-Holocaust community here.

To read more about how to get there, what to see, and what to do, you can find my article here:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Germany Series Day 2: Worms

For my second post in my Germany series for this week, I decided to write about the city of Worms, about an hour south of Frankfurt on the Rhine River, where travelers can visit some of the most important sights of medieval Judaism in Europe.

Among the highlights are the rebuilt old synagogue, which was originally constructed in 1034 (and subsequently destroyed about a dozen times), as well as mystically beautiful Jewish Cemetery (pictured here) outside the old city gates. The oldest grave in it is almost 1000 years old, making it the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe. The fact that it survived the Nazis is a miracle, and today it is a powerfully thought-provoking experience to walk through it and pay your respects.

For more of what there is to see in Worms, take a look here:

Food Frenzy at LA Hotels

Because I'm out and about town all the time, and thanks to all the food writing (and sampling!) I've been doing, I have heard about a lot of special dinners and new menus at the hotel restaurants around town. However, we cover some of these places (the Viceroy, the Palomar, the Avalon) fairly frequently on HotelChatter, so I thought I'd condense the news into a single roundup today on the site.

Little did I know how much there was to report on each piece of news, though, so you'll see my post today was a little longer than usual. However, I got some good stuff in, like the new chefs and menus at the Avalon Beverly Hills' new restaurant, oliverio, the new chef at the Viceroy's Whist, a Hewitson Mad Hatter Shiraz wine dinner at BLVD 16 at the Palomar Westwood, and a Joseph Phelps Vineyards dinner at the Peninsula Beverly Hills.

Now it's time to stop reading and get eating for me, but if you want to take a look, click here:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jaunted Germany Series: The Rhine The Wine and all That's Fine

This week, I will be writing a series on called "The Rhine, The Wine and All That's Fine Near Frankfurt." Each day, I will talk about a different town, city or experience I had on my recent trip to Germany.

The angle is that everything is within about two hours of Frankfurt so that, while most poeple just stop through the airport on their way to somewhere else, there is still plenty to do in the region including tasting some of Germany's best wines and visiting some of the most interesting Jewish sights in the world.

My first piece was on the town of Bernkastel-Kues in the world-famous Riesling-producing region of the Mosel Valley, about two hours west of Frankfurt near the border with France. The area is breathtakingly beautiful with steep slopes covered by vineyards, is chock-full of fascinating history, and has some of the most gorgeous timbered houses you'll ever see. Plus, there are tons of fabulous wine producers in the area, so the days are full, the wine is plentiful, and the travel is fun.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Last Tuesday, my editor at HotelChatter and I drove up to Ojai and spent the day at the legendary Ojai Valley Inn & Spa about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. We were there to get a preview of an upcoming event where five chefs will compete on the golf course, but work together in the kitchen for the benefit of guests during the "Celebrity Chef Classic."

We were also treated to a tour of the magnificent 5-bedroom Casa Elar on the property, which goes for a mere $15,000 a night (with a 3-night minimum, though). After that, I took a ride around the property, strolled through the spa, and sniffed around the apothecary where guests can mix up a personal scent from essential oils. All in all, it was a gorgeous day...if only we didn't have to leave!

To read more about the special weekend, and Casa Elar, take a look at my story here:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What's On The Block: Standard Downtown LA

And, for the final installment of my "What's On The Block: Los Angeles Edition" series for HotelChatter, I decided to pick a hotel downtown and settled on everyone's favorite trendster destination, the Standard. Again, I stray off the block because there's just too much to see and do downtown--even if you only stick to the safe parts--and I was able to throw in not only some of my favorite restaurants, but also a few activities like wintertime ice skating!
Hey, I think I even make downtown sound like a fun place to hang out, but let me know what you think...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Frontiers Review: Cache

My review of Josiah Citrin's new Santa Monica restaurant, Cache, ran about a month ago, but last week, my editor at Frontiers IN/LA asked me to cover the meal for the magazine too, so I whipped up another piece in a more extended format. I won't repost the food photos, though you can take a look at them here if you want to jog your memory and whet your appetite.

For the full review, take a look at the article here:

Frontiers: Wine Countries of the World

In the past year or two, I have been lucky enough to visit winemakers in several countries around the world including Argentina, Chile, France, Austria, Germany, and the U.S., and I'll get the chance to go to Australia next month!

I finally got the chance to talk about several of these experiences in a single article with my recent piece on "Wine Regions of the World" for Frontiers. In it, I talk about my visits to the Wachau in Austria, Languedoc-Roussillon in France, Mendoza in Argentina, and Santa Barbara County right here in California. The hardest part was narrowing it down to those four, but I think the article ended up being pretty interesting, with a good cross-section of some of the exciting things happening in the wine world today, and why travelers should consider visits to these regions. I hope you enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Veggie Grill

I go to the gym at the Crunch on Sunset, at the Laemmle 5 complex. For a while, it looked like the center was going downhill with the disappearance of the Virgin Store and California Pizza Kitchen, but the complex has bounced back better than ever with a new Trader Joe's, a CB2 furnishings store, and now, the opening of the Veggie Grill, with an entirely "plant-based" menu. The whole point, according to the owners, is to make healthy food accessible--mostly by disguising it as more interesting foods like crispy chicken sandwiches or carne asada wraps, but also by making things that you know are good for you but don't like to eat actually taste good, like kale.

In any case, I am sure to be a frequent visitor to the restaurant seeing as the food was delicious, the prices were pretty low, and it's nice to feel like you've just had a healthy meal without sacrificing taste.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Russian River Valley Guide

About a month ago, I was treated to the pleasure of spending a couple days up in the gorgeous countryside of northern Sonoma's Russian River Valley. I stayed in Healdsburg and got to explore the various AVA's of the area and their distinctive wine profiles, not to mention an ungodly amount of gourmet food and enough burrata to turn me into a water buffalo. In between eating and drinking--though there were only short intervals where we did neither--we walked around the town of Healdsburg, hiked out into the vineyards to take a look at the grapes, and generally enjoyed the wine country splendor...while Twittering away about it.

I'd highly recommend it as a destination for folks looking to get up to NorCal wine country, but who want to stay away from the busier areas of Napa and southern Sonoma And if you like Zinfandels and Rhone varietals, you'll be in heaven.

Take a look at my quick guide to a weekend in the area, and all the fun things to do, see, eat and drink while you're there.

Stir Fry: 10-22-09

Here's the latest in meal deals, supper specials and wine wonders around the city, including the opening of domaineLA, a new wine shop on Melrose that, personally, has me pretty excited.

In the meantime, check out the store, and the rest of the deals here:

What's On The Block: The Beverly Hills Hotel

Installment #4 in my week-long "What's On The Block?" series for HotelChatter took a look at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The short answer? Nothing is on the block. But that's pretty much the case for all of Los Angeles since you need a car to get anywhere and see anything. However, writing this up did give me the opportunity to take a look at some of the sights of historic Beverly Hills, and has gotten me thinking again about making an appointment at both Greystone Mansion and the Robinson Gardens. Let's just hope this good weather holds out for both...

Review: Rockwell, VT

Last Friday, I checked out a new eastside bar/lounge that everyone has been talking about recently called Rockwell, VT. It is located behind Vermont Restaurant guessed it, Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz. It also turns out that Norman Rockwell, the artist, was from Vermont, so there's a nice little coincidence for you.

Rockwell the lounge, is yet another example of your typical gastropub kind of cuisine, but the lounge vibe is completely different from most places you'll find on the eastside. That's partly due to the fact that it (and Vermont Restaurant) are now owned by the guys behind the late Mark's Restaurant in West Hollywood, so they've been attracting a gay crowd, but also because it is almost completely outdoors with a ground-floor patio canopied by a sprawling coral tree, and an upstairs section with booths overlooking the LA skyline. The food is pretty simple, though fresh, and there are plenty of specialty cocktails, beers and wines by the glass to please everyone. I think this new hangout is going to be here for a while.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's on the Block: Beverly Hilton

My series on HotelChatter this week--basically mini-guides to the areas around certain hotels in Los Angeles, including restaurants, shopping and attractions--continues with the iconic Beverly Hilton. Though the hotel has had its ups and downs over the years, it seems to be on an upswing at the moment, and it remains one of the city's best known destinations...probably thanks to its ubiquity as an awards show venue.

Whatever the reason, as you'll read in my piece, there is plenty to see and do during a stay at the white lady of Bev Hills:

Review: Petrossian Boutique and Restaurant

I was invited to a media dinner last week at this newly renovated caviar boutique (and now cafe and restaurant) on the tony strip of Robertson where you will find all manner of upscale restaurants and shops. Apart from the lively dinner conversation that revolved around the primetime lineup on Bravo, we had come to learn about the unrivaled selection of caviar (at least in Los Angeles) they offer, and to sample the cuisine of the new chef, 27-year-old Benjamin Bailly (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Viktor Krum). Bailly has worked with Ducasse and Robuchon, among others, and seems keen to whip up some magic. Some of his dishes, like the bright pink borscht, were phenomenal, whereas others, like the foie gras creme brulee, could have used a lighter touch. Ah well, I was paying more attention to the caviar anyway.

Though I went home full, it was not until the following night, when I ran into another writer who had been at the dinner, that I realized just what an array of gourmandises we had gone through: champagne, caviar, blini, steak tartare, foie grass, short ribs, chocolate...and those were just the things I remembered off the top of my head!

I think that as Bailly finds his footing, the restaurant should solidify its concept, but in the meantime, there are worse things than a cup of champagne and a scoop of caviar (on a mother-of-pearl spoon, no less!) to enjoy at the end of the day.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's On The Block: Sunset Tower Hotel

All this week, I'll be doing a "What's On The Block" series for HotelChatter where I talk about what you'll find in the neighborhood when you stay at one of the five hotels in Los Angeles I'm profiling.

At first, I was a little nervous about it since each post requires quite a bit of recon, but then I realized it's just like giving an out-of-town friend suggestions on what to see and do during a stay in town.
Once I looked at it that way, it all became much easier, and more fun I think, so take a look at what's around the Sunset Tower Hotel for Day 2 in the series:

What's On The Block: Viceroy Santa Monica

This week, I will be writing a series for HotelChatter called "What's On The Block" where I take a different Los Angeles hotel each day, and talk, literally, about what else you will find on the block. However, since this is sprawling Los Angeles, you usually have to venture a little farther afield to find things, so I don't take the radius too seriously.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Revana Wine Dinner at Peninsula Beverly Hills

On Thursday evening, I was treated to a winemaker dinner at Belvedere at the Peninsula Beverly Hills courtesy of Revana Family Vineyard, a boutique winery with vineyards in Oregon and Napa. The dinner was to celebrate the release of their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and to introduce it to some food and lifestyle writers in Los Angeles.

We started with an amuse bouche of duck confit risotto with butternut squash along with a splash of the crisp 2007 Alexana Pinot Gris from Revana Vineyard in the Dundee Hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley. We stayed with that wine for the first course of Dungeness crab chowder with carrots, basil pesto oil and a crab souffle puff garnished with tiny microgreens.

Dr. Revana explained his fascinating background: how he was originally from India and grew up on a farm there, made his way to the U.S., became a cardiologist (he still practices in Houston), and had an epiphany while visiting friends in Italy that he wanted to own a winery. He bought his first land in Oregon, then found another plot near St. Helena in Napa in 1997, where he enlists the help of vineyard manager Jim Barbour and renowned winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett. He also told us about his newest project, a vineyard in Argentina's Uco Valley near Mendoza, that sits at about 3000 feet elevation, and where he plans to make a Bordeaux-style blend, but with Malbec as the primary varietal.

Next up was a dish I ordinarily would not order, though it did resemble much of the cuisine I ate during my recent trip to Austria. Overbaugh's specialty with gamey organ meats meant a course of pan-roasted veal sweetbreads with chestnuts, pungent changerelles, tiny fluffy spaetzle and a spiced elderberry-pear chutney. It was like autumn in the mouth. To accompany this flavorful yet still delicate dish, we were served Revana's 2006 Alexana Pinot Noir, of chich only 600 cases are made. It has rested for 21 months in the bottle, though, you could tell that with just a few more years it could reach its truly superb potential. Right now, the alcohol and leftover notes of wood from the barrel aging sort of overwhelm those more subtle earthy flavors, and you can't really get past that fresh burst of cherry that is the first thing to hit the palate, but I'd like to see how some of the vanilla and tea-like, herbaceous qualities come out over time. The other interesting fact about this wine is that the harvest took place extremely late, practically in mid-November, so this wine is idiosyncratic, to say the least.

The main course was a classic lamb two-ways: braised shoulder and roasted loin. The shoulder was gelatinously soft from slow-roasting, and was almost chocolatey smooth. The lamb loin, which I preferred, was beautifully prepared medium-rare, and sliced extra thin with just the right amount of pink juiciness. Served with it were slices of yellow cauliflower and green onions with a very light curry emulsion (read: foam), and some highly seasoned red quinoa. Chef James Overbaugh explained that he'd normally serve a Pinot Noir with the lamb, but that he thought it would stand up to the 2005 Revana Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from their property in Napa (2000 cases), and he was right. The Left Bank Bordeaux-style blend (mostly Cab, but also touches of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot) was purply-red, with those classic cassis and cocoa powder notes, finely laced tannins keeping a nice, firm texture, and just a hint of minerally stone to it. Again, I'd like to try this wine in a few years, but it was a great climax to the tasting, and it had a very nice balance of acidity and fruitiness, so it didn't overwhelm the food.

Finally, there was a little palate cleanser of coconut ice cream over tiny pieces of plum, before a dessert of dense pistachio pastry, chocolate paste-like ganache, and fresh strawberries garnished with just a touch of basil to provide an herb counterpoint to the sweetness.

After all that food and wine, I figured I'd be rolling out of there, but I was simply satisfied and not feeling too heavy because of the nice portion sizes, the food-friendliness of the wine, and perhaps the fact that the conversation was spirited enough to keep all of us energized all evening.

In any case, I will definitely be looking forward to future releases from Revana, and future meals at the Belvedere!

(Photo Credits: Belvedere courtesy of Kayak, Revana Wine and Winery courtesy of Revana Vineyard website)

Duck Season at Citizen Hotel's Grange

This story came across my desk last week when I was casting about for fall foodie festivals at hotels around the world. It didn't quite qualify because it's not a special one-off event, but Chef Michael Tuohy at The Citizen Hotel's Grange restaurant in Sacramento is taking local food to the next level this duck-hunting season by inviting hunters to bring in their kills this fall. He promises to consult with each hunter about their personal tastes, then create an individual 4-course menu for each hunter and their guests centered, of course, around a main duck dish. As you can see, the story was just too good to pass up...and the menu options the chef is muddling sound too good to miss too.

One final word of warning: the press release and then my story are both riddled with duck jokes (mine less so, I swear!), so get ready for the "fowl" puns...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Napa Embassy Suites

This was a funny little story to report. I didn't even know Napa had an Embassy Suites, but it would definitely be a good budget option for a stay up in the area, where your average hotel room seems to run around $400 and higher in high season.

Though Embassy Suites are part of the Hilton family, you don't often associate them with luxury or gourmet destinations. In Napa, however, even the budget places apparently have to up their game in order to attract food-savvy travelers, and that is why the property has brought on a whole new team to revamp its Food and Beverage offerings, and changed the restaurant to an upscale eatery called Grille 29.

For more on the changes going on in their F&B service, read my post here:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stir Fry: 10-15-09

This week's Stir Fry just went up on Lots of interesting things this week: Mojito cooking class at Ciudad, Wine and Cheese pairing at Morel's, Maui Brewing Company beer-pairing dinner at Hudson House Bar, James Beard Chef Invitational Dinner at The Foundry, and Oktoberfest at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. Something for everyone...especially everyone who enjoys booze!


Fall Foodie Festivals at Hotels Around the World

This was a fun little piece to report for HotelChatter. It's a roundup of a few foodie festivals from hotels around the world that we heard about and wanted to compile in one place. So far, we have "Savor the Borgata," (pictured), a Wine Dinner Series at the Westin Casuarina Grand Cayman, and the Park Hyatt Masters of Food and Wine at the Park Hyatt Seoul.

Hopefully I'll be compiling a few more of these lists over the coming months since I think most high-end resorts are becoming increasingly interested in attracting foodie travelers. At least, I know that I like to eat when I travel!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Church & State

So probably the most exciting review meal I went on last week was to a restaurant in downtown LA called Church & State. After a rough first few months which saw upheaval in the kitchen and in the upstairs offices, the restaurant is now under the sole control of Yassmin Sarmadi, and the kitchen is in the fine, accomplished hands of Walter Manzke, who whips up an extraordinary menu of fun French faves.

When you read my review, you will probably gasp at the amount of food I was able to pack away, but when it's this good, you don't skimp!

And just in case you want to see some of the delectable dishes I was treated to, I'll include some photos below.

Peach-Brie Tarte Alsatienne
Fried Pig's Ears with Bearnaise
Steak Frites
Dessert Plate inlcuding Pot de Creme and Fruit Tarts