Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eating & Drinking Southern Style: SoFAB & MOTAC

If you've ever wondered how the beloved po' boy (or po-boy) sandwich got its name, or marveled at the differences in barbecue from Texas, Kentucky, or Tennesee, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB) is the place for you. It's a unique, living history organization that gives visitors a real understanding of the cuisine and drinks of the south, and the cultural context that goes with them.

First opened in 2008 at The Riverwalk Marketplace, SoFAB has very recently moved to it's own building near the Garden District. They have an attached bar/restaurant, Purloo, with chef/owner Ryan Hughes at the helm. For now they are serving dinner only, but lunch is forthcoming. Good thing, too, because you WILL be hungry after a visit to the museum.

Purloo's beautiful bar dates back to 1851 and may be the oldest in New Orleans. The bar wears its history, including damage from it being underwater during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. At the time of our visit, the restaurant was just days away from opening, so we didn't have a chance to try it.

SoFAB's main exhibit is Gallery of the South: States of Taste. Curated by people from each of the southern states,  it's a look into things like food items, cooking methods, and local brands that make each state unique. Fun, colorful signs designating each state were designed by famed local artist, Dr. Bob.

While exploring the Gallery of the South, you'll also be following the Trail of Smoke and Fire that takes you on a journey through barbecue and the various methods used throughout the south.

There's an interesting Southern California connection with the Frances Kuyper Cake Collection. The Cake Lady, as she was known, pioneered the technique of airbrushing cakes and revolutionized the cake-decorating industry. She started The Cake Museum in her basement in Pasadena, with 150 cakes on display, as well as books and videos about cake decoration.

After her death in Los Angeles,  the cakes were nearly lost when some were thrown away for lack of storage space. Susan Holtz rescued them and donated the cakes to SoFAB for safe keeping. You can still see the damage on some of them from the time that they were literally pulled out of the trash.

The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC), a museum within the museum, is still "under construction" for a couple of weeks, but in the mean time you can still see a lot of cool old bottles, tiki mugs, and all sorts of awesome boozy paraphernalia from a little distance... you just can't yet get close enough to read the signs or drink in the details. Pun intended.

MOTAC also hosts events and seminars throughout the year, both in New Orleans and Los Angeles. Presently in Los Angeles (through February 21, 2015), Crafting the Cocktail showcases high-quality, handmade barware. Check their events schedule here.

La Galerie d'Absinthe is opening soon, and an exhibit celebrating of New Orleans' oldest restaurant, Antoine's, is opening at the time of this writing.

Southern Food and Beverage Museum
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard
New Orleans, LA 70113
(504) 569-0405

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Rum House Caribbean Taqueria New Orleans

Ya can't eat fried 'gator and Po' Boys every meal....well you can, but you shouldn't. So we tried the popular taqueria on a hipster part of the six-mile stretch of shopping, eating, and culture that is Magazine Street. I like the island-themed decor, original artwork, and friendly service.

The oft-ordered Damn Good Nachos with pulled pork (we got ours on the side), black beans, jalapeños, tomatoes, red onion, lime cream, cilantro, and 'tons of melted cheese' was most satisfactory, though I've had cheesier.  Our server told us the restaurant is popular for  sandwiches as well as tacos, so two of us ordered Crab Melts on her recommendation. We also got a Grilled Mahi Mahi sandwich, and a Rum House Salad with added Seared Tuna. Then I figured I'd better order a taco - since it is a taqueria, after all - so I tried the Seared Scallop one.

The salad was really good. The added tuna was seared perfectly, and their vinaigrette has a lovely, mild curry flavor that went really well with the spinach, roasted sweet potato, beets, goat cheese crumbles, toasted pecans, and shaved red onions.   

The Grilled Mahi Mahi was also quite delicious. The fish was firm and flavorful (from their Creole seasoning), and went perfectly with the accompanying tomato, spinach, pickles, and dill tartar sauce. All sandwiches are served on house-baked Cuban rolls and come with sweet potato chips, or swap out for any other side for $1. I tried the tasty mango coconut rice.

The Crab Melts, unfortunately (particularly because we ordered two), were pretty disappointing. They sounded - and looked - so good, but the fried green tomato and Louisiana crab meat patty kind of melded together in texture alongside the insufficient melted jack cheese which I had forgotten was even on there. The crab cake itself was very large, but had that slightly fishy taste that crab can get when it's okay, but not really good. The spinach couldn't help. With extra red remoulade the sandwich was better, but definitely the least favorite thing all around.

My Seared Scallop Taco was good, but there was really no sear on the scallops, which were nonetheless cooked well and had a nice flavor. Still, there was no caramelization on the small scallops, which I'd expected to be larger. They were  served with a scotch bonnet onion marmalade and fried leeks for that extra tasty bump.

The Rum House Caribbean Taqueria
3128 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 
(504) 941-7560

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Year's Eve Mini-Roundup by Neighborhood

The Valley

North Hollywood

You may associate The Knitting Factory with music, but they've got their fingers in a few pots, including bars and restaurants...two of which are located right here in North Hollywood: Bow & Truss and The Federal Bar. I had the chance to try some of the NYE offerings of both places. Here's what you have to look forward to:

Bow & Truss: Their new executive chef, Raul Garabito, has put together a prix-fixe menu for $50, which includes one glass of cava and a four-course meal. They have a surprising amount of vegan options on both their regular and New Year's Eve menu, like the Paella Primavera with zucchini, broccolini, squash, mushrooms, baby heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, & micro cilantro. Of the selections we tried, some stand-outs were the Tuna Tartare on a house-made cracker, Prime Striploin on pan de cristal, grilled onions, & duck fries, and the Arroz con Coco, a coconut rice pudding with chocolate mousse, candied coconut, mango jam, & crunchy coconut tuile.

If you're going to imbibe beyond the included glass of bubbly, they had two types of fantastic sangria. The Traditional Red adds pomegranate juice, brandy, and "drunken fruit" to a red wine base. B&T White uses rum, orange juice, and fresh fruit

They also have some enjoyable, well-balanced cocktails like the classic Blood & Sand and the newly imagined Titian Harvest made with Cold Cock Herbal Whiskey, Diplomatico Añejo Rum, Dry Curaçao, Honey, and Lime. 

11122 Magnolia Boulevard

North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 985-8787

The Federal Bar$75 gets you a choice of beer or wine, a champagne toast, and a four-course meal with both meat and vegetarian - not vegan - options.  For starter and salad, the table favorites were Chorizo Filled Dates with manchego fondue (I would have just eaten a bowl of the fondue with a spoon), and Crispy Brussels Sprouts Salad with spinach, crumbled goat cheese, pancetta, blackened onion, & balsamic. For the main course, everyone loved the Grilled Rib Eye with garlic roasted cauliflower puree & mustard greens with chimichurri. 

For additional drinks, I preferred their wine to the cocktail list, but they have a full bar and can make whatever you fancy. 

5303 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 980-2555


solita Tacos & Margaritas is a delicious new addition to Valencia, and is offering a fabulously affordable option for the New Year. $14.75 gets you the El Primo Taco Taster Plate which lets you mix and match four of their delectable tacos including choices such as wood Grilled Ancho Chile Chicken, Chorizo, Bacon & Sweet Potato, Crispy Fried Fish, Chile-Garlic Tofu, and many more. They also have over 40 tequilas, including the Casa Noble Single Barrel, which is exclusively blended for them and their sister restaurant. 

The restaurant will be open until 10:00, with the bar open until midnight. If you stick around for the new year, you'll get to participate in a complimentary champagne toast complete with party hats and noise makers. Feliz Año Nuevo!

24201 Valencia Blvd. Suite 3470
Valencia, CA 91355
(661) 291-1399

Los Feliz

Big Bar:Making a day of it? Post Cards from Big Bar starts at 3:00, celebrating 2015 in the European time zone, and will have a celebration every hour as they head westward on the map until landing in L.A. at midnight. Each hour will feature music and cocktails inspired by the region ringing in the year at that time, and they'll have a special postcard set with an illustrated cocktail on one side and a recipe on the back. They always do it up right at Big Bar. Bon Voyage!

1929 Hillhurst 
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 644-0100
photo courtesy of Alcove/Big Bar


photo courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide

Tom Bergin's: Everybody was sad when historic Tom Bergin's closed in 2013, but then we could all be happy again once local regular Derek Schreck bought the place and spruced it up a bit (while leaving historical details intact) and reopened it in January 2014. 

You're invited to celebrate their (new) one-year anniversary and New Year's Eve with a throwback party inspired by its original opening year of 1936. You are strongly encouraged to arrive primped, 1930s style. 

Festivities begin at 5:00 with both the regular and prix-fixe menu available to guests. For $19.36, the prix-fixe menu includes West Coast Oysters with champagne mignonette, and Prime Rib with traditional horseradish créme and seasonal winter vegetables. All food is served until 11:00 (or until the specialty menu sells out…then it's just regular menu items). The bar is open until 2:00. No cover. Dinner reservations are encouraged.

840 S. Faifax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 936-7151

Cardamom: A delicious $50 four-course menu awaits you here, which includes a glass of champagne as well as chai or coffee. Start with your choice of a Tandoori Platter or Vegetable Platter, then select a main course that includes choices like Murgh Tikka Masala (diced chicken tikka tossed in Hyderabadi spices then cooked in a creamy tomato sauce) and Aloo Palak (potatoes and baby spinach tossed with turmeric). All choices come with fresh Naan, Raita, special Zafrani Rice, and Gulab Jamun (Cheese dumpling with saffron syrup) for dessert. 

7233 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 936-1000


Make a memorable musical end to the year by heading to Disney Concert Hall to enjoy local favorite Pink Martini as they ring in the new year with special guests The von Trapps. Yes, THOSE von Trapps. But, the younger generation...the great grandchildren of Maria and Georg. Catch the show before your party at 7:00, or ring in 2015 with them at the 10:30 show. 

111 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(323) 850-2000

Santa Monica

Milo and Olive: Early birds or those looking for something casual to eat before ringing in the new year may enjoy some New Years Eve-only specials served from 5:00-11:00 like Fresh Shucked Oysters served raw or baked in the wood-fired oven with creamed leeks and breadcrumbs

2723 Wilshire Boulevard 
Santa Monica, CA 90403 
(310) 453-6776
photo by Emily Hart Roth, courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide

Rustic Canyon:If you'd like a fancier pre-party meal, $95 per person allows each table to choose eight of sixteen menu items to share. Choices include plates like Steak & Geoduck Tartare with sunchoke, spread egg, & shoyu, and Duck Leg Confit with chicories, duck ham, cracklings, and mustard. Seatings are available from 6-6:45 and again from 8-8:45. 

1119 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 393-7050
photo by Emily Hart Roth, courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide

Out of Town: Palm Springs

Tinto is offering two four-course meal options which include complimentary sangria cocktails and a champagne toast. The $65 menu features options such as Cheese Mixto with acacia honey & bee pollen, Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp, lemon, garlic), Chorizo a la Plancha (garlic & paprika sausage), and Moules (mussels, almond picada, saffron aioli).  $85 gets you choices such as Jamón Iberico, Lamb Brochette (lamb loin, eggplant, bacon, sherry jus), and Pan Roasted Scallops (with polenta, bacon, and apple). 

1800 E Palm Canyon Dr. 
Palm Springs, CA 92264
(760) 322-1900

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Palm, Beverly Hills

Back in 1926, Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi wanted to open up a restaurant in New York City with a name that paid homage to their home town of Parma. Apparently during the registration process, the clerk misunderstood their accents, and "The Palm" was born.

Their excellence in food and customer service (before steak was on the menu, they'd run to the butcher up the block and cook one to order when that was what the customer wanted) made them extremely popular. Surf and Turf has since become one of the most popular items on the menu.

In the 1970s, with the third generation of the Bozzi and Ganzi family running the restaurant, it was doing so well that they opened a location in Washington, D.C. as well as a second restaurant in NYC. With its continued success, Wally Ganzi thought it was time to move west.

Since it opened its doors in West Hollywood in 1975, The Palm became an instant hit with celebrities and locals alike, and has kept its clients coming back for more. This past September, the lease was up, and the iconic restaurant opted for a zip-code change.

 Now located in the "90210," the new restaurant is a reinvention of itself, but maintains some of the famed old caricatures from the WeHo walls (a tradition that began in NY when artists paid their tabs  with art).

It continues to be run by the same families, and fourth-generation co-owner, Bruce Bozzi, Jr., has moved back to Los Angeles to man the helm at the Beverly Hills location.

We tried a few things off their cocktail list, but sticking with the classics was the way to go. They make a wicked good dirty martini with scrumptious bleu cheese-stuffed olives.

Sides like their famous creamed spinach and three-cheese au gratin are spectacular. We also loved their lobster bisque and I'm always a sucker for mushrooms. As to the main course, seafood lovers will not be disappointed with the Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna Steak.

The Palm
267 N. Cañon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 550-8811

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cardamom: Fresh Indian Fare

After years over 30 years of feeding Los Angeles great Indian food in an old-school environment,  India Oven has been replaced by sleek and modern Cardamom, a delicious restaurant of contemporary Indian cuisine started by brothers-in-law Nasir Syed (former manager of India Oven), and Executive Chef Badrul Chowdhury.  Their "secret weapon" is Syed's uncle, who happens to be renowned UK chef (and creator of the world's largest onion bhaji), Manju Choudhury, serving as Consulting Executive Chef.

The menu is full of great offerings for meat lovers and vegetarians alike. An appetizer that I'm eager to go back and try is the Chutneywala Paneer: fresh cheese stuffed with spices and grilled in the tandoor. My mouth actually watered while I wrote that description.

Of the food I sampled, their tender, succulent tandoori dishes and spectacular sauces are real stand-outs. All of the chutneys have bold, vibrant flavor, but I was especially enamored of the mint chutney. I loved it with everything, but it was particularly delectable with their lamb fare.

Make sure to try the slightly sweet and super scrumptious Peshwari Naan, baked in the tandoor with coconut, sultanas, dates, and nuts. It pairs nicely with the savory dishes, or makes a perfect sweet-but-not-too-sweet end to a meal.

7233 Beverly Blvd. 
L.A., CA 90036
(323) 936-1000

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Asian Box: Fast, Fresh Food in Downtown L.A.

Asian Box, a small chain of healthy fast food restaurants, has just opened its fifth location right here in Downtown Los Angeles (there's a Burbank location, and three in the Bay Area). 

Chef Gracie Nguyen brings super-fresh vietnamese flavor to 5th and Figueroa. The small eatery specializes in quick, delicious, and healthy lunches with a dedication to environmental sustainability. 

You can build your own box by selecting your starch, protein, veggies, sauces, and 'box-toppers' like crispy shallots. If you need less choices, order one of their pre-designed boxes such as The Garden Box (Tofu on brown rice, served with extra steamed veggies, all toppers, with extra coconut curry and Asian Street Dust), or The Miss Jones (lemongrass pork and chilled noodles, sauce-tossed veggies, caramel egg, and all the toppers, with extra fish sauce). They also have a couple of handcrafted (non-alcoholic) drinks like the Eazy-E..."'Cause Arnold Palmer ain't from the streets of LA"

Everything we tasted was scrumptious and - it bears repeating - FRESH. All of the sauces are house made and I sampled every single one of them. Fans of serious heat will love the Hot Box It, though the spice and flavor of their Miss Jones' Sriracha sufficed for me. I especially enjoyed the tamarind sauce, and the coconut curry is my FAVORITE. They sent us home with a bottle of mystical "Asian Street Dust," which I've been sprinkling on everything from eggs to salads. Good stuff. 

All photographs by Jaime Torres Photography except the picture of the food boxes, provided courtesy of Bread & Butter Public Relations.

Asian Box No. 5
445 S Figueroa St. 
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 265-7955