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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Food with Benefits

Eating for C-CAP

For 25 years, Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), has provided scholarships, internships, job training, and the like to prepare at-risk students for college and careers in the restaurant industry. 

On Thursday, October 2, you can support the fine work of C-CAP plus take a sneak peek at Redbird, Neal Fraser's enthusiastically anticipated downtown restaurant in the rectory of the historic Vibiana Cathedral.

$150 will get you a tour and dinner (including wine) featuring Kale Salad with faro, delicate squash, parmesan and lemon zestBraised Short Ribs with black garlic polenta and succotash, and a tart for dessert. 

For an additional $25, you can attend the cocktail party beforehand that will feature Truffled Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with beef tartare, Dungeness Crab with curried cauliflower flan, Popcorn Shrimp with yuzu kosho aioli, and Vegetable Spring Rolls in black sesame soy paper with miso ginger sauce. Cocktail party only is $50. For tickets, click here. 

If you're more into a food-festival type scene, on October 19, Los Angeles Sweet & Savory Spectacular is to be a delicious fundraiser for C-CAP that will feature many of the area's top chefs from some of the tastiest restaurants in town. Participants include The Church Key, Hamasaku, Petrossian, and Chinois on Main among many others. In addition to tasty indulgences, guests will be treated to cooking classes, live demonstrations, and - perhaps most importantly to my readers - a craft beer, premium wine, and spirits tasting garden. 

Tickets for this Santa Monica event start at $100 if purchased in advance, $125 at the door. VIP tickets are $150 and offer an extra hour of culinary delight. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here

 Note there is a 25% discount if you choose to attend all of the events.

Dining for JBF

The James Beard Foundation (JBF) offers culinary scholarships, food industry and leadership awards, educational initiatives, and a whole lot more…like this Taste America event. To kick off the Taste Los Angeles weekend, a JBF benefit dubbed A Night of Culinary Stars will take over the aforementioned Vibiana on Friday, October 10, and will be hosted by the aforementioned Neal Fraser. 

There will be plenty of edible and liquid refreshments from local chefs during the cocktail reception, and what promises to be a spectacular multi-course dinner prepared by Aarón Sánchez, Nancy Silverton, Matt Molina, and Dahlia Narvaez . Tickets are $275. Click here to for more info or to purchase.  

C-CAP Fundraiser Cocktail Party and/or Dinner
Thursday, October 2, 6:00 p.m.
214 S. Main St., Los Angeles

Taste Los Angeles- A Night of Culinary Stars
Friday, October 10, 6:30 p.m.
214 S. Main St., Los Angeles

Los Angeles Sweet and Savory Spectacular
Sunday, October 19, 3 p.m. (VIP) 4 p.m. (general)
The Art Institute of California
2900 31st St., Santa Monica

photo courtesy of Ann Flower Communications

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare connotes many things, but one thing that you've probably never associated with his name is Bluegrass. Until now.

UnMasqued is a new theater company which "strives to create thought-provoking work through creative collaboration of multidisciplinary artists," founded by co-creative directors Ty Fanning and Drew Feldman.

In their inaugural production, UnMasqued has reinvisioned Much Ado About Nothing with a musical bent. Rather than soldiers returning to Messina after fighting in war, we are presented with The Arragons, a bluegrass band returning from a national tour to the venue that started it all, The Messina. This sets the stage for Shakespeare's text to be peppered with folk music by the multi-talented cast.

The space is a loft with folding chair seating, not a traditional theater. That, along with the performers' full utilization of the room and audience engagement, imparts a feeling of energetic guerilla theater for a head-bobbing, toe-tapping good time.  The large, vibrant cast works and plays well together, and it's easy to see the great potential in this fledgling company.

This production is at Pieter Performance Space in Lincoln Heights for one more weekend (Friday and Saturday at 8pm). Click here for tickets.  

Much Ado About Nothing
Pieter Performance Space
420 W. Avenue 33
Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, July 12, 2014

10 Days of Alcove

I can't believe that a decade has passed so fleetingly, but it is so, and Alcove is turning 10. To celebrate, the charming eatery / bar will be doing it up Wonka style with Golden Tickets hidden throughout napkins and - yes - Alcove Chocolate Bars. 

Over 40 tickets will be out there for the 10 Days of Alcove from Monday, July 14th- Wednesday, July 23rd, so your chances of winning are far better than Mr. Wonka would have made them. There are 10 great prizes up for grabs which include a wide range of yumminess. A number of people will win things like delicious chocolates or coffee and cake, and there are more than a few free meals to be given away…even dinner and cocktails for two with VIP seating for one of their outdoor movie nights!!! (They're sooooo much fun, but you have to get there sooooo early to get a table).

One lucky winner will get to have themselves "Immortalized on the Alcove Featured Cocktail Board." The bartenders will craft a cocktail based on your preferences, experiences, and all that good stuff. Nifty. 

The Grand Prizes are pretty great, too…two fortunate folks will win a private cocktail class for themselves and five of their friends with Big Bar manager, Aaron Alvarez. But the créme de la créme is Dinner in the Alcove Event Cottage for 10. That's you and nine of your friends getting dinner, drinks, and dessert in the adorable little cottage in the back.

So, starting  this Monday, eat all of your  meals at Alcove / Big Bar and use lots of napkins. Don't forget the chocolate bars for dessert. 

10 Days of Alcove
July 14 - July 23
1929 Hillhurst Ave. LA, CA 90027
(323) 644-0100

photo compliments of Eugene Lee and Big Bar

Friday, June 6, 2014


Alison England as the fabulous fiend, Zombina. 

At The Milwaukee Space Center, Major Malone (Frank Blocker) and his underling, Rick (Eric Sand) are ecstatic that they are about to launch a probe into outer space. The excitement builds as we meet their man-hungry secretary, Charlene a.k.a. Charlie (Lara Fisher), Billy (Alex Taber), the adorable delivery boy who has a huge crush on Charlie, and Major Malone's daughter and Jill-of-all-trades, Mary (Amelia Gotham).  When the handsome scientist, Trenton (Daniel Jimenez) appears to assist the launch and steal the ladies' hearts, it seems that everything will just be peachy keen. It's 1955...patriotism and the space program reign supreme and all is right with the world. That is, until an Unidentified Flying Object hovers over the beauty salon. It is then we meet the diabolical Zombina (Alison England), the vocal enchantress from Planet X determined to make all males do her bidding.

The Visceral Company keeps topping itself with production after fantastic production. Founders Dan Spurgeon and Drew Blakeman have an acute sense for bringing unique and entertaining shows into their theatre. The Los Angeles premiere of James Valco's Zombies from the Beyond is my favorite to date. Director (and artistic director of The Visceral Company) Dan Spurgeon clearly had a strong vision for this show and brought it to fruition.

Lara Fisher and Alex Taber as the dynamic duo, Charlie and Billy.

This show is nothing but a good time. From the start with the "Sepulchral Voice" of William Salyers and glow in the dark "credits" in "Tru-Life 3-D," its tongue-in-cheek style mimics an old B-movie, and the cast and audience alike have a great time with it. Fun choreography (by Ana Safar) moves us through the fittingly cheesy set (designed/constructed by Tommi Stugart, Angel Madrid, and Jason Thomas) where props and "special effects" are uproarious. And just wait 'til you meet The Zombettes. 

Alison England knocks it out of the park with her perfectly amazing voice and flamboyant characterization of Zombina. She makes it hard to imagine anyone else in that role. 

Daniel Jimenez sounds great and handles his role as Trenton with aplomb. 

Amelia Gotham brings poise, intelligence, and a lovely Donna Reed quality to her character of Mary. 

Alex Taber has one of my favorite numbers in the show, Atomic Feet. He dances beautifully and in my head I refer to him as Happy Feet. 

Lara Fisher is fantastic in her role as Charlie. She has my favorite number, Blast Off Baby, which she delivers in perfect pitch with absolute relish. In the interest of full disclosure I have to tell you that she's my sister, but that's not why I'm saying she's great in this's because she is.

Eric Sand is charming as Rick. When his character's secret is revealed, the transformation is terrific and his song, Big Wig, is really fun. 

Frank Blocker is a picture-perfect old-time military man. I could just see him harassing Major Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie

Amelia Gotham and Eric Sand have their boogie shoes on as Mary and Rick.

This is very much an ensemble piece, and everyone works beautifully together. 

Although we never see them, a large part of the show is the terrific live band (under the direction of Garth Herberg and Robert Finucane) that's hiding backstage. Karoly Kiss plays percussion, Karmann Hillman plays keyboards, and Robert Finucane plays keyboards and conducts.

Other hard working "behind the scenes" players include Stage Manager Rosie Santilena, Assistant Stage Manager Kirsten Turkle, Lighting Designer and Board Operator Joshua Silva, Costume Designer Pam Noles, Wig and Make-up Designer Dawn V. Dudley, Scenic Painter Jana Wimer, Follow Spot Operator Susie Santilena, Producer Drew Blakeman, and Assistant Producer Frank Blocker.

Zombies from the Beyond is in previews this weekend, officially opens Thursday, June 12, and will run on weekends through July 20. Check their website for exact dates and times.

                                  photos courtesy of The Visceral Company

The Lex Theatre
6760 Lexington Avenue
Now-July 20

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TART Uncorked for Los Angeles Youth Network

Since 1985, Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN) has been serving twelve to twenty-one year-olds experiencing homelessness with comprehensive "trauma-informed care" services and programs developed to educate and assist the youth with leading productive, independent lives.

This Thursday, you can support the great work that LAYN has been doing while tantalizing your tastebuds at TARTTART Uncorked will take place on May 29 from 7-9:30 PM and feature wines from Gallo, Chandon, Club W, and Jordan Winery curated by Sommelier Mary Thompson. Executive Chef Nick Ervren will be making tasty bites including watermelon, tomato, and jicama skewers with harissa and mintbay scallop ceviche on a crispy rice cracker, and oysters on the half shell with pink peppercorn mignonette

Fundraiser attendees will have the opportunity to bid on silent auction items which include getaways, spa days, and fine wine, while being entertained by Flamenco guitarist and L.A. native, Walter Molina. Tickets are $150 and you can purchase them by clicking here.    

TART at Farmer's Daughter
                                                                                   photo courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide

TART Uncorked
Benefit for Los Angeles Youth Network
Thursday, May 29 7pm-9:30pm
TART (at the Farmer's Daughter )
115 S. Fairfax Ave. 
(323) 556-2608

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fabulous Philadelphia

Here's how it started: King Charles II owed William Penn's father a debt for something or other, and in 1681 gave William Penn lots of land to settle that debt. And so Pennsylvania was founded.

The steps of one of the finest art museums in the world, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia, whose name translates to "brotherly love" in Greek, was founded in 1682, and in 1683 the first public parks in North America designed "for the pleasure and  convenience of the people" showed up in blueprints. Penn named it so because he wanted everyone to be able to live in harmony without fear of religious oppression. And the first public parks is just a drop in the proverbial bucket of firsts that Philly can claim. The Philadelphia that William Penn laid out was significantly smaller than the city is today, but outlying  settlements like Germantown, Roxborough, and Northern Liberties were eventually absorbed into the growing city and were incorporated under one government in 1854.

Everybody knows (or should) that  the Liberty Bell is housed there (spelling Pennsylvania with one 'n' was perfectly acceptable at the time it was forged), Independence Hall was the birthplace of the country, and - maybe most importantly - the Rocky Steps are there. But did you also know that it was once our country's capital and it was from here that our first president directed the fledgling country?

Naturally, having had the illustrious Ben Franklin as a resident and being one of the oldest cities in the U.S. gives Philadelphia a slight advantage as to having a bunch of firsts, but it's an extraordinary list that just kept on going throughout the years. Here's a very abridged list of some very notable first achievements for the colonies/country. They basically did everything...

* In 1698, the first public school in the colonies was opened in Philadelphia.
* The first botanical garden was opened by John Bartram in 1728.
* Ralph Sandiford wrote the first public treatise against slavery here in 1729, and in 1774 the nation's first anti-slavery society was formed.
* In 1731, the first Public Library was opened.
* The founding of the oldest hospital in America, The Philadelphia Hospital, was in 1732.
* Established in 1736, The Union Fire Company, was the first volunteer fire department in the colonies.              
* It was the first place you could buy fire insurance, too, as of 1752.
* The nation's first permanent theater house was built there in 1766.
* The first advertised bottled mustard made in Philly by Benjamin Jackson in 1768. Perhaps he could forsee the future popularity of giant soft pretzels in the area...
* Betsy Ross is credited with sewing together the first American flag here in 1777.
* First law school in the country, The Law School of the University of Pennsylvania, opened in 1790.
* Philadelphia housed the first federal mint beginning in 1792.
* The first art institution, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, was opened here.
* The nation's first zoo opened here in 1847.
* In 1852, the first women in the country earned medical degrees at The Female Medical College of Philadelphia (Founded 1850).
* The pneumatic mailing tube was invented there in 1892. I love those things.
* First fully electronic computer was designed and built in Philadelphia in 1946.

As to its famous foods: Soft pretzels are Philadelphia's THING. They eat about twelve times the national average. Story has it, they came into vogue after 1850 when a homeless man traded the recipe with a baker for shelter and food.

These cheesesteaks came from neither Pat's nor  Geno's, but from local favorite Jim's on South Street.

Art is everywhere!

As the name suggests,  Philly Cheesesteaks are their thing, too. They were created in 1930 by Pat Olivieri, although at the time it was just steak...the cheese was a later addition. Some say that it was Pat's main competition, Geno's, who first cheesed it up when they opened across the street in 1966. These two shops are "the" cheesesteak spots with their nationally renowned rivalry, but most locals will tell you to go to Jim's on South Street for the best cheesesteaks in town.

I've only been to Philadelphia twice, and neither trip was long enough, but based on my limited time there, I cannot overemphasize how much I LOVE this city. First of all, there's art everywhere and that's not even counting the gorgeous architecture. It's just a pleasure to look at. Also, the people are amazing. Brotherly love indeed. Perhaps it's just been a fluke, but on both trips, in all parts of the city, my sister and I met nothing but very friendly and helpful people. I'm sure plenty of nasty people are around, but it hasn't been our displeasure to meet any of them yet.

Case in point, during our last trip we stayed with locals that I'd had the good fortune to meet in Los Angeles the year before. Nam Lee, who had been a rep for Art in the Age, and her boyfriend, artist and bartender extraordinaire Thomas Buildmore hosted us at their charming home in Roxborough near Manyunk. Though laid out with an ear infection the night before, Nam had gone shopping and cooked for us. Homemade meatballs had been simmering in her authentic sauce all day, and she filled us up with wine, fruit, and brie before introducing us to some of her friends and local haunts with fabulous names like The Ugly Moose. How's that for hospitality?

Nam's authentic meatballs, which made her cozy home smell delicious.

It's a place where people truly take pride in their city, and just about everyone is happy to take time to talk to you about their favorite places to eat, drink, and visit while there. Each neighborhood has its distinct  style, and I look forward to opportunities to explore them further.

I've already written too much and haven't even left room to talk about the aforementioned places to explore, eat and drink. COMING SOON: More on Philadelphia!

Thomas made us a delicious and personalized cocktail to welcome us to their home.