Monday, April 20, 2015

Delicious Elegance: Continental in Toluca Lake


UPDATE: I was just informed that after only 7 weeks, the restaurant was closed suddenly and permanently. I'm disappointed because it seemed to be a really terrific spot, but read on for a history of the building and what WAS going on there. 

For nearly sixty years, the restaurant space across from Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake has been a popular hangout for locals and stars alike. This site was built as the very first International House of Pancakes back in 1958, when they never would have dreamed of shortening the name to an acronym. In the mid-'70s it became Hamptons, the famed celebrity hang-out and original gourmet burger joint. It remained so until 1995 when Jay Sadofsky turned it into Mo's. And now, the restaurant formerly known as Mo's has had a beautiful makeover and reopened as Continental earlier this year. 

Founding partner Jay Sadofsky and his new partner, executive chef Jesse Genovese, kept the restaurant open to feed its varied and loyal clientele while slowly renovating the iconic building into an elegant Arts & Crafts look with gorgeous wood paneling. The artistic piéce de résistance painted by Don Hanson - a large, multi-paneled artist's interpretation of Toluca Lake before the country club and homes moved in - was put up right before the new menu launched on February 26.

The new menu features an eclectic mix of goodies like the super savory Thai Seafood Bouillabaisse (fresh shrimp, scallops, calamari, & vegetables cooked in a creamy coconut, lemongrass, & kaffir lime broth),  Moroccan Chicken (with lentils, sweet potatoes, carrots, and mustard greens with a saffron curry sauce), and vegetarian/vegan fare like Jay Bird (house-made vegan patty, dairy-free cheddar, vegan bacon, and sriracha thousand island dressing). 

You can't go wrong meeting there for a drink…Continental's international wine list is curated by Doug LaGambina, owner of neighboring Spin the Bottle Wine Studio. For lovers of spirits, Chet Abbot's revamped cocktail menu features some terrific drinks like my favorite, the Christopher Oaxacan (El Silencio Mezcal, pineapple juice, lime juice, and agave nectar). Mr. Abbot also ensured that beer lovers will be happy with a craft beer selection that includes nine bottles and fourteen on-tap choices. 

4301 Riverside Drive
Toluca Lake, CA
(818) 845-3009
photos courtesy of Lawrence Moore & Associates

Monday, March 16, 2015

Go Irish with MOTAC

As of tomorrow, March 17, Tuesdays will be a little better with Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) Tuesday Tastings at The Three Clubs in Hollywood. From tomorrow on, you're invited to stop by any Tuesday between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. for a complimentary tasting and discussion about the spirit.

For the first of the Tuesday Tastings series, Michael Neff leads guests in a tasting of Redbreast Irish Whiskey

If you're not feeling Irish enough, keep the spirit of St. Patrick alive by attending Drinking Hibernia: Irish Whiskey in Cocktail and Song on March 25. 

MOTAC has a wonderfully educational imbibing evening planned for you at the historic General Lee's Bar in L.A.'s Chinatown, where you'll learn not only how to select and appreciate a good Irish whiskey, but also how to distinguish it from its Canadian and Scotch counterparts. Stories will be told, whiskey from the Pernod Ricard portfolio will be sipped, and traditional Irish music will fill the night as you nibble on classic Chinese appetizers. Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door. 

MOTAC Tuesday Tastings
Tuesdays from 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
The 3 Clubs
1123 Vine St. 
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Drinking Hibernia: Irish Whiskey in Cocktail and Song
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
6:30 p.m.- 8:30 p.m.
General Lee's 
475 Gin Ling Way
Los Angeles, CA 900012
MOTAC event website

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Festival of the Desert

This Wednesday, March 18, the likes of conductor Philippe Jordan, soprano Renée Fleming, ballet dancer David Hallberg, Quincy Jones (who needs no preface to his name), and celebrity chef Cat Cora are coming together for the inaugural launch of Festival of the Desert. Kind of a cultured Coachella, if you will. 

Lovers of the arts will agree that this all-day event sounds pretty awesome: festivities begin at 11:00 a.m. with The Genius of the Émigré Composer concert, and culminate in the evening with a recital by world-renowned opera singer, Renée Fleming, with Maestro Jordan tickling the ivories, followed by a gala reception with Chef Cora promising an unforgettable dining experience. The gala will feature a musical program curated by the great Quincy Jones as well as a dance program featuring acclaimed dancer, David Hallberg. Tickets for each event are sold separately. Visit their website for more information. 

Festival of the Desert
Palm Desert, CA
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Event Times & Locations Vary 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Food Fare: A Delicious Way to Support PPLA

Since its beginnings as a cooking demonstration with Julia Child thirty-six years ago, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA) has been holding the fundraiser, Food Fare, annually so that you can support a great cause while eating and drinking to your heart's content. This year, over one hundred of SoCal's finest restaurants, wineries, breweries, and purveyors of fine libations will be presenting gourmet indulgences for your palate's pleasure. 

Brew lovers will be thrilled to chill out in The Beer Chicks' Beer Garden where  beer from nearly a dozen local craft breweries can be paired with all of the deliciousness.  

In addition to all of the dining and imbibing, you can shop to support women's health, as the Food Fare will have many retailers like Andrew Weiss Gallery, Bedhead Pajamas, Tough Cookies, and Two Gems to entice you. Of course, a percentage of each sale will go back to PPLA.  

Want to try your luck? Raffle for Choice will include fantastic prizes for lucky winners including things like a Maui Travel Package for four nights at the Four Seasons, Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tour for 8, and a year's worth of gift certificates from some of Southern California's best restaurants. 

PPLA plays an extremely important role in the health of Angelenos. Their education and community outreach program reach nearly 60,000 men, women, and children each year. Last year, PPLA provided over 270,000 patient visits throughout L.A. County, including cancer screenings, annual exams, birth control, and STD treatment and testing. 

Come on out to Santa Monica's Barker Hangar on Thursday, March 5 to feel good about eating and drinking too much. Bought in advance, the daytime session (11AM-2PM) is $150, and the evening session (6:30-9:30) is $250. Add $25 to each price if you're buying at the door. 

PPLA Food Fare
Thursday, March 5, 2015
11-2 OR 6:30-9:30
Barker Hanger
3021 Airport Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(213) 284-3300

photos courtesy of Ann Flower Communications

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Horn, West Hollywood

The Horn first opened this past October as a steakhouse catering to adventurous carnivores, with an emphasis on American-sourced wild game. Chef Aaron Mitrano's recently revamped menu gives a nod to their former bill of fare with Gator Bites and a Buffalo Burger, but is mostly pretty traditional with dishes like the tasty Salmon with soy glaze, mushrooms, and sesame tomato salsa and Pork Ragu with bacon & white beans, and gremolata.

One of the house specialties is the wood-charred Octopus with black pasta and spicy tomato sauce, and you won't go wrong with the Tuna Tartar appetizer served on a bed of avocado, with wasabi soy dressing and chips (which I would gladly order and eat as my main course).

This elegant-yet-homey restaurant and bar is something different than we've seen on the Boulevard in West Hollywood before. The relaxed atmosphere and refined aesthetic make it a perfect place to get together with friends or romantic interests when you're looking for a place to meet and chat without the "scene" that comes with many West Hollywood haunts. And, I'm kind of in love with their rhinoceros at the host stand. 

At the bar, you'll find tasty classics like the Sazerac and Sidecar, along with some new creations like the Cinema. This combination of Gentleman Jack, Popcorn Simple Syrup, and Caramel Corn tastes best served straight up, with a bit of the scrumptious caramel corn on the side so you can enjoy the crunch. 

If you're an absinthe lover, or just absinthe curious, they are knowledgable about it and have a nice selection.

Weekend brunch here is popular, due in part to the reasonably priced bottomless mimosas. Wednesdays give you 50% off bottles of wine all day long, and I noticed they have a late night Happy Hour, though I didn't peruse that menu.

The Horn
8933 Santa Monica Blvd. 
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 933-6678
food photos taken by me, interiors courtesy of Urban + Allen

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