For years and years, I have been an avid fan of Food Network Star — going all the way back to its genial, awkward first season which saw two party planner guys take home the inaugural crown. Since then, we’ve witnessed many dubious winners claim the big prize (ahem, Big Daddy’s House) while more deserving runners-up go home empty-handed. Well, sort of empty handed. Some near-misses have found success with Food Network despite premature ejection from their star path. Kelsey Nixon and Adam Gertler have had post-Food Network Star runs, and so has Jeffrey Saad, whose season five loss was parlayed into hosting gigs for Spice Smuggler and later United Tastes of America.
Saad, it should be noted, also helms his very own restaurant, La Ventura, here in Los Angeles, and last week, I was invited to a media-comped dinner at the establishment. FINALLY — I would be able to sample the cooking of a Food Network star. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of.
(And yes, I’m fully aware that I could just traipse over to any of Guy Fieri’s dining establishments, but I do like to maintain a certain level of dignity.) …… (Full disclosure, I’m typing this unshowered in my underwear.)
I don’t often review things for Amazon, but I felt compelled to write up something about my friend Cathy Chaplin‘s new book, Food Lovers’ Guide To Los Angeles because I loved it so much (and I’m not just saying that because Cathy is a friend). Anyway, I figured rather than write a whole new entry here on the blog, I might as well just share my review.
After the jump, check out my thoughts on Cathy’s book. Spoiler alert: I approve.
It may be shocking to believe, but there are seasons in Los Angeles, and even though the temperatures still linger in the high 60s, restaurants have filled their menus with braises and root vegetables and all that hearty fare we expect at this time of the year. One such spot is Osteria Drago, which has taken up residence in the former Il Sole space on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Fun fact: Il Sole was where Victoria and Jonathan of The Amazing Race took J-Unit and I to dinner i order to clear their names after the infamous Shovegate of 2005. They paid for dinner, and all was forgiven. What can I say? I’m an easy mark.
Nevertheless, I was recently invited to a media-comped meal yet again at Osteria Drago, but this time I can assure you the intentions were far more noble. After the jump, check out some pics of the food, and prepare yourself to be very, very hungry.
A few weeks ago, after I had been invited to a media-comped meal of various Quebecois treats at P’tit Soleil in Westwood, I knew I just had to make some sort of crazy poutine pun in my headline. It took me a while, but I’m thankful for the musical genius of Akinyele for the assist (link not safe for work, btw). Anyway, now that I’ve officially patted myself on the back for my vulgar punnage, let’s move on, shall we?
What do we know about poutine? Well, it’s a French Canadian indulgence involving gravy and cheese curds over fries. I first had it back in college on a fraternity trip up to Montreal where after a night of visiting such fine establishments as Club Super Sexe (real place, fake boobies), my BROS and I headed to McDonalds and enjoyed some poutine with our fries. Probably not the best exposure to the stuff. Fast forward 14 years [as I gently weep for time passed], and I found myself in the heart of “Tehrangeles,” amidst various eateries hawking any variety of Persian delicacies. Not P’tit Soleil, however. This place is all French Canadian all the time (sort of like Club Super Sexe, if you think about it, but probably more hygienic). Nevertheless, I was eager to reacquaint myself with poutine, even if it did mean loosening up the ol’ belt a notch or two.
A few months ago, I raved about the totally awesome spring cocktails at Drago Centro, the esteemed Italian eatery in Downtown Los Angeles. Well, the seasons have changed, and so have the libations. Gone are mixologist Jaymee Mandeville’s fanciful uses of dill and honeycomb and kumquat. In their place are a new slate of drinks, many of which feature my most mortal enemy: BERRIES.
Avid readers of this blog know that I have some strange, woeful distaste for berries that makes me generally gag upon first taste, not to mention whiff. But given that being a food blogger is very serious business, I felt it was my God-given duty to bravely put aside my own apprehensions and dive headfirst into the fruity minefield that is the Drago Centro summer cocktail menu. Never has a media-comped meal been so fraught with anxiety.
Did I survive? Well, obviously yes. I’m here writing, aren’t I? But the trauma, the agony — was I able to rise above? Pictures of this most important journey after the jump…
In case you hadn’t heard, burger-mania has struck Los Angeles — specifically, fancy gourmet burgers. It started years ago with The Father’s Office. Then came The Counter and 8 oz. Burger (RIP) and Umami. Now the city is littered with gussied up, high quality concepts. From Stout to 25 Degrees, these burger joints are everywhere, and I’m honestly okay with it. More options for us (although, perhaps it’s time to rein it in — I once had a burger at Go-Burger in Hollywood that featured a “Black Angus Beef Patty, Caramelized Onions, Bacon & GO Burger Sauce between Two Slender Rye & Gruyere Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.” It represented both a high point and a low point in my burger history).
Anyway, throwing their ring into this beefy circus is Burger Lounge, a small, regional chain that actually stated way back in 2007 in San Diego. Its first Los Angeles location opened up a few months ago on the famed Sunset Strip with an emphasis on healthy, sustainable ingredients. Sounds noble. The restaurant recently invited me in for a media-comped meal where I sampled many of the goods. Does Burger Lounge prove to be a worthy addition to the crowded burger marketplace? Pics after the jump…
Small plates are a big thing in Los Angeles these days, which can be a blessing and a curse — if I may be so dramatic. On the upside, small plates lead to greater variety in a meal, and they also engender a convivial social element that comes from sharing food with friends. On the downside, they’re not always a great value. $14 for three shrimp? $13 for a smattering of chorizo? It doesn’t take long to find oneself $30 – $40 in the hole and still suffering from serious hunger pangs.
Luckily, Mezze on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood offers up small plates that don’t insult diners with big price tags and diminutive offerings. That’s not to say the plates are the cheapest. However, the quantity of food is more than enough to leave hungry patrons feeling satisfied (and more importantly — not ripped off).
The restaurant specializes in “Eastern Mediterranean” dishes: flavors culled from both the Fertile Crescent (shawarma, e.g.) and Jewish tradition (chicken livers with challah). The latter influence comes courtesy of Micah Wexler, who oversees a sizable menu full of interesting options. I hit up Mezze earlier this week as part of a media-comped meal, and I can assure you I wanted to order almost everything. However, I had to limit myself begrudgingly thanks to an ill-timed late afternoon burger binge for lunch. I don’t always think these things through you see…
After the jump, check out pics of the restaurant in all its glory.
When it comes to dining in Los Angeles, I more or less stick to a grid that spans from West Hollywood to Downtown (with many stops in Koreatown in between). It’s not often that I head west to Brentwood or Santa Monica, and it’s even rarer that I head off to the South Bay, a region of beach communities including Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo Beaches, among others. That may all be changing very soon though thanks to my first glorious dinner at MB Post, a relatively new restaurant (or “Social House,” as it bills itself) in Manhattan Beach. I’m not saying that I’m going to become a regular on the South Bay dining scene, but I may just need to make regular trips for the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits alone.
Garlic peeling can be pretty easy — just crush a clove under a knife and be done with it. However, if you’re peeling a bunch of cloves, after a while, everything starts to get sticky, paper gets everywhere, the process becomes kind of annoying. Imagine my excitement then when OXO sent me a garlic peeler for review. You can see me using it in the video above, but for a (slightly) more comprehensive take and to learn how you can win a FREE garlic peeler from OXO, follow the jump!
Recently, I attempted to peel two butternut squashes with my usually reliable vegetable peeler, but I found that the gourd’s skin was entirely too thick for the tool. I thus procured an Oxo Y-Peeler, much like the ones I’d seen various hosts use on the Food Network. For those who are unclear, a Y-peeler looks something like a disposable razor (or, more specifically, like the letter “y”) and requires you to hold it parallel to whatever vegetable or fruit you’ll be peeling. A swivel peeler on the other hand necessitates a perpendicular angle for peeling.
The real question was if the new Y-peeler could stand up against butternut squash. With the help of Lisa Timmons, I recorded a quick little video demonstrating both peelers. You’ll find the results to be RATHER fascinating. Rather fascinating INDEED.