Comfort Food & Moonshine? HECK YES!
My first bites at George Abou-Daoud’s Township: Kitchen Americana & Saloon…
Comfort Food & Moonshine? HECK YES!
My first bites at George Abou-Daoud’s Township: Kitchen Americana & Saloon…
District has closed, but luckily we now have Township!
George Abou-Daoud’s District On Sunset is my kind of hangout. A casual, friendly bar with killer food including a raw oyster bar, SPAM (woot!) Sliders and a Venison Relleno with Goat Cheese, that recently made GQ Magazine’s “Best New Dishes in America” list.
L.A. Times Food Critic, S. Irene Virbila wrote: “It’s a little bit steampunk, a little bit West Village back in the day. First of all, there’s the bar, a glorious hunk of mahogany that stretches from the front to the back of the long, narrow space. It was built in 1913 in France; you can’t help but wonder at all the changes and characters it must have seen in its many years.”
I think the space is a lot like its proprietor (who also owns several other eateries including the Mercantile next door). District is elegant yet so welcoming, with a surprising bit of sass on the menu.
Guess where I’ll be celebrating this New Year’s Eve?
Photos from District:
Note: This restaurant is now CLOSED.
District On Sunset
6600 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Bokado is a new Spanish restaurant, bar, and gourmet market, conveniently located ten minutes from my home in Studio City. I first read about it on LATimes.com last month, then added it to my lengthy “to do” list.
The LA Times wrote:
The casual space blends the comfortable grace of a Basque asador (grillery and roast house) with a congenial full bar where updated pintxos (tapas) include spicy patatas bravas, artisanal cheeses and oysters Rockefeller.
When my husband Peter came home early from work last week, we decided to go out for a light dinner and drinks, because it was way too hot to cook, and almost too hot to eat!
Bokado, which means “little bites” in Basque, sounded perfect. When we arrived, the outdoor patio tables were already filled, so we went inside (where it was nice and cool) and grabbed seats at the bar. The interior is modern but also really charming, with the small gourmet market (or gourmet counter really) at the entrance.
As we walked in, we couldn’t help but stop and admire the red-hot standing Berkel slicer near the front window. Someone once told me that the reason chefs prefer this motorless, hand-cranked meat slicer is because the blade doesn’t heat up when slicing paper-thin pieces of meats like prosciutto. On electric-powered slicers, the blade can become too hot, which in turn changes the flavor of the meat.
After we settled in our seats and ordered, I noticed that Bokado owner Frank Leon was in the house, graciously stopping at every table to say hello. Frank also owns La Loggia, a nearby Italian restaurant that we’ve gone to for years, and next to La Loggia is a tapas bar conveniently called “Next Door”, which Frank owns as well.
The tapas (or pintxos) we had at Bokado were delicious and filling, but we still need to go back for a full dinner. I really liked the bar atmosphere because it was light and relaxing, so I’m sure we’ll be spending a lot of summer evenings there with friends.
On our way out, we stopped to take a closer look at the goodies for sale at the cute, little market. The entire back wall was stacked with gorgeous baguettes, and the refrigerated display case held bottles of truffle oil, cheeses, meats and small containers of imported ingredients including quince paste. I like the flavor of quince because it’s not overly sweet, but have never purchased the paste to use at home.
When I asked to buy a container, the gals behind the register couldn’t find a price list anywhere, because as it turned out, they weren’t ready to actually SELL any of the market items yet! Peter and I just laughed and said we’d pick it up on our next visit, but owner Frank overheard the conversation and insisted we take home the quince paste as a gift. Thanks Frank!
Note: This restaurant is now closed
12345 Ventura Blv.
Studio City, CA 91604
Note: Bokado is open for breakfast and lunch too!
After multiple visits to the Bazaar (this being number eleven), Peter and I get most excited when we’re bringing in “Bazaar Virgins” (first timers) to the restaurant. It’s even more fun when they’re big time foodies like our friends Ron and Diane. Thanks to the wonderful staff (William, Felix, Alison, Audra!), we were seated at my favorite table in the Rojo room, with a direct view of the open kitchen.
It’s always a delight when Amanda rolls up to our table with the liquid nitrogen cart (or caviar or cotton candy). And I love when servers that aren’t even working our table (Calvin and Hugh) stop by for a quick hello. I’ve had several people ask me why I keep returning to the Bazaar, when there are so many other places to try, and honestly… besides the incredible food and fun atmosphere, it’s because they make me (and my “virgins”) feel perfectly welcome on each and every visit.
THANK YOU to everyone at Bazaar and SLS!
The Bazaar by José Andrés, SLS Hotel
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 9004
Dining date: 4/26/09
Casa Vega restaurant in Sherman Oaks has always meant “pure comfort” to me. Peter and I have been regulars since 1994 (when I moved from San Diego), and for years we ate there at least once a week. That was before the smoking ban came into effect (not that either of us ever smoked), and before hungry patrons were forbidden to drink cocktails outside.
They’ve never taken reservations, and back then we didn’t mind sitting out in the waiting area for an hour or more, because the covered patio felt like an extension of the inside bar. We always had the same drink; Two large “Tres Generaciones” Margaritas on the rocks.
After making our way into the actual bar, we’d wait a bit longer and loved watching the crowd. It was such a wild mix of people: Studio execs (like Peter), families with small kids, single gals and guys on the prowl, and a fair share of San Fernando Valley’s aspiring porn stars.
Our favorite tables were (and are still) one of the wall booths in the back right, larger dining room. If you’ve never been, and like people-watching, they’re well worth waiting for. From there, you can keep an eye out for whoever is coming into the dark room, and over the years we’ve spotted (to name just a few); Jennifer Aniston (several times, pre and post Brad), Mickey Dolenz from the Monkeys, and the one and only (“give-me-another-margarita-so-I’m-brave-enough-to-say hi”) George Clooney.
After settling in our booth, we never had to pick up a menu or actually order our food. The waiter would look at us and say, “One Casa Vega salad, one carnitas combo to share, flour tortillas, and a chile relleno on the side, right?”
Our love for the restaurant extends throughout our family. When my brother Greg visits from Scotland, the first place he wants to go in ALL of Los Angeles (straight from the airport) is Casa Vega. It’s legendary even in far away Bridge of Weir and Glasgow, although like most locals he refers to it as simply, “Vega”.
On the afternoon of 9/11, like everyone, we were glued to our television re-watching the footage and listening to a frightened America shut down. Our good friend and neighbor, Nelson, was with us and we sat around in tears, holding our dogs and feeling helpless.
After awhile I just got angry and didn’t want to sit home and cry anymore. I jumped up and said, “That’s IT… we are NOT going to stay here and be afraid… we’re going to Vega”. Thank goodness they were open. It was early (5pm or so) and there were only a few other people in the bar. Slowly, the restaurant started filling up and although the mood was somber, the camaraderie in the room made it okay to be out getting drunk and socializing on such a horrible, tragic day. Nothing could take away the shock of what happened earlier in the morning, but that meal at Casa Vega was one of the most comforting I’ve ever had.
Admittedly, the food isn’t pretty to look at, but it is ooey gooey delicious. We’ve spent many a crowded Cinco de Mayo there and no matter what the occasion, we never stray from our favorite dishes: One Casa Vega salad (a crisp tortilla with chorizo, spiced beans, lettuce, tomato, beets and parmesan cheese), one Carnitas combo to share (tender pieces of seasoned pork, served on a bed of shredded lettuce with freshly made pico de gallo), flour tortillas, and a chile relleno on the side. And of course at least two “Tres Generaciones”Margaritas on the rocks. Now, that’s pure comfort if you ask me.
13301 Ventura Blvd (at Fulton Ave)
Dining Date: Since 1994
Dining in the new Saam restaurant makes you feel special. It’s located behind a secured, nondescript door near Bar Centro, at the Bazaar by José Andrés. Each of the twenty courses (one or two bites each) are brought out on individual plates, while you sit at one of the exclusive, coveted tables. To me, it feels like a sleek and sexy modern-day speakeasy.
The service? Impeccable. I haven’t been to Alinea yet, but I’m guessing the experience is close, or at least as close as we’re going to get here in Los Angeles! It’s like flying first class, where you’re treated like a celebrity and you know it. Especially true for an early dinner on opening weekend. We were one of the first to be seated for the Saturday evening service, and at times there were four staff members looking after the two of us.
The food? It was my ninth visit to the Bazaar and I knew the menu backwards and forwards, so I was pleasantly surprised to find each dish “kicked up a notch”, and thrilled to try a few new bites as well. I found myself mouthing “wow” to my husband Peter, especially when we were served updated versions of dishes we tried on previous visits.
“Saam: The Chef’s Tasting Menu” is printed on top of each take-home menu (rolled up and tied with a little black ribbon), a great souvenir to remember an elegant evening. But throughout our wonderful dinner, I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing. The food was the best I’d ever had at the Bazaar, so that wasn’t it. Our server Charlie was attentive, engaging and throughly knowledgeable. Carolina was nearby in case we had any needs or questions as well. Managers William and Felix stopped by to ensure that we (and later, each and every table) were enjoying the evening, but my dinner still felt incomplete. Why?
Because “Saam: The Chef’s Tasting Room” was missing the one thing I love most about the Bazaar (besides the food), it was missing the chefs.
My favorite tables at the Bazaar are one of the two “Tron” tables in the Rojo room. They’re not officially called “Tron” tables… that’s just what we call them because they have cool laser-like red lights beneath the surface. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to have a seat facing the open kitchen was at one of the these tables. I loved watching Chef Voltaggio warm up the “smoking” gun to finish off the salmon dishes. And as a fan of the show “Top Chef”, could there be anything better than seeing Chef Marcel Vigneron working the foam? By the way, I think the show portrayed him as an arrogant nitwit, because in person he’s a real sweetheart.
After we finished our evening at Saam, we made our way to the Rojo kitchen where the kitchen staff was in full swing. It was busy, crowded and the room was filled with the frenetic energy that I missed. It sort of felt like I had been at the wrong party earlier.
Do I recommend Saam? Absolutely. Especially if it’s your first visit to the Bazaar. It’s quieter and more focused than either the Rojo or the Blanca room, and you’ll be carefully guided through a palate pleasing, high-flying experience. Heck, it’s not that I don’t like flying first class (the few times I’ve experienced it), it’s just that I like watching the crew even better.
Tasting Menu is $120 per person.
Course #4: Olive Oil Bonbon This was such a treat!! I first saw this being made on “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” by Chef Andrés and his Minibar Chefs: Ruben Garcia and Katsuya Fukushima. It’s like a candy shell filled with olive oil. Into your mouth and it crumbles. SO AMAZING.
Course #8: Jose’s Ham and Cheese. I LOVED the Jamón Ibérico with the soft La Serena cheese inside the “air bread”. This was one of the “kicked up” dish updates, similar to “Philly Cheesesteak”. La Serena is a creamy, aromatic (aka really stinky which I love!) cheese from Extremadura in Western Spain.
Course #17: Tournedos Rossinii 2009. Wagyu beef, truffle and foie gras. MORE PLEASE!
Course #18: Dragon’s Breath (caramel popcorn “cooked” in liquid nitrogen). Currently only served in the Saam room, we’ve enjoyed it several times before. It’s FUN!
Watch the episode with the Olive Oil Bonbon!
In the kitchen with the chefs
Sunday night at the Bazaar with Phil from “My Life As A Foodie”, his wife Katrina, and fellow food-lovers Dean and Stephanie.
When we were seated at the “Chefs Table” in the Rojo Room, Peter and I made sure that he and I were the two diners facing AWAY from the open kitchen. We had four eager “Bazaar Virgins” with us and for them to get the most of the experience, they faced the chefs, giving them first-class seats to the “show”!
We shared many of what I now call “essential” tapas from both the Blanca and Rojo menus. These are dishes we get every visit and include: Jamón Ibérico, Chicken and Béchamel Fritters, Sea Urchin with Avocado in a Steamed Mini Bun and Philly Cheesesteak Air Bread (photo links below).
This was my eighth dinner at Bazaar. Had I tried everything on both the Rojo and Blanco menus? Well no, to be honest there were still a few vegetable dishes I’d been avoiding. It’s not that I don’t like veggies, it’s just that when presented with a choice between plump butifarra (sausage) or brussel sprouts… I’m going to always insist on the meats (or seafood or foie gras) first.
Our evening was made even more delightful when Chef Voltaggio presented a NEW, elegant salmon dish that he wanted us to try. The “Smoked” Salmon was cooked sous vide (French for “under vacuum”), served with cucumber “noodles” and set on top of a small potato blintz. This was all presented under a glass dome and served on a piece of black slate. Before leaving the kitchen, the dome was lifted slightly and Chef Voltaggio “smoked” the salmon with a culinary *smoking gun. When the servers brought the salmon to the table, puffs of smoke gently wafted from under the glass as the domes were removed. It was cool (and tasted heavenly).
General Manager, William Douillet, seemed to always “magically” appear when there was the slightest inquiry. Thoughtful and courteous, he always makes each visit a “special” occasion. Our four friends, no longer “Bazaar Virgins”, still haven’t stopped talking about the experience.
Tapas we tried on this visit:
Cheese from right to left: This was my first taste of La Serena, a creamy, aromatic (aka really stinky which I love!) cheese from Extremadura in Western Spain. Valdeón is a rich, creamy, intensely-flavored cow and goat’s milk blue cheese, saltier than Stilton and not as intense as Cabrales. Idiazábal is the national cheese of the Basque country, is made from sheep’s milk and is usually smoked. Served with Picos (Spanish crispy bread) and Quince jam. 3 Quesos $15
The “Smoked” Salmon, cooked sous vide with Cucumber Noodles, then “smoked” with a smoking gun, served over a small Potato Blintz. The flavors and textures were OUTSTANDING… perfectly cooked salmon, with faux cucumber noodles on crispy potatoes.
Wild Mushroom Rice with Idiazábal Cheese, $10. A creamy, savory tapas version of the rice dish Marcel surprised us with on visit #4 (sans truffles).
“Essential” Bazaar Tapas that we get on every visit:
Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham)
‘Pa amb’ tomaquet (bread with tomato in Catalan)
My Bazaar Photos on Flickr
Bazaar by José Andrés, SLS Hotel
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining Date: 3/29/09