Monday, July 30, 2012

Soleto: Solid Italian and Housemade Limoncello in Downtown LA

The South Park district in downtown Los Angeles is getting more and more exciting with two new restaurant openings. One of them is Soleto, an upscale Italian restaurant from the IDG Restaurant Group which took over the old Zucca space. Soleto is run by Executive Chef Sascha Lyon who is also in charge of the kitchen at Delphine.

I say it's upscale, but Soleto has a pretty great happy hour (M-F, 3-7pm), especially where the food is concerned. There were quite a few items that were all really cheap and good! The portion sizes are quite good as well. Here are some of the happy hour items we tried:

Shrimp Oreganato ($5)

This whole pot of shrimp for $5? You can come here for an early dinner during happy hour and have a feast!

This Sauteed Calamari with Anaheim chili and tomatoes is also only $5!
Much more interesting and better than the typical fried calamari.

I also recommend the Charred Cauliflower, Grana Padano, parsley ($3)
Grana Padano is a hard Italian cheese, similar in texture to parmesan cheese but milder. You'll see this cheese in many of Soleto's dishes. 

For drinks, there are sangria and "cello spritzer" (one of their housemade limoncellos/orange-cellos with soda) for $3.
OK, so that's happy hour. Now, on to dinner.

You won't really find duplicates from the happy hour menu here. The popular appetizers include Grilled Oyster Mushrooms, grana padano, white truffle lemon vinaigrette ($12)
These earthy mushrooms were made even better with the sprinkling of grana padano cheese. I can definitely eat these all day.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Giveaway: Robert Mondavi Wants to Give You FREE GAS!

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Wines wants you to explore the beauties of the California Central Coast, where their Private Selection wines are made. You can take a virtual tour of the Central Coast by following their Facebook page, where they will showcase the best of Central Coast - food, views, and everything else. But why not take a trip and discover the region (or a place like the Central Coast closer to you) on your own? 

Robert Mondavi  wants you to! So, they want to give you a $25 gas card, which you can use to take a road trip to you nearest wine country. If you live in Southern California, that would be the Central Coast, but if you live in another state, just use to visit the equivalent of the Central Coast!

Oh, and I'm trying out this new widget for you to enter giveaways, so try it out below and let me know how that works out! Good luck!

*UPDATE: I realize that with the Punchtab giveaway widget, a lot of people were getting comment entries without actually commenting on the post. If your comment entry is picked but you didn't actually comment, I will redraw the winner. And I probably won't be using the punchtab widget again ..

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The 4-Day LA Food and Wine Festival Returns Aug 9-12, Recap of 2011 Lexus Grand Tasting

The LA Food and Wine Festival is a four-day extravaganza with various lunches and dinners around town featuring celebrity chefs, with two days of a grand tasting event on Saturday and Sunday. This year's events include an Italian fiesta with Giada, an Asian Night Market with Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, a champagne and caviar night, and dinners with Graham Elliott, Ming Tsai, the Voltaggio brothers, Michael Chiarello, etc.The full event listing can be seen here, and you can buy tickets for each event separately.

Oh, let's not forget the most important part. These events benefit St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels. They provide about 3000 meals a day for seniors!

Last year, thanks to Lexus, I was lucky enough to attend a lunch featuring the Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto at WP24, and one of the Lexus Grand Tasting Event. While most of the food festivals in LA features LA's best chefs and restaurants, the Lexus Grand Tasting Event brings some from out of town, so we get to try food from some of the best in the country. This year's out-of-town list includes Gale Gand from Tru (Chicago), Francois Payard, and Stephan Pyles.

Here are some photos from last year's Lexus Grand Tasting:

Duroc Pork Tenderloin, corn pudding, gremolata or bacon and corn, blackberry cipollini by Bradley Ogden's root 246.

The Lexus lounge is definitely worth a visit, offering some of the more luxurious items like foie gras (well, I guess not this year...), lobster, and truffles.

Foie gras lollipops, almonds, cocoa nibs, banana cotton candy

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Crispy Empanadas and Pickled Pig's Feet at Panchita (San Felipe, Baja, Mexico)

You find gems in unexpected places. Even in places you already expected to be good, you can still find unexpected dishes. Such was the case with Cenaduria Panchita in San Felipe.

During the last Baja trip, our host took us to Panchita for the best empanadas in town, but to our delight we also found ... pickled pig's feet! This specialty of Jalisco was quite a treat, with the bright pickle flavors counteracting the fatty pig's skin. Very different than the sweet Chinese style I'm used to.
Of course, there are the empanadas. After all, that's what Panchita is locally famous for. They also serve taquitos and other things, but I didn't find those particularly memorable.

Here, the meat-filled empanadas are fried (according to Street Gourmet LA, this is more Baja style than Jalisco).
What I really loved about these empanadas was the thinner skin, and of course the crispiness from the frying. These were some of the best empanadas I've had recently. I wish I could've taken some back to LA but they would've gotten soggy. I guess I'll just have to return to San Felipe to have them for breakfast!

Iced Jamaica, much needed in the hot San Felipe summer

Cenaduria Panchita
Calle Ensenada #201
San Felipe, Mexicali, Baja California
Mexico, CP21850

Monday, July 23, 2012

Simmzy's Takes Over Long Beach

Simmzy's had just opened in Long Beach and it was already as popular as their first location in Manhattan Beach. We came on a Saturday and their open dining room was packed, with a waiting list for tables.

Lucky for us, we were being hosted by the restaurant, so we didn't have to wait for a table.

The place is also already popular enough for them to put up this sign!

At Simmzy's, you gotta order from their 31 rotating beers on tap (they also have 10 wines on tap). We had a beer flight with Allagash Victoria, Lost Abbey's Lost and Found, Monkish Anomaly, Hangar 24 Essence
This was the first time I tried a beer from Monkish, a new brewery down in Torrance, and it was pretty good. The Essence is a double IPA and too hoppy for me (I'm not big on hoppy beers), so I stuck with Lost Abbey, possibly my favorite Southern California brewery. We also tried Karl's Flan-diddly-anders, a Flanders red from Karl Strauss Brewing, which was lightly sour. 

The kitchen sent out a sampler of their appetizers:
Ahi tartar with spicy soy, avocado, scallions, fried wonton. Seared tuna, jalapeño, and shrimp in spicy sauce
I quite liked the seared tuna, topped with a slice of jalapeno. I didn't see this on the regular menu, but the treat shows what the kitchen can do.

The appetizers at Simmzy's are big and meant to be shared. If you've never been to a Simmzy's before, this one is a must order:
Blue Cheese Haystack ($6) - shoestring fries tossed with homemade blue cheese dressing, garlic, and a touch of spicy sauce
The crispy fries were the perfect vehicle for that blue cheese+spicy sauce mixture. A dangerous snack to have on the table.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eat.Drink.Americano, Downtown LA Gastropub

Another gastropub has popped up down the street from Wurstkuche. When you want more than sausages and truffle-y fries, head to Eat. Drink. Americano for some cheese, small bites, or flatbreads with your drink.

The craft beers and wines are all from California (as you can see from the wall decor, they're sticking with local). They also carry a couple of wines on tap. The 2009 Silver Tap Zinfandel from Sonoma County ($7) is a robust one to go with food.

The menu is divided into cured meats and cheeses, bites, and flatbreads. Since the place is new, the menu is still evolving. We focused on the "bites" portion and pretty much got the whole section, starting with the Duck and Pickles ($14)
Confit of duck, pickled vegetables, and baguettes. Simple and satisfying.

King Crab Canneloni and Cauliflower Foam ($15)
You can't really see the canneloni under the foam in this picture, but the tube-shaped pasta is filled with lumps of king crab. The cauliflower foam was a good complement and fun to boot (although there was a tad too much of it).

I was looking forward to trying their steak tartar with mustard ice cream that I read about, but they didn't have it the night I went. Oh, well, instead I found their Soft Shell Crab Sandwich ($13)!
This was my absolute favorite. The crispy soft shell crab is sandwiched between biscuits with a creamy mayo dressing. For me, it's the crunch of the seaweed is what really made it. Get this while they have it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DineLA 2011: Lunch at Napa Valley Grille

The first summer DineLA Restaurant Week started earlier this week, so I thought I'd do a quick post on one of my Dine LA visits from last year. I had lunch at Napa Valley Grille last Fall, and the $22 per person for three courses was a great deal! (The format this year unfortunately does not have dessert for lunch. It is $20 for two courses. Not sure why, I want my desserts!)

I used to go to Napa Valley Grille a lot when I worked in Westwood, but since then I haven't gone as much. The lunch was a pleasant reminder of Napa Valley Grille's good food and generous portions!

Chopped Kale Salad, toasted almonds, golden raisin, lemon parmesan vinaigrette

Very fresh and light! I don't like salads with too much dressing, but this one had a nice light dressing and a lot of the flavors came from the almonds and raisins.

Tahitian Squash Soup, pomegranate syrup, pistachio pesto
The entrees:
Marinated Ahi Tuna Salad, heirloom cherry tomatoes, dry cured olives, anchovy vinaigrette, country croutons
This lighter option still had plenty of tuna to fill you up for the rest of the day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 22: Angeleno Magazine's Live and Dine LA (+ 2011 recap)

Live & Dine LA, the event celebrating Angeleno Magazine's Annual Restaurant Awards, is coming  back on July 22 to the Fairmont Miramar. It's not just an award show, which happens during the VIP reception, but the main event features tastings from various restaurants and liquor brands. Keep in mind that the many of the award winners will naturally be participating (plus other restaurants), and this is after all, the annual restaurant awards, so this will be a tasting of the best among the best.

The 2010 event was already great, but 2011 was probably twice the size, with the same kind of quality.

Last year's winner included Red Medicne, Sotto, Robata Jinya, mixologist Julian Cox, Roy Choi, and others.

FIG at the Fairmont Miramar is of course always participating. They brought out a whole roasted pig for some pork tacos. Hang around a bit and see if you can get some of the crispy skin!

The crab salad wrap from A-Frame (Best New Restaurant) was a crowd favorite, and I had to go back for seconds.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wake Up The Zombie: Breakfast at The Raymond (Pasadena)

The Raymond and 1886 Bar have been my favorites in Pasadena, but I still have not been there during daylight, until now. They had been doing brunch but recently also started a weekend breakfast menu. I was invited in to try their new breakfast items (and cocktails!) on a Saturday "morning". On a nice warm day, opt for a table outside.

On the menu were the breakfast pastries and other backed goods, the eggs, and other breakfast staples like blueberry pain perdu, pancakes, etc.

I got the Italian Style Baked Eggs - prosciutto, potatoes, and mushrooms baked with tomatoes and parmesan. With fresh fruit and toast ($13)

My ideal breakfast (weekends are for eggs), with plenty of prosciutto and hearty tomato sauce.

With 1886 Bar attached to it, it would be a blasphemy not to order cocktails, even in the morning. The brunch cocktail list is not as extensive, which is to be expected, but I was surprised to see one thing on the menu: Zombie ($14). Drinking a zombie first thing in the morning (or afternoon)? Well, why not!
Zombie at the Raymond
Zombie is a blend of three rums, passionfruit and demerara syrup, fresh lemon, lime and pineapple juice. The menu limits the Zombie order to two per customer, but if you don't already know beforehand how strong Zombies are, you won't be able to tell. 'Tis the beauty of tiki drinks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

BBQ at The Roof Garden, Peninsula Hotel (Beverly Hills)

What's a more perfect meal than a BBQ on a beautiful rooftop in LA? Roof Garden at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills is one of the best rooftops in town and they're having a bbq every weekend this summer. The Roof Garden shares the kitchen with The Belvedere and the hotel's Executive Chef James Overbaugh oversees all the dining operations.

The rooftop is not that big, but the circular section with the fireplace is my favorite.

Before starting with the bbq, we had some cocktails and appetizers near the fireplace:
Ahi Tuna Chop Chop with sliced avocado, crisp pineapple and roof garden-picked herbs
Chilled Cucumber Soup with spicy cucumber-melon sorbet, hearts of palm, cilantro and citrus tapioca
Your best bet for cocktail here (if you like a bit of heat) is the Speckled Jalapeno Margarita
Dinner starts with a basket anise bread (yep, anise, and it was good), zucchini, olive, and lavash. 

We shared a variety of their entrees including:
Free range chicken breast, cilantro and mint chimichurri ($24, comes with 2 sides)
I am typically wary of chicken breast since it tends to be dry and overcooked, but at least this night it was prepared well and the bold chimichurri sauce would make any protein taste that much better.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Preview of Trattoria Neapolis, Opening July 10 in Pasadena

There has certainly been quite a few new openings in Pasadena in the past couple of years, and there's one more to be excited about: Trattoria Neapolis on Lake Ave.

Having lived literally across the street for about 3 years, I now cannot even recall what was previously in this space next to Anthropologie. They have now renovated it into a spacious and elegant dining space, complete with a beautiful enclosed patio space by the entrance.

A view of the bar from upstairs:
The bar at Trattoria Neapolis

Other than the food, you should also be really excited about the drink program. The owner Perry Vidalakis has really searched out some of the best in the business in every aspect.

Before the dinner started, we were all treated to a glass of Deus Brut des Flandres (Brouwerij Bosteels, Buggenhout, Belgium)
IMG_9862This biere de champagne has been one of my favorites, sometimes I crave it more than champagne.
Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune, a.k.a. The Beer Chicks, are in charge of the beer. Christina is responsible for the beer list while Hallie is acting as the in-house cicerone.
The main beer and wine list consist only of either local or Italian (with all beers on tap coming from the LA area), but there is an extensive reserve list with what they deem the best beers and wines from all over the world (the Deus obviously is on this list).
Christina had recently spent some time in Italy so this project came at the perfect time for her. She says there is a huge beer revolution there and there are over 300 breweries now in Italy, twice as many as in Belgium.

While waiting for dinner: Arancini - mini crispy lobster arancini, pickled fennel, Eureka lemon aioli

The first two courses were paired with cocktails (that are actually created especially for this dinner. It's not on the menu but the bartenders can create "bespoke" cocktails for you).

For the cocktails, the owner has enlisted Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d'Oro, the Godfather of LA cocktail scene, to create the cocktail menu. His Italian background probably helps him pair the cocktails with the food here as well.
The first is Vincenzo's twist on a French75: Pasadena 75 with Plymouth gin, Cynar, lemon, cucumber and celery juices, prosecco
The cocktail was bitter and aromatic, but it balances out perfectly with the beet salad:
Barbabietole - roasted baby beets, saba, grilled treviso, house made goat milk ricotta
Beet Salad
The salad had so many components to it, at the same time sweet, smoky, and bitter. The ricotta rounds it out with its creaminess. Great pairing with the cocktail, nothing overwhelms the other.

Polipo - wood grilled baby octopus with crispy "potato torta", cerignola olives, sweet tomato oil
Think hashbrowns! That's what the crispy potato torta was like, the texture contrasting nicely with the tender baby octopus. The potato seemed to have been the star of the dish, though.

This was paired with Ostuni, made with Partida Reposado tequila, Aperol, fresh ruby grapefruit juice, prosecco. 
(Ostuni is an area in Puglia famous for octopus.)

Vincenzo wanted to try something difficult to pair (tequila) and it worked quite nicely.

Our first pasta course was the Gnocchi - roast garlic gnocchi, smoked pork shoulder, artichoke, asparagus
The chef, Bryant Wigger, is apparently famous for his gnocchi and I can definitely see why. These were so light and pillowy. I typically see gnocchi served with a sort of creamy sauce, and the smoked pork was a very nice departure from that. This may very well be my favorite gnocchi dish in town currently.

According to Christia Perozzi, artichoke is difficult for wine pairing but good with light, effervescent beer (which is also good with smoky flavors). She paired this with the Blond 5 from Brouwerij West, a local Los Angeles brewery. This 5% ABV Belgian style blond is fruity, citrusy, and effervescent.

Next is the Lasagna - wood grilled summer vegetables, ricotta, mascarpone
This vegetable lasagna is a much lighter, healthier version of the standard dish - just right for the summer.

Paired with Nora, Birreria Le Baladin, Torino, Italy
I have never had this before and this is now my new favorite beer! This beer from Piemonte is made from an ancient Egyptian recipe, using Kamut (a large Egyptian grain) and myrrh. It's fruity (notes of apricot and honey), with the malty sweetness, and just all in all amazing. If you see this beer retailing somewhere, please message me, seriously.

The entrees are paired with wine, which had been chosen by Diego Meraviglia. He wanted a list for everyone with all kinds of palates and budgets. There is a list of 50 wines under $50, and 120 wines in total (including the reserve list).

Our entrees:
Merluzzo - pan roast black cod, charred sweet corn, Manila clam broth, salsa maro (fava beans)
paired with Chardonnay, Copain, Anderson Valley 2010
The black cod was so soft and delicate, yet the dish packed some bold flavors, especially with the corn.
The wine is a biodynamic, unoaked Chardonnay. According to Diego, it's balance between European and American style. Since black cod is a fatty fish, it needs something crisp with higher acid to cut it. 

Bistecca - wood grilled Wagyu flat iron steak, crispy Temecula honey onions, salsa verde, porcini BBQ sauce
Paired with Valpolicella "Ripasso" doc, "Il Bugiardo", Buglioni, Veneto 2008
The flatiron cut of wagyu gives it that meaty flavor some people look for in a steak, but it's still very tender. The BBQ Sauce is made with oven dried porcini, mustard, and balsamic vinegar. Since it's sour, Diego paired it with a jammy wine to cut it. 

The Ripasso is Valpolicella which was remacerated in the pomace used to make Amarone. It's big and bold, but a middleground between the dry Valpolicella and sweet Amarone. (I'm seeing this middleground between two different styles to be a running theme here. The Chardonnay, the flatiron wagyu).

All the entrees come with a choice of a side dish, though in our tasting we more than one:
Finocchio - roasted fennel, tangerine, toasted pistachios, white balsamic
The dish is quite sweet from the tangerine. The fennel was unusually creamy and soft.

Carciofi  - crispy artichokes, caper berries, ricotta salata, mint
For the dessert course, we moved to the semi-private dining room upstairs:

Panna Cotta - Greek yoghurt honey panna cotta with apricot granita, hazelnuts, and basil gelatini
Marsala Superiore, 10 years, De Bartoli, Sicilia
Yoghurt panna cotta? Yep!
Marsala is historically a very important dessert wine but thanks to marketing and commercialization it has been relegated to cooking wine. Diego wants to show what a great dessert wine it is.

The dessert was also served with a cup of Guatemala Finca El Injerto - Bourbon varietal, single origin direct trade, French press. The restaurant uses Stumptown Coffee, who will soon be opening a roaster in Los Angeles (in early 2013), but the Trattoria's decision to exclusively use their coffee came way before that.

The panna cotta was actually great with the coffee. The Marsala was great but pairing-wise, I thought the coffee was better. 

We didn't try any of their pizza tonight, but their oven sure seemed impressive. The back part of the restaurant will be a sort of market / food-to-go section and they have tapped the former manager to Mozza 2 Go to run it.

Trattoria Neapolis will soft open with dinner service on July 10.

Trattoria Neapolis
336 S Lake Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 792-3000
Trattoria Neapolis on Urbanspoon

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