Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Food & Wine

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, May 11, 2008)

I was going to talk at length about the Disney's California Food & Wine Festival, but once I started, it looked to be a never ending report and I don't want to spend several weeks talking about it.

Let's just say that it was a hell of a lot of fun. It's not up to the high standards of the Epcot Festival held in Orlando, but it's getting there. This was just the third year and it has improved by leaps and bounds since I went to the first one. There were free wine seminars, where you got to taste several different wines from various wineries and learn more about the winemakers. Our favorites were Acacia Vineyards, Hill Family Estate and Williams Selyem. There were also free culinary demonstrations. Most of these were held by various Disney chefs, but all were well worth the wait to get in. I loved the Vegetarian Chili (made by Marcel St Pierre of Club 33), the Asparagus Risotto and, of course, the wonderful Monte Christo Sandwich served at the Blue Bayou.

There were also free celebrity chef demonstrations and I was very glad to eat the food of Brett Thompson of Milk (Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich), Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery and Mozza (Chicken Salad), Iron Chef Cat Cora (Pork Souvlaki with Grilled Fruit) and Guy Fieri (Pork Gumbo Sandwich). I was also thrilled to meet Cat Cora, who was friendly and talkative and signed my cookbook for me.

Amongst the pay events were a winemaker dinner with the great winery, Pride Mountain, held at Steakhouse 55. The chef overdid himself with the likes of crab stuffed zucchini flowers, short rib wontons and an amazing steak with brie cheese. Everything went with the wonderful wines perfectly. We did another wine dinner with the Gallo Family at the Vineyard Room, which was also quite wonderful, where I had one of the best chocolate desserts I've ever tasted, Gianduja Chocolate Mousse Cake with Hazelnut Tuile and Cabernet Caramel Sauce.

We went to one Festival Wine Reception (out of six), where we got to taste a couple of dozen wines from all over the world while munching on a selection of cheeses and tapas-like appetizers. And the final party, Taste, was like an orgy of flavors, with several dozen wines to try and food made by each of the chefs that work at the Disney Resort. My favorites were Chef Jamie Gwen's Meyer Lemon Lobster Sliders, Japanese Sweet Potato with Duck Confit Cracklins and Passion Fruit Essence (from Catal), California Poussin with Walnut Muhammara (from Club 33), and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Fried Artichoke and Yellow Tomato Sage Butter (Napa Rose). But there were at least ten other dishes and all of them were great.

All around the park were special food items prepared just for the Festival. Favorites included the Gourmet Cheese Corn Dog infused with Chili, the California Chicken Wrap with Spinach and Grapes and the Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin Slider. The upstairs Sparkling Bar was also a great place to try several wines paired with some very nice small plates of food.

There were events that we didn't take part in, like a few more wine maker dinners, the Napa Rose Cooking School (which I will do someday), and Taste Wine Like An Expert with the always amazing Master Sommelier, Michael Jordan. We didn't have the time and we didn't have the money for everything. But what we did do was well worth the expense. Everything was delicious, informative and just so much fun.

This year it got pretty crowed, especially on weekends, so I hope they will find bigger places to hold some of these events next year. I've already heard that it was so successful this year that they will probably extend it a couple of weeks longer next year. I, for one, can't wait.


I was also going to tell my Kim Deal story this week, but now that I'm on the subject of food, I thought I'd just stay there and make a list of my favorite fine dining restaurants in LA at the moment. I'll get to Kim Deal next week.

There are a lot of restaurants here in Los Angeles that I love. There are some reasonably priced places that I always end up at, like the Mexican restaurant La Cabinita or the Chinese restaurants of Monterey Park. There are also restaurants that are priced a bit higher that I always go to like the Sonora Café (, Ca Del Sole ( or the Border Grill ( I love these restaurants and eat at them often, but I would never consider them my favorites.

When it comes to favorites, those places are reserved for the ultimate fine dining places. These are places I don't go to a lot, but when I do, I almost swoon over the ecstasy of the flavors I experience there. These places are usually expensive and that means I only get to visit them every now and then. When I do, it's a special occasion.

Now, there are many fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles and I'm not going to pretend like I've been to them all. There are several restaurants, like Wilshire (, Citrus at Social Hollywood (, Opus ( and Fraiche ( that I have heard wonderful things about, but haven't had the time and money to experience yet. I do have a birthday coming up and that always means new restaurants, so one or two of the restaurants in my list below might be replaced by the end of next month. But that remains to be seen.

So, this list below only represents the best of what I've experienced, not the best of all restaurants in LA.

So, without further editorializing, here's my ten faves in alphabetical order:

Blue Velvet ( – This restaurant is hidden away in a little traveled part of Downtown LA, but its well worth finding. I've only eaten there once, but it blew my mind. This refurbished old motel is now one of the most beautifully romantic spots in the city and the food, by Executive Chef Jonathan McDowell, is some of the most original and delicious food I've ever eaten. I look forward to the day I can return.

Campanile ( – This is one of three restaurants here that I always seem to return to a number of times. And by a number of times, I mean a dozen or more. It's a beautiful place, built into actor Charlie Chaplin's old offices just south of Hollywood. The restaurant was opened in 1989 by Executive Chef Mark Peel and his wife, Nancy Silverton, who created the amazing La Brea Bakery next to the restaurant. Silverton is now long gone (to her soon to be great Mozza Restaurants), but Mark Peel is still there and the food he creates is constantly delicious and satisfying. The Monday night Family Style dinners are a great way to sample his food for a reasonable price.

Ciudad ( – This is another restaurant I've been to a number of times and I always love it every time I end up there. Chefs Mary Sue Millikan and Susan Feniger, the Food Network's "Two Hot Tamales", opened the great Border Grill to concentrate on their love of Mexican Flavors. But they soon decided that they were obsessed with all things Latin, so they opened Ciudad in downtown LA, a restaurant that blends the flavors of Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Cuba and every other Latin country in the world. This is another place that has some wonderful weekly theme nights (like Paella Night and Tapas Night) that are great opportunity to taste the food these two are creating at a good price.

Craft Los Angeles ( – Executive Chef Tom Colicchio is well known has the head judge of the Bravo TV show, "Top Chef". He also carved out a foodie fan base in New York with a series of Craft Restaurants. But now he's opened one in LA (with Chef de Cuisine Matthew Accarino) and it is a wonderful place. The menu, of mostly small plates meant to be shared, is huge and can be almost overwhelming, but if you bring a bunch of friends, you can try a whole lot of it and its all great.

Jar ( – This is a modern steakhouse opened by Executive Chef Suzanne Tracht quite a few years ago. It's only gotten better with age. Chef Tracht is well known for her turn on comfort foods, like Pot Roast, Kansas City Steak and wonderful French Fries. We've had some of the best steaks ever at this restaurant, but we also love their Mozzarella Mondays, for a reasonably priced dinner of small plates based around the creamy cheese.

Napa Rose ( – This is the third restaurant that I always end up back at. Located at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, it's the one fine dining establishment .. that is always consistently amazing. Executive Chef Andrew Sutton and Manager-Master Sommelier (the only one in the LA area) Michael Jordan, create a new outstanding menu every week using the freshest ingredients around. I have never had a bad meal here. Food and service are always outstanding. Foodies in Orange County know about this place and it's always booked. I only wish it was closer to home for me. I'd even go more often.

Patina ( – This is the flagship restaurant in the overloaded Patina Restaurant Group. It's the one restaurant in the chain that is consistently amazing. It's also located in the beautiful Downtown Disney Concert Hall. Executive Chef Theo Schoenegger, under the leadership of owner and Chef Joachim Splichal, always craft a wonderful and memorable meal. You pay a hefty price for the beauty of both the food and the location, but for a really special event, it can't be beat.

Providence ( – Michael Cimarusti became well known as a wonder with seafood while he worked at the Water Grill, still a very good restaurant, in downtown. But a few years ago he left to open his own restaurant and the city was blessed with Providence. You can't get any better tasting or originally presented fish in this city than you can get here. If I had to pick a single restaurant to be my favorite, it would be this one. It's another beautifully designed building and again, you pay a good price for the food and the setting, but My God this food is delicious. They also do a dessert tasting menu, created by pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez, that features some of the most original and delicious desserts in the city. You can even get them with a wine pairing! This restaurant is a wonder. I always look forward to being able to return.

Spago ( – This is the restaurant that started it all. When Chef Wolfgang Puck opened Spago in Hollywood, this city didn't know what was going to hit it. He single handedly made fine dining an event that everyone could enjoy and ushered in the era of the celebrity chef. He changed the face of the American pizza. And he created food that always kept the place packed. Several years ago, he moved the restaurant to Beverly Hills, and since he was busy handling his growing empire of restaurants, he handed over executive chef duties to Lee Hefter and the restaurant only got better. This is the place to go when you're in LA to see the Stars. We once had a four+ hour chef tasting meal here that entailed a couple dozen small plates of food paired with amazing wines. It was pricy, but it was also one of the best meals I've ever had. (Puck has recently opened Cut, his steakhouse, just down the street from Spago. It is also amazing and well on its way towards my top ten.)

The Foundry On Melrose ( – Eric Greenspan used to be the Executive Chef at Patina, but left a while back to open his own place, the Foundry on Melrose. He is a large, boisterous man who is just a hell of a lot of fun to be around and his food mirrors his personality. His food is wonderfully original, but always fun. The restaurant just launched the first of what they hope will be a long series of winemaker dinners, and I was lucky enough to attend. The wines, by Domaine Drouhin, were absolutely wonderful, and the food Eric created for the event paired perfectly. It was practically the perfect meal and I really look forward to future events of this kind.

And there you have it. My ten favorite restaurants in the LA area at the moment. I stress the "at the moment". There are so many great restaurants here and my list changes just about every week as I go to a place I've never eaten at before or rediscover an old favorite. LA used to be a bit iffy when it came to great food, but those days are long gone. It is now one of the culinary capitols of the world and I couldn't be happier about it.

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