Archive for the ‘Food’Category

Chef Tara Lazar brings home cooking to Chi Chi Palm Springs

Chef Tara Lazar Chi Chi Palm Springs

Chef Tara Lazar

I met Chef Tara Lazar in the lounge of her restaurant Chi Chi Palm Springs in the Avalon Hotel. It was a slow night. Palm Springs is a resort town at the mercy of seasons and travelers.

But all is not what it seems: Lazar was also overseeing three simultaneous catering jobs as owner of Foundation 10 Creative Group. In other words, getting her food out to the people.

She cares deeply about what she’s feeding people. Beyond the execution of the dishes, Lazar is in charge of sourcing the ingredients from local farms, keeping everything within 100 miles of the restaurant. Maintaining freshness and nutrient integrity of proteins and produce makes a true difference in her dishes, and she does not compromise in the quality of her farm sources.

Lazar is most intrigued by home cooking, something cooks and chefs crave to eat themselves. Small, particular tweaks that their grandmothers might do to make dishes their own can make all the difference, and she loves the realness and care in that.

The realness carries over to Lazar’s menus. At her popular brunch establishment Cheeky’s, the menu can change weekly. At Chi Chi Palm Springs, the menu is more consistent, but the dishes on offer always account for the seasonality of ingredients. It’s understood that certain boxes need to be checked to get a popular draw from what’s in demand (see: cauliflower and kale), but that’s just the gateway to introduce people to food that’s more loving than trendy.

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09

04 2016

Eat well without breaking the bank at Yalla Mediterranean

Yalla Mediterranean falafel and steak

Yalla Mediterranean falafel and steak

Yalla Mediterranean is quickly becoming one of my go-to spots for a quick and healthy meal. For someone who loves all kinds of Mediterranean food, Yalla is the perfect option, as it offers foods inspired by Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Tunisia and Egypt. Chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, falafel — you name it, Yalla Mediterranean‘s got it.

Yalla’s fast-casual set-up is kind of like Chipotle’s. You choose a preparation — a wrap, salad (including fattoush), or plate with rice, grilled vegetables or lentils, and three sides. Then you choose your protein — falafel, chicken (skewers or shawarma), steak skewers, salmon skewers or kefta skewers. There are even different wrap styles to choose from — Greek, Jerusalem street style, Moroccan and Lebanese. Doesn’t look like I’ll be running out of options anytime soon!

I’ve tried the harissa-marinated tri-tip and falafel on a plate with rice and lentils. The proteins were cooked perfectly, and the lentils were flavorful without being overpowering. The Israeli couscous and Greek potato salad sides were my favorite. I’ve also had chicken shawarma on a fattoush salad, which is a tasty low-carb option. My husband liked his ground beef and lamb kefta wrap, which he got Greek style per the restaurant’s recommendation.

Chicken shawarma on fattoush salad Yalla Mediterranean

Chicken shawarma on fattoush salad

Not only is the food at Yalla Mediterranean delicious (it’s all made to order, so that’s a definite plus), it’s also hormone-free, responsibly raised and locally sourced, according to its press release. There’s even compostable plates, cups and cutlery.

And there’s beer. And wine. And Greek frozen yogurt topped with chopped baklava. I repeat: fro-yo with baklava.

Yalla has locations in Northern and Southern California, including one in downtown Culver City, where I’ve visited a couple of times.

Perhaps the best part? For the ample amount of food you get, the mains are reasonably priced at just under $10. Healthy, tasty and economical? I’m there.

Note: A meal here was hosted.

06

03 2016

Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs offers eclectic seasonal menu

Elk sausage and manchego empanadas at Cafe Diva

Elk sausage and manchego empanadas at Cafe Diva

Every year I visit my in-laws in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I try to visit a different restaurant each time. This year we went to Cafe Diva, a favorite among the family.

Located in Torian Plum Plaza at the base of the ski mountain, Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs focuses its menu on local, seasonal ingredients. Dish preparations vary in style and include influences from Latin, Asian, European and other cultures.

My favorite dishes came at the beginning and end of the meal.

My starter of elk sausage and manchego cheese empanadas with a poblano-pepita pesto and cilantro-lime cream was an interesting take on the Latin-American snack using very-Colorado elk meat. This was my first time eating elk, and I liked it a lot, mostly because it wasn’t as gamey as I thought it would be. My husband’s elk tenderloin was really nice, too.

The dessert we shared — a take on bananas foster with Grand Marnier-vanilla bread pudding, roasted banana gelato, rum salted caramel and candied pecans — was also a standout. All the flavors worked together nicely, as did the different textures. The roasted banana gelato was my favorite part, as I love everything banana!

Bananas foster at Cafe Diva

Bananas foster

When it came to my main dish, seared diver scallops wrapped in bacon and served on a bed of spinach spaetzle with lemon-vermouth butter and capers, I wasn’t as impressed. The dish was too salty, which made it hard to enjoy. I should have ordered the sablefish with white balsamic-orange miso served in a coconut broth with snow peas, shiitake mushrooms and crispy ramen noodles. I had a taste of my sister-in-law’s, and I found it much more balanced. However, she thought it was a bit on the sweet side, so maybe I just liked it because my dish was so salty.

Diver scallops

Diver scallops

Sablefish

Sablefish

Even though there were some hits and misses, because my family likes Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs so much I’d be willing to try it again, especially since it is one of the few nicer restaurants in town (which is not very big).

07

02 2016

BFree gluten-free bread won’t crumble in sad, dry mess

BFree gluten-free bread Multiseed Bagels on board

I’ve tried many gluten-free breads. Not because I’m one to (blindly) follow food trends, but because my husband has a gluten intolerance (for real, OK?). Most GF breads just aren’t up to par; they’re often dry, crumbly and tasteless. But I’ve finally found a brand that is none of those things, which means it’s pretty darn close to bread with gluten in it.

BFree gluten-free bread, based out of Dublin, Ireland, with U.S. manufacturing in Montebello, California, offers a range of products that you’d swear had gluten in them. The sliced bread, bagels, rolls and wraps are all close approximations of their conventional counterparts, though some succeed better than others.

The sliced bread, which comes in both white and brown seeded varieties, tasted best to me in terms of both flavor and texture. The bagels are also decent. The rolls are a bit doughy, while the wraps are a bit dry, though not dry enough to fall apart when handling them. I did notice that none of the products toasted like bread with gluten in them, though I’m not one to toast my bread too dark anyway.

BFree gluten-free bread Brown Seeded Sandwich Loaf

BFree gluten-free bread is made with a blend of buckwheat and corn flours, and gets its protein and fiber from peas, apples and potatoes. The products are billed as allergen- and vegan-friendly (no gluten, wheat, dairy or egg), low-fat and high-fiber, and non-GMO. And for the calorie-conscious, the multigrain wraps contain only 100 calories.

You can’t buy the breads online yet, but you can find BFree gluten-free bread products in California at Ralphs, Lucky’s, Raley’s and Save Mart stores, as well as at DeMoulas Market Basket in the Northeast, ShopRite on the East Coast, Meijer in the Midwest and BJ’s nationwide.

Note: Complimentary BFree products were provided for this review. All photos courtesy of BFree.

21

01 2016

2015 holiday gift guide for foodies

Art of Tea sampler

Art of Tea sampler. Photo from Art of Tea.

Need a holiday gift guide for that foodie in your life? Check out some of my personal picks:

Art of Tea sampler sets: For just $25, you can gift someone four small tins of hand-blended organic teas. The Holiday Tea Sampler, with Winter White Chai, Pumpkin Pie, Butterscotch and Dark Chocolate Peppermint flavors, is a favorite and seasonally appropriate. Use code “hellohandmade” for 15 percent off (good through March 31, 2016). Order by midnight tonight, Dec. 11, to guarantee delivery by Christmas!

Ocha Teapot: The handy (and cute) personal Ocha Teapot brews the tea and dispenses just the right amount into your cup. Just place over a cup when ready and watch the tea flow! Great for people who like to control the amount of tea in their cups or for sharing with others. I first encountered this at Max Brenner in Las Vegas and thought it was so cool. Teapots are 30 percent off right now for the holidays.

Big Sur Bakery stollen

Big Sur Bakery stollen. Photo from Big Sur Bakery.

Big Sur Bakery stollen loaf: This holiday bread loaf, with layers of butter, almond paste, rummed raisins and house-candied citrus zest, all coated with granulated sugar is an elevated take on the traditional German stollen bread. Big Sur Bakery’s stollen would be a treat for anyone who appreciates artisan foods.

My Fat Dad by Dawn Lerman: Author Dawn Lerman, who has written for the New York Times’ Well blog, tells the story of growing up with a parent who struggled with his weight in her book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes. Part memoir, part cookbook, My Fat Dad offers insight into how our parents affect the trajectory of our lives, as Lerman’s father’s near-constant diets and yo-yoing weight prompted her love of food and cooking, as well as healthy eating. At the end of each chapter, Lerman gives us recipes for some of the dishes mentioned, many of which come from her beloved grandmother. An easy read with lots of heart.

 

 

11

12 2015

Hanjip restaurant brings elevated Korean BBQ to Westside

Hanjip restaurant banchan

Hanjip banchan

Stephane Bombet is on a roll. First, he opened Terrine. Then, he opened Viviane. Just a week later, he opened Hanjip restaurant, an elevated Korean barbecue experience in Culver City.

Bombet and Chef Chris Oh of Seoul Sausage fame are offering top-notch meat, seafood, sides and banchan right in the heart of downtown Culver City, giving the Westside a new KBBQ option. But Hanjip restaurant is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Korean barbecue joint.

In addition to the marinated and non-marinated beef and pork, there’s also beef tongue (which I didn’t think I’d like but ended up loving), lamb, baby octopus, hamachi collar and gigantic Carabineros prawns. Oh, the prawns. Huge, sweet, tender. And expensive at $88 for a plate of three, but hey, it’s the holidays!

Hanjip restaurant Carabineros prawns

Carabineros prawns

Also in the pricey column is the Tomahawk chop topped with foie gras butter. At $120, you’re definitely splurging. But what a splurge it is. So much meat, so much umami.

Hanjip restaurant Tomahawk chop

Tomahawk chop

Hanjip also offers some great side dishes, from the traditional seafood pancake and kimchi fried rice served in a tin box (shake it up to get that eggy goodness all over) to the fancy uni steamed egg and bone marrow cheesy corn. The banchan offerings aren’t as extensive as other KBBQ joints, but the selection here is well-edited and includes the addictive pepper-and-garlic-sauce-lathered dried squid dish ojingeochae-muchim. I could eat that all day.

Hanjip restaurant Kimchi fried rice

Kimchi fried rice

Hanjip restaurant Uni steamed egg

Uni steamed egg

Hanjip restaurant Bone marrow corn

Bone marrow corn cheese

As a Westside restaurant that caters to a more mixed clientele, Hanjip’s interior is a bit flashy and a bit funky, perfectly reflecting Bombet’s and Oh’s personalities. The only thing about this place that weirded me out was how the server cooked all the meat for us, which meant there was someone leaning over our table for the better part of our meal. Maybe Hanjip restaurant feels this is necessary for the guests who aren’t used to this kind of dining experience, or maybe this is meant to be part of the elevated offerings, but I could do with less of this babysitting. Let me at the meat!

Note: This meal was hosted.

06

12 2015

Travelogue: Rancho Bernardo Inn

Rancho Bernardo Inn

Rancho Bernardo Inn

Tucked away in a northern San Diego County suburb, Rancho Bernardo Inn is a hidden gem. Wind your way through a sleepy upper middle class neighborhood, and at the end you’ll find a resort complete with a golf course, spa and plenty of dining options. The vibe is perfectly Southern Californian with its laid-back elegance and beautifully manicured grounds (21 fountains!) — perfect for a weekend getaway.

Rancho Bernardo Inn has an 18-hole golf course, a spa, three pools and four eateries. It’s an intimate property, just big enough to make you feel as if you’ve escaped from the real world for a while.

I was recently invited to stay at Rancho Bernardo Inn as its #INNfluencer of the month. I was treated to a day at the spa, and my husband and I enjoyed dinner at the resort’s fine dining restaurant, AVANT. We stayed with the resort’s Spa + AVANT Package, which includes a 50-minute hydrating facial or organic signature massage and two-course dinner at AVANT with a glass of on-tap wine or beer for $175 per person.

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23

11 2015

Viviane takes up residence at Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills

Viviane

Photo courtesy of Viviane

When I first heard that a new restaurant was taking over Oliverio at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, I was kind of bummed. I could always find a solid meal there in a sleek setting without having to endure a “scene.”

So when I heard that local French restauranteurs Stephane Bombet and Francois Renaud were taking over the space to open Viviane, I was both excited and sad. On the one hand, Bombet and Renaud have a good track record with Terrine, and Bombet and Chef Michael Hung found success together at Faith & Flower. On the other hand, I have great memories from Oliverio, including having my bridal brunch there.

After having dinner at Viviane soon after its official opening, I’m intrigued enough to want to return. The menu focuses on contemporary takes on the classics in both food and drink. Chef Michael Hung offers seasonal, elevated versions of well-known dishes such as linguine and clams, steak tartare, and chicken and dumplings. And barman Ryan Wainwright, he of The Tasting Kitchen and Terrine fame who designed Viviane’s cocktail menu, has variations on the Manhattan, Cosmopolitan and even Long Island Iced Tea.

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10

11 2015

Spend this Halloween week with Rooftop Film Club

Rooftop Film Club

Rooftop Film Club

UK import Rooftop Film Club is screening a bunch of Halloween-appropriate movies for its last week this season. Set atop the roof of The Montalban theater in Hollywood, Rooftop Film Club offers a classier outdoor film experience than your typical picnic-style one so you can enjoy Halloween week in style.

Here’s the schedule:

~Tuesday, Oct. 27: The Thing
~Wednesday, Oct. 28: A Nightmare on Elm Street
~Thursday, Oct. 29: Psycho
~Friday, Oct. 30: Friday the 13th
~Saturday, Oct. 31: Beetlejuice

Tickets are $15, and all screenings start at 8 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.). Get there early to save a seat — yes, there are actual seats — and grab a drink from the bar and a burger from Silver Lake’s own Haché LA (there’s frozen custard, too). If you get cold, there are blankets for you to use, and you’ll listen to the movie through your own personal headset, so you can block out most of the noise around you.

Hache LA's Karma Burger

Hache LA’s Karma Burger

Want even more fun? Sip on one of guest barman Brady Weise’s themed cocktails, which feature different combinations made with beer, wine and vermouth, as the Club lacks a liquor license. No matter: The Hockey Mask, made for the screening of Friday the 13th, with Chenin Blanc, lemonade, dry vermouth and fresh seasonal fruit still sounds perfectly appropriate for an outdoor movie.

A screening with Rooftop Film Club is one of the more fun outdoor film experiences I’ve had in Los Angeles. Seating is limited, so there aren’t hordes of people to contend with, and the ambiance on a Hollywood rooftop can’t be beat. It’s sure to make for a fun, low-key Halloween (my favorite kind).

Rooftop Film Club

Rooftop Film Club

Note: Seats to a screening were hosted.

25

10 2015

A light lunch at Fogo de Chao? It’s possible.

Market Table plate with feijoada

Market Table plate with feijoada

Until recently, I hadn’t eaten at Fogo de Chao, the upscale Brazilian churrasco chain that offers unlimited grilled meats. Why? Because I didn’t think I would ever get my money’s worth. I can’t eat a lot of meat at once, so I thought Fogo de Chao was just not a place I would ever go.

Then, Fogo de Chao in downtown Los Angeles introduced a $15 Gaucho Lunch, which includes unlimited trips to the Market Table and feijoada bar. While the Market Table includes cheeses, charcuterie, seasonal salads, fruits and vegetables, and the feijoada bar gives you the Portuguese bean, beef and pork stew that you’d expect, you might want to supplement that with some meat (but not too much, right?). For an additional charge, you can get your choice of one meat. And they’re all tasty, even the chicken (especially the chicken). If you want all the meats, it’s $36.95 at lunch, so these lunch specials really are a deal.

The side dishes are not to be missed, either. The fried polenta, caramelized bananas and pao de queijo cheese rolls are my favorite. And don’t forget dessert. The Papaya Cream, a simple-yet-delicious combination of papaya fruit blended with vanilla ice cream topped with creme de cassis blackcurrant liqueur, is like a milkshake without the milk…and with booze. The Caramelized Pineapple with vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle is another unique dessert.

Potatoes, bananas and fried polenta

Potatoes, bananas and fried polenta

Caramelized Pineapple

Caramelized Pineapple

Bottom line: there are a lot of options at Fogo de Chao, and they don’t all have to break the bank. (Not all locations offer the Gaucho Lunch, so check before you go.)

Note: This meal was hosted.

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18

10 2015