Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wall-Las Memorias Project:Home Plate Restaurant Rewards

On September 17, at Cicada restaurant in beautiful downtown Los Angeles, I attended the Home Plate Restaurant Awards and fundraiser for The Wall - Las Memorias Project, which is dedicated to promoting wellness and preventing illness among Latino populations affected by HIV/AIDS by using the inspiration of The AIDS Monument as a catalyst for social change.

"The AIDS Monument was a vision of Richard Zaldivar, a local community activist. As the AIDS epidemic impacted families, Zaldivar believed that a public symbol would create a focal point for discussion and healing."

Richard gave a moving speech about the plight of AIDS impacted families before giving the night over to song and dance.

The night had begun with a friendly competition between Cicada Restaurant, Yxta, Frida Mexican Cuisine,Guelaguetza, Cemitas & Clayudas, Attila the Flan, and La Serenata de Garibaldi.

Yxta offered some small bites as each contender tried to hit one out of the park.

The crowd was filled with many local Latino businessmen and politicians, as well as lively Angelinos ready to support a worthy cause while enjoying some of the city's fine restaurants.

CBS anchor, Laura Diaz, gave a fitting introduction to the evening's purpose and was a great leadoff to Zaldivar's clean-up hitting speech.This event was a part of the 9th Annual Strike Out AIDS, which convened on September 18th at Dodger Stadium. A night of baseball and AIDS awareness.

Nevarez Vineyards and Alex Sotelo Cellars provided wines to pair with our mini food crawl.

I pretty much hit every spot;it was the responsible thing to do since I had to vote along with the other attendees on the best restaurant that night in three separate categories.

I was lucky enough to get the last cemita at Bricia Lopez's Cemitas y Clayudas , a cemita of Oaxacan string cheese.

Guelaguetza, the winner of two of three categories that night served one of their famous Oaxacan tamales, drenched in mole negro.

The alta cocina restaurant, Frida, went street and had three tacos de guisado(stews). The chicharron was impressive, and the carnitas a smack of savory goodness. Frida took the other honor left by Guelaguetza.

My favorites of the evening were Frida's taco of chicharron and the tamale with mole by Guelaguetza. Another standout was the fresh Pal Cabron's cemita of string cheese, nothing like a good Oaxacan cheese with fresh baked bread.

Following the eats and passionate words from Laura Diaz and Richard Zaldivar, a local group of Latino pop singers pumped up the crowd.

No one was in a rush to leave. Cicada restaurant was a lovely location for this event and the food was great. Thanks to Bricia Lopez for inviting me to this event and please check out The Wall-Las Memorias to learn more about their valiant effort in the fight against AIDS.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Closed:Blame it on Rio Brazil Cafe

When I was gallivanting all over Little Brazil looking for the wonderful foods from Brazil I so long for, I came across some meaningful finds.

I first went to Rio Brazil Cafe when it was still Brazil Exotic Foods, before this space was briefly occupied by Delicias do Brazil and for a few years running had been Cafe Toros before that.

I started going regularly only to find it had closed, Luciene had told me she wasn't sure how long she could stay afloat, and then the health dept. closed Brazil Exotic Food for having a faulty hood on their deep fryer.I thought all was lost until I received an e-mail, yes I was on the small mailing list, from Luciene that she was back in business.

Luciene Peck has the only Brazilian restaurant in town featuring the cuisine of Rio de Janeiro, the marvelous city(cidade maravilhosa).During the week she does the typical complete meals found in luncheonettes and Brazilian pubs(botecos) called prato feito, which consists of a protein, rice, beans, farofa, and perhaps a side salad.This is Brazilian home cooking. On the weekends she pulls out all the stops and conjures up famous entrées, much needed in our saturated market of churrascarias(Brazilian steakhouses).

The restaurant is simple in decor, with a touch of sentimentality and the national colors of Brazil to welcome you into the warmth and spirit of Rio.

The feijoada of Rio is unique, feijoada is done with subtle variations throughout Brazil, different beans other than black beans in some parts, the ommitance of a particular side, a variation in spicing. But the most popular version of feijoada completa belongs to Rio.Black bean stew of salted pork parts including ear, trotters, tail,various sausages, and muscle tissue, with sides of farofa(toasted manioc meal), rice,couve(collared greens), and orange slices.

On a recent feijoada throwdown with good friend Exilekiss, we found Rio Brazil Cafe version to reign supreme, tied with Zabumba's.Luciene makes genuine feijoada, with tender meats, homemade carne seca, luscious beans, and all the pleasing textures of a real feijoada. This is required eating at Rio Brazil Cafe.

Casquinha de siri is Brazilian crab au gratin. It originates from Bahia, but is done the Carioca(person from Rio) way here in Luciene's kitchen.The differences in style are the secrets and spells of Brazilian cooks.Think of a crab au gratin laced with dende oil, and coconut milk, a whole other layer of sin.

The malagueta peppers mixed with olive oil and spices known as pimenta will temp you to excess. The heat creeps up on you, but the flavor is rich and full bodied.

Luciene's bobo de camarao, is another dish with Bahia origins,but adopted by Rio palates.This is a standout dish at Rio Brazil, delicate, with all those exotic ingredients in bold harmony.Add some pimenta and you've gone pro.

Moquecas(baian stews) of fish and hearts of palm are available on the weekends. The sauce is properly cooked down so that flavor is optimized in every bite. This is the mark of a great moqueca. There's something here for fish lovers and vegetarians.Again, a Rio translation of a plate from Bahia.A savory side of feijao fradinho(black-eyed peas) was included with my moqueca de peixe(fish).

Last weekend, I met up with Josh Lurie of FoodGPS with his girlfriend Allison, and Das Ubergeek of chowhound for a taste of Rio.And, to my delight, Renni and Ilma of Sabor da Bahia had stopped in for a bite, Renni, a lovely Brazilian singer sat in with a fine bossa nova guitarist.Other Brazilian diners sang along with bossa nova classics such as Corcovado, Agua de Beber, and Desafinado. It was a scene right out of a pub in Copacabana at 3AM. Look for Voz e Violao(voice and guitar) on Saturdays when Rio Brazil gives you the boteco(pub) experience known as Frigideira Carioca.The frigideira is a samba percussion instrument that looks like a little frying pan.It has a its roots back when people picked up whatever they could find, including pots and pans, to make music and party.

The desserts we had after our meal were amazingly good, The coconut pudding topped with blackberrie,rasberries, and bluberries was over the top delicious.

The mousse of passionfruit adorned with the fruit's dark seeds was pure Brazil, sweet and tart tropical fruit with stirring composition.

Luciene has family and friends helping out, her 72-year old mother, known as Dona Lucia, is revered for her cooking.Dona Lucia helps in the kitchen sometimes and makes all the brilliant savories at Rio Brazil Cafe. Coxinhas de frango(little croquette of chicken), shaped like little chicken thighs are perfect here,my favorite snack on the planet. They have croquettes with cheese, risolis of shrimp, and whatever Dona Lucia may feel like. They are the small party size, so get a sampling of whatever they have that night. These are made at home until they can replace the hood of the deep fryer.

If you find yourself singing songs by Gilberto Gil, of Carlos Jobim, thinking about an afternoon on Ipanema beach or a rowdy night in Copacabana after leaving Rio Brazil Cafe, you can blame Lucience Peck and her crew. They're bringing superior cooking and a bona fide Brazilian aesthetic to LA's dining scene.Beleza!

Check out Miles Clement's review of Rio Brazil Cafe from the LA Times.Thanks again, Miles.And, good friend, Josh Lurie's great review from our visit together.

Rio Brazil Cafe
3300 Overland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 558-3338

Rio Brazil Cafe in Los Angeles

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Hour at Border Grill Santa Monica with Chef Raymond Alvarez

Border Grill Santa Monica has always been a solid Happy Hour destination. I've met many friends over the years for drinks and small bites here when they've been staying over on the Westside, usually passing through.One of the best margaritas I've ever had, the prickly pear margarita, was right here at Border Grill.

I met Executive Sous Chef Raymond Alvarez when he joined our group of bloggers and writers for a Tijauna Convention and Visitor's Bureau(Cotuco)sponsored media trip. Regional General Manager, Doug Rausenberger, and Executive Chef, of Ciudad were also along for the debauchery.

Ray added some inspiration from our Baja journey into the Border Grill menu recently, and you can sample these fine foods at Happy Hour 7 days a week.

Cocktails at the Border Grill are always expertly made with fresh ingredients, they're virtually bullet-proof. They always come out great. A friend and I ordered the Mexican Greyhound(herradura silver, grapefruit,california chile,fresh lime, and cane sugar)and a Classic Margarita. I loved the citrusy and spicy Greyhound. The Paloma with homemade citrus blend and prickly pear margarita as also recommended.At $5, the El Charro margarita is a done deal, El Charro is perfect for margaritas,available for Happy Hour.It's what I use at home.

I had taken Ray and the crew to Barbacoa Ermita in Tijuana where they experienced Hidalgo Style pit roasted lamb barbacoa.Ray decided to add his version in August for his Baja inspired menu, and it has been such a popular taco, it is here to stay. Now Raymond had to use a couple of cooking techniques to duplicate the slow pit cooking method. He uses banana leaves instead of maguey spines.

Now, there is an amazing barbacoa in the San Diego area, Aqui es Texcoco, and I can cross the border to visit Barbacoa Ermita, but LA has not yielded a favorite. I like the tacos at Breed St., Borrego de Oro is OK,but the cooking is not refined. The meat is usually overcooked, or minded over so much it never hits its optimum moistness level. Using quality lamb, as Border Grill uses only the best, and working with the limitations of a "modern" kitchen, he has achieved the unlikely.Border Grill has my favorite barbacoa taco in town. A tasty chile de arbol salsa lifted and tweaked from Tijuana, and a perfectly ripe slice of avocado are fitting complements.

There's just muscle tissue, no exotics, or pancita, but a wonderfully straightforward taco of barbacoa.In this instance, flavor trumps tradition and variety of lamb cuts.

The $8 for three tacos at Happy Hour is a great bargain. These are high ingredient tacos, something that Border Grill does right always.In Mexico, taco stands use quality cuts of meat, the freshest local produce, and sophisticated salsas.They can sell them for a dollar due to the economics in Mexico, in the US, quality tacos can't be had for a dollar. Even the La Jarocha on Breed St. with her homemade guisados charges $1.50.

I'm hoping Mary Sue and Sue will let Raymond dig a pit in the kitchen and take it to the next level.How about it, Tamales?

We also tried the Peruvian inspired amarillo ceviche, refreshing and zesty. Ceviches have been consistenly good over the years at Border Grill, and only $3 a shot during Happy Hour.

In case you missed the Baja menu items back in August, this beef shank in a Yucatan style sauce was stirred by our dinner at Slivestre,Benito Molina's seasonal hideaway in the Valle de Guadalupe.I hope this comes back.

Border Grill has a fine dessert menu, they're not available for Happy Hour, but why not indulge?

Go visit Raymond and Doug for Happy Hour at Border Grill. Stellar cocktails and some of the best margaritas in the city,excellent tacos, maybe the best tasting barbacoa taco in town,a nice tequila list,select wines and Mexican beer,and always a festive ambiance.

Border Grill Santa Monica
Happy Hour
Monday through Friday - 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday - after 10 p.m.

Monday, September 21, 2009

CLOSED.It's Hopper Night at Priyani Cafe!!

This restaurant is closed.

Hopefully, you've read Thi Nguyen's loving review of Priyani Cafe in the LA Times just a mere 4 months ago. I tell you, I love a real find, yours or mine.Like many a blogger, I have many restaurants in my rolodex that I'd gladly pass along with heartfelt PR.But, only a few become part of my weekly or monthly routines.Too busy tracking down new places, trying to keep it interesting, but every now and then........an angelic choir from above.....a bolt of lightning.

Chowhound's Das UberGeek and I experienced Priyani for the first time at a gathering arranged by a mutual fiend.Yes,I mean fiend.It was the first time I witnessed DU's facegasms. His excellent report on Priyani Cafe can be found here.

The husband and wife team of Nihal(L)and Priyani(R), pictured with relative Prama(Center), are a couple of hugs and kisses. They are absolutely sweet people cooking and hosting in this little tucked away eatery at the rear of a back parking lot behind a market on Reseda Bl.I love this place so much that I forget how ridiculous it is to have friends meet me here, until I've been on the phone with them for a couple of minutes trying to navigate them to the front entrance.

I saw a sign that Priyani put up a few months ago that read "Every Friday, Hopper Night" I asked Priyani what happens on Hopper Night? Live music? Sri Lankan dancing? I don't know, it just sounded like a party and I wanted in. I got Javier Cabral so wound up about this place and the Hopper Night party, I think he ran to his car and started driving.

We were the first to arrive and were greeted by Priyani.We ordered regular hoppers,the thin fermented rice flour Sri Lankan pancakes, and egg hoppers right away.Egg hoppers like this beauty here are hoppers with a fried egg cooked in. These have a soft, pliant texture with a crisp outer edge, just begging to be stuffed.

Spicy deviled potatoes and seeni(onion) sambal are what Hopper Night is all about. A party of flavor and texture in your mouth. Well, a few other customers trickled in, but it wasn't exactly the spectacle that I had concocted in my curry drunk mind on my previous visit.Hoppers and egg hoppers are available on weekends, and party or no party,they are worth the trip alone.

Priyani's string hoppers have been mentioned before, a completely different experience, but equally inviting.You want to eat these hoppers with everything. They are served with a coconut sambal, so spicy and pleasing.

The deep frying is nails here. Cutlets(croquettes), pattis(turnovers), rolls,pastries, and fish buns.Try them all, they'll be glad to give you a sampler platter.

The chile chutney full of heat, zest, and intricacies.Priyani is a master of flavors and texture, nothing here is simplistic.

The dal curry oozes intense lentil essence. It's always been available when I've been to Priyani's, but isn't on their menu, unless you consider the item, "Any Kind of Curries." As Thi reported, ask what they have and don't worry about the menu so much. You might even be so lucky as to enjoy a rarely served item.The menu is deceptive.When this artful plate is delivered to your table you will do a double take towards the menu, and snicker at your good fortune.

Lampreis,the nacatamal of Sri Lanka is amazing. A gathering of eggplant curry, onion sambola, shrimp sambola, green banana curry, chicken curry and fish cutlet wrapped in a banana leaf. You won't stop digging until you've exhausted the full range of gorgeous savors.

The lamb kotthu rotti, with tender lamb, pasta,onions, and a richness so fragrant and mouthwatering. It is a favorite.

Priyani's restaurant experience shine through on the chicken buriyani. A mold of earthy rice with delectable bites of chicken inside,cashew nuts, raisins, and surprises are found throughout the dish.

You'll never know what Priyani has cooking on the stove.Restaurants around town wouldn't dare cook whatever they feel like, but it's just like I would imagine doing to Nihal and Priyani's house would be like. You know it's going to be good and you'll eat anything she puts in front of you.

Deviled chicken is a blazing dish, like other preparations, you may find other proteins on a given night.

I was blessed to have eaten a jackfruit curry dish with friends a few months back.It's a countrified looking plate with a fantastic interplay of mild curry with delicate jackfruit.

You simply must have the Watalappam, even if Priyani gives you too much food, which always seems to happen to me. I often end up with lunch and dinner for the next day. It is a Sri Lankan coconut custard too delicious for words.

At the moment, this is one of the most interesting places to dine.Forget that it is the best Sri Lankan restaurant, it's one of the best regional restaurants in LA. If you haven't been it should be moved to the top of your dance card. There won't be some "wild party" on hopper night, but definitely stop by on the weekend for the delicious hoppers and decadent egg hoppers.

Bring your friends and just order like mad. Just like Thi, who never experienced the Lampreis, the only disappointment will be in the plates you missed.

Priyani Ceylon Fusion
Oriental Cafe
9035 Reseda Bl.
Northridge, CA 91324
11AM-9PM daily

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Streetgourmetla mentioned in LA Times

Thanks to Miles Clement and the LA Times food section, for crediting me on his Rio Brazil Cafe report, and posting a link.Great article on Luciene Peck's delicious new adventure.

Streetgourmetla interviewed in LA Weekly's Squid Ink

Meet Your Blogger,By Erica Zora Wrightson

Hayat's Kitchen:Serious Lebanese home cooking returns,but don't call it a comeback

Hassan Shatila and wife,Hayat Fahed, have been making great Lebanese food in the Valley since 1982. You may recall their Cafe Mediterranean restaurant in Toluca Lake. Michelle Huneven of the LA Times, had given them a great review back in 1990.

Cafe Mediterranean became an entertainment industry favorite back then and at one point they'd expanded the size of their restaurant and installed a buffet to meet the needs of the hustle and bustle of the studio lunch crowd.

After 18 years in business, they closed and moved on to other things in 2000, until about 5 months ago when they resurfaced as Hayat's Kitchen.There were catering events in between but they never stopped cooking, and the food is better than ever.

Kibbe nayeh,just like your Lebanese mother makes. The stuff daydreams are made of.

Hassan and Hayat have been in the business for more than 30 years, Hassan is the baker and Hayat is the chef. Their food is home style Lebanese,straightforward and deeply delicious.They are tucked in the back of a strip mall at the corner of Burbank Bl. and Vineland, sharing a lot with Colo's Argentine meat market, a banquet hall, a smoke shop, and a nice little produce market where the register often shuts down a moment for a shot of Armenian coffee.

The cold appetizers here are dreamy,with flavors delightfully in balance. The vegetarian combo is a fine way to sample Hayat's craft. And the kibbie nayeh(raw meat)? I've been looking for an equivalent to the one they used to have at Pasha years ago, and this is it.Just the delicious result of fresh ingredients and a sage hand.The fatoosh salad is a delicious, rustic home style salad, lightly tart with lime, bracing, and pure.

Fresh baked fatayers of cheese, spinach, and safiha(meat)are perfect savories to start your meal.

Makanek, little spicy homemade sausages are crisp, complex bites of pork well suited for stuffing in a tear of pita. These are lovely.

The foul mudammas(fava and garbanzos in garlic)is garlic intensive and served warm. The combination of soft beans, warmth, garlic, and oily richness surpass decadence.

The foul is so delicious, but the fatteh bi laban is a whole other delight to the senses.It combines the textures of crisp toasted pita, grilled meat, creamy yogurt, and crunchy pine nuts. This dish seems like interesting enough from the menu's description, but seeing it up close is a foodie lotto win.

Hayat's meats have come off the grill everytime I've dined there,consistently tender, juicy and seasoned just right. I especially love the filet mignon and chicken.The grilled plates come with grilled tomatoes, onions, or maybe a jalapeno. It's whatever Hayat has handy.Just surprise me.Fresh, raw onion and golden fries round out your meal.

The usual photos of Lebanon are posted in this humble space, with a comfortable outdoor patio set up for fair weather dining and the hookah set.It's very charming and gets a good crowd of the local Lebanese community, and some friends from their Cafe Mediterranean days as they gradually are rediscovering their long lost chef and baker.

Be sure to ask what the special of the day is before you order. They're not posted, perhaps someday, but those in the know will be well rewarded. On one evening they had kafta bi ssanieh,a Lebanese meatloaf so lovely from Hayat's oven.

A strong Lebanese coffee is always a pleasant way to cap your meal,Hayat's makes a nice dense version make with quality grinds.

But, do try Hassan's finger baklava, maybe the best I've ever had. He has a full dessert menu, all treats are baked from scratch on the premises. Deep flavors permeate these desserts, sans the usual insipid sugariness.

Skaf's and Hayat's are both neighborhood restaurants for me, and I, like so many, adore Skaf's Grill. While I can't put my finger on it,they are both great restaurants, I find myself coming back to Hayat's again and again. In some things like grilling they match up well, but in others....the home cooking that we all crave from the gifted women cooks throughout the world's kitchens is right here at Hayat's Kitchen, a new treasure to grace the North Hollywood culinary scene.

Hayat's Kitchen
11009 Burbank Blvd.
Suite 117
North Hollywood, CA 91601
818) 761-4656
Open 10AM-9PM

Catering available too!