Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gold Standard 2012 this Sunday, March 4th at the Petersen Automotive Museum: There Will Always be a Gold Standard

There has been something of a media frenzy lately surrounding Jonathan Gold as we approach the weekend of the last Gold Standard? Mr. Gold was nabbed by the Los Angeles Time's new Saturday Calendar section which will include food, and other leisure pursuits. There are those who thought, "will their be a Gold Standard this year?" "Will there be a Gold Standard at the LA Times next year?" It appears the Gold Standard has become a floating rate currency for the time being. But never fear, it's ON this Sunday, March 4th at the Petersen Automotive Museum, from 1pm-5pm. And folks, there will always be a Gold and a Gold Standard, because the only Pulitzer Prize winning food writer is bigger than all of this.

Jonathan Gold has always been about painting the LA cultural landscape with a broad brush, from our top trends and hot spots, to our deepest ethnic enclaves, to the landmark bites and sips. He's led the second wave of ethnic food journalism here in town and is a big part of why LA stands alone as the greatest cultural dining center in the US.

Last year I was invited to the Gold Standard, for what turned out to be one of the top three local food events I attended in 2011. It was well organized, lines flowed easily, and a bunch of you forgot to get refills because I was able to get pours of wine at will. No waiting. No please, keep eating, I got this.

There will be 4 types of restaurants that you can expect at this event: the latest attractions like Short Order, Sotto, Picca, Ink, Baco Merkat and Playa; the cultural gems that you won't see at other events like Kobawoo House, Tsujita, Chichen Itza, and Mayura; established LA giants such as Animal, Providence, and Mozza; and those landmark places that first excited us about LA dining like Guelaguetza, Bulgarini Gelato, Loteria, Border Grill, Meals by Genet, and Jitlada. It's all good and it's all Los Angeles. Click here for a complete list of this year's participating restaurants.

Let's look at some highlights from the 2011 Gold Standard.

We got a taste of Picca last year, the restaurant that would propel chef Ricardo Zarate into the national spotlight. It's the hottest ticket in town right now, and Picca and yet to be opened Mo Chica on 7 will return for this year's event.

Waterloo and City was another new kid on the block. They served a memorable fatty dish of creamy, chicken livers.

There won't be many subordinates running the booths here. Last year this fancy delicacy from Providence was served by none other than Michael Cimarusti himself. I give Jonathan Gold an A+ in Klout for being influential about chefs.

And there were some final performances, too. Nastassia Johnson's Manila Machine did its final gig, much to our regret. The pretty face and driving force behind that successful food truck is still around, but we sure miss those tasty Filipino eats.

And, there was Bistro LQ and that lusty, cheese cart. Fortunately, Laurent Quenioux has been popping up at Starry Kitchen in downtown LA, and despite the closing of Bistro LQ, he's still going strong.

Thi will be there again this year cooking up something tempting from the ever popular Starry Kitchen, and her husband, Nguyen, will be around doing the necessary things people in banana suits must.

La Casita is required comida mexicana in LA.

Have you been to Jitlada? OK, well, it's a good thing you made it to the Gold Standard, because this is old school 99 essential restaurant status.

Jimmy Shaw is back again to serve up his DF style taqueria delights from Loteria Grill. Don't be fooled--Jimmy is straight up paisa! He's the real deal.

The Lopez girls should have their own show, and they do, it's called Guelaguetza. This is the Oaxacan family that began what is the third most significant Oaxacan dining scene in the world. After Oaxaca, and DF, LA is the place for clayudas, and mole. Take that Rick Bayless!

Elegant Ethiopian from Meals by Genet, a place that has been talked about on food talk boards for years. This is one delicious page right out of Counter Intelligence.

Injeera with doro wat, from the heart of Little Ethiopia.

Gold Standard 2012
Sunday, March 4
1 to 5 p.m.
Petersen Automotive Museum

$75/person. Click here to purchase.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My First Weekender in the March Issue of Los Angeles Magazine: Valle de Guadalupe, a Salud! to Mexico's Wine Country

Pick up the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine and discover why I think the Valle de Guadalupe is one of the best wine country experiences in the world, and will be the next big thing in Baja.

Inside you'll find an up to date guide on where to eat, play, stay, and drink your way through Mexico's wine country. Check it out, on newsstands today!

SGLA on KCRW, Today on Good Food-Street Food Smarts

Catch me this morning on Good Food talking street food smarts--how to order street food like a native. The segment was recorded at my favorite street food fair in Downtown LA; it will air on KCRW at 11:14AM.

A Pueblan street vendor in Downtown LA.

Monday, February 13, 2012

City Night at Border Grill Downtown LA, February 29th,2012: A Tale of Two Hot Tamales

I tell you I just can't get enough of these nostalgia dinners--bring back all the restaurants I missed when I was either too young, too broke, or too busy daydreaming. On Wednesday, February 29th, the trailblazing City Cafe--the restaurant that put chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken on the map--returns for one special night.

City opened in 1981 with a crazy idea, 11 tables, and a hot plate with the flavors of Asia and Latin America delivered by way of French technique--the rest is history. In '85 City became Border Grill as the attractive flavors of Latin America became the preferred spice, and seasoning for these Two Hot Tamales.

From there they opened a few other Border Grills, then Ciudad (which became the downtown Border Grill this last year), opened one of the best luxe loncheros in town; they had hits as cookbook authors and on their own Food Network cooking show; and both hung tough on two separate seasons of Top Chef Masters. On her own Susan Feniger opened Street, a celebration of her love of Asian street foods. But, the old customers still beg them to bring back some of those dishes from City; and every 4 years, on Leap Day, City fires up its stoves for an evening of delicious memoirs. The dinner will take place on Feb. 29th from 5pm-10pm at the Downtown LA Border Grill. It will be $75 for a 4-course dinner.

I remember frequenting Border Grill when I first moved to LA in '95,--at one time or another I'd been to the Las Vegas Border Grill, Pasadena(closed), Santa Monica, Ciudad, the Border Grill Truck, and finally the new DTLA location. I still remember coming home after dining at the Pasadena Border Grill after ordering a mollete made with portabello mushrooms in place of the telera(bread roll), stuffed with refried beans. I thought it brilliant, and was sad to see it come off the menu. I had my first prickly pear margarita at a Border Grill. I also think the avocado and amaranth taco from the BG truck is one of the best vegetarian tacos in the US. These gals did it first, they are trailblazers.

Hola, que tal con las Hot Tamales, cabrones? Son puras chingonas y es la neta!

Chef Mary Sue Milliken, DTLA Border Grill Executive Chef Monique King, and Chef Susan Feniger

I spoke with the Two Hot Tamales on the phone before attending a preview of the City menu about how all this happened and about what they're up to these days. And, they are living proof that the best decisions are made will bending elbows.

SGLA: What was the dining scene like before City opened, and how did you become interested in ethnic cuisines?

SF: We'd been working in French restaurants in the 70's, but you always worked along Hispanic guys in the kitchen, and they were always doing staff meals--throwing something together in 15 minutes that was amazing, and that really piqued my interest.

MSM: Back then everything was drowned in sauces--we were trained in French nouvelle, but it wasn't my first love.

SGLA: Where did the two of you meet?

SF: In Chicago(1978). We were both working at Le Perroquet, an amazing French restaurant very ahead of its time. It focused on country French cuisine: confit, country pâtés, cassoulet, brandade, we clarified our own butter, and the chef made a butter wrap that covered a pastry--this made a big impression on me. This place made me start thinking about food costs and running a business.

We then met up again in Paris, I was at L'Oasis in the south of France, before that I was at Ma Maison with Wolfgang [Puck] and Mary Sue was at Restaurant d'Olympe.

MSM: Back then everyone aspired to apprentice in Europe--well--France.(laughs)

SGLA: What were some of the cuisines that first inspired you to break away from French cooking?

SF: Growing up in the Mid-West there were lots Chinese food places you went to on Sundays in Toledo, Ohio--Detroit had a strong Middle-Eastern scene--and there was this great Greek restaurant in downtown Toledo that had 6 pots on the stove and you got to pick whatever you wanted.

In '82 I went to India and was blown away by the flavors and ingredients: curries, tamarind.

MSM: We went out to Anely's tacos and thought it was the best thing in the world. We'd come back with 2 dozen carnitas tacos and were just blown away. That was the beginning of the idea that there was a cuisine that was complex and hadn't been explored.

I loved the rustic styles and braises--not the fussy squirt bottle food. Every time I traveled I'd get excited about Greek, like the first time I was in Chicago. Today I'd probably think it was shitty but at 16 it was fabulous.

SGLA: So you met in Chicago and were then working in France--how did City come about?

SF: We met up again in France over a bottle of wine in an apartment.

SGLA: Do you remember the bottle?

SF: We were broke back then so it was probably the French equivalent of Boone's Farm.

MSM: We were probably eating some cheap cut of horse meat. (both laughing)

SF: We were talking about doing a restaurant and in a drunken stupor we decided on which city we'd open.

Milliken went back to Chicago, and Feniger went back to LA to work at Ma Maison with Wolfgang Puck after there apprenticeships were completed in France.

SF: LA Eye Works wanted to start up a place where they could get expressos, so they opened City cafe. I started out making soups and sandwiches for a bit. I told Mary Sue to come out for a visit and check it out.

MSM: There were 2 hot plates--it took 3 hours for water to boil JUST to make pasta. I thought, no money and a hot plate?

SF: We finally put in a stove and just cooked our hearts out. We'd go 6 days a week from 7AM to around midnight, and on the 7th day we'd crash in Venice. It was a 10 x 10 kitchen space with 3 sinks and a dishwasher.

On trips to Mexico in 1984, they found their inspiration to open Border Grill in '85, and focus on Mexican flavors.

SGLA: What made you decide to bring back City for a night?

SF: We do it every 4 years, on Leap Day. Old customers are always asking for the plates, and it was a groundbreaking restaurant that was serious about these cuisines. We had put in a tandoor oven back then...

MSM: But not too stuffy. Many people had their first dates, anniversaries--we brought this food to another part of town. People didn't have to go to East LA or other parts of town, they could have it closer to home.

SF: I'm not going to even tell you about the bathroom[ encounters] (laughs)

SGLA: Thanks to you both and I'll see you on the 29th--yes, I have a reservation already.

I attended a preview for the event with the Two Hot Tamales cooking our City classics, and even serving us, too. Here's what's in store for you on the 29th.

You can't always count on bright, and tempting Latin American cocktails at Border Grill: margaritas, mojitos, caipirinhas, etc.

Potato bhujia of Indian inspiration, fried sage leaves, and a refreshing Chinese sausage salad are some of the small bites returning for City Night.

The sauteed halibut cheeks with tomato and Pernod snapped with homemade fettuccine and an intoxicating dose of Pernod. This is a throwback to the early days of City when cooking with Pernod was still second nature to these classically trained tamaleras. It's a fun dish that will have you pressing the bowl to your face in order to capture the last spots of drunken sauce.

Full of comfort, the braised duck with red curry gets sweet, chary lift from grilled eggplant.

The chewy date bar is the kind of straight forward dessert that makes you feel like a kid again, when dessert was fun.

Click here for the full menu.

This is a night to celebrate a landmark restaurant, a pair of chefs who've shown true staying power with no signs of letting up, and to pat our fine city on the asphalt. City Night at Border Grill DTLA--a night to salute our City.

City Night at Border Grill DTLA
4 course prix fixe menu for $75 per person
a la carte in the bar
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

445 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90071
phone: 213.486.5171 fax: 213.486.5172

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chef John Sedlar's Rivera and Playa Have a Secret...Menu-PST's Art as an Appetizer Available Feb. 7-March 31

'47 Chevy in Wilmington, CA by Oscar Castillo

Chef John Sedlar knows how to throw a party. I attended a preview for the Pacific Standard Time Art as an Appetizer secret menu at both Playa and Rivera restaurants. Influential bartender Julian Cox shook our drinks into splashes of Endless Summer; mezcal baron Ron Cooper himself poured his brand of lusty nectar from the gods; and famous artists and their admirers took in a late lunch with foodists and twitterati.

The menu is a collaboration of Chef John Sedlar(Rivera, Playa), Del Maguey's Ron Cooper, and mixologist Julian Cox. An inspired menu to provoke an interest in Pacific Standard Time's Performance and Public Art Festival.

Only those in the know--that means you--will have a go at this quite reasonable tasting at $37 for 3-course meal. Ask for the Pacific Standard Time menu and dine over works of art hand selected by Chef Sedlar, who will open his own Museum Tamal this year.

Ball Drop – Single village mezcal, london dry gin, freshlime yuzu tincture, cayenne. Inspired by Ron Cooperʼs 1969 piece “Ball Drop” featured at the Collection of the University Art Museum Art Video Archive at Cal State Long Beach University.

ʻ47 Chevy in Wilmington, CA – Micro climate mezcal, agave nectar, st. vincent orgeat, passion fruit, fresh lemon, lavender air. Inspired by Oscar Castilloʼs 1972 piece “47 Chevy in Wilmington, CA” featured in the Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo at the Fowler Museum, UCLA.

This drink is an inspired margarita, an East-side sipper to chill out the homies como puro relax.

Course 1-Crudo Assortment: A crudo assortment of fresh and smoked seafood with kumquats, fresno chiles, lime, red seaweed, copita of Del Maguey's Chichicapa mezcal. Inspired by Beatrice Woodʼs “Fish Platter” featured in the Beatrice Wood: Career Woman-Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

2nd Course-Los Angeles county Museum of Art on Fire: Fire – grilled breast of chicken with cobb salad quemado, goat cheese, incendiary salsa. Inspired by Ed Ruschaʼs 1965-1968 “Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire” featured in the Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture 1950-1970 exhibition at The Getty Center.

Outstanding chicken dishes are coming out of Sedlar's kitchens these days and this is no exception. It's Burnin' Down the House good.

Course 3- Beach Trash Burning: Sorbet splashes of roasted pineapple mescal, poblano chile lime, hibiscus pomegranate. Inspired by Carlos Almarazʼs 1982 “Beach Trash Burning” in the Mapping Another LA: Chicano Art Movement exhibition at the Fowler Museum, UCLA.

Challenging flavors of heat and liquor in lightly sweet desserts are signature Rivera and Playa flavors.

The Latin-American kitchen has a long tradition of beautiful, thought provoking plates and dishes to present cuisine. Let the PST menu tempt you through the senses to seek out the Los Angeles artists and their works created during the years 1945-1980.

The PST menu is available during dinner only and is listed at $37 for three courses, although each course is available
individually as well.

Playa Restaurant
7360 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Rivera Restaurant
1050 South Flower Street Los Angeles, CA 90015-5100

WHEN: February 7, 2012 – March 31, 2012