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Oliver’s Prime at the Grafton on Sunset
West Hollywood, California

Hip dining without being hipster

Hip dining without being hipster

The Grafton on Sunset hotel has been a crash pad in the thick of Hollywood’s fabled Sunset Strip since 1946, leaving a lamplight burning from the Tinseltown glamor set to big-haired glam rockers. A major renovation in 2007 restored the hotel to its former glitz and glory, so it comes as no surprise that the same attention would be paid to the recently opened Oliver’s Prime in the property’s northeast corner. The swanky digs would make Don Draper feel at home; the look and feel is 60′s modern with chrome, leather and simple colors and geometry. One executive-looking booth features photographic images of smoke, which would have been unnecessary in the tobacco culture of Kookie Kookson’s day.

Crab-stuffed tuna rolls

Crab-stuffed tuna rolls

Fortunately, this is not a case of style over substance; Oliver’s Prime is serious steak house with innovative fare by Chef Greg Elkin, so innovative that even the menu illuminates when opened.  This is surf and turf at its finest, where fresh lobster meat finds its way into a caprese salad and a cavalcade of manly meat from sustainable ranches (such as Creekstone Farms and Durham Ranch) keep the carnivorous crowd happy. Even the side dishes are exceptional – the wild mushrooms and Shishito peppers are so good that you’ll spare the suggestion that they might accompany your choice cut (save that task for the subtle pearl onions with applewood-cured bacon). While kale is still hogging the limelight, the overlooked but not overcooked broccolini makes a tasty appearance here in a mildly spicy Thai dish that holds its own against the cattle.

Farm-raised bison filet

Farm-raised bison filet

Don’t let the tuna rolls be miscast as nori-wrapped sushi – here fresh ahi envelops a creamy Dungeness crab center with sea beans and ginger yuzu aioli; the rolls disintegrate on the tongue effortlessly, leaving the zest from the jalapeno slices and lemongrass vinaigrette lingering after the bite is gone. The melty Wagyu tartare is a thing of beauty crowned with wispy honeycomb potato crisps, draped with arugula leaves and finished with shaved Pecorino and a quail egg.

Wagyu beef tartare

Wagyu beef tartare

Mammal flesh is their forte, and there’s an abundance of it on the menu. The lamb chops are given a Middle Eastern treatment, cooked with dates, almonds and Eastern spices; tender filet of bison should be ordered on the rare side and eaten sans accoutrements to appreciate the exotic flavor – resist the urge to squeeze the roasted garlic onto the meat, as this is an exceptional cut spared the indignity of being ground for burgers. Also of exceptional note is the New York strip steak from Creekstone Farms, dry-aged in house for 35 days, a juicy and delectable slab of meat capable of satiating the most finicky carnivore.

A refreshing strawberry soup with sorbet

A refreshing strawberry soup with sorbet

The chilled strawberry soup with sorbet, berries, citrus and mint is refreshing and light enough to eat with the meal, but sweet enough to savor as a dessert, but a chocolate brownie sitting in a shallow pool of grapefruit can be a challenging pairing on the palate. Libations are plentiful, although the three-stool bar is a tiny station; however, The Grafton on Sunset is currently renovating its Bar 20, which will re-open as a full-service bar soon.

While the decor is a throwback to a time when the jet set dined exclusively in a posh, modernistic, playground to the stars, there’s no pretentiousness here – just remarkable cuisine in a fun and artistic setting that will have you anticipating the sequel.

Oliver’s Prime at the Grafton
8462 West Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
GPS Coordinates:  34° 5’40.49″N 118°22’29.82″W

GALLERY: See images from Val’s dinner at Oliver’s Prime at the Grafton on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood CA

NOTE: The cost for the food was provided by Oliver’s Prime. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.

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This Blogger Walks Into A Roadhouse…

Roadhouse LA at The Improv
Los Angeles, California

Roadhouse LA's separate entrance

Roadhouse LA’s separate entrance

Roadhouse LA’s frontage features roll-up windows, corrugated tin and stone trim and an unfinished barn door entrance – a comforting sight for a bubba looking for some backwoods chow and a contrast to its host structure, L.A.’s famous Improv comedy club. For someone looking for a transplanted Texas BBQ joint, the illusion continues inside with walls of reclaimed wood and a massive hay claw dangling from the ceiling in the middle of the dining area, but anyone expecting traditional Southern barbecue quickly gets the concept of improvisation with one look at the menu. Restaurateur and impresario Adam Fleischman initially brought in Chef Robbie Richter (formerly the cleaver and tongs behind New York City’s Fatty ‘Cue) to create a concept called “global BBQ”. Richter relied on much of what he was known for at Fatty ‘Cue, but departed shortly after opening – that’s when Fleischman brought in hired gun Kyle Schutte to reimagine not what BBQ is, but in his words, “what BBQ can be”. Chef Schutte is no stranger to clever re-working of traditional dishes, and the Roadhouse LA redux melded his Southern origins and influence with cutting-edge cuisine.

"Pork and beans" pork ribs

“Pork and beans” pork ribs

Even the bar menu is inventive and fun; the “A Little Dickel Dew Ya” sounds like a drink christened by a redneck blue comic – the name is a reference to the blend of house-made “Mountain Dew” syrup, applejack, and whiskey and tastes like a soft drink for grown-ups. Schutte plays with his food, introducing dishes intentionally out of order; the sturdy and sweet cornbread pudding (listed as “#cornbreadpudding”) should be a dessert, but here it is presented as an opener and gussied-up with borage flowers, roasted jalapeno butter, and dabs of tequila/cilantro jelly with a citrus-charred crust. This is not a cornbread for sopping up your baked beans.

Roadhouse LA's main dining area

Roadhouse LA’s main dining area

Chef Schutte introduces breakfast at night with what one could simply disregard as “bacon and eggs” – the thick slab of moist, root beer spice-cured bacon (brined for 2 days) can be easily fork-cut, and the meat is accompanied by scrambled eggs infused with vanilla; a sashimi hamachi dish arrives at the table dusted with a powdery BBQ spice and accompanied by dollops of collard green mousse and sprouted cilantro. Schutte re-invents the ubiquitous LA stable with an outstanding build-it-yourself fish taco made with a thick slab of cold-smoked salmon, frothy guacamole, tequila cream and pomegranate seeds.

Dessert for dinner - cornbread pudding as a starter

Dessert for dinner – cornbread pudding as a starter

Much to his chagrin, Schutte’s menu features his signature dish by popular demand – chicken-fried watermelon. The fruit  is apropos with the BBQ theme, but gone are the watermelon sticks from Richter’s menu – his crispy, golden balls reveal their moist, sweet payload with a bite that doesn’t disintegrate the contrivance. This is fair fare at its finest; Schutte litters the row of orbs with an application of shredded and pickled watermelon rind that would be a superb substitute for sauerkraut on the sausage of his choosing.

"Campfire carrots" for dessert

“Campfire carrots” for dessert

Despite his Virginian upbringing, Schutte doesn’t have a BBQ pedigree, but the casual observer wouldn’t accuse him of being green around the gills – the lamb ribs are tender enough that Moms Mabley could polish them off,  yet sturdy enough to stand up to the accompanying cucumber arancini. His pork ribs are nothing short of genius – Chef Schutte refers to them as “pork and beans”. The Niman Ranch pork ribs show off the tang of a ponzu BBQ sauce and are propped up over a bed of lightly pickled peaches and boiled peanuts (with the goobers being the legume of choice to complement the ribs), a loving yet innovative tribute to the great State of Georgia.

Chef Schutte's signature chicken-fried watermelon

Chef Schutte’s signature chicken-fried watermelon

While the same outsourced desserts present at start-up are being phased out, Schutte let on that they are currently designing in-house treats including a dish he refers to as “the barroom floor” with a confectionary imagining of floorboards and sawdust. One clever side dish sweet enough to act as a dessert is the Campfire Carrots – rather than describing the cooking technique, the dish emulates a campfire with stacked logs of baby carrots over a layer black garlic and sesame ash, and a gooey thyme marshmallow looking like it just fell off the stick into the fire.

With Kyle Schutte given free rein to improvise and execute the global BBQ concept, Roadhouse LA should become a gastronomic destination independent of its comic foster mother. We’ll be here all week – I recommend the pork ribs. Be sure tip your waiters and waitresses, they’re working hard for you…

Roadhouse LA at The Improv
8162 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90048
GPS Coordinates: 34° 5’0.95″N 118°22’2.75″W

GALLERY: See images from Val’s dinner at Roadhouse LA at The Improv in Los Angeles CA

NOTE: The cost for the food was provided by Roadhouse LA at The Improv. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Beer

Beer dinners
Kings Row Gastropub, Pasadena, California

4 of the featured Smog City beers at Kings Row

4 of the featured Smog City beers at Kings Row

Since opening as the first true gastropub in Pasadena, Kings Row Gastropub has aggressively presented culinary events such as whole hog roasts (or whatever flora and fauna fit in their custom-made Caja China).  With Certified Cicerone James Willison on board in tandem with Executive Chef Sundeep Vohra, many of these events highlight spirits and brews that bring out the flavor of the featured dishes or gastronomic theme. In February KRG held what is slated to be a monthly series of beer dinners to be feted on each first Thursday, with the sold-out inaugural dinner entitled “Smoke and Beers”, pairing dishes with a smoke element with complementary craft brews from Torrance, California’s Smog City Brewing Company.  While Kings Row’s kitchen staff interpreted the thought process behind the ashen courses, Smog City founders Laurie and Jonathan Porter were on hand to demystify the paired beers.

Smoked melon, grape & red onion amuse bouche on taro crisp

Smoked melon, grape & red onion amuse bouche on taro crisp

Chef Vohra commenced the dinner with a fresh amuse bouche of smoked honeydew and cantaloupe with red grapes and red onion assembled atop a taro crisp; the best approach was to burn through the appetizer in one bite lest the fruity payload disintegrate on the table. This was closely followed by a cheese board of thinly sliced house-smoked aged Gouda accompanied by a beer-centric puddle of porter honey (which was reminiscent of a sweet marmite) and a slice of beer bread baked on the premises; the dish paired well with Smog City’s Bo Pils, a light 4.5 with a bite to help cut the cheese.

The kitchen staff at Kings Row describes the courses

The kitchen staff at Kings Row describes the courses

The second course married a slightly-bitter Smog City Saison (a “farmhouse ale” brewed using French hops) to a tart arugula salad with smoked red beets, apple, daikon, avocado and cilantro with a lemon thyme vinaigrette dressing – a sharp-tongued pair paving the way for dark and murky times to come in the form of a rich potato and leek-based smoked clam chowder with crunchy bits of bacon conservatively strewn about the top. A vegetarian version of the starchy broth was available sans clams and bacon, still sturdy enough to bolster the accompanying Groundwork coffee porter. The beer blended the best of both worlds for lovers of stout beers and coffee, and it complemented the chowder admirably. The full-bodied combination of cream, leeks, pureed Shiro miso and smoked Yukon Gold potatoes brought the coffee flavor out of the porter, which would also have paired well with dessert.

Smoked "ducketta" with mustard gnocchi and Brussels sprouts

Smoked “ducketta” with mustard gnocchi and Brussels sprouts

Round four expertly accompanied a duck “porchetta” (whimsically dubbed “ducketta” by Chef Vohra) stuffed with roasted garlic and herbed duck sausage with Smog City’s fruity California Love, which was brewed using pinot noir grapes and oak chips. The duck was moist and tender without being greasy, and was accompanied by mustard gnocchi and roasted Brussels sprouts which provided a nice contrast to the sweet beer. For the follow-up course, Vohra went back to his Indian roots to create a rich, red smoked lamb gosht (curry) dolloped over basmati rice with mint chutney and yogurt foam on the side. A light Make-out Session Pale Ale was designated as the beverage of choice to join the lamb curry – the unobtrusive light beer was perfect for not stepping on the toes of the strong flavor of the curry.

Decadent "candy bar" pie paired with a chocolate stout

Decadent “candy bar” pie paired with a chocolate stout

Since the aforementioned Groundwork coffee porter would have been a crafty choice for a dessert beer, I was curious as to what the fermented brew of choice would be that would stand up to the ultra-sweet “candy bar” pie that was brought out as the final course. This small wedge of Snickers-influenced confection was laden with chocolate ganache, smoked peanut brittle, and dolce de leche and was poised to do a St. Vitus dance on unsuspecting molars. Giving in to the chocolate theme, Smog City paired with their oddly-named “The Nothing” a hale and hearty stout brewed with chocolate nibs creating a sensation not unlike Willy Wonka on a drunken two-day binge.

Kings Row Gastropub’s first beer dinner was a cavalcade of flavors and scents that was a shot shy of overwhelming; with the dinners based on themes that pay tribute to the brewery name, I can only imagine what March’s Ommegang Beer Dinner holds in store. I’ll give you a moment to ponder that – smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Kings Row Gastropub
20 East Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena CA 91105
GPS Coordinates:  34° 8’44.30″N 118° 9’0.38″W

Smog City Brewing Company
1901 Del Amo Blvd., Suite B
Torrance CA 90501
GPS Coordinates:   33°50’49.30″N 118°18’49.35″W

GALLERY: See images from the Smoke and Beers pairing dinner at Kings Row Gastropub in Pasadena CA

NOTE: The cost for the food was provided by Kings Row Gastropub. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.

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Mary, Queen of Scots

ScotsFestival and International Highland Games XXI
The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

Photo courtesy of The Queen Mary

Photo courtesy of The Queen Mary

For those in Southern California who want to get in touch with their inner-Scot (or at least a peek under the kilt), The Queen Mary in Long Beach is hosting its 21st annual ScotsFestival & International Highland Games this coming weekend (February 15 and 16). In addition to competition in traditional Scottish games, there will be live music, a Grand Parade, authentic food from Scotland (including the post-Burns Night Address to the Haggis), whisky tasting and coronation ceremonies. Information and tickets available at http://queenmary.com/scotsfestival/.

The Queen Mary
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach CA 90802
GPS Coordinates: 33°45’9.01″N 118°11’25.20″W

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Prose and Kahn’s

Red Med at Formosa
West Hollywood, California

Green light means "go"

Green light means “go”

Of late, the Hollywood hotspot that once was the place to see and be seen has been looking a little long in the tooth; back in 1925 when boxer Jimmy Bernstein turned a dismantled Red Car trolley into the Formosa Cafe, its namesake island was still decades away from being reborn as Taiwan. The dimly lit lounge has lost some of its luster over the years, devolving from being the watering hole to the stars to a dusty little neighborhood bar – but if restaurant impresario Adam Fleischman and the team behind master forager and Chef Jordan Kahn’s Red Medicine have their way, their recent partnership with the Formosa Cafe will transform the historic eatery back into a gastronomic destination.

Ginger Daiquiri a la Central

Ginger Daiquiri a la Central

Those worried that the little red engine that once served as a quaint meeting place for Hollywood’s A-list to rub elbows and chow down on Americanized Chinese food will be hipsterized beyond recognition needn’t be nervous – Fleischman has a reputation for modernizing while maintaining the historic ambience of a property. As Red Med at Formosa, the bar will continue to offer traditional libations but will also feature new and innovative cocktails; for the diner crowd looking for that late night cuppa joe, they’ll also be percolating Handsome coffee by the pot as well as offering cold-brewed and Vietnamese-style iced coffee. For now, the trolley decor, faux leather booths and frosted glass candles will stay, along with glass cases filed with novelty decanters and the hundreds of autographed 8×10 glossies with famous faces pressed against glass frames; changes will be small at first such as improving the lighting in order to show off the Chef Kahn-designed menu.

Snap, crackle and pop rock shrimp

Snap, crackle and pop rock shrimp

Although the dishes will be closer to retro-Red Medicine than the elaborate plates that could double as fanciful flower arrangements, they’ll still have Jordan Kahn’s green thumbprint on them. Even the carnivore’s favorite, steak tartare, arrives at the table in a bowl bathed in an application of Nuoc Leo, blanketed with a layer of peanuts and water chestnuts and crowned with a fistful of sprouted lettuce, looking more like a potted plant than chopped, ultra-rare beef. Ruminants will delight in RM@F’s green papaya salad, a vegetarian dish with pockets of shredded pickled root vegetables, crispy taro chips, julienned jicama and greens; the sesame-marinated eggplant takes firm, cooked cubes and accompanies them with shaved celery, red cabbage and fresh, leafy mint.

Red Car style at Formosa Cafe

Red Car style at Formosa Cafe

Even the seafood is green – tender chunks of rock shrimp cooked in lime frolic in a shallow pool of neon-green aguachile and avocado scrapings, topped with chewy threads of fried ginger. The dish becomes a visual and aural experience when scooping up the ceviche into diminutive shrimp chip bowls, releasing a satisfying snap, crackle and pop. This is the legendary stuff that keeps you coming back for more like a strung-out seafood junkie. The fried Shanghai rice cakes are curious little medallions that have the taste and texture of a cross between scalloped potatoes, mochi and lamb fries, and like the beef tartare peek out from a clump of bacon, Shishito peppers and Thai basil.

Red Med at Formosa's bánh mì

Red Med at Formosa’s bánh mì

Confit chicken wings impart a sweet, tart and spicy flavor from cooking down Nước chấm with lime and Thai chiles, and the crispy rice coating gives them additional dimension; the savory pork bánh mì is pretty close to authentic, although Red Med at Formosa eschews the typical upper palate shredding French bread for a softer ciabatta that holds more of the dipped puddle of house-made Sriracha.

Red Med at Formosa looks to breathe new life into a mellow-aged remnant of the golden days of the silver screen, and hopefully they’ll be able to navigate the razor’s edge between maintaining their current neighborhood tavern clientele and enticing foodies in for a gastronomic adventure. Are you ready for your close-up, Ms. Desmond?

Red Med at Formosa
7156 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046
GPS Coordinates: 34° 5’26.05″N 118°20’46.02″W

GALLERY: See images from Val’s dinner at Red Med at Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood CA

NOTE: The cost for the food was provided by Red Med at Formosa. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.

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