Category Archives: LA Travel

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques Group

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques GroupThanks to the entertainment industry, the City of Los Angeles creates opportunities arguably better than most cities in the United States. Case in point is the The Lucques Group, headed by chef Suzanne Goin and her business partner Caroline Styne, who has been the sommelier and wine director for the company since its inception.

A scant 20 years ago, there still weren’t many women who owned restaurants. Of course, Josie La Blach had her eponymous Santa Monica eatery. We also can’t forget the Border Grill ladies, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feininger. Nancy Silverton was baking bread and scones at La Brea Bakery, and Joan McNamara, a caterer turned restaurateur, are about a few of the holdovers from the previous century.

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques Group

Started in 1998, the now legendary Lucques was a success cementing at least the future of the two young women at the helm, Goin, in front of the stove, and Styne, managing the business and front of house and beverage direction.

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques GroupFormer Los Angeles Times critic S. Irene Virbilia noted in her 2009 review of their Brentwood Larder, “Styne and Goin are the food world’s equivalent of Lerner and Loewe or Leiber and Stoller. Everything they do just seems to work effortlessly. The two share a certain sensibility and aesthetic. At any of their restaurants, there’s a sense of comfort and sensuality, contemporary rustic cuisine and warm but crisp service, and enticing environment. But most of all, they each have a strong sense of place.”

Ms. Styne, along with Ms. Goin, are native Angelenos, which is as hard to find as needle in a haystack. Both exude the clean living of a California life, but Ms. Styne was the epitome of West Coast style at a recent Hollywood Bowl media event. She appeared nonplussed by the media attention around her and her partner. In LA style, she smiled for the camera in a black and white herringbone frock perfect for the chill air on the stage of the arena. A glass of white swirled in her hand as the lightbulbs burst; she looked elegant and fit.

In her blog, Styne on Wine, she noted, “At my home, I played the role of wine steward and service captain. I would set the table, open the bottles of Bordeaux and pour wine for my guests throughout dinner.”

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques GroupNow as part owner of one of the most thriving restaurant businesses in Los Angeles, with not one but five restaurants, a James Beard nominee, and catering for the Hollywood Bowl, Styne is a quintessential L.A. person living out their California dream in food and wine!

Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
I’m the vegetable and grain cook in our home. My husband does the grilling because I’m the least comfortable with that. I love roasting or sautéing vegetables, making salsas and other yummy sauces to spoon over them.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
We always have Greek yogurt, olives, an array of cheeses, and wine!

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
I love sharing a meal with people who love food and like trying new things. I don’t necessarily need to discuss each morsel and aspect of the food to death, but I like to know that I’m with someone who appreciates food and the art of cooking.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
I don’t love eating with people who are uber picky or don’t love or appreciate food. It makes me feel uptight and uncomfortable. I’d rather just meet that person for coffee.

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques GroupBeer, wine, or cocktail?
There is a time and place for all three, but usually cocktails and wine.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Suzanne Goin

Your favorite kitchen or bar tool?
Breville Citrus juicer

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Indian and Mediterranean

Beef, chicken, pork, seafood, or tofu?
Chicken and seafood…love pork, too

Favorite vegetable?
Romanesco

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques Group

Chef or culinary person you most admire?
Jose Andres….great chef, great attitude, great humanitarian.

Food you like the most to eat?
Cheese – all kinds, from all milks in all shapes and sizes

Food you dislike the most?
Offal…just not into it

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
I’m big on physical fitness. I really like to keep active and actually enjoy walking, jogging, and just moving my body. I also love fashion in too big a way.

Whom do you most admire in food?
Danny Meyer

Where is your favorite place to eat/drink?
I think Italy is one of the most fun and satisfying places to enjoy food and wine.

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques GroupWhat is your favorite restaurant?
If I’m not at home, I really love eating at my restaurants. I obviously love the food and the drinks. Suzanne and I always try to create restaurants that we ourselves would like to patronize, so I guess we’ve succeeded in that respect

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No tattoos…I’m boring that way.

Recipe: Asparagus and Proscuitto

Recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. To drink, Styne recommended in a William Sonoma blog post, “You can never wrong with champagne or rosé. I think both say, “Party!” and can take you from appetizers to dessert.”

i8tonite: L.A. Woman Caroline Styne: The Other Half of Lucques Group

Ingredients:
• 1¼ pounds asparagus, pencil-thin variety
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
• ½ cup creme fraiche
• 12 thin slices prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele
• ½ lemon, for juicing
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:
Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes before you’re ready to cook.

Snap the ends off the asparagus to remove the tough woody portion. Toss the asparagus on a baking sheet with the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper.

Stir the mustard and crème fraîche together in a small bowl, and set aside.

When the coals are broken down, red, and glowing, drape the prosciutto over a platter. Grill the asparagus 2 to 3 minutes, until slightly charred and tender.

Arrange the asparagus on the prosciutto and drizzle the mustard crème fraîche over the top.

The End. Go Eat.

My Favorite Dishes of 2016

As 2016 began, it was planned that Nick, me and the kids — Holly, the 11-year-old pitbull and our 7-year-old Frenchie, JJ — were moving to Denver from Phoenix. Our intention after twelve months in the Sonoran Desert was to relocate to the Mile High City for his work. Our last stop was the Rocky Mountains. However, after all that, we have found ourselves back in Southern California, where we had originally started. Not in Los Angeles – coming full circle — but in Newport Beach, behind the Orange Curtain. Still for Nick’s work, but with a fluffier job description.

It’s a good location for us. Far from the histrionics of the world’s entertainment capital. Yet, we discuss missing Camelback Mountain rising out of the valley, the vast blue skies and, of course, the food. Phoenix taught me that good eating can be found anywhere if you are looking for it. It doesn’t have to be in one of the anointed culinary islands such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

While living in Phoenix, I discovered deep blended roots of Mexican and Native American food. Indeed, it’s common for local hunters born of Mexican descent to shoot game such as moose or elk during the holiday season. The braised meat is then turned into Christmas tamales and frozen to eat throughout the year. It’s a practice that goes well beyond the area’s 114 years as a state. Originally, Mexican settlers joined with the natives crafting unique food and then in turn, became Americans when the 48th state entered the Union.

I bring this up because I read a well-known restaurant writer’s suggestions of “best food trends”. In her lengthy piece, she proffered gastronomic extravagances in Copenhagen, Paris, and of course, the Big Apple which is where she is based. I can always choose what is great elsewhere, from Singapore to Argentina, France to Greece. However, I think it’s our duty to describe what is “great” in America. Our culinary prowess is the myriad of cultures creating our nation – borrowing from here and there, making our own indigenous taste profiles such as fried chicken, pot roast or apple pie. Derived from other places, but made here crafting American comfort. We need to recognize that we are great, looking only to our dinner tables.

Unlike the writer, who travels often, I didn’t get on a plane this year except a roundtrip to Vegas and Phoenix. After almost two dozen countries and nearly 250 cities, I’m not big about getting on planes anymore; plus, I love the dining scene in smaller cities such as Phoenix, Portland and even in Orange County, California. They aren’t massive but what’s cooking is robust and lively.

As go into the new year, as a nation, we have dreamed up all types of unique food – Mexican-Korean tacos, Japanese sushi with Brazilian flavors, Thai with Texas BBQ– turning it into one melting pot of goodness. The ingredients simmering on the American stove is where we have always been welcoming, tasting little bits of this and adding some of that. Authentic American flavor is made from our fusion of cultures right here at home and it’s always been great.

Hoja Sante stuffed with Mennonite Cheese, Gran Reserva Barrio Café : Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (Phoenix, Arizona).

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza should be a nationally recognized chef and it’s a shame she’s not. She is a proud Mexican American born in the United States and is un-WASP-like most Food Network stars such as Giada, Rachel or even Paula Deen.  At her five restaurant mini-empire based in Phoenix, her cooking is Mexican but with European techniques. At Gran Reserva Barrio Café, her new restaurant which opened in spring 2016, Esparza’s creativity is evidenced in the simplicity of a melty hunk Mexican Mennonite cheese, wrapped burrito-like in a large hoya sante leaf and served with two smoky chili pastes. Simple. Traditional and yet still other worldly.

Image result for Hoja Santa Gran Reserva Arizona Latinos

The indigenous plant is not commonly found north of the border, and when it is, it’s usually used in stews and braises. Esparza uses it whole, instead of strips, allowing the anise flavor to compliment the queso’s milky texture. The venomous bite of the peppers is nulled by the dairy and leaving only smokiness. Texturally, the crunch of the leaf, emission of creaminess and a nullified heat is eye-opening. As I sat eating the dish, along with interviewing the Phoenix-based chef for Arizona Latinos, she imparted the history of the Mexican Mennonites and how they are still important to the agriculture of the country.

This gooey delicious dish is modest, and that’s what makes it brilliant.

Chicken Liver Pasta, Sotto:  Chef Steve Samson (Los Angeles, CA)

On a media tasting invite, I went through a selection of items chosen by Chef Steve Samson at his almost six-year-old restaurant Sotto. The cozy space is inviting with blue walls, wooden tables and chairs as is Mr. Samson, who is one of the kinder cooks in the culinary world.

Going through his menu, which is all yummy the standout, became the housemade Rigatoni tossed with Chicken Livers, Parmigiana Reggiano and Porcini. It’s a daring dish for Angelenos to embrace. First, there are the carbohydrates but second the livers aren’t normally found on regular menus much less Italian. Having traveled often to Italy, I didn’t recall pasta and innards used in this way and asked Samson where it was based. It was his unique twist on the typical Bolognese ragu. Instead of throwing away something tasty, he invented this earthy and rustic dish. I’m not fond of chicken livers – and I don’t know many people who are – but this I would eat every day for the rest of my life.

 

Jardineros (Garden) Tacos, Taco Maria: Chef Carlos Salgado (Costa Mesa, CA)

Taco Maria is a high-end eating experience much like the Rick Bayless’ chain Red O or even Phoenix’s independent Barrio Café (see above). White tablecloths, waiters with crumbers and sparkling water served in wine glasses, my type of my place, where a diner feels special. Located inside a mall within a mall, it is an indoor-outdoor space which is a good showcase for the unique tastes presented by Chef Carlos Salgado.

Much has been written about Salgado and for good reason, his fusion of California agricultural and Mexican cooking produce, arguably the country’s best tacos. Ordering a la carte during lunch, there are a five varieties of the national south of the border food: chicken, beef, pork,  fish and vegetarian. Exceptional eats every single one, wrapped with the housemade delectable blue corn tortillas found only at Taco Maria. (B.S. Taqueria gets their masa from here too.) The standout is clearly the vegetarian (jardineros) made with shitake mushroom chorizo, a crispy potato and queso fundido. Separately, each one would make a great filling but together, they create something truly different. The minced fungi spiced with traditional south of the border flavorings texturally give the chorizo a meat-like consistency. However, it’s the flavor which is a standout.

Pasta dishes, Tratto: Chef Chris Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)

Legendary chef Chris Bianco is  renowned for Pizza Bianco. Matter of fact, his pizzas have been called the best in the world by former “Vogue” food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. Therefore, when someone invites you to Tratto, his new restaurant which opened in early summer 2016 in the same mall as his world-renowned pizzeria, you go – but not for his pizzas. At his new space, he has opened his creativity to showcase other goodness derived from Arizona farmers; mostly notably, the wheat growers.

Bianco does everything else but pizzas. Old-fashioned, Italian food but a real display of southwestern growers. I don’t mean peppers, tomatoes and cheese but bold pairings such as beets and gorgonzola roasted in a fig leaf. All ingredients are sourced from the 48th state, crafting Italian food. Don’t question it but eat his handmade pastas which are carefully crafted by Bianco. Get off the carb diet and have a bit of heaven.

Beef Tenderloin with Mole Negro, Talavera at Four Seasons Scottsdale: Chef Mel Mecinas (Phoenix, Arizona)

To reiterate, I’ve listed the dishes I’ve eaten over the course of the year which I remember fondly. Eating them, at the restaurant, the conversations around them and how good they are. Nothing comes as close to Chef Mel Mecinas and his mole negro and beef tenderloin.

Mole is probably one of the world’s most difficult sauces to make. Consisting of more than two dozen ingredients ground and simmered into a liquid, resulting in something edible which is complex, luscious and fortifying. Fish is too delicate for the earthiness but lean cuts of meat provide a great experience to taste the Mexico pottage which is what diners get at Talavera under the capable hands of Chef Mecinas.

Unfortunately, he no longer works at the restaurant where he was the Executive Chef for more than a decade. Greener pastures beckoned. However, one day I hope the world gets to eat his extraordinary mole.

 

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw RecipeIn our global world, food is often the first thing that changes. Chinese noodles appropriated by the Italians after Marco Polo’s visit. How about al pastor brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, or the deliciousness of a French-Vietnamese banh mi, which features tons of crunchy vegetables and savory pork stuffed into a baguette? This is the case for the much-lauded Revolutionario, near the University of Southern California, helmed by Chef Farid Zadi and his wife Susan Park. The couple came up with an ingenious concept of marrying North African diaspora (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya) tastes with Mexico. The successful result is a delicious fusion of international flavors as noted by the alternative paper, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and the queue of college students and food-oriented people standing at the counter ordering their $3.00 tacos.

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe
Revolutionario

Zadi’s career started in his birthplace of Lyon, France, ultimately leading him to working in Michelin starred restaurants throughout the world, including stints in Seoul, Korea, and Scotland. Upon coming to the United States, Zadi focused his epicurean talents on being a chef consultant and culinary educator, teaching cooking classes – for the beginner to the accomplished – at such places as Sur La Table, Whole Foods Market, and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe
Makroud (Algerian Date Newtons)

Last year, he and Susan wanted to create something different. Park says, “We saw the market going in a different direction towards a fast casual experience. Millennials didn’t really want to participate in the sit down service.” Along Jefferson, Revolutionario is not hard to find, as there are hordes of people waiting for service. Together, the couple have created a refreshing and unique melding of cultures…and the world was ready. Algerian butter and Mexican crema top a cob of corn. An Algerian roasted chicken with rasa al hanout – a Northern African spice mixture — called mechoui — is served up with feta and tortillas to wrap the bird. Wood-roasted cauliflower is also a standout when bound in a corn tortilla.

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe
Mexican Street Corn with Algerian Creole Butter, Crema, and Cotija

Park comments, “North African tacos are an interesting cuisine. Food writers, those who are well-traveled, and people exposed to unique flavors love our food. Where else can you get merguez sausage served like a burrito?

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
34 years professionally

What is your favorite food to cook?
Dover sole with lemon butter sauce

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter, cheese, and cured meat.

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe
Merguez and Crispy Potato Tacos

What do you cook at home?
Nothing

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
Openness

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Don’t know what they want

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Beer in the summer, wine for fall and winter

Your favorite cookbook author?
Clifford Wright

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Chef’s knife

Your favorite ingredient?
Water

Your least favorite ingredient?
Lard

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Home stove that doesn’t burn high enough

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe
Roasted Sweet Potato and Crispy Kale, Yukon Gold with Lentil Chili or Charred Vegetables.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Mediterranean and Californian

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Beef

Favorite vegetable?
Potatoes

Chef you most admire?
Pierre Gagnaire

Food you like the most to eat?
Buttered pasta

Food you dislike the most?
Calf’s brain

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None. Never.

Recipe: Fennel and carrot slaw

i8tonite with LA’s Revolutionario Chef Farid Zadi & Fennel and Carrot Slaw Recipe

• 2 medium fennel bulbs
• 5 carrots, coarsely grated
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/4 cup Spanish green olives, pitted and finely chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon dried Aleppo chile or Espelette pepper flakes (optional), or to taste
• 6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and very thinly sliced
• 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 3 tablespoons and reserve.

Discard remaining fronds and stalks. Cut bulbs into thin matchsticks and toss with carrots in a bowl.

Whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, oil, olives, Aleppo chile (if using), and salt to taste and toss with vegetables.

Chill, covered, at least 30 minutes (for flavors to develop).

Photo WILLIAM ABRANOWICZ

– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with OC’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas

i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas“The cuisine at Who Song’s & Larry is meant to be fun. It’s Mexican-inspired food,” say 32-year old Chef Johannes Bernau. “The food at Las Brisas finds its inspiration in Mexico, but is really Southern California.”

Born in Utah to a Japanese mother and Dutch Indonesian father, the talented man behind the Real Mex Restaurants stove holds the unwieldy title of Corporate Chef for Specialty Brands. Behind that long designation lies a thoughtful human who creates delectable South of the Border-encouraged dishes at Las Brisas, an iconic cliff side eatery overlooking California’s famed Laguna Beach, and Who Song’s & Larry’s, a newcomer to the restaurant scene. Real Mex also owns additional Southern California chains such as Acapulco, Chevy’s, and El Torito Grill. Bernau oversees the kitchens of the single standing operations, which include the aforementioned, but also El Paso Cantina in Torrance, CA and New York City’s Sinigual.

i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas

“Like every chef, I started out helping as a kid in the kitchen, then I started inviting my friends over for barbeques that I would make,” Bernau recalls. “I worked at a pizza place between the ages of 18 – 19. Today, I still crank out a pizza for family (staff) meals.”

Seafood Tower Las Brisas. i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas
Seafood Tower Las Brisas

The food at Las Brisas, with its breaktaking views of Laguna’s golden sand beaches and Pacific Ocean waves, is a must for every traveler and visitor to the legendary ocean community. The white tablecloth eatery serves dishes such as the fruta del mar, a mixture of lobster, scallops, shrimp, and the catch of the day with a saffron sauce. Also, surf and turf plates exist with Latin flavors, such as the New York Strip with Mexican Shrimp. Adding to the overall theme of Southern California dishes are starters such as ceviche and Ahi Tuna Poke.

i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas

Who Song’s & Larry is themed more like a cantina with lustful eats, including Hangover Fries. Created by Chef Bernau, the dish is crispy fries covered in carnitas, bacon, green chili sauce, melted pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo, a fried egg, and fresno chiles. Served in a small crock, the mighty curative sounds overwhelming but in truth, it’s delicious with bold flavors to settle anyone who might be leaning too far after a night of drinking. “The inspiration was from the Canadian poutine and from my love of smothered fries…plus a fried egg can go on anything,” chuckles Bernau. “It was so popular we named our brunch after our fries.”

Hangover fries. i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas
Hangover fries

 

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
Since I was able to crack eggs… (Mom and dad probably ate plenty of egg shell omelets…)

What is your favorite food to cook?
Anything off the grill, especially Steak.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Surge (classic soda from the 90’s) – they took it away once… not going to let that happen again.

What do you cook at home?
Mac and cheese.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
Their love for food.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Customers that want their steaks well done.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Rubbermaid

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Beer

Your favorite cookbook author?
Ferran Adria

Street Corn - Who Song and Larry's. i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas
Street Corn – Who Song and Larry’s

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Chef’s Knife.

Your favorite ingredient?
Thyme – everything could use a little more thyme.

Your least favorite ingredient?
MSG

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
When I was a young cook, one of my jobs was to peel grapes.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Tacos

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Beef

Favorite vegetable?
Broccolini

Chef you most admire?
Jose Andreas – worked for him back in the day & learned how to cook with liquid nitrogen.

Food you like the most to eat?
Ramen (not instant)

Food you dislike the most?
Natto, a Japanese dish of fermented soy beans.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
none

Recipe: Coke Cola Carnitas

i8tonite with LA’s Las Brisas Chef Johannes Bernau and Recipe for Coca Cola Carnitas
Photo Wikimedia Commons: Mike McCune

5 lbs of large chunks of pork butt
1 onion chopped
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of oregano
1 can of coke
1 can of beer
2 TBSP salt
1 tsp pepper
Water

Put everything in crock pot on medium before you go to work.

Eat after work. With tortillas and cheese.

– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes RecipeOn a Wednesday night in Larchmont Village in the heart of Los Angeles, every table at Vernetti was full. The owner and chef Steve Vernetti was in the house, moving between the kitchen and the dining room, talking to everyone as though they were old friends. Indeed, it was obvious that there were many regulars. Vernetti is a neighborhood restaurant, the kind of place you come to rely on for all the important events of life – birthdays, anniversaries, and first dates. The atmosphere was lively, casual, and comfortable. There’s a modern European bistro aesthetic, thanks to Steve’s wife Joanne, who worked with designer David Thompson on the remodel of the original space. The staff made us feel like rock stars. The food was excellent.

His chef training started early. Vernetti notes, “Growing up, we learned how to butcher our goats, pigs, chicken, and turkeys. My brother and I got up at 5 every day before we went to school and milked the goats. We learned how to grow our food. My mother bought me my first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The first thing I made from that book was chocolate eclairs.”

Before settling in Los Angeles in the 90s, Vernetti traveled throughout Europe, gathering influences from Berlin, Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, and Florence. He then lived in London for seven years, working with Chef Charles Fontaine at Quality Chop House and Le Caprice. It is easy to see the old world influences mixed with the new at Vernetti, where Steve is in the kitchen every day experimenting with inventive takes on classic recipes.

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe

He’s also a thoughtful owner – “Working in the restaurant industry for as long as I have, I want my staff to be happy. We run a place where my dishwashers are key players in the business, just as much as the front of the house. We need the staff to be happy. If they are happy, my customers will notice it and they will be happy, too.”

We decided to try many dishes and share them round, starting with the gnocchi, a traditional northern Italian dish that is typically a rather dense potato pasta. This gnocchi was light and airy, rich with ricotta cheese and egg yolks, and topped with sage butter.

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe

We followed the gnocchi with vongole and shrimp scampi, since Vernetti is known for their house-made pastas. You’ll definitely want to try at least one.

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe
Linguine alla Vongole
i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe
Shrimp Scampi

Dessert was a trifecta of orange cannoli, strawberry cheesecake, and chocolate mousse. Hey, there were three of us! I didn’t eat all of this on my own. Look, though…

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe
Chocolate Budino

Vernetti has an excellent wine menu, with a selection of Italian wines that covers the boot from north to south. There are also some great California wines on the menu. We decided to order by the glass so we could pair a different wine with each dish, which I think is a lot more fun. If you find something you love, you can always order more! You can also bring your own bottle and pay the corkage fee of $25.00. If wine is not your thing, Vernetti’s has a decent beer selection, though I confess my knowledge of beer is limited. I prefer the juice of the grape.

Vernetti is a neighborhood restaurant, and since I’m not a local there, I felt quite lucky to have found it. It reminded me of an Italian trattoria where the owners are always there and live nearby. The menu is fresh, and dishes are served until they run out of the ingredients to make that particular dish. I recommend this restaurant to everyone!

Steve Vernetti’s philosophy is to “feed the community as I do my family, providing a special place to celebrate all the amazing things that happen when sharing a delicious meal.” Cin Cin, Steve Vernetti.

 

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking? 41 years

What is your favorite food to cook? Thanksgiving dinner

What do you always have in your fridge at home? strawberry jam

What do you cook at home? everything

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? hunger

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? unadventurous

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? pyrex

Beer, wine, or cocktail? wine

Your favorite cookbook author? Julia Child

Your favorite kitchen tool? my tongue

Your favorite ingredient? salt

Your least favorite ingredient? kale

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes RecipeLeast favorite thing to do in a kitchen? dishes

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? French, Italian, & British

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? beef

Favorite vegetable? potato

Chef you most admire? Eric Rippert

Food you like the most to eat? sweetbreads prepared by my mother

Food you dislike the most? anything that has the word molecular in it

How many tattoos? one

And if so, how many are of food? None

Recipe: Vernetti’s Semolina Pancakes

i8tonite with Larchmont Village’s Vernetti Chef Steve Vernetti & his Semolina Pancakes Recipe

Ingredients
2cups Semolina
2cups all purpose flour
4tsp baking powder
2tsp baking soda
1/2tsp salt

Sift dry ingredients in a bowl and add:
4eggs
3-4 cups buttermilk (plain whole milk will work)
1/2cup vegetable oil

Directions
Mix but leave lumps. Use well oiled cast iron pan or griddle on medium high heat and brush browned tops with melted butter – enjoy!

 

 

The End. Go Eat. 

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles’ PicFair Village


i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' PicFair VillagePic Fair (Pico-Fairfax) Village is a demographically rich neighborhood, one of Los Angeles’ true and last assemblies of people with different cultural backgrounds — African-American, Latino, Asian, and Caucasian, middle-class and poor – some very wealthy.  It’s not one of the communities that LA decided to christen by its ethnic majority, such as Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, Thai Town, Historic Filipino-town, or Little Armenia. It’s a quiet microcosm of the United States and is a showcase of classic Southern California architecture along its wide, tree-lined streets with stunning Spanish duplexes and red-shingled single family homes built in the 1920s. At one time, the area was home to many upper-class African American families.

Extending from Hauser Boulevard on the east, Crescent Heights to the west, Olympic Boulevard on the north,  and to the south, Venice; I lived the longest in this area – meaning that for seven years of my life, I lived in one building, one spot – so I hold this place very dear to my heart.

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' PicFair Village
Bloom

In the early to mid-aughts, the region started to become youth-oriented and a small coffee shop opened — Paper or Plastik — along with a restaurant called Bloom. Both of these places focused on local residents for support. Neither had a public relations campaign or had the local papers tout how good they were, although it did happen eventually. They became a part of the community’s multi-cultural quilt by just being there.

Pic Fair is a great neighborhood for an afternoon stroll or a quiet place to get away from the rest of City of Angels.  You won’t find the paparazzi hiding behind bushes. This is the real L.A…young families with their strollers, same-sex couples walking their dogs (and strollers), a diverse mix of people in a quiet urban enclave getting along with the rest of the world….peacefully.

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' PicFair Village
CJs Cafe
  • Breakfast: CJ’s Café.  This is an institution. I can’t be for certain but at one time it was an African-American owned diner, much like its highly-touted neighbor Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles down the street. There are two locations, Pico and Baldwin Park…but this is the rock-star. They make up fresh juice smoothies. Saturday and Sunday the place is packed until after 3pm; during the week it’s easier to get a table.
  • My suggestion: Huevos Rancheros or Chicken Wings (with honey) and Eggs.
  • Price: Varies. Nothing over $12.95
  • Hours:  7:00am – 4:00pm
  • Address:  5501 West Pico Boulevard
  • Phone Number: (323) 936 – 3216
  • Website: http://www.cjscafe.net/
  • Lunch:  Olson’s Swedish Restaurant. Opened since 1948, it was recently purchased by Christian Kneedler, the former maître‘ d of Dan Tana’s, a famous Hollywood, checkered table-cloth eatery. A Swede by birth, he took over the place and has transformed it into a Southern California outpost of Swedish tastes. Along one wall is a bulk bin of Swedish
    i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' PicFair Village
    Olson’s Deli

    candies and the menu offers better than Ikea Swedish meatballs and, of course, house-cured gravlax. They also have a large menu of cheeses and deli meats such as the dense and meaty goteborgskorv, a form of Swedish pate.

  • My suggestion: Their Swedish pancakes – which are more like a thicker crepe or a thinner pancake – are stunningly delicious. Served warm with preserves such as lingonberry on the side just like in Sweden.
  • Price: $8.00
  • Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm, Monday – Sunday
  • Address: 5660 West Pico Boulevard
  • Phone Number: (323) 938 – 0742
  • Website: www.olsonsdeli.com
  • Snack Time:  A family-owned neighborhood place, Paper or Plastik is the coffee joint that started it all. Like the song goes, “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard”…so it is with coffee and hipsters. Each time I go in here, the eatery has small changes – such as the pastries have gotten better, a little flakier and more butter; although they don’t make them here. The iced-coffee is heavy and will put hair on your chest…just the way I like it. With great Wi-Fi, it’s easy to do research and write your next screenplay, to meet a
    i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' PicFair Village
    Paper or Plastik

    friend for a mid-afternoon snack, get a caffeine fix or an afternoon glass of wine. At one time, the menu had been created by Chef Jeremy Fox, a one-time chef of Napa Valley’s Ubuntu and winner of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef”.

  • My suggestion: The iced coffee. Although, they now have a beer and wine license.
  • Price: Expensive, clocking in at around $3.50 for a 12 ounce cup. But really black and really caffeinated. It will make you the Energizer bunny.
  • Hours: 7:00am – 10:00pm
  • Address:  5772 Pico Boulevard, LA, CA 90019
  • Phone Number: (323) 935 – 0268
  • Website: http://paperorplastikcafe.com/
My Two Cents. i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' PicFair Village
My Two Cents
  • Dinner: My Two Cents. Healthy soul food.
  • My suggestion:  Soul food normally conjures up images of heavy-battered fried chicken, grits and collards with bacon. Here, Chef Alisa Reynolds removes some of the butter and lard by using a lot of vegetable stock. It’s quite good and doesn’t have the heavy richness that you expect of a soul food restaurant – but make no mistake, this is soul food. My Two Cents serves up gluten-free fried chicken, small tender shrimp and grits…and my favorite, the grit fries. There is nothing like these grit fries….I know they can’t be that healthy…but they are sooo delicious.
  • Price: $5.00 Grit Fries
  • Hours: 12pm – 10pm. Closed on Mondays.
  • Address: 5583 West Pico Boulevard, LA, CA 90019
  • Phone: (323) 938 – 1012
  • Website: www.mytwocentsla.com

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i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Los Angeles' Picfair Village

The End. Go Eat.