“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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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?
Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Your favorite cookbook author?
Your favorite kitchen tool?
Your favorite ingredient?
Thyme – everything could use a little more thyme.
Your least favorite ingredient?
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?
Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
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?
Recipe: Coke Cola Carnitas
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
Put everything in crock pot on medium before you go to work.
Women work hard, and that includes being a mother, an actress, or a chef. Therefore, regardless of gender, women should be paid equally, and that’s this year’s International Women’s Day theme: Parity. It’s the reason we decided to highlight women-owned places – more specifically female chefs of Los Angeles – for our bi-monthly edition of Food Destinations. Tuesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day.
In the City of Angels, not only are there delicious places to eat, but there are many women creating delicious dining experiences, whether as an owner or as an owner-chef. If you want to choose an eating theme, why not an interesting food tour of women-owned restaurants?
Start your day at Republique with one of the pastry creations by Philippines Islands-born Margarita Manzke, co-owner of the famed space with her husband Walter. While Mr. Manzke is noted for his French-inspired culinary prowess in the evening, the mornings belong to “Madge.” Her pastries are clouds of flour and butter in the former of buttery croissants, brioches, scones, muffins, and breads. Go ahead and eat her Brioche French Toast, dipped in the egg and served up with fresh fruit. The idea of never eating carbs won’t enter your mind again. Or even better, for something just a little lighter to get the energy going with a cup of the couple’s hand-selected coffee, have a few slices of Ms. Manzke’s daily selection, fresh from the oven, daily served with housemade butter, jam, or honey. Everyday it’s something different – rye, whole cracked wheat, 7-grain, raisin, pumpernickel, sourdough ($4).
In a residential part of Los Angeles, far from the maddening crowd, Chef Alisa Reynolds crafted a small eatery, with a dedicated following – including Beyoncé – cooking healthy soul food cooking, definitely words you don’t hear together. With six tables on the sidewalk and about as many on the inside, Reynolds has become known for her gluten-free quinoa macaroni and cheese, Creole Shrimp and Corn Grits, and BBQ Fried Chicken. Her recipes are still rich in flavor and family tradition, but have lower calories and a higher nutrition value than what she grew up eating. Yes, you can have your mac and cheese, but with a dose of healthy grains as well. What a concept.
Last year, co-owners Amy Fraser and Pastry Chef Maria Swan created a loving ode to ice cream, donuts, and coffee (ICDC), right next door to BLD (Neal Fraser’s eatery — Amy’s husband’s place — with breakfast, lunch and dinner). Out of the gate, the freshly churned cream made into adult type flavors such as the Guiness with Bourbon Fudge Ripple, and the Grapefruit Campari, or the Salt and Pepper Donut, or Beer Nuts and Pretzels have become an immediate hit — sort of like a Stars Wars sequel. Everything is handcrafted and single-batched, so once a flavor is out – it’s out for the rest of the day (or even the week). Therefore, you keep coming back hoping to catch that favorite flavor – but never quite making it, so it’s discover another taste – which keeps you coming back for that, and before you know it – you are in a 12-step group saying, “Hi, my name is (your name here) and I’m an ICDC addict.”
Long before the Food Network was stuck on Guy Fieri road trips and Bobby Flay contests, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken were broadcast to millions of homes. Then, the gourmet duo known as Two Hot Tamales showcased mostly Mexican but Latin flavored cuisine in an epicurean setting at Border Grill. Prior to that – in the long forgotten eighties — the cooking partners had another nationally-recognized establishment named City, changing Los Angeles’ culinary landscape much like Spago’s Wolfgang Puck. Milliken and Feniger still operate Border Grill together in Santa Monica – but Feniger wanted to explore other tasty riches and opened the much-lauded Street in Hollywood – showcasing global cuisine. After a couple of years, Feniger morphed Street into Mud Hen Tavern – a cozy neighborhood eatery and bar. Whether you are eating at Mud Hen Tavern or the legendary Border Grill, the food you are tasting isn’t just by a female chef but by an historical figure in the culinary realm. Delicious food, farm-to-table, nose-to-tail — Susan Feniger has been there, done that, and thankfully is still cooking some yummy eats.
At the beginning of 2015, if anyone predicted that I would be living at year’s end in Phoenix — or starting my food blog for that matter, I would have howled with laughter. Me? In Phoenix? The American Southwest? Writing? Besides, press releases and commenting on Facebook? Yet, I am listening to my fountain cascade into the plunge pool and writing this lengthy post. I open the front door daily to walk the dogs and am awestruck with a view of Pietesawa Peak, crowned by blue skies and cottony clouds. Holly, our eleven-year-old Pitbull waddles past the security guard gate and the golf green, trying to keep up with J.J., our seven-year-old French bulldog, who likes to chase after rabbits. The bunnies hop around on our neighbor’s sixteenth golf hole, the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore – a mere five-minute walk to luxury pools and spas. I look at all this splendor with gratitude. It’s also coming from a person who – 25 years ago — thought he could never leave Manhattan, then the center of my Universe.
As I grow older, and I’m grateful I am, the center of my Universe has expanded. Eventually, the Northeastern winters drove me to Los Angeles for 16 years, with 3 years in San Francisco for good behavior. Spiritually, I never felt either city was home though. They both seemed to be stopping points. I never really wanted meant to stay as long as I did. However, where do you go after Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco? These are our national hubs of entertainment, technology and finance. International culture is unsurpassed in these meccas. You are supposed to want to be there. Did I think Miami? Paris? Back to New York? Phoenix wasn’t even a thought.
After much discussion, Nick took the offered Phoenix position and we came out to look for a house. Instantly, we fell in love with the desert landscape, rich culture, sheer vastness and low-cost of living. Phoenix, in my eyes, is North America’s hidden gem, but it’s hard to hide the 6th largest city in the United States. However, it feels protected. Off the beaten path, waiting to be discovered. Tourists may come and visit one of Arizona’s 300 resorts but until you become a resident, hike the trails, meet the people, work and become a Phoenician do you understand the city’s natural splendor and sophistication.
I reckon The Valley of the Sun is physically the most attractive place I’ve ever lived. Red mountains are dissected by roads and Camelback, the dromedary rock formation casts its legendary shadow over the valley. It’s peaceful sentinel-like presence feels protective, calming and inspiring.
As we enter into the remaining days of 2015, and for the coming year, I urge you to allow change to happen. Step out of your comfort zone. The things you would say no to trying…try. Explore new possibilities and never say, “Never.” I’m so glad I did.
Before I begin my 2015’s five – whoops, six most memorable food experiences, I need to let you dear reader know I still talk about these eats. That’s why I choose them. Some are new, some are not. I would go back to eat them time and again. Additionally, I paid for each one of these meals. Nothing was given gratis or comped, so I have nothing to gain from telling you about them.
Carson Kitchen, Las Vegas, Nevada: Chicken Fried Skins, served with Smoked Honey Dipping Sauce ($9). The late Chef Kerry Simon, who died early this year with complications related to Mulitple Sclerosis, was a master of New American cooking. He imbued his dishes with a sense of humor and surprise. This dish is indicative of that experience. Who is going to order only chicken skins with a side of smoked honey? Well, I did. Three orders of the crunchy, salty, deliciously deep-fried morsels with the side of lightly smoked sweetness. I would never make this at home. Let’s definitely score points for that understanding.
Factory Kitchen, Downtown Los Angeles, California: Handkerchief Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto ($19). I was living in San Francisco when I ate at Farina which is where I first had Chef Angelo Auriana’s superb pasta. I was in the middle of a fight with an ex. I try not to remember him. However, the sheet-like folds of pasta expertly painted with a light basil pesto, I remember. It wasn’t until I went to Factory Kitchen did it come back hauntingly. This time, I was celebrating one of my best friends birthdays (Shelley Levitt) in Los Angeles. We ordered the Ligurian-style noodle with green sauce. One bite, I knew I had eaten it once before. It’s so good that even years later I remembered it, except with this experience, the atmosphere was much more light-hearted and loving to enjoy it.
The Tropicale Restaurant & Bar, Palm Springs, California:Brown Sugar-Brined, Double Cut Kurobata Pork Chop ($28). A little over a year ago, I discovered my longtime friend Chef Scooter Kanfer had encamped to this boisterous watering hole in the resort town of Palm Springs. About 10 years ago, she was the chef/owner of a stunning little place in LA’s Larchmont area called The House. Here, she received national accolades with her inventive takes on homespun items like macaroni and cheese and my favorite milk and cookies which is milk served in a whiskey shot glass accompanied by shortbread animal cookies. Now, she is under less pressure as the Chef de Cuisine of Tropicale but her food is still the best. I choose the Kurobata Pork Chop because she recommends it to me every time I see her. The only other place I ate this type of big, flavorful battering ram was at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Napa Valley-based Mustards Grill. I wasn’t in Napa this year but this may be the best pork chop in a restaurant ever.
Hollywood Pies, Los Angeles, California: The Hollywood Pie ($27). I was never a lover of deep dish Chicago style pies. I didn’t get it. And then, I ate from this blink-and-you-miss-it spot. Jesus made this pizza for me. Seriously, that’s one of the names of the pie-makers. Everything from the crust to the cheese, the pizza sauce, homemade meatballs is made in-house. Unfortunately, getting a pizza isn’t always easy. They take forever to make (up to an hour). Sometimes, they don’t even pick up the phone to order one. This deep dish thickly crusted – like a casserole – is from heaven. Chewy, hint of heat in the sauce, pull until it snaps mozzarella…..trust me, Jesus made it.
ICDC, Los Angeles, California: Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnut/ Buttermilk Brown Butter ($2.50). ICDC, which stands for ice cream, donuts, and coffee, is a dream child of Amy Knoll Fraser and Pastry Chef Maria Swan. I don’t know Maria. I would love to know Maria. I would love Maria to make me a donut every day for the rest of my life. The Salt & Pepper Caramel along with the Buttermilk Brown Butter are heavenly puffs of circled dough with a little richness (butter or caramel) and a surprise (salt & pepper and not just butter but browned butter). If you have never had a seasoned donut or a browned butter donut – it’s wrong. Just wrong. It’s like being a virgin and everyone around you talking about sex.
The Breakfast Club, Scottsdale, Arizona: Huevos con Masa ($9). On our first trip to Phoenix, we got hungry as people do at the beginning of the day. We had appointments to look at houses and needed to fortify ourselves. We went to dine at place at 8 am. Twenty-minute wait. We left. Found another highly recommended eatery with a wait-time of twenty-minutes. Nick and I are starving, and it’s 9 am. On the third try, we arrive at Breakfast Club. They have a wait time too. We sit at the bar to avoid the wait time. It’s packed. Maybe 9:15 am on a Wednesday morning. I order the Huevos con Masa, a creative southwestern version of eggs benedict. Instead of hollandaise sauce, a pork green chile is served with poached eggs and chipotle cornbread. Eating it, I thought it was worth waiting for the discovery. The chile, a little heavier than I normally would eat for breakfast, is rich but compliments the poached eggs runny yolks. The cornbread has just enough heat and is incredibly moist, with flecks of chipotle. The Valley of the Sun breakfast experience also prompted me to write a story on the area’s breakfasts. (Note: If you like blonde, athletic women serving your food in skin-tight, black fitness wear, this is the place for you. Do not come if you want to see a brunette or red-head. Hell, I don’t think there was a curl in the place, either. Just sayin’.)
Pic 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.