Monthly Archives: March 2012

Interview with a Bartender: Arash Pakzad

I have mentioned Neat bar a few times in previous posts, for two distinct reasons. One, the owner Aidan Demarest is one of the most interesting, funny and charismatic people you will ever meet. Two, the drinks are always great and the bartenders really know what they’re doing there.

I have plenty to say about this place and it’s innovative concept, so be sure to check back in the next few weeks when I will be putting up a review of the bar itself. For now, here is a little interview with one of their top barmen Arash Pakzad.  (Please note the photo used below is copyright to Raul Villarreal of rAwkfoto.)

Arash Pakzad

Official Job Title: Head Bartender
Born: San Francisco, California
Currently Resides: Los Angeles, California
Current Work locations:
Neat Bar, Glendale CA (Basically all the time)
.

*****

 Q & A


What is your ‘go-to’ liquor of choice?
High Proof Rye Whiskey and Islay Scotch, also a good Reposado Tequila
 
What is your favorite “Classic” Drink?
Sazerac
 
Are you a fussy eater or picky drinker? If so, what WON’T you try?
Not too fussy, I’ll try anything as long as I kill it or it’s been killed for me.
 
What is the most unusual dish or food item you’ve ever tasted?
Cow Tongue Stew, Brain tacos, Rocky Mountain Oysters – all great.
 
What is the best thing about what you do?
Everything. Pleasing people around me and pleasing myself.

What is the Worst thing about what you do?
I get people nice and tipsy, then I have to stop serving at 2am!
 
What is the name of your favorite (current) Mixology bar in LA?
Mixology bar? You mean a bar that the bartenders know how to make excellent drinks? Tough choice.  I feel like there are only a select number of people in the World that are true mixologists and the term mixology is overused and under-appreciated.  There are some great places in LA though.
 
Who would you say is your mentor? Who trained you in your area of expertise?
Aidan Demarest, Jon Ojinaga, Laurel Sather, Fred Pakzad, John-Eric Sanchez, Ashley Afferino, Edgar Monsivais, All my fellow bartenders that I have had the opportunity to work beside.
 
Where can you usually be found on a Saturday night?
Neat bar in Glendale!
 
If you could live anywhere in the World where would it be? & Why?
San Francisco, CA. Do you have a couple pages of space for me to use to explain why? I have my friends, it’s my birthplace, all that food and the awesome homeless people to give my leftovers to.
 
 

*****

If you would like to be considered for this new segment send an email to pickydrinker@gmail.com with a little info on who you are and where you work.  If you don’t sound like a crazy person, I will happily send you a questionnaire to fill out.  If you work in Los Angeles I will almost certainly come in to see how good you are!  Please note, I am looking for enthusiastic bartenders with a real passion for ‘Tending Bar”, Mixology or Classic drink making.  Those of you who bartend for extra cash but have no actual interest in the cocktail community need not apply!

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LA Ink (without the tattoos!)


Ink
8360 melrose ave.
los angeles, CA 90069
(323) 651-5866
.

I came here with FutureGreg (FG) last week and sat at the bar on quite possibly the most comfortable bar stools in all of Los Angeles.  Finally a place with cushioned seating at the bar, Hooray!

Brittini Rae (Previously of The Tar Pit and Fig & Olive) was our wonderful bartender and got us started with a couple of interesting drinks.  The menu items for both food and drink don’t technically have names here, so you order by the first ingredient which is highlighted in bold.

Drinks

I had the ‘Gin’ drink and FG had the ‘Campari’ drink.  My drink included an ingredient called ‘Strawberry Shrub’ which Brittini described as a syrup made by steeping strawberries in sherry vinegar and sage. The drink was served in a collins glass with a nice long ‘Ice Spear’, it was a little sweet, a little sour with a bitter finish.  The vinegar made me salivate and came through pretty heavily at the end of each sip, but I personally liked the sensation.

Gin, Strawberry Shrub, Vermouth, Prosecco $13

The Campari drink wasn’t to my tastes but FG enjoyed the bitterness and said the Campari mixed with passionfruit tasted more like grapefruit juice and was delicious.  The aroma on the drink was great but lost slightly in the tall collins glass.

Campari, tequila, passion fruit, absinthe $13

The other bartender Nate was playing with some flavor profiles and cocktail ideas and was nice enough to give us a taste of his latest creation.  It was very good.

Buffalo Trace, Cinnamon Syrup, St Elizabeth All Spice Dram, Lemon Juice and the Strawberry Shrub.  It was a great little drink and the favorite of the three we tried, hopefully they will add it to the menu in due course.

The restaurant itself was attractive and modern, with clean lines and an intriguing curvy shaped ceiling design.  The light fixtures intrigued me and the triangular bar was funky and different.

Chef Michael Voltaggio is the man behind Ink and was the Executive Chef for José Andrés The Bazaar at SLS Hotel (one of my all time favorite restaurants).  The Bazaar is one of the most interesting restaurants, both aesthetically and ingredients wise that I have ever been to.

Voltaggio has clearly brought over some of these elements which were particularly apparant to me in the dessert.  The chocolate dish was reminiscent of one we had at SLS on our last visit.  Voltaggio is most recently famous for his appearance on Season 6 of Top Chef with his brother Chef Bryan Voltaggio.  You can read more about them both by clicking here or read their book ‘VOLT/Ink: Recipes, Stories, Brothers’ which is about both the Voltaggio brothers restaurants and includes some wonderful photographs and recipes.

Dinner

To me this restaurant is the epitome of unusual and innovative dishes.  There were many ingredients on the menu that I had either never heard of, or would never have imagined trying.  For example; Cardamom Soil, Fennel pollen, Almond-bonito sand, Oyster Leaf, Lamb Neck Gravy and Octopus Ink Shells!

The main thing I’ve learnt from writing this blog is the ability to take a step back and try items that scare me.  I admit, I didn’t go so far as to order the ‘Pig Ears’, but I am learning to trust the Chefs and bartenders/mixologists in what they choose to include on their menus.  So far I have been truly amazed how many new dishes and drinks i’ve enjoyed.

We ordered two entrees, the Pork belly and the Wagyu beef.  My pork was cooked beautifully and was covered with crackling (which is technically crispy fat and doesn’t sound appealing, but was very flavorful and perfectly crunchy).  The dish came with baby leek and one long pasta tube described as ‘Mac and Cheese’, my only complaint is the portion size of the Mac and Cheese. I could have done with at least three of those cheesy tunnels. They were so delicious.

The richness of the pork belly and the cheesy pasta definitely competed with each other as strong flavors, but ultimately the crackling and drops of ‘charcoal oil’ (which added a smoky element to the dish) won.  Overall it was very very good and I highly recommend it.

Pork Belly, Charcoal Oil, BBQ Flavor, Macaroni and Cheese $22

FG really enjoyed his Wagyu beef dish and described the Tendon as being “similar to a slim jim but less salty”.  He said the beef was succulent but the sauce tasted a little too meaty like ‘Salisbury steak meat’ which wasn’t what he expected and didn’t do the beef justice. The crispy rice cakes and the Horseradish tofu were interesting though and complimented the meat nicely.   Overall he enjoyed the dish and finished it quickly.

Wagyu Beef, Carrots, Tendon, Horseradish tofu $24

Pastry

The Chocolate reminded me of a dish at ‘Bazaar’.  Rich chocolate in shavings, crisps and logs of decadent truffle were on the plate. There were cookie crumbles, sesame cake crisps (amazing) and dense pudding pieces, also a spiced tofu which was really strange but helped balance out all the flavors.  It was a very rich plateful and I couldn’t have eaten it without help.

    

Chocolate, Ice Cream, Spiced tofu, Sesame Cake $10

Apple, Caramel, Burnt Wood ice cream $10

Brittini forced us (nicely) to try the Apple dessert, and i’m so glad she did.  It was exquisite.  The texture was creamy, and had almost like a caramel pot de creme texture.  There were little apple balls and a meringue like ‘Burnt wood ice cream’ on top.  Very interesting and tasty dish.

I am giving Ink:

 4 out of platters

Overall I felt the dishes were executed nicely, presented beautifully and tasted great.  I noticed that every dish we tried utilized different textures as well which I found interesting. There were crunchy, soft, chewy and creamy elements on each plate which made for a real sensory experience.   The menu was certainly diverse, but I feel it may be a little too unusual for some (fussy ones in particular!).

Drinks get 3.5 out of 5 coupes

The drink choices were not as diverse as the food options but I liked the one I had.  The Strawberry shrub was certainly something new, and although I enjoyed my Gin drink I didn’t actually finish it (which is rare for me) because the vinegar flavor became a little too overpowering by the end.  FG enjoyed his, although anything with absinthe isn’t my favorite.  The drink Nate made as a test was excellent, but seeing as it’s not on the menu yet I can’t really include it when factoring the rating, I would give 4 out of 5 if it was.

The restaurant was attractive, the vibe was modern and there were plenty of other great looking drinks and food options on the menu that I didn’t get to try. I will be sure to return in the near future.

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Drink of the Week

Kentucky Ninja

  • 1/2oz Japanese Single Malt Whisky
  • 1 1/2oz Bourbon Whiskey
  • 3/4oz Fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4oz Lavender-infused wild honey

Garnish: Lavender Sprig

Shaken & served in a glass rinsed with Peychaud’s Bitters.

I discovered this drink at Sadie and wrote about it in my review (here).  Having been back to this great bar in the past few weeks, I got to enjoy it a couple more times and decided it was good enough to be ‘Drink of the Week’.

I personally find it really easy to drink because it is refreshing, floral, definitely strong but balanced and slightly sweet.  If you have the elements available to you at home I suggest you have a go making it. If you find yourself in the Hollywood area be sure to stop by Sadie and taste the original. The recipe above was created by Giovanni Martinez in collaboration with FutureGreg and the Sadie Bar Team.

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Interview with a Bartender: Gregory Westcott

Today my bartender of choice can be found, more often than not, in the South Bay area at the highly acclaimed ‘Manhattan Beach Post.’  

I went to MB Post when it first opened and liked everything about it.  I loved the decor, the innovative exciting dishes and the creative drinks list. The talented and knowledgeable Chef David LeFevre visited us during our meal there and impressed me not only with the glorious food but with his extremely hospitable attitude and friendly interaction with customers.

I will be back to review this restaurant in coming weeks, but for now here is an informal interview with Gregory Westcott, who is one of the great men behind the bar at MB Post and was featured on NBC’s Television Show (Season 1) of ‘Americas Next Great Restaurant.’ (Please note the photo used below was sent directly from Gregory but is copyright to NBC)

Gregory Westcott

Official Job Title: Mixologist/Bartender
Born: San Dimas, California
Currently resides: Manhattan Beach, California
Current Work locations:
Tuesday-Saturday 5-10.30pm
 

*****

Q & A


What is your favorite “Classic” Drink?
 
Old Fashioned closely followed by a Sazerac, and when I say Old Fashioned, I mean the pre-prohibition cocktail…not the 1970’s ‘Whiskey Sangria” recipe.
 
What is your ‘Go-to’ liquor of choice?
Bourbon or Rye. I just love the complexity of the heat with the caramel and toffee notes meeting a nice barrel char. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. And I just feel like a man when I drink it. I don’t think you can feel that way with vodka.
 
Who is your mentor? or Who do you feel trained you in your area of expertise?
I learned this craft from every bartender who has ever made me a cocktail. I’m obsessive  so I do all the research I can on the cocktails that I enjoy and even the ones I don’t.  The team at the Post also heavily influences my cocktail progression; Sal Roses, Beau du Bois, GM Jerry Garbus and Chef David LeFevre. Every drink idea that we toss around has a little bit of each person in it by the time it reaches the menu…not literally though.
 
Are you a fussy eater or picky drinker? If so, what WON’T you try?
I’m fussy when it comes to eating on a daily basis; I try to eat pretty healthy, but when I go out all restrictions are off and there isn’t something I won’t try at least once…except Rocky Mnt. Oysters…I won’t try those!
 
What is the most unusual dish or food item you’ve ever tasted?
There have been a few at the Post but the Lamb’s Tongue Salad stands out (it was amazing). I also tried a raw pig’s ear once (not so amazing). I love the Rattlesnake and Rabbit sausage at Wurstküche, which doesn’t sound unusual at all anymore.
 
What is the name of your favorite (current) Mixology bar in LA? and Why?
Oldfields in Culver City. They do everything right there. The bartenders are humble and the product they give you is always inventive yet approachable. It feels good to be able to put the responsibility of your good time in a bartender’s hand and have them achieve that with consistency.
 
What is the best thing about what you do? 
There’s a moment when you are engaging someone at your bar and it transcends from the act of putting liquid in a glass to an understanding of my passion for making cocktails. People deserve to have the best drinks I can make and I strive for the connection we share when they appreciate that.
 
What is the Worst thing about what you do?
When someone asks if I’m a bartender or a mixologist and I have to justify a title. If I say Mixologist then I’m pretentious but if I say Bartender then I might not be qualified to design a cocktail menu and might lose some credibility in their eyes.  I’m trying to coin the term “Mixie” but you have to say it with a 1920’s accent.
 
If you were stuck on a desert island and could have a barrel of just one spirit, what would you want it to be?
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 yr old bourbon and hopefully Lindsay Nader would be stuck there too…only to make us cocktails of course.
 
If you couldn’t do what you do now, what would you do instead?
I moved to LA to be a writer and the only writing I’ve been paid for are cocktail recipes but I really can’t complain about that.
 

*****

If you would like to be considered for this new segment send an email to pickydrinker@gmail.com with a little info on who you are and where you work.  If you don’t sound like a crazy person, I will happily send you a questionnaire to fill out.  If you work in Los Angeles I will almost certainly come in to see how good you are!

Please note: I am looking for enthusiastic bartenders with a real passion for ‘Tending Bar”, Mixology or Classic drink making.  Those of you who think ‘Sweet and Sour Mix’ is a great product, bartend only for the joy of extra cash and have no interest in the cocktail community, need not apply!

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Bottega Louie

Bottega Louie
700 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90017
213 802 1470
 

*****

I love this place and rank it as one of my favorite Restaurants in all of Los Angeles.  I am finally putting up a review after my fourth visit and yet again I left utterly satisfied.

There is an elegance and attention to detail in this restaurant that I adore, from the marble flooring and delicate ceiling designs to the beautiful pink salt crystals in the shakers on the tables. If you’re going to come here for dinner you should know that they do not take reservations and it is strictly first come, first served.  It is generally always busy at night so I recommend getting there at least half an hour before you plan to eat. We always start off by giving our name at the front desk (which they write down in a gigantic reservations book) then head over to the bar for a cocktail.

The bar is small but cute, has an attractive marble top and fairly decent drinks list.  This last visit I started with a ‘Japanese Sour’ and my boyfriend (FG) had ‘A Night in Oaxaca’.

My drink was delicious, basically a Whiskey Sour with the addition of Port, I found the port added a layer of complexity to the sweetness and overall taste of the drink.  

A Japanese Sour- Rye Whiskey, port, lemon, simple syrup & egg white $12

The ‘Night in Oaxaca’ was smoky from the mezcal but still balanced and flavorful with a lightly bitter after taste.  My boyfriend seemed to enjoy it, although it was little too bitter for me.

A Night in Oaxaca-Mezcal, Lemon, Punt e Mes, agave nectar & bitters   $12

The room has an open floor plan so you can see in to the kitchen and pizza ovens, something I personally love and think gives great character. The whole building has extremely high grand ceilings and is technically one giant room, but it’s sort of divided in to sections.  As you enter there is a small cafe style area with a bakery (where you can buy macaroons and pastries), there is the Bar section with the main kitchen adjacent, a large main dining room area and a pizza kitchen at the back of the room.I noticed that they don’t have background music at all at this restaurant.  It is somewhat noisy though, the high ceiling echoes the sounds from the Kitchen and the lack of material in the room allows the sounds of people talking to bounce directly off the marble flooring. I personally really like the hustle and bustle atmosphere this creates. The tables set out in such a large open space makes me think of a French court yard, especially on the ‘Cafe’ side. I almost feel like you should see little birds hopping from table to table as if you’re outdoors in Paris.Despite being busy (on a Monday night) we were seated fairly quickly and this time were placed in view of the pizza station.  I found myself staring at the cooks for ages as they made the pizzas for the restaurant.  It’s like a performance seeing them work and hard to look away. One Chef moulds and tosses the dough to make the base (and throws it pretty high) whilst the other adds toppings to order and places it in the large open fire oven behind him. After watching a few pizza bases go flying through the air, we decided on this visit we had to try a pizza.  I think it is well worth the $18 price tag when you can watch your dinner being prepared with the utmost care and baked to order in front of you.I would definitely recommend getting a pizza here, although I suggest you do it as a shared plate like we did.  The pizza was larger than I expected and we ended up taking a few slices boxed up with us.  Out of the many pizza choices we decided on the Blanco and I was impressed with how much flavor came through with no tomato base.   The crispness of the pizza crust was perfect and the addition of arugula was interesting.  The garlic came through just enough for it not to need anything else, it could be considered a little bland for some, but we enjoyed it as it came.

Blanco- Ricotta, Mozzarella, Grana Parmesan, Roasted Garlic, Wild Rocket Arugula $18

When going anywhere I always look on foursquare and yelp for reviews and recommendations. The dish that gets the most reviews at Bottega are the ‘The Portobello (mushroom) fries’.

Portobello Fries- $10

Now, if you have read the ‘about me’ section of my blog you will know that mushrooms are definitely up there with my least favorite items. I actually have no problem with their flavor, I will happily eat a cream of mushroom soup, but I find their texture to be reminiscent of what i imagine a slug would feel like to chew on. I am therefore not a fan of mushrooms raw or only partially cooked. We went ahead and ordered them on a previous visit anyway. FG really likes them, and although they’re not my favorite item, I certainly  don’t dislike them.  They are deep fried Portobello mushroom slices and come with a very rich creamy aioli.  Deep fried anything is always going to taste pretty delicious but a little too greasy for my liking.  They are an interesting appetizer though and worth trying as an alternative to fries.

Hangar Steak Verdura- Prime beef, farmers market vegetables & black truffle sauce $20

We ordered the Hangar steak (medium/rare) to share and this is what I usually get on my visits here.  The vegetables change based on what is in season or currently available,  this version had carrots, rainbow beans, mushrooms and asparagus on top.  All cooked perfectly in an ‘al dente’ style, (still slightly firm but not hard center). We ordered a side of broccolini too, which had soft ends and crunchy stalks. Delicious.  The steak was juicy and flavorful, the vegetables were tasty and fresh. The overall dish was very good.

Sautéed Broccolini $8

LasagnaTraditional Bolognese meat ragù, Béchamel, Buffalo mozzarella, Ricotta & Grana parmesan $16

On a previous visit we also tried the Lasagna.  This was ‘divine’ according to FG, and every time we return he questions whether he should get it again because he remembers it as being utterly delicious and bursting with flavor.  It has a creamy béchamel sauce and three kinds of cheese mixed in there.  For its price point you certainly can’t go wrong, so if you want a good pasta dish here then I highly recommend it.

Butterscotch Budino- Butterscotch custard with fluer de sel & Chantilly whipped cream $9

We decided to get a dessert to finish, and went for the Butterscotch Budino which was basically like a ‘Pot de Creme.’  It was outstanding.  It has a soft custard center with butterscotch flavors, and a salty creamy finish.  It was so good.  I occasionally got a little salt crystal on my tongue, but the sweetness followed quickly and made for an interesting play of flavors in my mouth.  I highly recommend this dessert,  but if you are more in to pastries stop at the cafe on the way out.  They have macaroons in a rainbow assortment of colors and extremely interesting flavors which include Rose, Chocolate Orange, Salted Caramel, Pistachio, Espresso, Earl Grey, and Tahitian Vanilla to name just a few.

Food gets 4 out of 5 Platters

For the quality of food being presented I feel the prices are more than reasonable here. There are plenty of options to choose from and all the dishes we have tried in the past have been excellent.  The atmosphere and the ambience of this place really makes for a wonderful night out.  It could be a little loud for those wanting a more intimate setting, but I think it’s still a great and fun location for a date night.

Drinks get 3.5 out of 5 Coupes

The drinks were good but not excellent, they were executed correctly and the bar staff were all friendly they just don’t ‘Wow’ me.  I feel like the drinks list could be more interesting, especially with so many great options in the kitchen. The ones we had were by no means bad, just not as exciting as they could be.

All in all, this is still one of the best restaurants to venture out to.  It is fun, young and trendy.  The food is great, the drinks are good and the ambience is exciting.  When we can’t think where to go on date night, we always know we have this as a great option.  Having a ‘FussyOne’ as a repeat customer means they must be doing something right! I recommend you go see for yourself.

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Drink of the Week

French Martini

  • 2oz Premium Vodka
  • 1/2oz Chambord
  • 1 1/2oz Pineapple juice

Garnish: Lemon twist

I really enjoy this drink, even though I don’t often like to promote Vodka as a base.  It’s girly, sweet and fruity.  It’s also really easy to order because almost every place can make it, be it a “Dive” Bar or Mixology Lounge.  The above recipe was created by Dale Degroff (AKA King Cocktail).  Degroff is the founder of ‘The Museum of the American Cocktail’, the first museum in the World dedicated to preserving the history of American Mixology, he is an author and was a notable bartender for ‘The Rainbow Room’ in NYC.

There is some debate as to the name of this drink, as many traditionalists say the drink is not a Martini at all. By definition (dating back to pre-prohibition) a Martini consists of ‘Gin and Vermouth’ with an olive or lemon twist for garnish.  Nowadays, many drinks contain the name ‘Martini’ or have a ‘Tini’ suffix e.g.”Vodka-Tini’ and refer mainly to the conical stemmed glass (Martini glass) they’re served in.

Why Dale Degroff decided to call this a Martini i’m not sure and it’s a difficult debate to get involved in, so all i’m going to say is the drink itself is extremely tasty, goes down easy (sometimes a little too easy so be careful, you barely taste the alcohol) and is hard for anyone to mess up.

My boyfriend (FutureGreg) changes the recipe when making this drink for me and often uses Gin, and Creme de Cassis instead. The flavors are slightly more complex in his variation and I find the Creme de Cassis is not as sugary as Chambord, although to be honest either will work fine.  Chambord is a French liqueur that dates back to the late 17th Century, it is made from red and black Raspberries, Vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, Honey and Cognac. Creme de Cassis is made from black currants and is just as sweet as Chambord but has a slight tartness too.

Give this drink a try, if you have a sweet tooth like myself you’ll undoubtedly add it to your list of favorites.

Please Note: When I say ‘Purist’ or ‘Traditionalist’ on my blog I am referring to those who insist that a Cocktail or Martini should be made according to the first definition and deviant varieties should be referred to by different names.

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Plan to Check out ‘Plan Check’

Plan Check
1800 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
310 288 6500

Another date night with the boyfriend (FG) has been and gone.  This week we decided to check out a place brand new to the foodie scene here in Los Angeles, called Plan Check which opened to the public on February 22nd 2012.

I didn’t get to the opening, but here late on Monday night I was impressed with how busy it was for somewhere so new.  Good news clearly travels fast. Ernesto Uchimura (originally Executive Chef of Umami Burger) is behind the menu, and Pablo Moix (whose recent successes include La Descarga and Harvard & Stone) put together an interesting drinks list.  Two greats coming together was bound to be good.

Plan Check is named because of its location beside the ‘Building and Safety Department’, (where Architects and Designers get their plans reviewed for permitting).  This is subtly incorporated in their design on the menu too, with a simple pair of compasses.  The place has a really relaxed feel to it and an open kitchen in full view as you walk in. Community style tables in the centre and booth seating around the sides make for a great place to go with a group of friends.

The room itself had fairly bright lighting, which I don’t normally like, but worked well in this setting.  Our bartender Rachel greeted us quickly, and got us started with some drinks. I had a ‘Little Osaka Sour’ and FG had the ‘Ronin.’  I was really impressed seeing Rachel stir the Ronin at the same time as shaking my Sour, she made it look effortless but I know it’s not as easy as she made it appear.

The Little Osaka Sour was good, but really tasted to me like a Whiskey Sour (which is essentially what it is, with the addition of plum wine).  The plum wine flavors were barely noticeable to me but the drink itself was tasty.

Little Osaka Sour- Woodford Bourbon, Plum Wine, Lemon, Egg White, Sugar

FG really liked his drink, it was a straight forward Rye Cocktail sweetened with Benedictine. It could be a little too sweet for some, but the Benedictine added a layer of complexity which I liked.  FG said it reminded him of a ‘Monte Carlo Cocktail’ but softer and easier to drink.

Ronin- Sazerac Rye, Remy VS, Benedictine, Bitters

We decided to order a selection of dishes and have them all come at one time so we could share everything.  All the food was served in little black skillet style dishes which I thought were really fun and different.  I knew I had to get one of the burgers (if only to see how it compared to Umami), we also ordered Short ribs, A butter lettuce salad and a stuffed portobello mushroom dish.

The burger looked and tasted fantastic.  Double bacon, double cheese and a fried egg was bound to be a winning combination, and I could immediately see why it was named ‘Chefs Favorite’.  My burger included ‘Ketchup leather’ which is a dehydrated tomato based sauce they make in house.  Doesn’t sound too appealing I know, but it was actually very delicious as well as a smart invention because it doesn’t ooze out the sides of the burger or make the bread soggy like regular ketchup.  I made one modification to the dish by choosing not to add hot sauce, purely because i’m not a fan of spicy.  The egg had a perfectly runny yolk, the bacon was crispy, the meat was juicy and there was a salty sweetness from the Ketchup leather.   It hit all the right notes and I highly recommend it.  I enjoyed the burger so much that I had a hard time giving my boyfriend his share!

Chefs Favorite Burger- Cheese two ways, bacon two ways, ketchup leather, fried egg, hot sauce

I tried a few bites of the Short rib pot roast, which was well cooked and flavorful but as you know (read About me for a reminder) I really dislike the texture of braised meat and therefore wasn’t a huge fan of the dish.  The bone marrow pot pie that accompanied the rib was delicious though.  The pastry was buttery and the inside was bursting with meaty flavor.  FG was proud of me for even trying something with ‘marrow’ in the title, but I actually found it very tasty and it reminded me of a ‘Cornish Pasty’ you’d find in England (minus the potato.)

Short Rib Pot Roast- Red wine, bone marrow turnover pie, sweet n sour mirepoix

The salad was the only item we ordered that we didn’t finish, I didn’t like it at all and found the dressing too spicy for my tastes.  FG just found it physically difficult to eat in the skillet pan with pieces of egg and almonds flakes falling to the bottom of the dish. I really wanted to like it, but sadly it didn’t impress.

Butter Lettuce Salad- Egg, crispy cheddar, smoked almonds, apple, creamy mustard dressing

The Stuffed mushroom surprised me the most because I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much.  I don’t generally eat mushrooms, I like the flavor but not the texture (i’m fussy remember!) but the Portobello was almost meaty in consistency and the cheese melted over the top made for a deliciously rich fondue sauce. The crunchy dried kale was a fine addition to the dish, and tasted very similar to seaweed.

Stuffed Mushroom- Roasted portobello, swiss cheese fondue, crispy kate, steak sauce

We wanted one more drink but couldn’t decide which one to get. The drinks list had some really interesting options, like the ‘Spaghetti Western’ (Vida Mescal, Tapito, Red bell pepper, Lime, Agave and beer) but as we were having dessert we decided to go for the ‘Chiapas.’

Chiapas- Chai infused herradura tequila, almond milk, all-spice dram, bitters

I was impressed so see a drink using Almond milk, which is a great option for people who are lactose intolerant.  It tasted like Horchata, (a drink from Latin America that has Vanilla, Cinnamon, Almond flavors) and the all spice dram gave it a cloves ‘Christmas-like’ finish.

It went perfectly with the donuts we ordered.  The donuts were made to order and looked like circular Churros,  they had a crispy coating, soft insides and a salty sweetness to them with just a touch of cinnamon sugar that complimented all the flavors.  They were served on a layer of Crème fraîche with banana slices.  Delicious.

Other dessert options included an intriguing choice of ‘home made ice cream bars’, that i’m told will change periodically.  The flavors available on our visit included;

  • Milk & Cereal,
  • Pumpkin,
  • Double chocolate,
  • Cookies and Cream
  • Dulce de leche

I wanted to try one so bad, but our stomachs just wouldn’t allow for even one more bite!  I will definitely make sure to try them on the next visit though.

I am giving the drinks 3.5 out of 5 Coupes.

The drinks list was interesting and the ones Rachel made were all executed correctly, balanced and flavorful.  I found them to be very good but not excellent.  Nothing blew me away, so to speak, which is surprising as I usually go crazy over Pablo Moix creations. I will happily return to try others on the list though.

I am giving the food 4 out of 5 Platters.

The prices were more than reasonable and all the dishes we tried (besides the salad) were great, however the burger was nothing short of excellent.  I liked that they make their own sauces in house and the ketchup leather is an unusual but tasty invention.  Service was fast, friendly and the options to choose from were all interesting.

Overall we had a nice evening and I will happily return in the coming months.  I encourage anyone who lives near to “check out” Plan Check for yourself, and if you’re a meat eater, definitely give one of their burgers a try.

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Interview with a Bartender: Daniel Parino

By the powers of photoshop I finally have a cover for this segment! Hooray!

Ok, so I thought it would be fun to interview Bartenders/Mixologists across the City in a really informal way.  In the past few weeks when I meet someone who interests me behind the bar, or I know of their talents through word of mouth etc I send a questionnaire of 14 questions (my lucky number) for them to answer at their leisure.  I won’t put up all the answers they give me, just a handful of my favorites.

I am so  grateful to everyone who replied so far, I will make sure you all make it to the website within the coming months.  This is the first one that arrived in my inbox and therefore gets to go before everyone else!  It comes from the ever so sweet and always friendly Daniel Parino… Enjoy!

Daniel Parino

Official Job Title: Bartender
Born: San Francisco, California
Currently resides: Los Angeles, California
Current Work locations:
Sadie: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

Father’s Office: Tuesday and Sunday

*****

Q & A

Who would you say is your mentor/trained you in your area of expertise?

Giovanni Martinez and FutureGreg (Greg Bryson)

What is your favorite “Classic” Drink?

The Manhattan

What is your ‘go-to’ liquor of choice?

Tequila.  I like tequila because it wrestles alligators in the morning and takes the princess to the ball in the evening.  It can be as high or as low class as you want it.  It can punch you in the face, or massage out your smallest woe.

Are you a fussy eater or picky drinker? If so, what WON’T you try?

No, there’s pretty much nothing I won’t try.  I don’t like mushrooms and I really wish I did, ’cause everyone else seems to think they are so awesome.  I keep trying them and keep not liking them.  It’s sad.

What is the most unusual dish or food item you’ve ever tasted?

Fish head curry…or sweet and sour veal brains….. I don’t know, I grew up in Thailand, so to be honest, I’ve eaten a lot of things I’m pretty glad I don’t know what was in them.

What is the name of your favorite (current) Mixology bar in LA? and Why?

Sadie cause the bar staff is so handsome!!!!  Just kidding.  I would say either The Varnish, because they just do everything right, or MBPost, because everyone in LA is working on the classics, and then on their own creative ingredient focused drinks, and MBPost combines the two. 

Where can you usually be found on a Saturday night?

My Saturday night’s have a pretty big swing, I love a night of Old Tom Gin with cucumber/celery bitters and kumquats, but I also like a solid night of PBR and Jameson shots.  I think it’s important to be a well-rounded drinker, it makes it easier to serve the “Fussy Ones”

What is the best thing about what you do? 

Surprising people.  The look on their faces when they never realized a drink could taste like that is definitely the best part of the job.  Or tricking vodka drinkers into drinking gin, cause its funny and they should branch out.

What is the Worst thing about what you do?

“No, man, I’m sorry, we don’t use Red Bull here”

If you couldn’t do what you do now, what would you do instead?

Write the great American novel

*****
If you would like to be considered for this new segment send an email to pickydrinker@gmail.com with a little info on who you are and where you work.  If you don’t sound like a crazy person, I will happily send you a questionnaire to fill out.  If you work in Los Angeles I will almost certainly come in to see how good you are!  Please note, I am looking for enthusiastic bartenders with a real passion for ‘Tending Bar”, Mixology or Classic drink making.  Those of you who bartend just for extra cash but with no interest in the cocktail community  need not apply!

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A Sporting Celebration!

Event:  Sporting Life 4 year Anniversary
Location: Petit Ermitage
8822 Cynthia Street, West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 854-1114.

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Sporting Life is a bartender Networking Group (by invitation only) that consists of Bartenders, their significant others, Liquor Reps, Cocktail enthusiasts and those truly in search of a great drink in Los Angeles.

The committee members Tatsu Oiye, Eric Tecosky, Joe Keeper, Glenn Gritzner, Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest were there in full force this fine sunny Sunday, and as always did a great job creating an enjoyable afternoon.  They are a talented group of individuals on their own and a necessity to the cocktail community in Los Angeles.  Together they organize these wonderful events once a month, at a different bar/location across the city and so far with a different drink sponsor each time.  It’s really impressive.  I can’t believe only a few months ago I was embarrassed to join my boyfriend at these events because I didn’t know anyone, and now I enter recognizing so many faces and truly feel I am hanging out with friends.

The cocktail community in the city of Los Angeles is so ridiculously supportive of each other, it still astounds me.  If something is happening in the City this group of enthusiasts makes an effort to show their support.

Marcos Tello made his usual announcements of bars opening, events happening and guest bartending locations across the city, then legendary mixology icon Dale Degroff stopped by to give a little speech.

A host of regulars attended this Sunday due to it’s Anniversary status, that included fellow blogger Caroline on Crack (who I am yet to meet in person, but keep attending events and then discovering she was also there!), Giovanni Martinez (Sadie), Brandon Reynolds (Townhouse), Louis Anderman (MMBitters), Zahra Bates (Providence), Francois Vera (Harvard & Stone) and Greg Bryson (Bar Chloe) to name just a handful.

Then we had the drinking… Sponsor this month was Sailor Jerry Rum.  I rather like Sailor Jerry, but I know a few bartenders who weren’t such a huge fan of the brand at the start but ended up being thoroughly impressed by the drinks made with it at this event.  The drinks list was put together by Brian Stewart and consisted of 3 drinks, one of which was a true favorite of mine, a classic Daiquiri.  I proceeded to sit and drink Daiquiris like lemonade all day, because they were made perfectly. Sweet, refreshing and balanced.  My boyfriend FG had ‘The Deck Hand’ which he said tasted like a vanilla spiced Mai tai and found it to be extremely flavorful and delicious also.

The Deck Hand- Sailor Jerry, Orgeat, Lime, Maracshino liquere, Bitters

There were a variety of nibbles going around too. I had a chocolate croissant, yoghurt with granola and a few mini burgers.  It was true “Bartenders Breakfast” type food and all were delicious.

Petit Ermitage is a very quaint boutique hotel hidden away on a residential street.   It has the ‘Celebrity status’ of places like Chateaux Marmont, only it’s not as pretentious. This has a much more intimate feel to it.  The rooftop bar/pool area where we had the event is for hotel guests or members only.  It had the most gorgeous garden area and views of Los Angeles all around and a heated pool that Tatsu ended up in, but I couldn’t bring myself to get in (the wind was too chilly.)  The hotel has a really interesting French/Venetian decor and a fairy tale like quality to it.  The entrance was so beautiful with a floral stained glass arch way and vines growing up the sides. It was like I was entering a ‘Secret Garden’.  For more details and photos of this hotel check out their website here.

The Sporting Life Anniversary was a huge success and I had a great time (probably a little too great from some of the photos emerging!) I look forward to seeing everyone again at next months event. Where and When…we just have to wait and see! 🙂

For the record: Petit Ermitage has a very strict no camera policy but with ‘photographic consent’ we were able to get a couple of photos of the event itself. Some of the photos in this post were taken by myself, however the professional style (i.e Good ones), were taken by Tatsu Oiye.

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Drink of the Week

JAMESON ALMOND OLD FASHIONED

  • 2oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 1/4oz Amaretto / Caramel Liqueur
  • 1/4oz Sugar Syrup
  • 3 dash orange bitters

Garnish: Orange twist

Stir ingredients with ice cubes for a good 2 minutes. The melting and stirring in of ice cubes is essential to the dilution and taste of the drink.

Serve over 1 large Ice Cube.

St.Patricks Day: Fun Facts

As i’m sure you all know it’s St.Patricks day (AKA St.Pattys Day) this coming week-end, which for many here in the USA is merely an excuse to get drunk and wear green. However, for those of you who don’t know, Saint Patricks Day is a Religious holiday that originated in Dublin, Ireland in the 18th Century and was originally a solemn affair.  The Irish Protestant organization ‘The Knights of St. Patrick’  held a parade on 17 March 1783 (March 17 being the date St.Patrick died in AD 461) and the tradition of this holiday being a celebratory occasion has continued ever since in Dublin and across the globe.

Saint Patrick was a Christian Missionary (yes, he was a real person) and a fair time after his death became the patron saint of Ireland.  He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks has become a big feature of the day.  In 1903 St.Patricks Day became a public holiday in Ireland. Irish member of Parliament James O’Mara later introduced a law that required pubs and bars be closed on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, (doesn’t surprise me) but this was repealed in the 1970s.

So in between downing pints of Guinness, or doing ‘Irish Car Bomb’ shots this Saturday night I thought you might want to try something slightly different, but still sticking with this Irish theme. What better way to celebrate than with a variation of the classic drink an ‘Old Fashioned’.  I like this version of the drink because it is sweeter than a regular Old Fashioned and the almond notes of the Amaretto come through subtly.  In truth this recipe (from the Jameson website) may be slightly too sweet for many people, so you can afford to remove the sugar syrup altogether if you find this to be the case.

HAPPY SAINT PATRICKS DAY!!!!

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Wood & Vine

Wood & Vine

6280 Hollywood Blvd

Los Angeles,

323 334 3360

Monday date night with the boyfriend (FG) last week led us to Hollywood and the Bar/Restaurant ‘Wood & Vine’, named appropriately for its location on the corner of Hollywood Blvd and Vine Street.  The restaurant is located in the historic Taft building (Just across from the Pantages theater and home to the first offices of Charlie Chaplin and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) I loved the decor as soon as we entered the building.  I have noticed a lot of restaurants in LA are placing random objects and antique looking items around their rooms as decoration.  Wood and Vine follows this trend.

A somewhat strange selection of items were on display behind the bar. There were jars filled with bizarre looking brown fluids, old books, pictures and statues.  The funny thing is, there was probably someone hired with the sole purpose of thinking up and finding all the objects in that cabinet and then making it appear random.

The restaurant area was larger than I expected and continued upstairs with a balcony overlooking the bar below, the courtyard was actually in amongst the buildings and it felt very urban but a little claustrophobic when looking up at them towering above you.  We decided to sit at the bar, as we tend to enjoy talking to the bartenders anyway.  We got Justin who was really friendly and started us off with two cocktails from the winter drinks list (which will change as it becomes spring).

FG got the Kentucky Cashmere and I got a classic Aviation.  I do like this as a drink, and although it was made well it wasn’t quite sweet enough for me (we all know my sweet tooth). When I asked Justin if he could make it a little sweeter for me, I was thoroughly impressed that he didn’t just dunk simple syrup in it, like most other bartenders would. Instead he increased the Creme de Violette and Maraschino liqueur which meant the drink was certainly sweeter but still maintained it’s balance.

The Kentucky Cashmere drink was interesting.  FG loved it because of the bitterness of the fernet, but I liked the undertones of cocoa I could taste from the chocolate bitters.  The Chai tea flavors were subtle but certainly noticeable.

Kentucky Cashmere- Chai & Vanilla infused bourbon, Jelinek Fernet, Chocolate chili bitters

Aviation- Gin, Maraschino, Creme de violette, lemon juice

Justin gave us food menus and I was pleasantly surprised by the pricing, totally reasonable if not on the lower cost scale. They had a Monday Menu special which is a 3 course set menu for $18 (which I am told changes weekly).  The deal sounded amazing but we decided we’d rather mix and match off the main menu instead.

The menu wasn’t huge but there were so many good entrees to choose from and such a range of styles I couldn’t quite work out what kind of restaurant it was trying to be… American, Italian, Asian Inspired, French…dishes included Chicken & Waffles, Pork Belly, Gnocchi and Mussels.  As a mix of genres however, it seemed to work well and was certainly popular. The place was pretty busy on a Monday night, but then again it is Hollywood.

We decided to split the Beet Salad to start. Small portion but really tasty. Goats cheese and candied nuts are my favorite items on a salad, and lucky for me this had both.  They were candied pistachios this time (which is a nut I have never tried candied before) which were very tasty, with a slight salty sweetness to them.  I tried Beets for the first time this night too! They were much sweeter and juicier than I imagined so naturally I enjoyed them.

Beet Salad- Market greens, Candied pistachios, goat cheese, sherry vinaigrette $10

FG went for the Baked Gnocchi and I went for the Flat Iron Steak.  My Steak was cooked correctly to my medium/rare specifications and the asparagus was just the right amount of grilled. The carrot puree was creamy, sweet and delicate against the meat. A fine addition, I only wish they had given me more puree because it was just a small drizzle. The compound butter on top was excessive (size wise) and not really necessary in my opinion, I barely touched it because the meat and vegetables had enough flavor without the need for the overpowering taste of butter.

Flat Iron Steak- carrot puree, grilled asparagus, compound butter $21

FG was loving his Baked Gnocchi so I decided to try a bite even though I really dislike the texture of braised meat. The dish reminded me of a meal my mum made me back in England called ‘Meat and Dumplings’, it was like a stew and I almost wanted a slice of bread to dip in the gravy like sauce. It had a definite comfort food taste to it and the Gnocchi were cooked perfectly-not too soft and not too hard. Gnocchi is often made with semolina, flour, egg, potato, water and salt.  For those who’ve never had it, the best description comes from my old room mate Bryan;

“If potato and pasta had a baby, it would taste like Gnocchi”

Baked Gnocchi- Braised pork, goats cheese $16

The meal portions weren’t huge so we ordered the scallops also.   In my opinion Scallops are really hard to get perfect, and although they did a decent job of this dish, they were only good and not excellent (not like the ones I had at Piccolo).  The grits were an interesting addition to the dish and were creamy with less of a cornmeal taste than usual, which I prefer.  They worked surprisingly well along side the seafood. FG liked the grilled squash it came with and said it was perfectly juicy, I didn’t care for it myself though and didn’t really feel it was needed.

Pan-Seared Diver Scallops- Grilled squash, creamy grits, market greens $18

Wood & Vine has a fairly extensive list (over 50 different kinds) of Whisk(e)y, arranged in the menu by Bourbon, Rye, Scotch, Irish and American.  This was extremely appealing to FG but seeing as we had to drive we decided to share a second drink and ordered the ‘Hunter’. I found this drink to be ridiculously delicious and so simple, just two main ingredients in fact.  I’m sure FG would have preferred the Whiskey straight, but I really liked the light cherry sweetness coming through the Rye, it took away any burn there might have been. It is a drink I will remember to order elsewhere in future. I liked it that much.

Hunter- Redemption rye, Heering cherry liqueur, lemon peel

We decided to finish off with something sweet and Justin convinced us to go for the ‘Pot de creme’.  Wow! A lot of places are doing a salted caramel flavor combination but not many i’ve tasted have done it quite as well as this.

The salty ice cream and the intense sweetness of the butterscotch complimented each other perfectly, and it was so rich, creamy and smooth.  We had a similar dish at Bottega Louie a few weeks back (review coming soon) but this one may actually have been slightly better.  We ordered a scoop of Whiskey Ice Cream to try too, which tasted like baileys to me but was also very good.

Butterscotch Pot de Creme-  salted caramel ice cream $6

Drinks get 4 out of 5 Coupes. (Ratings)

All the drinks were executed correctly (I witnessed all the bartenders stirring Manhattans for a good 2 minutes or more which always gets bonus points from me. I am impressed when a bartender takes the time to make a drink correctly instead of rushing, especially in Hollywood.) Our drinks were all balanced, and Justin gets extra points for the way in which he increased the sweetness of my drink.

Food gets a good 3.5 out of 5 Platters.

All in all this place had great food too. Service was timely, and even when they got a little rush at around 10pm they still made sure everyone was served or acknowledged without a crazy wait time.  The food was incredibly affordable and there was a nice range of dishes to choose from.  It loses a platter purely because none of the dishes (except maybe dessert) jumped out as being exceptional, they were just very good.

We will certainly be back however to see new additions to the menu and try the drinks list for summer when it comes out. If you’re in Hollywood and like a good drink and food without a huge price tag, then be sure to check this place out. You certainly won’t be disappointed.

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Sprinkles at all hours?…Yes, please!

Sprinkles Cupcakes
9635 South Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA, 90210
310 274 8765
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Unlike my usual reviews this is not for a fine Los Angeles restaurant, a fun filled Hollywood event or an exciting new Mixology bar. It is in fact a review about a bakery that serves “little pieces of Heaven” 24 hours a day, in the heart of Beverly Hills.  I am talking, of course, about the delicious Sprinkles Cupcakes.

I have been coming to this location (the original) since the first month I moved to Los Angeles, and the irony is that I don’t actually like cupcakes normally. I’m serious, cake in general is not my favorite dessert because it is often either too spongey or too dry for my tastes, and the style of frosting isn’t the same in the States as the butter icing I like in the UK.  I am true to my ‘fussy’ name when it comes to cupcakes.  So how did I end up at Sprinkles? Well, 4 years ago I saw an episode of ‘Girls of the Playboy Mansion’ in which Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend (now ex) Bridget went there and got a cute little box of cupcakes for a party, as well as mini ones for her dogs.

So in true tourist fashion, when I first move to Los Angeles it was one of the places I went to have my photo taken at.  I didn’t think i’d like it much but when I took my first bite I couldn’t believe what I tasted.  Sprinkles cupcakes are ALWAYS soft, moist and fluffy cakes with the most incredibly sweet but creamy style frostings. I became an instant fan, so much so that when I lived in the South Bay I would still drive the 35mins+ drive to Beverly Hills just to get my favorite (Vanilla Milk Chocolate) and drive back home. They really are that good.

Word to the wise, if you don’t like sugary treats so much then this may not be your thing.  The one complaint (that you’ll never hear from me) that i’ve ever heard of these cupcakes is that the frostings are too sweet, but I think they are just right and there are some other flavors like the Red Velvet with a less sugary cream cheese icing.

History

Sprinkles Cupcakes Company was founded by Candace Nelson and her husband in 2002.  After visiting ‘Magnolia Bakery’ in New York they decided they could do better and decided to open their own cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills. Candace is said to have stated;

 “It was time for cupcakes to stop being the back up dancer to cakes”.

After endorsements from celebrities like Paris Hilton, Tyra Banks and Barbra Streisand (one of their first customers) Oprah Winfrey got hold of a box and requested 300 more for her “Breakfast with Oprah” show in Chicago.  The next day sales went up 50% and have continued to have a stream of constant customers ever since.  The thing about this place, in my opinion, is that many people go there because of the press it gets, but almost everyone returns because of the product.  When the quality is there, people will come!

The bakery building itself is sleek and minimalistic in design, painted a simple chocolate brown with a neon pink ‘icing font’ Sprinkles sign in the far corner. The packaging is also simple and elegant and anyone who knows them would recognize the jagged edges of a Sprinkles sticker anywhere. The brand now has 10 locations throughout the United States, with plans to open in 15 more cities including London and Tokyo. The Nelsons also started a traveling “Sprinklesmobile”, a Mercedes Sprinter van that i’ve seen driving around.  They sell a line of cupcake mixes, t-shirts and other merchandise with their logo on at their stores.

New to the Beverly Hills location just this past week is the cupcake ATM. Wait, what was that? Yes, you heard me right. They added an ‘Automated Teller Machine’ that shoots out cupcakes instead of money.


Cupcake A.T.M

I couldn’t leave on my last visit without a purchase from the new ATM.  I thought I would document the occasion step by step for all those interested.  It’s pretty straight forward.  After waiting in line (and there will be a line) you get to a bubble gum pink machine that reads ’24hour Sprinkles’. A fun and girly song about Sprinkles cupcakes is playing, then you touch the screen and are given a list of your cupcake choices.

  1. Scroll through the choices of cupcakes available at the machine
  2. Click on the cupcake of choice. (I went for the Irish Chocolate seeing as it’s nearly St.Patricks Day.)
  3. Read the detailed description of cupcake you’ve chosen
  4. Confirm selection
  5. Pay with a debit or credit card
  6. Watch a live video feed of a suction arm collecting your chosen flavor
  7. Collect your beautifully boxed cupcake from the tray
  8. Enjoy it’s deliciousness!

                

They bake and fill the machine all day then an extra 600 is added to stock up through the night time.  Funnily enough my friend in the UK was shocked when I told her this and said “600? They can’t possibly expect to sell that many in a night”, from the looks of things so far 600 cupcakes may not be enough.

I was going to go the other night at 1am until I saw a tweet by blogger Caroline on Crack saying “wtf? This late? I wonder when there won’t be a line. @Sprinkles ATM has a line around the block! Insane.” It doesn’t surprise me that much.  There is almost always a line outside the Sprinkles bakery itself, partly due to the small size of the building but mainly because of the sheer number of customers.  I am told people are coming by at 3am after the bars close to get a sweet fix before they head home.  That’s actually sort of how this idea started too.  The owner would crave cupcakes in the middle of the night (not drunk though, she was in fact pregnant!) and would be upset that the store was closed.  She decided there should be an option to get them at all hours. Proved to be a genius move because now the ATM is in operation it is clear that it is going to be a success.
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Flavors

The flavor option availability changes daily, although classics like Vanilla Milk Chocolate, Red Velvet and Black & White are always being made. They also try out new and seasonal flavors all the time and with St.Patricks day around the corner they created an ‘Irish Chocolate’ which is what I got on this trip.  It tasted like it had a subtle Whiskey flavor in the frosting as well as vanilla notes throughout the cake. There are too many options in rotation for me to review, although I think I have nearly tried every one of them.  The choices are in the picture at the bottom of this post and they put a little sticker next to those that are available that day. Check out their Facebook for daily deals too.

I am going to talk quickly about my favorite flavor here the The Vanilla Milk Chocolate.  This is the one I get by the box load for my birthday and parties, it is by far my favorite although the boyfriend finds this flavor to be on the sweeter side.  It comes with the option of sprinkles of no sprinkles. I always say do the sprinkles, but each to their own.

Vanilla Milk Chocolate– Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with fudge milk chocolate frosting

The cake has a hint of vanilla to it and is soft and moist. The chocolate frosting is like no other i’ve found in the States. Sweet, creamy and fudgy. Pure chocolate decadence. It is just a perfect little cupcake and saves well too. These cupcakes don’t taste terrible the next day, my boyfriend actually prefers them a day old.  So there you have it. Sprinkles Cupcakes are so far the best i’ve found in the World.  In fact, my writing of this review has given me the bright idea to head back there right now and get one! If you’re in the area…I suggest you do the same.

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Piccolo Ristorante

Piccolo Ristorante

5 Dudley Ave

Venice Beach, CA 90291

(310) 314-3222

My boyfriend (FG) took me here on Valentines Eve this year and having never been before I was excited to be trying somewhere new, especially an Italian restaurant.

Italian is officially my favorite cuisine. I am not a huge fan of Venice beach and honestly find it particularly scary at night, especially down some of the graffiti ridden dark alley ways.  Sadly this restaurant is in a slightly less than desirable area, and less than a block from the building I was convinced I was watching a hardcore drug deal go down!

However I was utterly shocked and excited by the restaurant that emerged once I turned the corner.  The restaurant Piccolo is beautiful, aesthetically it is a really lovely looking space. Great attention to detail has been made from the elegant glassware down to the tasteful green glass candle holders on every table which are decorative and beautiful.
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The decor is Venetian inspired (as in Venice, Italy not Venice Beach) decorative masks and tasteful black and white shots of the canals adorn the walls. There is a roaring fire on the side and a wall of wine at the back. As soon as we entered we were greeted by a friendly host who took us straight to the table. There is no host stand or bar area, which makes me wonder where you would stand/sit to wait if you arrived sooner than your reservation. Fortunately for us our table was ready straight away and we sat straight down. The owner Vittorio Viotti came over and said hello (he has worked with FG in the past and is a lovely Italian man from Rome).  The menu allows you to do a set meal called ‘In bobo we trust’ this is a great option if you’ve never been as the Executive Chef Roberto Ivan (Bobo) will choose a ‘Six-course tasting for $80’ or ‘Ten-course tasting for $100’ Two people minimum and entire table only.  Seeing as we didn’t want quite so many courses we decided to just pick ourselves, with the occasional recommendation from Vittorio and our server.

As cocktail drinkers I was sad to discover they don’t have a mixed drink list here, however the wine choice is beyond impressive. There is an extensive wine list in a leather bound book with huge range of Italian wines organized by area (a little map of Italy colored in to represent regions).  Almost all the wines are by the bottle, but Greg went for one of the reds by the glass and I had a prosecco.  The red was smoky and rich with a tobacco finish, perfect for FG and my prosecco was light with a hint of sweetness. Great start to a romantic fine dining experience.

A bread basket came out with bread sticks, olive ciabatta and baguette inside. Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore good bread.  This bread was warm with a freshly baked crisp crust and fluffy inside, just how I like it.  Came with olive oil for dipping but I told myself not to fill up on bread so I mainly munched on the sticks which were a not so filling alternative. Great idea.

Antipasti Freddi

The first dishes we chose from the ‘Antipasti’ section of the menu were the Prosciutto and Carpaccio (see item descriptions below).

The presentation for all our dishes was nothing short of pure elegance,  I really like duck but it was actually a little rich for my taste.  It had a herbaceous celery/watercress dressing on top though which was light and creamy and helped dilute the richness of the meat slightly.

Prosciutto d’anatra– Homemade duck proscuitto, fresh watercress drizzle $17

The Carpaccio FG ordered was delicious. I should mention that I hadn’t eaten lamb since I was around 11 years old and saved a lamb from drowning in a river in Wales, strange reason I know, but I just never found myself wanting to order it since then.  I did however try some of the carpaccio this evening. I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it, it wasn’t gamey but complimented wonderfully by the truffle and celery shavings.

Carpaccio di agnello– Seared lamb, thinly sliced,  celery, piave shavings, truffle shaving $17

Antipasti Caldi

The next dish we ordered were the Scallops.  Now, if you haven’t read the ‘about me’ section, I suggest you do it now, because it will astound you that someone as fussy about food like myself would ever like sea food let alone Scallops.  The scallops were nothing short of divine.  To go from not trying a salad to devouring scallops is quite a dramatic change, but my goodness did I enjoy these.

Delicious on every front. Texture, sauce, cooked to perfection. The cheese sauce was very light but the little addition of truffles was all the richness it needed. Ironically I don’t like parmesan or truffles for that matter but adored this.  My only complaint was portion size, but this restaurant is more tapas (small plate) style. I could have easily gone for at least 8 of those beauties! This dish came with 2 scallops and they were nice enough they split our dishes without us even asking, we just told them we’d be sharing everything.

Capesante scottate– Seared sea scallops, parmesan-truffle fondue, truffle shaving $17

Primi

The second section of the menu had dishes that were created using their own hand-crafted fresh pasta prepared with organic eggs.  FG had the Tagliatelle which was certainly interesting, but tasted a little like christmas in my opinion. The use of cloves/all spice in the aromatic spices I believe is what gave this affect, the venison was a little overpowered by the spices but was well cooked.

I went for the black kale and beef tenderloin filled ravioli.  It was rich but very tasty.  I couldn’t taste the kale itself, but the dish altogether was flavorful and very good.

Agnolotti al cavolo nero– Tuscan black kale-beef tenderloin filled ravioli roasted garlic, rosemary, parmesan $24

Ragu di capriolo– Tagliatelle, slow braised venison ragu, aromatic spices, red wine $24

Secondi

The Duck from the final section of the menu was delicious and my favorite ‘main’ course.  The honey truffle sauce was light but had the perfect level of sweetness.  The meat was cooked to perfection, and they don’t ask for a temperature because they know how it should be cooked (seemed about medium/rare).  I had no complaints, juicy and perfectly tender duck slices.

Germano reale al miele tartufato– Breast of mallard (wild duck) pan-seared, truffle-honey sauce $34

Please note the photos of the duck and scallops are ‘half’ the regular portion size as the plates were split for our convenience.

Dessert

I don’t know how but we managed to squeeze in a little dessert at the end.  Bobo chose the Bignole and the Tortino. The tortino was soft and light with a slightly unusual lightly orange taste (reminded me of a children’s medicine in Uk called Calpol actually).  I preferred the little pastry chocolate puff balls. They had a crisp pastry surrounding a sweet, soft chocolate truffle center. Very delicious and a great end to the meal.

    

Tortino- Ricotta and mascarpone torte. Saffron coulis

Bignole- Puffs filled with belgian gianduja chocolate

I’m giving Piccolo 4.5 out of 5 Platters

All in all this restaurant was truly excellent. The service was friendly and fast, but not rushed. The food was beautifully presented and tasted great.  The only down side of this place is it’s location, although the interior strongly makes up for it. The pasta dishes were my least favorite, but I will happily return to try other dishes on the extensive menu.  I felt the food was pretty reasonably priced although I know it may seem a little pricey for some, especially when the dishes aren’t huge portions. It is fine-dining however and for a romantic night out is well worth the cost when the quality is there. Definitely worth a visit!

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Drink of the Week

Make yourself a celebratory drink. ‘The Fussy One’ website has been up for 1 month today!

The Bellini

  • 2oz White Peach purée
  • Fill with Prosecco

Garnish: A peach slice (if desired)

Serve in a Champagne flute (original at Harry’s bar is served in a small tumbler – see picture)

You can buy peach purée or frozen peaches year round, however if you have the time it is easy to make your own.  Remove the skin and pits from ripe small white peaches, cut and blend them in a blender on medium until your smooth purée is formed.

This classic is refreshing, sweet and simple.  A celebratory drink that almost everyone has heard of, but for some reason gets ignored or forgotten about and plain champagne is used for toasts instead.  I like this so much more because it has that extra layer of sweetness from the addition of peach as well as the prosecco (sweeter with smaller bubbles than champagne.)

It is said to have been created by bartender Giuseppe Cipriano of Harry’s Bar in Venice Italy.  I have not yet found a book or historian to dispute these origins so am going to write about this version of history and hope it is correct. Harry’s Bar opened in 1931 and was a popular hang out for Ernest Hemingway who had his own table in the corner. Hemingway loved the bar so much he wrote about it in his famous novel “Across the River and into the Trees.” (Copyright 1950) I quote;

“Then he was pulling open the door at Harry’s Bar and was inside and he had made it again, he was home‘ (page 72)

Giuseppe’s son Arigo Cipriani wrote about his father’s drink invention at this bar in his book ‘Harry’s Bar- The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark’ (Copyright 1996) and claims the Bellini was officially created in 1948. He goes on to explain how Giuseppe’s love for the 15th Century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini and in particular the pink hue of one of Bellini’s paintings inspired him to create the beverage.  Peaches are in abundance in Italy between June and September, and Giuseppe wanted to create something that captured their essence and transformed their beautiful fragrance in to a drink.  He pureed small white peaches and added prosecco (Italian sparkling wine).  Those who tried it raved about how tasty it was and so it became the new drink at Harry’s Bar (but only for the months the fruit was in season.)

In 1990 Arigo licensed the rights to the drink name to a Mr.Canella and was appalled when he came out with a ‘pre-mixed’ version of his fathers creation, adding raspberry juice to make it pinker.  In 1995 Cipriano won an arbitration against Canella saying it was desecrating the drink origins, his father and Harry’s Bar. Many publications still list this variation (with raspberry juice) as the original recipe, however Arigo argues it is not.

Having tried both, the recipe I have provided is the best in my opinion. Classic and simple.

Make it on a hot summers day and enjoy!

Thank you to all my readers for following me this first month, I have many reviews coming in the next few days as I have been out and about all week to tastings, events, restaurants and mixology bars. Oh the things I have to do for you all! 😉

Keep reading and bottoms up!

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