Eat This Now: Sushi Roku's Matsu Roku Sushi Plate

When it comes to sushi, everyone has their go-to favorite. Typically, these "go-to's" fall into one of two categories: 1) A local hole-in-the-wall sushi joint, or, 2) A trendy sushi restaurant where you pay for both the food, decor and overall experience. While both certainly serve their purpose -- and I often find myself on the fence depending on my specific sushi craving -- I've got to rave about the Matsu 8-piece sushi platter I recently had at Sushi Roku.

Go Get This: Matsu Roku Signature Sushi Eight-Piece Plate
Photo Credit: Claire Thomas

First, a little bit of my personal sushi history. I'm really proud of myself when it comes to, well, let's call it "personal sushi development." After graduating from California Roll University (go Krabs!), I found myself in the "spicy tuna" rut for several years. I like to describe it as one step up from a California roll but several steps down from branching out into "real sushi," aka a selection of sashimi and sushi -- think eel, snapper, and sea urchin -- without snazzy sauces, avocado or spicy mayo to disguise the flavor of the fish. The spicy tuna rut is like the sushi equivalent of a weight-loss plateau: easy to get into, but hard to get out of. But once I finally got up the nerve to try some "real sushi," I never really looked back. I made my way through an onslaught of salmon, toro, tai (Japanese Snapper), yellowtail, albacore, and even conquered the dreaded sea urchin. It's definitely not something I crave, but it's not something I'm afraid of anymore, either.

Fast forward to a recent dinner at WeHo's Sushi Roku. Over the past several months, the restaurant has been revamping its menu, sprucing up the classics (e.g. yellowtail on crispy rice) and introducing imaginative new dishes including the salmon carpaccio with saved black truffle as well as the new Matsu Roku Signature Style Sushi plate (eight pieces, $36). While I've always been a fan of some of Roku's classic dishes, both of these new plates rocked my Roku world.

My favorite part of the Matsu Roku plate: Scottish Salmon Sushi
    Photo Credit: Claire Thomas

    Let's start with the eight-piece Matsu Roku plate. One look at this stunning array of sushi -- the plate includes Tai, Scottish Salmon, Japanese Yellowtail, Albacore, Bluefin tuna, Alaskan King Crab, Bluefin Tuna belly, and sea urchin -- and you almost feel bad disturbing it. Operative word being "almost." It's clear that painstaking detail was involved in the creation of this eight-piece masterpiece, but that type of attention to detail and dedication to innovative flavor combinations makes me truly appreciate each bite even more. Who would have ever thought of Alaskan King Crab leg sushi served with a tiny spoonful of champagne butter sauce? That dish is something I expect to find at Michael Cimarusti's Michelin-starred Providence and is brilliant on sushi. Same goes for the Scandanavian-inspired Scottish salmon served with citrus soy, sliced cucumber, cilantro and ossetra caviar. Brilliant combination; probably my favorite on the plate. That's not an easy statement to make, either. I mean, just look at how beautiful the plate is. At $36, it's not cheap, but you absolutely feel as though you've gotten your money's worth. Here's exactly what you get:

    Matsu Roku Signature Style Sushi Plate
    • Japanese Sea Bream (Tai) with yuzu jelly, black lava salt and shiso leaf
    • Scottish Salmon (Sake) with citrus soy, sliced cucumber, cilantro and ossetra caviar
    • Japanese Yellowtail (Hamachi) with lime soy and pickled vegetables
    • Seared Albacore (Shiro Maguro) with nikiri soy, minced garlic and chopped onions
    • Bluefin Tuna (Hon Maguro) with soy truffle oil, parmesan cheese , avocado and arugula
    • Alaskan King Crab Leg (Taraba Gani) with champagne butter sauce
    • Seared Blue Fin Tuna Belly (Toro Aburi) with wasabi truffle soy, sliced black truffle
    • Santa Barbara Sea Urchin (Uni) with wasabi soy, seaweed caviar and chopped Tokyo scallions
    If you're still hungry, another can't-miss is the Scottish salmon carpaccio served with a tableside shaving of Italian black truffles. This dish is heavy on the truffle (which in my opinion is divine), but if you're not a huge truffle lover then you might want to consider something else. Or just consider yourself warned, either way. Finally, a fun twist on a Roku classic -- the fan-favorite spicy tuna on crispy rice -- is the addition of yellowtail on crispy rice. It's just another example of how Roku is adapting its menu to an increasingly discerning and sophisticated sushi clientele. But it's also a great dish for sushi newbies going through the stages of sushi development. If you stick with Sushi Roku, you'll get there. Just make sure to order the Matsu Roku plate can for your graduation meal. :)

    A special thanks to Andrea and Max for being my wonderful dinner dates!


    Epiphany Cellars Tasting Tonight at Downtown's Corkbar

    About three years ago on a trip to Santa Ynez Valley's charming wine-tasting town of Los Olivos, we happened upon a tasting room pouring wines from Epiphany Cellars. We knew nothing about the vineyard, the winemaker or the various vintages, but over the course of an hour and a half proceeded to learn that Epiphany Cellars was the family-owned sister brand to Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard. We also learned that we loved the wine, particularly a 2007 Sangiovese called "Tessa Marie." More specifically, it was a varietal named after Tessa Marie Parker (Fess' daughter, I believe?) and it became one of our favorites of the trip. Given that we had a cooler in the car already packed with other wines (had we only known!), we made an executive decision to only buy two bottles of the Tessa Marie to take home. It's a decision I've regretted ever since, simply because the wine has been impossible to find (even on subsequent trips to the tasting room).

    Epiphany's Tasting Room in Los Olivos, CA
    I don't want you to make the same mistake that I did, which I why I'm so excited that Corkbar, a California wine country-inspired wine bar in downtown L.A., is hosting a meet-and-greet and tasting with Epiphany Cellars' very own Kris Parker TONIGHT from 6-9 p.m.! No, my beloved Tessa Maria Sangiovese won't be on the tasting menu, but a Tessa Marie white wine and four other Parker family handcrafted vintages will be. For $15/person, you'll get a flight of the five vintages and the chance to chat up winemaker Kris Parker, son of Epiphany Cellars Founder Eli Parker and also grandson of legendary Hollywood actor Fess Parker. Not a bad family tree, eh?

    Corkbar's Minimalist Interior
    The wines include:
    • ’09 Epiphany Grenache Blanc
    • ’09 Epiphany “Tessa Marie” Vermentino
    • ’08 Fess Parker “Ashley’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir
    • ’06 Epiphany “Gypsy” (Rhône blend)
    • ’07 Epiphany “Revelation” (Rhône blend)
    Now you can't just have wine without some grub, and Corkbar's Executive Chef Albert Aviles has created a pairing menu filled with Banh Mi sliders ($15); spice-crusted pork chop with chilled Israeli couscous and asparagus ($14); and a Mediterranean lamb sandwich with roasted leg of lamb, cucumber, mint, onion & Feta ($16).

    All you have to do now and is head to Corkbar and eat, drink and be happy.

    Now THIS would pair well with a bold red...
    Photo credit: Flickr/LA Sates

    What: Epiphany Cellars Wine Tasting at Corkbar
    When: Thursday, March 24 from 6-9 p.m.
    Were: Corkbar, 403 W. 12th St., Los Angeles, CA 90015 (213) 746-0050
    How Much: Attendance is free. Flight of five wines: $15.


    Must Drink: Playa's "A Oaxacan The Clouds"

    It's been a cold and blustery few days in L.A. Actually, if I'm being honest our perpetual "72 and sunny" weather has recently given way to heavy downpours, gusting winds and bouts of flooding. The say April showers bring May flowers, but it seems we're a few weeks ahead of schedule. Looking outside at the dark clouds, I'm suddently hit with a craving for a cocktail of a similar name. No, not a Dark and Stormy, but "A Oaxacan The Clouds," served at Chef John Sedlar's latest restaurant, Playa. I first had the cocktail over a month ago at the restaurant's Friends & Family night, and I've actually has it on my mind ever since. You know how certain tastes or flavors just seem as though they were created with you in mind? That's how I feel about A Oaxacan The Clouds, which mixologist Julian Cox (Rivera, Las Perlas) created with Del Maguey Mezcal, roasted farm tomatoes, agave nectar, crispy sage, and Piment d’Espelette (aka, French chili pepper). (Editor's note: Dave Fernie created the cocktail, not Julian Cox).

    Playa's "A Oaxacan The Clouds"
    As I've gotten older, I realized that I enjoy two drinks more than any other: champagne and mezcal (separately). Readers of the blog who came along on my taco + mezcal tour of Zihuatanejo, Mexico in October won't be surprised at the latter choice. But here's the deal; in my opinion, champagne isn't the best drink of choice on chilly, rainy days like today. On the contrary, days like today require a drink with spice, smoke and savory undertones. Three tastes that A Oaxacan The Clouds delivers on in spades. Upon your first sip -- scratch that, before your first sip -- you're hit with the subtle smokey aroma from the Mezcal. For Mezcal newbies, the drink is a cousin to tequila. However, rather than being made from agave, it's made from the maguey plant, a form of agave which is oven-cooked to give it a distinct smoky flavor.

    Where There's Smoke... There's Mezcal
    That first sip then brings the smoky aroma to life, then gives way to a taste of savory sweetness (yes, there is such a thing) of the oven-roasted tomatoes. The sweetness is compounded by a touch of agave nectar, but plays a second, even third fiddle to warming effect of the mezcal and tomatoes. Each sip burns ever-so-slightly as it makes its way through your mouth and down your throat. The warmth is magnified by the spice in the piment d'espelette, a chili pepper grown in France that lends a bite of heat to the Mezcal's smoke. Don't worry; physically it's a good hurt, but emotionally it's complicated. Each sip leaves you wanting more but leads you closer to an empty glass. Finally, take a few bites from the juicy cherry tomato and crispy sage skewer and you've just added another level of earthiness, not to mention a mini palate cleanser. Then lucky for you, you get to pick it up and sip again (and again).

    Make no mistake, A Oaxacan The Clouds is meant to sipped. Savored, even. If only I had one at my desk right now...


    Breakfast (For Dinner) in Beverly Hills

    Breakfast. Some say it's the meal of champions, while others say it's the most important meal of the day. I say it shouldn't be limited to the a.m. hours, because in our house having breakfast for dinner -- think egg and cheese sandwiches, poached eggs on peanut butter toast, yummy omelets and even whole grain pancakes with warm, gooey maple syrup -- is a common occurrence. Outside of our house, finding a restaurant that serves breakfast all day, every day (or at least until 3pm) gets extra points in my book. Sometimes I just want eggs for dinner. Is that so wrong?

    Breakfast in Beverly Hills: Enjoy a complimentary night and free breakfast every morning at participating hotels
    Turns out I'm not alone in my love for the a.m. turned p.m. breakfast. Last week, I was invited by the Beverly Hills Convention & Visitors' Bureau to preview what might be considered the ultimate breakfast for dinner: a stop to five of Beverly Hills' most luxurious hotels to experience "Breakfast in Beverly Hills," a limited-time program promoting a complimentary* night's stay and breakfast for two at nine participating Beverly Hotels from March 1 through June 30, 2011. These aren't just any hotels, either. They happen to be the crème de la crème of Beverly Hills hospitality, including The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, the Beverly Hilton, The Montage, L'Ermitage, The Peninsula Hotel, The Thompson Beverly Hills, The Avalon Hotel, Mosaic Hotel, and Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive.

    To showcase the promotion, BHCVB had a fabulous idea: get a bunch of local journalists together on a Beverly Hills trolley and drive them from hotel to hotel to taste each of the chefs' exclusive "Breakfast in Beverly Hills" menu items. There was mixing, mingling, notes- and photo-taking, and lots of poached eggs.

    Our Chariot Awaits!
    We started at the tucked away Avalon Hotel where Milan-trained Executive Chef Mirko Paderno and his staff greeted us with a champagne cocktail and seats in the hotel's urban oasis cabanas. It's no secret that Oliverio, The Avalon Hotel's restaurant, is one of my local favorites for pretty much any meal, but it was fun to watch other journalists explore the space and remark at Oliverio's "hidden gem quality." For his contribution to the Breakfast in Beverly Hills program, Chef Mirko presented us with an ostrich egg frittata topped with brie cheese and procini mushrooms, alongside a tiny spoonful of bruléed French toast. The frittata was light yet richly flavored, and the French toast surprised our palates with a tart tang of passion fruit. Fun fact: the contents of ONE ostrich egg fed all 20 of us.

    Avalon Hotels' Breakfast in BH Specials
    Next stop, the Beverly Hilton. Executive Chef Suki Sugiura, who recently prepared a spread meant for the mouths of Hollywood royalty at February's Golden Globe Awards, took us around the world in six frittatas inspired by Dr. Suess's Green Eggs & Ham (the hotel opened on the same day as the whimsical author's book release). Chef says he develops Hilton's cuisine by "learning from other cultures and putting it into California style." His mission was evident in each of the six frittatas, clearly inspired by six distinct parts of the worlds and subsequently infused with a California fresh slant. An Italian frittata was filled with pork smoked and cured in-house; a California veggie frittata was loaded with locally-grown asparagus and onion and Southern California-pressed extra virgin olive oil; a crab meat, scallion and water chestnut frittata was topped with a Cantonese-inspired sweet and sour sauce; the richness of chef's Lebonese Shwarma chicken frittata was balanced with chunks of fresh tomato, green beans and tahini; and my favorite, the house soft-cured Pacific salmon and dill frittata was brimming with fingerling potatoes and came with a house-made grainy mustard inspired by Chef Sugiura's 3+ years of studying in Scandinavia. As if that wasn't enough, the Beverly Hilton's staff composed a mock breakfast buffet service, complete with pastry station, french-pressed Rwandan Silverback Coffee, and fruit smoothies topped off with your choice of pomegranate or blood orange vodka. My choice? Both.

    Chef Suki Sugiura's International Frittata Buffet at The Beverly Hilton
    Maybe it was the relaxed outdoor ambiance of the recently revamped Trader Vic's or perhaps it was pure excitement on my part, but I may or may not have made a mistake in overindulging in the Beverly Hilton's fabulous frittatas. It could have been a strategic error, but my appetite was re-energized after a brief trolley ride dropped us at a private dining room inside the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, where waiters greeted our arrival with champagne and four tray-passed appetizers. I realized I wasn't so much full but getting a little "egg'd" out, so Executive Chef Alex Chen's decision to serve an array of miniature short rib grilled cheeses, spoonfuls of delicately-layered beet and goat cheese, lamb bites, and crab crisps gave my palate a happy break. I know, sweet and salty irony. It was only then that I could truly give Chef Chen's fabulous breakfast dish its due. He served what was arguably the most sophisticated and beautifully presentated dish of the evening: a poached egg atop a crisp potato cake, layered with smoked sablefish and a refreshing fennel and onion salad. A dollop of whipped goat cheese accented by chopped dill and a tiny spoonful caviar completed the dish. One word: divine.

    Beverly Hills Hotel's Poached Egg + Sablefish "Benedict"
    Sad to leave, but knowing we had to stay the course, the trolley took us to the Luxe Hotel on Rodeo Drive. The hotel is tucked away on Rodeo Drive among the legions of couture boutiques and cafes. Upon entering the dimly-lit Bar 360 we met Chef James Chang, who recently left Patina's catering group to head up Luxe's kitchen. He excitedly shared his "Breakfast in Beverly Hills" creation, a poached egg perched on a potato pancake with classic hollandaise sauce. His personal touch? A dash of Tabasco and paprika to make the sauce really sing.

    The Luxe Hotel's "Eggs Rodeo"
    Our evening was drawing to a close and the BHCVB couldn't have ended it with a more perfect venue: the rooftop pool and cabanas at The Montage Beverly Hills, complete with a twinkling view of the Hollywood Hills. Chef Gabriel Ask, who honed his chops at Thomas Keller's famed French Laundry, Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, served a short rib hash with roasted cherry tomatoes (harvested earlier that afternoon) and a perfectly poached egg. After tasting nine egg dishes throughout the evening, the contrast of flavors in this dish made it one of my favorites. While the velvety egg yolk oozed over sumptuous chunks of short rib and potato, the roasted tomatoes lent the dish a sweetness and light acidity that cut the richness. It was well-balanced in each of its few bites and a dish I will certainly return to have on another day. I just need a short hiatus from eggs first. :)

    The Montage Hotel's Bloody Caesar & Short Rib Hash
    Thank you to Kimberli at the Beverly Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting the evening. If you want more info on the Breakfast in Beverly Hills promotion, visit the BVCVB website.

    *Receive a complimentary extra-night's stay and breakfast for two with the purchase of one-, two-, or three-nights stay at any participating hotel.


    Must-Try Happy Hour: Viceroy's Cameo Bar

    First, I have to apologize because I've been off the radar for a week or so. Sorry, but I'm back! I started an exciting new full-time job that's basically consuming most of my time, but the good news is that I love it. The other good news is that (most) days my work hours -- from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- are basically tailor-made for happy hour. A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I love the happy hour at Oliverio inside Olympic Blvd's Avalon Hotel, and now I have another favorite hotel happy hour, this time at Cameo Bar inside Santa Monica's Viceroy Hotel.

    Get Comfy at Viceroy's Cameo Bar
    What's so great about Cameo Bar's happy hour? Seven of Chef Tony DiSalvo's most popular appetizers and seven of the bar's most popular cocktails are only $7/each from 4-7 p.m. Making it even more clever, the folks at Cameo Bar are calling it the "7 Before 7" happy hour. Works for me! I'm particularly excited because a few months ago I had the opportunity to interview Viceroy's Executive Chef DiSalvo and taste some of his fourth-generation Italian dishes, like from-scratch veal and pork meatballs simmered in a homemade tomato sauce; crispy saffron risotto balls; and steamed mussels with chorizo, tomato and Sambuca. Lucky for happy hour lovers like you and me, all those goodies are on the "7 Before 7" menu in addition to drinks like the Ocean Avenue Punch (made fresh daily), Hurricanes (Bacardi Superior Rum, dark rum, 151, orange juice, grenadine), as well as a selection of Italian wines, beers and even bubbly. Again, all for $7. You really can't beat that.

    Crispy Risotto Balls

    DiSalvo's To-Die-For Meatballs
    So if you're in the Santa Monica area and looking for a great place to chill out after a long day, stop by Viceroy and head to Cameo Bar. Sink into one of the oversized chairs and enjoy one or two (or seven) of Chef's appetizers. If you're still hungry -- although I can't imagine after so plates of apps you would be -- move into Whist's dining room for DiSalvo's Moroccan lamb shank with baby eggplant and farro. Still one of my fave dishes this year.

    Cameo Bar's "7 BEFORE 7"
    *All items $7 - Monday to Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.

    Meatballs | Pork and veal, shaved Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil
    Crispy Risotto Balls | Crispy saffron risotto, marinara
    Chicken Wings | Romesco sauce, grilled scallions
    Steamed Mussels | Chorizo, tomato, sambuca, scallion
    Hummus | Crudite, grilled pita
    Crispy Tuscan Potatoes | Herbs & aioli
    PB & Jam | Peanut butter cookies, JAM red wine

    all well drinks (Martinis +$2, Red Bull +$3)
    Ocean Avenue Punch | Housemade daily
    Hurricane | Bacardi Superior Rum, dark rum, 151, orange juice, grenadine
    La Rosette | Louis de Grenelle Brut Rose, St. Germain

    M.V. Trevisiol – Prosecco – Valdobbiadene, Italy
    2009 Clos LaChance – Chardonnay – Monterey County
    2006 Clos LaChance – Cabernet Sauvignon – Monterey County

    Old Rasputin
    Delirium Tremens
    La Fin Du Monde
    Trois Pistoles
    Allagash White

    1819 Ocean Avenue
    Santa Monica, CA 90401
    (310) 260-7500

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