Greenleaf ChopShop: My Favorite Health Food In L.A.

I'm not one to write about a restaurant more than once. It's not for any particular reason; I just have a mile-long list of dishes, recipes and restaurants that I'm excited to share with you. Well, I'm about to break my rule and write about Greenleaf Chopshop again, the place with fabulous corn hot cakes I wrote about just three weeks ago. Here's why.

Greenleaf's Corn Hot Cakes | Blueberry Agave Compote
Since the New Year, I've really been on a health kick. No, really, I swear. I've all but given up drinking this month -- okay, I slipped up three times, so sue me -- have been watching my calories, booze intake, carb intake, and trying to cook most meals at home. And guess what? After a few weeks, I got so, so, so bored of eating a different version of the same boring "healthy" meal everyday. I was sick of grilling chicken. Of using red wine vinegar instead of salad dressing. Of egg whites for breakfast. And sometimes dinner. Worst of all, after about two weeks, L.A.'s weather hit about 80 degrees (in January!) and turning on my oven to 450 degrees for a vegetable roasting marathon left our apartment, well, feeling like the inside of said oven. I needed a change, needed some inspiration, needed some flavor. And this is coming from someone who knows how to cook some pretty darn good food. This is where Greenleaf saved me.

Greenleaf's executive chef, Kristi Ritchey, and chef/owner, Jon Rollo, formerly of biggie Patina Group, joined forces in 2007 to open an organic, sustainable restaurant with delicious salads, sandwiches, hot meals and a killer breakfast that -- for me -- takes the guesswork out of eating healthy. When I learned a bit more about their backgrounds, it makes perfect sense: Kristi has lost (and kept off) 110 pounds. Jon has a sister with a terrible gluten allergy. They're both professional chefs and Barry Boot Camp aficionados. Perhaps most importantly, they've both spent years cooking in high-end restaurant kitchens where often times the biggest sources of flavor are copious amounts of salt, oil and butter. Hence their desire to jump ship and start their own health-conscious restaurant where they can take the healthy tips and tricks they've developed and pay it forward in the form of great-tasting and fantastic-for-you meals.

Kristi & Jon
Greenleaf's 1st Leaf-tenant & Commander in "Leaf," respectively
It's simple enough: Corn hot cakes are made with cornmeal, skim milk, egg whites, vanilla bean puree, lemon zest and topped with homemade blueberry agave compote. Cashews, pecans and walnuts are roasted with a light agave syrup blend; no sugar or oil here. Salads have steamed egg whites, grilled white meat chicken, sharp cheeses, shaved veggies of all kinds, turkey bacon and homemade dressings like Jon's famous citrus and basil, or their spicy orange chipotle BBQ sauce that tops the Mexplosion.

Mexplosion Salad | Scarborough Farms baby greens, grilled corn and black bean salsa, cilantro, tomatoes, shaved red onion, avocado, sunflower seeds, whole wheat tortilla crunchies, jalapeno jack cheese on low-carb, high-protein whole wheat tortilla. Homemade citrus basil vinaigrette and spicy chipotle orange BBQ sauce.

Kitchen Sink Cobb "Lite" | Iceberg lettuce, Romaine hearts, tomatoes, steamed egg whites, avocado, carrots, garbanzo beans, grilled chicken breast, turkey bacon, basil, Charo's classic balsamic vinaigrette.
Greenleaf's hot meals, like turkey meatballs and turkey chili, literally have people lining up for to-go orders before the dish is even ready to serve. The wild mushroom truffle pizza has shaved Pecorino, mixed mushrooms, peppery arugula, a drizzle of truffle oil, and is only 400 calories. For the entire pizza. But that's par for the Greenleaf course; almost everything on the menu is around or under 400 calories, which kind of makes your head spin when you see how generous the portions are.

Wild Mushroom Pizza | Mixed wild mushrooms, baby arugula, goat cheese, red pepper spread, shaved Pecorino, white truffle oil.

Grilled Chicken Panini | Housemade avocado pesto on La Brea Bakery Focaccia Bread

Grilled Veggie Panini | Goat cheese, grilled vegetables, La Brea Bakery Focaccia Bread
All of that is great, but get this: Jon and Kristi aren't just making healthy food, they're acting as pseudo personal chefs for every person who comes through their doors. They take calls from loyal customers who have started new diet regimens -- from the Zone to Atkins to doctor-recommend eating plans -- and walk them through what they can and can't eat. They work together to create custom eating plans to keep the customer's palate interested and diet on track over the long-term. A few of their customers, from Century City lawyers to Beverly Hills businessmen, have lost 50-plus pounds by working with Jon and Kristi and eating the Greenleaf way. Where else can you say that in L.A.? Nowhere, unless you have the budget to shell out big bucks for home-delivery meal plans. These are clearly two people who live for making healthy food and in turn, healthy customers.

Antioxidant Orchard Salad
| Scarborough Farms baby greens, grapes, shaved celery, agave-roasted walnuts, dried cranberries, crumbled blue cheese, mint, shaved red onion, cucumbers, green apple, seasonal berries, pomegranate whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

Zorra The Great Salad| Romaine hearts, baby arugula, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, Greek olives, shaved red onion, herbs, pita, housemade crispy artichoke crisps, served on bed of hummus with garlic herb vinaigrette.

Portioned "Carrots Are Good For You" Carrot Cake with Agave-Roasted Pecans
I'm so happy I found Greenleaf and met Kristi and Jon. It's rare in L.A. to find people who serve such fantastic food, have such genuine intentions, big hearts, and portions to match (which also makes me happy). Check them out for yourself at their Century City (serves breakfast) or Beverly Hills location. You won't be sorry.

Greenleaf Beverly Hills: 671 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. (310) 246-0756.
Greenleaf Century City: 1888 Century Park East, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (424) 239-8700.


Happy National Pie Day! (Plus L.A.'s Best Pies)

Happy National Pie day! In case you haven't heard, pies are the #1 food trend for 2011: savory pies, sweet pies, pot pies, personal pies... basically, pies are predicted to be everywhere! To celebrate the day and get our year 'o pies started off right, I compiled a list of some of my favorite pie shops and artisanal pie producers in L.A. If you're a fan of pie, write these down, check 'em out and jump on 2011's pie train.

simplething's motto is "Sandwich. Pie. Done." I'd like to add in breakfast, salads, pot pies and a fantastic selection of Intelligensia lattes, cappuccinos, etc., but that might muddle the motto a bit. In honor of National Pie Day, Bryan, Charlie and I took a walk to simplethings for breakfast and a sampling of their itty bitty cutie pies ($2.50/each), good for a satisfying 2-3 bites of lemon, salted caramel, cherry, Mississippi Mud, peanut butter chocolate and banana cream pies. While those were only today's flavors, the shop has 16 different flavors of pies in three different sizes: Cutie Pie ($2.50), Simple Pie ($5.50) and Big Pie ($20). A la mode is available for an extra buck.

What a "Cutie:" simplething's tiny banana cream pie
Not in the mood for sweet pies? simplethings has six savory pot pies ($10/each, served with dressed greens) on offer, ranging from traditional steak and lager to chicken curry and portabella mushroom. If you're indecisive, go for the tiny sampler of steak, chicken and 'shroom pot pies.

simplething's Chicken Pot Pie

Not all pie stores need to have storefronts, and All Jarred Up is a perfect example. All Jarred Up sells -- you guessed it -- mason-jarred pies, cookies and baked breads on Etsy in cleverly-named flavors (How Do You Like Them Apples, I Go Bananas Over You, "P" Is For Pecan, etc.) and two sizes, small ($8) and large ($13). If you place your order tomorrow (Sunday, Jan. 23), All Jarred Up will give you a 40% discount on all items in honor of National Pie Day. Go head to their site and get ordering now!

All Jarred Up's "How Do You Like Them Apples" (small)

Robyn Poarch, owner of Porch Pies, is an Alabama girl who's baking pies from recipes passed down by her mother and grandmother's for lucky Angelenos (like me!). Her story is a great one: while working in NYC, Robyn baked pies for dinners, holidays and as gifts for friends that were such a hit, she started receiving requests and then official orders. Robyn brought her fledgling business to Los Angeles, where her authentic buttermilk, sweet potato, southern pecan, coconut, chocolate and lemon chess pies (chess pies have a consistency between custard and cheesecake) have become legend. My personal favorite is the buttermilk, although Porch Pies makes a killer seasonal peaches 'n cream pie June through October. Sorry for the tease, but put it on your calendar for June. Trust me. Call (323) 632-4816 to order your own Porch Pie or visit the website for more info.

Porch Pies' Buttermilk Pie

Porch Pies' Southern Pecan


Oliverio: Beverly Hills' Happiest Happy Hour

HAPPY HOUR: Two words that get my attention almost anytime or anywhere, but mostly between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. It's a delicious, discounted hybrid of restaurant food meeting bar prices, all served early enough for you to get home and watch Primetime TV (or TiVo'd cable). While I have a list nearly a mile -- or an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper -- long detailing my favorite L.A. happy hours, I'm excited to focus on the addition of a killer new happy hour at Oliverio, a chic restaurant inside Beverly Hills' Avalon Hotel.

Drive too fast along Olympic Boulevard and you'll risk missing the 61-year-old hotel, built in 1949 and once-frequented by the likes of Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and used as a retro Miami set in the movie Dreamgirls. The interior of Oliverio has been completely remodeled yet does a wonderful job making guests feel as though they have been transported to a tucked away, 50's poolside lounge.

Poolside Dining at Night
Find your seat in a poolside cabana, or saddle up to the bar, and check out the amazing happy hour deal: Every M-F from 4 to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m., nine of Oliverio's most popular menu items are $3/each. Yes, THREE DOLLARS. Wine is $4/glass, and cocktails are $5 each. From personal experience, I can tell you the Mac & Cheese (homemade noodles and parmesano sauce), Fritto Misto (gigantic prawns, tender calamari and sage leaves), Oliverio burger (served with zucchini fries), and the Pizzetta Napoletana (burrata cheese, tomato and basil) are fantastic, if not dangerous when you literally live down the street. Even if you don't live down the street, you need to check this place out.

Pizzetta Napoletana

Mac & Cheese

Here's Oliverio's full happy hour menu:

FOOD - All items $3/each
Arugula Salad
Grilled Vegetable Skewers
Chicken Skewers
Fritto Misto
Mac & Cheese
Oliverio Burger & Fries
Pizzetta Calabrese
Pizzetta Napoletana
Spaghetti Piccante

WINE - $4/glass
Pinot Grigio, Bogo Boschetto
Sauvignon Blanc, Pelligrini
Chardonnay, Farnese
Chiant, Vecchia Cantina
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clos La Chance

COCKTAILS - $5/each
Blue Avalon
Berries & Basil
Bartender's Daily Special

Oliverio in the Avalon Hotel: 9400 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 277-5221.


Camp Blogaway 2011: Registration Is Officially Open!

If you're reading this food blog, chances are good that you might have one of your own. Perhaps you write about recipes, restaurants, chef crushes, or even obscure flavors of Kit Kats. In my opinion, whether you have 10,000 loyal followers, or twenty casual readers of the friend-and-family variety, it never hurts to get a refresher course about what makes -- and keeps -- a blog successful. Enter Camp Blogaway, a two-day blogger workshop from Friday, April 29th to Sunday, May 1st, complete with expert panels, skills workshops, and of course, lots and lots of grub.

The weekend workshop is the brainchild of Patti Londre, a leading food industry marketing pro, founder of The Londre Company and staunch food blogger educator and advocate. Priced at $325 per person, Camp Blogaway includes two nights' lodging in Angelus Oaks's (near Big Bear) rustic yet heated bunk rooms, all meals and snacks, workshop materials, swag and as much foodie networking as you can stand.

Guest speakers include Carolyn O'Neil, RN, CNN's food reporter and Alton Brown's "Lady of the Refrigerator" on Food Network's Good Eats, who teaches bloggers how to perfect the art of video blogging. Cheryl Sternman Rule of 5 Second Rule, and Susan Russo ofFoodBlogga, shares tips on how to build community and increase your blog's traffic. Lori Lange of RecipeGirl, Jennifer Leal of Savor the Thyme, and Greg Henry of SippitySupanswer the "Hon, will this blogging thing ever take off?" concern plaguing bloggers today.

Between panel discussions, get out of the main room and into nature for small group breakout sessions like "Recipes: writing, techniques, guidelines," "Selling your own ads: pros, cons, how-to," "Contests: how, why, results, worth the trouble," "Camera Mastery: settings, white balance," "Food Styling: tips, tricks," among others. And what would a food blogger "camp" be without a kick-off wine tasting event, sponsored by NorCal's Wente Vineyards. For more info, visit Camp Blogaway's website. Or if you're ready to register -- the event fills up fast -- visit the the camp's registration page.


Glendon Bar + Kitchen: Grown-Up Nightlife Comes to Westwood

Last week I was invited to have dinner and check out Glendon Bar + Kitchen, a relatively new restaurant in Westwood Village. Considering I grew up in Westwood, went to high school across the street from UCLA, and basically hung out at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Lamonica's pizzeria and Aaah's during my formative years, I have a soft spot for the college town in my heart. Even though it's experienced a lot of ups and downs over the years, Westwood's culinary options remain on par for college students -- various coffee shops and cafés, Chili's, California Pizza Kitchen, BJ's Brewhouse and the infamous Diddy Riese cookies. The few upscale restaurants have either gone out of business (RIP Gardens on Glendon) or reside inside the Westwood's W Hotel.

View of Glendon dining room from second story lounge
Glendon Bar + Kitchen is a great alternative for those not interested in hanging out with buzzed college students or spending a chunk of change on a dinner at Palomino. It's run by two young guys who essentially wanted a place to hang out that had the vibe and menu of a sophisticated Hollywood restaurant without, well, the commute or the attitude. Think dim lighting, vaulted wood ceilings, exposed brick walls, and chocolate-hued leather booths custom-made by Jecco design that give the space a warm yet chic feel. They see UCLA professors sitting next to businessmen sitting next to grad students. The Glendon is definitely grown-up for a college town, but it's nowhere near stuffy.

Glendon Bar + Kitchen's Dining Room
The menu, as described to our dinner group, isn't designed to be groundbreaking. Rather, it's good food for a good price, which is nothing to scoff at. There's typical bar food like baked mac & cheese, addictive Cajun calamari, and a slider tasting trio including crab cake, chicken breast and beef. Entrées include a wide variety of salads, pastas, thin crust pizzas, sandwiches and dinner plates such as grilled salmon, coffee-crusted seared Ahi, the Glendon filet, and a "House," "Diner," and chicken burger. The dessert menu, filled with warm chocolate cake and an airy cheesecake with caramel was designed by Renee Faris of TLC's Cake Boss. If you plan on drinking, check out the bar's "All Day" $5 martini menu; or the Valentine's Day wine menu, arranged by "First Date," "Second Date," and "Third Date" options. A twice-daily happy hour runs from 4 to 7 p.m. and again from 1o p.m. to midnight with a selection of half-priced food and booze.

Fried Calamari

Whiskey BBQ Meatballs (one of the group's favorites)

Roasted Goat Cheese Eggplant with "Hint" of Tomato (one of my faves)
Our dinner included a tasting of some of the chef's favorite dishes (Caprese "Tar Tar"), and we were also guinea pigs for a few kitchen experiments, e.g. potato and bacon soup shooter. After all was said and done, I have to give kudos to the Glendon for not misrepresenting itself. The food is tasty with some creative touches and a modest price point. Exactly what they're going for.

Black Bean Hummus with Pita Bread

Caprese "Tar Tar" & Grilled Baguette

Potato & Bacon Soup Shooter

Korean Pork Belly Tacos (Cured pork belly marinated in spocy Korean BBQ sauce)

Baked Brie & Fig Toast with Honey and Spices

Cheesecake and chocolate dessert, created by Renee Faris, of TLC's Cake Boss fame.
Glendon Bar + Kitchen: 1071 Glendon Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-2023.


Q & A With Whist Chef Tony DiSalvo: Homemade Meatballs, Sicilian Roots + Tales Of A Private Chef

From W Hollywood's Delphine to The Montage's Scarpetta to The Four Seasons' Culina, transforming L.A.'s hotel restaurants from forgettable to five-star is seemingly becoming routine. Now Tony DiSalvo (Gramercy Tavern, Jean Georges, Jack's) is making his mark as executive chef of Whist, inside Santa Monica's Viceroy hotel. I talked to the Sicilian chef about his inspiration behind Whist's new Mediterranean menu, how long it takes to make 1000 meatballs, and why he'll never, ever work as a private chef again.

Source: Viceroy

Where were you before you joined Whist?

Tony DiSalvo: I spent seven years at Jean Georges, from 1997 to 2004, working my way up from a line cook, to eventually, spending the last three years as executive chef. In 2004, I moved to La Jolla, California, to open Jack's. After a few years I left La Jolla and went back to New York to cook as a private chef for five years. It was a really tough; some of the clients were pretty bad so I came back to Southern California and joined Whist in August 2009.

How did working in a NYC kitchen compare to L.A.?

TS: I actually work longer days here than I did in New York; I'm [at Whist] about 12-14 hours a day. In New York, I rolled in around noon and was done by 10 p.m. But that was also when I wasn't executive chef when I was at Jean George. The talent pool was much more concentrated and everyone was really disciplined. But I had to add on a two-hour commute since I was going from NYC to Westchester County. Now I just ride my bike five miles to work, although it takes me twice as long to ride home at night because I'm so tired. It's also hard to bike home when you're all sweaty from the kitchen and have to bike home in the cold.

Chef DiSalvo's Garlic Shrimp with lemon compote

When did you start revamping the menu?

TD: Any time a new chef takes over, he/she works very hard to get the menu changed as fast as possible to his own food. I had a plan in place and start to finish it took about 6 weeks. There was a lot of training involved, plus in a hotel, there are a lot more parts than in a freestanding restaurant.

What were the biggest changes you wanted to make?

TD: The first change was a smaller menu. Eight apps and eight entrees. The menu grew gradually, since then, and now we are up to about 30 items. There are a lot of options, at many price points. Portion sizes vary as well, from shareable bites to large, hearty entrees like the glazed lamb shank. There are two parts to the menu; a casual part and a more refined part. The whole menu now offers a more casual way to eat, because it's mostly small plates geared for sharing like the meatballs, flatbread and garlic shrimp. At the same time, there are more refined dishes that still make the restaurant a good place for special occasions. But we really wanted to make a lot of changes to the place, because it was... pretty stuffy. But we're trying to change that and give it a much more casual feel. We get a lot of [The Viceroy's] hotel guests eating here, but we also get a lot of locals. We want to cater to them.

Veal Meatballs with Grilled Bread

What cuisine(s) influenced the new menu?

TD: The menu's influence is mostly Mediterranean but there are flavors from all over, like the braised lamb shank with Northern African spices. But my real passion is for Italian food. I'm from a Sicilian family; my dad moved here when he was four, so I'm really influenced by Italian flavors. I love that Southern California's coastal climate is very similar to that of Italy, and you can grow a lot of the same things.

SI: What are some can't-miss new items?

TD: The meatballs, which I make with veal, pork, ricotta, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, pancetta and prosciutto. I let them simmer in a saucepan filled with canned tomatoes for four hours, so they get really tender and give the tomatoes a great flavor. They're really popular; I make about 1000 meatballs every week. The braised lamb shank is also good and we work really hard on it. We marinate it overnight in a dry rub of allspice, caraway, cinnamon, cumin and paprika. Then we braise it with garlic, thyme and tomato really long and slow, for about seven hours at 250 [degrees]. It's fall-off-the-bone tender, and we serve it with farro grain and baby eggplant.

Whist's Braised Lamb Shank

SI: Flatbreads and pizzas are still the rage in L.A., but your flatbread has a puff pastry crust. How come?

TD: The current flatbread has caramelized onions, potato and goat cheese on it, so it seemed to me that the flaky, crispness of puff would be a good contrast. It is not a pizza at all, and not meant to compete with other pizzas. We will, however, start doing our wood-fired pizzas again, once the weather warms up... stay tuned.

Puff Pastry Flatbread

SI: I have to ask; why no cheese inside your arancini [fried risotto balls]?

TD: There is cheese in it, but I don't put a cube of cheese in the middle. That's the old-school Italian way of making them. When I'm at home; I definitely add peas to the mix and put a block of cheese in the middle. But here, you've got to know your clientele. We're in Santa Monica so I'm trying to make traditional Italian food a little bit healthier.

Arancini (fried risotto balls) with Tomato Sauce

SI: Any crazy experiences you can share during your private chef days in NYC?

TD: The last straw was the day we returned to Greenwich, Connecticut, on the private jet from a three week stay in Aspen. After serving breakfast, before the flight, and lunch on the flight, the family had a dinner party that I cooked for. The kicker? Guests arrived an hour after we landed. That was my last day.


Eat This Now: Greenleaf's Corn Hotcakes With Blueberry Compote & Agave


Griddlecakes. Pancakes. Flapjacks. Heck, there's even the Danish aebleskiver. Aside from a high-octane cup of coffee, there are few things that I love more than a towering stack of fluffy pancakes laced with butter, dripping with sticky maple syrup, or perhaps even dusted with powdered sugar. After a month-long holiday binge -- okay, maybe a week's worth of bacon and pancakes for breakfast wasn't the smartest idea -- my waistline and cholesterol level simply can't afford any more indulgences. But are great-tasting, healthy pancakes the unicorn of the breakfast food world? Do they even exist?

It turns out they do. During a recent early morning visit to Century City's Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, I found them: corn hotcakes, light, golden brown and topped with fresh blueberry compote and warm agave. Unlike their buttermilk cousins, these corn hotcakes aren't going to weigh you down, nor will they land you comatose after a 10 a.m. blood sugar crash. Instead, Greenleaf's chefs Kristi Ritchey and Jonathan Rollo (Patina Group, Eat On Sunset) make the corn hotcakes with cornmeal, skim milk, egg whites, vanilla bean purée, and lemon zest, filling them with flavor rather than fat.

Compare that to the pancakes I've been stuffing my face with for the past month and I really wish I had found them earlier: the cornmeal adds fiber (versus zero-fiber refined white flour) and texture, giving the hotcakes a great crispy crust. The skim milk provides moisture without the added calories of whole-fat dairy products, while the subtle aroma of vanilla bean and lemon zest takes your senses by storm before your first bite. The hotcakes are cooked on a griddle with cooking spray, then topped with the chefs' blueberry compote made with whole blueberries, agave nectar, vanilla bean purée, and lemon juice for sweetness and tang. If that wasn't enough, they've replaced maple syrup with warm agave nectar. Fun fact: Agave is lower on the glycemic index than other refined sugar syrups, and is sweeter, so you don't need as much to get the same sweet taste.

Greenleaf's healthy approach spans breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a number of menu standouts. The breakfast sandwich, on whole grain bread with grilled chicken, portobello mushroom, egg white, aged cheddar, shaved onions and truffled spinach (truffled spinach, for breakfast!), has official replaced any full-fat version I've had. And the Cobb egg white omelet, with its turkey bacon, tomato, basil, blue cheese and avocado pesto filling, almost makes me want to give up the salad version altogether. Lunch items, mostly a variety of salads, sandwiches and soups, come pre-loaded in "regular" as well as "lite" versions, letting you forgo any annoying "hold the cheese/mayo/dressing" requests.

Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop: 1888 Century Park East, Los Angeles (424) 239-8700.
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