The O.C. Proves Its Foodie Chops at "STARS of California" Event, June 23

When you think about upscale Southern California cuisine, L.A. usually has the market cornered. Restaurants like Hatfield's, Osteria Mozza, Melisse, and Lucques dominate the landscape, admittedly making it tough to compete. But take a quick look just South of the City of Angels and you might be surprised at what you find: namely, several high-end chefs migrating to none other than Orange County hotels and restaurants. This is great news for true "Southern" California residents, as Orange County hotels such as The Montage and The Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Beach have drawn culinary legends for years, but other institutions have been less, well, gastronomically-inspired.

That's all changing. No, really. Orange County is all-grown up, graduating from (still delicious) chocolate-dipped Balboa Bars and fried beachfront food to haute cuisine and celebrity chefs. To prove it, eight of the O.C's top chefs (full list below) are presenting bite-sized portions of their best dishes during the "STARS of California" event, hosted at Santa Monica's Broad Stage on Thursday, June 23 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The event -- including the talents of executive chefs from the likes of the aforementioned Montage and Ritz-Carlton hotels as well as the Angeleno-magazine rated Splashes restaurant -- continues the up-and-coming theme by featuring the vintages from twenty boutique California wineries, including Sonoma Coast's Baker Lane, Paso Robles' Eden Canyon, Santa Barbara's Palmina Wines, Napa Valley's Poem Cellars, and many more. In between dining and drinking, groove to the tunes of KCRW DJ Dan Wilcox and bid on fantastic silent auction prizes.

The new face of Orange County cuisine...
The full list of participating chefs hail from the following O.C. oceanfront properties:
Tickets are $120 each online, or two for $200. For Taste & Vintage Members, tickets are $90. Note: Tickets sold at the door will be $140. Event proceeds support Getaway 2 Give, a travel-for-charity program with the OCean, benefitting Oceana, Special Olympics of Southern California, LupusLA, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.


What I'm Craving: M Cafe's "Secret Menu" Vegan Chili Cheese Fries!

So I'm on day #12 of a new workout routine. P90X to be exact. It's a really fun, high-intensity workout that (literally) kicks my butt. My only problem is that I'm STARVING all the time, and not in a way that celery sticks, string cheese or a handful of almonds can fix. I'm having serious cravings for all things fattening, salty, greasy and heavy, but am trying my best not to give into them. I save that for Friday and Saturday nights when Bryan crack open a bottle of wine and I give myself permission to polish off half (okay, 3/4) of it.

Photo credit: M Cafe de Chaya

Instead, on a day like today, when I'm sitting at my office desk trying not to gnaw off my arm, I'm living vicariously through an image of M Cafe de Chaya's chili cheese fries. Sad, but true. I mean, just LOOK at this photo: how amazing does that heaping plate of fries look? Crisp, golden brown organic fries piled high with a hearty bean and tomato chili, then loaded with vegan Daiya cheese and a dusting of parsley. I could literally eat that entire plate right now, but instead I'm sharing my obsession with the hopes that each of you will get them and report back about just how incredible they are. Let's just say I know exactly what my first "reward" meal will be once I finish these hellish (err, I mean emotionally and physically rewarding) 90 days.

M Cafe's Secret Vegan Chili Cheese Fries
Photo credit: M Cafe de Chaya

The fries are available at both M Cafe's Melrose and Beverly Hills locations, but don't expect to find them on the regular menu. When you get there, lean in close to the cashier and ask for the secret, off-the-menu vegan chili cheese fries. Then give the cashier a quick wink, because that always makes the transaction seem that much more stealth. Oh, don't forget to hand over your $7.95 -- an admittedly hefty price for fries, but the portion more than makes up for it -- and then count the minutes until you can dive into chili cheese deliciousness. I so jealous. Savor every bite!

7119 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046

9433 Brighton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210


Suzanne Goin's 'The Larder at Tavern' Introduces Summer Picnic Baskets

It's (nearly) summer, which in LA means two things: 1) June Gloom has reared its ugly head, and 2) The Hollywood Bowl's concert season has officially begun! If you've never been to the Hollywood Bowl, it's a must-do summer experience. It might be located in a canyon just North of Hollywood & Highland, but the "Bowl" makes you feel like you're a world away from the busy streets of L.A. To get the best Hollywood Bowl experience possible, you need to do three simple things: organize a group of fun friends, buy tickets to one of the Bowl's fantastic shows -- the concert schedule has everything from Dolly Parton to jazz nights to John William's Star Wars extravaganza (think lots and LOTS of light sabers dotting the night sky) -- and pack your picnic!

The Larder at Tavern's "Young Frenchman" Picnic Basket
That leaves one very important question: where do you get the best picnic basket? I'm very excited to report that The Larder at Tavern (aka Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's artisanal marketplace inside their upscale Brentwood restaurant), has recently created themed picnic baskets perfect for a Hollywood Bowl evening. Heck, they're even perfect for the beach, the park or even a day-trip to the wine country. But I digress...

There are four baskets (descriptions below) to choose from, each priced at $28, and come complete with main course, side dishes and dessert. Twenty-four hours notice is required for most of the baskets, so once you know your date, get your order in. Pick up a few bottles of wine while you're at it, as Caroline Styne has suggested at least one wine pairing to complement each basket.

Box #1: The Young Frenchman
Ficelle sandwich (prosciutto & butter OR cheese & apple)
Italian broccoli with garlic & chili
Marinated beets
Sweet potato chips
Chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie
*Suggested wine pairing ~ 2009 Broc Cellars, Rousanne, El Dorado: $33

Box #2: The All American
Fried chicken with buttermilk dressing
Corn salad with avocado, cilantro and lime
Watermelon salad with tomato, mint & feta
Mini baguette with butter
Lemon shortbread bar
*Suggested wine pairing ~ 2007 J & H, Chardonnay, Napa Valley: $19
*Suggested wine pairing ~ 2009 Arnot-Roberts, Syrah, North Coast: $42

Box #3: The Matador
Lomo, chorizo, and manchego with olives & quince paste
Grilled flank steak with chickpea salad
Curried cauliflower with piquillo peppers & Marcona almonds
Mini baguette with butter
Dulce de leche brownie
*Suggested wine pairing ~ 2007 The Warrior, Red Blend, Washington State: $23

Box #4: The Brentwood
Slow-roasted salmon with cucumber yogurt
Farro tabouleh with summer vegetables & feta
Broccoli with buratta, currants & pinenuts
Mini baguette with butter
Berries with creme fraiche
*Suggested wine pairing ~ 2009 Moulin de Gassac, Vin de Pays de L’herault, Rosé, Guilhem: $18

11648 San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Larder phone: (310) 806-6460


Nothing Says "Happy Father's Day" Like Tool Kit Cupcakes!

Here is possibly one of the cutest edible Father's Day gifts around: Magnolia Bakery's "Tool Kit" cupcakes! It's absolutely perfect for my Dad, who owns a power tool shop in Culver City. Considering he has easy access to any power tool that his heart desires, I think these cupcakes are the next best thing! Check out the tiny fondant wrenches, hammers, power drill, and even a chainsaw! They're pretty adorable and definitely make a manly statement that your Dad is no cupcake.

The cupcakes ($22/box) come in one dozen classic chocolate and vanilla flavors and are available for pre-order online and in-store on June 18 and 19.

Get yours before they run out!

8389 West 3rd Street
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(323) 951-0636


Summer Recipe Re-Do: Watermelon & Mint Salad

Last summer I made a good watermelon, feta and mint salad, but I felt like it had potential to be great. I remember my first version of the salad being delicious, but also a bit slick (perhaps the olive oil?) and a tiny bit salty (too much feta or kalamata olives?). So this time around I've got a really light, incredibly easy recipe that can be made in about five minutes. No oil, very little salt and tons of fresh summer flavors. This one's definitely a winner!

Watermelon & Mint Salad: The 2011 Version

Time: 5-10 minutes
Makes: 2 servings

  • 2 1/2 cups watermelon, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 cup hard feta cheese, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 8 pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • Leaves from one large mint sprig, chiffonaded
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
Watermelon & Mint Salad
Place the watermelon pieces, feta, olives and mint into a bowl. Squeeze the juice from half a lime onto the mixture, followed by a few dashes of cayenne pepper, salt and freshly-ground pepper pepper. Toss gently and serve immediately. (Note: Buying pre-cut watermelon pieces is a huge time-saver. Just make sure not to include the watermelon juice that sits at the bottom of the container). The salad can be stored in the refrigerator and eaten the next day as well.


Recipe Decoded: Father's Office Burger

The Father's Office burger is a beloved staple in our lives. There are few things better on a Saturday afternoon than relaxing with friends on Culver City's Father's Office patio, frosty pint of craft beer in one hand and juices from the famous burger dripping down the other. But what if you want to avoid the mandatory carding and absolutely-no-substitutions policy and make your own Father's Office burger at home? I've spent the past few days making the burger at home, diligently following the recipe Father's Office owner Sang Yoon's shared with MSNBC last year.

The Father's Office Burger, (almost) topless
While the burger was great, it just seemed like something was missing. I've heard that that many chefs who share "famous" recipes often omit or slightly modify ingredients or amounts so an at-home re-creation will never live up to the actual experience. Who knows if Chef Yoon did that -- I certainly wouldn't blame him -- but I found that a 2008 LA Times imitation recipe came closer to the real thing, and I've even modified it from there. Tonight, after my third attempt at the recipe, I think I've done it! Check out my recipe below:

The DIY Father's Office Burger
Total time: Approximately 1 hour
Makes: 4 servings

1 pound dry-aged strip steak, ground
1 pound dry-aged rib-eye steak, ground
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Canola oil spray
2 ounces Point Reyes blue cheese, cut into small chunks
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
4 brioche baguettes, halved and toasted
1 cup baby arugula

2 slices applewood-smoked bacon (available by the slice in the cheese/gourmet meats sections of Whole Foods markets)
2 sweet Vidalia onions, sliced paper-thin (about 4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons truffled balsamic vinegar reduction (available at specialty markets)
1 teaspoon organic ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper

Caramelize the onions: Heat a stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. Fry the two pieces of bacon until crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain. Chop both slices into small pieces and set aside. Add the sliced onions to the pan, spreading in an even layer. Sprinkle the onions evenly with brown sugar. Cook the onions until they are golden brown, about 20 minutes, stirring every 4-5 minutes. Halfway through, stir in the bacon. At the end of the 20 minutes, stir in the truffled balsamic vinegar reduction, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 more minutes. Set aside.

Fry the Applewood Smoked Bacon...
...Until It's Crisp. Then Chop It Into Small Pieces.

Slice & Cook Onions Until They're Golden Brown

Stir in Bacon, Balsamic Reduction, Worcestershire & Ketchup
Make the burgers: Combine the ground strip and rib-eye and gently mix in the salt, making sure not to overwork the meat. Mold the meat into 4 (7-inch) oval patties, about one-inch thick. Spray two large skillets (I used one stainless steel and one non-stick, and both worked just fine) with canola oil spray and heat over a medium-high flame. Cook two burgers at a time, for four minutes, then flip (Note: The fat content in the burgers is high, so watch out for hot oil splatters). Equally divide the blue and Gruyere cheeses into fourths, topping each burger with both cheeses. Cover the pan and cook the burgers three more minutes for medium. Remove the burgers from the pans and place on the toasted brioche baguettes. Divide the onion mixture and arugula evenly among the burgers, and serve!

Ground Strip & Rib Eye Steak

Cook Burgers In Hot Skillet, Top With Blue & Gruyere Cheeses

Place Burgers On Toasted Buns, Top With Arugula & Serve!
(Note: my bun is a ciabatta/baguette blend; I highly recommend finding brioche baguettes)


Save The Date: Savor Los Angeles Pairings, June 2!

Last year I had the privilege of attending Savor Los Angeles, one of LA's premiere dessert events at Miauhaus Studios. I satiated my sweet tooth (and then some) with cupcakes from Frosted Cupcakery, macarons from XT Patisserie, Plaisir's cream puffs, Pure Cheesecake, and even Gotta Have S'Mores fireside treat. One year later, my blood sugar levels have finally recovered -- and none too soon -- in time for Savor Los Angeles' Pairings event, scheduled for tomorrow, June 2 from 7-10 p.m. at Weho's Siren Studios.

This year, "pairings" is the name of the game. Or as Savor LA calls them, BFF's (Best Friend Foods). Guests will nosh on one-of-a-kind bites from an exclusive set of LA's pairings' specialists: think grilled cheese and tomato soup, caramelized bacon trail mix (Um, bacon and chocolate? I'm in!), and more from the likes of Malo/Mas Malo Restaurant, Starry Kitchen, Reservoir, The Farm of Beverly Hills, Bangers & Smashed, Cast Iron Gourmet, Pure Cheesecakes (savory), and Auntie Fruf's Aahsome Fudge.

But what about drink pairings? VeeV Acai Spirit, Duvel Belgian craft beer, DRY soda and Zhena's Gyspy Tea will be on hand for complimentary tastings. So go sick. Once you're full and potentially tipsy, buy a few dining certificates good for future visits to Savor LA's participating restaurants, and pack a bag full of your favorite small bites, cooking accessories and take-home portions from Savor LA's pop-up shop. A portion proceeds go to CoachArt.

VIP tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets are still available at Savor LA's website for $55/each, so get yours now! Admission gets you taste samples from all participants, pre-event admission and cocktails at 6:30 p.m., entry to pop-up shop, and a Savor LA giftbag. See you there!

Siren Studios Orange
1050 North Orange Drive
West Hollywood, CA 90038
(Street parking is available)
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