Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: scene setter

Food bloggers descend on Santa Monica to meet, eat -- and tweet

Michael_MooreAsk chef Michael Moore what he plans to serve Saturday night at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Santa Monica and you are likely to get a cagey answer.

The Aussie celebrity chef with restaurants in New York, London and Sydney says something about "a salad with cheese" and a beef dish, and seasonal fruits with vanilla. If it sounds like he's being vague, he is. He wants flexibility to change the menu up until the very last minute, depending upon the produce he finds while trolling local farmers markets this week, including the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market.

After all, he has a room full of foodies to win over, and he wants to use every advantage he's got.

"I know they are going to be tweeting and photographing and making comments on the food before the main course hits the table," Moore said. "It really has to be a reflection of what is really in season right now.... I want it to be reactive to what is in California at the moment."

Although some chefs still hold bloggers at arm's length, sneering at their ability to pass judgment with the swipe of a smartphone, Moore said he embraces them. "There's a lot of resistance among some chefs, but I'm not anti-food blogger. They report what they see and experience and that has its own integrity." He asks only that bloggers be fair -- not snarky -- because a restaurant's livelihood could be at stake.

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Speculoos slowly spreading through L.A.

Speculoos NEW Some say Speculoos is the new Nutella. It looks like peanut butter but tastes like the gingerbread, cinnamon-flavored cookie it's made from, known as biscoff. (You may know the flavor from those cookies handed out on Delta airlines.) The popular Belgian cookie via paste is making its way over the Atlantic and now it's coming to food trucks, slowly but surely.

If you've been fortunate enough to have stumbled upon the spread while abroad, chances are you've returned home with a new sugary obsession to share. Lotus Bakeries introduced Speculoos to the U.S. market this year; but even so, most Americans don't know about it yet. A gradually increasing number of food trucks are looking to change this. Wafels & Dinges in New York sells its own version (called Spekuloos) and offers the spread as one of many waffle toppings, as does L.A.'s Waffles de Liege.

In the height of the food truck boom, will Speculoos ever really catch on, on the street food scene? George Wu of Waffles de Liege believes it will. "If the popularity of Liege waffles grows," says Wu, "more people will get a chance to try Speculoos, and as a result, more people will talk about it and experiment with it on different food; and before long, it'll be a kitchen staple like Nutella."

Fingers crossed, Waffles de Liege's use of the cookie-made-spread will cause a domino effect of sorts among other Southern California food trucks and thus the spread of scrumptious Speculoos.

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Outstanding in the Field comes to town in November

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Outstanding in the Field -- a mobile supper club, if you will -- is finishing up its 2011 farm-to-table tour with a two-day stop in Hollywood. The big red-and-white bus tours the nation from coast to coast once a year, setting up table at diverse locations like ranches, sea caves, mountaintops and even urban landscapes; in this case, community garden Wattles Farm (just a couple blocks off Hollywood Boulevard).

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Wattles Farm master gardeners Toby Leaman, who is also president of the Wattles Farm board of directors, and Reed Poverny will host the events Nov. 2 and 3.

The event on Nov. 3, featuring chef Jamie Lauren of Vodvil LA, is sold out, but there's still availability for the dinner on Nov. 2; Outstanding will be announcing the guest chef for Wednesday's event shortly.

Tickets are $220 per person and include a reception with wine and passed appetizers, a tour of the farm and a dinner using local ingredients. Outstandinginthefield.com.

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Paper or Plastik Cafe: More than just a cup of joe

The coffee condiments sit atop an old Deluxe television set amid the cafe's industrial setting with high ceilings, copper fixtures and a glass-paneled storefront. A joint venture between Anya and Yasha Michelson, along with daughter Marina, Paper or Plastik Cafe is a neighborhood coffee shop and the heart of a community hub.

The goods come from all over town; coffee from Intelligentsia Coffee and Ecco Caffe; pastries (homemade pop-tarts, pies, croissants) from Cake Monkey, Sweets for the Soul, Sweet Lady Jane and Le Pain du Jour; and a rotating menu of sandwiches and salads from Auntie Em's Kitchen and Breadbar.

There's even a playful ad campaign touching on the cafe's function as a multidisciplinary arts space.  With coffee as its core, the Mid-City cafe aims to serve the community as an artistic center, providing an outlet for visual and tactile performing arts.

5772 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 323-935-0268

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Venice Ale House is a worthy stop on the boardwalk

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Just before sunset on a recent Tuesday night, two women sit drinking red wine on the patio of the new Venice Ale House on the Venice boardwalk. A man in sunglasses shuffles up on the sidewalk beside them and asks for a dollar. The women uncomfortably reach for their purses before one recognizes the man and smiles broadly.

"Oh, it's you!" she exclaims, relieved.

"Gotcha!" he says, happily walking around the patio enclosure to join the women at their table.

That's called boardwalk humor, and there's plenty of it to be had at this month-old bar and restaurant, which occupies a prime slice of real estate along one of the city's most colorful pedestrian thoroughfares.

Opened by Thomas Elliott and his wonderfully named friend and roommate Spoon Singh, VAH is attempting — successfully, so far — to achieve what has long been considered difficult: bringing quality, organic, locally sourced food and drink to the boardwalk.

To read the rest of Jessica Gelt's story and see a photo gallery, click here.

Photo: Salmon sandwich on rosemary bread with avocado, feta cheese and a citrus arugula salad is on the menu at Venice Ale House. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Scene Setter: Chi Dynasty in Studio City

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Chinese food — in its quality, heat lamp-less form — is a near-perfect recession food. Order a plate of orange chicken and you might find yourself eating it, in a "Groundhog Day"-like scenario, for evenings on end. Which is why Mike Israyelyan, the head honcho of the trendy Muse Lifestyle Group, has paired with Jonathan Chi, the owner of Los Feliz's Chi Dynasty, to open a second Chi location in Studio City.

And the duo has no intention of stopping with the Valley. They have their eyes on a nationwide franchise á la P.F. Chang's. The second location, which opened quietly last week, is a testing ground to see if Chi really can put the capital "D" in dynasty.

Longevity is obviously key to that equation, and in that department Chi is off to a galloping start: Jonathan Chi opened the original restaurant 27 years ago.

To read the rest of Jessica Gelt's story, click here.

Photo: The sesame chicken at Chi Dynasty. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

8 1/2 Taverna in Studio City serves pizza worth your dough

Taverna
You have to know tradition to break with it. Which is why Fabrizio Di Gianni and Enzo Sanseverino, two old-world Italians full of New World bravado, are turning out such deliciously rebellious food at their new restaurant, 8 1/2 Taverna in Studio City. Angus beef and foie gras burger, anyone?

Born and raised in Turin and Naples, respectively, Di Gianni, 35, and Sanseverino, 34, met in Los Angeles and bonded over a passion for cooking. Di Gianni revered his grandmother's hearth and her intricate sauces, while Sanseverino began serving coffee and pastries at age 10 and entered culinary school at 15.

"At 13, Enzo started working as a pastry chef, and he ate a lot of pizza," Di Gianni says of his friend's formative years in Naples. Later, he met an American woman, fell in love and moved to Los Angeles, working in the kitchens of various Japanese and Italian restaurants, including a stint as pizza chef at Angelino Pizzeria.

To read the rest of Jessica Gelt's story, click here.

Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Scene Setter: Mooi in Echo Park

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Victual voyeurism reaches staggering heights at Mooi, the new raw and vegan restaurant that opened two weeks ago in Echo Park's historic Jensen's Rec Center. Order a plate of orange jackfruit chicken over rice and within seconds of the dish's arrival, you'll feel eyes on you. Lots of them.

A diner or two might even approach and ask what you're eating. Five or six others, having taken in the contents of your plate with more than a glancing curiosity will then train the cold digital eye of a camera or iPhone on their own meals.

This almost ceremonial observation isn't of a creepy "Eyes Wide Shut" variety, it's more along the lines of a spirited, communal spectator sport. It's happening because what chef and owner Stephen Hauptfuhr is turning out of the curtained back kitchen is rather astonishing. Especially to the many people in the room who know what kind of work goes into creating balanced, flavorful raw food.

To read the rest of Jessica Gelt's story and see a tasty photo gallery, click here.

Photo: Jalapeno peppers stuffed with smoked paprika nut-cheese and crispy eggplant bacon are served at Mooi, a new vegan/raw restaurant in Echo Park. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times.

Elements Kitchen boasts elements from all over

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Open for only a couple of weeks, Elements is a sophisticated restaurant with a grown-up design scheme that is tucked into the side of the historic Spanish colonial building occupied by the Pasadena Playhouse. The restaurant is the joint effort of executive chef Onil Chibás and chef de cuisine Alberto Morales, who also run Pasadena's Elements Catering and Elements Café.

With Elements Kitchen, they have stepped squarely into the world of fine dining. And they've done it with creativity and verve. Read more here:

Photo: Beefsteak tomato tartare at Elements restaurant in Pasadena. Credit: Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles Times

 

Celadon Thai Kitchen: A strip mall treasure for your list

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Finding the culinary treasures hidden in the concrete quilt of Los Angeles' strip malls is one of this city's hallmark traditions. Given the wealth of options, it's especially satisfying when you get in on the ground floor of a discovery. Which is why you might want to pilot yourself to an odd corner of our metropolis where Marina del Rey, Venice and Culver City rub noses to a new restaurant called Celadon Thai Kitchen.

Opened by lifelong friends Joey Tate and Santi Boonleerawath, Celadon celebrates simplicity and consistency with attention to detail. "We try to stick to the basics," Tate says. "I've seen Thai fusion, and personally, it just turns me off. I want people to know that we're focused on Thai food, and it's what we do best."

To that end, you'll find the usual stars on the menu: pad thai in a tangy peanut sauce; juicy chicken satay; rich tom kha gai soup in a peppery-red coconut broth; tongue-tingling panang curry; tender beef with chili and mint leaves; and the attendant Thai iced tea (a beer and wine license is pending).

To read the rest of Jessica Gelt's story, click here.

Photo: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.