The Bee Business is Booming

honeyRegular visitors to the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market have seen more than one kid running around with a stick of honey hanging from her mouth. Courtesy of Harry’s Honey, marketgoers can indulge in this naturally sweet treat, with flavors ranging from cinnamon and sour grape to orange blossom and banana.

Harry Stein has edible goodies for grownups, too. His specialty honeys are popular: lemon, buckwheat, clover, eucalyptus, sage, blackberry, and cactus (those last two are his bestsellers).

Sitting behind his colorfully decorated honey booth on Grand View Boulevard each Sunday, Stein appears to be a man completely at peace with his career path.

“I don’t get up to work,” he tells me. “I get up to play.”

In 1963, Stein stepped into a classroom in his junior year at Cornell University that would forever change his life. He signed up for a beekeeping course. Throughout the ’60s he sold honey to health food stores, and since then, his sales have continued to climb due to what he sees as young people being more in tune with their health.

“If you were on an island and all you had was water and pollen, you could live,” says Stein, who enumerates various health benefits of honey: It has the highest concentration of amino acids, which the body needs; it’s antiseptic, so bacteria cannot live in honey; you can apply it to burns and sores for relief. Honey has also been known to help people suffering from seasonal allergies. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

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Ritrovo brings a simple menu with simple pleasures to Playa Vista

ritrovoIt’s easy to forget, as you bite into a delicious piece of pizza margherita or a tasty bite of gnocchi al pesto, that every restaurant has a story. Many are tales of triumph, starring real people powered by incredible persistence and passion.

This is definitely the case with Italian eatery Ritrovo, opening this month in the old Pinkberry location on Seabluff Drive next to Playa Vista’s Concert Park.

The couple behind the scenes of this new spot is Ivan Kodeh and his wife Deva, who fell in love as teens in the south of France. Deva, a Santa Monica native whose parents are French, spent every summer growing up in France. While still a senior at Samohi, Deva met Ivan and decided to stay in France after graduation.

Now, the inseparable duo own Piccolo Ritrovo in Pacific Palisades and Mariners Cafe in Marina del Rey. Yet only three years ago, life didn’t look so rosy.

“After we met, we traveled around Africa and decided to open a restaurant in Cameroon,” says Deva. “But we were way too young. Then we came back to the south of France and opened a restaurant with Ivan’s family in a city next to Saint-Tropez. That didn’t work. We were only 21 at this point. Next we went to the French Alps, found jobs and we were doing well financially.”

On vacation in Africa, the couple traveled to Zanzibar, an island chain in Tanzania. They instantly felt at home. So they started looking for property, and with the help of family, they bought some land and started building an empire over the next 10 years. …

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.

Fashionable Food on the Run

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Azulé Taqueria

Remember the Third Street Promenade food court where McDonald’s used to be — on the east side of the street, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue? If you haven’t been around there lately, that two-level building, with its long hallway on the first floor, recently received a $10 million makeover and was renamed
The Gallery.

Just in time for the holiday shopping rush, The Gallery Food Hall is filling up this season, with each new eatery adding more variety to the mix. All of the restaurants are fast-casual, clean, bright and kid-friendly. And it works well because eating at the Promenade is often an afterthought. You’re there to shop, go to the movies or just stroll, people-watch and be entertained by the endless stream of street performers. You want in and out — and also good.

Step inside the front door of The Gallery and to the left is Everytable, where fast food meets healthy fare under the motto “making healthy, affordable meals a reality for all.” It’s modern and visually appealing, and sort of resembles a place you might find at an airport, with all of the items in rows, packaged and ready to go. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Doggone Good

hotdogEverything tastes better when you add Asian-inspired flavors and ingredients. So, it was with open arms — and mouth — that I welcomed chef Jeffrey Lunak’s new spot, Sumo Dog, on its opening day at Third Street Promenade’s up-and-coming food hall The Gallery.

As I stepped up to order this past Saturday, Lunak was behind the grill, serving up artful combinations like The Romero (guacamole, pico de gallo, tempura crunchies, mayo, cilantro, wasabi seasoning) and the uniquely delicious Miso Katsu — a panko breaded dog of crunchy goodness, with miso dressing, mayo, scallions, tonkatsu sauce, wasabi furikake and coleslaw good enough to eat as its own side.

The Romero is all about the guacamole and its soft, sweet bun, which — Lunak whispered over the counter to me — is by Martin’s Famous. Each mouthful is overflowing with chunky avocado.

When you order, you have a choice of hot dog: vegan, American Wagyu All Beef or pork sausage, and can also add a side of furikake spiced tater tots, sushi rice tots or make them “Sumo Style,” which means the tots come topped with a beef or tofu chili, pickled peppers, jalapeno, cheese, a spicy mayo teriyaki sauce, kizami nori and wasabi seasoning. Wasabi is everywhere, even in the ginger ale (though you can turn down the spicy factor on any of the dogs).

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

The Art of the Pancake

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Photo Credit: Gail Rogers

When I was a kid, my dad would often cook hot breakfasts for my brother and me. I loved them all: cream of wheat, matzo brei, French toast. But my favorite was pancakes. My dad really knows how to make pancakes.

It’s not just my brother and I who love his pancakes. A few of the neighborhood kids still remember his pancakes, and some are lucky enough to enjoy them as adults when he decides to whip them up.

Full disclosure: My dad is a hippie. His recipe for whole wheat (pastry flour) pancakes is from the Tassajara Cookbook. And his secret is separating the egg whites from the yolks, beating the whites and folding them back into the rest of the batter. It’s what makes his pancakes fluffy.

Because I always have my dad’s delicious pancakes in the back of my mind, I’m a tough customer when ordering pancakes at restaurants. But here are five local eateries that are doin’ hotcakes right …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

An Edible Education

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Photo by Ximena Kupferwasser

Food is science. Nothing proves this proverb more than watching a cooking demo at The Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories at Santa Monica Place.

On June 20, The Gourmandise School opened the doors to its new space in the shopping center not far from where it has operated since 2011. It’s three times bigger now — with two kitchens, instead of one.

Two weeks later, on a hot summer night, four professional chefs are prepping food for their upcoming demos in their areas of expertise. The Gourmandise School is celebrating its grand reopening with an explosion of edible treats.

Chef Carol Cotner Thompson begins her session on how to make amazing farmers market summer salads by sharing her philosophy on cooking: “You have to do it, experience it, make it.”

She spends more than half of the demo focusing on mixing different kinds of dressing, explaining that all good dressings have just three basic ingredients: oil, vinegar and minced shallots. Cotner also talks about the importance of clarity when shopping for white wine vinegar, what effect each type of vinegar (red and white wine, for instance, champagne or balsamic) has on food, and declares that balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, is the best. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Wine and Dine

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Short rib and bone marrow

Twelve years and counting — and, aside from devoted loyalists, many locals don’t even know that Upstairs 2 exists. Executive Chef Maiki Le, formerly of Belcampo, agrees that this is a unique restaurant “in a variety of ways.”

The restaurant sits atop The Wine House, L.A.’s largest wine store, a stone’s throw from the 405. Inside, the décor is not your usual L.A. space. It’s as if you’ve traveled back to ’50s Palm Springs or an old Las Vegas showroom.

“The Knight family has owned and operated The Wine House for over 40 years,” says Le. “Their expertise in wine and beverages keeps the beverage program at Upstairs 2 relevant and at shockingly low markups.”

So yes, Upstairs 2 is as focused on the wine as it is the food, and not surprisingly hosts a variety of wine dinners year-round.

But what might stand out the most as you dine in this romantically lit restaurant is that so many of your fellow diners are regulars, chatting with the waitstaff and feeling right at home. That’s something Chef Le loved about the place, but it was intimidating, too. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Keeping It Fresh — Laura Avery

AveryYou may know Laura Avery’s voice from her weekly farmers market reports for KCRW’s “Good Food,” and you’ve probably walked right by her if you shop at the Wednesday Santa Monica market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean. But very few of us who visit any of the four farmers’ markets she oversees in Santa Monica know what she looks like, even though this September she’ll have been the city’s famers market supervisor for 36 years. Sitting across from Avery at Curious Palate on the dining deck of Santa Monica Place, it’s easy to see why she’s kept at it so long.

“I love getting to hang out with farmers and hear what they have to say,” says Avery. “Find out how their week went, what they are growing. I like being a part of what they do. Like I can ask, ‘When are Santa Rosa plums coming?’ if I want to make jam. I’m not a big cook, but having all those ingredients around inspires me to experiment with something new, like making jam or sauerkraut.”

Not only is Avery the farmers’ and consumers’ biggest advocate, she’s also a walking encyclopedia of farmers market knowledge. She knows how certified famers markets came into existence, and what organizations initially opposed them. She can tell you how many farmers showed up on the very first day of business in Santa Monica — July 15, 1981 — and why the Main Street market is the only one of the four that allows retail shops to set up stalls. She knows why there’s an 80% cherry crop drop this year, and which farmers are being affected.

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Venice’s True Believer — Lori Petty

pettyActress Lori Petty was born in doublewide trailer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But for the last 28 years, she’s called Venice home.

“I moved to Venice in 1990, when Abbot Kinney was called West Washington and you could ride your bike in middle of the street and there were no cars,” says Petty.

At the time, the “Orange Is the New Black” star was filming “Point Break,” living in Hollywood and driving to the beach every day to surf with Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. After a week of commuting, Petty thought, “Why don’t I live in Venice? This place is awesome,” and put down roots.

“The ocean, the people — it felt like home,” she says. “It felt comfortable. They say ‘find your tribe,’ and Venice feels like being a part of something.”

It’s the little things that make Petty appreciate her beachside community. She loves that you don’t need any money to walk out of your house and stir up some fun for the day. She rejoices that you can buy cut flowers almost any day of the week. She revels in the panoramic views of the sand, sea and sunsets.

Read the full article in The Argonaut.

Forget the Fortune Cookie

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Banana Fritters a la mode at Hama Sushi

When you think of sushi, Thai or Chinese food, dessert is probably not the first image that comes to mind. You might top off your meal with a fortune cookie or some orange slices — maybe some ice cream — but it’s not the dessert you covet when you dine at an Asian restaurant. Not like a slice of tiramisu or a pot of crème brûlée.

But more and more these days I prefer the sweets being served at Asian restaurants, including these four Westside standouts worth every bite:

Sushi Roku is one of those restaurants where you can’t help but feel like you’re on vacation, gazing out at the ocean and the animated crowd in every direction. The air is pulsing with excitement as you sit on the enclosed patio looking out over Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

The Carnival Cake is the perfect end to your evening — like the finale of a Broadway show. When it arrives at your table, all you see is an inflated mound of cotton candy, which is then lit on fire and burns theatrically to reveal a New York-style cheesecake with strawberries, cookies-and-cream ice cream and a hint of Bacardi 151 rum.

Read the full article at The Argonaut.