Paradise Found

IMG_5912-copy“I paint almost every day,” says Rich Untermann, owner of the Spanish Garden Inn in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. “When I like a painting, I frame it, and hang it someplace in the hotel. I shift them around until they feel comfortable—it is in a constant shuffle.”

Over the years, Untermann’s paintings have filled up most of the hangable places in the hotel’s public spaces and 24 rooms. The self-taught painter is also an architect and, 17 years ago, he designed the hotel with the help of his wife, an interior designer.

The couple moved to Santa Barbara from Seattle in 1995. On their list of requirements for their chosen relocation was an ocean and a university. “My wife and I wanted to buy property downtown—an urban hotel, and historic, like Santa Barbara,” says Untermann.

Their lushly landscaped Spanish-style boutique hotel is located, appropriately, on Garden Street. …

Read the full article at Artillery Magazine.

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Vino 101

wineBrice Baillie was born in a small town (pop. 1,000) surrounded by vineyards in the region of Champagne, France. He remembers drinking at an early age and always seeing a bottle of champagne in his family’s fridge—ready to pop whenever guests arrived.

After his town’s harvest each year, all the locals would grab the leftover grapes, and his dad would make moonshine alcohol in the wine cellar. While out walking, you could expect to run into someone with a champagne bottle in a backpack, ready to share. Baillie’s first job was actually working the harvest in Beaujolais and Burgundy.

It’s no surprise then, that when Baillie relocated to Los Angeles and married an American woman, all of their friends would look to the “French guy” to order wine at dinner.

“Over time, I realized Americans are intimidated and confused about wine,” says Baillie. “And this should not be the case.” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Scream Flavor, Whisper Health

saladI’m known for my big flavors!” says chef Alejandra Schrader, whose light-up-the-room smile is equally as grand. “My recipes are mouthwatering, colorful and easy to make.”

These days, the Playa Vista resident is delightfully busy in the kitchen. But if you had told Schrader 10 years ago that she’d be pursuing a career as a chef, entrepreneur and activist, she wouldn’t have believed it.

Fifteen years ago, Schrader was morbidly obese and already experiencing health issues in her twenties.

“My struggle with weight issues has been an ongoing battle, and I’m very open about it, hoping to relate to others out there struggling as well,” says Schrader.

“About a year ago I decided to shift to a plant-based pescatarian diet for the sake of my health and the environment,” she says. “What we buy and how we eat can help alleviate climate change, spur biodiversity and contribute to a better food system for all.” …

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.

Kings of the Road

food-2One of the unique things about being a foodie in Los Angeles is that you can find some of the city’s best food in otherwise inconspicuous mini-malls.

Sure, the view from the window is a parking lot, but on the upside there’s usually available parking, the food tends to be more affordable, and the general lack of pretension keeps the restaurant’s ambitions focused squarely on what you’re about to eat.

So let’s drop the fanfare and get right to it — five mini-mall gems that should be on your culinary radar.

Tomi Sushi

Most people know about Ronnie’s Diner, the popular breakfast spot in Del Rey tucked just off Culver Boulevard near Ballona Creek. Asaya Japanese restaurant, across the parking lot, was another local favorite for 30 years. A few months ago, a new sign went up: Tomi Sushi. The community mourned Asaya’s loss on Yelp. But, thankfully, Tomi Sushi kept the same warm staff and is serving up fresh, delicious fish along with other tasty hot kitchen entrees, including bulgogi and udon. My husband and I spontaneously popped in on Valentine’s Day. Nothing says “I love you” like their signature yellowtail jalapeno sashimi special with cilantro and yuzu ponzu sauce. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Don’t Waffle About the Wiffle

waffleI remember the day I drove down Washington Boulevard and saw the sign for Bru’s Wiffle.

“Wha? Where’sa Café Buna?” I blurted out to myself.

Turns out, Café Buna has eased on down the road to the space formerly occupied by Joni’s Coffee Rosters, and leaving room for this new casual breakfast spot in Marina del Rey.

And if there’s anything I love as much as pancakes, it’s waffles. Lucky for me, Bru’s Wiffle specializes in both (more pancakes coming soon).

“My full name is Ebru,” says owner Ebru Fidan Caplan. “My friends started to call me Bru. When I was looking for a name for my restaurant, one of my friends said, ‘What about Bru’s Waffle?’ I wanted something different. My other my friend said, ‘What about Bru’s Wiffle? It sounds like waffle.’ I loved it!”

This past February, my husband’s birthday was creeping up, and I wanted to plan something special. My husband and I have many things in common — one of which is our love of waffles. I invited our whole extended family to brunch at Bru’s Wiffle. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Old World Flavor Goes Fast-Casual

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Photo by Courtnay Robbins

Some people, under the tutelage of a parent or grandparent, open a restaurant because cooking is in their DNA. Or, a master chef might’ve inspired them in the kitchen during their first restaurant job.

Peter Georges landed in the restaurant business by happy accident. In 2003, he and his wife, actress Cathrine Georges, moved from New York to L.A. to be closer to her family and her work: She had a recurring role on “Days of Our Lives.”

“I was an executive at a tech company and could work from home,” says Georges. “Plus, L.A. seemed like a better place to raise kids.”

The restaurant business was on Georges’ bucket list. When he found himself with money to invest, he jumped into restaurants and real estate — though “I never thought either would be successful,” he admits.

But he’s now the proud co-owner of Rodini Park Greek Kitchen in North Hollywood, the popular local breakfast spot HASH on Bluff Creek Drive in The Campus at Playa Vista, and, as of March, a second Rodini Park just next door to HASH. …

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.

Going Bananas for a Good Cause

CinnamonJen Miller is on a mission to challenge our current food system — more specifically, to tackle food waste. Bunch, her company launched just this year, uses perfectly good produce that’s too ripe to stock to make banana-based ‘nice’ creams. While the product might be free from dairy, artificial ingredients and refined sugars, the seductively named results are full of flavor: Deep Dark Chocolate, Peanut Butter Fudge, Coffee Chocolate Chunk, and Cinnamon Swirl.

“I have a passion for food, health and wellness,” says Miller from her Culver City commissary, where you can pick up her hand-packed pints.

Working in kitchens throughout her life, Miller became aware of just how big a problem food waste is over the course of her culinary career. In fact, she has the statistics to prove it: up to 40% of food in the U.S. gets tossed because of factors like cosmetic imperfections and supply surplus, according to USDA estimates. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

New Kids on the Block

food-1It seems like every other day one restaurant closes its kitchen and another one pops open. It can be hard to keep track, so let us introduce you to several interesting eateries that have opened in the past few months:

The Window

The corner of Rose and 5th avenues has been quiet since Fiesta Brava and Ranch Market left, until now. Last week the brains behind the soon-to-be-in-this-spot restaurant American Beauty have been piquing diners’ interest with The Window, a walk-up counter serving a $3.95 cheeseburger and $2.75 fries. The entire parking lot is roped off, sprinkled with colorful blue, red and turquoise stools and an umbrella for shade. The simple menu also includes a beauty burger (for vegetarians), a fried chicken sandwich, a shaved kale salad and a grain bowl. Drink options are lemonade, iced tea and soda, and an ice cream sandwich for dessert. Everything on the menu is under $8 — a treat in pricy Venice. (JK) …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

The Must-Devour List

food1Honey butter, melt-in-your-mouth strip steak, Hachiya persimmon ice cream: Now that you’re hungry, we present six standout dishes that fall into the exclusive category of one-of-a-kind/too-good-to-miss. Start checking these items off your foodie bucket list tonight!

Shrimp & Grits at Ms Chi Cafe

When someone mentions shrimp and grits, you probably think Southern soul food. Turns out, it’s also a Chinese brunch staple. Chef Shirley Chung remembers her grandma’s dish: “Some people used tofu. My grandma added shrimp. She was fancy.” The “Top Chef” runner-up has updated her brunch menu with requests from regulars, substituting eggplant for pork in her hand-cut noodles and adding her shrimp and grits: a potpourri of fried scallions, crunchy preserved vegetables, sesame granola and shrimp bathed in chili sauce floating around in a nutty batch of brown rice grits. Another pure delight is Chung’s matcha glaze mochi donut, like an old-fashioned buttermilk made with mochi flour, so it’s gluten-free. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

The Fixer – Michael Vartanian

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Photo by Courtnay Robbins

Most small business owners know the exact date their lives changed forever. “Sept. 20, 1996,” Michael Vartanian replies immediately to the question of when he opened Marina Bay Watch Company.

For Vartanian, the son of Armenian immigrants, what has become a thriving family business has jumped a few high hurdles to land where it is now — in the mini-mall sharing space with Wharo Korean BBQ and Walgreens on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Washington boulevards.

At age 16, Vartanian received an offer he couldn’t refuse: a job at a watch shop in Lakewood making $4 an hour (minimum wage then was $3.25). He stayed there for nine years, learning the business. Over time his plans to attend medical school and become a pharmacist changed. Vartanian liked repairing watches.

“I love dealing with people,” he says. “I’m a people person. I love to make people happy and see them smiling, thanking me a million times.” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.