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.

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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.

Sweet Dreams

iceIn my ideal world, there would be an artisanal ice cream shop on every corner. Lucky for me, the Westside has been well on its way to making my dreams come true with places like Ginger’s Divine Ice Cream, Salt & Straw, Sweet Rose Creamery, Small Batch and Rori’s Artisinal Creamery, just to name a few.

Wanderlust Creamery is the newest addition to Icecreamlandia. Sandwiched between Wurstküche and Floyd’s 99 Barbershop on Lincoln Boulevard, couple JP Lopez and Adrienne Borlongan’s fourth location occupies the space that once belonged to Juice Served Here.

And it’s a bright, uncluttered, beautiful space that lets the vibrant colors of their house-made ice cream do the talking. A huge glass-and-metal door raises open to a long outdoor wooden bench, where customers (who can also sit at a white-countertop bar adjoining the glass ice cream display case) lick exotic flavors inspired by Borlongan’s childhood memories, places she’s been and places she hopes to visit. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

The Wheel Deal

food_6-21When the boutique cheese shop Wheel House opened four years ago, it seemed a throwback to a bygone era when people bought their food from specialty shops — a butcher shop for meat, a bakery for bread, and milk delivered from a local dairy.

Even though we now buy most of our groceries in one store, there’s something very charming about specialty shops. And so it was that Wheel House hit the ground running in its first year.

Founder Alex Josef, who lives nearby, was out walking one day when he noticed a for-rent sign on his future shop.

“I picked this space mainly because of the location,” he says. “This area is on the grow. I was a little ahead of the curve, but I knew where it was going. Washington is building and growing rapidly.”

A Westsider for 38 years and counting, Josef has seen the storefronts change all around him. And as a natural-born entrepreneur, he decided to embark on a passion project right in his own backyard.

“I like cheese a lot. You can pair it with wine, beer or cider. Cheese is delicious,” he says. “It’s like the food version of wine. It’s diverse, and it has a lot of influence from wherever the milk came from — what animal, what the animal is eating, different times of year. There’s a geek element to it.” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Sweet, Sweet Success

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Photo Credit: Shilah Montiel

Imagine walking through the doors of Stacy’s Cookie Lounge at happy hour. There are drinks being poured (lots of tea) and cookies all around: Super Snickerdoodle, El Gringo Picante and gluten-free chocolate chip, just to name a few. You melt into a comfy couch or sit with friends at the bar. There’s even a cookie decorating class at a back table. It’s a snapshot of girls’ night heaven.

For now though, Stacy’s Cookie Lounge is Stacy Parker’s apartment in Playa Vista, which churns out dozens of gourmet and hand-decorated cookies each day — mostly for corporate clients like Google, Prada, Univision, Twitter, Hulu and Estée Lauder

“About 90% of my business is decorated cookies,” shares Parker, who moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue acting. When her acting career didn’t pan out, Parker went back to the 9-to-5 she had for 20 years in construction management. But she never stopped believing in herself, and in November 2015 started making and selling cookies. …

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.