An Edible Education


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


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


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


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.

Like Mother, Like Daughter


Sisters Cathy and Vanda (left and right) and mother Anna Asapahu

Some people are born into a business but choose to follow a different career path. Others opt to walk in their parents’ footsteps. And then there’s Vanda Asapahu, who has done both: She grew up helping her parents run Thai restaurants, decided to spend four years working for the United Nations in Thailand, and then came back to carry forward the legacy of her family’s restaurant, Ayara Thai in Westchester.

“I don’t think you appreciate working with family until you work with everything else and then decide for yourself you want to come back,” she says.

Vanda’s parents, Andy and Anna Asapahu, opened Ayara Thai Cuisine in 2004. It was their third restaurant, and, as they had hoped, the third time was a charm.

“My dad has always been a serial entrepreneur,” says Vanda. “And my mom is his biggest supporter, the implementer of his crazy dreams, the backbone behind it all. They are an amazing pair.”

The Asapahus initially immigrated from Thailand to Montebello, and their experience preparing meals with other immigrant families eventually led to small eateries there and in East L.A. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

In with the New


Photo Credit: Laure Joliet via

I had been to Siam Best, the Thai restaurant in Venice on the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Grant Avenue, a few times. The food was always good, but the standout feature was a colorful fish tank down the center of the room.

Most of the time, the restaurant was empty. My brother would comment that the quiet made for good conversation. I always felt a wave of sadness as I scanned the place.

As more and more hip restaurants began to pop up in Venice, Siam Best began to feel more like a relic. Each time I drove by, I would think incredulously, “Still here, eh?”

Then one day, the lights were off at Siam Best. It had become another casualty of the rising rents and changing demographics of Venice.

I’m not so sure anyone was too upset about this closing. This wasn’t like Hal’s or Abbot’s Habit on Abbot Kinney.

Conversely, soon came jubilation as news headlines declared with delight: Night + Market Sahm is coming to the Westside.

Chef Kris Yenbamroong, owner of Night + Market in West Hollywood and Night + Market Song in Silver Lake, was opening a third incarnation in Venice — replacing Siam Best. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.