Follow Me To The Deep End!!

Nov 6, 2014

Firefly—Reunited with an Old Flame. A Midsummer Night's Meal in Studio City. Firefly Restaurant, Studio City.

firefly cocktails
Firefly's library lounge. It begins here.

Some years ago, when I was working 90 hour weeks in the television industry—sitcoms in particular—I frequented a local hot spot called Firefly. It was a local hot spot because only locals seemed to know where it was. The restaurant was and is obscured by ivy and has no sign (other than the "Firefly" sign on the valet podium).

firefly bubbly blossoms
Boozy & summery.

For me, Firefly was an oasis, an escape from my overwhelming week of collating scripts and running errands for producers. No matter how frustrated I got with my "glamorous" Hollywood job, I always knew a cocktail was in my future at the patio bar.

firefly lobster bloody mary
Bloody outstanding lobster!

Admittedly, this review is a couple months late. It's autumn now (but it still feels like an endless summer in L.A.) and the dishes I had this night may be seasonal, i.e. the Compressed Watermelon or Strawberry Raviolo. However, the real point of my writing is the cooking of Firefly's chef Paul Shoemaker, as well as the irresistible desserts of pastry chef Raymond Morales.

Comfortably settled in the library lounge surrounded by leather-bound books, guests were offered canapés like the Lobster Bloody Mary with American Caviar. It tasted of oceanic perfection, the luscious, buttery lobster melding with the salty, bursting caviar. I was ready for more.

firefly short rib
A very short short rib.

Tender as can be and boneless, the Short Rib, Smoked Potato & Red Onion Compote, was a single bite of beefy bliss on a spoon. Smoked potato shavings and sweet onion sauce boosted the flavor of the savory short rib as they should.

firefly compress watermelon
Taste of summer compressed into a tiny cube.

Refreshing the palate was the Compressed Watermelon, Carbonated Sugar & Thai Basil. Herby, sweet, and wet, this teensy taste was enough to reset my mouth for the real meal.

firefly hamachi sashimi
Hallelujah! It's hamachi!

Hamachi is one of my favorite fish, especially in the form of sashimi. Chef Shoemaker keeps it simple and lets the super fresh fish shine with only some heirloom tomatoes, ponzu, and smoked sesame. Firefly's sommelier Diane Deluca paired this with a 2013 Tselepos Moschofilero from Mantinia, Greece. The hamachi was buttery fresh perfection.

firefly scallops
Superb scallop.

If I had to choose one dish for which I absolutely fell head over heels, it would have to be the scallop. The Block Island Diver Scallops, Brentwood Corn, Grandma Green Figs, Chanterelles & Bacon was ideally seared releasing gorgeous flavors which were both clean and umami-kissed. The sweet and savory sauce complemented the pillowy scallop without a fight. The entire plate was a joy for the eyes and mouth. Both vibrant in color and tastes, it was gone much too quickly.

firefly bone marrow ravioli
Bone marrow plus ravioli. YES!

I'm an unapologetic bone marrow whore. I'll suck any bone to get to the good stuff. Um, sorry, let me rephrase that. I love bone marrow. Normally, I'd have to dig out this beautiful goopy beef butter myself. At Firefly, it's neatly sealed in ravioli pasta and served hot. This bite of raviolo oozed with buttery marrow and accented with truffle foam, making it light and beefy at once.

firefly chatham cod
Thank, cod!

This cod piece, eh, piece of cod from Chatham stacked with smoked eggplant, spreadable Italian sausage, and piperade was a meal in itself. The mix of flavors never competed and worked well as one. Everything was quite meaty including the smoked eggplant. Although the cod itself was delicate and flaky, the rest of this plate was a hearty affair.

firefly beef tenderloin
Beauty and the beef.

The Beef Tenderloin was a thing of beauty, just browned on the exterior and vibrant red inside. A joy to eat along with the potato pave, haricot verts. The classic bordelaise sauce brought it all together. Somm Deluca poured a 2008 Bodegas Casa Primicia Tempranillo to complement.

firefly strawberry raviolo
A modern dessert.

Pastry chef Raymond Morales' time to shine came at the end of the meal with two outstanding desserts. The first was the Strawberry Raviolo on a spoon. Bright, sweet, and slightly tart, the strawberry was happiness in dessert form. The shortbread espuma completed the modern version of a classic.

firefly smoked salt carmelo
Dessert to die for.

Smoke Salt Carmelo, Baileys Ice Cream & Whiskey Foam came together to create a super dessert, as if they were The Avengers. Each brought its best aspect to the plate and made it impossible not to devour. There was caramel, coffee, sweet, crunchy, creamy, chewy, cold, warm; it was all there and it was decadent. This is what other desserts look to when they aspire to be amazing.

To sweeten the already sweet deal, a Baileys Espresso Martini came with dessert.

If I had only known reuniting with an old flame would be so incredibly delicious, I would've revisited Firefly a long time ago. Looking forward to the next rendezvous.

11720 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA

Nov 4, 2014

I Love the Nightlife: Get Your Phil. Dinner & Los Angeles Philharmonic Concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall—A Classical Pairing!

get your phil concert bow
Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and pianist Jeremy Denk face their well-earned applause.

I'm still aglow from the magical evening of feasting and night music. It's funny how a pre-concert dinner and some classical music can transform even the most dull and unrefined (me) into a sparkling sophisticate. If you didn't know, I'm referring to the L.A. Philharmonic's dinner and concert packages which pair a restaurant pre-fixed menu with a classical concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. For example, on October 24, there was the option of enjoying Spear Steak & Seafood with Salonen, Saariaho, and Sebelius. (You could've picked Chaya too but lost the alliteration though still have enjoyed awesome food.)

get your phil zinc goat cheese
Think Zinc for pre-concert eats.

On the eve of Halloween, my pre-show restaurant choices were between Zinc Cafe & Market or Eat. Drink. Americano. I opted for Zinc for the romantic patio. After all, it was date night. A Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc were quickly ordered and just as quickly brought to the table. Ah, the night was afoot. The Honey Drizzled Goat Cheese with walnuts went with the wine just fine. Sweet and pungent, opposites do attract.

get your phil zinc artichoke
The artichoke did not choke.

The artichoke was warm and became almost perfect when dipped into the basil aioli. The happy train continued to choo-choo-chew.

get your phil zinc pappardelle
My favorite pasta is pappardelle.

I wasn't sure about this one called Pappardelle with Bitter Greens. But, you know, sometimes bitter makes it better, in this case, for sure. Blanched bitter greens with assorted mushrooms, fresh black pepper, bread crumbs, lemon zest, all crowned with a poached egg made this pappardelle plate super satisfying. Mainly buttery, bittery, and earthy from the different mushrooms, the combo of flavors and textures were harmonious in unexpected ways.

get your phil zinc pizza
Mushroom pizza are for fun guys like me!

The Funghi Wood Fried Pizza is piled on with good stuff. At least three types of sauteed mushrooms, white sauce, garlic confit, gruyere cheese, parmesan, jalapeño, red onion, and fresh dill form this delicious pie. Super hearty and flavorful, this pizza will make you want to skip dessert, but, of course, that'd be silly.

get your phil zinc brownie
Brownie points!

I cashed in my brownie points for the Warm Brownie dessert topped with vanilla ice cream. The intermingling of warm and soft with cold and creamy was classic and perfect. This dessert vanished in seconds, just in time for a second dessert.

get your phil zinc lemon square
Don't be a square. Eat one instead.

The Lemon Square was a nice way to end the meal since its tartness sort of acted as a palate cleanser. And, with a final swig of Chardonnay, it was off to the concert. After all, Esa-Pekka was patiently waiting, wand in hand.

get your phil concert
Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen brings it!

He's back from London! Our former L.A. Phil frontman Esa-Pekka Salonen has returned to gig his fall residency at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (I have no idea what this means) filled the hall during the first half and was exhilarating, particularly the piano by Jeremy Denk.

Post-intermission brought us Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 ("Eroica"). The music was a splendid end to a joyous night of food and fine culture.

There are several more "Get Your Phil" dinner and concert packages to experience. The next one on November 14th features music by Ravel and Elgar. However, being a foodster, I'm mostly excited about the restaurant selections of either John Sedlar's Rivera or one of Esquire Magazine's Best New Restaurants 2014 Faith & Flower. That should be a great show package. Check out the other upcoming dinner and concert packages at L.A. Phil's website.

Oct 6, 2014

There Won't Be Crossroads Sunday Brunch, Except for the Bloody Mary. A Vegan Brunch Even a Meat Eater Can Love!

crossroads bloody mary cart
Bloody Mary on wheels!

Chef Tal Ronnen (head honcho at Crossroads Kitchen on Melrose and of Oprah Winfrey's 21-day
vegan cleanse fame) doesn't like the word vegan. To Ronnen, it rings of partition, separation, and non-inclusion. He prefers plant-based. "It's less intimidating," he explains. His executive chef Scot Jones concurs.

Ironically, however, a word he does love is carnivore. "I want carnivores coming into the restaurant and trying my food," Ronnen challenges. In fact, Crossroads is known as the carnivore's vegan restaurant. It's the kind of place, depending on what's ordered, where you won't even realize the dish is entirely plant-based.

Lately I've been flirting with vegan delights more frequently (I was won over by Matthew Kenny's M.A.K.E. and Sun Cafe Organic Cuisine), so the idea of a Crossroads Sunday brunch was more than titillating.

crossroads bloody mary
Bloody Mary at Crossroads. No blood was shed for this classic cocktail.

I can't think of a better way to start a Sunday brunch than with a Bloody Mary cocktail. But, it looks like Jeremy Lake, the guy in charge of the bar program, dreamed up a better Bloody Mary—the kind that rolls to you and is prepared table side.

The Crossroads Bloody Mary ($14) is made up of a housemade Bloody Mary mix, 360 Vodka, horseradish, and Tabasco. Garnishes of tart and briny caper berries, pickled carrots, a celery stalk, and cornichon stuffed olives cascade from the rim. I also opted for the truffle dill cheese upgrade ($1). Of course, this being Crossroads, there is a gluten free vodka option called Fair Quinoa. The Bloody Mary tilts spicy, exactly how I like it.

crossroads blackberry mimosa
O.J. & B.B. mimosa.

Freshly squeezed orange juice, sparkling wine, muddled blackberries along with fresh blackberries come together for this understated, boozy, breezy, brunch bevvy. This Blackberry Mimosa ($11) is definitely not too sweet, also exactly how I like it.

crossroads benedict
The eggless Benedict.

If you're into eggs Benedict, then this plant-based one, sans eggs, may surprise you. At Crossroads Benedict's ($14) foundation is an herb chickpea panisse or fritter. On the fritter is sautéed kale, and sandwiching the whole is a fire roasted flat bread round. Shiitake bacon crowns the top as a tomato hollandaise flows from above like spilled paint. It's a creamy, light, and airy affair—not in the least heavy, as may be the case with its carnivorous counterpart.

crossroads chicken waffles
Vegan chicken & waffles that embarrass real chicken & waffles.

One bite of this Crossroads Chicken & Waffles ($14) fried "chicken"—yep, I am actually making air quotes with my hands as I write this—and you may never go back to real fried chicken again. There is nothing not to like about this fake fried chicken: the crust is crispy and salty, the "white meat" is perfectly moist. In fact, I like it better than real chicken. I could've eaten a bucket of this stuff, instead I opted for a second plate. (But, they really should sell 'em by the bucket!) The waffles, on the other hand, were fairly standard and outshone by its chicken partner. Although when the waffle (or even chicken) was dunked into the warm maple hot sauce, it was made tastier. Finger lickin' and conscience cleanin' good!

crossroads chocolate croissant
The chocolate Cross-sant.

Crossroads Kitchen's executive pastry chef Serafina Magnussen concocts a pretty great Chocolate Croissant ($5). It's light and flaky enough. Can't believe there's no butter.

crossroads french toast
Pretty real French toast.

Magnussen also whips up a French Toast ($12) filled with banana slices and sweetened with almond mascarpone as well as Combier maple syrup. The toast is sheathed with a most impressive batter that mimicked egg. It was a satisfying way to end a Sunday brunch, plant-based or otherwise.

Crossroads Kitchen
8284 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles

Sunday brunch is from 10 am to 2 pm