WHAT WE’RE DRINKING

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A perfect Negroni | Kali 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

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Quince, San Francisco

The Menu

Filed under: DCPR dine out series,FOOD PORN — admin

WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST

Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic Jonathan Gold recently offered a brilliant reflection on the impending closure of one of Los Angeles’ most highly acclaimed and long running restaurants – Campanile.  For more than two decades, the restaurant has famously played home to many of L.A.’s most talented chefs, including chef/owner Mark Peel and his former wife, Chef Nancy Silverton.

The restaurant played a very dramatic role in my own adventures in Los Angeles and continues to offer some of my greatest dining memories.

At the far end of the Campanile bar await three backless bar stools, each situated in such a manner as to provide the perfect lighting for reading. For several years, I lived just a few short blocks away from the restaurant, and I arrived to spend many an evening engrossed in a good book at the end of that bar.  I would often enjoy excellent dinners; however most often, I simply enjoyed an escape via great literature and a glass of wine.

As with most neighborhood bars, especially those that survive for many years, a very loyal clientele of regulars tends to form over the years.  I was lucky to meet and know many of the regulars at this bar, an unusually eclectic of mix of professionals, most highly successful entrepreneurs and movie industry-types seeking a quiet place to unwind with friends. In many cases, the “friends” in question were the bartenders that have worked here for years, if not decades.  These gentlemen were always the consummate professionals, painstakingly remembering each guest’s name and preference of seat, libation, and conversation topic.  It was always a comfortingly familiar experience to return to this bar, year after year.

Oddly, only rarely was I found in the dining room of the restaurant. We descended upon the restaurant, as did most of Los Angeles, for the launch of the infamous Grilled Cheese Nights.  I suspect that I personally tried every version ever created by Ms. Silverton.  I am also quite certain that I thoroughly enjoyed every one.

One very special night returns to mind, however – the night that I would meet my personal “cultural hero,” acclaimed American writer Gore Vidal.  I happened to be entertaining friends visiting from the East Coast.  We were deep into dinner (I vividly recall this dinner as my introduction to the elusive and exotic Flageolet bean!) and deep into the enjoyment of our wine, when I suddenly realized that I was sitting a mere two feet away from my literary hero.  Observing that I was about to ask for Mr. Vidal’s autograph (and rudely intrude on his dinner) and had no paper or pen at my disposal, the server whipped out a menu and pen in the blink of an eye. Mr. Vidal was gracious and accommodating, and I treasure my autographed menu to this day.  It perhaps sounds corny, but it was one of those “only in LA” celebrity encounters that one remembers for a lifetime.

Upon hearing of the closing of this great restaurant, I very recently found myself driving down La Brea on the way home.  It was a Saturday night and, to my surprise, a parking space was open directly in front of the restaurant.  Destiny was demanding that I visit one last time.  The bartender remembered me, warmly welcomed me back and thanked me for stopping in to say hello.  There wasn’t time for conversation, as everyone at the bar had returned for the same reason – to relive and relish long held cherished memories.  While there, I noticed the gentleman that had offered the pen and menu to document my meeting with Gore Vidal was busy serving his guests in the front vestibule of the restaurant on this busy weekend night, just as he had likely done professionally for years and years.

I enjoyed my beverage, offered with the bartender’s compliments, and then exited with a smile… And my memories – wonderful memories of great friends, great literature, and memorable evenings spent with consummate hospitality professionals.  To those professionals, I sincerely wish the very best of luck and happiness, as well as my sincere thanks for their warm and caring service throughout the years. They were very good years, indeed.

Campanile is scheduled to offer

final service on October 31, 2012.

www.campanilerestaurant.com

Campanile on Facebook (for final updates, memories, and information)

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AN ODE TO THE FIRST PERFECT NEGRONI. AND THE NEXT.

The Classic Negroni

1/3 Sweet Vermouth

1/3 Campari

1/3 Dry Gin

It would appear to be the simplest of beverages. Three distilled liquors measured in equal parts, chilled and served with an orange garnish.

Year after year, I would request this most simple of beverages, to be met with an annoyed, blank stare from the bar man.  The instant that I glimpsed that stare, I would quickly feign a change of heart and order a glass of wine. Then, I happened upon a tiny wine bar in West Hollywood.  I hesitantly asked for a Negroni from the very tall barman, who to my shock and amazement, couldn’t have been happier to receive the order.  He leaped into motion, pouring, concocting, inquiring about substitute spirits that I had never heard of, furiously stirring, burning oils from the grated pith of fresh citrus, finally and quite dramatically pouring the entire contents of the shaker over fresh ice. He proudly placed in front of me what was to be my first perfect Negroni. Life as I knew it would never be the same.  Nor, happily, would the Negroni.

That wine bar (Bin 8945) and that brilliant bar man (Damian Windsor) soon began to suffer our arrival weekly.  Damian’s execution of the classic Negroni took on many forms, many spirits, and many flavors, all exceptional.  It was the first glimpse of a cocktail renaissance in Los Angeles. We witnessed its brilliant beginnings and have since marveled at what it has become.

The world of the bartender has evolved exponentially since that first encounter with Mr. Windsor.  Talented bar men and women are now touted as mixologists, and woe unto those that cannot offer his or her guest a wild and heretofore unknown version of any classic cocktail. The two cocktails pictured above were produced behind the bars of Cole’s in downtown Los Angeles and Red Medicine in mid city LA; the version below at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, CA. Each interesting variations, each superb in its own brilliant way. Liqueurs are interchanged, classic evolves into modern, and men and women that once churned out hundreds of Apple Martinis nowadays exhibit just as much creativity and thoughtful contemplation as a great chef.

It is the rare occasion that I receive that annoyed, blank stare from a bartender upon ordering a Negroni.  It is more often that I sink into the cool comfort of a Negroni as I have never tasted or enjoyed before, envisioned entirely anew, while respecting the classic recipe of this simple, delicious beverage.

Read HERE about a brilliant variation of the cocktail from one of my favorite food and beverage writers, Frank Bruni of the New York Times.  The man enjoys a good Negroni!

Mr. Windsor may be found in Los Angeles HERE and HERE.  Ask for him by name!

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AN EXQUISITE AFTERNOON IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

It was midday, midweek.  It was going to be a summit of two PR professionals, long overdue for a first meeting.  What better setting than the L.A. home of the gentleman that is considered by many to be among the most esteemed and acclaimed chefs in the world, Thomas Keller.  I arrived early to enjoy the courtyard, the February sunshine, and the people watching that Beverly Hills always provides.  And, of course, to check in on the many social media platforms that always manage to consume the first fifteen minutes of every dinner.

The meeting was perfect, my peer an amazing woman with extraordinary talents in this industry.  Fortunately, we do not compete for clients, which made lunch all the more enjoyable. It didn’t hurt that it was just hours before the Oscars, and we were surrounded by the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kelsey Grammer.  Nor did it hurt that neither of us had any problem whatsoever feasting in front of the other.  And feast we did.

Upon entering Bouchon at lunch time, you are greeted by a phalanx of hosts, managers, and servers.  As it was a work day, everyone at the table was sipping iced tea, my only regret of the meal.  A nice glass of rose, and I would have been transported right back to the South of France, ensconced seaside, enjoying meals that burst with the flavors of the sea and the skill of the chef.  This day, conversation flowed easily, and we ordered a new course as each course was served, with food arriving over the next several hours.

Per wikipedia, “bouchon is a type of restaurant found in Lyon, France that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork. Compared to other forms of French cooking such as nouvelle cuisine, the dishes are quite fatty and heavily oriented around meat. There are approximately twenty officially certified traditional bouchons, but a larger number of establishments describe themselves using the term.

Typically, the emphasis in a bouchon is not on haute cuisine but, rather, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner.”

Hence, bread that arrives atop the paper table cloth, along with a small round of softened butter.  We enjoyed two before ordering.  Let’s simply say it was pretty damn delicious.

Course after course after course then arrived…

The magic of meals such as this arrives only with good people and good conversation, where the joy of the table is shared in such a way that minutes and hours simply drift away.  Food arrives, scrutinized and discussed, then quietly savored until, gradually, conversation resumes and someone lifts a menu to order the next dish.  It rarely happens, this magic.  On this gorgeous, sunny Los Angeles day in February, however, magic arrived.  At the table.   With good people and good conversation. Good food. Good memories. Thanks, Thomas.  It was exquisite…

BOUCHON BEVERLY HILLS

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WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH ME AND COFFEE?

I drink coffee.  I tweet about coffee.  I take pictures of coffee. I often brake for coffee.

I own three coffee machines, two pour-overs, two coffee making contraptions (gifts!) that I have never used, two coffee grinders (one that no longer works), dozens of coffee cups, and five coffee canisters with various whole bean selections from various over priced coffee shops.

I am not, however, addicted to coffee.

I simply enjoy it.

I enjoy it a great deal.

So, what’s the deal with me and coffee?  Excellent question…

I often enjoy a very small pot of coffee in the morning.  Actually, every morning.  And, truth be told, the pot is quite large.  And the pot is full when I arrive in the kitchen every morning.  If I happen to wake in another city or a hotel, I have arranged for the morning coffee before heading out the night before.  No chances are taken when coffee is concerned. Ever.

I’ve taken classes in preparing a proper coffee.  A proper espresso.  I have spent unimaginable – unthinkable! – sums of money on coffee beans, coffee machinery, and coffee tables.  I offer this bit of information simply for your edification.  It is not possible to overreact – or over spend –  when coffee is concerned.

When you drink this much of one beverage, there is the slightest chance of becoming spoiled.  You long for the very best.  You watch the talented barista with the same admiration afforded a talented bartender.  [Correction: You watch the talented barista with almost the same admiration afforded a talented bartender.]  You seek out the freshest beans, the latest brewing techniques, the most updated list of the best coffee shops in every neighborhood and every city.  And, much like a heroin addict, you seek the company of like minded coffee drinkers, as there is nothing that dampens the enjoyment a tremendous cup of coffee quicker than a companion that complains of the cost, the lines, the drive across town, or the constant necessary stops on a road trip.  The pure, unadulterated bliss that arrives with a great cup of coffee requires that all atmospheric conditions surrounding the enjoyment of the beverage be optimal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNLESS, of course, you are in a diner.  Or visiting good friends or family. Or you discover yourself furiously sipping a hot cup to avoid the breakfast of McDonald’s that has just been served by your beloved, gracious host.  At this time, it is quite acceptable to order a pot from the well seasoned waitress, offer to brew a fresh pot while your host prepares breakfast, or share a pot of anything hot and black that is available with the others in the group that may or may not also be suffering the consequences of the previous night’s activities.  Close your eyes, breathe in the aroma, sip slowly, gently…enjoy thoroughly.

After breakfast?

I often enjoy a very small pot of coffee…

OUR FAVORITE COFFEE SHOP?  It is likely our favorite because it is but a few feet from my front door and easily accessible, with knowledgeable staff, obscenely expensive offerings, and a sinfully delicious brew.  Tell ’em I sent you!  They’re probably used to it by now.

The DCPR Dine Out Series.

Episode Three.

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THE BEST TURKEY BURGER EVER. YES, EVER!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tag line that I posted on my Facebook photo read “The best turkey burger ever.  YES, EVER!”

That description was no exaggeration.  Said the server, “It is the most amazing blend of dark meat, white meat, and skin.”  Hold up…did he say SKIN?  Well,  I didn’t actually notice the addition of skin, but there was clearly something unusual going on here.  Turkey burgers do not often give me goose bumps of deliciousness, and I was in full goose bump mode.  Needless to say, there were no left overs.

The back story to the best turkey burger ever, in brief:

DCPR was flattered and honored to be contacted by Bill Chait to work with his group of talented restaurant entrepreneurs on a very specific project of national press placements.  It was an opportunity that rarely arrives for a small, independent public relations firm.  We were present for the launch of Chef John Sedlar’s thirtieth anniversary of the groundbreaking Saint Estephe.  We celebrated the inclusion of Sotto and Playa in Esquire Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America.  We congratulated Chef Ricardo Zarate, as he was named to Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs in America.  We were thrilled to learn that Chef John Sedlar was named (the first ever Hispanic) Esquire Chef of the Year.   And, we mourned the passing of Chef Amy Pressman, the chef/partner of Chait and Nancy Silverton in the highly anticipated Short Order and Short Cake Bakery at the historic Farmer’s Market at The Grove.

There are three threads that link these brilliant restaurateurs:  Owner/Connector/Financier Bill Chait, Bartender/Mixologist Julian Cox, and social media/marketing expert Shawna Dawson.  Together, these three professionals link an eclectic group of talented chefs and front of house restaurant professionals into what has become the most acclaimed and respected restaurant groups in Los Angeles.  Including restaurants Rivera, Playa, Sotto, Picca Peru, the recently opened Short Order, and the soon to arrive Short Cake, one might argue this one of the most successful and critically acclaimed restaurant groups in the United States.  Certainly, Los Angeles has never before enjoyed such an amazing group of talented individuals, each carefully curated and assembled into one behemoth of dining excellence!

Sadly, Chef Amy Pressman passed away mere weeks before the opening of Short Order and Short Cake Bakery.  When I first arrived, I smiled to see that the burger named in her honor was the turkey burger, as the TB is usually my burger of choice.  I was even more thrilled to discover that it was, quite honestly, the best damn turkey burger I have ever enjoyed in my entire life.  Paired with a large order of Spud Potatoes, it was the perfect afternoon lunch, as well as one of my favorite new spots for inexpensive, delicious dining in Los Angeles!  And, once again, Short Order continues the lineage of hospitality excellence by Mr. Bill Chait & Co – the 3000 years of Latin cuisine at John Sedlar’s acclaimed Rivera, the brilliantly controversial Reflexiones Series at Playa, the uniquely extraordinary Southern Italian offerings of Chefs Pollack and Samson at Sotto…  and, of course, the best turkey burger that I’ve ever eaten at Short Order.  And all them complimented by the ever-evolving, superior bar programs of Julian Cox.  It is, quite simply, extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, great restaurants do not happen by accident.  There are long, difficult hours of planning, editing and perfecting.  The stress level is high, the hours long, and the rewards often low.  And yet,  Bill Chait continues on the road to success, culling together an impressively brilliant team of food professionals.    It is thanks to the talents of these professionals that Los Angeles now enjoys the enviable title of one of the world’s greatest restaurant destination cities.  Lucky us!

Our professional commitment with Mr. Chait and his group recently concluded.  It is most extraordinary to observe that hard work, honesty, and ethical standards do still count in this world.  It does still matter how people are treated, employees and guests.   It does still matter that the food is excellent.  And delicious. It does still matter that the chef is in the kitchen cooking, rather than hocking reality shows.  And, happily, there are still dedicated professionals that continue to strive every single day to make that “restaurant magic” happen.  It is our pleasure and our honor to bring the news of their life’s work to you.  Lucky us, indeed.

The DCPR dine out series.

Episode Two.

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A PERFECT AFTERNOON IN BERKELEY

I suffer from a freakishly excellent memory for great meals.  I can recall meals from decades ago, the people that shared my table, and the surroundings that helped to make the evening extraordinary.  When I lived in San Francisco, I would regularly dine alone in extravagant dining rooms, creating an extensive journal of my dining on the front covers of books that I brought along.  It was well before the advent of blogging, and I have a huge library of these former meals.  On more than one occasion, I was mistaken for The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic, as the chefs and staff could clearly see me taking notes throughout my dinner.   The best meals, however, have always been shared with family and friends, filled with equal amounts of chef talent, professional service, and good company.

Each week, we will begin offering up reflections on just such meals from the previous week.  It might be in the dining room of one of our own clients, perhaps an out of town adventure, or maybe even a meal enjoyed in the home of a friend.   We have but one rule here: ACKNOWLEDGE GREAT DINING!  There is no catty criticism, no snarky blogger telling a professional chef or barman how to do his job.  Rather, we lift up these professionals, and offer up our experiences with them as a small way of thanking them.  This is, after all, why we do what we do.  And why we love it.

First up, Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley, California.  We traveled to San Francisco last week for a cookbook tour.  And, of course,  we managed to eat.   We ate very, very well, indeed.  A late dinner the night of our arrival at Zuni Cafe was delicious.  The following day found us astonished by lunch at Pizzeria Delfina and an exquisite dinner at Spruce in Pacific Heights.  As we left to drive back to Los Angeles, our final meal together was shared at Chez Panisse Cafe over lunch.   And what a lunch it was!

We noticed something very interesting during the course of this lunch – Silence swept over our table as each course was delivered.  First, we would inspect, smell, and dissect the dish.  But soon after, we were both just so astonished at how wonderful every single dish that arrived tasted, we were repeatedly rendered speechless.  Of course, you can expect that I will ruin a quiet moment in seconds with moans and sighs with each bite.  So here is our lunch, in photos and few words, just as we enjoyed it at the restaurant.

Hog Island Clams cook in the wood oven with sherry, saffron, and romesco sauce

Roasted Duck from Salmon Creek Ranch with hazelnuts and frisee salad

Cannard Farm cardoons, potatoes, and egg

House-made rigatoni with tuna confit, tomatoes, black olives, capers, and hot pepper

Riverdog Farm chicken breast wrapped in pancetta with autumn squash puree and kale

Interestingly, I noticed after our meal that an LA food blogger had commented on my check in at Chez Panisse, offering “I still remember a cauliflower soup that I had at lunch fifteen years ago…incredible!”  I suspect I’ll still be talking about this one in fifteen years, too.

Thanks, Alice!

Chez Panisse, Berkeley California

The DCPR dine out series.

Episode One.

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