Showing posts with label U.S. Restaurant Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U.S. Restaurant Reviews. Show all posts

Nawab of India: Curry With My Grandfather

My grandfather grew okra for me. He tended the bushes carefully, harvesting and freezing it so he'd have some when I came to Texas to visit. I'd walk out to the back porch, move the cases of Coke bottles off the deep freeze onto the painted cement floor. Lifting open the freezer, I'd marvel at the bags of frozen okra closed with a twist tie. I'd realize I didn't go home enough.

I live in Santa Monica now and still miss my grandfather; but I can always eat okra at my favorite Indian restaurant, Nawab of India.

Sit down at certain Texas joints and a waitress slings a basket of hush puppies on your table as she heads to pick up the fried catfish for table 14. I've expanded my horizon. Now I crave the lighter, brighter Indian version of the southern fried cornmeal snack: Onion Bhaji, exotic mounds stuffed with onion, cumin, turmeric and coriander.

balls of onions deep fried in batter

Lightly firm onions threaded though batter. The flavor and texture of bhaji are as crisp and impressive as the bow tie my grandfather taught me to tie. I could eat a dozen bhaji, but I leave space for the other exciting dishes they introduce.

My grandfather was a carpenter. He had huge biceps that me and my three brothers would hang from when we were kids, while he spun around and flew our scrawny bodies out like a human carnival ride. The food at Nawab is also built. Layers of flavor and spices in techniques are on display that I long to accomplish.

Began Bharta is such a dish. Eggplant is roasted in the tandoor oven, then sautéed with spices,onions and tomatoes.

dish of chopped cooked vegetables

The handled, brass serving bowls offer the food with gentility and flair. Layers of flavor are stirred though, and as I dig the spoon in, a warm curry aroma rises. This dish reminds me that Indian cuisine is a terrific option when your dinner party includes vegetarians. Where's the beef? Not here.

The golden walls of the dining room foreshadow the coming saffron, turmeric and graham masala. The owner and the chef at Nawab tell stories with their food. I want to become more familiar with them; I long to include this cuisine in my own repertoire.

chef stirring por and pans of food at the stove in an Indian restaurant

Nawab India has a sister location in West Los Angeles. Their Bombay Cafe offers fascinating street food. Let's dash over to Bombay -- I want to show you a couple of plates.

Eggplant Deva: This dishy diva starts with sautéed Japanese eggplant layered with fennel and tomato conserve. The plate hits the stage fully dressed with a luscious coat of garlic-ginger infused yogurt. These ingredients have longevity qualities that perfectly fit my plan to live to be 1000000000000.

roasted eggplant with yogurt sauce

I'm thrilled to meet new menu items. Even happier when they are this wonderful. The cool, creamy yogurt against the warm, madly-seasoned eggplant is refreshing and satisfying. The chef's craftsmanship is magical; these flavors are outstanding.

Spotlight on Pani Puri: puffed, crisp shells filled with mung beans. Spoon cumin and mint infused water inside and then pop the entire thing in your mouth. My Indian waitress led me on the journey, excited to show me her native food. This appetizer dish is fun and healthy. I appreciated the subtle sweetness.

crispy puffed ball with mung beans inside

I wish I could take this culinary tour with my grandfather while he charmed me with the poems of his childhood. He had me captivated at the dinner table with,
"I eat my peas with honey; I've done it all my life. It sure makes them taste funny; but it keeps them on my knife."
His stories are now part of me. Tradition is built. I talk about my grandfather in my book on

Back at the more formal Nawab, the fire in the tandoor oven burns inconceivably hot. Fresh naan bread gets slapped on the side. The chef peels it off when, and only when, his oven wall releases the final product.

Hot fiery oven with naan bread cooking on side

If I could go back in time, I'd take my grandfather on a long walk down our dusty road in Texas. When we reached the edge of town, just at sunset, I'd turn and we'd magically appear at my home in Santa Monica. We'd walk up my block where he'd have plenty of chances to poke me in the arm and wink when he'd spy a pretty girl.

Sixteen blocks from the beach, we'd turn into Nawab to continue our conversation over dinner. The Tandoor Chicken arrives, accompanied by a sizzle from peppers and onions on the hot platter that would echo his whistle. I'd ask, "Have you ever had chicken this plump, Pop?
Chunks of chicken on a plate with peppers and onions

"This is the juiciest bird I've had the good fortune to taste," he'd say. "Must be the California sunshine."

Their chicken is the most succulent meat I've found anywhere. I'd lick my fingers and wipe the corners of my mouth with the linen napkin before he reminded me.

Ask if the chef is making the same bass. If so, order it. I've not had such dynamically prepared fish. Spices keep the fish bouncing.

And then, just to hear my grandfather's trademark, "Good God a'mighty!" the waiter would whip the cover off the moment I'd been waiting for: Bhindi Masala, Okra in spices and onions. The onions stay crunchy, the spices fold into the crooks of the okra.

bowl of cooked okra onions tomatoes

Who will have my memories when I'm gone?  Who will tell my story, from the heartbreak to the glory. Someone take it over and keep the story going.

four men in a kitchen

Nawab of India. 1621 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90403 (310) 829-7576.

NYC Mandarin Oriental's Asiate: Sensational Lunch

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, advised nutritionist Adelle Davis. I ascribe to any theory that supports my illusion of grandeur.

So I had a royal lunch at Asiate in the palatial Mandarin Oriental in New York City with Mary Ann Williamson. She puts the amorous in glamorous.

We rise in the elevator as if in a champagne bottle. We pop out onto the 35th floor and float into the dining room to drink up a bubbly view of sparkling Central Park.

central park, view, New York City, Mandarin Oriental

The show is free; lunch is a steal with two courses for $29.
Mary Ann kicks things off with Roasted Cauliflower, toasted almonds and beer bearnaise. Cauliflower is the new black.

New York City, Mandarin Oriental, salad

This dish is a star. I applaud the performance. Dragging a bite of still-crunchy vegetables through creamy cheese is the most graceful dance I attempt in the daytime. And why I'm in the audience, not on stage.

My first course of Scallop sashimi with fennel over ginger ice reminds me of a skilled hoofer in a Broadway musical.

New York City, Mandarin Oriental, sushi, seafood, fine dining

I love to watch dancers flit across the stage in a flurry of impossible steps. Each bite of this scallop dish a thrilling combination of bounce and zest. Look for Ginger Ice starring in a show soon.

Healthwise, a larger lunch is brilliant. You have all day to burn the calories, then have a smaller dinner. Lunch is less expensive; however, you're fully sated at Asiate. They offer entrees with heft and fortitude.

I have the Venison Tenderloin in black Tuscan kale pistol, black currants.

New York City, Mandarin Oriental, fine dining, exotic meat

I won't taste a better entree for eons. Executive Chef Christian Pratsch encircles the tender, succulent venison with kale ash like bodyguards protecting a celebrity. I greedily grab their house-made bread and soak up every memory of the currant-laced sauce.

As I dine, I note the service is a stellar production. Bustling busboys scurry while leading men waiters present plated wonders like Branzino with coco beans, chorizo, in shellfish bisque. 

New York City, Mandarin Oriental, seafood, branzino, fine dining

Pork belly dust crowns the fish. Let me know when you have a crispier and more tender piece of fish. But I'll only listen to you over lunch in this dining room. Phone ahead, you need reservations. And dress up.

We're not ready for this show to be over. Dessert serves as our denouement: Kabocha Bar.

New York City, Mandarin Oriental, dessert, chocolate, ice cream, fine dining

This hunky leading man is a Bahibe chocolate hazelnut Dacquoise with maple caramel, salted ice cream. I must tell everyone that I've just devoured perfection.

Asiate is a wonderful dining experience. The best shows keep you dancing and singing long after you've left the theater. Full of fabulous food, Mary Ann and I go high-stepping through the streets of Manhattan.  (You might recognize her as the third Rockette from the left.)

All the world's a stage. Hit it, Maestro.

Asiate. 80 Columbus Circle (at 60th Street). New York City, NY 10023. (212) 805-8800. 

Gracias Madre: Thank You for Good Vegan Food

I love hearing anyone's personal stories about their connection to food. Although I'm not a vegan, I played with some on TV. I traveled around the world interviewing over 100 of those nuts for a project. After listening to them, I was never in the mood for meat. The rest of the crew and I always ate vegan.

My main beef with most vegan restaurants is the lack of flavor. However; Gracias Madre in West Hollywood is exceptional. Their sunny patio is a free source of Vitamin D. The whole restaurant is a gorgeous carrot dangling in front of you.
Gracias Madre is an offshoot of Cafe Gratitude. I'm not a fan of Cafe Gratitude. I find both the food and the staff generally tasteless and insincere. It takes a real mother/madre to get it right. Gracias Madre's dining room is large and beautiful. It's a graceful hippy dancing freely in a roomy dress.

I enjoyed the Coconut Ceviche Tostados ($18). Marinated chunks of meaty coconut mixed with lettuce, guacamole and cheese made from cashews. Each bite was a texture party. The base of a crunchy tortilla made a great foundation for the creamy, soft toppings. I smile when I meet bouncy coconut and tickling lettuce. I taste tart tomatoes wrapped in tangy cheese. The cilantro rounds out the Mexican profile.

When my plate goes back to the kitchen, I imagine some tough madre slapping the wrist of the cook for serving lemon not lime.    

I left the restaurant feeling energized and full of beans. Because my plate came with a side of good, creamy, spicy black bean puree.  I choose vegan occasionally. It helps me feel good.

As I leave the patio, I light a candle at the entrance's alter. I write a note, Gracias Madre, I want you and me to live forever. I have all these Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons that never expire.

Anyone vehemently defending a vegan diet over a meat diet suffers from a lack of meat aggression. Live your life, eat what you want. Never argue with anyone's lifestyle choice. Be happy. You have a problem with that? Meet me out back. Damnit! That's the meat aggression talking. Oh an my new book is up at

Gracias Gracias Madres. And mas like you, por favor.

Eat at Gracias Madre. 8905 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90069 (323) 978-2170

Michael's on Naples & Chianina: How to Throw A Block Party

Two loving grandmothers often vie for our attention. A promoter can make a cruel million by tossing Bubbes in a boxing ring to battle it out. In this corner, sponsored by Jean Nate, weighing in at 101 pounds.... 

I'm using Chef David Coleman to allegorically stir the pot of that duel. He nurtures two families, or eateries, steps away from each other in Long Beach, California.  First, there' s Italian Michael's on Naples. This is your exotic grandmother -- the one that smoked and took a lover that summer in Paris. A block away lives steakhouse Chianina, your pioneer granny that drove a wagon out West and struck oil. Maybe killed a lover along the way. 

Chef Coleman whisks between both joints with the agility of a new-hipped octogenarian. 

black awning, large M on restaurant

First, I pay a visit to Michael's. Imagine a lavish matriarch showering affection on you like a Shalimar thunderstorm. Or this gift of an amuse bouche, Salmon Crudo encrusted with micro lavender.

 chopped, raw salmon with lavender leaf on top

He tames the Wild King salmon by stuffing shards of icy cucumbers amongst the soft pink meat. He gently lays it down on a bed of creme fraiche. It takes a tender victor to place Lilliputian lavender on top, in a tribute. The bright, clean flavors in the well-composed dish light a torch foreshadowing good things.

This same globe-trotting grandmama breezes into a room and wraps you in a mink hug, like Coleman's Grilled Quail, white polenta, confit artichokes and olives. 

roasted tiny bird on polenta with olives

The quail is succulent; the polenta is as supportive as a trust fund. Best quail I've ever eaten, and I believe I'm up to over 1,000,000. (Hard to keep track; they're tiny.) Like the majority of Coleman's ingredients, they're sourced locally. I don't mean some jumpy sous chef yelled Pull! as he balanced a shotgun over the charming canals of Naples, California (who knew?!).  

boat docked to house along waterway next to bridge

Suddenly, I hear the pop of a pistol. My hand instinctively flies up to check my chest, This cannot be happening; this jacket's new. A bottle-wielding hand appears, the fight's getting rough. Wait -- I spy the orange label of Veuve Clicquot. Relief bubbles into my flute. The only good pain, is champagne. 

The source of the sparkling river is General Manager and Sommelier, Massimo Aronne. He's got the good looks that make women faint and men pause and rethink chivalry. He was originally bottled in Naples, Italy, but he shook things up. The cork popped and sprayed him all the way to America. Along the journey he flowed among the best hotels and restaurants. 

A golden moment arrives. Ricotta stuffed squash blossom in honey basil pestoI lift the delicate flower to my lips. One smack releases creamy ricotta. The ooze is playful; I dredge the blossom through the herbaceous sauce. My fingers get sticky.

fried appetizer plate

I smell the honey and I'm seven years old, sitting in a high-backed chair at Pancho's Mexican Buffet in Fort Worth, Texas. I eat the tamales and the cheese enchiladas, but I'm here for one item: Sopapilla. I hold the puffy "little pillow" in my hands, afraid to crush it. I tear off a tiny corner and pour honey in. I secretly lick my sticky fingers all the way home, safe in the dark, back seat of our station wagon.

Now here I am in California, grown up, savoring a grown up dish. Chef David skillfully transforms a young, tender blossom into a full bodied adult. It's a magical accomplishment.

Ever walk in on a Christmas tree that's unable to hide an impossible number of gifts? An abundance of presents emerge from Michael's kitchen. They parade by on strong-armed waiters, like a stream of groomsmen in an Italian wedding; known here as the Chef's Tasting Menu. An Italian wedding feast lasts all night, in the hope that the groom will. 

bearded waiter carrying plates balanced on his arms

Our waiter Roberto brings Nettle pasta with smoked Liberty Farm duck neck and Teleggio cheese. As Roberto tells me of his village in Italy, the timbre of his voice dims, the romance rises. I marvel over the gentle flavor the nettle adds. I smile and get busy kissing smoky, tender bits of meat from their hiding spots in the tucks of the neck. The pungent cheese sends up reminders that this is a well built course. 

Instead of dripping in diamonds, Chef David's arms are bedazzled with jewel-hued tattoos. That art slides onto his plates. He humbly delivers his Casarecce con Anatra: beef tongue ragu with hand-rolled cavatelli. 

ragu in white bowl

This is his masterpiece. So flavorful and tender that surely the chef abandoned it for days. It's one step beyond perfectly seasoned. Perhaps he left another dish in the kitchen -- a beautiful cook, maybe named Amanda, whose tears fell into the stew, providing sweet saltiness. Her revenge comes; she proudly sends that plate out like a bastard prince claiming the throne.

Fittingly, Massimo pours a perfect blend of complex romance, a 2008 Brunello di Montaclcino Sirio Piacenti, Toscana. The striking, vibrant aroma of the wine's red ripe fruit rises up from the goblet to help the braised tongue tell its rich story.

A fish appears on a platter. As Roberto scoots the skin off the roasted sea bass, I imagine Sophia Loren whispering Branzino to me as she whips the sheets back after a lovemaking session. Like this fish, my legs are exposed. I was hoping she wouldn't have to see all that white; she dives in and devours the tender flesh. I'm hungrier than I thought; I gorge, always glad to see ramps: the alternative green. Chef David nails their sauté. I drag them through the pillow of pureed white asparagus. The Meyer lemon sauce isn't the only tart waking me up today. 

Massimo pours a crisp, white 2012 Satrico Casale del Giglio. Delicate, with a lengthy finish, like Sophia. We all calm down with this elegant, liquid post coital cigarette. 

Next up is Coniglio al Fonro. It takes me a moment to figure out this duo of Devil's Gulch rabbit. It's tightly bound with speck. As I cut into the first portion, I release the succulent rabbit. I understand the playfulness of the dish -- kind of like when you see boobs fall out of a bra. The boozy Turkish apricot stuffing heightens the excitement.

peas, meat in a bowl

This course is a stunning beauty. Massimo's choice of the 2011 Primitivo Tormaresca, Puglia reveals his passion as skillThis well rounded Cabernet blend opens up at the end to reveal chocolate like unwrapping a candy Easter bunny. 

One of my grandmothers had an entire room built just to serve pie. At least that's how my memory has cached her sumptuous spread on the kitchen table. Chef David offers desserts as if he's a dowager lining up jewelry from which I am to choose. I'd like to eat the Madagascar vanilla pot de creme on Michael's charming, rooftop terrace so the entire city can enjoy the spray of fireworks in this finale.  

little pot of berries and pudding

House made, salted caramel gelato sidles up to the warm crust of his Valrhona chocolate tart, and is welcomed to the family. Two dessert wines are offered like handy forks for different courses -- a really sweet 2012 Moscato D'Asti Sarocco, and a warmer Vin Santo Villa Claudio from 2005

Dining at Michael's is an honor -- to me, to food and to family. I loosen my pants and adjust my attitude for the next grandmother of a meal. 

One day later, I visit Chianina. I stand outside, admiring this other side of their family, represented by a practical, chic facade. Beef, it's what's for my dinner.

wooden covered menus on a table

The elegant room embodies strength. In a symbiotic journey taken by the cattle, the hostess leads me down one path, then turns me into another, and then finally directs me to my deep, comfortable, leather booth. 

a dark room with booths

The menu is strong and independent, like a pioneer woman. Everything is a la carte, and organized like my grandmother's kitchen. 

I start with the Spring Vegetable Salad.

As gorgeous as it is, it's overdressed. The peas still have their snap, but the greens are wet and heavy. I need a salad to be scantily dressed -- think Marky Mark on the Calvin Klein billboard. Would tighty whitey sales skyrocket were the rapper wrapped in a sweater?

My palate and hope is refreshed by one bite into the Diver scallop. I'm rolling in the surf on the Mexican Riviera, then lovingly tossed on the turf by spicy chorizo. Whoever the hell is back in that kitchen making the saffron sabayon is my new travel agent.

arugula on scallop on thin potatoes, portion of pork belly

My plan of living forever is working out so far. I cut into the crispy Pork belly on caramel apple puree. I'm sent to heaven without the me dying part. At my age, sex and death share the same borderline. Each time I finish a dish like this, or an acrobatic sex act, I pause and check my heart. Did I live? The healthful lentils save me in both instances.

Chianina is a rare breed of Italian cattle. The restaurant is raising some on a ranch in Utah, but none are ready yet. They take time to reach their full potential.

sculpture of a cow

I imagine the rancher ambling out to the pasture, checking the cow's progress each day. When they left Italy, the cow hoped the ship was headed to India, where the people really "get" the long life thing. I see the cow sucking in her cheeks, trying to look skinny and very-much-not-ready for prime time. 

In the meantime, delectable Piedmontese beef is standing in. If this 28 ounce bone-in rib eye is any indication of what is to come, hold on to your hats, cowboy.

The steak is served sliced. The meat is so tender that they have no steak knives. As a kid, if I didn't have pajamas for a sleepover at my grandmother's house, she cut holes in a pillowcase. I poked my arms through, looking like a a pop tart come to life. I was sent to bed with a thousand kisses, much like the cook might have done with the salt shaker before my steak left the kitchen. Affection and seasoning need to be delicately balanced. 

I'm happy to see fiddlehead ferns mixed with mushrooms; we all share the love of butter.

I listened to everything my grandmother told me. She'd deftly glide red lipstick across her mouth without a mirror, instead looking at me,Your blue eyes are all I need. 

She entertained me with practical advice. As the Banana Pudding with macadamia nut crumble slides in front of me, her voice wafts warmly up, The best man to marry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. (Don't worry, she didn't do anyone in.)

spoon of banana pudding and bruleed bananas

The dessert is among the five best I've had in years. Is my grandmother in the back, reincarnated as the pastry chef? She did have years of practice flicking a Bic to light her Tarytons; perhaps she's here wielding a blow torch, brilliantly brûléeing bananas. 

Michaels' on Naples is a strong, well-established, culinary deer bounding confidently through the forest. Chianina is a newborn doe. Given time, it too will have the proud legs her sister developed. Proceed with caution; venison ends up on menus. 

I love both of my grandmothers; they heaped love on me laced with pie and ribbon-tied Neiman Marcus boxes. They never asked me to choose one over the other. In this tale, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Michael's. Good thing I don't have to.

Michael's on Naples, 5620 E. 2nd Street, Long Beach, CA 90803 (562) 439-7080

Chianina, 5716 E. 2nd Street, Long Beach, CA 90803 (562) 434-2333

Tripel: A Gregarious Gastropub

I wonder how I'll do tonight. I win a great parking spot near the beach and walk to the nearby bar. A star shoots over the Pacific Ocean. I have a good feeling. I'm here to get lucky. 

Entering Tripel, the quiet of the Playa del Rey night is switched off like a light. My eyes adjust to the dark and I scan the room. I stride to the bar and squint to read the blackboard, hoping to look cool and not like I need glasses. I want to recognize a beer like a familiar face, but these are fun beers with long, clever names, crafted by thinkers. I worry I've stepped into an inside club.

Then buzzing patrons provide an electrifying amuse bouche. I smell garlic and sense comfort. 
I'm seated at a table already poured with strangers locked in conversations, stabbing forks onto their plates and happily pulling up something in common. The slabbed table/mattress sends out a subliminal message that I'll end up in in bed with my dinner partner. The night's looking up.

people drinking and eating at a table

The bartender glides over, offers me a welcome with a menu and personal enthusiasm. Her skimpy top's strap has slipped off her tattooed shoulder and I want to replace it but maybe it's down on purpose. This is how old guys get punched in bars.

Tripel's co-owned by a married couple of chefs, Nick Roberts and Brooke Williamson. I first fell for Brooke on Bravo's Top Chef where her California cool blew hotshots out of the kitchen. She's a star who's earned her stripes. Nick got to her first and now they get whisky in the kitchen.

I anticipate my first course like a fan hovering near the stage door waiting for the talent to emerge. Shaved brussels spouts, celery root, Parma prosciutto, lemon-Dijon vinaigrette, manchego ($9) arrives. Tempting mounds are easy on the eyes. One has little time to really get to know another in a bar so I pull back the first layer to find out more about this salad.

salad mounded high, covered in sliced ham

You little tart! I sputter the compliment. Lemon bridges a zesty balance between raw vegetables and salty ham. The ring of tossed cheese becomes part of every bite.

Like bar patrons, Tripel's dishes change with mood and the seasonal availability of ingredients. I pray their daring, as-seen-on-TVCripsy Pig ear salad Treviso, poached egg, apricot ($11) is on the menu. It's there and causes my smile. This is like a desirous woman seen once at a bar that keeps every man coming back hoping that she returns, too. Great music thumps up around the room, providing a welcome social lubrication. Tonight, I feel brave enough to approach.

salad with crispy bits topped with a poached egg

A perfectly poached egg oozes all over the greens, gently stroking the strands of bacony crisps, soothing my eyes closed. It's a dreamy, flirty, How do you like your eggs? served on a plate. I not only conquered the dish -- we're having breakfast together. 

I'm yanked awake by the Squid ink spaghetti with ground shrimp, lemon, chili oil, herbs and salmon roe ($12) swinging out of the kitchen. I regard the impressive composition. Lovers will leave this bar and wake in the black night wrapped in a tangle of legs, unable to discern whose are whose. And thrilled by the gorgeous mystery.

long, thin pasta with ground shrimp and caviar

Thoughtfully ground shrimp ensure uninterrupted flavor. I swirl the salty caviar around the pasta as if working a party, passing beauties and picking up bits of delicious conversations. This is the best application of chili oil I've tasted; the lemon isn't merely right, it's everything.

A Tale of Two Burgers is an allegory for Nick and Brooke's development as chefs. She skipped formal training and went to work honing her knife skills in Southern California's finest kitchens. Both she and Nick learned to hit the sauce on a big-city stint with my revered Daniel Boulud.

Their Tripel Burger: duck confit, pork and aged beef, on an onion brioche bun, with truffle pecorino, arugula, house made apricot jam ($15) is the offering of a classically-trained chef. Passionately backed with sophistication, an example of why Julia Child marched into the kitchen of Commander's Palace, snatched Emeril Lagasse by the toque and shoved him in front of the world.

Brooke silenced Emeril's Bam! on Top Chef with her focused, stealthy manner. Where did you come from? he begged to know.

Show, don't tell.

Their Pretzel burger of aged beef, caramelized onion, poppy seed slaw and aged cheddar ($10) proves both paths they took to become chefs and develop natural talent were magnificent decisions. Nick, raised at a Northern California winery, found his penchant for food stronger than pinot and trained at the California Culinary Academy. In addition to Boulud, he's fluent in Ducasse.

pretzel bun on a burger with slaw piled high

I'm headed to Idaho to find the field in which Tripel's potatoes are grown; I suspect garlic's planted in the same plot. Tripel's fries aren't only infused with garlic, they've hippied-out and blissfully become one with the herb.

shoestring french fries served in a small tin bucket

The fries are crunchy, like a great conversation, and served with a duo of sauces that drives me mad deciding which is best to use.

I'd try every item on the menu -- flair mixed with skill results in excellent-tasting combinations. Order the Skirt steak ($18) if for nothing else, the pleasure of figuring out what makes the onion rings so wonderful. Tuck into crispy Lamb Merguez alongside charred octopus ($10) stewed in tomatoes and enjoy a chef's appreciation of food. I taste saffron in the aioli and imagine a chef who loves travel and is adventurous enough to smuggle exotic ingredients in their pants.

Fun happened all night, all around me and right in front of me. Written on the board over the bar I spot a cocktail, Shandy, named perhaps for a local barfly working out a tragic past. Their menu of beers is representative of a lively bar where a snooty Danish lager sits comfortably next to an upstart brewsky from some dude's garage in Utah. They've sought out liquid entertainment bottled with the same standards they demand from their food and staff.

bartenders behind a busy bar with many taps

Dessert serves as my last call. I'm not flipping on the lights at 2AM trying to expose flaws, my only suggestion is not to microwave the Persimmon pudding ($7) as it became something I believe unintended by the chef. I got a heap of squishy and spongey -- like a middle aged man squeezed into hipster clothes sitting at a cool bar in Playa Del Ray on a Friday night surrounded by young hotties -- hey wait. Forget the pudding, the brown-sugar caramel gelato served on the side will always have a special place in my geezer heart.

This restaurant's food personifies the quality advertised by singles placing online ads, I'm just as comfortable in a ball gown as blue jeans. Everyone claims it, few perfect it as seamlessly as Tripel does with their menu. These young culinary minds are energetic and rich now -- imagine what is yet to create.

Blink and you'll miss a shooting star; however grab a seat at Tripel's bar and stay awhile. Chefs Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts have built a beautifully composed, everlasting planet.

As for me, I did get lucky.

Tripel, 333 Culver Boulevard, Playa Del Rey, CA 90293. (310) 821-0333  

Acabar: Behold The Beauty With A Brain

I pull open the glitzy golden doors of the restaurant and her beauty takes my breath away.  But I want brains behind the blonde. The exotic seductress pulls me in close. Her luscious lips brush against my ear, making me tingle as she whispers, The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

Her name . . .  Acabar.

After spending some time together she proved that she can carry on a conversation as brilliantly as her gleaming shell.

I hope she has stamina, because I can dine all night.

I ordered a drink from a slab of marble leftover from the creation of their magnificent bar. The chiseled result, this pluperfect bartender of a man, poured his limpid brown eyes into my soul along with a classic Bijou cocktail of gin, sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse, and orange bitters. In a fancy glass.

Those liquored-up mixologists Josh Goldman and Julian Cox shake it up a notch by offering some of their cocktails on tap. Keep the night young forever with their immortal Zombie.

A thrilling peck hit it's mark -- my first edible overture, an amuse bouche: Country Crouton laden with sheep milk ricotta, mission figs, hazelnuts & chestnut honey ($12). I opened my mouth and used my tongue, this place insists on everything French. The razor-thin slice of firm pink fig lay on the house-made baguette, conquered by heaps of a sweet cheese heretofore unknown to me.

I stuffed it in and the squishy cheese dripped down my chin. A finger reached over to help the rest into my mouth, which made us both smile. Our eyes locked; I'll bet we thought the same thing: figs, please stay in season forever.

I listened to the tale of this place. One day a ragtag bunch including Roland Emmerich, Jerry Murray, and Sue Choi processioned along Sunset Boulevard mourning the lack of a cuisine desired by all.

Something shiny caught their eye, a tarnished lamp in the sand. They rubbed and rubbed -- along with genie-dreamy designer Keith Greco -- until incensed smoke poured out into the air. Poof!

Up popped the dreamiest restaurant to hit Los Angeles in years. When the smoke cleared, local legend and visionary Chef Octavio Becerra reincarnated to man the magical stoves of Acabar.  

The restaurant's mission, and I choose to accept it, is to honor all regional cuisines influenced by the French. Think Julia Child with a soul patch dancing along the Spice Trail in harem pants.

We baptized our new-to-the-scene waiter Jordan, in a river of questions and orders so deep and lengthy that I caught him praying for mercy, or at least 20 percent. He expertly guided us to the raw bar's bounteous seafood platter. He plunked their massive bodies down, proclaiming To the victor belong the spoils...

Jordan's dramatic flair should carry him well into the arms of his waiting, beloved songwriting career.

Row after row of oysters from oceans soon to be gone, lined up as if expecting an OCD diner. The house dispatched a well-suited sommelier with an apropos white wine to flatter the heaps of crab and orderly mussels. Twelve unique, inventive condiments and sauces appeared in long dishes and were described. Mignonette is expected, guava is not.


The dining room is a dark and sexy lair suitable for The Little Mermaid's eight-legged, undulating nemesis to luxuriate and plot. The chef smiles deliciously and serves Ursula's head on a plate in his Charred Octopus with wild broccolini and aleppo muhammara ($14).

My mouth met the hard-charred edge, then relaxed into a smile as my teeth sank into the soft, warm flesh. My rock-solid dining companion dared me to lift a tiny sliver of a pale carrot from the plate, probably just to test my chopstick skills. The carrot lost its mind -- the soul sucked out, ingeniously replaced with lemon.

My senses heightened; the walls closed in; I tasted greatness.   

Japanese shishito peppers pop up as the ubiquitous nibble on every menu, yet Acabar revives their career in a new take on an old trick -- Blistered Spanish Padron peppers with radis, pickled shallot, adouvan and bonito shavings ($12). It's mouth-watering Salma Hayek sunning topless on a yacht off the coast of Spain.

Something tasted delightfully fishy. In a bow to the symbolism used in Japanese cooking, bonito snowflakes are showered on the hills of rolling green peppers. The demure judge on Iron Chef smiles and giggles, The cold winter dances on the hot summer of my tongue.  

I settled in my seat to wait for the feature film to begin. Suddenly Penelope Cruz's heat jumped off the screen and into my lap for a personal dance: Skewered prawns, harissa, dates, labneh and pistachio ($14). I'm frightfully strong but I couldn't resist licking the crustacean's curvaceous, hot neck. I plucked a shrimp, jauntily served tails up, and bit. The little minx challenged me back with a spicy pop. I took control, dragging her flavor-laden body through the cooling thick yogurt, encouraging chunks of drunk pistachios to hop on and enjoy the ride.

My empty plate vanished and my heart sank. I missed the dish already. I devoured the garnishing bed of greens like I obsessively read old letters from a lover. I tasted mint and cilantro and closed my eyes, reminded of the perfume once sprayed on my treasured pages.

A monkey got loose and rampaged through the kitchen. In his mayhem he threw a bunch of grapes on the stove. Before knife-wielding sous chef Taylor Sweeney "Todd" could machete the tiny beast, she tasted the cooked grapes and declared them a delicacy. She slid them alongside the Grill Seared Scallops, with caramelized chou fleur, romanesco atop vadouvan-beurre noisette & grapes ($17) and sent them on a plate to my table.


The scallops, still bouncy despite their recent and perfect crispification, recuperated on a luxurious bed of super-creamy browned-butter noisette. It's the hollandaise sauce Arabs want and could get if they didn't rush hummus.

That naughty monkey, now their mascot, is emblazoned everywhere. Need to pee? Find the monkey.

The menu is a virtual a land of opportunity to travel. Next trip, I'll try a different salad. While I'm huge fan of nudity onscreen and off, I found the uber-pretty salad of Coleman lettuce with heirloom apples, pecorino romano and hazelnuts ($14) under-dressed.

Audiences wait to be dazzled. We cross our fingers when a stunner appears. The magical moment that Catherine Deneuve blossomed onto the screen in Indochine, a collective wish arose from the audience's mind, Man, I'd love to see her naked. Chef Becerra made that dream come true, Steamed buns, crispy duck confit, spicy daikon-scallion relish and pickled stone fruit ($13).

Picking up the fluffy bun was that grab of a perfect ass you get away with -- until the sparkly heat from the relish grabbed the dish by the collar and yanked the duck confit safely away from hitting a cloying sweetness. To top it all off, I loved the bouncy texture added by the gently fried egg. From conception to completion this is an inspired creation. 

The skilled and attentive service took me back to the time and place where feasting was allowed and encouraged. Specific forks were slickly moved into place like a bazaar shell game then invisibly whisked away once their purpose was fulfilled. Plate after plate of countless courses were cleared; had I more time and compassion I would have gone into the kitchen and hugged the dishwasher. But in a steamy room, male affection can be confusing.

Dramatic and clever presentation is visible in the Lamb dumplings Provènçal, lamb broth, goat cheese, marjoram and black olives ($12).

Near-masterpiece soup dumpling nuggets, wrapped in a well-done texture around delicate flavor -- all brightened by the shockingly audacious herbs, hopped on my porcelain spoon.

The chef's doing us a flavor, sharing his gift of finding spices of which we aren't aware and introducing them to us in the hopes we fall in love.

In her Dior perfume ad, Charlize Theron strips her way through an apartment in Paris, sending her jewels and gown dashing to the floor.

Acabar's Spicy chicken satay: jasmine tea + lavender infused spicy peanut-verbena pistou ($12) gorgeously and carefully put all the clothes and jewelry back on the dish's hot body in layer after layer of intense spice tucked tenderly into seductive succulence. You need something to grab onto while making love, and the sauce under the pleasingly-plump skewered chicken is a woman-with-curves remoulade, gladly providing a tasty cushion for the pushin'.

I pounded my fists onto the table between bites. Je t'adore amour.

Legend tells us that love-struck Aga Khan gave Rita Hayworth her weight in precious jewels just to wake up, roll over and witness the splendid sunrise of her face. His gasp always woke her up. She opened her eyes and gasped back at the sight above her -- the intricately painted ceiling of their palace. Want that same thrill, come to Acabar. I looked up and found it so exciting that I reached for a seat belt to fasten.

In the Discretion vs. Voyeurism battle of a wild Parisian bistro, Acabar perched large mirrors against their walls. They tilt down, positioned so that diners can watch themselves in ecstasy, shoving pear tarts and frozen Ice cream sandwich macaroons in the meal's refreshing and appropriate denouement.

You're made love to with the rhythmic ferocity of flavor -- then the gentle taste of the desserts is the loving embrace one needs both to savor the experience and provide nourishment to rally for a possible Round Two.

Like a stunning Hollywood starlet, the room and the food are beautiful. But just like the movies, this town chews you up and spits you out if you can't back up your looks with talent.

The Blackglama fur campaign asks, What becomes a legend most? Chef Becerra opens a huge coat that he generously wraps around your entire mind in a luxurious world of taste. He's not only written the veritable recipe for success, he also cooks it.

Accentually light music swayed me through dinner then began to rise with the same crescendo as the meal's end. I rose up, adjusted my jeans, to follow the mesmerizing sounds into the dazzling lounge. The hour is late, but this room is Mae West putting her finger against my protesting mouth to show me her secret tattoo, Good girls go to heaven; Bad girls go everywhere.

The thumping space sucked me into luxury, plopped me down on a cushion, and stroked my hair with a Tell me all about it . . . served by a leggy blonde packing a Ti Punch, a delightfully comforting cocktail dating back to 1798.

Prepare yourself for a magic carpet ride of taste, glamour, and excitement. With their feet planted firmly on the ground, Acabar will whisk you away.

Acabar. (I'm sorry to tell you Acabar has closed) 510 North Stanley Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90046. (323) 876-1400