Archive for the ‘fine dining’ Tag

“Notes From a Young Black Chef”   1 comment

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Kwame Onwuachi’s Notes From a Young Black Chef is considered a memoir (it says so right on the cover), but more accurately it could be seen as an engaging treatise on what it means to be a black man in America.  

The narrative begins just before his Washington, D.C., restaurant is set to launch. Onwuachi is catering an event commemorating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s a long way from his roots in the Bronx.

The descriptive writing reveals Onwwauchi ‘s tenacious and, often, reckless personality. He didn’t always envision himself as a chef, although cooking was an important part of his life. Thanks largely to his mother who, for many years, ran a catering business from her home kitchen. While many of her dishes reflected a Southern influence, once he began working in kitchens Onwauchi knew he wanted a different focus. He wanted to be associated with upscale, fine dining.

Although he loved the traditional meals from his youth, he wanted to elevate them as a means of moving past stereotypes.

Onwauchi, a Culiniary Institute of America grad, encountered numerous obstacles (many of which he made himself) before becoming a chef. However, his passion for food along with a keen ability to hustle helped make this possible. Overcoming situations where expectations of him were low because of his race was another contributing factor to his success.

Onwauchi could have been another negative statistic, but determination and creativity helped make a dream reality.

Notes From a Young Black Chef

Four Bookmarks

Alfred A, Knopf, 2019

271 pages


Bestia, the Besty   Leave a comment

Reservations at the highly-rated Bestia in industrial Los Angeles are hard to snare. Although unable to reserve a table, we did, nonetheless, get two seats at the chef’s counter. (Thanks to my brother.)

Some people might not have appreciated the view. However, we were thrilled to have our line of vision occupied by the well-orchestrated crew preparing colorful, creative salads. Interestingly, we didn’t begin our meal with a salad. We ordered one later.

Our well-versed server suggested sharing several small plates. His subtle nod of approval when we decided on the crab crostino suggested we were off to a great start. Ordinarily, squid ink aoili, crab and Thai basil might vie as the leading flavor. Instead they all win.

I can’t resist bone marrow. It’s served here with spinach gnocchetti that we scraped it into.

Next, agnolotti, one of six pasta offerings; house-made, of course. The mini ravioli-like “parcels” were light and savory. Coated with brown butter and filled with braised oxtail, it was silky and surprisingly light. Toasted pistachios and currants added texture and sweetness.

Finally, the chopped salad, a combination of Brussels sprouts, endive, mint, salami, and fried lentils — all thinly sliced, er chopped.

We had to have dessert. Really! Imagine bananas Foster with peanut butter ice cream. I couldn’t. The ingredients, only a playful mind could conjure, was childlike in the best possible way: fun, crunchy, salty and sweet. The ice cream is made in-house.

Bestia is in a reclaimed warehouse. It’s loud, lively and its accolades are well deserved. I can’t wait to return.

Five Plates
2121 7th Place
Los Angeles

Picture Perfect Cuisine   3 comments

Erik menu

Our Swedish hosts are practically family; several years ago their son lived with us for a school year as part of an exchange program. He became my Swedish son. We stayed in touch; they’ve visited us twice since Pete was with us. Our trip was a chance to see the places we’d heard about; his parents wanted to treat us to a surprise, in addition to graciously opening their home in Gothenburg and showing us the sites.

The surprise was a two-day trip to Stockholm topped off with a special dinner at Erik’s Gondolen, known for its 33-meter high view of the harbor and fine cuisine. Neither aspect disappointed. As previously noted, dining companions always add much to the experience.

Erik hake

The Pancetta Wrapped Hake was too difficult to resist. The mild, flakey fish wrapped in bacon featured soft-as-butter scallops floating in a pea and parsley cream surrounded by a subtle artichoke foam. It was almost too artistic to eat. Almost.

Erik fish casserole

Gondolen’s Classic Fish and Shellfish Casserole was reminiscent of cioppino, a fish stew. Two orders of the Fried Rack of Lamb with Brisket Sausage completed our order. As much as enjoyed one another’s company, we spoke very little while eating. Our server recommended spot-on wines to pair with our dishes.

Erik lamb

We easily could have left after finishing our entrees, but cloudberries called. These amber-colored, raspberry look-alikes were tart and nicely complimented by house-made vanilla ice cream.


The memories include the view, the food and the friendship.


Erik’s Gondolen
Five Plates
Stadsgården 6 (Slussen)
Stockholm 104 65

A Tale of Two Servers   2 comments

redbird sign I recently returned to enjoy dinner at Scarpetta in Bevery Hills. It was as good as I remembered, although I think one element was even better: the service.

Our server, Christian, enhanced our meal with his knowledge of the menu and attentiveness. He knew the ingredients, the preparation and offered to make changes if needed.

The next evening we dined at Redbird, the new restaurant in what was once the rectory of St. Vibiana’s in downtown Los Angeles. The press about chef/partner Neal Fraser’s new digs has made getting a reservation feel like winning the lottery. However, thanks to the service, we didn’t feel victorious.

redbird vibiana

Our questions about the menu were answered by our (nameless) server rote-style stating what we could read for ourselves. A few items were unknown and he did fill in those gaps, but without the passion Christian radiated at Scarpetta.

I ordered Ora King Salmon served with roasted beets, farro verde and pomegranate. The fish featured the most beautifully-crisped skin I’ve ever tasted. However, the farro was ripe with the distinct infusion of goat cheese. Had I known, I would have made another choice or at least requested a different side dish. Half the fish and beets were gone by the time our server returned to check on us. It was evident I wasn’t eating the farro.

I inquired about the offending ingredient and the server needed to check with the kitchen. He returned praising my discerning palette — admittedly, it wasn’t much of a stretch. I continued to enjoy the fish, which, again, was cooked to perfection. A manager offered apologies, explaining that  staff is trained to ask about dietary restrictions. My dislike of goat cheese is based on personal preference; I can’t, in good conscience, call it a restriction. At that point it appeared it was my fault for not informing the server of my aversion. Even if I had, he hadn’t been aware of its presence. I was offered another side, but at this point my entrée was nearly consumed.


A friend suggested a complimentary dessert. That didn’t happen. Instead, the farro was boxed up for me to take home. I’m confident Christian would have handled things much differently.

Scarpetta                                                                                                                                                                                 Redbird

225 N. Canon Dr.                                                                                                                                                                  114 E. 2nd St.

Beverly Hills                                                                                                                                                                           Los Angeles

Meals Manufactured One at a Time   Leave a comment


The Factory Kitchen blends so well into the industrial area near downtown Los Angeles that skepticism, and perhaps a little fear, become part of your mental landscape the closer you get to the restaurant. Fortunately, the valet station provides some reassurance; and once you enter the sparsely decorated, but entirely functional space of this upscale eatery, you’re transported to, well not quite Italy, but, at least philosophically, some distance from where your car is parked.

However, the menu does get you closer to Italia than you might imagine even though courses aren’t antipasto, el primo, or el secondo. Instead, they’re more aptly named: “to begin…,” “to continue or share…,” and “by itself.” I began with the pomodori, a colorful plate of heirloom tomatoes with red onion, shallots, basil and doused with a vinaigrette. This was summer on a plate.

Factory tomatoes

The mandilli di seta, previously unfamiliar to me, is a signature dish. Almond basil pesto and fiore sardo are spread on sheets of fresh pasta and folded handkerchief-style on the plate. What it lacked in visual allure is compensated for with silky texture and combined elements of the ingredients.

Factory pasta


From the “by itself….”we ordered the prosciutto, featuring a mound of the freshly sliced meat, on a crown of puffed sage-dough. Awkward to eat, it was like a billowy, elegant pizza. The tonnetto, pan-seared albacore with green cauliflower and other grilled vegetables was creative and enticing.

factory tuna

The Factory Kitchen fits into its neighborhood, until the food arrives. Then it stands out.

The Factory Kitchen
Four-and-a-half Plates
1300 Factory Place
Los Angeles, CA

Top of the Class   4 comments


The distinction between a dining experience and consuming a meal is more than semantics. At Alma, Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in America 2013, it’s an obvious dissimilarity.

Consider: the five- or seven-course menu are the only choices. Although asked about dietary restrictions, none were tested to see how they’d be resolved. For example, the New Zealand lamb is cooked to medium rare. If that was an issue, we were told, a substitution would be made. It was the chef’s way or not at all. Ultimately, the lamb, only a heartbeat away from a baahh, was melt-in-your mouth rich and tender enhanced by an almond milk sauce and new potatoes. Wait, I’m jumping ahead.


The repast comes with snacks: one-bite morsels worthy of larger plates. Mega-flavors are infused in pint-size portions. The first two snacks were previews of the creativity and range of textures/tastes awaiting our palates. My favorite was the quarter-size English muffin topped with burrata, uni and caviar. One bite wasn’t enough.

The meal featured smoked cod with Myer lemon and asparagus sauce; root vegetable soup poured over an egg yolk and Shitake mushrooms; octopus; the aforementioned lamb; and white chocolate semi-freddo with grapefruit and bitters. The final snack was a warm, glazed lemon curd-filled donut hole.

Alma exterior

Alma is inconspicuous; our server was vibrant and knowledgeable. The open kitchen is the size of a walk-in closet. Six chefs with varying duties choreographed a meal that will never be replicated. There’s no real menu.

The experience was enjoyable and enlightening; I ate everything. Still, it’s unlikely I’ll return. In a few weeks Alma will only offer a nine-course menu, further reducing the choices.

Four-and-a-half Plates
952 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, Calif.

Forget Turkey   1 comment


Everyone’s been talking turkey for the past week, so MacKenzie’s Chop House is a welcome change. Although there are a few tempting seafood dishes, the real focus is on red meat. The menu features an array of steaks, from New York to Porterhouse, from Filet Mignon to Ribeye. Prime Rib, Buffalo Steak, Rack of Lamb and Pork Chops round out the menu along with several side salads.


Although MacKenzie’s clearly emphasizes beef, and ours was cooked to perfection, there’s also an impressive attention to detail when it comes to service. Without hovering, the staff executed perfect timing knowing just the right moment to answer a question, to refill glasses, to remove plates, to provide a new utensil. Anticipation was personified.

Of course, this might have been for naught had the food been substandard; it wasn’t. The Spinach Salad with roasted red peppers and bacon was dressed with maple-balsamic vinaigrette. Even the House Salad was above average: mixed greens sharing the plate with balsamic-marinated apples and croutons.

Our entrees, the Prime Rib and Filet Mignon, were juicy, pink in the middle and tender. Yes, it’s true that bacon with anything is almost nirvana, but when wrapped around a piece of beef tenderloin the flavors are intensified. A baked potato and a large quantity of broccoli filled out the rest of the plate.

There were two regrettable aspects of the meal: not being informed until we were done that Crème Brulee is a house specialty and being too sated to try it.

MacKenzie’s Chop House

Four+ Plates
128 S. Tejon St.
Colorado Springs, CO

The Other CIA   Leave a comment


It’s often a barely discernible mistep on a fine dining experience that puts everything else off-kilter. When at a table set with a bread plate, a butter knife and a bottle of olive oil, I expect bread. Even if I don’t always eat it (which I usually do), the cues tell me it’s coming. Its absence is distracting. Such was the case at Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley. Since our server was nowhere in sight after our salads arrived we couldn’t even request it.

The mix of greens with red and yellow tomatoes were delicately coated in a pesto dressing. Roasted corn and pearl mozzarella, suggestive of miniature marshmallows, took the salad to another level. Nonetheless, the pesto dressing would have been perfect to soak up with a hard-crusted piece of bread.

CIA cod

Once the entrees arrived, I forgot the missing bread, at least temporarily. Pan-seared Ling Cod, delicate in flavor and texture, was served on a bed of creamed spinach. Creamed spinach gets a bad rep; I’ll defend it any chance I get. The addition of Shitake mushrooms made something good even better.

CIA sampler

A choice of four desserts, not counting a selection of artisan cheeses, made it difficult to reach a decision, so the sampler settled the issue. Two were particularly intriguing: Piped Cheesecake and Sliced Chocolate. The former was a deconstructed version. The latter was dark chocolate with spheres of crème brulee. Don’t ask.

Still, I did miss that bread.

Wine Spectator Greystone
Four Plates (Barely)
25555 Main St.
St. Helena, Calif.

Chicken Worth its Wait   2 comments


Bouchon Bistro used to only offer fried chicken dinners once a month. Reservations filled within minutes; sometimes it felt like having one wrong lottery number. Now the odds are a little better: the crispy fried chicken in Thomas Keller’s restaurant is served twice monthly.

Although, the regular menu is available, I have to wonder why anyone would consider it. The sides, aren’t always the same, but by all accounts the chicken has a consistently high wow factor. Recently, the meal included fork-crushed potatoes, pole bean salad and Parker House rolls. The chicken is the star of the night. Plump from soaking in a lemon/herb brine for more than 12 hours, it’s deep-fried for a coating that shatters as soon as it meets your lips.bouchonchix

(Keller has numerous dining establishments. He’s authored several cookbooks, including Ad Hoc at Home featuring the fried chicken recipe. The description of the process and lengthy list of ingredients intrigued me, so last winter I tried it. It was good to know that, with fortitude and lots of time, the chicken can be made at home very close to what Bouchon serves. Keller also edits Finesse, a beautifully-designed magazine with articles celebrating the beauty of kitchens: design, cooking, gadgets and techniques.)


Back to that chicken, it’s juicy on the inside and crunchy on the outside for the perfect combination of texture and taste: buttermilk, rosemary and thyme. The bean salad in bacon vinaigrette, although flavorful, wasn’t as stellar as the creamy potatoes and rolls; even with a chicken-only meal I’d feel like a winner.

Bouchon Bistro
Five Plates
235 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, Calif.

Cool at Spago   Leave a comment


Trust me, it’s not easy acting cool. I was tested twice in Spago when my eyes landed on Wolfgang Puck as we entered the dining room. Walking past him was one thing, but having him stop by our table to shake hands was more of a stretch. Although I wanted my picture taken with him, I worked on my nonchalance, and had a wonderful meal, albeit one sans photograph.

An early birthday lunch hosted by my mother was the occasion. This was my first visit, so I could not make any pre-renovation comparisons. The restaurant had been closed for several months. The new look is warm and modern. The menu is daunting in its variety – and price. The dining experience, from flavor profiles to service, from plating to ambiance, demonstrates Spago deserves its high praises.


We started with Agnolotti, small ravioli-like pasta filled with pea puree which tasted like spring and featured a light cream sauce and fresh peas. I ordered Lobster Salad, an ultra-Cobb featuring lobster tail, hard-boiled egg so finely diced it looked confetti, avocado, bacon, several varieties of cherry tomatoes, chives and a mix of lettuces; the parts were certainly equal to the sum.


Weiner Schnitzel, a signature dish, remains on the menu, and for good reason. It’s a large, thin cut of breaded bliss. Lemon-butter cold potato salad provided an additional burst of gusto.


Dessert further elevated the meal: Semifreddo, with fresh and dehydrated strawberries, Thai basil and shortbread, a balanced, refreshing sweet/savory combination. By meal’s end, being cool no longer mattered.

Five Plates
176 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, Calif