Archive for May, 2011

Bouchon – Beverly Hills

As soon as I got the email from Bouchon mentioning that on Memorial Day they were serving Ad Hoc Fried Chicken, I immediately called and made a reservation. Knowing that our friends Sybil and Simon had just returned from a trip to Yountville and had experienced Ad Hoc at brunch, it was a no brainer that they should join us at Bouchon for Ad Hoc’s fried chicken. Everything was served family style in the Ad Hoc tradition.

BYO Wine – a Magnum of Dagueneau Silex, one of our favorite wines, set the tone for the evening.

Front of the bottle

Pate de Campagne, cornichons, pickled radish, mustard, country grilled bread ( this was not part of the special menu – we added it on as a first course)

THE AD HOC FRIED CHICKEN – crispy crunchy skin with moist tender meat – Chef Rory Herrmann nailed the recipe!!

For those who want to make the chicken at home see here:

N.Y. Cheddar Biscuits and Gravy

Macaroni and Cheese

Braised Collard Greens with bits of bacon

Berry Cobbler – a huge portion

A fun evening and the fried chicken definitely lived up to its reputation


Villetta – Santa Monica

We had made the decision from our first time at Villetta to just let Chef Pippa Calland devise a menu for us. We did just that and I can highly recommend that this is a perfect way to experience Villetta. Chef Calland prides herself on ingredient quality and seasonality. Letting her create your menu will insure that you get the “best of the best” from her stash of “goodies.” (As an aside, many many years ago when Michel Richard had Citrus, he used to have a special box of his ingredients that he was only allowed to use. We used to let him cook for us and what we got was from his box. Pippa and Villetta reminds us of Michel’s box)

BYO Champagne – a great way to start with a 35 year old champagne

Gabrielle, our wonderful server – She and Pippa have opened restaurants together in New York before they both came to Los Angeles. Besides great restaurant experience, she also has a degree from Columbia in Film Studies and English.

Amuse of white bean dip and parmesan chips

Pizza with Squash Blossom, La Credenza Cheese, Pignoli, Chives and Jalapeno – great beginning. John continues to plan for his take-out pizza from Villetta.

White Wine from their list

Copper River Salmon Crudo, Julienne of Cucumber, Chervil, Hot and Sweet Chili Sauce (One of the other servers, not Gabrielle, mentioned that it was Sriracha). A refreshing crudo that was somewhat reminiscent of a tartar.

Roasted Marrow Bones with an Oxtail/Onion Marmalade topped with edible flowers, mixed greens served with Ciabatta – the last time that I had similar marrow bones was at St John’s in London – classic preparation executed perfectly.

Close-up of the Marrow Bones

Jidori Chicken Livers, Frisee, Lardons of Pancetta (made in house), Dressing from Pancetta Reduction and Preserved Truffles from Piedmont and a Poached Farm Egg

The rich orange  yolk is opened to seep on top of the frisee – this was one of my favorite dishes of the night – absolutely delicious

Santa Barbara spot prawns a la plancha with garlic, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, Gigante beans – Pippa asked if we minded having this again – not in the least and as good as last time.

Red Wine from their list

Agnolotti stuffed with veal and pork, butter and sage sauce – another winner

Dry aged bone-in strip steak “tagliata” with wild arugula, radishes, shaved parmesan – hopefully this photo and the two below tell the story of how good this was.

Close-up of steak bone

Close-up of the steak

Cadillac Ice Margarita – lime, Tequila, Grand Marnier – sort of a palate awakener.

Mascarpone Cheesecake, Creme Anglais, Graham Cracker Crust (the graham crackers are made in house)

San Vicente in Brentwood has become an Italian restaurant row scene. Villetta, the newest, is by far the best. This is a food and wine focused restaurant with a “real” chef running the kitchen and a dedicated and knowledgeable front of the house staff.

Takao – Brentwood

It’s been a while that we have just let Takao orchestrate our meal as we have tended to just have some sushi for lunch. We decided to let Takao do a smaller version of his omakase.

The always smiling Takao – for the record we have been sitting in the same seats in front of Takao ever since he opened – we were the very first customers.

Beer for John

BYO Champagne for Takao and me

Miso Soup

Snow Crab, Sliced Cucumber, Radish, Vinegar saucing

Spanish Mackerel, Green Onion, Daikon, Carrot Shaving with a Dashi saucing

Wrapped in soy paper dotted with sesame seeds, blue crab, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tobiko served with a spicy miso sauce for dipping. This is listed on the menu as a blue crab salad roll – notice that there was no rice in the roll.

Toro Tataki wrapped in seaweed and topped with caviar

Fried Tofu that is grilled at the last minute – filled with Natto – the tofu is crispy and almost resembles a flaky pastry

Natto filling

Spicy Deep-Fried Soft Shell Crab, Yellow, Green and Red Pepper, Julienne Won Ton Skins Deep-Fried, Jalapeno, Chili Flakes and Chili Powder

This is a special tofu that Takao gets from a “mom and pop” place in Gardena. He served it cold surrounded by ice cubes with pea shoots, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. You were to dip the tofu in soy sauce using whatever combinations of the condiments provided below.


From left to right – bonito flakes, radish, green onion, ginger – Takao’s favorite additions were the ginger and green onion.

Now sushi



Giant Clam


Squid and Natto ( if you haven’t guessed Takao knows we are huge natto fans)


Excellent quality and well-executed Japanese cuisine.

Bar Pintxo – Santa Monica

Joe Miller of Joe’s restaurant in Venice has opened Bar Pintxo just one block from the ocean. Don’t expect tapas that you would find in San Sebastian – it is an Americanized version of tapas. Bar Pintxo is a very small space with a bar and stools facing the open kitchen and a few high tables in back. I must say that the stools are very uncomfortable; this is not meant to be a long evening of fine dining, but rather a “small bite” place. At 4:30, it was packed.

At first we ordered wine/beer by the glass but the glass is a small tumbler that barely holds enough for a real drink.

A bottle of Casamaro Blanco was necessary and John had 5 small tumblers of Stella beer.

Our excellent server – Andee

Starting at 4:00 they have Happy Hour where you can order 6 tapas for $6.00 – a good deal.

1. Fresh Tomato, Garlic, Grilled Bread

2. Chorizo Bilbao, Cherry Tomato

3. Serrano Jamon, Grilled Bread, Oil

4. Huevos Rellenos con Vinagreta Vasca

5. Crimini Mushroom, Mushroom Mousse, Manchego

6. Tomato Conserve and Manchego

Our favorites were the egg (like a deviled egg), the mushroom and the chorizo

Gambas al ajillo – maya head-on shrimp, garlic, lemon parsley – quite good

Croquetas de pollo y jamon, fried bechamel, caramelized onions, chicken, jamon serrano

The inside filling of the croquetas – basically tasteless and mushy

Tortilla espanola, egg, potatoes, caramelized onions – this was OK, but basically too many potatoes to the ratio of eggs

Tacos Castellanos, on the left lamb with mojo verde and on the right pulled pork with Ximinez BBQ – both were excellent with a nod towards the lamb.

A fun casual place with decent food

The Market at Santa Monica Place

We were invited to the pre-opening party at The Market. The official opening is May 20th. From their brochure:

“Fresh, fun and local, The Market is a delicious collection of organic, artisanal and gourmet food and gifts. Our hand-picked independently owned shops offer a food experience unlike anything else in Southern California.” By far our favorite was Primi and Norcini from Piero Selvaggio.

Being greeted at the door with Beachy Cream in the background – “retro-chic, organic ice cream sandwiches”

Rockenwagner Bakery

More Rockenwagner Bakery

Rockenwagner Bakery – a movie of the bread baking

I don’t know if these were samples or for sale – Rockenwagner

Magical Blooms

Groundwork Coffee Company

Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar – each person received a wonderful salumi and cheese plate – unlimited seconds/thirds etc.

Gorgeous Salumi from Norcino

Even more terrific salumi

Cheese presentation from Norcini

Unbelievable cheese to purchase from Norcini

Primi Al Mercato – both fresh pasta made on the premises and premium dried pasta can be bought. Also a “casual trattoria highlighting unusual and creative pasta will be served in small plates with fresh sauces made from Farmer’s Market ingredients.”

Making fresh pasta

Fresh pici pasta being made

Fresh pasta

Premium pasta, sauces and olive oil available for purchase

Executive Chef Nico plating pasta for tastes – only Piero Selvaggio really offered generous samples

Delicious pasta – ravioli was also served – no picture

More delicious pasta with Farmer’s Market fresh Vegetables


The Curious Palate “is a market, kitchen and cafe specializing in artisan foods and farm-to-table service. In its market shoppers find hand-picked culinary items from around the world.” I don’t know if they were providing samples as I didn’t sit at the counter. I honestly don’t know if anything was being offered.

Counter at Curious Palate

Menu at Curious Palate

Other stores at The Market – not pictured – Benedetta specializing in holistic skin care, The Cookie Guru, Venkado an eclectic wine shop, L’Artisan du Chocolat, and N’Ice Cream – 85 flavors of organic, free-trade gelato and sorbet.

Obviously most of our time was spent hovering around Primi Al Mercato and Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar.

Villetta – Santa Monica

We rarely go to a new restaurant soon after its opening. We generally wait until the “kinks” have been worked out. We have a long history with this restaurant space. It was originally the restaurant, Camelions with Elka Gilmore as the chef. It was terrific. Then the space became Chez Mimi and it was mediocre. Now as Villetta the space has undergone a 3 million dollar restoration and it is charming, inviting and lovely. Originally built and occupied by renowned architect John Byers, this is truly a landmarked gem. You can choose to dine in the lovely garden outside, the bar area, a small outdoor lounge or one of the two smaller dining areas.

The garden area

One of the small dining rooms

Outside lounge area

The other small dining room and where we sat

We got to Villetta as soon at it opened and this turned out to be very fortuitous as we got to meet and chat with the chef, Pippa Calland and GM Antonio De Cicco. Their philosophy regarding cuisine and hospitality mirrors our tastes exactly.

Pippa Calland was formerly the chef at Le Madri and Luna Park in New York City. She has  3 key words for her cuisine – focus, restraint and concentration. “What’s not on the plate is just as important as what is.” She is committed to getting the very best of fresh-from-market fish, meats and seasonal produce. For example, all meat is from whole animals and delivered 3 days after slaughter and butchered on site.

All the art is from Pippa’s mother’s extensive art collection.

Antonio De Cicco, the former Manager of Toscana Restaurant is a terrific host who gives back the real meaning of hospitality. We were treated as if we had been dining at Villetta for years and certainly didn’t feel this was a brand-new restaurant.

Champagne from their list

Complimentary white bean puree with parmesan crackers

We ordered one dish at a time and split each dish – our normal “one for two”

Seared blue fin tuna a la nicoise with fava bean puree, black olives, frilled red mustards and a hard cooked quail’s egg – absolutely delicious and the quality of the tuna was sashimi grade. Pippa explained (Pippa was our waitress and delivered the dish herself!)  that the tuna was over $30 a pound at her cost. The fava bean puree was the perfect accent to the tuna and the quail egg had a soft slightly runny yolk – perfect.

Pippa insisted that we try one of the pizzas and since she noticed that I have a “thing” for eggs (she heard me wax poetic over the soft yolk in the quail’s egg), she choose the pizza with asparagus, speck, sottocenere and sunny side up egg – The guy in charge of making the pizza is from Naples and this is a true Italian pizza. Again each component worked beautifully and John has plans for take-out pizza in his future.

It was lovely to dip each slice of pizza in the runny yolk.

BYO Wine

Santa Barbara spot prawns a la plancha with garlic,lemon zest, crushed red pepper, cannellini beans – another winner, executed perfectly – the shrimp heads were meaty and full  of roe and equally delicious were the cannellini beans.

Tagliolini with Santa Barbara Uni, parma butter and Meyer Lemon – an A+ dish – the pasta is fresh and made in house – perfect. Again the whole far exceeded each component – a terrific marriage of ingredients.

We consider Villetta a real find and we can’t wait to go back. Next time we will just let Chef Pippa chose our menu.

Their site here:

Vin Bar

I have said this many times, but Vin Bar continues to deliver with great service and delicious food. As always, we never look at a menu or the wine list and just let Piero chose the wine and Chef Nico devise the menu with the one caveat to keep the portions small.

Champagne to start

Scallop carpaccio, avocado, cherries and a sauce using colatura d’alici – an anchovy sauce made from an ancient Roman recipe of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. This was light, delicious and bursting with flavor – each pristine ingredient shown.

White Wine

Pan seared Sand Dabs, capers, wild arugula, beet puree, micro greens, lemon sauce – again this is ingredient focused cuisine perfectly executed.

Perline (little pearls) of ricotto gnocchi with shrimp and calamari ragu, peas – light fluffy gnocchi with an excellent counterpoint of flavor from the seafood ragu and fresh peas

Red Wine

Pici (a thick, hand rolled pasta, like a fat spaghetti, originating in the province of Siena in Tuscany) with fresh tomato sauce, pinch of chili peppers, parmesan – Pici will be available to purchase at Primi Al Mercato at Santa Monica Place opening May 20. I plan to buy some and also some of the sauces that will be made fresh daily – Vin Bar at home!

Cavatelli pasta with quail sausage, pink sauce (tomato with a touch of cream), pecorino cheese – another winner – straight forward cuisine that is just delicious

Lamb Saltimbocca (Italian for jumps in the mouth) The lamb is treated like veal in the traditional Saltimbocca recipe by being pounded. It was served with speck – a ham that’s salt-cured and cold smoked, natural jus.

Beef Spezzatino (Beef Stew) –  It takes its name from the meat that is cut into cubes, in fact the Italian word refers to something that has been broken into pieces. The beef was slowly braised in red wine and served with sauteed Maitake and Shitake mushrooms.

Cheese Plate – I stopped taking notes so I don’t have the names of each cheese served.

A must restaurant for great food and service – just a wonderful meal.