Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taste of Beverly Hills Presented by Food and Wine Magazine

Eating. Drinking.  More Eating.  Still Eating.
by Denise Fondo

Food and wine lovers spent a day of bliss in Beverly Hills.  At least, this one did.  Saturday's morning and afternoon session of The Taste of Beverly Hills presented by Food and Wine magazine was a great success, in my opinion.  For a first time event, it was impressively organized.  The layout is smart, with two main tents of food and drink samples, seating areas in between, and live demonstration tents along the side.  It's a setup that gives you a sense of flow, makes the space feel more open, and prompts you to move about the grounds.  On the way from one tent to the next, you see and hear demonstrations that might interest you and you may run into some well-known names from the food world.  I ran into Ted Allen, Roger Mooking, and Ludo Lefebvre as I walked around the event and in the halls of the Beverly Hilton.

I really love that the event is utilizing the old Robinson's May parking lot in Beverly Hills.  I really miss that store and this makes me feel rather nostalgic. I wish organizers had found a way to incorporate that adorable courtyard on the ground floor of the old store into the events.  Perhaps next year.   Also love the opportunity to spend time at the Beverly Hilton.  Dipped into the cocktail bar in the hotel with friends in the afternoon to escape the heat, have a drink and talk about our experiences that day.  Nice to have that available.  With most food and wine events you are stuck in an outdoor location with absolutely no place to take a step back for a half hour or so.  

I was scheduled to cover a number of demonstrations and events during the day, but managed to miss most of them.  Too much food to taste!  I did attend Boys Versus Girls Sommelier Blind Tasting hosted by Bonnie Graves.  Randy Fuller will be writing about the this event on Now and Zin.  Not to give anything away but Graves threw in a Two Buck Chuck as a trick wine and it was fun to watch sommeliers fooled into thinking it might sell for $12 a glass in a restaurant.  Loved the surprise when it came out of the bag to be revealed as Trader Joe's cheap and popular wine.  

Restaurants in attendance change with each session, so ticketholders are given an opportunity to taste dishes from many Los Angeles restaurants and dessert makers.  Some of my favorite tastes include rigatoni with mushrooms from Nonna of Italy, meatballs from Delancey, beef satay from Talesai, beef and blue cheese sandwiches from Philippe The Original, champagne truffles from Valerie Confections and ribs from Mr. Cecil's California Ribs.  I'm personally surprised by the Mr. Cecil's.  Thought I didn't like their food but I'm going to have to give the restaurant another shot after today's taste.  Never saw a number of restaurants listed for the afternoon, such as Water Grill and Ortalon.  May have just missed them.

Just one small change to suggest, the bloggers lounge we were promised in media information, was nowhere to be found.  We need a place to gather our thoughts, download photos, get our notes together, and power up our cellphones, computers and iPads.  Other than that, The Taste of Beverly Hills was a lot of fun.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seared Watermelon Steaks with Pistachios and Microgreens

Love watermelon, pistachios and microgreens.  Great summer dish from Chef Jose Andres using all three.  Yum!

Chef Andres
Watermelon says “summer” to me. They are so versatile and full of sweet juice. We make an addictive agua fresca with its pink juice that you can find at Trés and Altitude. At home, my daughters scoop out little balls and freeze them for a cool treat. I love to sear thick slices on the grill or on a plancha. Try this at home. Your family will love it! --José Andrés

Serves 4
1 medium to large seedless watermelon
3 tomatoes
¼ cup Spanish extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sea salt
¼ cup chopped pistachios
1 cup packed micro greens (cilantro, mint, arugula), washed
Spanish extra virgin olive oil

Sunday, July 25, 2010



Absolutely beautiful Ojai Pixies from the Hollywood Farmers Market.  A true California tangerine developed at the University of California Citrus Research Center Riverside. Sweet, juicy gems.  I love eating one of two for breakfast.  I also love using them in my cooking.  Here is a delicious dish made with other ingredients I purchased from the farmers market.

Roasted Potatoes in Tangerine - Tarragon Olive Oil

8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes medium sliced
1 medium shallot thinly sliced
1 medium garlic clove minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed Ojai Pixie juice
1 teaspoon freshly chopped tarragon  
cayenne pepper, ground pepper, sea salt to taste

In a small mixing bowl combine the Ojai Pixie juice, tarragon and olive oil.  Make sure all the seeds are removed from the mixture.  Let this sit for at least an hour.  Once the olive oil mixture is ready, preheat the oven the 350.  Add the potatoes, shallot and garlic to a large mixing bowl.  Add the olive oil mixture, cayenne pepper, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Combine gently.  If you want more tarragon, this is the time to do this.

Place all the ingredients into a medium casserole and roast in the oven for about 25-30  minutes.  You want some caramelizing but you do not want the potatoes or shallots to burn.

You can change this recipe by using fresh parsley instead of the tarragon.  You can use sweet onion in place of the shallot.   Add a couple splashes of champagne vinegar.  

Press Trip? Tough gig!

When I tell people one of my jobs is travel writer, their response is usually something like, "Wow!  What a great job!  You must love it!"  I do.  Most of the time.  The part of the job that is tough for me is the press trip. 

There are good aspects to a press trip and I want to write about these first. 

Best element of a press trip is the people I've encountered.  Some of the publicists and writers I've met on press trips have become good friends.  Nothing can top that for value in my life. 

Another important element of a press trip is the opportunity it gives a freelance travel writer to experience a destination we probably couldn't afford on our own.  Working as a travel writer does sound exciting but for the majority of us there is very little money in it.  Payment for our work is also often hard to collect.  We spend a great deal of time trying to get paid for work we've done for editors and publishers who must think we are all madcap heirs and heiresses on a lark.  Ugly side of the job.  So, a press trip may provide us with content for articles we can sell.  Sometimes we have an assignment lined up before we even pack our bag.  One bag.  We travel light. 

Now for the bad bits.

On a press trip I am someone's invited guest.  Could be a hotel, a city, a tourism bureau, a chamber of commerce.  The trip is generally scheduled within a inch of my life in order to experience as much of the destination as possible.  I am going to receive first class treatment everywhere I go on this press trip.  That's the problem.  If I just go with the plan laid out for me on a press trip I am not doing my job as a travel writer. 

I spend as much time as I can on a press trip working outside the boundaries of the official itinerary in order to do my job correctly.  I need to experience a place without people knowing I'm a travel writer.  I need to see what service is like for most people who travel to the destination.  I need to see parts of town and visit businesses my hosts might not want me to visit.  So, I grab every minute I can outside of my scheduled events to get my work done.  I'm up very early in the morning until late into the night to get this all accomplished, while still attending most of the events on the itinerary.  By the end of these trips, I'm as wiped out as the publicist who has to corral a group of feisty personalities through an experience

On occasion I go completely off the reservation and SKIP a scheduled event.  I only do this when it makes sense for my work.  Like the barbecue I was invited to on a press trip about a year ago.  I was ordered not to drive myself to the inn where it was being held because the steep route was too dangerous.  What poor person am I sending up a killer mountain to happy inn if I can't even risk the drive?  No one!

For many travel writers press trips are the very best part of the job.  I can understand that, too.  Traveling is one of the most freeing, exciting activities in life.  Enjoying it on someone else's dime?  Just that much better.  

I feel quite strongly that great care must always be given to the work we produce from press trips.  The very point of most travel pieces is to provide helpful information to people considering how to spend their hard-earned cash, and even harder earned days off, on a vacation.  This is the very reason I am thankful for the opportunity a press trip offers me and completely committed to doing my job in whatever free time the official itinerary offers me.**

There are media outlets who absolutely will not allow their writers to take press trips and may not even hire a writer who has accepted one.  I can understand the concern.   The public needs to be absolutely sure a positive review of a destination comes from a writer's authentic experience and not the impressions of a press trip's controlled and skillfully finessed environment.  

**Hello publicist, I know you are asking yourself now  if I really did sleep in that morning I was late for our scheduled breakfast event.  Probably not.  Most likely, I was miles away by the crack of dawn, on my own little journey.  I may have already sampled food from two other breakfast places before joining all your smiling faces around the table.  Ditto lunch.  Ditto dinner.  And people wonder why I'm getting so fat.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Flood of Balsamic Vinegar Knockoffs!

The balsamic vinegar you are using may be nothing more than rice vinegar laced with caramel flavoring and coloring. Not in my kitchen. People work hard to produce great products for us. We should always make the effort to support them. Cheap imitations geared toward maximum profits and minimal consumer satisfaction are just trash. "Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby!"

According to an article on the website of Italy Magazine, manufacturers of genuine balsamic vinegar are meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture to explore ways to protect true balsamic vinegar products.

Always look for Protected Designation of Origin label or the DOP, if you want to know if your vinegar is a true balsamic.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dinner Reservations? Plenty!


“Uncle.” Seriously, Los Angeles restaurants, you’ve done me in. I’m taking the five-figure amount my husband and I used to spend annually at your tables and spending it on food to make at home. I’ll use the money to buy only the best ingredients. Yes, even those insanely priced tomatoes at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. I love to cook but time constraints make it somewhat difficult. No matter! We will happily adjust our lives to eat at our own table from this moment forward.

I used to love the words ‘Your dinner reservation is confirmed.” Not anymore. Now, the very thought of going to a restaurant for a meal fills me with anxiety. For many reasons. Many really good reasons.

Going out to eat used to be an occasion. Usually the people at the restaurant were happy to serve us, the food was great, the place was clean, and my husband and I weren’t endangered by the food on our plate, the staff, or the building.

The following is a list of a few incidents that have occurred to my husband and me at Los Angeles area restaurants over the last couple years. The list comes from memory because I never wrote them all down. I’m glad I didn’t, at least I’ve forgotten a few. The moments I recall are bad enough.

One of my complaints falls under a very big tent. The entire dining experience is simply deteriorating. The atmosphere and the service at many Los Angeles restaurants are no longer designed to make the customer feel comfortable and attended. Fellow diners frequently make the experience unpleasant for everyone nearby. Manners are as passé as Cherries Jubilee. People give no thought to the highly personal conversations they are conducting at the table next to you. Loud cell phone calls, fights with dinner companions, and screeching children running around tables, often give a restaurant all the charm of a cross-country bus trip in August.

At a small, Italian restaurant on Robertson, just north of Wilshire, we were all held captive (and horrified) by a doctor trying to wrangle a large sum of money from his dining partner. The doctor was loud, angry, and irrational. Within minutes, everyone in the restaurant knew he was in the middle of a very contentious divorce, was hiding money from his soon-to-be-ex, and had a fantastic business opportunity for his friend. The soft-spoken friend politely turned down the business opportunity. That sent the doctor into a rage shouting they were no longer friends and he should look for another doctor for his dying father. At this point, one of the doctor’s minions, dressed in scrubs, came in and called him away for an emergency. My husband and I, as well as every other diner, were silent as this dust-up dwarfed anything else happening in the restaurant. At some point before this event ruined the meals of everyone else, the manager should have asked them to keep it down, take it outside, or tuck into a dessert, compliments of the house. He did nothing.

Good service is no longer the norm in Southern California restaurants. It is a pleasant surprise. Time after time, we’ve watched our food languish at the pass as our servers fold napkins, chat with friends, have a cigarette out back, organize their appearance in a student film, stare out the window, or just, inexplicably, disappear for twenty-five minutes. Then, there is the exact opposite with servers who really feel we’ve come to have dinner only with them. We recently had a server bore us for our entire meal about his political views, which were the exact opposite of our own. We have no idea why he chose us as his victims for the evening. The restaurant was busy and, certainly, his other tables were suffering from his lack of attention. Not too long before that, the owner of an Indian restaurant spent over 30 minutes telling us why India is a better country than America and how he is a happier person than we are. He managed to insult our emotional and spiritual happiness, our car, the Hasidic community surrounding his restaurant, Catholics worldwide, and his uncle who runs an Indian restaurant around the corner from his own, in one very long, heated monologue. My husband said the phrase “off his meds” was the only way to describe the owner’s behavior that night. We have never returned to the restaurant though we used to eat there 2 or 3 times a month.

One of the most prevalent problems with dining out is over-anxious bus boys who take away food, silverware, and drinks before we are finished eating. It happens constantly. My husband has even had glasses of wine whisked away. Recently, at a seafood restaurant in Santa Monica I had to stop a bus boy from taking a lobster away. I had simply taken a break in eating to enjoy the view of the ocean and the pier. That’s all it took. He swooped in and grabbed lobster and bucket. I nearly had to wrestle him for the food. I got the lobster back but he did take off with the bucket, claw cracker, and lovely clarified butter. Two weeks ago a bus boy took away my plate when I, literally, had the fork to my mouth taking a bite.

At an Italian restaurant in Studio City, a waiter dropped a plate of spaghetti and meatballs on my husband. It hit one of his shoulders and slid down his white shirt. The waiter snapped an apology, gave my husband some napkins, and continued on his way. The restaurant refused to even pay for the dry cleaning bill. At a pizzeria on Wilshire Boulevard a pipe burst over my head soaking me in ……I don’t even want to think about that one. At a restaurant owned by two famous chefs, my husband bit into a sausage and cracked a molar on a bone, causing him agonizing pain and 2 trips to the dentist. To the restaurant’s credit, they picked up the dental bill without hesitation, making me a repeat customer. Randy still hasn’t returned, however. Then there was the night with two of my girlfriends when a very odd waitress tried to trap us in a parking structure. I still have no idea what was up with this lady but she really spooked us throughout dinner and then ran to the parking structure to bring down the gate so we couldn’t exit. We were, literally, racing her! We made it out and she stood in the street glaring at us as we drove away.

Sticking with food that hurt us, at a Mexican restaurant on La Cienega, I nearly choked to death on a piece of wood that was in my food. It got stuck in my throat. The manager told me the wood didn’t come from their restaurant. He changed his story when I showed him my wooden plate charger with a piece of wood missing from it. At a very popular taco place near Chateau Marmont, my husband was nearly killed by chicken bones left in tacos we picked up as a to-go order. Just west on Sunset, at a very popular Chinese restaurant, we found a two-inch piece of blood red lipstick in our noodles. At a popular and expensive bakery on Melrose, an employee brought my cake through the kitchen door and into the café, with a finger up one of his nostrils.

Worth our money? Nope.

Quite simply, much of the food is mediocre and I can cook so much better on even my most uninspired days. I use fresher ingredients and my kitchen is cleaner. The atmosphere is fantastic and I get to be alone with my husband. I also get to avoid the often off-putting visit to a restaurant bathroom. Sheesh……

Los Angeles restaurants, we’re out. Our money and our time will be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps on cooking classes in Italy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New Life in Springtime!

Been so long since I've written on Middle Crescent Kitchen or I Cook the World. I needed to focus all my attention on a health issue. I'm healing well and feeling my strength and stamina increase every day.

So, I will be posting recipes again on both sites. I hoped very much for this day to come. It has!