Tuesday, July 27, 2010


A Very Enchanted Evening

Recently, Richard and I saw the glorious “Broadway” production of “South Pacific” at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater and the restaurant we chose to have dinner beforehand left me feeling “Younger than spring time.” Why? Because it brought back memories of when I first left college and started working in Manhattan... before the ‘fine wine & fine dining’ foodie craze and at the tail end of the two martini lunch ‘saloon’ era of the 50’s to mid-60’s. My parents’ post WWII era. The ‘Mad Men’ era.

When I worked at CBS (known as Black Rock) the 21 Club and Toots Shor’s were down the block. The famed 2l (still one of my favorite bars/restaurants ever), a former speakeasy, is still thriving, I’m happy to report… but Toots toodle-oo’d years ago.

I loved Toots and his saloon. I’d listen to his booming voice as he chatted up customers while I hung out at the bar sipping a Cutty Sark on the rocks or a scotch sour (you only had wine back then if you were eating in a French restaurant). Sinatra drank and ate there, as did his fellow Rat Packers and the ‘Copa’ comics of the day. Sitting on a bar stool at Toots’ bar made me feel I arrived. I don’t know to or at what I was arriving, but it was a heady feeling.

And when I went to the theater which was every other week, my friends/dates and I would have dinner after the play at Sardi’s which was still hanging on to its heyday. If not Sardi’s, we’d walk over to Joe Allen, a saloon/pub (still heydaying now) for a late night burger w/ the actors and gypsies appearing on B’way. But Joe Allen represented a new era – my era. Sardi’s was becoming a remnant of an “All About Eve” past.

I miss those old watering holes, as they were often called, even though the food was never what anyone would call ‘fine dining.’ The places had a certain glamour and cachet. So, when Richard and I find a restaurant/bar that reminds me of that era, I’m a happy camper.

Which brings me to Kendall’s Brasserie & Bar which is downstairs from The Music Center (LA’s version of NY’s Lincoln Center) and the only place I want to dine if we’re going to the theater. One perk is we can park our car at the Music Center and walk a few steps to the restaurant – no moving the car or finding a theater shuttle to get us to the show before curtain time. The second perk is that the staff and décor flood me w/ memories of those saloon-restaurants I loved so much when I was a 21 year old ‘career’ girl.

There’s a semi-circular bar in the main dining room surrounded by a dark mahogany half wall topped w/ etched glass panels between shiny brass posts. The TV is set to ESPN (Toots always had some sporting event playing on a screen over his bar, too)… The night we were there George Steinbrenner was being eulogized – an end of a baseball era which I found ironic because I was in a restaurant that reminded me of the saloon era of which Steinbrenner was very much a part.

The dining rooms sport vintage metal sconces from France, red leather banquettes, tables w/ white cloths and comfortable bistro chairs of dark wood and black leather. One sponged mustard-colored wall in our dining room displayed vintage hotel silver trays and serving pieces. A huge chandelier shaped like a steel drum w/ cream glass bowls in metal frames hung from the ceiling. Rooster sculptures ruled the roost near two charming Toulouse-esque murals painted on the back wall… Food was served on white dishes – of course.

But I really fell in love w/ the French imported tile floor with its octagon stars surrounded by solid terra cotta colored tiles and an Aztec-style border. If those old saloons didn’t have dark wood floors – they always had various style tile floors.

Kendall’s is a comfortable, masculine place w/ just enough softness in its design to be welcoming to women.

I no longer drink scotch …wine is my preferred drink w/ dinner now and, unlike those bygone saloon days, most ‘saloons’ now have a fairly nice wine list. Richard and I started off w/ a glass of Shannon Ridge chardonnay. But, speaking of perks, Kendall’s was in the midst of a no corkage fee promotion (still going on), so we brought our own bottle… Woodenhead Pinot Noir, a delicious find from our Sonoma wine trip (see my “Long & Wine-ing Road” blogs of a few months ago).

Also, unlike those bygone saloon days, the food has become more important and Kendall’s offers an interesting selection of delicious French-California cuisine.

For our overture, we shared a watercress & endive salad w/ chevre chaud & walnut vinaigrette…

Then the curtain went up on our entrees. Richard had a grilled loup de mer fillet (sea bass) w/ green asparagus, carrot anise puree & lobster vinaigrette. I had the Chateau steak w/ a béarnaise sauce, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach & pommes frites maison. We left humming the sauces.

I miss those old saloons and that heady feeling I’d get when I was in one (and not from the scotch), but Kendall’s Brasserie & Bar brings back that memory… and the food’s better.

All and all… dinner and a show… a very enchanting evening.

Sunday, July 25, 2010



I love chicken. I dream about chicken. I blog about chicken. Yet I’ve never had chicken fricassee. What is fricassee anyway? I looked it up in ol’ Websters…. fricassee: a dish of cut-up pieces of meat (as chicken or veal) stewed in stock and served in a white sauce.

And, in these sour economic times, chicken is still a healthful way to feed a family cheaply and that’s sweet! But you can’t keep eating the same chicken dishes two-three nights a week, right? That’s just boring!

So, Richard decided to experiment and make something he’d never made before… Yup – chicken fricassee. But, knowing Richard, it wasn’t going to be just your ordinary chicken fricassee (is any chicken fricassee ‘ordinary?’), he opted for chicken fricassee w/ citrus confit from an Alain Ducasse (one of the world’s top chefs)…a recipe he found in the May 31, 2010 issue of Wine Spectator.

Well, I have to confess… chicken fricassee w/ citrus confit is a comforting, colorful, culinary confection that I consumed with delicious affection.

Bon appetit!

Chicken Fricassee w/ Citrus Confit
Chef Alain Ducasse, Le Louis XV, Monaco

4 oranges
1 lime
1 pomelo
1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 spring onions
1 bulb fennel
1 whole chicken, cut in 10 pieces
salt and pepper, ground and whole
pinch of coriander seeds
2 cardamom seeds

Juice two of the oranges, the lime, and half the pomelo; reserve the juice.

Peel ALL of the fruit and cut the zest only (discard the pith) into thick matchsticks.

Place the zest in a pot, cover w/ cold water, boil, strain, and cool. Repeat twice. Place the zest, sugar and juice in a pot, and cook over low heat for 2 hours. Set aside.

Segment the previously peeled lemon, 2 oranges and remaining pomelo half  (full disclosure: since we can't eat grapefruit or pomelo, Richard left it out)

Cut the spring onion in half, then on a bias cut the dark green sections into half-inch pieces. Cut the fennel into small dice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Chop coriander and cardamom and place in a cheesecloth sachet.

Salt and pepper the chicken...

and sear over medium-high heat in a cocotte w/ olive oil until skin is golden. Remove the chicken, and reserve. In the same cocotte, sweat the white portion of the spring onions and the fennel for 3 minutes, then add the citrus segments, 2 pinches of whole black pepper, and the sachet.

Deglaze the cocotte w/ a ½ cup of water, add the chicken

cover, and place in the oven.

After 16 minutes, check the breast pieces. If they’re done, remove them, and cook the legs another 10 minutes. When done, remove the sachet, chicken and spring onions, and reserve. Crush the ingredients that remain in the cocotte, then add half of the citrus zest and the green sections of the spring onions. Add salt and pepper, return the chicken and spring onions to the cocotte, and stir.   Serve in the cocotte w/ a side dish of whole wheat couscous spiked w/ Espelette pepper or paprika and tossed w/ a handful of basil chiffonade.

What’s a cocotte you might ask? Well, one definition is a “prostitute,” but since that doesn’t apply in this particular culinary case, I think the “large, deep pot” definition (we used our Le Creuset pot) holds forth.

Serves 4

Check out some of my other chicken blogs (reviews & recipes):

Sideways Sunday - 3/16/10
Meeting the Chicken Challenge - 3/1/10
The Cassoulet Christmas Waltz - 12/30/09
Everything But The Kitchen Sink Pasta - 11/20/09
Chicken On The Cheap - 11/3/09
Gourmet Group - 8/24/09
A Taste of Napa - 11/10/06

Friday, July 9, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME - Rome via Siena - Goodbye Europe

Rome via Siena
Goodbye Europe

The next morning, I reluctantly crawled out of bed and started to pack, leaving behind my sweet dreams of Michelangelo’s David and the Ponte Vecchio bridge and cheeseburgers w/ Leo at Harry’s Bar. It was time to leave Florence. I didn’t want to leave Florence… but since I was an unemployed American freelance writer w/ no prospects of employment in a city where I couldn’t speak the language, I saw the handwriting on the piazza wall!

Richard and I met my remaining guys downstairs where we bid farewell to Jason and Jim. Their European adventure was not ending. The Food Network had commandeered them for another show being shot in Ireland, so they packed the Mercedes equipment van and left for the Emerald Isle. I wanted to stowaway, but if you’ve ever seen the inside of a TV equipment van, you’d know I’d have to be as thin as one of Jason’s light poles to fit in… I’m not.

After we waved goodbye, Richard and Charlie packed the Passat and we took off for Rome – well, actually the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel.  Because we wouldn’t have time to “see” Rome in the couple of hours we would have if we drove straight there, we decided to enjoy the ride through the beautiful Tuscany hills and stop for lunch in the small, ancient town of Siena… (duh – name one that isn’t).

A piece of trivia: Siena is the home of the world’s oldest banking establishment which was founded in 1472 – 20 years before Columbus discovered the “new land.”

Since no cars are allowed in Siena’s city walls, we parked below and walked up to the town. We were definitely not in Kansas (well, in our case LA). Charming. Quaint. Medieval! Picturesque! Did I mention old!?!? So old in fact that the Lombards, the city’s oldest aristocratic family dates back to 774 A.D. when they surrendered to Charlemagne… I’m assuming the city was built long before then. Who knows – maybe Caesar slept there.

As we walked by the Mediterranean-style homes and buildings, some w/ laundry drying on clotheslines outside the windows, we decided to eat first and sightsee later.

We found our way to the city’s famous Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped, sloping town square surrounded by buildings and outdoor cafes.

We chose the first cafe we saw and grabbed a table under the burgundy colored canopy.

I wish I could remember what Charlie or Richard or I had for our lunch entrees (I had left my notepad in the car), but I do remember that we loved every bite of cheese, proscuitto, olives and bread we found sitting on our table. AND, I do remember that the red table wine we ordered was pretty fine. As we chewed and swallowed and sipped and swallowed and talked between chewing, sipping and swallowing, we gazed at the piazza and people-watched.

At a nearby table, two priests communed over a carafe of wine.

Lunch over, we walked the town square and found a station wagon housing owls and falcons for a flying demonstration later that day…

We explored the beautiful Duomo, the Cathedral of Siena completed in 1380 and the ‘spit and image’ of the breathtaking (literally, in my case) 15th century Il Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence...

it even has a similar (albeit smaller) bell tower…

We discovered history-filled ancient buildings ...

and alleyways...

 and streets.

On one street, the pigeons were so happy to see us that one you know what on Richard’s shoulder.

An old wives’ tale claims that’s a sign of good fortune, but all Richard knew was that he wanted to take off his tee and pull off one of the shirts drying on a nearby clothesline. He didn’t, of course, so he chose to believe that old wives’ tale and that good luck would follow him back to the States.
Our time in Siena was over. Back at the car, Richard changed his shirt and it was off to Rome – well, our airport hotel.

We checked in, had a nice dinner in the hotel’s Le Colonne restaurant, said good bye to Charlie who wasn’t going home w/ us, and immediately went to bed. We had to be at the airport at 4:30 – 5:00 a.m. But no problem. We chose the Hilton Rome because we didn’t want to deal w/ finding a cab or Rome traffic. We could walk to the airport – really! So in the wee morning hours, we just walked right through hotel doors and onto a ‘conveyer belt’ sidewalk that took us directly into the terminal where we easily found our gate. I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier “going to the airport” experience.

Sad as I was to leave Europe, and I was really, really sad… it was the perfect ‘exit’ for my 5 guys & me Food Network adventure. Well, that and upgrading our tickets to business class for the plane ride home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME-Florence-Day 2-Gushing & Gawking


Florence, Italy
Day Two – Gushing & Gasping

Waking up each morning in Europe was a thrill. But waking up in Florence to the slight din of Vespas careening on the street outside our window filled me w/ excitement and anticipation. My heart beat faster and not from the rich coffee we had at breakfast. I still couldn’t believe we were in Florence! Florence! (Obviously I was way over the internal hissy fit I’d when we arrived the day before.)

We finished our espresso. Our museum appointment to see Michelangelo’s David was our first stop. David! “The” David! As we walked, we passed a replica standing proudly outside in a piazza where all the Firenze pigeons proudly perch. They may not know much about art, but they know what they like.

But words leave me when I try to describe the feeling I had when I walked into the gallery where the real David stood reaching 100 feet in the air. OK – I’m exaggerating, but it seemed like a hundred feet to me. I gushed! I gasped! He was magnificent. So much bigger than I imagined him to be. So much more beautiful. I wanted to take pictures. We weren’t allowed. I wanted to touch the marble. Another no no. So I stared… then circled a bit around him and stared… then circled him a bit more and stared. I don’t think I let out the air I sucked in when I gasped until I completed encircled him w/ my stares. He was stare cased.

Breathing steadily again, we left the museum… my gushing and gasping over. Or so I thought. But, as we walked the streets art was everywhere! In piazzas!

On outside walls!

In archways!

On buildings!

Everywhere! My gushing and gasping almost overwhelmed me. It was time to stop my racing heart. And the only way to do that, of course, was to shop!

We made our way through alleyways and promenades where the city’s ‘undead’ (translation: alive) artists peddled their wares

and performance artists dressed and posed as statues for hours.

Finally, we reached the Ponte Vecchio and its gazillion jewelry and souvenir shops. The very bridge where Dante, himself, once walked and mused poetically.

Ponte Vecchio, one of the most famous bridges in the world, was originally built in 996, it was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, the last incarnation of which was in 1345. Oddly enough, when the Germans fled Florence on August 4, l944 (the day Anne Frank was arrested) they left the bridge standing after burning every other bridge in the city. (August 4th is also my birthday.)

Sadly, the dollar in Europe wasn’t great and there weren’t too many bargains, so my heart slowed down to a normal beat as we window shopped and took in the view from the bridge.

It was getting late and my stomach began to growl. Time to eat. Since first reading Hemingway in high school, I had always wanted to eat at Harry’s Bar. I never had the chance in Paris, but the famed Florence Harry’s Bar was within walking distance. We strolled alongside the Arno River, the street lined w/ Vespas, till we found the restaurant.

Only a few lunch patrons were left lingering over espresso in the main dining room. We took a table in the bar by the window and began to chat w/ the dapper, elderly man behind the bar. The rooms had that wonderful ‘bar/saloon’ ambience with dim lighting, dark mahogany wainscoting and pink tablecloths and I felt I was ‘home’… atmospherically speaking.

Studying the menu, Richard asked him what “Leo’s salad” was. The man smiled. “I’m Leo and the salad is named for me.” Well, of course, Richard had to have it. He loved it… though the delicious dressing’s secret ingredient was kept a secret.

Nothing so healthful for me. There was a cheeseburger on the menu! I wanted the cheeseburger! I had to have the cheeseburger! No surprise to anyone who’s been reading my blog over time. It was perfect! I kvelled.

While we waited for our food, Leo, who started off at the restaurant as a bus boy when it first opened more than 50 years ago, was now, for all intents and purposes, “Harry,” overseeing the various Harry’s Bars around the world. Leo and Richard bonded over Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco columnist, who often visited the bar. Leo regaled us w/ tales of Hemingway and showed us the broken chair he kept in the back… a chair (so the story goes) that Papa smashed in a bar fight decades ago.

We were reluctant to say goodbye, but it was almost time to meet the ‘guys’ for drinks and dinner. We promised Leo we’d be back someday.

Someday ended up being later that same day.

After having a cocktail at the little bar in our hotel and hearing about Leo, the guys decided they wanted to go there for “appetizers” – so off we went.

 Leo was thrilled to see us again and bought us a round of Bellinis, the bar’s signature cocktail (he also makes a mean vodka martini).

Then, out came nibbles – my favorite – grilled cheese sliders! We wanted to stay for dinner, but had made a reservation at a recommended trattoria that turned out to be our only disappointment in Florence and will, therefore, be unnamed.

But the night remained memorable because of Harry’s Bar and Leo.

They say all good things must end - and our 'good' stay in Florence was ending... we were leaving in the morning... driving to an airport hotel in Rome w/ a lunch stop in Siena. My “five guys & me” Food Network adventure was almost over.