Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where to Eat: A Norwegian Dinner @ The Strand House

The Eats: A six-course Norwegian Seafood Dinner with wine pairings

The Location: Manhattan Beach

The Vibes: bustling, eye-catching, worldly

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Greg Hozinsky, Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz

The 4-1-1: The Strand House is part of the Zislis Group, which manages several restaurants and also Shade Hotel, another #WilsonsGuide favorite.

Parking Situation: Metered parking on nearby streets and in an adjacent parking lot

I’ll Be Back…: To try out The Strand House’s regular menu as well!

For the week of Oct. 7 – Oct. 12, The Strand House and the Norwegian Seafood Council hosted a Norwegian Seafood Tasting Dinner, presented by Executive Chef Greg Hozinsky and Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz.

Hozinsky, pictured below, was recently inducted into the Norwegian Seafood Council’s Chef's Culinary Board, which comprises six other chefs* from around the country who are helping promote awareness and consumption of Norwegian seafood, including King crab, salmon and cod, and other fish and shellfish. The newly inducted board members even traveled to Norway to get up-close-and-personal with the country’s cuisine, chefs and culture, bringing back what they experienced to share at their respective restaurants.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, a small group of bloggers, reporters, marketers and a member of the Norwegian Seafood Council gathered to eat six courses created by Hozinsky and inspired by the flavors of Norway. The dishes didn’t originate from traditional Norwegian recipes; instead, they incorporated subtle Norwegian influences while also borrowing from a host of other cuisines, including Japanese, French and Italian. For example, Hozinsky explained that the presentation of each course was more French in style rather than Norwegian. Prior to this dinner, I had no experience whatsoever with Norwegian food, so it was a great learning opportunity, especially with Hozinsky graciously explaining each course.

Here’s a look at what was on the special menu, with all seafood hailing from Norway:

An Amuse-Bouche
(Unfortunately, I actually missed the Amuse-Bouche, however, I was later informed it was a bite-sized portion of cod.)

First Course: Smoked Norwegian Salmon ‘Pastrami’ paired with a 2013 Kinero ‘Alice’ Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles
For the initial course, the salmon went through the same process as beef to become “pastrami.” Served chilled, the salmon was accompanied by pickled beets along with tomatoes and mustard greens in a light, tangy vinaigrette. This dish by far was the most creatively presented, as servers poured liquid nitrogen horseradish sauce on top of everything, causing steamy smoke to rise in every direction.

Second Course: Pan Roasted Fresh Norwegian King Crab paired with a 2013 Trefethen ‘Oak Knoll’ Dry Riesling, Napa Valley
Large chunks of meaty King Crab rested on top of a creamy corn pudding in a brown butter broth with fresh herbs. The flavors and textures stood in an interesting contrast with one another—the velvetiness of the corn pudding juxtaposed to the gritty bitterness of the greens; the density of the crab meat differing from the thinness of the broth.

Third Course: Norwegian Halibut paired with a 2012 Tantara Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County
Probably one of the most filling courses of the night, the halibut was served warm, on top of a white smoked sunchoke puree and underneath a medley of cauliflower, mushrooms and hijiki (Japanese seaweed). 

Hozinsky explained that it was very typical to use forage vegetables in Norwegian cuisine, sharing a story about how when visiting a chef’s residence in Norway, this chef walked right out of his home and into his garden—on the edge of a forest—to pick shrubs to be used in that evening's dinner. Hozinsky took this same concept of utilizing forage vegetables to create this third course, but instead of choosing Norwegian veggies, he picked Asian ingredients: Matsutake mushrooms, the Japanese seasoning yuzukoshō and the hijiki. Talk about a fusion of cuisines!

Fourth Course: Venison Strip Loin paired with a 2011 Alonia Red Wine, Spain
While not seafood, venison made its way onto the menu, and I’m most certainly glad that it did, because it was divine! The venison was tender and moist in the middle and crisp on the edges, thanks to being rolled in pumpkin seeds. Grilled chicories in a light balsamic vinegar and a root vegetable mille-feuille accompanied it (mille-feuille is a puff pastry that’s customarily filled with sweet ingredients like custards and fruits; this one in particular had potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables in layers of thin pastry strips, all held together by a garlic-onion paste). Reduced huckleberries and a pumpkin purée added a welcomed sweetness to the meat and the vegetables.

Fifth Course: Fried Brioche with Lingonberry paired with a 2009 Chateau Des Charmes ‘Vidal’ Ice Wine, Canada
Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz also integrated Norwegian touches into the desserts she created for the occasion. Dusted with sugar, the Fried Brioche, which is made in house, sat on a bed of pistachios and whiskey sabayon, a French take on the Italian dessert called zabaglione, which is basically a very light custard. The brioche itself was flaky and sweet, and the best part is that it was filled with a a thick lingonberry sauce. The dark, rich sweetness of the tart lingonberries nicely complemented the creamy, airy and lightly-colored sabayon.

Before opening it: 

After opening it: 

Sixth Course: Warm Almond Apple Cake paired with a 2009 Chateau Des Charmes ‘Vidal’ Ice Wine, Canada
The last course of the night was a warm almond apple cake accompanied by Geitost (a Scandinavian whey cheese), cardamom ice cream, cubed apples in brown butter and strawberries with cream, all topped with subtle hints of mint. Franz explained to me that apples were used frequently in Norwegian dishes, which is why she chose apples for the cake and on the side. It was the perfect autumn dessert!

Check back with The Strand House to see what other Norwegian-influenced entrees and desserts will be on the menu in the fall!

For more information:
Facebook, @strandhousemb

*Additional chefs inducted into the Norwegian Seafood Council: Paul Backer (Tilia, Minneapolis); Steven Brown (Tilia, Minneapolis); Neal Fraser (BLD, Los Angeles); Tim Graham (Travelle, Chicago); David Seigal (Cull & Pistol, New York); Bart Vandaele (Belga Café and B Too, Washington, DC)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Where To Be Merry: Choir Boy @ The Geffen Playhouse

The Merriment: A theatrical production about a young man striving to pursue his dreams

The Location: Westwood

The Vibes: Inspiring, thought-provoking, resounding

When-To-Go: Now until Oct. 26, Tuesday – Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The $ Factor: $39 - $79

The Names behind the scenes: Director Trip Cullman; Playwright Tarell Alvin MCCraney; Actors Jeremy Pope, Nicholas L. Ashe, Grantham Coleman, Caleb Eberhardt, Leonard Kelly-Young, Donovan Mitchell and Michael A. Shepperd

The 4-1-1: There are a variety of pre- and post-show Signature Series events, including Talk Back Tuesdays, a Q&A session with the cast and audience; Girls Night Out, an after-party, with drinks, appetizers and brand showcases; Lounge Fridays, a pre-show happy hour; and Wine Down Sundays, featuring wine tastings.

Parking Situation: A $7 parking lot is adjacent to the theater; validated parking is available at the Trader Joe’s lot, two blocks from the theater.

This fall, Choir Boy comes to the West Coast for the first time at The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, after originally premiering at London’s Royal Court Theatre and making its American debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last year. 

Choir Boy is a coming-of-age drama that unfolds at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys—a strict, all-male boarding school that aims to groom boys not merely into men, but more specifically, into Drew men. The 90-minute play begins with the main character Pharus Young (Jeremy Pope, pictured below) as a high school junior, singing a solo selection at senior graduation. It follows him into the fall semester and beyond, during his zealous quest to do what’s never been done before: secure the coveted soloist part at graduation once again, this time at his own ceremony.

Pharus is easy to fall in love with, a charismatic individual who has a bright, bubbly disposition and a zealous passion for the prestigious school choir that he leads. Surrounding Pharus are four young men—Junior, Bobby, David and Anthony (Nicholas L. Ashe, Donovan Mitchell, Caleb Eberhardt and Grantham Coleman respectively)—all living, taking classes and singing in choir together. Headmaster Marrow (Michael A. Shepperd) is the authoritarian figure struggling to steer his students in the right direction, and Mr. Pendleton (Leonard Kelly-Young), is a retired teacher who returns to Drew, attempting to inspire the boys in his Creative Thinking class.

The focal point of Choir Boy remains on Pharus, chronicling the challenges he faces with being gay and pursuing his musical aspirations in a socially conservative environment. He loves the prep school, considering it to be a refuge that provides him with space to be himself. But as much as he strives to be a proud Drew man, he struggles to be recognized as one by his peers and superiors alike. His former roommate had previously abandoned him. A fellow student hisses a derogatory slur at him during his solo performance at graduation, causing him to abruptly halt, subsequently ruining the show, according to Headmaster Marrow, who outright criticizes his performance. The headmaster also constantly reprimands and corrects Pharus, threatens to pull him from choir and instructs him to watch how he "flicks" his wrists.

And truthfully, as confident and passionate as he is about his musical prowess, radiantly shining in the limelight, there’s a gut-wrenchingly painful insecurity that subtly haunts Pharus at times. Thus, the question emerges: can Pharus learn to be comfortable in his own skin and find acceptance at the school he loves so much? That answer is complex.

Pharus isn’t alone in his struggle to navigate life's twists and turns. His four peers each wrestle with their own trials and tribulations, from dealing with financial hardships, death and academics, to selecting occupations, coming to terms with their own sexuality and feeling isolated from family members. They turn to one another for support and camaraderie, often times butting heads, but sharing just as many moments of enlightenment as moments of rage, as many laughs as arguments. They have different backgrounds, interests and aspirations, but they’re united by their devotion to music and to their prized choir, demonstrated in their ethereal harmonization of both gospel standards and original compositions.

Like a rebellious adolescent itself, Choir Boy also addresses and confronts many longstanding, revered traditions and beliefs within the African-American community. Nothing is spared, as it questions the origins of spirituals, the notion of the barbershop as the sanctified retreat for black men and the assumed privilege that legacy brings. It challenges the use of the word “n***a” between blacks and the problematic yet perpetuated stigma associated with “snitching” to authorities (“A Drew man doesn’t tell on his brother,” Pharus confidently proclaims, refusing to reveal who insulted him during his performance at graduation). The characters explore these issues in their engaging intellectual conversations with one another and also through effortless dialogue, quick banter and smooth jokes. Their insightful, articulate exchanges are accented by brief moments of song that are so delightful that there should certainly be more of them throughout the entire production.

The chemistry between the actors is natural and relaxed, with the young men displaying an insatiable, contagious energy. The stage design is brilliant in its simplicity, with basic, sharp blacks and reds creating a moodily brooding atmosphere. Subtle nuances in the design elements augment the themes expressed in the dialogue and support the overall message of the production. The tense, hissing sound of steam seductively seeping onto the stage in the shower scenes as the men strip down to their bare skin; the bright, floral shower cap that Pharus wears—his posters of Beyonce, Oprah, Frank Ocean and Abraham Lincoln with a large bow Photoshopped onto his head, blatantly juxtaposed to his roommate Anthony’s masculine, baseball-centric posters—they all help to subtly reveal more about Pharus' idiosyncrasies in each scene.

There are plenty of amusing, lighthearted exchanges, but there are more interactions that expose the growing pains of being an adolescent—of becoming a unique individual only to discover that sometimes there may be a conflict between being true to one’s identity and with adhering to larger, social expectations. Choir Boy presents this life lesson in a captivating and bittersweet manner, revealing in the end that while the ones closest to us may betray and hurt us, friendship, loyalty—and therefore acceptance—can be found sometimes in the most unexpected places.

For more information:

*Photo credit for the first three photos: Michael Lamont

Monday, September 15, 2014

Where to Drink: The Outdoor Wine Tasting Room @ Malibu Wines

The Drinks: A variety of Saddlerock and Semler wines, enjoyed in an outdoor tasting room

The Location: Malibu

The Vibes: Picturesque, naturalistic, vibrant

Good for: Large groups, celebrations, wine aficionados

When-To-Go: Opens daily at 11 a.m.; closes at 7 p.m. Sunday–Thursday and at 9 p.m. on Friday/Saturday

The $ Factor: Flights of 4-5 wines are $12-$16; bottles are $22.40-$140. Member club prices available.

The 4-1-1: All guests must be 21+

Parking Situation: $14 Valet or complimentary parking at a nearby lot, with shuttles running frequently back and forth to the tasting room

I’ll Be Back…: For the Mimosa flight, with Peach Ginger, Watermelon Rosemary, Blood Orange and Passion Fruit!

Want to visit a good wine tasting room?

You certainly don’t have to drive to Napa, Santa Barbara or Temecula to do so, and you absolutely don’t have to hop on a plane to Europe or South America. That’s because we have an awesome wine tasting room right here in our own L.A. backyard, Malibu Wines.

Situated in the vast, rugged Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu Wines is reachable by a commute on a long, windy road through mountains, which at times offers sweeping views of isolated valleys, rustic brown canyons and deep, endless ravines. Once there, you find yourself entering a lush, secluded outdoor oasis—a picture-perfect setting of towering trees that provide ample shade and wine-related artifacts, like a fountain made out of old wine barrels that spurts "wine" and large metallic letters that spell out "WINE." Mountains jet upwards on all sides of a vast lawn that sprawls out in every direction, at every twist and turn. It’s here that tables with chairs are set up and there’s plenty of open areas to lay down a blanket and kick back, relax, enjoy good company and great wines for a few hours.

Admission into the outdoor tasting room is free, and you can bring your own food—like the fantastic spread my friends brought on a recent trip this past summer, pictured below. You can also take your own nonalcoholic beverages, like juices, sodas and water (I highly recommend bringing your own water; or you can purchase refillable jugs of water for $3). Make sure not to forget blankets to sit on, or you can rent a table for $150 retail price/$120 members price and a minimum purchase of two bottles.

Wines at this tasting room hail from two wineries: Semler and Saddlerock. Semler is actually Malibu Wines’ own estate wine, grown in the vineyards directly across the street from the tasting room. Saddlerock is sourced from several different California Central Coast vineyards. Wines range from reds to whites, from dry to sweet and can be purchased by the glass, flights or the bottle (wine glasses provided). One bottle I particularly enjoyed and ended up purchasing was the Saddlerock Orange Muscat, 2012.

Bars (pictured below) are strategically situated throughout the area, where you can learn more about the wines and make purchases. There’s also a Members Wine Club you can join, not only to get wines delivered directly to your doorstep, but to also get discounts at the tasting room, starting right when you sign up.

For the rest of September, every Thursday there’s a movie screening; until the end of October, there are live music performances on weekends and food trucks on Fridays.

So the next time you’re in the mood for sipping wines and catching up with friends over snacks of your own choice, picnic-style, I highly recommend heading to Malibu Wines. The setting is gorgeous and the wines are quite delicious.

See you there soon!

For more information: