Monday, July 17, 2017

Where to Eat: dineL.A. / Summer Poolside Dining @ Viviane Restaurant, Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills

The Eats: An American-meets-European-meets-California menu, with light fare like pan-seared salmon, grilled peach burrata and Tuscan tomato soup

The Location: Beverly Hills

The Vibes: Al fresco, poolside, intimate

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (large and small)

When-To-Go: Daily, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 
Sunday – Thursday, 5:30 – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 5:30 – 11 p.m.; daily happy hour 3 – 6 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Entrées $19 - $34; dine.L.A., for a limited time (until July 28) — two-course lunch $25 and three-course dinner $49

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Jack Hotchkin

The 4-1-1: This hotel has quite the history! Way, way back in the day, it was the stomping grounds for megastars including Mae West, Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe, who apparently even lived here for some time. It’s also been a retirement home and apartments before being renovated once again into a hotel in the late ‘90s.

Parking Situation: Valet or very limited street parking.

I’ll Be Back…: For the dineL.A. experience!

The Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills is a hidden gem, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. 

Tucked away in a residential part of Beverly Hills, if you blink too fast, you might miss it. But right on the corner of Olympic Blvd., slightly east of S. Beverly Dr., this unassumingly glitzy boutique hotel offers both old Hollywood charm and subdued relaxation, all in a California chic, mid-century modern setting.

I've been going to the hotel’s restaurant for years, partially because it’s been the perfect business setting to grab morning breakfast, midday lunch or afternoon cocktails.

With its modestly elegant, airy vibe, it’s classy enough to woo a client, intimate enough to hold a conversation and close enough to nearby offices in Century City and Beverly Hills for quick access.

And, what I love most — how the entire indoor-outdoor setting seems to center around the main focal point of the hotel grounds: the curvaceous, glistening pool!

Whether dining inside or outside, from nearly any seat, you can get a glimpse of the sparkling beauty, no matter where you are.

I’ve seen the restaurant change names and focuses, but for the past several years, it’s been coined Viviane and, since this past May, it has a new executive chef, Jack Hotchkin.

Hotchkin, who’s had stints at L.A. staples like the Soho House and Chateau Marmont, has crafted a menu that has American, European and California influences, with lots of colorful, vibrant produce that we Angelenos can never get enough of — like avocados and kale — and lots of light options (for example, seven out of 15 Starter / Salad / Main dinner items are seafood items, like octopus, scallops and salmon).

Over the weekend, a good friend of mine and I had the opportunity to check out some of Hotchkin’s latest creations when I visited for dineL.A., which runs from now until next Friday, July 28 and features a three-course dinner, with two to three selections per course. There are both items off the regular menu and a few that you can only find for this special occasion.

Here’s a glimpse of what we sampled:

First Course:

The Crab and Corn Fritters — oval-shaped fried balls of goodness, crab and corn, with a creamy avocado, cilantro aioli. To note: the fritters aren't on the regular menu; they’re a dineL.A. special.

The Grilled Peach Burrata with prosciutto, loads of fresh basil, a balsamic glaze and two slices of grilled ciabatta bread. Definitely bursting with a lot of different flavors and textures — from sweet and savory, to creamy and crunchy — to make this appetizer fun to try.

Second Course:

The Pan Seared Salmon came in what was almost like a ponzu broth that teemed with steamed bok choy and radish slices. Somehow both the salmon skin and the Brussels sprouts leaves balancing on top of it managed to stay crispy, which gave a nice juxtaposition between textures. 

The Pancetta & Sweet Corn Agnolotti dish featured pasta stuffed with a sweet corn mixture, then topped with crunchy pancetta, corn kernels and cheese, all bathed in a rich brown butter sauce. 


We went a little rogue, and instead of opting for the two dineL.A. options (Chocolate Pot de Crème or Assorted Ice Cream), we went with the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Hazelnut Brownie with vanilla gelato, pictured below.

We were both soooo full that it was hard for either of us to stuff down more than a few bites, but we did agree that these desserts were super, super rich in flavor and quite decadent as well.

You can check out Viviane’s entire dineL.A. menu here and the next time you're in the mood for some Cali-inspired nibbles — perhaps poolside, in a super chill, upscale ambiance — check out Viviane.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Wilson's Words of Wisdom: July Round Up

Nothing says summer food to me more than Popsicles, freshly cut juicy watermelon, corn on the cob, grilled and BBQ meats, and without a doubt...

fried chicken.

Whether packed for a picnic, shared at a cookout or simply eaten at any given time, there's nothing like crunchy, scrumptious, very-well-seasoned fried chicken.

So in honor of the season and some incredible places delighting us with their perfectly fried deliciousness, this month's round up is dedicated to (some of) the Best Fried Chicken in the city. From kettle fried to “hot” chicken, high-end to economic, and everything in between, these six places are sure to satisfy.

Read below and don't forget to drop your favorite fried chicken spot in the comments section below, too!

Jim Dandy Fried Chicken 

Forget about Popeye’s and don't even bother with KFC — it's Jim Dandy that fits the bill when you’re looking for cheap, but still satisfying fried chicken. It's easy to forget it’s a fast food stand, because everything is seasoned so well; I mean, I even like the greens here, and I'm pretty picky about my greens. Jim's chicken is quite crispy on the outside and plump and juicy on the inside. Choose from regular or spicy (which, IMO is pretty mild; there just seems to be more spices in the batter). But best of all, the food here is a low price point. You can get like five pieces of chicken, two sides, two rolls and a drink, all for like, $2. OK, maybe not that cheap, but most of their dinners and combos for up to 4 pieces of chicken — which come with a side or two — are less than $8. There are two locations, both in South L.A. — one on Vermont, the other on Manchester.
For more info

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is a southern classic that originally launched in Tennessee and has now expanded to 22 locations in 11 states. Quite recently, the chain has made its way to the best side, the Westside, with locations in Burbank and central L.A. The L.A. Location has a low-key, casual vibe, with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, bottled beers, exposed red bricks and several TV screens. I wasn't completely sold on the BBQ beans or the mac ‘n’ cheese sides, but the actual fried chicken itself? Unforgettable. Gus’s features “hot” chicken — a type of fried chicken from Nashville that goes through a special multi-step process of preparing the chicken. What ends up as part of the process is that there’s a thin coating of "secret" spices layered between the skin and meat, and when you bite into it, there’s definitely a noticeable kick. And, I don't know how they managed to do it, but the chefs have made it so the skin stays crispy — even the next day. Best of all, they have the Monday special: four legs, side and a drink, all for eight bucks.
For more info 

astro doughnuts & fried chicken opened this Spring 2017 in DTLA, hailing from our nation's capital. And while astro may be known for its massive donuts that have awesomely creative flavors — like the seasonal cherry blossom flavor in honor of the cherry blossom season in D.C. or the maple bacon flavor, which blows my mind every time I eat it  (pictured above) — don't. sleep. on. the. fried chicken. astro makes these incredible sandwiches that have golden flavorful fried chicken pieces stacked between two pieces of bread — choose from a potato roll, cheddar biscuit or my favorite, a savory donut, topped with Old Bay spices. You can also top your chicken with hot sauce, honey butter, sausage gravy or one of the other six sauces which range from Sriracha Buffalo to Blue Cheese and Ranch. It's filling, it's bursting with flavor, it's just the way a fried chicken sandwich should be!
For more info

La Louisanne in the Baldwin Hills area most certainly draws some very interesting characters and most certainly could benefit from a facelift, but that doesn't stop folks from flocking to this dimly lit, low key bar/restaurant, especially on Mondays for the $1.99 plate of red beans & rice and fried chicken. Yes you read that right. $1.99. For a whole entire plate. The chicken is fried hard and the beans and rice have a Southern flair. A lady makes her way around the rooms, passing out these plates, and you can order as many as you'd like, so long as you pay cash. A singer backed by a house band belts out live jazz/blues/R&B covers and cocktails here are stiff...just make sure to order them at the bar; table service can take a painfully long time.
For more info

Honey's Kettle Fresh Fried Chicken in cutesy downtown Culver City is a fast casual restaurant that serves up "kettle-fried" chicken — a process that creates light, smooth but still crispy chicken. Portions here are massive; a combo, such as the 2 Piece Lunch with Kettle fries, butter pickles and a biscuit, pictured above, is so large that can easily be shared between two people. The buttermilk biscuits with the side of warmed honey are hot and fluffy, and go with the chicken so well. Sides I've tried and liked so far: the fries, the sautéed green beans and the fresh cole slaw.
For more info 

Comfort LA

Comfort LA has made quite the appearance on my blog on multiple occasions, but I'd be remiss not to mention them once again for their fantastic chicken wings drizzled with "that sauce." No, you can't get breasts, legs or any other cuts, but what you can get is 6, 18 or 100 tiny flats and drumettes, covered in chives and a housemade sauce that has a tangy, slightly sweet kick to it. Comfort LA also stays winning for its late late hours (open until 3 a.m. on the weekends), its BYOB policy (and yes, that includes alcoholic drank), a plethora of games to play (like dominoes, which I challenge anyone to play at any given time) and its involvement with the local communities by hosting a lot of community-centered events for NPOs and orgs working on notable causes.
For more info

Monday, June 26, 2017

And Where Do You "Where To?": Washed Out @ The Microsoft Lounge

Earlier this month, I was invited to the Microsoft Lounge in Venice to check out brand new tunes from recording artist Washed Out.

Microsoft’s Music x Technology initiative, which is all about showcasing recording artists who use Microsoft technology to create music, took over the indoor-outdoor space to host the event, “Washed Out: New Album Release & Live Show Experience.”

We were treated to a sneak preview of Washed Out’s latest project and his third record — a visual music album entitled Mister Mellow, that will be released on June 30.

-- [Side note: New to Washed Out? Listen to some of his music here.] -- 

The affair was super classy, very millennial, definitely artsy and hipster. Bartenders made fancy craft cocktails; servers passed lavish out hors d’oeuvres, like bite-sized crispy pork belly on maple buns. About a hundred or so guests mingled on the patio and in the lounge area that had a modern-meets-nature feel — think soaring ceilings, exposed bricks and scores of Microsoft TV and tablet screens of all sizes — everywhere.

The highlight of the night was twofold: 

1) To hear from the team that helped bring Mister Mellow to fruition — including Microsoft exec Amy Sorokas, Washed Out (a.k.a. Ernest Greene) and his creative team.


2) Getting to see / hear the album before its official debut!

Greene opened up about how long it took to make the album — a little over a year — and how it reflects what’s been recently happening in his life, such as becoming a dad. He revealed his process of putting it all together, which included cutting out images in magazines and using cell phones to record some of the video.

Representing Microsoft, Amy Sorokas talked about how Microsoft’s goal in starting its Music x Technology initiative two years ago has been to highlight the “interesting” and “innovative” ways to use technology with music [another side note: this initiative has partnered with other talented folks, like Childish Gambino for his latest Awaken, My Love! album, which has been in heavy rotation in my Spotify account lately]. 

And Charlie Whitney, Washed Out's creative technologist, shared more about the Microsoft tech and programming used — including a three-Kinect setup and Roslyn APIs — and how tech “has gotten to the point where you could really do what you want.”

After the initial discussion, it was time for the other star of the night: Mister Mellow.

From a sound perspective, the 12-track album features chill, rhythmic, ambient tunes that have a ton of diverse undertones, like Bossa Nova, EDM and hip-hop.

From a visual perspective, it’s absolutely enchanting. Different mediums from Claymation to collaging and drawings complement each song, right down to synchronized tempos and beats. Scenes range from bright, light-hearted and vivid, to subdued and somber, and everything in between. There’s a track that takes viewers on a nostalgic, hilarious trip down memory lane to how our beloved city L.A. was like in the 1980’s; another track follows indiscernible characters solemnly walking down streets of recognizable cities around the world.

Visual albums aren’t new, but it’s absolutely amazing to get a firsthand glimpse and a better understanding of the technology that’s used to make it all happen. Towards the end of the night, all of the guests (including yours truly) even had a chance to test out the tech used to bring Mister Mellow's visual effects to life.

I walked away from the event thinking — man, this album would be so cool to have as a backdrop for a function, like a dinner party — and man, I really want the Kinect now, so I can make random, fun moves for my own videos.

What about you — have you experienced any noteworthy visual albums or any other out-of-the-box music experiences? Let me know in the comments section below!

More info: 

Greene will commemorate his new album with a nine-date “Get Lost” tour. Unfortunately, none of the shows will be in the L.A. area, but if you’ll be in the South sometime this summer, view his tour dates here