Monday, February 1, 2016

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Los Angeles

In honor of Black History Month, which starts today, I compiled a list of the Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles.

From popular Brazilian dishes to jazzy Sunday brunches, health-conscious soul food and more, this list covers an eclectic, diverse range of cuisines and experiences that are sure to please all palates.

Presented in alphabetical order, this list is in no way exhaustive and represents the places that yours truly has personally frequented, and exactly why I appreciate them so much.

I look forward to submitting more additions in the future, but for now, take a look at the list below, and let me know which places you frequent as well!

Azla vegan – A casual eatery that's housed in Mercado La Paloma, an incubator for first-generation business owners. It's also the first Ethiopian restaurant to open in South L.A. Here, you'll find healthy, vegan twists on traditional Ethiopian dishes, such as the Shimbra pictured below. Ran by Nesanet and her mother, Chef Azla, it's the perfect stop for a quick bite, if you’re in the downtown vicinity.

Brownstone Bistro – This West L.A. restaurant features an amazing Sunday brunch buffet that rotates its African-American and Caribbean-inspired selections, on a weekly basis. Some breakfast/lunch goodies to expect, on any given Sunday: BBQ chicken, yams, shrimp & grits (pictured below), breakfast potatoes, gumbo, grilled veggies and so much more. Highly recommended for large parties and special occasions as well.

Buffalo Wild Wings (Baldwin Hills) – Like any other Buffalo Wild Wings across the country, expect to find a casual sports bar atmosphere to consume copious amounts of wings and beer while watching the latest games. Yet what sets this location apart from other BWW establishments is that it's achieved the highest sales percentage increase of any other BWW, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It's co-owned by community leaders Karim Webb and Ed Barnett pictured below, who also own two other BWWs, in Carson and Torrance.

Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen – This family-owned chain spans two generations of restaurateurs serving up Southern style soul food to the masses. Self-proclaimed “King of Soul” Adolf Dulan operates the locations on Manchester Blvd. and W. Century Blvd., both in Inglewood; and his son Greg Dulan — “Restaurant & Catering Connoisseur of Soul Food in Los Angeles”— runs the Crenshaw Blvd. kitchen. All three locations feature the $18.45 Sunday Dinner Special, pictured below, which includes an entrée with stuffing or rice & gravy, two sides, cornbread and dessert. So much food, you may not need to eat for the rest of the week.

House of Music & Entertainment, a.k.a. H.O.M.E. – H.O.M.E. in Beverly Hills has been a mecca for the black entertainment world, since opening its doors in late 2013. So much talent has flocked through its doors — to entertain, and also be entertained. Goapele, Jussie Smollet, local jazz bands and DJs are just a few examples of who’s appeared here. Aside from a vibrant music scene, H.O.M.E. also has a bar that knocks out killer cocktails and a kitchen that whips up California fare with a European influence, such as the bruschetta, pictured below.

JR’s Barbeque – A hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint, located on one of the busiest strips of La Cienega Blvd. in Culver City. Blink too fast, and you just might miss it. Customer service can be wanting at times and the common areas could use a facelift, but the Memphis-style BBQ is consistently on point. You can't go wrong with the pork ribs (pictured below) or Pork Shoulder BBQ sandwich, and of course, a side of the “award-winning” BBQ sauce.

My Two Cents – Chef Alisa Reynolds opened up a modest eatery on Pico Blvd. in West L.A. that puts a health-conscious spin on soul food favorites. Some options to expect are the Oxtail Tacos, Plantain Stuffed Pork Chop and the BBQ Fried Chicken Caesar Salad, pictured below. Plenty of vegetarian options as well. It’s fast, it’s fresh and it’s appreciatively unassuming. 

Orleans & York (Baldwin Hills) – As the name suggests, this family-operated delicatessen chain draws its inspiration from both the New Orleans and New York culinary scenes. Top picks: the fried shrimp Po’ boy pictured below and the Buffalo wings. The wait can be long, so call in advance to place an order and pick it up. There are other locations in Inglewood and Downtown L.A., and three more will open soon, in Carson, Orange County and the Mid-Wilshire area.

Pips on La Brea – No one does a Sunday Jazz Brunch quite like Pips. With a Jazz saxophonist playing R&B and smooth jazz hits, endless rounds of fruity sangria and mimosas, and a delectable buffet spread of Italian favorites, I’d see no reason not to spend at least three to four hours here. Best seat in the house when the weather’s gorgeous: on the secluded patio shaded by massive, breezy trees.

Post & Beam – Post & Beam in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza serves up a phenomenal afternoon happy hour in its bar area. Aside from delicious food options, the bar designs extraordinarily refreshing seasonal cocktails, including white peach sangria, moscow mules and mojitos. The restaurant has a swanky, debonair vibe, with a dapper crowd to match.

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles – The originators of the legendary “chicken and waffle” combo. They’ve also mastered sides like mac ’n’ cheese and cornbread, and drinks like the Sunset, a super sweet blend of lemonade and fruit punch. Seven locations in total, throughout Southern California. 

Simply Wholesome – One of the only places in the city where you can shop for vitamins and natural foods, and then also sit down for a satisfying meal. Simply Wholesome houses both a health store and a café, and frequently produces community events, including live band performances. The smoothies — almost 50 in total — and their Jamaican patties, pictured below, are great on-the-go snacks.

Southern Girl Desserts – Cupcakes, cakes, cookies, cobblers, puddings and pies, and so much more can be found at this dessert shop in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. While traditional and classic options — such as red velvet cupcakes — are available, expect the unexpected here, too. For example, there are Hennessey and Coke, Chicken & Waffle and Peach Cobbler cupcakes. There's also an adorably chic dining area, to sit and savor your treats.

The Savoy Entertainment Center – A low-key, laid-back club/lounge in Inglewood that frequently hosts up-close-and-personal live music performances and various weekly events. Scores of R&B legends have graced this venue's stage throughout the years: Goapele, Johnny Gill, Kelly Price, Kenny Lattimore, Chrisette Michelle (pictured below), Raheem Devaughn, Stevie Wonder — the list literally goes on and on. And when there's not a performance, DJs are typically spinning R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae and/or rap. Also stop by for the $1 tacos on Taco Tuesdays.

Wood Spoon – A Brazilian restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Phenomenal, fresh options with rich, bold flavors. You’re apt to find owner Natalia Pereira strolling through the premises — in the kitchen or charmingly chatting with customers. Pictured below is the Moqueca, a stew with coconut milk, seafood and spices.

Xen Lounge – An indoor-outdoor lounge, located in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. Opened by actor Duane Martin in 2012, Xen is a popular place for events, including day parties, night functions and private affairs. I haven’t explored the food menu here, but I will say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their cocktails and eclectic décor.

*Photo credits: Buffalo Wild Wings - Jason Clark; The Savoy Entertainment - Earl Gibson III;  Xen Lounge - Xen Lounge website

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: The 2016 Editorial Calendar Is Here

Want to know what to expect on the #WilsonsGuide blog for the next year? 

Check out the 2016 Editorial Calendar below. 

Here's a glimpse of blog post themes I'll cover each month. Of course, content may change, but at minimum, this is what I plan to write about, throughout 2016.

Click on the image for a larger view and let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like for me to cover, too!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Where to Eat: Dining Al Fresco @ 208 Rodeo

The Eats: A new winter menu featuring traditional favorites, enhanced by seasonal, high-end ingredients

The Location: Beverly Hills

The Vibes: Quaint, intimate, upscale, European ambiance, al fresco

Good for: Small groups, dates, solo

When-To-Go: Daily, 9 a.m. – close (exact closing time varies by day and season)

The $ Factor: $$$ Appetizers are $12 - $26; entrées are $24 - $54; sides are $8 - $12

The Names behind the scenes:
Executive Chef Curt Gladden

The 4-1-1: Open since 1991, the restaurant is ran by a husband-and-wife duo, Yiffat and Michael Rublevich

Parking Situation: Nearby metered street parking or a nearby parking garage

I’ll Be Back…: To check out the Happy Hour and breakfast!

The first thing that caught my attention about 208 Rodeo was its location. 

It’s breathtakingly mesmerizing. 

Situated on a raised terrace and across from the historic Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, the tiny restaurant overlooks a bustling, trendy stretch of Wilshire Blvd. and Via Rodeo, the famed part of Rodeo Dr. that turns into a pedestrian walkway lined with high-end luxury stores. 

208 Rodeo is right smack in the center of all the prime action in Beverly Hills.

And the best part?

You can watch all of the commotion pass you by, while dining and/or drinking, al fresco on the terrace.

Fortunately, 208 Rodeo also has attention-grabbing dining options that are right on par with its impressive location, offering what the restaurant coins “California cuisine with pan-Asian and French influences.”

Last week, I attended a media dinner to experience items from the restaurant’s new winter menu. In total, there were 12 dishes we dove into, ranging from soups and starters to entrées for all appetite sizes and preferences. While there wasn’t a specific geographical theme that ran through each and every selection — i.e., some dishes were clearly more French-inspired while others were more American — each one had its own unique personality, with a fusion of popular and out-of-the-ordinary ingredients that worked well together. 

Here’s a look at some of my top picks from the night:

The Chicken & Waffle, is a basket of well-seasoned, crispy fried chicken breast strips and crunchy waffle “fries,” accompanied by a simultaneously sweet and tangy maple-soy-chili sauce. While I’m used to dipping my fried chicken in ketchup and hot sauce and my waffles in syrup, the maple-soy-chili sauce works surprisingly well for both. Great to share and to kick off a meal as a starter.

The Tomato Bisque with Parmesan cream and basil was one of the best I’ve tried. I’m typically not a tomato soup or bisque fan, but the balance of tomato and cream is just right. It’s exactly what a winter soup should be — hearty, frothy and all kinds of deliciousness.

The Spicy Tuna Tartar features sashimi grade Ahi tuna accompanied by cucumbers and crostini. Thick chunks of tuna have an intense flavor and the “spicy” aioli gives it a subtle kick. I preferred munching on the tuna by itself, as I felt that pairing it with the crostini or cucumber, while adding an interesting crunchy texture, detracted from the intense flavor of the tuna. This is another appetizer that’s good to be shared.

An example of a dish with pan-Asian influences, the sautéed Sesame Shrimp has a slightly sweet coating, thanks to a tangerine reduction and sweet Thai chili glaze. It's topped with sesame and toasted coconut. The shrimp were phenomenally prepared: large, plump and firm yet still tender.

The Pumpkin Ricotta Ravioli was probably my favorite entrée of the night. It's a prime example that vegetarian options don’t have to be bland or one-dimensional, simply because they’re meatless. Drenched in brown butter, the ravioli is lightly crisp on the outside and rich and creamy in the inside, filled with ricotta cheese. Sage and squash are lightly pan-fried, having a crispy consistency, and are added along with pumpkin seeds, for the final touch.

The most intriguing aspect of the Sea Bass was the bed of Swiss chard, bacon and black boluga lentils, tossed in a grain mustard vinaigrette, underneath it. What an unexpected, yet surprisingly delightful combination. The sea bass itself, a New Zealand bluenose, was very flavorful, buttery on the inside and crispy on the outside.

The 208 Bolognese is a rustic dish, reminiscent of the French countryside. Large handmade Pappardelle pasta gets tossed together with lamb, tomato and mint, all in a garlic-shallot sauce and coated with crumbled cheese. The pasta noodles are decadent and literally melt in your mouth. An option worth selecting for those who have a larger appetite.

Since I don’t eat beef, I didn’t try the miniature version of the Truffle Cheeseburger or the Tomahawk Steak, but I absolutely had to take a snapshot of the steak (pictured below). Served on a large wooden slab, it's a 28-day, dry-aged, bone-in, 28 oz rib eye cut, topped with fried onion strings and potato purée. Talk about presentation!

And, we ended the night wit a special treat — cookies and biscotti, made by owner Yiffat Rublevich.

Overall, 208 Rodeo offers an impressive L.A. experience, with spectacular views and ambiance, and some exceptional dining choices to match. You’ll be paying for the experience, as it ain’t cheap, but it could be worth it, especially for special occasions, such as a romantic date night or to show off the best that L.A. has to offer, to out-of-town visitors.

For more information: 208 Rodeo