Monday, June 18, 2018

Where to Eat: Smoked Beef, Southern Sides and Pies @ Pearl’s Texas BBQ

The Eats: Texas-style BBQ rubbed down with salt and pepper, then smoked for 14 hours

The Location: Downtown (Arts district-adjacent)

The Vibes: Outdoor, Western, eclectic

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

When-To-Go: Daily, noon – 6 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Meats, $11 - $28; sides, $4 - $5; desserts, $8 - $9

The Names behind the scenes: Pitmaster Dana Blanchard

The 4-1-1: Pearl’s hosts live country music bands and movie nights on select days; check her Instagram for upcoming events.

Parking Situation: Ample free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the beef short ribs!

By the time you exit the 10 freeway, cruise up Santa Fe Ave., passing quiet industrial, graffiti-covered industrial warehouses, and then turn down an alley to get to Pearl’s Texas BBQ, you literally felt like you’ve left the hustle and bustle of the big city life. Throw into the mix a larger-than-life Texas flag proudly on display, worn mint green picnic tables and benches amongst dirt floors and Western relics scattered around, and you’ve really felt like you’ve been transported to Texas Hill Country.

Opening at the beginning of 2018 at this location, Pearl’s has transformed a wide, open dirt lot into a casual, al fresco BBQ joint. There’s a bright red pick up truck, two bull dummies to lasso, and an oversized bingo board. Truth be told, I almost expected to see a few tumbleweeds roll by, at any given moment. Slightly off to the side, but probably one of the most significant parts of the entire place is a smoker, pictured below, where beef that’s been rubbed down with salt and pepper gets smoked for 14 hours, each and every night.

Out of a vintage metallic silver Airstream, piping hot BBQ gets served up on paper trays. Selections aren't extensive — only beef, in the form of short ribs or briskets — plus a handful of sides, beverages and two types of pies to round out the menu.

The stars of the show, hands down, IMHO, are the short ribs, pictured below alongside the cowboy caviar and coleslaw. The ribs are so moist and tender, falling right off the bone. Even though they’re only covered in salt and pepper, they’re extremely flavorful, too. They come with pickles, onions and sliced white bread.

Sides to select from include baked beans, cowboy caviar — a mix of corn, beans, red pepeprs and spices, which can also be accompanied by avocado — coleslaw and potato salad, pictured below. I tried everything but the baked beans as they had run out when I stopped by over the weekend, but my faves were the coleslaw and potato salad, which are both mayonnaise-based. I’ll look forward to trying the beans, hopefully next time I’m there.

Make sure to save room for dessert! Pearl’s has two pie options from the renowned bakery Sweet Lady Jane: apple or pecan. The pecan is out of this world, with sweet buttery nuts packed into a thick pie crust. The apple pie has subtle hints of cinnamon and I bet would taste great served warm. 

Rounding it all out are bottled beverages like Mexican Cokes and Nesbitt’s Honey Lemonade, pictured below. 

With summer slowly inching its way right around the corner, grabbing BBQ outdoors on a lazy afternoon sounds like it should most certainly be part of the upcoming schedule rotation. Pearl’s provides a carefree ambiance, smoked meats and Southern sides, so it surely ain't a bad place to stop by.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Disclosure: I received complimentary services; all views and opinions reflected are my own and not influenced by any other third-party sources.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Where to Be Merry: Foods, Cars & Libations @ The Flavor of LA Festival, Studio City

Last year, I went to my very first food festival, and I have to say, I enjoyed the experience so much, that I’m now hooked on attending food festivals. I mean, a place where I can indulge in sooo many different nibbles and libations, all at once?! Count me in!

So when I received the invite to the second annual Flavor of LA on Sunday, May 20 in Studio City, I was delighted to find out what it was all about. Held on the CBS Studio Center backlot, the festival features 50+ local restaurants providing bite-size samples to attendees and dozens of automobiles from The Television Motion Picture Car Club (TMPCC) on display to ogle over.

I’m not into cars like that, but I must admit, I was floored by what I saw. Owned by TMPCC members — people who work in or are somehow affiliated with the entertainment industry — these vehicles are some of the baddest, most widely coveted from around the world. There were vehicles from the early 1900s, manufactured across the pond, and featured in hit television shows / movies such as Seinfeld, Will & Grace and even the ‘60’s hit show Gilligan’s Island.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the cars on display: 

Check out the cast-autographed dashboard of this 2008 Ford Mustang GT500KR, which starred as the "Knight Industries Three Thousand" in the television series Knight Rider... 

and this 1951 Ford Model A 5-Window Coupe...

and, a beautiful blue Viper with suicide doors!

But, automobiles weren’t the only highlight of the afternoon.

Food and libations flowed freely for four hours. Many of the 50+ restaurants were local to the San Fernando Valley, in neighborhoods like Studio City, Tarzana and Woodland Hills. From pastries to desserts, and cuisines representing so many different countries, there was literally something for everyone, and a wide variety of options. As equally important, portions were plentiful and lines were pretty much non-existent. Plus, there’s nothing quite like sitting on the veranda of a set house on the backlot to soak in sunshine while leisurely dining!

All in all, the caliber of participating vendors was exceptional and below are six vendors in particular that piqued my interest the most: 

Best tasting bites: Casa Vega, the household Mexican restaurant located on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, gets a nod for having some of the best tasting bites up for grabs — its mini sweet corn tamale with crema. It had just the right balance of sweetness and masa stuffed with a savory chicken / cheese blend. 

Most unique & creative: Oi Asian Fusion presented its version of a taco, which included seared pork belly topped with sriracha, cilantro and pickled red onions, all rolled into a jicama taco shell. Definitely a lot of bold textures and rich flavors. 

Best healthy option: I was hesitant to try Sun Café’s Sweet Kale Shake — something about the green color and kale as an ingredient didn’t sound quite enticing to me as part of a dessert-like beverage. But, the shake was actually subtly sweet and very refreshing to sip, providing a nice energy boost for the afternoon. A pleasant surprise indeed. In addition to kale, the shake had bananas, cashews and agave.

Tastiest dessert: Selecting the tastiest dessert was very, very tough, because there were so many fantastic contenders, from Cake Bash Studio & Bakery’s incredible looking desserts to Wanderlust Creamery’s vegan ice cream. But in the end, I tip my hat off to the goodies from Carol’s Cheesecake —including its namesake, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate rice crispy squares and decadent brownies. Bonus points for having its setup right next to these massive, scrumptious sandwiches from Uncle Paulie’s Deli, where Carol’s Cheesecake NYC actually shares the same Beverly Grove storefront as the deli. 

Best overall: Hands, down, Tuning Fork’s Bacon Mac N' Chz Pops wins as best overall because it literally had the entire package: the aesthetic, ingredients and taste. Any time you smoosh together bacon and mac’n’cheese, and then decide to fry it to a gold brown, crispy coating, well, that’s a winner by me. 

Most courageous cocktail: While most of the beverage vendors were serving lightweight options like wine and beer, Midnight Moon Moonshine brought in the big boys with samples of its fruit flavored moonshine mixed with Ginger Ale. Sweet and potent!

Make sure to mark Flavor of LA on your calendars when it rolls around once again next year. 

See you there soon! 

For more information:


Monday, May 21, 2018

Where to Drink: Wine Blending Classes @ The Blending Lab

The Drinks: An off-winery tasting room serving California reds and whites and offering wine blending classes, wine tastings and wine club membership

The Location: Mid-City

The Vibes: Industrial, minimalist, laid-back

Good for: Alone, dates, small and large groups

When-To-Go: Wednesday – Friday, 5 – 9 p.m.; Weekends, noon – 9 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Wine blending classes, $55; wine tasting flights, $15; Wine bottles, $35 - $70

The Names behind the scenes: Owners Michael Keller, Magdalena Wojcik and Chris Payne

The 4-1-1: While no food is served here, you can BYOF, even for the wine blending classes

Parking Situation: Nearby metered and free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: To create my own blend to take home with me!

I don’t know about you, but whenever someone starts talking about wine tasting in California, Los Angeles isn’t the first destination that comes to mind. Sure, there are a handful of places that offer both traditional and off-the-beaten-path wine experiences in the city — San Antonio Winery, Ugo Wine Bar and Malibu Wines — but for the most part, it’s the well-known wine country regions that are mentioned, like Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Temecula and Paso Robles.

But, there’s a brand new wine establishment that’s trying to change all of that, by bringing more wine culture to Los Angeles. 

Opened slightly over a year ago, The Blending Lab is a no-frills, off-winery wine tasting room that’s proudly serving up reds and whites that were created right in the Los Angeles area. The team sources its grapes from various vineyards in Paso Robles and then finishes the rest of the winemaking process at its facilities in Valencia, before bringing the final product to its wine tasting room right on Third Street near the Farmer’s Market / The Grove. Within the tasting room itself, vibes are very casual, and the décor is minimal with concrete floors, black stools and exposed black ceiling beams.

The Blending Lab offers eight single varietals and four blends, featuring more reds than whites. You can test them out through a $15 tasting that comprises three 2 oz. pours or take them home with you by the bottle.

And, you can even take a wine blending class to make your very own blend! 

Classes are held in the back room — the “Lab” — every Friday at 7 p.m. and at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturdays, holding no more than 12 people. For about two hours, owner Michael Keller takes students through a journey on how to taste wine and find the type you like, all to ultimately experiment with making your very own unique blends to enjoy.

Each student receives three different varietals in mini-plastic beakers, a graduated cylinder and a tasting sheet to take notes. 

Class kicks off with everyone having to guess which each wine is, before Michael goes more in-depth into the main characteristics of wine — color, smell and taste. What I truly appreciated at the class I attended was the emphasis was on fully understanding how to experience wine (Hold the glass against a white background! Four quick sniffs to smell! Notice how much you salivate!) so that ultimately, you can figure out what you like, whether it’s more body, more acidity, more sugars, etc. That's knowledge I'll remember, long after the class is over.

Towards the end of the session, guests are encouraged to mix and match the three wines at different percentages to find their very own perfect blend. And should they find that perfect blend, guests can take a bottle of it home; there’s actually an onsite corker right in the back of the room, pictured below. I walked away not only with my own fabulous blend of “Wilson’s wonderful wine,” but definitely feeling more confident in how to taste wine, for that next time I go wine-tasting.

So the next time you’re looking to sip and savor a bit of wine, but don’t feel like trekking out to Temecula or Napa, consider heading to The Blending Lab, and even taking a class there.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to a wine blending class; all views and opinions reflected are my own and not influenced by any other third-party sources.