Monday, March 23, 2015

Happy Anniversary: The #WilsonsGuide Blog Turns Five!

It’s hard to believe, but March marks five years since I’ve launched this #WilsonsGuide blog!

It’s been quite a journey, with more sleepless nights than I care to remember, obsessively roaming through L.A. to find great places to write about, networking like crazy and also, learning a ton of new blogging skills — like writing, editing, photography, social media and graphic design.

And on this adventurous journey, there have been many changes. The #WilsonsGuide blog of today definitely doesn’t look like the #WilsonsGuide blog of the past. Aside from multiple aesthetic and layout changes, there have been editorial changes, like adding a new travel section, and moving from a weekly to a bi-weekly format.

And, I’m not going to lie; at times, it’s been hard to stay committed to blogging.

Responsibilities like a demanding full-time career, and all of the other curveballs that life tends to randomly throw us — deaths, new jobs, maintaining friendships, new relationships, etc., etc. — constantly compete for the resources and time I can give to my blog. At the end of the day, all I can say is that long-term blogging isn’t for the faint or weary.

But something, whether it’s stubbornness, passion or just plain stupidity, propels me not to give up. I have to keep blogging. I have to keep writing. I have to keep sharing about where to eat, drink and be merry in the great city of Los Angeles and beyond…

And so the journey continues. I’m excited about what the future will bring, as I reflect on what the past five years have brought me. As readers, you can expect more great content, more fabulous features and hopefully, even more milestones that I can excitedly share with you.

Here’s to five years down, and to another five years to go. 

Happy 5th birthday, #WilsonsGuide!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Where to Eat: The Grand Opening @ Public School 818

The Eats: American classics, with a creative twist

The Location: Sherman Oaks (The Valley)

The Vibes: Casual, bar scene

Good for: Large groups, dates, alone

The $ Factor: $7-$14 for appetizers; $5-$17 for soups and salads; $13-$25 for entrées and burgers; $10-$13 for pizzas

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Phil Kastel

The 4-1-1: Grill Concepts, the company behind Public School 818, has opened a slew of restaurants, including the L.A. staple, Daily Grill and the Public School restaurant collection: the original Public School 612 in downtown L.A., Public School 310 in Culver City, Public School 805 in Westlake Village and the recently opened Public School 214 in Dallas. Stay tuned for a Public School in Vegas coming soon.

Parking Situation: Valet

I’ll Be Back…: For pretty much everything on the menu!

The Public School restaurant collection is adding to its portfolio!

Taking over the former Sisley restaurant location on the intersection of Sepulveda and Ventura Blvds., Public School 818 opens in Sherman Oaks, as of Monday, March 9.

Like other Public School locations, Public School 818 is a gastropub with a heavy emphasis on beers and savory foods, and a décor that plays up the school theme. There’s varsity jackets lined up at the entrance, a map with local San Fernando Valley high school logos and larger-than-life flash cards posted onto the walls. There’s even a beer bong table, which, you can actually play.

Public School 818 will feature many of the beloved dishes found at other Public Schools — like the Bacon Cheddar Tots — and a menu that changes every three to four months. But, this Sherman Oaks spot will also feature several items exclusive to this location, such as the Lemon Meringue dessert and a killer Shrimp and Grits entrée that was created by one of Public School 818’s chefs.

Here’s a look at a few selections that will be on the inaugural Public School 818 menu, that I tried at a media dinner, held in the week prior to its opening:

For the Table… (appetizers)
The Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower, accompanied by bleu cheese Aioli and Frank's buffalo, is like eating the vegetarian version of buffalo chicken wings. Piping hot cauliflower is wrapped in a very thin fried layer. It’s a completely unusual yet fun way to eat cauliflower!

Served cold, the Crispy Ahi Tuna Tacos include a colorful blend of raw tuna, jimaca avocado salsa, ponzu and lemon aioli, all wrapped in a crispy wonton shell.

Kale, sea salt & vinegar chips, chorizo sausage and mac & cheese may not *sound* like they’d taste good eaten simultaneously, but leave it to Public School to prove that they do. The Chorizo Mac & Cheese was one of my favorite dishes of the night, with a creamy blend of noodles, Swiss Emmental cheese and cooked kale, mixed with wedges of chorizo sausage. It's rich in flavors and so filling. A great appetizer to share (or not to share and keep all to yourself!), or even to have as an entrée.

**Other appetizers on the menu include: Fiery Calamari, Bacon Cheddar Tots and three other options.

Soup & Salads…
The Kale Caesar is a twist on the traditional Caesar salad. There are the typical components — romaine lettuce, croutons, grated Parmesan cheese and creamy Caesar dressing — but there’s also kale, and, a spicy kick: subtle hints of wasabi. Roasted Chicken or Pan Seared Salmon can be added.

**Six salads and one soup on the menu.

Hand Tossed Pizza…
Chef Phil Kastel described the Fig & Prosciutto pizza as a charcuterie board on a pizza. It’s artisanal, with a paper thin crust and ingredients that compliment one another nicely: Gorgonzola and provolone cheeses, thin slices of prosciutto and herbs, which add an earthy taste.

**Other pizzas include the Margherita, Wild Mushroom & Taleggio and the House Pepperoni.

Plates… (entrées)
The Shrimp & White Cheddar Grits came highly recommended by multiple people, so we definitely had to order this. And, we were not disappointed! A thick patty of grits sits underneath bacon and shrimp, served in a cheesy, butter broth. There's also quite a few veggies mixed in: cooked greens, bright red tomatoes and grilled sweet yellow corn.

The Fried Jidori Chicken & Green Chili Cornbread Waffles is another dish that was highly recommended to us. It’s a monstrosity of three fried chicken pieces on top of a thick, fluffy savory waffle. On weekends (or if you just ask on any given day), it comes with a fried egg on top.

**Ten entrées and three burgers available.

The Brown Bag Fries literally come in a brown bag and are the way that fries should be: thin, crispy and perfect for sharing. Nice finishes include the accompanying mustard BBQ sauce and Sriracha ketchup.

The Shaved Brussels & Kale Slaw, is like coleslaw with a slightly spicy kick. It's light and tangy, with bleu cheese crumbles and onions generously mixed in with raw kale and crunchy slices of Brussels sprouts.

**The Grilled Broccolini and Gigante Bean & Greens with shaved Parmesan are two other options as well. 

The Nutella Cookie Sandwich is the king of ice cream sandwiches! Nutella is generously slathered onto two decadently rich chocolate chip cookies, that have vanilla bean ice cream with bacon bits on its perimeter, mashed in between the cookies.

**The Lemon Meringue and a special chef’s selection are two other desserts. 

The original Public School 612 in downtown, which will actually be closing briefly for a new revamp, has always been a great place for me to get together with a large group of friends, kick back some really good food and also chug some beer and craft cocktails. So, I’m excited to see Public Schools continuing to branch out and bring its fantastic experience to other local neighborhoods — like The Valley.

See you at Public School 818 soon!

For more information: 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Candace Allen Nafissi, Redondo Beach City Council District 3 Candidate

I first met Candace Allen Nafissi when we worked together several years ago. We sat across from each other, and shared countless conversations and way too many inside jokes.

And while we had a ton of fun together as colleagues, one thing that always impressed me about her was that when it was time to get down to business, Nafissi was definitely on top of her game. As serious as she was passionate, she was fiery, hard-working, highly driven and goal-oriented. She always seemed to have a clear path set before her, confident and clear about she wanted to accomplish—personally, professionally and politically. And just as importantly, she had this way of eloquently explaining her vision, to the point where it made you want to just quit your job and join her right then and there.

So when I learned that she was running for Redondo Beach City Council District 3, while I wasn’t surprised, I was immediately intrigued to find out more about her decision to run, especially now, with a newborn, a toddler, a full-time job and a brand new house. Sure, I always knew she had a lot of balls to juggle in the air and she always did it with such style and grace, but how in the world was she going to pull off a campaign, with everything going on? And, what exactly did it take to run a successful city council campaign, anyway?

I stopped by her fundraising event last month and also chatted with her on the phone last week to get answers to my questions and also further insight into what it was like running as one of the youngest candidates ever, who if elected, would also be the first woman to sit on the Redondo Beach City Council.

She shared with me why she decided to run now, what a typical campaign day for her was like and of course, her favorite “where to” destination in Redondo Beach.

Read my interview with her below, and don’t forget to vote Tuesday, March 3, no matter what city, council or district you’re in!

WilsonsGuide: Why run for council now?
Candace: Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to be something “great,” but the question was, what could I get engaged in that kept my interest, kept my attention span, that I really liked and that I could feel like I could own it?

I thought about different careers I could go into, really thinking about my personality, my commitment to school and what I was really willing to do. Being a judge was number one, but I realized I had to be a lawyer, and I wasn’t going to law school. Going to school wasn’t my thing. And so I thought about which careers I could engage in and that really accented my personality and, I realized it had to be something like public relations or some type of job where I get to talk with people, engage with people and have direct contact with people. All of my careers thus far have been something of that nature, connecting with people or certain groups of folks. That’s just where my heart is.

So basically, there was a measure on the ballot for term limits. And so I said to myself and to my husband, “if this doesn’t pass, I want to run for council.” And he sort of laughed and was like, “uh, OK, whatever, you know, Candace—this is one of your things.” And then it didn’t pass—my current council member was being termed out—and so I came to him and I said “hey, I want to run for council.”

My next step was to meet with family and friends, and talk about how they could support me, because I obviously am going to need a tremendous amount of support. I’m a new mom—there’s a lot going on in my life, so I needed a lot of the help. Everybody said OK, and then that kind of brings me to today.

WilsonsGuide: What would you say are some of the challenges with running for an office?

Candace: Especially as young as I am—no one in our city has ever run at this age—my biggest challenge was, how am I going to fund raise? All of my friends are either my age or in college. All of my friends are mid-career, starting their lives, having families. They don’t have a ton of money to donate. The maximum they’re going to donate is like $75. How am I going to finance this campaign?

And the other challenge was, how am I going to get a community to trust me to run for council, considering my age and my limited experience? I’m young, I’ve only had about seven years in the workforce. How do I get them to trust me?

So I knew that one of the challenges was going to be my age, second challenge was going to be money, and third challenge was going to be trust, because I don’t have a huge, established career that people can look back on…In the grand scheme of things, I might look seriously inexperienced, and that’s a big a challenge I have to fight every day when I’m going door-to-door.

WilsonsGuide: How do you overcome those challenges?
Candace: I was incredibly self-conscious about it at first—I mean really self-conscious of my age. At first I was like, “no one tell a soul I’m 33,” because I knew that people would be like “oh she’s too young. She’s too young. It’s not her time.” I’ve totally heard that before. But I’ve overcome it by connecting with people. Because the second that you can open the door and connect with a person—you’re able to reiterate what’s going on and answer every single question thoroughly and write your phone number, and really have that connection with people—then people think a lot less about your age and a lot less about your career, but your ability to connect with them and establish a relationship.

WilsonsGuide: How have the experiences that you’ve had—you’ve worked with the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and you’ve been the Historical Commissioner for the City of Redondo Beach for the past two years—shaped your background?
Candace: I think that everything I’ve done thus far has helped position me to run for council. Every single opportunity. I’ve been very smart and strategic about opportunities I engage in, not because I felt like, “oh this was the angle,” but because I always wanted to be doing something that was really productive and like I said, had a big impact on people. So people understand that I have a limited record because I’m younger—I’m only 33—but everything I’ve been engaging in has been very intentional and meaningful.

I think that my background has absolutely helped me. I’ve worked on council campaigns. I’ve interned for Council Member Jerome Horton, I’ve interned for [former California] Congresswoman Jane Herman, [former California State] Assembly Member Mike Gordon, I worked for [former California State] Assembly Member Ted Lieu and even though I was an intern, I was kind of like a pea in the pod, and got first-hand experience working on campaigns, and that information has really allowed me to be successful and valuable right now.

WilsonsGuide: As you mentioned, you are a new mother, you also work full-time and you’re managing a campaign. Literally, how do you do it all? That’s a lot on your plate!

Candace: There are 24 hours in a day and I only work seven of them, so there’s still a lot of time to do other stuff. I think part of my success is creating clear delineations of time. You have to carve out time for work, you have to carve out time for family, you have to carve out time for the campaign. And right now, I’m taking a break on my friends. And they understand that [laughs].

Tuesday is my campaign day, so on campaign day, I don’t check work emails. When I’m at work, I’m at work, and when I do campaign stuff, I’m doing campaign stuff. And when I’m with family, I’m with family. It’s important to me. Everybody needs some time from me right now, and I’m happy to give it, it just has to be at the right time.

WilsonsGuide: Is there a typical campaign day?
Candace: My Tuesdays are usually filled with half-days of meetings and then it’s going door-to-door. I organize a set of volunteers on Saturdays and Sundays to come to my home and then they also go door-to-door for me, too...and then after the day, after everyone comes back, we generally eat together and just kind of debrief about what they heard out there. Then I generally call all the people that [sic] weren’t home, when we went door-to-door. So it’s a lot of phone-banking and follow up.

WilsonsGuide: What advice would you have for anyone—especially who might be young or a woman—running for council for the first time?
Candace: I’d say my advice would be: it takes courage to do it, but you’d be surprised how many people will support you once you do it. And so, take a jump. It’s really scary. It’s like the scariest thing I’ve ever done. To put yourself out there publicly, you have no idea how people are going to react. I was so scared. You have no idea what’s going to come out of the wood works, what people will say about you, about your past or anything. But if you’re a good person, you just take a chance and people will see through that you want to do this and that you’re good at this. And people will stand behind you.

WilsonsGuide: People can learn more about your platform at your website, but can you talk a little bit about what would be the first thing if elected, that you would do in office?

Candace: One is, I want to thank every single person that helped me, and that’s going to take some time. That helped me, that trusted me, that took a chance on me, because that really means a lot.

And the second thing I’d probably do is continue to collaborate with residents to ensure that we are doing exactly what they want. I think that there’s been a little bit of history in this city where people [council members] kind of act on what they think is popular—what they themselves think is popular—without going to the residents to actually see what they want. So the huge benefit of going door-to-door, and knocking on doors, talking to people every day, is you understand exactly what they want. So I think that we have to get better collaboration with future projects, with residents and proposals. So my first goal would be to have greater collaborations between residents and projects. And get their input, make sure that they feel part of the process.

WilsonsGuide: My blog is about where to eat, drink and be merry in Los Angeles, so I’m just curious if you have a favorite restaurant, lounge, bar or social destination in Redondo Beach?

Candace: Yes. I want to say R/10 Social House. It’s where we had the fundraiser. Really great spot, really great food, really great people who own it. Everything about it is great. I like R/10 Social House.

For more information: 

* Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for reading ease.