Monday, January 13, 2020

Where to Eat: My Very First Time at Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto @ Corso (Berkeley)

The Eats: Corso has Italian fare with Tuscan roots and a modern flare, featuring house-made pastas, house-cured salumi and nightly butcher's specials

The Location: Berkeley

The Vibes: Homely, intimate, inviting

Good for: Alone, dates, small groups

Opens daily at 5 p.m.; closes at 9 p.m., Sunday – Thursday, and at 10 p.m., Friday & Saturday

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $6 - $20; Entrees, $20+; Cocktails & Wine, $4.50+

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef/Owner Wendy Brucker and Wine Director/Owner Roscoe Skipper

The 4-1-1: Corso’s menu changes approximately every three weeks, with only the "classics" consistently remaining

Parking Situation: Metered and free street parking; also a couple of blocks north of the BART Downtown Berkeley Station

I’ll Be Back…: For the Tagliatte lamb & pork pasta!

As a self-proclaimed foodie, it’s been on my bucket list to visit Berkeley’s legendary Gourmet Ghetto every since I moved to the Bay.

Known as the alleged birthplace of California cuisine, the Gourmet Ghetto first made a name for itself in the 1960s and continued to grow in popularity, thanks to household names like Peet’s and Chez Panisse. Now, nearly five decades later, it’s still running strong, with a dozen or so restaurants huddled on or around the main Shattuck Ave. drag. They’re offering everything from Nepalese to French and Italian cuisines.

Bae and I were craving Italian one chilly Saturday evening, so after what felt like an eternity of debating which one of the Gourmet Ghetto Italian restaurants to stop by,  we settled on Corso. And I'm so glad that ended up being our choice!

The modest two-room space was packed to the brim, but luck found us a seat at the bar that overlooks the open kitchen. Warm subtle lighting and a casual ambiance made it feel so warm and toasty and homely inside. Soaring ceilings and dark wooden fixtures added a bit character, too.

We started off with the Olive Marinate (pictured below), one of the eleven different Antipasti selections. Olives come slathered in garlic, chile, lemon and other herbs. They’re a mix of colors and sizes. I was expecting something completely different — something more like a spread (my fault for not checking with the waiter!) — but was pleasantly surprised at how much flavor they had.

We then opted for the Tagliatte pasta, pictured below. A thick, hearty lamb and pork tomato sauce covers delicious house-made pasta. The essence of red wine and other herbs enhances the sauce nicely. This was so, so filling and tasty.

As an entrée, we selected the Spada, pictured below. Grilled swordfish is topped with a medley of olives, capers and fresh herbs. Surrounding it is almost what could be considered a stew of fava beans, tomatoes, garlic, carrots and other veggies. The swordfish was tender and you could subtly taste its grilled aroma. It went so well with the fava bean concoction, too.

While we saved absolutely no room for dessert, that didn’t stop us from taking home the flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream and caramel and chocolate sauces. And let me tell you about this cake. It’s beyond belief how decadent it is! I could only handle a few bites at a time, but it would be every chocoholic’s dream dessert.

No libations for us this time, but there’s a wine list and I peeped quite a few patrons with some sort of cocktail in their hands.

All in all, Corso hit the spot for satisfying Italian cuisine in a no-frills ambiance. Plus, the service was noteworthy; our server had a polite, reserved disposition and one of the chefs right behind the bar frequently checked in with us to see how we were enjoying each dish. I’ll definitely be back to try out some of Corso's other classics, such as the Branzino.

What about you? Have you already visited Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto? If so, drop your favorite restaurant in the comments section below and see you there soon!

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: The #WilsonsGuide Blog in a Decade!

Right before the start of a brand new year, I loooove to recap all of the amazing highlights from the past 12 months. It’s a great way to take a trip down memory lane and relive so many wonderful memories that are easy to get lost amongst our everyday tasks and routines.

And, since we’re starting a brand new decade, that means it’s time to think of all the incredible moments from these past ten years, too!

As I started to make my sentimental list of milestones from the ‘10s it dawned on me: this #WilsonsGuide blog has also been around this entire decade! Born in 2010, there’s been a ton of great content each and every year, so I thought it would be fun to look at some of the most memorable posts from each year.

Take a look at the list below and here’s to another decade of eating, drinking and being merry to our heart’s content!

2010 – The genesis of it all: Smoothies @ Simply Wholesome
This blog all started with a smoothie. But not just any smoothie — it was a Thirst Quencher from Simply Wholesome on Slauson Ave. in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood. Ten years ago in my very first post, I described them as “little pieces of heaven poured into a big, frothy cup … bursting with sweet fruits, exotic juices, delectable ice creams and sherbets, and a modest scoop of protein powder.” I’m delighted to see these smoothies are still around, as this laid-back neighborhood café / natural health store still thriving and surviving, even featured on Insecure’s Season Three last year.

2011 – A-Frame celebrates one-year
Before there was his "Best Friend" restaurant in Vegas and right after he kicked off the Kogi Truck craze, Roy Choi opened up this Culver City restaurant with minimalist vibes in a former IHOP. While the menu of Asian-meets-American fusion has evolved over the years to now focus more on Hawaiian cuisine, the legendary “Chu-Don’t-Know-Mang” dessert with churros, chocolate milk and ice cream that first captured my attention is fortunately still around. Back in 2011, A-Frame was celebrating its one-year anniversary; I’ll look forward to observing its 10-year milestone in a couple of years, too.

2012 – Introducing… “Where to Travel!”
To indulge in my obsession with traveling, I launched a “Where to Travel” section on the #WilsonsGuide blog in 2012. Some posts have focused only on one cool place to visit (like checking out Mama’s Fish House in Maui), while other posts have offered all-around city guides (such as the top 12 things to do in Houston). All in all, there’s been 16 “Where To Travel” recommendations over the years: Brazil, Catalina Island, France, Hawaii (Maui and Oahu), Houston, Las Vegas, London, Los Cabos, Miami, Monterey, New Orleans, Oahu, Oakland, Palm Springs and Seattle. 

2013 – The year of the arts
It should come as no surprise that L.A. is home to some of the most incredible art in the world — whether that’s theatrical performances, museums, television shows or musical productions. 2013 seemed to have a lot of incredible artistic moments, captured in four unique #WilsonsGuide blog posts. Lorraine Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black had a run at the David Schall Theatre  and the “LA Museum Season” promoted FREE access to 30 of the city’s most prominent and popular museums. Cirque du Soleil brought Totem to the South Bay. And finally, the "Get Your Phil: Dinner & Concert" Package offered an intimate night of dinner and classical music, at rotating DTLA restaurants and at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, respectively. 

2014 – Many firsts with Azla vegan in DTLA
It was to hard to pick only one big moment for 2014, as there were just so many. But ultimately, Azla vegan takes the spot for being the first Ethiopian restaurant outside of Little Ethiopia, the first vegan Ethiopian restaurant in DTLA, and, for having lots of inspiring #BlackGirlMagic running through its veins. This fast casual eatery is a family-owned business by the mother-daughter duo of marketing guru Nesanet and her mother chef Azla (its namesake). It  serves up colorful dishes that are varied, full of flavor and very filling. It’s located In Mercado La Paloma, a pretty cool incubator that helps entrepreneurs launch their own businesses. So thrilled to see that Azla is still around, celebrating six years of being in the same location!

2015 – Making the rounds at GRAMMY Awards week
One thrilling aspect of being in L.A. during award season is that while most of the world simply watches all of the action from their screens at home, we get the opportunity to hob knob with celebrities and bask in the excitement, thanks to all of the parties, events and soirees that happen leading up to and during the award shows. As a music fanatic, GRAMMY Awards week was always high on my list to check out. So starting in 2015, I documented my time running from intimate concerts produced by Essence to stopping by the official GRAMMY Gift Lounge, ogling over the talent gift bags filled with $25,000 worth of goodies.

2016 – The list of Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries launches
In Black History Month (February) of 2016, the #WilsonsGuide list of black-owned restaurants, bars, lounges and eateries was born. It’s a homage to the diverse, culinary contributions that so many amazing chefs and owners have made to L.A. Initially starting with 16 places, it’s grown to almost 40 over the past four years. From to Southern, BBQ and more, there’s such a range of eclectic and diverse options. Can’t wait to see what new restaurants will be added in the new decade, too.

2017 – Serving up sorbet at the Gelato Festival’s U.S. debut
Yours truly was asked to be a judge in the U.S. debut of the Gelato Festival, back in 2017. It was a tough job, but somebody had to sample the entries of the ten gelato makers who were competing to have a place at the upcoming 2021 Gelato Festival World Masters Final in Italy for the biggest title yet: World Champion. From blood orange to rose flavors, Jersey to Brazil, the diversity and creativity of gelato creation showed up strong. I had such a delightful time that I jumped at the chance to return as a judge in 2018.

2018 – Exploring L.A. Times' The Taste food & beverage festival
In 2018, I was invited to cover L.A. Times’ The Taste, which is literally like the granddaddy of all food festivals. Spanning three consecutive nights over Labor Day Weekend, this annual event is held on the Paramount Pictures lots in Hollywood. Hundreds of your favorite local restaurants and beverage brands hand out unlimited bite-sized samples of select dishes and drinks all night long, and there’s also cooking demos and educational discussions each evening. 2019 saw the 10th anniversary mark, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon.

2019 – From L.A. … to the Bay!
A sudden move to the Bay had me contemplating hard what exactly the future held for this blog. Would I have to completely retire it, since I’d no longer be in L.A. as much? Would I drastically pivot to only showcasing places in the Bay? Fortunately, I found a happy medium, deciding to keep writing about the L.A. scene, all while expanding into NorCal. It’s been an adventure exploring Oakland, San Francisco, and Napa, and I can’t wait to continue discovering what else the Bay has to offer in 2020 and beyond!

I hope you've enjoyed this #WilsonsGuide blog as much as I've enjoyed putting it together, and I look forward to posting more soon in the New Year and the New Decade! 

- Miss Wilson 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Where to Eat: A trip to Italy, Peru and everywhere in between @ Conference Room (Playa Vista)

The Eats: Creative continental cuisine with Italian, Peruvian and other global influences

The Location: Playa Vista

The Vibes: Think Mad Men vibes: mid-century modern and masculine

Good for: Alone, dates, groups

When-To-Go: Weekdays, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Weekends, 5 p.m. – close (11 p.m. on Saturdays; 10 p.m. on Sundays)​

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $7 - $19; Entrées, $20 - $36; Beverages, $7 - $12

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Michelangelo “Miguel” Aliaga

The 4-1-1: There’s literally a themed night every single day, from Sunday and Monday football to Thursday night jazz and Friday night acoustic music.

Parking Situation: Nearby parking garage (validation provided)

I’ll Be Back…: For the “chicken loves waffles” and the “no brainer” vegan ice cream sandwich!

On a quietly subdued (and quite cold) Sunday a couple of weeks ago, I stopped by Conference Room, a brand new restaurant in Playa Vista. It’s the latest dining concept backed by Chef Michelangelo “Miguel” Aliaga (pictured below with me), who you may remember joined Hollywood’s Los Balcones team earlier this spring (you can read all about that, here!).

Still with the mission of bringing his distinct Peruvian-Italian culinary style to the masses, Chef Miguel has built out a menu that encompasses a bit of traditional Italian dishes here, a few Peruvian nibbles there, and a lot of novel, whimsical creations everywhere.

During my visit, I had the pleasure of indulging in a dinner feast of five courses, specially curated by the man himself, Chef Miguel. From falafel-crusted salmon to vegan ice cream sandwiches, it was a nice way to explore a bit of what Conference Room has to offer.

Here’s a look at what we sampled! 

Tapping into Aliaga’s background and love for Italian cuisine, there are five different pastas on the menu, from spaghetti lobster to gnocchi and lasagna. We tried the broccolini ravioli (pictured below) — a light blend of broccolini wrapped in pasta and then tossed with sweetly cooked cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil, veggie stock and interestingly enough, fava beans. I’ve never had beans in pasta before, but thought they added a delightful dimension, thanks to their savory flavor.

There are about a dozen different entrées, with some that nod to Peruvian and Italian cuisines while others bring in and blend other cultural influences. Another first for me: the “falafel crusted salmon,” pictured below.  Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern fritter typically made of chickpeas or fava beans, spices such as cumin, and herbs like parsley. It’s typically found packed into a pita pocket with other ingredients like tomatoes and tahini sauce. Or, it’s accompanying rice and kebabs — not necessarily on top of fish. But in this case, the combination of salmon and falafel worked out magically. The crunchiness of the falafel balances well with the tenderness of the salmon, which has a subtle sweet-and-spicy kick to it, all thanks to a spiced honey glaze (more on that glaze later!).

The “chicken loves waffles” (pictured below) is another departure from the Italian-Peruvian motif. It’s a fancier version of the ever-so-popular fried chicken and waffles combo. These aren’t any ol’ waffles — they’re made with cheddar and scallions either — and the chicken’s perfectly crispy and bursting with lots of flavor. Aliaga takes what’s already pretty incredible yet to another next level by adding a fried egg, generously sized avocado slices and lots of that spiced honey glaze that also comes with the salmon. Tip: definitely order a side of the hot glaze — it’s great to dip the chicken in for an extra kick!

Our last main plate was the branzino, pictured below. Thin slices of pan-seared European bass are carefully tied together and stuffed with lemon, all sitting on a bed of hummus and grilled fennel. The branzino is mouth-wateringly moist and succulent!

Other main plates include the lomo saltado with Peruvian sauce, a lamb burger, cauliflower steak with tzatziki sauce and a handful of other choices.

Last but certainly not least, we left room for dessert. Conference Room offers a daily rotation of cookies, cakes and pastries, and also palatial sundaes that are giant enough for two — and maybe even three or four — people to share (I was peeping the sundae being consumed by the couple sitting one table over, and it was big). We went for the “no brainer” vegan ice cream sandwich, pictured below. Creamy vegan ice cream was smooshed between two gluten-free, vegan “everything but the kitchen sink” cookies that tasted a lot like oatmeal cookies. It blew my mind that there was no dairy whatsoever, because the ice cream tasted like the real deal. For those who love a little dairy in their lives, chocolate mud cookies and crispy churro croissants are other cookie sandwich options, along with regular vanilla and chocolate ice cream flavors.

While we mainly stuck to pasta and main plates, there’s also a variety of starters, salads, flatbreads, sides and even a cheese & charcuterie section. The cauliflower wings and spaghetti lobster are on my radar for next time. And currently, the bar only serves beers, wines and a limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including hot teas and lemonades.

All in all, I enjoyed everything so far, especially the fun twists on traditional dishes, incorporating new ingredients with old recipes. I’d be remiss not to mention that the décor ain’t too shabby either (alright, it’s gorgeous). A long, rectangular-shaped room is decked in mid-century modern appeal — comfy brown leather booths, sleek brass light fixtures and curvy lounge chairs.

So the next time you find yourself in Silicon Beach and in the mood for a out-of-the-ordinary dinner, consider stopping by the Conference Room.

See you there soon!

For more information: