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.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Where to Eat: Italian-American Favorites @ Pirolo’s Panino

The Eats: Hearty Italian-American favorites, including massive meatball sandwiches, ricotta- and mozzarella-filled cheese puffs, and of course, the famed Italian sandwich, the panino 

The Location: Mid-City

The Vibes: Fast, casual, hip, to-the-point

Good for: Alone, small groups, families

When-To-Go: Daily, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. 

The $$ Factor: Starters, $7 – $8; Salads, $9 - $12; Paninos, $11; Plates, $15 - $22 

The Names behind the scenes: James Beard Award Semifinalist & Chef Michael Pirolo 

The 4-1-1: Aside from the front patio and indoor seating, there’s also a back patio, which has an unusual way to access it!

Parking Situation: Metered and limited free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Chicken Limone plate! 

Chef Michael Pirolo, a James Beard Award semifinalist who lived in Italy and also runs Miami South Beach’s Macchialina, officially opened the all-new Pirolo’s Panino in late April 2018, and on the eve of its grand debut, I stopped by for a sneak peek!

The tiny sandwich shop that’s now made the bustling Melrose Ave. strip its new home has a laid-back, casual atmosphere. It’s one long rectangular room bathed in whites, light mint greens and suave oranges, with a large black-and-white mural at the front entrance, created by contemporary artist Blanda. Side note: there’s also “hidden,” secluded patio in the back, pictured below, that has a very unique way to access it.

On the menu are quick, easy-to-grab lunch and dinner options that have Italian roots, a bit of gourmet flair and a solid price point, all served up in biodegradable containers.

To start, there are six paninos — a type of Italian grilled sandwich — including The Godfather, with salami, honey ham, sharp provolone, pickled eggplant and more. There’s also a vegetarian option — the Crispy Eggplant, with sundried tomato and a garlic white bean spread. And, there’s the Chicken Parm, pictured below, with two gigantic chicken breasts slathered in a signature Parmesan, Fontina and house marina sauce then smooshed between ciabatta bread that’s flaky on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. Interesting backstory about the bread: apparently, it’s made specifically for Pirolo, and the team went through almost 80 — yes, 80 — different breads to find the perfect one. I most certainly think they got it right!

Pirolo is also serving up $15 chicken plate combinations, which, for $7 more, can become a plate for two.  Select from three options: the Chicken Cutlet, Chicken Parm or a house favorite, the Chicken Limone, pictured below. All come with broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes. My first impression after scarfing down the Chicken Limone was “wow! This chicken is so soft! And fluffy!” Turns out the team pounds and cooks it in a way where the meat is able to store a lot of moisture, even though it’s still charbroiled on the outside.

Something I wasn’t expecting to see on the menu: chicken wings. But, I was reminded that this is an Italian-American eatery, so I put my assumptions aside to try these little fried drumettes and flats that come in buffalo or lemon pepper. The lemon pepper flavor is sweet and tangy, and the skin nice and crispy. Only Chef Pirolo has the secret recipe to these wings’ coating, which comprises about seven or so different ingredients.

Rounding out the menu are more starters, sides, salads and even sweets, like this Cannoli with chocolate chips and pistachio.

And while there’s certainly enough seating to dine in, the team shared that there’s a big emphasis on ensuring that all of the food can withhold delivery service, since so many people also like eating in the comforts of their own space. So that means that the Chicken Limone shouldn’t dry out by the time it reaches your door and the ciabatta bread should remain flaky, even the next day.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed many of the options I tried that night and appreciated having a space to slip back to, if I didn’t feel like being right on Melrose Ave. I’ll definitely be back for more of the wings and the Chicken Parm panino.

See you there soon!

For more information: 
Website, Instagram, Facebook, 323.424.7550

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Where to Eat: Chef Megan Marlow’s Weekly Pop-Up, Plant-Based Dinner @ Citizen Mustard

The Eats: A glorious multi-course, plant-based dinner with wine pairings for 36 guests, with a secret location, menu and benefitting charity that rotates each month

The Location: At different venues / spaces all throughout Los Angeles

The Vibes: Intimate, decadent, classy

Good for: Alone, couples, small groups

When-To-Go: Every Thursday, 7 – 10 p.m.

The $$ Factor: $245 per multi-course dinner, which includes wines, passed hors d’oeuvres, plated entrées and dessert

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Megan Marlow, who’s been the personal chef for real estate mogul Rick Caruso and fitness guru Jillian Michaels, and who is passionate about promoting a plant-based lifestyle (you can read more about her here)

The 4-1-1: Five percent of proceeds is contributed to a different charity each month. For April, charity: water, which provides drinking water to developing countries, was the recipient of the donation. Plus, all ingredients are locally sourced; this month, everything came from Firelight Farm.

Parking Situation: Complimentary valet

I’ll Be Back…: For the croquettes! And the “crab” cakes! And the grilled potato Caesar salad!

Last Thursday, I went to my very first pop-up dinner experience. 

And, it wasn’t just any pop-up dinner. This was the inaugural kickoff for the all-new weekly Citizen Mustard dining series, which features a rotating location, menu and charity to receive five percent of dinner sales proceeds, each month. Chef Marlow, pictured below, created the series, inventing several plant-based courses for 36 of her closest friends every Thursday evening, in an intimate — and might I say, very classy — setting.

April’s event has “A Modern First Impression” theme and fittingly takes place in a massive, modern house right on the edge of Hancock Park.

The night I arrived, us guests were shuffled into one large, open space with a subtle floral scent wafting through the air, soaring ceilings and concrete floors, and three beautifully set oversized wooden tables front and center. We were greeted by passed hors d'oeuvres and an open bar that freely poured red and white wines (and, an alcohol-free strawberry lemonade). For about an hour or so, we all mixed and mingled, and I met some really awesome people, including a couple who personally knew the chef, a travel writer and her husband, and two friends who drove from Arizona — yes, a whole state away — all for the love of Chef Marlow and her culinary prowess. 

And then, it was time for dinner. 

We sat down for the remaining seven courses, which comprised a diverse mix of hot / cold, creamy / crunchy and sweet / savory inventions.

Six of the seven courses were renditions of dishes that traditionally have animal products. For example, the Miso-Beet & Tahini Tartare was a play on tuna tartare; the Wild Mushroom Croquettes, a twist on the traditional meat and cheese favorite; and the Crabless Cakes substituted crab for creamy artichokes and heart of palm. What was so impressive was how much the texture, smells and flavors of these plant-based inventions mimicked that of their meaty and dairy counterparts. When I bit into the Garlic-Butter Sous Vide King Oyster Mushrooms, pictured below, I had to double check that I wasn’t biting into a real oyster.

I don’t say it lightly when I say that everything on the menu was spectacular

And, I wasn’t alone. My table mates and I would ask one another: “What’s your favorite so far?” and it was always difficult to select only one.

So because I clearly couldn’t pick just one, here’s a quick look at the top five that I enjoyed the most: 

The Creamy Celery Root Soup, a rich and creamy blend of a type of celery called celeriac and the Egyptian condiment dukkah, accompanied by focaccia bread.

The Wild Mushroom Croquettes, crispy, fried mounds filled with a melt-in-your-mouth risotto. 

The Grilled Potato Caesar with walnut Parmesan cheese, which you couldn’t tell me didn't have dairy or anchovies. The salad had a spunky mix of crunchy and smooth textures, thanks to the added garlic croutons and soft baby potatoes.

The Crabless Cakes, filled with a delectable, creamy blend of hearts of palms and artichokes and served with a dollop of tangy horseradish-dill aioli that had a kick.

The Meyer Lemon Cheesecake, which brought a bit of savory by incorporating rosemary into the shortbread crust, with a firmness that was reminiscent of biscotti. It also had a light “cream cheese” topping and shavings of candied oranges that were just divine.

Now for a full list of everything that was served:
  • Spring Pea Crostini (passed hors d'oeuvres)
  • Chinese Sausage Turnip Cake (passed hors d'oeuvres) 
  • Creamy Celery Root Soup
  • Miso-Beet & Tahini Tartare
  • Wild Mushroom Croquettes
  • Grilled Potato Caesar
  • Crabless Cakes
  • Garlic-Butter Sous Vide King Oyster Mushrooms 
  • Meyer Lemon Cheesecake (dessert)

The ambiance throughout the night was relaxed, and I have to say, it was quite nice to sit back in somebody’s magnificent home, and simply enjoy an amazing dinner, void of any distractions and without having to wash dishes at the end of the night. 

Plus, it was an added benefit to know that part of the proceeds of the night were going towards a charity. After the dinner, Chef Marlow shared more about how the charities are chosen, stating: "We select our featured charities based on a number of things. One is how closely they align with our values as a company, and another is how they use the donated funds within their organization. This month, our charity selection is charity: water, a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. This aligns with our mission to promote environmental sustainability and bring attention to human welfare across the globe."

So the next time you’re looking for an intimate, off-the-beaten-path dining experience where you may meet some incredible people to talk with and also explore plant-based dining, consider making moves to the Citizen Mustard dining series one Thursday evening.

See you at the next one!

For more information: 

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