Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where to Eat: Organic Burgers @ Pono Burger

The Eats: Organic, grass-fed beef burgers

The Location: Santa Monica

The Vibes: Laid-back, casual

Good for: Families, solo, groups, kids

When-To-Go: Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

The $ Factor: $8-$14 for burgers

The Names behind the scenes: Windy “Makani” Gerardi is the Chef/Owner

The 4-1-1: Dine in the Quonset Hut (pictured above)—a former bunker from the World War II era that’s been transformed into an airy, naturalistic sanctuary

Parking: Free—but very limited—parking is available in the underground parking garage underneath Pono Burger

I’ll Be Back…: For The Paniolo burger!

Earlier this month, I checked out Pono Burger when The Minty invited me to a dinner here in honor of its first anniversary.

On the night of this special occasion, Chef Makani, who’s originally from Hawaii, revealed that while still living on the Big Island, she dismissively scoffed that she’d never move to Los Angeles. Those telling words set her in motion on a path to opening Pono Burger, where the focus is on all foods and beverages being organic, local sourcing and creating burgers that are more than just meat, bun, cheese and a few simple condiments. Her burgers are made from certified organic, grass-fed beef from the SunFed Ranch and are topped with gourmet garnishes, like quail eggs, a housemade BBQ with bourbon and coffee, and buttermilk beer battered onion rings (Note: for those of you who don’t eat beef, turkey and Portobello mushroom patty options are available).

The event showcased all of what Pono Burger's has to offer in a fantastic three-course dinner, complete with wine and beer pairings.

The first course included the Farmers Market Salad—La Oveja Negra organic Manchego cheese stacked upon a mixture of arugula and fennel, Fuji apples and pistachios, and lightly tossed in a Dijon-apple vinaigrette. Even with the apples included, this salad has an earthier rather than sweet kick to it, and the cheese adds a nice sharpness to it.

The second course showcased the three Spring 2014 Creations burgers, just in miniature form.

My absolute favorite was The Paniolo, with smoked cheddar, Niman Ranch bacon, housemade Kona coffee bourbon BBQ sauce and buttermilk beer battered onion rings. It’s literally the ultimate BBQ bacon cheeseburger!

The Kahiki has a Mediterranean flair to it, with roasted bell pepper, grilled eggplant, a housemade tzatziki sauce and cucumber in a light citrus mint sauce.

And lastly, The Palani is an intriguing blend of Herbs de Provence with grilled tomato, goat cheese, bacon and arugula, with a sunny-side-up quail egg. It’s quite a daring blend of flavors, with the pungent greens in contrast to the flavorful crispy bacon and the warm, soft patty.

Burgers were complimented by russet fries and sweet potato fries, topped with fresh thyme, parsley and kosher salt. I’m not even really a fan of sweet potato fries, but these right here, I couldn’t stop eating. Crispy, sweet and addicting!

The last course included milkshakes in three flavors: hot fudge, strawberry and salted caramel with Niman Ranch bacon bits. I opted for strawberry, which was rich, thick, creamy and all sorts of deliciousness. I did take a few sips of the salted caramel with bacon bits shake to see how strong the bacon flavor was, noticing that it’s definitely more subtle and not overpowering at all.

The first anniversary dinner also included two beautiful hula performances and the chance to chat with Chef Makani. Listening to her story, it’s apparent that when coming to L.A., she brought with her a little bit of Hawaii, reflected in every aspect of Pono Burger, from its name to the ambiance and how staff treat customers. Pono is a Hawaiian word, used in the Hawaii state motto: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono: "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness." The ambiance, especially in the Quonset Hut, is simplistically serene, with peaceful music quietly playing in the background and accents of natural woods, glowing candles and photos and phrases about organic foods hanging from the walls. Also, “a little bit of love and gratitude goes a long way,” says Chef Makani, as she’s instructed staff to take care of every customer as if it was their mother, uncle, daughter, nephew or best friend that had walked in. 

Congrats to Pono Burger for making it one year, and here’s to many more to come. I’m really excited I found out about this place and will definitely be back, the next time I’m in the mood for enormous, delicious burgers in a calming, relaxing environment.

See you there soon!
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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Where to Drink: The Bar Experience @ Tipple & Brine (Part 2 of 2)

The Drinks: Craft cocktails and California draft beers

The Location: The Valley (Sherman Oaks)

The Vibes: Barn Chic

Good for: Dates, groups, solo

When-To-Go: Daily, beginning at 5 p.m.

The $ Factor: 
$11 for cocktails; $6-$11 for draft beers

The Names behind the scenes: Owner Richard DiSisto (Vantage Restaurant Group); Mixologist Daniel Zacharczuk (The Varnish, Honeycut)

The 4-1-1: What exactly is a tipple? Great question. As a noun, it’s an alcoholic beverage. As a verb, it’s to drink alcohol, especially habitually.

I’ll Be Back…: To order the Faster, Young Fruit!

A couple of weeks ago, 

Now, I want to share more about Tipple & Brine’s intriguing bar scene, since it's pretty awesome enough to have its own dedicated post.

What initially caught my attention about the bar scene at Tipple & Brine was how much of a neighborhood vibe it had. Owner Richard DiSisto—who built the entire restaurant with his own bare hands using refurbished and recycled materials—has done an excellent job at creating a warm, earthy and welcoming environment, reminiscent of the corner bars and taverns of New England.

Perched upon my stool and sipping my cocktails, there was something extremely comforting about being at Tipple & Brine's bar. Perhaps it was being enwrapped by the natural wood surrounding me, or gazing at the many curiosities scattered throughout—from the overturned wooden apple baskets and antique metal chicken feeders that now serve as lighting fixtures, to the chicken coops stacked above the main bar. Or perhaps, it had to do with the jovial attitude of our bartender Moses, who kept up pleasant conversation throughout the entire night, even while serving infinite rounds of cocktails to 200+ thirsty guests.

Yet as welcoming as any bar may be, at the end of the day, we don’t go to bars merely to sit somewhere nice; we go to sip something nice.

At the Opening Party, I sampled four out of seven of Tipple & Brine’s cocktails, all of which were made very well. Even those cocktails that I didn’t necessarily like, I would say it wasn’t because of a lack of quality ingredients or technique; it was more because of personal preferences. In fact, I would confidently say that it’s quite apparent that a lot of thought and effort has been put into the genesis of each cocktail, whether it be from blending completely opposite flavors to create new ones, to the varied types of cocktails that are available, from light and airy to dense and strong.

The Ford Cocktail (pictured below) is a bold blend of gin, dry vermouth, Benedictine and bitters, topped with an orange twist. I could barely sip it without a fiery feeling starting to crawl down my esophagus. Perhaps a true gin aficionado could take it to the head and throw a few of these back, but for the rest of us, it’s definitely a drink to be sipped.

The Scot Free (pictured below) is another potent concoction, with scotch, maraschino liqueur, bitters and lemon twists. Slightly easier to drink than the aforementioned Ford Cocktail, it still is on the stronger side, but is also faintly sweet.

The Mexican Firing Squad (pictured below) is an delightfully different blend of tequila and house-made grenadine with bitters and lime. It’s mostly sweet, with subtle hints of tequila. Careful - this one can creep up on you.

Saving the best for last, my favorite was the Faster Young Fruit, pictured below. It’s a light, refreshing blend of potato vodka, vermouth, soda and lemon, garnished by a grapefruit twist. It felt like the perfect summer’s evening cocktail.

The three that I didn’t try were the Irish Honey Fix made with Irish Whiskey, the Il de France made with cognac and champagne, and the Nevada, made with white rum. If you ever order any of these, do let me know what you think. Aside from signature cocktails, Tipple & Brine also mainly serves draft beers that originate in California. Seven out of 11 the bar's beers come from our lovely state and several even hail from right here in the Greater L.A. area: the Pilsner Angles City “Gold Line” from downtown, the Lager Craftsman “1903” from Pasadena and the Kolsch Golden Road Brewing “Cabrillo” from Los Angeles.

So while I most definitely suggest checking out Tipple & Brine for its oysters and other menu options, like those amazing Brussels Sprouts, I also say don’t hesitate to stop here solely for the cocktails. It has a nice ambiance to indulge in a few well-made ones, all while in a very welcoming ambiance. See you there soon!

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