Monday, July 31, 2017

Where to Drink: Tiki Cocktails @ Tiki No, North Hollywood

The Drinks: Classic tiki cocktails

The Location: The Valley (North Hollywood)

The Vibes: It’s a full-fledged tiki bar, complete with thatched huts, bamboo sticks and tiki statues

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

When-To-Go: Daily, 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Daily happy hour 5 – 7 p.m.

The $$ Factor: $8 – $28 per cocktail

The 4-1-1: On Wednesdays and Sundays, karaoke sessions also go down

Parking Situation: Nearby metered parking

I’ll Be Back…: To try the Scorpion Bowl!

Right now, it's not uncommon for the temp to hit 100+ degrees within my beloved hometown — the best, the greatest, the absolutely fantastic San Fernando Valley.

And when the temps surge to these ungodly highs, there’s only one thing to do: head somewhere that’s nice and chilly inside and grab a very cold, very refreshing beverage.

One place in particular to cool off is Tiki No, which as it name suggests, is a tiki-themed neighborhood bar in North Hollywood. The interior, dimly lit and with the air conditioner blasting at full speed, has been transformed into a Polynesian retreat. Thatched roofs cover the main bar and booths, while tiki statues, bamboo poles and colorful lanterns add a nice island touch throughout as well.

The bar serves up 14 specialty tiki cocktails, with most comprising some sort of rum — from dark to golden and black, and even overproofed and aged — hailing from tropical places, like Puerto Rico, St. Croix and Jamaica. Many drinks feature more than only one rum and another type of alcohol. Prime example, the Lychee Luau, pictured below. It includes two types of rum, a lychee liqueur, and pineapple and lemon juices. Only two of the tiki cocktails have no rum whatsoever, the Eastern Sour with Kentucky bourbon and the Suffering Bastard with gin and cognac.

Tiki No cocktails are both originals and ones that have been around the block for decades, from all parts of the world. The menu includes the year, locale and city where each drink originated, and you’ll see they hail from as far as Egypt (the Suffering Bastard) to right here in our own backyard (the Dark and Stormy). And, some were even created in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Apparently one of the most popular orders is Tiki No’s version of the Piña Colada, pictured below, with aged rum from St. Croix, cream of coconut and both fresh pineapples and pineapple juices, all blended. Personally, I liked it a lot! It's not overbearingly sweet but still has a pleasant, fruity flavor.

One of the most creative, original cocktails, IMO, is the Toasted Marshmallow, pictured below. It’s got apple and lemon juices, a smidge of cinnamon and it’s mixed with not one, not two but three different alcohols: rum, “fluffed” vodka and the Spanish liqueur, Licor 43, made with 43 different ingredients. Definitely very potent! 

Cocktails aside, a major selling point for this bar are the prices; everything’s under $12 (save for the $22 / $28 Scorpion Bowl, which can be shared with several people). Plus, the daily evening happy drops prices even lower. Half of the menu goes down to $7, including another Tiki No original cocktail worth calling out, the Coconut Mojito, pictured below. It’s a thirst quencher!

Last thing I’ll note is that this bar serves up only drinks — no food, save for a few munchies like chips. So, don’t come here hungry, just come here thirsty!

And the next time you find yourself in The Valley, on a hot summer’s day, in dire need to escape the heat and sip on something ice cold, head to Tiki No. It’s got the whole island vibe thing going on and some potent tiki cocktails to match.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Where to Eat: dineL.A. / Summer Poolside Dining @ Viviane Restaurant, Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills

The Eats: An American-meets-European-meets-California menu, with light fare like pan-seared salmon, grilled peach burrata and Tuscan tomato soup

The Location: Beverly Hills

The Vibes: Al fresco, poolside, intimate

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

When-To-Go: Daily, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 
Sunday – Thursday, 5:30 – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 5:30 – 11 p.m.; daily happy hour 3 – 6 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Entrées $19 - $34; dine.L.A., for a limited time (until July 28) — two-course lunch $25 and three-course dinner $49

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Jack Hotchkin

The 4-1-1: This hotel has quite the history! Way, way back in the day, it was the stomping grounds for megastars including Mae West, Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe, who apparently even lived here for some time. It’s also been a retirement home and apartments before being renovated once again into a hotel in the late ‘90s.

Parking Situation: Valet or very limited street parking.

I’ll Be Back…: For the dineL.A. experience!

The Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills is a hidden gem, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. 

Tucked away in a residential part of Beverly Hills, if you blink too fast, you might miss it. But right on the corner of Olympic Blvd., slightly east of S. Beverly Dr., this unassumingly glitzy boutique hotel offers both old Hollywood charm and subdued relaxation, all in a California chic, mid-century modern setting.

I've been going to the hotel’s restaurant for years, partially because it’s been the perfect business setting to grab morning breakfast, midday lunch or afternoon cocktails.

With its modestly elegant, airy vibe, it’s classy enough to woo a client, intimate enough to hold a conversation and close enough to nearby offices in Century City and Beverly Hills for quick access.

And, what I love most — how the entire indoor-outdoor setting seems to center around the main focal point of the hotel grounds: the curvaceous, glistening pool!

Whether dining inside or outside, from nearly any seat, you can get a glimpse of the sparkling beauty, no matter where you are.

I’ve seen the restaurant change names and focuses, but for the past several years, it’s been coined Viviane and, since this past May, it has a new executive chef, Jack Hotchkin.

Hotchkin, who’s had stints at L.A. staples like the Soho House and Chateau Marmont, has crafted a menu that has American, European and California influences, with lots of colorful, vibrant produce that we Angelenos can never get enough of — like avocados and kale — and lots of light options (for example, seven out of 15 Starter / Salad / Main dinner items are seafood items, like octopus, scallops and salmon).

Over the weekend, a good friend of mine and I had the opportunity to check out some of Hotchkin’s latest creations when I visited for dineL.A., which runs from now until next Friday, July 28 and features a three-course dinner, with two to three selections per course. There are both items off the regular menu and a few that you can only find for this special occasion.

Here’s a glimpse of what we sampled:

First Course:

The Crab and Corn Fritters — oval-shaped fried balls of goodness, crab and corn, with a creamy avocado, cilantro aioli. To note: the fritters aren't on the regular menu; they’re a dineL.A. special.

The Grilled Peach Burrata with prosciutto, loads of fresh basil, a balsamic glaze and two slices of grilled ciabatta bread. Definitely bursting with a lot of different flavors and textures — from sweet and savory, to creamy and crunchy — to make this appetizer fun to try.

Second Course:

The Pan Seared Salmon came in what was almost like a ponzu broth that teemed with steamed bok choy and radish slices. Somehow both the salmon skin and the Brussels sprouts leaves balancing on top of it managed to stay crispy, which gave a nice juxtaposition between textures. 

The Pancetta & Sweet Corn Agnolotti dish featured pasta stuffed with a sweet corn mixture, then topped with crunchy pancetta, corn kernels and cheese, all bathed in a rich brown butter sauce. 


We went a little rogue, and instead of opting for the two dineL.A. options (Chocolate Pot de Crème or Assorted Ice Cream), we went with the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Hazelnut Brownie with vanilla gelato, pictured below.

We were both soooo full that it was hard for either of us to stuff down more than a few bites, but we did agree that these desserts were super, super rich in flavor and quite decadent as well.

You can check out Viviane’s entire dineL.A. menu here and the next time you're in the mood for some Cali-inspired nibbles — perhaps poolside, in a super chill, upscale ambiance — check out Viviane.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Wilson's Words of Wisdom: July Round Up (Fried Chicken in Los Angeles)

Nothing says summer food to me more than Popsicles, freshly cut juicy watermelon, corn on the cob, grilled and BBQ meats, and without a doubt...

fried chicken.

Whether packed for a picnic, shared at a cookout or simply eaten at any given time, there's nothing like crunchy, scrumptious, very-well-seasoned fried chicken.

So in honor of the season and some incredible places delighting us with their perfectly fried deliciousness, this month's round up is dedicated to (some of) the Best Fried Chicken in the city. From kettle fried to “hot” chicken, high-end to economic, and everything in between, these six places are sure to satisfy.

Read below and don't forget to drop your favorite fried chicken spot in the comments section below, too!

Jim Dandy Fried Chicken 

Forget about Popeye’s and don't even bother with KFC — it's Jim Dandy that fits the bill when you’re looking for cheap, but still satisfying fried chicken. It's easy to forget it’s a fast food stand, because everything is seasoned so well; I mean, I even like the greens here, and I'm pretty picky about my greens. Jim's chicken is quite crispy on the outside and plump and juicy on the inside. Choose from regular or spicy (which, IMO is pretty mild; there just seems to be more spices in the batter). But best of all, the food here is a low price point. You can get like five pieces of chicken, two sides, two rolls and a drink, all for like, $2. OK, maybe not that cheap, but most of their dinners and combos for up to 4 pieces of chicken — which come with a side or two — are less than $8. There are two locations, both in South L.A. — one on Vermont, the other on Manchester.
For more info

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is a southern classic that originally launched in Tennessee and has now expanded to 22 locations in 11 states. Quite recently, the chain has made its way to the best side, the Westside, with locations in Burbank and central L.A. The L.A. Location has a low-key, casual vibe, with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, bottled beers, exposed red bricks and several TV screens. I wasn't completely sold on the BBQ beans or the mac ‘n’ cheese sides, but the actual fried chicken itself? Unforgettable. Gus’s features “hot” chicken — a type of fried chicken from Nashville that goes through a special multi-step process of preparing the chicken. What ends up as part of the process is that there’s a thin coating of "secret" spices layered between the skin and meat, and when you bite into it, there’s definitely a noticeable kick. And, I don't know how they managed to do it, but the chefs have made it so the skin stays crispy — even the next day. Best of all, they have the Monday special: four legs, side and a drink, all for eight bucks.
For more info 

astro doughnuts & fried chicken opened this Spring 2017 in DTLA, hailing from our nation's capital. And while astro may be known for its massive donuts that have awesomely creative flavors — like the seasonal cherry blossom flavor in honor of the cherry blossom season in D.C. or the maple bacon flavor, which blows my mind every time I eat it  (pictured above) — don't. sleep. on. the. fried chicken. astro makes these incredible sandwiches that have golden flavorful fried chicken pieces stacked between two pieces of bread — choose from a potato roll, cheddar biscuit or my favorite, a savory donut, topped with Old Bay spices. You can also top your chicken with hot sauce, honey butter, sausage gravy or one of the other six sauces which range from Sriracha Buffalo to Blue Cheese and Ranch. It's filling, it's bursting with flavor, it's just the way a fried chicken sandwich should be!
For more info

La Louisanne in the Baldwin Hills area most certainly draws some very interesting characters and most certainly could benefit from a facelift, but that doesn't stop folks from flocking to this dimly lit, low key bar/restaurant, especially on Mondays for the $1.99 plate of red beans & rice and fried chicken. Yes you read that right. $1.99. For a whole entire plate. The chicken is fried hard and the beans and rice have a Southern flair. A lady makes her way around the rooms, passing out these plates, and you can order as many as you'd like, so long as you pay cash. A singer backed by a house band belts out live jazz/blues/R&B covers and cocktails here are stiff...just make sure to order them at the bar; table service can take a painfully long time.
For more info

Honey's Kettle Fresh Fried Chicken in cutesy downtown Culver City is a fast casual restaurant that serves up "kettle-fried" chicken — a process that creates light, smooth but still crispy chicken. Portions here are massive; a combo, such as the 2 Piece Lunch with Kettle fries, butter pickles and a biscuit, pictured above, is so large that can easily be shared between two people. The buttermilk biscuits with the side of warmed honey are hot and fluffy, and go with the chicken so well. Sides I've tried and liked so far: the fries, the sautéed green beans and the fresh cole slaw.
For more info 

Comfort LA

Comfort LA has made quite the appearance on my blog on multiple occasions, but I'd be remiss not to mention them once again for their fantastic chicken wings drizzled with "that sauce." No, you can't get breasts, legs or any other cuts, but what you can get is 6, 18 or 100 tiny flats and drumettes, covered in chives and a housemade sauce that has a tangy, slightly sweet kick to it. Comfort LA also stays winning for its late late hours (open until 3 a.m. on the weekends), its BYOB policy (and yes, that includes alcoholic drank), a plethora of games to play (like dominoes, which I challenge anyone to play at any given time) and its involvement with the local communities by hosting a lot of community-centered events for NPOs and orgs working on notable causes.
For more info