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.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Where to Be Merry: Biking @ The Santa Monica Beach / Venice Beach (The Marvin Braude Bike Trail / The Strand)

The Merriment: 22 miles of paved path along the Pacific Ocean, stretching from the Pacific Palisades to the north and Torrance to the south

The Location: The Beach

The Vibes: Liberating, relaxing, invigorating

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

When-To-Go: Morning to evening

The $$ Factor: Beach cruiser rentals average about $12 - $15 per hour

The 4-1-1:
Be sure to pack snacks and lots of water, and to wear layers and comfy shoes. Also ask for a beach cruiser with a basket

Parking Situation: Parking by the beach can be pretty gruesome and expensive, but every now and then, you can luck out and find free street parking — just be sure to read the signs!

I’ll Be Back…: To ride into the sunset on a sunny, spring Saturday afternoon!

I don't know about you, but I’m beyond excited for some warm weather to finally peek through all of these clouds and cold fronts!

In fact, the rising temps got me thinking about different outdoor activities to once again enjoy, such as pedal boating in Echo Park and exercising at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (perfect way to get that body ready for the summer!), and, also one of my favorite L.A. activities to do: bike riding at the beach!

While I may have grown up here, it took me befriending non-locals for me to first venture into biking on the beach. But once I started, I simply can’t stop. It’s so much fun!

The official name of the bike path that stretches up and down L.A.’s coast is the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, or The Strand, and it has a 22-mile long bike lane that extends from Torrance in the south to the Pacific Palisades in the north.

I most certainly haven't biked the entire route. Instead, I’ve typically parked off Washington Blvd. and rented a bike from one of the handful of nearby bike rental shops. I can’t say that I’ve found the perfect place for bike rentals — that one special store that has bikes in pristine condition and super affordable prices — but here’s a quick Yelp search of shops within the area. I’ve typically rented a beach cruiser and made sure that it has a basket to carry my things and a lock in case I want to wander off for a bit, which, always happens.

Beginning at Venice, you can either go left on the bike path, which will take you down towards Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, where you can actually see planes and massive jumbo jets take off from the nearby LAX airport, pictured below.

That’s usually a quieter, less crowded strip of beach than taking a turn to the right if you're at Washington Blvd. and heading north through Venice and up towards Santa Monica. This part of the path is definitely livelier and quite exhilarating, as it’s jam packed with locals and tourists, all vying to enjoy all that the beach has to offer. Personally, I like taking this route because there are so many different landmarks to see, including Muscle Beach, the famous Venice boardwalk and the Venice Skate Park, pictured below. It’s here that I love to park my bike and watch talented skaters of all ages soar into the air on their boards. 

Heading even more north into Santa Monica, there’s also the Original Muscle Beach, pictured below, with free gymnastics exercise equipment that’s always open to the public to use. You can test your might climbing up ropes, balancing on beams and swinging on gymnastic rings.

And just a few steps north of the Original Muscle Beach lays the Santa Monica Pier, pictured below, which you can actually ride under. 

After leaving the pier and continuing north, the beach seems to widen and become less populated, and you can cruise up towards Will Rogers State Beach. Vast stretches of glistening golden sand sparkle underneath the bright sun, as the enormous Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean extend ahead for as far as the eye can see. 

Aside from all of the breathtaking ocean views to take in, what I love about bike riding on the beach is that you can go at your own pace. Quicken the tempo for a nice workout or opt for a slow and steady cruising speed. Regardless of how fast or slow you go, the lovely ocean breeze will be there to cool you off as well.

So the next time you’re looking for an outdoor adventure that won’t break the bank and gets your heart rate going a bit, head on over to the Marvin Braude Bike Trail at the beach.

I’ll see you there soon!

For more information: