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: 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Where to Eat: So Much Seafood @ MOSA Coastal (Hermosa Beach)

The Eats: A range of diverse seafood selections with Italian influences

The Location: Hermosa Beach

The Vibes: Light, airy, intimate, tranquil

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

When-To-Go: Daily, 4 p.m. until close (9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday); Weekend Brunch, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $3 – $22; Entrées, $14.50 - $39; Desserts, $6 - $8

The Names behind the scenes: Partners Anne Conness and Nancy Vrankovic

The 4-1-1: MOSA Coastal officially opened October 2019

Parking Situation: Metered street parking

I’ll Be Back…: To try the brunch and check out the happy hour!

There are literally 5,001 reasons why I love living in California so much. But one reason in particular is that we have the beach. Whether it’s a beautiful sunny summer day or 40 degrees, smack in the middle of a winter “cold front” like we’ve had this past week, there’s really never a bad time to visit the beach, ever.

MOSA Coastal, which opened October 2019, seems to have the same affection for the beach. Situated on Hermosa Ave., it’s only a stone’s throw away from the shoreline. It pays homage to its close-to-the-waterfront location by offering an array of seafood options with Italian influences. It’s currently open for weekend brunch and daily dinner, also offering a daily 4 – 6 p.m. happy hour.

I recently stopped by for dinner one week night, first falling in love with the non-pretentious, laid-back vibes of the space. Minimalism, a touch of L.A. chic and seaside casualness all harmoniously co-exist, giving MOSA its own unique style and charm. White furry chair coverings give a pop of elegance, while colorful abstract paintings juxtaposed against natural brown and white wood fixtures give a modern aesthetic.

My favorite area was the Bamboo Garden, pictured below. It's a covered outdoor patio, with hanging market lights and elegant mirrors. Bamboo stalks run the length of one wall, with water fountains providing a relaxing background soundtrack of running water.

The dinner menu spans starters, vegetables, a seafood bar, oysters, pastas, entrees and desserts. Starters include a prosciutto board, tomato caprese or the Panini Rolls. As a bread lover, I opted for the rolls, which are these fluffy, warm mounds of heaven. Lightly salted, they come with rosemary mixed in olive oil and a zesty marinara.

The seafood bar features five choices, ranging from ahi tartar to steamed clams, steamed mussels and octopus carpaccio. I went for the Calamari Salad, pictured below. I’ve typically eaten calamari as an appetizer — grilled or fried and typically accompanied by garnishes or at most a dipping sauce and lemons. MOSA’s take on a calamari salad made me realize how delicious calamari can be with other ingredients, especially ones not often paired with it — like nuts and herbs and spices. This salad has so many delightfully unusual bursts of flavors and textures: the crunchiness of pistachios and celery juxtaposed to the tenderness of the calamari; the burst of sweet oranges and fragrant mint compared to the peppery North African harissa sauce. It was definitely one of my favorites of the night.

Oysters hail from three regions: Baja, California, Prince Edward Isle and Puget Sound, Washington. The Puget Sound’s Capitol Reserve were completely gone, so I tried Baja’s Kumiai and Prince Edward Isle’s Malpeque. The Kumiai are on the smaller side, and slightly sweet. The Malpeque, on the other hand, are larger and mildly briny. Both were excellent in quality — plump, firm and extremely fresh.

On the vegetable front, there are six items, including three salads, charred eggplant, spiced carrots and grilled broccolini, pictured below. And let me tell you about this broccolini. It is everything!! It’s slathered in a green olive pesto and topped with sliced almonds and pickled purple onions. I have no idea how MOSA made the pesto so velvety and buttery, but it’s such a rich, smooth texture. Most certainly a must to order.

The Cioppino, pictured below and also known as “Fishermans Wharf Seafood Stew,” apparently is one of the most popular dishes. It’s an assortment of seafood (think mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp and more), all submerged in a tomato-based broth. It comes with your choice of garlic toast or spaghetti. It was very filling and the perfect way to stay warm during this freezing cold California winter. 

It was a tough decision to select another entrée: would it be the pasta, which is made in-house, or seafood, MOSA’s proclaimed specialty? The Niman Ranch lamb papardelle sounded so freakin’ good, but ultimately, I settled on the branzino, a.k.a., the European bass. It’s stuffed with sautéed spinach and onions, sitting on a thin red pepper rouille spread. You get the entire fish, head and all, deboned (although to note: there were a few bones here and there, so just be careful how hard you chew!). The meat was flaky and tender, and a really nice flavor. It didn’t disappoint!

Of course, a meal simply wouldn’t be complete without dessert. In addition to espresso panna cotta and lemon ricotta cheese cake, MOSA has rotating gelatos. The lemon gelato, pictured below, was subtly sweet and quite creamy — a pleasant surprise especially since it was dairy-free.

No hard liquor (yet?) but lots of wines and beers to choose from, including a very tasty sparkling white wine sangria with hints of citrus and basil, pictured below.

All in all, I enjoyed MOSA’s ambiance and decadently satisfying seafood. From chilled oysters to piping hot seafood stews and grilled fish, there’s quite a lot to pick and choose. So the next time you’re in the mood to relax and grab dinner right next to the beach, consider making the rounds to MOSA Coastal.

See you there soon!

For more information: