Showing posts with label downtown LA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label downtown LA. Show all posts

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: A New Tradition

Thanksgiving is the best holiday.
A celebration of the autumn bounty and togetherness... It's all so cozy and insular however that it can be easy to forget about those without a home, food, kith and kin.
Looking back on the past year, I am very thankful for the luxuries I've been afforded amongst friends, cooking meals, hosting events, and bringing people together. But there is a point when I have to question what else I could potentially be doing, bigger picture, to share with the community at large, outside of my social group.

Over the summer my friend Katie organized a volunteer "cooking club" one night to prepare a meal for the residents of the Downtown Women's Center in downtown Los Angeles. The DWC is an organization aiding the many needs of homeless women, serving as both a day center offering hot meals, showers, computers, phones, and case management, as well as 71 units of permanent supportive housing. The center has been a fixture in downtown since 1978 when founding director Jill Halverson offered a much needed respite to the man's world of Skid Row - its shelters, pantries and social services accessible only to men. Today, the DWC is nationally recognized as a prototype for programs striving to meet the unique needs of homeless women.

Preparing a meal that would feed 130 homeless and low income women that night was an amazing experience, and ever since I've been wanting to gather a group of my own to come to the center and cook a meal. And what better time than Thanksgiving to give back? Of all the food bloggers and culinarily-astute friends I have I didn't expect recruiting to be an issue.
Because budgets are tight and ingredients to cook for so many women can be costly, I submitted to Foodbuzz 24 x 24 and was so pleased that we were selected for their sponsorship. Now to organize a menu, and shop!

Collard greens. By the case. I suppose there's a first time for everything!

15 pounds of black-eyed peas: check.


Heaviest cart I've ever pushed! I panicked a little how I'd store the perishables until the next day in my little fridge... Move over beer, I've got 30 pounds of chicken to get in there! (Ah, it's amazing the things you can accomplish with determination and a little elbow grease).

Day of! Katie, the DWC's volunteer coordinator welcomes us to the kitchen, and gives the group a little background about the center.

Hairnets on! Aprons tied! Hands washed!

Kristin The Cuisinerd harnesses her inner cafeteria lady and perfects her hairnet.

Our Menu

Oven-fried Chicken
Sweet Potato Fries
Collard Greens
Black-eyed Peas

We only had two hours in the DWC kitchen to complete our prep work. Clock ticking, I delegated tasks and everyone manned their work stations with good-natured dedication.

Popular lifestyle blogger H.C. of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures shows off his Nutty Professor apron, and mad chicken tender-making knife skills.

Teal tackling the collards, while Christine volunteered for the arduous task of sorting the peas...

Robin, our resident chicken man. Michael opted for sweet potato duty.

Project Collard: Complete.

Cat's laugh could be heard throughout the kitchen, and Alexis came all the way from Iowa to peel yams!

Kristin couldn't believe that 30 bunches of collards and 15 cartons of vegetable stock would fit in her cauldron.

Just like at Spago...

I couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic, fun, and spirited group. We prepped a meal for 130 women in 2 hours flat, had everything labeled and in the walk-in for the following day's lunch service.
Before we parted, Katie lead us to the front of the building where Made, a new cafe/gift boutique run by the DWC was having a holiday reception. The beautiful space was created to "break the cycle of poverty and chronic unemployment by helping low-income and homeless women discover their talents and develop their skills through job readiness training and product development opportunities." The shop sells gift-ready homemade goods by DWC residents, such as vintage teacup candles, beaded ornaments, repurposed journals, and succulent arrangements. The cafe proudly serves Groundwork Coffee and prepared foods by Tiara Cafe (both also native to downtown). All proceeds go directly back into the DWC for job training and skills-building workshops. It felt SO good to get some early holiday shopping done there versus the Black Friday circuit. Highly recommended!

According to Katie the meal was a hit with the women, receiving rave reviews. While I think our group was confident about creating a good menu, what made me the most proud was how many people (almost everyone, really) thanked and told me how much they couldn't wait to come back and do this again, and soon!

If you want to find out more about organizing your own group or how to get involved as an individual, visit the DWC's volunteer page at And of course, the center has many holiday needs right now as they're giving each woman a personalized gift this season. To learn more about that, visit
I urge those outside of Los Angeles to find an organization in your community that would benefit from a home-cooked meal. Food is love, fit to be shared.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Buvare: One-Eyed Gypsy

Perched on the edge of the LA river just east of Downtown, one of the oldest running bars in the city's history is changing its sign once more. You may have visited the Bordello in the past couple of years, a tawdry den festooned with beaded curtains and red light, an homage to the building's roots (the second floor originally housed a brothel). Or perhaps some time back you watched a band play at Little Pedro's, another prior appellation.
"A man who used to bartend here in the seventies came in, told us they used to pry .45s out of the bar - that's how old this place is," a wide-eyed bartender with a sly smile told me, sliding a gold-rimmed glass of punch my way.
Clearly history is omnipresent in the new incarnation of the bar, a gilded sideshow rightfully called One-Eyed Gypsy.
Opening Friday, the space was redesigned by visionary Dana Hollister (Villains Tavern, Cliff's Edge) and reads like a valentine to a sword swallower. The massive bar plays center stage, braced with gold-framed mirrors, busts and statues. Circus-like curtains are drawn about a cabaret stage - only to be raised for any number of off-beat entertainer, be it magician, singer, or fire eater. Candles flicker. Chandeliers drip with Bedouin jewelry imported from Egypt. Functioning fortune telling machines flash their weathered boardwalk bulbs.
Two working skee-ball lanes and a massive stuffed yak prove Odalisque designer Hollister isn't not messing around on this one. Not to mention the Medusa wallpaper was custom designed and coffee-stained by hand.
But Hollister's goal, tricks aside, is to create a real neighborhood bar with the Gypsy.
So what about the potables? The Surley Sailor is a tastier grog than the sum of its parts (Gosling's Dark Rum, white rum, 151, blackberries, fresh pineapple, lime), but I preferred The Riddler's Punch, a refreshingly dry sangria with Haute Vodka, Cabernet, fresh fruit & citrus juices. A selection of "Cheap Dates" run only $8, including Gypsy Juice, a sexy hippie sipper of Plymouth Gin, citrus, sloe gin & hard apple cider.
I nibbled on selections from the menu's twisted county fair fare, such as sweet potato tots and bbq pork & jalapeño pizza, while the same eccentric barmaid spun tales of "ghostly white woman" who used to walk the halls upstairs (before an earthquake in the eighties leveled that story). 
"Tell yours, Dave!" she called to bar manager Dave Young, who reticently recounted a day when he was stocking the bar and a voice behind him softly said his name, only to find he was in fact all alone. I saw the bartender's eyes shift to the woman behind Dave.
"Oh, hey - Are you the psychic?"

901 E. 1st St., Downtown LA 90012
One-Eyed Gypsy

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Buvare: A Weekend of Craft Beer, Cigars & Spirits

It's looking like a boozy weekend for me...

This Friday sees the first in a series of premiere spirits tastings from Club CST (Cigar and Spirits Tasting), a new spirits and cigar community and media property. The Club CST distillers and partners will be showing off their products and educating guests by sampling over 30 different spirits at the First Annual Club CST Orange County event. Several brands will walk away with a Best in Show Award from our panel of tasters. Complementary appetizers will be served all day and evening (thank goodness).

Spirits, beverages and distributors featured in the First Annual Club CST Orange County event include Adult Chocolate Milk; Bend Distillery; Buffalo Trace Bourbon; Blanton's Bourbon; Capaz Tequila; Faretti Biscotti Famosi Liqueur; Farmer’s Organic Gin; Finian’s Whiskey; Martí Rum; Sambuca di Trevi; Ciroc Vodka; Comasorio Tequila; Corazon Tequila; Don Cuco Sotol; Eagle Rare Bourbon; El Gran Juielo Tequila; Elmer T. Lee Bourbon; Firefly Vodka; Jarro Viejo Tequila; McCormick Distilling / 360 Vodka; Nude Vodka; Pura Vida Tequila; Rain Organic Vodka; Tequila 55; Tequila 7 (Siete) Leguas; Tito’s Homemade Vodka and more. The event also features a sampling of Ventura Cigar Company’s "Pura Sangre” brand cigars and KreTek cigars.

When: Friday, August 12th, 2011 from 3pm to 10pm
Where: The Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach, CA
Get Tickets Here, or call (949)716-5156.
($99 per ticket. No tickets will be sold at the door, purchase in advance only).

The second annual LA Craft Beer Crawl takes place on Saturday August 13th benefiting the Heal the Bay charity. Attendees will have well over 50 craft beers to sample across seven different bars and restaurants all within close proximity in Downtown Los Angeles. The event is a collaboration between Cedd Moses of 213 Ventures and Hallie Beaune and Christina Perozzi also known as The Beer Chicks, beer personalities and authors of The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. The event will feature some of the top Craft and Artisanal Brewers in the Country, including: Allagash; Ballast Point; The Bruery; Bootlegger's; Brouwerij West; Cismontane; Craftsman; Drake's; Deschutes; Duvel; Eagle Rock; Firestone; Ladyface; Lost Coast; Moylan's; Maui Brewing co.; New Belgium; Nibble Bit Tabby; Noble Aleworks; North Coast Brewing; Ommegang; Sierra Nevada; Stone; Strand; Taps; Uncommon and more. Host of Good Food on KCRW Evan Kleiman will curate a fleet of food trucks to be stationed along the crawl route to soak up the suds.

When: Saturday, August 13th, 2011 from 3pm to 8pm
Where: 7 DTLA bars (Seven Grand; Golden Gopher; Broadway Bar; Casey's Irish Pub; Cole's Red Car Bar and The Varnish; Las Perlas; Caña Rum Bar; and Tony's Saloon).
Get Tickets Here
($49 for General Admission. VIP tickets have sold out).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Buvare: Downtown LA Punch Crawl

It's a word that means different things to different people.
For some, merely a sugar-coated mouth stain from a syrupy can.
Others, a kitschy kid's party concoction of sherbet and ginger ale. Or a refreshment grail to taint with an incognito liquor source. 
And for me, punch is practically a religion.
In recent years antique silver punch bowls have been seen appearing on formidable bar tops around the world, a rediscovered gem of cocktillian culture crowned last year by David Wondrich's epic titled, aptly, Punch. Falling in line with the reemergence of Bols Genever, Thrillist LA recently threw the smartest little tastemaking party I could hope to dream up: A downtown LA punch crawl of some of the cities finest drinkeries, each creating a perfect punch for the brutishly elegant genever. With a walkable map and a steal of a ticket price there was no question. I was getting tipsy. On a school night.
Check in was at Cole's, and with a punch station right inside the front door no time was wasted.
Apparently we were starting with dessert. Not at all a problem for a versatile imbiber such as myself. Peach Cobbler Punch, they called it. A secret concoction (secret because it may yet appear on the restaurant's drink menu) involving peaches, cinnamon simple syrup, angostura bitters, and Bols Genever, of course. Served alongside a bite of actual cobbler, the impressive feat of the punch was the clear representation of buttery crust in its profile.
Not so much hidden anymore but still a treasure is the Varnish, LA's favorite "speakeasy" tucked in the back of Cole's - A convenient and economical second stop.
The ante was not surprisingly raised here with the cheekily named Dutch Pugilist Punch; A simple and pure preparation made with care and quality ingredients. As it was described, they started by making a lemon sugar. Then fresh lemon and orange juices were added along with Angosturo bitters. The final act introduced homemade grenadine, Bols Genever, and soda water. The result was strong but crisp, drinkable and refreshing. Really the definition of punch.
The smart guys at the Varnish took the opportunity to plug their table-side punch service, available Sunday - Thursday by call-ahead pre-order for $100, and serving roughly 8 people. Slick.
Several blocks away through summer evening light (rather harsh even at 8pm following the potent darkness of the Varnish) we arrived at the Falls for #3: The Flowing Bols. The bartender wracked his brain to recall the full ingredient list, but included Bols Genever, cherry heering, fresh pineapple, lemon & orange juices, raspberry syrup, and soda. The spritziest of the night, this fruity number was well suited for the warm evening. It recalled the prom night archetype in character, but redeemed itself in well-roundness. And after this one, I was officially drunk.
Good time for the longest walk between venues, and for an outdoor venue at dusk, on the patio at Drago Centro, downtown's luxurious powerhouse.
A man in a suit welcomed us beside a crystal punch bowl and a fleet of Champagne coupes, busboys in pressed linen flying past. Class act. I had to ask him to repeat the punch description slower, it was bursting ballasts in my brain. This paragon imbued Bols Genever, Aperol, Galliano, Mirto (a myrtleberry liqueur), Scotch, orange, lemon & pomegranite juices, green tea, and nasturtium blossoms. It was called Pompeii Punch. The flavor profile was far less scattered than the sum of its parts, and drank as elegantly as a fine-tuned classic cocktail. Earth, smoke, flora and a clear Italian P.O.V. were crystalline. Definitely my favorite. I bowed, and snagged a slice of pizza as I did.
Eventually night caught up with us, and thank goodness before we arrived at Caña Rum Bar - A hideaway that just wouldn't be as sexy by day. A member's only club that curiously welcomes newcomers, this was actually my first time (finally!) passing through the velvet curtain. Plenty of rum and cigar smoke awaited.
Here the well-meaning and sultry punch took a back seat to an impressive drink menu. Still, we enjoyed the Panamanian Detective, with Bols Genever, fresh guava, Averna & lime juice.
But we also stayed for a sampling of their real strengths! With incredibly warm service and a menu chock-full of laugh-out-loud descriptors and drink categories, Caña earned some extra bones. How could I turn down the Tennessee Isle? "This is what a Sazerac would taste like if the wicked witch of the west overtook Kansas and sent Tennessee to the Caribbean via flying monkey". Prichard’s Fine Rum married with overripe mango-infused absinthe and coconut Peychaud’s bitters. Hell yes. Aromatic bliss.
I think I kind of purposely saved the best for last. I have a mad crush on Bar | Kitchen in downtown's O Hotel. It's the kind of studly joint LA just didn't have before a few years ago, and with an expat genius bar (get it?) hailing from Death + Company in NYC, how can I not drool?? Even more exciting, one of the more recent additions to the bar team is an old pal from Portland who once turned me on to muddled kiwi and gin (trust me, just try it).
Because we once shared our love for sherry, I was not surprised that this bar featuring the handiwork of mister Alex Day employed Amontillado sherry in their Vondelpark Punch, along with Bols Genever, grapefruit & lime juices, ginger syrup, and soda water. And it was time to sit down.
To soak up the genever, a late night dinner was definitely in order. The crispy fried green tomatoes with spicy lump crab, sweet pepper, and corn relish saved my life. Perfection.
To ensure a hangover-less morning, the creamy shrimp & grits with Spanish chorizo ragout conquered. A exclamation point at the end of a long line of luxury for one evening. The bar began to close down, but I think I sat and stared at the hotel lobby's fire for some time before being reminded that I, in fact, did have to go home, and that this lobby wasn't it.
Which reminds me again to commend Thrillist for a full evening of awesomeness that did not require driving between locations. Safe, happy, delicious.
A lil' bit of heaven on earth.