Family Reunion

 

 

 

D.O.C.G

Cosmopolitan

3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South

(702) 698-7000

$$$

Once in a while, I’m reminded of the serious perks that come with my job. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself and realize that the bottles of Veuve, the italian leather wristlets and the fabulous comped dinners are NOT something of the norm.  Makes the endless hours on the Blackberry, the back to back conference calls and the putting out the proverbial fires worth it…alright, almost.

But, the best perks, are the ones that are unexpected…the ones that are extended to you out of the goodness of someone’s heart…simply because they want to invite you to THEIR dinner table…because they view you as FAMILY.

After a long 5+ days in this little known place called VEGAS, I was exhausted…dirty…felt worn down and had the imprint of my Blackberry forever pressed into the skin of my palm.  My client and I had been looking forward to the promise of a free drink & app graciously extended to us all day…a cocktail and a cheese platter, what could be better?

That’s when we met the family over at D.O.C.G, the Scott Conant creation connected to his world-renown Scarpetta, located in the Cosmopolitan hotel. 

This rustic pizza and wine bar, famously named after the Italian wine origin, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantitaenvelopes you with a warm sense of “coming home” with the dim reddish-yellow exposed lighting and the thick wooden benches & tables.

Couples leaned in close over bottles of their Italian reds…the garish sequined wrapped groups of young twenty-somethings shared gourmet truffle pizzas and laughed over the bottles they had spilled & men they had charmed the night before…

We take our place at the bar and are instantly greeted by a friendly (and clearly Italian) manager who immediately takes our hands (er, ENGULFS our hands)in his  and genuinely thanks us for coming to experience the place he fondly calls “home”.  The look of pride washes over his face as we gush over the ambiance, the bubbly prossecco and the smells of pesto and truffle oil wafting from the exposed brick pizza oven at the back of the restaurant. 

Still holding our hands, and still beaming, he invites us back to the kitchen where we meet the head chef, (um, HELLO HANDSOME), and we proceed to observe the thick pasta being prepared and cut by hand, the fresh vegetables being sliced and seasoned, the finalized dishes being observed and perfected by each chef…It was a well-oiled machine but there was nothing robotic about it.  Each chef was joking with each other, smiling and clearly proud of each dish they placed in front of the head chef for inspection.

We make our way over to Scarpetta, the romantic dining experience side, with ceiling to floor windows overlooking the fountains of the Bellagio.  At this time, two more owners have joined us…each chiming in with their own stories of previous celeb diners and famous parties.  We make our way over to the Chef’s table.  A private room overlooking the fountains and dubbed the “second best seat in Vegas”, falling shortly behind the corner table at the Paris Eiffel tower.

A little secret–the glass is one way overlooking the kitchen…which means you can observe the chefs prepare your dinner but they can’t see you…UNLESS, you happen to test this little theory and press your unmentionables against the glass.  If you see a chef smirk, now you know why…

At this time my client and I were ITCHING to try some of the famous dishes…and, as a “welcome to the family”….our gorgeous (er, GRACIOUS) chef laid out a spectacular feast with all of the highlights from both the D.O.C.G and Scarpetta menus.

WARNING: Amateur photos below…

We started with an expansive charcuterie platter with some of the finest meats and cheeses all imported from a particular New York cheese cellar (me? Name drop?).  Before we could even blink, the platter was whisked away and before us was placed two bacon-wrapped giant prawns sprawled out on firm salty lentils which had absorbed the smokiness of the bacon.

And the balls…no, not garlic knots (see my post about C&O Trattoria)…but SAUSAGE STUFFED GREEN OLIVES LIGHT BATTERED AND SERVED IN A MINI SKILLET.  Blasphemy, I know, but Lord please forgive me.

We held on to those for dear life as our 3rd course was presented…grilled octopus in a light broth and their famous Scialatielli Pasta “arrabbiata” with succulent chunks of fresh lobster & shrimp.  We then switched to a lighter pink prossecco, slightly unzipped the backs of our body-con dresses

(Vegas’ finest) and thought we were defeated…And that is when they rolled out the white truffle pizza with a coddled egg that is broken and spread before us at the table.  Appropriately entitled the “D.O.C.G. Pizza” this transformed my opinion of pizza…seriously.  It was a masterpiece, a feast, a DELICACY.  I was sold.

I couldn’t end this post without a little shout-out to the head chef’s personal creation that we were able to test & give feedback before it’s officially added to the menu.  If he doesn’t add this dish immediately, then I’m personally wringing his neck.  Squid ink pasta with finger-size pieces of fresh king crab. I…mean…heaven. If you haven’t had a squid ink dish before, or are squeamish by the blackish color, then this is the dish to break in your palate.

We hugged, we kissed, we never stopped embracing each other…our new found family brought together over amazing food and wine.

They had opened their doors and gave us a first hand experience of joining the D.O.C.G family.  With one last SALUTE over a sweet walnut port for dessert they sent us off with a Ciao and a kiss.

I can’t wait until the next family reunion. 

CIAO BELLA!

-Dine & Dish LA

No Mozza…

Osteria Mozza

6602 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, 90038

(323) 297-0100

$$$$

A wise woman once said, “Do not break your pocketbook for a dinner that is then followed by a trip to In & Out burger”.  Okay, I just made that up.  But there’s nothing like walking out of an uber-hyped, friend sworn-about, critic-favorited restaurant feeling so incredibly let down that only ‘Animal Style’ fries can cheer you up.

Situation: Parents are coming in to town and my best girlfriend has been raving about and guilt-tripping me into trying Osteria Mozza.  Kill two birds with one stone?  Yes please. Introduce my parents to my incredibly squared away, well-dressed friend (so that I can prove to them that I’m finally surrounding myself with good people)?  Sold. Sealed with a kiss.

After finally scoring a reservation (at 6:45pm, the only time available), we show up starving and full of anticipation.  The place was packed, but not one table had a plate of food.  (Insert warning bell here).  We are seated in a quaint four-top in the far corner–dark & heavy wooden fixtures, wine adorned walls, very “Italian couture”.

Sipping our $15 glasses of Chardonnay and Malbec (the least expensive item on the menu), we pour over the options and are well…lost in translation?  Everything is in Italian…Or, if not in a foreign language, the items are ones I had never heard of before.  I felt very Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” describing her new Versace dress, and well, I looked about that same shade of rouge as I had to be handheld through the menu. 

After finally settling on the Goat Cheese Ravioli, the Squid Ink Chitarri Freddi and the Grilled Leg of Lamb, we were immediately met by a scowl from our server.  We had only ordered from the Primi portion of the menu, apparently a no-no at Mozza. We look around at other tables for a little help to see what else we should order and the other guests are still sipping solemnly on wine and cocktails.  We stand our ground and look around sheepishly as our server stomps off shaking her head.  We weren’t exactly being cheap here–our choices still ranged in the $25-$30 range for a PRIMI course (insert second warning bell here).

Conclusion: The Lamb was salty, the Ravioli was uneventful (and TINY), the Squid Ink Chitarri Freddi was tasteless (yes, a dish with squid ink was TASTELESS!  Is that even possible?).  All wit escapes me to pursue snarky anecdotes for the above…I was, well, disappointed?  Speechless? We looked over the Secondi part of the menu for something to save this dinner, a bit of hope in a Tagliata…but we hung our heads with defeat.

Walking out I took another glance at the other tables.  I needed SOME answer as to why this place was packed, why it was nearly impossible to score a reservation, WHY did Food & Wine magazine give this restaurant such praise…and ah, the answer lied in a small round white ball smothered in honey and nuts.  

The Mozzarella…to which a whole section of the menu was dedicated.

 

 

 

 

 

Another was smothered in caviar and pine nuts…and another was marinated in pesto and carmelized shallots.  It was a typical case of “poor ordering”.

 

 

 

Hmm…I think I’ll take my ‘Animal Style’ fries with grilled onions, please.

-Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 1:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Saved by the Port

Dominick’s

8715 Beverly Blvd
West Hollywood,  90048

(310) 652-2335

$$$

The mood, fantastic.  The lighting, warm and flattering.  My cashmere sweater, form-fitting and appropriately “effortless”.  The date, a 30-something intellectual properties lawyer who loves the ocean as much as I do…

  The pasta, tasteless and disappointing. 

 How could I come so close to the perfect evening and be let down by a pathetic bowl of your classic veal marinara, at a place that had so many fantastic reviews?  I was dumb founded.  I chose a dish about as fail proof as a Saturday night in with trashy TV and yet I was more enraptured with my discussion of international affairs with my dinner partner (which he was well-versed, touche good sir).  I thought, this just couldn’t be true.  So I took a healthy helping of his chicken parmesan, a “special” on that night’s menu and a “regular favorite”, boasted by our server.  And I was proven…

Completely right. 

Equally, if not more, disappointed by the soggy run-of-the-mill breading on the thinly pounded chicken breast, Ragu tomato sauce, and the sparsely melted mozzarella cheese.  What in the world were the food snobs of L.A. eating at this highly praised and family owned Italian restaurant?  I needed a “Dominick’s for Dummies” guide and was left completely helpless.  I stole a glance at my date (yeah, ok, he does look great in that shirt) and watched as he picked the breading off his chicken and pushed it onto a corner of his plate, a definite no-no when noshing chicken parmesan, and knew my feelings were shared.

Oh but wait…I completely jumped ahead of myself and forgot about the cheese plate we shared at the beginning of the meal.  (Yes, I FORGOT about the CHEESE PLATE…that should be a hint in itself to how “spectacular” it was).

Three slices of cheese (thin, deli-style slices)…handful of nuts and raisins…there ya go, enjoy.  I have put together better plates for my girls’ nights from Trader Joes (cue hunks of brie, dates  and walnuts, cheddar, bacon smoked gouda, etc). 

So, to save the night, we split a glass of Dominick’s most expensive port and proclaimed check-mate.  Fine, I’ll give this place something…it was a pretty damn good port.

Date #2, I’m choosing the location.

-Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Over the River…

The Ivy

113 N Robertson Blvd
Los Angeles,  90048

(310) 274-8303

$$$$

It’s coming up on the weekend and as you dream at your desk of all the fabulous beach days and the happy hours you can now partake in, your parents call.  They are coming in to town and they want to have the grand tour of how their “baby girl” is doing in the big bad city of Los Angeles.

What to do?  You quickly scan your brain (and the internet) for the best/appropriate places to take your parents to eat.  What says “oh hey, yes I can survive on my own thank you very much” but yet, “I wanted to save this very special (and slightly out of my reach) place just for you”?

The Ivy.  The white picket fenced cottage-like restaurant nestled between the finest of Beverly Hills shops.  Grandma’s house meets 90210.  Women in their business suits enjoying dinner on their own dime, men in their ties and slightly ruffled hair as a result from a long day at work; each specimen wearing that proud look of “independence”.

Welcome home.

I couldn’t take credit for this one.  My mom had actually researched it and came knocking on my door clutching a handful of reviews as if to convince me to go to dinner at this well-known affable restaurant.  Little did she know that she had me at “Robertson Blvd”.

Sterling silver heavy utensils, fresh flowers at every table, and the country-french decor is a nice change to the every day sterile and modern Hollywood restaurant.  We settled into the floral upholstered chairs and are enveloped by the smell of, wait a minute, is that fried chicken?  Ah yes, comfort food.

We asked for an extra candle so we could scour over the menu to find the source of that delectable scent in the two room cottage (apparently they were aiming for mood lighting but we found ourselves quite blind) and discovered the source; juicy selected cut of prime rib paired with creamy gnocchi and leaks. Or, perhaps it was the the quarter cut halibut steak seated happily in a bed of baby steamed broccoli and sliced portobello mushroom.

We order both, pick off each other’s plates, and still have enough for tomorrow’s meal (of course throwing in what was left of the thickly sliced italian bread from the bread basket…our family clears our plates).  I walk out feeling slightly giddy with salt and cream.  It was very overpriced, but can you really put dollar sign on nostalgia and family?

Until we eat again,

Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sunset goes Down Under

Eveleigh

8752 W Sunset Blvd.

West Hollywood, 90069

Price: $$$

So despite my recent boycott of everything “Aussie”, I will put my feelings aside to tell you about something good that came from the land down under…and that, my friends, is Eveleigh; the new wooden-clad rustic bar & restaurant to grace the Sunset Strip.

Three young Australians opened this gem early this year, by way of their hip bar, Kingswood, in the West Village of NYC.  But not to fear, there is no pint-slamming, fist pounding, or oy oy oy’ing going on in this restaurant.  Straight out of Architectural Digest, you walk in and are immediately surrounded by a hip and classy crowd, all sipping cloudy martinis and long-stemmed glasses of wine.

It is much smaller and more intimate inside than it seems-the indoor/outdoor setting (actually, the ceiling outside is a tent) has a long communal table in the middle and is surrounded by cozy cushioned booths.  Makes the perfect setting for a dinner with the girls or a first date; the rustic setting with the thick wooden furniture adds a manly & chic feel that all are bound to appreciate.

As you relax into the setting, dimly lit in the evening with candles, make sure to start with a “Dark & Stormy” classic cocktail (rum, ginger beer & lime), and an order of the truffled Aioli fries to share.  A good friend and client of mine has a great nickname for these based on their appearance (assume away, dear readers).  You’re thinking “really, french fries?” but it’s the thick aioli which makes these my “must-have”.

The menu is comprised of shared and large plates.  I recommend getting two of each to share to make sure you aren’t missing any of the great (and unique) items.

Crispy Pork belly is my number one choice here.  Crunchy and salty on the outside, thickly sliced in 3 pieces revealing the fatty delicious middle.  Laying on top of a soft polenta and a side of a currant salad, this dish is the best starting point to prep your taste buds for the following smaller plate. 

The prime rib all’inglese is not what you’re thinking when you read the description.  In fact, when this dish came out we stared for a few minutes thinking that they had made a mistake.  But one bite and we were definitely not sending it back.  Thinly sliced in a perfect square, medium rare prime rib smothered with mustard seed and celery leaf salsa, this dish is more of a tar-tar in my opinion.  Full of flavor, not filling and very aesthetically pleasing.

The dessert list is just as complex and deliciously described as the main courses, so I dare you to save room…if you can.  I was easily defeated after my second plate of the prime rib and the extra side of the creamy Aioli for the fries.

Aussie Aussie Aussie…Oy Oy Oy.

Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on May 14, 2011 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Italy by the Sea

C&O Trattoria

31 Washington Blvd

Marina Del Rey, CA

90292

Price: $$

 

I didn’t eat all day when my girls said we were going to dinner here…I clenched my desk at work and counted down the minutes till I could race home, don my fall jacket and boots in preparation for the chilly ocean air, and then take the drive west to where Washington Blvd meets the beach.

C&O just gets it right.  From the open air courtyard dressed in white Christmas lights and heat lamps, to the indoor section of the restaurant with paper covered tables and a “serve yourself” Chianti jug with an honor system of $5 a glass.  Friendly (and oh hello, attractive) servers take “attentiveness” to another level and are always on hand for anything you could possibly want.  Be prepared for a “That’s Amore” sing-a-long–shyness was never an acceptable Italian trait.

But let’s set aside the aesthetics and get to the real reason why this place is a “do not miss” in my book.  The balls.

Greasy, butter-dripping, garlic soaked, UNLIMITED balls.

Ok, so they are called knots, but you’re never too old to throw in a sophomoric reference eh?  I don’t know what’s better.  The baked, crunchy yet soft inside, garlic knots, OR the fact that you never seem the bottom of the plate.  But pace yourself friends…they sneak up on you quickly and leave you in a butter-garlic coma…and yet you haven’t even made it to your entree.

Grilled spicy calamari, steak-cut strips of portabella mushroom, thick hunks of fresh mozarella-ladies and gents, I am describing a salad.  Don’t think you are scrimping here-dishes are split into two sizes, individual and gargantuan, applying to even the antipasti.

Don’t forget the cardinal rule of Dining & Dishing-ALWAYS make sure to share.  The gold medal dish of the night went to my friend Alicia who splurged on the Papardelle pasta with with wild mushrooms and apple chicken sausage.  She’s a good friend and let me sneak occasional (fine, frequent) bites of the almost half an inch flat noodle soaked in a white tomato cream sauce.  The sausage adds a hint of sweet to the slightly salty dish and the champignon mushrooms added a dash of color.

 

This…is Italian…This is C&O.

-Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 6:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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A New Kind of O

Red O

8155 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 655-5009

Price: $$$

I’m always a little hesitant when someone rants and raves about a “new” hip restaurant, especially in LA.

Every day there’s a new restaurant opening…a new menu or hot dish to try…but I truly believe that it takes at least a year for a restaurant to really settle into its own and perfect their menu, their service, and their atmosphere.

Winner of “Top Chef Masters”, Rick Bayless brought his award-winning Mexican cuisine from Chicago to LA in August of 2010.  The sleek dark wood exterior marked by the single large “O” exuded an elegance and exclusiveness that I’ve grown to appreciate in a late-night dining experience.  A doorman was posted outside the door, very much like the Hollywood area clubs, and we were met again by another “bouncer” and host upon our entry.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked me for my passport upon entry.  Only in LA…

The host took her time to search for my reservation and the bouncer stood ready to pounce.  As I silently cursed my designer knockoff flats and last season sweater, the host sighed in defeat as she found our name on the list (I whispered “down boy” to the bouncer who had a look of disappointment as our host led us to our table).

For such an irritating entry, the inside of Red O was quite cozy and accommodating.  The outdoor-indoor restaurant consists our outdoor couches and heat lamps and then a more formal dining experience inside. I looked around…so THIS is where the suited up business men came to observe the models of LA in their natural habitat.  I felt underdressed…and strangly short even though I stand at 5’10”.  I wrapped my Burberry scarf and whipped out my Armani lip gloss, holding both around me as a shield.  It must have worked as I saw our server push her way through the surrounding tables to take our order.

I wish I had a way to wipe away the pretentious exterior of Red O because the food (and oh…that food…) was something that I would recommend to anyone and everyone who hasn’t already experienced it.

It’s simple, delicious, non-greasy gourmet Mexican food.  Vegetables cut thick and grilled to perfection.  His award-winning Mole & these fantastic dishes called “Cazuelas” which were skillets of deliciousness served with a side of soft tacos.  The spinach Cazuela, with oyster sauce and roasted shiitake mushrooms…I was this close to licking the skillet clean.

I have never seen a wider selection of Ceviches and Escabeches; with everything from Albacore and Sea Scallops, to a Mushroom Escabeche in a sherry vinegar.

If you’re expecting your run of the mill “have some more tortilla chips” Mexican restaurant, then Red O is definitely not for you.  Just make sure to don your designer digs and cash your paycheck ahead of time…

But trust me, it’s worth it.

-Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 2:23 am  Comments (1)  
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Little Black Book

Lola’s

945 North Fairfax Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 654-5652

Everyone has their go-to…their go-to wine bar, their go-to restaurant, go-to salon, grocery store, err…go-to man (once again, mine being a gorgeous Australian but again, no bragging here). 

Lola’s is all that combined into one

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, but this fantastic little martini bar has been there for me for several years now.  She has been there with me through the awkward first dates to the “thank God it’s over last ones”…through the girl’s nights, the boy’s nights, the “I CANNOT eat my pasta leftovers AGAIN nights”. 

Oh Lola’s, it’s only appropriate that I share you now with the world.

Starting with my go-to Carmel Apple Martini, I take a seat in one of their leather chairs or overstuffed couches and take in the people of LA in one big breath.  I nibble my go-to gourmet grilled cheese sandwich and dunk it occasionally in my thick tomato soup.  One of the few places in the area with a decent happy hour (can you say half-off martinis and $5 food?), I’m tempted to order a plate of their spicy peanut chicken satay and another martini…

Who am I kidding, of course I order another round.

Equal parts bar, restaurant, & lounge, Lola’s pleases every ego.  The dim lighting gives it a casual yet trendy feel (and not to mention makes me look very mysteriously posh as I stretch out and sip my now, err, THIRD half price martini).

I order a vegetable empanadas to go, smothered in spicy chimichurri sauce, and give one last longing look at as I saunter out the heavy rustic door.

Till we meet again, Lola’s.

-Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tomber D’Amour

Saint Amour

9725 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 842-8155
Price: $$$

Oh, the faint tones of a taped achordian…the white lights dangling off of the trees over the patio adorned with heat lamps and couples sitting nose to nose across white table cloths…the low undertones of disgruntled french servers mumbling simply because they are french and they can…

I was instantly transported back to Paris. 

 The tiny tables with simply one candle, two plain sets of silverware and no condiments because it would be a sin to tamper with the already perfected dishes.  The server came over when he felt like it, mumbling his questions and acknowledging our requests with a simple nod and a brisk “d’accord”.  Unadorned slices of fresh-baked baguette with one tiny sliver of butter and spicy olives.  I struggled with my inner American to not feel offended by the brisk service once every half hour, or the lack of a lavish spread.  THIS is what is normal…THIS is what refined dining is supposed to be…where the attention is on your dinner partner (mine being a gorgeous Australian, but that’s besides the point), and not your smorgasbord in front of you.

And the food…oh, and the food.  Dear France, you may have a corrupt political system but oh can you cook!  We devoured the pastry encrusted escargot; de-shelled and swimming in a garlic, butter & a basil pool.  Sipping on a Cote du Rhone grenache, we pensively waited until the server graced us with his presence to bring us the main course.

It was certainly worth the wait…

We immediately set in to taste (nay, destroy) the baked trout accompanied with roasted brussel sprouts, capers, green beans and almonds.  The duck confit came next-a surprisingly hefty portion of two duck legs, mini grilled squash swimming in some kind of delectable gravy making friends with the perfectly salted mashed potatoes.  And that was followed by…silence.  We stared at each other in realization that we had not spoken a word to each other for the past 15 minutes besides the nonchalant grunt in agreement as we tasted each other’s plates.

As we happily walked to our car arm in arm I could swear I saw the glimmering of the Eiffel tower in the windows of Saint Amour…

-Dine & Dish LA

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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