Thursday, September 21, 2017

It was in 1976 that we attended an event in Los Angeles sponsored by the Government of Thailand Tourism Authority.  Its purpose was to recognize the role Thai restaurants in the U.S. were playing in the promotion of Thai cuisine and culture.
Since then Thai restaurants are in abundance supply but when we heard about  the popularity of a Thai restaurant in Westwood named Emporium Thai it was time for further investigation.  We were in the restaurant only a short time when we asked how long has this been going on?  
Here was a neat, artfully created dining room and bar where every patron was greeted on entry by smiling members of the wait staff.  If they felt you were new to Thai cuisine they were there to provide help through the large menu and willing to make suggestions and always asking a most important question with Thai food,  do you want it spicy or mild in flavors?  At this restaurant spiciness is on a scale from one to ten with not spicy, level one and level ten labeled lava.
We met with John Sungkamee,  the genial proprietor, who had a wonderful story to tell us about how his family came to America and how Emporium Thai will be celebrating its 18th anniversary next March.   John gives all credit to his mother, who besides being mother to twelve children, thought that some of her family moving to the United States would open more opportunities.  So she entered a lottery that was being conducted that offered members of a family opportunity to emigrate to the U.S.   To her amazement she was one of the winners and John, the youngest of the twelve children, then 18 years old, came to the U.S.
And his was one more of the success stories that we all love to hear of an immigrant doing well in their new country. 
First he worked in restaurants  carefully learning English as quickly as possible.  Then college to learn the skills to become a software engineer.  But then the opportunity came to open a Thai restaurant on Westwood Blvd., in the heart of Westwood.  So Emporium Thai came into being with more of the family arriving from Thailand including his mother.  A photo of his mother can be seen in the restaurant still smiling a welcoming greeting to her many guests even after her passing two years ago at the age of eighty eight. 
Taking over to aid us in our perusal of the  Emporium extensive menu was  family member, Honey Bee.  With her gracious manner, smile  and charm she had our complete attention.   We opened with Thai dumplings, both steamed and crispy as one of the appetizers which also included veggie egg rolls, Thai buffalo wings and crying tiger beef.    For our salad with Honey Bee's help we selected the Coco Mango Salad with Shrimp which included shredded raw mango mixed with dried coconut, fresh chili and lime juice.  Also we had to try the Crying Tiger beef which was outstanding in  presentation and flavors.
One of our group did enjoy spice so a Currie, one of house specialties, a Yellow Currie with chicken arrived at our table.  This was not for me with my no spice mode.  Two more delightful and delicious dishes arrived,  they were noodles called Pad See Ew Westwood  with shrimp  and an entree, Pad Kra Pow, Thai basil chicken that generally arrives with spice but for our table mild with spice absent.  Of the three at our table one wanted spice and lots of it, the other two mild or no spice.  Every dish arrived just as each of us requested.
 The bar offers  Asian styled cocktails and some wines, and John told us one of his future additions will be a more complete wine list.
When we left Emporium Thai we were convinced we had experienced the best Thai cuisine available in west Los Angeles which explained it being chosen as one of the top one hundred Thai restaurants in the USA.
And that John Sungkamee is indeed an outstanding restaurateur.
Emporium Thai is located at 1275 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles 90024, Telephone 310 478-2838,  web  Hours are Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Monday, September 18, 2017

We already have our tickets for the L.A. Paella , Wine & Beer Festival which will take place at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles.  The date is Saturday October 7 for this, the third annual event, which will have chefs competing from eight countries.
The Food Festival will also feature more than 50 acclaimed Paella chefs and their teams which will gather from across the globe to compete for the titles of: "Best Paella Valenciana in Los Angeles" and "Next Best Paella Valenciana in Los Angeles", also  "Best Free Paella in LA" and "Next Best Free Paella in LA".
The unlimited tasting paella is expected to feed some 5,000 people to go along with dozens of local and international wineries, breweries and tequilerias taking part.
The Los Angeles Paella, Wine & Beer Festival will also feature a number of Spanish & Mexican music and dance performers who will create a festive atmosphere.
The winner of the paella Valenciana will be going to Spain to compete for the world title of best Paella Valenciana in Chueca Valencia Spain.
For more information about the festival, please visit General admission tickets cost $50 and may be purchased online. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the festival’s non-profit partner, Canica,USA. Inc.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Music, Music, Music-- it is most appropriate in describing the Thornton Winery Champagne Jazz Concert series now in its 29th season.
Location plays a big role with the picturesque Courtyard and patio of the Winery that accommodates some 600 people. Those attending have the choice of purchasing general admission tickets for non reserve seating or the gourmet supper package which includes a reserved table and three course dinner.
At our Thornton evening Dave Kox and Larry Graham showed a house of excited fans why their fame is world wide. Backing the pair were a group of truly gifted sidemen with a percussion section that had both the wine glasses and fans jiggling.
The stars were truly in their courses this night as an outstanding menu was offered with a  Salad of ice berg lettuce,  cherry tomatoes, red onion, and warm sherry Vinaigrette. Served with it Thornton Brut Rose Champagne. Our notes on this vintage reported a great aroma full of fruit, fine acidity with balance and a pleasant finish.
Entree was Blackened Swordfish, with sun-dried tomato Risotto Cake, seasonal vegetables and savory lobster sauce. The wine, a Thornton 2016 Viognier. This wine was very true to its varietal; with light nose, dry fruit flavors on the palate and a long finish. Dessert was Pistachio Cheesecake with fresh berries.. The wine an exceptional Thornton 2013 Tempranillo with a demanding presence and just right for sipping as Dave Koz and Larry Graham  continued to have the audience stomping  and then invited many of the  most enthusiastic fans to join them on stage.
The wine list is most impressive not only with Thornton wines but with well chosen varietals from Napa as well. As always the professional skill of the service staff was again evident.
These concerts will continue through October offering some of the brightest names in contemporary jazz.
Thornton Winery is located at 32575 Rancho California Road in Temecula with ample off street free parking to all that attend. For the complete concert schedule call 951- 699-0099 as well as information on tickets which can be purchased in advance of each event. And of course you can enjoy the cuisine of  Cafe Champagne at any time. On the web at

Friday, September 8, 2017

The W Hotel's STK is rapidly attaining a Celebrity Hot Spot reputation to go with its signature menus and distinguished dining.
We were there last evening to experience its adjacent outdoor patio with fireplace, comfortable lounge chairs and its own bar.
Also the new four to seven p.m. menu of The Hideout.  Opening with a frozen Margarita, which is one of the cocktails, wines and seasonal draft beer available at the bar, seven in number,. we relaxed and wondered what would come next.  
The Eats available, also seven in number, soon began to arrive.  Of course we had to try all seven and follow the menu advice "7 eats, 7 drinks, 14 reasons to chill ax.".
As we scarfed short rib grilled cheese, peach flatbread, Guacamole & Chips, L:il Macs, and Crispy Calamari we also munched  the warm olives and spiced nuts
Then arrived the Bubbles & Pearls, like wow, one half dozen seasonal oysters with a champagne vinaigrette.
The Patio, tucked aside from the STK's lavish bar lounge and dining rooms, was an excellent retreat, well shaded and most relaxing.
The Hideout is the new trendy bar and restaurant located outdoors on the grounds of the hotel.
The W Hotel is located at 930 Hilgard Avenue in Westwood.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Gratefilly another birthday arrived for this writer and the numbers are climbing.
 We could not think of any better place to celebrate the occasion than Phoenicia in Glendale.
 Joining me were some other members of the Southern California Restaurant Writers
Over the decades Proprietor Ara Kalfayan has gathered just about every award possible including  five stars for cuisine.
We settled down to enjoy the food; opening with appetizers that included Hommos; Labni, Lebanese cream cheese served with garlic; Warak Enab, grape leaves stuffed with rice, oil and vegetables, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil, and Tabbouleh, chopped parsley, crushed wheat, tomatoes and onions.   Some hot appetizers we tasted included Kibbeh Makli, beef dumpling stuffed with ground beef; Bourghoul , onions and pine nuts as well as San Bousek, freshly prepared dough with ground beef and pine nuts and Rekakat, a selection of Lebanese cheese baked in a pastry dough.
Our samplers of grill selections included Beef Kafta, ground beef, onions, parsley and spices, grilled on skewers.  Then  lamb chops, marinated with spices and grilled, are one of our favorites..  Also chicken breast kabob, perfectly prepared rice and the best french fries we have had in a long time.
This is a restaurant where everything is done well and most professionally.  
Phoenicia is  located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with  off street parking.  It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends there is live entertainment with a 2 a.m. closing time.  For more information or reservations call 818 956-7800. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

How wonderful it was to find a Mexican restaurant whose menu has moved away from the Southwest and Tex-Mex we are exposed to constantly in Southern California.
 The restaurant is Maestro and is located in the center of Pasadena.
This  restaurant  whisks you back to places like San Miguel Allende or Puerto Vallarta for true Mexican cuisine.  This thanks to Chef Partner Elena Vega.  The menu she has developed shows the dishes of both the heart land and coast of Mexico.
Born and educated in Southern California Elena went back to her roots, and especially her Grandmother, to develop the foods now featured at Maestro.  With this cuisine and an exciting bar featuring classic and original Mexican spirits and cocktails you have the reason for Maestro becoming an instant success in Pasadena, especially with the local population.  With Partner Sergio Martinez Maestro has you in Mexico for beverage and food.
Here is an interesting menu with items like Duck Carnitas, roasted tomatillo and escabeche, or Fish of the Day with Vera Cruz sauce, capers and fire roasted tomatoes or Lamb Barbacoa with nixtamal tortilla,
At the bar there is a brother team of bartenders who are true artisans of their craft.  Here cocktails like Margaritas , Mezcal Campfire, La Elena gin and Cazuela Tequilla move off the bar with amazing grace and speed.  Sitting at the bar and watching Rodrigo and Ivan Fabian ply their craft was a wonderful form of entertainment and we watched with admiration at the deftness cocktails with many ingredients were made.
Manager of the bar and beverages is Paul Gonzalez.
The Maestro building, showing it is indeed part of old Pasadena, offers a perfect ambiance for this true Mexican cuisine.  The theme is carried out in many ways,  everything is served on Paltrier plates, always in use in Mexico both at home and in restaurants.  Alongside the building next to an alley called Big Bang there is a delightful patio  Our dinner was a preview of Chef Elena's Fall menu.  We opened with a Kuimiai Oyster Shooter with a Maestro Margarita.  Then a tasty appetizer called Heads Cheese Tostadita followed by Kale Orange Salad.
Next Scallop atop Huilacoche rice and mushrooms.  Served with it was 2013 Deovlet Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County appellation.   With the entree which was Mole free range chicken with avocado puree, queso fresco and jocoque.   Our wine was Porter Creek 2014 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley..  Dessert was Carrot Cake Tres Seches and Los Javis Mezcal.
Maestro is located at 110 E. Union Street in Pasadena.  It is open six days a week, closed Mondays. Hours from Tuesday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Later closing on weekends and also features a brunch.  Telephone 626 234-4463.

Friday, September 1, 2017

You know you are in a fast moving world when you attend an event like the Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo.  This took place for three days at the  Los Angeles Convention Center and included 450 booths representing every segment of the restaurant industry.  This was the second year that we attended the event and soon noted the many new products and redesign of old favorites.
New this year was the Beer, Wine & Spirits Pavilion  and  the Food Trends Experience.
We caught a familiar face at King's Hawaiian booth with Bert Agor who now has a new title of Corporate Executive Chef.  King's Hawaiian's new creation are four Hawaiian inspired BBQ sauces. 
Also there was Sara Guccione, executive chef at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club who gave me a wonderful pulled pork sandwich on buttered toast
Once again the event was sponsored by the California Restaurant Association so its members can update what is new in the industry in technology, food products and computer software.
We also saw Chef Erik Pastoria who heads the culinary arts program at Los Angeles Harbor College.  The past few years as Scholarship Chairman of the Southern California Restaurant Writers I have been able to present scholarship checks to students at the Harbor College Culinary Arts Program.
At Harbor College each semester the students present a series of luncheons or dinners, each with the cuisine of different countries.
This year we only found time to spend one afternoon at the Food Expo. This was not enough time to attend some of the events or visit some of the most interesting booths and their messages
For some years we were not happy with the Los Angeles Convention Center.  But now we have noticed many improvements.  The one we like the most  is a very friendly and helpful support staff. 
Urban Exposition conducted the three day event with the California Restaurant Association as sponsor.