Wednesday, October 16, 2019

 Dining is one of the easy ways to explore different cultures and cuisines.  And no one carries the banner of Brazilian cuisine better than Fogo de Chao restaurants.  Founded in 1979 in Brazil there are now 52 locations in Brazil, the U.S., Mexico and the Middle East.  Always  innovative the  restaurants recently introduced a new Fall menu.  So we were off once again to experience this for ourselves at the Beverly Hills location.
      First stop was the bar and lounge and the Happy Hour menu of cocktails and exciting appetizers.  Featured cocktail is Caipirosca which includes Tito's Vodka, lime and stick of sugar cane.  Also  Brazilian Gentleman made with Knob Creek Rye Bourbon, blended with passion fruit puree, gum syrup, lemon juice, honey and dash of Ramos Pinto Tawny Port.
       Added to the menu  items were  two new salads, one Butternut Kale and the second  Pear and Endive with a citrus-honey vinaigrette as well as roasted sweet potatoes.
     We had the opportunity to discuss the new menu items with Sevenir Girardi, general manager and told him we thought the lavish Feyoada buffet looked even more enticing.
     Of much interest to this Writer was a  new wine from Chilean winemakers, Vina Vik.  Named Eulila it is a red wine blend of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  The name is a tribute to Eulila “Selma” Oliveira, Chief Culture Officer of Fogo de Chao.  We thought the wine very much of premium quality with  smooth velvet like flavors and a pleasing finish. 
     We also had to try the new dessert which comes from a traditional Brazilian Recipe.  It is Creme de Coconut which features shredded coconut baked with condensed milk and cream, then served warm with ice cream.
     Always available was the huge self serving table of meats, appetizers, salads and an infinite number of specialties.  And those favorite meats such as the Cowboy Ribeye or dry-aged steak including New York Strip and Tomahawk Ribeye.  Picanha, the prime part of top sirloin still proved to be one of our favorites, carved medium rare.
     Of course all of this was served as usual by the well trained service staff with the churrasco carved tableside by gaucho chefs.
     Fogo de Chao offers a unique culinary adventure at its restaurants, with everything on the menu offered in abundance.  We especially enjoy the Beverly Hills location with its most convenient valet parking that leaves one at the front door.,
     In Beverly Hills Fogo de Chao is located at 133 N. La Cienga Blvd. open for lunch and dinner daily.  On weekends there is a mid day brunch.  Tele. 301 289-7755.

Friday, October 4, 2019

 Our recent visit to Black Angus Steakhouse in the west San Fernando Valley showed clearly why it has enjoyed such a long reign of success.
     Meeting us at the entrance was John Akillian, general manager, and watching him that evening proved that once again success begins and is maintained by alert management.  The Northridge Black Angus has been in place for forty years and John has spent half of his twelve years with Angus at this location.
     If you are compiling a list of successful chain restaurants Black Angus  certainly must be close to the top listing.  It is currently celebrating its 55th year as one of the West's  premiere steakhouses. The decor and ambiance of the western cattle ranch has been coupled with an always contemporary menu that has stayed with popular trends. An add on is superb marketing which has always been present.  
     We had been invited to experience some of the Angus new menu items.  Featured on a separate menu was Black Angus Steak and Lobster Mac and Cheese with the choice of either a filet mignon or sirloin steak.  Also a Shrimp Scampi with a delicious dipping sauce as well as a Baby Kale salad.  Featured cocktails included a Tropical Martini, Pink Pomegranate Punch or Sparkling Pomegranates Lemonade.
   The regular menu offers a long list of appetizers with  the Wagon Wheel  Sampler Platter as a favorite.  It comes with crispy zucchini, buffalo styled chicken tenders, shrimp cocktail and loaded potato skins.  Another appetizer that caught our eye was the artichoke-spinach dip.   Entrees include what the menu calls 'partner items' matching steak and seafood on one platter.  Other partner selections included filets with either lobster or shrimp and several with other steaks.
    The menu shows a large selection of sides, all priced most modestly.   Choices include green beans with bacon, the au gratin potatoes, a house specialty, onion rings and garlic mashed potatoes.   Other sides include an acclaimed Caesar salad, french fries or steamed broccoli.
  Our server was outstanding in describing the new menu and  showed  us that Black Angus takes the time to truly train their employees which is one more reason for the longevity enjoyed by its many restaurants. 
    John Akillian told us that two new Angus restaurants had opened in 2018 and that Black Angus Lakewood has just completed a remodeled floor plan and  private dining room.  The Lakewood restaurant is currently celebrating its 40th year with a series of special promotions.
   Black Angus was founded in Washington in 1964 and now has 44 locations spread across six states, Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii.  The restaurants continue their western cattle rancher theme with certified Angus Beef for Choice steaks and burgers.  Always planned for entire families the menu includes seafood, salads, sides and desserts.  The campfire dinners for two are a tradition at the Angus restaurants.
   The Bulls Eye Bar has been  a leader in offering craft beers as well as selected wines and freshly designed cocktails and Angus now offers a new wine each month as a special promotion.
  Black Angus Steakhouse in the San Fernando Valley is located at 9145 Corbin avenue, Northridge, Ca. 91324, Tele. 818 701-1600, web www.blackangus,.com.  It is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.  There is also a Happy Hour Monday thru Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. On Tuesday a Happy time from opening to closing at the Bulls Eye Bar.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Far From Ordinary was the perfect name for the Seminars and Trade Tasting of wines staged by Wine Australia in West Hollywood recently.  Using the theme ‘Australian Wine Made Our Way” some 45 wineries from six wine producing regions of Australia were present at the showplace 1 Hotel West Hollywood.  These regions included Western and South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
We were fortunate to be included in the seminar that focused on the Shiraz grape varietal entitled ‘Heritage and Place-The evolution of an Australian Classic”.  Here we tasted and learned about how Shiraz was one of the first varietals planted in Australia and that today is home to what is the oldest Shiraz vineyard in the world dating back to 1843.  In all we tasted eight Shiraz, each from a prominent winery.  Some of the owners of these wineries were present at the seminar and took part the discussion. They included Bruce Tyrrell of Tyrrell’s Wines, James Lindner of Langmeil, and Chester Osboure of d’Arenberg.  Moderator of the seminar was Mark Davidson of Wine Australia.
All eight Shiraz rated high points on my score card but obtaining a perfect score was Langmeil ‘The Freedom 1843’ Barossa Valley  2015 Shiraz produced from vines planted in 1843.  The vintage is truly a classic.  Two others we also gave high marks to were d’Arenberg ‘The Dead Arm’ McLaren Vale’ 2015 Shiraz and Jim Barry Wine ‘The McRae Wood’ ClareValley 2014 Shiraz.
Following the Shiraz seminar the trade tasting took place with hundreds in attendance.  Besides the wine tempting appetizers were passed around as well as two tables loaded with  meats and cheeses.  There was also the ‘Made our Way’ theater  which presented walk in seminars on the Wine Victoria and Margaret River wine producing regions.
Among the many booths we were fortunate to discover the one for Yalumba Family Estates and a delightful young woman named Jessica Hill Smith, who is the sixth generation of the Samuel Smith family who founded and planted the first vines in 1849.  Moving the family and winery into the 20 and 21 centuries has been Robert Hill Smith who works consistently in matching varietals to the terroir.  He has also been responsible for producing some memorable vintages by matching and blending red varietals.
After taking a photo of the delightful Jessica we departed well informed on the promising future for Australian wines.

Monday, September 30, 2019

It would be hard to select a more idyllic location for a unique dining experience than the one we enjoyed recently.  Perched on the outdoor patio three stories above downtown Santa Monica overlooking the City’s famed Third Street Walk we were the guests of Donald Moore, Executive Vice President & Chief Culinary Officer for The Cheesecake Factory.
 This was a Media event designed to highlight items on a menu that is offered at some 203 locations in the U.S. with Donald there to personally describe how dishes are customized and created to show all the fresh ingredients.
Located on the third level of the Third Street Mall this Cheesecake Factory is a very large restaurant, complete with bar and lounge, an exhibition kitchen and the picturesque open patio where our tastings were served.
Four unique cocktails opened the proceedings including a raspberry infused Vodka, a Guava Daiquiri, Rum Mojito and Whisky & Ginger.  Next appeared a table with appetizers such as a pork belly slider, which proved to be our favorite.  But also a Hummus with warm Pita chips, an Asian chicken lettuce wrap tacos and an Eggroll sampler which included  Avocado, Tex Mex, and chicken Taquitos. These we selected and tasted in a casual setting while Chef Moore described the lengths the staff will go to find and select true flavored avocados as well as techniques to give tomatoes the desirable taste.
Next to arrive were ‘Small Plates & Snacks” which included a beet and avocado salad, Avocado Toast with marinated tomato and red onion, a plant based burger and crispy fried chicken sandwich.
Our tables each seated four and for the Menu Specialties that next arrived were served at each table family style.  We quickly noted the Pan seared Branzino with lemon butter.  This Mediterranean fish is one of our favorites and we noted the delicate texture of the sauteed fish and lemon sauce.   The Cajun Jambalaya Pasta came with shrimp and chicken sauteed with onions and peppers and a very spicy Cajun sauce.  Warned that it was indeed spicy we had to pass on this.  However the Chicken Madeira proved to be one of our favorites and learned that it is indeed the restaurant’s most popular chicken dish.  It was a moist chicken breast covered with fresh mushroom madeira sauce and melted Mozzarella cheese.  Then arrived the grilled steak tacos with soft corn tortillas, charbroiled steak with a Chipotle sauce and served with rice and beans.
By this time this Writer was reduced to just tasting such offerings as the Mediterranean grilled chicken.
After all Chef Moore had already warned us that, still to arrive, was our personal selection of more than 30 legendary flavors of Cheesecake.  Naturally we ordered one that included  chocolate, and tasted my dining partner’s pineapple cheesecake, as well.
Donald Moore has had a remarkable career with Cheesecake Factory.  Starting ten years ago as a kitchen manager at the Cheesecake Restaurant in Westbury. N.Y., within two years he rose to Executive Kitchen Manager and two years later, Area Kitchen Operations Manager where he oversaw nine restaurants in Northern California.  Two more promotions placed him where he is today as Executive Vice President and Chief Culinary Officer based at Corporate headquarters in Southern California.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The upscale Kimpton La  Peer Hotel in West Hollywood was the place where we learned much about the Slovenia, a country located in Central Europe and best known for its picturesque mountains, ski resorts and lakes.  Thanks to these geographic features tourism is one of the leaders in Slovenian economy.
The La Peer Pool was the scene where we met with some of our hosts and then enjoyed cocktails and a bountiful culinary experience.  Live entertainment followed highlighted by a performance by one of the country’s lead singers, Maja Keuc.
Capital of Slovenia is Ljubljana with a huge medieval fortress as one of its historic and cultural centers.  Actually Slovenia only came into existence as an independent republic after World War ll.  Some of the leading tourist attractions are located in Bled, Lendava, Moravske, Toplice, Radenci and Ptuj, all available throughout the year.
The La Peer Hotel was also new to us and we were impressed with its unique contemporary decor and ambiance.  It is located on La Peer Drive which is exactly one block long  between Santa Monica Blvd., and Melrose Drive in West Hollywood.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Certainly all the factors for creating a successful restaurant were in place when Franco and Donatella moved the location of  Il Barone Restorante two years ago.  Franco Barone’s culinary talents were already well known and he twice received Chef of the Year  Awards by the Southern California Restaurant Writers.  His wife, Donatella’s management abilities are also well known and she was, one year,  named Manager of the Year by the Writers.
So when the opportunity came to acquire a new restaurant site  presented itself the time was right for this talented pair to move Il Barone Restorante to 900 Bristol Street North in Newport Beach.  Success was  immediate with the restaurant continuing to display its exceptional Italian cuisine menu and  a knowledgeable, efficient wait staff to match.
The  restaurant's popularity has been such that reservations are often required for both lunch and dinner. 
The day we arrived for lunch the restaurant was full as usual without a single empty table.  After chatting with Donatella  my partner and I settled down for some serious dining.  We opened with the Calamari Fritti, then I ordered the Saltimbocca alla Romana, veal scaloppini topped with Parma prosciutto, sage in a white wine veal reduction.
My partner went with the Pollo alla Milanese, pan seared pounded boneless chicken breast, coated with seasoned bread crumbs. He opened with a soup, Stracciatella con Spinaci, vegetable consume; chopped spinach, parmigiano and egg drops.  At this restaurant there are so many choices that ordering often takes a good deal of time for decision.  The lunch menu offers a full page of tempting pasta dishes some interesting and unique thanks to Franco's culinary talents.
This restaurant has an exceptional wine list and the staff displays a knowledge of wine that is most refreshing.  Also at the new location there is a most comfortable bar and lounge.
Both the lunch and dinner menus offer daily specials   For the quality of the food,  its culinary excellence in preparation and service,  prices at Il Barone are surprisingly modest.   Here dining is still a leisurely experience to be enjoyed in elegant surroundings and a feeling of luxury.
Il Barone Restorante is located at 900 Bristol North, Newport Beach with free off street parking.  The restaurant is open for luncheon Monday thru Friday from 11 a.m.to 2 p.m., dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.. Saturday dinner only and closed Sundays.  For reservations, often a must, call 949 955-2755.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Our advice when visiting M Grill in Los Angeles is ‘bring your appetite”.  Here you will find a classic Brazilian Steakhouse featuring Churrascaria in a  somewhat rustic ambiance and decor.
 We were there to take part in the birthday celebration of one of our travel writer colleagues.
Lunch started with several visits to a bountiful buffet loaded with meats, salads, individually prepared vegetable dishes and much more.  Then things got serious with the M Grill meats.  These are served in traditional Rodizio style where expert waiters come to tables with knives and a skewer, cutting freshly cooked meat while still hot.  What truly impressed this writer was how the skewer of meat, say top or bottom sirloin,   would contain both well done and rare portions to please the choice of the individual diner.
In all 14 different meat choices are available for lunch ranging from different parts of chicken, pork ribs, a house special Picanha, leg of lamb, Brazilian sausage and beef cuts. The dinner menu adds ribeye, short ribs, filet mignon,  Costelao and Rack of Lamb.
Here you will find a well trained service staff, a most comfortable bar and lounge and a wine selection that earned M Grill a national award.
Located in the heart of the Wilshire district of Los Angeles M Grill is open for lunch and dinner Monday thru Friday, with lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., than closed until  dinner which starts at 5:30 to 9 p.m.  On Saturday and Sunday only dinner is served from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
M Grill is located at 3832 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90010, Telephone 213 389-2770.