Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Kickoff of Newport Beach Restaurant Weeks was held at the Lincoln Experience Center in upscale Fashion Square.  Seven restaurants took part in what was a Culinary Journey  With city leaders and media present to take part.  We were there with camera to take part with Passport in my other hand ready to be stamped at each restaurant station.
Newport Beach restaurants taking part included The Bungalow, The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar, Mayor's Table, Moulin, Five Crowns and Olea.  We also had the opportunity to chat with some of the owners and chefs at these restaurants.  From Five Crowns we met Alejandra Victoria, Executive Chef, and was so impressed with her presence that we also took a photo.
At Great Maple we talked with Andrew Dizon, General Manager.  Vine Restaurant is one of three owned and operated by Russ Bendel,with vine located in San Clemente, Ironwood Cellar in Laguna Hills and Olea Cellar in Newport Beach.  Representing Lido House of Newport Beach was Brian Neubauer, director of restaurant operations.
The Newport Beach Restaurant Weeks started on January 14 and will continue to January 27.  This is the sixth year the event has taken place.
Looking at our passport at the end of the evening we noted that we were missing a couple of the stamps but you can be sure we did not miss any of the tasty,  unique and sometimes colorful appetizers presented at the event.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Without question Ara Kalfayan has made Phoenicia one of the best ethnic restaurants in Southern California. Here can be found authentic Eastern Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine which has always been Ara’s hallmark. Decorations include artifact reminders of the ancient seafaring Phoenicians mixing with colorful peach colored linen and napkins. And trust Ara Kalfayan to find some exciting Lebanese wines.
 Which explains why the Southern California Restaurant Writers named him Restaurateur of the Year in 2018.   
The restaurant  features two large outdoor patios, one with a sliding covering roof when weather is less cooperative as well as two elegant dining rooms.
 We opened with appetizers that included Hommos; Labm, 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 Kafla, ground beef, onions, parsley and spices, grilled on skewers.  One of our favorites are the lamb chops marinated with spices and grilled. Also chicken breast kabob, perfectly prepared rice and the best french fries we have had in a long time.
 Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale has achieved fame for its Lebanese cuisine but it also has an outstanding cellar of wines from  many countries including Lebanon.
  Through the decades Ara Kalfayan has always been a leader in creating an extensive wine cellar for his wine list.  Also he was in the forefront when California restaurants broadened their selection of wines by the glass  in the last decades of the 20th century. 
  Lebanon has a history of making wine for almost six thousand years.
  Most wines from Lebanon show a French influence and the red wines are generally blends of French varietals like Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot.  Two of Lebanon native varietals are still to be found, Obaideh and Merwah.
The wine list at Phoenicia is one of a kind featuring wines from all over the world and some from Lebanon that  are exclusive to this restaurant. Chateau Kefraya is produced in the Bakaa Valley. Chateau Ksara makes French styled blends and the winery dates back to 1857. Chateau Fakra offers red wines from the Kardebvian Valley north of Berut.
 Phoenicia is located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with valet parking. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends when with  live entertainment there is a 2 a.m. closing time. For more information or reservations call 818 956-7

Sunday, December 30, 2018

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.  
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.  We had been invited to experience some of the Angus new menu items and the addition of wines from highly rated Daou Vineyards of Paso Robles.   This partnership with Daou Vineyards was announced by Chris Ames, CEO of  Black Angus Steakhouse who explained that the policy has always been to keep a  wine list of "an exclusive selection of popular, yet affordable wines that we know will enhance  meal choices.  Currently the featured Daou wine will be a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon.
New menu items at Angus paired with Daou wines include Beef Wellington and Crab Cakes.
Our glass of  Daou Cabernet Sauvignon arrived with our appetizer. We thought it a superior vintage very true to the varietal. Delicate aroma leading to smooth flavors with the tannins present but tamed.
  From a large selection we chose  the Wagon Wheel  Sampler Platter which offers several of the listed appetizers.  It came with crispy zucchini, buffalo styled chicken tenders, shrimp cocktail and loaded potato skins.  Another appetizer that caught our eye was the artichoke-spinach dip.  Our entrees were both what the menu calls 'partner items' matching steak and seafood on one platter.  My dining companion chose the prime rib and lobster while I tried one of the new menu additions, filet mignon with crab cake.  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.  Our choices included green beans with bacon, the au gratin potatoes, a house specialty, onion rings and garlic mashed potatoes.   Other sides included an acclaimed Caesar salad, french fries or steamed broccoli.
Our server was Diana who enjoys almost celebrity status at the Northridge restaurant with customers leaving comments like "enjoyed our evening but missed seeing Diana who was off that day".  Certainly we were impressed with both her pleasant demeanor and efficiency.  The night of our visit she had a trainee beside her and following her every move.  This 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.
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 Bulls Eye Bar has been  a leader in offering craft beers as well as selected wines and freshly designed cocktails.
The addition of Daou wines to the Angus menus is an excellent match.  The Daou Winery offers predominantly  Bordeaux varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, wines perfect for hearty Steakhouse fare.  The 120 acres of vineyards are located in the Adeaida range of mountains west of Paso Robles just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
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.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Where ever you go in Southern California these days  you will note rapid changes.  In downtown Los Angeles new construction is everywhere and in nearby cities as well.  Glendale offers a completely new look on Central Avenue and in Pasadena even the world famous Rose Bowl is scheduled for some changes  including  its adjacent classic Brookside Restaurant which will now be offering much besides its traditional role as being  a great place for breakfast.
We were at Brookside to take part in their new Monday through Friday Happy Hour which extends from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.  The cocktail menu includes special prices for wine, beer and well drinks as well as a very special Margarita and we certainly enjoyed the one we were served.  Then the appetizers started to arrive.  On Monday, Wednesday and Friday they include loaded Tater Tots, Bacon, sour cream, chives, Cheddar cheese Bacon Blue Cheese Dip, Tortilla Chips and lime wedges.  On Tuesday and Thursday it is Buffalo, Korean BBQ wings, a duo of wings with carrots & celery, and chips with salsa and Guacamole.
We were there on a Friday and while lounging in close proximity to the picturesque massive fireplace that dominates the dining room we enjoyed the live music of Northern Acoustics, a talented duo of guitar with Nathan Gignac and vocals by Jerin  Forgic.  This live entertainment is offered every Friday.
While at Brookside we had the opportunity  to meet with Brandon O'Neill, who is now General Manager of Food & Beverage Operations.  From him we learned that Levy Restaurants, a national firm based in Chicago, has taken over all catering operations for both the Rose Bowl and Brookside Restaurant.
For Brookside this means that while maintaining the classic decor and ambiance of the restaurant new menus and expanded dining options are in the future.   This is good news to locals who have long enjoyed Brookside which besides a spacious bar and lounge and large dining room graced with the towering stone fireplace also offers four rooms for special events and private meetings.  These are the Mediterranean, Arroyo, Rose  and Madrid rooms with a total seating of some 300.
At present the regular menu shows an American menu of burgers, fresh fish, salads, sandwiches and appetizers and this will be expanded in the future.
Because of heavy traffic we were a bit late in arriving at Brookside and so had alerted the restaurant but standing in front waiting to greet us when we  did arrive was Josh from the wait staff, a most gracious and courteous young man and typical of all that we met that evening.  We also met and chatted with Eddie Arteago, who is assistant manager and with Brookside for five years.  With the current expansion we suspect he will be scheduled for additional responsibilities.
We also chatted with Jerin of the musical team and learned that they have been performing together for five years as Northern Acoustics.  If interested in seeking live entertainment for a special event we suggest you contact them at NorthernAcousticsBookings@gmail.com.
Brookside Restaurant at the Rose Bowl is located at 1133 Rosemont Drive in Pasadena and open seven days a week.  Telephone 626 585-3594, web www.brooksidegc.com.  Ample free off street parking is available.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Our visit to the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles was, for us, a reminder of just how World War ll disrupted the lives of millions of people.  The shock and anger that the surprise attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7, 1941 created among the American people was unforgettable for those of us that experienced it.
The result for Japanese Americans residing in the United States was the immediate incarceration of entire families.  Within just of few days following  war commencement they were ordered to leave their homes and businesses, with only a few personal possessions,  to be gathered and  housed in camps under guard, this for the reminder of the war.
From the present viewpoint such an incarceration of Japanese Americans was clearly unconstitutional but at the time when ordered by President Roosevelt  it was met with approval by  most Americans.
Most people remembered, the rest of the lives, what they were doing when they heard the news that we were at war with Japan.
On that fateful day I was 14 years old and in front of my house passing a football back and forth with a 15 year old neighbor, Jack Longmeyer,  when another neighbor shouted from  his front door that the radio has just announced the attack in Hawaii.
Little did we realize that day, before the war was over,  Jack Longmeyer would fly 23 missions over Germany in a B 17 bomber as a gunner or that I would be  an  infantryman during the Battle of the Bulge in Germany.
The Japanese  museum in Los Angeles is the first  in the United States to tell the story of  Japanese Americans on how they have fitted in and contributed to the American lifestyle and U.S. history.
Since its founding and opening in 1992 the Museum has not only told the story of the mass incarceration and what the camps looked like but  also how Japanese Americans have contributed to their country in many endeavors.
The concept of a Japanese museum was first explored in 1982 by businessmen in the "Little Tokyo" area of downtown Los Angeles.  Also joining the effort were veterans of the 442 Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which was made up of American born Japanese.  In combat during World War ll the 442 became one of the most highly decorated units in the U S Army.  The place chosen for the museum was a building originally made in 1925 as a Buddhist Temple.  Then in 1999 a new Pavilion was built to house the rapidly increasing Museum collection and activities.
The  injustice of the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War ll was not officially recognized until the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed by President Ronald Reagan.  This provided an official apology and reparations to the thousands of Japanese Americans who were unlawfully forced from their homes by the U.S. Government during the war.
One exhibit shows part of the typical barracks that was used to house the Japanese Americans in camps usually located in rural areas with little local population.
On our visit we were greeted by Leslie Unger, director of Marketing and Communications, who introduced us to Clement Hanami, Vice President of Exhibitions and Art Director.  Mr. Hanami granted us a personal interview to explain  the mission of the Los Angeles Japanese American Museum which is the largest in the U.S .dedicated to sharing the experiences  of Americans of Japanese ancestry.  It tells a story of immigrant hopes, achievements,  the frustration of the War years as well of the success that has finally been achieved.
Mr. Hanami explained that the Los Angeles museum was the first in the country dedicated to sharing the experience of Americans of  Japanese ancestry as an integral part of U.S. history.  With its comprehensive collection of Japanese American objects, images  and documents this museum exhibits the Japanese American story to a national and international audience.  The story of the Issei, the first generation Japanese immigrants is well told including the process of  immigration and re-settlement common to so many Americans.
A current exhibition entitled "Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit" graphically depicts the camps and life there during World War ll.  These camps included Heart Mountain in Wyoming and Manzanar located along Highway 395 in California. The photographs are by Paul Itagaki Jr. and the exhibition will continue until April 2019.
Another current exhibit is entitled "Kaiju vs. Heroes" and is Mark Nagata's Journey through the World of Japanese Toys.
During World War ll  120,000 Japanese were incarcerated in what can only be described now as concentration camps.  In 1952 a book entitled "Beauty Behind Barbed Wire" explored art and craft objects created by Japanese living in those camps.  Material described in  this book has been collected, some four hundred pieces of art, jewelry, paintings, and photographs that are now on display at the Museum.
The Japanese American National Museum is located at 100 North Central Avenue in Los Angeles, Ca. 90012, Tele. 213 625-0414, web www.janm.org.  Open Tuesday thru Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Closed Monday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

We found a lot to like exploring downtown Lancaster.  Light traffic and wide boulevards were a nice relief from the San Fernando Valley crowds.  We met with Angela Riley, executive director of Destination Lancaster, and joined her as we viewed the murals along the well planned Lancaster Boulevard with ample space for free parking.
Here we also visited the Museum of Art & History, (MOHA) and was led on a tour by Curator Andi Campogone. We thought the scope of the post war and contemporary art collection  outstanding and displayed well the talents of local artists.
Just a few weeks before our visit Andi had produced the Pow! Wow! Festival where local and visiting artists redid or developed new murals on buildings stretching for blocks on  Lancaster Boulevard.  Here too is located the Aerospace Walk of Honor that recognizes the achievements of  pilots from nearby Edwards Air Force Base..  In the six days of Pow! Wow! 25 artists painted 19 walls.
 Part of the Lancaster Blvd. downtown scene is Don Sal Cocina & Cantina which is spacious with an attractive bar and lounge, huge dining room of booths and tables and an expanded outdoor patio as well.  Don Sal is family owned and also has a successful restaurant in Rosamond.  At  the Boulevard Restaurant we enjoyed one of the most inclusive buffets we have ever experienced.  Actually it included two buffets, one styled as classic American, the second, in a separate area, completely Mexican. 
We chose the traditional American buffet which here demanded a truly hearty appetite.  We were particularly  awed with the selection of desserts and shamelessly made a few trips back for more.
We also viewed the Mexican buffet which included some fifteen separate dishes and entrees. 
Added to the scene that included a completely filled restaurant was a six piece Mariachi band, traditionally costumed and a perfect match to a memorable dining experience
Don Sal Cocina & Cantina is located at 706 W Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster, Ca 93534, Tele., 661 941-2301, web www.donsalcocinacantina.com.  Hours lunch Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday Night Karaoke 9 p;.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday Brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Antelope Valley folk still take pride in the truly old west beginnings of ranching and cowboys so the Broken Bit Steakhouse is a perfect match.  Here one finds a bar, lounge and restaurant offering the decor and ambiance of the old west while serving classic American cuisine.  Steaks here are Black Angus grilled over an oak fire and arrive just as ordered with hint of smoke flavor.  The menu is large and includes seafood, chicken, lamb chops and short ribs. 
At the bar small batch whiskies are featured along with all traditional cocktails and some craft beers and an excellent selection of wines, some from local wineries..
Our dinner opened with a selection  of appetizers that included Quail slices, stuffed peppers and fried Brussel Sprouts, then our Filet Mignon which arrived heaped with  mushrooms and with the largest baked potato I've seen in a long time.
The choice of other entrees included wood fire grilled salmon, sagebrush chicken or Poblano, stuffed Pobano pepper with goat cheese and rice.  The other steak choice was a 10 ounce ribeye.
Just as delightful as the food was the western atmosphere of the restaurant as well as the attentive, efficient staff.  We also had the opportunity to meet Chef Jouil Mick and compliment him on his culinary skills.
The Broken Bit is located at 41955 50th Street West in Quartz Hill, Ca. 93536, Tele. 661 943-8228, web www.brokenbitsteakhouse.com.  Open for dinner only.
We have traveled many roads in many countries and five continents but  we took a ride on our first musical road in Lancaster.
Lancaster's Musical road started as a Honda automobile television commercial where engineers designed cracks and ridges in the roadway to a recognizable song,  in this instance the William Tell Overtune.   At first it was located on a street inside Lancaster but it soon became so popular with local folk that it soon became a crowded attraction.  The alterative was to move that section of road to the outskirts of town which has been done.  We took the road and then returned for an encore.  This old one well remembered the William Tell as the background music for "The Lone Ranger" radio and TV shows.  So I could not resist shouting "Hi Ho Silver Away".

Monday, December 3, 2018

Over decades as the City and County of Los Angeles  looked to the San Fernando Valley for expansion but when that too filled with industry, houses, apartments, malls and more it next looked to the Antelope Valley and Lancaster.  Like communities all over the west Lancaster started as a stop on the railroad and hub and center for local farming. 
Now all that has changed once again with Lancaster now serving as the center for Los Angeles County expansion and thanks to its Freeways and Metro Link railroad still only one hour away from Los Angeles civic center.  Situated at where the Mojave Desert begins Antelope Valley is nestled between two mountain ranges and still offers vast expanses of land leaving Lancaster and surrounding communities with  plenty of space for expansion. 
To experience what this expansion has accomplished in the last quarter century Lancaster has established a tourism marketing organization.  Called Destination Lancaster it was this Writer's good fortune to be included in an orientation  that was entitled "24-hour Getaway to Los Angeles' Mojave Desert".
Actually it involved visiting places like  modern art and Native American museums, reminders of the Valley's past .  Also a visit to an Ostrich Ranch as well as a refuge for felines from many countries, some on the border of extinction.  Then there was a tour past wineries and vineyards, the newest venture in the Valley's agriculture and a matching expansion in Lancaster's restaurant scene.
Through the years we often experienced  Lancaster as a stopping place enroute to the Eastern Sierra but knew little about its local attractions. 
Our stay was at the Lancaster Hampton Inn & Suites, much to our delight, since in our travels the last few years we have consistently sought out an Hampton Inn.  They offer consistent comfort, style and value.  The comfort is there with rooms with ottomans, desks,  and all amenities.   The value with free WiFi,  newspapers, parking and an excellent complimentary breakfast .
Our visit to the Quail Run Ostrich Ranch was a true learning experience.  They are the largest of the flightless birds and in flight the third fastest of any species reaching speeds of over 40 miles an hour for long periods of time and distance.  There are several sub species with the largest weighing as much as five hundred pounds and as tall as most humans.  The Ostriches at the Ranch were quite willing to be photographed and were with abandon.
The Quail Run Ostrich Ranch is open for tours and located at 44420 N. Shaffer Road in Lake Hughes, Ca 93532, Tele. 661-724-1592, web. www.quiailrunostrichranch. com.
The Exotic Feline Breeding Conservation Center is dedicated to protection and preservation or the world's endangered felines.  Located in Rosamond just a short distance from Lancaster the center is home to seventy of these cats, ranging from Bob Cats to Tigers.  For short it is called the Cat House.  In American slang this can have  a much different meaning and  purpose.
Completely non profit the Feline Center is staffed  mostly with docents and was first established in 1977.  It has been most successful, both in the breeding of the cats and  in attracting public  support.  We were awed as we watched the feeding of a Tiger from Malaya, which when standing on its hind  legs was taller than any of us watching in fascination..
The pens for the cats, especially the large ones, are large and some include a pool as well as hidden dens.   One attendant explained that many know and answer to their name.  The grounds are well kept and the gift shop most enticing for young people offering a large collection of stuffed animals.
The Cat House is located at 3718 60th Street West, Rosamond, Ca.  93563, Tele. 661 256-3793, web www.cathouse-fcc.org.
The timing for our visit to the Antelope Valley Indian Museum was perfect since it took place during their 'Holiday on the Homestead" event.  This special event takes place at night and includes sipping hot chocolate while sitting around a blazing campfire  listening to a cowboy singer regale  with classic western songs of the range.
The story of the museum is most interesting and exists thanks to two people. The first was Howard Arden Edwards who built a Swiss style Chalet as a private residence on a picturesque rock formation overlooking the Mojave Desert.  Dedicated to finding and collecting Indian artifacts he used this remarkable dwelling as the place to house his findings.
When the Edwards family decided to move on Grace Wilcox Oliver purchased the property since she had an interest in anthropology, and an  extensive collection of Indian tools, utensils and art.  She operated the Museum as a private enterprise for three decades until the State of California purchased the property and turned it over to the State Parks to administrate in 1979.
Now the Museum is administered by California Parks with aid from many volunteer docents  The artifacts cover a long time period and are mostly from the peoples who inhabited southwestern California and the Great Basin.  Also studies have shown that the Antelope Valley often served as a trading area where tribes like the Chumash, living on the coastal regions of California, met and traded with the Piute tribes of the Antelope and Inyo valleys as well as the Great Basin.
There is much to see and the docents are great answering your questions  Also adjacent is a self guided nature trail which explains  the surrounding desert with its Joshua trees and also the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance.
Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park is located at 15701 East Avenue M in Lancaster.  It is open on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For more information call 661 946-30055, on the web www.avim.parks.gov.
There is much more to relate about the 24 Hour Lancaster getaway and our narrative will continue tomorrow.