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Millie’s has gone fine dining. Well, sort of. Alma, a pop-up concept by Chef Ari Taymor and Front-of-the-House Dinelle Lucchesi, has been taking over the Sunset Boulevard diner after hours Thursday through Sunday. My advice: go.
For $55, you get around six courses, plus a few extras—each more inventive than the last. I haven’t been this excited by a meal in a long time. From start (an artfully plated, color-conscious root vegetable crudite) to finish (Shichimi-spiced kettle corn), the experience was totally worth the price of admission.
The hands-down highlight of the night, for me, was the rich and silky young garlic soup with a poached egg plopped in the center. The heavens opened up once the yolk was broken, and green onion relish acted as an exclamation point. Also impressive was the onion chicharron topped with smoked crème fraiche. The crunchy-creamy/sweet-savory effect was mirrored by its companion, a savory seaweed beignet drizzled with yuzu koshu and lime. The combination made for a lusty deep fried course.
The main event was a succulent duck, which appeared with that perfect golden brown skin and tender pink meat you always hope for when duck is on the menu. Simple and earthy, the dish was rounded out by fava beans and chantrelle mushrooms instead of being camouflaged in sauce.
Other perks included a house-made Squirt soda made with hibiscus and habanero, plus two desserts—a play on bananas foster and raw milk curd with strawberry and pistachios.
Note: The Alma pop-up continues through May 27th, and the menu changes constantly. It’s cash only and BYOB. You can make a reservation at Urbanspoon.
Salad photo (top left corner) by Brian McGinn, courtesy of Alma.
“Is this some kind of performance art?”
That’s the question Josh asked as we watched the staff at Mooi try—with the urgency of molasses—to seat a restaurant full of people for a 9 o’clock pre-fixe dinner service. The minutes ticked, some poor girl fell off the rickety wrought-iron chair she was made to sit in, and yet-to-be-seated patrons looked forlorn as we all waited for the restaurant to get its shit together.
It was a weird scene, but I wasn’t surprised. The reviews on Yelp, which rail on the aloof service, have been scathing (and I mean scathing) since Mooi opened last spring. Still, I’d heard great things about the food, and boy, do I love a pre-fixe. Plus, there have been reports that time might be running out for the raw/vegan restaurant, and I wanted a taste.
I’m glad I got one because the 4-course Italian meal by chef Anne Lee of New York’s Pure Food and Wine and Mooi owner Stephen Hauptfuhr really made up for the evening’s ramshackle start.
Nick & Stef’s new Executive Chef Megan Logan is a bit of an anomaly. A California native who got her start as a server at 15, attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and rose through the ranks of the Patina Group, Logan is one of the few women in the industry to helm a steakhouse kitchen. I was recently invited to a media dinner to experience Logan’s prowess in the form of a multi-course meal with wine, cocktail and beer pairings. Oh, and there was a cheese plate! Well played, Chef.
On a recent trip to Paso Robles, we were lucky to attend a pretty magical dinner at Venteux Vineyards in nearby Templeton. It was a beautiful, warm summer night made complete by Chef Eric Cioffi’s Tuscan menu. The delicious wine didn’t hurt either, and owners Scott and Bobbi Stetzle made sure it flowed and flowed.
Cioffi took a “locavore” approach to creating the rustic Italian dishes, which were served family style to about 30 guests on the old-timey porch of the vinyard’s b&b. Ninety percent of the ingredients came from farms within 10 or so miles of the winery. “Every time I do a dinner at Venteux, I try to meet a new face, a new farmer, a new friend,” Cioffi told me.
Cioffi is a self-taught amateur chef, but there was nothing amateur about his execution. The freshness, flavor and detail of this meal rivaled some of my most memorable food experiences, even in actual Tuscany. He simply says he prefers food with “soul”. Someone give this guy a restaurant already!
The first course was a Parpadelle with Duck Ragu. So delicious. Made with cherries steeped in Zin Alley port, the ragu was a heavenly mix of sweet and savory. The fresh pasta, which was hand rolled and cut, was as much of a main attraction—the chef credited its silky texture to “lots of yolk.”