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Friday
Oct052012

New Cocktails by Mia Sarazen at The Churchill on Beverly

*Post by Angela.

As you can see from our recent posts, one of our favorite things about the change in seasons is the ringing in of new seasonal cocktail menus. It's what all conscientious bar owners/managers do - a new season means new ingredients at farmers markets, shifting preferences of drinkers due to weather, etc. And Churchill owners Beau Laughlin and Brett Cranston have done their due diligence, bringing in Mia Sarazen to design the bar's fall cocktails.

 

 

Sarazen brings her experience working at some of LA's top watering holes (The Tasting Kitchen, Harvard & Stone, Black Market Bar, etc.) to the Churchill's new cocktail list. The 12 new drinks are designed to allow the imbiber the opportunity to 'choose their own adventure' with a mix of concoctions aimed to please a wide range of drinkers. 

Sarazen's focus on providing options is clear from our first drink. The base for the Rye 2 Ways is Bulleit Rye, dry vermouth, grenadine, and lemon is a nice drink for those with a bit of a sweet tooth. But the 2nd option, with the addition of Allagash White (below, right) is our preference, with the beer taking the bite off the rye while complimenting the citrus in the base.

We contrast the lighter Rye 2 Ways with the next selection in our round of drinks. The Churchill Old Fashioned (below, center), with Old Fitzgerald bourbon, house bitters, and sugar, is a serious drink, a masculine drink, the kind of glass you want to sip with a cigar in hand. While based on a bar mainstay, the house bitters add a touch of spice that elevates Sarazen's version.  

With our lighter and heavier needs met this round, we move on to a more balanced option, one of our favorites of the night, the Thirsty in LA (below, right) named after popular LA cocktail blogger Daniel Djang. This combination of Correlejo Reposado, Aperol, and Ciociaro Amaro, with a mezcal rinse, gives us a bit of smoke, a bit of bitter, a bit of citrus and a lot of lovely.

 


The Bulldog (below, left) provides an option for those seeking to satisfy more tropical tastes. Combining serrano infused Milagro blanco with passion, pineapple, and lime, the Bulldog is actually legit spicy, but tempered by sweetness. The Bulldog's more agressive bite might make it our favorite drink of the night.

The Rye 2 Ways (below, center) served up with a lemon garnish is the other way to enjoy the Bulleit cocktail. But when compared side-by-side, the tall and fizzy version with Allagash White proves to be our preferred sipper of the two. 

Baby's First Bourbon (below, right), with Bulleit Bourbon, orgeat, lemon, and house bitters, isn't quite self-explanatory, but it's close. This is a good beginners' bourbon drink, with the sweet orgeat taking the bite of the liquor. 

 



The Statesman (below, right) is a true autumn drink, mixing Famous Grouse, apricot, lemon, and baked apple bitters with carbonation - all the spices and flavors and sparkle of the holidays.

Like Baby's First Bourbon, the Hyde Park Fizz (below, center), with Nolet’s gin, Bonal Quina, honey, lime, cucumber, basil, and soda is a good starter drink for those not sure about gin - a tiny bit of sweetness and fizz combat the quinine flavor of the spirit.

The Grapes of Wrath (below, right), with Kappa Pisco, lime, pineapple, egg whites, bitters, and cinnamon is another milder option, smooth and just a touch creamy.

 

 

After that round of milder drinks, the Grand Alliance (below, left) is a return to the substantial - Plymouth Gin dominates here, with subtle notes from the Carpano (vermouth), Campari, and Maraschino.

With the Iron Mule (below, center), ginger is the dominating flavor, with Russian Standard vodka with  lime, soda playing supporting roles.

Norman's Cable Car (below, right), with Sailor Jerry Rum, housemade curacao, lemon, cinnamon & sugar rim, tastes like creamsicle.

 

 

The Churchill's drink list isn't the only thing getting a makeover. Executive Chef Bruce Kalman (The Misfit, Urbano Pizza Bar) launched a new 'rustic elegant' menu for the restaurant this week featuring Cali/Mediterranean dishes that we're definitely eager to try. Check back soon and we'll tell you how it was.

*Disclosure: This was a hosted tasting.

The Churchill - Mid-City West
8384 W 3rd St. 
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-8384
Web: www.the-churchill.com
Twitter: @TheChurchillLA 
Facebook: facebook.com/thechurchillLA 
Hours:  Mon-Wed, Sun: 7:00a - 12:00a, Thu-Sat: 7:00a - 2:00a

The Churchill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Oct032012

Jaymee Mandeville's New Fall Cocktails Launch Today at Drago Centro

*Post by Angela.

Tonight, Drago Centro ushers in my favorite season by introducing a new fall cocktail menu designed by much-lauded bar manager Jaymee Mandeville. We caught up with Mandeville a few times during her Lil' Twisted Sangrita Summer Tour with Neat Bar's Carrie Hah, but were excited to see what she could do on her home turf. Drago pairs Mandeville’s unique and expectation-defying concoctions with a well-curated, surprisingly affordable, and delicious bar menu by chef/owner Celestino Drago.

 

 

When we arrive, we are ushered into the spectacular glass-enclosed lounge section by the bar to start in on Mandeville's menu. The Autumn's Deluge (below, left), with Karlsson's Vodka, Breckenridge Bitters, lemon, white grapes, and prosecco, is a wonderful introduction to the menu - herby, bright, and bubbly. The Break Maiden (below, middle), featuring Larceny Bourbon, byrrh, fig shrub, and mint, is more of a serious cocktailer's drink that lets the bourbon shine. Both are good, but it's the Campfire Dawn (below, right), with Pierde Lamas Puritita Mezcal, Clear Creek Douglas Fir eau de vie, sugar, Scrappy's Lime Bitters,  and Fee Bros. Mint Bitters, that gives you a first solid glimpse of Mandeville's creative side. The smoky yet refreshing drink makes this Oregonian think of a forest after the rain, and isn't quite like anything I've ever tasted.

 

 

Food-wise, the first items we see are the beautiful il tagliere di formaggi assortiti (cheese plate, $7) and il tagliere di affettati con gnocco fritto (charcuterie accompanied by a basket of fried gnocco, $6). The cheeses and cured meats are impeccably selected, and the fried gnocco (dumplings, not pictured; think unsweetened fried dough) disappear in a hurry.

 

 

The colorful Indochina Tí (below, left) pairs one of our favorite spirits, Smith & Cross Rum, with coconut milk, serrano date syrup, red bell pepper, citric acid, Thai basil, and Angostura Bitters. Looking at the ingredient list, we expect something in the neighborhood of a thick and syrupy Thai tea. What we get is much lighter and much more complex, with the heat from the serrano, the herbaceousness of the basil and the bite from the bitters and bell pepper playing off each other in interesting ways. 

Similarly, the Through the Looking Glass (below, middle) looks like the sort of heavy, creamy drink you would enjoy in colder climes. But the combination of Oxley Gin, cardamaro (a wine-based digestif amaro), Earl Grey tea, sugar beet syrup, citric acid, cream, and nutmeg, is surprisingly bright and light (though very gin-y).

The Savoy Rouge (below, right), with Bank Note Scotch, Crème Yvette, housemade rose vermouth, Reagan's Orange Bitters, and Cocktail Kingdom Wormwood Bitters (and a liquor-soaked cherry in the bottom of the glass!) takes us back in a more classic cocktail direction. Like the Break Maiden, this is a drink for those who appreciate the taste of top shelf alcohol.

 

 

 

We take a short break in the drink tasting to dig into a skillet of juicy, well-seasoned meatballs (below, right) and le ostriche (below, left), a plate of briny Crystal Point oysters topped with an elegant, refreshing cucumber mignonette ($6).

 

 

The two most picturesque drinks arrive next. The Paraiso (below left) is an absolute show-stopper of a drink, with its fuschia hue and nigella-seed and sea salt encrusted rim. The drink itself, like so many of Mandeville's creations, is nowhere near as sweet as it looks like it would be - the combination of Tapatio Blanco tequila, prickly pear cactus, cardamom infused honey, chives, lime, and orange blossom water layers sweetness with more savory elements. 

The table seems to agree that the American Hillbilly (below right), with Bulleit Rye, pancetta rosemary infused maple syrup, baked apple bitters, Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters,  and lemon, is the favorite of the night. It's the epitome of seasonal, with intense apple and caramel notes, and a bit of spice from the bitters.

 

 

The next round of food is more carb-based. The kobe sliders (bottom photo, $6) with mushrooms and fontina and the various “pizzas” (top left, $4 or $5) are solid (though the pizzas are more flatbread-like for us, with the crisp, airy bases being just substantial enough to support the tasty toppings). But I’m blown away by the il calzone ai funghi e tartufo ($10): the great crust used for the flatbreads here enfolds a truly incredible filling of ricotta, mushrooms and truffles. The creamy, earthy combination is one of the best things I’ve eaten in weeks.  

 

 

The two final drinks on the fall menu are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are great. The Rosie Carver (below, left) uses Lillet Rose and smoke-infused ice to highlight Ford's Gin and Aylesbury Duck Vodka, two new spirits from The 86 Company. Simple and straighforward. On the other hand, the Long For Yesterday (below, right) throws together Pink Pigeon rum, Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao, Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole Bitters, espelette syrup, cream and soda for a dessert drink with delicious depth. 

 

 

We’re comfortably full but not bursting when the gorgeous desserts hit the table. Both i bomboloni (bottom left, $10), a plate of warm doughnuts with prosecco and peaches, and la panna cotta alla vaniglia (vanilla panna cotta with berries and puff pastry, (top right, $10) are very nice. While we're simply not quick enough to snag any of the orange and pistachio-filled cannoli (bottom right), they get good reviews. But it’s the classic tiramisu (top left, $10) and accompanying crumbly biscotti that takes the trophy for me this round, with a great combination of textures and a nice balance of sweet and bitter.

 

 

Join Jaymee and the Drago crew tonight from 5-close to sample all ten of Jaymee's inspired creations for only $8 each (normally $12). While you're there, dig into a couple (or three or four) of the fantastic bar menu. I can't think of a much better way to welcome back fall. 

*Disclosure: this was a hosted meal.

Drago Centro - Downtown
525 S. Flower St. Ste 120
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 228-8998
Webwww.dragocentro.com 
Twitter: @DragoCentro
Facebookfacebook.com/dragocentro
Hours:  Mon-Thu: 11:30a - 9:30p, Fri: 11:30a - 10:00p, Sat 5:00p - 10:00p, Sun 5:00p - 9:30p

Drago Centro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Sep252012

Mas Malo 

*Post by Angela.

East LA Chicano comfort food. It's very specific niche, and one that Chef Robert Luna of Malo in Silverlake and Mas Malo Downtown takes very seriously, as he should: with a mother who owned and cooked in restaurants in Boyle Heights during his childhood, it's in his blood. We recently had the pleasure of having Chef Luna introduce us to the cuisine at the downtown location, housed in the skeleton of an historic former jewelry store circa-1923.

 

 

We start with some drinks in the Vault, a small but stunning room at the back of the restaurant. The confined space that once housed the jewelry store's most precious hardware carries on that tradition at Mas Malo today, now housing the restaurant's finest liquid riches. With its glass-fronted cases filled with beautiful tequila bottles, it would be a fantastic place to host an intimate dinner party.

 

 

The "spicy" cucumber margarita (below, right) with tequila silver, cucmber, lime, bitters, Tapatio, doesn't quite deliver on its promise of heat, but it is refreshingly cucumber-y. The Medicina Latina (below, middle) combines tequila blanco with lime, agave and a powerful amount ginger for a unique sipper. The Piñata Smash, with tequila silver, serrano chile, cilantro, pineapple, lime, agave, is a sweeter concoction that we would have liked to see hit the heat notes a little harder.

 

 

We move out to the main dining room, where modern decor works weirdly well with Art-Deco design. Chef Luna's off-menu "chewy" chips await us at our table. We've sung the praises of the thick, half-cooked chips before when we had them at Malo in Silverlake, as well as the much-loved by us burnt habanero cream salsa. 

 

 

The first item from the kitchen seemed just wrong in theory. Vegan menudo??!! Sacrilege!! Give me my tripe! But Chef Luna seeks to bridge the gap between authentic and trendy with this dish, and is surprisingly successful. While I will take my menudo loaded with offal any day of the week, the vegan version (loaded with tender bits of tofu) is flavorful and hearty, and in all honesty, cuts out much of the oiliness so prevalent in traditional menudo. The vegan soup is just one example of the many vegan/vegetarian options the kitchen offers.

 

 

Next to hit the tables are a quartet of salads: a Tijuana Cesar, a kale salad with pistachio dressing and pumpkin seeds, a chop salad with cactus, radish, chorizo and cotija, and a spinach salad with avocado and chicharron (below). Often we find the salad selection at restaurants limp and bland at worst and uninspired at best, but Mas Malo’s greens are creative and packed with flavor. A particular favorite is the plate with the fried pork skin crumbles – the texture and taste that they bring make us wonder why chicharrons aren’t on every salad EVER.

 

 

Then, a dish that ends up being my downfall that evening, a corn and spinach pancake topped with honey carnitas. It’s parked right in front of me, and the ladies around me are largely vegetarian, so I have it to myself. And I proceed to absolutely gorge myself. The dish defies expectations: the pancake (which is wonderfully fluffy) is more savory, while the pork, braised and then crisped and caramelized with honey, is fantastically sweet.

 

 

Though the food now pulls focus, we still remember to enjoy a mason jar of the smooth and mild white sangria (below, left). A tumbler of the El Cucuy (translates as "The Boogeyman," below, right) is anything but scary - the combination of Mezcal, Kahlua and milk, is light and sweet treat with a smoky finish.

 

 

At that point, I’ve ruined any chance of going home comfortably, but the dishes keep coming, fast and furious. In order to take a breath (and because we're not typically fans of vegan meat substitutes), we leave the tasty-looking soyrizo fundido (below) to the vegetarians...

 

 

 ...and I promptly fill the space I save with gobs of the shrimp fundito, a delicious gut bomb, thick, cheesy and garlicky.

 

 

I don’t get the full effect of the squash blossom taco, as it's chock-full of my food nemesis, red onion, but once I pick out all the offending slivers, I enjoy the meaty texture of the squash blossom.

 

 

And of course, we all manage to crunch into a couple of bites of the ever-popular ground beef and pickle taco, a spin on the traditional hamburger inherited from Chef Luna's mother.

 

 

No one really has any real estate left in their stomachs, but the next savory dishes Chef Luna sends out are so good that we push ourselves past our breaking points. First, chicken in mole poblano, which hits all the sweet, smoky, and spicy notes a good mole should hit.

 

 

It’s the last entrée, the half-blasted baby chicken, that really steals the show, though. The chicken is as perfectly cooked as chicken can be, juicy and tender, with a crisp exterior. The apricot sauce, tangy and subtley sweet, is lovely, but lets the poultry shine.  

 

 

Even though I am possibly dying of stomach explosion, the desserts are too pretty to ignore. The Choco Flan is nice, but a touch too rich for me at this point. Luckily, the light-as-air Tres Leches cake lets me finish the meal with some dignity (a.k.a. I manage not to pass out at the table).

 

 

It's here that I'm advised that many menu items can be made into burritos or tortas. At that exact moment, my brain explodes at the thought. But now I can appreciate that any one of the offered items in a carb-encased form would be a great (and affordable) meal in and of itself. And even though I leave Mas Malo with a distended stomach and a brain rapidly draining of blood from the oncoming food coma, I also can't help but smile. The description "East LA Chicano comfort food" is apt, indeed: head to Mas Malo Downtown for homey Mexican dishes with an elevated LA twist that absolutely comfort.

*Disclosure: This was a hosted meal.

Mas Malo Downtown – Downtown
515 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 985-4332

Hours: Sun-Thu, 10:00a - 11:00p, Fri-Sat, 10:00a - 2:00a

Más Malo on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Sep222012

India Sweet House

*Post by Angela.

Captain’s Log, Stardate -310276.9706600384: After being lost in a parallel universe for weeks,* my first mate and I make it back to our reality and continue on our quest to sample all the Cheap Eats on the list of Earth publication Los Angeles Magazine. Our journey has thus far taken us to previously unknown locations in the area, and today is no exception. We visit India Sweet House on West Pico just west of Fairfax in Mid City in the hopes of yet again scoring a combo of good food and low prices.

Upon approach, we are initially a bit hesitant to enter. We’ve encountered good food in less welcoming environments, but the dripping air conditioner over the door and accompanying quickly filling plastic milk jug below still give us pause. Nevertheless, a quick glance at the great-looking pastries in the glass case at the counter and almost-too-low-to-believe prices on the menu boards lure us in.

*i.e., I've been working a ton lately and got behind on blog posts.

 

 

The limited amount of seating virtually ensures that India Sweet House is primarily a take-out business, and we just manage to squeeze three people into one of the tiny two-person tables.  It’s a tight fit, but we have just enough space to dig into a traditional Indian snack, bhelpuri (below), made with crispy puffed rice, peanuts, onions and a light tangy sauce. It’s a unique dish and a textual delight that buoys our expectations for the food to follow.

 

 

Soon our small table top is overrun with aromatic dishes, starting with a bowl of sambar (below), a thick, flavorful vegetable stew) meant to be eaten with...

 

 

...the masala dosa (below), which I'd never encountered before in my various forays into Indian cuisine. This South Asian version of a savory crepe is thicker and spongier than its French equivalent, being made of rice flour and black lentils, and is stuffed with a nicely spiced potato mixture. Part of me thinks there's been a miscommunication with cashier - no way this much good food comes in at $4.99, right?

 

 

And of course, I hit up my go-to Indian dish, saag paneer. India Sweet House's viscous spinach and paneer cheese mixture is underseasoned, but solid, and for $3.75, I'm not complaining.

 

 

For our final savory dish, we pay another visit to the "snacks" section of the menu, although the puri chana, fried bread served with well-sauced chickpeas, is hearty enough to be a main dish. At $3.50, it doesn't matter the category - either way you slice it, it's another great deal.

 

 

We finish off the meal by returning to the counter and pointing to a handful of sweets (which are sold by the pound). Generally, the treats are very interesting, not at all what we are expecting (that's not chocolate! that's not fried dough!), and across-the-board very dense. While maybe not our particular cup of tea, the steady stream of customers leaving with heavy bags of pastries argue in India Sweet House’s favor.

 

 

Captain's Log, supplemental: While maybe not our most exciting find in our Cheap Eats trek so far, the food at India Sweet House is pretty good, and the prices are out-of-this-world low.

India Sweet House - Mid-City West
5992 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(323) 934-5193

Hours: 11:00a - 9:00p daily

India Sweet House on Urbanspoon

Friday
Sep212012

Something Old and Something New at Tom Bergin's 2.0

Post by Mark.

How do you update a time-tested local institution to embrace a changing dining landscape without alienating the loyal regulars? Restauranters seeking that perfect balance could take a page from the book down at Tom Bergin's as the 76-year old Irish tavern recently did just that. New is a polished and remodeled interior, some new menu items, an expanded list of Irish whiskeys and a cocktail program by Aiden Demarest and Marcos Tello that brings the bar to modern cocktail standards, while staying true to the bar's signature spirit - Irish whiskey. 

 

 

The regulars circle the more casual bar up front, absorbed in their pints and baseball games on the TVs above the bar. We make our way to the more formal dining area in the back where the walls are lined with framed horse photos and the tables are draped with white table clothes. Our server brings us a basket of traditional Irish soda bread (below). He's an old school pro - something of a rarity in Los Angeles - and his solicitousness fits right in with the decor and atmosphere.

 

 

The dark wood, frame photos and fireplace bring a cozy Old World feel to the room, and the drinks take inspiration from that, but with updated twists. The Irish Maid (below, left) livens up Bushmill's Whiskey with sugar, lime juice, mint and cucumber. The Cameron's Kick (below, right) similarly sweetens and lightens up Bushmill's and blended Scotch with orgeat and lemon juice.

 

 

The new food menu also riffs off the traditional by giving you dishes that are not quite familiar but still feel like comfort food. For example, the fried spicy chicken skin with Cashel blue cheese sauce for dipping are reminiscent of buffalo wings, but with an addictive crunch that keeps us reaching for more. 

 

 

Colcannon is one of our favorite Irish comfort foods, typically made with creamy mashed potatoes and either cabbage or kale. Tom Bergin's spins the dish off in a healthy direction with its Colcannon Salad (below), making kale - lightly dressed with a light creme fraiche of roasted spring onion - the star, with grilled potatoes serving in a supporting role as a bed for the greens.

 

 

Our very favorite appetizer may be the fried Cooleeney cheese (below) which is not only fun to say, but comes topped with an Irish curry apple salad. The unusual flavor combination is new to our tastebuds and beyond delicious. A must-order dish on your next visit.

 

 

The smoked chicken liver pate (below) should please fans of offal-y things, and the smooth spread works really nicely with the slices of buttery grilled bread. 

 

 

We also get the jacket potato (below), which comes twice-baked and topped with butter, chives, creme fraiche and aged cheddar. If you want to get real crazy, you can add mushrooms or bacon to the mix for an extra buck. 

 

 

After the appetizer round, we're already reeling from the delicious carb-overload. Which makes it the perfect time to sample more excellent concoctions from the bar. Both the Cooper Union (below, left) with Red Breast, St. Germain, Islay Scotch and orange bitters, and the Mascushla Manhattan (below, right) Black Bush, Benedictine, Lillet and Angostura bitters, shine a spotlight on the liquor without being overwhelming.

 

 

Back in the food world, the fish n' chips (below) is one of those classics that needn't be futzed with. Regulars should still be cheersing the flaky fried fish as well as the near perfect fries that accompany them. Seriously, the thick-cut fries are dangerously good. 

 

 

Another more traditional house-specialty is the house-cured corned beef and cabbage (below). The hand-cut corned beef is juicily salty, and the accompanying buttered cabbage, potatoes and carrots are straight from your Irish gramma's kitchen.

 

 

The Cottage Pie (below) is another winner. Tender chunks of braised beef, peas and carrots, hide underneath a layer of Dubliner cheese and mashed potatoes that are stand-alone fantastic. 

 

 

As we move toward dessert, the peeled Irish Buck (below, left) appeals to the sweet tooth. Made with Bushmill's, apple juice, ginger syrup, lime juice and soda water, it's a light, fizzy treat with candied ginger garnishing its tall collins glass. But no trip to Tom Bergin's would be complete without an Irish Coffee, or in this case, two versions of the stuff (below, right). The traditional version (Bushmill's, hot coffee, demerara sugar and cream) may be a staple at Tom Bergin's, but they also serve a colder version called the Sheridan Special (Bushmill's, coffee and Galliano Ristretto stirred over ice and served with a dollop of hand whipped cream) that gets the job done just as well. Hot or cold, you can't really lose. 

 

 

Desserts are an unexpected surprise. The Guinness stout chocolate cake (below, left) is rich, don't get me wrong, but the inclusion of beer tempers the chocolate perfectly. As good as the cake is, the Carrageenan Pudding (below, right) is a real revelation: a silky-smooth, lightly sweet, creamy concoction that uses an ancient Irish gelling agent, Carrageenan seaweed, to give it a custardy consistency. And the lemon shortbread and berries are great accessories.

 

 

We walked out of Tom Bergin's the restaurant's most recent converts, and fittingly, overheard a woman on her way in telling her friends that she'd been coming here for thirty years. Old or new, there's an appealing charm down at Tom Bergin's that's kept people coming back through the decades. With the new improvements to the establishment and the food and cocktail menu, there's no reason why it can't keep them coming back at least a few decades more.

*Discolosure: This was a hosted meal.

 

Tom Bergin's Old Horseshoe & Thoroughbred Club - Mid-City West
840 S. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 936-7151
Web: www.tombergins.com 
Twitter: twitter.com/TomBergins  
Facebook: facebook.com/tombergins 
Hours:  Mon-Sun: 11:30a - 2:00a
Tom Bergin's Tavern on Urbanspoon