An island is just an island is just an island.  Until it isn’t.

And this isn’t just any island.  Anguilla is a special place.  One of those rare spots to visit that leaves you planning your return trip before you’ve even left.  And once you go, you too will understand.  This is not just any old island surrounded by many islands that seem similar.  It is a special place that will take your breath away.

First things first, Anguilla is a British territory where everyone speaks great English and the US dollar is whole-heartily accepted.  They drive on the left with the few cars and trucks that are there.  There is no public transport, so no noisy, dirty buses, which leaves cabs, bikes and boats as the main means of transportation.  It is a small island, 16 miles long by 3 miles wide at its largest.  It is also mostly on the flat side, with some of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen.  These beaches also boast some of the best snorkeling anywhere.  There are many coral reefs literally right off the beaches.  As well as some small cays off the North side of the island.  Some even have little bars and restaurants you can visit if you have access to something that floats unless you liken yourself another Michael Phelps.

Now, how do you get to Anguilla you ask?  It goes that the smaller the island, the more difficult it is to get to, unless you are say, Sir Richard Branson, or have access to a small plane, helicopter, or yacht.  If not, you fly to the island of Saint Martin. A larger island, with, yes, a large airport.  You hop a lift to the marina, which luckily is close by, and get yourself on a water taxi or charter.  We booked everything with our travel agent, remember them?  It made our whole trip a breeze.  She had booked all our connections to the hotel, which made it even easier!  No stress traveling?  To an island??  Yes, thank you.  It was delightful.  And as I write these sentences, I long to be back there sipping a rum punch, running my toes through the softest, whitest sand I have ever seen and touched.

So, onward to our hotel.  We stayed at the Viceroy:  Again, with the help from our agent, we were able to secure a killer suite with a balcony, roof deck and small plunge pool/hot tub. I’m telling you, don’t underestimate the power of a good travel agent in this day and age.  We arrived at night, so it was hard to tell anything of the island. But, the bar was open, and the breeze blowing from the north, felt delightful.  Everyone was wonderful and we loved our suite with the balcony overlooking part of the hotel and the ocean seemingly just a stone’s throw away.

The hotel is quite lovely, as is the staff.  It is large and spread out with many sleeping options.  Along with the usual hotel rooms and suites, they also have houses and villas that run alongside the beach West of the hotel.  As an added bonus, there are three pools, with one specifically for the kiddos.  So, if you are without child, as we were, there were two other pool options.  And the best one, overlooking one of the beaches was child free!  And yes, I said ONE of the beaches.  There is one just off the kids pool on the East side of the hotel where all the water sports and activities take place, this is Meads Bay.  There is also one down below the bar/pool/restaurant area on the West end, this is Barnes Bay.   The beach at this end has its own bar, Half Shell, which has a small menu of food and a smattering of loungers and umbrellas out amongst the sand. Half Shell also has a killer half-priced happy hour on cocktails at five o’clock that seemingly no one knew about, except us!

Now onto the important stuff!  Food and Beaches!!!  Just a walk Eastward on the beach from the hotel is a nice stretch of beach on Barnes Bay.  Even with the hotel, and others along here, the beaches are not very crowded. (at least in Mid-April)  What there is though, is excellent cuisine.  Now when multiple people from different places all tell me about the food somewhere, I have to go.  This was the case with Blanchards Beach Shack  Their lunch, on the beach, with an ice-cold Presidente Beer is heaven in my book.  They have a huge menu, but you must go for the local plates.  The Big Bowls are a crowd favorite, and are now mine as well.  You get rice, black beans, pico de gallo, corn salsa, jack cheese, Peruvian onion, crema and choice of meat, which I went for jerk chicken. Excellent.  Muy Excellent.  Muy, Muy Excellent.  The blackened mahi looked spectacular as well.  We also tried some homemade corn tortilla tacos with jerk shrimp and said blackened mahi that were quite lovely.  They also have the local rum punch, shakes, yogurt, beer and wine.   Just remember to not feed the wondering chickens.

Close by is the Straw Hat, while not attached to, it does connect to a hotel on the beach  We came here for dinner.  Which included a nice moonlight walk along the beach, gratis.  So that super soft, amazing sand that makes a day at the beach delightful, can also make a walk along the beach at night a little bit of a workout. (wine didn’t help, but the full moon did)  They have a full bar inside with a couple tv’s if you really feel the need to watch one.  The main attraction is the outdoor patio that feels like you are in the ocean.   And chances are good for some live entertainment.  We lucked out with a weathered local playing acoustic guitar, sax and singing the blues, jazz and some rock.  It made dinner all the better.  So first off, make reservations, because they also serve that hotel next door, so there were some large parties when we were there.  The staff is great, as are the owners, who moved there from the States, and have been longtime residents of the island.  They have a nice wine list, with some great picks at reasonable prices. And the food?  The food is quite terrific, it is tremendous!  The red snapper crudo, so fresh and flavorful.  The heirloom tomato and white bean salad was also quite tasty. Red curry prawns and the New York strip were also great.  I could not complain about one single thing.

And a third dining option that lived up to its hype was Veya, It is in North Hill Village, so if you are on the South or Western edge of the island, you will need a ride.  If you don’t have a rental car, which you really don’t need, you will need a cab.  Just make sure to hash out the price beforehand.  As our ride there was a total different price than our ride back!  This is a great romantic spot where you feel as if you are dining in the trees.  Small and airy, it is a one of a kind spot.  Sporting an inspired and mostly affordable wine list makes me want to go back on our next trip and try more bottles.  Then dinner.  Which was prepared exquisitely with just the right amount of spices and flavors.  Vietnamese style crispy calamari was a hit.  Wow.  My taste buds loved it!  The dipping sauce, nuoc cham was so good I wanted to ask for some to go, so I could pour it on my eggs the next morning.  There was a special red snapper this night, which we just had to get.  And no surprise, we loved it.  Grilled to perfection with just the right amount of spicing.  As was the roasted pork tenderloin.  All the sides were on par with the flavors, and harmoniously played along.  I think next time I would try the tasting menu.  Five courses for 95.00$.  If the quality is this good, a steal in my opinion.

Annnnnnd the Beaches.  Oh ya, remember I talked about how amazing they are here.  Just look up any travel website, and see what the top rated beaches in the world are, and I guarantee you at least one from Anguilla is on that list.  The Viceroy is located on a rock outcropping that separates Meads Bay to the East with Barnes Bay to the West.  The sand on both sides is as white and soft as I said, with water that is so clear, it looks as if a tanker of Evian crashed on the reef.  Meads Bay has a longer and wider beach with many dining and lounging options.  Barnes Bay is smaller, more narrow, and not easily accessed. But from the Viceroy it can be your own private paradise, as there are few people who wonder down here.  It is also a little rougher and has coral close to some parts of the beach.  So it is not the best for any high impact water sports.  Meads Bay has many different beach names along its coast, but all of it is lovely and worth exploring.

Then there is the one everyone talks about.  And with good reason, Shoal Bay East.  Ahhhhhhhh.  I get all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.  I play sounds of calm ocean waves hitting a beach.  I look at the pictures I still keep on my phone.  It is a sight to behold.  It is a bit of a haul across the island from the Western side, and the Viceroy, but again we cabbed it.  If you are planning a day excursion and start early enough, there are rental car companies that rent just for the day.  I believe it was 50.oo$ for a day and you also have to get a one day license, which was around 20.o0$.  If you want to explore the whole island, it is your best bet.  Now to the beach!  There is a small parking lot where the road dead ends literally into the beach.  There are some touristy places here, and some locals will try to rent you chairs and umbrellas right there, but the real beauty is further up the beach.  Keep going East towards “the bend”  where the water is so amazingly crystal clear and calm, you’ll think it’s a mirage.  There are many coral reefs spitting distance from the beach that make it seem like you are in a huge bathtub.  Up by the bend there are fewer people, and by less, I think maybe 6 people were within 100 yards of us.  Bring your snorkel gear, because it is truly epic here.  Just off shore is more snorkeling than could be done in two days.  It’s calm, quiet, and off the charts gorgeous with lots and lots of fish.  What more do you need?  Oh a drink you say?  Well up by the bend is Elodia’s Beach Bar.  They have the best Rum Punch I have ever tasted in my life.  And it is 5 bucks if I remember correctly.  I had a few, so maybe it was 6 bucks.  Anyways, it was delicious, and very much-needed after a long snorkel fest.  It has the fruit juices; guava, pineapple and orange.  Three rums; Mount Gay from Barbados, Myers from Jamaica and Malibu coconut rum.  Disaronno, a dash of Angostura bitters and a sprinkling of nutmeg.  All to make the best punch on this island, if not any island.  There is also ice-cold beer for a few bucks (which after Viceroy prices was well needed).  You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas from them as well.  We choose to sit on towels all old-fashioned like.  And since we spent most of the time in the water, why spend the bucks?

These words are just that.  Words.  On a computer screen.  To really appreciate anything I’ve said here, you have to go.  It really is a one of kind place.  On the boat ride to the airport on Saint Martin, we met a couple who have come here every year for 12 straight years.  They live in New York, and usually do Christmas here with their family. They are also thinking about buying a place, as it has a stable government and nearly no crime.  It is that kind of place.  It is quiet.  It is calm.  It is damn near the closest thing to paradise I myself have found.  I’ve seen some other types of paradise, but that is for another time.  It is the perfect place to unplug and forget about life for at least a day or two.  Work on your tan, drink some rum in a proper setting, listen to the ocean and feel the softest sand between your toes.

A map of the island with notable beaches marked

A map of the island with notable beaches marked

View from the pool onto the beach of Barnes Bay

View from the pool onto the beach of Barnes Bay

Barnes Bay as seen from The Viceroy

Barnes Bay

Half Shell Bar

Happy Hour at Viceroy’s Half Shell Bar

Half Shell Bar

The Viceroy as seen from Half Shell Bar on Barnes Bay

The Viceroy from the beach of Barnes Bay

The Viceroy from the beach of Barnes Bay

El Presidente Beer at Blanchard's. Paradise

El Presidente Beer at Blanchard’s. Paradise

White sand and blue water of East Shoal Bay

White sand and blue water of East Shoal Bay

Los Olivos, CA

People have a tendency to picture a small town in similar ways.  Where everyone knows each other, the diner is the center of gossip, and not much happens on a daily basis.   Well, Los Olivos is in some ways like this.  If said small, bucolic town was surrounded by some of the most fertile vineyards in all of California. It is quaint.  The locals all do know each other. They do meet up, but at the R-Country Market, and actually a lot happens on a daily basis. It is the perfect get away, if you don’t really want to get that far away.  It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Santa Barbara.  Another of my favorite spots here in the Golden State.

There are other small towns around in wine country, such as Santa Ynez, Solvang and Buellton.  But I’ve recently enjoyed renting a house in Los Olivos, and enjoying a little of the  small town life.  The others all have bits and pieces of it, but Los Olivos has all you are looking for, and in walking distance.  I will cover the other areas at another time, so don’t fret.  You’ll get all my favorite wine and dine spots in the entire Santa Ynez Valley. And yes, one of the best things about Los Olivos is you once you park, you can eat and drink your face off without moving your car/bike/rental/tour guide.  It’s a perfect way to spend a day, or a weekend, and not have to worry about drinking and driving.  Within a few block radius is nirvana.   35+ tasting rooms.  Yes, 35++.  With varietals as varied as flakes of snow, from the Rhone, to Tuscany, to California.  I have some favorite “go-to’s” of course.  But all the tasting rooms are very inviting, and fun.  On a non-busy day, you can hang out, chat, and quite possibly try some “bonus” wines.  It is definitely the anti-big winery experience of the North.

There just happens to be some fantastic food happening as well. First off, find your rental house.  There are two main streets, Grand and Alamo Pintado.  You can’t miss the intersection as there is the All-American flagpole dead center.  It’s an easy ride anywhere around town if you have bikes, and some rental houses actually have bikes with them!  So park that car,  no need to drive anywhere.  There is food, grocery and most importantly wine within easy reach.

Although, first off, before you set those keys down and forget about them, you might want to stock the fridge. That is best done at El Rancho Market down on the 246.  There is everything you need for your home away from home.  Everything from farm fresh eggs, a full butcher shop, to coffee, and a bottle of scotch.  I personally love their fresh roasted coffee.  You can’t beat it for the price.  Full deli counter, great cheese selection, produce, said butcher counter even a fresh sushi counter.  There is also a full selection of liquor.  Yes, you should probably get at least a bottle of Scotch. PS: (most rental houses have a hot tub).  And for breakfast check out their butcher counter bacon.  It does not disappoint.   There is the small grocer in Los Olivos, but El Rancho has the whole selection if you have the time.

In Los Olivos itself is said small grocery store.  And they are known for their BBQ.  The R-Country Market. They start their smoker and grill early in the morning with a lot of meat, Lots OF MEAT.  The sandwiches are worth a stop even if you are not staying around the area.   Their Tri-Tip Sandwich is divine.  There is also a nice selection of beers to drink if sitting on their patio and you are wined-out.


As far as tasting rooms are concerned, here is just a quick little planner in no particular order of some of my favorites.  They are all within walking distance to any part of town, whether for a day trip, or a whole weekend.

Saarloos And Sons  The Saarloos family has been farming this valley for many, many years.  They are an old school family run operation that loves to have fun, and make sure you do as well.  The wines are all terrific and run the gamut from a crisp, steely Sauvignon Blanc to a deep, hearty, age-worthy Cabernet.  The Cabernet will make you forget about the much more expensive Northern California ones!  A fun, rollicking tasting room with Rock playing, and a photo booth.  All the wines are named after family members, and you can also do a cupcake tasting.  YES, cupcakes because who doesn’t like cupcakes??  There is also a nice front patio to chill on and enjoy the afternoon.

Tercero Winery  One of the smaller rooms in town, but not to be missed.  Test your wine knowledge here, as Larry the winemaker doesn’t believe in giving you tasting notes.  Decide for yourself what you smell and taste.  Pretend to be a professional Sommelier and have fun.  He makes Rhone varietals that are some of the best in the valley.  I am preferential to the Mourvedre and Grenache.  There are also some nice Cuvee blends to play around with.  All the whites I can demolish.  Crisp, acid and fruit forward.  Great for those hot valley days.

Stolpman Vineyards  Family run.  No pesticides or herbicides.  Fresh, clean, delicious wines.  Drink now, or save for later.  One of the toughest decisions you must make the entire weekend.  Some different things going on as well.   There is a Sangiovese.  Yes, that Italian grape you’ve seen at your local pasta joint.  There are two to choose from. And one is unlike any you’ve had at your local joint.  It’s a Carbonic Sangiovese.  Simply put, it’s made similar to the famous French wine, Beaujolais Nouveau!  Fermented whole cluster to make a high acid, low sugar, easy drinking wine.  A true one of kind in the Valley. PS: there is also a very nice Syrah.

Blair Fox Cellars   Another small family run winery.  A true boutique winery if you will.  Well known for their Syrah.  Actually some very, very well done Syrah.  Worth a visit just to try the various bottles that are opened that day.  Also a super crisp, clean, acid and fruit friendly Vermentino.

Longoria Wines  Another smaller winery, but with a full array of wines available.  Quirky tasting room with both inside and out areas.  You can sit outside in the garden to taste whites, and then step inside to taste reds.  Inside you can also admire their blues and jazz inspired labels.  The labels themselves are works of art without the wine inside, add the wine, and it’s a win-win.   Some very balanced wines that harken more to classic European styles than American.  You can find something for anyone here!

Carhartt Vineyard  Yes, that Carhartt.  They’ve had a farm running since the 50’s.  And the name isn’t just for tough clothes anymore.  Another tasting room worth a visit just for the ambiance.  Since they opened up a small patio out back, you can sit and relax under the trees and listen to some kickn’ tunes.  Sit back and relax as they come and pour the flight for you, and explain what you are having.  A very leisurely stroll though wine country.  They also run the gamut of some Rhone varietals that are very well done.  They have a very nice Sangiovese as well.  Again, this is a fun place, with great wines.

Tessa Maria Wines  The daughter of famed Santa Ynez local/Hollywood Star Fess Parker, Tessa makes some terrific new world versions of some of the same varietals  you taste around town.  Another small intimate tasting experience with a terrific Sangiovese that I love.  Also a worthwhile Vermentino.

And then some other’s that I enjoy and worth a quick note:  Consilience/Tre Anelli   Epiphany Cellars   Qupe Wine Cellars  and who could forget Coquelicot Estate Vineyard which has a huge back garden area AND a bocchi court.  Perfect way to end the afternoon……..

Then, there is dinner.  If you are staying in town.  Two choices.  Two GOOD choices.

Petros  The restaurant in the Fess Parker hotel.  Also good for a strong cocktail if you want something other than wine or beer.  As one might guess from the name, yes, it is Greek.  I have not eaten there since my trip to Greece, but I did enjoy it prior to the trip.  A nice selection of simple Greek dishes.

Sides Hardware and Shoes  Have you not been to the area in a while?  Well Brother’s Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern in the old stagecoach stop closed.  They reinvented themselves here.  Smaller.  Streamlined.  Excellent.   You won’t be getting any real hardware or shoes.  But some really, really well done food.  Good service, good food.  A perfect compliment to a long day of wine and cheese.

Mammoth Food and Wine 2014

Hey all!!  Just so as you know, this year the Mammoth Food and Wine Fest is bigger and better than ever!  Hopefully I will get to see many of you up there this year.  If you’ve never been, Mammoth Lakes, CA is amazingly beautiful in the summer.  (some say even nicer than the winter, but that is up for discussion).  If you have never been, this is a perfect opportunity for a visit.  There are many dining and housing options, and even the local brewery, Mammoth Brewing Company.  AND the road to Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls is OPEN, as once the snow falls, the road is closed to all motor vehicles except snowmobiles.  Access to all the lakes is also open for fishing, hiking and camping.

Devil's Postpile in the Eastern Sierra

Devil’s Postpile in the Eastern Sierra

Rainbow Falls in the Eastern Sierra

Rainbow Falls in the Eastern Sierra










But I digress, the Food and Wine Fest is July 11-13 2014  AND the tickets go to charity, helping out the music and arts in the Eastern Sierra, one of the most gorgeous settings in the US of A.  There is still time to get tickets and housing.  There is everything from high-class hotel settings, to homey condos, to all the airBnB type options.  And since the town is on the quaint side, there really is nowhere bad to stay.  You can even get out of town to the more rustic options around in the mountains.  Bring your bikes and you don’t need to move your car all weekend, because there is a bus and shuttle service which transports people all around town, Gratis!

A small rundown of the events.  In a coup for wine lovers, we have the makers of the movie that chronicles Sommeliers attempting the MASTER SOMMELIER exam, SOMM to show a screening!  There will also be a Q&A.   It’s in the village, and makes for a fine opening night Thursday the 11th.

On Friday I will be involved in the always fun and tasty BATTLE OF THE BURGERS!!!  Many of you know, I am a bit of a Burger crazed man, and have won some competitions in the past, and after not winning last year here, I am stepping up my game.  Hint: Making my own buns!  Here’s my profile  and you can check out the other Burger Battle chefs, and all the information you need for a succesful visit at the official Mammoth Lakes website

Burger Battle 2013, Mammoth Food and Wine Fest

Burger Battle 2013, Mammoth Food and Wine Fest

Friday evening finds another lovely night spent in the village, after the Burger Battle, with a wine walk, where you can mingle with other winos and meet some of the winemakers who are in town pouring their wines for the Festival.  You can also check out the many restaurants, bars and stores that abound in the village.  It’s a good place to pick up a memento of your trip to the High Sierra.  And if the wine walk isn’t enough for you, the local Mammoth wine bar The Sidedoor will be open for all your eating and drinking needs!  The owner Shields is a big supporter of the Festival, and helps recruite some of the amazing winemakers!

Saturday is the big day with the huge GRAND TASTING with every winery pouring along with Mammoth Mountain Brewing Company.  You will not go away hungry or thirsty.  It is an event to behold.  As culinary teams all make different dishes for the crowds to taste and vote on.  And unlike many “larger more famous” mountain Food and Wine Fests, here you can interact not only with all the attendees, but all the Chefs and Winemakers!  You don’t need an appointment to try and chat.  Just walk right up and say hey!  There is also an amazing auction at the Grand Tasting with some all kinds of marvelous items to bid on, like private dinners, trips to the mountains and stashes of wine!

Check out the Food and Wine website, as there are also private dinners, seminars, and lots of wine to be not only be drunk, but taken with you!  Some of the top wineries in CA will be present, but also some talented small producers.  While some of the amazing Chefs include Bruce Kalman, Nyesha Arrington, Richard Haake, Josie Le Balch, Ray Garcia and Matt Toomey.

                        JUST ANNOUNCED!!



Mammoth Lakes – The Mammoth Food & Wine Experience (taking place July 11 – 12, 2014) has been notified byWorld Food Championships that the winner of the 2014 “Best-of-the-Best-Burger Battle: 405 vs. 395” is anOfficial Qualifying Entrant in their November competition in Las Vegas.  Now in its third year, the World Food Championships is the ultimate culinary competition featuring more than 500 competitors in nine categories, from around the world.  Participation is by invitation only–and contestants must win to get in.

“We were very excited to open the mail last week and find the notice along with the golden ticket that is awarded to the winner of our Burger Battle,” stated Event Manager Nora Urdi.  “Including our Mammoth Food & Wine Experience Burger Battle in its second year is a credit to the event and its participants.”  Only 50 entrants worldwide are automatically accepted into the Burger Battle portion of the 2014 World Food Championships.

The Burger Battle event in the Mammoth Food & Wine Experience is a fun kick-off to the weekend’s festivities, and a great way to get people excited about a weekend of food and wine events supporting the Mammoth Lakes Foundation.  Chris Lucchese of Off-Track Cooking in LA made an early commitment to return–he participated last year.  A multi-time winner of the Los Angeles Times’ own Burger Battle, Lucchese is hard at work perfecting this year’s burger entry.   The added component of a possible trip to Las Vegas for the World Food Championship has raised the ante!

He was joined early by Chef Jason Hoeltzel of CJs Grill in Mammoth Lakes.  Throwing their respective hat into the ring shortly after–and before hearing about the possible entrance into the World Food Championships in November, were Steve Miller, Grill Chef at Rock Creek Lakes Resort in Rock Creek and Rena McCullough of Ohana’s 395 Food Truck/Catering in Lee Vining.

Last year’s winner, Chef Matt Toomey, returns this year as a celebrity judge along with Brad Metzger a Los Angeles based authority in Hospitality Recruiting and Human Resources, and Sean Turner of Mammoth Brewing Company–who is providing the liquid libations at the Friday morning, July 11th competition.  Tickets for the “Best-of-the-Best Burger Battle: 405 vs. the 395” are available at

Come celebrate a great cause, cheer on your favorites, and help kick off the 2014 Mammoth Food & Wine Experience by participating in the Best-of-the-Best-Burger Battle-405 vs. the 395!  We’re going to Vegas, baby!

Santorini and Wine

Santorini, Greece


Traveling to a foreign land, especially an island is always an exciting proposition.  But your mind usually pictures the tropical islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific.  But an island like Santorini is a whole other ball of wax.  Hot, dry and absolutely stunning.  A postcard view nearly everywhere you look.  It is the perfect storm of history, leisure, food and wine.  There is literally something for everyone.  Especially when it comes to Food and Wine!  And now, even Beer, as there are not one, but two breweries on the Island now!  And both making terrific suds, but more on that later.


Any land where there are traditions that are still used today,  especially ones Centuries old, you know you are in for a treat.  Wine has been grown and drank here for those said Centuries.  And they are doing very, very good things with their grapes.  Which surprises many people in the States, because one does not see very many, if any Greek wines, on restaurant lists.  Well trust me, they know what they are doing.  In a week I drank many excellent local wines.  Actually I don’t think we had one bad one!  Now you may be picturing a tranquil field with rolling hills behind, and row after row of vines.  Well, you would be in the wrong vineyard my friend.  Here there are a smattering of vineyards around the lowlands on the Eastern side of the island and the Northern plain.  The vines are not trained in rows, or as some know it, VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning)  You know, those trellises that run row after glorious row in places like Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Mosol and so on and so on.  Here because of the heat, relentless summer sun, and also the lack of natural water supplies, it’s an island remember, they bush train their vines.  It is done in hot and dry environments, like South Africa and certain areas of Australia.  There are two designations here.  A PDO, Santorini, and a PGI, Cyclades.

A vineyard on Santorini

A Bush Trained vineyard on Santorini


Basically, you don’t so much have vines, as one pictures a vine.  You do however have a bush, or small shrub.  There are even some wineries that have their vines in a nest configuration.  Yes, like a bird’s nest.  Except a really, really large and deep one. If you have ever been to Alaska, they are very similar to Bald Eagle’s nests you might find there.  Except that they dot the landscape all over the vineyard. For “Nest” trained vines, they let them grow in a circle, ala the nest and train them to basically sit on top of the old wood.  Some of the nests have old wood on the bottom that can be up to 80 years old.  They just prune back the new growth each year.  As the spring hits and the vine comes back to life, they get it to continue in a circle, then as the grape clusters start, they lay them down into the nest.  This protects the grapes not only from the sun, wind and heat, but also any pests or animals that like grapes.  Speaking of pests, one of the most evil, Phylloxera never reared it’s head underground here.  Since it is an island far from the mainland, that pest never made its way here.  So there are still some original rootstocks around, with vines that are 60-150 years old in places!

Typical "Nest" Style VIne

Typical “Nest” Style VIne


The above vine is from Estate Argyros, where they have been making wine since 1903 and now with a 4th Generation winemaker.  They are traditional winemakers and grow original Greek grapes such as the most famous white, Assyritko, as well as Aidani, Athiri and Mavrotragano.  They make still wines from these, and also make the naturally sweet wine of Santorini, Vinsanto.  I had the pleasure of trying many of their wines, and two differently aged Vinsantos.  They were magnificent and showed the terroir of the island.  Very volcanic soil, hot and dry.  The wines all have lovely acid notes and fresh fruit on the nose and palate.  The Vinsanto has natural sweetness from the picked grapes being dried under the hot sun for up to two weeks.  There is no cheating and adding sugar juice or any of the tricks of the trade ie Chaptalization.  The Vinsanto is then aged in French Oak for up to 20 years.  We luckily got to try the 12-year-old, and the 20!  The 20 is amazing, with sweetness and some residual sugar, but not overly sweet.  It can easily be sipped solo, or paired with a lovely dessert.  We brought a bottle back to the States with us, and I’m waiting for a special occasion to pop that baby open!  They blend it only after aging, so they can get their blend perfect to their secret recipe.  With deep amber color, as one would expect.  A terrific balance of sweetness and acidity.

12yo and 20yo Vinsanto for tasting

12yo and 20yo Vinsanto for tasting

The other wines they had for tasting we enjoyed as well.  Their PDO wines of Santorini are hand harvested.  They make a few different styles of the local Assyrtiko, some are 100% stainless fermented, some get a touch of French Oak and steel, and some are 100% oak fermented.  I prefered the ones with just a touch of oak.  You still get the native characteristics of the grape, but the wood brings out more of the earthiness.  Just a delightful wine that pairs well with local seafood.  Talk about a match made in heaven!  We also learned some of the aged whites pair nicely with lamb as well.  The red we tried, Mavrotragano is deep dark ruby.  Aged in oak, and full-bodied.  In the same vein as the more powerful Napa Cabs, but with a bit more finesse.  This was another bottle that found its way into my suitcase.   I got to taste it, but am more excited to pair it with a big steak and see how this baby holds up.  I am sure it will do just fine.  We also got to try their Atlantis brand wines as well.   Kind of the starter wines for the Estate.  Lower priced and more of blends, we saw some of them on wine lists here, and they are well worth the reasonable price tag.  Easy drinking, but still with a bit of the terroir complexity the other wines have.

Wines of Estate Argyros

Wines of Estate Argyros

Wines of Estate Argyros

Wines of Estate Argyros



Next on our island wine tour is Gaia, pronounced Yaa-A.  It’s literally right down the road from Argyros, and still a bit in development at this location.  They recently moved their island winemaking facilities into an old tomato canning factory.  AND….. it’s right on the beach.

Wine tasting on the beach

Wine tasting on the beach

A black sand, lava rock beach.   One of the most stunning locations for wine tasting I have ever been to.  They are relatively new winemakers here, and also own a winery on the Peloponnese peninsula.  They are only growing Assyrtiko on Santorini presently, as their other vineyards produce their other wines.  But they are working on new facilities on the island for more local production.  We tried both of the Assyrtikos, one fermented in oak, and the other steel.  Both use wild fermented yeasts which I really appreciate.  It takes not only know-how, but also some serious confidence to use wild yeasts.  They also don’t manipulate the temperature with this wine, and let it all happen naturally, in both the French Oak and tank.  Besides different versions of the Assyrtiko grape, we tried their Rose, made with Agiorgitiko grapes, also a traditional Agiorgitiko aged in new French Oak and with no chilling or filtering.  And of course, their Vinsanto.  There was even a bonus of a vinegar tasting they make that is barrel-aged.  The vinegar actually pairs perfect with the olive oil we brought back from Italy.  It is truly unique.

Gaia wine tasting

Gaia wine tasting


Domaine Sigalas

Our next and final stop on the wine tastings was Domaine Sigalas on the Northern Plain of Ia.  It was founded in 1991 and they grow the traditional grapes of Assyrtiko, Aidani, Athiri, Mandilaria and Movrotragano.  They had the most “California” style tasting room set up around the vineyards.  And they like to show them off, as they are experimenting with trellising and VSP.  There are still the regular bush trained vines as well, with only a small section reserved to the “new technique”.  They also have a small menu of excellent Greek dishes like eggplant, tomatoes, meats and local cheeses.  Here the tasting is not for the faint of heart.  You can get upwards of 14 wines to taste.  They also have PDO Santorini wines and the lesser PGI Cyclades.  And again, they also have some very old vines.  A lot of theirs are well over 60 years old.  You can really taste the nuances of the Assyrtiko grape with their wines.  We started off with 6 different bottles that used different techniques to turn the grapes into wine.  There is both stainless steel tanks and French Oak used in different quantities as well.  The single vineyard stainless steel wines I really liked.  A Lot.  I believe that a few might have also found their way back into my cellar here in California.  The reds they make were also very, very good.  Some of my favorite that I drank on the island.  Their Mavrotragano is a very complex wine with lots of ripe, red fruits on the nose, and a touch of French Oak to mellow out the harsh tannins.  Easy drinking wines that paired well with the meats and cheeses we had.   There was one that also had some Mandilaria in the blend.  A very, very smooth wine.  All in all a very successful tasting, as we got a full view of the variety this island holds.

A very unique terroir, what with the soil, the heat, the lack of water, all makes for some excellent wines.  So if you find yourself looking for something different this summer, look for some Greek wine, namely something from Santorini.  They are perfect for a hot summer day and a BBQ.  The whites are crisp and easy drinking, and the reds hold their own when paired with some grilled meat.   And if you find yourself at one of my grill sessions this summer, you might even luck out into trying one I brought back!!



Oh ya!  There is also BEER!!!  There are two breweries on the island.  Santorini Brewing Company, which has a tasting room at their brewery on the South-Eastern edge of the island, South of the airport.  It is a small facility, that they were renovating when we visited.  But, we still did a tasting.  Terrific beers, such as Yellow Donkey, a lighter easy to drink that is slightly bitter with citrus notes, perfect for a hot day.  Then there is Red Donkey, a bit of a more hoppy beer, but still tasty and easy to drink.  As well as Crazy Donkey, an IPA, the first and only IPA produced on Santorini.  It’s a fun little side trip while visiting Gaia and Estate Argyros, as it’s on the main road between the two!


The second Brewery is Volkan.  It doesn’t have a tasting room as of this time, (May 2014) but I fell in love with their Blond.  It is one of the most easy drinking beers, yet still packed with flavor I’ve ever had.  I drank many of these.  They also make a dark black wheat lager, but I did not see it while there.  It is a true “Local” as they source their ingredients from the islands, if not all from Santorini.





You can also follow the whole photo journey thru my PhotoBucket


Trois Mec

imageHidden in a strip mall, underneath the prior occupant’s pizza sign is some of the most cutting edge, flavor packed, creative dishes happening in Los Angeles at this moment.  The creative trio behind it are some of the most well-known chefs in the city.  Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.  I’m not going to get into their history’s, but these guys know a thing or two about cooking great food.  And both my times here I left very, very pleased.

It is a tiny place inside, intimate, open and busy.   You must sign on to their website and buy tickets ahead of time for the tasting menu.   That’s it.  Show up and eat.  Eat WELL.  The menu changes often, to the whims of what is in season, and mostly what Ludo is inspired by.  It is usually five courses.  75.00$.  Wine extra.  Your ticket pays for the food, tax and gratuity.  Done and done.  But of course, one must pair wine with such exquisite food. That will run you an extra 49$.  It then doesn’t feel as big of a hit on the wallet when your food is already paid for.  There is a full wine list, which runs into the very, very expensive French realm.  So you can go real big if you so desire.  Last night we opted for the pairing.  There are some really smart, nice, small production biodynamic French wines here.   There was a Rose from Tavel.  A Riesling from Alsace.  A very nice Languedoc.   All paired very nicely with the food.

There was also two supplements to the food menu.  And of course we ordered them.  You truly only live once.   There was a Mushroom broth, coconut water, pine, hazelnut and egg yolk dish for 12$.  Also a Truffle grilled cheese, buttermilk maple and campfire ice cream which was an additional 9$.  It was a 50/50 outcome.  The grilled cheese with the buttermilk maple sauce and ice cream was out of this world.  It was added after the fourth course and before the dessert.  It was on another plain of existence.  Excellent.  The amount of flavors on this plate was second to none.  I actually HAVE met a grilled cheese I have not liked, and this was the opposite end of the food universe.  Delicate, yet hard.  Easy to eat, yet a want to savor.  I.  Loved.  It.   Now, the mushroom broth, not so much.  Across the table not a hardy like from any.   The flavors were almost there.  Almost.  The off-putting part was the dried mushrooms that stayed hard and crunchy in the broth.  It reminded some of say, something that ate in college that took one on a journey.  Which made them unable to consume, let alone enjoy.  The egg yolk was also totally lost in the broth and strong woodland flavors, and I am a massive mushroom AND egg yolk fan.   Did.  Not.  Like.

Alas, even with the miss on the broth, a truly unforgettable meal.  It was stunning in its simplicity, yet complex in the depth and amount of flavors.  They start you off nice, with a few little snacks that get your palate warmed up, and makes you stomach yearn for more.  This is not for the flavorless consumer.   You come here for big and bold, and distinct.  No where else do you get these dishes.  No.  Where.

Here’s a general run-down of our courses: Avocado with sushi rice, salt cod cream, lime and cilantro.  Terrific.  A bunch of seeming unattached flavors that melded together to sing to my palate.   It was TERRIFIC!  I love me some salt cod, and this cream added a touch of denseness, in a good way, to the flavors.   Next was the hit of the day, the beef tartare dish.  As with the grilled cheese, I love this dish, but can be done poor.  Here however, it is aced to perfection.  Rare Beef, grilled yogurt, fermented black walnut, and caramelized eggplant.  The mix of flavors almost tricked me to think the beef was not raw.  It sung.  The eggplant was the best, most creative use of that ingredient I have ever had.  And I ate a lot on my last trip to Italy and Sicily.  This dish made me expel a rather muted FUCK.  It was that good.  I hope for your sake you get there while this is on the menu.  Then another epic dish, a play on mac and cheese, yet another favorite of mine.  Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, and salers.   Another unique dish that played on known flavors and used them in a different way.   It was also very delicate, but packed with flavor.  Salers is a French cheese from a volcanic region in Central France.  I loved it all.  There was a soft texture to the potatoes, but the onion and bonito added a bit of texture.  Again, Terrific.

We finished with a Wood grilled lamb belly, green beans, parsley, clam and garlic oil.  On the surface, straightforward.  But yet again, it have layer after layer of well-rounded flavors.  This was followed by that grilled cheese, which was followed by dessert.  An Apple and miso sorbet with caramel granita and sorrel.  Yet another success.  Not overly sweet, or sugary, or pedestrian.  A perfect finish to an amazing meal.  One friend thought this was the best meal she had ever had.  And it definitely is up there.

The service is professional, yet youthful and fun.  The chefs bring dishes over to your table when complete, and explain them.  Your water glass is always full.   Your napkin is folded when you use the loo.  It’s all in a very upbeat atmosphere.  There are only about 25 seats in the place, and it feels like you can reach right into the kitchen.  Which you can if you sit at the counter.   This is one of the places you need to do at least once.  It is not just dinner, it is an experience.  Live a little and throw your inhibitions to the wind and eat well.

Go, create an account.  Buy a ticket.  Take the ride and relax.  Leave the cooking to them.  (and the wine)


As you’ve all known, I’ve been studying with Dionysus, the god of Wine, and it’s all not filled with fun.  There is some studying and a lot of reading to do.  And plenty of blind tastings.   Which is what you should try sometime if you have an affinity of enjoying wine.  Why not kick it up a notch??

I mean, Wine is one of the world’s great beverages that has been around for centuries.  All across Europe there is evidence that people have been drinking wine for as long as there have been cultures clashing.  And today, there is a massive market in Wine.  What with technology, science and this little thing called “climate change” there are more and more people planting vines and making wine than any other time on the planet.  There are specialized degrees, websites, and conferences on and about everything Wine.

Which brings me to the topic of the home consumer.  Someone who isn’t sure who or what they really like.  Start taking notes.  Yes, notes.  And no, it’s not like school, nor does it make you a nerd or a snob.   There is only one way to really hone your palate and find out more about the types of wines around the world, and what makes your taste buds hum.  Then you can take this notes to your local wine shop, and yes, you should have a non grocery store/liquor store you buy your wine at.  Someplace with true professionals who can steer you in the direction you want to be.

I have been studying off and on for the better part of two years now, and am still learning and surprised all the time.  Tasting wine is the only way for you and your palate to be in sync.   Better yet, go to your local wine shop and have them “brown bag” a couple wines for you.  Go home, leave the bags on, like a 1980s era Saints fan and taste the wine without knowing what it is.  Again, take some notes and write down what you smell, what you taste, how it reacts in your mouth, your overall thoughts.  Remember, smell is one of the most, if not the most important aspect of tasting wine.  You can really get a good vibe off the smells, and start to make some conclusions.  Most importantly, take some notes.  When you can’t take it anymore, uncover the bottle and see if you are surprised or not.

One thing I try to avoid, and you might want to shy away from are those annoying notes at your chain wine stores and in tasting rooms.  Don’t let them tell you what to taste and feel.  As you get to know and trust your palate, make your own conclusions.  You know if you taste “bubblegum dreams with hints of lavender laying on a bed of rustic plums”  Bullshit!   One thing I have learned is that every palate is different.  There are some hold and true aspects, a CA Syrah will have black pepper and black fruits.  Yes, that is the grape, and how winemakers let it express itself might change.  But overall the broad strokes will always be there.   Do you taste “blackboard chalk”  maybe, maybe not.   It doesn’t mean you are wrong.  Some tasting rooms what to have the upper hand and explain so in depth, they take your taste buds right out of the equation.

Try Wine.  Taste Wine.  Enjoy Wine.  Find out what you like, what you don’t like.   It’s not rocket science.


Now go get many, many bottles and enjoy.   With or without a spit bucket!  Step out of your comfort zone.  Try something new and unique.  As I said there is so much new happening with wine nowadays, you can taste and try something new every day.   Check out New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.   Or Torrontes from Argentina.  Whatever you do, just enjoy yourself.


Stay tuned to my posts both here and on Twitter for info about upcoming dinners and tastings I will be doing in my newly remodeled back yard.


photo (8)



O Banh Mi

This is my new favorite sandwich in all of the Los Angeles area.   They have only a few, and they are Vietnamese style, and are amazing.

Now I have never been to Vietnam.  I’m not even sure what all is totally authentic Vietnamese food.  There are a few places in our neighborhood that I think have “gringo” Vietnamese.  I would love to one day travel there, and experience it all for myself.  I have seen my fair share of TV shows on the area.   So I know that they are not afraid of bold flavors, and mostly giving you bang for your buck.

There are only 6 sandwiches until Friday, when there is a magical 7th.  The Roast Pig.   Yes a Roast Pig Sandwich that is divine.  You can ask for a small side of gravy.  A cross between a gravy and au jus.  On top with a few drops of Sriracha.  A perfect sandwich.

O Banh Mi Menu

O Banh Mi Menu


Starting with the most important part of any sandwich, the bread.  They use a super soft, crunchy on the outside baguette.  Not too bready, just the right amount of crunch to soft.   Perfection.  Not too many parts inside either.  You get a little bit of everything in each bite.  Some bread, some sliced cucumber, some pig, some pepper, some herbs.   Now, I’ve only had two different sandwiches.  In multiple times there, if it’s during the week, I get the Shredded Lemongrass Chicken, and on Friday’s it’s the Roast Pig.

There are two salads mentioned, but I’ve never known anyone who’s had one.  Let alone being in the shop and seeing one.


It’s a perfect little neighborhood spot.  I’ve seen a few of the same people there multiple times.  You can nearly miss it along this section of Hyperion Avenue.   Almost hidden behind a large tree.   Just look for the two small tables and chairs on the sidewalk.  With a few more seats inside, that’s it.   You can easily miss it, but you don’t want to.  It’s that good.  They are at 1997 Hyperion and are only open from 12-3.  And if you want that awesome pig, get there early.


O Banh Mi



Mammoth Food & Wine Fest 2013

Tasting tents in the High Sierra

Tasting tents in the High Sierra

This year was the third annual Mammoth Lakes Food and Wine Fest.  It’s a charity for Education and Arts in the Eastern Sierra.  And it is a lot of fun at 9000 feet above sea level.  If you’ve never been up to Mammoth Lakes, the summer is just as fun as winter.  You can actually climb all the hills and mountains that are normally covered in snow.  There is even some snow left if you want to hike up and see some in July.  I’ve actually skied on the 4th of July a few times there.

Ahhh, I digress.  The Fest.  It’s three days of food, wine, and seminars.  Just a short hop from Los Angeles, they tend to get some great Chef talent from Southern California each year.  This year there was Michelin Starred LA Chef Josiah Citrin, La Jolla Chef Jason Knibb, Chef Joseph Miller from Venice Beach, Chef Bruce Kalman who was executive chef of The Churchill and has now started Bruce’s Prime Pickle Company, Chef/Owner Brian Lenzo of Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood, some Chef’s from Mammoth, and myself.  Yes, little ‘ol me in with such esteemed Chefs.

There are actually some very good places in town for food.  For a small mountain town, there are terrific dining options.  Thusly, there are some talented Chefs.  There are also some great places for terrific wines.  So it’s a no-brainer that the town puts on a great Food and Wine Fest.  Especially with all the great CA wines at our disposal.  This year there were upwards of 30+ wineries pouring.  As well as Mammoth Brewing Company pouring their beers with altitude.

Some of the events included a Burger Battle that I was a part of, and that local Chef Matt Toomey won.  There were seminars about trout, salting and curing, pickling, and wine seminars with Riedel and one about Rose.  There was a wine walk in town, at the Village with all the restaurants also open.  Who doesn’t like Wine and Meat, because there was an Argentine Asado dinner with wines from Argentina.  I took part in the Grand Tasting on Saturday making paella with other Chefs, and a competition between CA culinary schools.  Followed by more wine seminars.  A full weekend of fun in the sun.  There was also an auction for the charity with everything from Wine to Trips to Food Experiences.

All in all a fun weekend.  I got to meet some amazing chefs and talk with them.  I met many lovers of good food and wine.  It was a terrific time.  I didn’t win the Burger Battle, but had lots of good feedback.

I’ll write soon about the Restaurant scene up there, so if you plan on going up to Mammoth you can make some plans to try some of my favorite places.

Burger Battle


My Burger Team. Team OTC


Making Paella with the other Chefs

Making Paella with the other Chefs

Me and All-Star Chefs

Me and All-Star Chefs


All-Star Paella

All-Star Paella






Los Angeles Times Winner, Steakhouse Burger, 2013

As many of you may know, I am somewhat of a Burger fanatic; both cooking my own and going out for one.   That is why people always ask me which Burgers in Los Angeles I love the most.  That is a hard one to pick since  I like many.  As a matter of fact, I like nearly every Burger.  And as much as I like other Burgers, I like some of mine of the best.  There are many people who come from near and far for my Burgers when the call goes out that I’m grilling.

Which leads me to this post.  For the last three years I’ve entered the Los Angeles Times Food “Battle of the Burgers”.  My first entry in 2011 was a Pork Burger, the P5 which only got me into the finals.   In 2012 I entered the Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Egg (BLT & E) Burger, which was a winner and got me an invite to the Mammoth Food & Wine Fest this July 4th holiday weekend.

This year I went traditional, but still packed with flavor.  Using ground Rib Eye, maybe my favorite cut of meat on a cow and added some slowly reduced mushrooms in a Madeira wine sauce.  Top the burger with some caramelized onions.  Then take more Madeira and deglaze the onion pan and add it to a homemade spicy steak sauce.  Put it all together and you have a fantastic burger.

A burger that was a winner of the 2013 LA Time Battles of the Burgers competition!

Here is the article from the June 19, 2013 LA Times:

By Noelle Carter
June 19, 2013, 9:00 a.m.

“Our fourth of five finalists is Christopher Lucchese of Echo Park. With his steakhouse burger, “you can have your steak dinner served on a delicious soft bun.”  He writes:  “There is nothing better than a great rib-eye steak. It is probably my most favorite cut of beef, and makes a tremendous burger. Nothing says summer more than one grilling over an open fire. Now imagine you can have an entire steak dinner served on a delicious soft bun. Now mix in great steak sides, caramelized onions, a mushroom reduction, and homemade steak sauce. It is the ultimate summer delicacy. A rib-eye steak in a handheld delivery system!!”

This year, we received almost 50 submissions from readers and grill-masters across the U.S. and Canada. We asked you to vote for your top 20, and then we got down to testing.  Over 48 hours, we shopped (using a seven-page grocery list), prepped, cooked and grilled our hearts out testing a whole host of burgers (our Test Kitchen went through more than 20 pounds of meat alone, including hand-ground sirloin and salmon).  The results were judged by the Food staff, including editor Russ Parsons, restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, deputy editor Betty Hallock, Test Kitchen director Noelle Carter and Web producer Jenn Harris.

The five finalists and their recipes will be featured in the Saturday section on June 29. In the meantime, we’ll be giving a daily shout-out to each on our blog. Congratulations all!”


This is the recipe I used to create another winning burger.   I’ve tweaked it a little since the original went to the LA Times Food section, so I’ve nailed it even better than this.  Yes, my dear friends, even better.  And you can never trust that someone makes something exactly like you do.

Also, I will be having a BBQ soon at my house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.  So dear readers, if you want an opportunity to taste the real deal then Follow Me on Twitter @offtrackcooking to find out how you can score an invite.  P.S.  I am also putting in a pizza oven!

Don’t skimp on the ingredients.  Make sure you get Rib Eye Steak and good Madeira wine.  Get the good stuff because your ingredients will make the difference.  Trust me.  It will win you friends.



3 1/2 hours. Serves 6

Steakhouse patties

  • 2 1/2 pounds ground rib-eye steak (grind yourself, or have the butcher grind for you)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon powdered onion, or to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon powdered garlic, or to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large bowl, combine the ground steak with the salt, several grinds of pepper, the powdered onion and garlic powders, beaten egg, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and Parmesan cheese. Mix the ingredients together until combined, careful not to overwork. Cover and refrigerate the meat for 30 to 40 minutes to give the flavors time to permeate the meat.

2. Divide the mixture and form into 6 patties, making sure to indent the center of each patty so it does not plump up on the grill. Crack a little more black pepper over each patty and refrigerate until ready to grill.

Caramelized onions

  • 6 to 8 sweet onions, preferably Maui
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

1. Halve the onions and thinly slice. Place the onions in a bowl and toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat.

2. Warm a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add one-fourth cup olive oil and when the oil just starts to shimmer, add the onions. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring infrequently.

3. After about 20 minutes, stir in one-half teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper, along with the sugar. Cook an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the onions begin to caramelize, and their volume has reduced by more than half, 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat and remove the onions, leaving any leftover bits and juices in the pan (the pan will be used to make the steak sauce).

Mushroom reduction

  • 2 pounds mixed Crimini and Baby Bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Madeira wine

In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter and oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and garlic, cooking until the shallot is nearly translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and season with one teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, or to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 hours until the mushrooms are soft and reduced in volume by over half. Add the wine and, off heat, carefully light a match over the wine to burn off the alcohol. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes, stirring frequently, to give the flavors time to combine. Remove from heat and place the mushrooms in a bowl.

Steak sauce

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup Heinz 57 sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon prepared wasabi
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Salt
  • 1 cup Madeira wine

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ketchup, Heinz 57 sauce, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, soy sauce, yellow mustard, wasabi, Sriracha, chile powder, onion powder, 10 grinds of black pepper and salt to taste to make the steak sauce base.

2. In the pan used to caramelize the onions, warm up the leftover bits over medium heat. When warm, add the wine and scrape any flavorings from the bottom and sides of the pan.

3. When the wine is warm, add the steak sauce base and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat so the sauce bubbles gently and cook, stirring frequently, for at least 20 minutes to marry the flavors. Remove from heat. This makes a generous 2 cups steak sauce, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe. The steak sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, about 2 weeks.

Assemble Your Burger

  • Steakhouse patties
  • 6 soft but dense burger buns or rolls
  • Steak sauce
  • Mushroom reduction
  • Caramelized onions

1. Remove the burgers from the refrigerator and set aside, away from direct sunlight in a cool place, to come to room temperature for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the grill.

2. Halve the burger buns and brush the bottoms with steak sauce.

3. Grill the burgers, brushing the tops with steak sauce after they are flipped. Just before the burgers are finished, add the buns to lightly toast. When the burgers are done, remove and rest under aluminum foil for about 10 minutes.

4. Add a large scoop of mushrooms to the bottom of each bun. Place a burger over the mushrooms and top with caramelized onions, then the bun top. Serve immediately.

When you’re finished your burger should look like this!

Steakhouse Burger


Mexican Food. 90026

Ya, this is something that has been a craw under my skin for many, many years. I moved to the 90026, Silver Lake neighborhood in 1994. I had been living in Pittsburgh. Now if you know much about Pennsylvania, it is not a hotbed for any type of food from South of the Border. So, I thought to myself, that I am in store for some AWESOME food. This area HAS to have amazing and authentic fare. I’m speaking of the sit-down restaurant with a full bar.  There are actually amazing taco stands and trucks in this area. But, to really appreciate the whole food experience, I like to sit down, have a good margarita,and enjoy the meal.  THAT, my dear friends, is the pain of my existence living in this area. There are literally no excellent sit-down Mexican restaurants. At All. And, I am not the only person I know who thinks this, my friends are always in discussion about this.  We can fight about the best taco or burrito.  But no such fight over the best restaurant.

Why is this so? There are a lot, a ton of sit down restaurants in this area. Why are they no good ones? I know this area has been gentrified the past 18 years. So that might be one reason. I was not quite the culinary juggernaut I am today. So my tastes and palate are much different today. But why would they go down so dramatically? We spent a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago driving though our neighborhood looking, looking, looking, for a fantastic lunch spot with the appropriate margarita’s.

There are taco stands.  Glorious, amazing tacos and burritos to gorge on.  Which I have done many, many times.  And not the hipster overpriced “manufactured” tacos that sprung up on Sunset.  I’m talking about authentic, delicious, INEXPENSIVE, tacos and burritos.  I’m talking about Guisados, I’m looking at El 7 Mares, I’m jonesing for Yuca’s (the original on Hillhurst), I have had a love affair with Tacos Delta, and also have even been known to cruise further down Sunset to Mexicali Taco Co on Figueroa.  These are all authentic food.   But alas, it is small plates and no liquor.  They are all great spots with food I love.   But they aren’t sit-down restaurants.

We failed in our sit-down restaurant quest.   That is the reason I started asking around to friends about this. And across the board, people agreed.  No one knew where to go.  I had drawn a big fat blank from my culinary EastSiders.

Let’s review. I can cruise down Sunset Boulevard between Dodger Stadium and Vermont Avenue, and on the side streets in between, and not find a delicious sit down Mexican restaurant that has a full bar. Because yes, we do like a nice cocktail with our lunch, or dinner. I mean I’ve seen beans that look like they’ve been re-fried and burned more times than Midwest tourists at Venice Beach. Pair that with an ice cream scooper scoop of plain elementary school rice and I’ll show you some terrible Mexican food. I mean who thinks this is good. Hard, bland rice? Seriously? Just because you give me a pound of it doesn’t make me happier. Especially if the rice has those little carrot bits in it. Didn’t like it as a kid, don’t like it now. Nothing says rice from a box like that. And melting a bunch a cheese on hard, overcooked beans does nothing for my appetite.

If we start on the far eastern end, we sit down at El Compadre. A place I had not been to in years, since we had a cockroach on the wall behind us and the manager seemed to care less. I’ve been back since, and the food has been good.  Just good.  Not terrible. Just ok. Filled the void of my hunger, but not enough to make me want to come back. I wouldn’t imagine that if I were to go to someone’s home in Mexico, I’d be served these dishes.   In a pinch it will do.

There are some others in Echo Park, Barragan’s and Rodeo, which I don’t fancy much.  To me, Barragan’s is like calling Sizzler an authentic Steakhouse.  I’ve had people tell me Rodeo is excellent.  I just don’t see it.  Again, it’s good.  It’s OK, and it’ll do in a pinch, but I don’t have cravings and need to go there.  I will admit that I have yet to be to Senor Fish which has popped up in this stretch as well.  I have been to others, and while it is quite tasty, it doesn’t meet my sit-down restaurant criteria in my eyes.  It is still more a taco-centric establishment.   Also nearby here is Costa Alegre which is good as well, not great.  Also only beer and wine.  So there goes that margarita.

Now as you travel West, there are some more options, none which strike me in a good way.  There is another place I’ve never been, but is also beer and wine only; Tarascos.  And I’ve actually never talked to anyone who’s been there.  I will investigate myself soon.  There is Alegria, which I used to frequent quite often.  Taking it out a lot as well.  And then they stopped allowing BYOB which I understand, but also the prices seemed to jump dramatically!  I ordered two burritos, chips, salsa, guacamole and paid through the nose.  It was a big turn off.  If I’m going to spend nearly 60 bucks I want more than this.  And you also can’t get a margarita.  Then there is much loved local main stay, El Conquistador.  Which I have been to more than one occasion, and serves a great mango margarita.  It is a sit-down restaurant, waiters, the whole nine yards.  But again, the food is just OK.  My last time there the rice and beans were so blah, beyond blah to a low depth of inedible.  Another turn off.  Which basically I can turn into the same thing at Casito Del Campo.  I’ve had some really good meals there, and some not so really good meals.  Nice people, good strong margaritas, good chips and salsa, just lacks the consistency to make me want to constantly go back.

Then there is my old, old, old amigo El Chavo.  I have spent many a night stuffing my stomach and liver with their food and libations.  Imagine my surprise when they did a little remodel, opened up the next door bar, and seemed to me like the food suffered.  Also, the prices seemed to jump.  I’ve seen this a lot, a place is popular with the locals, remodels, raises prices. (Lucy’s El Adobe I’m looking at you!)  El Chavo has a soft spot in my heart, as it taught me about Mexican food many, many years ago.  But has left me wanting the last few times I have been.

There is also a horrible chain restaurant across the street where I got dragged to watch a football game because they had special happy hour prices.  Boy, what a mistake.  That food was straight up terrible.  I was literally grossed out.  And learned not to trust this amigo on restaurant recommendations again.  There is a bar, there are TVs, that’s about it.  Leave them be.

My final critique is of the oft-beloved Mexico City on Hillhurst.  Again, another place I used to frequent many, many years ago.  And another place, as my palate grew refined, and more critical, realized this was yet another hit or miss.  One terrific meal can be followed the next day by a less than stellar plate.  And seems to have some crazy turnover.  I don’t think a month has passed without their help wanted sign being up.  That to me is another red flag.  Somethings amiss.  It has also seemed to get more greasy through the years.   Unless I didn’t mind it years ago.  Which could be the truth.  But if I’m going for greasy, I’m going in deep, into some good grease.  Not this kind.


Well, there it goes, my critique of our local food options in the Mexican Food genre.  There are great food movements happening all over the city, and owners are taking note.  Seems like some people are just content in the past.  Which I am not.  I want new, exciting, flavorful, delicious.  If you are doing tried and true recipes, do them excellent each and every time.