Surprise Closings: Chloe and Rocca

I've been so busy at my new job--launching TMZ.com, a news entertainment website--that I haven't even read my email; personal, professional or otherwise. And I'm ashamed. I painstakenly gathered up all my foodie contacts when I left LA.com and sent everyone notes saying "I'm not going anywhere...send me everything...tell me everything!" And they did. And I ignored them. But not on purpose, I promise. I haven't had time to read the LA Times, or the blogs, or Chowhound, which was such a daily habit in my life for the last several years, I feel naked without knowing what the 'hounds have recently discovered (or shredded, criticized, recommended...).

So today, finally catching up on life, I find out that two of my favorite non-regular-but-if-I'm-in-the-neighborhood places are closing: Rocca in Santa Monica and Chloe in Playa del Rey. I've dined several times at both places, a common recommend from me to anyone in need of a place to dine in either neighborhood. This is the kind of story I would've called the owners for, to find out the inside story on each had I had the time. But in the Times, Leslee Komaiko quotes Don Dickman, an owner of Rocca, saying that one of the other owners wanted out; Christian, chef/owner of Chloe, sighted lease issues.

Whatever the case may be, it's a loss on both counts. To me, Rocca had so much going for it. The food was so approachable in both cost and taste. I loved getting an inexpensive wine by half-caraffe so we could have something crisp and white for those dynamite garlicky roasted mussels, and something bold and red for whatever braised meat we decided on. This was a place I recommended over and over to friends who wanted something lively, not too expensive but delicious. I never did make it in for the Sunday or Tuesday night specials (Neopolitan ragu and roast pig, respectively), but they'll be open until New Year's Eve, so I'll make a point of it now.

Chloe, Christian Shaffer's charming Play del Rey cafe, was a special outing for me, as I live in Pasadena. But the few times I made the trek, I was never disappointed. The room was earthy, casual and neighborhood-bistro refined. The seasonal menu, exquisite. Shaffer's other restaurant, Avenue in Manhattan Beach, is worth a visit, too. But what other options are there in Playa? When you want something special?

Both of these restaurants had the backbone to become more than just a passing dish in the LA dining scene. The recipe for success was there: great atmosphere; needed in the neighborhood; unique, well-thought out, approachable menus.

Let's hope the owners have something new up their sleeves...


Thanksgiving: Just Desserts

In addition to hotel and other restaurants open on Thanksgiving, here are some tips for dessert. Sometimes it’s all about the sweets. This is the one time of year we can really go overboard. Might as well make it count!

Sweet Lady Jane
Mile-high desserts by the slice or whole cakes/pies to take along. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, pumpkin cheesecake. Know more on this Wednesday. 8360 Melrose Ave., (323) 653-7145

Susina Bakery
Pies, cakes, tarts, cookies. Cherry, apple, pecan pie; pumpkin, cranberry-orange, quince tart with hazelnut crumble; cranberry tart with hazelnut crumble; pumpkin cheesecake; hand-decorated sugar cookies. They also have the Italian cookie selection. 7122 Beverly Blvd., near La Brea. (323) 934-7900

Euro Pane
This little bakery owned by a La Brea Bakery alum is one of the best kept secrets in town, and it's in my neighborhood! Pumpkin pie squares available in bakery now, like mini pumpkin pies. But also her delectable pies are available to order for the holidays. 950 E Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828

Sprinkles Cupcakes
Pumpkin cupcake with cinnamon cream cheese icing is one of their specialty flavors. They usually change flavors every day, but this one will be on hand daily through the month of November. $3.25 ea/$36 dozen. Look for new flavors peppermint and chocolate-peppermint cupcakes for the December holidays. 9635 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310 274 8765

They make a cornucopia cake for Thanksgiving which might be a nice alternative to pies for the 'cake people' out there. Cake2Go can be ordered by calling 310-474-3072 or 888-4CAKE2GO.

Thanksgiving: Bring It Home

You're new potential mother-in-law is coming to your house for the first time. You're nervous because you KNOW she's a very, um, particular woman, and you want nothing more than to impress her with your culinary prowess. Except that you haven't advanced passed making a grilled cheese in the George Foreman, and even then you're lucky to not char it. You need help. These people are here for you.

Hotel Bel-Air
If you can’t make it to the tony Hotel Bel-Air for dinner, take the tony Hotel Bel-Air dinner to your home. The Turkey To-Go meal includes a 14-16 pound roasted free-range turkey, chestnut stuffing, giblet gravy, mixed veggies, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and a selection of pies and petit fours that serves up six people. $325. Must be ordered at least two days in advance to be picked up between 10am-4pm on Thanksgiving Day. Call Karla Triska at 310 943 6742 to place an order.

Shutters on the Beach
The beachside hotel offers a full turkey spread (turkey, gravy, ham, cranberry relish, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, yams, and pumpkin pie) for $50 per person. Deadline to order is Tuesday, November 22 by 5pm. Order hotline is thanksgivingtogo@shuttersonthebeach.com or by calling 310 899 1606. Pick up is between 10am-2pm on Thanksgiving Day.

Zeke’s Smokehouse
Both locations (Montrose or Hollywood) offer a down-home take-out meal; everything’s priced a la carte. Smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, pie. Call ahead to order.

Chef Neal Fraser and Pastry Chef Elizabeth Belkind will do the cooking for you, whether you need turkey with all the trimmings, or just some extra sides or a gourmet dessert. Complete assembly and preparation instructions accompany each order. All orders must be placed by Friday, November 18, and orders will be ready for pick up Wednesday, November 23 from 10am to 3pm.

Solar Harvest
Healthy Turkey Day feast to go includes turkey and all the trimmings for only $23 per person. Mary’s Brined Turkey (1/2 a breast, sliced, per order); Quince-Cranberry sauce; Yams; Whole Wheat Stuffing; Vegan Green Bean Casserole; 6-inch pumpkin pie. Take-out available on the Wed. before Thanksgiving.242 South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills

Real Food Daily
Salad, tofu turkey breast, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, all organic and vegan. Cost is around $30 per person. Orders must be picked up on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, by 7pm. Both locations (La Cienega in Weho; Santa Monica in SM)

Whole Foods
Most local Whole Foods markets have a “Holiday Headquarters” table (affectionately known as the “turkey table”) set up in the front of the store by Nov. 3. Stop there to order a full spread for six or two, which includes a Diestel Ranch turkey or a spiral ham with all the fixings. $99.99 for six; $39.99 for two.

Joan’s on Third
Orders must be placed by 4pm November 17. Pick up is November 23 between 11am-4pm. No Turkey, but any and all fixings like zucchini fritters with chili aioli, butternut squash, old-fashioned stuffing, turkey gravy, wild rice with pear onions and dried cherries; cranberry sauche; yams, mashed potatoes, etc.. Salads, dinner rolls, apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, mini pumpkins filled with gelato, cookes, and of course, Joan’s famous cupcakes. 8350 W Thirds St, 323.655.2285.

Thanksgving: Open Restaurants

Why bother cooking all day when so many restaurants will do it for you now? There used to be a time when the only places open on such a big holiday were hotel restaurants (even McDonald's closes!) Now there's Italian, French and German takes on the holiday.

Angeli Caffe
Evan Kleinman's Thursday night family-style dinners are a treat any time of year, and the Thanksgiving feast is no different. Look for turkey and giblet gravy, dried fruit stuffing, baked yams with ginger molasses, "too rich" mashed potatoes, faro salad with braised shallots, and apple pie or espresso chocolate pecan tart for dessert. You'll need reservations for the two seatings (3:30pm and 6:30pm). $40 per person. 7274 Melrose Ave., (323) 936-9086.

Four-course meal in the Valley. Choose what you want for appetizer and main course; items like butternut squash soup; wild mushroom ravioli with truffle sauce; hosue-cured prosciutto and gruyere cheese tart; braised lamb shank with polenta; barbecue salmon with corn-pumpkin succotash. More traditional fare includes roasted sage and shallot Diestel Ranch turkey roulade with apple, raisin, walnut stuffing; caramelized yams; cranberry chutney; mashed potatoes and gravy. $38 per person; $18 for kinds under 12. 12pm-8pm. 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818 784 2915

La Boheme
Four-course meal served in this dramatic West Hollywood restaurant (velvet curtains, huge fireplace, cozy nooks). Choose from seasonal oysters on the half shell; maple-glazed turkey with cornbread stuffing, orange-cranberry relish, glazed brussel sprouts; prime rib; succotash-stuffed acorn squash with orecchiette with four cheeses. 4pm-8pm. $38 for adults; $20 for kids. And if you miss leftovers, on Friday, they’re offering an a la carte “Day After Thanksgiving Menu” with a cold turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and mayo; French dip sandwich with gruyere; “waldorf” salad with chopped turkey; turkey pot pie. 8400 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, (323) 848-2360

Saddle Peak Lodge
The rustic lodge restaurant set in the Santa Monica mountains feels like you’ve gone over the meadow and through the woods… The four-course menu features choices like day-boat scallops with potato and celery root cake; mesquite-grilled venison chops with red Swiss chard and poached pears; winter squash ravioli with Chanterelles mushrooms; and naturally, turkey with country stuffing, mashed garnet yams and green beans. $68 per person; $32 for kids 12 and under.

La Cachette
Chef Jean Francois Meteigner’s holiday menu is four courses, including dessert. Items featured: butternut squash and corn soup; crudités with deviled eggs, beets in cumin dressing; carrots; main course is roasted organic turkey with chestnut and spinach dressing, corn gratin, mashed Yukon gold potatoes, mushrooms in thyme sauce. $58 per person; $25 for kids under 12. 4:30pm-9pm.10506 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310 470 4992

Traditonal American family favorites served at Suzanne Tracht’s swanky bistro. Items offered include chestnut soup with chickpeas; butter lettuce salad; oyster stew. The roasted turkey dinner is served with six different side dishes, all family style (just like home with no clean up!). $65 per person; $35 for kids under 12. 1pm-7pm. 8225 Beverly Blvd., 323 655 6566

Patina Group Restaurants
All are open on Thanksgiving: Patina, Zucca, Nick & Stef’s downtown; Pinot Provence in South Coast Plaza; and Pinot Bistro in South Coast Plaza. Menus all have prix fixe options.

The family-style Thanksgiving dinner features oven-roasted organic turkey, mashed potatoes, spaetzle, caramelized brussel sprouts, braised cabbage, pretzel stuffing, gingerned carrots, cranberry sauce, rapini. $35 pre fixe from 4pm-9pm. 2435 Main St. Santa Monica, (310) 399-6504

Cafe del Rey
All a la carte menu, with everything from lobster ravioli to roast turkey with chestnut stuffing. The view of sailboats bobbing in the water is a perfect backdrop. Plus there’s a fireplace in the bar, and a pianist tickling the ivories to set the scene.
4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, 310 823 6395

The Original Pantry
A classic since 1924. The place never closes! Serves a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, usually under $20. Open 24-7.

Locanda del Lago
which spotlights the cuisine of Northern Italy's Lombardy region featuring specialties from Milano and Bellagio on Lake Como. Three or four courses, or a la carte with optional wine pairings. Menu features items like: organic pumpkin soup with parmesan and toasted croutons; housemade chestnut pappardelle tossed with red wine braised lamb ragu; pan-roasted swordfish in aromatic herb crust over tomato-braised cannellini beans; roasted turkey stuffed with mild Italian sausage and chestnuts, finished with porcini mushrooms in white wine reduction served with sautéed green beans, mashed potatoes and house-made cranberry jam. 11:30am-10pm. Three course, $42 per person; Four course $54 per person; wine pairings an extra $18 per person. "Thanksgiving-To-Go" features the same turkey dinner on the restaurant's menu for $19.95 per person. Also available are individual pumpkin pies, whole pumpkin pies, and housemade gelato. "Thanksgiving-To-Go" orders must be placed by noon on November 22, and payment is due upon confirmation of order. Lago's entire menu is also available for take-home orders.231 Arizona Avenue., Santa Monica(310) 451-3525


Thanksgiving Out: Hotel Restaurants

I recently did a few spots on KCRW's "Good Food" program (which I LOVE doing; Evan is a blast) so it was a pleasure when producer Holly called me to see if I had any Thanksgiving ideas for an upcoming show. After so many years of pulling that kind of list together for websites like Citysearch and LA.com, yes, I have an idea or two for where to have dinner out, where to order a great bird, where to get a slew of side dishes so you're not chained to the stove all day.

This is a pretty comprehensive list, though I'm sure it's not every restaurant with Thanksgiving offerings. Just a good place to start if you need some help. Listen for my spot on the show on November 12, or it's always podcastable.

The first of three posts...

Hotels are always a good bet for holiday dining. And it's not always for visitors—many locals make it a tradition to dine in these dining rooms. For those families who have picky eaters, who can’t all decide on one thing, the hotel menus are often a good bet. There’s everything to choose from: vegetarian dishes, ham, seafood, prime rib and of course turkey for the traditionalists.

Belvedere at The Peninsula
A glamorous feast with a choice of house-smoked salmon with sweet potato salad; Dungeness crab with granny smith apple, wild rice and cranberry salad; truffle macaroni and cheese; crispy fried oysters with French lentil salad; Diestal Farms turkey with chestnut and cranberry stuffing, mashed potatoes; roasted arctic char with cauliflower puree; braised short ribs with roasted pumpkin parsnips and chanterelle mushrooms; and a dessert buffet. 11am-8pm; $69 per person; $29 for kids under 12. 9882 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 551-2888

Ocean & Vine at Loews Santa Monica
Sitting by the sea for the holiday. The menu is a tribute to chef Greg Wangard’s grandma. It features tempura squash blossoms with chioga beet salad; mixed green salad with strawberries; seared Hudson Valley foie gras with cranberry brioche; pumpkin bisque; turkey confit with German butterball potatoes and split green beans. Dessert sampling. $65 per person, wine pairings extra. 1pm-8pm. Also breakfast buffet from 7:30am-11:30am. Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, (310) 576-3180

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Pasadena
Three-course feast by chef Craig Strong, with classic jazz guitarist supplying entertainment. Some items: crab and vanilla bean salad with microgreens and passionfruit vinaigrette; seared diver scallops with asparagus and fresh fettucini; Guinea hen and foie gras; sea bass on saffron potato risotto; roast turkey with brioche stuffing, butternut squash compote, potato mousseline and sage gravy. $95 per person. 1401 S Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, (626) 577-2867

The Terrace Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington
No less elegant, just slightly more casual. The Terrace is near the pool area. Five-course meal with items like green lentil soup, warm spinach salad, lobster ravioli, pork loin, and of course turkey and all the trimmings. Dessert: Pumpkin pie wit cognac ice cream. 1401 S Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, (626) 577-2867

Whist at the Viceroy
Choose from items like kabocha squash soup with crispy sage and pumpkin seed oil; peekytoe crab cake with meyer lemon aioli; roast quail stuffed with foie gras and wild mushrooms, pomegranate seeds and arugula; free-range turkey with herb sausage stuffing, mashed garnet yeams; prime rib; New Zealand salmon; baby pumpkin filled with mascarpone polenta, roasted fall veggies; desserts like pumpkin pecan bread pudding. Standard evening reservations. $75 for adults, and $30 for children. 1819 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, (310) 451-8711

Oceanfront at Hotel Casa del Mar
Items to choose from include butter lettuce wedge salad with persimmon, grapes and spiced walnuts; herb-roasted wild mushrooms; hot smoked king salmon with baby beets; grilled center cut rib eye with Pt. Reyes blue cheese pasta gratin; and of course, free-range turkey with pecan corn bread stuffing, sweet potato puree and green beans.
$50 per person, prix fixe. 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica, (310) 581-7714

More to come...

It's Turkey Time Again

Well it's time for people to start talking turkey. I don't live near my family, so Thanksgiving means something completely different to me than it did when I was a kid. Everyone still gathers in Ohio--every aunt, neice, nephew, uncle, baby, cousin and grandparent-- while my 'boysband' (long-term live-together boyfriend who's like my husband) and I relax in our PJs most of the day and gorge on whatever I make here in Pasadena. Sometimes I miss being with everyone back east; other times it's just enough to be passed around the room to speak to every relative I haven't spoken to since last Thanksgiving on the phone. But I do miss it. So one way I make up for the family's absence is in the food I cook, especially on a holiday like Thanksgiving.

I make a turkey, but I brine the bird, which my mother or grandmother never did. I make fluffy stuffing laden with butter, celery, onions and fresh herbs. We always have sweet potatoes baked with an orange-brown sugar glaze, mashed potatoes, green beans (my family) and corn (his family). When I really want to taste home, I make my great-grandmother's 'kiffles'. Kiffles are these handmade crescent rolls, rich with sour cream and butter, topped with a crunchy Kosher salt and caraway seeds. When made right, they are addictive. Ok, even made so-so, they are addictive! Only a few people in the family have mastered it: my grandmother (the daughter-in-law of the original recipe holder) and her son, my Uncle John. My mom makes them OK, but her forte is in cake baking, not yeast breads. My brothers have attempted, but I wasn't around to taste them. It's a time consuming task, making the kiffles, but it's worth it.

I don't know where my great-grandmother's recipe came from. Anna was my grandfather Edl's mother, a stout, terse Austrian woman who treated us to Quaker Oats apples and cinnamon oatmeal every time we went to visit her. When I think of her, I see plum trees in a big grassy back yard, taste her short bread cookies with walnut topping, and smell a kitchen permeated with the yeasty, buttery smell of kiffles.