Pasadena Magazine’s Restaurant Callout: Little Beast

*This article was originally published in Pasadena Magazine.

Eagle Rock partisans have long yearned for a place like Little Beast. Its ambiance, established by a reconverted 1911 bungalow with a homey patio on Colorado Boulevard, is unfussy and sets an ideal scene for catching up with a friend over a glass of a slightly obscure, yet affordable, white wine complemented by bites of wild salmon tartare. Or a romantic candlelight dinner ending with a mason jar full of chilled salty chocolate pudding. On a recent Tuesday night, every table at the small independent eatery was full, and the sound of convivial murmurs and clinking glasses was at full volume. Owner, chef and South Pasadena resident Sean Lowenthal, and his wife and partner, Deborah Schwartz-Lowenthal, knew the community was ready for their progressive American comfort food when the pop-up dinners they hosted down the street at Le Petit Beaujolais sold out, despite not doing any publicity. Lowenthal’s cooking chops, and his penchant for American modern cuisine, were honed during his two-year tenure working as Chateau Marmont’s sous chef. He’s split the menu into two sections: “Small Plates,” with fiercely seasonal things such as juicy, perfectly ripe peach slices served with a generous dollop of creamy burrata cheese, and “Mains,” entrees including plump seared scallops atop a bed of buttery roasted cauliflower puree. For beerheads and soda aficionados, there is an adequate assortment of craft beers on draft as well a couple of bottles of cool artisan pop. But it’s very much expected that most diners will take advantage of Little Beast’s uncommon wine list, a selection that may range from a $6 glass of tart, low-alcohol Vinho Verde to an intensely fruity glass of 2009 Sangiovese.

My Big Fat Recap of the Pasadena Greek Fest 2011 at Santa Anita Park: PURO PINCHE PARI GRIEGO

OK, so I’ve never actually seen the movie where the pun to my title came from yet per se, but I did go to the Pasadena Greek Fest 2011 this last Friday night!

opa!
Opa!: La Culebra Greca?

This last weekend marked the 53rd annual celebration of the Pasadena Greek Fest fundraiser at Santa Anita Park. The event kicked off its OPAAA!!-intensive festivities Friday night and went on till’ Sunday night. Naah! Who am I? A legit reporter all of a sudden! Haha.

No but seriously, the event was pretty sweet. It attracted over ten thousand visitors last year, and then I saw why when I was there. Well, it probably doesn’t hurt that It only costs $5 to get in and most of the food once inside was affordable too.

lamb chops
Greeks love lamb: Marinated and grilled baby lamb chops with crispy fries.

metaxa
flamin cheese
flamin cheese money shot
Saganaki: Greek aged brandy tastes all the better when flamed with a chunk of cheese!

My favorite of the night was–without a doubt–the Octapodi, plate. Octopus is chopped and marinated in the famed Greek Anise liquor,Ouzo, then seared until crispy in a pan. It’s served with olive bread and marinated olives.

octopus

Joining me this evening in my gluttonous debauchery was the young, food-writing blood brother, Garrett Snyder of the Los Angelicious Times foodblog and L.A. Magazine hood. Professional hedonism warrants an almost-insatiable thirst, we were pretty damn thirsty and were treated to a couple of Greek brew-skies.

hillas beer
A couple of nice n’ frosty Hillas for ya’ boys?

Being modeled here by the beer booth’s attendant, April Kamar. The beer was a solid lager. The main flavor profile is toastiness, similar to any other international good lager. It was very easy-to-drink and hella refreshing, perfect to wash down the rich Greek offerings of the night.

greek dinner
The Greek dinner plate

Of the many food booths there, the dinner plate was the one with the longest line. The styrofoam box order came generously packed with just about everything, including my favorite Greek creation of all time, the flaky spinach pie known as Spanakopita! The bulging plate also came with some Pastitsio (kinda like the Greek version of Lasagna with ground beef, pasta and bechamel sauce, the eggplant version of that dish, Mousakka, some tomato sauce braised green beans, a beef shish kebob, long-grain rice pilaf, another little cheese flaky pastry, a nice Greek Salad and some Dolmathes, the Greek version of grape-leaves that are served warm instead of cold. Mmmm.

honey cake
pasta flora
There is ALWAYS room for dessert

As if my buddy and I weren’t about to burst already, we were quickly escorted to the pastry section of the event and schooled in the bad ass, buttery, delicate world of Greek pastries. My favorite was the Floyer, basically a big fat baklava blunt. The Pasta Flora was bomb too, a shortbread with a thin layer of apricot paste.

greek tray of pastries

And to wash down all the butter and sugar?

Nothing other than a traditional Greek Frappé!

Nescafe
Greek Frappe
greek Frappe

These is the authentic precursor to the modern day capitalistic–and oversweetened as hell–Starbucks “Frappuccino” according to my Greek friend Ted, it dates back to the post war late 1950’s. It’s basically a tablespoon of Nescafe instant coffee in water whipped up with a hand blender with some a little condensed milk, a tablespoon or two of sugar and ice thrown in after for flavor. The thing is literally like drinking coffee flavored air, by the third sip you have drank all the liquid and just sucking the foam. I loved it but then again everyone in Mexico drinks Nescafe too! haha.

A big thank you to Ted Tarazi for inviting me out and treating Garrett and I to everything that evening man! Ted is a master preparer of Greek lamb himself and grew up in the church in which the event was fund raising for, Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena.

DSC07244
Thanks Ted, I owe you a six pack next time man!

This is an annual event and I am already looking forward to next year’s…opa cabron!

Finally Amongst My Own Kind! My First Group Scooter Ride and an Ode to My Bajaj (San Gabriel Valley Vintage: Pasadena)

Ok, so this post isn’t either food, alcohol or music related but its just as cooool!

So as many of you know, I chose the two-wheeled way of life instead of the conventional safety cage when I graduated High School. Just like pretty much every other aspect of my life, I decided to go counter-culture in my way of transportation too! Haha. Yup, no used, 90’s Honda for me! Instead, my heart fell in love with the scooter way of life. I bought my baby back in 08′, a pitch-black 06 Bajaj Chetak, off a craigslist and that was it, scooters and motorcycles it would be for the rest of my life!

l

Maybe it was my endless fascination with motocross growing up or maybe it was the U.K mod influence listening to British Punk Rock, whatever it was…I’ve just always wanted a motor bike of any kind. So, when push came to throttle and it was time for my dad to HELP me pay for a vehicle (I worked hard for it and paid most of it myself man!) I went for the Bajaj baby!

my baby back from the shop
my baby
my baby's behind

Bajaj isn’t technically a “Vespa” but it looks a lot like a P-Series one and much of the same parts are used and its still vintage-scooter-clutch style, so, it still gets some respect from the sometimes-snooty vintage scooter crowd. Bajaj is an Indian, 4-stroke scooter (no pre-mixing gas and oil for me thank you very much!) and its built like a freaking tank! Not to mention it requires very little maintenance, which is highly ideal for one, extremely busy and lazy me!

Of course my parents warmed me about the consequences of riding beforehand: “Y que cuando llueve?” (How about when it rains?) Or even the motorcyclist essential…”te vas a matar menso!” (you are going to kill yourself!) But if you are of the two-wheeled way of life, people and parents can try to stop you all they want but it won’t mean anything after you go on your first ride…

Anyways, this last weekend I partook in my first “group ride” through the San Gabriel Valley Vintage Scooter Club . The ride was themed “Here comes the summer!” and it was one of the best experiences in my life. They get together and ride on the first Sunday of every other month – meet at 11, ride at noon. My hardcore hangover didn’t stand a chance against the combined positive energy formed by a bunch of loud, two-stroke beautiful scooters. We met at Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena and rode to the Rose Bowl, down Colorado…all thirty of us!

backside
hang a left
fill her up
looking back
the last resort shirt wearing guy
I like your red vespa
scooters invade suburbia
posted on his lambaretta
photo opp!

By the end of the day, I realized I rode over 100 miles as I also use my scooter as my car, not just for leisure! My skin was left extra crispy by the sun and my left wrist hurt after holding the clutch all day. But I finally felt amongst my own kind. People that decide to ride a scooter in their life are unique individuals, in a geeky way but also a passionate way. Not really accepted by the majority of riders out there (Harley’s and Pocket Rockets) so to be amongst so many other like-minded people felt goooood.

There is a new awesome scooter exhibition and ride going on next weekend at the Petersen Auto Museum called “Scooters: Size Doesn’t Always Matter” on Wilshire and Fairfax. So check that out if you guys want to find out more about this powerful two-wheel phenomena.

Even if my bike wasn’t technically “vintage” or a Vespa, I didn’t really care. Like my very good friend from East LA Carlos “Pee-Wee” Escamilla–the only other guy amongst my group of friends who decided to buy a motorbike too (a sweet 250 Ninja) said, “It doesn’t really matter what you ride man….as long as you ride”

l-1
Me on My Bike the Very First Day I Bought It

Tonight! My Eastside O.G Graffiti Older Brother at Pasadena Museum of California Art’s “Street Cred” Exhibition

So after an international 16-year hiatus, my brother–and first ever role model in life–Rojelio Cabral has decided to give the L.A art world another whirl. He started last week at Crewest’s “No Biters Allowed” show, and now, he has two installations on display at Pasadena Museum of California Art’s “Street Cred” exhibition.

For this presentation, he has collaborated with his fellow L.A graf. legends TEMPT, PRIME, DEFER, SLICK, EYE ONE as well, as one of his custom pieces that he constructed while at his residency in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

eb235d927955cb7bd47124d1c8393081
Some Spain Street Sculptures

Like me, much of his work is directly inspired by the rawness and bedlam that is punk-rock, specifically the 80’s L.A Hardcore scene. The opening will be tonight from 7-10 PM. Check out this teaser video he made for today’s show in the meantime, can anyone guess the song and band he used for it? He he. Hint: “What We Do is Secret!”

If you see me at the show, say what’s up yo!

(taken from the Pasadena Show of California Art Website)

Street Cred: Graffiti Art From Concrete To Canvas
May 15-Sept. 4, 2011

Internationally renowned as one of the most fertile grounds for graffiti art, the City of Angels has its own idiosyncratic graffiti styles created from filtering the innovative New York “wildstyle” through local influences such as gang writing styles. The Los Angeles artists featured in Street Cred currently represent a broad range of genres through their fine art production, from letter-based formalism to Surrealism. Co-curated by Steve Grody and PMCA Exhibition Manager Shirlae Cheng-Lifshin, this exhibition will also include Grody’s photographs from the crucial years of the graffiti scene, providing key insights into the visual “language” of graffiti, its development in Los Angeles, the ways in which the street work informs the canvas work, and how the two worlds interact.

Artists featured in the exhibition include Michael Alvarez, ANGST, AXIS, Chaz Bojórquez, CODAK, CRAOLA, DASH 2000, Ekundayo, EYEONE, HASTE, Paul SKEPT Kanemitsu, Alex Kizu, KOFIE, MAN ONE, MEAR ONE, Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez, Jose Lopez, Erick Montenegro, Nicnak, PUSH, RISK, Jeff Soto, Evan Skrederstu, RETNA, REVOK, SABER, SHANDU, Jesse Simon, SINER, and ZES.

This exhibition is curated by PMCA Exhibition Manager Shirlae Cheng-Lifshin and graffiti historian Steve Grody.

Made possible in part by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.

Additional support has been provided by 33third / Mid-City Arts and Brandy and Ed Sweeney.


KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad

Live Painting By The Mobile Mural Lab

Cash Bar

$5 Admission/ Free for PMCA Members

Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 East Union Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 568-3665

Maison Akira: Punks On Pâté

I don’t have much old school friends that are really into food. Most of the time, I know more about their mom’s homemade food than they know themselves. I mean, there always is drunk talk about “going out to go eat one day maaan!” whenever we hang out. And one time, I did take one of my vato loco friend’s out for some Dim Sum once, but most of their money spending goes towards more altering sources of fun

Then there is the homie Dan Barr. I first met the guy at a Guelaguetza dinner one of my readers from out of town had organized. I knew the guy was not like the rest when he knew the difference between a Huarache and a Memela. We’ve chilled out ever since.

dan the man
Dan the Man

He told me his old man had given him a $100 certificate to Maison Akira a while back, and it was in our post-‘mosh’-pit daze after a Fear and D.I show one night that he remembered about it, saying he was saving until it was ready…and it was time.

We decided to incorporate an early dinner into our crackin’ Friday night this last weekend. I was pretty damn excited, the Kyoto-born Chef Akira trained under Chef Joel Robuchon for a good amount of years. Hence, his classical French themed menu with an innovative, deft Japanese flair.

ambiance shot
A Little Fine Dining Before A Night Of Ultra Violence?

Mohawked and patched out, we were ready for an under $100 certificate feast to remember for the rest of our lives. Tonight, instead of power chord anthems, our theme music for the night was a fairly “ambient collection of jaunty, spring season classical” ballads, courtesy of Maison’s smooth Muzak.

frozen butter
Frozen Butter: With Essence of Food Storage Fridge

Butter was colder than a mo’fo, with a lingering background taste of an economy food storage fridge. Not the Plugra, extra rich stuff I had envisioned. Good thing I’m not a butter snob.

Then came the small-portion onslaught. The menu was recently redeveloped to include a “Tapas” sized option, that was basically half the portion and price. We took this approach for every dish tonight to maximize our eating diversity.

First up, was an tiny Amuse of Salmon Rillete with a Sweet, Piquillo Pepper Sauce.

salmon spread
Salmon Rillete: Such a Tease!

A dolled up Salmon Salad, hmm…ok. Tasty though meager, that Piquillo sauce was like Ketchup without the Vinegar-y twang.

duck pate
Duck Pâté: Umami…Straight Up ($7)

What’s French Food without a forcemeat, right? This one was quite meaty with immense dark-meat nook and cranny chunks of the fowl. Green peppercorns were tame and engaging.

bambi carpaccio
Venison Carpaccio: I Killed Bambie’s Mom

Served with a Wasabi Aioli Sauce and Petite Salad ($9), this wowed both of us with its tenderness. Was unlike any Venison we’ve had before, not gamy in the least and that emulsified Aioli linked with its leanness to round out the rich experience.

lobster chunk soup
Brandy Flamed Maine Lobster Bisque: Rich, Rich, Rich!

Dan has a soft spot for Lobster anything. This soup packed a briny punch, Lobster Bisque if there was ever a thing man. It seemed like a roux-base, with no cream. Hence, the drowning-in-the-beach unadulterated taste.

scallops with zucchinni flan
Zucchini Flan N Canadian Scallops: Tasty Eyy

Sautéed Canadian Scallops with King Oyster Mushroom Sympatic and Zucchini Basil Flan($16) I love me some Scallops. And these were creamy, sweet and tasting of a fresh shuckling . The creamy, green Flan’s texture was a molecule away from the scallops texture, both creamy and sweet, a magnificent side for the shellfish.

smoked duck
Smoked Duck: Blazing That Duck Out

Pan-Roasted Smoked Duck Breast & Duck Leg Confit Parmentier in a Calvados Sauce($18). The smoke was deep and complex, enough to appease the bacon loving masses and lovers of juicy, rare cooked fatty birds. The Parmentier was pleasant too. The chef really loved those king oyster ‘shrooms though, used it without abandon through out the night!

And last but not near the savory least.

grilled miso honey seabass
Miso Marinated Grilled Chilean Sea Bass: A Bad Ass Savory Clincher Indeed

Miso Marinated Grilled Chilean Sea Bass with Grilled Ratatouille in a Honey Lemon Jus($19). Chef Akira’s esteemed signature dish that he served to the Emperor & Empress of Japan during their visit to Los Angeles in 1994 was a bad ass savory clincher indeed. Buttery was an understatement here. Not as bold as the Nobu typical Black Cod preparation but in fact, the exact opposite. Subtly seasoned, minutely sweet and downright moist. The grilled Ratouille was served like a pilaf on top of extra wide grains of rice that were like whatever. But that fish!

And I nearly did a back flip when I saw a Baked Alaska’s on their dessert menu. I’ve only gawked at pictures and read about this super-elusive dessert since I first started with food. You know what they say about your first

my first baked alaska! (green tea)
A Baked Alaska: Four and A Half Years in The Making

>
Akira’s version was revamped with a generous amount of well balanced, green tea ice cream and a tangy Rasberry Sauce ($12). And hell, even flambeed table side, literally. The waiter pours a couple of ladle-fulls Mandarin Liqueur that he torches up himself onto the thick, layer of soft peaked Meringue. This creates a rather pleasurable charred s’more like texture to mix with the chilled green tea ice cream and thin sponge cake inside.

green tea baked alaska
Igloo Destruction is My Middle Name

Dan and I don’t really remember the rest of that night much but I’m sure we will never forget that blue ember burning Alaska…

Maison Akira Restaurant
www.maisonakira.com
713 East Green Street
Pasadena, CA 91101-2111
(626) 796-9501

Maison Akira in Los Angeles

Maison Akira on Urbanspoon

35 Chocolatiers Later: L.A Chocolate Salon (Taste Panel & Hanging)

Oh, how stoked I was, to find out that after two years of consecutively covering the Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon, I was finally elected to become part of the tasting panel.

I thought “cool”, then I got there and realized…it has more than doubled in size– both vendors and space–since the first one.

crowd shot

With categories such as “Most Luxurious Chocolate Experience” and “Best Dark Chocolate”, this was going to be the utmost test of my high threshold for indulgence.

First up was my annual favorite: Amano Chocolates

amano assortment

A Utah based company, Art Pollard of Amano is the most serious purveyor of chocolate I have ever met, strictly poignant in his entire chocolate fruition process: guaranteed single sourcing, small batches, figuring exact fermenting times for different beans etc.

(this picture from site)
Montanya_Box_in_Beans_300x450
Montanya: Rare cacao that grows on the Venezuelan mountain range, “the only way to get there is by horseback”.

tcho
Tcho: Technology + Chocolate was actually founded by a Space Shuttle technologist turned chocolate maker.

An impressive new addition to this years salon, incorporating pre-set flavor profiles on single source cacao, tasted out to be pretty accurate.

There is just something about single source chocolates, might sound dumb but it somehow has a more condensed, pronounced flavor than typical chocolate, as if each molecule was integrated perfectly alongside each other or something.

And then there were the chocolate products:

bacon bar
BACON: Christopher Michael Chocolates brought home the bacon, along with pop rocks and smoked sea salt, a lot going on, kind of underminded the bacon-age factor of it.

truffle bar
Sterling Confections

Purveyors of the “Truffle Bar”, an unfair favorite really with probably quadruple the amount of ganache to chocolate exterior ratio…won my vote for “Most Luxurious Chocolate Experience” on the ballot.

Now for the non-chocolates:

caramael

a stand was handing out complete samples of fresh caramel crusted with whole roasted almonds…nice palate cleanser and change of flavor finally.

And last but not least:

marshmallows

Plush Puffs artisinal marshmallows, yup, made with high quality ingredients, not usual by-products. Their little gas roaster added a terrific toasty, burnt sugar taste, reminded me of my wannabe s’more’s I used to make at home since I never got to camp out and do it, vs. Jet Puffed? No comparison man.

Not even one fourth of what I tasted today really, but I will admit by the 27th sample–I was chocolated the hell out. Kept on telling myself “alright, this is my last” but you all know me.

I saw a stand called Marti Chocolatt–actually a Filipino Chocolatier– slanging something interestingly different, revamping my taste buds with a lovely potent Chevre Truffle and dare I say it…a Durian Truffle?! Filipino variety Durian to be exact, even more onion-y than other Durian’s I’ve had before, hitting you hugely at first bite, letting no chocolate flavor pass through it whatsoever, it wasn’t until a couple of seconds later that the chocolate whimpered a little aftertaste.

By huge bias, this was my favorite of show. Even chose to enjoy it wholly, and blogger-duty free; no picture sorry!

Every year this gets bigger and better, I’m already looking forward to next years!

Now…to eat ENTIRELY salty and savory for the rest of the week.

Other bloggers that joined in on the gorging and fun:

Gastronomy Blog
Kung Food Panda
Choisauce
Food She Thought
Diana Takes A Bite

And the Winner for Two Tickets to the L.A Chocolate Salon is…..

By order of true randomness , I announce the winner of two free tickets to this years L.A Luxury Chocolate Salon to be…

(really fast drum roll please)

…Hanh Nguyen!

“My Glutster moment – I had a bag full of fancy, spiced truffles melt into a soup of yummy chocolate in its original bag, so I poured it into a tupperware box and then used that as a dip for granny smith apples. I won’t say how many apples I went through.”

A full bag of truffles eyy?

Good start, but the Chocolate Salon will be like eating 40 full bags of truffles, enjoy!

Congratulations!

I will submit your name and email to the people over at Taste TV and two tickets will be waiting for you at will call.

As for the rest of you?

Thanks for trying your luck, this was the first time I do something like this but it will not be my last.

And don’t forget…it’s only $20 presale for over 40 Artisan Chocolatiers!

That is really nothing compared to other food events I’ve covered (some up to $300-$500? not kidding)

hope to see you guys there!