COLUMN – Josh Terry; Creative Director
As the Creative Director of a restaurant branding agency, I feel like I should enjoy oysters. I feel like I should enjoy all food and drink and for the most part I do– except oysters. Believe me though, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve sought out these briny bites up and down the coast from Swan Oyster Depot, to L&E, to Olympia Oyster Bar. Every time thinking that this will be the time that wins me over.
Why would I subject myself to all this unsatisfactory slurping? Because I really FEEL like I should enjoy oysters. And pretty much everyone I’m with loves them. They go nuts for them. And when everyone’s eyes light up as an icy plateau of shellfish is paraded across the restaurant, I’m always there to kill the buzz with an unenthusiastic “meh.”
Oh but I’ve seen the pearly light! (Figuratively, pearls would probably be a choking hazard). All it took was a trip up to the Hog Island Oyster farm in Tomales Bay. In my day, I’ve eaten some weird stuff produced by interesting processes (think Sun Cooked Stew in Africa and Live-Shrimp in Cambodia) so when it came to this hang-up, I realized maybe it was the process that was missing. Sometimes I need to go through a gastronomic gauntlet to really appreciate the product. In this case, it was shucking my own oysters.
Hog Island is a simple setup. It’s a working oyster farm, so the frills are for function not form. That’s a welcome treat for someone who has worked in an industry rife with overdone design and empty restaurant concept development. Past the piled up nets, buoys, and gurgling troughs of oysters in various stages of processing there is a “pick-up” window. You place your order and get a quick demo to hopefully reduce the amount of self-stabbings and bits of broken oyster shell you consume. Armed with the requisite amount of instruction and appropriate tools: oyster knife, protective glove, and cold beers- we carried our tray of 60 (you basically order by the dozen…or five dozen. That’s commitment.) assorted Sweetwaters, Kumamotos, and French hogs over the to picnic/shucking zone.
By about the 5th or 6th oyster you really start getting the hang of it. By the 12th, I was a machine and by the 20th+ I was a machine covered in sea-water, bits of shell, and beer. Pro tip – be wary of the beer-to-oyster ratio, as your newfound shucking skills may regress. By the end of it all, I had put down more oysters in that one sitting then I’d probably had in my entire life. Shell yes! Shuck yeah!
I now love oysters.
We love Los Angeles because it’s infuriating in its movement and overstimulation; construction cranes everywhere, billboards soaring from every building screaming for our attention, peeling and cracked brick walls looming in every alleyway on every major boulevard from DTLA to the sea. But near those construction sites are rows of plywood walls asking to be drawn on, painted, and plastered with wheat paste. Those billboards and alleyways are just asking for color, creativity, and the perfect quippy message to be scrawled in the dead of night.
As people everywhere are trading in their cup of corporate chain coffee for specialty brews crafted by expert baristas, coffee culture is infiltrating the far corners of the world and the United States is leading the caffeine-fueled charge. Coffee is no longer just a way to wake up; it’s a science and an art.
Over the weekend we had the privilege to observe this science and art in action as the best baristas from across the United States gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center for the 14th annual U.S. Coffee Championships. The ever-growing coffee scene of Los Angeles was well represented at the competition with baristas from Verve Coffee Roasters, Intelligentsia, Klatch Coffee, Adante Coffee Roasters and of course three time Barista Championship runner up Charles Babinski from Go Get Em Tiger and G&B Coffee.
We arrived promptly at 9am. Having starved ourselves of coffee before arriving at the championships, we were ready to indulge in unlimited cups of delicious brew from the many coffee roasters on rotation at the espresso bar. After suitably caffeinating ourselves with High Wire Coffee and perusing the many vendors of coffee related paraphernalia, we finally took a seat in the bleacher stands to watch the semifinals of the Barista Championships.
In each routine, baristas must present four sensory judges a shot of espresso, a cappuccino and a signature drink, while two technical judges grade their working skills from prep to clean up. Many baristas excitedly discussed the unique origin stories of their specialty coffees or shared inspiring anecdotes of small coffee farms in the far reaches of the world. Baristas expertly guided judges and viewers alike through the flavor profiles of their coffee and the techniques used to craft each drink.
The signature drink was a true expression of combined science and art. Utilizing various syrups, aromatics, fruit and different heating and cooling methods, Baristas took a chemist-like approach to their signature drinks, producing mouth watering coffee cocktails. Eden Marie Abramowicz (pictured above) of Intelligentsia topped her coffee beverage off with a hibiscus infused foam, where as Charles Babinski of Go Get Em Tiger/G&B Coffee utilized pine tree honey, juniper syrup and a grapefruit reduction to accentuate the vanilla sweetness of his Honduras grown Ocotillo espresso.
Speaking of Charles Babinski, the seasoned competitor finally won the championships and the well deserved (long overdue) title of best barista in the United States. Aside from his elegant signature beverage that obviously rocked the judges taste buds, Charles approached his routine in a way that stood out from the rest. Instead of discussing the rare origin of his coffee or sharing a lofty story about experimental production methods, Babinski kept things real by reflecting on the importance of utilizing established systems and standards in order to provide a quality and consistent experience, whether it be producing the coffee on the 3.5 hectare Honduras farm or serving a cappuccino at Go Get Em Tiger. Speaking as an owner of two successful coffee shops in LA,
Upon opening a shop it became exceedingly clear that it is all about the customer’s experience. If you serve somebody a delicious cup of coffee they are grateful and if you did it quickly they are even happier. It was when we were able to give a service that was thoughtful and considerate that the whole idea really resonated with me. I’m talking about automation, yes it gives us a consistent recipe and it serves coffeeshop logistics great, but more than anything, it gives us time. Time to give the type of service that we are proud of. Time to make a connection.
This is exactly the model Go Get Em Tiger and G&B are based around, with their long walk up bars that allow for connections to be made between baristas and customers alike. Charles noted that often these things are swept under the rug in favor of something small and handcrafted. Sincere, passionate and relatable, Charles Babinski is a true master of his craft.
Overall it was an exciting and educational experience fueled by an excessive amount of delicious coffee. The moral of the story is Los Angeles is home to some of the best baristas in the world (sorry, Seattle).
In Los Angeles, we are currently experiencing the sunny warmth of what we like to call June-uary. We love to rub in the fact that we can don tank tops and hang out on the beach in the middle of winter, but we do feel a bit of sympathy for the majority of you toughing out snowmaggedon 2015. With that said, we are sending warmth to the frozen regions via a sun-kissed playlist full of good vibes and tropical beats. Here are 25 of the best tropical house tracks that will melt away the harsh winter and transport you to a hammock underneath the palm trees. So grab your sunscreen and pineapples, turn up the volume and relax. Welcome to a tropical winter!
It’s that time of year when the leaves turn brilliant shades of orange and the weather makes you want to curl up in front of a warm, flickering hearth with a delicious seasonal drink. Oh wait…this is Los Angeles, where summer lingers all year and the only falling foliage is drought-ridden palm fronds. The only orange we experience during the fall season are blazing wild fires, sunsets/sunrises, the obnoxious Ferrari that takes our parking spot, and PUMPKINS. The start of autumn is marked by a plethora of pumpkin products hitting store shelves, the availability of pumpkin spice in our lattes (Starbucks may have jumped the gun this year—August?), and most importantly, pumpkin beer.
To pay homage to these supposed autumnal months, we decided to curate the Mother of all pumpkin beer tastings. We took the best pumpkin beers from all the “best pumpkin beers” lists from the past 3 years. We cross-referenced them, analyzed their characteristics, corroborated their stories, and wound up with the most elite, delicious, pumpkiny, pumpkin beers of the past decade. We even had a frickin’ spreadsheet! Well, we couldn’t buy most of them (dang your uppity distribution radiuses). We scrapped the list and decided to just grab what was available to us. The result? An eclectic spread of pumpkin brews ranging from ales to sours, all brewed on the western side of the United States where autumn barely whispers.
Let’s be honest, we’re no cicerones (guess that’s like a beer sommelier), but we collectively have enough beer drinking experience to be able to recognize a good brew and describe its qualities, rating it on a scale of 1 to 5. Before we began the tasting our Creative Director asked, “Are we going to talk about floral notes and shit?” No. No we are not. But being designers and all, we did feel the need to judge the label design as well as the beer. To highlight our tasting expertise and by “expertise” we mean lively “personalities”, we recorded the entire tasting session, hence the hilarious quotes found throughout. Yes, we actually said that shit. Cheers!
We began the tasting with the least alcoholic beer and planned to work our way up to the more alcoholic ones. The order was quickly forgotten after we were a few beers in.
Pumpkin aromas and flavors abound, Rogue’s Pumpkin Patch Ale satiated our pumpkin craving taste buds. A beer so smooth that the conversation drifted to a less savory part of the beer spectrum regarding malt liquor, more specifically, Steel Reserve. Don’t ask. After such a delicious beer, we were entirely unprepared for what we tasted next…one sip left the entire team spluttering.
In effort to make our pumpkin beer tasting a little more authentic, we lit the fireplace. Well, rather we found a video that promised three hours of the best fireplace on our laptop. Pair that with some choice classical music and Epic Brewing’s pumpkin porter. You can almost hear the faint whispers of autumn.
By this time we were all feeling the heat from the fireplace screensaver…or was it the booze? Doesn’t matter, we were all ready for a little more heat from Avery Brewing’s 17.22% porter aged in bourbon barrels. For dramatic effect, classical violins were singing in the background as we took our first sips.
Maybe they do need pumpkins in their beer, or perhaps yams were a substitute simply because The Bruery is located in Orange County where they don’t have legitimate pumpkin patches. Whatever the reason, we thought this beer was a perfect example of autumn in Los Angeles. Underwhelming.
These beers ended up our tasting list due to the limited availability of pumpkin beer, so would we drink most of these again? Probably not, except for Rogue’s Pumpkin Patch Ale…we will take a case of that!
The last time we were in an old garage ingesting stimulants and listening to punk-rock was…well, this morning. How’s that for some quick blogging? Here are some other adjectives that may describe this post; expedient, fast, cracky, super-pumped-and-excited-to-write-about-this-awesome-coffee-purple-monkey-dishwasher (really refraining from engaging the ‘caps lock’ here)! But let’s not get caught up in caffeine side-effects. The bottom line is there is a really good guy named Greg, roasting some artisan beans in a rented garage on Glendale Boulevard.
Between flipping through the pages of “Two Cheers for Anarchism” and sips of an Ethiopian/Geisha blend of cold-brew, Greg gave us a run down of the beginnings of Trystero. Espresso is up, an extremely smooth, earthy, and bold Kenyan. A few years back, he started roasting beans on his stove top. Damn, this coffee is strong. That hobby grew, equipment got upgraded, beans were carefully selected, a few apartments got a little too smoky and well, here he is in Atwater Village, roasting full-time on-demand, and that demand is high. Damn, the cup’s empty. Back to the cold-brew. www.trysterocoffee.com
Stu has a bunch of friends and we’re happy to be one of them. But really this isn’t about his friends, acquaintances or even casual-Facebook-birthday-well-wishers. It’s about the kids.
The short story, Stu moved to Thailand to help kids in need (the long story is here stuandthekids.org/about/, we’ll let him tell it). Our story is that we met Stu in Chiang Mai about a year ago and he became our Los Angeles-Thailand ambassador. He introduced us to interesting local cuisine, raucous nightlife, and of course the kids! Came to find out that we know a lot of the same people, him being a Chef (notably for the best Mexican food in Southeast Asia) and that we could use these connections to do some good.
Good is what we did, and lots of it. Last Saturday everyone came together to raise money, awareness, and the culinary bar with their spin on Thai inspired dishes.
A huge thank you to Bodega Wine Bar, BLD, Cooks County, Chefs To End Hunger, The Ensaymada Project, Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese, Golden Road Brewery, Helms Bakery, Hudson House, LA Specialty, Patina Restaurant Group, Playa Provisions, Savore Catering, République, Simple Things, Solsticio Wines, Susina Bakery, The Tripel, Warren’s Blackboard, Wolfgang Puck, and Erick Fischer for the great photos.
Check out the full gallery right HERE.
Many of you avid Starbucks fans may have noticed the change in the pastry display at your favorite neighborhood coffee chain. Where are your maple cranberry orange scones? What about the marshmallow dream bars? Gone are the dull baggies used to carry your breakfast, and in are unfamiliar pink paper pockets that oddly complement the famous (if slightly odd) mermaid logo. Everything’s changing. I’m confused. Hold me, Starbucks.
The coffee company has recently partnered with La Boulange – a delightful landmark of a French bakery and café in San Francisco – to bring about a new era of offering fine pastries along with your daily hit of caffeine that keeps you functional and happy. Native Frenchman and founder of the bay area bakery, Pascal Rigo, has been whipping up baked goods for most of his life and is finally expanding his puffy little delicacies across the country. When we heard the news that the partnership was happening and La Boulange’s incredible pastries would be making their debut at our local Starbucks, we knew we had to pick some up to try. It was a good life decision.
Here’s what we daintily sampled with grace and dignity (and definitely did not gluttonously shove into our faces): raspberry passion fruit loaf cake, blueberry yogurt muffin with honey, carrot cake muffin with pecans, ham and cheese croissant, and tomato and cheese croissant. (The chocolate croissant didn’t make an appearance here because they are apparently in such high demand that seeing one is akin to crossing paths with a sasquatch…though hopefully more tasty.)
Not only were the muffins moist and the croissants perfectly flakey, but the flavors were well balanced – no cheap knockoffs here. As someone whose morning tastes skew towards the savory over the sweet, the ham and cheese croissant was the clear winner, mostly because the tomato and cheese reminded me too much of pizza. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. For diehard fans of La Boulange, it’s hard to compare to the just-out-of-the-oven freshness and mind-blowing variety of the real thing, but Starbucks has won a huge victory for their food reputation with these new additions. Our only negative was the bit of despair when you realize a few crumbs on your greedy little fingers are all that’s left of your pastry.
Leisure activities can be so inefficient. You gotta go to dinner. THEN the movie (or the other way around if you’re into matinees) and there’s still cocktails afterwards. It’s such a time suck. Thankfully, AMC has found a way to maximize your free time by stacking the meal, the drinks and the entertainment all in one reclining lounge chair of indulgence.
Here’s the skinny: it’s 21+ only, so no poorly behaved children & teenagers (and the poorly behaved adults have no excuse). Seats are assigned, so no line-standing. There’s a full bar in the lobby if you’ve got time to kill, or you can order anything from the bar in the theater (if you’ve had a rough day or really hate your movie). You’ll be seated in an impressively comfy recliner with a swivel tray and a server will stop by to give you instructions and/or take your order. If you want to wait ’til the film gets underway, there’s a call button to push and your server will pop up out of the shadows. We ordered a lobster flatbread and were pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The prices are a little inflated across the board, but it’s hard to argue with on-demand service in the middle of a movie.
Overall, I’d recommend checking it out because I’m not a big movie-goer, but I’d be a much more willing participant with good food and drinks to help pass the time.
See for yourself:
AMC Loews Marina 6
13455 Maxella Ave Ste 270
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Did you miss out on Oktoberfest? Did it only whet your proverbial whistle for delicious, seasonal craft(ish) beer? We’re here to fully convert you with some personal favorites to carry you through fall and winter with a delightful beer buzz.
First, a real Oktoberfest. So real, in fact, it’s one of the few beers allowed in the REAL Oktoberfest in Munich. Though Paulaner produces a solid range of beers, this one takes the medal. It’s nutty and not overpowering, with a slight caramel aroma. It’s a great choice for just about any occasion, but the beginning of fall seems as good as any to enjoy some.
This is a year-round favorite for me, though I understand that many beer drinkers have a hard time hitting the serious darks in any season that involves short sleeves. Rich and roasty, it’s full of chocolate and coffee flavors with just the right amount of bitterness. And yes, it’s a big beer. Don’t take the “Black Ale” lightly. But it’s the perfect brew to curl up next to the fire with, or pair with a hearty meal to make the most of the bold flavors. It’ll warm you right up.
Sierra Nevada is a solid go-to brewery for hoppy, drinkable beers. Now, hoppy is not usually what I’m looking for (if the rest of this list was any indication), but this fall seasonal brew is nicely balanced with roasted flavors and a nice depth that conjures all sorts of warm and fuzzy fall flavors. Smooth and malty, this seems like a perfect match for tailgating, visiting a pumpkin patch, or taking a break from raking leaves.
I know what you’re thinking – Sam Adams can hardly be considered a craft beer. And you’re right, but this little pumpkin gem deserves some love, and nothing screams fall like putting pumpkin in your beer. And while Sam is far from an artisanal brewer, pumpkin beer is a uniquely American invention, and (I feel) should be celebrated as such by an iconic American (and I mean that in a good way) brewery. Go get your spice on, courtesy of Boston.
When it comes to craft beer, it may not get any craftier than Dogfish Head. Known as being highly experimental (and highly successful), this brewery consistently produces unique and delicious beers. This particular brew is no different. An homage to the 40th anniversary of the Miles Davis album by the same name, this beer fuses 3 key flavors to create something altogether different (much like Miles did). Find out more of the story, direct from Dogfish Head here. Or just go pick some up and enjoy a hearty and truly special seasonal treat.
The Ecology Center is San Juan Capistrano has a mission to teach mindfulness in order to preserve, sustain, and transform our global community. They also host a delicious benefit called Green Feast, and we love activism you can eat.
Billed as an annual dinner celebrating connection to local food, Green Feast just wrapped its fourth event. Teamed up with Southern California chefs, farmers, fishermen, ranchers and winemakers, the event became a destination for nature-lovers and food-lovers alike.
Over 200 hungry and environmentally-conscious folks participated in the four-course family-style smorgasbord. The event began with the Eco App Off, a competition pitting 12 reknown chefs against each other in a diner-determined battle for the best appetizer.
Then everyone settled around 200-foot long communal tables for the rich, responsible, and delicious main event, featuring the fare of five notable local chefs. Lit by twinkling lights and flickering candles on a lush expanse of an eco-conscious landscape, we say that there’s no shortage of south and romance in the sustainable food movement.
And if you don’t believe in the magic of farm-to-table dining, mark your calendars for next year’s Green Feast.