A Trip to Little Saigon & The NYE Repas du Soir

southeast asian table setting
A Trip to Little Saigon
The New Year’s Eve Repas du Soir
New Year’s Day Fabulous Leftovers Brunch

Best friends, great memories, stellar food – that’s how we celebrate the New Year! The old gang is together again, this time we take A Trip To Little Saigon & cook a NYE Repas du Soir together! My old dear friends, dating back to our restaurant days in the 80’s, are visiting for the holidays.

It was Tori’s idea to spend the day in Little Saigon. Eating lunch, laughing, taking photos, getting massages, and shopping. It was her idea that led to the inspiration to cook French/Vietnamese for dinner. We picked up authentic ingredients for our repas du soir and returned to my home in LA in the late afternoon to drink Champagne and create a six-course meal together.

southeast asian table setting

The dinner table was pre-set in a casually elegant Southeast Asian style with orchids, bamboo, and the color red to symbolize wealth and prosperity. We cranked up the holiday music and started cooking; everyone participated in the creation, photography, prep, and execution of the menu. We had a blast!

I had no intention of submitting this outing for the Foodbuzz 24X24 event until I read that the folks over at Foodbuzz were interested to see how Featured Publishers would be spending the last day of 2011. We had terrific culinary/cultural plans that turned out to be a fantastic way to ring in the New Year.

Extending a very special thank you to my friends FA, Al, Kirk, Tori, and Tom for your love & friendship and sense of humor & adventure! Thank you to Foodbuzz for choosing A Trip to Little Saigon & The NYE Repas du Soir as a participant in December’s 24×24 event. Foodbuzz 24×24 showcases posts from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers, highlighting unique meals occurring around the globe during a 24-hour period.

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Hatfield’s. Los Angeles.

Hatfield's Croque Madame

“Croque Madame”

What is it that makes one restaurant stand out from the rest?

Food:  Where every dish hits the mark. Imaginative, original. Expertly crafted. Executed with finesse. Harmony of color, texture, and taste.

Wine:  An interesting wine list that synergizes with the menu. The wine selection accentuates the food. The food selection accentuates the wine. Fairly priced. We adore a sommelier who listens to us describe what we are looking for in a wine, then nails it. “We’re in the mood for a pinot noir that is fruit forward, bright and juicy, complex. We would also love to try something new. In a white. No oak. No grapefruit flavors. Something rich.” (See below for the superb wine picks).

Service:  Professional service that is polished, warm and engaging without being overly chummy. Anticipatory with flawless timing. Ultimately knowledgeable.

Hospitality:  Gracious hosts. When learning of our crazed appreciation for food (maybe the camera gives it away?) we were invited for a peek behind the glass-walled kitchen at the end of the night.

Ambiance: An intersection of architecture, decor, tableware, lighting, and music. A room where we as guests feel comfortable, glamorous, appreciated.

We found a stand-out restaurant recently, in Hatfield’s.

What makes a restaurant stand out for you?

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Hitting The Las Vegas Culinary Jackpot

tagliatelle con il primo tartufo bianco
tagliatelle con il primo tartufo bianco @ sirio
tagliatelle pasta with fresh shaved first of the season white truffles

We’ve been hitting The Las Vegas Culinary Jackpot, big time! A week ago I shared what is now our absolute favorite spot for Brunch in Vegas – Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill @ Caesar’s. Among many other items, the Yucatan Style Grouper with Blue Crab Succotash Sauce is brilliant. Our epicurean bonanza did not stop at Mesa Grill, though.

Thanks to my brother’s edict that we try new restaurants, on this trip we hit the mother lode. To our immense delight, we re-discovered Las Vegas’ first celebrity chef, the charming André Rochat. It was with fond memories of escargots and duck à l’orange enjoyed at André’s in Downtown Vegas decades ago that we made our dinner reservations.

“In the 1980s, it was a whole different city. We were the only freestanding gourmet restaurant in town. We were very busy, very busy, sometimes with a line at the door,” said Rochat, who was raised in a small town outside Lyon, France. (Read more about our favorite Las Vegas legend here).

André’s @ Monte Carlo reflects the original old-world Downtown Vegas charm and combines it with new-world breathtaking aqua décor and warm, personalized service plus the Chef’s years of talent and hospitality. We were so blown-away by our experience we are certain that foodies coming to Vegas to meet the hottest new Chefs will be even more impressed to meet the town’s hottest old Chef!

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Vegas Brunch Fav: MESA GRILL

mesa grill
Bobby Flay’s  MESA GRILL  Las Vegas

shrimp corn tamale, mesa grill

When the JetBlue flight touches down at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, many people get that familiar tingly feeling. Excitement, adrenaline, gonna win big this time! But our thrill comes not only from fantasizing about hitting the $10 million MegaBucks jackpot (although that’s part of it). Our unique-to-Vegas sensation is mainly about hitting the Culinary Jackpot.

We agonize over our restaurant reservations well in advance of the trip, painstakingly coordinating visits to hot new Chefs, old favorite Chefs with new venues, various cuisines and locations. This time, my brother Don imposed a requirement – we could not eat anywhere we had previously eaten. Except, of course, Mon Ami Gabi @ Paris, because it’s our favorite spot for al fresco breakfast and the bar is our afternoon hangout for drinking vin gris and enjoying the Bellagio Fountains.

Another trip to Vegas, another trip to culinary heaven. Thanks to Don’s edict, this recent journey introduced us to Andre’s @ Monte Carlo, the bar at Michel Richard’s new Central @ Caesar’s, Bradley Ogden @ Caesar’s, Sirio @ Aria.

And brunch at Bobby Flay’s MESA GRILL @ Caesar’s:

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Lobster & Okra Fettuccine, Spicy Gumbo Sauce

Lobster & Okra Fettuccine, Gumbo Sauce
Maine Lobster & Homemade Pickled Okra
Tossed with Fresh Fettuccine
Spicy Gumbo Sauce
Ground Sassafras & Celery Leaf Garnish

Lobster & Okra Fettuccine, Gumbo Sauce
Will you be entertaining anytime soon? May I suggest this dish as a pasta or main course, it’s a show stopper. A twist on Louisiana’s gumbo, but with fettuccine and pickled okra. The depth and complexity of the gumbo sauce made from a golden brown roux will WOW your guests, as, of course, will generous morsels of fresh Maine lobster. Pickled okra counterbalances with a refreshing zing. Those not too fond of okra will be impressed, there is none of that usual slipperiness.

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We LoVe LA & Wolfgang Puck

ritz-carlton, los angeles
The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles

We LoVe LA & Wolfgang Puck

Roll down the window, put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys, baby
Don’t let the music stop
We’re gonna ride it till we just can’t ride it no more

From the South Bay to the Valley
From the West Side to the East Side
Everybody’s very happy
‘Cause the sun is shining all the time
Looks like another perfect day, I loVe LA

original spago c. 1989
The Original Spago c. 1989

Spago in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip

Back in the late 80’s, maybe 1989, my foodie friends and I first dined at Spago. For better or worse, the word “foodie” was coined in the 80’s. We worked, lived, and breathed restaurants – we were chefs (Aldo & Bruce), bartenders (Tamara), waiters (Lauren & Scott)  – and I had the restaurant business in my blood – having been a restaurant cook, bookkeeper, manager, hostess, and waiter. At the time most of us were working at a cutting-edge restaurant in Redondo Beach called Chez Mélange. My friends from Aspen, Aldo and Bruce, were in town and we were dying to take them to Spago. Inspirational restaurateur and owner of Chez Mélange, Michael Franks, graciously called over to Spago to secure us a reservation. We felt like we were on the A-list. Upon arrival, Michael had surprised us with a big bottle of Champagne, and we were thrilled when Wolfgang Puck himself brought over a duck sausage pizza to welcome us. (It never occurred to me to take a photograph of the food, my how times have changed!)

Spago Hollywood wasn’t stuffy or traditional. Wolfgang’s then-wife Barbara Lazaroff  designed it to be friendly, fun and colorful – where everyone could see and be seen!  Were we really “hanging spoons” at Spago? She designed the first exhibition kitchen in the United States for a fine dining establishment, the view of the city from high above Sunset Boulevard took everyone’s breath away. It was so California!

Wolfgang Puck redefined pizza. That they came topped with everything from goat cheese and Black Forest ham to artichokes and exotic mushrooms was totally new back then. Duck sausage pizza was legendary as was his famous pizza of smoked salmon, creme fraiche, chives, red onion and a dollop of caviar.

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