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LA (AND BEYOND): SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION [TOP CHEF FOR TRAVEL + LEISURE)

By Nora Zelevansky / September 2nd, 2010

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So, I've decided to take time out of my busy beach lolling schedule to actually write a post.

What?  There may be a hurricane coming.  I need to take what sun and Atlantic Ocean swimming I can get, mofos.

ANYWAY … Travel + Leisure posted my story about the bestest Top Chef restaurants today, so thought you all might like to check it out.

Tune in next week, when I'm back in black.  (That means in LA and writing the blog again, if you didn't understand.)

xo – N.

LA (BEVERLY HILLS TO PASADENA): THE BEST WAY TO GET SOME SPA NEWS (AND SOME CHINESE INSPIRED TREATMENTS IN PASADENA)

By Nora Zelevansky / April 28th, 2010

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Last Thursday was one of my favorite annual work-related fêtes of the year: Spa Magazine's yearly event.  This year was a little quieter than usual, but it's still hard to go wrong with mini-spa treatments, new products, chocolate chip cookies and passed bites like California rolls.

Anyway, I covered the shindig for Mondette, so–for a bit of spa news–check it out!  I am TOTALLY looking forward to checking out The Langham in Pasadena's brand new set-up at The Huntington Spa, as they now have a new Chinese wellness component called Chuan Spa.  (The Langham is also home to the resto run by Top Chef's Michael Voltaggio, as if a new spa wasn't enough of a draw.)

Sign me up!  Twice!

xo – N.

LA (AND BEYOND): BEST NEW ABSINTHE INCARNATION

By Nora Zelevansky / June 5th, 2009

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When I get invited to a controversial ex-Top Chef star's home for, well, anything, I'm there.

And when you throw in absinthe and Stefan Richter's food, well, I'm REALLY there.  Absinthe company Le Tourment Vert (which I understand from a spirit expert friend is somewhat mainstream and maybe a tiny bit dumbed down for the average consumer/masses; in other words it's light on the anise flavor) teamed up with the lovably hated reality star at his Venice home.

This particular absinthe is meant to be mixed in cocktail form and the concoctions were pretty intense, the most successful being an apple and honey situation.  Tasty.  Of course, I've never had the real nitty-gritty absinthe of old–hallucinations and all that–but I actually like me some black licorice flavor, so I enjoyed the tasting experience.

Sadly, there was very little food (Stefan! Andre was quite miffed!), but the most successful Le Tourment Vert incarnation was actually not a drink, but a bright green absinthe jelly square served atop the above oyster (with vinegar and onions etc.).  It was totally unusual and delish!  I wish I could have had twenty.  But I only had two.

Stefan–who supposedly has a restaurant opening in August–was a good host, outspoken and friendly and sort of into the chicks (true to form), although Andre did overhear some smack gabbing from a couple peeps about Fabio's new cooler-than-thou attitude.  Is it true Fabio???  Et tu, Brute???  Eh, maybe Andre was just hallucinating from all that absinthe; all two sips he had.  He does NOT like black licorice.

Anyway, a toast (with oysters) to Top Chef!  We miss you.  We really do.  Especially cause the networks seem intent on making me cry by canceling Medium AND Without A Trace.  BOOOOOO, HISSSSS.  Am I seriously never going to see the resolution of that last "To Be Continued" episode of Medium?  I mean, that is just BULLSHIT, if I might say so.

I think I just did.

xo – N.

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(ABSINTHE COCKTAILS . . .)

LA (AND BEYOND): CRUMPLED TWENTY

By Nora Zelevansky / March 9th, 2009

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The Best Link Today:

So, according to Bravo TV's blog "The Dish," Top Chef's new incarnation will be Top Chef Masters sans Padma, Tom and Gail.  Basically, instead of up-and-coming chefs, 24 established masters will be competing against each other in two Top Chef-esque challenges and all the resulting prize money will go to a charity of the winning chef's choice.  Rumor has it that some of the past guest judges will be contestants . . . karma, much? Although the whispers I've heard are about chefs like Wylie Dufresne and Michelle Bernstein, who were both always pretty kind from behind judges table.

Hmm . . . I'm on the fence about this.  The concept could be fun, I guess, but it definitely doesn't replace our old standard.  Pun not intended (I sweeear), but I feel like masters just aren't as hungry as burgeoning talents.  Also, if I was an established chef, I'd be afraid of choking and looking terrible on national TV.  But I guess I'd be a chef of less character then.  Hmm.

Doesn't this sound a lot like The Next Iron Chef?  Did they create this because Project Runway is moving to Lifetime?  Is this new show going to postpone the next real Top Chef season?  Maybe I'm just resistant to change?  How many questions can I pose?

Your thoughts, sil vous plait!

xo – N.

NYC (AND BEYOND): BEST DAY TO MOURN TOP CHEF

By Nora Zelevansky / February 26th, 2009

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(The Mourning Dress I Should Be Wearing Because Hosea Won Top Chef–HOSEA!!!)

DUDE.  I don't even know what to say.  This is a dark day on Bravo.  How the hell did they allow this to happen? How the hell did Hosea win Top Chef?

First of all, I think we're all bummed that Casey (who was known as the *jinx* on her season, not because she's actually bad luck, but because she sucks at cooking) totally destroyed Carla's chances.

Second of all, I think we all know that Stefan, while painted as the villain this season, is clearly an actual human being, as he rushed over to Carla's side when she started crying.

Third of all, I think we all know that Stefan not only made the best dish of the night (squab), but was the strongest chef (alongside underdog Carla) all season.

On the other hand, here's what we know about Hosea:

First, he's a douche.

Second, he's a douche.

Third, he's a douche.

Fourth, he's a douche.

Fifth, we know that he actually liked the most obviously desperate and needy woman in Top Chef history (and the other incredibly annoying person this season).

Sixth, his girlfriend dumped him after the show.  Mazel.

Seventh, we don't really know anything about him because his culinary style is as bulbous and beige as his face.

Eighth, when Carla was crying about letting Casey sway her menu and failing miserably as a result, he bragged that he, "just cooked my food tonight."  Which is what exactly???  Douche soup????

Ninth, after he won, he was still pathetically talking about beating Stefan.  I mean, get a grip, lamo!

Tenth, he's a douche.

If only Tom hadn't been on the rag all season without Gail to check him.  If only Gail had come back earlier and witnessed the loser that is Hosea.  If only Carla hadn't fallen under Casey's blue cheese souffle influence.  If only Stefan had put some spice in his ice cream and made it "chocolate chili" instead of just "chocolate mousse."  If only Richard Blais was eligible to win, since he's probably nine hundred times better at cooking than any of them.  If only Marcel had rapped.

But no.  And, so, we have nothing left to do, but mourn and hope that Hosea gets trashed by the other contestants on the Reunion Show.  Which he probably won't.  WHATEVER.

At least Richard Blais blogs on the website about how he would have helped any of them win.  And I think it's true.

In protest, I'm not even linking to the stupid Top Chef site.  GRRRRRR.

xo – N.

P.S.  Do you guys agree?  Let me know via the "comments" link just below!

P.P.S. Check out Top Chef Season 5 Misfires on TWoP.

P.P.P.S.  My sister and Andrew think Gail's boobs look bigger.  Do we think she's preggers?  That would be quick, no?

LA (LA BREA): CRUMPLED TWENTY

By Nora Zelevansky / February 24th, 2009

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(Umami Burger . . . Yum.  Maybe?)

The Best Link Today:

More happenings on La Brea: according to The LA Times' Daily Dish, a Bottle Rock co-founder has launched Umami Burger (a spot dedicated to 'the Japanese fifth taste' alongside sweet, salty, sour and spicy).  Not sure if that's a yummy prospect or not.  The idea seems a bit one note, but I still totally want to check it out.

Isn't it weird how an abstract concept can become trendy?  Suddenly, everyone has umami fever.  Maybe I should make t-shirts that say, "Whose U-mami?" (That was bad–sorry).  I'm just waiting for the "Umami Elimination Challenge" on Top Chef.  (If all the contestants were still on the show, Jamie would make umami scallops, Fabio would make umami pasta, Jeff would make umami 800 ways and Leah would leave scales on umami fish).

That said, I'm a big fan of the burger and sausage movement happening in and around LA right now: Umami Burger, 8 Oz. Burger Bar (where I LOVE the chorizo stuffed fried olives), always Father's Office, Golden State (still waiting), Wurstküche and more.

Pretty, pretty good.  (Oh, how I miss my Curb).

xo – N. 

LA (HOLLYWOOD): THE BEST BRUSCHETTA/BEER FLIGHT

By Nora Zelevansky / February 20th, 2009

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(A Waiter Recommended Beer Flight at Delancey)

So, having linked to a story about their wine tasting room's opening and being a big fan of The Bowery (owned by the same peeps and just up the street), I went to try Delancey out for myself on Thursday evening with a few lovely friends. You know who you are, M., B. &  P.

I want to start out by acknowledge something that, I think, as a born and bred New Yorker who lives in LA, I'm in a semi-unique position to say: sometimes LA has a major inferiority complex when it comes to NYC.  And, as much as I love my hometown and appreciate a good nod to the Big Apple, I think the obsession occasionally borders on sad.  So, maybe there is a fantastic reason why everything at Delancey is named for L.E.S. (The Lower East Side), but it feels a little . . . like it's trying to hard.  I mean, they already own Bowery, so the NYC worshipping seems plentiful enough. (P. grew up with me on the Upper West and B. was a longtime New Yorker and they agreed–so there).

Okay, that said I really liked Delancey's vibe.  I dig the intimacy of the space, the exposed brick walls, the shiny, reflective exposed brick facade, wine-colored booths and the beers choices scrawled casually across an over-sized mirror. Even more than Bowery with its much slicker black and white tiled motif, Delancey does feel like a neighborhood spot (and for a moment I wish I lived deeper into Hollywood).

And food-wise things were good.  First of all, the menu, like Bowery's, is really reasonably priced.  The beer menu (and the flights they offer, which you can customize or, like M. did, you can have created specially for you based on preference) is substantial and I had a glass of sparkling red, which I just LOVE all the time, though I don't think it was a Lambrusco. (Lambrusco is an Italian sparkling wine that's sort of considered low class, but I'm just a sucker for it, as it feels festive to drink like a winter-appropriate summer cocktail).
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(Ode To Delicious Bruschetta By The Pocket Lint)

Whose bruschetta this is, I think I know, his house is in the village though . . . Sorry.

The above White Bean Crostini Bruschetta with Olive Tapenade (one of my favorite condiments/foods in ever invented), Oil Cured Tuna and Radish was ultimately my favorite part of the meal, as it was amazingly flavorful.  I sort of envisioned coming back another day with friends and just ordering a bunch of bruschettas and some wine because they have like six options, including a Prosciutto, Goat Cheese & Dates situation–sign me up.  I don't know about you people, but live by a "more options to nibble the better" picking rule.

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(Essex Pizza and Rainbow-Colored Baby Artichokes)

Also, for my fellow lactards: the Essex pizza with Salumi, Olives and Cannelini Beans also has Sheep's Milk Ricotta in the mix and was very tasty (though the crust has a specific olive oil doused sort of crunchy consistency that some of us liked and some of us disliked).  I'd probably still take Terroni or Mozza's crust over this.  Maybe Pizzeria Ortica too.  But none of them offer me a Sheep Cheese version. Anyway, I liked it enough so that I almost murdered Andrew when he gobbled my leftovers without asking yesterday.  Grrrrrr.  Tip: don't get between this girl and her food cause she might bite.

I'd also like to give a shout out to all the Crispy Baby Artichoke hoes with Chili, Sweet & Sour Onions, Mint, Pine Nuts and Orange (I'm crazy), though I think they might have been elevated even further with a bit more acid and/or heat (do I sound Top Chef-esque?).  Actually, they were so beautifully colored that I'd order them just for a cheerful addition.  And, according to B., the Gnocchi with Wild Boar, Sage and Olives, was a yummy choice too.

All and all, though there wasn't a pickle monger or yenta in sight, I'd definitely cross town for Delancey again.  (Get it?  Crossing Delancey?  Sorry–I tried to stop myself from making the reference, but I just couldn't).

xo – N.

NYC (AND BEYOND): CRUMPLED TWENTY

By Nora Zelevansky / February 12th, 2009

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The Best Link Today:

Ya'll know I'm a sucker for Television Without Pity (why do I suddenly have a southern twang?).

ANYWAY, they've gone above and beyond, offering up "Top Chef: Season 5 Misfires" for all crazed Top Chef NYC fans to enjoy.  (Can the above picture be added to the list of misfires, please? What is going on with Gail's dress?)  TWP is completely on point, as ushe.  And I'd like to offer up my top 3 list items from their larger bunch:

1. "The Guest Judge's Cookbooks are not Legitimate Prizes."  Seriously.

2. "The Mystery That Is Leah"–Hallelujah!  The wait is finally over.  Keeping her around was so clearly a producorial (um, made up word?) choice.  So over her ass.  She should have gone home instead of Jeff.  She should have gone home instead of Jamie (who I kind of didn't like, but it turns out that we took the same SAT prep course in NYC, so I had to root for her).  Anyway, I'll go out on a limb and say I kind of can't stand Hosea too. He looks like Play-Doh.

3. "Toby Young's 'Jokes'"–Okay, first of all I miss Gail.  Second of all, there is way too much male energy up there–it's like Tom is making decisions unchecked. Third of all, has anyone ever tried so damn hard to be funny and been less clever?  I mean, he is TERRIBLE off the cuff and should probably stick to writing.  They could have at least used Queer Eye's Ted Allen.

Actually, I feel so strongly that I'd like to list this grievance twice:

4. "Toby Young's 'Jokes.'"  Okay. 

Also, I'd like to add my own misfire to the list as well:

5. I usually love him, but why is Tom on the rag this season?  The rag, I tell you!

That's all.

xo – N.

P.S. I know the rumors are that Tom is gay, but I have such a hard time believing that.  Didn't he have the hots for Season 3's Casey?  He got all giddy around her and actually nicknamed her too.  I dunno. I'm just not quite a believer yet.

LA: THE BEST WAY TO APPRECIATE TOP CHEF

By Nora Zelevansky / January 22nd, 2009

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Do I sound hoarse?  It's probably just smoke inhalation.  No big deal. (Choke, choke).

It all started very innocently actually, while my husband Andrew and I were watching Top Chef.  First I should explain that, while I am deeply food obsessed, I have no cooking skills.  And, though he is loathe to admit it, neither really does Andrew. (Andrew, I know you'll argue with me, but, for goodness sake, one skewers class does not a celebrity chef make.)  Anyway, while Chef Andre may have a yummy "special pasta" in his arsenal to go alongside my new sauteed broccoli side (thank you, Tova), we are pretty much lost in the kitchen.

So, we were watching Hosea and Leah make-out (oops) and then cry about it like someone else was responsible (Is this The Real World? But there's no transgendered Mormon bi-sexual dancer!), when we realized that we were desperate for dessert.  Then, as we rummaged sadly through the fridge, Andrew had an inspired idea: Dessert Quick Fire Challenge á la Andre and Nora!

I was onboard immediately and took over the kitchen first, ingeniously combining oatmeal, granola, yogurt, butter, flour, Godiva Hot Milk Chocolate powder, brown sugar, honey and, OKAY FINE I ADMIT IT, a little bit of berry flavored, low-carb Fuze. Oops.  I lumped the concoction onto a baking sheet and slipped the "cookies" into our new countertop brick oven pizza thingy, which was a wedding gift, of course.  I don't know how to use it, but it looks cool.

ANYWAY, in came Andrew and shooed me out.  I could swear almost no time passed.  I heard him bang a few dishes around and complain that the oven wasn't working properly and the next thing I knew flames (yes, actually fire) were shooting from the broiler.  At least we think it's the broiler.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, Andrew put maple syrup, Hershey's syrup, granola, butter and a secret ingredient (which turned out to be Tapatío–I KID YOU NOT) on graham crackers directly on a buttered pan, shoved it into some random part of our oven and, thankfully, thought to check on it when he noticed billows of smoke emerging.   

"What was it?" I asked, after he put the sizable fire out, opened windows to let out the heavy smoke and ash filled air (so the piercing shriek of the smoke detector would stop) and stood staring sheepishly at the empty, charred pan.  "Well, I created two preparations," he began to explain in Tom Colicchio-speak.  "Obviously the presentation is shot, but maybe the flavor is still salvageable?"  Yes, Andrew, if you like to eat ash with accents of burned metal baking tray.

Andrew tasted the black muck, wretched and then, like a proper Top Chef who always has a Plan B, he served a dish of grapefruit slices with a brown sugar dipping pile instead.  And, yes, that combination is just as gross as you suspect.  Padma would have definitely pronounced it "inedible," as she shoveled down the rest of the dish anyway.  Gotta have something to puke, right?  Whoops.  Did I say that?  JUST KIDDING.

I didn't start a fire, but my "cookies" came out looking like piles of cat puke baked in the sun.  And they sort of tasted like that too, no matter how hard Andrew tried to fake it.  "I mean, I've had better," he admitted.

It just goes to show you: on Top Chef, the desserts get you every time.

xo – N.

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P.S. Only the shorter "Recaplet" is up on Television Without Pity, but the longer one should be up soon and they're usually genius.