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THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

BY ANDREA RADEMAN

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, about an experimental U.S. military unit with psy­chic powers so strong they can kill a goat simply by staring at it, is too bizarre to be credible. But it’s grounded in reality or, as the intertitle claims: “More of this is true than you would believe.” Headed for big-name status, director Grant Heslov brings Peter Straugh­an’s satiric screenplay, inspired by Jon Ron­son’s non-fiction bestseller of the same name, to loony-tunes life, eliciting exquisitely daft performances from George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, et al. Its Reagan-era, Vietnam, and LSD ref­erences recall Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22. Who could have imagined that the ensuing madness of Iraq, and staged “tea parties,” and make-believe newscasters would make those days seem quaint by comparison.

Hunting down authentic Peking duck isn’t easy even in Beijing, the city for which it is named. Welcome PHILIPPE CHOW (8284 Melrose Ave., WHd; 323-951-1100; also in New York, Miami, East Hampton, Mexico City, and Greenwich Village), who trained his kitchen staff to air-dry a plump bird, then stretch the skin by blowing air beneath it, after which a chef bastes the exterior with a blend of honey and spices before firing it up in the special oven that Chow designed him­self. A server carts the whole seven-pound lacquered duck to your table, then shaves off morsels of skin, each with a thin layer of meat clinging to it, and artfully arranges them on a serving platter. You wrap each piece in a small pancake that you’ve smeared with sticky plum sauce, and top it with thin slices of scallion. The dish serves up to eight peo­ple and will set you back $75 but don’t count on leftovers. Make it up at lunch (Monday – Saturday from 12pm – 4pm) when three courses cost just $20.10 for up to eight guests, including choice of: appetizers (hot & sour soup; chicken satay; chicken lettuce wraps; crispy seaweed); mains (Beijing chicken; crispy beef; velvet chicken breast; crispy salmon, all served with white rice); housemade sorbet or ice cream; and coffee or Chinese tea. Of course, if you want to watch chef Wai Ming Cheng prepare Mr. Cheng’s hand-pulled noodles in pork or veal bean sauce, you’ll have to come for dinner (Monday to Saturday 6:00pm – 12:00am or Sunday 3:00pm – 12:00am). Chow is no one-trick pony, either. His fabulous chicken satay skewers in cream sauce are a world apart from any version of this dish we’ve ever tasted. The hot and sour soup was nei­ther but the Glazed Spare Ribs or Bust, Night of the Crabmeat Soup Dumplings, and Let It Maine Lobster Spring Roll more than make up for it. While you drink in the chic white, black, and red modern décor, drink a Shanghai Philippe, a Philipptini, or a Philippe Passion and get ready for a perfor­mance of DARE, the China National Acro­batic Troupe, at the Pasadena Civic Audito­rium (Nov. 14 at 7:30pm or Nov. 15 at 2pm and 7pm; 626-449-7360; www.dareacro­bats.com). Their shows were sellouts when they came to L.A. before the Beijing Olympics and when you see the ballerina who pirouettes in the palm of her partner’s hand you’ll know why they’re famous.

Logan Levant was a regular customer of BUTTERCAKE BAKERY’S luscious clas­sics and when she learned the owner want­ed to retire she and her mother bought it (10595 Pico Blvd.; 310-470-6770). With the help of Susan Lee they’ve since added a second location in Sunset Plaza (8616 Sun­set Blvd.; 310-855-0770). Visitors are hooked by the aromas that waft from the open kitchen, transported to an era when desserts were made with fresh, wholesome ingredients and baked one batch at a time. Orders come tucked inside a yellow and white striped box, and many of them include the signature bittersweet lemon bars and dense espresso cookies, but specialty treats are added seasonally. Need a hostess gift? Right now they are offering peppermint crunch cake, peppermint or pecan snow­balls, Mexican chocolate cheesecake or pumpkin cheesecake on gingerbread crust, and a lovely Holiday Cookie Mix (espresso cookies, pecan snowballs, peppermint snowballs). Cupcakes come in mini, stan­dard, and jumbo sizes in buttercake, choco­late, and red velvet flavors, as well as carrot; banana; lemon; German chocolate; pump­kin; and ginger bread. These actually have more cake than icing, and the cake is moist and delectable. Bring someone the rich chocolate cake with ground almonds and you’ll be sure to get a return invitation. But why leave home when you can console yourself over a cup of tea and a thick slice of their knockout sour cream coffee cake? 

GOURMET GIFTS AND GOSSIP

Brown bagging lunch is at an all-time high, according to market research. Amber Pollard thought dieters, budget-watchers, airplane passengers, and professional women who might want to go out after work, including actresses like Perrey Reeves (“Entourage”) and Melora Hardin (“The Office”), deserved a more glamorous accessory so she launched LUNCH A LA MODE handbags. Each model includes an insulated and removable lunch pouch, a mesh ice pack pouch, a beverage holder, two reusable ice packs, and has plenty of room for a wallet, cosmetics, day calendar, an iPod and other essentials. There’s an expandable Bistro shoulder bag with an adjustable strap, a side-pocketed Alfresco shoulder bag, a roomy Picnic hobo with a partial chain strap, and the dome-shaped Trattoria tote. Fabrics are leather, patent leather, eco-friendly vegan leather, and hemp suede in shades of buttercream, anise, oyster, caramello and rum raisin. Prices range from $270 - $588. Info: www.lunchalamode.com; 310-968-6767; info@lunchalamode.com.

PASTERNAK WINE IMPORTS (800-946­3110 www.pasternakwine.com) has some good buys on festive fizzy wines, srp$12­$23. Albrecht Brut Blanc de Blancs, made from Pinot Blanc, has a light, delicate palate and is versatile; Giró Ribot/Penedes, Spain. Paul Cheneau Cava, bottle-aged for two years, is subtle and delicate. Once the wine of choice at Barcelona’s art nouveau cafes and cava bars; MPX Brut Cava comes from where the best Spanish sparkling wines are produced. This unique Cava is estate-bot­tled from top quality grapes. Fine and ele­gant with a surprisingly balanced, aged bouquet. Full, creamy texture and lingering aftertaste with fresh aromas of herbs and apples; MPX Rose Cava has a soft creamy style with a fine and well-integrated mousse. It is elegant on the palate with intense red berry fruit flavors.

In the ZAGAT SURVEY LOS ANGELES 2010, Urasawa gets first place for food and service (others: Sushi Zo; Angelini Osteria; Matsuhisa; Providence). The Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel is rated #1 for its stunning decor (others: Madison; Bazaar; Saddle Peak; Yamashiro), and Pizzeria Mozza is now L.A.’s most popular restaurant (others: Spago; In-N-Out Burger; A.O.C; Osteria Mozza), perhaps the most important rating of all. Jose Andrés’ Bazaar, which Esquire Magazine named the best new restaurant in the nation (John Sed­lar’s Rivera, RH, West Side Tavern also cited), was voted leading newcomer, along with Drago Centro, Church & State, Bouzy Gas­tropub and Huckleberry. First time food truck ratings give Kogi #4 Bang-for-the-Buck. We're dining out less often and choosing cheaper places, cutting out apps and/or desserts and drinking less alcohol and bottled water. The average price of a meal rose 1.7% but at the 20 Most Expensive restaurants it actually declined 2.2%.

Take your mind off the lousy airplane food by bringing FLIGHT PATTERNS: A Century of Stories about Flying (Grove Press, Open City Books; $15.95) on your next real or vir­tual flight. The Wright brothers, the Lind­berghs, Amelia Earhart, James Salter, Erica Jong, and David Sedaris are among the writ­ers who expound on everything from mile-high sex, to etiquette for cramped seating, and accounts of racial profiling post–9/11. Our favorite piece is JACK, THE ROAD, & ME, written by Gary Horn. This is an insight­ful and hilarious accounting of how an erst­while free spirit (whose counterpart is Jack Kerouac) gets around the globe when he just happens to be wheelchair bound. Clearly, the only constraints on the talented Mr. Horn are physical. Available at Amazon.com. Equator Books, the eclectic book­store known for its unique tomes and art, has launched its long-awaited EQUATOR CAFÉ (1103 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice; 310-399-9282; www.equator­books.com). They’ve brought in San Francisco cult coffee roaster, Blue Bottle, the object of excruci­atingly long lines at the Ferry Building, and are serving teas from Art of Tea and pastries from Cake Monkey and Anisette. BEAUJOLAIS PASSIONS takes place on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at The Petersen Automotive Museum (6060 Wilshire Blvd., MidCity), fea­turing Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nou­veau 2009, other Beaujolais wines, exhibitors, silent auction, raffle prizes, and live entertainment: info@passionsproduc­tions.com or 323-656-6083.

FOOD FORWARD L.A. calls for volun­teers to help pick fresh fruit in Northridge, Granada Hills, and the San Fernando Valley for distribution to area food banks and distri­bution centers. Details: http://foodforward. org ASAP! 

Croque Monsieur Puffs (12 pieces $12) are new at X BAR in the HYATT REGENCY CENTURY PLAZA (Monday - Friday 4pm ­2pm; Saturday 6pm - 2pm), where the entire menu is available 'to go'. We crisped some in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes, then dipped in the accompanying mustard. Info: www.xbarla.com or call David Knebel 310-551-3343.

FOUR at CHECKERS DOWNTOWN (535 S. Grand Ave.; 213-624-0000) features clas­sic cocktails, wines and beers paired with Executive Chef Todd Allison’s innovative tapas from 4 – 8 p.m. every Thursday. Fea­tured cocktails are $4 each and tapas are $4-$6 each. Through November they’ll fea­ture Partida Tequila, Oxley Gin, Remy Martin and Belgian beers among others. There’s a full lobby bar, renovated patio and restau­rant, a new menu and new bar cocktails that emphasize quality spirits and fresh, hand-squeezed juices for made-from-scratch clas­sic as well as creative cocktails. 

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Over 60 million people in the U.S. have this disease or blood sugar issues. Low glycemic index carbs, which produce only small fluc­tuations in blood glucose and insulin levels, are the secret to reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes and are the key to sus­tainable weight loss. GRANOLA GOURMET is made with ingredients that are not hydrat­ed, making your body work harder to digest them. Founder Jeff Cohen, who himself is diabetic, created these energy bars with no sodium, dairy, wheat, or the high sugar, fat and sodium found in some popular protein bars. They are the only product of this type that I have ever found enjoyable. And that’s a mouthful (www.granolagourmet.com).  ▼

 

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