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You will meet a tall dark stranger

BY ANDREA RADEMAN

Woody Allen’s YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER is darkly delicious. Adrift in despair after Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), her husband of 40 years, leaves her to reclaim his youth, gullible Helena (Gemma Jones) finds reassurance in the overly sunny predictions of a fortune teller. Meanwhile, her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts); Sally’s husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), neighbor Dia (Freida Pinto); and Sally’s boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas), try to reconcile their personal failures by obsessively pursuing their dreams. Helena, the least likely to succeed, is the only one who does. For the others, the only “tall dark stranger” in their futures will likely be the foreboding figure who awaits us all. For you, dear readers, read on to fulfill your culinary dreams — we predict the next tall dark stranger you meet will be a chef.

September is CALIFORNIA WINE MONTH (www.wineinstitute.org) but Argentinean wine producers have much to celebrate, too, as their exports to the U.S. are rising dramatically. We recently met up with Sandra Beltran and Jerry Ward, part owners of BODEGA IKAL winery in Mendoza, Argentina, who plan to build a small residence hotel on property where owners can cultivate their own grapes. Last year they released their first 2,000 cases (700 Malbec, plus a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Torrontes). Italian wine sommelier, Johanna Jacobson, gave highest marks to their 2007 Malbec but also enjoyed the 2009 Chardonnay, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2007 Pinot Noir. These will soon be available here, value priced from just $16 to $19

Even food writers have secret passions for certain chain restaurants so it didn’t surprise us that Zagat Survey 2010 named PANERA BREAD the “most popular large restaurant chain in the United States.” At the Santa Monica location (501 Wilshire Blvd; 310-566-3080), the décor is inviting and immaculate; there’s a spacious enclosed patio, competent and friendly service, free internet access and free parking, and a vast variety of menu choices. Many items in this bakery/coffee bar/sandwich and salad spot are as healthful as they are tasty, with most ingredients organic and all-natural and zero grams of artificial trans fat per serving. Baked goods — well over a dozen different breads (including a terrific new Artisan Whole Grain Baguette), chewy bagels, muffins, crumbly scones, classic pastries, and crisp cookies — are made in-house and are the province of Head Baker Tom Gumpel, former associate dean at The Culinary Institute of America and certified master baker. The luscious Sierra Turkey Café Sandwich stacked with smoked turkey breast, chipotle mayonnaise, and field greens on Asiago Cheese Focaccia is a standout and can be sided with apples or baked chips in lieu of fries or ordered as part of a “Pick Any Two” option of any two half-sandwiches, half salads, soups, or fruit cup. All frozen drinks are blended to order including warm weather favorite, strawberry lemonade. Fall features Orchard Harvest Chicken Salad, Mac & Cheese, PumpkinSpice Latte, Pumpkin Cookies and more.

 
THE PAN AM ROOM (3221 Donald Douglas Loop S., SM; 310-390-6565) sits above the pan-Asian restaurant, Typhoon, in the Santa Monica Airport space that started life as The Hump. The menu is pan- American, owner Brian Vidor having gone from sushi to ceviche with the help of chef Norman Fierros, a 1990 James Beard Rising Star Chef who was once a celebrity hair stylist. The evolving menu pays tribute to the defunct airline by overlaying Mexican tamales, rellenos, and tacos with halibut, Uruguayan beef tenderloin, and deep-dish Chilean pot pie topped with a buttermilk crust. Peruvian ceviche is a mound of shrimp, octopus, and scallop sided by sweet potato slices and corn cobs. Four others include Sea of Cortez (shrimp or oysters), Ecuadorean (snapper and squid), Panamanian (white bass), and tuna. Even better than the cheese and corn empanadas from Argentina are the Puerto Rican beef picadillos. End with a Guatemalan take on tres leches cake festooned with berries and flowery strips of lemon zest.

LOS BALCONES DEL PERU (1360 Vine St., Hlywd; 323-871-9600) has a new look, thanks in part to a photo mural of downtown Lima’s balconied buildings that lets you imagine you are there. In the redo, Jorge Rodriguez (owner and popular host) and his brothers, Walter (chef) and Eduardo, are giving the menu the same thoughtful treatment as the décor, having retired some dishes and introduced others. One of the best is short ribs braised in beer, fresh cilantro, and Peruvian yellow chile (ají amarillo). This egg-yolk colored chile also lends a sunny glow to sea bass carpaccio (tiradito). There’s a real poached egg on the quinoa and asparagus salad, dressed with maracuya (similar to passion fruit) vinaigrette, and also on the Peruvian cioppino, a kind of shrimp chowder with rice and the huge Peruvian corn kernels called choclo. Causa (potato cake) is divided into three petite servings — vegetarian, chicken, and seafood, each with its own sauce. Future plans call for regional dishes, a small plates bar menu and more, many of which will be described on a picture-window sized wall blackboard.

 At NONNA’S EMPANADAS (8570 W Third St., BH; 310-385-0445), chef Alejandro Gonzales bakes, not fries, crescent shaped pastries, an Argentinean any-time snack, that sell for $2.95 or $29 a dozen. Although he also fills them with beef (and beef-jalapeno); chicken (and chickenjalapeno); tomato; onion and cheese; ham & cheese; vegetable; and a luscious cornmozzarella- green onion, we’ve only tried the latter so far, having been distracted by the rest of the menu. Twenty-plus dainty toasted sandwiches called tostinos come filled with ham & cheese or hearts of palm, tomatoes, red peppers, mortadella or turkey. With a nod to their new home in California, co-owners Graciella and Mario also offer three salads, including one with string beans, egg and potato. There’s a daily soup and gnocchi, which is also served at special monthly dinners. The dessert case features sweets that you’d normally see only in Argentina and the coffee bar offers espresso at just $1.50 per shot. Delivery is available and online ordering is on the way. A steady line of customers traipses in to pick up orders but we prefer to dine on the patio or inside, where all is light woods and shiny new fixtures with Charles Aznavour playing in the background, just like in Argentina.

 We told you Ricardo Zarate was on the move and he is, having been scooped up by restaurateurs Bill and Elizabeth Chait, along with his business partner, Stephane Bombet. While construction on ANTICUCHO proceeds upstairs in the old Sparks space, they’re running TEST KITCHEN (9575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A; 310-277-0133, testkitchenla.com; online reservations only. Open Tues.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid) downstairs. It’s a pop-up that’s drawing LA’s top culinary talent — Walter Manzke, Nancy Silverton, Starry Kitchen, etc – both in the kitchen and behind the bar. The list is long and most nights have been claimed. Actually, Zarate plans to keep Mo-Chica running downtown but, if you check with reservations at Test Kitchen, you may find him acting as guest chef at his own restaurant.

 Evan Kleiman’s 2nd Annual KCRW GOOD FOOD PIE CONTEST, which took place during Taste of Beverly Hills, had a surprise winner. Among the 122 entries, a meat pie made by Yuichiro Sato, a student from Japan, took both “best in show” and “best savory” honors. The judges felt he was taking pie back to its very roots, as the first appearance of the dinner table dessert staple was as a “humble meat pie.” The recipe is posted at http://blogs.kcrw. com/goodfood/.

 Aarón Sánchez, of Food Network’s “Chefs vs. City” fame and owner/chef of New York’s Centrico and Tacombi, gets his cooking chops from his mom, the legendary Zarela Martinez. Sanchez has partnered with CACIQUE® (www.caciqueusa .com), the largest Hispanic cheese brand in the U.S., as the face of the Go Auténtico Cook-Off Challenge, presented in conjunction with the Mexican Independence Day Bicentennial (follow him at Twitter @Cacique_USA). We agree with Sanchez that “Only authentic Hispanic cheeses and creams such as Queso Fresco and Crema Mexicana balance the flavors of zesty, robust and spicy Latin dishes,” but we also eat Cacique’s Queso Fresco as is or melted on meat, eggs, even toast, which brings out its fresh, milky flavor. Crema Mexicana is similar to sour cream but less tart and can stand in for that or crème fraiche. It turns baked baby potatoes, potato pancakes, black beans, or a hearty soup, into a fast, simple and yummy meal.

Get my goat! Worldwide, more people drink milk from goats than cows. Not only is it naturally homogenized, it also has less lactose than cow’s milk and is easier to digest. The SIERRA NEVADA CHEESE COMPANY www.sierranevadacheese.com consistently wins awards for their handcrafted, certified Kosher dairy products made with milk that is free of synthetic hormones and antibiotics, preservatives, stabilizers and gums. They recently added a new line of goat milk yogurts and cheeses, including low- and non-fat versions. Capretta Goat Yogurt is similar to Greekstyle yogurt and provides more protein and calcium than other brands, along with millions of probiotics. It’s available, unflavored, in 24 oz. containers, and will soon be available in low-fat 6oz. containers in plain, strawberry, vanilla, and honey flavors. Bella Capra comes as a 6 oz. wedge of semi-soft, Gouda-style cheese available in: traditional; smoked; garlic & herb; and jalapeno. Bella Capra Bianca is an aged goat cheese with a nutty flavor that is delicious with fruit or crackers, or melted into virtually any recipe.

Over forty years ago, when Ron Lodato, Sr., founded CAESAR’S PASTA in New Jersey, the natural food trend was just a blip on the horizon. Today, natural foods without additives that are low in sodium and gluten free are hot. Says Lodato, “Gluten free isn’t just for people with allergies or Celiac disease…we hear from tons of customers that they feel better when they don’t eat wheat. Many avoiding gluten have given up on pasta but we are glad to bring our homemade taste to microwaveable convenient gluten-free meals.” We’ve tried their gnocchi (available regular and spinach), and their veggie lasagna (also available regular), manicotti in sauce, and stuffed shells. They require just a few min- utes in a microwave for a tasty, healthful meal. You won’t miss the bad stuff.

Long before Al Yeganeh’s TV fame as the “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld, his soup skills were drawing long lines of customers willing to brave bad weather and worse treatment to indulge in fabulous jambalaya, mulligatawny, and crab bisque. Now  theORIGINAL SOUPMAN has re-opened his Hell’s Kitchen spot, having taken time out to open franchises nationwide and to develop a line of quality frozen soups — Chicken Vegetable, Seafood Bisque, Tomato Basil, Italian Wedding, and Broccoli & Cheese — packaged in BPA-free microwaveable bowls and sold in grocery stores and online (SRP $3.49 to $4.49). A portion of all sales are donated to the Al Feeds the Hungry Foundation.

VOSKOS GREEK YOGURT, made in nearby Sun Valley, has twice the protein of regular yogurt, plus 5 live and active probiotics, minimal sugar, and comes blended, never “fruit on the bottom.” Greek yogurt is so creamy it can easily stand in for crème fraiche — when made with ewe’s milk it’s about 5% milkfat, with cow’s milk it has 9% fat (most American whole-milk yogurts have only around 3.5%). It’s an inexpensive beauty treatment, too, given its essential fatty acids; b vitamins; vitamin c; iron; and phenolic compounds. Vosko yogurt is the top gluten-free superfood for celiacs, a list that includes dried blueberries; oatmeal; red bell peppers; canned pumpkin; cannellini beans; flax seeds; soybeans; quinoa; and cod liver oil. It’s all-natural, hormone-free, and gluten-free. Available plain in non fat, original, and low fat varieties, or in five luscious flavors: Greek Honey; Wild Blueberry; Honey Vanilla Bean; Exotic Fig; and Wild Strawberry. What’s not to love?

September 14 – 28 ZA-ZEN at BREADBAR (8718 W. 3rd St.; 310-205-0124. Reservations required.) Chef David Schlosser became an adherent of Kappo cuisine while working in Japan. This tradition values food as medicine as well as pleasure, and enhances mind, body, and soul. Selections from his two seven-course prix-fixe menus ($34/46): Plant & Fungi includes Germinated Rice with Barley, Fresh Chestnuts, Lotus Root Pickle, Black Sesame Mochi, and stuffed Figs; Set includes Hirame Sashimi, Nori Cube, Wasabi Sprout Autumn Knife Fish, Marinated Winter Melon Persimmon with Shaved Black Sugar and Sencha (Green Tea). Available side options include Beef Tongue and Smoked Bottarga ($5 each) and Chilled or Hot Roasted Barley Tea with Loquat Leaf ($2). September 15th at Snyder Diamond (1399 Olympic Blvd., SM),

CHEF NEAL FRASER (Grace, BLD) teaches you how to prepare sauteed day boat scallop, aged goat cheese risotto and peas, followed by vanilla panna cotta with market berries and salted caramel. Ian Blackburn, of Learn- AboutWine.com, pairs each dish with a boutique wine and everyone takes home a packed Foodie Gift Bag.

September 19th, from 5-8 p.m., Nancy Zaslavsky sets up a REGIONAL FOODS OF MEXICO workshop at BREADBAR (8718 W. 3rd St., LA; 310-205-0124), where she will demonstrate how to create Veal Meatballs in Ancho Chile Sauce, Chicken Breast in a Puebla-Style Green Pumpkin Seed Sauce, and Nancy’s Chocolate Chile Mole Brownies with Mexican Papantla (Vanilla Bean) Ice Cream. Then guests will dine on these dishes along with a mini Caesar Salad from Breadbar’s bistro menu. Cost $65, plus tax and tip.

The food event of the year, the AMERICAN WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL returns on Saturday, September 25th at 6-11pm (VIP entry at 5pm), when the country’s most exciting chefs descend on Universal Studios’ Back Lot to cook up an unrivaled feast paired with more than 80 varieties of fine wines and spirits. The spectacular setting is a backdrop for live bands, a silent auction, and surprises. Chefs from Puck’s farflung empire are the stars (Lee Hefter; Matt Bencivenga; David Mcintyre; Ari Rosenson, et al), along with Gino Angelini; Paul Bartolotta; Floyd Cardoz; Sam Choy; Robert Del Grande; Lissa Doumani & Hiro Sone; Dean Fearing; Kerry Heffernan; and many more). They’ll be joined by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Chefs (Jose Andres; Bruce & Eric Bromberg; Scott Conant; David Myers; et al). Sherry Yard will present a Champagne & Port Lounge with Sally Camacho, Francois Payard and Ben Spungin). THE KINGS OF PASTRY The Top Chef competitions are child’s play compared to the harrowing pastry Olympics, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, held in Lyon for three pre-dawn days every four years and filmed for the first time by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker. The greatest patissiers of France judge the work of 16 contestants, checking aprons for cleanliness and garbage for signs of cheating, with an intensity usually reserved for battle. This race to win the ultimate professional recognition will likely keep you on the edge of your seat and shedding a few tears, some but not all of them from laughter. Opens October 8th at the Music Hall (Beverly Hills).

Get a taste of Venice in the Valley on Saturday, October 2nd, at VENETIAN MASQUERADE BALL put on by Rodolfo Costella, of Ca’ Del Sole restaurant, and his friend, Nina Andro, to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, Southland Chapter. Alzheimer’s is the 7th leading cause of death in the US with $172 billion in annual costs. The Emmys Foundation is helping spread the word about the fabulous passed dinner, singers, musicians, fortune teller, cocktails, wine and dancing.

The biannual dineLA RESTAURANT WEEK, which runs October 3-8th and October 10-15th, is now the largest in the nation, with 300 eateries offering special menus: Lunches $16 - $28; dinners $26 - $44. See moBistro.com for details.

October 10th LOS ANGELES LUXURY CHOCOLATE SALON (www.tastetv.com) at the Pasadena Center, 300 Green St. Come for chocolate tasting, demonstrations, chef & author talks, wine tasting and interviews by TasteTV's Chocolate Television program. Culinary artisans include: Divinie Chocolate, Choclatique, Amano Artisan Chocolate, Coco-luxe Confections, Essential Chocolate Desserts, Mignon Chocolate, Ococoa chocolates, The Chocolate Traveler, Chocoveda, Marti Chocolatt, Clarine's Florentines, Amella Caramels, Moonstruck Chocolate, Suess Chocolates, Farm Fresh To You, and more. Reserve space in the V.I.C. (Very Important Chocolate lover) Lounge. Advance Tickets $20.

October 16th TASTE OF ITALY, will benefit the 1908 Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (www.italianhall.org). "The Olvera Street area, Chinatown and Lincoln Heights once comprised the core of the city’s little Italy, as Museum director, Marianna Gatto, chronicled in LOS ANGELES’S LITTLE ITALY. Already signed on are Pane e Vino, Eastside Market, 8 ½ Taverna, Gail Silverton’s Gelato Bar, Ventura Limoncello and Casa Torrelli wines, and musical performers Joey Gian and Giovanna Gattuso, with much more to come. The Historic Italian Hall Foundation will promote research, exhibitions and public programs. Event key funding from the San Antonio Winery and Ravo Outdoor. THE WESTERN FOODSERVICE & HOSPITALITY EXPO and EXPO COMIDA LATINA (www.thefoodshows.com), which shared space at the L.A. Convention Center, donated ten thousand pounds of food to The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Brendan Collins (Waterloo and City); Josiah Citrin (Melisse); Sherry Yard (Wolfgang Puck pastry); and Warren Schwartz (Westside Tavern) were in a Fine Dining Panel hosted by Margot Dougherty (zesterdaily. com). Heather Perry was crowned the Ultimate Barista Champion.

Stars at THE CLUB CULINAIRE OF FRENCH CUISINE BOUTIQUE TRADE SHOW at Hotel Sofitel (8555 Beverly Blvd., LA), included: Echo Beverages, locally produced water in recycled and recyclable bottles; Principe Foods’ Prociutto di Parma of San Daniele, Italy; Joy Cognac, Armagnac made in Gascogne in a Paco Rabanne bottle; IMP Foods, part of the EIWA Group (Japanese chef training and tea ceremony schools in Japan); and Ayoa Foods, local pizza, and quiche.

 GONPACHI OF BEVERLY HILLS opened its 100-year-old wooden moon gate, welcoming guests into a beautiful Japanese garden for the “ENDLESS SUMMER” PRIMETIME EMMY® SUITE & PARTY, presented by CellCeuticals® Biomedical Skin Treatments, produced by Doris Bergman and Kathy Duliakas, who offered fashion, skin care, travel gear, footwear, jewelry, timepieces, gourmet Asian cuisine, delectable goodies, exotic cocktails, and more! Guests donated and autographed their favorite book to Room to Read® (www.roomtoread.org). Bon appetit! 􀀀

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