Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foodie Fight: New LAX Restaurants Face Political Hurdles

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on the battles at LAX in regards to decent food.

Foodie Fight: New LAX Restaurants Face Political Hurdles

Everyone knows the food at LAX sucks.  I personally make sure to take a trip to Whole Foods the day before so I am well stocked before heading through security to the land of McDonalds, Starbucks, and Chilli’s Too’s.   And I’m not alone.  Food and beverage service at LAX has been a contentious issue for years.  In a recent J.D. Power survey of airport quality, passengers ranked LAX 19th out of the 20 biggest airports in the U.S., and gave its fast-food chains and other eateries two stars out of five.  Considering how much Angeleno’s pride themselves on being foodies this is completely and utterly embarrassing…
But hope is on the way, as long as the politics of it all just don’t get in the way. 
Change is (potentially) in the air, in April LAX management selected a team of local restaurateurs assembled by SSP America as its choice to provide food service at several airport terminals.   Among the cornucopia of dining options are local Santa Monica gems La Serenata de Garibaldi (authentic Mexican culinary), Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Border Grill Taqueria (modern Mexican fare), and Groundwork Coffee (largest organic coffee roaster in Los Angeles and very first certified organic coffee roasters in southern California).
“This is a world class food city and we are really proud to be joining L.A. ’s culinary community in its commitment to help make LAX one of the world’s best airports,” said Pat Murray, Senior Vice President at SSP America, which oversees food and beverage services at more than 40 North American airports. “The airport management plans to spend nearly $1 billion upgrading and expanding its facilities in the coming years, and they understand that it’s crucial to upgrade the travelers’ dining experience as well.  We are extremely pleased that the airport management recognized the quality and strength of our proposal and recommended it for selection.”

Chef Susan Feniger, co-owner of the celebrated Border Grill Taqueria and Ciudad restaurants along with Chef Mary Sue Milliken noted, “being part of the top notch group of chefs and restaurateurs in the SSP Package proposal, we get to give everyone traveling through LAX a taste of the real and unique flavors of Los Angeles – if the City will let us.”

And there’s the “but” of the situation.  

Since 1965, most food service at the airport has been provided under a contract with HMS Host (along with Delaware North and the Hudson Group). In April, after a rigorous bidding and evaluation process, the Los Angeles World Airport (LAWA) management team ranked the SSP America proposal first and recommended that the Los Angeles Airport Commission approve a 10-year contract for food and beverage service in Terminals 4, 5, 7 and 8.  From the beginning the incumbents have lobbied hard to keep their piece of the pie, fighting tooth and nail and complaining to anyone who will listen that the bidding process was flawed (their objections were dismissed by the LA city attorney’s office).
Because Airport Commission Alan Rothenberg had a potential conflict of interest, he owns stock in a food company currently operating at the airport (HMS Host), which ranked fourth by LAWA, the final approval of the contract must come from the Board of Referred Powers, a committee of the Los Angeles City Council.  Both the City Attorney and the City Administrative Officer have recommended that the Board of Referred Powers approve airport management’s contract recommendations. HMS Host is appealing and asking that the bids be rejected (which along with Delaware North and the Hudson Group stand to lose six-figure contracts if city officials kick them to the curbside).  According to the LA Weekly, this switch doesn't seem to have removed the possibility of conflicts. Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who is a member of the board, received $40,000 in contributions from LAX concession companies and their lobbyists during her failed campaign for lieutenant governor.

Last Thursday chefs and owners from more than a dozen of the restaurants on SSP’s master list today hosted an ‘Eat In’ at the world famous Patina restaurant to preview their new airport cuisine and urge the Los Angeles City Board of Referred Powers to approve a proposal to serve their award-winning fare to millions of travelers at LAX. Joachim Splichal, chef and founder of the Patina Group owned Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse noted, “we’re ready to bring the very best food that Los Angeles has to offer to the airport.  We just want city officials to give us the chance.  As a chef and as an Angeleno, I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve our food at the airport.”  Fourteen of the restaurants from SSP proposed list participated in the event (including Santa Monica based Border Grill and Groundwork) prepared and served samples of their menus.  After the event, participants attended a scheduled hearing on the LAX food and beverage contract before the L.A. City Board of Referred Powers at 11 a.m. at City Hall. 
SSP, who purport the subtitle of the Food Travel Experts, is a large-scale operator of food and beverage brands in travel locations worldwide, with operations in more than 130 airports and 300 rail stations in 32 countries.  Other restaurants on SSP’s LAX roster include: Homeboy Industries (an inner-city group bakery that helps former gang members go straight), Spuntino (a new restaurant from Nancy Silverton of Michael’s, Spago, Mozza and La Brea Bakery fame), LAMILL Coffee (a trendy, high-concept coffeehouse where a cup of coffee is art, science and floor show), M Café de Chaya (contemporary Macrobiotic Cuisine), Market Café of the Patina Group (an upscale European market with a modern spin for takeaway customers), Geisha House (Ashton Kutcher’s Dolce Group sushi bar), Peets Coffee & Tea (coffee), Red Mango (frozen yogurt),  and Panda Express (SIGH, famed for their orange chicken).

“The airport is our culinary window to the world,” continues Susan Feniger, chef and owner of Border Grill Taqueria.  “The way people experience and perceive Los Angeles begins at LAX and food is a major part of that experience. 

The Board of Referred Powers has scheduled a hearing on the matter for August 5 at City Hall.      
Kat Thomas is a food writer, you can check out her musings at her blog the Edible Skinny (

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

America's Obsession with the Bottle, of Water that is...

Bottled and Sold
Peter Gleick, who was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003 for his work on sustainable water use and the connections between water and human health, has a new book out, Bottled and Sold, on American and our obsession with bottle water. In this book he examines how drinking water was commodified and specifically branded over 30 years turning what was once a free natural resource into a multibillion-dollar global industry.

I recently listed to Gleick’s interview on Fresh Air and here are some (depressing) factoids on our sordid bottled water obsession.

1. Every second of every day in the US 1,000 people buy and open a commercially bottled plastic bottle of water, and every second of every day 1,000 plastic bottles are thrown away.
2. If it says Spring Water than it’s from a spring, otherwise it’s municipal water that is filtered and processed, these include Dasani (Coke), Aquafina (Pepsi), and Pure Life (Nestle). With Dansai they strip out all the minerals and then they put minerals back so it tastes the same even though it comes from different municipal water locations (they call it, believe it or not, “Pixie Dust.”)
3. Poland Spring (Nestle) used to come from the Poland Spring in Maine, but we overextended this spring, pretty much using it all up. The company switched over to using water from any of half a dozen springs in the Northeast, but didn’t disclose this. There was a class action lawsuit, and now if you look at a Poland Spring bottle it now lists a bunch of spring sources that the water may have come from.
4. In the US 75% of the bottles used are not recycled. (Yep, even though we’ve been told to recycle for twenty years we’re still really bad at it.)
5. The bottles that are recycled are then shipped across the Pacific to China where they are then turned into toys, fabrics, rugs, etc, that are then (of course) sent back to the US to be sold.

Gleick recommend Americans should insist that your water municipalities are maintained and upgraded. Do something.

Explore. Think. Eat

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Love Paris in the Summertime


So I don’t know if you know this but Paris is très chaud in the summertime (actually thanks to global warming it seems to be très chaud everywhere). The heat in Paris is that sticky hot heat that causes your typical America to run for the air conditioning dial. But since AC is very limited the City of Lights I decided to make the best of a mal situation and find a sanctuary of lunch on one of the loveliest islands in Paris (and not the one that houses Notre-Dame).

Considered on the most romantic parts of Paris the two islands that lie in the middle of the Seine River (Ile de la Cite and Ile St-Louis) are some of the city’s most enigmatic attractions. Ile St-Louis is (in my opinion) the most charming place in Paris. The 17th century stone house, boutiques, and specialty shop make it the perfect place to amble about. Strolling along these cobblestoned streets I decided to partake in the wonderful Parisian experience: the outdoor picnic.

I slid into a Fruit and Vegetable store to purchase two beautifully fragrant peaches, I could write pages on the soft fuzziness alone (2.69 € for two). Next I discovered the perfect From Eger, the cheese shop (but calling it just that cheapens it). As I entered the shop of Christian Le Lann, Fromeger-Affineur I was slammed with a bouquet of stinky cheese smells. It was easy to read that the man watching football behind the counter was not into embracing the English language. Terrified at my mediocre French I desperately searched around for something self contained, something that I wouldn’t have to request in grams (Yes, all I could think about was David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day). Joyfully eyes fell upon the smallest wrapped round cheese Tentation de Saint Felicien Double Crème L’Etoile du Vercors. Quite a mouthful, Tentation is the the cheese, L’Etoile du Vercors is the cheese group that makes it (6.8 €).

I walked the Quai de Bourbon, to the tip of the East side of the island, to the little park housed there. Up until this point my sister and I had noted every place in Paris we went so many people were speaking English (it should be noted we were seeing a good amount of tourist sites), so I was happy to discover this was not that case; Here, I was surrounded by natives, speaking their native French tongue. I sat down arranging my spoils when I felt a wonderful puff of air skip across my shoulders.

That breeze alone made it the best seat in the City.


I dug in. No Silverware, no napkins, lots of finger licking. The Etoile was so creamy it tasted like butter (truthfully for a moment I thought I had accidently bought butter). The peach was full of juicy sweetness that spurted with every bite. It had been awhile since I’ve eaten a peach whole. There’s something so inherently sexy about it. How French, I thought.

I paused for a moment to drink from my SIGG bottle (every good Green girl doesn’t go anywhere without it…) and I noted how the water tasted sweeter. I have always felt that real quality food can enhance your palate (just in the same way cardboard fast food can deaden it). And while Frenchman fished the Seine and boats full of tourists drifted up and down I thought that is exactly what this meal had done. Through my taste buds I had discovered the most quintessential f French philosophies: Joie de Vivre.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Le Petit Pontoise

Le Petit Pontoise

The Left Bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter is housed the charming restaurant Le Petites Pontoisse. Nestled off of Blvd. St. Germain (the main thoroughfare) this Bistro is a place of food transcendence. We had high expectations, at the start of our meal we overheard the table next to us state that when they visited Paris in 2006 they ate there every night for a week, and we weren’t disappointed. The greatness of their food, proudly displayed on multiple blackboards all over the restaurant’s wall, is found in its simplicity.

We started the evening with a selection from the Les Vins de Boerdeaux chalkboard (the wines of Bordeaux). Our choice: the cheapest on the menu at 20 €, was the 2009 Chateau de Bordes – Quancard; the color: deep purple and garnet; and the taste: soft silky sublimeness. This was countered with the bread (the best I had in France) a perfect amount of doughy yeast flavorings and crustiness.

Tatin d’Artichaut Parmegiano

We decided to begin with a choice off Les Entrees (appetizers for you and me) blackboard. We chose the Tatin d’Artichaut Parmegiano (Artichoke Tatin with Parmesan Cheese for 13 €) best described as an artichoke and eggplant pie it was an ideal balance of buttery flaky crust with robust fleshy vegetables. My sister and I both thought dish was going to be heavier until we realized that Parmesan cheese was actually sitting on top of the green salad served as an accompaniment.

Noix de Saint Jaques a la Provencale

Kelly and I are huge fans of choosing two main dishes and sharing (the “Thomas sisters love to share”) and neither dish was a disappointment. Noix de Saint Jaques a la Provencale (Scallops Saint Jacques Provincial style for 25 €) was the lighter of the two. Lighter being a loose term as the entire dish of Scallops, Green Beans, Julienne Zucchini, Carrots, and Tomatoes were sautéed in buttery garlic goodness. The scallops were cooked perfectly (nothing pisses me off more than overdone scallops) firm on the outside but tender in the middle.

Paramentier de Canard et Fois Gras Polle

The other dish was the phenom of the evening. Paramentier de Canard et Fois Gras Polle (the French version of Shepherd’s Pie …if Shepherd’s Pie was made with luscious duck and fried Fois Gras 22.5 €). The dish, compromised of Duck Confit and Mashed Potatoes, was referred to by my sister as “Thanksgiving dinner on steroids.” The mashed potatoes were perfectly smooth creaminess; this was due to the fact that when the French make mashed potatoes they skip the milk for only butter and potatoes.

We finished this meal with Amadeus au Choclate (your classic chocolate volcano cake 10 €) decorated with caramel and raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream. We also sampled the Crème Brulee aux Specialous (this one is self explanatory 9 €) which was lovely, but differed from its American sister dish by having a graham cracker crust. My sister found delight in cracking the top just like in Amelie.

After we finished my sister noted it was probably one of the best meals she has ever had. Truthfully we first discovered it as a recommendation in Lonely Planet and considering 90% of the dinner guests were American we weren’t the only ones. But does that really matter? The meal was superb at every moment. Top notch and unpretentious: my ultimate kill zone.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hard-Boiled Eggs, with a Pinch of the Israeli Exotic

Israeli Egg

A couple of weeks ago I attended an amazing bridal shower for my amazing Israeli friend Ravid (a race car driving ballerina, ‘Nuff said). The word that comes to mind is feast, but truthfully that word seems a complete and utter understatement.

On the three-table buffet there were well -over fifty lunch dishes, with twenty plus types of desserts following later (all created by Ravid’s epicurean superhero of a mom Etti). It is also a complete and utter understatement to say that those who speak the ‘Brew definitely know how to cook!

One of the most the fascinating dishes to me was, of course, one of the simplest: a hard-boiled egg.
… An egg you say? Yes, a plain simple egg, with one simple exotic Israeli spin. What made these eggs so out of the ordinary from your everyday white bread Americana variety is that they were boiled in Rose Water.

This secret ingredient colors the egg’s shell a lovely tan pigment. Along with the exterior, the Rose Water also soaks through to the interior of the egg dying its white part a lovely biscuit color. In addition this secret ingredient imparts the white with a slightly nutty flavoring (a welcome addition for me since I always thought of it as bland, super bland). Add a pinch of sea salt and white pepper you have something most everyone will remember (and be asking you what your secret is…)

Israeli Egg 2

Rose Water Eggs
1. Collect rose petals; preferably from a garden that grows them organically. If you don’t grow them, and don’t know anyone else who grows them, which is sad because the world should be full of as many rose gardens as possible, then you can get them at the Farmers Market.
2. Place petals in a brown paper bag and allow them to dry, about 4 days to a week depending on moisture content.
3. To make the eggs, gently place one dozen eggs and dried rose petals at the bottom of a saucepot.
4. Cover the contents with cold water.
5. Cover the pot with a lid and cook over Low/Medium heat.
6. As soon as the water comes to a full boil, remove from heat and let it stand, around 15 to 17 minutes.
7. Take the eggs out of water and plunge into an ice bath.
(thanks to Etti Rahimian for the recipe!)

Explore. Think. Eat
The Edible Skinny

The ES: European Edition

The Edible Skinny: a tale of two Mediterranean cities.
Paris 2

In lieu of the Euro dropping I decided to take a quick jaunt to Europe (that along with the fact that I was visiting my sister who lives there…).


First up will be Paris, France (the ultimate food capital) followed by the more wallet friendly Barcelona, Spain. Now I know I don’t normally do restaurant reviews, but because I feel they are educational about Europe’s customs (and because it’s my blog) here you go.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bubbles and Burrata at the 9th Annual Vintage Hollywood Wine Tasting

In June, I was able to volunteer at the 9th Annual Vintage Hollywood Wine Tasting Event held at Mr. Sugar Ray Leonard’s home. This charity event featured vineyards and proprietors from twenty plus wine producers, such as Joseph Phelps, Hitching Post, and Cargasacchi, and a dozen or so of California’s top restaurants, including Waterloo and City, Jar, and First and Hope. The event is lively and friendly all the food personalities know each other, especially everyone’s favorite Frenchman restaurant manager Nico Gourdon of Joe’s Restaurant who knows everyone.

Nico Gourdon of Joe’s Restaurant
Nico Gourdon of Joe’s Restaurant

The Vintage Hollywood started in 2002 as a gathering of a few dozen close friends. This backyard affair featured a few rare wines and some tasty cheeses. The evening was so much fun that those attending wanted to invite their friends for the same experience the following year. Thus was born the Vintage Hollywood Foundation created to raise funds to support charitable organizations, both large and small, that work to promote the health and well being of Southern Californians. This year’s event benefited the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, LA a non-profit focusing on children’s diabetes.

Bettie Reinhart and Suzanne Goin of Tavern
Bettie Reinhart and Suzanne Goin of Tavern

One of the highlights of the food offerings was the Angelo Sandwich coming from Suzanne Goin of Tavern (and an Advisory Board member of Vintage Hollywood). Goin is a James Beard award winner, for Best Chef in California, and with four restaurants to her name (A.O.C., Lucques, and the Hungry Cat on top of Tavern) she’s got the backing to prove it. The Angelo, comprised of Burrata , Artichokes, Cavolo Nero (An Italian cabbage with dark green leaves), and Meyer Lemon, was absolutely divine.

There was an absolute array of wines with producers hailing from Santa Barbara, Sonoma, and Napa. And although all of the Californian’s were great (we always are…) my absolute favorite sip of the night was from the French Champagne company Pierre Morlet. The Sparkling was a blend of an early palate of hazelnut and almonds with a final finishing of fresh pear. But the best part of this glass was the effervescence, it has been noted the smaller the bubbles the better the Champagne and this my friends did not disappoint in either the former or the latter.

Explore. Think. Eat
The Edible Skinny