Category Archives: Food

Drinks with Alie & Georgia

The Los Angeles dining scene has never gotten the respect it deserves. From inexpensive and authentic ethnic cuisine to innovative fine dining, a great meal is only a few freeway exits away. Only recently has Los Angeles finally started receiving recognition as one of the great American food cities (Chicago and New York, watch your back).

While I see the rise of the LA dining scene as a slow and overdue, it feels like the cocktail scene in LA has only emerged in the past 5 or 6 years. Now, you can find sophisticated and well-crafted $14 cocktails all over town at places like the Tar Pit , Varnish, Edison, and my personal favorite, Copa D’Oro. While a masterfully crafted cocktail using unique ingredients can be as titillating as any amuse bouche, it is inevitable that one night you will catch yourself rolling your eyes at the whole self-important bowtie mixology scene. Enter Alie and Georgia…

Alie and Georgia met at Silverlake’s Cha Cha Lounge and realized that in addition to sharing a penchant for adorable outfits and colorful humor, they both saw that LA needed an injection of fun into their boozing habits. This prompted them to post a video of the now infamous, “McNuggetini,” an unholy alliance of Vanilla Vodka, McDonald’s Chocolate Shake, Chicken McNuggets, and BBQ sauce.  Food2.com took notice, and starting this past September, they began posting videos to “shake up the cocktail scene.”

I first heard about Alie & Georgia when I stumbled upon their presentation at the LA Times Celebration of Food and Wine event on September 5, 2010. Whether it was their spirited rapport or the promise of taking a break from wine to taste some interesting cocktails, their demonstration was actually the only one that sustained my attention that day. At the end of the demonstration, I got to try the Umami Elixir (Garlic-infused vodka, vermouth, truffle oil, anchovies for garnish), Chocolate Cherry Bomb (Chocolate Liqueur, Pepper-Infused Vodka, Hot Sauce, Grenadine, Chocolate Syrup, Peppers & Cherries), and the Peanut Butter and Jealous. Later in the event, I bumped into Alie & Georgia and they were even more delightful and fun than their videos can hope to convey. Stories were shared and promises were made to become “online friends.”

Fast forward to this past weekend. I hosted a housewarming party on Saturday and wanted to do something exciting for the drinks. My first thought was making a few historically-accurate and interesting punches from Professor David Wondrich’s new book. Fancy punches are starting to creep their way onto restaurant menus and at cocktail bars. But I quickly reconsidered. I wanted something fun and grounded to go with some of my more unique appetizers (Goat Cheese Log with Cyprus Black Lava Salt and Organic Cacao Nibs anyone?). I turned to Alie and Georgia’s inventive, fun, and guaranteed crowd-pleasing recipes.


I ended up making three of their concoctions. The first was Drunken Donuts (my writer/comedian roommate Josh provided the illustrated cards). Drunken Donuts made a great first drink: excellent taste, provides a caffeine boost, and will get you buzzed without even knowing it. It is made of espresso vodka, chocolate liqueur, coffee liqueur, chilled coffee, and hazelnut coffee creamer. And don’t you dare forget the donut hole garnish!

Booze, Coffee, and Dessert all in one glass

The second drink I attempted was the Peanut Butter and Jealous. It involved muddled raspberries, raspberry vodka, cranberry juice, and raspberry liqueur. It is supposed to include a rim of honey and peanut butter, but I gave up after awhile because I mistakenly used creamy peanut butter and the glass became an ugly mess.  Most of my friends were skeptical when the saw this fruity looking drink with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich garnish, but people LOVED it.

The third drink I made was Zombie Gut Punch. It included vodka, triple sec, bitters, blood orange juice, black cherry soda, and grenadine. I served it in a beautiful punch bowl with a ladle, but by the time I brought it out, I was too distracted (and tipsy) to remember to take pictures. This drink was definitely popular with people that wanted to get drunk quickly (pretty much all of my friends) with something that is still fun and tastes great.

I suggest everyone check out Alie & Georgia’s short videos, and consider doing something different than just setting out some bottles of Jack and Vodka with sodas and juices as mixers at your next party. A little extra effort can yield some tasty and boozy results.

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Open Kitchens: Good Idea?

Recently, I had the following realization: I get the most out of friendships with people who ask themselves why they hold certain values, act in particular ways, or have unique interests.

For the past couple of years, I’ve spent considerable time and energy towards identifying my values so I can ensure that I spend my limited time and energy on what matters most to me. One thing I have discovered about myself is that if I like something, I want to learn as much as possible about that topic. One example is food and restaurants.  When I go out to eat, I don’t want to eat something that I could easily reproduce at home. I gravitate towards innovative cooking that I wouldn’t have ever thought of attempting at home and that requires skills that far exceed my own.  I also love exploring authentic regional cuisine that I am not familiar with.

My strong interest in cooking eventually made me curious about the restaurant industry (just as my passion for music lead me to spend a year researching and eventually teaching a class on the recording industry). I read many sites about food and the restaurant business, I frequently attend food-related panels, and jumped at the opportunity to accompany a successful chef around the Santa Monica’s farmers market to see how local chef’s acquire their produce. I’ve only recently become fascinated with the business-side of the food industry. I’m curious about the choices restaurant owners and chefs make in such a high-competition industry where the odds are against success.

All of this is a very long introduction to the topic that I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of months: are open kitchens in restaurants a good idea?

Waterloo and City Kitchen

Open Kitchen at Waterloo & City

I personally love the idea of open kitchens. However imperfect of a view of the restaurant world, it does provide a glimpse of the culture of the particular kitchen.  Some people might also like how you can see with your own eyes the degree to which everything is made fresh and in-house. I love reading books like Kitchen Confidential (and watching the short-lived show) about restaurant life. From the hyper-masculine kitchens filled with drug-use and excess described by Anthony Bourdain, to the strictly professional kitchens of Thomas Keller, each kitchen culture is different and equally fascinating in my view.

There are down-sides to open kitchens, however. Back in October, restaurant-focused website Eater LA published an anonymous tip from a patron at the recently-opened restaurant Waterloo & City located in Culver City:

“The bar stands in front of an open kitchen so we were getting very excited when we saw all of the different meals being sent out. All of a sudden, we heard a man yelling. Startled, we look around and see its the head chef/co-owner screaming and cursing at one of the servers. And he didn’t stop. He literally went on yelling for 5 minutes.”

A typical response by readers to the article was : “In general I think having an open kitchen/food prep area is ALWAYS a bad idea. From the lowly fastfood joint to the high-end eatries, I really don’t want to see my food being made, it repulses me every single time. Keep it behind closed doors and just present the food to me, I want to enjoy my food without being repulsed.”

Chef Greenspan Plating Food (Photo Courtesy of DrinkEatTravel.com)

About a month ago, I had my own experience witnessing some open-kitchen drama. It was my third visit to the Foundry on Melrose in two weeks. My first visit I was seated on their patio, which is the main dining area. The second visit I sat outside, and the third visit I was seated at a table by the open kitchen. I had a great view of the very talented Chef Greenspan, a couple other chefs, and all the waiters waiting to pick up orders.

I enjoyed seeing the speed and precision in which food was plated and sent out and loved getting the insight to how the Foundry kitchen operated. However, it wasn’t long before I saw Chef Greenspan chew out servers and his line cooks. At one point, a waiter returned a plate of their award-winning grilled cheese, saying that the food was cold. Chef Greenspan put his hand on the sandwich, verified that it was indeed cold, and then started yelling something to the effect of, “Even a three-year old can cook a hot grilled cheese!! Maybe I should get a child in here to cook!” Unfortunately I missed what prompted the next display of anger, but later the chef yelled at a waiter saying, “You’re a salesman! Get out there and do your f*cking job and sell it.”

I enjoyed every minute of watching the kitchen, but the several profanity-filled outbursts made my dining companion quite anxious and uncomfortable. It almost ruined her dining experience. I understand her position. Many people go to fine-dining restaurants to have a relaxing, lovely evening where they are treated extremely well and can enjoy their companion’s company without worrying about grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, etc…

Personally, I like seeing how the machine works. I get asked frequently by coworkers why I don’t go to culinary school and become a chef if I love food and cooking so much. It is not the lifestyle for me, but I enjoy these rare glimpses into the life of a cook.

This reminds me of the adage, “There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation.” I guess I’m the kind of person that loves seeing how both are made. What are your thoughts on open kitchens?