Monthly Archives: July 2014

Roosevelt Hotel’s Library Bar: A Farmers Market in Your Glass

I recently interviewed Michael Biancaniello and Brian Summers, head bartender and mixologist (respectively) of Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Library Bar. While several LA establishments – think Hungry Cat and the Varnish – are going the farmers’ market route with locally-sourced ingredients for their cocktails, I was simply astounded at how high the Library Bar had raised the – figurative – bar. How, you ask? In addition to having a huge array of fresh produce on their bar top, hand-making their own mixers, reductions and bitters, they’ve established relationships with over five local farms that keep them supplied with the freshest, seasonal produce. Beyond that, the artistry with which Biancaniello and Summers make their cocktails is pretty awesome. It’s a pleasure to watch as well as drink.
Biancaniello whipped up a fresh passion fruit apertif, served in the fruit itself.

Here’s my full article (written for LA Weekly). It’s even got Summers original recipe for a blood orange cocktail, the Sicilian Sling.
Roosevelt Hotel’s Library Bar: The Cocktail Lounge Meets The Farmers Market
The Slow Food movement is in full force, and the Slow Drink movement is catching up fast, particularly at the Roosevelt Hotel’s somewhat-hidden Library Bar, smack in the middle of Hollywood. It’s run by head bartender Matthew Biancanello – soon to be featured in Bon Appetit’s September Restaurant Issue – and supported by mixologist Brian Summers – previously of comme Ça and The Bazaar by José Andrés.
“When you walk into the Library Bar, you’ll see an elaborate spread of produce on the bar top. It’s always changing due to market availability,” says Summers. On a given night you might find chocolate mint, arugula, jalapeños, kumquats, Persian lemons, Bearss limes, even Buddha’s Hand citrons. If the bar thing doesn’t work out, they can always start their own farmers market.
Library Bar’s spread of fresh produce, juices and more

But organic cocktailing wasn’t always the method behind Library Bar’s madness. Biancanello, who was hired by Library Bar in 2008 with no previous bartending experience, says, “We didn’t have a back bar so I had nothing to mix with my drinks. I replaced everything on the menu with farmers markers ingredients, educating myself and going with what I liked. I spent $5000 out of pocket for ingredients for the bar. When my manager tried one of my drinks she asked, ‘What’s in this? It’s so good.’ I told her about the farmers market ingredients and she gave me a monthly budget to move forward with.”
Biancanello got to work creating partnerships with local farms that now provide Library Bar’s produce. For most things citrus – kumquats, Meyer lemons, Eureka lemons, Bearss limes, satsumas and more – Biancanello goes to Santa Monica’s Garcia Farms. Nicholas Family Farms in Studio City supplies blood and Cara Cara oranges, homemade preserves and unpasteurized pomegranate, grapefruit, mandarin and blood orange juices. Fresh herbs including basil, mint, thyme, rosemary and sage come from Maggie’s and Coleman Farms, both at Santa Monica’s farmers market. And last but not least, Summers swears, “Harry’s Berries grows the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted.”
Summers pouring his original cocktail, the Sicilian Sling
As far as liquor and mixers go, Biancanello and Summers are hand-crafting many of those, too. “I want people to know they have better drink options available than vodka redbulls and appletinis,” Summers says. While housemade syrups and tinctures (aka alcoholic extracts) are standard – think ginger, grenadine and bitters – they’re also working on lavender and rhubarb purées for Spring/Summer drinks. That’s in addition to the bar’s 100-day Limoncello, 17-step Bloody Mary with flowering basil, shiitake mushroom-infused bourbon (for the Umami Manhattan), fennel- and saffron-infused gins as well as white peppercorn vodka. Oh, and let’s not forget the 25-year-old aged Modena Balsamic vinegar muddled with fresh strawberries and topped with housemade St. Germaine foam.
Biancaniello hand-squeezing lemon juice for the night’s service

When it comes to actually making the cocktails, prep and precision are key. Prior to opening, cucumbers are cut into exactly four millimeter slices. More than 130 limes and 100 lemons are juiced, along with oranges and grapefruits. All the fruit, vegetables and herbs are cleaned and plated, with everything cut to order except lemons and limes. Biancanello tells us, “No one in city doing this amount of organic prep. Our approach is much more culinary. I like to call it the slow drink movement.”
Turn the page for a recipe for Summers’ Sicilian Sling cocktail.
Sicilian Sling
From: Brian Summers
Makes: one drink
Summer’s Sicilian Sling

1 egg white (organic brown egg preferred)
4 basil leaves
2 slices of blood orange
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. gin
1 oz. Aperol
1. Place egg white into your tall shaking can. In a separate glass, muddle basil, blood orange, lemon juice and simple syrup.
2. Pour muddled mixture, gin and Aperol into tall shaking can. Shake hard for one minute without ice to emulsify egg whites. Add ice and shake for another six seconds.
3. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve immediately.

Grab the Defibrillator: Denny’s Intros “Let’s Get Cheesy” Menu

Denny’s has hit rock bottom. And apparently at the bottom of said bottom, there is a giant pool of melted cheese. Now, don’t get me wrong. In my college days, Denny’s really did the trick for late-night, “I-won’t-remember-this-meal-tomorrow” drunk binges. Nothing hit the spot better than Moons Over My Hammy or the Grand Slamwich, especially when 20-year-old metabolism was able to power wash it all out of your arteries come 10am. But with the recent introduction of its “Let’s Get Cheesy” menu, I just feel like Denny’s has gone too far. Either that, or it has a surplus of Velveeta in its restaurant’s pantries that it absolutely must use by the end of 2011.

My beef isn’t that the calorie or fat gram count is too high. Then again, 101 grams of fat for the Winner Winner Cheesy Dinner (did they get permission from Guy Fieri to say that?) — which includes two fried chopped beef steaks covered in Pepper Jack cheese sauce, a side of creamy Mac ‘n Cheese and broccoli topped with cheese sauce — might be overkill. Or it might just kill you on the spot. Either way, it’s nasty.

But I digress… my real issue with this is that Denny’s has completely trained Americans to eat fake food. What the hell is “cheese sauce” anyway? Does it have a hint of cheddar cheese? A whisper of Pepper Jack? Is it filled with hydrogenated oil or silicone? Does it follow after General Mills & Kraft by using cellulose (aka processed wood pulp) as a cheesy filler? Perhaps most importantly, why does it have to come “slathered” on broccoli, nothing more than an innocent veggie bystander? The saddest part is that this menu is no doubt going to be a hit, either as a result of sheer curiosity or from folks who just can’t say no when the word slathered appears on a menu.
What’s on the menu and exactly how bad is it for you? Here’s a play-by-play of each of the “Let’s Get Cheesy” menu items. Caution: Read at your own risk. You might want to pull out that defibrillator, just in case.
Denny’s “Let’s Get Cheesy” Menu

1. Mac ‘n Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt

Introducing the ultimate in patty melts. A hand-pressed beef patty topped with our NEW creamy Mac ‘n Cheese, melted Cheddar cheese and zesty Frisco sauce on grilled potato bread. Served with a side of our wavy-cut French fries.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 1690
Fat — 99 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 1
Saturated Fat — 36
Cholesterol — 180
Sodium — 2010
Carbohydrates — 126
Fiber — 7
Protein — 64
Sugar — 11
2. Cheesy Breakfast Sampler

Featuring a Cheddar smoked sausage and two eggs scrambled with Cheddar cheese. Served with hash browns topped with melted shredded Cheddar cheese and choice of bread.

Nutritional Info:
Calories — 710
Fat — 50 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 0
Saturated Fat — 20
Cholesterol — 560
Sodium — 1950
Carbohydrates — 29
Fiber — 2
Protein — 36
Sugar — 2
3. Cheese Please Omelette

Three-egg omelette with a blend of cheeses folded in. More cheese? You’ve got it. We top it off with creamy cheese sauce and diced tomatoes. Served with hash browns and choice of bread.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 800
Fat — 57 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 0
Saturated Fat — 21
Cholesterol — 780
Sodium — 2090
Carbohydrates — 34
Fiber — 2
Protein — 37
Sugar — 4
4. The Big Cheese Country-Fried Steak & Eggs

A golden-fried chopped beef steak smothered in Pepper Jack cheese sauce. Served with hash browns topped with melted shredded Cheddar cheese, two eggs cooked any way you’d like and choice of bread. Big cheese indeed.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 1210
Fat — 84 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 2
Saturated Fat — 34
Cholesterol — 590
Sodium — 2630
Carbohydrates — 53
Fiber — 5
Protein — 59
Sugar — 1
5. Winner Winner Cheesy Dinner

Two golden-fried chopped beef steaks covered in Pepper Jack cheese sauce. Served with a side of our NEW creamy Mac ‘n Cheese, broccoli topped with cheese sauce and dinner bread. This is one dish that truly lives up to its name.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 1520
Fat — 101 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 4
Saturated Fat — 45
Cholesterol — 25
Sodium — 3330
Carbohydrates — 77
Fiber — 9
Protein — 73
Sugar — 5
6. Say Cheese Sizzlin’ Skillet

Flavorful blend of diced Cheddar smoked sausage, fire-roasted peppers and onions, grape tomatoes and seasoned red-skinned potatoes. Topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, cheese sauce and two eggs cooked any way you’d like.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 1120
Fat — 84 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 0
Saturated Fat — 28
Cholesterol — 900
Sodium — 2790
Carbohydrates — 41
Fiber — 5
Protein — 49
Sugar — 9
7. Strawberry Pancake Puppies® with Cream Cheese Icing

Six bite-sized round pancakes made with strawberry and white chocolate chips. Sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with a side of cream cheese icing for dipping.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 670
Fat — 20 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 0
Saturated Fat — 12
Cholesterol — 25
Sodium — 1200
Carbohydrates — 114
Fiber — 2
Protein — 9
Sugar — 64
8. Strawberry Cheesecake Milk Shake

Thick, creamy hand-dipped milk shake made with vanilla ice cream blended with strawberry topping, cream cheese and real cheesecake. Topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
Nutritional Info:
Calories — 850
Fat — 50 grams of fat
Trans Fat — 0
Saturated Fat — 29
Cholesterol — 205
Sodium — 450
Carbohydrates — 84
Fiber — 1
Protein — 17
Sugar — 70

Fun in the Kitchen: Peel & Stick Chalkboard Panels

I LOVE Paper Source’s removable chalkboard panels. Luckily for me, they were a Christmas stocking stuffer from my in-laws. Forget about keeping grocery lists on paper stuck to your fridge, or on a white board or even on your phone’s digital “Post-It Pad.” These chalkboard panels are adhesive yet 100% removable without leaving any residue. How do I know for sure? Because I’ve got them in our kitchen and have moved them several times. They keep their adhesive and add flair to any space, whether it’s your kitchen, home office or laundry room.
The chalkboard panels come four to a pack for $19.95. Buy one and put them on your refrigerator, like I have for grocery lists, funny notes and to-do reminders. Or buy several of them and put on your walls or cabinets, automatically giving an outdated kitchen a fun face-lift.
Photo courtesy of
Even more fun? The set of bright pink, orange, white and purple Bistro Markers ($12.95) that are perfect for giving your chalkboards “colorful” personality.

The Best Gift Of All

The dessert gods were looking down on me last week. Never heard of the dessert gods? You’re missing out. I often find myself praying to them when I’m piping an intricate icing design, hoping my brownies come out of the oven moist, or just throwing together a new cookie or dessert recipe.
“Please, dessert gods, let this [insert recipe here] turn out well!”
Blasphemous? Sure. Does it make me feel better? You betcha.
So two weeks ago when Bryan and I were in San Francisco, we came across a Papyrus right next door to the Palace Hotel. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. Perhaps the “SALE! 70% off all holiday items!” sign made it more obvious. We went in and were checking out their wares when, lo and behold, Bryan came across these fantastic plastic chinese food containers.
I think chinese food containers are great for edible gifts of all kinds, especially leftovers. But the ones I typically use are of the “cardboard” variety. They’re fine and good enough, but risk leaking. These new lovelies, on the other hand, were made from a very flexible synthetic/plastic material. Even more important was the fact that the designs were seriously adorable. But the best part of the day – the part I’ll remember most – is when Bryan exclaimed “They’re 70% off!” Hearing his enthusiasm, the salesperson chimed in, “Yep, they’re 70% off. Each box is only $1.60.”
Then Bryan said something I’ll never forget: “LET’S GET ALL OF THEM!”
It’s not that Bryan doesn’t love all my baking and cooking exploits; shoot, he’s my official “taste tester.” It’s just that since neither of us are working right now, we’re really careful about what we spend our money on. Let’s just say that cooking containers aren’t exactly Priority #1 on the spending list. So when Bryan starting scooping up all the boxes, and I mean ALL the boxes (there were about 30 total), I couldn’t believe my eyes. But given that the man knows a great deal when he sees one, I didn’t say a word. I just started bringing boxes to the front counter.
Thirty boxes and barely $45 later, I have the privilege of using my first one! I made turtle brownies last night for my good friends Kacie and Reggie, and the box is a perfect carrier. Not to mention we’re headed to a birthday party later tonight, so I filled another box for our friend John.

I’m not sure if Papyrus has any more of these goodies, but if you’ve got one in the neighborhood, check it out. I love that store for many more reasons than just these boxes. They’re fantastic! You can check out the boxes and the brownies below. If you want the brownies recipe, I posted it here in November.

My Dream Come True: An Italian Truffle Hunt

Bryan and I partook in an incredible activity while we were in the Italian wine/olive oil countryside of Umbria: a truffle hunt! We were set up with an appointment to meet Severio Bianconi (see photo below, on the right), owner of Tartufo Bianconi, a small company selling black and white whole truffles and truffle products (think pate, polenta, reduced balsamic truffle creme, raw acacia truffle honey, etc.) to local chefs and restaurants. So we drove to Citerna, a tiny medieval town with 200 full-time residents and met JeanPierre (dressed in camo below), an official truffler hunter and his prized truffle hound, Asia.
From left: JeanPierre, Asia, the owner of truffle reserve, his dog Sandy, & Severio Bianconi.

For over an hour, we let the dogs loose and they immediately caught scent of truffle after truffle. They would start to dig furiously and we’ve have to catch up with them before the dug too far and ate, yes ATE, the truffle. These dogs are incredible smart, but given the chance, they’re even smarter: they’re eating that prized funghi. The hunters taught Bryan and I how to dig out the truffles and after that, we became the hunters. We followed the dogs and found truffle after truffle growing under the oak and hazelnuts trees. We dug each one out, hiking through the preserve. At one point I make the mistake of looking too closely into the piles of leaves underfoot and realized that they were absolutely teeming with spiders. Hundreds of them. Big ones, too. I am no friend of spiders, big or small, and it took a lot for me not to run screaming from the preserve. But I kept my cool and focused on the once-in-a-lifetime task at hand: unearthing some of Italy’s best truffles. It was incredible.
JeanPierre checking out Asia & Sandy’s truffle spotting.

Jean Pierre showed us how to dig out the truffle w/o damaging it.

There they are! White truffles!

And black truffles! What beauties…

If you can believe it, the afternoon got even better as we took our bounty back to Severio’s home and met with his wife Gabriella, who took us through a five-course truffle cooking class. We prepared truffle polenta with cream sauce, truffle souffle with mini crostinis, homemade pasta with truffles, cheese drizzled with truffle honey, chicken topped with reduced balsamic truffle creme, truffle mashed potatoes (a light potato flake mixture) and finally, a farmhouse cake (sans truffles). We ate dinner with the Bianconi family, practicing our Italian along the way while they practiced their English. It was amazing and true to European form, we relaxed at the dinner table, sipping wine and eating for over three hours. It was a magical day. Truly a culinary dream come true.

Our truffle bounty: we “hunted” all these truffles!

The Bianconi’s family kitchen.
Here’s the prep. Check out our work:
Shaving black truffles into olive oil & garlic. I never wanted to stop.

Bryan loved the wood-burning oven. Check out the glowing window.

Truffle polenta, before being baked.

Shaved black truffles in olive oil, warmed in a copper pan. Wow, the aroma…

Truffle Souffle. So delicious, crispy edges and all.

Homemade pasta, soon to be topped with my shaved black truffles.

Chicken cutlets filled with cheese and truffle pate, rolled and boiled.

And finally, our meal. So incredible. Severio opened some of his family’s Greccheto wine (white table wine served anytime throughout the day, similar to Sauvignon Blanc), a Chianti and a sweet dessert wine he made himself, Vin Santo. He opened the red wine to demonstrate his strict rule that you should absolutely NEVER drink red wine with truffle dishes. In his opinion, the tannins overpower the truffles. After trying it, we had to agree.
Truffle souffle with bruschetta and truffled crostini.

Truffle polenta in black truffle creme sauce.

Fresh pasta with shaved black truffle & Umbrian olive oil.

Stuffed chicken with truffle potatoes & balsamic truffle creme drizzle.

The only non-truffle dish: warm farmhouse cake with crunchy sugar crystals.

Overall it was a day we’ll never forget. Gabriella even gave us a book with some of her recipes in it. A huge thanks to the truffle hunters and the Bianconi family for their hospitality, expertise and culinary prowess.