Monday, February 23, 2009

Briefly in Seattle: Pike's Place Market, the Space Needle Restaurant, Boeing's Museum of Flight, Crumpets, Lobster Tail, and the Black Bottle

With one day in Seattle, I could only visit a few places. Luckily the hotel was close to Pike's Place Market, so a quick trip before the day began was easy to do. Mornings are a good time to walk through the Market before the crowds arrive, because it's easy to stop and take your time looking at what's for sale, which is a lot of the freshest most beautiful fish, shellfish, and salmon you're likely to see anywhere.

I love shellfish. When I lived in Seattle for the Twin Peaks and Citizen Baines' shoots, I was very happy. I'd fill up on fresh Kumomoto oysters, Dungeness crabs, and Penn Cove mussels. The oysters are delicious raw or in stews. The crabs are sold cooked or live. The mussels are easily steamed and eaten with a butter-garlic broth. While the vegetables in the Market come from many sources including California, the fish is local, coming no farther away than Alaska.

There are also fresh and dried flower stalls, bakeries, cheese shops, and a wonderful selection of small restaurants and coffee shops. A favorite place to stop is The Crumpet Shop (1503 1st Avenue between Pike & Pine, 206/682-1598) where the crumpets are freshly made and available with sweet (butter, honey, or preserves) or savory (tomatoes, pesto, cheese...) toppings. Come before 8:30am and the lattes are $1.50.

I walked over to the Market twice yesterday. Once by myself just as the stalls were opening. For breakfast I had a freshly steamed pork bao from Mee Sum Pastry (1526 Pike Place, 206/682-6780). The second time I brought part of our press junket group. Since Holly and Updesh are Brits and Parmesh is Indian, I wanted their expert opinion about the Crumpet Shop. I know I like them because of their top crust and chewy sweetness, but are they authentic? After several rounds of crumpets with butter, honey and butter, preserves, and cheddar cheese with sliced tomatoes, they agreed that they were authentic and delicious. We made a pact to come back today at 7:00am before we had to leave for Boeing Field to pick up our new 777-200LR.

We stopped for lunch at the Space Needle Restaurant, which is always fun. Although the view is picturesque, for anyone with motion-issues, slowly rotating as the city passes below can be challenging. We had a very nice lunch as our group got to know one another. With people coming from around the world (Alberquerque, New York, Mombai, Dubai, Doha, Los Angeles, and Seattle) we had a lot to talk about.

After lunch we visited Boeing's Museum of Flight (9404 East Marginal Way South, Seattle, WA 98108, 206/764-5700). Since we were about to tour the Boeing factory in Everett, it was great to get a brush up on aviation history. I still find it amazing that there are just 50 years between the Wright Brother's tentative efforts to achieve flight and the development of the Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird.

One of our group, Betsy, used to live in Seattle and she suggested dinner at the Black Bottle (2600 1st Avenue at Vine, 206/441-1500) where we had wine and cocktails and shared a dozen gastro-pub dishes, including crispy butterflied seven spice shrimp, deep fried and battered Spanish fried olive, fried tofu with a sate sauce, sweet and tender cumin pork tenderloin with a frisee salad, fried sardines with spicy Indian slaw, braised and grilled artichoke hearts, coconut gelato with plantain fries, and a luridly rich, hot dark chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla gelato hidden inside.

Given 24 hours in Seattle, this was a pretty great day.

Today we tour the Boeing plant and pick up Qatar Airways' second Boeing 777-200LR. Our plane will join its sister already in service. When Qatar begins its daily, nonstop service between Doha and Houston on March 30th, the 777-200LRs will make the trip in under 17 hours. Today's trip will be a bit shorter because we will fly a more northerly route.

For me this flight has several firsts: I've never flown longer than 8 hours, never been to the Middle East, and certainly have never ridden on a plane's maiden flight.

More to tell in the following posts. Tomorrow from Doha, Qatar.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Travel Expands the Mind

Up until last year I didn't travel very much. The trips I took were to favorite places: LA to Sundance/Park City to be with my wife or LA to NY/NJ to see friends and family. I enjoyed these trips and looked forward to them. Getting away from LA made me hungry for adventures in other cities.

Last year I began to write for Peter Greenberg's terrific travel site. Peter and his editor-in-chief, Sarika Chawla, have been nice enough to send me on trips far and wide to write pieces as varied as a story about being a judge at a rib cookout in Sparks, Nevada and another about the wonderfully luxurious Sofitel Hotels in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Paris.

I am grateful for the opportunity to get outside of my regular routine. I discovered how much travel is good for the soul.

Which brings me to today. When I was going to travel to London and Paris I asked for suggestions. I wanted to know about favorite places, restaurants, locales that were meaningful to you. Over the next four weeks I am luckily going to take a series of trips for Peter and I'd love suggestions. Some are close at hand, others are very far a field. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Seattle, Washington. Doha, Qatar. Houston, Texas. Sonoma/Glenn Ellen, California. How often in a life-time does any one have the opportunity to visit such disparate places?

Years ago I worked on two TV shows (David Lynch's Twin Peaks 2 hour pilot and the pilot for a John Wells show, Citizen Baines) that were filmed in Seattle and the surrounding areas. I enjoyed the experiences very much. For this trip, I'm looking forward to revisiting some of my favorite places: Pike's Place Market and Torrefazione Italia, a coffee shop that makes the best cappucinio I have ever had.

I'm looking forward to these trips and I would benefit from your suggestions.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sofitel's Distinctive Vision

When you walk into the Sofitel London St. James, you feel as though you are an invited guest at an exclusive men's club. Just off the lobby is Chef Albert Roux's Brasserie and the intimate St. James Bar where you can have a meal and enjoy after-dinner drinks. If you're a weary traveler, you couldn't ask for anything more.

Over the last several months I've had the opportunity to visit Sofitel hotels in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Paris. As befits a five star hotel, I expected great service and attention to details. Sofitel has all that and a distinctive feature that sets it apart from other luxury hotel chains.

When you enter a Four Seasons or Ritz Carleton, whether you're in Los Angeles, New York, or Tokyo, you know where you are because all their hotels share the same design. The same can be said about most hotel chains, but that's not the case with Sofitel hotels. The interior of each property reflects the qualities of the host city, not the specifics of a branded design.

Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg, for example, is as feminine in its details as St. James is masculine. Pastels, large floral decorations, and a massive skylight flood the Faubourg lobby with a soft, inviting light confirming that you are in the City of Lights. At Sofitel London Heathrow the design is spare, modern, and efficient as befits an airport hotel serving a preeminent financial capital.

Headquartered in Paris, Accor Hotels, the owner of the Sofitel chain, takes its French heritage seriously. Each Sofitel might have a city-specific design, but all the properties reflect a French concern with sophisticated design, attentive service, good wine and fine dining.

Even if a guest doesn't have time for a leisurely meal, every Sofitel offers an elegant "30 Minute Lunch Special." The multi-course lunches arrive in a bento-style tray with four plates. An appetizer is paired with two entrees, and a dessert. A lunch in health conscious Los Angeles will feature a garden fresh salad, while in London Brasserie Roux will offer a more robust starter of foie gras. No matter the differences, the common point for the lunches is that the ingredients are fresh and the dishes are well-made and reflect their city's character.

When I visited Sofitel Los Angeles, my wife and I enjoyed a rare treat. We each had a massage in LeSpa, then dinner at Simon LA. The massages put us in a relaxed mood. The candle lit meal featured local ingredients, expertly prepared. We had a romantic evening as good as in any Hollywood movie.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What's the Perfect Valentine's Day Gift?

That’s the question of the moment. Ads on TV, in newspapers, on line, in magazines, on billboards, buses, subways, just about everywhere you look, make suggestions about what to give your lover to show how much you treasure her: romantic dinners, cruises, hot air balloon rides, diamonds, earrings, pearl necklaces, chocolates, spa treatments, cakes, pies, tarts, sweaters, and of course, flowers.

Years ago when I lived in Rhode Island I had a friend who refused to buy any of her gifts. For Christmas or a birthday, she’d knit a gift, create a handmade card, or construct a collage. Risa was an enthusiastic practitioner of the hand-made movement because she felt that making a gift was a more emotional way of connecting to someone you cared about. To her, going into a store and plunking down a fist full of cash wasn’t as intimate and personal as making something.

I took Risa’s lesson to heart. Many Valentine’s Days I baked. Apple pies with crystallized ginger crusts. Flourless chocolate cakes with roasted almonds. And banana cakes with chocolate chips and roasted walnuts, one of my wife’s favorite desserts.

For this Valentine’s Day I was presented with a problem. I couldn’t bake Michelle a cake because she had sworn off dairy products and sugar. No matter how much she used to like my desserts, a beautiful cake wouldn’t tell her “I love you” the way it used to. So what could I make or do for her that would show her I love her?

To be valued, a gift has to be appropriate. Finding the right gift means that I really understand who Michelle is and what makes her happy. That’s when I realized the best gift I could give her was to iron all her blouses.

If you’re Jewish, which I am, you’ve been taught that true gift giving (a mitzvah) is only genuine if you ask for nothing in return, not even a thank you. If you “give to get”, that’s not genuine giving. Selflessness and gift giving go hand in hand.

When Michelle opened her closet yesterday, expecting to see dozens of clean but wrinkled blouses, she instead found all her blouses freshly ironed. I didn’t create a handmade card or bake a cake, but I did give her what made her feel loved and taken care of and that was a good Valentine’s Day present. My gift made her very happy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Potato Salad

When I was a kid, we didn't do many family outings. My dad wasn't into it. And yet, somehow my mom convinced him to spend a couple of days each summer at Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica. I don't know what they did on the beach because I spent the whole day in the water. The only time I took a break from body surfing was when we'd have lunch. My mom would open her Tupperware containers and we'd feast on fried chicken and potato salad.

Recently when I was putting together a menu for a dinner party, my mind must have reached back to those childhood memories because I instantly decided that the centerpiece of the meal would be fried chicken and potato salad.

The key to my mom's fried chicken was an overnight soak in buttermilk. My dad used to drink buttermilk, so there was always some in the refrigerator. The other important feature of her technique was a light dusting in seasoned flour. She talked at length about her dislike of heavily breaded soggy fried chicken. The goal, she always said, was a thin, crisp crust that contrasted with the sweet juiciness of the chicken. I've made a minor adjustment to her recipe by adding a touch of sugar, cayenne, and chopped onion. Her approach works well for onion rings and other vegetables like broccoli.

I remember her potato salad as a bare-bones affair of boiled potatoes, sweet pickle relish, and mayonnaise. For mine I add carrots and corn for sweetness, capers for a bit of acid, and a touch of cayenne for heat.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes


1 whole chicken, washed, cut apart, wing tips and bones reserved to make chicken stock
1 quart buttermilk
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts safflower or canola oil


When you cut up the chicken, separate the two parts of the wing and cut the breast meat off the bone. Keep or discard the skin as you wish. The breasts can be left whole but will cook more evenly when cut into strips or tenders.

Toss the chicken pieces with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Put the pieces in a container, add the buttermilk, stir, cover, and refrigerate.

Using a wok or deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil to 325 - 350 degrees or until a piece of parsley browns immediately when dropped in the oil. Before you begin cooking, prepare your counter. Have a slotted spoon or an Asian style strainer ready. Lay two paper towels on top of a piece of brown grocery bag paper on a large plate.

In a brown paper bag mix together the flour, sea salt, pepper, cayenne (optional), sugar (optional), and onions (optional). Take the chicken out of the buttermilk, remove the excess, drop into the paper bag with the seasoned flour, close the top of the bag, and shake.

Cook the chicken in batches. The pieces shouldn't crowd one another in the oil so they cook evenly. Gently drop each piece into the hot oil, making sure that the pieces don't touch. Turn over when browned on all sides. Remove when golden brown and drain on the paper towels. The pieces will cook quickly: chicken tenders (breast) 2-3 minutes; wings 7-8 minutes; thighs & legs 10-12 minutes.

If you are making deep fried vegetables like onion rings or broccoli florets, they cook even more quickly: thick rings cook in 30 seconds, thin rings in 5-6 seconds; broccoli in 30 seconds.

Just before serving, lightly dust the cooked pieces with sea salt and pepper.

Potato Salad

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 60 minutes


2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
3 quarts water
1 scallion, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped
1 carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, grated
1 ear of corn or 1/2 cup corn kernels
2 tablespoons olives, preferably Kalamata or cracked green, pitted, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sea salt and pepper


Put the potatoes, kosher salt, and water into a pot, bring to a gentle boil, and cover. Cook 30-45 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the potatoes. They should be firm, not mushy. The potatoes are done when a fork goes in easily. Remove from the salted water. Let cool. Peel off the skins.

In the summer, grill an ear of corn and cut up carrot seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Cut the kernels off the cob, finely chop the carrot and add them to the salad.

In the winter, canned corn will do. Saute the corn and finely chopped carrots with olive oil until lightly browned. Add to the potato salad along with the chopped scallions, olives, capers, and mayonnaise.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.


Add 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only.

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh celery.

Add 1 broccoli floret either grilled or lightly sauteed then finely chopped

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Couscous and Bulgar Salads are Affordable, Easy to Make and Oh So Good for You

My wife is on her way to her parents' house in New Jersey. She packed her clothes, bathroom kit, and Walter Mosley's latest detective novel, The Long Fall. I wanted to contribute to the weekend's meals even if I wasn't going with her. I put together a small packet with a mini-apple pie, a banana chocolate chip walnut cake, freshly cooked black beans, brown rice, grilled broccoli, bulgar salad with celery, and a box of whole wheat couscous. All but the couscous were ready to eat.

When we visit her parents, I usually do some of the cooking under her mom's supervision. The first time I cooked in Helen's kitchen I was showing off my then-specialty: whole roasted chicken cooked at high temperature. The impact on her kitchen was regrettable. The "high heat" was so high that her corningware roasting pan exploded. The resulting splatter on the inside of her oven took several days to clean. Needless to say I didn't make the best first-impression on my prospective mother-in-law. Luckily the chicken was delicious but I haven't used her oven since.

Couscous is one of Michelle's staples, so she took along a box of whole wheat couscous from Trader Joe's. Since she hadn't made it before, I wanted her to have the recipe for the weekend.

The recipes for couscous are the same as for bulgar. They are delicious as salads and side dishes. They accommodate any number of vegetables and herbs.

Couscous or Bulgar Salad with Celery

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes


1 cup instant couscous or fine grained bulgar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 celery stalk, washed, leaves removed, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped
5 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves removed, washed, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper


Boil the water. Put the couscous or bulgar into a bowl, add the water, stir, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

Using a fork, fluff the couscous or bulgar, add the rest of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste, toss with the celery, scallion, and parsley.

Serve at room temperature as a salad or a side dish.


Add chopped raw tomatoes

Add Iranian cucumbers, washed, peeled, finely chopped

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

Add currants

Couscous or Bulgar with Grilled Vegetables

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes


1 cup instant couscous or fine grained bulgar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, cut into 1" long slabs, 1/4" thick
1 large broccoli crown, washed, cut into 1" long slabs, 1/4" thick
5 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves removed, washed, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Boil the water. Put the couscous or bulgar into a bowl, add the water, stir, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

Toss the carrots and broccoli pieces with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Grill or roast in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool and finely chop.

Using a fork, fluff the couscous or bulgar, add the rest of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste, toss with the cut up carrots and broccoli.

Serve at room temperature as a salad or a side dish.


Add 1/4 cup corn kernels, seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, grilled or roasted

Add 1/4 cup olives, pitted, chopped

Add 1 cup spinach leaves, no stems, washed, roughly chopped

Monday, February 2, 2009

What's New in Santa Monica? Copa d'Oro

The big news in Santa Monica hasn't happened yet. Santa Monica Place, the southern most anchor to the Third Street Promenade, won't reopen until the end of the year.

Before it closed, the mall had been overshadowed by the success of the Promenade's mile long shopping and entertainment corridor. The mall's decline had impacted the businesses along Broadway. The sidewalks always seemed littered. The restaurants, bars, and stores had a run-down, abandoned feeling.

When Santa Monica Place reopens, the area will be reinvigorated as the mall celebrates its proximity to the beach. What was once a closed box monolith will have been transformed into an elegant, open air plaza.

Looking to that future, Jonathan Chu who already has Buddha's Belly on the block, opened an intimate bar, Copa d'Oro (217 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310/576-3030) across the street from Macy's (soon to be replaced by Bloomingdale's).

The food at the bar is simplicity itself, a short list of panini. The drinks are something else entirely. Vincenzo Marianella, a bartender who has mastered the classics and innovates like a master of improvisation, is the star attraction. Taking his cue from the well-known Santa Monica Farmers' Markets, Marianella relies on what's fresh, seasonal, and local. Spread along the bar is an array of vegetables and fruits more likely to be seen in Alice Waters' kitchen.

You can order from the bar menu or ask for a drink featuring any of the fruits, herbs, or vegetables displayed on the bar: strawberries, grapefruit, passion fruit, apples, pear, grape, orange, kiwi, papaya, mango, apple, lemons, mint, rosemary, basil, sage, thyme, parsley, bell pepper, cucumber, carrot, habenero, wasabi, ginger...

Pick your spirit and what comes back is uniquely blended for you. Never too sweet, the mixology at Copa d'Oro brings out the best in the ingredients.

Sitting at the bar, listening to the laughter and easy conversations around me, I enjoy a tall iced glass of passion fruit, Aperol, and vodka and imagine how nice it will be when Santa Monica Place reopens.