Beer Flights and Furious Seven

Beer flight at The Rack, Woodland Hills, CA
Beer flight at The Rack, Woodland Hills, CA
A beer flight sitting before a rock firepit/bar at The Rack in Woodland Hills, CA.

A movie ticket to see “Furious 7” cost $13.69 . For nearly fourteen bucks what you get is 2 hours of a constant barrage of clashing metal, expensive cars flying through buildings, hulking actors on steroids, the obvious passing of time evidenced by the actors who have lasted throughout all seven “Fast and Furious” movies, and a touching ending, a tribute to actor Paul Walker who died before the movie was finished.

My friend wanted to see it, and I was convinced that a movie about racing cars and revenge might be at least slightly entertaining after hearing a reporter on NPR say she loved it. For some, the loud, action-packed movie may well be worth $14. For me, if weren’t  for the ending, I would’ve called the two hours a loss.

However, a stop at The Rack, a local restaurant, bar and billiards house next to the AMC 16 theater in Woodland Hills, before the movie helped me endure the next two hours.

My friend and I enjoyed a flight of four, 4-ounce beers, and spicy buffalo wings. We tasted a variety of craft beers, such as the Davey Brown Ale, which has a slight nutty, chocolatey flavor with a touch of brightness. The flight cost $8, more than reasonable for a Friday night out.

The spicy buffalo wings were a perfect transition between the various beers. It was the first time I think I’ve ever had chicken wings at a restaurant that actually looked like chicken wings.

While I am being a bit harsh about the seventh incarnation of the Furious series, which is now listed as one of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time, I did find some of Tyrese Gibson’s glib lines funny, and one particular CGI action scene — it takes place in Dubai — a pretty cool one. I just prefer action movies with a little more story behind them.

Next time, after a flight of beers at The Rack, I’ll stick around for some billiards instead of the movies.

Santa Cruz Perfect Ending to 2014

There are just a few days left in the year 2014, and moments from the past year dance through my mind. Travels I’ve undertaken, time spent with family, both good and heartbreaking, laughs with friends, new people experienced and new friends made. It was mostly a good year — actually, a great one.

The best way to end this year is in Santa Cruz, a place I call my hometown, although I was not born here. My family moved here when I was 12 years old. I left at age 21, traveled the world and ended back in Los Angeles. But my mother, brother and his daughter still live in Santa Cruz.

I find the beauty of Santa Cruz — the redwood-filled mountains, and it’s cove-filled beaches — the perfect setting to relax, and reflect on the past year. Just stepping outside my mother’s little home and taking a walk down the street in Felton, one of the first little communities people pass by on Highway 9 when entering the mountains, re-energizes me. The clear blue skies, fresh air and green all around — I inhale deeply and when I let my breath out, I am renewed.

Hiking and biking trails are located all throughout Henry Cowell State Park, which is in Felton, CA.
On clear days, you can see all the way to the ocean from a trail peak in Henry Cowell State Park.

Many homes are quaint craftsman in style. Others are basic redwood cabins, the kind I lived in when we first moved to Brookdale, which is further up Highway 9. Thin cabin walls barely kept the cold out during winter back then, but a huge river rock fireplace in our living room kept us warm.

One of my favorite things to do is watch the sunset from Pleasure Point, at the end of 41st Avenue in Capitola. In high school I learned how to surf  this spot, where the waves on the southern end usually are low and long. The other day I stopped at Pleasure Point Pizza, which is featured in the surf film “Mavericks,” and got a huge slice of Pepperoni Pizza and a coke, and went to the cliffs to watch the sunset. It’s calming to gaze at the ocean, and watch the sky change colors from a warm gold to a deep, rich red-golden hue.


View from Pleasure Point cliff at the end of 41st ave. in Capitola Santa Cruz, CA

Another great aspect about Santa Cruz is the history, food, and the variety of live music. I had dinner the other night at Stagnaro Bros., which has been located on the wharf in downtown Santa Cruz for almost 75 years. It was founded by brothers Ernesto and Giovanni Stagnaro, whose parents came from Northern Italy to Santa Cruz via Ellis Island in 1918. The brothers ran the fish seafood market and restaurant until 2004, upon Giovanni’s death. Family members still work at the restaurant to this day.

On Monday nights the restaurant offers a fantastic special, Cioppino, for $10.95. Normally the price is $24.95. A shallow bowl is filled with baby scallops, shrimp, crab legs and shellfish, and bathed in a thick, tasty tomato broth. I added some tabasco to spice it up a bit.

I went back the next day with my mom to try out their happy hour specials on the upper deck. We were just in time for a beautiful sunset, and snacked on calamari strips, clam chowder and a seared ahi tuna on a bed of greens. All dishes were $8.95 each, and house wine and draft beers were $3 each. Not bad. Warning, don’t order the prawn tacos. They are not made with prawn, but baby shrimp, and are not tasty enough to make up for the difference.

While the weather dipped to near freezing just before New Year’s Eve, people were out and about in Santa Cruz, at the wharf, on the West Cliffs, Downtown and elsewhere, spending the last days of 2014, I imagine, enjoying the quirkiness and beauty of this coastal town as much as my mother and I.

“Santa Cruz is great isn’t it,” my mother said, as we drove down River Street, past downtown back to the mountains.

“Yes it is,” I answered.

How to Navigate a Food Festival

If you’ve ever been to a food festival, where the beverages are flowing and the food is seems unlimited, you’ve most likely rushed to the first food-laden tables and wine offerings, downing everything in sight. For goodness sake you wouldn’t want to miss out on any of it, and be left hungry and thirsty!


Gorge Restaurant Chefs Elia Aboumard and Uyen Nguyen teach Food Event goers how to make sausage.

Continue reading “How to Navigate a Food Festival”

Celebrating Robert Mondavi with Delicious Wine & Food

Robert Mondavi, the pioneer of California winemaking, would have been 100 years old this year. He may no longer be with us, but his legacy–the Robert Mondavi Winery–lives on with his family.

His widow Margrit Mondavi, who is the vice president of cultural affairs at Robert Mondavi Winery, was on hand at a special dinner prepared by Chef John Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles to honor the life and legacy of Robert Mondavi.

Sedlar is a longtime friend of the winemaking couple, having met them when he participated in the Great Chefs of Robert Mondavi Winery program, the first winery-culinary program in the United States, in 1988. Sedlar and Margrit told tales of kayaking  together, 16  people in all, with 18 cases of Mondavi wine, and feasting on culinary meals prepared by Sedlar by candlelight on the shores of Snake River.

As Margrit said, “Memories of wine and food bring us together.”

Margrit also spoke of how her late husband was ahead of his time when building his first winery. “With his passion, with his focus, with his pursuit of excellence, he knew  quite early on that we could make wine in Napa Valley.”

Mondavi produced his first harvest in 1966, and created his signature Fume Blanc, recreated from Sauvignon Blanc, in 1967. Since the early days, the Mondavis were behind the culinary and wine movement for which Napa is now known. He was a great promoter of the winemaking region, and was willing to help anyone who asked, Margrit said.

“He promoted Napa to the nth degree,” his brother Peter Mondavi wrote in tribute to his elder brother. “He did more for Napa than anyone.”

To celebrate this legacy of wine and food, Sedlar prepared a special menu that included surprising combinations and textures. Under the dish labeled Mariscos, a dollop of slightly puréed green lentils, broccoli, and celery mixed with chunks of tender scallops looked like guacamole, but with a light flavor and slightly creamy texture interrupted by the scallops. It also had a strong spicy kick . Margrit’s response to the dish: “I like heat.”

Scallops with lentils, broccoli, and celery. A dish prepared by Chef John Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant. Dishes were served on plates that depicted images of winemaker Robert Mondavi throughout his career.

The Salmon Mousse Tamal with the Cacahuate Salsa was another favorite. The tamal was the perfect texture–not too dry and not too wet–and the salmon was not overpowering.

Salmon Mousse Tamal with Cacahuate Salsa. A dish prepared by Chef John Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant. Dishes were served on plates that depicted images of winemaker Robert Mondavi throughout his career.

The wines paired with the evening’s meal included a 2011 Fume Blanc Oakville, which was light and fresh, with just enough body to complement the tamal, and a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve that, despite its youthfulness, was full-bodied with a smooth finish.

Rivera Restaurant was the perfect fit to celebrate Mondavi’s birthday and legacy, given the long and close relationship between Sedlar and the Mondavis, as well as the level of cuisine and classy, yet comfortable ambiance.

More information about Rivera. More information about Robert Mondavi Winery.




The Space Between Us at Glo Santa Monica

Every three years for just one night, Glow Santa Monica, an art installation based on the theme of light, is installed at Santa Monica Beach and Pier. This year was my first time in attending. Having only seen images here and there, I never knew fully what the audience participatory exhibit would be like. I imagined it to be more than it was–more artwork, more light, more glowing displays that would astound the mind. Fifteen exhibits were listed in all, but some were passing events that occurred only once, and others, such as a treasure hunt for coins throughout the Glow area, to me, was not art, it was a treasure hunt.

Shana Koenig, Solar Sea Sculptures hung from trees on Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica during Glo 2013

Glow did have some unique, and large, installations, such as the ring of fire that I expected to see Evel Knievel ride through at any moment. Named “6:43PM” by artist Mathieu Briand, visitors stood in line to go through a tunnel made of steel containers on which the fire ring sat upon. The line was much too long, so I didn’t get to experience it, but, according to the event brochure description, it was a “chamber of mystery from a past or future time.” “6:43PM” “salutes the power of the sun,” and was named for the descent of the sun below the horizon at that time.

Other so-called “exhibits” were existing structures on the pier, the carousel and the solar-powered Ferris wheel (maybe the city was trying to save money). The carousel was fun to ride at 2 in the morning. I’ve never seen a carousel filled solely with adults. The music, one clip representing each decade throughout the 20th century, filled the room and energized the experience.

There was one exhibit that did impress many. To me it made it worth dealing with the traffic and parking to get to Glo.  It drew a steady stream from the thousands of people who came to Santa Monica to see Glo. “The Space Between Us” by artist Janet Echelman looked like a huge, billowing sea net hung from the sky, which constantly changed colors, sometimes slowly morphing from one to another hue, and other times lighting up suddenly in a bright white or blue. When it went dark, occasionally little lights would run up and down the strings of the net, like stars, or glowing sea life, on the move. A shooting comet at one point caused the audience to ooh and ahhh. While it seemed there was a caution tape barrier around the entire structure, it was trampled down as the masses of people streamed toward the sculpture and climbed up the small hill and down into a bowl sculpted out of the sand below the artwork. Here bodies lined the bowl, gazing up at the billowing net above them. The piece was set to music the artist composed, which listened to later on her Website,, sounds like water in variations states, included being flushed down a toilet. I overheard a couple asking, “Where’s the music.” While cliché, that would have made the experience truly fine. Here is a video below set to music by Pink Floyd.