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M.A.N About Town Posts

Mindy’s Not So Hot Chocolate

Mindy's (1 of 14)

Probably one of the worst meals in recent memory has to be the one I had at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. I really love Mindy’s latest book on Cookies, and I prefer her style to that of the hipster-pastry poster girl Christina Tosi.

Mindy's (8 of 14)

In her book Mindy seems to seek the best method possible for her pastry, and pay a certain homage to the techniques of the masters. She gives a lot of credit to those who’ve paved the way for the pastry renaissance in America. I was hoping to have a better experience at Hot Chocolate then I received at Dominique Ansel, which suffered from and an unkempt appearance and felt more like a Starbucks than a shop producing haute pâtisserie.

Mindy won the James Beard for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012, yet nearly everything about this meal suggest that she’s cashed out or lost interest in her restaurant.

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Al’s Chickenette

Als (1 of 19)

Al’s boasts of having the best fried chicken in Hays, Kansas. I would wager to say, they that have the best fried chicken in most of Kansas, as Kansas is not really much of a state, just one big sorghum and soy farm. Sorghum, that genus of plants from the 10,000 strong grass family (Poaceae) used to make bio-fuel, animal feed, and syrup .Als (15 of 19)

Eager to see the recent remodel, the first since their 1949 founding when the blue and pink interior protected against more soviet red colors (ironically useful in today’s post soviet aggression) we hopped off the mind numbing 70 freeway and headed down to Hays. Kansas cuisine is a reflection of it’s culture – not particularly diverse (86% Caucasian, 76% Christian, and overwhelmingly Republican) and I struggled to find something interesting to eat. The reviews on Al’s found online speak volumes. Makes one wonder why the over 6,000 ghost towns of Kansas continue to increase in number, where are the people going when the chicken is supposedly this good?   

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Szechuan Impression

s impress (1 of 13)I used to believe my stomach was cast iron; I could consume anything inside it and not really worry about it. The ever dwindling populations of Lactase enzymes, as well as Szechuan (some pronounce Sich-Chawn, which I prefer after the name of the province in Southwest China) cuisine have served as the gravity to those ill-formed ideas. I don’t care what all my Chinese friends say (you know who you are), I know you are hurting after consuming chilies like popcorn.

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some of the flatware was so elegant, yet it was simply not uniform

As Chengdu Taste was one of my great dining experiences of 2014, I was eager to try Szechuan Impression, the newcomer to the regional Chinese dining scene.  It’s amazing how much variety comes from this area, an ancient regional crossroads for Sichuan based salt merchants. There are said to be four sub-styles, the most known being Chengdu style named after the provincial capital of Sichuan province.

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Chengdu is a sub-provincial city in Sichuan Province, and is the birthplace of the first widely used paper money, as well as around 14 million people as of the 2010 census. Directly west is the Chongqing municipality, also called ‘Fog City’ due to the over 100 days of fog per year, and its status among the ten most air-polluted cities in the world. Chengdu is considered a city of leisure given its numerous tea houses, greater than 1000 year history as the starting point of the Silk Road, and the rumored ‘thousands’ of dishes.

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Longman & Eagle

long (8 of 9)

Of all the 77 neighborhoods that compose Chicago there is but one that teams with a raw hipster energy. A mustached heartbeat that pounds from a dangerous ride and fair trade coffee, swerving around gaping potholes from last year’s winter on a bicycle with just one gear. That neighborhood is Logan Square, where the most exciting restaurants in the entire city can be found and instagrammed. Sure – there’s the Michelin star crowd clustered around Halstead Street, and the grand restaurants of Grand Ave in River North, but for me all the real excitement is centered further west.


Logan Square is named for General John A. Logan, whose giant handlebar mustache is arguably one of the greatest in American History, and whose earliest political achievement was baring all African Americans from settling in Illinois in 1853. Yet flash forward to modern times and hipsters of all shades and sized ear gages have inundated the grimy streets of Logan Square. For me, the best thing about dining in Logan Square is the value; while often times the quality is a solid B+, I’m happy to pay 30% less than I would in NYC or LA for the exact same fare (hello, $8 dollar cocktails!).

long (1 of 9)

Longman and Eagle is one of the stars of the Logan Square dining scene. Part of the name i’m guessing comes from Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first female sculptor named to the National Academy of Design. The wait for brunch here, as mentioned in Chicago Mag’s review of the brunch revamp (I visited before this menu change occurred) can be suspicious and true, the service was most inattentive. I felt like I was dining in Venice Beach at times, where one can be downright ignored. 

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The Lost City of Camello Gigante

tj (15 of 44)

A great many fantastic adventures in life are conceived in inebriation. The quest for the Lost City of Camello Gigante began like most stories, three young men in search of fortune and glory – yet what we found in the bygone region across the border was beyond our wildest dreams.

tj (24 of 44)

Earlier this month I heard from friend and head Sommelier at Osteria Mozza, Matthew Bostick that he was going on an impromptu adventure south of the border to drink wine in the burgeoning Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. Not looking to be outdone I decided to drop my own wine key and head south to investigate.

tj (2 of 44)

As I’ve not been to Baja California I knew that I needed to enlist an expert and guide. I got together with good friend and newly minted beverage director for Broken Spanish (soon to debut in the old Rivera space) Michael Lay. With Mike (the fixer) on board, I immediately got down to the business searching for ways to make the trip as absurd as possible. ‘We leave upon the tail of the Hour of the Wolf,’ or something silly like that I recall texting Mike. “Ok cool I’m in, but what time is that?” 5am.

tj (1 of 44)
“The Hour of the Wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons are most powerful. The Hour of the Wolf is also the hour when most children are born.” – The 1968 Ingmar Bergman horror film ‘Hour of the Wolf’
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PortoVino Wine Dinner at Pizzeria Ortica

OC (10 of 18)I first heard of Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, California from my Chef Steve Samson when we were opening Sotto, in South Beverly Hills several years ago. I didn’t think much of it, or the Orange County dining scene for anything other than ethnic food for quite a while, until Joanie Karapetiean introduced me to Joel Anthony Caruso. “You guys should totally meet! You are like the same person!” I remember her saying one afternoon. I’m not normally told such things, so I immediately began investigating Joel’s Instagram account (The de facto standard of legitimacy in today’s world). I was impressed and intrigued; that someone in OC would have a specialty as esoteric as Amaro, but also be able to sport a power beard and a power suit so seamlessly.

OC (3 of 18)

Joel Anthony Caruso (also known as Pretty Tony) is one of the most visible and talented members of OC Food and Beverage Community. Joel is one of the few Beverage Directors that can actually get behind the stick and produce a respectable cocktail (winning multiple bartending competitions) as well as a gifted sommelier with an extensive knowledge of Italian Wine.

OC (9 of 18)

The wine program at Ortica is exemplary, and not what you would expect dining in Costa Mesa with indigenous varietals and stellar wine makers at every price point. Joel’s wine program has one of the best unions of old world and new world wine; with a keen eye for indigenous Italian varieties grown in California as well as some great vintage depth from the old world.

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On a recent trip to the Bay Area I received the opportunity to try the newest restaurant from Chef Mourad Lahlou, Mourad. Several years have passed since I was impressed by not only the stellar cocktail program of Aziza (the restaurant named for the Chef’s Mother, widely considered the best Moroccan in the America), but the fantastic cuisine. I remember being particularly impressed by the rendition of Lamb bisteeya (or b’stilla). Although the version at Aziza was sans Quail, for me it was a transformative taste.

Mourad (13 of 28)
Chef Mourad sent an additional course with our tasting menu, a micro version of lamb b’stilla

Mourad features an extremely talented team, with the wine programed helmed by Master Sommelier Alan Murray, and the pastry program run by James Beard Nominee Melissa Chou. While we tasted quite a few delicious beverages this evening, the wine that not only worked well with nearly everything but captured my imagination was a Mosel Riesling from Egon Müller IV. Egon is bald, which makes him much cooler by default, and is a member of the prestigious PFV, or Primum Familiae Vini – an illuminati like group of twelve winemaking families.

Mourad (10 of 28)

As I learned from the recent Von Bodem tasting, while the label says Mosel, the Scharzhofberg vineyard is more specifically located in the Saar District, which says a great deal specifically (the Saar sits on Blue Devon slate, also called Hunsrück Slate). At a 10.5% in alcohol, this bottle had arrow like acidity, presence on the palate, mild petrol on the nose, and great under ripe fruit flavors.

Mourad (17 of 28)

As my dining companion is old friends with the chef; he agreed that we should try the tasting menu which seemed to strike a perfect balance between just enough and too much food. I am told that Mourad goes so far as to even weigh all the ingredients of his tasting menus to achieve the perfect level of satiation.

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The cocktail program was created by the duo of Christ Aivaliotis and Troy Bayless, known as Wizard Oil Co (probably the coolest name for a cocktail company out there). 

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Italy on the Mind

picture I took last year in Guardiagrelle, Abruzzo

Remember that trip I took to Southern Italy? That was quite enjoyable and beautiful. I’m often brought back to Italy in the great tastings I have the privilege to attend on routine basis, like the recent Poderi Aldo Conterno. I am a big advocate of the wines from Italy; I believe Italian wine offers the most diversity and most interesting varietals in the world.

The other night I was talking to Sommelier Rachel Kerswell at Republique in Los Angeles (Hancock Park) about being a floor somm, and what makes our job fun (Rachel being Canadian is an expert user of acronyms like “obvi”). There are very few things that are more enjoyable than sharing great wines without other distractions. 

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Von Bodem

Todd (1 of 22)
anyone with a beard that serious commands respect #powerBeard

Late last year I got the pleasure of meeting Stephen Bitterolf of Vom Boden; German speaker, former wine director / current wine educator, and importer of fine wines Germania (Vom Boden; meaning ‘of the soil’). Stephen did a great interview with Levy Dalton, of I’ll Drink to That (one of my favorite podcasts).

Tasting and learning with Stephen was fantastic, and by far one of my favorite tastings of the year because of his focus on “dry and ‘illegally’ dry Riesling” wines made from sustainably farmed and/or natural winemaking practices. He also spoke about the complicated relationship between rarity, residual sugar, and inflated prices in the flawed Pradikat system, introduced originally in 1971.

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Poderi Aldo Conterno

lotus (10 of 13)

Aldo Conterno is one of those storied names among what many consider to be the greatest grape in all of Italy, Nebbiolo. It invokes such a rich and visceral response, it transforms in the glass, and it belongs to Italy. Long one of my favorite producers is Aldo Conterno, a producer with one foot in a storied past and the other heading towards the future.

lotus (4 of 13)

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