Dining from dawn til dusk

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Pop-up dining event makes brunch a culinary adventure

Instead of my regular weekend dose of Marketplace tater tots and eggs, on Nov. 23 I was treated to the culinary masterpieces of local chef Becky Reams at Bang Bang Brunch in downtown Los Angeles.

This event certainly puts a spin on the traditional brunch experience. Not only is the meal held at a different location every month, but those lucky enough to snag tickets are not notified of the exact location until the day before. The menu also remains a mystery until the 20-or-so attendees arrive. But the suspense is well worth it—Reams is a remarkable cook, well deserving of her third-place finish on MasterChef.

The November brunch took place in the Arts District of downtown L.A., in a building housing several artists’ studios. FORT, a studio that creates and repurposes furniture, hosted and furnished the event with a quirky array of chairs and tables.

Attendees were advised to show up at 1 p.m. for appetizers, cocktails and conversations, although the actual brunch began at 1:30 p.m. Most guests sat at one large table for the extent of the meal, which encouraged group conversation. The close quarters and bright light from an oversized window made for an intimate and welcoming meal.

For the first course, Reams presented a parker roll cut down the middle, filled with a mix of smoked trout, horseradish aioli, celery root and fennel, and topped with a breaded egg yolk. The famed chef makes her bread from scratch, giving the meal a deliciously homemade touch.

The next course was a rectangular plate of fried chicken, served alongside two malted buttermilk dumplings and glazed with maple curry and gravy. The dumplings’ firm surface hid their soft inner texture, providing a delicious contrast to the crispy fried chicken. Reams told the diners that her Kansas roots often inspire her to feature southern fried chicken on her menus.

The third course provided an array of treats that tasted just as good as they looked. Jerk pork covered in a sticky pineapple glaze, adorned with plantains and a fried egg, was nestled on a bed of coconut rice. The rice was a sweet complement to the ribs, which slid easily off the bone. I chose to eat the plantains last as a smooth transition to the sweet ending that was to come.

The final treat was a pain perdu, topped with salted caramel, toasted coconut and a soursop anglaise. The pain perdu was a soft bread, similar to french toast, which made a perfectly delicious finale with the accompanying caramel sauce.

Overall, the experience was well worth the 25-minute drive. Reams and the staff were friendly and engaging, the artful presentation of the food only added to its deliciousness and the studio itself provided a cheery and intimate backdrop to a top-tier meal.

Prices for Bang Bang Brunch tickets vary, but are usually $40–$45 and can be purchased on eventbrite.com. More information on Bang Bang Brunch can be found on their twitter feed at #bangbangbrunch or on Reams’ twitter page @foodiephotog.

– Stephen Nemeth

Simply the Best(ia): pizzeria spies up Los Angeles Pies

Nettie Stein-Miller
Nettie Stein-Miller

Contrary to popular belief, not all pizzas are created equal. There may be inconsistencies in the cheese-to-tomato-sauce ratio, the crust may be too thick or the toppings may be processed. The question of what a good pizza entails is so heavily debated that Jon Stewart created an entire video on pizza inequality—namely, the age-old Chicago-style vs. New York-style argument. Los Angeles, miles away from both cities, generates a third debate: Where can one find a good pizza in a West Coast city? I am pleased to announce that I have officially found the best pizzeria in L.A.: Bestia, the multi-regional nouveau Italienne restaurant located in the downtown Arts District (also known as the Warehouse District).

Bestia is faithful to traditional Italian pizzas with menu items such as the Salsiccia, with housemade lamb sausage, San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta, arugula and fermented chilies, and the Alla’nduja, with housemade spicy ‘nduja, san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, black cabbage and fennel pollen. But it would not be a Los Angeles dining experience without some kale on the menu. Bestia’s spin on this Southern Californian staple is their Gorgonzola Kale with mozzarella, grana padano and olive oil, a tasty vegetarian option for those who do not like pork as much as I do.

But what makes Bestia’s pizza so superior? Chef Ori Menashe uses over 60 forms of charcuterie and even raises his own yeast culture, but there is something else responsible for his succulent flavors: the Neapolitan Acunto pizza oven. Invented by Vincenzo Acunto in 1892, the production of the Acunto has been passed down in the family for four generations, and remains in the skilled hands of Acunto’s descendants. What sets the oven apart is that beech wood is used to ignite the flames and oak wood is used to maintain the temperature—a fusion that creates a light, smoky flavor in the final product. There are only ten Acunto pizza ovens in the continental United States, including Bestia’s.

Though one could be completely satisfied with Bestia after only tasting these wood-fired pizzas, the menu offers a variety of dishes that beg to be sampled. The burrata with peaches, cherry tomatoes, pickled banana peppers, pea tendrils and mint is perhaps the most creative item on the antipasti menu. A slight deviation from the over-served caprese, the local Californian peaches and mint add a soupçon of sweetness that blends perfectly with the fresh burrata. The trace of mint is especially pleasant in the farro salad, where it is paired nicely with an avocado purée and grilled cauliflower—another Californian twist on a classic Italian dish.

Though chef Menashe hails from Israel, Bestia’s menu is mainly multi-regional Italian, as stated on its website.

“With Southern Italian food there’s a lot of Middle Eastern in it. That’s why I was drawn to Italian food,” Menashe said in an interview with Zagat.

The ability to cross regional borders within the confines of a five-course menu is truly phenomenal. Restaurants in Los Angeles that serve both grilled lamb heart and chicken liver crostini are far and few.

Comme entrée, one of my favorite items on the menu, is spaghetti Rustichella with sea urchin, squid ink bottarga, garlic, Calabrian chilies and breadcrumbs. Sea urchin has so much potential beyond sashimi, and chef Menashe makes wonderful use of the tasty creature by adding it atop a spaghetti that puts all other wheat to shame.

For secondi, the slow-roasted lamb neck with salsa verde is a perfect way to ignite the taste buds and prepare them for Bestia’s famous desserts. The other half of a match made in culinary heaven, Menashe’s wife Genevieve Gergis is the pastry chef responsible for producing delights such as the fig leaf ice cream and the coffee and donuts special (spiced chestnut zeppole with whipped cream and coffee ice cream).

With its combination of unique pasta dishes and pizza staples, Bestia offers Italian food to rival even the best of East Coast cuisine.

– Nettie Stein-Miller