Cafe del Rey: Beautiful Seaside Dining

9098314_f520In the 1970s and 1980s, Marina del Rey was “the place” in Los Angeles for singles and young couples. Now, with tech start-up companies flocking to Southern California, Marina del Rey and the surrounding communities are experiencing a resurgence of young professionals to the community, which is commonly referred to as “Silicon Beach”.

One of the culinary hot spots in the area is Cafe del Rey, which offers creative cocktails and farm-to-table fare. Executive chef Chuck Abair said he loves walking out of the kitchen and enjoying the view of the harbor with boats bobbing in the water.
Previously a sous chef for chef Michael Cimarusti at Providence, Abair joined Cafe del Rey in 2011 as the chef de cuisine, working alongside former executive chef Daniel Roberts. His background in preparing seafood dishes has allowed him to create menus highlighting seasonal flavors and emphasizing seafood paired with housemade ingredients.

Chef Abair is a graduate of Le Cordon Blue California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, and has more than 10 years of culinary experience. His passion for cooking started as a child, when he enjoyed watching “The Galloping Gourmet” and Julia Child.

I was joined by a friend for lunch at Café del Rey, where Abair prepared a wild caught Hawaiian moonfish with chanterelle mushrooms, roasted purple pearl onions and 9096370_f520a moist chick pea cake topped with pan jus. Abair is a whiz with grilled fish, with rave reviews of his swordfish, salmon, barramundi and yellowtail.
He also makes an incredible cheeseburger with Brie cheese, oven dried tomatoes, arugula, caramelized onions and a mustard aioli. The burger is served with crisp French fries and housemade ketchup.

Other specialties include Dungeness crab cakes, grilled cheese on brioche with tomato soup and a lamb burger with harissa-spiced fries. Regulars often enjoy the daily Cinque Terre, offering a selection of five small dishes with a Mediterranean influence.

We saved room for his maple berry pie with cinnamon ice cream, and also sampled the chocolate tower adorned with an orange sauce, and his luscious butterscotch flan.

With fall approaching, Abair is preparing a new menu with dishes made from ingredients found at farmers’ markets. Last year’s fall menu included sweet potato gnocchi, salmon with butternut squash, and lamb osso buco with mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and pine nut gremolata.

Abair said he is planning another “Permission to Come Aboard” half-day fishing expedition that gives seafood lovers and adventurous diners an all-hands-on-deck experience. The cost for the fishing excursion is $55, which includes equipment and a fishing license. Abair shows guests around Marina del Rey before they drop lines. The boat later docks at Cafe del Rey for a barbecue lunch with the freshly caught fish from the trip.

Cafe del Rey offers a casual, yet sophisticated experience for lunch, brunch and dinner. $$-$$$ 4451 Admiralty Way, (310)823-6395.

This article was published in the Sept. 4 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.

Parq Bar at the Montage Beverly Hills

IMG_0718The Parq Bar at the Montage Beverly Hills is an elegant experience, offering an ideal spot for socializing in an attractive, clubby atmosphere. An all-day menu is offered featuring Hamachi and various sushi and sashimi dishes, as well as fresh garden salads and sandwiches. The menu is appealing to area business women and men who come to the Montage Beverly Hills for lunch and dine on lobster chopped salad, with gem lettuce, sliced avocado, cut fresh corn, sliced Marcona almonds, tomatoes and a slightly tangy chipotle dressing. A baby kale salad and an octopus salad are also available.

Comfortable club chairs and lounge seating are available to enjoy a small plate and a cocktail or two. The chilled crab tower with fresh lump crab surrounded by sliced tomato and avocado and drizzled with a slightly tart lemon oil with herbs, creating a low calorie yet satisfying dish, perfect for sharing.

The crab tower and panzanella salad are among the selections for the Suite 100 menu that five leading Beverly Hills hotels have created in honor of Beverly Hills’ centennial celebration. Aptly named Suite 100, each property created suites themed after different decades from the past 100 years.

The Montage Beverly Hills’ suite was designed by Nina Petronzi, and takes guests back to the 1940s with Lalique crystal accents, elegant drapery and tufted furniture. A special touch is the “champagne button” and with just one push, a bottle is delivered to the room.

The Parq Bar offers a Tiffin box daily for lunch with soup, salad, sandwich and dessert. The portions are perfect for lunch, and the selections change daily. Sandwiches Tiffin-Box.Parq_-300x164featured on the regular menu include braised short rib, jamon iberico and a Mary’s chicken sandwich.

The Parq Burger – another excellent choice for lunch – is an eight-ounce, grass fed beef burger with white cheddar cheese, tomato and delicate watercress. It comes with a cone of crispy French fries, and guests have a choice of truffle parmigiano, garlic and parsley, or jalapeño and paprika dust.

The Parq Bar also hosts an afternoon tea every Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guests can enjoy artisanal teas served in one-of-a-kind, hand-painted china by porcelain artist Lissi Kaplan. The Montage’s signature tea is an organic, caffeine-free golden pomegranate tea with rooibos, rose hips, orange peel and lemon.
Executive pastry chef Julie Jangali prepares sweet and savory items such as smoked salmon with crème fraîche and IMG_0723basil on a zucchini muffin, and roasted beef with candied shallots and date marmalade on a cheddar cheese biscuit.

Additionally, guests can enjoy a treatment at the Spa Montage, which offers a nail salon, Kim Vo hair salon, massages, facials and wellness classes.
$$$ 225 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310)499-4199.

This article was featured in the August 28, 2014 issue of Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Jason Alexander -West Coast Broadway Bound

9148358_f520“As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming a magician,” said actor, director, writer, producer and comedian Jason Alexander, 54. The majority of NBY readers will fondly remember Alexander as George Costanza in the mega-successful television show Seinfeld. Alexander practiced his craft starting at the age of six and perform magic shows for family and friends until he was 13 years old.When his family moved to Livingston, New Jersey, the shy Alexander was welcomed by the theater kids at school. “They were friendly, supportive and quick to include me in the group,” he remembers good memories associated with being part of the theater community. To Alexander, the theater was like a big magic show. “Nothing is real in theater, it was the best magic trick. I didn’t have to saw an assistant in half or pull any rabbits out of a hat.”
From then on, he was a thespian throughout high school and college. He enrolled at BU (Boston University) and completed three years before getting a call to perform on Broadway. His acting career started in 1981 and he married in 1982.

Over the years, Jason Alexander has acquired other interests, such as poker and philanthropy. He competed on televised poker shows and in various tournaments. He has appeared twice on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown, winning the final table of the 8th season. Alexander won the $500,000 prize for his charity, The United Way of America to help benefit the New Orleans area. An avid poker player, Alexander was also one of the “famous faces” as a result of being a regular player on the online poker website Hollywood Poker.

Alexander played in the 2007 and 2009 World Series of Poker main event. He also signed with PokerStars where he plays under the screen name “J Alexander”.

Since his memorable role in the television series, Seinfeld, Alexander has been working constantly. Roles on stage, television and movies have allowed him to sing, 9148365_f520dance, act, write and totally immerse himself in the art.

Currently, Jason Alexander is directing Neil Simon’s hilarious and heartwarming semi-autobiographical play Broadway Bound at The Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles. This production is very special to him, because in 1986, Alexander starred in the production of Broadway Bound in New York City.

Now as the director, he feels as if he is a magician creating magic up on stage five shows a week. The opportunity came about when he went to see his dear friend, actress Gina Hecht perform in the 2013 La Mirada Theatre production of Broadway Bound. Hecht asked Alexander for advice after her performance. She wanted to know what he thought of the show and what needed improvement.

As he shared with her his experience about performing in Broadway Bound on Broadway, Hecht asked if he might consider directing the performance in the future. He replied “If the timing is right, yes, I would take a crack at it.” Hecht immediately talked to her other cast members at the La Mirada show including the legendary actor/professor/director Allan Miller and Ian Alda. Miller had the assistant director at the Odyssey Theatre come see the La Mirada production. When they got the “green light” Miller, Hecht and Alda agreed to star in the show with Alexander directing the production.

9148364_f260Mr. Alexander has bonded with the cast and has enjoyed the interactions, specifically mentioning Allan Miller. The 85 year old actor lives in a suburb in Los Angeles and I was able to talk with him, as well.

This is Miller’s third time starring in Broadway Bound. Miller and Alexander hit it off immediately and work well with each other.

“I have had 8 terrific Directors in my extensive acting career,” said Miller. “Jason Alexander is now my 9th favorite Director. He is passionate, enthusiastic and offers wonderful ideas to enhance the show.”
Miller explained that with Alexander’s direction, “Broadway Bound goes deep into the painfully perceptive life of Neil Simon.” Miller finished the interview with, “I have some of the best one-liners in the show.”

This is not the first time Jason Alexander has directed a show. He had the opportunity to direct three Seinfeld episodes. He also has directed the successful television shows – Mike & Milly and Everybody Hates Chris.

Alexander is captivated by the challenges and rewards of directing and is eager to direct more projects.9147122_f520

Broadway Bound runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $30. On September 10 and September 19 audience members can buy “Pay What You Can” tickets for a $10 minimum. Also on September 19, a glass of wine is on the house. The Odyssey Theatre is at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles. Box Office hours are from 1 p.m. to curtain. (310) 477-2055 ext. 2.

This article was featured in the September 2014 issue of Not Born Yesterday.

PUMP – West Hollywood’s Newest Darling

9091099_f520One block away from Lisa Vanderpump’s exclusive West Hollywood restaurant and lounge, SUR, is her recent endeavor with husband Ken Todd, PUMP.
I arrived alone on a Wednesday evening and was welcomed by the charming host up front. He sat me at a lovely table on the outdoor patio, under 100-year-old olive trees, and two tables away from Ken Todd and his daughter Pandora. They were dining with friends at a round table in the center of the patio.

As the sun set, the patio became more stunning and romantic with lanterns hanging from branches of the ancient trees and candles casting flickering shadows on the patio and interior of the restaurant. The decor has a French influence with decorative pieces from Parisian bridges below each bar area.

Looking over the Mediterranean and Italian influenced menu, I ordered a glass of Chardonnay and roasted beet and goat cheese Napoleon with candied pistachios. Todd walked over to my table for a chat. We met before when I dined and reviewed their Beverly Hills establishment, Villa Blanca. I reminded Todd, and we both laughed, about how he sat down next to me at Villa Blanca, ordered a dish of his Grandma Edith’s sticky toffee pudding, grabbed a spoon, and fed me bites of the delicious dessert.

All of a sudden, PUMP grew quiet as Vanderpump strolled onto the dining patio. It was as if the most popular girl in high school was sauntering into a classroom. All eyes 9092957_f520-1were on her. If you don’t know who Vanderpump is, she is one of the stars of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and producer of “Vanderpump Rules.”
She noticed her husband talking to me and came over to my table. After a reintroduction, I learned that Vanderpump personally designs the interiors of many of their restaurants, including Villa Blanca, SUR and PUMP.

I also discovered that this dynamic duo have a big heart and financially support the organization Keep Memory Alive. It’s an organization that develops treatments and preventions of neurological disorders that include Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Wanting to see her daughter Pandora, Vanderpump excused herself and walked over to her table. The amiable Todd gave me a hug and ambled table to table to chat with guests.

This “Hollywood Royalty” now own 27 restaurants and bars. Their daughter Pandora became involved in the restaurants, after graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu. She currently has a LVP (Lisa Vanderpump) Sangria line that guests can order at PUMP.

Enjoying my salad, I asked my server a few questions about the restaurant and the chef. He shared with me that I should take a peek at the silver vase that Lady Gaga presented as a gift to Lisa Vanderpump. It’s located near the back bar on the patio.

9092952_f520-1He then had the Executive Chef Penny Davidi come to my table to discuss the menu. Chef Penny was known as the Food Network’s Middle Eastern Mama in the popular television show, Chopped. She was such a fan favorite that she came back on “Chopped All-Stars.”

She shared with me that her Farsi name is Pouneh, which means “edible flower. She is a playful, likable and feisty chef. When Vanderpump and Todd met Davidi, they liked her cooking style and felt she would be the perfect choice as Executive Chef at PUMP.

Davidi is also a certified US Foods Culinary Specialist. She creates both healthy and sexy dishes, such as Kale on a Date, creamy burrata with colorful heirloom tomatoes, the Pinky Pump burger with caramelized red onions, pomegranate ketchup, and feta cheese, on a brioche bun and served with a side of thick cut fries, and Davidi’s favorite the Guinness battered fish and chips.

All of the desserts are made in her kitchen with her recipes. Besides working at PUMP, Penny also owns a bakery, ToC near the Beverly Center and Cedars Sinai.
The restaurant is open nightly and offers a decadent Sunday Brunch. It’s had to believe that this dazzling spot was once the gravel parking lot for Java Detour.
Before leaving I visited the all silver women’s restroom and peeked inside the private cabana’s in the back of the patio. They are decorated with a French Moroccan theme. On the walls were famous hand painted Vanderpump sayings, including “Life isn’t all diamonds and rose, but it should be…”

$$ Hours nightly are 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday Brunch begins at 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 8948 Santa Monica Blvd. (310)657-7867.

A portion of this article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park La Brea News – Aug. 21, 2014

Scratch Bar – Delightful Surprises on Every Plate

DSC_0729Stepping into the patio of Scratch Bar on Restaurant Row on La Cienega Blvd. in Beverly Hills, I looked around and noticed that every staff member looked like they are represented by l.a. models. I was handed a flute of Prosecco by Joe, a handsome man with stunning blue eyes, and led into the restaurant to sit at the bar counter in a comfortable leather chair.

Celebrating their one-year birthday, owner and General Manager Dario Danesh and Owner/Chef/Proprietor Phillip Frankland Lee invited a group of foodies to help them all celebrate the restaurant’s anniversary.

The evening was full of delightful surprises. Chef Phillip stood behind the corner of the bar greeting guests while preparing to make an interactive 8-course dinner right before our eyes. He told us he would be preparing 90% of the dishes at the bar.

The dashing bartender Chase, enticed me to drink a Lucky Charm cocktail. He explained that it’s a

Chase mixes great cocktails.

Chase mixes great cocktails.

version of a mojito, only better. Chase poured shots of sake, with lime juice, muddled mint, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper to give a tingle on my lips.

Chase made a Bangkok Dangerous cocktail for my friend. It had two types of sake with lemon, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, pineapple juice and a pinch of salt. She loved it.
For those who want a non-alcohol drink, try the Scratch ginger beer.

In front of our place setting was a menu with a description of the variety of small plates we would experience throughout the evening.

The first plate was actually a shot glass with a green mussel shooter. Chef Phillip told us to eat this in a three-step process. First, we were to take the skewer and bite into the sake enhanced green mussel. Then we were to throw back the unfiltered sake and lime juice. Last, we were instructed to skewer and poke the avocado mousse to find a sea urchin treasure surprise on the bottom.

DSC_0712I loved every part of this shooter. Even the sea urchin, which in the past I have said is an acquired taste. What a great start to a stellar evening.

Guests can come in for a la carte dining or be adventurous and allow Chef Phillip and his staff to surprise them with 14 courses at the Chefs Counter.

While watching Chef Phillip assemble a pork belly that looked like firm tofu, he added a raw oyster and poured a little coconut and chamomile broth. He shared with us that he is a local boy, born just blocks from the restaurant at Cedar Sinai Medical Center. He finished the dish with a tiny wedge of orange and puffed amaranth.

Joe the wine steward, served a luscious Pinot Noir with this dish. He told us he loves a good French Pinot Noir, because it’s the most versatile grape that pairs nicely with vegetables, birds and meats.

Next Chef Phillip lined up the tops to Korean hot boxes along the bar. He placed a crisp waffle circle on the bottom and topped it with whipped German potato salad, then chicken before drizzling it with a little maple syrup and micro greens.IMG_0203

As we took a bite and smiled with pleasure, Chef Philip enthusiastically prepared a newer vegan dish for us. It was a combination of various preparations of the cauliflower flower. He purees cauliflower, blackens cauliflower, marinates and dries the stems to resemble beef jerky. He tops this dish with pickled red onion and lime juice.

Chef Phillip doesn’t like to throw anything away, even cauliflower stems.

While enjoying the various flavors and textures of cauliflower, Chef Phillips told us that Michael Cimarusti (Providence and Connie and Ted’s) is his favorite chef in Los Angeles. “I interned for him at Providence,” Phillip told us. “I thought I kept my little area in the kitchen clean, however Cimarusti didn’t think so. One night he threw my cutting board at the wall,” Phillip said. “Cimarusti always told his chefs that you can’t make clean food in a dirty kitchen.” Chef Phillip thought that was so cool.

A plate with a cool glass rectangular top was presented to our place setting. Inside was a scoop of goat cheese that was in a sauna of smoking herbs. When lifted up, the smoke wafted into the restaurant. We were instructed to pick up a slice of freshly baked sourdough bread. Next, we were to spread the smoked goat cheese on the bread and add a swipe of dark olive puree and top with a few pickled vegetables. “Eat this like an open sandwich,” Chef Phillip said. The smoking under the glass gives the goat cheese a campfire essence.

He served his second favorite dish on the menu as we sipped an Italian blended wine from Tuscany with dark cherry and blackberry notes. Chef Phillip told us he takes half baking cylinders and par bakes the sourdough dough inside. Next, he scoops out grooves in the center, and fills it with bone marrow and bakes it again. When done, he tops this with pickled red onions, cayenne leaves and adds shimeji mushrooms from Japan. This dish was served on a decorative floor tile that the chef picks up at Home Depot. This dish offers a “wow” factor.

DSC_0721I loved the dry-hangar steak with roasted asparagus, and super sweet sugar blasted tomatoes.
The last surprise of the evening was when Chef Phillip’s supermodel wife, Margarita came out with dessert. She is the pastry chef at Scratch Bar. The two have known each other since Middle School in Tarzana, CA.

We finished with Margarita’s cayenne chocolate bar with raspberry jam and turmeric shortbread cookies. Margarita uses chia seeds, micro mints and olive oil to offer antioxidant elements.

Recently Scratch Bar opened for lunch service at 11:30 a.m. on Monday through Friday. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. Order a la carte or pull up a stool to watch Chef Phillip craft 14 courses for $111 with a $40 optional beverage pairing. Dinner begins at 5 p.m. The restaurant is open seven nights a week by reservation. $$$ 111 N. La Cienega Blvd. (310)289-8010.

Parts of this article were published in the August 7, 2014 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.

66th Television Academy Emmy Awards Governors Ball

DSC_0916Yesterday I went to the Television Academy in NOHO for a sneak peek on the plans for this year’s ultimate Emmy® after-parties: the 2014 Creative Arts Ball on Saturday, August 16 and the 66th Emmy Awards Governors Ball on Monday, August 25.

This year’s  Creative Arts Ball’s and the Emmy Awards Governors Ball theme is  a “kaleidoscope of color.”

7,000 guests including all of the year’s nominees, presenters, invited attendees and the most Emmy Award winners will toast with glasses of BV Vineyard wines at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

According to Governors Ball Committee Chair Russ Patrick, “This year’s theme and décor are metaphors for the creative excellence, vibrancy and richness of our industry and this television season. When guests walk into the West Hall, it’s our hope that their collective breaths will be taken away.”

Event producer Cheryl Cecchetto, of Sequoia Productions, added, “Our ultimate after party will be a sensory delight, offering sights, sounds, cuisine and hospitality that cannot be found anywhere else.”

Guests will be welcomed by dazzling  red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple colors throughout the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Entertainment this year includes special guest vocalist and recording artist Judith Hill (20 Feet From Stardom) at the Governors Ball, backed by The Red Hot

Patina Executive Chef Alec Lestr

Patina Executive Chef Alec Lestr

Band, a high-energy Top 40 band. Extreme Beam will captivate partygoers with their dynamic dance routines.

On the south end of the ballroom, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy dancers will liven up the evening performing to the beats spun by DJ CoryLive. Rounding out the evening’s entertainment is String Theory, a hybrid performance ensemble renowned for their large- scale performance installations.

Patina Catering, under the direction of acclaimed Chef Joachim Splichal and the Patina culinary team lead by Chef Alec Lestr and Chef Greg Wiele, has created the three-course menu for each Television Academy after-party. The first course salad mixes peaches and heirloom tomatoes with buratta, candy striped figs and marcona almonds. The main course features filet mignon, a potato “bone” filled with golden potato puree, caramelized cippolini, crisp lacinato kale and zephyr squash, in a sauce of red wine and artisan grapes. The dessert is a contemporary take on chocolate s’mores designed by Patina Restaurant Group’s Executive Pastry Chef Carlos Enriquez.

The official chocolate provider to this years Emmy Awards is Cellar Door Chocolates. Erika Chavez- Graziano and her team is making thousands of sweet treats for the guests. The chocolates pair nicely with BV wines or Fiji Water.

Kevin Lee from LA Premier flowers told me he and his staff will be making 700 floral center pieces for the event.

The Creative Arts Ball and Emmy Awards Governors Ball are produced by Sequoia Productions. Both events will take place in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center immediately following the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on August 16, and the 66th Emmy Awards on August 25, respectively.

DSC_0915Watch the 66th Emmy Awards airs live Monday, August 25 (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) on NBC and will originate from the Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. The awards will be hosted by Seth Meyers.

Cart Dining at Church Key

Cart Dining at The Church KeyDressed as a 1950s stewardess, Ashley pushed a vintage Pan Am airline beverage cart filled with the makings for a really good Bloody Mary cocktail through the dining room at The Church Key. As she approached our vintage table, we noticed the cart had house pickled carrots, celery, and asparagus in little glass jars to garnish the beverages. Guests have a choice of tequila or vodka to enhance the flavor. Our server prefers tequila in her Bloody Mary, because it’s more flavorful than vodka, and it goes well with the saltiness.

Ashley opened the side door to the cart and pulled out a can of Church Key Bloody Mary mix. In her right hand was a Church Key – a small metal device with a triangular point that punches holes into a can. It also has a rounded edge at the other end to remove bottle caps. She opened the can and poured the thick red liquid into a glass with ice and garnished it with our choice of vegetables.

Church Key is gaining a winning reputation with foodies who enjoy cart service dining. General Manager Joseph Sabato thought up the idea, because he likes the dim sum approach for dinner and brunch.

“Our society is becoming so fast paced. People search for instant gratification,” Sabato said.

Instead of guests waiting for a server to come take a cocktail order or sitting idle while waiting for a dish to be served, Sabato has his staff approach tables after a guest is seated to enjoy an immediate cocktail while looking over the menu. “Guests relax and enjoy the evening when they don’t have to sit and wait.” Sabato said. Carts laden with alcohol and food create excitement in dining at Church Key.

DSC_0124The elegant California modern restaurant also has a champagne cart server pushing a vintage Pan Am beverage cart to various tables for the new Sunday brunch service. Guests have a choice of fresh orange or peach juice in little glass bottles to mix with a little bubbly for mimosas and Bellini’s. After we ordered our sparkling drinks, our server stamped a card and placed it on our table.

A pastry cart followed with a variety of pastry chef Ian Opina’s sugary delights. There were orange glazed buns, cinnamon crumble coffee cake and croissants. Again, our card was stamped to alert the server that we had two from the cart.

The brunch menu includes some exciting entrees such as the Toad in the Hole – a Corque Madame served on brioche bread with an egg in the middle smothered in a Gruyere fondue and topped with crispy smoked bacon. Another dish is the grilled asparagus with a sunny side up egg and the most decadent smoked tomato Hollandaise sauce. Every egg dish should have this sauce. It’s exquisite.

Executive Chef Steven Fretz stopped by our table to check in on us. “Breakfast is my favorite meal to cook,” he said. “I love to be in the kitchen folding eggs.”DSC_0128

Chef Fretz graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and joined the Michael Mina Group. After working at Redwood Park, the San Francisco Chronicle and ARCADIA, he earned the reputation of pushing the boundaries with food and making classic dishes more exciting for diners. He moved down to Southern California to become Mina’s Executive Chef of XIV on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights before moving on to The Church Key.

In the evening he is outside of the kitchen inspecting the dishes coming out. He also likes to stroll around the dining room making sure all of the guests are happy and having a good time.

Our server Jamie recommended we try the deep fried French toast with whipped cream and blackberry maple syrup. After eating an entire orange breakfast bun, I decided I had my quota of sweets for the day and chose the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon. There are two on a plate. Chef Fretz likes to thinly slice the top and bottom of a whole English muffin and IMG_9034place it on the griddle to give it a slight crunch. If you want bacon, sausage, gratin fries, crispy potato cakes, or grilled avocado, it is extra.

As our brunch items were delivered to the table, a friend approached our table and insisted we order the brioche donuts with a brown butter glaze and pool of cinnamon caramel in the donut hole. My husband and I agreed to split one order and take the other two donuts home for later. The plate of fresh donuts arrived with a dish of an exquisite soft-serve espresso ice cream. It was a sweet ending to a fun and satisfying Sunday meal.

Next time you have a special occasion or want to meet a group of friends for brunch or dinner, reserve a table at the interactive Church Key. $$ Open Monday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday Brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.8730 West Sunset Blvd. (424)249-3700.

This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on June 24, 2014.

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