Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meeting Rocco DiSpirito, and the End to a Culinary Day Into the Heart of L.A.

We are back in the limousine on the last leg of our all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles courtesy of Bertolli Frozen Foods.    (all details and part one and two can be found in prior posts)

( all photos can be enlarged by double clicking on them - use your browser's back arrow to return to post)

Our next stop was The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Their web sites states: "The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills has been providing the widest variety and the highest quality imported cheeses to the nation since 1967. The Cheese Store is the purveyor of choice for the professional chefs and caterers of such worthy Los Angeles restaurants as Water Grill, Patina, A.O.C., Saddle Peak Lodge, Bon Appetit at the Getty Museum, and Spago, as well as legions of home cooks because of the hundreds of hard to find cheeses from all regions of France and Italy, not to mention at least a dozen other countries."

Not only was the shop a cheese lover's paradise, it also sold an array of fine wines, oils, vinegars, seasonal white and black truffles, Italian prosciutto, Swiss braesola, French ham, 6 varieties of French butter, the best pure foie gras, and the freshest Russian was a true gourmet haven!

The owner, Norbert, replicated a scene from one of the Bertolli's "Into the Heart of Italy" commercials in which Marisa Tomei, Rocco DiSpirito and Dan Cortese visited Lucca, a beautiful town in Tuscany, Italy, and while there visited a cheese shop where their challenge was to taste three samples of cheese and choose which one was made from cow's milk, sheep's milk and goat's milk.  If you'd like to watch the entertaining commercial's video you can see it on the Bertolli web site. It was one of the videos I watched on Claudia's web site Journey of an Italian Cook and then answered questions about clues given in it, in order to be entered to the contest to win this trip!  Bertolli has utilized traditional Italian artisanal culinary techniques to make their new line of frozen meals, and I was impressed to hear that their ingredients are all natural and high quality.  Their frozen pasta meals are really delicious, and a real time saver to just heat and serve on a busy night.

Here are the three cheese samples we were given to taste: cow, sheep and goat. Although Norbert gave us some hints, I think as "foodies" we were all able to taste the difference in all three without much difficulty!  Norbert also treated us to some bread and extra virgin olive oil to dip it in, and pieces of gorgonzola cheese (my favorite) and slices of salty Italian prosciutto. If you want to see some of the delicious cheeses that The Cheese Shop of Beverly Hills sells, and learn about their flavors, country and animal origin, visit this link.

Now it was almost 5 PM, and we were driven to our final stop on our "Into the heart of L.A. Culinary Tour" to meet celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito! It was a top secret location, and we were told by the Bertolli and Unilever representatives to not twitter about it as paparazzi might show up!
It was The Four Seasons Hotel of Beverly Hills and we were taken into a private room of the dining area called Culina. The Four Seasons web site states that  "Culina – from the Latin word for “kitchen” – showcases the intersection of traditional and modern Italian cuisine with a menu guided by exceptional ingredients. Guests can linger over small plates and fine Italian wines at communal tables carved from a salvaged 200-year-old magnolia tree, enjoy Mediterranean raw seafood delicacies at the crudo bar or settle in for a night of superior dining under spectacular glass chandeliers."

Rocco DiSpirito came in, joined us at our table and was utterly charming, asking us about ourselves and telling us stories about making the Bertolli commercials in Italy.  He and Claudia chatted about their mutual birthplace of the borough of Queens in New York City and I asked him if he read food blogs, which he said he did not. Now I wonder if he is visiting our blogs to see what we wrote about him? He does love to communicate through Twitter, so if you'd like to follow Rocco, you can catch up with him there! 

We were treated by Bertolli to a fabulous wine tasting and small bite pairing.  Of course as good bloggers our cameras were snapping away throughout the meal!

Plate One ( upper left corner in the photo collage) was "Involitini Di Manzo"  
prepared with  Kobe A-5,  Delta Asparagus, Enoki Mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano
This was paired with the wine Nebbiolo d'Alba. giacosa fratelli. 2007 Peidmont

Plate Two (upper right corner) was "Caponata Di Carciofi"
prepared with Baby Artichokes, Castelvetrano Green Olives, San Marzano Tomato
This was paired with the wine Pinot Bianco. habele. alois lageder. Alto Adige 2007

Plate Three (bottom of photograph collage) was "Suppli Al Telefono"
A Saffron Risotto Croquette with Mozzarella Di Bufala, Tomato Sugo
This was served with Mamertino. cru timpanara. Vasari. Sicily 2006

All were prepared with exquisite perfection by chef Victor Casanova.

Rocco was so impressed with plate one's imported Japanese Kobe beef ingredient and he asked the chef to bring out the entire portion to show us what this ultra expensive cut of beef looks like. It is considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavor, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture.  It melted in my mouth with a slightly salty, buttery flavor -- absolutely intoxicating, and a taste I will not soon forget. The Caponata and Suppli Al Telefono were equally superb. Of the three wines the Mamertino from Sicily was my personal favorite, as it was robust and full of cherries and pomegranate flavors, with a full velvety palate.

After dinner Rocco signed the copy of his new cookbook "Now Eat This:150 of America's Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories," that Bertolli gave us a gift.  I had also bought three copies with me, and Rocco inscribed one that I am giving away on my blog!  There is still time to enter my give away by leaving your name on this post, as I will be tallying up the numbers there and  also the ones left on my main blog, and having the Random Number Generator choose the winner on Friday evening, and I will announce the winner on my main Mille Fiori Favoriti blog in my Pink Saturday blog post.  If you wish to become a follower of my blog, and have a second chance at winning by telling me so, please do so at my main Mille Fiori Favoriti page and not on this back page review blog. Sorry this is so confusing, but Blogher ads will not allow me to blog about this trip on my main blog, as it is against their editorial guidelines, and I had to make this "back page blog" and link to it in order to be able to blog about this trip.  From now on I will be using this back page  review blog only for any promotional product reviews that I may do, or to write any contests I might be lucky enough to win in the future.

I have some wonderful photos of the shops on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, so be sure to come back to my main blog on Saturday to see them!

Rocco and I had a good laugh over the name of my blog. What was I thinking when I picked such a tongue twister blog name?  Sadly by this time of the day my hair was unfortunately a mess, as I did not have time to have to it cut it before the trip, as I found out I won on Friday and flew to L.A. on Monday morning. This trip was one of the most spontaneous events of my life, that's for sure!

I even got a nice hug from Rocco!

Back to our hotel, The Thompson, in Beverly Hills, and some views of its elegant roof top pool and bar.

The views of L.A. from the roof top were breathtaking!

This was the way Claudia and I ended our perfect day -- we relaxed and treated each other to a round of drinks at the roof top bar. It was so nice to meet Claudia on this trip, as we have been reading and enjoying each other's blogs for quite awhile. It is wonderful to make a friend through blogging and to feel a mutual camaraderie in personality and interests.  This was an experience I will never forget.  I am so happy I won, Claudia, it was a dream come true!

I also thank Unilever, Bertolli Frozen Foods and the Zocalo Group for making it all happen and Rocco DiSpirito and all the proprietors we meet at all our culinary stops for being so gracious, and our limousine driver for navigating that big SUV so skillfully.  It was also so much fun meeting all the other bloggers and their winners that were on the trip.  I give links to all their blogs on this post and it is well worth you while to visit them!

The next day I flew home to New York, saying goodbye to L.A. for now, but with a desire to return one day and see more of this beautiful large and diverse city, and to revisit the culinary delights I thoroughly enjoyed!

FTC disclosure: I received the trip courtesy of Bertolli Frozen Meals (all-expenses paid covering transportation, hotel and meals) and my opinions are independent of the paid or sponsored relationship

It's the letter "R" for "Alphabe Thursday" on Jenny Matlock's blog today, so in honor of Rocco I am linking up to join in all the fun!  Thanks Jenny!

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Into the Heart of L.A.- Culinary Tour - Part Two

Part two of my Bertolli Frozen Foods all expenses paid vacation "Into the Heart of L.A. Culinary Tour". Please read part one here, and see my give away for a new autographed cookbook by celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito that will be given to a lucky reader through the Random Number Generator on Friday, May 21, 2010.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to Blogher Ads restrictions I had to transfer all previous posts regarding the Bertolli contest I won to this ad free review blog, but prior comments to those posts were saved on my original blog and all prior comments will be tallied on both the original post and the post moved here in regard to winning the cookbook. Thanks for understanding!

Now on to "part two" of my adventure!

All photos will enlarge when double clicked on- use the back arrow to return to the blog post

The "street food" scene is all the rage in Los Angeles!  Over 90 popular gourmet catering trucks rove around the streets and Twitter their locations so their followers can find them and order lunch or a snack. In this photo mosaic you can see some of these trucks that we located by Twitter along L.A.'s Museum Row on the Miracle Mile.

Someone was filming us from the top of the World's Fare truck!

A peak inside the truck's state of the art kitchen.

The World Fare truck was a double decker bus with the roof top removed, that they call the "bustaurant," so we decided to hop on top while we waited for a sampling of their food to be served.

A group shot of the happy food bloggers and their contest winners on the top of the World Fare "bustaurant."

There was plenty of room on top to stand and use the ledges as a table.

Plus we had a good view from the top of Miracle Mile and......

....some of the beautiful hill top houses of L.A.

The World Fare chef, Andi Van Willigan, came on top to talk with us and describe the available entrees. She had spent four years as the Corporate Executive Sous Chef for the Michael Mina Group and two seasons as sous chef in Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” but she wanted to return to LA and try something new and has enjoyed developing recipes for World Fare owners Travis Schmidt and Jason Freeman.

They are famous for their "Bunny Chow" which is a South African meal comprised of hollowed-out bread filled with savory stews and curries. World Fare also offers a sampler of its four Bunny Chows, served on pepper halves instead of hollowed bread, which is what we ordered.  The fillings consisted of roasted pork with corn and jalapeno relish; Worcestershire short ribs with horseradish creme fraiche; chicken curry with chick peas, coconut milk, cashews and cilantro; and vegetarian chili with black red and garbanzo beans with sweet corn and tomato.

We also tried their "truffle mac and cheese balls" which I'm holding in the photo mosaic above. They were so good I could have eaten a hundred of them!

The dessert offerings were delectable. We sampled red velvet cupcakes with a cream cheese filling, a rich chocolate brownie cupcake, a big chocolate chip cookie, and then my favorite dessert which was butterscotch bread pudding served with butterscotch pot de creme! It was heavenly!

Our next samplings came from The Shrimp Guys truck! Inspired by the shrimp trucks they saw on a trip to Hawaii, the owners claim they learned to cook in what they call the academy of "MMK" -- "My Mom's Kitchen."

We tried four shrimp samples -- garlic butter shrimp, coconut lime shrimp which they call "Coco Loco," spicy garlic butter shrimp and spicy coconut lime.  Both the spicy entrees were dosed with Thai chilies and tropical spices.

They were all very flavorful and delicious!

Next we sampled from Lee's Philly Gogi truck.  There is no web site for his truck but Lee's twitter site states: "Trained in Philly to bring you the BEST steak sandwich. Our Gogi style tacos and burritos are L.A.’s BEST."

His chicken and beef tacos were overflowing with meat, and the addition of Korean kimchi vegetables made them spicy and juicy good.

Lee was very friendly and pleasant and even posed for photos with out group!  We felt like celebrities!

We left the food truck area and headed over to 712 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, CA, to visit "Scoops" -  the ice cream and gelato shop of a former artist named Tai Kim.

Mr. Kim allowed us to sample all the flavors on little plastic spoons which he handed to us.  We then made our choices of which flavors to have him scoop into our cups.

Mr. Kim offers a fluctuating menu of exotic flavored sorbet, ice cream and gelato flavors that he has blended fresh daily to fill his 18 bins.

Some of the flavors that were available the day we visited were chocolate Guinness, black truffles, lavender honey, blueberry plum wine, pistachio jasmine, Thai iced tea, vanilla coffee mascarpone cheese, goat cheese basil, ricotta Marsala Oreo, banana coconut, pistachio orange water, salty chocolate, apricot tiramisu, strawberry banana, salty caramel, soy based pear cranberry raspberry.

I had a little plastic spoon sample of each flavor and could not decide which one I like more than the other, as they all tasted temptingly good! The flavors were not overpowering and the consistency was creamy and smooth, yet not overly filling.  My ultimate choice of four serving scoops were consumed very easily, and I feel a little sad I won't be able to taste such delightful flavor combinations until I visit LA again sometime in the future. If you wish to enjoy a gourmet ice cream taste experience be sure to put a visit to Scoops on your agenda!

Time to go back to the limousine for the last two legs of our culinary adventure -- please return for part three where we will explore one last specialty store where we have a chance to participate in a taste quiz and then we go on to the Four Seasons Hotel to meet Rocco DiSpirito! 
Don't forget to enter my give away for an autographed copy of Rocco's new cookbook, "Now Eat This" if you haven't already entered! All comments on this back page blog will be combined with the ones originally left before I was required to move that post to this review blog.

FTC disclosure: I received this trip courtesy of Bertolli Frozen Meals (all-expenses paid covering transportation, hotel and meals) and my opinions are independent of the paid or sponsored relationship.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Into the Heart of L.A." Culinary Tour -- Part One

I'd like to show more details about the wonderful all expenses (transportation, meals and hotel) culinary day in the heart of Los Angeles, California, courtesy of Bertolli Frozen Foods that I won through a contest held by Claudia of the "Journey of an Italian Cook" blog.

There were a total of five bloggers who were chosen by Bertolli to offer the contest on their blog and their five winners, four of whom had blogs themselves, myself included. They were:  Journey of an Italian Cook Picky-Palate, Kevin and Amanda, Gourmet Mom on the Go, Blisstree, Steamy Kitchen, Big2Beautiful, Just call Me B! plus Sarah from Tastespotting and The Delicious Life, plus representatives Celiena from Bertolli, Jennifer and Jaclyn from the Zocalo Marketing Group and Christine from Unilever. We were picked up at our hotel by a stretch SUV limousine. (all photos will enlarge when double clicked on)

It was fun to meet these accomplished young ladies and to spend a fun day taking hundreds of photographs, as good bloggers do, as we were whisked around L.A.'s vibrant culinary scene!

Our first stop was the fabulous Griddle Cafe, located at 7916 West Sunset Boulevard.  It is known for both its celebrity sightings and its giant sized breakfast entrees!  Check out their extensive menu!  As you can see by the photo mosaic above there were a lot of smiles on our faces as we enjoyed our delicious breakfasts.  Claudia and I ordered the "Manhattan Frittata" as seen in the lower left photo.  It was full of cheese and covered with a large piece of ham and chopped tomatoes and served with a choice of toast or fresh fruit. Celiena, who was sitting on my left had the Rancheros Huevos seen in the photo in lower right corner.  A popular choice for many were "Mom's Best French Toast" as seen in the middle photo.  We gave the Griddle Cafe our hearty seal of approval and would highly recommend it to be a breakfast destination if you live in or are visiting Los Angeles!

Nest stop was the iconic Farmers Market, an L.A. shopping and dining institution for over 75 years!  It is located at the NE corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. The Farmers Market began in 1934 when Roger Dahlhjelm, a businessman, and Fred Beck, an advertising copywriter, asked the owners of “Gilmore Island,” the former dairy farm at 3rd & Fairfax, if they could invite local farmers to park trucks on vacant Gilmore land to sell fresh produce to local shoppers. The concept was so popular that within months, permanent stalls were erected to provide the farmers with a more convenient way to provide their produce, and it became a permanent fixture. Today it is the destination of more than 3 million visitors a year!  I enjoyed strolling around the grounds looking at the remarkable selection of fresh food supplies, baked goods, seafood, nuts, cheese, and candy, as well as souvenirs, vintage memorabilia and jewelry shops

Just a small sample of the many variety of goods available in the market can be seen in this photo mosaic.

Claudia and I spent a lot of time roaming up and down the isles of Monsieur Marcel's French Deli. Monsieur Marcel specializes in gourmet and specialty cheeses and deli items, imported and private label groceries and imported fine wines from around the world.  It was hard not to want to buy many items in this store, as there were so many tempting choices.  I purchased an exotic salt sampler that contained natural salts herbs and spices such as lavender and fennel pollen and coconut.

Here we are comparing our market purchases and waiting for our limo to pick us up for our next stop!  We are off to chase gourmet food trucks that leave their location of the day on Twitter, plus our visit to two more delectible L.A. gourmet stores and our fabulous dinner meeting with Celebrity Chef Rocco DiSpiritio!

Check back on my blog soon to see part two of our wonderful adventure, and don't forget to enter my "Into the Heart of LA" giveaway where I'll be using the  Random Number Generator on Friday, May 21st to choose a winner for an autographed copy of Rocco DiSpritio's new cookbook "Now Eat This."

Go to this post to enter the cook book give away!

FTC disclosure: I received this trip courtesy of Bertolli Frozen Meals (all-expenses paid covering transportation, hotel and meals) and my opinions are independent of the paid or sponsored relationship.

I'm adding this post to Mary's "Mosaic Monday" at The Little Red House blog!  Please visit mary to see her always beautiful photo mosaic and to find links to many more participating blogs!

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