Locanda del Lago – Bite of the Beast – Santa Monica

Bite of the Beast - GOOSE

Bite of the Beast at Locanda del Lago

I was invited back to the monthly supper club Bite of the Beast at Locanda del Lago in Santa Monica. The last Thursday of every month, Lago hosts a communal meal, featuring animal roasts and traditional, rustic Italian dishes. The “Bite of the Beast” includes a 5-course dinner featuring the choice animal, and optional wine pairing. October’s beast? Goose.
I loathe geese. Like, seriously cannot stand them. I am not going to even explain by irrational hatred of geese with hyperbolic words; instead, here is a photo I recently snapped in Midleton, Co. Cork Ireland:

Cork Co. Ireland

Why is there a monument to the asshattery of geese, the bane of every child’s existence, erected in the middle of a quaint Irish town? I have no idea; I can only assume to serve as a reminder to the local children that constant vigilance is the only way to prevent random acts of geese violence. That, or to serve as a warning for any would-be mischief makers that anyone suspected of being a hooligan will be thrown to the town geese and paraded around town for all to mock. I see you, Ireland.

What I am driving at people is that because I dispise and fear geese so much, I was eagerly anticipating a five-course menu where goose is the main protein. The geese used in this month’s Morso della Bestia is not your run-of-the-mill park dwelling fowl terrorist, but a fancy bird from Whetstone Valley Farm in Vermont. This time around, I decided to go with the premium wine pairings that accompanied each course.

Bite of the Beast - GOOSE
Antipasto: pan-roasted goose leg . watercress salad . black mission figs . tomato vinegar
Wine: Rosé Zelia . Olivi . Toscana ’13

The sweet acidic tomato vinegar added a grateful zing to this very meaty salad. Once all mixed up, it was the perfect start to our goose feast. As for the wine, it should be mentioned (again) that I am not generally a fan of rosé. I’m more apt to try a rosé if it’s from France, though, because they’re flavor profile rarely includes “battery acid,” but I can safely add rosé from the Toscana region as more than acceptable.

Locanda del Lago - Bite of the Beast GOOSE
Primo: Peruvian purple potato soup . seared goose “foie gras”
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc . Venica e Venica “Ronco del Cero”. Friuli Venezia Giulia ’12

I sucked in a tight breath of pre-judgment when I read “purple potato” because purple potatoes (along with purple carrots, squid ink and blood oranges) are on the relatively short list of foods which may taste fantastic, but I cannot get over the visual. Thankfully there were no traces of purple within this soup, and my brain was left in peace to mellow out with a delicious bowl of soup and a glass of sweet but dry wine with a citrus finish. I took a wicked delight in the rich, decadent foie gras, elevating this otherwise humble soup.

Locanda del Lago - Bite of the Beast GOOSE
Piatto di Mezzo: Farro Mantecato . offal . brown butter sage . grana padano cheese
Wine: Meritage Blend . Cryptic. Sonoma ’12

Unsurprisingly my favorite – not simply for the goose offal (hearts, kidneys, livers), which makes me feel like I am absorbing the powers of the almighty goose – but for the miracle of transforming farro into a risotto-like base. I honestly could have eaten two portions of this. Oh, wait, except I totally did because my mom was getting full and wanted to make sure she had enough room for the next two courses. Thanks, mommy! In my notes for the wine, I wrote “smooth with oak” so I am guessing there were notes of aforementioned tree? I remember liking it OK, but being way more impressed with the house red. Protip: Table/House red in an authentic Italian restaurant run by actual Italians is going to be fantastic.

Locanda del Lago - Bite of the Beast - GOOSE
Locanda del Lago’s Michelin-starred Chef Gianfranco Minuz

Locanda del Lago - Bite of the Beast - GOOSE
Secondo: Pan roasted smoked goose breast . braised turnips . espresso honey reduction
Wine: Super Tuscan . Lucente . Toscana ’12

Would you like some meat with your meat? Oh, yeah. Supple and generous, this plate of poultry melted in my mouth. Admittedly, I adore turnips. Raw, boiled, mashed, roasted, and braised as eaten here, I have not met a turnip I did not take the utmost pleasure in scarfing down. I was wary of an espresso-honey reduction, but its smooth, rustic flavor tickled my taste buds. The wine was very sophisticated, a nice juxtapose to the deceptively simple dish.

 Locanda del Lago - Bite of the Beast - GOOSE
Dolce: Apple strudel . whipped cream . caramel sauce
Wine: Lambrusco Molo 8 . Lombardia

This strudel was delightfully sweet without drowning us in sugar overkill. Pinenuts were dotted throughout each slice, giving an agreeable contrasting texture to chew on. Lambrusco is one of my favorite wines, and I was in 7th Heaven.

January 2016 will be Venison, book your seat now and check the website after the first of the year for the menu!

Locanda del Lago
231 Arizona Avenue
Santa Monica, CA — 90401
(310) 451-3525


Yoshiki: Tribute to a Rock God


While I was working on an overdue restaurant blog, I realized that today was not going to be the day for that post to air. Today is a special day as it marks the 50th year that our one true lord and savior has graced us with His presence. Yes, folks. I am talking about none other than legendary rock legend, Yoshiki.


The photos you see above are the first photos I ever saw of Yoshiki; they’re both 2×3 paper print outs from 1999 when I was sent, among other sundry, four mix tapes containing the music that became the soundtrack for my teenage years and young adulthood. I was going into the hospital, you see, and had to take my final examines one week earlier than every other student because of it. I failed – or nearly failed – World History, despite my best efforts. Goddamn it, Reagan, why didn’t you offer me tutoring? I would have taken you up on it; you were one of the few teachers at SPHS that I respected and liked. I drew a manga based on the Romanov assassination and the end of WWI and you gave me a D. What the fuck.

I digress. Clearly, you can see that my sixteen year old self was riddled with angst and the stigma of being the weird sickly kid. I needed an anthem…a rallying cry to cling to when I felt cornered and alone. That rallying cry was X Japan:

Back to my stay in the hospital. I was alone, secluded in a corner room by myself. The hospital was over two hours away from home, and for the first time in my life, I let my mom stay home most nights because I was staying during the week and she had work. It was tough to make that choice, to tell my only parent that it’s OK to not keep me company every night. I wanted her by my side, of course, but I had to realize that she cannot be with me forever. All I had to keep me company was a pile of books, comic books, the occasional visit from the communal Super NES and my Walkman with my mix tapes. I listened to the compilation of Malice Mizer (the other band my soul sings to) and X Japan over and over again, trying to commit favorite songs to memory as best I could with my limited grasp on Japanese pronunciation.

I didn’t feel as lonely when I listened to my tapes. Toshi was there, in that horrible sterile white room with the soul-sucking fluorescent lights, crooning that he has nothing to loose except my heart (Week End); hide was at my bedside, making those famously silly faces as his guitared wailed, encouraging me to swing my heart! sing a song! (Celebration); the stoic Pata, ever serious, keeping my strength steadfast to see me this this latest health ordeal as his rhythmic guitar blares You don’t have to hesitate; X! get yourself out X! you know you are the best! X! Let’s go crazy! (X); Yoshiki at his glorious piano, giving me the life lesson all humanity ought to take to heart: Let me forget all of the hate, all of the sadness (Endless Rain).

With X Japan, take one element out and the rest doesn’t feel right. Toshi’s passionate screeches and emotive keening paired beautifully with Yoshiki’s cerebral lyrics and complex melodies that it makes even the staunchest non-believer wonder if there truly is Kismet. There isn’t a doubt in my mind these two were meant to befriend one another and form the greatest rock band known to Japan. Or the world, as far as I am concerned.

In a nutshell, X Japan is a Japanese heavy metal band, formed in 1982 by drummer and songwriter Yoshiki and his BFF/lead vocalist Toshi. All of the members of X Japan are big time in their own right, but Yoshiki stands out for his incomparable genius in both business and the creative. Were it not for his workaholic perfectionist zeal, X Japan could have easily slipped into mediocrity novelty. But they didn’t. Their music reached all across Japan into the hearts of many youths seeking for the melody that bumped along with their rebellious hearts. X became that melody, and in good rock ‘n’ roll fashion, the industry of the time loathed them and did their best to ignore them. But 20 million records can’t be wrong, nor ignored for long, and the mainstream was forced to reckon with them.

After the untimely death of the lovable guitarist hide just one year after X Japan disbanded, an X Japan reunion seemed unlikely. Then, in 2007, a decade since they last talked, Toshi reached out to his estranged best friend and by 2009, I was standing behind a crowd of clamoring fans watching the rock gods of my teenage years bring the mother fucking house down at the Wiltern.

I cannot adequately describe that night, try as I might. All but hide was there (in his stead, dear friend and legendary musician in his own right from the band Luna Sea, Sugizo). These men, demigods by my admission, whom I had resigned myself to never conceivably seeing in the flesh, let alone performing, went from these photos – not even real photos but printer paper with their names using the English alphabet for my benefit to being a mere twenty feet away from me, wailing as they can only wail. I remember feeling like I was in a dream, that anything is possible, and friendship transcends everything. Even time. Even death.

Mix Tapes

I still own those mix tapes which first brought the wonderful world of Japanese rock and roll to my ears. I will never get rid of them, or forget the circumstances in which they were given to me. They are among my most prized possessions, and no rare limited edition piece of official merchandise can ever trump them.

What this near 1000 word diatribe from an aging rock fan is desperately (and poorly) trying to say is thank you for all of the music, Yoshiki. May you have the happiest of birthdays.

Home Again Home Again

I don’t really know whom I am blogging for anymore. Certainly not myself, which is rather sad. If I were blogging strictly for myself, I would probably blog more and with considerably less negative emotions involved. I’m getting off track, though. So, the obvious is that I went away. I meant to write about it – I meant to blog during my trip – and of course, I mean to post about my trip now that I am home.
I mean to do a lot of things.
I rarely accomplish anything these days.

In mid-August, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Due to long-term unemployment, I was able to hang around for a couple of months and go see some historical shit, volunteer, and visit friends. Overall, it was a pretty good way to spend two months. It was also one of the most stressful and physically demanding feats I have accomplished, and that in and of itself was the most rewarding part of the journey for me.

I wanted to sort shit out while I was there. I wanted to get to the bottom of what truly makes me happy and where I really want to focus my energy. The answer? I have no idea.

Yup. Just because one goes away on a magical journey to foreign landscapes does not equate inner revelations about the self. At least, not in terms of blogging. I am just as clueless as ever.

Expect changes over the course of the coming months.

Vendange Carmel Wine Themed Boutique Inn

Vendange Sign 2

On our Coastin’ California Road Trip, mom and I were going no further than Carmel. These two days and two nights were the apex of our vacation before we began our way back home. Our first night found us sat Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley (but more on that later), and then our second night took us to Carmel-By-the-Sea at a cozy boutique inn called Vendange Carmel.

Located less than a mile from the renowned artisan village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Vendange Carmel is the first wine themed inn in all of Monterey County. Each room is named after a local winery, giving guests the opportunity to learn more about the premium wines the area has to offer. These partnered wineries design their own rooms in their own creative manner, providing guests with a memorable and fun experience with each stay.

Twisted Roots Room
Twisted Roots Room

See the wines hanging on the wall like an art installation? Enraged that the Twisted Roots tasting room wasn’t open and the key to the wine storeroom wasn’t on the premise of Vendange, Mom said, “To hell with art!” and took six bottles off the wall. I wish I had a snapshot of her hauling these bottles downstairs in her arms. Alas, I was too busy laughing. It’s all good, though; the wines are meant to be purchased. Twisted Roots, I hope you appreciate how brand loyal mom is! The room itself was a touch noisy for my liking (it faces the street), so if you’re after total peace and quiet, ask for a room towards the back of the property. Book Twisted Roots if you’ll be in and out frequently so as not to disrupt the other guests!

Joullian Wines

Owned and operated by the Lee family, Vendange is endearingly referred to as the “baby” of the family. This is more than a mere business venture to them; this is their passion, their very lifeblood. Like any parent swelling with pride for their child, general manager John Lee, son of the owners, told the tale of how his family once owned the property and let it slip from their grasp. Much to their dismay, it had not been treated with the kindness it deserved. Mercifully, however, the property fell back into their waiting arms and after a rebranding and much needed tender loving care, Vendange stands proud and utterly unique in design and theme.

Outdoor Area

While not a larger property, Vendange Carmel does utilize its space wisely with lush greenery and domiciles of tranquility where guests can commune with one another, a bottle of wine shared between them – bonus points for a fire pit!


Beyond the upscale fixtures and the wine, what won my heart over was the human touch – particularly by Mrs. Lee and her ample hospitality in the form of breakfast. Fruit salad, boiled eggs, bagels, cream cheese, a variety of beverages, yogurt, breakfast sandwiches (that’s a sure-fire way to win my heart over), granola, cereal and so much more. Mom and I ate our fill before checking out and hitting the road bound for home.

Flower Drop

Vendange Carmel may not be a big property, nor one dripping with luxurious amenities, but it is blended beautifully with the bountiful and fantastically colorful surrounding nature of Carmel-By-the-Sea. A prefect getaway for snowbirds looking to escape the harsh Eastern winters, book this slice of paradise for your vacation and enjoy off-season perks!

Vendange Carmel
24815 Carpenter St.
Carmel, CA 93923

Sweet Lolita Strawberry Vanilla Panna Cotta

Strawberry Vanilla Rose Panna Cotta

Wowza, it has been a long time since I updated – let alone threw a recipe at you. Sorry about that! Between preparing for Anime Expo, a sinus infection, preparing for my mom’s trip to Berlin, preparing for my trip to Europe, this summer has made me totally whack-a-doodle. That is an official term, by the way.

Some of you are looking at me askance, muttering, “What the hell is Sweet Lolita?” In Japan, there is a fashion-rooted subculture called “Elegant Gothic Lolita” that began gaining international traction in the early 2000s. Girls, boys and gender-neutral individuals don their fluffiest finest; sub-categories are as varied as the motifs they don: Gothic Lolita; Vampire Lolita; Elegant Gothic Aristocrat for more traditionally male silhouettes; Alice; Pirate Lolita; and the classic, Sweet Lolita.

Lolita runway-1374//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Illustration by Kira Imai
Loli’s (as they’re nicknamed) typically incorporate a particular aesthetic that calls forth motifs such as tea parties, picnics, dolls, and all things slightly old fashioned and cute. There are variations, of course, but for the purposes of this recipe, I’m calling forth the basic Sweet Lolita style. While I haven’t the energy to dedicate my whole wardrobe, I do enjoy certain motifs and incorporate them as more of an accessory to my life as a whole. Such as this heart-shaped strawberry vanilla panna cotta – perfect for a sweet lolita tea party!


I arrived late to the Panna Cotta Party – having only given it a try maybe four years ago when I first tried it at my favorite Italian restaurant, Celestino. I’ve been a fan ever since, and only got it into my head to finally attempt to tackle the delicious dessert this year. Baking and I have a tumultuous relationship; cookies rarely make it beyond the dough stage and cakes are a source of stress for me. I can churn out a decent fruit pie, mostly because I am not above buying store crust. So this whole Panna Cotta business came about in baby steps. First: the desire to actually tackle it. Second: purchasing an adorable ramekin from Daiso (aka The Greatest Store Known to Mankind). Third: A Serendipitous team-up with Nielsen-Massey Vanillas for that extra push. Fourth: A killer, fool-proof base recipe. And lastly: Just doing it.

Strawberry Vanilla Rose Panna Cotta
Big squishy hugs to Nielsen-Massey for the vanilla!

In lieu of half and half or cream, I decided to make this Panna Cotta out of a recent find at my local 99 Ranch Market (a popular chain of Asian grocery stores): Strawberry Milk. When in doubt, make it pink and cute! This recipe makes two (I used a circular ramekin to make a back up in case the heart ramekin failed).

Sweet Lolita Strawberry Vanilla Panna Cotta


Cooking spray
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1 box (6.8 fl oz) strawberry milk (I used Binggrae Flavored Milk)
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla
Pinch salt
1/4th teaspoon rose syrup (optional)

  • Lightly spritz the ramekins with cooking spray, then use a paper towel to wipe upward, removing most of the oil, leaving only a light residue.
  • Set saucepan on burner but do not turn on heat. Pour the milk into the saucepan, then evenly sprinkle the powdered gelatin across the milk’s surface. Wait until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains look wet and slightly dissolved.
  • Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, stirring/whisking frequently. Do not allow the milk to boil or simmer. The milk should get hot, but you ought to be able to stick a finger in for a few seconds. This step will happen quickly as gelatin dissolves as the milk warms.
  • CHECK: Rub a bit of the milk between your fingers to ensure smooth texture. Alternatively, dip in spoon and check its back for graininess.
  • Stir the sugar into the milk and continue warming until it dissolves; less than 5 minutes.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat before whisking in the milk, vanilla, (rose syrup if you’re adding) and a pinch of salt.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared ramekins and put in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
  • Wipe the plate with a damp paper towel before running a thin knife along the edges of the ramekin. Invert the ramekin over the plate and tap/shake very gently (if need be; I didn’t need to do anything. My panna cotta just plopped! right out) IF you have trouble, gently set the ramekin right-side up and fill a large bowl/pan with hot water before holding the ramekin in the bath for about 5 seconds. Try inverting again.
  • Garnish with fresh strawberries and enjoy with a cup of tea and some good company.
  • Alternatives: You can also primarily flavor the panna cotta with rose, orange blossom, or any other kitchen grade flavoring – also available from Nielsen-Massey.

    Panna Cotta Header


    Have you ever indulged in the lolita fashion or panna cotta?

    MOON POWER MONDAY! Recapping Sailor Moon Crystal ep. 24

    Are we still keeping up with Sailor Moon Crystal, everyone? I know I am, and I have been recapping each episode on my YouTube Channel. For the supremely lazy, here is the latest edition of Moon Power Monday:

    I don’t know about you, but if I were asked point-blank to pick between Sailor Moon R and Sailor Moon Crystal’s Black Moon Arc, I would pick the latter in a heartbeat. Most people would say blasphemy, but after being a fan for 20 years, I get tired of filler and irked greatly with Chibi Usa’s first animated personality. How about you?

    Vernetti – Larchmont Village

    Chef Steve Vernetti

    Restaurants in their infancy can be a tricky situation. Everyone is a bundle of nerves: the chef wants their food to be perfection; the public relations want rave reviews and the invited media is simply hoping for the best (and hungry). And the best is certainly what Chef Steve Vernetti and wife Joanna gave at the media preview of their eponymous Italian-American restaurant in Larchmont Village.

    Steve and Joanna Vernetti bought Larchmont’s beloved Italian restaurant, Girasole, in fall 2013, worked closely with its former owner during the transition, and have maintained the core kitchen and wait staff that made the restaurant such a special place.

    Spoilers: everything served this night was absolutely amazing. It was difficult to not eat all of absolutely everything because I would have been full very early on. So I’ll only add my notes where necessary.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village

    Comments: Nice tang. Really worth ordering to give your taste-buds a wake-up zing.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Olive Bread + Olive Oil

    Comments: Crusty and soft with big chunks of black olives. Delicious freshly hot out of the oven.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Deviled egg crostini• white anchovy

    Comments: Anchovy mellows out the paprika spice.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Ceci bean crostini• mint, pecorino

    Comments: Mint is potent. Tied with the deviled egg costini as my favorite.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Roasted beet crostini • house ricotta, basil, toasted pistachios

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Salumi platter
    prosciutto, porchetta, bresaola, spicy calabrese salami, house giardiniera

    Comments: I could eat that bresaola until the day I die. The porchetta melts in your mouth. All of the meats are perfection.

    Intervallo:Tagliatelle, rigatoni, spaghettini, pappardelle and ravioli are made with Vernetti’s Rosito Bisani TR 95 Pasta Extruder, a workhorse in the new kitchen. Seafood comes from boat-to-table, sustainable sources, and premium meats from a local, specialty butcher.

    Vernetti Tasting
    Pappardelle con funghi • sautéed wild mushrooms, cream, parmigiano

    Comments: My favorite. Always has been, always will be. You and me, pappardelle + mushrooms. ‘Til death do us part.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Rigatoni spuntature
    braised short rib ragu, marrow, crispy greens, roasted tomatoes, breadcrumbs

    Comments: I am not a short ribs fan; every time I have eaten short ribs, I have been pretty dissatisfied. This dish would have been my #1 favorite if my blind loyalty to mushrooms and pappardelle did not keep me on the straight & narrow. Seriously, I want a full serving of this. Mom’s favorite as well.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Linguine alla vongole
    manila clams, white wine, garlic, crushed red pepper

    Comments: Another personal favorite and oh god even though it was a two-bite job, easily one of the best Linguine and clams I’ve ever eaten. It’s creamy rather than soupy, a task that is deceptively difficult when concerning pasta.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Grilled octopus • creamy white beans, fennel and cabbage slaw

    Comments: I wish I could have eaten more than a couple of bites, but warm cabbage + I do not get on well. The octopus was lovely, though.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Bistecca alla fiorentina
    dry aged prime porterhouse, baby arugula, shaved parmigiano

    Comments: I have nothing to say because I am too busy eating and making noises I’d rather not…describe. Use your imagination.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Seared yam and sage polenta cake

    Intervallo: Chef Steve Vernetti’s take on Italian-American cuisine reflects a lifetime of diverse experiences and training. At age six, his mother taught him to cook on the family’s working ranch in Nevada, where they grew their own produce and raised livestock. As an adult, cooking became his vocation and Vernetti honed his art by traveling throughout Europe to Berlin, Paris, Venice, Florence, Amsterdam and Brussels. When Chef Vernetti and his wife, Joanna, now co-founder of a television production company and the restaurant’s creative visionary and business manager, moved back to the U.S. in the late 1990s, he cooked with The Patina Group in Los Angeles. The Vernettis settled in Larchmont and are now raising their three children here (adorable, by the way, as the proud chef shared photos with me).

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Cannoli • house ricotta cream, candied peel/pistachio

    Comments: I cannot tell you how difficult it is to find a decent cannoli in this town. Thank goodness for people like Chef Vernetti who get its simple beauty.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village
    Panna Cotta • fresh strawberry composta

    Comments: Throwing all caution and stomach warnings to the wind, I ate this with gusto and nearly licked my plate. My favorite dessert of the evening.

    Vernetti Media Preview - Larchmont Village

    Comments: Took one bite before crumpling to the floor and slipping into a food coma.

    Vernetti is in the restaurant every day, creating both traditional and innovative dishes – building on Girasole’s legacy, and filling his restaurant with the happy sounds of his community. During the remodel, he traveled, researched and tasted to ensure every dish at Vernetti is made with the highest quality ingredients. He continues to try new variations to menu items and add nuances while keeping all the favorites that Girasole patrons came to know and love.
    “To own a restaurant right here in Larchmont Village, in the same neighborhood where we are raising our family, is pretty amazing,” said Chef Steve Vernetti. “Serving homemade pastas and choice cuts of meat and seafood, seasonal vegetables and baked goods, and seeing all that happens around a table set with a well prepared meal in a lovely setting is a dream come true.”

    225 North Larchmont Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA
    Dinner: 17:30–23:00
    Lunch: 12–15:00 (beginning next week!)
    Weekday Breakfast: 09-12 (SOON!)
    Weekend Brunch: 09–14:00 (SOON!)