Friday, January 24, 2014

Petrossian Paris Restaurant & Boutique

"You are an artist, a philosopher, a daydreamer. Your friends have told you before you seem to have been born in the wrong era, and they’re right. You want to live a life of passion and vigor, filled with good wine, great coffee, and world-class food. Bon voyage, you belong in Paris!" - BuzzFeed Travel Quiz

Although my subconscious yearns for a midnight stroll along the Seine river in Paris, I must escape my thoughts for a moment and accept that I am in the Paris of the West.  Los Angeles, which is equally known for its entertainment, cuisine and fashion culture, is home to Petrossian - a restaurant which can rival even the finest French haute cuisine.  Known best for their assorted varieties of caviar, I went to Petrossian to embark on a three course journey through Parisian delicacies.  

While I sampled all of the dishes, please note the prix fixe menu provided during restaurant week encompassed three dishes: appetizer, entree and dessert.  

Prix Fixe $45.00

Caviar Salad
butter lettuce, shaved egg, shallots, lemon, dill, crème fraîche
comments: slighty salty; appetizing to stronger palettes

Cauliflower Soup
white truffle oil, brioche, leeks
comments: creamy and savory; wonderful alternative to onion soup

Mediterranean Sea Bass
artichokes, leeks, celery, capers, caviar
comments: small portion; celery should be replaced with a starch

Wild Mushrooms Tagliatelle
chestnut, rosemary, parmesan
comments: pasta is made fresh and cooked al dente;
variety of mushrooms makes for an excellent dish

Persimmon Cake
carrot, ginger, pistachios, pecan, basil
comments: reminiscent of carrot cake;
airs on the side of dry

milk chocolate, white chocolate, coffee
comments: for the chocolate lovers at heart

The service in addition to the high quality food made for a 5 star experience.  If you have time, use your time to peruse the boutique shops along Robertson Blvd. for a fulfilling experience of your midnight in Paris.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Madlon's of Big Bear

When it comes to a romantic cabin getaway in Big Bear, you hope the stars align to give you frosty winter nights and a room with a crackling fireplace.  You anticipate the slopes are heavy with powdered (albeit, man-made) snow, and the ski chalet down below offers steaming hot chocolate and savory sugar donuts.  As your day commences, and your night hibernating within the hot tub begins, your body hungers for an extravagant meal to compliment your day within the winter wonderland.  Although the snow may be rubbish, save yourself a trip to a fast food restaurant and enjoy the elegant offerings of Madlon's in Big Bear.

Inspired by French Country cuisine, Madlon's offers a distinct variety of quality entrees among a flurry of diners and sports bars.  Given that I was in Big Bear during New Year's Eve, my husband and I decided to splurge for a decadent 5-course meal to welcome 2014.  For $50 each, we enjoyed an appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert.    Considering the quality and the amount of food we had, this was a steal.  I know for a fact any high-end restaurant in LA would have been double for NYE.

Each course highlighted a different flavor profile, and showcased the raw talent of the cordon-blue trained chefs.  True to French cuisine, the dishes were often coated in creme-based sauces, which can air on the side of heavy and excessive.  But in true spirit of decadence, it was c'était magnifique! That, coupled with outstanding service, made our meal quite the night to remember.

Amuse Bouche
a complimentary bite-size appetizer to entertain the mouth

Escargots au Pistou
sauteed snails in a rich pesto sauce with puff pastry

Soupe à l'Oignon
onion soup served gratinéed with crouton and cheese

Salade de Chèvre Chaud
goat cheese salad tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette

Lobster Thermidor
lobster inspired casserole with mashed potatoes

La Bête Noire
flourless chocolate cake drizzled in raspberry sauce 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fight for Your Independent Pharmacy!

We live in a world where impersonal relationships is the norm. We don't know our neighbors, we don't engage in conversations with community members, and often, we are oblivious to our local businesses. I, like most people, like to run into a store and leave with my item in hand without a single conversation. But what if that one item has the potential to save your life? This is the power of modern medicine! Wouldn't you want to know the possible effects of the medication and maintain a relationship with not only your doctor but also your pharmacist? 

Rx Unlimited is the epitome of good patient relationships. They not only pride themselves in providing good business, but they maintain close relationships with doctors as well, making sure the patient is taken care of full circle. They have been a pillar in the AIDS and HIV community since the early 90s, providing healthcare to those who were denied help in the initial stint of the outbreak. 

Now, after 20 years of operation, Rx Unlimited is on the verge of closing. Due to a clerical error on behalf of inventory purchased by another local pharmacy, Rx Unlimited has lost their ESI/Medco contract provided by Express Scripts - a Fortune 100 company which provides most, if not all, of the medications within the store (and the country). Rather than fight the audit and risk not being able to continue servicing its patients, Rx Unlimited decided to provide of all the money demanded in the audit findings. What was the ultimate outcome? Express Scripts took the money and cut the contract as of November 8, 2013.

Why is this so near and dear to my heart? Because Rx Unlimited is my family - literally and figuratively. My family has owned and operated the business since its inception. I have bonded with folks who are routine patients, and have known most of the employees for the majority of my life. Rx Unlimited only wants to be able to continue to service its patients, despite the apparent bad faith dealings by Express Scripts. We hope that continued public and political pressure will convince Express Scripts that it cannot bully independent pharmacies and treat them as disposable, nor impede patients from choosing to use their local independent community pharmacy. 

If you would like to know more information on the issue, please visit their Facebook page at:  Their online petition can be found at:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Organic or Natural?

Whenever I peruse the grocery store for food, I am often dumbfounded by the robust use of vague terminology by the food industry.  Often conflicted to buy natural or organic food, I have alas done my research to see 1) what is the difference and 2) why should I care.

The Difference
  • Natural foods is assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and do not contain manufactured ingredients.
  • Organic food is certified to not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.  

Here is a basic breakdown of what those terms mean.

Artificial Flavors
  • What are they?
    • Flavorings are chemical formulations that mimic the flavors and smells of foods
  • What are some examples?
    • fruit flavored drinks, teas and yogurts
  • What are the health risks?
    • Controversial - A number of studies have shown a relationship between artificial coloring and hyperactivity. On the other hand, some studies do not show any effect of coloring on children's behavior. (National Institute of Health)
  • Fun Fact
    • Castoreum (which is extracted from the anal glands of a beaver) is used to make artificial raspberry flavoring.  Yummy!

Artificial Colors
  • What are they?
    • Colors additives are any dye, pigment or substance that imparts color when it is added to food or drink
  • What are some examples?
    • macaroni & cheese, baking mixes, and pickles
  • What are the health risks?
    • Controversial - For more than 30 years, scientists have examined the relationship between food coloring and hyperactive behavior in children, but with mixed results. (WebMD)
  • Fun Fact
    • Artificial food coloring is derived from coal tar and petroleum.  Lunch at the La Brea Tar Pits?

Artificial Preservatives
  • What are they?
    • Preservatives generally fall into one of three categories: those used to prevent bacterial or fungal growth, those that prevent oxidation (which can lead to discoloration or rancidity), and those that inhibit natural ripening of fruits and vegetables
  • What are some examples?
    • bread, fruit and vegetables
  • What are the health risks?
    • Controversial - Artificial food preservatives, by and large, are generally recognized as safe.  However, some researchers believe some preservatives, such as nitrates, are linked to asthma, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.  
  • Fun Fact
    • Embalming chemicals are a variety of preservatives used to preserve cadavers.  No wonder Egyptian mummies look so good!

Artificial Fertilizers
  • What are they?
    • Synthetic fertilizers are man-made combinations of chemicals and inorganic substances that supply essential nutrients to soil
  • What are some examples?
    • Miracle Grow
  • What are the health risks?
    • Beneficial: Synthetic fertilizers are easy to use and their effects are almost immediate
    • Harmful: Synthetic fertilizers have several long-term negative effects (LiveStrong)
      • Human Carcinogens: Designed to kill or prevent weeds, several of the ingredients in synthetic fertilizers are known to cause cancer
      • Water Pollution: High amounts of nitrogen often find their way into waterways resulting in loss of oxygen in the water
      • Toxic Waste: Synthetic fertilizers contain toxic heavy metals (such as silver, nickel and selenium) and pose human health hazards
  • Fun Fact
    • Have you ever stuck a white carnation flower in dye and watch it turn color? This same process happens with chemicals from fertilizers – it becomes forever part of the plant…no matter how many times you wash it off! 

Artificial Pesticides
  • What are they?
    • A synthetic pesticide is a poisonous chemical or mixture of chemicals that is intended to prevent, repel, or kill any pest
  • What are some examples?
    • Off! Insecticide Spray, Raid Max
  • What are the health risks?
    • Beneficial: Synthetic pesticides protect crops from pest invasions
    • Harmful: Pesticides have been known to cause lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer, asthma, and other immune system disorders. (University of California, San Diego)
  • Fun Fact
    • There are over 160 synthetic pesticides in the United States that are listed to be possible carcinogens.  And you thought pesticides were only for insects…

  • What is it?
    • Food irradiation is a technology for controlling spoilage and eliminating food-borne pathogens, such as salmonella.
  • What are some examples?
    • tropical fruit, spices
  • What are the health risks?
    • Beneficial (Iowa State University Food Safety Research Project)
      • Preservation: Irradiation can be used to destroy or inactivate organisms that cause spoilage and decomposition, thereby extending the shelf life of foods.
      • Sterilization: Foods that are sterilized by irradiation can be stored for years without refrigeration just like canned foods
      • Control food-born illness: Irradiation can be used to effectively eliminate those pathogens that cause food-born illness, such as Salmonella.
    • Harmful (Food and Water Watch)
      • Expensive: Irradiating the U.S. food supply would be extraordinarily expensive.
      • Ineffective: Irradiation does not kill all the bacteria in food and may undermine other food safety efforts by masking filthy conditions and encouraging improper handling.
      • Impractical: Irradiation damages many foods and can ruin their flavor, odor, and texture. The process destroys vitamins, protein, essential fatty acids and other nutrients.
      • Dangerous: Scientists have observed serious health problems in lab animals fed irradiated foods. Those include premature death, cancer, tumors, stillbirths, mutations, organ damage, immune system failure and stunted growth.
  • Fun Fact
    • The irradiation controversy is similar to radiation therapy received by cancer patients: some believe it is beneficial, whereas others believe it is harmful.  The question is, does your food have cancer?

Genetically Engineered Ingredients
  • What is it?
    • Genetic engineering creates plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy.
  • What are some examples?
    • wheat, corn
  • What are the health risks?
    • Beneficial 
      • Pest resistance: Growing GM foods can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market
      • Disease resistance: Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to plant diseases
      • Drought tolerance: Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places
      • Nutrition: Malnutrition is common in developing countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. Genetically modified rice can allow for rice to be fortified with nutrients
    • Harmful
      • Environmental hazards: There is a potential risk of harm to non-target organisms
      • Reduced effectiveness of pesticides: Many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to crops that have been genetically-modified
      • Gene transfer to non-target species: Crop plants engineered for herbicide tolerance and weeds will cross-breed, resulting in the transfer of the herbicide resistance genes from the crops into the weeds
      • Human health risks: There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. There is also a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on human health.
      • Economic Impacts: Large argicultural corporations, such as Monsanto, make serious profit from GMO patents, and are not subject to through testing for saftey of human consumption
    • Source: ProQuest
  • Fun Fact
    • Though I'm a bonafide food policy advocate, I often have trouble picking a side when it comes to GMOs 

  • Natural foods is better for the environment, but not necessarily better for humans.  Although they lack artificial coloring, artificial flavoring and preservatives, I am more concerned with the ingredients that have scientific proof to be harmful.  
  • In the grand scheme of decision-making, organic foods are better than natural foods.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Coupons for Cigarettes: Acceptable or Unacceptable?

Upon visiting a gas station last week in Chinatown, I had quite the unsettling encounter.  A consumer ahead of me was interested in purchasing a packet of Marlboro Lights.  The cashier looked at her with intrigue, and asked whether or not she would like a coupon to purchase Camel cigarettes for the bargain price of $1.00.  With cigarette taxes escalating tobacco products to an average of $6.00, the consumer did not hesitate to accept the offer.  To her right, there was a Certified Field Agent for Camel Cigarettes.  He willfully took down some of her information, and presented her with the coupon.  Taking a keen interest in his job, I asked the Certified Field Agent about his work.  

It was with an enthusiastic smile, he reported that he serves as a promoter for the brand, often partnering with local gas stations to reach consumers.  He explained Camel began using coupons as several industries implemented them in the wake of the recession.  Proud to be serving the community with affordable cigarettes, he noted that the coupon used to give consumers a pack of Camels for free.  Of course, this measure did not last long, as free cigarettes from tobacco companies became illegal.  

As our conversation continued, I couldn't help but notice the success of his presence in the gas station.  While I was only there for ten minutes, three customers who intended to purchase another brand of cigarettes walked away with a pack of Camels using the coupon.  That being said, increased tax on cigarettes exist for the sole purpose to create a disincentive on purchasing cigarettes.  Understanding that significant gains have been made in reducing the prevalence of smoking for the general population in the United States, Camel’s response to tobacco control interventions is to offer a discounted product.  When I inquired as to his clientele, I noticed they were concentrated in poorer communities in Los Angeles, and consequently, catered to ethnic communities and immigrants.  Of course, they target specific communities as research suggests smoking rates remain high for some sub-populations.

There is something utterly wrong about this situation, and I can’t help but think we need to take action against it. What are your thoughts?  Do you think providing a coupon is fair given the state of our economy? Or, does it suggest a need for further government intervention?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Community Gardens and the LA Food System

What's happening to our food system to make communities of faith, neighborhoods and schools come together and rethink the way they interact with food? What are emerging community gardens really saying? This piece discusses how health, the environment, malnutrition and social justice influence Angelenos to question their local food system, and do something about it.

Over the last several months, I’ve attended various events that suggest Los Angelenos have lost trust in what they’re eating.  Last month, I visited Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles to hear a panel titled, “Just Food: The 411 on Good Food Procurement” in an effort to better understand how the environment, food workers’ rights, consumers’ health and small farmers’ viability all relate to price and convenience.  Following this event, I participated in "Guerrilla Gardening: Changing the World through Food" at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills to discuss new ways to meet our challenge to feed the hungry. I watched “Fruit Hunters” starring Bill Pullman, and learned of a small community in the Hollywood Hills coming together and creating what is now the “Hollywood Orchards” – a “virtual orchard” that engages local residents to learn about sustainable agriculture and food preservation.  From a distance, I’ve seen the 24th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles build a garden with over 50 fruit trees and vegetable beds created by children and managed by teachers.  This is only a snip-it of what I’ve heard, seen and encountered since January 2013.  Why the sudden changes?

The first point that came up consistently was, without knowing which farms the food is sourced from, how do we know as consumers whether or not they have been genetically modified, sprayed with pesticides, or preserved?  With the continued outbreaks of e. coli, salmonella and various strains of the flu, more and more residents are starting to be concerned about the safety of their food. How long will it be before we are immune to antibiotics?  What are the long-term effects of ingesting meats injected with growth hormones? Which community will sustain an outbreak next? These questions have started to rival apocalypse conspiracy theories, but unfortunately, they are a grim reality.

Coupled with health concerns, Californians have taken it upon themselves to be environmentally conscious.  Owning a hybrid vehicle and installing solar panels is no longer enough – we must be able to be self-sufficient.  With recent reports noting that Americans waste almost 40% of edible food, how do we treat this matter efficiently?  In my discussions with community garden volunteers, I’ve been told that it’s not just about growing fruits and vegetables – it’s about continuing the cycle of life.  Barbara Linder of Greystone Mansion Community Garden explained that planting seeds, harvesting food and eating food is not where it ends.  Rather, it’s about utilizing organic plant waste to begin the cycle over again.  Members of her local community garden dispose their waste into composting bins, and use the fortified soil to replant the seeds.  

Paradoxical to an overabundance of food, a million county residents struggle with hunger at some point in the year.  The hardest hit areas are those that are rampant with poverty – namely, South Los Angeles.  With rising health risks such as obesity and high blood pressure, residents of underserved communities are eager for access to healthy foods.  In an effort to combat these issues, grassroot organizations, such as the Garden School Foundation, have implemented “classroom gardens.”  The organization claims, as children learn about caring for food, plants, and the soil, classes demonstrate to youth that what they do matters—a lot—to the world around them and to their own lives.  In this case, it not just the food that is important - it is the lessons from the garden about empowerment and social justice that stimulates teachers and community members alike to keep community gardens alive.

While the concerns of our food systems grow, community gardens have started to pop up all over the city.  The idea is no longer hidden in one area – it has multiplied across neighborhoods including Westchester, Hawthorne and Inglewood.  We are welcoming people from all backgrounds to challenge our food system based on reasons of injustice, hunger and responsibility.  That being said, I’ve only briefly touched on some of the reasons why communities are rethinking their food system.  Now the question is, who will rebel next?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe

With the waves of Vietnamese immigrants coming to California's shores, its no surprise that pho has become a local favorite.  Rather than venture to your neighborhood deli or downtown diner for chicken noodle soup, these mom and pop shops have the perfect cure for your craving!

Since I don't venture to East Los Angeles much, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant probably doesn't meet the expectations of avid pho goers.  I can say with complete confidence that this restaurant is as delicious - but I would hate to get into a Fast & Furious battle with those who disagree. And I mean that in a funny non-stereotypical way since there is very little parking.

Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe is oddly located in the Little Osaka district of West Los Angeles. Next to the ever popular Tsujita LA ramen sensation, this Vietnamese gem is the perfect alternative to avoid Tsujita's ever growing lines.  Since I eat pork once in a long while, I actually prefer going to Nong Lá to get my noodle soup fix. It is a delicate balance between light yet savory chicken broth, with dense yet not overly filling noodles.  Top that with shredded chicken and onions, and you've got a Hanoi party in your mouth.

Pho Ga ($7.95)
chicken broth with fresh rice noodles topped with white onions, green onions, cilantro 

If you're not in the mood for a hot soup on a hot day, I recommend opting for the second most famous Vietnamese dish, the Bhan-mi sandwiches.   You can never go wrong with grilled meat, french bread and Vietnamese spices.

Bun Steak & Eggroll ($8.50)
grilled kemongrass and sesame steak with eggrolls served on a bed of cold vermicelli noodles with lettuce, fresh herbs, cucumbers, bean sprouts, carrots and fish sauce

So, get on your tuk tuk, motorcycle, minivan or feet and head to Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe ASAP!!!