If you follow my Instagram feed, you know how hard I’ve fallen for Nashville Hot Chicken, specifically Howlin’ Ray’s (review). As far as I knew, they were the only ones serving this regional dish in Los Angeles, but then I started hearing about Major Dave’s Chicken in Pasadena, and I decided a few months ago to give them a try with my family.
Major Dave’s menu is fairly standard for a fried chicken joint. Chicken can be ordered Original (mild) or Spicy (one level of heat), a la carte by the piece, or in combos or family meals. A fried chicken sandwich is available, as is salad topped with boneless fried chicken.
The side selections are varied, and we got to try a few of them, including the cole slaw, fruit salad, brussels sprouts, and macaroni and cheese. While the mac & cheese was a standout, and not just for the candied bacon garnish, generally we found the sides to be just okay.
The fried chicken, on the other hand, was superb. We got a mix of mild and spicy, and the mild had a light and crisp exterior and was well seasoned.
As for the heat on the spicy chicken, I’d say it’s in the medium range, definitely spicy enough for most folks, but probably too mild for heat fiends. The skin did retain a great, crispy texture even with the hot sauce applied.
We also got to try a new (at the time) item on their menu, the fried chicken sandwich, which was quite delicious. We decided to keep it mild.
So, is Major Dave’s Chicken serving Nashville-style hot chicken? I would say in my wholly unqualified opinion that it is not quite the same, and not just for the heat level, but also for the flavoring. Whatever the spice mixture was, it had more of a (for lack of a better descriptor) “Cajun” flavor profile to me, and a more golden hue, than the brick-red cayenne paste that I’ve seen applied (both descriptively and literally) to Nashville hot chicken. Fortunately, the spicy chicken was still mighty tasty!
With Howlin’ Ray’s on hiatus for a few weeks, this may be the closest option to scratch that hot chicken itch, but I prefer to judge Major Dave’s Chicken on its own merits. The fried chicken is excellent, the sides are decent, and the service is friendly. Can’t ask for much more!
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Major Dave’s Chicken
163 N Hill Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
Estrella is the new restaurant by chef/partner Dakota Weiss, a Top Chef alum who also helms the back-of-counter at Sweetfin Poke. It’s no secret that Sweetfin is one of my favorite new places to eat on the Westside—check out my review for some delicious food porn! What I didn’t realize is that I had been a fan of the chef’s cooking many years ago, even before I started writing about food, back when she was at The Dining Room inside the Shangri-La Hotel circa 2009-2011.
After watching a video of chef Weiss preparing The Rolling Stone, a poached egg encased in a whole avocado and then wrapped in bacon(!), my family and I knew we had to check the place out for brunch! We were seated outside on the gorgeous yet casual patio that is subtly kitsch—I’ve read it described as “boho chic”—with peacock and owl motifs running through the decor. It was one of the most inviting spaces we’ve dined in.
(Check out Wonho Frank Lee’s fantastic photographs for Eater LA to get an idea of the space both inside and out, but keep in mind it looks even better in daylight.)
We started off with both of the items off the “Shareables” section of the menu, an artichoke “guacamole” (no avocado—more like an artichoke baba ghanoush) that had a bit of heat to it, and some beet-pickled eggs served on a salad with crumpled bacon on top. While I was busy taking pictures, my wife and kids started picking at the bacon and immediately remarked how good it was, a theme that would carry through our meal.
More than half of the dishes on the menu fell under the “Brunch of Champions” header, like The Rolling Stone (which I’m saving for later). We tried a few from that list, including an asparagus and gruyere tart with a perfect puff pastry crust, and the duck liver butter, which had a delicious, bitter-sweet unctuousness to it.
From the “Lunchables” section of the menu, we ordered the sous vide hanger steak, which was medium-rare right up to the char. And we had a few of the sides, including the porchetta, which was decent but not the kind with the crispy skin, and the pretzel bacon, which was spectacular. My wife declared it the best bacon she’s had!
Estrella's Sous Vide Hanger Steak, Orange-Habanero Chimichurri (on the side), Little Gems & Radish. @estrellasunset @dakotalovesbonemarrow #hangersteak #steak #sousvide #chimichurri #littlegem #radish #estrellasunset #estrella #brunch #sunsetblvd #westhollywood #weho #losangeles #theoffalo #offaloestrella
Finally, we dug into The Rolling Stone, that egg inside an avocado inside a bacon shell. It is pure food porn, even before you cut it open. And when you do, there’s no way to not make a hot mess of things. But does it taste as good as it looks? Absolutely!
My first impression upon taking a bite was that it tasted like a duck egg. If you haven’t had one, it’s hard to describe how it’s different than a chicken egg. The egg white is a little more astringent and the yolk just seems to have more oomph to it. I’m sure the avocado contributed to that impression. Regardless, after the first bite, I wasn’t thinking about ducks or chickens. I was just amazed at how delicious each bite tasted!
Estrella's "The Rolling Stone" – Bacon-Wrapped Avocado with a Baked Egg, Tomato, and Queso Fresco. @estrellasunset @dakotalovesbonemarrow #rollingstone #bacon #avocado #egg #tomato #quesofresco #estrellasunset #estrella #brunch #sunsetblvd #westhollywood #weho #eggporn #yolkporn #losangeles #theoffalo #offaloestrella
Now that I’ve heaped praise upon praise on the food at Estrella, I do have some very minor criticisms. The ingredients in some of the dishes did not match the menu descriptions (e.g., no beet greens or lardon with the pickled eggs, no oven-dried heirloom tomatoes with the artichoke guacamole). Also, the greens that accompanied some of the dishes were a bit over-salted. Now, I’m not actually judging the restaurant on any of this, especially when it’s been open barely two weeks. I just didn’t want people to think our meal was all bacon-wrapped rainbows and unicorns!
But the whole reason I’m posting about Estrella now even though I have a backlog of places to write about—sorry Broken Spanish and Cassia, but I’m sure you’ll survive—is because I want people to go! This was truly one of the better meals my family and I have had together. Usually someone didn’t want to go somewhere in the first place or ended up not liking the food; that wasn’t the case here. Everyone in my family loved Estrella!
(A curiosity: I noticed that chef Weiss pronounces the restaurant’s name with a “la” sound, as do her staff, rather than the “ya” sound that I’m assuming many people, particularly those who know Spanish, would use. Estrella is named after the circus girl from Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon” so I actually listened to the song, and it’s sung like the Spanish pronunciation. Must get to the bottom of this mystery!)
Estrella opens at 7am for breakfast service on weekdays, with takeout-only at lunchtime (for now), and full dinner service. On the weekends, full service brunch starts at 10am. And as I discovered today, you can book a table using Reserve (Estrella’s listing in the app was where I learned about the Joni Mitchell song reference), so take advantage of the app to grab a seat at what will quickly become one of the top brunch spots around!
Oh, and chef Dakota Weiss is a Bacon Wizard!
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The second annual EastSide Food Festival took place on Sunday, October 18, 2015 at Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake. Even though it was the third event I attended that day (Brunch at the Races and The Food Event preceded it), it was probably the most fun. But then any event with Starry Kitchen‘s Nguyen Tran in attendance is guaranteed to be a good time!
(Find Nguyen and his wife Thi, the culinary brains behind SK, at Button Mash!)
Even though I arrived somewhat late, I still managed to try a dozen or so dishes, and, after a day of eating, even had room for seconds (and thirds) of some of my favorites. Highlights included Alimento‘s chicken liver crostone, Dune‘s falafel, and Ohana Poke Co.‘s tuna poke.
My top two bites of the night were the mixto tacos, with carnitas, cueritos (pork skin), and buche (pork stomach), from Carnitas El Momo, and the pork shoulder chile verde from B.S. Taqueria. I definitely got extra helpings of each!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from EastSide Food Festival, and some of that was because I didn’t know how much of it I’d get to enjoy because I’d be arriving halfway through the event, and I wasn’t even sure if I’d be hungry. But who was I kidding? I still took down probably 18-20 dishes, including repeats. And I think I arrived right as the early crowds were leaving, because it wasn’t nearly as packed as I had feared, though it was still very lively (see aforementioned presence of Nguyen Tran). I had a really fun time, and it was a great end to a weekend of food festivals!
For more from EastSide Food Festival, check out hashtag #offaloeastside on Instagram!
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EastSide Food Festival
Mack Sennett Studios
1215 Bates Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
On Sunday, October 18, 2015, Los Angeles Magazine held its 10th annual The Food Event. Of all the food festivals I’ve attended this year, this one had the best setting. Nestled in a little valley inside the mountains above Malibu, Saddlerock Ranch hosts a vineyard, horses, exotic animals, and, on that day, over 30 of the top restaurants in L.A.
Some of my favorite bites from the event were Leona‘s Kuri Curry Soup, The Church Key‘s Shrimp Tostada, and Simbal‘s Beef Tartare.
My top three dishes of the event were Birch‘s Salmon Tartare, Cadet‘s Headcheese Fritters and Sweetfin Poke‘s Smoked Salmon Poke.
Sweetfin Poke's Cold Smoked Salmon Poke, Blood Orange Ponzu, Config Butternut Squash, Truffled Pumpkin Seeds. @sweetfin #smokedsalmon #salmon #poke #bloodorange #ponzu #sweetfinpoke #sweetfin — #thefoodevent @la_mag @lamagfood #foodevent #foodfestival #saddlerockranch #malibufamilywine #malibu #theoffalo #offalofoodevent
Other highlights included Terrine‘s Kris Morningstar serving various parts of whole hogs throughout the event. I got to try the Roasted Pork Shoulder and Porchetta.
For sweets, I really enjoyed Leona’s Adult Cereal and The Church Key’s Sex on the Beach Otter Pops, both of which combined alcohol and dessert! For more on-the-wagon treats, California Donuts had a plethora of colorful and tasty doughnuts!
I was very impressed with The Food Event. The line-up of restaurants and the setting combined made one of the best events I’ve attended this year, maybe even the top one! This being my first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but now I can’t wait for next year!
For more from The Food Event, check out hashtag #offalofoodevent on Instagram!
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Los Angeles Magazine’s The Food Event
31727 Mullholland Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
LA Weekly‘s inaugural Brunch at the Races took place on Sunday, October 18, 2015, though LA Weekly had done four previous Pancake Breakfast events, which were smaller in scale. The “Races” part of the name for this year’s event is due to the venue, Santa Anita Park. Tickets to the event included admission into the racetrack, and many attendees stayed to watch (and bet on) said races.
Even though the weather had cooled recently, from ludicrous heat to just scorching, it was still rather balmy at the track. Personally, I don’t like to eat a lot of carbs when I’m feeling hot, and since this was a brunch event, carbs abounded. I did enjoy Myke’s Cafe‘s red velvet pancake, and especially Superba Food+Bread‘s “coffee & donuts” (a peach bombolone with espresso milk shake).
Superba Food + Bread's Coffee & Donuts: Peach Bomboloni, Espresso Milk Shake. @superbafoodandbread #coffee #donuts #peach #bomboloni #espresso #milkshake #superbafoodandbread — @laweekly #brunchattheraces #sundaybrunch #brunch #foodfestival @santaanitapark #santaanitapark #arcadia #theoffalo #offaloraces
Since I wasn’t as in the mood for pure starches, the dishes that had a protein component ended up being the favorites. The Blue Owl, all the way from Santa Barbara, served a playful take on biscuits & gravy by substituting clam chowder for the latter component of the classic dish, and topping it off with an egg. Status Kuo chef David Kuo made smoked salmon on squid ink bread, as he demonstrated in a Munchies video this summer. More on the lunch end than the breakfast end, Tortas Ahogadas Chago served their eponymous sandwich, which was messy but delicious!
My top bite of the event was chef Johnny Lee‘s Hainan chicken, which was delicious and comforting! Johnny even provided dessert in the form of dou hua, silken tofu with a sweet, gingery syrup.
I hadn’t been to any of the Pancake Breakfasts in past years, so I can’t say how this event compares. I will say that, with the exception of the unseasonably hot weather, which obviously LA Weekly can’t control, I thought the event went very well. I did have to leave early, but my family stayed to the end and really enjoyed themselves. I liked that the stands were more spread out, and that lines didn’t butt into each other. I hope LA Weekly continues with Brunch at the Races at the Santa Anita Park next year because it’s a really nice venue for this event.
To see what else I tried at Brunch at the Races, check out hashtag #offaloraces on Instagram.
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LA Weekly’s Brunch at the Races
Santa Anita Park
285 W Huntington Drive
Arcadia, CA 91007