Friday, March 25, 2011

The Venue Sushi & Sake Lounge (Exotic Mixologist Too!)

There is a new joint in town - The Venue Sushi & Sake Lounge.  Lounge, sushi, sake?  My curiosity was aroused enough to sneak in (yes, I said sneak, for it is located next door to one of our favorite haunts - Bellini) and give it a try.

The sleek interior seems more LA than Palm Springs, the music more disco than Asian, and the staff definitely transplanted to the desert.  Young and hip servers that are knowledgeable, with just the right amount of friendliness, are there to guide you through the experience.  The Mixologist, Lucky, is right on the money with his luscious concoctions.  Master Sushi Chef Engin Onural is young, talented, ambitious and in it to make your experience personal.

After Lucky assisted with my drink selection, which was a surprisingly difficult task given the extensive exotic drinks, sake and beer lists, I settled on the Emerald Dragon, a special drink that was dreamed up in honor of St. Patty's Day.  (Gotta love a Sushi Lounge that celebrates St. Patty's Day.)  Emerald Dragon in hand, I began to wonder if this was a drink I could replicate in the comfort of my home.  Cucumber, lime, rum based orange wine (who knew) and honeydew melon offer delicate layers of flavor to my palate.  Surprisingly refreshing, and not too sweet, the perfect drink for a March afternoon in the desert.

For a first dining experience at The Venue, I suggest the Omakase (Chef's Choice) for $45 per person.  It's a great way to try the dishes and have a completely personalized experience.  Our first course was a light miso soup with tofu, enoki mushrooms, spring onions and seaweed.  This is was the perfect way to wake up one's tastebuds  as it is the perfect balance of flavors and texture.

Second Course consisted of thinly sliced cucumber, micro greens, yuzu, blackberry (genius flavor addition), tomato, carrot and sesame seeds.  Fresh flavors with new combinations - I am in heaven.

The Venue Roll  - third course and our introduction to Chef Engin's sushi talents.  Simply delicious!  Spicy tuna wrapped in nori, seared salmon, micro greens, tabico and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  Hot, cool, textures galore - this is a winner!

Bosphorus - The Fourth Course.  Rather intimidating name for a sushi roll, but Bosphorus lives up to the chef's Turkish heritage.  Shrimp tempura, crab meat, and avocado wrapped in nori and graced with Escolar on the top.  Escolar has moved to being one of my favorite sushi/sashimi options due to this tasty roll!

Seems like this Omakase meal should be ending about now, but it's not as the fifth course is placed before me.  Spicy Tuna Cocktail, Chef Engin's version of Tuna Tartar, is brought to the table.  The presentation is stunning!  Tuna Tartar served over cucumber salad with yuzu and a hint of sesame make this a perfect dish.

Sixth course.  Shrimp Sushi, simple and beautiful presentation.  Yum!

Mochi Ice Cream completes a perfect meal and perfect afternoon at The Venue!

Make sure the next time you are in the mood to try something unique that you head to The Venue.

The Venue Sushi &Sake Lounge
73111 El Paseo (Located in The Galleria)
Palm Desert, CA 92260

Lunch & Dinner
Pet Friendly Patio

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shakespeare, Dudamel & Me

Shakespeare, Dudamel and me.  You are probably wondering what I have to do with either of those two marvelous, creative beings.    The answer is simple.  I've read Shakespeare, as we all have, followed Dudamel for all his glorious antics as a conductor, and jumped at the chance to see his interpretation of Tchaikovsky'sHamlet, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet at Disney Hall on Sunday, March 13, 2011.

The concert marked the second time this year that LA Phil Live was shown in movie theatres across the U.S. and Canada.  Though this would have been a perfectly reasonable way to see the performance, and although still groggy from a late night at the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards, we piled in the car first thing Sunday morning and headed to Los Angeles from the desert.  Two hours later we arrived at the music center in downtown Los Angeles.

Disney Hall is an experience of its own.  The architecture is phenomenal, and you cannot help but stand and gaze upon the beauty of the lines and materials used for this building.  Inside is the optimum space for music.  The sound is fantastic - theatre in the round with an interior that  is rich and warm.  Let's not forget the ultimate in organs.  The organ at Disney Hall is a true show-stopper.

All this, and Dudamel has not even made an appearance on the stage.

Moments before the show started, our attendant came by the row and told everyone not to be frightened when Orlando Bloom made his appearance as it would be swift, and possibly loud.  Did I forget to mention that Dudamel's interpretation of Shakespeare by Tchaikovsky included selected scenes by Matthew Rhys, Malcolm McDowell, Orlando Bloom and Anika Noni Rose?  Dudamel and Orlando - right there in front me?  Wow - I was in Nirvana!

Finally the LA Phil was in their places with their masterful leader in front of them.  From nowhere Matthew Rhys as Hamlet came down an aisle of musicians sprouting Shakespeare's words while from up above with deep crimson red highlights the organ Malcolm McDowell took on the character of Ghost.  Back and forth they went until Hamlet finally inquired "to be, or not to be" queuing Dudamel to transport our minds from the intellectual words to the intellectual intuitiveness of music.  Riveted by the music, I closed my eyes and was transported out of downtown Los Angeles and into the music.  Everything around me disappeared.

Suddenly Prospero from the Tempest was there.  With each line recited I feel as if I have fallen under his spell, and anything that Malcolm McDowell asks he shall get.  His persona is so large that there is no room for anyone but him on stage - and him and only him is what you as a viewer are allowed to see.  Then with perfect timing the music begins and I am in an underwater fantasy land.  Enchanted with love and the lyrical music, I feel as if I understand exactly what Shakespeare and Tchaikovsky were feeling when word and note were written.

It is now that I must confess I felt like a silly schoolgirl.  Why you ask?  With the swiftness of an elf, Orlando Bloom appeared before me - I mean before me as in less than 2 feet away from my face reciting lines to Juliet.  Could it be that I was his Juliet?  Flushed and captivated at the same time - Orlando Bloom 20 inches from me and Gustavo Dudamel 20 feet away from me - and my love next to me - what is a girl to do?  Well, what any self respecting woman would do and thoroughly enjoy every minute of the performance.  With each word that the fair young Romeo whispered, I remembered why love and being in love is so bewitching to us all.  The pain, the agony, the joy.  Romeo and Juliet captures it all.  Anika Noni Rose was stunning and beguiling as Juliet.  (Okay, I admit I was not the intended Juliet, though I could have been!)  Forbidden and tragic, beautiful and lovely, is Andy Warhol correct that the best part of love is thinking about love?

Love for that afternoon was soon coming to an end and would be a mere memory.  Gustavo Dudamel was now down to the last piece.  Like a lover who is lingering to hold on to one more kiss, I'm sitting in my seat wondering why it has to be over.  Why now?  Does the past hour we've spent together mean nothing to him?With 20 minutes left remaining in the performance there is nothing left to do than completely lose myself in the music.  Full revelry and indulgence with every note played.  Emotions filled with joy, love, lust, fear, loss and death.  This piece moving the audience beyond words.  Gustavo's signature hair bouncing with each emotion, and finally falling as this piece ended.

There is no greater joy than sharing experiences that touch you with your loved ones.  This is an afternoon that we will both talk about with sweet memories for rest of our days.  It is the day Shakespeare, Dudamel and yours truly connected on a level I didn't know existed inside of me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scamorza in the Afternoon

It was love at first bite.  Scamorza on a balmy spring afternoon is like the first day of spring when the tulips blossom and butterflies are fluttering from bloom-to-bloom.

If you have not tried Scamorza, I highly recommend you find your favorite Italian Ristorante and ask for it!  This is an off the menu special that Calo Pisano, Chef/Owner of Bellini's in Palm Desert, occasionally has available for your dining pleasure.  Whenever it is offered, we always order it.  Sometimes we even inquire - just in case they forgot to add it to the nightly specials.

Scamorza is a wonderful salad that consists of field greens, a little arugula, lightly fried smoked mozzarella cheese, topped with fresh tomatoes and olives, and drizzled with a light touch of balsamic vinegar and oil.  The bitterness of the field greens so compliments the smokey mozzerella that I wonder why I have not encountered this magical combination more often.

Scamorza is a sheep or cow's milk cheese from the Puglia region of Italy.  It belongs to the same family as mozzarella and provolone.  If you are unable to find this scamorza at your local market, smoked mozzarella can be substituted for it, which is what Calo uses in his Scamorza salad.

This is a dish that once tasted can be replicated in your home kitchen.   It is also a dish that is sure to impress your guests with its uniqueness in flavor profiles.  Pair it with a glass of Italian wine and you are set for a wonderful lunch and culinary transportation Puglia!

If you haven't been to Bellini Italian Restaurant, it's located in Palm Desert on El Paseo at The Galleria.  Go see Marylena & Calo and tell them Sasha sent you!  (The patio is pet friendly and gets four paws up from Sasha.)  73111 El Paseo (The Galleria), Palm Desert, CA 92260.  Telephone for Reservation 760-341-2626.

Calo & Marylena return to their native Italy every summer and close from the middle of June to September.  Next time you are in the mood for your own little excursion to Italy and are short on time stop for a Bellini!

For recipes to try at home La Cucina Italia has some great recipes on their website; or Mario Batali's website