California Tap Room Gets it Right

As many of you guys probably know San Diego has more selection of Craft Beer than can possibly be imagined. Every day a new brewery pops up and places get more creative on how they pair food and beer together. The combinations are kind of insane. I have had my fish sandwich cooked in IPA while topping that meal off with a chocolate stout infused ice cream. It doesn’t even stop at restaurants or food trucks either. You can do beer miles, yoga brewery tours, or hipster rope tying while you shrug off a Ballast Point IPA because it isn’t a PBR Tallboy.

The food and beer situations I find myself in week after week are what makes San Diego so great. I think it would be a good idea to use the AU space to highlight some cool places that manage to stick out from the crowd. The first highlight of the bunch would be California Tap Room.

The California Tap Room is located on a small side street in the heart of North Park. I think the beauty of this spot is that it isn’t trying to do anything crazy with the experience or the recipes. All they want is for you to engage in good conversation over some local beers and kick ass pretzels. Yeah that’s right, Pretzels! With beer cheese! They have 5-6 different choices of gourmet pretzels and they are ginormous and delicious. The perfect item to snack on with good company and they pair it with a rotating fleet of local breweries.

The location is small at the back end of a little parking lot decorated with incredible art and a nice patio. It sits right off of University so the craziness that happens there doesn’t spill into the atmosphere. What I enjoyed the most was the passion of the owner. He chatted it up with us and discussed his plans for expansion next store and even let us check out the construction in work. The man truly loves the place and it easily adds to the enjoyment of the bar. They also have a strong showing at all the various events going on throughout the area. So if you are looking for a place to relax with a good environment and delicious snacks check out the California Tap Room. Combing the website, it is apparently an Eagles bar as well, so if you are interested in being disappointed 16 times a year you can at least do it over good beer and pretzels…

California Tap Room: http://www.californiataproom.com/

Keep on keeping on, 

Tmax

Local Natives' Sunlit Youth Bursts Forward with Confidence

Local Natives (the musical act formerly, and forever in our hearts, named Cavil at Rest) has a storied and close personal connection to the whole AU crew. Growing up and attending high school in the same area with the band members means there were many interweaving friends and experiences. For over a decade our special group of friends have been able to see them perform in places ranging from the now extinct Sing Sing at the Irvine Spectrum to Outside Lands 2014 in Golden Gate Park. Let’s not also forget the time we stuffed into a downtown LA hotel for a shenanigans filled night that featured one of their great performances in the Gorilla Manor days as well as Cosmonaut Paul Giuliano callouts, Mickey Rooney discussions, and a patented 3am business discussion with Peter as I lay in bed half awake.

Local Natives  Sunlit Youth  Album Art 

Local Natives Sunlit Youth Album Art 

With the release of their new album Sunlit Youth on September 9th and having just caught them on their current tour in San Diego it seemed a perfect opportunity to share my thoughts and encourage everyone to check them out.

To those unfamiliar with the band their defining characteristic is their fierce collaboration. The shared experiences and selfless behavior in the songwriting process shines through in all aspects of the band. After figuring it all out in the early days and going through re-branding the group released Gorilla Manor to highlight their teamwork. Named after the house they all lived together in in Orange County, the soaring harmonies, personal lyrics, and cinematic melodies put the group on the indie radar with high comparison to Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes. With Hummingbird the group slowed it down a bit on a more meditative effort. The album dealt largely with the death of Kelcey Ayer’s mother and though it lacked the rush and freshness of Gorilla Manor it hardly mattered as it gave rise to a more mature and impactful record.

Zip ahead three years to today and we find the group in a much happier place and the result is the shiny and polished Sunlit Youth. Much in line with the music trend of the last handful of years Local Natives have added electronica elements to help move their sound forward.

The Taylor Rice lead album opener ‘Vllainy’ directly addresses the new approach when he sings “I want to start again” over the groups trademarked harmonies. Only this time we get electronic overlays and simple synth chords. The anthemic quality of the band is maintained through songs like ‘Fountain of Youth’ and ‘Mother Emanuel’ with lyrics that perfectly reflect the album’s title.

Amidst the rebuilding of their sound we come across songs like ‘Coins’ and ‘Dark Days’ that harken back to the youthful experimentation and myriad of styles that made Manor so memorable. While these two different approaches might lead some to believe the band is stuck between their roots and evolving into a new defining sound, I see it as a perfect mix of everything the band does well. For someone that has been along for the journey as long as I have this is all that you can ask for.

As a live act the anthems and group harmonies fuel a performance tailor made for festivals at dusks and singalongs in venues across the nation. It is still a strange experience to see massive rooms full of strangers singing word-for-word to their songs when our impressions of them will always be that band from high school. The show I saw in September has the band as crisp as ever with a setlist filled with new and old. The new songs sound fantastic and added equipment brings a new quality to old songs as well. There is never a more fun moment at a concert to participate in the craziness and party that is ‘Sun Hands.’ The band has perfected the song and makes for the highlight of their set.

Needless to say everyone should go check them out and here is a look at their latest single:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqO6zpUPZOs

Keep on keeping on, 

Tmax

LA’s EAT Show - A Celebration of Culinary Excellence

One of the reasons that Orange County is the gem that it is, and why I find myself living here (even though I once scoffed at the thought in my angst-ridden young twenties), is it’s location. I know, I know, seems obvious - famous Southern California, no need for explanation when multiple beaches are a stone’s throw away. I’m referring to location in the sense that we are in close proximity to two very distinct, major cities: Los Angeles and San Diego. Living here, we have the opportunity to drive a little over an hour either North or South to explore cities that are unique travel destinations for people around the world, all in just one day. The events, sights, history, and culture of both cities are in Orange County’s backyard, making it a little sliver of quiet paradise.

 I was recently reminded of the geographical benefits of living in Orange County when I had the opportunity to attend the first annual EAT Show in Los Angeles, an event with over fifty restaurants and food industry establishments. After a quick drive up, my cousin and culinary partner in crime, Allison, and I entered the Reef, a space designed for hosting creative events, like fashion shows and media productions. It’s a cool place, with lots of slick polished concrete, and the EAT show was being held on the second floor. We were escorted to the elevator by men dressed in nice suits. Shit, we are underdressed, we thought aloud in the privacy of our elevator, which is something we both have a fear of. We were wrong of course, as plenty of people were wearing similar attire, which makes sense - it’s called the EAT show. We were all there to chow down, and in order to do this properly, you’ve got to be comfortable, like Joey wearing Phoebe’s maternity pants in one of the Friends Thanksgiving episodes comfortable.

After checking-in and receiving our VIP swag bags (couldn’t resist the temptation of a mysterious swap bag when purchasing tickets), we headed straight to the open bar. Yes, that’s right, OPEN BAR. The hired bar for the event was Mr. Bartender, an LA based crew of talented mixologists that creates custom cocktails for events. Dressed in casual suits sans jacket, bowties, suspenders, and sleeves rolled up, the team emanated a relaxed, party-is-well-on-it’s-way atmosphere. In short, very cool vibes surrounding the bar, which we frequented. They created five cocktails for the show, and since it’s a foodie event, the cocktails had to bring it - and they did. Of the five (yes, we tried them all - sharing of course) the “Pop Up Punch” stood out as an original, one of a kind, libation. With a title playing on the event itself, and the addition of gin, raspberry, and citrus juices shaken, poured over ice, and topped with a float of champagne then garnished with a sprig of fresh thyme, we were in a daze of tasty wonder, ready for more.

Our thirsts quenched, we formed our plan of attack, which was easy to do, as the coordinators of the EAT Show truly had the attendees in mind when planning the event. Only 1,000 people were admitted to each session (lunch and dinner - we chose lunch) making the vast space of the second floor give you enough room to breathe while enjoying the food. This was also awesome because we never waited for more than three minutes at any location, allowing for maximum food intake. Food vendors lined the outskirts of the room, and long, family style tables and the bar were located in the middle. Your “ticket” was a miniature monopoly board game, where vendors were arranged much like Park Place or the Boardwalk - each section contained four different vendors. We decided to just head around counter-clockwise (with trips to the bar in between).

With over fifty eateries involved in the event, it would be naive for me to expect you to patiently read my thoughts regarding each one. So, I’ve listed my top three that absolutely crushed the small-bites event. Coincidentally, these three killer places were located in the same “monopoly block,” and were the first stop on our list.

First up is Swami’s: A Sandwich Experience, which clearly put dedicated care into not just the delicious tostadita they prepared, but into the entire display of their table and booth space as well. The display was unique; with a clean-cut, black cloth backdrop and handmade wooden and aluminum Swami’s lettering, we felt like we were in a genuine space, and not just one of the plebes at a 1,000 person event. Fresh cut flowers adorned the daffodil-yellow square tiles they used to form a hardtop for their table, making it one-of-a-kind at the show - sincerely, their booth owned it. From what I have learned about Swami’s, the food truck has become a staple in Los Angeles’s mobile eatery scene, challenging other trucks’ culinary prowess, like Kogi Beef and The Grilled Cheese Truck. After tasting the braised lamb and pork tostadita, you can clearly see why Swami’s has become an LA essential. Chef Ramanathan “Ram” Swaminathan makes everything from scratch, and on the truck, everything is made to order - no substitutions. I greatly appreciate the “no substitutions” movement; trust the chef - they put a lot of thought into every ingredient and flavor profile that goes into a dish. So, once I heard that Swami’s did this, I knew it was the real deal. Now, back to what matters: the tostadita. The chile-braised lamb and pork tostadita ended up being the perfect bite at the show. Starting out, you get the traditional chile and cumin seasoning that you’d expect (and hope for) in the latin-inspired dish. However, the addition of the mint to compliment the depth of the lamb and the saltiness of the fresh, homemade queso fresco was, unearthly. It almost took us a moment to figure out what it was we were eating, which seems like an odd statement, I know, but that is what I loved about it - the taste demanded that our tastebuds think, but then quickly reminded them of familiar home-cooked Sunday meals after being away for a while. That, and the artful smear of chipotle crema and hibiscus pickled shallots that topped the tostadita were enough for us to call it a day. We had already won.

Next up is Restauration, located in Long Beach on 4th Street’s “Retro Row,” whose EAT Show table design definitely complimented the joint’s title, a combination of “restaurant” and “restoration.”  With a teak wood and burlap feel at their station, it’s no doubt that Restauration takes pride in it’s locally sourced and responsibly grown ingredients (something AU & Co. appreciates and promotes with their use of homegrown and deadstock fabrics). The dish: crispy pan fried pork belly, pinenut cassoulet, and white bean puree, topped with a pinch of microgreens. The pork belly, oh my God, the pork belly - it was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of crisp to provide that bacon consistency that everyone loves,  but also melt in your mouth tender, like it had been slow roasted for hours. Mixed with the pinenut and subtle white bean flavors, this dish had the elements of salty and creamy that need to happen on the daily in my life (heart attacks aside, I’d still probably be really happy if that happened). Keep an eye out for a future AU&co blog post about Restauration, because if this dish relays what the rest of the menu contains, I’m down. I don’t have a photo for this dish, unfortunately, but this is for the best due to the fact that every time I saw it I might have a sensory overload.

Lastly, we have Westlake Village’s Aroha, owned by New Zealand’s own Chef Gwithyen Thomas, which specializes in his native country's cuisine. Now, arriving to Thomas’s table, Allison and I thought that perhaps we weren’t at the right spot. We checked our monopoly maps - we were indeed in the right place, but it seemed...wrong. This table was not up to the standard that Swami’s or Restauration had set. There was no decoration, no thoughtfully placed flair to enhance the eater’s experience, which is something I absolutely appreciate. There were long, rectangular, styrofoam coolers. That’s it. We were about to move on, when a head popped up from behind the coolers. It was Thomas, and he was sitting in a chair, shucking clams with a long, serrated knife. Not just any clams, though, he calmly explained in his accent. These were Cloudy Bay Clams from New Zealand, that had been harvested from the ocean only two days before, and shipped express for the event - just as he does for Aroha, daily. The clams were served cold in the shell, partially cooked, with absolutely no seasoning, no lemon - nothing. I can’t have clams any other way, ever again. They were so fresh - so, so very fresh. I didn’t think that clams could ever taste that way. I will be venturing to Aroha for clams soon, and you better believe I will be trying many more of Thomas’s dishes - stay tuned.

Although I may never know what crack-infused ingredient Swami’s puts in their braised lamb, or how Mr. Bartender creates silky and smooth cocktails, I do know this: EAT Show nailed it their first go-around, and I will definitely be attending next year, cocktail and swag bag in hand.

Vibe on, 

RG

Our Designer - A Peek Behind the Curtain

Let me introduce you to my sister.

Something easier said than done. I’ve known her (or better put), she’s known me since the day I popped out of my mother’s lady bits, had my sex declared with a bit of a questioning (it’s a… boy?), and shuffled into the arms of  the dark haired olive skinned little girl who would become a guiding light for me in the years to come.

She was the first woman (besides my mother) who I learned to love, and fear in equal measured parts. As we grew older the fear turned to teen angst during our, let’s call them hormonal years, but we recovered during the four years we spent at university together. Forging through the blizzards on campus with our California blood screaming out to us for being idiots for going to school in a place that had the audacity to have actual seasons, buying me beer when I was just a wee lad, and even carving out a bartending gig at our favorite place at school. Alex has always had my back. She is the Batman to my Robin, the Matt Damon to that guy who films a lot with Matt Damon (I want to say Petey something)- if Robin and Petey were speech impaired 3 year olds with a penchant for putting pennies in the Nintendo 64 the metaphor would be air tight.

The point is, my sister is a phenomenal human, and when I had the chance to interview her for her upcoming AU & Co. launch, I jumped at the chance. She was gracious enough to oblige, and here we are. After a flight back down to So Cal from my lofty (and unexplainably expensive) apartment in San Francisco, I, with our little sister in tow (she only came along after I promised to feed her Rubio’s), arrived at Alex’s bungalow home in Costa Mesa.

You’d think being the homosexual in the family I would have snatched  all the creative, and designer-friendly genes from the rest of my siblings. But you’d be wrong. It took me almost two decades just to learn that “No, stripes, and plaid don’t go together. I don’t care what Lindsay Lohan does- she’s wrong, and, frankly, I think it’s weird that’s who you look up to”, read you loud and clear now Mom. Alex ransacked all the good traits, and characteristics in this department before I could get my clammy fingers on them- so I comfortably blame her for my lack of awareness. Her talent for decorating, and adorning is immediately prevalent as you pass the threshold into her, and her husband’s home. A bright blue door with a curtain covered window slides open into a living room with warm wooden beams extending across the ceiling framed by walls covered in family photos, concert posters, and one very real looking ship’s wheel I’m sure they bought, and didn’t steal mounted above my favorite furniture piece- the bar cart, which, I swear to God, smiled when it saw me. I smiled back.

The air in the room was cool, and carrying with it some blues music, and the sound of beer caps popping of bottles. Peter, Alex’s boo, comes out of the kitchen with two Oktoberfest beers in hand. A man after my heart. After the greetings, and salutations we gather around their kitchen table to catch up, and gossip about the boys in San Francisco, and the glorious weather in So Cal. They both are hot, make me sweat, and both are experiencing a dry spell (from my perspective to keep the comparison going).

I’m not sure if I am suppose to announce that the interview officially began or just smoothly transition into the appropriate banter. Instead I just pull out my notepad, and hit the record button on my cell phone, and continue to chat up the woman sitting across from me whom I’ve known my whole life. It’s weird interviewing someone you’ve literally watched grow from a young girl to a young woman to a dynamic, and fully realized human. I wasn’t sure what to ask, but soon enough we found a comfortable pace in the interview, and it felt more like a conversation than I had expected.

We talked business goals, and fashion; we talked David Bowe vs David Beckham (Alex was for Bowie- “You cannot walk away from a heart like his”, and I graciously picked up Beckham- “those abs, though”; we talked Mark Sanchez and dresses (not necessarily as one thought though I enjoy that thought experiment). We talked. And drank. It was a great afternoon in the cozy bungalow.


“How would you describe your style?”, I ask over the top of my beer.

A smile creeps up around the edges of her mouth as her eyes brighten a bit. She chuckles, “Something between a bohemian princess, and a classic j-crew prep look. Somedays I want to be flowy, and others I want to be buttoned up”.

I wasn’t sure how to describe her own style so I am so glad she was able to capture it. It’s as dynamic, and put together as she is. I brought up her dislike for dresses growing up when her style was self-described as a tomboy. Think Hawaiian tees, and overalls (Oh, the 90s). I wondered why she was so resistant to something not covered in denim, and potentially something she stole from my closet, which would have been a sort of justice sense I was routinely playing in the outfits my mom bought for her.

“I used to cry when Mom would make me wear a dress. I would even lie at school when people would ask why I wore it because it was so unlike me, and I’d tell them I had to go to my grandmother’s later so I needed to look nice”, but that changed over time:

“But as I got older it became more fun. I was able to be both people- a badass in a dress”, after all those two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. Re: any season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“As I got older and more confident I realized I could be everything”. Which is no joke. While at school homeslice broke a couple of records while captaining their D2 soccer team, took a set of teeth to her skull during a header (and continue to play with cool scars to show for it now), and completed a degree in Art History.

Of course, she would never flaunt her accomplishments out like this, that’s my job. Alex is that special type of person who gets things done, and quietly moves on to the next item without the need or expectation of glorification. It’s incredibly refreshing to be around.

As I read this shortened list of her deeds I watch as she blushes a bit, and laughs at my ‘exaggerations’. She looks at Peter, and smiles at him as he prepares us something to snack on. Peter, and Alex have been together since High School. I remember the days when he’d come sniffing around the house when they (and I) were just kids.

Years later they would cement their love in a beachside wedding.. Alex and Pete have been Alex and Pete for so long now it made perfect sense for them to forge a business together. Alex, the founder and creative spearhead of AU & Co., and Pete the CEO, and main squeeze. He’s also been promoted to main spider killer- he is very honored.

I take inventory of the next song that just came on their playlist.

“Come by me, come talk to me baby

Tell me how we can combine

Will you be my sunshine forever

Will you be a friend of mine...”

... can be heard in the background.

Both our heads pivot to the speakers, and starting moving to the big band song by Harry Connick Jr. I notice the large golden pineapple painting Alex did years ago on the wall behind her. Our conversations meandered to the summers we spent at our Grandmother’s in New Orleans where we both picked up a love for fried shrimp, jazz music, and, inexplicably, paintings of fruit. The pineapple in southern culture, for those of us who grew up above the Mason-Dixon line, symbolizes friendship and hospitality. A stranger in a new town could trust that a house with a pineapple symbol on the door would be welcome with open arms. They could also expect to be, politely, told to leave when the same sign was taken down. A subtle GTFO. Another important stroke in the painting that is Alex’s style is the southern love for color, and sharp look. If her style straddled geographic locations she would have one foot deep in California, and the other floating in the bayous of Louisiana. If she had a third foot it would probably descend on the rolling hills of Kansas where we went to school- the land of deep fall colors, and sunflowers.

We talk about the south, and the people who made it such a sweet place to visit.  The ends they would go to to make someone welcome in their home:

“That’s what we want to do”, Pete says, joining us at the table while something with a lot of onions cooks at the stove. “We want the people who buy the designs to know they’re buying from a small business, and we want them to know they can reach out too. We’re not some big store where they’re just a number, and we want to hear feedback from them. How they like the clothing? What designs would they like to see next? We want to discover who are clients are just as much as we want them to discover us”.

“Right, I really want these pieces to be something they can always trust to look good on them. If they’re having a shitty day or great day, they know that our designs won’t go to the way side when a trend ends. We got you. I want them to feel that”, Alex says looking to her husband with a smile.

“And you mentioned to me weeks ago when we first were talking about this how you wanted to make the businesses sustainable. Can you share more?”, I asked, mostly because I had forgotten, but also she seemed to put a lot of thought into it, which she did. Cause she’s an adult unlike the man-boy author (as we speak I’m eating chicken tenders from a bag trying to ignore the barbecue sauce that’s smeared on my bedsheet, looking at me, but I digress).

“The fashion world can be incredibly wasteful. So much of the resources that are needed to make clothing are just wasted when a trend goes out of style, and merchandise is taken out of stores, and thrownaway. We wanted to avoid that by, first, making clothes that will live beyond a trend line, and, second, sourcing our materials from deadstock fabric vendor”.

Deadstock fabric is the fabric left over by the mills, and garment factories that otherwise wouldn’t be used by large wholesale manufacturers.

“And you’re sourcing the fabric locally, and using local manufactures”, I add.

“Yup. I love that we can help support local businesses in the area. By relying on them for our fabric, our manufacturing, and in the process developing really great relationships with these people.”

Locally sourced, and American made (which feels like someone’s trademark- please, don’t sue me).

“And you’ve been able to navigate these waters through, well, a lot of hard work, and research, and also friends in similar markets, right?”

She laughs a little, I think it was a lot of hard work. “Totally, I have a lot of girlfriends who are small business owners who’ve shared with me some of their hard won wisdom- while also gaining my own in the process, and I want to highlight these businesses on AU & Co.’s blog”.

I marvel a bit at her. I am proud, that’s for sure. I don’t need to get into the risk of opening a small business, of the grit it takes, and the stressors of all the unknowns. We can all imagine it, and I’m sure no one is interested in reading about it. But having all this in mind, I am impressed at Alex’s grit, her resilience, and her strength. She gets all this, and a good fashion sense- dude, life is so unfair sometimes.

I finish the last of the beer, and continue to talk, but the subject veers away from business, and back to family.

“Which sibling is your favorite?”, I turn to our youngest sister, “Sophie, can you leave the room?”.

“I plead the fifth!”, Alex shouts or maybe it was “the fifth”, which would be ridiculous because William is the fifth sibling and empirically just awful. The worst. (William if you’re reading this, you read that wrong- no need to go back and read it again. Move along).

The light in the room begins to turn that golden end of day color. The cuteness of the bungalow is highlighted by the setting sun, which is my que to be on my merry way before she needed to take down the pineapple painting.

I gather my things, and give Alex & Pete a kiss goodbye. I say something about making this a quick turnaround piece, which of course I didn't, but they're forgiving.

I leave my sister’s place trying to figure out how'll I'll introduce her. How I'll explain her awesomeness to the reader. I'm not sure I ever could, but something about the warm summer night makes me feel like she'll do a fine job of it herself. So, readers, this is my sister. An amazing human whom I'm lucky to know, and here is apart of the world she has carved out where her creativity and loveliness lives. I hope you enjoy meeting her through her work, and always feel welcome introducing yourself to her.

Stay good,

Sebastian