Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

RESTAURANT + PRODUCT: Lola's/Modern Spirits Vodka Tasting Dinner

So, a friend of mine is in love with the mac'n'cheese at Lola's, on Fairfax. We both love macaroni and cheese, and are forever in search of the perfect one ... she is convinced it may be Lola's. We are constantly planning to somehow get the recipe. So, one day, I decided to just try e-mailing Lola's and seeing if they would give it to me. No dice. I never heard back. But someone obviously got my e-mail, because a couple of weeks later I received an e-mail in my inbox from Lola's, advertising their next event: a vodka tasting dinner for Modern Spirits, a local producer of flavored vodkas.

The dinner was to be seven small courses, each paired with a different flavor of vodka. But here's where it got me. The dinner was only $35 per person. $35 for seven small plate courses plus seven "tastes" of vodka all within walking distance. Okay, I'm there.

I'll admit that I don't usually go to Lola's for the food. I'm not saying that I dislike the food, just that I never thought of it as the highlight of a trip there since the cocktails seem to take center stage, and generally I order bar/comfort food, like the mac'n'cheese, or a hamburger ... stuff like that. So I'll just say in advance that I was totally blown away by the food. It was not the greatest meal I've ever had, but it was much more than what I was expecting. Very skillfully done for the price.

We arrived and were seated at a table with our name on it. Okay, I'll admit I was inordinately impressed by that. The only place I've ever had a table reserved with my name on it is at weddings and the um ... the local barbecue at home. And that was my dad's name, not mine. Above our table you could see the bottles of vodka displayed in the bar window, thusly:

The labels were really cute ... a simple and modern design. J. didn't like the font they used, which was a little art deco looking, but I did. I like anything art deco.

The makers of the vodka were there and greeted everyone personally, taking time to chat as if this were a home dinner party they were hosting. It was a nice touch.

First Course: Celery Peppercorn Vodka with a Spicy Boiled Chilled Shrimp over mixed baby greens tossed in a Bloody Mary Vinaigrette: The vodka definitely tasted of celery, quite clearly, so I think this flavor would make a kick-ass bloody mary if you're into that kind of thing. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more pepper flavor in this. I was looking forward to a little kick but didn't really get it.

The salad was, well ... a salad. I was worried about the vinaigrette because I'm not really a tomato fan. I know! I'm the only person in the known universe who hates tomatoes. I wish it wasn't the case, but it is. According to my mom it has to do with the unfortunate convergence of the stomach flu and a large helping of spaghetti when I was very young. Ew. I'll take her word for it. But this dressing was really good! I loved it. It was quite savory for a vinaigrette and not soggy.

Second Course: Candied Ginger Vodka with Teriyaki Beef Tartar on a Lotus Root Chip with a Soy Ginger Glaze:
This was probably my second favorite vodka flavor. It is very dependent on how much you like ginger because the ginger flavor is STRONG. I happen to love ginger so I loved this. It went well with the Asian flavors in the beef and lotus root.

The beef was really tender and the lotus root was out of control. It tasted like a japanese potato chip. Seriously. It tasted like a potato chip but the glaze gave it a distinctinctly japanese flavor. I could eat a bowl of them with a cold beer and be totally content.

Third Course: Pear Lavendar Vodka with a Grilled Pork Loin with Apple Sauce & a spoon of Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes:
The pear lavendar vodka didn't have the strong flavors I was looking for in this one. I love the aroma of lavendar and was looking for a strong lavendar aroma with an embracing sweetness in the flavor. But to be honest, I didn't taste the pear at all, although the lavendar was definitely there. I liked the lavendar ... but would have liked to notice the pear more.

I'm not a huge pork fan ... but this was okay. I can't really judge because it's not a meat I like all that much. I loved the goat cheese mashed potatoes, but there was no way I wasn't going to love that. I've never met a mashed potato, or a glop of goat cheese that I didn't like. I think I didn't so much eat it, as snorfle it all up in one breath like an anteater.

Fourth Course: Grapefruit Honey Vodka with White Wine Poached Salmon with a Citrus Beurre Blanc topped with flash fried Spinach:
Strange ... I believe I liked this vodka flavor, but as time has gone by, it is probably the least memorable flavor of the night. I love grapefruit and I love honey, but my tastebuds do not remember this.

Maybe because this dish was the best. I'm not a salmon person ... I'm one of those heathens who likes my fish to be ... well ... less fishy. I know, heretical. But it's me. And when haven't I been little blasphemous? But this was beautiful ... the citrus beurre blanc was delicate, but strongly flavored enough to satisfy me. The flash fried spinach was YUM. Basically, fried anything is good to me, but this was like gourmet frying. These delicate little pieces of spinach are fried, yet intact. Genius.

Fifth Course: Tea Vodka with Grilled Curried Lamb Sate with a spoon of spicy creamed Lentils:
I was curious about the tea flavor of vodka, because we recently purchased some Qi, tea liqueur and it's ... weird. It tastes ... smoky. It always makes me feel like barbecue, but it's supposed to be tea, not liquid smoke! But this tea flavor tasted exactly like tea. I really liked it. Imagine tea. That's what this is like. It's probably the most unique and exotic flavored vodka I have ever had.

The lamb was good, but honestly after my lamb experience at Lucques, this just had no chance.

Sixth Course: Black Truffle Vodka with Hard Cheese & Melon plate with a Balsamic reduction:
This was my favorite vodka of the evening. Of course. This one is twice as expensive as the others. I always hone in on that one. But it was so good. I expected something earthy and this was, but it was a lot sweeter and more delicate than I had expected. In addition to the distinctive truffle flavor, it was veryu chocolate-y and vanilla-y. I thought this actually would have been excellent with the aforementioned Lola's mac n' cheese.

The cheese was very good ... I didn't catch the cheesemaker, but know that there was a provolone and a chedder and ... others. I actually do remember agreeing with J. that the grapefruit and honey flavor would have gone perfectly with the cheese course, even though I can't remember how that vodka tasted now.

Seventh Course: Chocolate Orange Vodka with Chocolate Pate with caramelized Orange segments:
Um, delicious. It tasted exactly like what it was supposed to taste like, and there was no way I wasn't going to like this dessert. Please, chocolate and oranges? Bring it.

Here's a picture of the last course. I was seeing a bit more clearly than this , but not much:

At some point, the chef came out to say hi. Actually, was brought out. He was a young man, with a rock and roll goatee, who looked like he wanted to get back to his kitchen post-haste. I opened my mouth to ask about the mac and cheese ... it was my big chance! But he looked so shy that I just chickened out and thanked him for the great meal. He smiled and then looked around. Seeing that no one was paying attention to him at the moment, he practically ran back to the kitchen.

The vodka makers also came around several times during the meal to chat and were super friendly. All in all, it was an excellent meal for the price and the vodkas were great. I'm kind of glad I got on the Lola's mailing list and hopefully some more great value events like that will come along.

And for anyone who's keeping tabs, I know my birthday's almost a year away now, but I would love a bottle of black truffle vodka for my next one. Also, Modern Spirits holds vodka tasting dinners regularly. They have an event calendar on their website, which I know I will be checking.

Modern Spirits Vodka

945 N. Fairfax Ave. (bet. Melrose & Santa Monica)
(213) 736-5652



Okay, first, why am I in the dark about Lolas??? Where have I been? Who turned out the lights?

Second, that meal/event/tasting/whatever sounded like so much fun! I infuse vodka at home and some of these flavors will definately be tested in the future. One of my favorite combinations is honeydew and pear. Quite nice. Also, I've done lavendar in the past and the flavor is pronounced. I think I want to pair lavendar with lychees in the next go-round (weird, but that's me).

Third...okay, is anybody else around? *whispering* I don't like tomatoes either. I'll actually eat them in something (salsa for example I can shovel in my mouth with a John Deere) but I don't want a chunk sitting in my salad, or on my sandwich, etc. Also, my bigger and weirder secret is that I can't stand eggs! Nope. Uh-uh. Ugh.

said by Acme Instant Food at 9:47 AM Delete

Well, the thing about Lola's is that the drinks are awesome ... the food is good. The crowd, however, can sometimes be ... um ... not to my liking. It's best to go with a group, plan on ordering food and get a table. Otherwise you could find yourself in Hollywood hell.

If you're already over in the West Hollywood area, it's a really decent bet for good "martinis" in a plethora of fascinating flavors. Especially if you're also craving a mac'n'cheese with lots of cheesy and one of those baked crusty tops.

said by KT at 12:45 PM Delete

Go to Citizen Smith and try the jalapeno mac & cheese! aarrrrghhhhhhhhh *drooling a'la Homer)

said by Acme Instant Food at 2:43 PM Delete

Wow! That sounds so good!

I have not had the real version yet, but a friend made Mimosa's mac'n'cheese with gruyere and prosciutto for me and it was out of this world. Still need to go see if the real thing measures up to the homecooked version.

said by KT at 3:59 PM Delete

i'm surprised you had such a good food experience at Lola's. in my experience there, the food has always been lackluster, and even the sangria, which is a popular item there, is just ok in my book. the best part about it seems to be the plentiful outdoor seating, which is good for (occasional) smokers like me, but otherwise it kinda blows. just my pesos.

said by Milla at 3:29 PM Delete

Milla: Are we talking about the same place? I do not remember outdoor seating ... nor sangria. Are you talking about Lala's? If so ... I have only eaten there once, but the skirt steak with chimichurri was decent.

said by KT at 4:20 PM Delete

dang, am i ever retarded. i was talking about Lala's and that's on Melrose, not Fairfax. apologies all around for the unsolicited hating. i'll be quiet now.

said by Milla at 8:44 AM Delete

They have similar names, and are in the same neighborhood, I can see why you would be confused ... please don't be quiet!

said by KT at 9:48 AM Delete

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