My superhero chef

CRW_4264trenchestrenchesValentine’s Day is such a sweet day for us at Ba. It is a busy time for restaurants, and it is a day for thinking about those we love.

I want to post something today in honor of the man I love, the man behind Ba, who asked me to marry him with a brass ferule nut as an engagement ring on Valentine’s Day 18 years ago. He is a chef, he is an artist, he is a storyteller, and he is a superhero.

James recorded many stories in this blog about how he built Ba with his own two hands. He cut up and removed old slabs of concrete, dug the trenches for the drain lines, installed the toilets and the kitchen sinks, and built the walls around the kitchen and bathrooms while also building a community. It was a project born out of love, determination, and recovery. This year marks three years since Ba opened, and five years since James was knocked off his motorcycle and run over by a truck on the 110 Freeway. The fact that he is still with us, and standing, is proof of his super powers.

James is Wolverine. He has the superhuman ability to heal. His pelvis was crushed and his femoral arteries nearly severed, and yet he survived. James is Spiderman. To trace possible places of infection they irradiated his blood. James is Ironman. He came home from the hospital with a carbon fiber frame screwed into his hip bones, and a twelve inch long bolt through his pelvis. Eight months after the accident, still using a cane to walk, he signed the lease on the space that would be Ba. A few months later, he did his first handstand against the dining room wall. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows how physically demanding it is, and James prepared his body for it doing construction.

If you have eaten at Ba, you know the love that goes into his food. The 23 years that we have spent together are mapped in my mind by the meals he has prepared for me. One Valentine’s Day he closed a dining room at Grill, the restaurant we opened together in Tucson, so that we could share a meal of lobster ravioli with raspberry beurre blanc sauce that I still dream about.

James, man of my dreams, you inspire and awe me. Happy Valentine’s Day.




I thought I had shared this when it got published a few months ago but I guess I forgot. So here it is! Thanks Eastside Food Bites! An excellent Blog site. I am proud to be on there.

Brunch is in full effect this weekend with several more gluten free choices, like poached eggs with crabmeat on heirloom tomatoes and spinach! Come on by Ba!

Highland Park: Brunch at Ba Restaurant

by Eastside Food Bites on January 31, 2013 · 1 comment

in Brunch,French,Highland Park

When Ba Restaurant opened on York Boulevard almost a year ago, it gave a decided yank to Highland Park’s gentrification tightrope. Part of the new wave of restaurants and shops on the neighborhood’s trendiest street, the French restaurant came on the scene with a teeny menu of 20-something dollar entrees and without the populist bent of fellow newcomer Maximiliano.

Despite some detractors who view the relatively fancy restaurant as a foreshadowing to a Silver Lake-like future, Ba seems to have found an audience. And now, they’re even serving weekend brunch, which is a good option if you, like me, have been weary of the nighttime price points.

The vibe mid-morning Sunday is quiet, casual and friendly. The menu features a small selection of egg options, plus two sweet: apple pancakes and brioche french toast with wonderfully crispy edges—its the kind of dish that you think you’ll only eat half of, but you end up scraping the plate. A healthier portion of fruit would make it perfect, but at this point, they’re only giving out a couple of grapes. Real maple syrup is a decent concession, though.

Eggwise, there’s a lot to be contemplated. Going the way of the omellete gets you marguez lamb sausage and mimolette cheese (a French cheddar) or salmon, goat cheese and herbs folded into fluffy eggs. The benedict trades ham for lox, which still provides that salty finish but is ever so slightly lighter. Even better is the crab on brioche—you still get the benefit of a well-balanced hollandaise and yolky poached egg, but you get to eat lump crab.

Now that I tasted both the sweet and savory side of brunch at Ba, my next visit will bring some inevitable hand wringing. But, who knows? Maybe my next meal at Ba will be dinner because I think I’ve gotten the nudge I need to cough up the dough for a little Beef Bourguignon.


Ba Restaurant
5100 York Boulevard
Los Angeles, 90042
Open ’til Midnight Thurs-Saturday.

Waiting for Mimi

When I was a young up and comer in the kitchens of Manhattan, the one person whose opinion mattered more than anyone else to me was Mimi Sheraton, then the restaurant critic for the New York Times. There was no food network, blogs, or yelp. There was only Mimi. She awarded the stars, no one else. If she awarded you a star, or two, it was because you earned it and proved your worth under her very demanding criteria. She was not impressed by fame or flashy decor. To earn her praise you had to be a serious professional schooled in the traditional techniques and you had to do something new with those skills.

If she panned your restaurant you folded up shop and switched careers. That was that. We respected that. We admired, and feared her because she was so educated in what she did. She earned degrees in journalism at NYU, and studied cooking and cuisine all over the world. She is a gourmand, an anthropologist, and above all a writer who can describe why something is good, or why something has failed. Ms Sheraton set the standards that I still observe in my restaurant, and that I still demand from my staff.

Soon after Sheraton left her post Bryan Miller, himself an experienced chef, took over as the New York Times Restaurant Critic and went on to have the longest tenure at that post. He enforced the star system rigorously and understood its importance. I was working for Francesco Antonucci at Alo Alo when Miller gave him three stars. That morning hundreds of people lined up at the door to taste what had been canonized. They did not come to challenge, or to critique, or to yelp, and blog. The critic had already spoken and now they came to enjoy. Antonucci tried to play it cool. But I could tell, he had the look of a man who was in the same fraternity as Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin. The feeling of an unimpeachable success. Not even a chefs insecurity could dissolve the validity of his talent that was proven by THREE FUCKING STARS from the New York Times.

Here in Los Angeles we have the best food writers in the world, one of whom has received their validation. But we also live in a world of Yelp, a place where every person feels their restaurant review is important, despite their lack of education, in the  culinary arts, or writing,   We now have people like Candace R. who writes of us on yelp: ”
Honestly, Ba is trying just a little too hard. Don’t put a fancy restaurant in Highland Park. Quit trying to think you cram such a small place into a restaurant and make it worth it. I will not be returning unfortunately.”    In her defense the Ba wine list is notorious for inspiring regrettable phone calls and e-mails. In my defense Candace gave The Cheesecake Factory five stars. But the truth is, this kind of negativity really hurts, emotionally and financially. We insist that cooking be left to the professionals, so it is not a stretch to suggest that writing too should be as well. We have been serving for over six  months now and I think we are getting good at it. We anxiously await our first review, and good or bad we will accept it. We hope that you base your judgement of us on the words of a highly educated and experienced professional food writer, not the words of Candace R.

Candy tells me!


The Weekend Guide

santa monica craft fair!


Get crafty.

Santa Monica Craft Fair
Knock out holiday shopping early with locally designed baubles from Kathryn Bentley and All for the Mountain, stained glass panels by David Scheid, bags made with deadstock fabrics by Me & Arrow, handmade Rachel Craven linens, indigo dye kits from Noon Design, fresh Treat Street cookies, and more.
Why: Twenty percent of profits benefits the Wright Institute of Los Angeles.
When: Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: 2424 Fourth St., at Hollister Ave., Santa Monica.

The Quest by Hayley Starr
Discover all the artist-cum-designer’s favorite things, from her convertible dresses and one-of-a-kind gowns to charms, natural beauty products, and limited-edition skateboards co-designed by local artist Jack McCann.
Why: Get the lay of the virtual land at the just-launched
When: Mon.-Wed., by appt.; Thurs.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: 2122 Lincoln Blvd., b/t Amoroso Pl. & Victoria Ave., Venice (310-360-9711).

Independent Label Market
Some of the coolest record labels in the world (Mad Decent, Iamsound, Anti) join forces so you can snag rare releases, dance off brunch (see below) with surprise appearances, and discover your soon-to-be favorite band straight from the source.
Why: Think Pandora meets the farmers market.
When: Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Micheltorena Elementary School, 1511 Micheltorena St., at W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake.

Brunch at Ba Restaurant
Start your day with a getaway to the French countryside via classic provincial dishes made with seasonal produce and Cali flair.
Why: Cornish hen and chive omelet with creme fraiche, wild mushroom brulee with Brie, and pain au chocolat served with a glass (or two) of champagne.
When: Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 5100 York Blvd., at N. Avenue 51, Highland Park (323-739-6243).

Ziba Beauty’s Art of Threading Studio
The brand that introduced threading to the States opens its first in-store concept at NewBeauty in Fred Segal.
Why: A $5 brow threading on your first visit.
When: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., noon-6 p.m.
Where: 500 Broadway, at Fifth St., Santa Monica (310-394-8509).

Photo: Digital Vision / Getty Images

Hey neighbor!

Eating and drinking up and down York Boulevard

Al pastor and carne asada huaraches

It used to be that dining on York Boulevard in Highland Park was exclusively about eating tacos. Times are changing, though, and many varied cafés, restaurants and bars now dot the street, covering you from morning to night.

Morning: There’s no better place in Highland Park to sit and linger over a cup of coffee (or cascara) than the nearly four-year-old Café de Leche. Next door, at the newly opened Highland Café, you can eat something more substantial, including Mexican-influenced breakfast dishes like chilaquiles, the fried tortillas doused in a smoldering chile sauce.

Noon: Taco tables line York Boulevard at night, but during the daytime the destination for Mexican food is a permanent restaurant, Huarache Azteca Restaurante. The fried lengths of masa from which the restaurant takes its name are the star; the iteration scattered with carne asada ($2.50) is our favorite.

Night: Fusion Burgers brought the Umami Burger aesthetic to York in April. The pork burger, in deference to the neighborhood, is spiced like the trompo of al pastor you might find on the street, and topped with a round of grilled pineapple. And for dessert? Some brown-bread ice cream from Scoops, which debuted its Eastern outpost last month.

Read more:

Who’s the Man?

Barack Obama. That’s who.

I am not in love with this guy, and some of the stuff he does just confuses the hell out of me, but I must give credit where it is due. During the 2008 campaign he promised to make funds available to start up small business’s. Seems like a no brainer but the government traditionally does not do that. It guarantees loans to existing small business’s but start ups are another matter. It almost never loans money to restaurants, viewing them as too risky. Unless they are part of a corporate chain like McDonalds with proven success records. Even though corporate franchises destroy local economy’s to support multi national corporations.
The current White House administration made good on that promise and put out a few hundred million dollars to use for small business start ups. Long story short: I applied, I got approved and I created 10 jobs and in the first four months of business I have moved more than $60,000 through the local economy, most of that in payroll.

The white house also created very significant tax breaks for equipment and fixture purchases, which I am enjoying. It has also created very serious payroll tax breaks for my workers, who don’t make that much truth be told, but they are good jobs. The GOP has fought those payroll tax breaks very hard because they do not include provisions for the wealthy. Really I’m not making that up.

Aside from our French wine and Belgium beer almost everything we buy comes from within California. Aside from the Home Depot all our building materials come from independent , local suppliers. We have paid over $6,000 in State Sales tax, and way more in City and County fees.

I built my restaurant by myself, with help and money from my friends and family, but the federal government loaned me $100,000 to work with and I used that money to create jobs and pay taxes.

Just sayin.



Follow me?!?

A Shepherd to Follow

Highland Park’s new French restaurant

Maybe it was written in the stars.

James Graham was teaching fifth graders at the Griffith Observatory when the inspiration to open Ba Restaurant struck.

Located in a former bakery on York Boulevard, Ba is the latest indication of Highland Park’s rapid gentrification. Graham’s wife, Julia Latané, who works as a preparator at the Autry National Center, fashioned the room with a glass front and a chandelier frame covered with flying cherubs.

Graham, a Brooklyn native, cooked at such Manhattan restaurants as WPA, Chuck Howard’s and Gianni’s in the 1980s. He brings those cooking chops to his French-inspired menu, which includes dishes like potato leek soup ($9) that sports an enlightening circle of crème fraîche. A far-from-traditional duck cassoulet (pictured; $21) incorporates wild rice, pulled duck meat and skin, and such accompaniments as carrots, cashews, green apple and sage. Sweet, plump grilled prawns ($22) are served shelled, with a slab of fennel, firm asparagus spears, and finishing touches of dill and lemon juice.

Credit pastry chef Mika McDonald with desserts like an airy crème brûlée ($8) topped with whipped cream, mango and diced kiwi.

As we learned, the restaurant is called Ba, but we don’t have to eat like sheep.

Ba Restaurant, 5100 York Blvd., Highland Park; 323-739-6243 or

Really famous!

May 16, 2012
French Kissed
Ba opens in Highland Park

It was almost called Le Singe et Le Violon Contreplaqué.

Good thing owner and chef James Graham questioned how Google-able that might be and went with his second choice: Ba.

Everything else about Ba is just as abbreviated: The tiny French restaurant is just 900 square feet of simple charm — concrete floors, paisley curtains, art by CB1-represented artists.

The menu offers just four apps, four entrees, and four desserts that change seasonally.

Flavors are where Ba goes big, with fragrant, flavorful dishes duck liver mousse with caramelized onions, a classic beef bourguignonne, and tarragon chicken.

Close the deal with the chocolate mousse in almond tuile.

Pair up with a French wine or craft beer, both of which also come from very short lists.

So thankfully, you won’t need to read much French.
Restaurant Ba
Open now
5100 York Blvd. (N. Ave 51), Highland Park
(323) 739-6243

Price: 3 (out of 4) Noise: 2 (out of 4)
Parking: Street
Scene: Third dates, Francophiles, and Highland Park elite
Best bets: Swiss chard; beef bourguignonne; chocolate mousse
Hot seat: A two-top in the back
Nearby: The York; Little Cave; Verdugo


Hey were famous!

Marc Maron, funny man, stand up comedian, host of the ultra popular podcast WTF, came in for dinner the other night with his lovely girlfriend Jessica. They seemed to like everything and they were both super nice. He gave us a big shout out on his show today, where he interviews Craig Furgusen! If you have not caught his show I highly recommend it, though the language is a little salty so use those earphones if you are at work.