The food-and-wine benefit held this weekend at a Hollywood film studio for The Saban Free Clinic was a great success, earning several hundred thousand dollars for that esteemed organization. I have a very warm spot in my heart for the Clinic, whose five locations uniquely serve men, women and children of all ages in the Los Angeles area without regard to race, creed, ethnic background or sexual orientation. They are the medical/dental/psychiatric clinic of last regard for the uninsured, the working class poor, the homeless, high-risk youths (especially runaways) and others who are unable to access health care and human services elsewhere. And we all know that, with budgetary cutbacks so steep, normal county, city and state resources are so strained that those people on the bottom stratas are mostly left stranded. Their Beverly Health Center (8405 Beverly Blvd at Orlando) is a focus of disaffected, hopeless people who have no other place to turn for health care. There are two other satellite locations, on Hollywood Blvd. and on Melrose Avenue, as well as the Wallis Annenberg Children and Family Health Center in the Melrose area. There is also the Health Center at Hollywood High School for students. They all operate under the banner: Health Care Is a Right, Not a Privilege.
I first found out about the Los Angeles Free Clinic (originally called the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Clinic) when friends Joe and Caroline Sargent took me to the fledgling health center where they contributed in the late sixties. Then it was treating the hippy kids, runaways, flower children and dropouts who had flocked to our Sunset Strip during the 'Summer of Love.' Long lines formed every morning as they waited to see the volunteer physicians. Many had drug and sexual problems. Soon the homeless began coming... and the facilities were overwhelmed. Actor James Colburn and wife Beverly became involved and raised significant funds to help keep the doors open. The clinic served 110,000 people in the first three years they were open. Elvis Presley gave them a check for $10,000 in 1970, and then Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert of A&M Records donated a like amount for a drug abuse counseling service. They grew into new facilities serving a large, needy population. In 1990 they opened the Seniel Ostrow Building on Beverly and Senator Ted Kennedy officiated; it was the first building in the country built specifically as a free health clinic. In the spring of 2008, the Los Angeles Free Clinic received an extraordinary $10 million endowment from philanthropists Cheryl and Haim Saban and it was renamed The Saban Free Clinic. Forty-three years after first opening its doors, The Saban Free Clinic now provides health care to some 90,000 people a year, operating with a $14 million budget, a committed staff of 200, and between 400-600 volunteers. I'm not a very religious man, but having visited and donated to them over the years, I think these people -- paid workers and volunteers -- are doing God's work.
The lasagna from Chef Gino Angelini was, for me, the most memorable dish of the evening.
The annual benefit at the Sunset Gower Studios, called Extravaganza for the Senses, features 40 restaurants and 60 wine-and-spirit companies. I will touch upon some of the highlights, and hope I will be forgiven for not mentioning many other worthy participants. In that connection, do you ever remember eating a dish so delicious, so succulently enticing, that you find yourself remembering it for days after? Well, that happened to me on Saturday night... with the lasagna from Angelini Osteria (7313 Beverly Blvd, (323) 297-0070). Gino Angelini is considered the dean of this city's Italian chefs, a man whom other chefs look up to as the master, and his small trattoria on Beverly across from the awful El Coyote is always full of food-loving Angelenos. This lasagna, dished from a large serving pan, is layers of thin pasta sheets alternating with spicy pork-and-beef crumbles and drenched with a silky béchemal sauce. I was so stunned by its luxurious flavor that I went back for a second serving, asking for the corner segment which had been slightly burned and crusted. Awesome, unforgettable. I will be dining there shortly.
Brats Bros. in Sherman Oaks serves all manners of delicious sausages; I love the bratwurst.
A fellow named Cary Earle has a catering company near USC, Earlez Grill Catering, which does large and small parties all over town, and he was serving up beef, turkey and vegetable hot dogs. Since I am a Pink's devotee, I almost passed it by... but then went back and had an all-beef hot dog which, I then learned, was from Sabrett's in New York, with a natural casing which snapped as you bit into it. Served with a warm bun, sauerkraut and onions, it brought back memories of dining off a cart on Fifth Avenue and walking down the avenue while savoring the garlicky dog. From there, I went up to Brats Brothers Gourmet Sausage Grill (13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks) and had a sampling of three different sausages.
Chef Merko Paderno of the Oliverio Restaurant at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills.
A fellow named Fabio Conti served me a generous plate of two different fusilli pastas, and after I tasted them I asked for a card... his The Fabiolus Café (6270 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood (323) 467-2882) offers authentic homemade Italian cuisine and, yes, I will also dine there. Chef Merko Paderno of Oliverio Restaurant in the Avalon Hotel on Olympic Blvd. in Beverly Hills served another plate of delicious pasta, and I was pasta-ed out.
The beautiful and talented Suzanne Tracht of Jar served a luscious chocolate parfait dessert.
My sparkling drink of choice is always the rich, bubbly Laetitia Brut Reserve from Arroya Grande.
There's a wonderful cookie shop in Culver City called Platine (877-866-0696) which makes these superb handcrafted cookies in small batches using all-natural ingredients; I send them to friends as gifts all the time, and tonight I had a few. Suzanne Tracht, the brilliant chef/owner of Jar Restaurant, served me some luscious chocolate crème brulee for dessert as I sipped on Fiji Water and Pom Juice. Since I had prudently invited my friends/reviewing team of Penny McTaggart and David Rapoport and they drove, I was able to indulge myself with a glass (or two) of the fabulous, sparkling Laetitia Brut and the deeply satisfying Justin Wine's Cabernet. Yes, as usual I overate, but I reasoned that it was for such a good cause that my body (and doctor) would forgive me. If not, I may need a visit to the Clinic.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues), just email him at email@example.com.
Follow Jay Weston on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaywestonsbcglo