The COVID-19 crisis has turned just about every aspect of daily life on its head, but at the same time, has shined the spotlight on selflessness, charity, and the ability for people to mobilize with unprecedented speed. Amidst his pandemic, an unlikely partnership has formed, one which exemplifies all three of the aforementioned attributes. LA Family Housing (LAFH) is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people out of homelessness. Redbird and its adjacent event space, Vibiana, represent upscale Modern American fare and lavish happenings, bringing more than 1,000 of LA’s finest under one roof in a single evening [remember those days?].
Now, Redbird is using its kitchen and staff to cook up more than 1300 meals each day for LAFH’s clients. With event operations suspended and a culinary infrastructure built for high volume, this fine dining establishment is seizing the opportunity to do some good in the world.
“The second it became clear about how serious this [crisis] was, we immediately thought about how we could take care of our employees and contribute to the community,” said Amy Knoll Fraser, Co-Owner of Redbird and Vibiana. She runs the restaurant and event space with her husband and Executive Chef, Neal Fraser.
Knoll Fraser was introduced to Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President and CEO of LAFH, through foodie event host Billy Harris.
“It was a Wednesday, and I was talking to one of my board members. We knew that with their kids being home and loss of employment, access to food was going to be challenging for our clients,” Klasky-Gamer said. LAFW refers to the individuals and families they serve as clients. “He said let me make a call. 90 minutes later, I was talking to Billy [Harris] and he put Amy on the line.”
“By Friday night, we had 1300 meals. It was amazing.”
Logistics came together at breakneck speed. LAFH’s long-term food partners came through with ingredients fit for nutritious meals, alongside other food suppliers bringing inventory from restaurants that couldn’t make use of it. Redbird hit the ground running, preparing hundreds of meals at a time with whatever made its way into the kitchen.
“We do 600 events a year. We’re set up for volume,” Knoll Fraser said. With her calm demeanor, you’d never guess she’d handled such a massive undertaking in such a short amount of time. “To be able to pull this off for our culinary team is not as challenging as it sounds.”
A 10-person kitchen crew churns out meals as efficiently as a NASCAR pit crew changes out a car, with a facilities manager responsible for packaging everything as it comes off the line. Meals are packaged in double portions where possible to save on plastic. Most of this work is completed by 11am.
Two trucks ship the food to LAFH’s main campus in North Hollywood. By 2pm, it’s loaded up in cars that drive out to clusters of clients sprawled across LA. The goal is to have every meal delivered to some 450 clients and their families by 4:30pm. And while the operation runs like clockwork, it’s perhaps an even bigger shift for LAFH as it is for Redbird.
“We’ve never delivered food to [clients] before, and it’s the same families we’ve worked with for years,” Klasky-Gamer said. “This is something we want to keep up. They’re not getting access to healthy meals, even in the best of times.”
The benefits are tallying up for LAFH. They’ve increased their engagement time between clients and their ‘housing navigators,’ or those responsible for helping individuals and families secure permanent housing. They also opened three new shelters in less than two weeks, with a forth coming as of the time of this writing.
“We’ve never done anything like that in that time frame. Developing protocols and staffing structures is a very different operation that we’ve had in the past,” Klasky-Gamer said. “We’ve brought all these people inside that we’ve been looking to do for years. We had washing stations outside encampments within 3 days…we were never able to do that before.”
For LAFH, the COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst for swift movement. For Redbird, it’s another example of the team’s ability to handle just about anything the times throw at them, as well as a chance to give back to the community in a new and different way.
“Homelessness is something we’ve been trying to figure out how to help with for a long time. We were in talks with the Mayor to create a chefs collective and a fundraiser,” Fraser Knoll said. “We want to figure out how to keep a program like this going. It’ll be challenging once we’re back at full speed, but having it in some capacity would be great.”
For more information on how you can help or to donate, please visit LAFH.org.
Nestled on the corner of 12th and Grand, just a stone’s throw from the Staple’s Center, sits barcito. Make no mistake about this Argentinian-focused, haute spot: while Latin flavors run through barcito’s veins, the menu holds elements of classic American comfort to make just about any patron feel right at home. In similar fashion, a novel drink menu sports a broad selection of specialty cocktails, including beer and wine cocktails, that pack a hell of a punch.
Oh yeah, the vibe here is ‘very LA,’ with groups sporting everything from chic formal wear all the way down to well-worn hoodies. The place perfectly caters to all crowds, agendas, and lifestyles that intertwine amidst the hustle and bustle of DTLA. The long bar is perfect for groups and party-goers, while pockets of candlelit tables catering to date nights and intimate groups.
barcito’s food menu is just large enough to provide strong variety, but small enough for each dish to have been perfected over time. The attention to detail shows in a starter as pure and simple as bread & butter, where barcito’s grandma’s bread holds simply the perfect hearty texture made all the more beautiful with a cultured butter topped with sea salt. Throw in some ultra-premium serrano ham and fresh burrata and you could almost call it a night. But of course, barcito goes much further than that.
Empanadas are undoubtedly a staple here. Whether shredded pork, ground beef, or artichoke heart, each comes with its own distinct presentation, but all go perfectly with a bright & creamy chimichurri. Bridging the elements of Argentine and American cuisines are items like the Breakfast Salad, where chorizo, avocado, and perfectly fried egg come together atop fresh greens for a dish suitable for any health-crazed millennial who also has a refined palate. Going even further into Americanized, yet globalized fare is the hot chicken sandwich, where an ever-so-light breading locks in an ever-so-juicy piece of chicken, accompanied by a colorful carrot and purple cabbage slaw and a creamy, spicy honey-infused sauce. And if you come at the right time, the animal-style fries are an upscale take on their namesake, with tender shortrib and chimichurri putting an intriguing spin on things.
barcito backs up its name with a strong drink lineup. Each cocktail incorporates elements of timeless classics with a touch (or sometimes a heavy dose) of something new. Take the flower street, where vodka, lavender-vanilla, lemon and egg white come together to create a slightly sweet taste and bold character. Their house-made shandy, with citrus-blonde ale and ginger lemonade go down smooth, as does a beautifully mixed spritzer with Aperol, lemon and sparkling wine. Other cocktails feature ingredients such as pez powder, maple and tajin, with new concoctions arriving on a regular basis.
Whether you’re at barcito for food, drink, or both, the dulce de leche churros will undoubtedly make your night. An airy batter with deep pockets houses more cinnamon sugar than thought possible, and – as if that wasn’t sweet enough – an addictive dulce de leche sauce turns a good dessert into a knock-out dish.
barcito is located at 403 W 12th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Open 11a – 11p Sun/Mon, 11a – midnight Tue – Sat. Avg. out-the-door cost for small plate, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$60/person. For more info call (213) 415-1821 or visit barcitoLA.com.
Taste of Italy will see its 11th year in Downtown Los Angeles, transforming the plaza surrounding the historic El Pueblo monument and across from Union Station into an Italian Piazza for one very special night. Benefitting the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA), Taste of Italy is set to bring it a who’s-who of Italian restaurants and wineries from throughout the city.
IAMLA provided a sneak preview of some of the tastes to behold at the festival, with a pairing menu at Hermosa Beach’s Sosta, a Taste of Italy participant. Opening last year under longtime South Bay Italian Chef Luca Manderino, Sosta showcases homey favorites alongside inventive creations. Crudo di branzino, heavenly prosciutto and seared ribeye were a few crowd favorites, but ultimately it was the house-made gnocchi al gorgonzola that took the cake. We can only hope that such velvety, melt-in-your-mouth potato pillows make their way to the main stage.
Wines served included Custodi Belloro Orvieto D.O.C. Classico, 2015; Tenuta Carretta Nebbiolo, 2017; and Cascina Adelaide Barolo, 2013. Expect pours from PRP Wine International, San Antonio Winery, Lyra Fine Wine Importers and Castoro Cellars, among others, at Taste of Italy.
Additional restaurants are set to include Factory Kitchen, Celestino Ristorante, Drago Centro, Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse and Jazz Club, Osteria Cal Mare, Brera and Black Market Gelato, among many others.
Taste of Italy is set to take place from 5 – 10pm on Satruday, Oct. 12, with an expected attendance of 2,500 people. Proceeds go to The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to showcasing the ongoing contributions of Italian Americans in Southern California and the nation. IAMLA is located in DTLA’s Italian Hall, constructed in 1908 and is among the oldest remaining structures from Los Angeles’ historic Little Italy. More information and tickets for Taste of Italy available at IAMLA.org/Taste-of-Italy.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.