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Special Design Issue

Little Bites

L.A.'s Leading Caterers Serve Up Some Innovative Hors D'Oeuvres

November 10, 2002|AMELIA SALTSMAN | Amelia Saltsman last wrote for the magazine about Persian mulberries.

We adore hors d'oeuvres. Just witness the popularity of "small plates" at parties around the city. Perhaps it's because these little bites transport us to a soigne world where we socialize brilliantly. But as with most things elegant, there's an art to effortless grace.

"It takes time and creativity to make something small and beautiful," says caterer Kai Loebach of Kai's European Catering and Event Design. A little goes a long way; the memory of one kimchi crab cake should haunt, leaving guests eager for the next taste. "Provide many such subtle surprises throughout the evening," says longtime caterer Andrea Bell. Loebach adds that "you create different moods and movement by having sushi in one room and hot shabu-shabu bubbling in another."

From ethnic to elegant (but not mutually exclusive), hip to homey, and budget to blowout, here's a week's worth of L.A.'s best bites.

The more-is-more Park Plaza Events does everything from million-dollar parties for Microsoft to $500 tidbits-to-go for smaller parties through their Hors D'oeuvre Store at the 1925 Syrian-Grecian-Renaissance Park Plaza Hotel (under renovation) overlooking MacArthur Park. Hotel event planner Connie Armijo and hotelier Chavi Hertz offer "square deviled eggs," coconut shrimp ceviche sips and cucumber-wrapped, tobiko-topped wasabi chicken salad.

Loebach's precision training and exuberant imagination make him popular with celebrity clients. "You have to wow guests like Brad and Jennifer," he says. Smoked salmon and creme fraiche in delicate pastry cones served in antique wooden test tube trays; indulgent Yukon gold mashed potatoes with creamed spinach and crisp prosciutto in demitasse cups; and pigs in puff pastry blankets served with green or purple ketchup are a few of the delicacies he offers. You can also have crudites "growing" from wheat grass centerpieces.

Hollywood's trendy Ammo cafe takes a more straightforward approach. "When celebrities hire us for personal events, they want cozy, relaxed parties," says catering director Wade Williams. Owner Amy Sweeney shops the farmers' markets to dish up seasonal radicchio, avocados and chives with Parmigiano-Reggiano on spicy Ammo crackers; maple-glazed duck on sweet potato chips with pomegranate; and potato pancakes with caramelized apples and cipollini compote.

At Temple, you can entertain your fashionista friends in the lounge or bring home the restaurant's Asian tapas and make your own Soju Caipirinhas (martini-like cocktails of Korean sweet potato vodka, lime, sugar and mint). Sibling restaurateurs Jun and Soyon Kim filter their native Korean appetizers through a Brazilian lens: kimchi crab cakes, crispy rock shrimp dumplings, soju-steamed mussels with Brazilian salsa, and beef sam bap (seasoned rice, miso and grilled beef in lettuce).

Angeli Caffe's Evan Kleiman has a "secret kitchen" where she veers from her normal rustic Italian cooking and turns out gutsy Middle Eastern mezze and Spanish tapas such as spiced olives, Manchego cheese with quince paste, and paprika-grilled shrimp with anchovy-stuffed olives. Other popular antipasti include a potato croquette with salami and smoked mozzarella; a saffron risotto croquette with mozzarella, eggplant and Parmiagiano-Reggiano; an herb polpette; and a radicchio-wrapped balsamic chicken with raisins and pine nuts.

Like Kleiman, Andrea Bell has been on the food scene since the early '80s. Versatile, attentive and innately elegant, her L.A. Celebrations! gets raves from everyone from Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks to bar mitzvah moms. One taste of Bell's bite-size blinis and barquettes with white asparagus, seared foie gras on brioche toast or casual crab-and-black-bean quesadillas will tell you why.

There are countless ways to amaze your friends' palates during the holiday season, whether at fantasia venues or in your own living room. Be it tray-passed or self-serve, tuxedoed or in jeans, how you choose to serve these little bites is a matter of taste.

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Resource Guide

Page 32: Bernardaud "Athena" side plate, $47, and salad plate, $52, both at Bloomingdale's; martini glass with lapis silver stem, $50, at Gearys of Beverly Hills. Caterers: Ammo, Los Angeles, (323) 467-3293; Angeli Caffe, Los Angeles, (323) 936-9086; Kai's European Catering and Event Design, Los Angeles, (310) 204-4450; L.A. Celebrations!, Los Angeles, (310) 837-8900; Park Plaza Events, Los Angeles, (213) 384-5281; Temple Restaurant and Lounge, Beverly Hills, (310) 360-9460.

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