y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: March 2012

Renzini Underground Dinner

On top of Chef Renzo Pinillos' catering company, he hosts an occasional underground dinner in his own home in Southbay area of L.A. After stints at restaurants such as JiRaffe, Chef Renzo pepares modern Peruvian cuisine, influenced with Asian touches.

The food reminded me of Mo-Chica, but perhaps a bit lighter, reflecting local California style.

Renzini Feb12_o Chef Renzo Pinillo 2

Renzini Feb12_e Donna with Renzo's daughter

I'm a huge fan of underground dinners as my previous posts show, but this one really stood out to me. I loved to see his wife in the kitchen as sous chef and his adorable daughter, Francesca, playing in her room then  mingling a bit.

Renzini Feb12_c kitchen sign

The general vibe transported me to Latin America. The room was peppered with Peruvian guests who not only contributed to a festive ambiance, they helped answer questions about the ingredients.

Renzini Feb12_k live musicians

They even managed to provide live music in the fully packed room.

Renzini Feb12_b menu with pisco

While they completed finishing touches in the kitchen, we perused the printed menu and enjoyed a couple of pours of Pisco, Peru's national drink.

Renzini Feb12_d amuse crab shrimp fish nuggets tamarindo sauce

The amuse bouche came out family style - crab meat, shrimp and fish nuggets with Saigon style tamarindo sauce. Our table devoured these warm, crunchy seafood nuggets. The herbs and sauce complemented them well.

The table also contained bread, a Peruvian chili sauce and a bowl of toasted white corn, another Peruvian staple.

Renzini Feb12_f tuna tiradito with aji amarillo tiger milk Peruvian beans Canchita salad

The 1st course started off with a bang - tuna tiradito with aji amarillo tiger milk, peruvian beans and canchita salad with arugula.

The freshness, tart pickled red onions, crunch from the toasted corn and hit of chile sauce worked like a symphony in the mouth.

Renzini Feb12_g pisco sours

Mini Pisco Sours were passed from a tray at this point. This Peruvian cocktail contains Pisco, the national grape brandy along with a lime-frothy consistency. It's a very refreshing drink.

Renzini Feb12_h kitchen corn detail

Renzini Feb12_i kitchen photography corn

Renzini Feb12_j Chef Renzo Pinillo 1

In the kitchen, they didn't miss a beat as several of us watched them and shot several photos of the food in progress. Chef Renzo explained some ingredients and techniques as he cooked.

Renzini Feb12_l wild Peruvian mahi mahi with chimichurri potatoes corn peas

The 2nd course of wild peruvian perico (mahi-mahi) with chemichurri from Los Andes, nativas potatoes oxzitel and peruvian purple, corn and peas with llantan also displayed the chef's love of seafood.

Like the other courses, it contained a variety of flavors and textures. The potatoes at the base of the dish were flavored by the fish. I enjoyed the addition of the green elements with the peas and sauces.

Renzini Feb12_m kitchen making lucuma pisco

Renzini Feb12_n lucuma Pisco

The pacing of the meal worked so well. I saw some blender action starting up and found they were making another Pisco variation, this time a Lucuma Sour with the fruit Peruvian tropical fruit, lucuma.

One of the guests at our table suggested we try the lucuma ice cream, which I definitely plan to do.

Renzini Feb12_p Huatia beef with herbs and spices sweet potato puree asparagus

By the time the 3rd course arrived, I could barely eat another bite.  The huatia (beef cooked in a terracotta pot with herbs and spices), sweet potato puree and Ica asparagus was so good, I managed to eat most of it.

I loved the pops of color on the plate with the vibrant orange of the sweet potato puree and the bright green asparagus.

Renzini Feb12_q almond layer cake rum dulce de leche fava bean banana ice cream blackberry compote

Renzini Feb12_r almond layer cake detail

My expectations for dessert usually are low, mainly because of being full, but also since I am more a fan of savory foods than sweet.

The 4th course of almond cake layers with zaya rum stuffed with pallares (Peruvian Faba beans) dulce de leche, banana ice cream and blackberries compote totally wowed me and I finished every drop on the plate.

The sheer creativity of baking this nutty cake with those intricate layers of beans and dulce de leche blew me away. It did not taste as heavy as one would think when hearing high protein ingredients like almonds and beans. I could not detect anything but cream between the layers.

Once again the accompanying fruity ice cream and the tart compote added the creaminess and sour touch to balance the rich cake. Chef Renzo nailed the dessert.

Renzini Feb12_a welcome sign
When reflecting back on this whole experience, I still marvel at how beautifully they put it all together.

It's not only an amazing value for such high quality and exotic food, but the atmosphere truly transports the diner.

I always love learning about new ingredients in meals and this one taught me many new things, even though I am not a stranger to Peruvian cuisine.

If you would like to experience this type of meal, you can contact them at this form.

Whether it's a catering engagement, where they provide everything from start to finish, or experiencing one of the underground dinners, it surely will amount to a culinary experience you will not regret.

Mad Men Parties

My Mad Men love does not end with just watching the show.

Even prior to the series, I've always had an extreme fondness for vintage clothing, accessories and housewares - particularly mid-century.

One of my favorite vintage stores, Playclothes Vintage Fashions, once had a Mad Men theme party complete with runway show, costume contest vintage appetizers and cocktails, live music and Janie Bryant, the show's costume designer.

People did not hold back with their style, as the photos below display.


I love the women in the vintage nightgowns!

The fashion show begins.

Janie Bryant announced each look. Playclothes is one of her favorite boutiques. She possibly obtains clothing and accessories for the show from the store.

My friend, Linda, has thrown several Mad Men parties during the season premiers. They are theme optional.

In addition to serving period food and cocktails, she once provided parting gifts of Utz chips (a former client of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency).

I think Matthew Weiner himself would be impressed by this level of detail and we love her for it!

Watch the Mad Men season 5 premier today, 3/25 8/9c on AMC.

My Mad Men avatar - madmenyourself

Mad Men Finally Returns

For fans of AMC's Mad Men, like myself, this past 17 month hiatus could not end fast enough. The longing for today's season 5, 2-hour premier reminds me of my high school days of loving certain music bands or TV shows with feverish dedication.

With all the constant tasks and worries of adulthood, I never thought any TV show could hold such a special place in my mind and heart. But I am not alone. Creator Matthew Weiner's masterful, layered storytelling leaves many watchers salivating for more. And the 4 Outstanding Drama Emmy awards attest to that.

This intimate look into the lives of several people during the 1950-60's at a Madison Avenue ad agency offers an incredible amount of character study, style, drama, wit and superb writing as well as acting.

For over a month now I've set my DVR to record anything with keywords "Mad Men" and "Jon Hamm". No talk show nor entertainment show fell through the cracks.

I'd heard of a couple of Jon Hamm sightings around town, but until this month, I hadn't had the pleasure of seeing this elegant, impeccable star in person.

IMG_4632Finally that wish came true, and twice. Another item to come off the bucket list. And yes, he is unbelievably handsome, charismatic, intelligent and funny in person - not so much the dark Don Draper persona fans are used to.

The first sighting occurred at the Friends With Kids opening night at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.




I feel much gratitude to a friend who discovered that both Jennifer Westfeldt, author/producer/director/leading actress (and the luckiest woman on earth - i.e. Jon Hamm's longtime romantic partner) and Jon Hamm would do a Q & A after the show. She invited me to join her in the first row seats, saying my love meter for Mr. Hamm ranked highest of everyone she knows.


I took so many photos that both of them made eye contact a couple of times.
I felt it was my duty to share the joy with others.


The second sighting, of Jon Hamm along with most of the Mad Men cast, took place at the Paley Fest annual Television Festival by the Paley Center for Media. The event took place at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills.

I actually set my alarm and got these tickets seconds after they became available. The effort paid off. This amazing event easily warranted the skipped (deferred) dinner in order to get good seats.

These days with media omnipresent, it amazes me that no details of the new season leaked out. I consider it a gift from Matthew Weiner to welcome fans back with surprises.

He gave a a passionate and interesting talk about his vision for the show.

The tone was clearly set by moderator Elvis Mitchell that discussion and questions for the panel would center on the past, not the upcoming season.

The format also gave equal attention to all cast members, not just on the main characters.


Although our seats were on the Mezzanine level, with the aid of zooming in with my camera, the photo opportunities somehow were better. The Paley Center kindly allowed photos as long as we didn't use flash or take videos.

The event began with the audience watching last seasons finale, Tomorrowland. I loved watching it on big screen. Knowing what we know now, there was quite a bit of foreshadowing about Don Draper's unexpected marriage proposal to his secretary, Megan.

The actors came out one by one, ending with January Jones and Jon Hamm.

Mad Men cast - click on photo to enlarge it

Much to my disappointment, both Elisabeth Moss (Peggy) and Christina Hendricks (Joan) had other commitments which prevented them from attending.

IMG_5009Both seem so different from their characters, it would have been great to hear them in person. In any case, the rest of the cast did not disappoint at all.

Hamm was glad the season ended on a hopeful note for Don, who spent most of the season in a downward spiral.

Weiner talked about shooting the actors' reactions to this impending marriage news, then switching back to Don's big smile.



Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper, clearly is one of the most poised and articulate young actors I've ever scene. She maintained perfect posture, composure and gave great responses to every question.

Weiner asked her whether Sally is more like her mother or father, to which Shipka replied "I think she's more like her own person". The audience wildly applauded and Sommer added that we'd applaud all night if we applaud every smart comment Shipka makes.

I think she will look back on this experience years later and marvel at the depth of role and interaction with such strong actors.


This season, Hamm makes his directorial debut in episode 2, and also serves as series producer. As usual, he displayed gratitude and humility for these honors.



John Slattery recapped some of his funnier and outrageous scenes, including the Season 3 "blackface" scene, as well as "riding the girl in her underwear singing cowboy sings". 


Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove), Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) and Jay R. Ferguson (Stan Rizzo) seemed to have a good time, nursing some beers along with their water. 

Sommer talked about Harry turning into a douchebag because he's no longer under anybody's thumb and reiterated that it will still be a show about Don Draper but "Harry just might have more important places to go when he leaves a scene".

Ferguson also identified with the douchebag behavior for his character.


January Jones discussed how much fans dislike Betty, saying people run away from her on the street and worry about her being a mother now. 

Weiner discussed Betty's infantilization which leads to some of this behavior but defended Betty's decision to fire Carla (the nanny) even though she should have let Carla say goodbye to the kids. He also added that slapping one's children was not unusual behavior for the time.

He made several comments about her beauty, comparing her to Grace Kelly, which brought a smile to Jones' face. She looked extraordinary considering she recently had a baby.


Jared Harris (Lane Pryce) discussed how lucky he felt to continue with the show and Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper) expanded on his character's respect for Asian culture and management style.


Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) added a bit of humor and insight into his character's rise to Partner of the firm, as well as his dynamics with Draper.


Weiner mentioned that he has a visual for the last scene of the show, but has not worked out the plot. The current plan and contract is to end on the 7th season, so as to not overstay their welcome. 

He mentioned that Draper will age well (which is a given - just look at him!).

As much as I love the show, I do believe in ending on a high note and know that Weiner will bring it to the rightful conclusion.



The cast ended by signing autographs on the programs for quite some time. I stood sort of paralyzed watching Hamm. By the time it registered that we could go down to the stage for a closer look, he'd already gone.

Either way, I have the whole season ahead of me to relish each and every move. Mad Men season premiers today, Sunday 3/25 9/8c on AMC.