y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: September 2012

American Modern: USC Style and Beyond Home Tour

This past spring, along with the garden tour, I also went on the Pasadena Heritage architecture tour called American Modern: USC Style and Beyond.

The docent led tour was a drive, shuttle and walk activity and one could visit the privately-owned houses in any order.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_DeSteiguer House sign

The USC Style refers to work by modernist architects like Gregory Ain and Calvin Straub, influential design instructors at the University of Southern California (USC).

Over a 35 year period, leading into the 1960's, USC offered the region's only professional degree in architecture. The graduates of this program heavily influenced their local modernist style.

The Cox House, 1959. Architect: John Galbraith

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Cox House 1959_b

Key features of this style includes integration with the landscape and integrating the indoors and outdoors. This house illustrates that well, with its open floor plan, windows everywhere, natural materials and complementary landscaping.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Cox House 1959_c

The owners of this home heavily participated in it's restoration, closely collaborating with the architect and certain aspects of the house feels very custom. 

The house appeared in various movies and TV shows over the years. One of them played on the TV during the tour.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Cox House 1959_d

The kitchen was absolutely stunning with a large, oval stone quartz counter in the center, running from end to end, and modern appliances. The back yard felt like another outdoor living room, complete with a kidney shaped pool.

Unfortunately we were only allowed to take photos from the outside curb.

The DeSteiguer House, 1951. Architects: Harwell Hamilton Harris, 1936 & Leland Evison, 1951

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_DeSteiguer House 1951 a

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_DeSteiguer House 1951 d

This house showed the influences of two well known architects. The first one's aesthetic involved interpreting influences from the Craftsman style, Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra. The home displays many beautiful wood features and some add-on balconies toward the back.

The house was actually moved in 1951 to serve as a home and office for the 2nd architect. The large office area contains incredibly well organized samples of every material imaginable, in transparent drawers.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_DeSteiguer House 1951 b

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_DeSteiguer House 1951 c

The bamboo covered, organic looking fences look great from all angles.

The Thomson House, 1957. Architects: Conrad Buff, Calvin Straub and Donald Hensman

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Thomson House 1957 b

These architects, all graduates and instructors at USC School of Architecture, led the post World War II post and beam architecture in the region, with their thriving residential practice.

The fairly small house feels very large and spacious because of it's tall scale and clever use of space. Translucent room divider screens and the 2-story glass windows, seemingly blending in with the mountain and oak tree view. The home features balconies and decks on every side and new native California style landscaping.

The Park Planned Homes, 1947-1948. Architect: Gregory Ain

Gregory Ain is known for bringing modernist aesthetics to tract housing with a focus on affordable housing in multi-unit housing projects. This tract consists of 28 houses in AltaDena.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Park Planned Homes 1947-48 a

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Park Planned Homes 1947-48 c

One of the thoughtful details is the rain gutters covered with metal panels, for a more streamlined look. The modern landscaping complements the house. The interior of this particular home has been renovated in a more current look than that of its original timeframe.

The Zook House, 1951. Architect: Harold Zook

The architect of this home, Harold Zook, lived with his family in this residence, on a private road in Pasadena called Mesita Road. 

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 a

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 b

The colorful landscaping immediately catches they eye when pulling up to this home. Upon entering I found that the interior matches this color scheme completely.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 c

Harold Zook's style highlights are clean spatial design and flow through the house, simple roof lines, multi-purpose rooms, built in desks and storage, pinpoint interior lighting, indoor planting areas and large amounts of glass. The house contained several large windows and glass sliding doors.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 d

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 e

By this time some fairly heavy rain set in, and the group waited for the previous group to move through the house before entering.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 g

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 f

We walked around to the side of the house to enter, which gave us a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains as well as a very large pool area and garden. I felt sad only being able to photograph from the curb, because the sliding doors and floor to ceiling glass windows provided beautiful light throughout the house.

Somehow even the copious amounts of bright green and orange in every room did not stand out as much as one would think. I gasped after finding an all-orange office and all-orange master bathroom with an orange sunken tub. 

The original stone planter near the front door got converted to an aquarium. The owner explained that they were not able to keep plants alive in that particular spot.

USC Style Modern Home Tour Mar12_Zook House 1951 h

The tour went throughout the house, ending in the back yard and out this also well-coordinated and fun gate.

South Pasadena Beautiful's Garden Tour

Once a year, a volunteer organization called South Pasadena Beautiful organizes a Garden Tour. It's a wonderful event to help encourage pride in the community and keep beautifying the city of South Pasadena, California. This year's tour was the 42nd Annual Garden Tour.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_California lilac with ladybug a
California lilacs with ladybug - from 4th house on the tour
This past spring, the tour covered the Oaklawn Subdivision, also formerly called Suburb de Luxe. At the base of the street at Oaklawn and Columbia, Henry and Charles Greene designed the portals, as well as many of the homes.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_plant swap a
plant swap
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_plant swap b
plant swap
The first stop of the self-guided tour is a Plant Swap, where one can bring a plant and take a new one home. The selection was quite good, and the volunteers encouraged us to take many more plants and cuttings than we brought.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_lavender and greens
environmentally friendly plants
The next house showcased a newly renovated porch, custom built with period designs. The objective for the garden is to introduce drought tolerant perennials, shade plants, ornamental grasses, flowers and citrus trees.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_kumquats
kumquat tree
The 2nd home, owned by a Landscape Architect, improved upon the inefficient irrigation system, changing it to a drip system, and planting a succulent garden.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_blood oranges cut flowers
flowers and blood oranges
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_blood orange
blood orange
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_blood orange jam
blood orange marmalade
While we were admiring the kumquats, the home owner, who was tending to his flowers, came out and talked about all the citrus he'd been growing and techniques employed.

He cut me a couple of blood oranges with beautiful colors, and even invited us into his kitchen to taste the British style blood orange marmalade he made.

The marmalade tasted extremely tart, which I enjoy, but the fresh blood oranges had the best taste, most juice and best color of any blood orange I've ever tasted.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_roses with bee
roses with bee
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_roses
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_hammock little boy
backyard hammock
The 3rd house reflects the owner's lovingly tended garden, which she began restoring herself in 1975. The same gardener also tended to the garden during this entire time. The front yard was redesigned with new pathways and plants. The joy and calm spirit of their work reflects on the garden

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_irises lavender
irises and lavender on front lawn
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_bougainvillea
bougainvillea and bamboo
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_garden from top
sunken garden
The 4th home sits on almost an acre of land. There is a "side garden" adjacent to an outdoor kitchen and pool, and a sunken "rear garden", which is a lovely surprise. The owner imported seeds and cuttings from all over the world to add to this garden.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_kangaroo paw pot
kangaroo paws
The lush garden contains two ponds, one with a waterwheel, stone lined paths and various terraced areas at different heights. The garden also contains several large California Oak trees. The garden takes one to a different time and place.

South Pas GardenTour Apr12_stone incinerator
original incinerator
South Pas GardenTour Apr12_tree bark 1
tree trunk
Overall the historic street with architecturally significant houses that retain their traditional charm also transform to meet the current environmental needs. It was delightful to see these works in progress.

Le Comptoir Pop-up Dinner

While we are on the vegetables as star of meal subject, with the Leif Hedendal post, there is another great example of this style of cooking.

My visit to Le Comptoir, months ago, was not my first experience with Chef Gary Menes' bold cuisine. I've enjoyed his food at Palate and Marché, both of which have since closed. He also is known for his stint at French Laundry, my dream dining destination.

The meal consisted of 5 courses set menu, with optional swaps for 3 of the courses for a supplemental fee.

He describes his food as "hyper seasonal" and indeed that fits the bill.  

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_csomething amusing farinette burata cherry tomatoes

amuse bouche - buratta, cherry tomatoes, farinette

A farinette is a savory pancake from the Auvergne province of France. All components combined into the perfect bite.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_b2 counter

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_b1 counter

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_b3 kitchen Chef Gary Menes

Le Comptoir is now in a new location, however, our meal there was at the whimsical Tiara Cafe setting in downtown L.A. 

The name, Le Comptoir is French for "the Counter", and that's how dinner is served - on about 12 counter seats with a great view of the kitchen action.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_d Hudson Valley Foie Gras Terrine cherry compote saba

first course (supplement) - hudson valley foie gras terrine, cherry compote, saba

Choosing supplements over the original mushroom course of veloute champignon de paris changes the direction of the meal a bit. My dining companion and I both chose the foie since the foie gras ban loomed in the not too distant future. Other than this, we did not choose any supplements.

The rich terrine balanced well with the sightly tart compote and the saba, an unconcentrated slightly sweet grape vinegar, thought of as tasting like carmelized grapes. I tried saba for thte first time at the Wolvesmouth underground dinner, in a stunning tomato salad which you can see at this post, if interested.

The presentation of this and all dishes impressed.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_e2 sunny side up egg young lettuce herbs jus vert

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_e3 sunny side up egg

second course - sunny side-up egg, young lettuce, herbs jus vert

Where to begin with this dish? I sat somewhat mesmerized just watching the technique and the care that went into this dish. It turned out to be one of the most decadent and tasty egg experiences I've ever experienced. And I do love eggs!

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_e4 sunny side up egg

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_e1 kitchen eggs 

Who wouldn't want a perfectly cooked egg in a blazing hot personal sized skillet? The egg generously browned with butter, came with a platter of interesting accompaniments - flower petals, baby lettuce, pepper, that can be added to personal taste.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_e5 sunny side up egg 

On top of that the server brought over a pitcher of sorrel herb jus to pour on top, which she said she forgot to bring earlier. The freshness of the greens with the creamy egg presented something new. You don't have to eat eggs only with toast. 

Frankly I'm happy I got to eat half the egg before the jus got poured over it. Although I loved the jus on its own, the strong herbal taste overpowered the egg just a bit. At least I would have liked to control the amount of jus myself.

I could gush about this dish the rest of the post, but let's move on.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_f1 veggie and fruit plate yam carrots pickled onion corn beets kohlrabi tangerine fava beans celery cauliflower broccoli lettuce carddons green beans
Click on photo to enlarge
third course - veggie & fruit plate

I heard this is the chef's signature dish. The humble name fails to capture the variety of flavors and textures bursting from the plate. They seemed to have been prepared in all different ways, reminding me of the Raymond's Salad of Forgotten Root Vegetables, which you can see here.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_f3 veggie and fruit plate

The plate featured yam, carrot, pickled onion, corn, beet, kohlrabi, tangerine, fava bean, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, celtuce lettuce (lettuce with celery-like stalk), carddon, green bean.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_g1 artichokes english peas spring onions sugar snaps pea tendrils jus d onion

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_g2 artichokes english peas spring onions sugar snaps pea tendrils jus d onion 

fourth course - artichokes, english peas, spring onions, sugar snaps, pea trendils, jus d'onion

The next course, wonderfully savory, also featured a gorgeous assortment of vegetables, particularly highlighting the peas - hearty and delicate at the same time.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_i chocolate cake orange chocolate sour cream graham cracker

fifth course - chocolate cake, orange, chocolate, sour cream, graham cracker

After eyeing the supplemental cheese plate from our neighbors, we opted for the dessert. I'd rarely turn down cheese instead of dessert, but wanted to taste how these flavors would combine. 

The impossibly rich chocolate was tempered well by the other ingredients. I enjoy a bit of savory in a dessert and thought the unsweetened sour cream proved to be a smart idea.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_h cheese plate

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_j coffee

My friend topped the meal off with the slow drip coffee, prepared by the Chef himself!

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_a2 decor 
Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_a3 decor Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_a4decor

Walking around the Tiara Cafe between courses, I enjoyed all the creative decor.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe May12_k fresh asparagus iPhone bill payment

During the meal we got to chat with Chef Menes a bit, as he interacted with all the diners. It surprised me at the end when he came around to our side of the counter to have us pay our bill on his iPhone. Once again, a very smart way of containing overhead, which is the true nature of the pop up concept.

Reservations will open up again on September 10th. Check the site for details.