Google maps approximates the town of Whittier as 30 minutes outside of central Los Angeles. And although many downtown Angelenos regularly travel that distance battling their way to the Westside, far fewer trek further inland to investigate the eastern edges of the county.
Tony Alcazar, head chef and co-owner of The Bottle Room in Whittier, and a few of his peers — specifically Bizarra Capital's Ricardo Diaz — are spearheading a culinary uprising in the region.
Diaz's Bizarra Capital is two blocks from The Bottle Room, so the two chefs spend a lot of time together, both as friends (both chefs will be featured on an upcoming episode of the kitchen reality show Knife Fight) and as proponents of the town where they both cook.
"Just before we opened, there wasn't much in our immediate area," Alcazar recalls. "As a matter of fact, the only worthwhile place was the 6740, directly across the street from us. Craft beer was still in its infancy over here, maybe even non existent."
In March 2009 Alcazar, who previously was sous chef at the Ritz-Carlton Pasadena, and two partners set up shop on Greenleaf Avenue. With 24 rotating taps, a selection of bottles from around the globe, and a menu designed to synchronize with suds, the Bottle Room paved the way for craft beer in this neck of the woods.
"The scene here is pretty awesome now," says Alcazar. "The 6740 has stepped up its game, the Rusty Monk — a Belgian beer bar — opened two doors down from us, and pretty much every serious restaurant in town has upped its craft beer list, wether it be bottle or tap, local or import."
The Bottle Room specializes in small plates, particularly designed to pair well with the craft beer the place emphasizes. An heirloom tomato Caprese on a wooden paddle is paired with an under-powering wheat beer, the Heavenly Hefe from Pasadena's own Craftsman Brewing. A pan-fried Dungeness crab cake is matched with the hop-laden hits of Kinetic Brewing's Combustion Belgian IPA.
Honoring his Mexican roots, Alcazar offers a loose translation on the sincronizada, a tortilla-based sandwich. Served here with chorizo and Oaxacan cheese, it's paired with Rebellion on tap — a sturdy American IPA from Bear Republic.
Alcazar is particularly adept at burgers. As the Bottle Room gets ready for weekend brunch, he's introduced a lineup of morning-minded offerings, including something called the Breaking Fast Burger. Which is? A dry-aged patty, with homemade hash browns, bacon marmalade, aged Vermont cheddar, sunny-side-up egg, all sandwiched between a maple syrup slathered brioche.
"Everyone swears there's crack, or meth, in it," Alcazar jokes, referencing the popular TV show that helped inspire the burger's name. There's always booze. Try a Nelson — a world-class IPA courtesy of Alpine Beer Company. Floral, and lingering on the palate, it's a beer that can stand up to such an over-the-top burger.
As a Belgian Quad devotee — a dessert-ready style of beer distinguished by sweeter tones of dark, stone fruit — Alcazar keeps a spongy bread pudding on standby. Topped with French vanilla ice cream, candied hazelnuts and salted caramel, the dessert fits well with the Trappist ale, Trappistes Rochefort 10, one of the highest-rated beers on the planet.
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"Out of 24 taps, only 4 are non-rotating. You can literally come here once a week and always try a new IPA or a new Belgian or a new local brewery and hopefully, if we have done our job right, be blown away every time."
A few more reasons to head to Whittier.