Hosting a Labor Day party and feeling indecisive about what serve? I’ve tapped some of LA’s best when it comes to eating and drinking to help inspire you and your menu. Thanks to Curtis Stone, Helen’s Wines, Black Market and other tastemakers, you can take your party to the next level. Cheers and bon appétit!

Let’s start with a stellar cocktail. The Chestnut Club, named one of the “Best Cocktail Bars in the U.S.” by Food & Wine, suggests the “Westside” cocktail to ease into your meal.

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Photo: Jakob Layman

Westside Cocktail Recipe

  • 3 Cucumber slices & a loose handful of mint leaves, hand pressed
  • 2 oz Vodka ¾ oz Orgeat
  • ¾ Lime juice Whipped, dried and dumped over crushed ice
  • 6 dashes of Angostura bitters to top Garnish with mint sprig thru a cucumber wheel

“The Westside is the most visually beautiful on the planet and is your go-to crowd pleaser (and will probably be the most photographed item at your party). The idea of the Westside is to allow you to escape to a tropical oasis through the simple consumption of a cocktail. Not only is it visually stimulating, it has bright, light, refreshing flavors to ease your guests from cocktails into dinner.”

No surprise that Curtis Stone, the chef behind the world-class butcher shop and fine dining restaurant Gwen, offers up a carnivorous suggestion to sink our teeth into. Here is what he had to say:

Photo: Ray Kachatorian

“In Australia, we fire up the barbecue when we want to quickly grill some steaks or shrimp.  But “barbecue” took on a whole new meaning when I moved to the States with the edict of “low and slow” cooking.  And since we have a long, 3-day weekend ahead of us with Labor Day, there is no better time to throw a rack of pork ribs on the ‘cue and sit back with a couple of beers.  Our butchers at Gwen in Hollywood can help you pick out a perfect rack!  Create a rub of your favorite spices including sweet paprika, garlic and onion powder, and cayenne pepper.  There is no way to rush great barbecue and since there are variables with cooking times, be flexible and patient to create juicy, fall-off-the bone ribs. Serve alongside corn on the cob and your favorite potato salad recipe and be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand!”

A great compliment to some BBQ ribs is this whiskey cocktail “Remember the Maine” offered by Black Market Liquor Bar, who serve up some of the city’s best cocktails and were named one of this summer’s “38 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants” by Eater LA.

Photo: Jakob Layman

Remember the Maine Recipe

  • 2 oz Rye whiskey
  • ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
  • ¼ oz Cherry Heering
  • 1 bar spoon absinthe
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Stirred and up
  • Garnish with a cherry

“The number one reason to serve this drink at a party is because it’s DELICIOUS. But apart from that, there are a lot of good drinks in this Manhattan style that better accompany food. However, this specific version that we’ve created is great for parties because it both pairs well with food, but also can be served up. Suggested pairing: Delmonico Pork Chop to share.”

Photo: Chef Jose Acevedo

Corn is a natural go-to for BBQs, and luckily Chef Jose Acevedo (Cocinas Y Calaveras, Mercado, Maradentro, Yxta Cocina Mexicana) was willing to give up his awesome Summer Street Corn recipe to you all. It will be on the menu of the new Mercado Taqueria opening in Studio City this September.

Summer Street Corn Recipe

  • 6 ears of white sweet corn boiled for about 30 minutes. (Keep husks on)
  • Peel and maintain in water prior to service.
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 2 tablespoon regular mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons cotija cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile piquín
  • (Amounts are for each ear of corn)

First spread margarine evenly around corn, then the mayonnaise. Spread cotija cheese all around. It will adhere to the ears because of the mayo/margarine base. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of chile piquín on each ear. Sprinkle more or less depending on how much heat you like.

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Photo: Jakob Layman

According to The Local Peasant, who pride themselves on handcrafted cocktails, this drink will add a little spice to your party; after all the direct translation of “El Diablo” is “the devil!”

El Diablo Recipe

  • 3 Blackberries, muddled
  • 2 Jalapeño slices, cracked
  • 2 oz Silver rum
  • 1 oz Agave
  • 1 oz Lime
  • Shake, serve over ice with a blackberry jalapeno garnish

“Our El Diablo is the drink that will add a little spice to your party. The blackberries provide a sweet and slightly tart flavor to offset the spiciness of the jalapeño. Escape from the norm and add this drink to your cocktail party list!”

Photo: Matthew Miller

Chef Yousef Ghalaini of FIG Restaurant does some of the best shellfish in the city. If you’ve had his wood-grilled Fannie Bay oysters, you know what I mean. For us, he offers up his go to BBQ snack that only calls for 5 ingredients, which means you can spend more time enjoying your party, and less time worrying about it!

“My go to snacky item for a BBQ that I know will be a huge hit is grilled little neck clams!  These are readily available at the fish counter of most markets and are super easy and fun to do.  The best thing is that they’re a snack that you can make on the grill while everything else is cooking, and are a great appetizer to enjoy with some rose (I love pairing them with the Fritz Mueller Rose from Germany which has the perfect acidity and a very subtle effervescence to get your taste buds rocking)”

Grilled Little Neck Clams Recipe (4 ppl)

  • 2-3 dozen medium little neck clams (I like to make 6-8 clams per person), soaked in cold water for 2 hours before serving
  • 8 oz. Non Salted Kerry Gold Butter
  • 2 cups dry white wine (Pinot Grigio is perfect, Chablis is best!)
  • A pepper mill with black peppercorns
  • 1 bunch of fresh thyme 1 inch thick around tied with some twine
  • Heat up your grill. Place a small pot (preferable tall and narrow with a longer handle) on the grill and add white wine then reduce by a 1/3.
  • Add room temperature butter to the wine and begin stirring using the fresh thyme bundle until all the butter is melted.
  • Move the wine butter mixture to a cooler spot on the grill and hold there, crack some pepper (a couple of turns from the mill) into the pot.
  • Place around 8 clams at a time on the hot part of the grill and leave there until they open. Once open, baste with the thyme mop generously and remove using grill tongs. Arrange on a plate with some lemons and enjoy!  Repeat until all clams are gone!

Sommelier Helen Johannesen

Don’t worry, for all of you winos, oenophiles, and wine newbies, Helen Johannesen of Helen’s Wines has the scoop on what wines are of the moment and crowd-pleasers!

Considering Helen is the Wine Director for Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, Jon and Vinny’s (and the list goes on), I think it’s safe to say you’re in good hands here. Here is what she offered us:
(Sorry, Helen, had to keep the expletives out!)

“I personally believe in drinking rose all year round, but for most people it is the ultimate summer water and so once Labor Day rolls around it’s time to give a one last hurrah. My two favorite rosés to close out the summer are the 2016 Commanderie de Peyrassol rose from Provence. I sell it for $22 a bottle and it is everything you want & need in that perfectly pale pink rose. I also am completely jazzed on Italian rosé right now and it’s the perfect transitional wine into fall. Not only is the color palate a little more intense it’s coupled with a salty freshness that makes this the ultimate I will definitely drink the whole bottle wine. Right now the Collecapretta is a top fave, it’s made from Cilegiolo that is grown in Umbria. Sangiovese rosés are also ON FIRE as well as an amazing rosé from Sicily made from Nerello Mascalese by Girolamo Russo.

Chilled reds are incredible. I think some of the best varietals to chill are gamay, cinsault, carbonic grenache, grignolino & trousseau just to name a few- the list goes on. It’s the lighter style red wines, that have some structure but not too much that are so scrumptius chilled down. Chilled sparkling reds are so (bleeping) good.  I LOVE the Incantibiss Lambrusco made by Fondo Bozzole because it’s so dry and pure perfection. Another red chilled Frizzante I am SO in love with is the Trebbiolo made by La Stoppa in Emilia. It’s Barbera & Bonarda blended together but has all the right intentions and definitely rivals Lambrusco.”

If you want to take your party a step further, Helen’s Wines just launched a small and large scale wine bar catering. They show up at your house, bring wine glasses, wine and chill vessels. They set everything up and then leave, and pick up everything the next day. For details:


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Thank you to the hospitality team of Mario Guddemi, Sal Aurora, Pablo Moix & Steve Livigni (The Chestnut Club, Black Market Liquor Bar and Scopa Italian Roots), Curtis Stone and his team, Jesse Gomez (Owner of Cocinas Y Calaveras, Mercado, Maradentro, Yxta Cocina Mexicana), Chef Jose Acevedo, Chef Yousef Ghalaini, Helen Johannesen and team at Helen’s Wines for contributing to this article.