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Let Them Eat Kabobs
This Year, Party Planners Are Bringing the Backyard into the Boardroom

by Chris Coates

Nothing says the end of another calendar year quite like the boring holiday office party. There's the clumsy banter with the boss, the nondenominational decorations, the tired finger food and Chuck from sales having a bit too much to drink. It's all capped by the sprint to the door.The Spring Street Smoke House grew out of a catering company. It still serves numerous parties every holiday season. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. Downtown Los Angeles is chock full of creative caterers, restaurateurs and event planners with ample experience turning the dreaded corporate party into, well, a party. They know how to transform the been-there-done-that into a that-was-actually-fun.

The Spring Street Smoke House grew out of a catering company. It still serves numerous parties every holiday season. Photo by Gary Leonard.
As Downtown party planners start getting offices small and large ready for their holiday events, a few trends naturally begin to emerge. This year, one of the most common is to bring a little bit of the great outdoors inside. This is sunny California, after all.

Just ask Deborah Fabricant. She wrote the book on presenting food in nontraditional ways (no, seriously - it's called Stacks: The Art of Vertical Food). She says the hottest catering trend for the 2005 holiday party circuit is kabobs. Yes, meat and vegetables on skewers have finally gone corporate.

"The skewered food is really fun to serve," said Fabricant, whose West L.A. party planning company has catered tons of holiday get-togethers Downtown. "People are getting away from that big old formal sit-down thing."

What is different now is that the traditional kabob has been expanded. Rather than a simple hunk of red meat, Fabricant says the new school skewers include some unconventional ingredients, such as quail on a bamboo stick and skewered shrimp with a dollop of Thai barbecue sauce.

Kabobs are relatively easy to make, and for most partygoers, they're a pleasant and unexpected find at a button-down work party. "It gets them out of their corporate mode," Fabricant remarked.

There are other trends this year as well. Fabricant said she has seen the diet fads of previous years lessen. "It seems to me we're pulling away from that," she said, noting that dessert and cheese trays are popular. But even for those still aiming for health, she has a trick: Fabricant uses smaller plates, which makes people feel like they're eating more.

But what really gets corporate types going are themed drinks. Fabricant, for example, has created specialty martinis for some parties, including one called the "limoncello-lobster cocktail." The reaction to her liquored concoctions is pleasant, she said, especially after they've had more than one. "People just go bonkers when they walk into a party and see a new drink," she said.Bringing the Outside In

For a strictly carnivore staff, a holiday party catered by Spring Street Smoke House may be akin to getting an early Christmas present. Unveiled this past summer, the hole-in-wall, no-frills restaurant at the southern edge of Chinatown has turned into a lunchtime must-have among scores of Downtown workers, firefighters and police officers.
For holiday parties they follow what they do best: mean racks of ribs, along with brisket and hot links. Sides include hush puppies, potato salad, baked beans and other dishes. Additional options include barbecue pasta and a smoked jumbo turkey leg.

The restaurant actually grew out of a catering operation called D&L Catering, explains owner Dan Patterson. The company opened in 1980 and has been serving weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate parties ever since (they also have contracts to provide meals to several prisons). The company has four kitchens and the Chinatown branch caters mostly to office parties.

"The Smoke House was my little dream," said Patterson. "Other than that we're a catering company. I just always wanted a smokehouse."
The company has four prepared barbecue trays: tri tip roast, baby back ribs, Hawaiian and the All American, with hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecued chicken.

The D&L side, meanwhile, offers a wide variety of hors devourers and entree trays, ranging from the four-course duckling à l'orange or sea scallop brochette to an all-you-can-eat taco bar.
In the ramp-up to the holidays, the most popular items for work parties are turkeys and hams, Patterson said. "During Thanksgiving, we'll do a truckload of turkeys," he noted, adding that deep-fried birds are becoming increasingly popular.

Needless to say, it's a lot of meat. "During the month of December, we have about 10 crews going full time," Patterson said. "We've been going for 20 years; we've got a lot of customers."

At 640 N. Spring St., (213) 626-0535. D&L Catering, (323) 257-1133.
For a less messy holiday party, Camille's Sidewalk Café is another good example of a unique caterer with a decidedly outdoors-y flair. The Financial District branch of this national chain serves up a bounty of salads, paninis, wraps and sandwiches. But it also offers Café Box Lunches, wraps or sandwiches with chips and salsa, a cookie and drink. Fittingly for the Downtown corporate scene, they come with names like "The Executive," "The President" and "The CEO." Camille's also prepares breakfast, brunch and dessert trays. Delivery is free on orders more than $50.

At 655 S. Hope St., (213) 629-5555 or
Contact Chris Coates at
page 12, 10/17/2005

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