Friday, October 31, 2008

WineMaking 102: The Press!

If you had tried making your own wine up to 101, then you should have a bucket of fermenting grape+grape juice. The juice is what you want, and you want lots of it without the solid stuff - grape skin, seed, etc. So, you press. You should press when the sugar level of your fermenting grape juice has gone down to basically zero.

The basic concept that wine presses operate under is the same as it was more than 1000 years ago. This one is an old and simple wine press, consisting of a cylinder to contain your grapes and a ratchet.
The liquid will escape through the gaps on the cyliner and down the spout.

So first you dump everything, juice, skin, and all, into the cylinder.
At this point you will capture all the liquids into buckets and pour them into gallon glass bottles to further ferment it for a few months before you bottle them.

Now that you have all the grape skin, seeds, etc, which still contains tons of delicious future-wine grape juices, you need to press the liquid out of them. We stack blocks of wood on top of the grapes - because of this the press will not work as well if you have too little stuff to work with.
The blocks need to reach high enough for the ratchet to press down on.
Swing the ratchet until it clicks and basically you do this back and forth until it clicks for many many times. Until you get all the grape juice out.

Again, you store your fermenting grape juice in big glass bottles. It is important to fill them up as much as you can. You will cover them, usually with plastic, to keep them airtight. If they're not full they will have too much air for the fermentation to work properly - and also may induce bacterial growth (= vinegar!).

So now that we were done with that part, on to the Feast! Our lunch: fried soft shell crab :D

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In for a Well-Crafted Meal, but Could be Better

I've been to, and liked, Craft in Dallas so I was pretty happy when Craft opened up in LA. I've actually gone there when they first opened but never took photos, so when we went there again it's my chance to blog!

We knew what we liked so we didn't get the tasting menu. Our meal started with a slightly spicy tartar amuse bouche.

I tried out their seared foie gras with mango and grapes.
The foie itself could be better, but I did like how the tartness of the mango cuts the fattiness of the foie.

We also got the quail with blueberries, which I had in Dallas and really liked.
I must say the one I had in Dallas was better, and I think it was due to the bird itself. These are a little on the small side (considering it's $16) and not as gamey and flavorful. I still like the preparation with the blueberries, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but having had a better version of it I was a bit disappointed.

For our main dish we got the Braised Beef short ribs with Root Vegetables
The short rib was tender and flavorful. I've had better short rib but this one is not bad at all. It's a nice, hearty 'comfort' dish.

And of course side dishes are important when you're ordering a la carte at Craft. Side portions are generous and they have a nice selection.
In case you haven't noticed yet, I love sweet corn.
The corn was sweet with a nice texture. They were also not too oily.

The other side dish we got was sweet potato, my companion's favorite.
Pretty good and creamy. I'm not a huge sweet potato fan, so I can't say much, but I still enjoyed it.

Now, the thing that really made an impression on me at Craft Dallas was their gelato sampler! The one here is more expensive! 3 gelato/sorbet sampler for $10 or 6 for $20! In Dallas we got 6 just for $12 *grumble* Granted the scoops are pretty big, but still ..
But we got the 6 anyway, which included chocolate, strawberry, concord grape, honey yogurt, and ... basil.
The basil was one of my favorite! Unique, but very refreshing and delicious. Honey yogurt is another highlight.

Instead of petit fours, we were served coffee cake and torrones, both delicious. I usually do not like torrone because they stick to my teeth but I enjoyed these ones.

Overall I enjoyed my experiences at Craft LA and I'll come back again - but I know it could better. Because Craft Dallas is, and cheaper too.

Craft Los Angeles
10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067

(310) 279-4180

Craft on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beers, Burgers, and the Best of Both

I finally made it to Father's Office. OK I went to the Culver City one (FO II), but hopefully it's a good representation of the SM one also (the CC location has free parking though!). I went on a Wednesday night and it was surprisingly crowded for a Wednesday - all the outdoor seatings were taken. There were a couple of seats at the bar which boasts about two dozen taps (probably more).

As some of you may know, I was craving the Cusquena Negra I had in Peru.

I still haven't been able to find it in LA, but my eyes immediately tried to find something similar at FO and thus I really only studied the "Malty" section of the beer menu.

One description caught my eye. Rich caramel, chocolate ... dry finish. Sounds good. And it was!
Probably the closest thing I'll be able to find to the Cusquena Negra, the Oskar Blues Old Chub Scottish Ale is a little sweet, rich and malty. I think the Negra is still a tad smoother, but this will do, this will do. At least to tide my cravings.

And of course I had to order the Office Burger (with caramelized onion, applewood bacon compote, gruyere, maytag blue cheese and arugula.) $12
Amazing burger. Instead of burger buns they used these sandwich buns that I really like. And arugula! Much better than lettuce. The burger is a dry aged beef which is amazingly juicy and flavorful. I ordered medium and it looked more like medium rare though ... next time I will have to order medium well.

The burger is pricey at $12 without fries, but it is one of the best burgers I've ever tasted. This may actually kick Grace Burger off its throne - maybe, I will have to go to Grace again first. The only thing FO lacks for me is milkshake.

Currently though FO has both my favorite beer (north of Peru) and favorite burger. They also have some amazing classic cocktails - small menu here, but really good stuff. I'm thinking of just keeping a tab open there ...

Father's Office II
3229 Helms Ave.,
Los Angeles 90034

(310) 736-2224

Father's Office on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Food Event: Food and So Much More

The Food Event, hosted by Los Angeles Magazine, is perhaps my favorite of this type of events so far this year! And it is actually the cheapest at that - $60 admission (disclosure: I was able to obtain a media pass for the event, but you'll see the $60 would be well worth it! Plus it also benefits Concern Foundation and LA Food Bank!). I bumped into LA&OC Foodie there, who already posted his review, and we both agree that this event is definitely going into our calendar next year!

First, there's the venue. The Food Event took place yesterday (Sunday) in the grounds of Saddlerock Ranch in the Malibu Hills. It's a beautiful property with grape vines, llamas, horses, zebras etc.
A bit out of the way but the drive through the hills was similarly beautiful. Going to this event felt like a mini getaway. Albeit a bit hot, the venue definitely beats all other events.

Then, there's the food (of course). A sampling below of some of my faves, clockwise: orechiette with mushrooms and truffles (excellent), octopus carpaccio from Tra di Noi, bison tartare and pheasant mousse from Saddle Peak Lodge, and tuna tartar from Chaya Brasserie.
But those are only what I started out with. There's also lobster bisque (also one of my fave there!) from Darren's, cold poached salmon from Paperfish, and hamachi poke and tomato gazpacho both from the Four Seasons hotel in Westlake Village.
The lobster is creamy with coconut, and has a bit of spicy kick to it.

The beer sponsors served their beverage in their signature beer glasses - which we get to take home. Hmm ... is this a friendly challenge to see how much I can drink? Well, the glasses below are what we ended up taking home :P
Some of the highlights are the "Provence" wine from Peju - a blend of 5 grapes that include both reds and whites. It was meant to introduce red wine to those who normally drink whites. It's a crisp, light wine with a bit of the tannin taste. As for the beer, my favorite was the blond Leffe.

And let's not forget the desserts. We had macaroons from La Provence Patisserie, gelato from Gelato Bar, an assortment of excellent pastries from Rustic Canyon, and some amazing blueberry mint lemonade from Lemonade - loved it (then again mint is my true love :P ).
It's a hot day so the lemonades went fast! And so did all the Fiji water bottles there - my only complaint is perhaps how they ran out of water halfway through the event, although wine and beer were still abound.

So that was the food and drinks. But that's not all! What really brings this event to the top is all the chef cooking demonstrations (well, and of course, eating their food right after)!

The chef cooking demonstration starts off with Chef David Linville from The Shore, who demonstrated how to make mozzarella from scratch.
Simple but always excellent dish - mozzarella with basil leaves and tomatoes!

After managing to grab some seats, Nancy Silverton set up right in front of us. Best seats in the house :) Known for both Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, she of course brought some burrata with her.
Silverton demo'd making celery pesto sauce from scratch (I got this on video, which I will hopefully post later- waiting for an OK from LA Mag PR people), and served up some celery salad topped with lovely burrata and the pesto sauce!

Then there's Neal Fraser from Grace, cooking up some uni pumpkin risotto!
Everything was in a pot which meant we didn't get to see much. There was fun conversation about the best salt to use. The risotto was excellent. Al dente and creamy, with bits of uni still visible.

The Two Dudes (Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo) from Animal on Fairfax made a quick demo of how to make their awesome BBQ ribs. A quick demo of seasoning and putting in the oven - then another quickie of their BBQ sauce (got this on video too, hopefully will put up later!)
Here too they use Niman ranch meat, just like in their restaurant. Loved it there, loving it here too. The meat was so tender and falling off the bones. One of the most satisfying bites of the day (who can say no to ribs?).

Kerry Simon also demonstrated wheat penne pasta, and brought tubs of his famous junk food desserts - we're talking rice krispies, cookies, and kettle corn! Yum!

The awesome afternoon ended with a Cook-off, Top Chef style! Defending her reign after two consecutive wins is Top Chef's Betty Fraser, exec chef of Grub. The challenger is Makoto Okuwa, of the newly opened Sashi in Manhattan Beach (and former assistant of Morimoto in Iron Chef).
Chef Fraser served up some shrimps poached in butter, kaffir limes etc, with candied pumpkin, which I didn't get to taste because they ran out (personally I'd deduct points for not preparing enough *sob*). The judges all seemed to love it though and said that the shrimp was "perfectly cooked".

Chef Okuwa served up some shrimp-pork-beef Baos with black truffles! Excellent bao, freshly made so the dough is still moist and chewy. The thickness was also just right for me. And let's not forget truffles, which you guys know I love ...

So who do you guys think won? Make a guess and I will let you know later!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

October Food Events


September was packed with food festivals and events. October's slowing down some, but still busy busy ...

Now-Oct 26. Torrance's Oktoberfest. Alpine Village, 833 W. Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90502, 310-327-4384.
Saturday, Oct 4. 31st Annual Oktoberfest (Montrose)
Sunday, Oct 5. 2nd Annual Luxury Chocolate Salon. Pasadena Civic Center
Monday, Oct 6. Phillipe's 100th Anniversary - 10 cent sammies!
Thursday, Oct 9. OC Weekly's Best of Bash 2008. iLounge, Irvine.
Saturday, Oct 11. Santa Barbara Harbor Seafood Festival
"Pumpkin & Squash" Cooking class with Chef Lawe @ The Langham (Pasadena).
Sunday, Oct 12. LAW Wine, Chocolate, and Cheese Tasting Class.
Monday, Oct 20. Dinner and Wine Pairing w Recipes from the Emperors of Ancient Rome. Osteria La Buca. (I thought this might interest the historians in all of you!)
Saturday, Oct 25. 9th Annual Japanese Food Festival. Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens.
Sunday, Oct 26. The Food Event: From the Vine. Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu Hills
Fri, Oct 31 - Sun, Nov 2. 4th Annual LA Intl Tamale Festival. MacArthur Park.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Truffle Dinner at La Terza

Last Wednesday Gino Angelini's La Terza bid farewell to summer truffles by holding a 7-course black truffle dinner. I thought for $75 this was a pretty good deal so of course I skipped class and went!

The server took quite a while taking our drink order and giving us the check at the end, but at least the dishes came promptly and smoothly - much much better than the 5x5. Of course they are not nearly as crowded. I guess Italians just like to take it slow ..

First course, we started with Scrambled eggs and black trufflesI don't know how he does it but his runny scrambled eggs are always so delicious. The intensity of the color also tells you how great the eggs themselves were as an ingredient - full of flavor.

Tuna tartar, assorted citrus, black truffles and Sicialian pistachio
An interesting flavor combination, with the citrus and the nuttiness (and slight crunchiness) from the pistachio. The truffles added to the nuttiness flavor.

Pan roasted whole quail, soft polenta and black truffles
The roasted quail was great. A pretty gamey bird that was flavorful and juicy. The skin is slightly crisped just the way I like it. The black truffles seem to be an afterthought here though since the quail already stands out so much and frankly needed nothing else.

Open ravioli, porcini mushrooms, black truffles and cream of parmigiano
I think the truffles worked the best in this dish. The combination of the truffles and the porcini mushrooms really make the flavors (and aroma!) stand out.

Veal Shank Agnolotti with Black Truffles
This may be my favorite dish of the night. The veal shank inside was just absolutely ... oh I'm at a loss for words. Basically I wanted them to put a pound of this stuff in front of me so I can eat it up! Not only was it flavorful and juicy, the tenderness was wonderful. The shank juice mingling with the black truffles also enhanced the truffle aroma, making the dish as a whole work so perfectly.

Beef filet, quail eggs, black truffles and port reduction
I was really stuffed at this point and trying to finish this filet was getting painful! :P
I liked the addition of the quail egg. Again here I felt the black truffles were just an excess addition - if it wasn't truffle night they could just serve this dish without them. Not that I am complaining about the abundance of truffles in this meal, it just would've been amazing if the dish and the truffles work together better.

The meal ended with Vanilla and Black Truffles Gelato
I was skeptical of this at first, but as it turned out, black truffles on gelato is an awesome idea. Second favorite dish of the night. Or maybe third after the quail, I don't know. The truffle aroma actually really enhanced the flavor of the vanilla gelato. It's hard for me to describe it, but I will say that I absolutely loved it.

And to think, this 7-course meal was cheaper than my one white truffle pasta dish at Angelini Osteria a year ago. I'll definitely be looking forward to more dinners like this one again! When I accept the fact that service at La Terza tends to be slow, I actually have a really enjoyable meal there.

La Terza
8384 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: 323.782.8384

La Terza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Play Trivia and End World Hunger!

FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program for each trivia answer you get correct!

They have multiple trivia categories such as English Language, Art, Math, etc.

I am identifying the artists of paintings now - and I'm glad to discover that I still know my artists. Even after years of being a nerd ... :)

Some of you may be playing games on facebook right now, but instead of that, why not play this trivia and do some good in the meantime?

Take a few courses through one of the many online accredited degrees and start marketing your restaurant today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Neighborhood Nook

Nook was quite hard to find. Not only is it in an ordinary looking strip mall, it is also in the back corner of said mall. And while the website boasts a red arrow, the actual place is marked by a big blue arrow (that does not say Nook). After walking round and round I finally found the place.

The restaurant was not too crowded or loud - it is a good place to have a nice dinner and actually have conversation! Plus free parking.

Instead of bread or amuse bouche, Nook does something different: boiled peanuts. Not very friendly to the peanut-allergy folks out there, but this reminds me of my childhood when I used to buy boiled peanuts at the zoo (you're supposed to buy them and feed the elephants but I thought I deserved them more than the elephants!).

I ordered some "New Orleans style gumbo" and a portion of the proceed goes to the hurricane relief fund - good cause!
As far as the gumbo goes, though, I thought it was just okay. Good but I've had much better gumbo. Well, let me put it this way: It was a good soup - but if you ask me, it ain't gumbo! Can't compare to the one I had at Luke in NOLA.

Crispy Fried Calamari ($10)
Tossed with citrus-soy vinaigrette and wasabi dipping sauce.
This was a good calamari - not too greasy as it sometimes tends to be. The wasabi dipping sauce is interesting and is a delicious twist - it helps cut the grease of the fried calamari.

Shiitake and Gruyere Bread Pudding ($7)
Quite a flavorful and aromatic bread pudding! Liked this dish a lot (although it could use more shiitake for better texture) - it was better the next day when the bread has soaked up all the flavors :P

New Zealand green lip mussel pan roast ($12)
with linguisa sausage, oven-dried tomato, garlic, herbs and white wine saffron brot
Really loved the broth for this dish. The mussels are also big, plump and juicy. Probably my favorite dish of the night, and not bad for $12 (there were more mussels, this was half eaten)

Sauteed Brown Rice Bowl ($12)
With tofu, carrots, broccoli, and egg white this is a very healthy dish. And tastes kinda healthy too :P It is much better the day after as a leftover, just like fried rice is much better when made with day-old rice. Pretty basic dish, nothing special.

For dessert we got the chocolate pot de creme, as it was recommended to us ($7)
It's a pretty small pot but definitely a delicious dessert. The current menu online lists chocolate pot de creme with fresh strawberries, but I believe the one we had were blueberries.

The prices are Nook Bistro were pretty reasonable and the food is delicious (even if they can't do gumbo, IMHO) with good quality ingredients. An excellent neighborhood bistro and a pretty casual dining place. Nothing mindblowing but definitely good comfort food. I'll definitely be back.

Nook Bistro
11628 Santa Monica Blvd #9
Los Angeles, CA 90025
T 310.207.5160

Nook Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hits and Misses:OC's Sushi Murasaki

Usually I'm at a loss on where to eat in Orange County, and wouldn't even consider sushi. I mean, LA sushi is soo good and I was skeptical of OC sushi. Nonetheless, my friend convinced me a while ago to try out Sushi Murasaki, which had rave reviews (this is a backpost from long, long time ago).

The place was practically empty at lunch and we sat at the sushi bar in front of the owner.
We started off with some cucumber sunomono, then started ordering our sushi.
We started with some hamachi and the chef suggested some hamachi belly also (which obviously we took!)
The fish was pretty fresh, and the hamachi belly melts in your mouth. I was pleasantly surprised.

We also got some kanpachi
I thought he had put a little too much rice for my taste, but again, the fish was good and fresh.
I don't know how it would be when his apprentice is making it, but we had a great experience with the owner as the sushi chef.

There was a list of specials of cooked items, so we tried a couple of them. First we got the seafood croquette.
Pretty big croquette, and the filling and the crunchiness is great, but I wanted more seafood - or more flavorful seafood. Still, not bad, Iwould eat it again.

We also got some Black Cod with Wild Mushrooms and Daikon
This was ... meh ... bland. The fish is overcooked and tough, the sauce and the wild mushrooms added nothing. A waste of a cod, really.

My final impression was that this place has good sushi - good quality fish and all, but the cooked dishes were all ... meh, not worth it. I would recommend going to this place, but for the sushi only, although their fish choices are limited compared to a lot of LA places. But there's no need to get the cooked dishes - in fact, please don't (except the croquette).

Sushi Murasaki
2901 W MacArthur Blvd
Ste 108
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 241-1000

Sushi Murasaki on Urbanspoon
Sushi Murasaki in Los Angeles

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