Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Michael Voltaggio's ink.

Top Chef Michael Voltaggio's ink: perhaps the most anticipated restaurant opening of the year, stalled a bit by the surprise opening of ink.sack, its sandwich shop counterpart. Reservations are taken online and have typically been immediately snatched up as soon as they become available, but we checked on random occasions and there are often cancellations.

We had a reservation but they were running a bit behind and we were told to wait at the bar. The bar was equally packed and there was initially no seat available, but a bar manned by Devon Espinosa definitely calls for some cocktail orders. This bar seems like the bar to be, as we ran into quite a few people we knew here. The cocktail list, as well as the food menu, are listed as a list of ingredients, with the main one in bold. Mezcal, scotch, rum, and so on.

We started with some drinks at the bar while waiting. Our two drinks were well balanced, with the mezcal being the more interesting:
mezcal, lemon, apple cider, cinnamon ($13)
scotch, lemon, ginger, clover honey, angostura bitters ($13)

The server suggested ordering 3-4 dishes per person. We ended up with ten total including dessert for three people. The dishes never failed to be interesting and different, and all in all they were done well.

charred avocado, hen of the woods, whipped fish sauce, mushroom chicharron ($11)

A new combination of familiar ingredients - a crowd pleaser.

brussels sprouts, pig ears, house-cured lardo, apple ($10)
Brussel Sprout
Photo by The Kick It Spot
I believe brussels sprout no longer qualify as a healthy vegetable dish in most restaurants. Certainly not here, covered in a sheet of lardo. The star of the show, though, was really the crispy pig ears.

spaghetti, giant squid, hazelnut-ink pesto, piment d'espelette ($14)
Squid Spaghetti
The hazelnut ink pesto sits below the chewy "spaghetti" made from squid, waiting for you to mix it and cover the spaghetti with the black ink.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

For the Holidays and the Everydays: Valerie Confections

Valerie Confections was probably most well known for their toffees and their salt and pepper truffles, but their other items (including some new offerings) are also not to be missed.

They recently held a week-long Open House where each day they gave out free samples of a different product. I went to the cookies and hot chocolate one, but they also had samples of something else.
The new Super-Choc-O-Food is a collaboration with Commune Design. Much more than a chocolate bar, this dense, addictive goodness is filled with almonds, cashews, peanuts, macadamias, golden raisins, dried pears, apricots, sunflower seeds, soy salt, and caramel. So good, and uhh healthy(ish), right?

There are three different packaging for the Super Choc-o-Food. You'll find parts of a picture inside that you can collect, completing this Adam and Eve picture.

Among their cookies, my favorites were the Durango Cookies and the Gingersnap. The Durango was the best in flavor, made with chocolate chip and smoked salt, while the Gingersnap was the chewiest.
Durango Cookies

Valerie Confections also launched a new line of tea, blended for them by the American Tea Room in Beverly Hills. I got samples of three but so far have only tried one, the Black and Blue Tea, a blend of black tea and blueberry which smelled absolutely divine.

There are other products appropriate for that gift basket you're planning on giving your favorite food lover (*cough* me) like their hot chocolate mix, truffles, and preserves. Or, you can just treat yourself to some cookies.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Foie Friday #4: Foie Gras Farm vs Chicken Farm

For this week's Foie Friday, I wanted to contrast two different videos. In the first, Anthony Bourdain visits Hudson Valley, one of the most well known foie gras producers in the US, and talks to an expert about the force feeding of ducks and why it isn't as cruel as some people make it out to be. On the other hand, the second video shows a typical chicken farm in the US, as featured in the documentary Food, Inc. (I heard this farmer has since then lost all her contracts and, as a consequence, her farm, because she decided to let her farm be filmed.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dionicess IX: A Craft Beer Cocktail Pairing for Charity

Dionicess is an annual beer-centric charity event hosted by Gev Kazanchyan and benefits Real Medicine Foundation. The ninth iteration recently took place at Steingarten and upped the bar with craft beer cocktails and food pairing. The pairing is a collaboration by bartender Matt Biancaniellio from Library Bar and Dave Watrous from Beachwood BBQ who were preparing the beer cocktails, and Randy Clemens, author of the Sriracha Cookbook, who prepared all the food (along with the staff at Steingarten LA)

We were greeted by some mint water while Matt and Dave were hard at work shaking up the first cocktail:
“The Lambic Pentameter” - white balsamic, basil, strawberries, elderflower liqueur and Drie Fontinien Spirit of Armand.

Lambic Pentameter
The name Pentameter was chosen because the drink consisted of 5 ingredients. The Armand is a rare distilled Lambic from Belgium that is not typically not available in the US. Only one website in the world sells it!
Watrous told an interesting story behind the Armand. Purportedly they were trying to make lambic but the thermostat broke during lambic fermentation so he basically had cooked the lambic. They considered throwing it out, which was going to drive them out of business, but the distiller decided to try to distill and save it. The cocktail had a tartness that all came from the spirit, as there was no added citrus. (Traditional lambic is not the sweet type like peche lambic that we are mostly familiar with here, but it's tart and acidic).

This cocktail was paired with:
“Don’t Let This Get Your Goat, Just Figure It Out” – figs and herbed Chevre.
Fig and Chevre

Second course: “The Cascading Hophead” made with gin infused with seasonal Cascade hops for 3-4 days, grapefruit, honey, lemon and Beachwood Brewing Thrill Seeker IPA. This was the first beer cocktail Matt had ever created.
This drink was very hoppy, just like a straight up beer, except that it was 40% alcohol.

Second bite: "The Hop and The Hound" - Cabot Clothbound cheddar with yuzu marmalade, pickled habanero, and micro greens.
Spicy Clothhound
The pickled habanero in  the marmalade was very spicy. I had to take most of it off but it was a good pairing with the hops.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giveaway: Healthy Juices from Juiceology!

I love fruit juices, yet it's hard to find a good one at grocery stores. Most are artificially flavored and full of high fructose corn syrup. Naked Juices are supposedly all natural and most have no added sugar, but they tend to be thick and smoothie-like. I wanted something more juice-like. Enter Juiceology.

All natural juice with no sugar added that actually has a juice texture. Drinking juices are also not as good as eating the real fruits because you don't get any of the fibers that are in the fruits. To bypass that, Juiceology adds 5g of vegetable fiber (from chicory) to each bottle. They also add 18g whole grain extracts from oats, barley and brown rice.

They sent me two flavors to try. I liked the Peach Mango which had a strong mango flavor. The Blueberry Acai tasted mainly of apple juice but both were still very good!
What I liked best was that they didn't have this aftertaste that sticks to my throat like other "juices" with high fructose corn syrup. They tasted, well, pretty natural.

Juicelogy is currently only available in Southern California at Bristol Farms, Ralph's, Famima, and Northgate. They retail at $2.99 each.

If you want to try these juices for yourself, I'm giving away FIVE coupons for a free bottle to THREE winners, so you can go choose the flavors you want yourselves!

To enter, just leave a comment below with your email address by Sunday, Nov 27.
You can also get an extra entry by liking my page on Facebook.
I will draw the winners sometime on Monday. Remember, you have to be living in Southern California!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lexington Social House: Social Hour and Fried Chicken

Good cocktails in the heart of Hollywood, for cheap? We're not talking dive bars, here. It's possible during Lexington Social House's Social Hour, where all specialty cocktails are priced at $7 on weekdays 6-8PM and all night Sunday.

With the launch of Social Hour they also launched a bar menu (items from this menu are also $7 during social hour!)
Do try the Chipotle Pork Belly biscuits with aged gouda, fried egg ($14)

Pork Belly Biscuits
I have a soft spot for McD's sausage egg mcmuffin, but this is (of course!) so much better! Everything you'd ever want from a breakfast sandwich, even if it isn't breakfast time. Great buttery biscuits, thick and tender pork belly, fried egg with runny yolk. I will definitely get this again.

The cocktail menu was created by barman Kyle Ackley, who used to work at XIV, and the cocktails are quite good and interesting (well, the bottom half. The top half consisted of mainly vodka drinks catered to the usual Hollywood crowd).

For my first drink I ordered the Palmera made with Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, pineapple juice, lemon juice, velvet falernum, angostura bitters
This refreshing drink is a great one to start the night off with. Frothy, velvety, nice light grassy note.

Next bar food: Short rib panini, port salut, pickles, IPA mustard ($12)
Short Rib Panini
One word to describe this would be "rich". Very rich. The bottom slice soaks up the juices from the braised short rib and melted cheese.

My friend got the SPANISH HARLEM with tanteo cocoa infused tequila, maraschino liqueur, agave nectar, chocolate-chili bitters
Spanish Harlem
As you lift the glass, you'll get a strong chili aroma, but the drink itself is actually not spicy. Strong and balanced.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A WP24 Lunch with Iron Chef Morimoto, LA Food and Wine Festival

The first LA Food and Wine Festival kind of snuck up on me. Suddenly there are a slew of celebrity chefs in town doing special lunches and dinners, and grand tastings, totaling to about 70 events!

Thanks to Lexus, I was lucky enough to attend a lunch at Wolfgang Puck's WP24 (normally not open for lunch) prepared by WP24's chef Sara Johannes and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Iron Chef Morimoto
Chef Morimoto
I've always admired the view from WP24, but this was the first time I've seen it during the day. Lucky for us, it was a beautiful day!
The party started in the front bar area with some Scharffenberger Cellars "Brut Excellence", Mendocino (Anderson Valley). This sparkling wine was made with a base from 2007, using 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Noir. I missed out on most of the passed hors d'oeuvres - they went fast. If I had known the bao was filled with foie gras instead of pork belly, I would've tried harder to procure some.

Oh well, I had a great meal ahead of me anyway.

We alternated courses made by the Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and WP24's chef Sara Johannes.
The first course was by Morimoto: Kin Medai Snapper with geoduck, papaya, peanuts and coconut foam.
This was paired with a glass of Grieve Sauvignon Blanc, Napa 2009
Kin Medai
I loved the Southeast Asian flavors that come out in this dish, especially from the peanuts and chili. I don't think I've had sashimi with southeast asian flavors before, but it certainly worked wonderfully.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spanish Olive Oil Tasting, and a Feast at Playa

What country do you think of when you think of olive oil? Italy? Greece? How many thought of Spain? Well, Spain is in fact the number one producer of olive oil in the world. It's not just the quantity, either. Apparently the winner of the latest international olive oil contest is an olive oil from Spain.

I had gone to a Spanish Olive Oil tasting last year, but it was so much fun that when they invited me again this year, I went. The tasting was led by Alfonso Fernandez, an olive oil expert from the LA trade commissioner of Spain
The formal tastings are done using this dark blue tasting glass, as they do not want to see the color while tasting. Perhaps they don't want to have any misconception based only on visual elements.

We tasted four of the main varietals from Spain: Arbequina, Hojiblanca, Cornicabra, and Picual. For each one, we determined whether the aroma is of ripe fruit or green fruit, and if there is any bitterness and astringency to the olive oil.

The arbequina smelled of ripe fruit (banana) and was sweet with no bitterness. There's a spiciness at the back palate as you swallow.
The Hojiblanca had a medium intensity in aroma and smelled of kiwi. There's bitterness and piquancy in this oil which is great for cooking.
The cornicabra smelled of ripe apple and bananas. It had some astringency but no bitterness and there's less spiciness which came deeper in the throat. This varietal is apparently only found in Spain.
The Picual was many people's favorite. The aroma is much more intense and smelled of green tomato. It was very bitter with some piquancy. It was much thicker. Everything about this olive oil was intense yet it was well balanced.

For more detailed tasting notes, you can see my post from last year!

The tasting was followed a lavish meal prepared by Chef John Sedlar (all incorporating olive oil, naturally). Even though we knew it would be a four course tasting menu, little did we know that each course would consist of four dishes!

Before the courses started we also had a rather big "amuse bouche" in the form of Rivera's famous flan de elote with quinoa. I've had this dish a few times at various festivals and I still fall in love with it all over again, every time.
Flan, Quinoa

The first dishes we had were served with a blend of gewurtztraminer and riesling.
Papas salsa verde, serranos, micro cilantro

Picual, fried chiles gueros, crab. The picual varietal is good for dishes with bold flavors such as this.
Chile Relleno

Friday, November 11, 2011

Larry's in Venice

Larry's in Venice was one of the most anticipated openings recently, with Chef Brendan Collins from Waterloo and City overseeing the menu and kitchen. He still spends most of his time at Waterloo, but he left his right hand man in charge at Larry's. Chef Joe Cook at Larry's has worked w Brendan Collins since his time at Melisse (6-7 years ago).

I've been twice - one right after they opened with LA OC Foodie, and a second recent visit that shows even more promise. The seating is all outdoors and I've only been on warm nights. Hopefully they have ways to keep them warm during the fall and winter.

Since it was our first visit, we kind of went crazy with the foie gras.
Potted chicken liver and foie gras parfait ($12), sweet potato jam on top of parfait, housemade pickles, toasted brioche

Foie Parfait
A winner that I will probably order over and over. So rich and smooth, and I love the sweet potato jam on top, as well as the crispy, toasted brioche. We didn't really try it with the pickles, though, it seemed strange to us.

BBQ eel and foie gras terrine ($14) sounded quite interesting and we had to try it.
Foie Gras Eel
The eel and foie were good separately, but the combination didn't wow me as I had expected. Since one can only eat so much foie gras in one night, I'd stick to the parfait.

Larry's only has a beer and wine license, and they do serve a handful of wine/sake/shochu based cocktails. I tried their mango chai "cocktail" made with moscato. It leaned towards the sweet side and I didn't get a strong mango or chai flavor. With 26 beers on tap, beer is obviously the drink of choice here.

Plus, beer goes well with their fried appetizers, like the Zucchini blossom and shrimp maracas, piri piri sauce, seasoned black vinegar ($12)
Squash Blossoms

My favorite from the first visit was the Shrimp and Maine Lobster ragout, capellini pasta, lobster tomato sauce, basil, truffle ($15)
Lobster Pasta
I'm always in favor of thin noodles, and I certainly liked the texture of this one covered in thick tomato sauce and chunks of shrimp and lobster.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Unlimited Caviar for Charity

These days, seems like it's not enough to just ask for donations to raise money for charity. You have to do it in style.

It starts with a limousine pickup, driving you to a mansion in Bel Air. After a cocktail reception, you partake in unlimited caviar (from the "entry level" to the Russian Osetra sturgeon) and champagne, three courses from Top Chef Marcel Vigneron, smoked alligator, and more, listen to live string quartet and piano performances. You leave with a gift bag supposedly worth $1000 in restaurant gift certificates (and caviar facial serum?).

Extravagant? Yes, indeed. And it will costs a pretty penny, starting from $500, but if this sounds like a great night to you, be assured that your money is going to a good cause. The Beverly Hills Caviar Charity Event benefits the Harold Robinson Foundation, which provides free, nurturing camp to inner city and underprivileged children in Los Angeles. Each year, HRF sends thousands of children to an 81-acre facility in the Angeles National Forest.
The deets:
Tickets start from $500pp. Buy them here.
Date: Thursday, November 15th.
6pm cocktail reception, party starts at 7pm.
The parking location will be disclosed to RSVP'd guests. A limo will take you from the parking lot to the mansion (VIP ticket includes limousine pick up at your home).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Keeping Up the American Tradition: Moonshine!

What is America's oldest drink? Why, it's moonshine. This clear corn whiskey all started in 1612 in Jamestown (apparently excess corn production is an old issue in this country) and really took off in the early 1900s during the prohibition. These days, it seems to have disappeared, but now it's starting to make its way back into mainstream America.

I met with Chuck Miller, co-owner and distiller of The Original Moonshine, and his wife Janette. We talked about the history and process of his corn whiskey - over some moonshine, naturally.

Chuck Miller's grandfather started making moonshine in Virginia in the 1930s. In the mid 80s, Chuck started thinking of starting the production back up again using the same recipe his grandfather had used. It took a couple of years to get the license but they finally got up and running in 1987. The whiskey and brand at its current state didn't come until later, though, when a restaurateur from New York, Adam Perry Lang, looked around to start making and marketing moonshine. He had Chuck experiment with the distilling and filtering for flavor (he found that the best was distilling it four times and filtering twice).

Can you picture it?
The Millers grow their own corn for the Moonshine in their farm/distillery in Culpeper, Virginia. They boil the corn mash (the leftover corn mash goes to their cows) and make their whiskey in the same copper tanks his grandfather used during the prohibition. It's boiled twice until it becomes 150 proof, then they filter it through charcoal.

The distillery is open to the public but the roads are closed during the winter. They do plough snow so they can make their shipments.
Sounds like what it might've been like back in the day.

The Original Moonshine at 80 proof is some strong stuff, but still smooth and drinkable. It's aromatic, yet tastes clean.
Some places around town have started using it in cocktails, as well. We tried two Moonshine cocktails from The Hudson: the "Hitman" is made with muddled blackberries and a peppery one called the "Spicy Shine" (which was everyone's favorite).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Komida: From Prom to Hollywood

One of the first times Yamashiro's Chef Brock Kleweno played around with Japanese influences tacos was at last year's Blogger Prom. They had also been very popular at the Thursday farmer's markets at Yamashiro, so it's only natural that their next move is a brick and mortar restaurant. That brick and mortar place is apparently a large space in the back of Hollywood and Highland center (towards Orange Dr, but there's no car-accessible entrance on Orange), in what used to be a club/lounge called H Wood.

There are definitely the expected Japanese influences in their tacos, salsas, and even guacamole.

The prices seem pretty steep for tacos, but each order comes with a serving of chips topped with their addictive wasabi guacamole and pickled onions and peppers.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bombay Club Martini Bistro (New Orleans)

If there's one place where I feel comfortable ordering a Brandy Alexander, it would be Bombay Club in New Orleans. Bombay Club is a martini bar. OK, hold on, don't cringe yet. It's not an appletini kind of bar. Classic martini, Martinez, Aviation in coupes. They actually do have Cosmopolitan and Appletini, though (under the "Millennium Martinis" section). They have it all, the whole history of the Martini and classic cocktails.

Brandy Alexander
The menu is vast, and each item description comes with the history of that drink. The Brandy Alexander was "served (and said to be created) in 1922 at the wedding of Mary Princess Royal and Viscount Lascelles at Westminster Abbey in London."

Here's one for Negroni: "In 1919, Italian Count Negroni sailed to America to experience the American rodeo. Trying to sound tough, he asked the barkeep for an Americano (Campari, Italian sweet vermouth, and soda water), but to replace the soda with gin."

It's not just the history, of course. They know how to make them well, too.
Bombay Club
The Bombay Club is only a couple blocks away from the zoo that is Bourbon St. With well made classic cocktails (and a history lesson), a chill crowd, and live jazz music, it is certainly an oasis.

The Bombay Club Restaurant and Martini Bistro
830 Conti Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

Friday, November 4, 2011

Foie Friday #3: Seared Foie Gras, Eggplant at Orris

This week's foie dish is an old time favorite of mine, and a relatively inexpensive one at that.

The Seared Foie Gras with Eggplant and Sweet Soy Wasabi Sauce at Chef Hideo Yamashiro's Orris is not always on the menu, though often appears on the specials and I always order it when I see it. I don't remember the price, but it is certainly much cheaper than its counterparts at fine dining establishments.

The lobe of foie is pan seared and the soft eggplant underneath added to the buttery, silky texture. Instead of the typical fruit for the sweet sauce, Chef Yamashiro adds his Japanese influence with a sweet soy reduction, and it's pretty amazing!

So, I'm running low on foie dishes. If you've encountered a great one recently, do let me know!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wine rapping and Pinot Noir at The Taste LA

There were tons of interviews and wine seminars throughout The Taste LA events, too many to attend all of them. One got my attention when I met Justin Warner, who was giving a pinot noir seminar with Ira Noroff (Director of Education at Southern Wine & Spirits). He said he was an oeno-rapper, i.e. he raps about wine? Rap about wine? Well, that was sure interesting.

The daytime seminar started with Justin rapping about the joys of California wines:

Then the seminar proceeded with Ira telling the attendees these facts about Pinot Noir:

  • Pinot is lighter in color because of its thin skin. That also means that it takes longer to extract the color, amplifying the difficulty and also the reason why Pinot is more expensive.
  • The Primary aroma in Pinot is cherry and strawberry.
  • Pinot Noir and Chardonnay likes cool climate, while Cabernet and Sauvignon like hot climate.
Ira also told us that when talking about wine, the "Primary characteristics" are always talking about fruit, while "Secondary characteristics" typically relate to the earth.

We tasted three widely different pinots, showcasing the diversity of this varietal. The first is Meiomi, by winemaker Joseph Wagner. This is a blend of region 1 central coast grapes. It's reminiscent of cola and dried leaves.

Next is a pinot from J Vineyard in the Russian River valley. This vineyard started as a sparkling wine company. This wine has more depth than the previous, reminiscent of rose petals. The wine was made in open top fermenters (which is what they do in Burgundy). They cold soak up to 10 days and then age it in 100% burgundy oak barrels (30% new oak barrels).

The last wine is 2007 Freestone pinot, by Joseph phelps. This is a new winery of his up in the Sonoma coast. The grapes used is 100% estate grown, and aged in 65% new oak barrels. Hints of orange peel. The wine is more tannic than the previous and tasted much more like a Cabernet. According to Ira, this wine will be fabulous in 5-10 years

Justin then finished off the tasting with an ode to Chateauneuf du Pape:

PS. Justin also owns Do or Dine restaurant in Brooklyn.

One last tip from Ira: Do not decant old wines! Decanting is for new wines that needs the air.

Gourmet Pigs   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital