Wednesday, June 27, 2012

John Kelly Chocolate Truffle Fudges and Visiting the Chocolate Factory!

I first had John Kelly chocolate (truffle fudges) at Corkbar and remember really liking it. I didn't know where their storefront is, so I never had it after that - until I was invited to a tasting at their new Santa Monica store on Montana.

These chocolate coated "truffle fudges" are not a traditional fudge, and the richness and creaminess are closer to a ganache.
Their most popular item is the Dark Chocolate with French Grey Sea Salt.

The fudge is made with 86% dark Belgian chocolate, topped with Sel Gris de Guerande sea salt. Sure, you see a lot of chocolates with sea salt these days, but John Kelly was one of the first, and this chocolate won the Sofi Gold Award for Outstanding Chocolate in 2009. My favorite, though, was the Chocolate and Caramel with Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt. They use bigger sea salt grains for this one to stand up to the caramel.

Their newest products are two spicy fudges: Dark Chocolate with Chipotle and Ancho Chile, and Dark Chocolate with Habanero and Jalapeno Chile
The first is the milder of the two but it still got quite a bit of heat (at least for me!). You get the spiciness at the end, although it does not really linger. The second is even spicier, and more of a slow burn than a sudden kick. Neither was overwhelming though and you still can taste the sweetness and creaminess of the chocolate.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp and Chile Relleno Dogs in San Felipe (BajaCalifornia, Mexico)

Some of you already know about Sonoran style hot dogs, even the bacon-wrapped kind. But in San Felipe, they took advantage of the seafood nearby and made ... Shrimp hot dogs! Bacon-wrapped shrimp hot dogs, to be precise. Oh, and bacon wrapped chile relleno dog also.

Martin started this "dogos de camaron" cart one and a half years ago, with a small cart in front of his house. Now he has two carts, chairs for his numerous customers, and even a little TV sitting on top of his fence. He will also be opening another cart on the main street of San Felipe soon.

The shrimp dogs aren't shrimp processed into sausages, but actual whole grilled shrimp - the bacon wrapping is what keeps it in shape.

According to Street Gourmet LA, it's not a Sonoran hot dog without Sonoran bread, and even here Martin ships the hot dog buns from Sonora. It's that heavy, comforting, late night food you've always loved (and craved when drunk) - but with fresh shrimp! And crispy bacon, mm..

The front of the cart held all the necessary toppings for a Sonoran dog. I had no idea what I was supposed to put on it, so I let Street Gourmet LA do all the work.

San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico

Cenaduria Panchita (empanadas, pickled pig's feet)
El Balcon Cocina Artesanal

Street Eats
Tacos Estilo Ciudad Obregon (bacon shrimp dog, chile relleno dog)

Valle de Los Gigantes

Thursday, June 21, 2012

LAX Eats: Lobster Pad Thai at Ayara Thai (and Recipe)

Finding a place to eat near LAX has always been a tough task and In-N-Out ends up being the choice a few too many times. My recent visit to Ayara Thai told me that I should've explored the area more, and it's now on my list the next time I have a friend or family flying in with a short layover. Definitely keep an eye out for their specials announcement on twitter or Facebook, because they just may have the lobster pad thai. Yup, lobster!

For $16, they give a generous amount of lobster. Chicken? Meh. After having pad thai with chunks of lobster, it's hard to imagine any other protein that would go better with this sweet noodle. Lobster is the way to go, so try it whenever they have it available!
Even though I normally stay away from the chili sauces, the owner said the pad thai goes really well with the red sauce and the pickled jalapeno, so I tried a bite with the condiments. They really changed the flavors and the pickled jalapeno (which wasn't too spicy) acted like a palate cleanser in between bites. You should really try adding these two to at least some of your pad thai!

The spring rolls we ordered were apparently vegetarian (with tofu) so they were a bit more bland.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

El Balcon: Alta Cocina in San Felipe (Baja, Mexico)

Unlike the more metropolitan Tijuana, there aren't too many high end dining options in San Felipe, a sleepy town during the off-season. Still, there is at least one, and a very good one at that.
El Balcon
El Balcon Cocina Artesanal opened in Jaunary this year by Chef Julio Cesar Gonzalez Zetina who had previous worked at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun and researched Mayan culinary traditions for the university there. Now he also teaches the subject at the local university after a recent move from Ensenada.

El Balcon wasn't a fancy restaurant, just a few cute tables outside on the second floor of La Plazita, and an outdoor kitchen. Thick tortilla chips are accompanied by a bold housemade salsa.

Our lunch tasting began with an Aguachile de Cazon (dogfish marinated in burnt chili sauce and green sauce, smoked tuna, sea asparagus and "Huaxes" (toasted seeds), grasshopper, verdolaga
We have had plenty of bounty from the Sea of Cortez, but this was the first time in San Felipe that we had it raw. The fresh dogfish carpaccio reminded me of kanpachi and both of the chile were so good that despite not being able to eat that spicy, I had to finish the entire plate (while downing plenty of water).

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tasting Menu at Shunji (West LA)

Shunji is one of the hot recent restaurant openings, with Chef Shunji Nakao's serving his "contemporary" omakase in an inconspicuous stand-alone building on Pico Blvd. There are only a handful of tables and a few seats at the sushi bar, and the chef prepared most of the dishes personally (some get fired in the kitchen).

His printed menu looks like the standard Japanese restaurant, but we had read about his omakase (the omakase was not printed on the menu) and just asked for that.

As an amuse bouche, a small bowl of jelly with cucumber and vinegar sauce


Next is a plate of small bites of vegetables, ankimo topped with caviar, a ball of purple potato with blue cheese and persimmon, and sweet potato with feta and truffle
Unsure if we were supposed to eat these in a particular order, we moved in one direction and it moves from rich (ankimo) to the palate cleansing, crisp, unadorned vegetables to the creamy potatoes

The scallop sashimi, topped with arugula flower, was so fresh

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

For the Downtown Beer and Wine Geeks: Buzz Wine Beer Shop

We know plenty of watering holes in Downtown LA, but where do downtowners go to buy beer and wine for their homes? Well, now they should all be going to Buzz, the new wine and beer shop on Spring Street.

Buzz is not only about the eclectic selection of wine and beer (a fairly large collection of beers at that), they also have a tasting room in the back where you can get flights, taste beers on tap, and attend special tastings.
I was invited to a tasting party there along with other media, wine distributors, and the wine producers. The tasting showcases some of the more interesting (some rare) wines they have at Buzz, like Eastern European wines from Blue Danube Wines, and La Clarine Farm wines from the Sierra Nevada foothills. Sierra what? It's apparently a region east of Sacramento - a growing wine region that had escaped my radar thus far.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Anchor Bar (Buffalo, NY): Home of the Original Buffalo Wings

Anchor Bar may no longer be the best place to go for buffalo wings in Buffalo, NY, but it will forever be the place where the wings were first invented. Naturally it still draws plenty of tourists; it's after all fun to go to "the home of the original buffalo wings!"

The buffalo wings were said to have been invented by Teressa Bellissimo in 1964, when she served them to her son and his college friends late one night. Now, there's a 15-30 minute wait for a table. Photos of celebrities at Anchor Bar and articles fill the walls. Shot glasses and t shirts are available as souvenirs.

We got a "bucket" of 50 wings ($39) to share among 8 people. I was worried about the spiciness and we ended up ordering a "medium" which the waitress said had a good kick to it but wasn't too spicy. Well ... the "medium" was actually super mild ... even for me!

The skin on the wings were nice and crunchy, but we could barely taste the buffalo sauce. They were still good wings, but towards the end of the bucket, I decided to ask the waitress for extra hot sauce. It was much more flavorful with the hot sauce, but she charged us for it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Melisse Ups the Ante with New Cocktails by Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix

Melisse has always been one of the top restaurants in the city, but it lacked a good cocktail program - until now. Chef Josiah Citrin and the team at Melisse recently hired the team behind La Descarga and other great LA bars, Steve Livigni, Pablo Moix, and Lindsay Nader, to come up with a bar program to meet the level of their food.

The result? A fun and sophisticated list of cocktails. There's no physical bar at Melisse, but with a kitchen of this caliber, they can do a lot of fun and ambitious things "table side" that you cannot do at a busy bar, like this deconstructed Zombie.

Watching the setup and action is certainly part of the draw for this drink.

Steve Livigni pouring in frozen nitrogen
The deconstructed zombie consisted of rum jello made with three different rums (Flor de Cana 4 year, Appleton VX, and Smith and Cross Navy Strength), Passion fruit "dippin dots", mint gelee, and passionfruit juice. It's beautiful with the style of a Melisse dessert.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Giant Cactus! Valle de Los Gigantes in San Felipe, Baja California,Mexico

People think of the beach and ocean when they think of San Felipe in Baja California, Mexico, but it is also a desert. A desert with giant cacti!

Thanks to Street Gourmet LA, I went along on a media trip to San Felipe this past week and saw these giants with my own eyes.
Valle de Los Gigantes in Rancho Punta Estrella features gigantic sahuaros, which are only 6 mm when it's a year old but can grow for 2000 (yes, 2000!) years!

They don't produce the first seed until they're about 75 years old, and after that it will go on to produce millions, but maybe only one will survive until maturity. Well, when "maturity" in the desert amount to thousands of years, that's not so surprising ...

For size comparisons:
See Street Gourmet LA with his camera to the right? It's not that he's far away in the background, that really is how big that cactus is.
I don't know why this one didn't sprout any branches, but it sure grew to be a lot taller than the rest!

San Felipe gets really hot in the summer months (March is the ideal time to vacation here), but it was definitely worth the trek to see them.

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