Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bid and Eat for Haiti! Announcing a Fundraising Online Auction

Starting Friday Feb 5, 2010, I will be holding an online silent auction to benefit CHF International and Operation USA for their Haiti relief efforts!

Various Los Angeles restaurants, coffee shops, and chefs have generously donated gift cards and other items that you can bid on via Bid and Eat!

All proceeds from this auction will go to the two charities mentioned above, so please take the time to peruse the item and bid on this website!

About CHF International’s Efforts in Haiti:

CHF International responded to the earthquake immediately. We have a team of around 170 staff in Haiti, including many infrastructure and construction experts, who have been undertaking one of the largest USAID funded infrastructure rehabilitation and job creation programs in Haiti since 2006, and who have been responsible for repairing vital infrastructure damaged in the 2008 tropical storm season.

CHF is assisting relief efforts in the immediate aftermath, and then we will focus on the needs of the people as they transition from basic survival to recovery. This includes some of CHF’s areas of greatest expertise such as building ‘transitional shelters’; temporary homes that meet international standards where a family can live during the recovery period; helping to generate livelihoods, by employing people in the clean up of their community; and aiding reconstruction efforts by creating earthquake resistant buildings.

About Operation USA:

Operation USA helps communities alleviate the effects of disasters, disease and endemic poverty throughout the world by providing privately-funded relief, reconstruction and development aid. We provide material and financial assistance to grassroots organizations that promote sustainable development, leadership and capacity building, income generating activities, provide education and health services, and advocate on behalf of vulnerable people.


This auction will start on Friday Feb 5, 2010 and runs until midnight of Tuesday Feb 9, 2010 , so you can only bid on items between those times!

This should give you plenty of time to browse and bid.


A big thank you to all the generous donors!

All of the donors are listed below:

Allston Yacht Club

Bond St. Beverly Hills
iHerb, inc.
Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
Jian BBQ
Petrossian West Hollywood
Pizzeria Ortica
Rush Street
Wine Detective
... and a little something from moi ;)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

DineLA 2010 Quickie: Fogo de Chao

When I saw Fogo de Chao on the Restaurant Week list and their price point, I was immediately interested. I had never been there but I knew that their lunch regularly costs $34.50 and dinner $56.50. And that doesn't even include dessert. During dineLA Restaurant Week, weekday lunches cost $28 and dinners cost $44, both include a choice of dessert (although not all choices are available).

I thought this was a really good deal and I had been wanting to check out this place for years now. Since the meat selection is the same for lunch or dinner, I scheduled a lunch with Wandering Chopsticks here.

I had the same problem I always have on buffet lines: I get everything. The veggies were fresh - I was impressed considering it was a "buffet".

Fresh spinach, big and sweet asparagus, juicy tomatoes to go with your burrata. Nothing outstanding, but definitely meets the standards.

Their pão de queijo were warm, big, and nicely cheesy. These were much better than what you may get at a random chain store in Brazil (especially if you're at the airport ...).
I could eat a lot of these, if only I didn't need to make room for meat.
Flip your card to the green side and the men will come bearing skewers of various meats to your tableside.

Fogo de Chao offers a variety of cuts and meats - 15 to be exact. Besides your typical sirloin, rib eye, beef ribs, pork ribs, they also have bacon wrapped pork and chicken, etc etc. For more details, you should check the dine LA's Fogo menu here.

Among our favorites were the picanha (prime sirloin flavored with sea salt and garlic) and the lamb chops.
Not that I've gone for all-you-can-eat Brazilian bbq that much before, but this is definitely one of the best I've had. Just make sure you ask for it to be cooked the way you like it - that's medium rare for me. I couldn't eat that much so towards the end I ended up sticking to just my two favorite cuts above.

With the meats came three sides: mashed potatoes, fried polenta, and plaintains.
This is the one place where WC noticed the difference between restaurant week and a regular experience - we got all our sides, but she said that usually they refill your sides when you get low or run out. Not these 2 weeks, apparently.

Today's selection of desserts were only the papaya cream or the key lime pie. WC got the key lime pie.
The key lime pie was actually pretty nice - rich and tart.

I got the papaya cream, which is papaya pureed with vanilla ice cream, topped with creme de cassis.
Yeah, okay, so it's a pretty simple dessert, and it tastes exactly as it's described: papaya pureed with vanilla ice cream, but I liked it since I like papaya and rarely gets it in the US.

To recap the deal: Lunch $34.50+dessert $10 = $28 during dine LA week, you do the math. Even if the service isn't as good, I'll live with it for the savings.

Fogo de Chao
133 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 289-7755
Fogo de Chao on Urbanspoon
Fogo de Chao in Los Angeles

Monday, February 1, 2010

DineLA 2010 Quickie: Dinner at K-Zo

Dine LA dinner at K-Zo in Culver City is $44 for 3 courses and the choices seemed pretty good. When I saw the regular menu though, I noticed they have 5 courses for $58 any day, so whether or not the $44 is a special deal or not gets a double take.

The appetizer options are 1) Rokuten Mori (a selection of 6 appetizers), 2) Seafood salad, or 3) Bouillabaise.

The Rokuten Mori gives you a sampling of a variety of cold seafood appetizers including crab sunomono, oysters, yellow tail sashimi, ankimo, etc. All of them were well prepared with fresh ingredients. The bouillabaise was pretty good, but it doesn't compare to the one I had at Bond St.

For the entrees we had a choice between: 1) a plate of nigiri sushi + popcorn shrimp and asparagus roll, 2) grilled rib-eye steak, or 3) braised Chilean sea bass.Having a plate of sushi means you're not getting each piece fresh from the hands of the itamae, but nonetheless they were still good with fresh pieces of fish - although they are mostly your standard orders.

The Chilean sea bass was well prepared and tender. The mashed "purple potato" and steamed bok choy were good accompaniments and filled you up.

For dessert, we ordered the apple "tatan" (hey, that's how they spelled it :P).
The apple tatin was pretty nicely caramelized - although the strawberry accompaniment seemed an afterthought and deterred from the sweetness of the apples.

I ordered the purple sweet potato parfait because it seemed most interesting.
This was a very enjoyable dessert - like a sweet potato zanzai - with red bean, mochi balls, and vanilla ice cream. The "sauce" was made with Okinawa purple sweet potato. I would definitely get this one again, especially since this was one of the more unique desserts they offer.

Overall the K-Zo dineLA meal was good and satisfying (although the portions are smaller than many other restaurants), but as I mentioned, since they normally have a 5 course meal for $58, I probably wouldn't hurry here if you only have limited opportunities to do dineLA.

9240 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-8890

Friday, January 29, 2010

Grub: Top Chef Betty Fraser's Cozy Home

Top chef contestant Betty Fraser and grub gal pal Denise deCarlo outfitted a 1920's duplex in Hollywood into the home of their cozy restaurant, Grub. Their brunch service has gotten plenty of positive feedback and even won Citysearch's Best Brunch award.

They recently started their dinner service and wanted to get more word out, and since we met during The Food Event, Chef Betty invited me and a friend over to try out their dinner on the house.

Going to Grub felt like going to a friend's house during the holidays. From the patio seating to the warm interior decorated with christmas lights and a motley selection of artwork, Grub's feel is casual at its best.
Even though it was pouring outside, Grub had a steady trickle of customers who are obviously neighborhood locals. Not surprised, a charming place like this would be a neighborhood destination for sure.

Instead of bread, Grub serves a basket of vegetable sticks and pretzels with dip - a fun change.
Grub has a pretty cheap drink menu with $4.25 sangrias and lemon basil champagne cocktail that sounds absolutely delicious, but I decided not to indulge that night and went with a blueberry lemonade instead. They give you a big glass of this really refreshing drink for $2.50.

Per our waiter's recommendation, for appetizer we got "Our Famous Spicy Lemon Hummus" ($6.25)
I wasn't expecting to get hummus here, but this really was quite good. The hummus was full of flavor it was hard for me to stop eating it.

Grub has a pretty big dinner menu with a lot of 'green' and salad choices and sandwiches, but this night I went with their California Crab Cake ($16.95)
The crabcake was unexpectedly spicy! I ended up not eating most of it since I couldn't really handle the spice (me=weaksauce), luckily the greens helped keep the spiciness at bay. The highlight of this dish for me was actually the creamed corn - also spiced up. A bit of spice, plus the sweetness of the corn all molded together in cream was so good. (Disclaimer: I'm a total corn lover)

I did think the crabcake's portion was small especially compared to the steak. My friend ordered the Drunken Steak ($21.95)
Marinated in Stone Pale Ale and cooked to medium rare, this steak was super tender. It was a little bland for me to just eat the meat though, but the mushroom onion pan sauce took care of that.

We were stuffed but I've been eyeing their dessert menu. Their smallest item thought 1/4 of their Big-Ass ice cream cookie sandwich, so they split that for us.
Here's 1/8 of a Big-Ass Ice Cream Cookie sandwich:
Still pretty big and definitely pushed me over the edge! But talk about indulging, there's nothing better than chewy chocolate cookies and ice cream.

Grub also offers a big selection of sandwiches and burgers and a variety of their famous mac-n-cheese which I want to try next time.
And I definitely can't wait to try their award winning brunch.

911 Seward St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 461-3663
Grub on Urbanspoon
Grub in Los Angeles

Monday, January 25, 2010

DineLA 2010 Restaurant Week Launch! What's on Your Agenda?

The 2010 Dine LA Restaurant Week is here! Has everyone started dining out?

Last week Dine LA held a launch party at the Hollywood Roosevelt and dozens of Los Angeles chefs, restaurateurs, and media people gathered over cocktails served up by the Library Bar.
Starting from the refreshing arugula gimlet to the interesting umami-driven-but-I-probably-can't-drink-a-whole-glass-of Shiitake Manhattan (shiitake infused bourbon, yes) to the sweet strawberry cocktail as a finisher, Library Bar was hard at work to keep us happy.
My favorite was definitely the arugula gimlet. I haven't been to Library Bar before but am definitely planning a visit after this party!

We mingled over Mexican food provided by the Roosevelt hotel, me trying to find all the LA chefs around and listening to Villairaigosa gave a short speech.
Chefs in attendance were almost everyone in town from Joachim Splichal, Ludo Lefebvre, John Sedlar, Ben Bailly, Mark Gold, Josie Le Balch, Akira Hirose, Keizo Ishiba, and many many more.

On one of the tables they had a chef's coat that all the chefs in attendance had been signing. I recognized Josie, Neal Fraser, and David Myers among others (it's hard to read signatures :P )
I wonder what they'll do with this coat ... it might fetch a fun price for an auction!

During the launch party they also released their Los Angeles chefs/restaurants family tree, the first ever! It looks something like this, but is actually more interactive than that, so you should just go on their website and check it out.

It's quite interesting to see which restaurants have been responsible for launching these great chefs! Spago, Campanile, and Patina are definitely some of the more productive ones.

Dine LA has also been running a DineLA-a-Day! daily giveaway of $100 certificates to various restaurants! You can check out this page for the day's giveaway, and be sure to look at the hints (you may need to refer to the family tree).

So far here's my agenda (and other tentative plans):
Lunch at Cube
Lunch at Fogo de Chao
The Lazy Ox Canteen

If you still can't decide from the menu, feel free to check out my old dineLA reviews.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A True Foodie's 21st Birthday!

Our no-longer-Teenage Glutster is all grown up now! But no way will we foodblogger friends let him spend his 21st birthday in a haze and hungover from kegs, Jagerbombs, and 2-buck-chucks.
No, we're going to celebrate in style!
Since Glutster had just achieved the legal age of drinking, he obviously had a lot to catch up on, so Street Gourmet LA arranged for a day of wine tasting and more in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.
Six wineries, to be exact. Like I said, he needed to catch up. With a bit of financial help from Foodbuzz' 24, 24, 24 program, we're off to wine and dine him!

Our caravan, spearheaded by Street Gourmet LA, consisted of e*starLA, FoodGPS, and the siblings from Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron in Huntington Park.

Our first stop is Foxen Vineyard in Santa Maria.
Besides being featured in the movie 'Sideways', Foxen Vineyard is a well-established (since 1985) winery boasting solar powered winery and tasting room and 90+ point wines from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Robert Parker.

Our group is ready to go!

Foxen recently built a new tasting facility, but probably because the old one was featured in the movie Sideways, they kept both open. Foxen offers a tasting of five wines for $10 or a tasting of 3 wines at each location (6 total) for $12.

Here are the five wines we tasted:
2007 Chenin Blanc - Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard. A nice and light white.
2008 Chardonnay - Tinaquaic Vineyard. This is Foxen-owned vineyard.
2008 Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley
2007 Cuvee Jean Marie. A blend of Grenache, Syrah,and Mourvedre. This a fruity and flavorful wine,loved it.
2006 Syrah- Tinaquaid Vineyard. Much spicier than the previous red, has a fuller body but not as flavorful.

7600 Foxen Canyon Road (new tasting facility)
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251

Next we went to Alma Rosa winery in Buelton, passing through the quaint Danish town of Solvang on the way. Alma Rosa has a beautiful setting and a lovely outdoor tasting area. I can really hang out here all day.

Alma Rosa offers a varietal flight of five wines for $10:
2008 Santa Barbara County Pinot Gris- light and crisp.
2007 Sta Rita Hills Pinot Blanc
2008 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay - sweeter and fruitier than the previous two whites.
2007 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir - an interesting Pinot, it was smooth with a little hint of pleasant bitterness.
2006 La Encentada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Chris Burroughs from the Alma Rosa tasting room made a cameo in the movie Sideways (because they decided he was just so cool), so Javier took a celeb shot with him.

7250 Santa Rosa Road
Buellton CA 93427

I was actually looking forward to visiting Artiste winery because they have the art studio where you can get creative while you're wine tasting. Unfortunately they were in the process of moving their tasting room to Los Olivos, so we weren't able to visit them. In the spirit of 24, 24, 24, though, since I had included them in my proposal, we decided to hold our own "Artiste tasting."

Street Gourmet LA brought 2 bottles of Artiste wines and accompanied by some amazing cemitas (courtesy of the Pal Cabron siblings), baklava, a wonderfully salty cheese from Chiapa, and Kiss My Bundt mini bundt cakes, we had a picnic lunch while taking in the lovely Santa Ynez air.

Many toasts and best wishes to our adult Glutster!

You can also see estarla there shuffling back and forth after eating some spicy Pal Cabron's housemade Chipotle! (More on the "Chipotle Shuffle" later ;P)

The labels of Artiste wines are hand chosen paintings representing the name of the wines. That afternoon we tasted Les Fleurs (a blend of about 5-6 whites) and Peaceful Alliance, both lovely wines. The Peaceful Alliance actually made a great pairing with the Chiapa cheese!

Moving to Los Olivos, location still undisclosed.
Phone (805) 686-2626
Moving on to another Sideways-featured winery with Blackjack in Solvang, we took down their tasting of 10 (yes, TEN) wines ($12), which included the Maximus Syrah as featured in Sideways during the four-screen montage about 30 minutes into the movie.

Besides labels of famous Bordeaux, the tasting room was also decorated with photos from the movie Sideways.

Our ten wines:
1. Chardonnay Blackjack Ranch Vineyard Reserve 2007 - crisp and not too oaky.
2. Chardonnay Wilkening Vineyard Reserve 2006 - in stark contrast to the previous, this chardonnay was very buttery.
3. Chardonnay "Black Cap Reserve" 2005 - unfiltered white wine.
4. Pinot Noir Alix de Vergy 2005 Special Selection Reserve - a lot of smoke in the nose, but I don't find the wine particularly smooth.
5. Allusion 205 (Cab Franc with an accent of Merlot)
6. Double-Down Syrah 2005/2006 - fruity and smooth, this was one of my favorite from this tasting.
7. Harmonie 2004 "Bordeaux-Blend"
8. Harmonie 2002 "Bordeaux-Blend" - this wine spent 2 years in the oak barrels and is quite a nice wine, full bodied and smooth. Another winner.
9. Merlot Billy Goat Hill 2005
10. Maximus Syrah 2005 - this is their "Sideways" wine and a good choice. Quite flavorful and had a big body.

Blackjack Ranch
2205 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang, CA

We proceeded to the charming town of Los Olivos and first stopped at the Scott Cellars tasting room. Hippie winemaker Peter Scott Fraser personally manned the tasting room along with wife Jennifer and his mother.
Choosing his own rows of grapes from nearby vineyards (with the exception of the Zinfandel, which was from Paso Robles), Scott knows the effects that different soils would have on the resulting wine. We got lucky that day since Scott Cellars was having a (free) tasting event. This proved to be one of the more solid all-around tastings of the day with consistently high quality wines.
My favorites are the following:

2006 Pinot Gris
2007 Pinot Gris - This 100% stainless steel white is creamier wine than the year previous. This was probably my favorite.
2007 Pinot Noir - a double gold-medal winner.

We also tried their first release of Sangiovese wine.

You may notice the leaf on Scott Cellars' wine labels. That is the leaf of the grape used in the wine. Each leaf has a different shape and that is how he distinguishes between them in the vineyard. A nice touch. If you buy enough of their wines, you can learn all the shapes too!

Scott Cellars
2933 San Marcos Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441


Our wine tasting day ended about 2 blocks away in Los Olivos at the Carhartt winery tasting room.
This tiny tasting room was already half full before we bombarded them with our group of nine. Winemaker and owner Mike Carhartt was pouring our wines while bantering with Street Gourmet LA.

Our $10 tasting consisted of:
2008 Sauvignon Blanc
2008 Chase The Blues Away Rose (named for their son Chase)
2008 Pinot Noir
2007 Sangiovese
2008 Lockshaw Vineyard, Paso Robles Zinfandel - sweet and fruity
2006 Merlot
2006 Syrah
2007 "Four Play" - a Bordeaux blend with 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cab Franc, 3% Petite Verdot. A surprisingly spicy wine.

Apparently, when 5 pm comes, Mike turns off the regular music and puts on his rock-n-roll. Maybe it was the cozy-ness of the tasting room or maybe it was how casual Mike was interacting with everyone there, but half of our group definitely started bopping to the music.

2990A Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441


To soak up all the wine we tasted, we were off to eat some amazing Brazilian food in ... Oxnard!
This may come as a surprise to you (it certainly did to me), but what's possibly the best and most exciting Brazilian restaurant in this part of the country is Moqueca Restaurant in Oxnard. I've been really excited about this place. It turned out the place was fancier than I had expected, located right next to the water near the Marine landing.

Moqueca, a traditional Brazilian seafood stew, is a rare find in this country.
There are two variants of Moqueca in Brazil: Moqueca Capixaba from Espírito Santo state in the Southeast, and Moqueca Baiana from Bahia state in the Northeast.
Moqueca Restaurant serves capixaba cuisine. Capixaba moqueca is a seafood stew where the seafood has been marinated in lime and garlic, and then cooked in a clay pot with tomatoes, cilantro, onion, olive oil (one of the main differences between this and the Bahian variant is the use of dende oil in Bahia), and urucum - a red, prickly Brazilian fruit that really gives the moqueca a rich flavor.

At Moqueca Restaurant, they still use the traditional Brazilian clay pots made with mangrove tree sap, making the meal even more special.

With many of us fallen and backing out of dinner, we needed the chef's help in order to go throught the entire Moqueca offering since each moqueca serves two. The chef, Tatiana, agreed to combine some items in the moqueca for us, so that we'll manage to eat lobster tail, shrimp, mahi mahi, angel shark, and plaintain (banana de terra)! All of those for five of us.

Hungry after wine tasting, we devoured the bread with the delicious eggplant spread and adding the malagueta peppers (or the oil, if you're weaksauce like me).

We started out with some Bolinha de bacalhau ($12) - cod fish meat, potatoes, and parsley fried cakes with homemade light yogurt cakes.
These crispy 'cod balls' were just perfect to start our meal. Light yet flavorful with a rich and creamy dip. There were six pieces so we let Glutster have the last piece, but we all secretly wanted to eat them ourselves.

Next up is the pinnacle of our meal: Moquecas.
Moqueca de Lagosta Com Camarao ($72) - lobster tail and shrimp moqueca, serves two.
The first bite of the shrimp was pure bliss. That plump, fresh shrimp in the amazingly flavorful tomato-based broth. So much spice and flavors going on in this dish. Moqueca is a must try dish!

The other moqueca was of mahi-mahi fillet and angel shark cubes.
Even though the base of the broth is the same, the different seafood that's been cooking in it really imparts a special flavor to each. The shrimp and lobster one was a tad sweeter. The mahi mahi and shark cubes were moist and tender with the shark cubes being a bit meatier.
Both of these are perfect with the fragrant rice they served.

And to complete all the moqueca offerings, a side of the banana de terra (plantains):

We also got the Bobo de Camarao ($32) - serves two. The bobo is originally Bahian but since it has been a popular Brazilian dish, it is now usually found in most Brazilian restaurants.
Jumbo shrimps similarly cooked in claypot but the "broth" is wildly different. The bobo is thickened not just with coconut milk but also yucca, giving it that thick, almost slimey consistency. The bobo is also another must-get Brazilian dish. The spices and the creamy consistency makes it the perfect winter night dish.

After our extremely satisfying meal, it's time for desserts. No, we can't go without dessert!

We shared three different Brazilian desserts:
Pudim de caramelo (caramel flan)
Brazilian flan is particularly dense and rich because of the condensed milk they use. Probably too rich for one person to finish, but works just fine when split between five of us.

Quindim (coconut/egg yolk custard).
This was my first time having this interesting dessert. The coconut taste really came through, and the "custard" had a firm texture.

Mousse de Maracuja (passionfruit mousse)

This was my favorite dessert of the night. It's light and fluffy with a great passionfruit flavor.

This was one of the best meals I've had recently and the perfect way for us to end our day. It was amazing to find a Brazilian restaurant with this regional specialty of this caliber in Oxnard. It's even worth it to make a separate 1 hour trip to dine here.

Moqueca Restaurant
3550 Harbor Boulevard
Oxnard, CA 93035
(805) 204-0970

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