Sunday, August 30, 2009

Product Review: Ile de France Goat Cheese

A few months ago I reviewed a sample of the brie cheese from Ile de France, and since I absolutely loved it, I wasn't about to turn down their sample of goat cheese. The package that was chilled with a couple of ice packs contained La Buchette, their 10.5 oz pack of the plain goat cheese (they also sell ones flavored with herbs).
Since I was out of town, I got to the package a day late but thankfully the ice packs still kept it cool.

When I first opened it, the cheese was so soft and creamy and spread very easily on crackers. The cheese was smooth and rich, slightly salty and had a -- interestingly -- slightly tart flavor to it. This surprised me at first but then I grew to really like it. I loved it paired with some sweet fruits.

You can chill the goat cheese to get it firm and crumbly to sprinkle it on your salad (or your beets, naturally!)

For me, I enjoyed most of mine spread over crackers with a side of champagne grapes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

STK Hell's Kitchen Promotion: Eat What You Watch

I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Iron Chef, Top Chef, etc. You watch what the chefs are cooking on TV and you start to drool over it. You wish you can go eat that item tonight, but there's nowhere in town to get it. Now you can. Well, for Hell's Kitchen anyway.

STK sous chef Ariel Contreras is participating in this season's Hell's Kitchen and starting tonight, STK starts a new promotion called Eat What You Watch.

It's just like the name says. Every Wednesday STK will serve a dish inspired by the Hell's Kitchen episode from the night before.

Last night we watched the Hell's Kitchen episode together with Ariel at STK where her team threw a dice of alphabets and picked ingredients based on that letter. The result? Rabbit, tenderloin, garlic, haricot vert, potatoes.

Tonight STK will be serving Steak with Roasted Garlic, Haricot Vert, and Heirloom Potatoes.

The promotion will continue every Wednesday at both the NYC and LA STK until the end of the season, so if you see something on the show you'd like to actually taste instead of licking the TV, see what STK has to offer the next night.

STK. 755 N La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069. (310) 659-3535

Molecular Mixology Events Hit L.A.

Last year, The Bazaar introduced Los Angeles to Molecular Mixology with their cotton candy Magic Mojito and liquid nitrogen Caipirinha.

This year, molecular mixology is gaining ground, but not at bars or restaurants, but at special tasting events around LA.

Last week, Tres Generaciones tequila--a triple-distilled tequila line from Sauza that's aged in Bourbon barrels-- held a tequila cocktails tasting + a teaser taste of molecular mixology at the W Hotel in Westwood.

This Thursday, August 27, event production company Salt of the Earth is collaborating with catering company Epicurean Umbrella to hold a chef's tasting + molecular mixology event (see below for deets).

At the Tres Generaciones event, we first tasted three tequila cocktails each made with a different aged tequila: (from youngest to oldest) plata (unaged), reposado (aged at least 4 months), and anejo (aged 3 years).

1. L.A. Love: Tres Generaciones Reposado, Basil, Granny Smith Apple, Fig, Orange Marmalade & Vanilla
2. Obama-Rita: Tres Generaciones Plata, Brandy, Lime, Fresh Lemon Sour & Triple Sec
3. Bells Will Be Ringing: Tres Generaciones Anejo, Ginger, Fig, Fresh OJ & Vanilla
My favorite was definitely the L.A. Love - most likely because of the basil :P

W Hotel took care of us food-wise too with passed appetizers including (my fave) marinated korean beef skewers.

The three cocktails and the appetizers got us ready for tequila ambassador Eddie Perales to show us how to make some nifty drinks. He showed us muddling techniques and made a cocktail with muddled cucumber - I got a sip of it thanks to Rumdood but failed to get a glass of my own ... unfortunately. It was soo tasty too.
Eddie heated up some tequila with chocolate (tequila-infused chocolate, mind you), strawberries, raspberries, marmalade, and mint in a pan. Drink this warm, straight up - it's better than cider (for me), it has chocolate!
The promised molecular mixology was supposed to be some cotton candy cocktails, but we unfortunately didn't get any cotton candy cocktail because they had trouble with the stove, but did try the tequila-sprayed cotton candies he had on hand.


This Thursday, August 27th, a unique event is being held at The Mark in West Los Angeles.

The basics: Three hours, three chefs, and three cocktails from San Francisco's Liquid Alchemy.

The setup: One chef will prepared on tasting plate every hour, which will be passed around the room along with the paired cocktail. There will be colored lights showing which chef isin action that hour.

The chefs: Renieri Caceres (Botero, Encore, Las Vegas), Tomas Rivera(co-founder of Salt of the Earth) and Al Gordon (co-founder of Epicurean Umbrella).

The molecular cocktails: Cotton candy martini, Kir Royale with blackberry gelee pearls, and liquid nitrogen in stainless steel rings Micro Basil Gimlet.

The event is held Thursday August 27th, 7-10 PM.
The Mark
, 9320 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles 90035.
$52 per person.
Buy tickets here or call (323) 350-0953

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Secret Beef Place

Totoraku. "The Secret Beef" restaurant. For so long I can only imagine this ultimate yakiniku experience, but thanks to the people I met through food blogging, last year I finally got my way in. Since then I've been to Totoraku twice, though have yet to blog about it, with it being "secret" and all. Then people pointed out that it's on Yelp and Urbanspoon so it's not much of a secret (though you still can't just go on your own), so I shouldn't feel bad about blogging it ...

We got our way in through a professor of KevinEats and our group of 12, organized by Will of Fooddigger eagerly gathered one Friday night. With wine, of course, as the place is corkage fee-free. The chef owner of Totoraku is a huge wine connoisseur and patrons are expected to share the wine they bring with him during the meal -- and make sure it's a good wine.

With that introduction and also the fact that some of us were big wine people anyway, no one wanted to be the only one not bringing the wine, for our group of twelve, we ended up with 12 bottles of wine and 1 bottle of daiginjo sake.
Oh don't worry, we finished everything by the end of the night. Though it did result in one of us having a little "accident" in my living room (should I say who? :P )

First came a plate of selected appetizers: Cantaloupe and Prosciutto, Asparagus and Walnuts, Lobster Salad, King Crab Gelée, Sockeye Salmon, Quail Egg with Caviar, Japanese Persimmon Salad, Momotaro Tomato and Ricotta Cheese, Steamed Abalone.

All of the appetizers were excellent, but my favorite was the lobster salad.

Meat-wise we worked our way up starting from the raw beef. First up were the beef tataki and beef throat sashimi.
The beef throat sashimi was one of the most memorable dishes I had there. It had a great texture - rather on the chewy side. We were told it took one and a half cows to make that little bowl you see up there.

Beef tartar with pine nuts and pear.
On my second visit, I took PepsiMonster along, and he claimed that this was the best steak tartar he's ever had. The fresh, quality beef, along with the other components of the dish work together perfectly.

On our first visit, we also had the fortune of sharing some Culatello that was brought back from Italy by our very own Potential Gold, who spent quite some time learning the cuisine there.

After the tartar, our yakiniku fun began.

#1. Tongue.
This was one of the most tender cuts of tongues we've had, and as the night goes on this becomes a general trend with the other cuts of meat - more tender than usual, full of flavor. Just amazing.

We grilled all the meat on one of these table-top charcoal grills.

With the meat, we were also served some marinated Momotaro tomatoes.
Oh, it was only the best tomatoes I've ever had in my life. The same was true on my second visit. These tomatoes are ridiculously sweet and juicy. It's rather funny that I go to a secret beef place and the tomatoes are what I remember the most.

#2. Filet mignon with onions, mushrooms, peppers
As with sushi, we move from the leaner cuts of meat towards the fattier one here.

#3. Inside rib eye

#4. Outside rib eye (Rib Eye Cap)
I thought I took photos of everything, but I guess not? Anyway ... I love rib eye cap and the one at Totoraku takes the crown. Tender, flavorful, with just the right amount of fat.

The meat came with a bowl of vegetables and a nice spicy miso dipping paste - most of us filled ourselves up just with carrot sticks dipped in this miso paste.

#5. Short rib.
The short rib here is unmarinated, unlike what you find at most Korean bbq places, because really, if you have a high quality of meat such as you most certainly do at Totoraku, you don't need to marinate short ribs!

#6. The finale was marinated skirt steak.
I actually adore skirt steaks because it is one of the most flavorful cuts of meat, but I know most people don't like it much because it tends to be a tougher cut. At Totoraku this was not at all a problem - the skirt steak here was so tender, yet retains the flavorfulness.

The savory part of the meal ends with a bowl of Kuppa Soup
This is a slightly spicy soup with rice, egg, and vegetables. A nice way to end the meal and settle our stomachs down a bit.

No meal is complete without dessert though, or at least a palate cleanser. We had a selection of ice cream and sorbet: pistachio ice cream, lychee sorbet, blueberry sorbet, coffee ice cream, and white chocolate/raspberry ice cream
Even the ice cream and sorbet are excellent. Everyone had their own favorites here, but since I'm a big fan of blueberry, naturally that was my favorite. The coffee ice cream was also ridiculously good though ...

Totoraku pawns other yakiniku/bbq places in town hands down, but at a heftier price of $180 per person at the end of tax and tips. Not cheap enough for most of us to go regularly, but if you can get in and can fork the dough, this is an experience worth trying at least once.

Address and phone number? Well, it's kind of a secret. You at least have to work for it.
Totoraku Teriyaki House Pico on Urbanspoon
Totoraku in Los Angeles

For a more detailed review of the same meal, check out Kevin's post.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Real Cake Monkey: Beyond the Cakewiches

Some of you already know Cake Monkey. Some of you think you know Cake Monkey from their cakewiches and Yo-hos from Umami Burger, or their maple oatmeal cookies Li'l Merris available at Silverlake Wine. But the real Cake Monkey is even better than that.
Available by phone order are 3" individual-sized layer cakes, and these cakes are the ones raved about on Bon Appetit and LA Times.
Here's the deal: Cakes must be ordered in advance and requires a minimum order of 9 cakes total AND minimum 3 cakes per flavor ordered. Meaning for each minimum order you can only try out 3 flavors.

And with 12 different flavors offered, this is a hard proposition. And trust me, you don't need to eat 9 cakes anyway, so the best chance to order some Cake Monkey cakes is to 1) share it with at least 2 other people, or 3) splurge for a party.

I did number 1 above and picked up the cakes at their bakery in Glendale (no storefront available) and below is my loot!

Raspberry Red Velvet Cake
The same moist red velvet cake with creamy raspberry icing in between, just like its cakewich counterpart. But double stack that and instead of chocolate shell, think MORE raspberry vanilla icing that makes the cake even more moist.

Must Love Chocolate (Devil’s Food Cake with Crunchy Valrhona Chocolate Pearls and Dark Chocolate Frosting, Topped with Crumbled Honeycomb)
You really must love chocolate in order to be able to finish this, but if you do you'd love it. The intensity of the dark chocolate and the richness of the devil's food cake really get you hooked, though it's so rich and sweet that half a cake is more than enough for one sitting.

But then again, I think that might be the case for most of their 3 inchers.

Pecan Dacquoise (Brown Butter Cake with Pecan Dacquoise and Caramel Buttercream)
Perhaps my favorite with its lighter flavor. It's lightly sweet making finishing a whole cake that much easier, and the nutty, creamy pecan dacquoise takes the cake to a whole new level.

Cake Monkey
877.640.CAKE (2253)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's for Breakfast? Hidalgo-style Mutton Barbacoa

Our first full day in Tijuana on a trip sponsored by Cotuco and the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau involved a food marathon across 7 restaurants, but one night was all we needed to recover, being the pro foodies that we were. The next morning we were all ready to chow down on some Hidalgo-style barbacoa!
Barbacoa Ermita opens only on the weekends and owner Victor Torres roasts one mutton overnight in the stone pit in the garage of his house.
By the way, we're eating in the garage too, which has been outfitted with tables, bathrooms, and a kitchen. Ermita closes when they run out of meat, which is never too late in the day.

Nothing like a glass of jamaica and some mutton barbacoa to start the day.
We start out with a bowl of consomme made with the drippings from the mutton being cooked overnight.
The consomme has been watered down but chick peas were added for extra flavor. Don't drink all the consomme though - this is meant to dip your barbacoa in later.

Then a container full of the lamb and another of corn tortillas were set on our tables and the party began.

This is a DIY affair. Cilantro, onions, and a variety of salsa are set on the tables for you to build your lamb tacos the way you like it.

Tender lamb with that smokey roasted aroma on grilled tortilla, plus all the traditional Hidalguense salsas you can grab off the table.

But that's not all. For the offal lovers, there's also the pancita which is offal stuffed lamb stomach tossed in chile rub.
Even the spices did not hide that strong offal flavors. Yum.

Read more about Barbacoa Ermita from Street Gourmet LA, Food GPS and Table Conversation.

Barbacoa Ermita

Avenida Ermita 807
Mesa Otay
Tijuana, BC
phone: (664) 622-1969
Open Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Los Alamos, in a Nutshell

I spent the last three weeks in New Mexico - mostly in Los Alamos - for a summer program. (That's also why I haven't been blogging/tweeting much, for those of you that missed me! Anyone? No?)

The first day there I was taken aback when my Yelp list of "highest rated" restaurants in Los Alamos yielded Sonic's Drive-In for #5 and McDonald's as #6! Thankfully there are actual good places to eat around town. This post is for those of you who may find yourself in Los Alamos one day for whatever reason.

Here's the low-down on Los Alamos restaurants:
Bob's Bodacious BBQ/ Hill Diner/ Blue Window/ Origami/ Pyramid Cafe/ Daniel's Cafe/ Central Ave Grill/ Coffee House/ Canyon Bar and Grill

Bob's Bodacious BBQBob's Bodacious BBQ on Urbanspoon
3801 Arkansas Ave
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-4227

Probably the best bet for your money in this town. A pulled pork sandwich will set you back $5.99 while half a rack of tender ribs will cost you $9.99 -- both items are at the top of my list for Los Alamos fares. Three different bbq sauces are available table side and there's a special pork sauce available for your pulled pork.

Bonus: Plenty of bottled beers here including what local microbreweries are churning out.

Hill DinerHill Diner on Urbanspoon
1315 Trinity Dr
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-9745

A great 50's style dinner dishing up comfort foods with a New Mexican kick. You can find things from chicken fried steak to tortilla burger with sides like fried okra or fried green beans.

What's a tortilla burger you ask? Why, it is a burger patty wrapped in flour tortilla of course, topped with melted cheddar cheese and doused generously with green chile.

Blue WindowBlue Window on Urbanspoon
813 Central Ave
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-6305
Relatively pricey compared to the other restaurants in the same strip mall, but a cute place for a nice dinner. New Mex food is not the focus here - blue corn enchilada was stuffed with tons of meat but was dry and undersauced. Instead go with items like the southwest chicken.

OrigamiOrigami on Urbanspoon
182 Central Park Sq
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 661-2592

Because one needs Asian food at least once every two weeks. Don't expect traditional sushi but do expect sometimes-spicy, sometimes-creamy rolls including a fun one called TNT fired up at your table (pictured below).

Besides sushi rolls there are also udon plus the usual popular Japanese fares like teriyaki and tonkatsu. Also available are soon dubu and a few other korean items (Korean-run restaurant, perhaps?). Coming from LA this place is just a-ok but it's a quick-fix for my Asian food cravings.

Daniel's CafeDaniel's Cafe on Urbanspoon
800 Trinity Dr Ste D
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-3131

There's a big Haagen Dazs sign out front, but don't be fooled, this place does more than scooping ice cream. For lunch get a salad or a nice sandwich like a beer brat topped with cheese and sauerkraut. The ingredients here are key and high quality. The brat had a great bite to it and hey, it helped my hangover.

Pyramid CafePyramid Cafe on Urbanspoon
751 Central Ave
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 661-1717

It's nice to know there are other options besides enchiladas and burgers in town. Pyramid Cafe serves solid Mediterranean food with a decent selection of beer and wines (they also have wi-fi if you want to live-blog. Oooh). If you get lucky you can catch a dance show here. The lamb shank is purportedly excellent but you can also go light and healthy with a vegetarian couscous. And yes, that is a fried whole green chili on top.

Central Ave GrillCentral Avenue Grill on Urbanspoon
1789 Central Ave Ste 1
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-2005

The "fancy" restaurant in town, the entrees here do run for a higher price and the portions are smaller (which might actually be a welcomed change after a while). That said, the food is also more refined. Sit on the patio for a casual dinner or inside for a more business-like or date dinner. There's a bar in the back called Quark where (they claim) "your big problems become small particles of matter" (ha!). I said it's a bar but they still close at 8:30 pm anyway.

The CoffeeHouse CafeThe CoffeeHouse Cafe on Urbanspoon
723 Central Ave
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-2233

With a good hot chocolate, good gelato and sorbet, and free wi-fi, this place became my hangout. The limoncello sorbet was so refreshing and the chocolate gelato was dark and rich. The Mexican hot chocolate is not spicy enough, unfortunately. They also serve food with an extensive menu and enlarged portions. During "happy hour" before 7 pm get the daily dish for a discounted price. Their lasagna was too runny to stand up but tasty nonetheless and their gigantic enchilada is enough for 2. Or maybe 3. They're open later than the surrounding restaurants, which really just means they're open til 9 pm instead of 8:30.

Canyon Bar and GrillCanyon Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon
163 Central Park Sq
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 662-3333

The only real bar in town (besides the one at the Best Western hotel). Draft beers, good tequila selection, bottled beers both imported and local New Mexican beers.
Pros: Two pool tables ($0.50 per play), dart board, and the fact that cocktails cost $4.25! (hey, coming from Los Angeles, that's uber cheap).
Cons: For music you need to pay and pick at the jukebox. They also close at midnight even on Friday nights, which means last call is at 11:45 pm.

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