Monday, November 30, 2009

Wakuriya, San Mateo: An Exquisite Kaiseki Journey

The word kaiseki derives from "stone in the bosom" that refers to ancient Zen monks' practice of tucking hot stones inside their kimono sash to ward off hunger pangs. Today, it has become an elaborate art form of multi-course culinary ritual that is deeply rooted in Japanese tradition, in particular Kyoto.

California being California, it isn't much of a surprise that a remarkable example of kaiseki is found in an unassuming shop in a shopping plaza in San Mateo.

Labeled only as "Japanese Kitchen" and sits right under a chiropractor's office, Wakuriya's warm and unobtrusive interior is a pleasant surprise as you enter.

Wakuriya is run by a Japanese couple with the husband running the kitchen and the wife running the floor.

Both of them started their careers in Kyoto. Chef Katsuhiro Yamasaki grew up in a sushi-ya in Wakayama and then became a chef in a long-standing Kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto, Kitcho. His wife Mayumi, not surprisingly, similarly started her career at Kitcho. In 2008, the couple opened up Wakuriya and began serving kaiseki with a contemporary touch.

With a glass of chilled sake to refresh us from our travels, I sat in anticipation.
Remember that kaiseki is a ritual, and thus there is an order to everything, even if we are doing this Cali-style: casually.

Sakizuke (starter): nama-tako (octopus) and tomato salad with umi-budo (green caviar) and bainiku.
A nice and light starter of fresh and chewy octopus to whet our appetites. The wakame/seaweed added not only a Japanese touch but also a nice flavor and texture combination.

Zensai (appetizers): Ichijiku (fig) tempura, unagi and avocado roll with kinshi (egg) sheet, Tasmanian trout, and nasu (eggplant) in umami dashi.
The zensai is representative of the rest of the meal with something fried, something broiled, dashi broth, etc. The use of seasonal, non-traditional ingredients is exemplified in the fig tempura in this dish.

On mono (hot dish): medai no yuba-mushi. Steamed butter fish coated in soft tofu skin.
The moistness and delicateness of the butter fish is accentuated by the tofu skin.

Tsukuri (sashimi).
The quality of the fish is on par with what you would expect at a highly regarded sushi restaurant.

Age mono (deep fried dish): deep fried scallop, corn, and tofu cake, with vegetable tempura.
It was impressive how they managed to get such light and crispy tempura coating that's so thin at the same time. All the more impressive that it managed to hold the soft scallop and tofu cake together.

Hashiyasume: suika (watermelon) gelee with kuro-goma (black sesame)
A perfect palate cleanser, lightly sweet and refreshing, yet does not shock you with the temperature change the way granita might.

Yaki mono (broiled dish): Maple Leaf Farms duck with negimiso-yaki.
Tender and perfectly broiled duck slices with very well balanced flavors, neither over seasoned or over sauced.

Gohan mono (rice dish): A choice between gyu-don and yakidai ume-shiso chazuke. I chose the chazuke: Grilled tai snapper with pickled plum and shiso basil over rice in dashi broth.
My companions were surprised I opted for the "fish" dish instead of the other meat option for the rice course, but I had to insist on having chazuke when I have the opportunity. This chazuke does not at all disappoint and perhaps was my most memorable dish that night. Their dashi broth was very satisfying and made a great end to the meal. I'm sure I'd be craving this when it gets cold out.

Dessert: homemade mugi-cha kudzu yose (barley tea flavored mochi) with green tea ice cream, homemade shiratama (mochi balls) with Okinawa kuromitsu (black sugar sauce)
Despite how simple the dessert initially looked to us - ice cream - we were happily surprised and impressed with all the little things we found such as the wonderfully chewy texture of the mochi and the distinctive flavor the kuromitsu added.

This was possibly my favorite meal in the San Francisco Bay area in the past few months. Oftentimes during a tasting menu you'd feel that individual dishes do not go together that well, or that at the end of the meal you've had an unbalanced meal. Not so at Wakuriya. Each dish was well prepared and the entirety of the meal was harmoniously tied together. Wakuriya changes their menu monthly so I will definitely be looking forward to checking back in with them sooner rather than later.

Full course meal - $85
Six course meal - $70

115 De Anza Blvd
San Mateo, CA 94402
(650) 286-0410
Wakuriya on Urbanspoon
Wakuriya in San Francisco

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fry Bread, Native American "Taco"

The past summer took Wandering Chopsticks and I to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Near the heart of one of the earliest Native American major civilization, what type of food should we seek? Why, frybread of course.

If you don't already know it, frybread is flat leavened dough that is deep fried in oil (or even, occasionally, lard).

We were staying in a tiny town called Mancos and our motel owner directed us to a little place called Ted's Taco by the highway (Don't let the "taco" in the name throw you off, it's just that they call frybread "Indian Taco"). Apparently this place doesn't even have a real address
This being our breakfast before heading into the park, I eyed the egg-y item. I ordered the Camp Bread which was an "open-faced taco" of sorts, topped with eggs, cheddar, sausage, tomatoes, and onions, served with a side of salsa.
WC ordered the breakfast taco which was a similar item but not open-faced and had potatoes instead of tomatoes.

These are undeniably heavy breakfast items that spelled heart attack but were comfort food that hit the spot nonetheless. Given how much walking we were going to do later that day, these gave us plenty of much needed energy!

Ted's Taco
south of Hwy 160 next to Log Cabin Liquor (41900 Highway 160)
Mancos, CO
(970) 759-5764
Daily 6am-9pm
Ted's Taco on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

If I was a good blogger, I would've done a roundup of all the dining options around town ... but I've been soooo lazy. So instead I'm going to refer you to the roundups other, more productive bloggers have done :P
Here's Caroline on Crack's "Turkey Optional Roundup".

and Diglounge's Thanksgiving Weekend Guide.

and of course, how I made my own dinner reservation, OpenTable's Thanksgiving Restaurant List.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Samuel Adams Beer Pairing Dinner and The World's Strongest Beer

This Boston Beer Company wants people to rethink the role of beer on your dining table, and that's one of the reason Samuel Adams has been going around the country holding beer pairing dinners (Sam Adams-paired, naturally) - pairings beyond bbq ribs and burgers. For Los Angeles, what restaurant could be more perfect than Jon Shook and Vinni Dotolo's Animal?

Let's not forget the second reason though. The reason many of us were there that night: the launch of Utopias, the Guinness Book record holder of The World's Strongest Beer at 27% ABV.

But that comes later. Before that, food. "Cocktail" hour starts with a series of canapes: shell bean bruschetta, goat cheese with fennel marmalade bruschetta, squash arancini which I managed to eat 3-4 of, and chicken liver pate.

The sit-down dinner starts out with the Sam Adams Coastal Wheat. Instead of serving the beer with lime as is usual, the Animal chefs instead decided to pair it with some deep fried hominy with lime.

Even though Animal is known for rich and heavy dishes like the foie gras loco moco or the poutine, it does not mean they're incapable of preparing more delicate dishes. The next course of fluke with grapes, yuzu, and apples is proof of that. Not to miss out on bold flavors, though, they accentuated the dish with some heat from serrano peppers.

Then we're back to rich and heavy dishes with the melted petit basque cheese, chorizo, paired with the Cranberry Lambic.
Melted basque cheese on grilled bread - I can probably eat at least half of this on my own. Warm, rich, and extremely comforting. The light sweetness followed by the crispness of the Cranberry Lambic cuts the richness of the cheese, making this quite a pairing.

Unfortunately, estarla and I already have 8 PM tickets for Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA from Goldstar, so this was as much of the dinner as we go to taste.

Now, let's get back to why we were all there that night. Before we busted out of there, we sneaked in a tasting of the Utopias.

The world's strongest beer. "Beer", that is. 27% ABV.
A collector's item shaped like the brewery's itself, this beer runs approximately $150. Expensive, for sure. Did I mention it was a collector's item?
Sam Adams brewer Bert Boyce shows us the production number under the bottle. It's a very limited production but you should be able to find it in stores like BevMo if you act fast enough.

The Utopias has been decanting for a while at this point - and you should decant it before drinking. Even with their warning to discard any prior notion of "beer" before tasting, I was surprised nonetheless. The aroma was sweet and caramel-y, but unlike a cider, it smelled "thick". The aroma was just like sherry. With no carbonation left, this "beer" sits somewhere between a sherry and brandy in both aroma and taste.

A unique beer, indeed. If you have $150 to spend on a beer lover this holiday, this would probably make a great gift.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rio Brazil Cafe, an L.A. Gem. Feasting on Feijoada, Batidas, and More

Rio Brazil Cafe is perhaps a hole-in-the-wall many people, including myself, would miss if it weren't for the internet and blogger friends. Located in a strip mall in Palms, the overhead signage simply said "Brazilian Food".

Street Gourmet LA
set up a tasting dinner for me, Gastronomy, and Food She Thought to get the word out about this little 15 month-old gem run by a native Carioca, Luciene Peck.

If you can't go without alcohol during your meal, you'll be happy to know that Rio Brazil Cafe has a BYOB policy with no corkage. As an extra treat for that night, Street Gourmet LA brought us two bottles of artisanal cachaça: Isaura from the Minas Gerais state that he had brought back from Brazil (not available in the US), and Weber Haus from Rio Grande do Sul, available at BevMo.
If you bring your own ingredients and mixers, Luciene will also let you make your own cocktails. If you have never had a batida, though, I highly recommend you have her make you either the batida de coco (coconut) or the batida de maracuja (passionfruit). Or both.

The batidas are made with cachaça, condensed milk, and of course the fruits in question (either passionfruit or coconut cream+milk).
Sweet and creamy, these batidas are quite dangerous for a Monday night.

As starters we got a couple of little savories. The coxinha de galinha translates to "little chicken legs" and is a drumstick shaped savory filled with shredded chicken. While here they serve a smaller "party-size" portion, in Brazil they're typically closer to the size of a real chicken leg. The
risolis/risoles is the crescent-shaped savory you see below, filled with cheese, meat, chicken or shrimp.
An interesting note is that in Indonesia we also have a savory called risoles, though they're typically rectangular and filled with creamy chicken and vegetables. It's no mere coincidence since Indonesia was a Portuguese colony for a bit.

They were served with Luciene's own pimenta which held a lot of flavor.

Most things in Brazil are served family style with rice, so we did the same thing here. A set of entrees came with a plate of arroz (white rice), including:
1) abobora com carne seca (butternut squash with home made beef jerky)
2) Bobo de camarao (shrimp in a yucca cream), succulent shrimp in manioc meal, coconut milk, dendê oil(palm oil),
3) feijao-black beans cooked with pork meat, bay leaf, onions and garlic.
Everything was quite delicious, the fresh shrimp in yucca cream had an interesting thick texture you don't normally find in other cuisine. The abobora com carne seca is typically made with Brazilian pumpkin but since that's not available in the states, butternut squash was used instead. The beef jerky was meaty and smokey. Even the beans were very flavorful.

Moqueca de peixe (fish stew): cod with peppers and tomatoes, dendê oil, and coconut milk. This dish originates from the state of Bahia, but the Rio version is lighter since it's made with less dendê oil.
A wonderful dish, again with very bold flavors and is perfect eaten with the fragrant rice.

The climax of the meal was one I had been waiting for all along:
Feijoada completa(complete feijoada), the national dish of Brazil traditionally served on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The feijoada is a black bean stew made with pe' de porco( pork trotters), rabo(tail),costela( ribs), carne de porco (pork meat), carne seca (beef jerky). Cooked for a long time with onions and garlic, we could smell this from the kitchen, whetting our appetite while waiting for the dish to come out.

The completa meal included couve (collard greens).
As with all other dishes, the feijoada is meant to be eaten with white rice. Sprinkle some farofa (manioc meal) on top to complete it.
A rich and flavorful stew is comfort food at its best. An immensely satisfying stew dominated by the flavors of the beans and pork. With so many different cuts of meat in this dish, there's something for everyone.

For dessert we shared three different types of sweets:
Coconut Cream with boysenberries, mousse de manga (mango mousse), pudim de leite (Brazilian style flan).
From the light and tart mango mousse to the rich and heavy Brazilian flan, we got our sweet tooth satisfied. My favorite is probably the coconut cream which wasn't too thick and had a distinct coconut flavor, and even chunks of the fruit itself. I could've gone for it all on my own.

Rio Brazil Cafe is a wonderful little place serving up some delicious and authentic Brazilian Carioca food. With a live music performance on Saturday nights and a BYOB policy (they're also going to start a Cachaça club where you can keep a bottle there), there's no reason this place should stay hidden. Do give it a try.

Oh and by the way, they are also on so you can get a gift certificate to make your meal even cheaper from this link:
Rio Brazil Cafe

Rio Brazil Cafe
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 558-3338
Rio Brazil Cafe on Urbanspoon
Rio Brazil Cafe in Los Angeles

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Need Party Snacks? Get Some Acarajé from Sabor de Bahia Catering.

What is acarajé? Street Gourmet LA called it "Brazilian falafel". Acarajé is deep fried fritters made from peeled black eyed peas, fried in dendê oil - the reddish palm oil stemming from Africa.

Acarajé is typically found in Nigeria and in the state of Bahia in Brazil (think Salvador), where the African culture is strong.

During our meal at Rio Brazil Cafe (review coming as soon as my Photobucket account is back up and running), Bill brought a special treat of acaraje from a mom-n-pop catering service called Sabor de Bahia.

The acarajé is served with vatapá - a creamy paste made with shrimp, coconut milk, and more - tomato salad, and pimenta (melagueta pepper sauce).

Here's how you eat it:
Split the acarajé in two with a knife. Fill it with vatapá and tomato salad. Dash some pimenta to taste.
There are so many bold flavors going on here but they all worked together so well. I can see why this is a staple street food in Bahia.
The fritters are wonderfully moist inside but fried crispy, the vatapá is fragrant and flavorful. The tomato salad cuts all the grease and richness. The pimenta? I don't normally eat spicy but I couldn't do without the pimenta, it just completes everything.

If you've never tried acarajé, you really need to. And why not make your coworkers be a bit more adventurous during your next office potluck?

Sabor da Bahia, The Authentic Taste of Bahia
near Venice Blvd and Overland (call for address)
pick up only, cash only

If you want the full story of Sabor de Bahia, plus the cooking process of Acarajé, check out Street Gourmet LA's post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Recipe: Maine Lobster In Its Own Butter by Brian Redzikowski of BondSt

My latest visit to Bond St. was highlighted by the Maine lobster, served in its own butter with preserved lemon. The succulent lobster pieces were swimming in the buttery broth.

Since the dish turned out to be pretty easy to make, Executive chef Brian Redzikowski has graciously shared his recipe for this Maine Lobster dish!
The only thing to keep in mind is that it does take time to make preserved lemon (preserve for 6 months, see bottom of post).

Maine Lobster in Its Own Butter, with Preserved Lemon Julienne
- Brian Redzikowski, Bond St. Beverly Hills
Photo courtesy of Chef Brian Redzikowski

The Lobster:

1 Lobster
Blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds to kill.
Separate claws from the body. Blanch large claw for 4 minutes 10 seconds. Blanch small claw for 3 minutes 10 seconds. Blanch tail still attached to body for 1 minute, 10 seconds.
Shock all. Remove and dry all meat from shells.
Gently melt butter in a bowl. Be sure it does not separate. Dip all lobster into butter and reserve.

For the Sauce
600g lobster scrap cut into 3 cm cubes
300g sake
300g white wine
50g celery sliced
1 garlic clove
1 sprig thyme
600g water
100g carrot
50g onion
Bring all to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. infuse for ten. Strain through a coffee filter. Reserve 100g for recipe.

To finish:
Place buttered lobster pieces into a cold pan covered. Gently warm until cooked through. Heat up reserved lobster stock. Whisk in 10g heavy cream and 30g butter. Blend together.

For garnish:
Squash, Carrot and leeks: cut small/dice.

Meyer Lemon:
10 meyer lemons
300g Salt
100g Sugar
Combine and let sit for 6 months
Use only the skin
Julienne the skin only.

Place lobster into a bowl. Top with vegetables and meyer lemon julienne. Top with frothed sauce.

Visit Bond St. Restaurant at 9360 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 601-2255.

Read my BondSt Review.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Noir: A Noteworthy Tapas and Wine Bar in Pasadena

The small street next to the Ice House Comedy Club seems an unlikely place for a small plates and wine bar with a classic bistro look, but checking into the small dining room on Mentor Ave I was surprised even more by the outdoor dining area tucked in the alleyway between the restaurant and the comedy club.
With lush greenery and a live jazz band, Noir is promising to be one of the outdoor destination spots in Pasadena. An extensive wine list and a kitchen manned by Chef Claud Beltran, former executive chef of Madeleine's in Pasadena, certainly doesn't hurt either.

Latin American influence has obviously found its way into Chef Beltran's menu with snacks like the Fried Cotija Cheese with chimichurri sauce ($8), which were a little too salty but very flavorful and addicting nonetheless. Dishes incorporating chayote sauce and specials with huitlacoche were also on the menu.
The risotto with calamari that was on the special that night didn't fare so well. The combination fell on the bland side and the risotto made the fried calamari soggy faster. Grilled calamari or a more flavorful accompaniment would have been better.

The rest of the meal was solid, from the lighter fares including the Fresh Burrata & Shaved Bosc Pears with walnut vinegarette & parsley coulis ($12) and the Heirloom Beet Salad with chives, roasted garlic vinaigrette & parmesan mousse ($7).
The fresh burrata and pear slices make for a nice and light appetizer. The heirloom beets had a subtler flavor that I am used to but were refreshing with a lovely texture.

Asian influences are similarly found in their well-prepared seafood and meat dishes.
Grilled Australian Lamb Chops with Harissa sauce & wild mushrooms ($15) were quite tender and bone-lickingly flavorful.
Seared Scallops with red curried squash purée, caramelized cauliflower & pomegranate seeds ($16) were generously sized fresh and juicy scallops, complemented very well with the spices.
Service was a little slow for us who were in a hurry to catch a play, so desserts were boxed up to go. Desserts that night were unremarkable but given the several good dishes we've had that night I, for one, would certainly come back for another try.

Pasadena is still lacking in its food scene and Noir's creative, globally infused small plates should spark things up a little. Not to mention the outdoor dining area is quite cozy for the romantics trying to avoid Old Town.

Noir Food & Wine
40 North Mentor Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 795-7199
Noir Food & Wine on Urbanspoon
Noir Food & Wine in Los Angeles

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cheripan in Tijuana: Argentinean Steak and Exotic Martinis

The Zona Gastronomica in Tijuana, Mexico isn't all about Mexican or Baja-Med food. Located in the heart of this district is Cheripan, a wonderful Argentinean restaurant offering a great selection of steaks and other Argentinean cuisine, a nice list of cocktails, and a large wine selection.

Naturally, it was one of our 8-restaurant-stop first day of Baja extravaganza sponsored by Cotuco.

Cheripan has a whole list of fresh fruit martinis, from the fruits you typically find in the US like strawberry to the more interesting ones like tamarind and nanchy. On my first visit I opted for the tamarind martini, shaken and poured tableside.
Sweet, smooth, and strong, it definitely goes down easy. We all liked having the shaker left next to our glass - you know, refills. You definitely get a lot for your money.

The second time I tried the nanchy martini. Nanchy is the fruit you see here, and tasted like something fermented.

Now, back to my first visit, and our meal there.

We had two types of empanadas: meat and spinach/cheese
When they give you fresh flaky puff pastries with two different fillings, that just means everyone will end up eating two of them.

Chorizo sausages were nicely spiced.

I really enjoyed the Ensalada de palmitos (hearts of palm salad), which were fresh and crisp.

Fried sweetbreads were nice, although they could be crispier for my taste.

Although skirt steak is typically known to be a touch cut of meat, the skirt steak at Cheripan was not only very flavorful, but very tender as well. A winner.
You'd be hard pressed to find skirt steak this good in LA.

For dessert, some chocolate gelato from the gelato shop owned by the same chef/owner.

And, of course, milhojas (literally "thousand layers") an Argentinean dulce de leche 'napoleon'

Zona Río Escuadrón 201-3151
Col. Aviación C.P. 22440
Tijuana, Mexico
Phone: (664) 622-9730

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