Monday, May 31, 2010

Reminder: Tomorrow Eat a Baco, Feed a Senior

The food truck fundraising, Cart for a Cause, has been in full gear for a few weeks now. Tomorrow (Tuesday June 1st), the food truck benefiting St. Vincent Meals on Wheels will be back at 5900 Wilshire around 12-2pm tomorrow, serving food from Lazy Ox Canteen's Josef Centeno.
Not only is each $10 meal you purchase comes with delicious food made by chef Centeno himself (he was actually in the truck when I visited!), a POM drink, pistachios, and a Miss Lilly cookie, but each purchase will also deliver a hot meal to one home-bound senior!
If that's not enticing enough for you, know that Chef Centeno will be serving up the famous "Baco", his flatbread-meets-taco signature dish made with pork belly, beef carnitas, caraway pepper, and salbitxada.
Yeah, you know you want it.

Next week they'll roll in Chef Susan Feniger from STREET. To get updates and schedule details, check out their twitter page @CartForACause.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Los Angeles Mag Brings You in the Kitchen with LA's Best Chefs

Los Angeles Magazine hosts a series of culinary events featuring cooking demonstrations with some of LA's best chefs.

The next "In The Kitchen" event will take place on June 16th with Chef Ray Garcia from FIG Restaurant in Santa Monica. The event costs $40 per person.

Here's what you can expect:

The last In The Kitchen with Chef John Sedlar from Rivera started out with a Casino Cocktail prepared by one of Rivera's bartenders. There is also wine served during the "cocktail hour" as well wine paired with your main meal prepared by Ian Blackburn of Learn About Wine.

Passed hors d'oeuvres were prepared by Eddie Sell, The Firehouse Chef (that's right, he's a chef and he's a fireman. He's a whole other interesting story on his own).
The shrimp ceviche with the tiny bits of blue tortilla chips was wonderful - the flavors smooth and not too acidic, the chips really added a nice textural contrast. Bruschetta was latin-ized by spicy salsa.

The events take place at Synder Diamond showroom in Santa Monica, but just because it's a showroom don't expect to be standing while eating with your plate on top of a displayed washing machine. The showroom is decked out with round tables, black tablecloth, complete with fresh roses as centerpieces.

Taking the "stage" in front will be your guest chef of the night. Last time, chef John Sedlar brought along his executive chef at Rivera, Kevin to help him demonstrate how to prepare two delicious dishes.
Chef Sedlar will show you how to go from these raw scallops:

to this:
Scallop Arabesque (here's the recipe)
The menu for the night will typically be one savory dish followed by one dessert.

Chef Sedlar prepared Chocolate Torte with Caramel Lime Sauce (recipe)
That's not all. You won't be leaving empty handed. Each attendee received a goodie bag filled with various items. My loot: a bottle of wine, Los Angeles Magazine's newest movie, and other treats including this chocolate cupcake from Vanilla Bakeshop:

Don't forget, the next In The Kitchen event with Chef Ray Garcia from FIG will take place on W ednesday, June 16, 7 – 9 pm at Snyder Diamond (1399 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica).

Tickets: $40. Call Estrellita Dacanay at (323) 801-0034 to purchase.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Giveaway: $80 for (Almost) Anything!

Remember the pasta maker giveaway that 97 of you didn't win?
Well, here's a chance to get that again, and more! Or get an ice cream maker instead, or whatever you want.

The same company, CSN Stores, approached me to do another giveaway. This time the giveaway is an $80 gift certificate to spend on whatever you want on any of their 200+ online stores. They have online stores selling everything from the pasta maker you didn't win, the Le Creuset dish you've been wanting, to Bar Furniture, to baby cribs.

You can go to their main page at and browse through them! One thing though, the $80 certificate won't cover your shipping fee (but they do have free shipping on a lot of their items).

You can get up to 2 entries. Here's how to enter:
1. Leave a comment with your contact information below and what you might buy from CSN Stores.
2. Tweet: "Win $80 to spend at @CSNStores from @gourmetpigs! Here's how:"
Once you tweet, leave me a separate comment telling me you did so (easier for me to count the entries this way).

You have until the end of next Friday June 4 (midnight) to enter. Good luck!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Get Ready for Hungry Cat's CrabFest VI ! (CrabFest V Recap)

June 27, exactly a month from now, marks CrabFest VI at The Hungry Cat in Hollywood. That not only meant that I had to call and make a reservation immediately, but I also better hurry and review ... last year's CrabFest V.

Shows you how much I procrastinate. Wow.

CrabFest at The Hungry Cat happens one Sunday a year, where a crab-centric prix fixe menu takes over the restaurant. Last year's $60 menu included 5 courses + 2 sides.

Bartender Matty Eggleston has long since been gone from Hungry Cat, but he had developed the cocktail menu there at the time. I'm not sure how much of it had changed, perhaps not at all.

The ones manning the bars that day made solid drinks and Matty was actually on his day off and was eating crab at the counter.

I didn't like the drink I ordered but I loved the Black Eyed Plum that LA&OC Foodie ordered, made with plum, lime, and cachaca.

Our feast started with the Crab Roll "amuse", sitting enticingly in front of me.
I loved the creamy crab salad, not overwhelmed by the mayo, it let the fresh and sweet Maryland blue crab meat shone through. I loved it on top of the crisply toasted dinner roll. Too bad this was an "amuse" and I only got one. If this was a la carte, I would've ordered another.

"Pride of Baltimore" crab soup, grilled bacon fat, cornbread.
A hearty bowl full of crab flavor. I don't know if you can see it, but there was a lot of crab meat floating in the bowl.

Whole pan-roasted softshell crab, haricot verts, pancetta, corn.
This was probably my favorite course of the day. Not heavily seasoned, the focus is on the crispy yet meaty soft shell crab with a big burst of juice when you bite into it. The juice from the crab combined with the pancetta was decadent, but the haricot vert is there to cut it.

Two sides were served to provide a break from all the crab: tomato and pecorino cheese, and potato salad.
The juicy tomatoes were pretty impressive, and it paired nicely with the mild sharpness of pecorino.

The main attraction came with little wooden mallets. Steamed Maryland blue crab, six for each person.
Sure, cracking the crab for the meat was a lot of work, but it's all part of the fun, and the sweet crab meat inside is well worth the effort.

The aftermath:
That might or might not be all mine. Uhm.

For dessert: peach crisp.
It was unfortunately served cold. Cold crisp, really? It was okay, and perhaps they would be too overwhelmed with the crowd if they have to heat up their crisps for each person, but I would've enjoyed the dessert more if they did.

Well, regardless. We came for CrabFest. The steamed crabs and the rest of the crab courses were well worth the $60.

Here are LA&OC Foodie's and Mattatouille's much more timely reports of the same feast.

The Hungry Cat
1535 North Vine
Hollywood, CA
Hungry Cat on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Paella Thursdays at La Cachette Bistro

Sometimes what draws people to try a dish isn't just the list of ingredients, or the fact that it's a special menu item, but how excited the chef is about it.

I received an email from Chef Jean Francois Meteigner from La Cachette Bistro, saying that he had found spanish rice, piquillo peppers, saffron, etc and will start doing paella every Thursday at La Cachette Bistro. When I came in to try it, Fabrice Lorenzi (the GM) also mentioned how proud Chef Meteigner is of his paella. How could you not try it?

It's a classic paella with generous amounts of seafood. Last Thursday the Spanish rice, piquillo peppers, chorizo, were cooked in saffron with mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, and chicken.
The short grained Spanish rice is supposed to be very important to make a true paella as long-grained rice wouldn't absorb the liquid it's cooked in appropriately. Here, the rice is cooked perfectly al dente, surrounded by the fragrance and flavors of everything else. From the seafood to the chicken, everything was prepared wonderfully. Not just the bone-in chicken wing, I even enjoyed eating the white meat which here was tender and moist.

Other seasonal specials are of course available.
Morel mushrooms from Oregon are built into a beautiful feuillete.
The light and flaky pastry contrasts nicely with the chewiness and earthiness of the morels.

The cherry cobbler also came with a special touch: a homemade vanilla ice cream made with tempered chocolate and corn flakes.
You may not be able to tell they were corn flakes when you eat them but they added a really nice crunchiness. To top it all off: the chunks of tempered chocolate combined with the cherry filling was divine. I want chocolate to accompany all my cherry cobblers from now on.

The paella is served every Thursday and is priced ~$26.

La Cachette Bistro
1733 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 434-9509

Monday, May 24, 2010

How Merlot Takes Revenge

After going wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley, I finally sat down and watched Sideways, the movie that propelled central valley Pinot Noir to fame and unjustly gave a bad rap to Merlot. Do you like Bordeaux? Do you know that Merlot is one of the primary grapes that go into Bordeaux?

Finally, Merlot producers and other wine professionals decided things have to turn around. Well, there's only one way to do that, I suppose: let consumers try high quality Merlot.
Ian Blackburn of Learn About Wine organized a Merlot-centric wine event humorously called Revenge of the Merlot.

The event was held at the Elevate Lounge. While the main event was at night, I was invited to attend the "trade tasting" during the afternoon. Twenty nine wineries/importers were in attendance showcasing their wines, totaling more than fifty wines.

Despite its bad reputation in the movie, Merlot is the third most planted grape variety in the world with 640,000 acres to its name. The name Merlot came from the Occitan word meaning "young blackbird."

I was fortunate enough to attend the panel tasting, thanks to LAW & SauceLA's press invitation.
The seven wines we tasted were from:
1. 2006 Merlot, Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma (~$30). Presented by Jeff Bundschu.
This wine had a sharp smell, but a fruity taste, medium body, and actually goes down pretty smoothly.
2. 2005 (Merlot w/ 15% Cab-Franc), Newton, Napa Valley. Presented by their winemaker, Chris Millard.
Mellower and earthier aroma than #1 but was actually more tannic. Richer and fruity, and the sharp tannins don't really linger.
3. 2006 Merlot from Carneros Valley, Silverado, Napa Valley (~$30). Presented by Russ Weiss.
Bold and darker flavors with a little herbal notes.
4. 2005 Oakville Merlot, Swanson, Napa Valley ($36). Presented by their winemaker, Chris Phelps.
5. 2007 Montes Alpha, Chile ($24). Presented by Alex Guarachi, President of TGIC Imports.
6. Cakebread Cellars, Napa Valley. Presented by Christopher Huber, VP of the Sales dept.
7. 2006 Jackson Park Merlot, Matanzas Creek, Sonoma ($49). Presented by their PR person, Joe Cicero.
Fruity, distinct spice, bright, with nice and light tannin. I enjoyed this.
Winemakers, owners, and other experts from each winery served as a panel and introduced their respective wines as discussion was led by Ian.

Oh, the panel also mentioned a new documentary about Merlot coming up, called Merlove.
(OK, cheeky title, but I'll watch it anyway).

One of the highlights for me was trying Twomey, a sister winery of Silver Oak. The main reason for my excitement was because I've tried to go to their tasting locations both in Calistoga and Healdsburg - both times on a Sunday, when they are both closed.
Twomey's Merlot is made using an old (19th century) and now rare technique called soutirage traditionnel, where the wine is never pumped.

I didn't taste all the wines available that day (I hadn't been spitting consistently) ...
Organic Cellar spotlighted a Prosecco Merlot, a refreshingly crisp sparkly. This was a nice change from all the red wines abound.

Another interesting booth is the TGIC Importers.
They had a variety of Merlots from Argentina, Chile, and more. He told me to first try the Pascual Toso 2007 Merlot from Argentina as it was to be the "most surprising," he said.
The Pascual Toso was surprisingly rich: fruity and had bright flavors. An easy wine to drink. Not a complex wine, to be sure, but if I'm looking for something in this price range (~$10) it's definitely a bottle I would consider getting. The Santa Ema Reserve Merlot from Maipo Valley, Chile was mellower, deep, and smooth.

There are certainly a lot of great Merlots around the world. Miles from Sideways may not drink any "f***ing Merlot" but he was so whiny throughout the movie anyway ... are you really going to listen to him?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

UniqueLA: Shopping for Pig Stuff and Food

UniqueLA Marketplace brings more than 200 local independent vendors under one roof for two days at a time, all for your shopping convenience. I had never been to one before this last Spring show, so when SauceLA invited to attend as press, I happily accepted. I was so in the mood to go shopping.

This time UniqueLA was held at the penthouse of the California Market Center in downtown LA. Clothing designers, arts & crafts, greeting cards, LPs from Amoeba Records, and of course, food.

From the ridiculously cute pillows, stuffed animals, and more that I tried very hard to justify buying ...
to some high end, beautifully minimal home decor items I wish I could afford ...

I ended up spending my time around the $5 bins and "SALE" signs, of course.

When I saw this necklace at the Flea Market Girl's stand, I had to get it. I just had to.
Plus it was only $5!

But what would a GourmetPigs blogpost be without food. Moving on to the food ... there was the wildly popular peanut butter cups from Ococoa.
You wouldn't care for Reese's at all after you've had these. She also offers a variety of interesting flavors like Marzipan Truffle and Sunflower Honey, but they were not available for sampling. I guess I'll just have to buy and try them out later. Why must good chocolates be so expensive?

There was also PopShop with their organic gourmet popsicles.
Organic, no high fructose corn syrup, these are at least a little healthier than your grocery store popsicles, but with flavors like Mint Lime Mojito, Amaretto White Peach, Chili Chocolate, Lemon Basil, and more, who cares?

On the savory side, Flying Pig Truck had also set up a stand here. I've never tried them before and since their name held a strong appeal for me, I did so this time.
Braised Pork Belly Bun ($4):
It turned out to just be OK. I found the filling to be lacking in both portion and flavor to stand up to the thick bun. It could've been good, but it seems to me they're skimping a bit.

Besides letting you peruse cute things, get some great deals on clothes & more and support your local independent designers, and taste some "gourmet edibles" you probably had never tried before, UniqueLA also managed to raise $4000 for Greenwish. How's that for guilt-free shopping?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh, That Unforgettable Rum Experience..

Fellow blogger RumDood is hosting a contest to win a Mai Tai kit and to win you need to post about your favorite rum, rum cocktail, or your best rum experience.

I don't know if this will disqualify me, but I decided to write not-exactly-my-BEST-rum-experience. (In a way it was AWESOME).
It's definitely my most unforgettable rum experience, though. Would that be good enough?

It was quite some time ago that we all went to RumDood's house for his first ever rum tasting event.
It was the first time that we tried so many different types of rum, might've been the first I really sipped an aged rum, also.

It was a great experience, indeed, and his liquor collection filling his kitchen shelf and half of his dining room floor was mighty impressive.
(Photo courtesy of DestinationEats)
But those are not what made it an unforgettable experience.

What made it unforgettable? Well, simple.

It's because every time I look at my left hand I remember that night:
Battle Scar

The night I cut myself and got five stitches in the emergency room of an Orange County community hospital.
How did it happen?

It started with a rum cocktail we were greeted with when we arrived. A daiquiri for me. Dark & Stormy and other rum drinks went around the room.

Then the tastin began. If you've been drinking Bacardi all this time, throw all your notion about rum away.

There was the award winning Ron Zacapa Centenario rum, a Guatemalan dark aged rum made with sugar cane juice so smooth and sweet it eased me into the rest of the night.

That includes the Pusser's British Navy Rum. Being the official rum of the British Navy (and distilled in wooden pot-stills), this should be closer to "the way rum was", "way back when" and since rum might have originated from my home country, Indonesia, and that this might be the closest thing to that, I tried to keep drinking although I found it harsh and "herbal."

Then there was the comparison of aged rum with Appleton's V/X (5/10), 12, and 21 year old rum. The 21 y.o. obviously the smoothest of all, but I liked the 12 better as it retained more flavor.

Sipping rum like we were sipping whiskey was to most of us then a new experience.

There were a couple more rums to be tasted, but in the end it was the absinthe that did me in. No, not drinking it. Opening it.
Because all the aged rum in me gave me the brilliant idea of trying to break open the wax seal on the Obsello bottle with a kitchen knife, I ended up at Chapman Medical Center. At least it was a clean cut and I had barely missed my nerves.

It didn't really hurt until the doctor poured alcohol over it and stitched it up. I could've used some rum then.

On the positive side, Obsello felt so bad they sent me a bottle of absinthe!
I had someone else open that for me.

Not the best rum experience, I suppose, but I dare you to beat my story.

Read DestinationEats' more sober account here. Luckily I had him and his gf to drive me home.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Four Barrel Coffee, SF: The Cappuccino and Dynamo Donut Routine

When there's great coffee 4 blocks away from a BART stop, you STOP.
When the free UCSF shuttle goes from campus to that BART stop, well .. you take an extended coffee break every day around 4 and get a cappuccino and maybe one of the Dynamo donuts they also happen to be selling there.
Ever since Sam Kim from LAist told me about this place, that's pretty much what I've been doing ...

Four Barrel was started by the co-founder and co-owner of Ritual Coffee, Jeremy Tooker.
I had a hard time deciding between the free wi-fi at Ritual (there's no wi-fi at Four Barrel) or the dynamo donuts at Four Barrel, but Four Barrel's proximity to the 16th/Mission BART stop won after all.

The seats and tables are arranged like desks and you can see people working on their laptops but don't be fooled, like I said, no wi-fi, so just get your coffee and enjoy it.
Freshly roasted beans are always available for purchase, of course, from Sumatra beans to Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Burundi.
A strong and dark cappuccino that's smooth and without the bitterness.

The apricot cardamom donut from Dynamo was moist and held the fruit inside. Nicely spiced and the glaze wasn't overwhelmingly sweet. I was very happy with this.
The passionfruit donut was covered in chocolate chunks. A nice tartness and passionfruit flavor here. My friend passed on my invite to get donuts at Four Barrel but I brought her this anyway and she changed her mind and went to get her hubby a dozen Dynamo donuts the week after.

(On another note, the chocolate spice one in the first picture didn't fare as well with me. It had nice flavors but the donut itself wasn't as moist as these other two).

I'm not enough of a coffee connoisseur to tell you if the coffee here is better Intelligentsia, Ritual, or Blue Bottle (well I do think it's better than Blue Bottle ... ). All I know is that the coffee here is darn good and they sell Dynamo donuts. 'Nuff for me.

Four Barrel Coffee
375 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 252-0800
Four Barrel Coffee on Urbanspoon

Dynamo Donuts
2760 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 920-1978
Dynamo Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

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