Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Liquid Lunch: Smoked Tomato Martini with Beef Jerky at Napa Valley Grille

The phrase "I drank my lunch/dinner" is often thrown around jokingly - I've heard it mostly in reference to Guinness - but with Napa Valley Grille's Smoked Tomato Martini ($12), you can literally do so.

The martini was a collaboration between the bar and the kitchen, between beverage director Christina Sherwood and Executive Chef Joseph Gillard. It contains vodka infused with smoked tomato and peppercorn, blue cheese ball tossed in cashew crumbs and wrapped in salami, house-made prime sirloin beef jerky, olive, rimmed with togarashi and salt.


I suggest starting with the spicy jerky and martini part, then calm your tongue down with the creamy blue cheese.
It's spicy, it's savory, it's boozy. Three-martini lunch, anyone?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cafe Del Rey (Marina del Rey, CA)

Seems like I've been making my way to Marina del Rey more and more now. Cafe del Rey is a favorite of MDR locals and I have recently heard great things about it from friends, so I welcomed the invitation to a blogger tasting there.

Ahi tuna crudo
From the dining room you get a view of the boats in the marina.
Cafe del Rey
Their cocktail list is fairly small but interesting enough. One of them features "hum botanical" which is rum infused with hibiscus, ginger, green cardamom and kaffir lime. This was the first time I've seen it in a cocktail menu and the herbal taste was quite strong (may not be for everyone).
IMG_6397I started the night with a spiced apple bourbon (woodford reserve, spiced apple cider, simple syrup, ginger ale) -$12

Executive Chef Daniel Roberts grew up in New York City and started his career in Queens. Upon moving to California he worked as executive sous chef at Mondrian Hotel and Asia de Cuba, where he was promoted to executive chef after one year. He then moved on to work at Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club before finally landing at Cafe del Rey.

We started with a trio of raw appetizers, including the ahi tuna crudo pictured above, beef carpaccio, and scottish salmon.
Beef carpaccio, unexpectedly complemented with golden beets, arugula salad, lemon caper vinaigrette.
Housecured Scottish salmon with crisp artichoke, crème fraiche, tiny greens. This dish comes with a shot of basil vodka limoncello, which I thought paired quite well with it.
Chef Roberts also exhibited some Mediterranean slant in his menu, like his fun Kafta cigar (lamb kafta wrapped in dough and deep fried, sitting on an "ashtray" of tzatziki sauce) and falafel.
Kafta Cigar

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stone Brewery (Escondido): Lunch, Tour, and Tasting

There are two reasons to visit Stone Brewery: their great beers and the fact that their tour (with beer tastings) is FREE!
(What is NOT a reason to visit, on the other hand, is the food at their bistro)

Actually, perhaps there are three reasons to visit. The grounds around the brewery is lush and beautiful, perfect for a walk or a picnic.
We decided to eat here because we had to wait for the brewery tour (it's free but you do need to get passes for specific times early on, since they fill up quickly). Admittedly, I loved the restaurant's space itself. It is spacious and bright thanks to the large windows.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Voodoo Doughnut (Portland, OR)

Voodoo Doughnut is one of Portland’s most popular food/tourist destinations because of their wacky donut offerings, especially since it showed up in Bourdain's show (and was apparently mentioned in Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club).

Maple Bacon Bar
Maple Bacon Bar

The line at the original location seems to always be long and we waited 45 minutes to get our pink box, you know the one good things come in!)
It's small and dinky, but we found it fun and kitschy. This is not some fancy gourmet doughnut shop, mind you.


One of Voodoo Doughnut’s claims to fame is their maple bacon bar, which is literally topped with two slices of crisped bacon. I thought it may be all hype because of its weirdness but it was actually really good! Nickel Diner’s maple bacon donut has nothing against this. I like the texture of voodoo’s donut and the maple icing was sweet but not sticky like Nickel’s. The bacon? Worked surprisingly well. Wandering Chopsticks and I were glad we each got one but regretted that we didn’t each get two.

The Voodoo Doll doughnut is just a chocolate dipped, raspberry-filled bar, but you should order it anyway because it’s shaped like a voodoo doll with a pretzel stake through its heart!
Voodoo Doll Doughnut

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vegan Feasting and Boozing at Shojin

I am never one who'd decide to go vegetarian one day, but I've heard many great things about Shojin, the organic/vegan/macrobiotic Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo from fellow bloggers (mainly LA-OC Foodie and inomthings).

Seitan Steak
Seitan Steak Marinade
I've been meaning to try it for a while and an invitation to a blogger dinner provided the last push and I finally made it there!
Shojin's Dining Room
Shojin's dining room was much nicer than I had expected, especially for being in that neglected mall in Little Tokyo. White tablecloth, chandelier, and all.

Shojin also recently started serving alcohol and we tried their "Mojito" made with unprocessed cane sugar, mint, apple juice, cranberry juice, vegan sake (Ichigo)

We started with a tasting of the three most popular appetizers:
Spicy rock shiitake tempura, spicy wasaby mayonnaise
Yuzu ponzu Seitan (pan fried sliced seitan with grated daikon and yuzu citrus sauce)
Spicy fried tofu (fried marinated tofu, spicy soy sauce)
The shiitake tempura was chewy and meaty. I loved the tofu which had a light yet crispy breading. Apparently the batter was made with whole wheat and arrow roots which makes it stay crispy for a long time. The seitan was unremarkable compared to the other two.

Shojin also makes sure to serve vegan wine and sake. Wine isn't always vegan? Nope, apparently most wines are filtered using egg whites or egg shells. The appetizers were paired with some Nottage Hill Chardonnay from Australia.

Friday, March 18, 2011

La Monarca Bakery: Pastries, Lunch, and Cakes to Save Monarch Butterflies

This East LA institution has finally moved west with its opening of La Monarca Bakery Santa Monica. This place fits surprisingly well with the Santa Monica with its healthier pastries (low butter, low sugar, nothing is fried, vegetarian options) and the price is lower than most bakeries in the area.

The executive pastry chef Alain Bour is actually a France native and trained, and he combines classic techniques with Mexican flavors, like their croissant filled with guava paste or dulce de leche. Browsing their pastry case may be overwhelming (it's self-serve), so here are some suggestions.

Make sure you try the tacos de guayaba,a sugar-dusted puff pastry filled with guava and cream cheese ($1.50).
It's a different style but it gives Porto's guava cheese roll a run for its money. The pastry shell isn't the flaky type and I do think I prefer the guava paste here. One is never enough.

Their pan de elote is a sweeter version of corn bread and also worth a try.

Also try the Cafe Oaxaca ($3.75), made with espresso, mexican hot chocolate, and steamed milk.
They have free wi-fi and you can count on me coming here to work over some cafe oaxaca.

For the lunch crowd, there are different types cazuelas (Mexican claypot stew) served as sandwiches. Choose between Poblano chicken mole, Salsa Verde braised beef, or even a vegetarian chorizo, then choose your bread size.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pastrami Pilgrimage to Katz's Deli (New York)

After finally trying the pastrami sandwich at Langer's Deli in downtown LA and falling in love with it, I decided it was time to make my way to the famous Katz's Deli in New York.

They give you a card when you come in that you have to return upon leaving. The ordering system was confusing to me, and apparently there is a special seating area for table service only. I hadn't realized this and had already ordered from the counter, so I sat in the back area. It was fun seeing plastic tubs filled with blobs of meat leaving the kitchen, though.

Yes, this is another Katz vs. Langer's comparison, so I'll make it short.

Katz' Pastrami
While it was undoubtedly good pastrami, I definitely preferred Langer's. The pastrami at Langer's is fattier and thus more tender and flavorful. The cheese and cole slaw in Langer's #19 are definitely pluses and the bread is better there as well. Sorry New York Katz's lovers, methinks you lost this one ...


Katz's Deli
205 E Houston St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 254-2246
Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New York Giveaway! A Pair of Tickets to A Taste of Home

Hey New York readers! Here's a chance for you to win a pair of tickets to A Taste of Home: A Chef Tasting and Benefit Party hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli.

A Taste of Home is a benefit put on by Housing Works Bookstore Café and hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli, Executive Chef of Butter Restaurant and The Darby, and host of Food Network’s Alex’s Day Off.
All proceeds from the event goes to the Housing Works Mission of fighting AIDS and homelessness.

The event will also feature food by:
* Brad Farmerie, Executive Chef of PUBLIC, The Monday Room, Double Crown and Madam Geneva
* Colleen Grapes, Pastry Chef, The Red Cat and The Harrison
* Luis Nieto, Executive Chef, The Palm Tribeca
* And our own Tessa Liebman, Executive Chef of The Works Catering.

To ensure good times, there will also be Hendrick’s Gin cocktails, wine by Broadbent Selections, beer by Whole Foods, and Intelligentsia Coffee.

The deets: 
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, 126 Crosby Street, New York, NY 10012

Tickets are usually $65 or $100 VIP ticket which includes a private hour (6–7pm) to mingle with the chefs over wine and cheese. But all you have to do is leave a comment below with your email to win a pair of tickets! Tweet about the giveaway (and let me know via a comment) for an extra entry.

The giveaway closes 11:59 PM next Tuesday, March 22nd.

If you don't win but want to attend, you can always buy tickets here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Summary: LA's "Haute" Asian Cuisine? Lukshon vs WP24 vs Red Medicine

In my last three posts I talked about the three new high end asian restaurants Lukshon, WP24, and Red Medicine. To those of you who have been to these restaurants, what are your thoughts?

For me, I've found good dishes at each, but to the ultimate question "was anything compelling enough to get me back again and again and again?" the answer is not yet...

Here is a summary of what I think, let me know what you think about them too.

Appetizers: $11-$19. Entrees: $19-32. Noodles: $12-14.

Lukshon probably has the best and most interesting food (although I heard the experience in the main dining room of WP24 is great as well). Sang Yoon's kitchen team has the spices and flavors down for the most part (the rendang sauce still did not taste like rendang to me). Do try the sausage-stuffed squid. Mattatouille demands you go now for their dan dan noodles. They also have good cocktails, which is always a plus. Appetizers were fairly priced but the entrees were as expensive as Spago.

Sausage-Stuffed Squid

Appetizers: $12-18. $80 for 3 courses, $110 for 4 courses.

Wolfgang Puck is no newcomer in this area. His Chinois on Main has been a Venice institution over many years. WP24 has a gorgeous lounge with a view, and good dumplings. I heard the WP24's dining room experience is worth a try, and I will eventually do so. The price? Think Wolfgang Puck multiplied by Ritz Carlton. It's a place to impress your date, where ambiance matters. KevinEats admits that it's "unabashedly expensive" but "pretty damn tasty."
WP24's Crystal Dumplings

Red Medicine
Appetizers: $8-16, "protein": $9-21.

It's hard for me to say much more about Red Medicine just based on my Test Kitchen experience, but I'm not sure I want to support the owner of the restaurant. Is it a fair review, comparing it just based on Test Kitchen? True, probably not - but on the other hand we were technically still their first paying customers (and honestly, I thought my review wasn't particularly negative).

Chef Jordan Kahn is talented and some of his interpretation of Vietnamese dishes is quite inspired, though not everything worked. The portions at Test Kitchen was small and I've heard similar reports about the actual Red Medicine. JGold tried most of the dishes and found enough to come back for. The Minty spent $90 per person and liked the cocktails and desserts the best. At least at the restaurant I can just throw more money to get full while I left TK hungry? I am extremely tempted to go for their dessert, though, as the one at Test Kitchen was amazing.

In the end, though, it's hard to imagine myself frequenting these establishments, due to their prices. I certainly want to return to Lukshon and try their dan dan noodles. I will eventually try WP24's dining room, and I may even visit Red Medicine. But the money spent per person at these places can get me a 4-lb lobster at Newport Tan Cang! In the end, you'd have to pay the price for the chefs' unique interpretations (which worked for the majority of the dishes), the undoubtedly better ambiance, and (hopefully) better service.

For thoughs, disagreements, etc, the comments are open for all.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

LA's "Haute" Asian Cuisine? Lukshon vs WP24 vs Red Medicine, Part 3: Red Medicine

When I started doing this series of posts, i debated a while whether or not I will go to Red Medicine. I had gone to their stint at Test Kitchen, but ideally I should try the "final product". However, I just couldn't bring myself to go after their whole drama with the LA Times' reviewer SIV, where they not only kicked her out of the restaurant but also posted her photo online, threatening her position as an anonymous critic. I haven't agreed with many of her reviews lately but that is really beside the point. I found their "revenge" unprofessional and juvenile.

Finally, I decided not to go. I had very little desire to.

The tasting menu at Test Kitchen and their current menu both seemed reasonable at first glance, $40 for the Test Kitchen menu and $21 or less for the protein entrees. It turned out, however, that the portions were quite small.

Many of the dishes we tried were excellent. We all loved the cured amberjack served on french melons, and the pork belly "banh mi".

Pork Belly Banh Mi
Fatty and crunchy texture and lovely pickled carrot. I definitely could've used more than one piece of this.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

LA's "Haute" Asian Cuisine? Lukshon vs WP24 vs Red Medicine, Part 2: WP24

High end Chinese food is not a new venture for the Wolfgang Puck empire, and I still love the Shanghai lobster curry at Chinois on Main (the one in Vegas is not as good), but Puck wanted to go higher. To the 24th floor of the new Ritz Carlton in downtown LA, to be exact.

While I haven't tried the dining room menu at WP24, I did get a tasting of their bar menu with small plates ranging $12-14 and sushi rolls ranging $14-18. No, not cheap, but were you expecting it to be?

While I didn't love everything, I was actually pretty impressed at the quality of the dumplings here. The one thing I fear most about bad dumplings is a thick, tough skin, but I encountered no such thing here.

Chinese Crystal Dumplings (King Crab,  Shrimp, Kurobuta Pork) $12

WP24's Crystal Dumplings
The skin here was actually tender, and the dumpling was filled with quality ingredients. The sauce wasn't shy of spice.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

LA's "Haute" Asian Cuisine? Lukshon vs WP24 vs Red Medicine, Part 1: Lukshon

While high-end Asian restaurants are nothing new, they seem to be popping up even more than usual in Los Angeles lately. Some of them are branching out towards the Southeast Asian cuisine, as well. The openings of WP24, Red Medicine, and Lukshon in the past year were some of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings in town. LAist's samkimsamkim suggested I do a post about all of them. Well, I guess I should, so here's a look at these three restaurants.

First, Lukshon. Sang Yoon gained his fame after opening Father's Office, and there was much excitement surrounding Lukshon, which recently opened two doors down from the 2nd FO in Culver City. Reservations fill up quickly, and don't bother walking in when it rains as they lose 1/3 of their seating area.

My meal started out strong with the Baby Monterey squid, chiang mai pork sausage, candlenut, mint, rau ram ($15)

Sausage-Stuffed Squid
Tender yet chewy squid, stuffed to the gills with spicy and juicy sausage, and topped with small pieces of fried calamari. This one's a must-try.

Foie Gras ganache, carob, ceylon cinnamon, tamarind gastrique, almond, puffed rice ($16)
I liked the tamarind here, but it's pretty hard to enjoy once the gastrique is gone - granted my companion would only eat half of a cube. I felt like I needed some toast.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Al Fresco Dining: Piazza at Zucca Ristorante (Downtown Los Angeles)

Shaved ParmesanOutdoors or patio dining area is pretty common for LA restaurants, but what about a restaurant where the outdoor area is now a whole other restaurant? Patina Group's Zucca Ristorante in downtown LA recently launched its outdoors dining area as Piazza, Zucca's more casual, inexpensive (prices range from $6-12) sister restaurant featuring a small but solid menu of antipasti, pizzettes, and pastas.

Lentil Soup
We started our dinner with the soup of the day: black lentil soup with bacon strip ($6),
The hearty bowl of soup is warming and filling on a cold night. It was flavorful without being too salty. The crunch of the bacon strip was a nice touch.

Next, a board of Prosciutto crudo, mozzarella e olive (parma ham, burrata, marinated olives) - $8
Burrata and Ham
We devoured the creamy burrata immediately and could've easily had another serving! The ham was fatty and flavorful, but I didn't get how the olives are supposed to interplay with the others.

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