Wednesday, June 29, 2011

MoKo (Culver City, CA)

When Gyenari wasn't going in the direction they envisioned, the owners decided to shutter the restaurants and re-open as MoKo (Modern Korean), which takes the food in a whole new direction.

Duck and Foie Gras Dumplings
Pan fried duck and foie gras dumplings w/ sour cherry sauce ($12)

IMG_1296I was pleasantly surprised by the cocktails here. My favorite was the Thai Basil Cooler ($11): Thai basil, Damrak gin, St. Germain, lemon, and agave. The thai basil gave it a stronger aroma than your usual basil and blends well with the herbal notes of the gin. (PS. they have $5 drinks during "social hour" from 5-7 pm every day).

I also liked the MoKo Punch ($18 carafe, $40 bowl): soju, vodka, persimmon cinnamon tea, watermelon, pineapple. Perfect for a big party.
Yes, they charge for "banchan" here ($7.50 for 3) but they're not your regular banchan. If you want your money's worth then skip the kimchi and radish, instead go with the Chiogga beets (sauteed with jujubes and apple smoked bacon), asparagus namul (barley, pea shoots, and crisped garlic), asian pear and kholrabi salad, lotus roots braised in honey, or purple eggplant namul (gochujang, green onions, and sesame).
True, I wouldn't pay $2.50 for a bowl of kimchi, but $2.50 for a bowl of beets, asparagus, or lotus root is pretty cheap if you ask me. I know you've all paid your share of $8-12 beet salads.

While MoKo is not cheap, it wouldn't be fair to compare them to Koreatown places, as they do not serve traditional Korean food. As is the case with many restaurants, some dishes are better value than others. People keep complaining about the $9 for 3 shrimp dumplings here, but seems like I was the only one complaining about the $12 for 3 chicken wontons at Lukshon. In both places, the answer is simple: order wisely. Here are some of the dishes I enjoyed:
Raw scallops, crispy leeks, red chili jang ($11)
Scallop Crudo
From the series of crudo we tried, the scallop was perhaps my favorite (the hamachi was also very good). I loved the chewy texture and the red chili jang, while not that spicy, was flavorful.

Monday, June 27, 2011

LA Wine Fest and a Tasting at Robert Mondavi Discover Wine Tour

Is there another wine label that's more of a household name than Robert Mondavi? You'd be hard pressed to come up with one. Even so, at a recent tasting during the LA Wine Fest, I found out just how little I knew about them!

Robert Mondavi has been touring wine and food festivals around the country with their Discover Wine Tour, holding seminars and tastings, visiting 11 cities. They recently landed in Los Angeles at the LA Wine Fest. The other wine seminars throughout the Fest costs around $20, but the ones at Robert Mondavi were free to the public, so naturally a long line forms before each one.
While waiting for the tasting, I perused their tent where they have canisters of different oaks and other things commonly found in wine "notes" so you can smell them and (try to) distinguish between the aromas. They also had some educational material on their iPads but I didn't have time to browse them.
On to the tasting. Guided by Master of Wine Mark de Vere, we started with four Robert Mondavi wines:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whole Baked Catfish at Vietnam House (San Gabriel, CA)

A quick pho trip turned into a lavish meal of whole baked catfish. We just couldn't help ourselves once we saw it on the menu. The whole catfish (around $30-35 depending on the size) came topped with garlic and scallions, the aroma carries to the edge of the table. This is perhaps the tour de force of Vietnam House's menu.

Baked Whole Catfish
The catfish is served with the usual condiments. Vermicelli noodles, herbs and lettuce and pickled carrots, rice paper to wrap it all in, and fish sauce for dipping. (I keep noticing how in much of Vietnamese food, you don't really eat rice but rice paper, rice noodles, and rice cakes).
Catfish and Condiments

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cham Brings New Addictions to the Menu

Watch out for Cham Korean Bistro's new menu items or you'll end up like me: an addict. Yes, I'm addicted to their new Sesame Kabocha Squash Chips ($5)

Kabocha Squash Chips
The squash is mixed with some rice flour, giving it a chewy, mochi-like consistency on the inside while the outside remains crispy. It's lightly sweet, yet the sesame seeds gave it a nutty and smoky hint. Appetizer, snack, dessert. I'll eat them whenever and will definitely order them whenever I visit Cham but alas, at $5 for half a dozen pieces, I won't be able to take a whole bag home and eat them all day long. I wonder if they'll do a bulk discount ..

Another new menu item is the Sweet Potato Fries (w/ Honey Mustard Sauce) $4
Sweet Potato Fries
I really enjoyed these fries. They were thick and weren't battered and deep fried. The sweetness really came through and they weren't greasy as other versions tend to be.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Grom is Awesome

I've found it. The best gelateria in LA, Grom. Yes, it's a "chain" (from Italy) but this is no Piccomolo.

Grom opened in Torino in 2003 to great success and expanded to shops abroad starting from New York City in 2007. Now it has finally come to LA in a shopping center in Malibu.

Grom gelato
Entering the store, you will notice the pictures of produce hanging on the wall that say where they come from (seasonal fruits, almonds from Avola, pistachios from Syria, chocolates from Venezuela or Colombia). Taste some of the 30 flavors of the day and you will be confounded by the selection. They're just all. so. good.
The consistency is dense and creamy, and the flavors of the ingredients come out strong. There's none of those sweet red stuff that only vaguely taste like strawberries. Each of the fruit sorbets tasted like biting into a cold version of the fruit itself, the dark chocolate is rich and intense (they also have an extra dark chocolate one, which we didn't dare try). I may have to do a side by side tasting of their pistachio against Bulgarini, but at the moment I am actually leaning towards Grom. Overall: Excellence.

The only con for me is its location, all the way in Malibu. On the other hand, they are open until 11 pm on weekends, so you can make the drive at night traffic-free. I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Grom Gelateria Malibu
Grom Gelateria
3886 Cross Creek Rd
Malibu, CA 90265
(310) 456-9797

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

July 16: LA Street Food Fest Returns to The Rose Bowl

PhotobucketThe LA Street Food Fest is returning to The Rose Bowl this summer on July 16! Like last year, this festival will feature more than 80 food vendors from food trucks, carts, restaurants, and celebrity chefs.

While last year's event was better than the first, they're trying to make it even better this year crowd-wise by having three limited attendance sessions, capped at 1500 attendees, that promise to treat everyone like VIPs with less lines and crowds. The three sessions are all geared towards different crowds (there's a family picnic event, and there's also a 21+ "date night").

General admission tickets to each event are $60 and you can also get a family pack for you, your SO, and your kid(s).The tickets will cover all the food and drinks including the ice cream lounge, booze (there's a tequila tent) for the 21+ event, and more.

A portion of the proceeds this year will go to the will go to the Downtown Women’s Center, which provides "permanent supportive housing and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability, and to advocate ending homelessness for women."

If you're still thinking, here are some highlights from last year:

mini cemita from Pal Cabron

Sunday, June 19, 2011

David LeFevre's M.B. Post in Manhattan Beach

Some of you would love the bacon cheddar biscuit with maple butter, or caramelized pork jowl, or skirt steak with a bold chimichurri sauce. Some would prefer delicately steamed fish, served atop boiled bok choy and  a subtle sauce, or a light appetizer of couscous mixed the tartness of pomegranates and crunchy marcona almonds. Whichever camp you're in, M. B. Post will satisfy.

Start with a choice of three carbs, each paired with its own spread. Our favorite was the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuit with maple butter ($5), but we also enjoyed both the fleur de sel pretzel with horseradish mustard ($4) and grilled naan flatbread with harissa yogurt ($4).

Bacon Cheddar Biscuits
Los Angeles Magazine featured his recipe for the bacon cheddar biscuit here.

The cheese and charcuterie board was also impressive with its slew of condiments, from different types of mustards to honeycomb to fruit preserves and pickled vegetables.
Cheese and Meat Board

Avila's HeirTheir craft cocktails are $12 each and they have interesting variations on popular classic and tiki drinks. I particularly enjoyed the Avila's Heir (margarita with corralejo reposado, serrano, mandarin, yuzu) and Sun Also Rises (Blood and Sand with Compass Box "Oak Cross", rhubarb, blood orange). I had ordered My Landing Strip (aviation with Hendricks, creme de violet, candied orange) but I thought it had too much creme de violet for my taste.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Northern Vietnamese Cuisine at Vien Dong (Garden Grove, CA)

To raise money for the earthquake relief efforts in Japan, Wandering Chopsticks led a North to South Vietnamese tour in Little Saigon. I joined her and her readers who had each donated $50 to specific charities for the first parts of the tour. We started at Vien Dong in Garden Grove for Northern Vietnamese food.

While waiting for WC's other readers to arrive, we ordered some Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls). The cha gio here is made with rice paper, which is both crispy yet maintains some chewiness when fried. This is the traditional wrapper used in Vietnam.


PhotobucketBeing a long and late day, I had to get some Ca Phe Sua Da. They brought it out in a mini coffee press laying on top of a cup of condensed milk. It wasn't until then that I realize just how much condensed milk is in this drink! No wonder it's so tasty...

We shared an order of Banh Tom which are Vietnamese Shrimp and Yam Fritters with a turmeric batter.

Most of the dishes we tried here were new to me, and among my favorites was the Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Turmeric Fish with Dill)
The best part with going to eat Vietnamese food with WC is of course the knowledge you gain from her. She said that dill is mostly not used in Vietnamese food other than in the Northern part, and this dish originated from a restaurant in Hanoi which became so popular that the street is now named after the restaurant (Cha Ca). Apparently non-Northerners consider using dill strange, but I certainly liked it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

BoHo Gastropub: A Little Life in Hollywood and Highland

When BoHo moved to their new location on Hollywood and Highland, they also placed a new chef in charge and revamped their menu. I remembered enjoying the oyster po' boy sliders and their desserts in my visit to the old location, but this new incarnation apparently holds a nice surprise from the current executive chef Wesley Pumphrey (previously a sous chef at the first BoHo and had worked at The Bazaar before that).

I had missed their opening event, but they invited me for a tasting of their menu. The restaurant is tucked behind The Grill and had maintained the same bohemian look as the previous location. After chatting with the general manager, we decided they should just send out what they think are the highlights of the menu.

Our first dish was perhaps my favorite:
Veal sweetbreads, gorgonzola bread pudding, red wine demi-glace ($14)

Sweetbread on Bread Pudding
The gorgonzola bread pudding was moist with a strong cheese flavor, but it was light and airy enough. And one might think that combining two rich items like sweetbread and bread pudding would be overkill, but the sweetness of the demi glace brought the two together perfectly.

Their list of 20-something craft beers on draft ($6-9 per pint) are organized under "light and easy", "bigger and bitter", and "bold and dangerous". Feeling challenged, I started with a Hofbrau Maibock from the third category and then moved to a Unibroue Ephemere (a Belgian wit with apples) from the first.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fast and Cheap at Bawarchi Indian Kitchen (Culver City)

I don't think most people run into this problem but somehow we find ourselves spending $50-70 for two when we go eat Indian food. He likes variety, he says, so we order 4-5 dishes, plus rice and mango lassi. Well, I've found a solution at Bawarchi Indian Kitchen.

For $9, you get your choice of plain or garlic naan or tawa roti (wheat), saffron basmati rice or pilau rice, and three dishes. It also comes with salad and raita/yogurt.

Bawarchi Combo
The only drawback for me is that this place is vegan, but for the most part I don't really miss the meat when having an Indian meal (with the occasional tandoori cravings).

The vegetable dishes change daily and are displayed in the buffet containers so you can point and choose. The guy with the turban behind the counter (Chef Sabharwal's son, apparently) will guide you through it all.
With this setup, two people can taste six dishes, two different types of naan or roti and rice!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June 29: Island Style Cook-Off

Four chefs in LA are competing to create the ultimate Hawaiian style pupu, and you can determine the winner and win a trip to Hawaii!

Between now and June 19, you can visit the following chefs/restaurants, taste their creation, and vote online:
  1. Neal Fraser from BLD: Hawaiian Tuna Poke, Wasabi Tobiko, Sambal Crème Fraiche
  2. Mark Gold from Eva Restaurant: Roasted Foie Gras with Sushi Rice, Tea Smoked Plum and Grated Yuzu
  3. Eric Greenspan from The Foundry on Melrose: Chili Glazed Spam with Saffron Pineapple Risotto and Coconut Crusted Shrimp
  4. Brendan Collins from Waterloo and City: Seared Foie Gras, Char Siu Tete de Spam, Caramelized Pineapple Sherbet, and 5 Spice Brioche

One grand prize winner will receive a Hawaii getaway for two including airfare, hotel accommodations, tickets to the inaugural Hawaii Food and Wine Festival from Mauka to Makai: Hawaii’s Sustainable Future" dinner on October 1, and a pair of tickets to the Island Style Cook-Off event finale on June 29.

Even if you don't win, you can still attend the cook-off event, where two finalists will compete for the throne. For just a $20 ticket, you, as an attendant, will get to enjoy umbrella drinks and gourmet pupu while watching the cook-off. Not a bad deal!

Event details: 
Wednesday, June 29. 7- 9 p.m.
Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows
101 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica

Friday, June 10, 2011

Di Fara Pizza (Brooklyn, NY)

Domenico DeMarco opened Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn in 1964 and has been manning the oven ever since, personally crafting your pies to order, sprinkling the basil and drizzling olive oil for that perfect thin crust pizza. He's 74 now and still the only one responsible for your pizzas.

Di Fara Pizza
Despite numerous visits to New York over the years, I have yet been to a first rate pizza place. Last year, I finally decided to go to Di Fara, perhaps one of the quintessential New York pizza joints, a 30 minute subway ride from Manhattan. I was joined by Tiny Nancer, who had recently relocated there.

The wait isn't that long to order, but it takes a while for your pizza to be ready, as there's only one man making all of them. It's well worth it, though.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your Weekend Guide

Saturday-Sunday, June 11-12
LA Wine Fest
LA Wine Fest returns for its 6th year. On top of tasting hundreds of wines (included with your ticket), restaurants and food trucks, there will be wine and scotch seminars/tastings. Most of them are $20 but Robert Mondavi Wines is hosting a series of FREE seminars and tastings, so be sure to check those out!
Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Ave, Hollywood, CA 90038.

Saturday, June 11
"Exceptional Zinfandel": Zinfandel Tasting Class
Ian Blackburn from Learn About Wine will guide you through California's zinfandels in this workshop, including a big selection of wines from Turley.
Cafe Metropol, 923 E. 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
$59 advance tickets (2 for $100) or $95 at the door.

Sunday, June 12
Taste of the Nation LA
This mega food/charity event is back, featuring tons of restaurants and more, including a peek at Waylynn Lucas' new Fonuts and Michael Voltaggio's new Ink restaurant, Ray's and Stark Bar, and much much more. There will also be live auction, where you can bid on Voltaggio cooking at your home.
100% of ticket sales supports Share Our Strength’s efforts to end childhood hunger.
Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA
$150 VIP ticket, $125 general admission

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

City Tavern (Culver City, CA)

The newly opened City Tavern in Culver City may be known for having self-serve taps on the tables, but that is certainly not what they are all about. With more than 20 craft beers on tap, I'm glad they serve taster-size portions. Telegrahp, Lost Abbey, Eagle Rock Brewery, and many more. My friend and I shared tasters along the way, "pairing" them with our food with the help of our knowledgeable waitress.

The dinner started strong with some fresh Carlsbad Luna Oysters with vodka mignonette and fresh horseradish ($15)

Fresh Oysters

Instead of champagne, we had the oysters along with some crisp Julian Hard Cider!
Julian Hard Cider

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Join Me for Happy Hour at The Capital Grille!

The Capital Grille in Beverly Hills has offered to host a happy hour for my readers, in promotion of their new happy hour bar menu. For those who join me during this event, The Capital Grille will provide free passed bar food including their lobster and crab burgers, mini tenderloin sandwiches, and lobster salad sandwiches (usually $6 during happy hour). The drinks (wine, beer, signature cocktails including Hemingway Daiquiri) will be $6.

The event will be on Tuesday June 14, from 5-7 pm. We will be partying it upstairs on their Terrace. Additionally, you can drop in your business card to win a $100 gift certificate!

The Capital Grille
8614 W. Beverly Blvd.
 Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 358-0650

Bring your friends, but remember to RSVP to me at gourmetpigs @ gmail by Monday 6/13, so they can prepare for the right number of people. You can also RSVP on this Facebook event page, but please only do one or the other so I don't double count!
Looking forward to seeing you guys there and sharing some food and drinks!

PS. There is complimentary valet (separate from the Beverly Center), enter off of Beverly just past San Vicente.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

PDX Cocktail Stop #2: Teardrop Lounge (Portland, OR)

Besides pies, a maple bacon donut, and Bunk sandwiches, all I wanted in Portland were cocktails. Wandering Chopsticks and I met up with one of her readers for a night out starting from happy hour at Clyde Common. Our second stop was Teardrop Lounge in the Pearl District. Highly recommended by my cocktailian friends, Teardrop Lounge makes their own bitters, uses fresh and seasonal fruits that include local (Oregonian) specialties like marionberry liqueur.

They call their housemade bitters "tinctures" and there is an amazing selection of them. Do you see the Thai Chili and Jalapeno ones?



I had deemed myself pretty versed in booze these days, but the cocktails at Teardrop list ingredients I either wasn't familiar with or haven't imagined being in a cocktail. Lustau East India sherry? Montinore verjus? Pear butter?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Must! Table-to-Farm with FIG's Chef Ray Garcia at McGrath Farm

The phrase "farm-to-table" is everywhere, but Chef Ray Garcia from FIG at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica brings the table to the farm, quite literally.

FIG has frequently had Farm Dinners before, where a local farmer will come to the restaurant and talk to the diners about their products. Well, now they think it would be better if the guests come to the farm and see directly where the produce grows! And whoever thought of it, they were right. Our farmer's dinner at the McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo was one of my favorite dining experience to date.
Beet and Triple Creme Goat Cheese

They will soon open this farmers' dinners to the public and I was fortunate enough to join a sneak media preview at McGrath Family Farm. We took a bus from the Fairmont Miramar up the coast.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Phil McGrath, who then personally gave us a tour of his farm. McGrath Family Farm (and the Camarillo/Oxnard area in general) is known for its strawberries, which they said was one of the most expensive crops to grow. At their market, they had both Gaviota (big and juicy) and Seascape strawberries (small and sweet).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PDX Cocktail Stop #1: Happy Hour at Clyde Common (Portland, OR)

So much to drink, so little time. Wandering Chopsticks and I decided to jam pack it all in one day. After a morning of wine tastings, we went to Clyde Common for some happy hour cocktails and food.

The bar at Clyde Common is headed by Jeff Morgenthaler, a famous and prolific bartender/cocktail writer, and comes recommended by many of my cocktail-loving friends. Alas, he was in California the day I was there. To absorb all the wines we had (before we start over with cocktails), we ordered some food from the happy hour menu (the happy hour is M-F 3-6pm, and they also have late night happy hours).

Being the cheap Asians that we are, we couldn't NOT order from the happy hour menu, both food and drinks. WC wanted the Fried chickpeas ($3)

Fried Chickpeas
I was initially skeptical, but these turned out to be addictive. The crispy batter was dusted with spices. Can't. Stop. Poppin'. At $3, these make a great bar snack.

I ordered the Flatbread, white bean puree, ricotta salata, raisins, pine nuts, greens ($6)
The flatbread itself was too soft and doughy for my taste, but I loved the toppings, especially the combination of the smooth bean puree with the crunch of the pine nuts and the sweet golden raisins.

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