Friday, May 29, 2009

Croquer: Barbrix

"It's.. across from Baller Hardware.. somewhere.." I squinted for a sign whilst scanning the street for parking. I felt pretty silly, I know this stretch of riverwinding Hyperion like the ceiling above my bed, yet could not visualize which structure must house newest Silver Lake hot spot Barbrix. We parked easily on this quiet curve before the final congested drag down toward Trader Joe's, and after passing a tall hedge found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a packed parking lot neither of us could recall existing, leading to a set-back cottage, a bustling front patio strewn with strings of white bulbs.
This was a scene. Or rather a strange amalgamation of one. Admittedly not exactly the Silver Lake I am used to, but also very much what Silver Lake is becoming. Neither good or bad, just different. We were led past the packed bar and back outside to a tiny two-top at the corner of the small patio, beside a table of sunglass-wearing (at 8:30pm) angular-hair-styled rocker types downing glasses of red wine. On the other side of the patio, a pair of elder couples laughed over dessert. In between these tables, two suited men sat with bulbous over-sized Bordeaux glasses, staring intently into the beyond, wine lists twitching in their hands.
Claudio Blotta just upped the anty, and as wonky as Silver Lake's sea legs looked tonight, the undying crowd and waiting list were also proving to be game. A managing partner at Campanile for 11 years, previous Vice President of La Brea Bakery, and co-founder (and wine director) of La Terza, Blotta is no stranger to the 'scenes' of Los Angeles. With chef Don Dickman (formerly of Rocca) writing the ever-changing menu of Mediterranean-inspired small plates and hefty cheese/charcuterie list, Barbrix enters the race way ahead of the game.So it comes as little surprise that the wine list is just short of jaw-dropping. "Brix" after all refers to sugar measurements in wine, so goes without saying Blotta means business. The initial impressive aspect is the entire first page of glass-pours. My date was stuck on the cool beer list of small-batch American, Belgian and English ales (even carrying an ale from my favorite Canadian brewery Unibroue) complete with tasting notes - So I knew wine by the glass was my road tonight, and a welcomed one with this list. Feeling the spirit of Barbrix start to sink in, now officially entering my [dangerous] mode bon vivant, I ordered the '06 Feraud-Brunel Châteauneuf du Pape (a steal at $10 - which is also the most expensive pour on the list). Generally of my favorite Rhône wines, this Châteauneuf du Pape -though chock full of berry fruit and subtle spice- was less structured than I had anticipated. Keep in mind while tasting this my eyes were skimming the robust and luscious sounding meat entrees. I knew I would need a glass of something bigger a little later, especially once I read about the duck confit and prime skirt steak tagliata. My date opted for the Abita Andygator helles doppelbock from Louisiana, a fragrant and rich malty lager which was very tasty.
Now there is something up front that needs to be said about this menu - It can be extremely affordable for such fare - A winning detail that Blotta earns high marks for. Everything is served in small portions, but at $5-12 and pop for most, it becomes up to the diner to decide whether to splurge or simply enjoy a light inexpensive meal. Well, this particular Friday night after a long week, my date and decided to pull out the stops and enjoy it right.We ordered three cheeses ($12) from the interesting list, settling on the Gorroxta (Catalonia, Spain) natural rind goat's milk, the Piave (Veneto, Italy) hard cow's milk, and the Epoisses (Bourgogne, France) marc-washed cow's milk, served with sliced baguette, dried figs, quince paste, and marcona almonds. Gorroxta is semi-firm and was the mildest in flavor - smooth with a hint of nuttiness. The Piave is a hard cheese with a little more full-bodied flavor, reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano - delicious with the sweet quince. The Epoisses won the medal though. A soft and incredibly pungent tart 'stinky cheese' that puckered our mouths into smiles. We ordered the Rosette de Lyon from the charcuterie list, a French dry sausage flavored with spices and wine, but we didn't realize until days later that it never came! Sadly even worse, looking back at the receipt, we were charged for it.
Neither of us had planned on this early summer evening in LA to get cold, but a crisp breeze was weaving through the hills and right past our corner table. A gas heater was even on behind my date, but so low it didn't seem to be emanating heat. A server (though not our own) came next with our vegetable course. When he set the plates down we asked if there was any way he could maybe just turn the knob up a tidbit. The server looked irritated with the request(!) and said no(!), scurrying quickly away. I looked at my date, smiling in awe "Well, I guess he's the food runner then!" Within minutes however a busser came to turn up the heat. Attention was turned immediately to the dishes in front of us.The first was the Farmers Plate ($6), a small sampling of simple roasted beets sweetened with saba (a syrupy grape must), roasted carrots with honey & mint, eggplant moussaka and pickled ramps. Each small and tender bite was loaded with bursting sweet flavors, the complexity of the moussaka and delightful ramp perhaps my favorites. The crispy grilled polenta with oyster & shitake mushrooms and creamy gorgonzola fonduta ($5) was another "crowd"-pleaser. Creamy smooth, with delicate mushrooms and that gorgonzola tang, I could have eaten five!The next dish to arrive (at this point everything started coming out as the kitchen produced them, not formal courses) was the Roasted Niman Ranch Pork Belly ($11) stuffed alla 'porchetta' and topped with salsa verde. I was looking forward to this dish perhaps most of all, but it was the disappointment of the evening. The thick slice was largely inedible, with a blubbery core and a rock hard skin (literally - we couldn't cut through it with our knives). We dissected out the soft flesh which was tender and flavor-rich, but with a gamey funk that we simultaneously admitted turned both of us off.
As I could see our final two plates coming toward us, I looked around unable to locate our server, the near-empty wine glass in front of me on my mind. The one thing about the continuous courses that I found - well, really more difficult for the servers than anything, who often weren't running the food - was the lack of regular contact with their customers. Sure, we constantly had food in front of us so were more or less "set", and she would check in occassionally at random to see if we were enjoying everything (which we were), but 90% of the time, if a diner needs something, they will realize it just after a course is dropped. Another drink, a condiment, a missing utensil. And we learned pretty quickly how helpful the food runners were... For myself, when a waiter, the 30 second rule was always in full effect - Checking in no more than 30 seconds after a course is dropped. To our obviously overwhelmed server this Friday night, I understand constant courses makes that near-impossible, but I did notice that whenever we did need the love, she wasn't available. Call me particular about service (I am), and I'm not one of those diners that let's little things like this ruin and experience (for it did not), and I am always gracious, but boy, looking down at the several bites of succulent prime steak and an empty wine glass.. Oy!
It was about halfway through our entrées when our server did come by (slightly out of breath it even seemed), and for a larger wine to enjoy with my steak she suggested the '05 Raices de Aza Tempranillo ($7), to which I thanked her. I normally may have been slightly more grumpy at that point in the situation, but I began to notice our very sweet server was dealing with an extremely needy [read: rude] table of diners who I overheard were very late being seated (and by the glinting of all those jewels the type you know doesn't often have to wait). Hopelessly empathetic (GOD have I been there), the wine ceased to matter. Plus our spectacular entrées were a lovely distraction.The prime skirt steak "tagliata" ($12) was seared and sliced, served over wild arugula with parmegiano-reggiano and balsamico. We ordered medium-rare and boy did we get it, juicy and red, only the very outside seared dark and crispy. This was good steak, people. But my favorite of the whole night may actually be the duck leg confit with pommes sardalaise and fig vin cotto ($10). Wow. This was when Blotta came by, delivering the wine. I shook his hand, thanking him for the incredible meal. He saw we had the duck and whispered that the secret is the potatoes, "they're cooked in the duck fat!" he glanced over both shoulders to make sure no one had eavesdropped. I have had duck confit before, small legs of somewhat greasy meat that have never exceeded expectations. Until now, I suppose. The duck leg at Barbrix was actually quite large, incredibly moist but nowhere near greasy, lightly savory and clean, the earthy sweet fig glaze a perfect foil... And Blotta wasn't wrong, the buttery, garlicky crisp potatoes with succulent sweet onions were like comfort food of the gods. When the busser came by to remove some plates, my date's hand shot protectively over the duck "oh we will pick at this one for a while, thank you!"
Feeling incredibly stuffed, and more than anything happy, I doubted dessert was in the plan. But I am the type who is easily convinced. So when our server stole a moment to come by (the gripey table just received a round of prosecco and appetizers on the house), I was surprised to hear my date's "so what's good for dessert here?" Our server smiled, as if in on a secret. What I liked about her was that throughout the entire evening, she was very honest. Meaning, if we were debating between a couple of items, her disposition subtly guided us what to choose. By dessert though we had developed a trust, and she told us exactly what to get! (Note: I will always respect a server who is honest and wants you to actually ENJOY what you order).Two glasses of '08 Oddero Moscato D'Asti were delivered (though I love moscato, it is the only dessert wine offered by the glass, a strong revision suggestion I have for a conscious enoteca like Barbrix). The moscato was crisp and elegant, a perfect match for what came next, Adria’s Favorite Ginger Shortcakes ($6). The lightly crunchy shortcakes are baked with both fresh and candied ginger (pow! zing!) and come loaded with fresh whipped cream and tart-sweet berry compote. We loved this! Our server also brought a red velvet item new to the menu that night, which was actually local bakeshop Cakemonkey's Raspberry Red Velvet Cakewich ($6) served with a drizzle of creme anglaise. Initially slightly disappointed it wasn't house-made, the layered red velvet cake filled with a raspberry vanilla creme layer and coated in Bittersweet Chocolate was pretty darn tasty. Like a super fancy red velvet Ding Dong.
I left Barbrix beyond satisfied. Sure there were a few loose bricks in the road, but only weeks out from opening things could go much worse. The tweaks I see needed are MINOR, the foundation of this little schoolhouse-turned-bistro pretty solid. Plus I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a three hour meal this much! The bar is officially raised for this sleepy little neighborhood, but most importantly, the price is right.

2442 Hyperion Ave, Silver Lake; 323.662.2442

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Croquer: Ammo

Ammo is no new kid on the block. Nestled modestly on Highland between finishing houses and industry equipment shops, Ammo has been the go-to lunch cafe for studio execs for the past decade. But should it be a destination for us non-power lunchers? If my first experience has any holding, then yes; I would vouch for its quiet, casual elegance over the buzzing brunch scenes elsewhere. Where a man in a straw fedora and shorts can walk up and be seated on the sidewalk patio beside us and enjoy his book and cappuccino on a Sunday at noon, un-bothered.. a pleasant retreat.
Crisp white linens, simple lines, natural wood and exposed wine storage comprise the clean and warm interior. Small masculine leather booklets encase the single page brunch menu. It takes one glance, and I know what I am ordering. Nowhere makes it this easy for me (what, I'm a Libra). Simplicity, with consideration; Ammo is classic seasonal Californian cuisine. Something I have grown to appreciate in my years as an converted Angeleno.. (thinking back to my fine dining days in Oregon, cringing at anything "Californian").
I didn't have to over think anything at Ammo. And obviously neither have they. The food speaks for itself, humble as the virtually brand-less storefront space (the word Ammo is printed crisply once on the awning, and is set in bronze on the doorstep.. that's about it). My cappuccino was picture perfect. But the plate that followed something more.I ordered the Poached Eggs with shaved fennel, roasted golden beets, cherry tomatoes, haricot verts, cucumbers, and olive tapinade, which came with a side of roasted fingerling potatoes. I immediately appreciated the wildness of the egg white, obviously poached in an open pan without use of a mold or other device; a cloud-like preparation only achieved by a person using just a pan of water (and something about this honesty comforted me). The vegetables were seasoned only with salt and pepper, the potatoes with some fresh herbs. Everything was impeccably cooked, ripe, and crisp. Nothing about the meal was heavy or overly filling, like that rare absolutely perfect salad that satiates lightly, imbuing a fresh vivacity like that which follows good sushi.
My date couldn't resist ordering French Toast with caramelized apples, maple syrup and crème fraîche.. and I couldn't resist taking a bite once I saw it. Tall, thick and narrow slices were lightly battered on all sides, golden, with succulent slices of apple flesh that may have been "caramelized" but not in the sense one might expect (no goopy sauce here). A delightful treat.

Reinventing the wheel? Surely not. But my fresh and lovely meal at Ammo earned a high mark in my merit book, which can only help convince me to return again in the future.. Especially if that day calls for a serene place to enjoy my book and a capp.

1155 N Highland Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90038; 323.871.2666

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Carnish Culture: Mixed Nuts; 826LA Dishes a Spread of Genius

I pulled up to the curb outside of the Echo Park Time Travel Mart on Sunset to see a smartly primped crowd brewing out front of the small concept shop. I could tell I was in the right place for my first schmancy 826LA adult writer's seminar series event. The topic tonight: Food Writing! I know, how could I NOT go? I was entering my CC number into Paypal before I even read the names of the panelists - a healthily diverse and exciting selection skimmed from the upper crèmechelon of LA's rich food writer pool. Jonathan Gold was the glaring text that brought sweat to my upper lip. Really? In person? (I could pass Drew Barrymore at M Café without flinching, but the idea of being the same room as the Pulitzer-winning man behind Counter Intelligence makes me woozy?) Yes, it was ON. As I continued down the list, it was one more "Oh!" after another, a veritable menu of superstars.
I had read panelist Colleen Dunn Bates many times (the surprisingly hip restaurant reviews in AAA's Westways magazine), without realizing she was also the woman behind Prospect Park Books, the LA foodie guidebook Eat: Los Angeles and corresponding blog Superblogger and LA foodie fixture Pat Saperstein of Eating L.A. got me pretty excited as well, a fellow "blogger-on-the-side" (um who seems to get EVERYWHERE) who is largely responsible for paving the road for us LA-based online food writers the past 10 years! Jessica Gelt looked familiar before she shared her role as nightlife writer and co-editor of the LA Times cool food blog Daily Dish, but that's because I've seen her rock out many times before on the bass with her band of East-side heroes The Movies! I am embarrassed to admit I wasn't previously familiar with French culinary and fresh eating wunderkind Jeanne Kelley, a confident young woman who traveled the world to grow her chops in the kitchen, put out her book Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes From a Modern Kitchen Garden last year, and also manages the blog Eat Fresh. Finally, the conversation was moderated by likable caramel-making front runner Christine Moore of Pasadena’s Little Flower Candy Company.
It may have been just too much awesome for one room. Especially after looking around, seeing familiar faces in the audience that I knew belonged to fellow food bloggers, several of which should have been on the panel themselves. Curious how Moore was going to direct, she dove right in letting each panelist share their lives and relationships with food, which pretty much molded the remainder of our short hour and half - Surely we could listen to J. Gold talk that long alone! Though Q&A began too late, with a few silly questions that kicked up trodden ground, the night was still not without a few good laughs and anecdotes. When asked if he took notes when dining in a restaurant for a review, Gold huffed "it's like taking notes during sex!" Saperstein smiled wryly in her quiet manner "...not exactly.." Gold later described the "felony" of a certain LA restaurant's molecular gastronomic deconstruction of a caprese, a thin slice of tomato ("out of season"), micro-basil ("the least flavorful"), but most memorably a syringe of ("textureless!") blended mozzarella that you *squirt* into your mouth (though Gold used a slightly more carnal - and less appetizing - word)..!
One person asked the panels' food writing peeves, and though I may be guilty of the "don't use French words when there's a completely acceptable English word"... (I always thought my tongue-in-cheek linguistic-decimation to be oddly charming!)... I DO promise to never use "eatery" in place of the word restaurant!
When Moore brought the conversation to an abrupt end it was much too soon, many hands left raised half-mast. But Gold's last sarcastic and theatrical comment in response to shock-value "extreme eaters" left an indelible mark on the room of tasteful hopefuls. "Look at me, I'm eating a uterus taco! WOOOOAAA!!!!"

Buvare: Imbibe Sips with Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Well I've certainly mentioned Mr. Jeffrey Morgenthaler on ChocoMeat before, and now my celebrity mixologist friend is going global as Imbibe Magazine's cocktail guru host of their new bar technique video series Imbibe Sips.
Check out Jeff behind the bar at Clyde Common in Portland as he teaches the webisphere how to keep it classy with topics such as "Shaking vs. Stirring" and "Easy Citrus Garnishes" as well as recipes like the classic Old Fashioned or a more advanced Corpse Reviver #2 (below). Yum.

Jeff's Joe Cool lessons are also viewable on Imbibe Sips' YouTube channel and subscribeable as a podcast via the iTunes Store.
Get thirsty.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Summer Panzanella (Bread Salad)

I concocted this bad boy last minute before heading over to a Memorial Day BBQ this weekend. I added a subtle Provençal twist to the classic Tuscan dish.. Perfect for a sun-drenched picnic. Generally bread salads are great because you can make use of a stale baguette you might otherwise toss, but in a pinch you can dry out a coarsely cut loaf in the oven on low heat for 10-15 minutes or until bread's flesh is firm and crisp to the touch.

1 loaf dry Italian bread
1 diced shallot
1 pound small fingerling potatoes
3-4 vine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 Persian cucumber, halved length-wise and sliced
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup pitted green olives, halved (Picholine or Sicilian)
1 red onion, chopped
1 jar/can preserved hearts of palm, sliced into medallions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup chopped fresh thyme
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Moscato
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Herbes de Provence
1/2 cup shaved Pecorino Romano

Cut or tear bread into bite-size chunks, dry in the oven (250 degrees) if needed.
Wash fingerling potatoes, halve (or quarter - to bite size) with a chef's knife. Fill a large sauce pot halfway with water, add the potatoes and a heavy sprinkle of sea salt, bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are just fork-tender, approximately 10 minutes, drain. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, then shallots and a dash of Herbes de Provence. Sautée fingerlings until golden. Move to a casserole and cool in the fridge.
Toss bread chunks, tomatoes, olives, cucumber, hearts of palm, onion, garlic, herbs and greens. Set aside.
In a small mason jar combine olive oil with Champagne vinegar, moscato wine, lemon juice, a hefty drip of honey, dash of Herbes de Provence, and salt and pepper to taste. Screw on top and shake until combined.
Add potatoes and Pecorino Romano to salad mixture and stir well. Add dressing and toss if serving within the hour. Otherwise cover salad and take jar of dressing along, add one half hour or so before serving. Note: it IS okay for the bread to get a little soggy here (in fact, it's the fun part).
Adjust flavor with sea salt and fresh pepper.
Enjoy with a tasty Summer cocktail, like this one we whipped up in Nicolette's kitchen.

2 oz vodka
1 oz fresh pressed watermelon juice
1 oz sparkling wine

Stir vodka and watermelon juice over cracked ice, top with bubbly and garnish with lime.

We also feasted on a spiked fresh watermelon, which you can make with one 750 ml bottle of mid-range vodka and a large gourd, full instructions here. Happy BBQin'!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Croquer: Susan Feniger's Street

If you don't already, you will soon know Susan Feniger's name. If not for her LA food world fixture status from opening City Cafe and then City Restaurant in the 1980s with business partner Mary Sue Milliken, to their popular Food Network cooking show Too Hot Tamales, to opening signature restaurant Border Grill, then their downtown Latin bistro Ciudad... Yes, if not for that, you will know her name since she found out you can't copyright a common term (and original concept name) like "street," thus formally calling her newest restaurant, and first solo venture, Susan Feniger's Street.
After devoting nearly three decades to exploring and showcasing the culinary treasures of Latin America, Feniger's passion for world travel and the most 'common' form of unsung ethnic cuisine, street food, made clear what she was destined to do next: An unpretentious, interactive and affordable dining experience spanning continents in courses. The concept, albeit a personal triumph for Feniger, doesn't immediately sound like anything new. Foodies have been cringing at fusion cuisine since power suits bolstered clumsy shoulder pads. But the big question I had going into Street was in the cultural melting pot of Los Angeles, could a sit-down dining room introducing the concept of "street food" really be relevant? Fine-tuning street food in the best American city FOR street food?
The answer came as a pleasant, good-intentioned and satiating "sure, why not?"
From entering the spacious, minimal but warm dining room to a round of smiles preparing for the weekend brunch rush to the last of several gracious goodbyes upon leaving, Street was a comfortable, non-rushed and enjoyable dining experience, akin to a visit to your neighborhood coffee shop.Though lacking greenery, Street's patio is vibrant, with orange and black walls covered with stick figure "graffiti", orange umbrellas covering sturdy wooden tables and chairs. A long narrow window along one wall with sliding doors above a metal counter is a clever and subtle nod to the street dining aesthetic. Our congenial server was more than prepared to ease first-timers into the concept and method by which to best enjoy the Street experience. The menu is split into numerous categories (which change surprisingly from brunch to lunch to dinner) of mostly sharable dishes, making the decision near-impossible. Categories include Tea Cakes & Dumplings, Salads, Noodles & Soups & Stews & Curries... Luckily the brunch and lunch menus offer a convenient any half salad & dumpling plate option, which helped us narrow it down while still feeling like we were getting a variety. As we whittled it down, our beverages of Cantaloupe & Beet Agua Fresca and (honey-kissed) Iced Chrysanthemum Mint Tea arrived, which were both incredibly refreshing.In general, I like -prefer really- to order together and share meals communally with my dining companions (especially when I plan on writing about it). I became concerned for a moment, realizing I was dining with a vegetarian whilst my eyes passed over items such as the Mung Bean Pancakes (griddled with anise glazed pork belly, scallions, and kimchi; with hot mustard sauce). YET was soon eased, shocked at how easily Street's menu made me feel completely satisfied with all of our choices - which were all meat-free (at most places not an easy feat!).Feniger's obviously intends to begin Street's sample-friendly dining ritual with a soft bang, our server first bringing a small metal dish of complimentary Millet Seed Puffs, bite-size with BIG flavor from curry, fennel seed, coriander, blackcurrants, cumin and a lightly sweet marshmallow binding. Whoa! Not as 'tasty' as it is curious.. it's a Rice Krispie treat's exotic expat cousin.The Paani Puri came next, crispy puff nests filled with spiced potatoes, chutneys, and sprouted beans, served with a yogurt-cilantro water. The exoskeletal crunch was gratifying, traditional Indian spices and chutneys mingling nicely on the palate; A good starter.
In perfect time, our half & half platters came out. The first had Mandoo Vegetable Dumplings, potsticker-style and golden fried, filled with Asian vegetables and "sweet potato noodles" with roasted honey yam and sesame dipping sauce. Probably the least-exciting offering we tasted, the dumplings were greasy and over-fried, the contents rendered immaterial in that mushy state. The coupled Indian Potato Flatbread with Baby lettuces was quite tasty; Spiced potato parantha griddled then topped with sprouted beans, lettuces, dates, tomato, and homemade paneer cheese with chat masala and yogurt dressing. You could say over-dressed, though opening dimensions of pleasing flavor, making clear that Indian cuisine is one of Feniger's absolute favorites (it is).
The platter set before me was a gorgeous sight, the Beet and Apple salad (of slow roasted beets with apple, black currant, watercress, toasted walnut, and millet croutons in a juniper vinaigrette) was something from a Bon Appetit cover shoot. The juniper vinaigrette, tart and refreshing is a fitting match with such a ripe and crunchy array of ingredients. The other half of the plate was my absolute favorite though. The Kaya Toast is "a uniquely Singapore experience" consisting of mini lightly toasted Malaysian white bread slices sandwiching slivers of butter and a thick spread of coconut jam; served with a succulent soft-fried egg drizzled with dark soy and a dash of white pepper. I was guided by our server (me imagining Feniger gingerly instructing her staff) to break the egg's yolk with the crisp bread. The radical combination of flavors is staggering, intoxicating, and indulgent. A moment which demands silence and literally thought in order to process. Immediately followed by craving and obsession. I ignored the other dishes as I relished in every tiny bite of the Kaya Toast, the creamy-sweet coconut encroached by pungent yolk and sharp salty soy and white pepper notes. The last taste left me wanting more.Though we weren't staying for dessert, the list made me sad we didn't actually see the Brunch menu (noon on Saturday I suppose is "Lunch", but had it been Sunday(?) some of the breakfast-friendly sweets would have been presented to us as options from the get-go). Case in point: the Turkish Doughnuts. By description, small spiced pastries fried and then simmered in a cardamom rose syrup served with sour cream and rose hip jam. Did you read that? Do you need to again? My heart sank, but gave me another reason to return. And now, thanks to the LA Times (yet again) for including with their Street preview the actual RECIPE (and even cooking show style video instruction by Feniger) for the Turkish Doughnuts with rose hip syrup! OK then, good compromise! Not only will I be back to Street, but I'll try my hand at the doughnuts and compare.I have to say, overall my nonpartisan expectations were surpassed. The most common complaints I'd read so far about Street had been of overworking the simple and easy to come by (in LA anyway) dishes such as Beef Pho... but I guess my question for those critics is then why did you order Pho here? Personally as I diner I am always looking to expand my horizons, and further, if I want authentic ramen, you know I'm not going to order it in a fusion Asian shop in WeHo; I'm going downtown. Street's menu is bursting at the seams with exotic niblets I've surely never had prepared quite like this before or seen on many menus in town, and those are what I gravitate to... I have to defend Street here, after all, it enlightened me to Kaya Toast, and in Feniger's own words, "No one ever has enough Kaya Toast!"

En Vitesse: Bring on the Beets!

Wow! I got my first photo from someone who recreated a Recettes Secrètes from Chocomeat! So cool! This is Kristin Smith's Beet Cake. Yum.. Those owls love it!
Send me your photos too, OK?!?

Photo by Kristin Smith

Monday, May 18, 2009

Croquer: Sweet Republic

Yeah, gelato is officially the coolest treat around (no pun intended). From Pazzo to Scoops to Bulgarini to Milk, LA has clearly latched on to the creamy ice trend, with admirably imaginative results. Last week in Scottsdale, AZ however, I was schooled that innovative as we may be, LA is far from the only savvy parlor-town around. Called out in the current issue of Bon Appétit, Scottsdale's modest strip mall standout Sweet Republic is noted as one of the nation's hottest spots right now for artisanal gelato and ice cream. And lucky me, I was passing through town. Opened by two investment bankers from New York craving a big-time career switch (catalyzed by 9/11), owners Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp built Sweet Republic upon the simple credo to "start with the purest ingredients [to] get the most flavorful ice cream experience." The selection of flavors in the one-year-old shop the day I visited definitely seemed to support the philosophy, a lustrous display of gelato, ice cream, sorbet and yogurt with descriptions such as "a limited edition blend of grapefruit sorbet and freshly picked strawberry mint."As soon as she overheard I was from LA, Wichayanuparp smiled drolly and asked where I liked to go for ice cream. Scoops came to mind first, and she nodded, agreeing the flavors were smart, but also suggesting that if more of the time spent on experimenting was used to perfect the consistency it would be even better. I paused, having to agree, as she continued to systematically run through LA's usual suspects and note their ice cream's strengths/weaknesses, meanwhile handing me a taste of her literally perfectly balanced and butter-silk-smooth Jalapeño Avocado. I was impressed. Wichayanuparp knew her stuff. And it wasn't cocky how she spoke, more as a thoughtfully critical and protective fan of a precious tradition.I next had to try one of their most popular flavors, Salted Butter Caramel ("soft buttery caramel ribbons in creamy vanilla with a sprinkle of salt"). I could understand its popularity, this was one of the best ice creams I've probably ever tasted. A iced equivalent to Lark's salted caramel cupcake; pure butter, cream, salt, and caramel harmony. Embarrassed at this point with my collection of tasting spoons, I shyly pushed on, hoping the blog-xcuse would lessen my obnoxious need to taste everything. But of course I missed one of the flavors I looked forward to sampling most, the Cheese Course Duo ("a pairing of Roquefort blue cheese and Arizona Medjool dates")... Not that the taste bud-bursting morsels of fresh Basil Lime Sorbet (YUM) or Lemon Tequila disappointed!I was shooting for a two scoop/flavor selection, which was like picking two cities to visit if granted a chartered jet. I couldn't decide. The texture and sophistication of the Jalapeño Avocado brought me back, and keeping it Latin, paired it with the fragrant cinnamon-spiced Mayan Chocolate. I was deeply pleased with this vibrant duo!Though I don't often find myself in Scottsdale, I'm sure I will be tempted to swing out of the way the next time I drive through Phoenix en route to Tucson for a sweet stop, especially with seasonal promises like Sweet Corn, Watermelon Sorbet and Blueberry Cinnamon hard-scoop yogurt. Don't let the simplicity of Sweet Republic fool you, the taste truly does speak for

En Vitesse: Riesling Week!

Los Angeles, I hate to say it, but you have disappointed me. Here it is RIESLING WEEK in NYC, Miami, San Fran, even Vegas.. and we aren't in on the fun? *Pout*
If you DO reside in one of these.. tasteful.. cities, check out the large number of restaurants and wine shops participating here.
For Gothamites, Tasting Table has done a nice job of noting what every single participant is actually doing on their handy schedule here.
I suppose I will just have to take this opportunity [excuse?] to open a bottle or two of Riesling from my cellar this week and celebrate in my own modest Angeleno fashion!
Photo courtesy of German Wine Institute

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Buvare: Sonoran Sunset

Some cocktails are so special, that long after the last sip - and sometimes even after the bar of its invention has closed its doors - you can still taste the art of true balance in your palate's memory. This is the case with Portland's Colosso [R.I.P.] signature crowd-pleaser the Zirkpatrick: A blend of spicy black pepper-infused tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime and pomegranite juices, served on the rocks in a salt-rimmed old fashioned. Different, but somewhat simple; a twist on a margarita, sure. But it's all proportion here. Just enough spicy, salty, sweet, sour and bitter to leave your tongue too exhausted for umami. I crave the Zirkpatrick regularly. And cravings for what you can not attain leads to research, and emulation.
On black pepper infusion, I learned the Zirkpatrick is not dissimilar to popular cocktail the Red and the Black at Peter Hoffman's Savoy and Back Forty in NYC. Hoffman uses fresh strawberries in place of the pomegranite (which sounds too sweet to me) and a black pepper simple syrup rather than liquor infusion. While researching I also came across this recipe for black pepper infusion - but in the opposite sense - infusing black peppercorns with liquor, drying, then grinding the enhanced seasoning in customary manner.
Hmm, note to self.

Set on a new quest to create a cocktail that evokes my hometown, Tucson --AKA "The Old Pueblo"-- but in the spirit of the Zirkpatrick, I planned my tequila infusion and recipe tweakage accordingly (and appropriate as it may be, I did not infuse my batch with rattlesnake).

Sonoran Sunset
• 1 1/2 oz. black pepper/jalapeño-infused tequila
• 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
• 1/4 oz. fresh tangerine juice
• 1/4 oz. Cointreau
• 1/4 oz. Prickly Pear syrup

Slice jalapeño in half lengthwise, de-seed it, and put in a large glass container. Pour about a 1/2 cup of black peppercorns in with the jalapeño halves. Pour in one 750-mL bottle of reposado tequila (inexpensive, but something you would still drink plain).
Seal container. Let it rest for 24 to 60 hours. As soon as the first 24 hours have passed, taste it frequently; as soon as you get a hint that the jalapeño might be taking over the other flavors, strain through a double layer of cheesecloth. (Dry out tequila'd peppercorns for later use!)

On a small plate, mix raw sugar with finely ground black pepper and kosher salt. Moisten the outer rims of glasses with lime and coat lightly with the pepper-sugar-salt mixture. Garnish with chili-powdered lime wheels.
Combine cocktail ingredients in shaker, s-s-shake, and pour into the prepared glasses and serve at once. Spicy!

Next up: Star Anise-infused rum for Tiki Season!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gala Parfait: Mother's Day Brunch

I had the pleasure this year of spending Mother's Day in my hometown with my family, especially excited to be near my sister and week-old niece. Brunch was the first event scheduled, though I was "informed" that the menu had already been selected by the moms while watching the Food Network the week prior. Though I was happy to prepare the southern brunch spread selected from Down Home with the Neelys, my sister and inspired chef Megan (only a week after giving birth) was DYING to get back into the kitchen. Together we prepared the feast of Peach Fritters with Orange Glaze, Eggs Benedict on a Sausage Croquette, fresh fruit salad, and Morning Glory cocktail (sparkling wine, splashes of Cointreau, cherry brandy and fresh pine-orange juices).

Peach Fritters with Orange Glaze

1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can peach halves in syrup, drained
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Confectioners' sugar, for garnish

Heat deep-fryer to 350 degrees F (I used a candy thermometer in a deep saucepan with oil).
Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
Remove 3 peach halves from can and cut into small cubes.
In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs, butter, cubed peaches, and almond extract. Add wet mixture to dry and stir well until combined.Using a small ice cream scoop, drop batter into the hot oil. Fry for 1-2 minutes. Remove when fritter begins to float.Lay on a paper towel lined sheet tray. Sprinkle immediately with confectioners' sugar. Place on platter and serve with Orange Glaze.
Orange Glaze:

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice

In a large bowl add the confectioners' sugar and drizzle in the orange juice while whisking.

Eggs Benedict on a Sausage Croquette
makes 6 servings

1 pound country pork sausage
3 baked potatoes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley leaves
Vegetable oil, for pan-frying

Hollandaise Sauce:
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash hot sauce
2 tablespoons chopped chives

6 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (5-ounce) bag baby spinach
1-2 large tomatoes, sliced thickly

In a heavy bottom skillet, brown sausage over medium heat. Add a little oil to the bottom of the pan if it sticks, add a little oil and break it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until all the pink is gone. With a slotted spoon, remove the sausage from the skillet into a bowl.
Remove the inside of the potatoes and place a bowl with the Parmesan. Mash with a potato masher until they are smooth. Add the egg, sour cream, 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs, and season with salt and pepper. Add sausage to the bowl with the potatoes and mix well.
With your hands, divide the pork mixture into 1/4 cup portions and flatten so that each croquette is about 1/2-inch thick.
Add 1 cup panko bread crumbs to a 13 by 9-inch casserole dish and add chopped parsley and stir to combine. Dredge croquettes through the panko mixture and repeat.
Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the croquettes and saute until golden brown and crisp, about 6minutes per side. Hold in a 200 degrees F oven while you prepare the eggs and hollandaise.For the Hollandaise Sauce:
Add yolks, mustard and heavy cream to a blender. Blend until the egg yolks look light yellow and foamy about 1 minute. Keeping the blender on, slowly stream in the melted butter, making sure it emulsifies fully. Keep blending and add a pinch of salt and pepper, lemon juice, cayenne and hot sauce. Blend again until fully incorporated, then add chives at very end. Keep warm.

For the eggs:
Poach eggs in shallow simmering water in a wide pan or dutch oven (be sure to add vinegar to water to help eggs hold their shape). When the yolks are set but not firm (about 3 minutes), transfer eggs to a cold water bath in a casserole dish to stop them cooking. Continue until all eggs are set. Return cooled poached eggs to heated water quickly just before serving to rewarm.

Lay a handful of baby spinach on the serving dish and top with sausage croquette. Top croquette with a large tomato slice and poached egg, season with salt and pepper, then ladle over the hollandaise sauce. Garnish with leftover chopped chives.
Serve immediately.