Showing posts with label mary sue milliken. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mary sue milliken. Show all posts

Monday, November 22, 2010

Foodbuzz Blogger Fest: Day 2

Nothing wakes you up early on a Saturday morning like the word PORN emblazoned across a giant hotel conference room screen. Day 2 of the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival and off to a sniggling start. My first breakout session of the day explored lighting, composition, and tips for photographing food, lead by [No Recipes] and The Cooking Photographer.
Following the workshop, Border Grill's Mary Sue Milliken demoed variations on the fish taco using fresh Alaska Seafood. A charming interlude to... lunch? Unfortunately not yet. 
The Food Blogging Guide to Success (Whatever That Is!) panel was an interesting one. Featuring the bloggers Lick My Spoon, Kitchen Corners, and Carrots 'N' Cake, discussion topics spanned recipe ethics to personal safety. In the end, Lick My Spoon made me smile commiserating about her massive, shelved French Laundry post... (the beast we ALL have as bloggers that we can never seem to finish and get out there!)
A short walk downtown followed, leading to the Tasting Pavilion at the Metreon's top floor.
479 Popcorn was my first stop, with a wooing Chipotle Caramel & Almond corn.
Next door were some poached gulf shrimp and chile-gazpacho from Miss Pearl's Jam House
Three Twins sampled their smooth mint confetti and strawberry ice creams.
Prather Ranch Meat was popular, grilling sausages in their cheeky t-shirts.
I enjoyed Tyler Florence's roasted butternut squash & apple soup with parmesan herb savory shortbread.
Other highlights included Annie the Baker's peanut butter cookie, Ledgenear Farm's literally drinkable maple syrup, INNA jam's raspberry preserves and jalapeño jelly, a wistful Macadamia nut blossom honey from Royal Hawaiian Honey, and spicy pickled vegetables from Pick-A-Peck.
And let's not forget the booze. It may have been midday, but I was sure tasting the many varietals dressed to the nines in JAQK Cellars' clever designs. An example of gambling gone right.
The Watermelon Wheat Beer and Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale from the people over at 21st Amendment came giftwrapped in 6 pack boxes - a novel idea! I was also impressed by the distinguished Bison Brewing Organic Chocolate Stout , but most (surprisingly) of all by the wines from Far Niente
in Napa. The overdressed gilt labels on their Estate Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon bottles deemed them missable, but both wines were so down to earth, nuanced and drinkable I had to retract my judgemental claws. Their Dolce late harvest Napa dessert wine was a proverbial cherry on top. 
But it was the ladies at the Jacob's Creek tasting booth that saved me from the poker face of the pavillion. Tall pours -and always a mischevious smile- made me return to their booth again, and again.. and again.
After a small wine nap break, dinner was served at the incredible church de gourmand - the Ferry Building.
Like something out of a dream, the thorough way of the closed complex was transformed into a sprawling dining room, light arches overhead bracing the length of our hungry mob.
Most of all it was the company at our table is what made this such a fabulous experience. I had the pleasure of dining (and drinking copious amounts of wine before dinner) with the sassy j e t s e t WISDOM, Culinary Herbalist and wonderful conversationalist Pat Crocker, my buddy the Wind Attack, the charming Tomato Tart next door, our team captain Casey Angelova, and the très hip Warm Kitchenette.
The meal we were about to enjoy was presented by the Cooking Channel and featured wine pairings by Bonny Doon Vineyard.
Dinner started with a Roasted Golden Beet Tart with crimson beets, feta, currants, wild arugula, and basil puree. A 2009 Bonny Doon Vineyard Albarino (very familiar to me by this point in the weekend) was poured alongside.
The second course may have been my favorite - Seared Scallops with Bonny Doon Vineyard Verjus Beurre Blanc served over braised fennel and garnished with fried fennel fonds. A lovely 2007 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc made the near perfect dish sing.
I was impressed that the entrees were dropped around the room at once, hundreds of Rosemary and Garlic Infused Racks of Lamb with local wild mushrooms, pinot noir sauce, and butternut squash puree, all cooked to a sultry medium rare. The components all worked wonderfully together, a warming toast to the season, paired with the 2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant.
(I have never seen a group of diners so uniformly and ferociously tear meat from bone like us hungry bloggers. It was a carnal and beautiful site!)
Dessert was a Tarta de Almendras - A buttery almond cake with oranges, figs, Spanish sherry sabayon and parmesan crisp. The pairing was a delicious 2008 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vinferno fortified dessert wine.
Following the satisfying meal, Angelova championed our group in the after dinner Foodbuzz Twitter scavenger hunt. Several blocks away after her third capture, a cab was flagged. Deja vu, there was not enough room for everyone in our group - All but one could fit. I looked up at the clear autumn night sky between high rises, considered my full belly, wine buzz and put my trust again in fate.
"It's alright," I told them, a sudden chill curling my lips into a smile. "I think I'm going to walk."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Croquer: Red O

And then, as soon as he stole America's heart on Top Chef Masters, the humble and lovable Rick Bayless opened a flashy restaurant in West Hollywood, the first outside of his Chicago Frontera dynasty. I couldn't help but approach Red O with a touch of reticence. Could this Vegas-y monolith be from the same down-to-earth Bayless that taught me how to eat well everyday through his fresh cookbook Mexican Everyday? When I went to enter Red O, a man outside the door asked for my name to ensure I had a reservation - but he wasn't the maître d', he was actually a door man... for a restaurant? Red flags waved, but I kept calm and carried on.
The interior is dim and dinny like a hotel lobby (for some reason I expected the spray of a fountain on my face from between the potted palms). Architecturally I found it over-embellished, and over-decorated (a la Z Gallerie) - Also shockingly dated for a brand new A-list restaurant. Why is it not clean and confident, like Bayless' food? Once I got one of the host's attention she said it would probably be another 30 minutes or so for our reservation (9:15pm on a Tuesday), so we made our way to the bar for a drink.
A winding glass-walled tequila cave and ornate metalwork-encased bar express a strong alcohol prevalence at Red O. This made me look forward to the specialty margarita menu I knew I would be handed. We saddled up on bulky cream leather bar stools beside two older women sipping chardonnay bobbing in two slingy black swings, an unintentionally perverse decor concept.
I ordered the Market Margarita, fresh cucumber-honeydew melon muddled with agave nectar, Arette blanco tequila, lemon & lime juices. Michael ordered the Maceta Margarita with Herradura silver tequila, Veev Acai spirit, fresh Mexican papaya, homemade limonada, rosemary & lime. We thought we'd sample the exotic differences between the two very different sounding drinks. I sipped mine, it was a decent margarita, but the cucumber and honeydew flavors were incredibly subtle, or perhaps overpowered by the sour limonada (their homemade marg mix). I tried Michael's Maceta, expecting a sweet punch from the Acai and papaya, with rosemary nuance. I laughed, it tasted exactly the same! He sampled both, shrugged. Despite a slightly different hue, we sat and sipped our innocuous coolers while the abrasively plastic bar crowd cawed about us like ravens on Hitchcock's playground.
Our table was ready close to 10:00pm, which probably benefited us as the room began to clear and we were seated at a quieter corner table.
Our server went over the large menu, loaded with 'savory snack' starter small plates such as tamales, taquitos, and quesos fundidos. We immediately gravitated toward the Shredded Creekstone Beef Short Rib Sopes in a roasted tomato-green chile sauce. Things were looking up! The smoky delicious short rib and crispy masa sopes were a match made in heaven, married in the delicate but flavorful chili sauce and dusting of crumbled queso fresco. I could have eaten 2 more orders...
Next we tried the Slow-cooked Sonoma Duck taquitos with tomato-arbol chile sauce and arugula, per suggestion from a friend who had come a week prior. The light shells reminded me of egg rolls more than taquitos, and they were very petite. The flavors were nice, but maybe too mellow following the bold sopes.
Since it had turned into a late dinner, we decided to split an entree. We settled on the Tinga Poblana - A pork trio consisting of homemade chorizo, braised Gleason Ranch pork shoulder & belly, with roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, Yukon gold potatoes, avocado, queso fresco. The dish was an absolute winner. The layers of flavor and consistencies found neglected taste buds in the back of my mouth and made them sing. Warm homemade tortillas sopped up the rich broth and tender pork. The bites of avocado tamed the heat, which was just right. It was the kind of dish you could eat again and again and never tire of.
The desserts all sounded relatively expected (tropical fruit sorbets, empenadas), but the creamy goat cheese cheesecake with caramel corn and Mexican "root beer" sauce sounded just curious enough to try. Our server told us it was a Frontera staple, served at all of Bayless' restaurants. All the more reason. The cake was actually another series of bite-size pieces. The sauce is made from Hoja santa, a central Mexican herb sometimes aptly called "root beer plant". The piquant sauce had more bite than Barq's and complimented the farmy cheesecake, nutty crust and caramel corn crown ever so nicely.

While the meal overall left a pleasant impression, existing a stones throw in any direction from winning authentic Mexican food a fraction of the price, Red O's existence in LA amongst such ubiquity still seems curious. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken have made a name for themselves over the years in LA creating "new" Mexcian cuisine, as Bayless has in Chicago. But why here, why now? I expected to be blown out of the water, which would have been my answer. But while I wasn't, I of course can't hang it all on Bayless. I learned he is not in fact the executive chef of Red O  - Michael Brown (of Patina Group and Wolfgang Puck Catering) is. Bayless does not cook in the Red O kitchen, nor does he own it - Mike Dobson and Rick Teasta (responsible for the EZ Lube oil changing chain) do. So is it really any more than Bayless' name? He developed the menu and trained the staff, but what's in it for him? These are all questions I asked myself leaving Red O, satisfied with a tasty meal but still searching for answers.

8155 Melrose Ave. 323.655.5009
redorestaurant.com
Red O in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Red O on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 24, 2009

Croquer: Border Grill Truck

This past Saturday I headed to the Silver Lake Art, Craft and Vintage Fair at Micheltorena Elementary School for the sole purpose of finally catching the Border Grill Truck. Proceeded by quite the reputation, I was expecting some real BANG for my buck here! I began to get really hungry as I approached the sleek black truck, adorned with the festive, graffitti-like line art that has become an aesthetic signature of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken's restaurants' decor.Thoroughly excited by the toothsome menu chock full of yummy-sounding Mexi-delights, my friend and I basically decided we must order one of almost everything.
The most intriguing section of the menu to me was titled "cones".We started with the Green Corn Tamal cone (sweet corn, crema, salsa fresca) and a Peruvian Ceviche cone (mahi mahi, lime, ginger, aji amarillo chile, pickled onion, corn tortilla cone).The sweet corn tamal was a tasty start, but after several bites on the palate resembled creamed sweet corn overwhelmed by crema mexicana in a sno-cone liner more than a good tamale.The Peruvian Ceviche cone on the other hand was the best item we sampled, the lime and ginger bursting open every tastebud to further taste each ingredient with added dimension. Delicious!The Yucatan Pork Taco ( braised achiote pork, black beans, pickled onion, orange jicama slaw) was a gorgeous site. The meat was tender and flavorful, but the bitter/sweet orange slaw was so distracting, it literally bisected the main flavors until almost opposing. "Weird" was our mutual review.
The Cilantro Chicken Taco (tomatillo, creamy salsa fresca) was tasty, although cooked cilantro never seems quite right to me. In the end, either way this taco nothing terribly memorable.Speaking of unmemorable, I unfortunately can't recall even tasting fish in the Crispy Baja Fish Taco (chipotle honey, creamy salsa fresca). The chipotle honey was a nice touch, but the creamy salsa fresca completely doused any other flavor or texture from the small bits of fish, fried dough being the most noticeable ingredient. The Carne Asada Taco (caramelized onion, salsa fresca, guacamole) was par, though the meat too had little flavor. The vibrant guac on top was the tastiest ingredient here.
One other unfortunate aspect, no fault of Border Grill (but apparently a rule made by the fair?) was that they could not sell their beverages out of the truck. This was especially saddening with items such as Watermelon Lemonade and Iced Mexican Coffee (cinnamon, star anise, orange zest, piloncillo syrup)... Bummer!
I also had high hopes for the Churro Bites (dulce de leche infused churros, cinnamon sugar, whipped cream), but at that point opted to stick with what I know and walked around the corner instead for Alegria's Cafe de la Olla (coffee simmered with Piloncillo and cinnamon sticks) and a Lark cupcake, feeling the $20+ we spent at the truck for our somewhat underwhelming lunch was enough.
Perhaps another day for the iced coffee and churros...

The Border Grill Truck can be found every Saturday at the Silver Lake Art, Craft and Vintage Fair. Other regular locations are listed on their site. For up-to-the-minute location, follow on Twitter.