Friday, June 11, 2010

Buvare: The Tar Pit

I didn't get around to blogging about Mark Peel's newest venture, the Tar Pit, the first time I visited the swanky Old Hollywood vibed lounge. But after this past Tuesday night's after-dinner drink (read: unforseen bender), I have plenty to report about the cocktail program!
The summer menu put together by bar manager David Kupchinsky left an indelible impression on my thirsty mind.
First up was the Martinez - A neo cocktailian nod to the original martini, delicately blending Gin, Punt e Mes, Antica Carpano, Maraschino, and bitters. This is a lightly bracing, palatable, near-perfect cocktail. (And here begins my downfall).
The intoxicating African Flower is my kind of 'dessert' cocktail, entwining Bourbon with Crème de Cacao, Amaro, and a flamed orange peel. Sweet, smokey, sexy, simple.
The After Glow has some zing from its base spirit Aquavit, mellowed with Amaro, Maraschino, Bianco, and bitters. Another pleasant aromatic digestif cocktail.
Finally, one of the Tar Pit's signature plays on the traditional Manhattan, the Green Point uses Rye, Punt e Mes, Yellow Chartreuse, and bitters for this neighborhood-inspired rendition. Another that I sampled last visit was the Little Italy, made with Cynar in place of the Chartreuse, a sweeter companion to the herbal Green Point.
A complex (albeit froofier) drink I also tried last time was the embarrassing-to-order Fashionista, a spin on a Gin Old Fashioned updated with coriander, juniper berry syrup, tarragon, and marasca cherries (wowza).
And while it didn't make the cut this time, I look forward to walking into the Tar Pit bar on a balmy summer night for The Prude's Demise (apparently inspired by the kumquat trees that line the front entrance), made with Jamaican over-proof rum, kumquats, kaffir lime, pepper syrup, Velvet Falernum, lime juice and soda.
Check it out on a slow night, sit at the bar, and nosh on oysters or the duck rillettes. Just drink plenty of water and a B-12 before bed. Amen.

609 N. La Brea Ave. LA. 323.965.1300
The Tar Pit in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Tar Pit on Urbanspoon

Croquer: LA Street Food Fest 2.0

If there's one event I am more than willing to give a second chance after a decidedly disastrous trial run it's the charmingly determined LA Street Food Fest. Quick to clean up its reputation, the fest isn't waiting until next February to go at it again, rather re-conceptualizing the event July 24 as a festive all-inclusive Summertime tasting fair at Pasadena's world famous Rose Bowl.
The all-inclusive ticket price ($45) benefits St Vincent Meals on Wheels & Woolly School Gardens, and covers all food booths, open bars, live music, and parking. The spacious Rose Bowl should alleviate the overwhelming crowds of the previous event, plus all some 60 vendors (including hot gourmet food trucks, old school carts and stands, celeb chefs and street inspired dishes from LA’s best restaurants) will be out of their trucks in booth tents on the lawn, prepared for the onslaught. Not willing to compromise missing out on your gourmet grilled cheese? A VIP ticket ($65) is available for a full preview hour and VIP parking before the gates open. Get your tickets, this will surely, once again, sell the eff out.

LA Street Food Fest
Saturday July 24, 2010
Rose Bowl
1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, CA

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Croquer: Polka

And this my friends is why we love LA.
If you drive a sleepy stretch of Verdugo in Glassell Park, an unassuming strip mall (aren't they always?) houses one of Eagle Rock's best kept treasures, the inculpably provincial Polka. Guarded by a wall of living and plastic potted flowers, wind chimes, and assorted bric-a-brac, the heavily lace-curtained storefront boasts "Nutritious Delicious Polish Dishes". Opening the door is like entering the rabbit hole or passing behind a fortune teller's curtain. The one-room scrapbook of a restaurant is packed tightly with plastic doilied tables, old world ephemera, more curiosities, gewgaws, trifles, and trinkets.
We are led past a Thomas the Tank Engine spouting water vapor "smoke" to our corner table, a matchbox-sized booth under a mirror painted with a pegasus flying over a rainbow. Empathetically, I too feel somewhere over the rainbow.
Polka's menu is laid out in 3 columns, tiered by price: Daily Entrées, Special Entrées, and Royal Entrées. Every meal includes potatoes & veggies, "usually: carrots, corn and green peas." My favorite aspect of the meniu is easily to tidbits of wisdom stuck in among the country food, reminding me that "happiness is not to be sought but to be understood". So pork then?
I had been prepared that Polka was a BYOB establishment, and within minutes of seating, before I had digested the menu's advice or entrée offerings, a waitress was setting steaming mugs of fragrant soup before us and opening the bottle of wine beside me that I had brought. Service! [Note: corkage at Polka is $4.95..!] The soup was rich and shockingly tasty for a spinach and starch vegetable soup. My dinner date's eyes met mine with an according eyebrow raise.
A petite dinner salad was swapped out for our licked-clean soups mugs. Less inspired than the soup, the course was still a charming Midwest staple (in adorable melamine bowls).
It was so hard to choose an entrée, but ultimately with the waitress' help (and a craving for dumplings) I ordered the Gulasz, a beef stew with potato dumplings and steamed vegetables. The meat fell apart at the fork's touch and the dumplings -similar but still quite different from my family's Czech potato dumplings- were hand-formed comfort. Warming and delicious.
Dwayne had the Royal Entrée Pieczen, roast pork in "rich, juicy" homemade gravy. Like Sunday night supper at a friend's house, the taste brought a satisfied murmur to audibility, followed by a smile. Which I could already tell is, in essence, what Polka is all about.
Full, happy, and the last folks in the restaurant, we finished our wine expecting the check. A mustached man in shorts and an undershirt, trussed by suspenders, instead dropped two dainty pudding desserts dusted with nutmeg. A true rocket age implementation of commercial gelatin, Reddi Wip, and canned Maraschino cherry, this dessert exemplified the proper closure to a real European [middle-]American dining experience. A detail that in no other way can be described than as a quintessential cherry on top.

4112 Verdugo Rd. Glassell Park; 323.255.7887
Polka Polish Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Recettes Secrètes: WTF are you having for dinner?

Refreshingly to the point, this rather frank recipe aggregating website will tell indecisive you what to make for dinner. I'm a Libra, so this is something I can respect.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Voyager Bien: Sanibel, FL

Our crazy week at Walt Disney World ended blissfully on the Gulf Coast for a couple days of hardcore R&R. I loved the sleepy vibe of Sanibel, a skinny island community off of Cape Coral. We stayed at the Sanibel Inn, situated a few steps from the white sand, shell-filled beach.
We decided to prepare dinner at the hotel, so hit up Jerry's Foods for local shrimp and steaks for surf 'n turf and Florida Beer Company's Key West Southernmost Wheat, a Belgian style witbier kissed with key lime and spice. Summer perfection!
Despite the heat, I think I could have hung around Sanibel's beaches a bit longer, taking in the beauty and silently praying for its shores to be spared from the oil spill the news had just begun covering...

Sanibel Inn
937 East Gulf Dr. Sanibel Island, FL; 239.472.3181

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Voyager Bien: Disney World Dining part 4

This was the day I had been waiting for. World Showcase day at Epcot!
Situated around the massive World Showcase Lagoon, 11 countries are represented by pavilions distilling the essence of place through architecture, food, drink, shops, and even people (each pavilion is staffed through an exchange program with the corresponding country).
What made our embarkment all the more exciting was the [silly, albeit awesome] t-shirts my sister found online, stating "Drinking Around the World" on the front, with a checklist on the back... My father and I had a few goals for the day. And Epcot caters to such goals openly, with remarkable alcoholic options at every turn. Take that, Disneyland! Here you can wander about with a beer, bubbly, sake, or blended boozy beverage freely!
Just before the bridge to the World Showcase, a Coca-Cola sponsored shop is a fun stop for the all-ages contingent, featuring fountain sodas from around the globe. Some highlights include Italy's bitter Beverly (a shocking red palate-cleansing apertif soda), Germany's Mezzo Mix (a tangy blend of orange and cola, popularly mixed with beer), and Israel's Kinley (a crisp ancient blend of lemon, water, and honey).
Our alcoholic expedition began in Canada, where a beer cart offered Labalt Blue and Moosehead. A pint of the latter started things off...
The British barmaids at the Rose & Crown crowed at our shirts ("we've not seen those before! Brilliant!") and poured us tall Bass beers for our stroll, poking into a Twinings tea shop stocked with assorted exported sundries.
In the metropolitan Parisian sector, a frilly French drink was one of our faves, a Grand Mariner slush!
In Morocco we had some mini shawarma pitas and baklava with our Casa Lager Beer ("The original beer from Casablanca").
Japan was special... Sipping a sake and perusing the Tokyo-esque mall full of anime dolls, kimonos, pottery, and edible goodies was fun, but what won us over was the artist making incredible sculptural candy on the corner. She magically manipulated sugary rice paste into shimmering flamingos and dragons before our eyes...
By the end of her presentation I was feeling a little drunk and then lost my family in the shopping center. I was excited to see that in the back of the shop there's a tiny sake bar that does flights and tastings, but oh boy, I had to move on... Only halfway down the list!
We skipped America. Night was falling and it became clear we would need to be wheeled out if we drank THAT many drinks (my father and I were already on to sharing at this point, tipsy and giggling more than my nieces). And we drink in America everyday. A Budweiser product would not be necessary. We moved on to Italy, where a walk-up bar was making another lovely frozen concoction, here of limoncello, grappa, and lemon!
We had Spaten beers and sausages in Germany, and checked out the wine shop and Christmas market.
It was time to secure a viewing spot for the popular Epcot fireworks spectacular over the lagoon, so mom and I ran ahead to try to grab another snack and a couple more drinks to further the list. In China we picked up bbq pork bao, spring rolls and Tsingtao Beer from a stand.
My mother turned back and I continued making my way to Mexico (at the far end of the lagoon), for a cloying machine-made margarita, then grabbed a generic Australian IPA at "Trade-Post", a bizarre representation, seemingly for Africa and Down Under?? And ran back just in time for the rather impressive pyrotechnics show to start.
All and all, not too shabby. I'm not sure how I was standing, but somehow felt OK by the drive home (no, I was not driving). Of the WDW parks, Epcot clearly won the award for most adult-friendly and with the most eclectic on-the-go food options. 2 Thumbs up!