Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Croquer: Free Chili 2010!

Join Chocomeat this Saturday, June 26th 2010 at 1:00pm for a serious Texas-style chili cook-off!
Organized by some Texans who know good chili, the Third Annual Free Chili promises some stiff competition and a whole lotta hotness!
I will have the honor of judging the contesting chili alongside Chris "CJ" Jacobson, who was a contestant on season three's Top Chef and is currently the chef at Santa Monica's The Yard, and Mackenzie Miller, a native Texan who was born into chili and also organizes the LA chapter of the Texas Exes.
All are welcome to try their hand at the chili competition, but forewarned though there are no ingredient restrictions, keep in mind these Texans are hardcore! "You can come with chicken green chili with white beans...but you get no respect. That being said, in 2009 a vegan chili placed 3rd in the fan favorites..."
Partaking in enjoying the chili is free and open to all, and what better way to spend a beautiful sunny afternoon on the coast? Austin's own Tito's Vodka is rumored to have a presence as well - Never a dull addition to a FREE chili fest.
More details on entering and attending can be found at freechili.org
Did I mention it's free? 

Saturday, June 26th 2010 at 1:00pm
Brennan's Pub
4089 Lincoln Blvd. Marina del Rey, CA 90292; 310.821.6622

Croquer: Carmela ice cream

My coworker Julie made my day today. She called me to the conference room kitchen after returning from an off-site event with a surprise. It was in the form of several pints of Carmela Ice Cream, who had catered her event.
She passed me a spoon with a grin. The salted caramel was just starting to melt, but continued to blissfully melt in my mouth like a pat of frosty butter. Cacao nibs crackled through bites of dark chocolate. One vibrant with honey and subtle lavender notes made me pine for a warm tarte tatin to smother with it. But the winner was the fresh mint with cacao nib - "The mint is fresh from his garden" Julie told me, and the proof is in the pudding.
The LA-favorite is available at farmers markets (Hollywood, Culver City, South Pasadena, Pacific Palisades) and a few local stores (Naturewell, The Curious Palate, Locali, Joan's on Third).


Images via carmelaicecream.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

Croquer: Lasagna Lab at Cube

There's really no excuse for NOT eating out this Tuesday night. Finely curated marketplace and café Cube on La Brea is a couple of weeks deep into its summer-long Tuesday Night Lasagna Lab, where $20 buys you a farm-fresh meal of chef Erin Eastland's homemade pasta lasagna, imaginative side salad (no "mixed greens" here), and a glass of wine paired by Cube's wine director -and owner- Alex Palermo.
The other Tuesday, I nabbed a last minute reservation at the cheese bar to check it out. The small café and sidewalk patio were bustling but not overstuffed, the charming server still able to immediately present an amuse-bouche and dole out some charm. We ordered the lasagna prix fixe, and in addition a starter of the Hamachi crudo. This "Italian sashimi" is composed with house pickled kumquats and leek scapes, drizzled with fruity olive oil. The puckish kumquats add a satisfying zing to the sea spray fresh dish.
After the hamachi our server returned to regretfully inform us that (at 7:15pm) they were already out of the special lasagna prix fixe... In frank disbelief we asked if she was certain. Our orders had been in, and I knew the books were filled up all night for the special menu - seemed early in dinner service to have run out. She returned saying that they had one left, so we gratefully claimed it, and in place of the other ordered the sweet corn stuffed pasta with brown butter, bacon, red cow parmesan. 
The sweet corn pasta was delicate and fresh. Refreshingly, the bacon was not overpowering, rather the rich cheese dominated the flavor profile. A nice addition to the meal.
The special this week was a white lasagna with baby zucchini, squash blossoms, and also the delightfully pungent red cow parmesan. My disdain of 'fallback zucchini' diminished with the crisp paper-thin slices of farmer's market baby zucchini here, layered between delicate pasta sheets and bolstered with conservative amounts of cheese. The salad of spring baby greens, grilled peach, cipollini onions, thick cut bacon, and aged balsamic was fantastic, all rounded off nicely with the 2004 Ca'Rossa Roero Nebbiolo.
Definitely plan a Tuesday or two at Cube before September, but book a reservation for early in the night so you don't miss out! And if lasagna is not your steez, swing by for Dessert Bar Mondays featuring $5 sweetmeat small plates (like Tres Leches Cake with Vanilla Bean Parfait & Milk Meringue) from Executive Pastry Chef Jun Tan, mini cheese plates by Cube Gourmet Buyer Rachael Sheridan, and of course more paired wines by Palermo.

Cube Cafe & Marketplace
615 N La Brea Ave. LA; 323.939.1148
Cube at Divine Pasta Co in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Cube Cafe on Urbanspoon

P.S. On the topic of awesome homemade lasagna... The recent lasagna special at my new favorite neighborhood haunt Osteria Mamma was also delicioso!

Osteria Mamma
5730 Melrose ave. LA; 323.284.7060

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Croquer: Flying Pig

This spring's Silver Lake Jubilee may have been a sleepy alternative to the overcooked Sunset Junction summer cluster-you-know-what, but the Jubilee definitely represented what LA's current mobile food scene has to offer. One newbie to me was the cotton candy pink truck donning a flying pig called.. Flying Pig.
James Seitz's menu transposes Asian and Pacific Rim recipes using Le Cordon Bleu French technique, proffering some tasty results.
First on my list was the braised pork belly with red onion escabeche, pickled sesame cucumber, death sauce on a steamed bao bun - basically a chocomeat bushwhack, reason enough to seek out the pink truck.
Furthering me admiration was the spicy pork taco of marinated pork shoulder with green papaya, black sesame seeds, cilantro cream, and death sauce.
And for dessert the tamarind duck taco - Duck confit with pickled red beets, toasted almonds, radish sprouts, mandarin orange, and tamarind gravy. YUM.

Don't wait for Sunday dim sum, seek out this sucker.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Voyager Bien: Moto

I'm missing New York this week. Over the past few years a few Brooklyn joints have proven to be mainstays in my heart. One in particular is on my mind this blustery morning. Every visit, whether it's the first night in town or a quiet respite before heading back to the airport, Moto in Brooklyn is always on the agenda.
Nestled under the tracks of the JMZ train Hews stop, a hanging bicycle is nearly the only signage outside the narrow wedge-block corner café Moto. Entering through the curtain is like stepping into a Parisian-inspired 1930s speakeasy, a compacted jazz band often playing to one side, church pews and small marble tables lining the walls up to the tiny round bar. Candlelit crowds sip wine out of tumblers, snack on simple heartwarming plates like warm lentil salad, mussels, and pork ribs. But the real reason I continually return to Moto is for the last course. Armed with an espresso, glass of port, or a Black Velvet (Guinness and sparkling wine), I always order the famed date cake.
Visually akin to a giant cube of fresh gingerbread, the moist earthy cake is served warm anchored in a sticky pool of toffee caramel, topped with fresh whipped cream and a spring of mint. Even beside Moto's high scoring crème brulée (on record as my favorite dessert varietal) the date cake sparkles.
Don't be scared off by the occasional setback of a wait (and note: Moto is cash only), because once you get nestled into your seat and take your first bit of cake the pleasure of your night will be just beginning...

394 Broadway (between Hooper St & Keap St) South Williamsburg, NY; 718.599.6895
Moto on Urbanspoon

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