Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gala Parfait: A Perfect Garden Party

It was a balmy summer day, and when I descended the steps -arms overflowing- to my friends' magical new residence in the Los Feliz hills, everything was already perfectly in place for the day's garden party. J. Marie arranged a lush bouquet of fresh-cut flowers in the open-air kitchen while Davey poured ice into a metal tub. Jasmine pinned flowers into her hair. You could hear the soft wind breathing through wild reeds growing alongside the veranda, overlooking the pool. I took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and released my panic about everything left to do. How could I be anxious in a setting not unlike a secret cliff side retreat in tropical Mexico?
In planning a daytime summer garden party, first thing's first - what are we drinking? White sangria, obviously. And sparkling wine. Lots of sparkling wine. I whipped up this sangria and modestly displayed it in a beverage fountain.
I don't follow strict recipes when I make sangria and punches, but to prepare this I first soaked sliced white peaches, apricots, and a sprig of fresh mint overnight in peach schnapps. In a saucepan over medium heat combine 3/4 cup evaporated cane juice with 3/4 cup water, a can of lemonade concentrate, and 1 tablespoon orange zest. Remove from heat once the sugar is dissolved, pour through a sieve to remove zest and let cool. In a pitcher, large bowl, or fountain combine 3 bottles of dry white wine with the syrup and about half a bottle of peach schnapps. Stir to combine and finally add the soaked fruit. Garnish with sprigs of mint.
What made this garden party a little bit unique is that the hosts are vegan. Not all of the guests were, but since we were also celebrating a birthday (of one of the vegan folk), everyone did their best to have fun with it and provide a garden party dish all could enjoy.
I found the recipe for these gorgeous open-faced Cucumber Tea Sandwiches at Vegan Yum Yum, but added my own twist of chopped fresh sage mixed into the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. A vegetable peeler made lovely thin strips of Cucumber to overlay. I garnished with Italian parsley, fresh cracked pepper and pink salt.
The always-fabulous Nicolette showed up with these stunning Rosemary Shortbread Cookies with Tomato Jam(!). The recipe (from David Lebovitz) is not vegan but was easily adapted. Get it here!
I was impressed by all of the guest's contributions as they arrived, it was truly a gorgeous spread...
Marinated tofu caprese bites.
Awesome Mediterranean quinoa salad.
Deceptive delicious vegan potato salad.
Totally not vegan potato salad.
The most time-consuming of my endeavors for the day was this complex but tasty Watermelon Gazpacho. But such an intriguing and balanced flavor profile! Get the refreshing sweet/salty/spicy recipe here - from Jason Fox of Commonwealth in San Francisco (posted by Tasting Table).
After a swim in the rain (didn't see that coming!) and a lot of refined outdoor revelry, it was time for cake.
My favorite of the day, the Olive Oil Cake with Blackberries recipe came from Jennifer Shelbo of Maialino in NYC (thanks Food & Wine for publishing this amazing recipe)! Was also made vegan with a few substitutions, and honestly was the best cake I've eaten in years. J. Marie decided to reconfigure it as a layer cake, and used the tart olive oil and berry topping as a layer in the middle, then whipped up a simple icing, decorating with leftover blackberries and zest. Beautiful! A must try!
Last but not least, I broke in my brand new Cuisinart classic ice cream maker with a Lemon Basil Sorbet. Originally intended to be a "float" with sparkling wine, the sorbet ended up accompanying the cake, and was a fine herbal compliment. Get that recipe here.
(One thing about a lovely party, it can leave a pretty gorgeous mess).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Buvare: Covell

Something about the unmarked re-purposed wood and brick storefront let me know I had found Covell before the valet sign confirmed it. I know this part of Los Feliz well, and a 'happening' energy on the south side of Hollywood Blvd across from Umami Burger is, well, as rare as Umami's burgers. But inside of Covell -not yet a week since the neighborhood wine bar opened- every chair, stool, and standing spot at the bar was filled. All but one near the door which I grabbed. I started fiddling on my phone until my companion arrived, but despite the madness, I looked up to owner Dustin Lancaster (formerly of Café Stella) asking what I'd fancy to drink. I already liked this place. Only he and Matthew Kaner (of Silver Lake Wine fame) were manning the bar, but the twinkle in Lancaster's eye when I asked how the week had been going was explicit. "Better than we could have expected."
You can expect some personalized attention in selecting the right glass for you at Covell, which might just end up being Kaner's own AM/FM Syrah. The glass pours average $10 and selection is ever-changing (and note: popping a cork from the bottle list for a glass isn't out of the question either). Soon Covell will be adding a light nosh menu by Matthew Poley (of Heirloom LA) and cheese plates by Paige Handler (of the Cheese Handler and Pizzeria Mozza). Yep, it's the cool kid's club, but here's the kicker - You're invited!
4628 Hollywood Blvd. Los Feliz; 323.660.4400
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Croquer: Frysmith

In a part of Burbank where lunchtime pleasure is rarely in bloom, my office has finally hit its stride of good luck lately, with regular visits from the Bull Kogi truck and Smokin' Willie's BBQ, mounting today with a lunchtime appearance from the popular Frysmith wagon! After picking my jaw off the sidewalk, I skipped through traffic to gleefully agonize over the oh-so-healthy menu as to what would become my lunch.
It was a tough decision, but the succulent image of the Rajas Fries sold me, and did not disappoint. Shawarma-marinated steak with fire-roasted poblano chiles, caramelized onions and Jack cheese cover the fries, with a healthy dose of chopped cilantro and Sriracha on top. The steak was remarkably well seasoned and grilled - a level I'd expect over greens at a decent cafe, not from a truck. The smoky chiles were a delightful bonus, adding just a touch of supple heat. Good decision, but next time I've got to try the fries with Kimchi and Kurobuta pork belly, onions and cheddar cheese. For this, a small prayer card on my desk will hold vigil for Frysmith's mercurial return to Burbank...
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Croquer: Yamashiro Garden Market

There are certain times when the posh eccentricities that give LA its inimitable LA-ness can fully be welcomed with open arms. Visiting the Yamashiro Garden Market with my friend Lisa last week was one of those instances.
High above Hollywood on one of LA's most popular viewpoints, Yamashiro restaurant is a lofty respite for taking in sushi, sake, and the city. But this summer with poolside cocktails, live music, wine tasting and high brow food vendors they're putting an elegant Hollywood twist on the traditional Angeleno farmer's market, and so far to overwhelming acclaim.
Artisan pretzel breads, homemade salsas, Rainier cherries, and a gourmet cheese truck add a nice twist at the vendor's booths, as well as wine tasting.
The longest line was for Yamahiro's Yamasada taco booth, which are only available at the Thursday night market.
The smell of miso-sake marinated black cod on the grill made my eyes roll back a little in anticipation as we waited, sipping a crisp Grillo wine (out of glass glasses - nice touch). Naturally I ordered one of each taco, and tried my damnedest to get every condiment onto my plate.
I started right into the black cod which was crispy smokey awesome, dabbed with sharp wasabi guacamole. The Korean short rib was tender and bursting with umami flavor, complimented nicely by the spicy salsa roja and some pickled chili peppers.
The Hoison Duck Confit was heaven dressed with a fresh Santiago Farms fruit salsa (plums to die for). I used the few chips remaining and my fingers to scrape up every speck of goodness from the box.
Before departing, Lisa and I made a final stop at the Bulgarini booth for what many claim is the best gelato in the LA metro area. The salted chocolate and goat cheese cocoa nib duo was a bold and practically savory dessert, but one to luxuriate in and contemplate. And we had plenty of time to do this - the main flaw came at the end of the evening waiting with 100+ other market-goers and restaurant diners for our conveniently priced $2 valet. The wait was approximately an hour, but to the management's credit, they were out there themselves moving cars, expediting as much as possible, handing out their cards and apologizing to patrons. Thank you Carlos Ulloa of Yamashiro for that personal connection. (This week an alternate lot and shuttle have been set up to alleviate the congestion). Delayed departure aside, I can recognize a fixable error and would definitely recommend the garden market for the distinguished Hollywood urban epicurean. 
New Vendors: Japanese Veggies, Afghan Food, Tiramisu and more.
Free Flower: For tonight and tonight only, SKYLINE FLOWERS will be
offering FREE flowers. Come by & get some flowers while supplies last.
Please take advantage of the free parking and shuttle service located at the Christian Science Church on La Brea at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. Shuttles will be running continuously from 5-9pm.
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