Friday, March 30, 2007

Special Foodventure #31: Vodka/Cheese Tasting @ Artisan Cheese Gallery (Studio City)

Having been well-acquainted with Modern Spirits flavored vodkas at their various events (first time at Lola's, then again at 561 Restaurant) - not to mention some personal sippings & cocktails at home, I was delighted when husband/wife co-owners and vodka makers Melkon & Litty Khosrovian finally returned to L.A. from their nationwide tour of paired menus to host a few more events here in L.A. this month.

I have the option of either going to a vodka tasting
in a sub-zero freezer wearing a fur-coat that touched who-knows-what beforehand, or I can go to a 7-course pairing at an artisanal fromagerie in Studio City with rare and unique cheese from around the world . . . at room temperature . . . in my own clothes. No contest.

The Artisan Cheese Gallery is a boutique cheese shop in Studio City and is just one of those food places you'd wish was in your own neighborhood. Owner Melody Dosch is friendly and very knowledgable and passionate about her cheeses and always ready to share a sample of her unique finds. The store/restaurant, they serve salads and sandwiches in the day and hosts occasional tastings at night, pretty much mirrors Melody's friendly foodie personality - painted an inviting lemon-cream yellow, with light wooden shelves stocked top to bottom with all sorts of gourmet food items, from sun-dried tomato peanut butters, bell pepper-jalapeno preserves and single-origin dark chocolate bars. And of course, a prominent glass display and wooden counter showcasing dozens of rare and seasonal cheeses of many varieties from around the world.

There were about 40 seats at the event ($35/person), and the tables were already set when I arrived a little before 7:30 --

I can hardly keep my mouth from drooling with the aromas of cheese lingering through the air and the sight of them right in front of my face. Thankfully, the event officially started within minutes and we can all finally dig in:
Going clockwise from bottom of the plate, the items & vodka pairings were:

Brie layered with black-truffle mascarpone, paired with black truffle vodka - being a truffle lover, I was purely delighted by this first course of truffley soft cheese with an equally intriguing-flavored vodka--if there was a drizzle of white truffle oil on top this would've been perfect!

Fra'mani Toscano, with celery black pepper vodka - a salty & slightly spicy piece of salami - which in turn accentuated the celery taste of the vodka, sweet and slightly grassy.

Sublimity with Herbe de Provence & pear-lavender vodka - A wonderfully fragrant hard cheese bursting with lavender and rosemary aromas. Though I love the cheese and the vodka, this pairing was only OK -- the pear flavor, which is mild to begin with, is especially muted here due to all the dominating scents and flavors from the other herbs.

Piacentinu d'Enna and celery black pepper vodka - an unusual, mac'n cheese-like yellow-orange because saffron has been added, as well as whole peppercorns. Mildly nutty and very savory, it highlighted the celery flavors in that vodka even more.

Fromager d'Affinois with crystallized ginger piece (not pictured) and candied ginger vodka - a double-creme cow's cheese with 50% butterfat content, this is by far my favorite of the cheeses on the plate. It spreads almost like butter with the slightest tang to its creamy smoothness - heavenly. The pairing of this mild cheese with spicy ginger pieces & ginger vodka is slightly confusing, however.

Pierre Robert with Oregonian honey, paired with grapefruit honey vodka - an even higher butterfat content (72%) but interestingly didn't have as much a butterlike quality of the d'Affinois. However, it's still a delicious cheese, especially after being honeyed up, and went well with the citrusy-sweet smelling vodka.

Brunette and tea vodka - Melody's favorite, this is a slightly-wrinkly goat cheese with a notable, but not offensive, tang, a slight flowery taste and a creamy texture. The pairing with tea vodka was decent, but, as my table neighbors discovered and later showed me, it went incredibly well with a little of that Oregonian honey and black truffle vodka.
Finishing it all off, a Spano's Raspberry Chocolate Truffle. A small but intense powdered sugar coated cube, this chocolate bursts with a juicy, tangy flavor as it melts into a wonderful cocoa creme on your tongue. Appropriately enough, this was paired with the Chocolate Orange Vodka -- which was just alike enough to complement this nicely (but not so similar to the point of near-identical, like Lola's confuzzling chocolate-orange dessert, where I had a hard time figuring out where the flavors are coming from.)
And what started as a request for a second small piece of the buttery d'Affinois turned into Melody & her staff giving me pieces large enough to spread on half a baguette! Having already well blown my refined carbs and fats budget for the day, I ate just another square and wrapped the rest home to be enjoyed later in the week.

It's only been a few days since the event, and already I can't wait to go back to
eat a panini, and buy a few more wedges, or a premade $6 assortment plate, to take home. Or, perhaps, for another wonderful tasting of alchy, cheeses and sweets.

The Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City 91604
Phone: 818-505-0207

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Foodventure #30: Scarlet Tea Room (Pasadena)

Obsessions over finger sandwich fillings, comparisons of scone textures and flavors, whether the chinaware came from England or - well - China. All signs of a high tea addict, or - in my case - a regular "tea club" of friends that meets about once a month to explore various tearooms in the L.A. and O.C. areas.

Scarlet Tea Room came at the recommendations of other Chowhounders at the inquiry of tea rooms in the Pasadena area (of which there are quite a few, including Tea Rose Garden, Chado, Huntington Library's Rose Tea Room.) On Green St. near Fair Oaks, it's just a skip and a hop away from the rest of Old Town Pasadena.

Upon entering, I think "White Tea Room" would've been a more appropriate name, since the walls, the ceilings, the marbled counters, the table cloths and even the chinaware -- all completely white (ok, maybe variations of eggshell, shale and marble, if you want to go Queer Eye) with a few scarlet curtains & drapery. I almost felt obligated to check my clothes & shoes to make sure I wasn't dragging any dirt in. But (lack of) color asides, the interior is functional and decent, tables weren't too cluttered and closely spaced, French bistro music were playing at the right level, and ample natural lighting -- always a good thing for my camera.

Like most other tea rooms, it's more or less a prix-fixe here with a few options. My drink of choice - a bastardized French vanilla flavored black tea. Good tasting with a lil sugar and a spot 'o milk - and the vanilla flavor was impressive against the mild chestnutty maltiness of the black tea (both of which still packed a bit of punch after a second brew a.k.a. refilling the pot with hot water.)
The first course that came was a berry sorbet (right), not-too-sweet and very seedy but remarkably refreshing. The scone accompaniments (strawberry jam, lemon curd, devonshire cream) were also brought out around this time.
Then came the 3-tiered plates, starting with the scones . . .
. . . great presentation with the syrup drizzles! The warm, kind of fluffy and slightly-vanilla scones and their accompaniments were good, but not remarkable. (My personal favorites are at Tea Rose Garden.)
Then came the finger sandwiches, there are about ten to choose from, so I picked chicken tahini, mozzarella-sundried tomato spread, proscuitto-roasted red pepper spread, and salmon-chive spread. Each sandwich was about three bites apiece (comparable in size to the tea sandwiches I've had at other places), and the unique flavors were overall all very good - I particularly liked the creamy mozzarella and the tangy-creamy sundried tomatoes, and the slightly nutty chicken tahini. My friend had pretty much the same order and liked her sandwiches as well.
Finally, the last plate on the rack were assorted petit-fours and mini desserts. Like everything else, very visually appealing, but this plate was particularly underwhelming - just sugary with generic vanilla, chocolate & coffee flavors.

Finishing off the tea was a dish of strawberries romanoff: chopped up strawberries mixed with devonshire cream. And it tastes like -- strawberries and cream! Sarcasm aside, a nice, simple and refreshing dish to finish off the meal.

High Tea for 2: $50

Ambience - 2/5 (It's fancy, clean and functional with nice background music; some may consider the white domination refined & elegant, I think it makes the environment too sterile and Stepford Wifey.)
Value - 2.5/5 (mid-priced for high tea, portions are pretty much what I expected)
Service - 8.5/10 (fast and efficient, kind of friendly - maybe a wee bit too curt)
Food - 15.5/20 (an intra-meal hit and miss; the finger sandwiches were amazing, whereas the petit fours were a let down, everything else fell around the good range.)
Total - 28.5 (I may return but tempted order stuff a la carte next time around.)

Other notes:
- This is one of few tea rooms that also offer dinner service, no info on their Web site so call & ask.
- For those who like a little bubbly tipsiness with their tea, they also serve almond champagne ($8)
- Metered parking available on streets, and there are a few public lots nearby.

Scarlet Tea Room
18 W. Green St. (cross: Fair Oaks)
Pasadena 91105
(626) 577-0051
Scarlet Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 05, 2007

Foodventure #29: Celadon Galerie (near the Grove)

When I heard Celadon was opening in L.A. area about four months ago, I was squealing with the pure delight - thinking that the delicious & much-acclaimed Napa Valley restaurant of the name same is opening an offshoot in SoCal. That turned out not to be so when I visited this Celadon's Web site, whose theme is much more pan-Asian. Despite the mild disappointment, the dishes & drinks do look interesting, and after reading this positive review from Eating L.A., I'm sold.
Generally, I'm not a fan of Asian Fusion cuisine (having already had two lukewarm experiences in my young food blogging lifespan), but the featured food items seemed fun, unique and creative (with dishes like "Tuna tartar lollipops with seaweed salad and tempura rice" and "Maple leaf roast duck with date-balsamic reduction and okinawan sweet potatoes") so it's worth checking out to see if the execution is up to par.

Celadon's environs is a sleek, sexy, modern Asian - dark woods and dimmed lights accented with Buddha statuettes, hundreds of tea lights, stiff wooden benches and giant sake barrels. There is a lit fireplace with more comfortable-looking seating, and a martial arts flick is projected on the brick wall right on top of the flames, though the kung fu noises are muted and replaced instead with chill lounge music.
Arriving on the scene a few minute before my friend, I took the time to scribble a few notes on the vibe and treated myself to one of their signature cocktails - the Yuzu Voodoo - at the bartend's recommendation (even though my interest were piqued by the Chi-Devil and the Mighty Joe Yang, touted on the menu as aphrodisiac drinks for the gals and the guys). Made with absolut citreon, hypnotiq & freshly squeezed juice of yuzu (a tart citrus with a nuance of tangerine, and as of late, a popular semi-exotic fruit that has been appearing on fusion, pan-Asian and otherwise eclectic menus.) The drink was an interesting sweet 'n sour combo that definitely did double duty as a deceptively potent drink & a liquid amuse, and by the time my friend I arrived, my tastebuds and I are all fired up to eat.

We started off our meal with a Grilled ahi pizza, with meaty slices of tuna layered on top of pita bread wedges with pesto sauce, toasted pine nuts, a dash of parmesan shavings and a generous amount of "intensity herbs" (which I can best ID as mixed greens with cilantro and dill). Definitely one of the more original appetizers I've had in a while, and quite tasty too (even given my general dislike for cilantro) with the flavors of the fragrant herbs, salty tuna, garlicky-basily pesto, buttery pinenuts and sharp cheese well layered upon one another.
For the entree I went with the roasted scallops with balsamic-glazed strawberries and vegetable risotto - never being one to easily turn down scallops, this delightfully-sounding course was screaming "Try me!" so I did and I'm glad - the meaty, creamy scallops with a slight charred crisp was a great complement to the almost mushy, sweet-sour strawberries and wonderfully rounded off with a soft and savory risotto.
My friend decided to go for more turf and ordered a Flat iron steak with grilled cheese panini, red pepper romesco sauce and mushroom salad - decidedly one of the less Asian-esque of the stuff on the menu and the steak is a bit too bloody for my personal tastes, but nonetheless quite nicely prepared - and the sharp cheddar grilled cheese with the red pepper sauce was comforting and a bit sophisticated at the same time.
Since the entrees came in sensible, but substantial, portions - we had room for desserts, which I almost always consider a boon, particularly here, since one dessert course means multiple sweet treats. My friend ordered the simply named Bananas, which included a banana cream tart topped with cocoa powder, carmelized bananas with vanilla bean ice cream and a banana souffle. Overall yummy and bursting with enough aromas to make monkeys go wild. Souffle was a bit bland, though.
I got the Black sesame, comprised of sesame paste shiratama (sweet mochi-styled dumplings) in a syrupy sauce, a burnt sugar crisp studded with black sesame seeds, and a black sesame custard. Signifiantly sweeter than the bananas dessert, but again, a nice trio centered around a central ingredient. For a brief moment, I'd imagine myself to be a dessert Iron Chef judge.

All in all, I had a surprisingly wonderful experience here, and agreed with Eating L.A.'s diagnosis that this is Pan-Asian done right -- distinctly innovative dishes that really attempts to meld Eastern and Western flavors (as opposed to just topping something off with a soy-teriyaki concoction and serving it with a side of rice or noodles.) However, I also second Los Angeles magazine resident critic Patric Kuh's
observation that this restaurant is unusually quiet (it was near-empty when I arrived around 6:30pm on a weekend), perhaps - as noted by Kuh himself - many people think they know, and are turned off, by the whole idea of Cal-/Pan-/Fusion Asian cuisine. I thought I was one of those people, but Celadon changed my mind, now I hope it will do well in business and not wound up on LA Eater's DeathWatch.

And yes, I forgave it for its initially misleading name.

The bill:
Yuzu Voodoo - $9
Grilled Ahi Pizza - $12
Scallops with Balsamic Strawberries - $15
Flatiron Steak with Grilled Cheese Panini - $14
Bananas - $9
Black Sesame - $9
Pre-tax/tip total - $68

The ratings:
Ambience - 4.5/5 (Like its cuisine, a nice mix of modern European designs alongside traditional Asian-esque props.)
Value - 3/5 (On the fence about this one, for the price the amount of food is a bit smaller than what I would expect, but that does prevent me from pigging out; however, the desserts were worth every penny.)
Service - 8.5/10 (Prompt and efficient most of the time, with a few slight delays)
Food - 17/20 (Overall good, and I hold them in high regards for their efforts in experimentation, which makes for curious-tasting dishes.)
Bonus/Demerit - N/A
Total Rating - 33/40 (worth at least a try, and for me, worth returning to.)

Other notes:
- Street parking a bit trickier, it's on the Grove area and many side streets are permit-only; valet available
- Fairly vegetarian friendly, with a good amount of dishes that may be prepared meatless
- With a nicely varied crudo (appetizer) and yam cha (dim sum) menu, a group can easily do dinner tapas style

Celadon Galerie
7910 West 3rd Street (near Fairfax)
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 658-8028


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...