Monday, September 24, 2007

Mini Foodventure #39: Brunch at Border Grill

As noted by my Twitter yesterday, my camera momentarily gave out during my brunch excursion at the Border Grill and had problems reading/saving to the memory card. It conveniently recovered at the end of our meal, but who wants to look at photos of roadkill on a plate? ;)

Nonetheless, my friend and I had our opinions of the place, so I'll do a quickie foodventure post on it.

We started off with two pint glasses of their house margaritas on the rocks (normally $7.75, but gratis for this trip - thanks to a reward offer from one of my credit cards,) which were very well made and fairly potent, and the salt actually made a difference in opening up the flavors! The fresh tortilla chips (served with three salsas) were a great pre-meal, during-drinks nosh -- we both decided we liked the salsa roja the best (they also had a salsa verde that's a bit watered down, and a dark red chipotle salsa that was too smoky for our palates.)

Then onto our brunch dishes: my friend had their Latin-American spin of Eggs Benedict ($12.50)- with poached eggs, citrus chicken, avocado slices and tomato salsa on top of corn tortillas, served with red & green Spanish rice and black beans on the side. I liked it a lot, the flavors were much more vibrant than the traditional Benedict & I love the refreshing salsa substitition for the heavy hollandaise. My only gripe is that the eggs were poached over medium/near hard, though my friend is fine with that since she hates runny yolks (but I did note that they were poached that way by default and not her special request.) Then again, corn tortillas are probably not as good as English muffin in soaking things up. The beans and rice duo were good but nothing to write home about (the black beans are paste-like as opposed to whole, not sure if they were merely mashed/pureed or refried).

My course, Steak Asada Tortas, was generally pretty good too. A slab of seared hanger steak pressed with guacamole, caramelized onion and roasted tomato in a housebaked bolillo roll, with a side of mushroom enchiladas. The combo of flavors were pretty amazing, a one-two-three punch of the onion's sweetness against the creamy guacamole and finally, the meaty tang from the steak & the tomatoes - all in a warm fluffy bread with a slightly crispy crust.

The downside of this sandwich was that the steak was too chewy - possibly from overcooking - so there were those awkward moments when I had to go into beaver-mode with my incisors to avoid tearing the whole steak out of the sandwich. While it's nice to see that they put a whole muscle in the sandwich, for logistical purposes I think steak slices/chunks make for much easier, and less messy, eating.

The mushroom enchiladas, however, were simply divine -- earthy, meaty sauteed mushrooms wrapped in a substantial corn tortillas then baked with a slightly-chocolatey mole sauce and just a smidgen of Latin-American cheeses. Unfortunately, they don't seem to serve this as a standalone menu item. The pretty-good sandwich and the so-frickin-good enchiladas combo ($14.50) are still worth ordering, but be prepared to use a knife for the sandwich and give your teeth a workout.

We finished off our meal with a few more cocktails - my friend had a kiwi refresca made with kiwi puree, agave syrup & sparkling wine and and I got a naranja picante margarita accented with orange & spiked with pepper ($12 each). We both liked our own drinks but didn't care for each others -- she liked the fruity and somewhat sweet taste of the refresca, I like that the cocktail is not too sweet, but to me it still tastes like cheap sparkling wine plus kiwi. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the citrusy kick of my margarita, whereas she said it tasted like "
Orange Energy Pine-Sol". Nonetheless, the drinks feel overpriced so not something we'd typically order outside of happy hour (or in our case, getting the first rounds free.)

So all in all, a fairly good experience though with a few kinks that could be improved upon; I would consider re-visiting when I am in the area (and hopefully with a functional camera.)

Also, kudos to the decor - with its bright, colorful wall & ceiling murals and boxy ceiling lamps, it gave off a wonderful artsy urban vibe that complemented well with its modernized Latin American cuisine.

Border Grill
1445 4th St
Santa Monica
(310) 451-1655

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ask the LA/OC Foodie #1 - Where to Sell Chocolates in L.A.?

Ok, so I'm ripping off a concept that other L.A. food blogs have already started ~ but I'm definitely flattered to be considered a pseudo-expert in this field - and so I'll try to impart what knowledge I have and present to you the first (of hopefully many) ask LA/OC Foodie. (To readers -- feel free to add to this by commenting)

Dear LA/OC Foodie,

I found your blog while searching for chocolate shops in the LA area . . .

I am a chocolate maker (used to be a criminal defense lawyer for 20 years) and now make chocolate from scratch -- from the bean. I import the beans myself and travel myself to the origins. Then I profit share with the farmers.

My specialty is dark single origin chocolate bars; here's the

Why am I writing to you?

I was wondering if you could point me to some shops that I might call on to see if they would like to carry our bars in the LA area? There are two really cool places carrying our chocolate in San Francisco now but none in LA. Any ideas?


First off, hats off to you for career shift and pursuing something that's rewarding for the soul (and hopefully your wallet as well).

Anyways, I can think of a variety of venues in the LA area that may be of interest to you.

First thing that came to my mind is Surfas in Culver City, a restaurant supply shop that carries a wide variety of gourmet & exotic foodstuffs and has an awesome collection of novelty chocolates. They should be open to carrying your product.

Another place to consider is
Mr. Marcel's Market in the Farmer's Market area (3rd & Fairfax) -- they too carry a lot of specialty foods. Their chocolates tend to be more European in origin, but never hurts to ask.

Also, you may want to consider Whole Foods and Wild Oats supermarkets. Yes, both are chains -- but each store seems to operate with a fair degree of independence (I've been pitched & sent releases for different events by the individual whole foods stores, and I know the Wild Oats in my area carries some foods that are locally made) so contacting the operation/marketing manager at the individual stores may be worth it.

Finally, if you really want to get hands-on in selling the product, give some thought to tabling/boothing at some of the (real) Farmer's Markets in the L.A. area (
FarmerNet has a pretty comprehensive directory of the Farmer's Markets in Southern California, along with dates/locations and who to contact if you want to rent space). It's a great opportunity to really meet the people, and would probably help build a loyal customer base. You can also bring and distribute your own marketing materials, something that's not guaranteed at the other venues.

Anyways, hope that helps & wish you the best in expanding your market down South!

~H.C. (LA/OC Foodie)

Got more questions to lob at me?
Go for it

Recipe Time #7: Get Me Onto Food Network (Not!) Ginger Rose Shortbread Cookies

Ok, I went to the open casting call for "The Next Food Network Star" -- and ironically, the experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. But hey, I had delusions of meeting FoodTV celebrities and even bigger ones of an expense account as I, ahem,... do research... on tasting menus... all over U.S. (and beyond.)

My interview with the casting producer lasted all of three minutes (even though I was told I have four minutes to pitch my show--I decided not to mention the tasting menu research aspect of it.) And of course, being calm-under-pressure person that I am -- I lost track of all my speaking points and wound up sputtering a mix of favorite dishes, name-dropping celebrities met (via books & shows) and replying, multiple times, that "no, I do not have formal culinary training, but--"

If the "personality" they are looking for is a mumbling idiot, I would've been a shoe-in. But since they didn't call back, guess not --

Ok, so I may not have the eternal effervescent perkiness of R. R. or a certain S. Lee's ability for semi-homemaking things, nor can I mercilessly dish out bacon grease, butter and margarine without guilt like a P.D. we're all too familiar with. But dammit, I can write and talk about food and I can definitely cook (yes, despite the fact that I had no formal culinary training) and set things straight with my batch of Ginger Rose Shortbread Cookies, which I taste-tested the night before and found quite aromatic & delicious--though apparently not enough to compensate for my personality or my lack of attendance at a formal cooking school.

I'm not bitter--honest! :) (hmm... where's that strand of hair for my voodoo doll?)

Ingredients (for 8-12 cookies, around 3" diameter):
1 cup all-purpose flour, with extra for rolling cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. rose extract/essence/alcohol (but not rosewater, whose fragrance is much more diluted)
1/2 tsp. table salt
5-7 slices crystallized ginger
For garnish: candied rose petals or pink sugar sprinkles

1. Cream the butter with the sugar until well incorporated, then mix in the vanilla & rose extracts.

2. In a separate bowl, combine salt, flour and ground ginger -- slowly sift and stir into the butter mixture. After all the ingredients are combined, it should have a slightly sticky cookie dough feel.

3. Chop crystallized into little pieces (about size of small peas) and mix into the cookie dough. Flatten or roll out dough into quarter-inch thick disc, cover up in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least an hour (also freeze-able for up to a week, make sure to use a wrap/bag that prevents freezer burns). Eat leftover dough off the bowl and enjoy a cocktail while rehearsing your show pitch.

4. Preheat oven to 375F. Take dough out and place on well-floured cutting board.
~For neat-shaped cookies, use a cookie cutter -- flouring the cutter every 1-2 cookies to ensure clean cuts and easy drops.
~For more humble-looking homestyle cookies, simply tear out pieces of the dough, roll it into a ball in your hands and flatten it with your palms or a glass bottom (again, keeping it well-floured to avoid sticking) till it is, once again, quarter-inch thick disc about 3" in diameter.

5. Place cookies on a parchment paper on a baking sheet & decorate with candied rose petals (gently tuck into the dough) or sugar sprinkles.

6. Bake for 8-11 minutes - keeping a fairly close eye towards the latter half of the baking process (it's done when the edges get golden brown).

7. Bring out and let cool for 10-15 minutes, then enjoy!

And there you have it: a quick, simple recipe for very delicious cookies that are fragrant, spicy, crumbly and buttery -- and you'll never go back to store-bought shortbreads again! Rose extract is a fairly pricey ingredient, but a little goes a long way and it definitely adds class (and wonderful perfume) to many sweet, and some savory, dishes -- so a wonderful investment indeed.

This recipe is also very adaptable to different flavors depending on your preferences, just swap in & out the different extracts & flavor ingredients -- lemon-ginger, or a vanilla-almond, or even simply vanilla (Note: I would keep the vanilla extract in all shortbreads just for that rich, warm and familiar aroma.)

And while the recipe may not turn you into a cooking celebrity, I'm sure it will win over the palates of you and your guests - happy eating! (now where is my shruken skull and cursed needle?)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mini Special Foodventure #38: LA/OC Foodie Goes to Vegas

T'was the weekend before Labor Day and I finally freed up some time from work; if I had more time/energy/effort to plan, I may have planned an actual vacation, but since I didn't, I fell back onto old reliable: Las Vegas, the city with an absence of last calls, devoid of silence and darkness, and, of course, a plethora of dining options. Gone are the days of cheap all-you-can-eat buffets on the Strip (those are relegated mostly to downtown & off-Strip hotels/casinos), but it's nice not to feel financially-compelled to gorge your worth at every meal.

Unfortunately, I didn't lug my brick camera during this excursion, so my reviews this time will be quick, simple & pure text.

Breakfast Buffet at the Wynn: I had one hit and one miss here, so I returned to settle the tie-breaker--and, again, it was a hit. Great pot 'o coffee, a nice and well-rounded spread of breakfast items (the ones that stood out best were the rice porridge (juk) station, the cheese blintzes and the "California strawberries" tossed with yogurt and a hint of mint.) The baked items looked a bit dry, so I didn't try.

Lunner at Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay: I've never been impressed by "Kobe" burgers, so I resisted the urge to shell out an extra $10 for one here and got instead for the simpler (and cheaper) Angus, topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions, pepperjack cheese & pepper bacon on whole-wheat bun. The results rocked my socks, the medium-well burger was moist and beefy, and it melded wonderfully with the different textures and flavors of the other add-ons, and the pickle, lettuce & tomato actually tasted fresh! My accompanying zucchini fries, however, were limpy, soggy and bland -- the few I did eat I had to drown in ketchup to make them palatable.

Cake at Chocolat at the Wynn: I passed by this place on my way to the buffet, and my notoriously famous sweet tooth convinced me to return. After much painful consideration (knowing that I can only enjoy one item on the premise, since anything else will melt into a blob in the scorching LV heat), I went for dark chocolate mousse-brownie cake, covered with bittersweet chocolate ganache--definitely my best food investment of the whole trip.

Lunch at Sensi in the Bellagio: Another example of
Pan-Asian done right (and w/o costing an arm and a leg), I immensely enjoyed Sensi's 41 lunch, with four courses of the day served in a bento box for $26 -- plus all the freshly baked buttered naan bread you care to eat. When I went, my box was filled with pillowy mini chasiubaos, a refreshing tossed salad with a citrusy-ginger dressing, creamy seared diver scallops over lentils, and a rich piece of chilean sea bass /w cheddar risotto. The place had an interesting wine list too -- I got a complex-tasting sparkling red wine. Still not sure how I feel about the mix of tannins & bubbles, but it was interesting to taste and to pair with the meal. Too bad I was too full to partake in their 4/5-course dessert tasting sampler afterwards.

Dinner at Grand Lux Cafe in the Venetian (ducks): I know, I know, WHY?! (and actually, I was asking myself the same question after the meal) --- but it was one of the few 24/7 options nearby after a night of clubbing @
Tao. I had an unremarkable Grilled Shrimp sandwich, and they were skimpy with the shrimp. Next time, I'd definitely shlep my way to Peppermill if I wanted late-night grub. Oh yea, downer #2: THEY TOOK THE BEIGNETS OFF THEIR MENU!!! Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. That was my only glimmer of hope for the dinner :(

Weekend Brunch Buffet at Bellagio: Despite the offering of prime rib & a more extensive dessert selection, this didn't seem as good as the Wynn. Perhaps it's because I went here in the afternoon (when it's bustling with people) as opposed to just-opened at the Wynn, but I think it also had to do with how heavy almost everything is. But a few things were yummy here too: the chocolate-hazelnut mini torte, the spicy tuna hand rolls and the smoked salmon egg benedict. However, they weren't good enough for me to want to pay that price or wait an hour in line.

Late-Night Dinner at Peppermill: Truly great late-night (or anytime) diner grub -- the prices aren't downtown dirt cheap, but it's reasonable for what you're getting and the portions are generous, the roast beef sandwich I got was sinfully huge and juicy, smacked with grilled onions in cheesy parmesan toasts. Also had a killer green tea martini here.

Breakfast at Bouchon in the Venetian: Glad I had a chance to re-visit this place; again, they didn't disappoint. Had a hard time deciding between all the different delicious options, but finally settled upon the caramel-apple bread pudding french toast with a side of bacon. A rather pricey non-buffet breakfast (~$15) but very much worth every penny.

Final Lunch at Mesa Grill in Caesars Palace: Ok, so I paid homage to a FoodTV restaurant -- and it actually was pretty good. I had a sixteen-spice chicken (chopped) salad that was zesty and just fiery enough, with a delicious cilantro dressing that I lapped up with the breads (oh yea, they had an amazing bread basket too-- jalapeno blue cornbread being my fave of them all.) Wonderful with a glass of white wine (albarino) and a pleasant last note of Vegas.

Of course, I also paid a visit to my all-time favorite chocolatier:
Vosges -- only to be disappointed by the fact they many of their truffles are no longer sold a la carte and are available only in collections. Nonetheless, I picked out a few truffles & bars and stuffed them in my ice chest for my four-hour journey home. (and I can already attest to the sublime brilliance of their Bacon chocolate bar.)

On my wish-list next time around (or if they're still open):

Bradley Ogden (was a toss-up between this and Mesa Grill for my last Vegas meal, but since this was dinner only . . .)

Lotus of Siam (almost went here as my final day lunch, but opted for Mesa Grill instead since I wanted to shop at Vosges too; however, I've heard this is one of the best Thai restaurants in all of U.S. so I have to make a point to stop by on my next trip.)

SeaBlue (their Moroccan claypots definitely sounded interesting when I was looking at their online menu, but I was definitely under-dressed for the occasion when I was at the MGM -- besides, late August in the middle of a desert is no time to give your face a sauna over a steaming hotpot.)

D&B Brasserie (was close to checking out this place, but was too full from the Bellagio buffet to consider their early-bird dinner here (3-courses for $48) - so this turned into the Peppermill Late Night)

Anyways, that's my quick-yet-lengthy Vegas wrap-up. Back to enjoy the grub of LA & OC (not to mention lots of make-up exercising).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Right Back At Ya

Yes- I AM ______ enough to use a Spice Girls song to headline my blog post (and 4-member version, can't expect anything less of me.)

Anyways, I wish I had a good, legitimate reason for my three-month hiatus, such as:

1) Working at a summer camp, relegated to mess hall mystery lumps, s'mores and pilfered cookies from other kids' care packages (my own folks are more likely to send a pack of wrigleys' with instructions to"Trade Up")

2) Going on a three-month epicurean tour (haha, I wish I had that kind of $$$)

3) Being incarcerated, but not having the Paris Hilton hotness to get me out in a matter of days (or hours 'cause I have a bun in the oven.)

4) Actually moving out of LA like Erin (oh the horror!)

5) Oh yea, let's not neglect the possibility of me going to the great big all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet line in the sky.

But alas, my main lame excuse was that I got lazy, but I was also being more conscious of what how much I eat -- in calories & dollars. I wasn't really actively dieting or saving money, since I still allowed myself to indulge during my hiatus--but overall, I did enjoy a leaner body and a fatter bank account over the summer.

Oh yea, I also want to save up for a new digital camera (and some other tech toys). Here's a graphical representation of my current one.

But anyways, I have a quick foodventure to post soon about my long weekender in Vegas, so stay tuned (yes, I know it's *LA&OC* Foodventures, but heck, if Eater *LA* can get away with the sin city posts so many times . . .)


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