Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Quickies #28: September Foodie Events Extravaganza!

Ok, who's moving up my holiday weight gain by three months? 'Cause with all the food festivals and events going on in September, I'll likely be whipping out my post-New Year's elastic sweat pants and oversized college sweater... and the temperature outside will still be in the high 80s! But hey, what better occasion to enjoy the outdoors and soak up the final sunny days, in loose-fitting clothes, of course.

LA Greek Fest on Sept. 5-7: Enjoy Greek dancing, music and theatrics at the Saint Sophia Cathedral along with plenty of cooking demonstrations and opportunities to taste Greek food and wines. My friend and I are hitting this up on Saturday. If you're interested in festival + food or wine packages; goldstar is selling tickets for those at half-off (+ the service fee). Entries + Zorba's Greek Feast platter for 2 people(with authentic fare such as kebabs, moussaka, tiropita, spanikopita, briami and more!), normally $35, is going for $17.50. Premium Greek wine tasting tickets are also slashed in half, from $15 to $7.50 per person.

Lobster Festival at Long Beach on Sept. 5-7: Enjoy fresh, succulent lobsters flown in fresh daily from icy Atlantic shores of Maine at the Rainbow Lagoon Park in Long Beach, right next to the ocean. There's also live entertainment and a beach bar too! Presale ticket prices are $13/$25/$50 (for general admission, admission + a 1.25-pound lobster meal and admission + 2-pound lobster meal, respectively) and ends on Sept. 4, after which prices go up a bit.

DineLA is back at it again with wine & dineLA promotion going on from Sept. 7-21, with over forty of LA's hottest restaurants, including Citrus at Social, Bashan, AOC, Wilshire and the Foundry on Melrose, offering prix-fixe menus and optional pairings to showcase Californian wines. Number of courses and prices varies widely (from about $50-150 per person), so check out the site for full list of participating restaurants, their offerings and prices.

Hokkaido Fair at Mitsuwa Torrance and Costa Mesa on Sept. 11-14: Celebrating Japan's northernmost region well-known for its dairy products, seafood and good rustic cooking all around, two local Mitsuwa marketplaces are hosting a four-day food fair featuring specialities such as ramen (with different vendors preparing shoyu, shio and miso - plus a curious-sounding "miso butter corn" - versions), curry bread, crab and squid bento boxes, and cream puffs with "freshly-extracted milk" for that "rich and full-flavored taste". My mouth's watering already! From what I can tell, I think the admission is free and you pay for whatever you order from the vendors.

As mentioned in a previous Friday Quickie, LA BBQ Fest at the Santa Monica Beach on Sept. 13-14: With about 10 different food shops, with representation from out-of-state places like L.C.'s from Kansas City and Ubon's "Champion's Chohice" from Mississippi alongside California favorites like Mr. Cecil's and Gus's., this is one event worth bringing lots of friends to so you can taste-test and compare the different styles of 'cue out there! Like the Hokkaido Fair, you pay for food as you go (ranges from $3 for beverages, $4 for sides to $10 for barbecue entrees), but there's also an admission fee - $10 general or $50 VIP (includes 2-day admission, a cozmodeck, event T-shirt and express lane with the vendors). Again, if you know in advance you're going, check out the discounted tix options available at goldstar. (mental note to self: I really should look into a referral associates program with them for all the biz I'm sending their way ;) )

In case you miss Long Beach (or didn't get enough of the lobster), there's another Lobster Festival going on at San Pedro / Port of Los Angeles on Sept. 19-21: Also highlighting fresh lobsters from Maine, as well as lots of fun and entertainment (wenches and pirates, oh my!), pricing model is similar to LA BBQ Fest. $8 for admission ($2 off if you get their coupon here,) and $17 for a 1.25-pound lobster meal (with an option to double up to two of those giant-clawed critters for $31).

For those with poshier, plushier and more charitable wallets, there's Savor the Season on Sept. 21, highlighting trendy, seasonal foods and beverages while also helping Break the Cycle's work in preventing and ending dating/domestic violence. The mix of restaurants and food/beverage vendors is interesting and the list is still growing. Tickets are $150/person or $250 for the premo package with access to the VIP tasting garden for wines, chocolates, cheeses, teas, salts and more.

And the grandest of them all, the 26th American Wine & Food Festival (benefiting Meals on Wheels) taking place on Sept. 25-27, with a slew of the hottest chefs including Joel Robuchon, Michael Mina and Nobu Matsuhisa, mega celeb-chef-business giants Wolfgang Puck and Roy Yamaguchi, and oodles of wine and spirit participants. The weekend starts off with Red Hot Friday ($150/person) at Puck's Red Seven in Pacific Design Center, goes full steam at the Festival itself in Universal Studios Backlot on Saturday ($300/person) and wraps up with a Chef's Grand Tasting Dinner at Spago Beverly Hills on Sunday ($750/person). But if you can afford the main attraction, it'll definitely be a worthwhile epicurean extravaganza, if last year's reports were any indication. (Hmm... wonder if there are any AWFF ticket sweepstakes/giveaways...)

And last but certainly not least, let's not forget the near-monthlong of fried-everythingness you can get at the LA County Fair in Pomona from Sept. 5-28. For a preview of what's to come, take a look back at the offerings of "food" from the OC County Fair a month ago.

But just in case you feel like staying home with nothing more than a carved up take-out rotisserie chicken, LA Times has nice guide on picking the perfect bird and a decent list of eateries to go to for the fantastic fowl complete with crispy skin and juicy meat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Foodventure #66: Terra (San Diego)

Having signed up for a Sunday half-marathon that required runners to come a day early to pick up bibs and T-shirts, I decided to make a weekend out of my SD trip and spend some time discovering new eats in the area. Not having visited the city since my friends went here for college, I pretty much took a "spin the carrot" approach to choosing my eateries - with a little input from Yelp, Chowhound and Citysearch. For the pre-race dinner, I settled upon Terra -- the fusion-themed menu looks interesting, it's practically right off the freeway and en route from the registration area to my motel so I have less chance of getting lost or wasting gas and time.
The restaurant's atmosphere is casual-elegant - white clothed tables against dark drapery, a colonial interior feel and full-pane windows that let the wonderful late afternoon-early evening sun flood in. There is also a pretty nice patio seating area, but it was still a tad too warm for outdoor dining so we sat in one of their generously-sized booths instead.

Like the restaurant, the food at Terra is casual-and-classy, with an emphasis on "foods from the Americas in contemporary fare" (as our waiter explained it), blending culinary influences from European, Asian, Caribbean and Latin American cuisines.

Wine and cocktails was out of the question for me this time, so my dining companion and I ordered an iced tea for a fairly-light small plates meal consisting of:
Special of the day Ahi Tuna Tacos with Wasabi Cream - the quality of the fish was top notch and the sesame seeds and wasabi cream complemented the tuna well, adding a bit of complexity of the dish w/o being overpowering it. The tortilla shells, though, felt a bit stale but still got a nice crisp for the contrast in mouthfeel.
Coconut-Dusted Crabcakes in a Hot Mustard Sauce - decent but not particularly exceptional, the combination of flavors from the fruity-spicy mustard sauce and the sweet-smelling coconut flakes was interesting, but despite having very little binders, the crab's (Maryland blue, the server explained) natural flavors didn't come through. Maybe the mustard was too overpowering or maybe they didn't get the best batch from Chesapeake bay.
Pumpkin Ravioli in Roasted Corn Cream Sauce with Hazelnut - yes, it's messy looking, but the taste was wonderful, a sweet-savory combo that hits me on all the right notes. The pillowy pasta were stuffed with lightly-spiced pumpkin that's not overly sweet (which tends to happen with gourdy ravioli fillings), the sauce was a little peppery, a little creamy and studded with lots of sweet and firm kernels, and the extra nutty crunch added another flavor and texture dimension.
Finishing the meal, their signature Chocolate "Cigar" with Whipped Cream, with molten dark chocolate ganache rolled inside phyllo and lightly grilled. Love the presentation in the ashtray - this not-too-sweet cigar was fun (and quite messy) to eat as the dark molten cocoa-licious goo erupted in my mouth at the first bite of the flaky roll. But it quickly became an annoyance as liquid chocolate is dribbling everywhere, so we just set the cigar back on the tray and let it dribble in with the whipped cream. That also turned out to be delish as well.

To sum it up, Terra was an enjoyable dining experience. Their dishes are creative and solid, the prices are reasonable, the environment is pleasing and service excellent. Definitely looking forward to a return trip here.

Citysearch gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
21 Yelpers gave it an average of 3 out of 5.
San Diego Daily Transcript has a little more detail on Terra's self-taught, San Diego native chef Jeff Rossman, and is overall impressed by its dishes.

~ Street Parking is available in the area, but watch out for green zoned spots: some are 2 hour spaces and some are 20 minutes.
~ The patio dining area is "doggy friendly"
~ They also offer an early bird dinner special most days of the week; for about $20/person until 7pm diners can enjoy a 3-course prix-fixe.

Ahi tacos - $9
Pumpkin ravioli - $8
Crabcakes - $13
Chocolate cigar - $5
Iced Tea + Coffee - $6
Pre tax/tip total - $41

Ambience: 4/5 (Casual yet classy, the interior has a mix of modern and colonial elements)
Value: 4/5 (Decent given the portions and quality of dishes served)
Service: 9/10 (Superb, our waiter was attentive and knew the menu and winelist in and out, and was not afraid to steer us towards dishes he thinks we may like, and upon hearing we were outsiders, even gave us some tips about foodie hotspots to check out over the weekend.)
Food: 17/20 (The dishes here do fusion justice, pulling the right elements from different cuisines to put together an innovative and interesting menu)
Bonus/Demerit: N/A
Overall: 34/40

3900 Vermont Street
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 293-7088

Terra on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mini Foodventure #65: Amarone Kitchen + Wine (West Hollywood)

My friend and I came here after screening Bottle Shock at a nearby theater for the very obvious reasons of wanting sip some vino with our food after the movie. Nevermind we opted for Italian instead of Californian or French. It's not like we can get our hands on anything from The Judgment of Paris anyways.

We were stunned by the romantic gem-in-the-rough atmosphere of the restaurant when we walked in: intimately spaced tables (only 4 of them in the front dining area), the dim lights and candles and the simple-yet-elegant table decorations. Definitely not the typical Sunset Strip business, which tends to be polarized between uber-trendy expensive establishments and cheap-trashy tourist traps (and occasionally, both at the same time!) But the rustic-romantic look of the restaurant during dinnertime did make us feel guilty for being just friends. Perhaps in the afternoon with sunlight flooding in the feel of the restaurant would be much more casual.

Service was very pleasant, our waiter definitely knew his way around the menu and winelist, yet was very approachable and talked to us like we were friends. Since it was a weekday and we both had light appetites, we opted for a pasta dish, a glass of wine and dessert.

The meal started off on a pretty good note with an amuse of cheese-filled zucchini blossom fried in tempura batter with a roasted tomato. It was a bit heavier than Mozza's version of the dish, likely because of the thicker batter, but eating it with the tomato made it just right and the tanginess cuts wonderfully into the crisp flower and the warm, gooey cheese.

I ordered their specialty of the day gnocchi with cherry tomatoes in a tomato sauce, easily one of the best gnocchi I've had. Meltingly tender with a light, zesty sauce, fresh tomatoes and a little nutty zing from the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, I'd wish this was on the menu all year long so I can come here whenever I have a craving for delicious dumplings! The glass of pinot noir I ordered was decent but, alas, didn't pair particularly well with this dish (the wine was too acidic).

The gnocchi did pair much better with the fuller-bodied red my friend ordered; didn't catch which varietal, since my friend let the waiter choose the best red for his entree: strozzapreti ai gamberi, a pasta dish with shrimp and zucchini strips in a brandy sauce. It's curious tasting and hard to describe, a little rich and a little zingy, but the pasta was definitely al dente.

For dessert, my friend wanted the panna cotta but the restaurant ran out, so we were treated to two glasses of sparkling wine. A decent, slightly sweet wine with lychee aromas, but an even nicer gesture of service.

So instead of panna cotta, he got the tiramisu and I got the ricotta cheesecake. Unlike the other courses of the meal, the desserts didn't impress. The cheesecake had nice ricotta-almond flavors but was dry and grainy. The tiramisu had the right texture, but a bit heavy handed on the coffee and lacking in liquor flavor. So overall, the sweets were just OK.

Despite the lackluster final dish, in general it's a nice spot for a memorable, special occasion dinner with a little rustic charm, friendly staff and delightful pasta dishes and decent wines. The price-point is a bit upscale (an app, 2 wines, 2 pasta dishes and 2 desserts came out to around $95 after tax/tip) but not gotta-save-up exorbitant.

What do others say?
Yelpers give it 4.5 stars, overall -- but reviews run the entire gamut with quite a few 1 & 2 star reviews.
LA Times' Susan LaTempa considers it an"Old World oasis" on the Sunset Strip

Amarone Kitchen and Wine
8868 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 652-2233

Amarone Kitchen + Wine on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Quickies #27: More BBQ mania, Foodblog for LA Weekly and Seeking Tips on SD brunch eats!

BBQ events: Ok, so I found out too late that this Sunday's Lucque's Rib Roundup is already completely booked - aw shucks (does anyone who already have a reservation have space for a +1? Pretty please?!)! Oh well, at least I can take some consolation in the LA BBQ Fest coming Sept. 13-14, which features a few local BBQ places alongside some famous ones from around the country (Salt Lick in Texas, as well as award-winning ones from Missouri and Mississippi). Not an exact representation of all the different types of barbecue out there, but hey -- definitely cheaper than traveling to those places esp. in these gas prices. Entry fee is $10/day, and you pay for your own food. Goldstar is selling entry tickets for half-off, however.

Foodblog for LA Weekly: Want to work for the same outlet with the infamous Pulitzer-winning Jonathan Gold? Now's your chance. LA Weekly made this Craigslist post looking for freelancers for their food blog. No details in terms of pay, expense accounts or talk-time with Mr. Gold -- but hey, if you're already doing this foodblog thing for peanuts (like I am) -- whadda ya got to lose?

Seeking Advice on SD eats: Doing a half-marathon down in San Diego next weekend and definitely looking forward to killer brunch after. Open to any suggestions. Leave a comment or drop me an email!

Update - Bar Sales, Hot Dogs and Cocktails on Aug. 9 and 10: Just got wind via Racked LA that Bar Keeper in Silverlake is doing their first ever really big sale! Time to stock up on all those exotic and pretty bar wares, and enjoy some bacon-wrapped hot dogs and libations on Saturday!

P.S. looks like LA mayors have pretty pricey tastes....

P.P.S. kudos to The Knife for taking my suggestion to write a restaurant review... in haiku!

P.P.P.S. inspired me to do my own for a recent dinner:

At Jazz Cat Café;
ran out of lemongrass stew;
sukiyaki, good.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Quickies #26: Bottle Shock, Fantastic BBQ tour, Cheap Eatings and Cocktail Open Bar

Hey there everyone, hope the quake didn't cause much damage where you're from. I personally had a little thrill from the shake-up, but then again, I did sleep through the Northridge one (and woke up late in the morning wondering why all the pots and pans are on the floor before turning on the TV.)

Anyhow, without further adieu, quickies for this Friday.

Bottle Shock opening next week: Thanks to Eater LA, my friend and I manage to get into a screening. In short: great film and definitely plan for some wine to drink before and/or after, because you'll definitely be craving it! Based on the 1970s "Paris challenge" and the consequent recognition of California as a major wine maker, it had lots of dry humor, suspenseful twists and, of course, vivid descriptions and epiphanies with wine. I liked it even better than Sideways, and is probably my second favorite recent foodie film (after Ratatouille), so give it a watch!

LA Commons BBQ tour and lunch, August 10: Coinciding with the World Stage Jazz Festival at Leimert Park, during this tasty tour and lunch you can hear stories "behind the sauce", lunch on "Q" and cobbler and enjoy the music, arts and crafts of the festival (as well as local shop and galleries) for $20!

UCheapEat: Highlighted by Thrillist today, the timing for this search engine is spot-on in these times of higher prices for just about everything. It's basically lets users search for restaurants where you can eat for $10 or less a person. Being in early stages right now (alpha mode at the moment), the listings of restaurants isn't comprehensive and there's not many ratings of these eateries, but worth giving a try if you feel adventurous and economical. (Just to err on the safe side, I'd advise cross-checking the results with the health safety grades too).

Caroline on Crack's Blogiversary Party: Blogger-friend and girl about town is throwing a fantastic party commemorating her 3rd blogiversary on Tuesday at Bar Lubitsch. Open bar with fantastic cocktails, cupcakes and giveaways! Who can resist?

Finally, for laughs and giggles (and thanks to Jeni of Oishii Eats for sharing), check out the Cake Wrecks blog featuring bizarre, ugly and crazy cakes people *actually paid* for! My "favorites": the "baby butt" and the "lotus-bound foot" cakes. Paraphrasing the blogger, because when you're a podiatrist, what better way to party than with a cake in the shape of the most horrific man-made foot deformity known on Earth?


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