Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Quickies #39: Post-Thanksgiving Edition

Stickin' it to Zagat scores and Michelin stars...

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is having a swell time doing Black Friday shopping (please don't trample the workers -- no matter how hot the sale!), relaxing with loved ones or enjoying the leftovers. For me, this year's mostly-pre-made feast may be the best yet (deets to come in upcoming post) and I'm getting my jollies looking at turkey cake wrecks at my favorite food-related timekiller. But moving onto this week's quickies.

Debut of Eat:Los Angeles - Unlike the more tourist-geared Zagat and Michelin guides, Eat:LA is written by locals and longtime Angelenos who savor neighborhood cafés, divey holes-in-the-wall and street vendors as much as they do the big-name, high-end players in town, not to mention handy features on walking food tours and non-restaurant food establishments that tends to be neglected by the other guides. Contributors to this guide include Bandini from the Great Taco Hunt, Pat Saperstein from Eating L.A. and Linda Burum who writes for the L.A. Times. And Pat just noted that this Monday there will be a book signing at Vroman's from 6-7 p.m.

Prohibition Specials - Dec. 5 marks the 75th anniversary of Prohibition repeal and of course bars will be celebrating that. LA Times' Daily Dish blog reported that dropping a password at Comme Ca will land you one specialty cocktail at 75 cents (gotta email for the password). Eater L.A. noted that Casey's, Cole's, Broadway Bar and Golden Gopher will have 75-cent Dewar's until 11 p.m. and $5 drink specials afterwards. And the Edison will be celebrating with a midnight toast and breaking open their own blended barrel of reserve Kentucky bourbon. So... who's going to declare Dec. 6 National Hungover Day?

Finally, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's jungle food marathon with the bloggers behind Gourmet Pigs, FoodGPS, Mattatouille, Food Destination, Food Marathon and Teenage Glutster. No we will not be swinging from vine to vine wear loinclothes, but we will be checking out some pretty exotic tropical dishes throughout L.A. (as opposed to the "top it off with a pineapple and call it tropical" stuff). Sounds exciting, esp. given how great their last food marathon in K-town turned out.

P.S./Update: Just found a new fascinating read: Association of Food Journalists' Blog "Food for Thought", which includes tidbits on how to expand food knowledge, enhance the writing and food journalism issues along with profiles of, and advice from, prolific food writers including, of course, Jonathan Gold.

P.S./Update 2: Discoverd more amazing things via LA Times' Daily Dish blog, this time Carl Warner's Landscape Art, using food in the landscape. Here's the foodscapes gallery posted on the Telegraph site and you can see more, and buy prints, here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Special New York Drinkventure: Martin Miller's Masters Competition

The GOP consolation prize: Palin's Christmas Punch -- drink up!

Thanks to Imbibe Magazine and Martin Miller's Gin (particularly Siobhan Crosby of the former and Janet Wampler / Emma Davis of the latter), in New York City I was able to check out some of the best and most creative cocktails out there . . . at the Martin Miller's Gin Masters Competition, with the best bartenders from the U.S. and the U.K. having a drink-making deathmatch at the appropriately named venue Death & Company in the East Village, facing off in 1) making the most creative cocktails, 2) doing the best job of making a classic gin cocktail and 3) making the most drinkable gin & tonics in the allotted time.

The event was very fun, but my friend and I definitely felt like fishes out of water since all the other attendees are professional bartenders, spirits aficionados or somehow connected to the cocktail/bar scene -- whereas we're amateur enthusiasts who just like good drinks a lot. But as time wore on and everyone got more "social" we did loosen up a little had some great chats with others (not to mention getting some wonderful recs on where to eat and drink around the Big Apple -- coming up in another post).

As for the competition itself, between the loud cheering and taunting and the free-flowing gin drinks, not to mention numerous samplings of the assorted creations, we lost track of who made which cocktail and what went in them. Character-wise, I think Team U.K. (with the hilarious Ben Reed as self-appointed captain) won hands down -- they were funny, they had great anecdotes about their drinks and knew how to engage the audiences (with everything from a boat-racing drinking contraption to pseudo-bribing with autographed books and branded memorabilia). Team U.S. made equally whimsical and great-tasting drinks too, but their more serious and quiet attitude when prepping the beverages didn't seem to work as well with a room full of rowdy, inebriated folks.

Of the highlights we *did* remember...
~ The London Cup (being passed around for sampling in picture above) made by Gilles Looker, a refreshing variation of the Pimms Cup made with Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength, Campari, Cointreau, orange jiuce, grapefuit and garnished with mint, strawberries and cucumber. A very well balanced, not-too-sweet, beautiful drink perfect for summertime!

~ Ben Reed's Reedo's Gin Jizz made with pineapple (which he proclaimed to have invented and became a running joke for the rest of the afternoon), cinnamon tea infused MM Westbourne gin, citrus and *ahem* a white, creamy, gloppy mixer. THe drink, a hybrid of Ramos Gin Fizz and pina colada, was actually pretty good even with "Reed's Love Juice" reminds, it's thick texture and fruity-tangy taste reminds me of yogurt smoothie (liquored up, of course).

~ From Team U.S., Milk & Honey's bartender Sam Ross and his Palin Christmas Punch with his housemade pine liqueur, MM Westbourne gin, date syrup, champagne, absinthe and garnished with pine sprig and date, plus punch-bowl version with basically a miniature pine tree!
~ The delicious bar bites offered by up the Death & Company, including tempura-fried cauliflower florets, salmon sliders and truffle oiled mac 'n cheese.

~ And of course, the delightful company who were great to talk to, vastly more knowledgeable than we were in the spirits realm and yet didn't mind explaining to us (repeatedly) everything drinkable.

For a more thorough report of the competition, check out the entry from Meaghan of the Spirit Me Away blog.

In the end, despite the Brit's personality points -- Sam Ross was declared the winner! Again, the diligent Meaghan got the lowdown on his infamous recipe (I'm sure the VP candidate will have plenty of time to chug this down now...) but everyone definitely gave a genuinely good effort, and we are personally amazed by the passion and enthusiasm that the bartenders, judges and the others have for crafting, tasting and analyzing cocktails. Thankfully, one of the contestant is from L.A. (Vincenzo Marianella, who bartended for Providence and consulted for the cocktail menu in the upcoming Drago Centro in downtown) so there's at least one place I can go around here to rekindle a little fond memories.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Can't Believe It's Not Turkey . . .

. . . is not likely one of those things you'll hear when a faux turkey is being served, no matter how well-engineered it is. Nonetheless, when throwing a Thanksgiving feast (or any party, for that matter) it'd be nice to be mindful of what vegetarian guests can eat (even innocent-seeming side dishes can be major no nos, vegetables may have been roasted in the pan drippings, mashed potatoes and stuffing may be made with poultry broth, even the yams can be off limits due to the marshmallow topping, which contains meat-derived gelatin). And I can tell you from my vegetarian period how lame it can be to be relegated to salad (hold the bacon, please!), limp, underseasoned vegetable sides and possibly dessert on a day that's all about celebrating harvest and enjoying food a plenty.

So if you're shopping for that fake bird to roast along with your real one, or all on its own, has a well-timed guide reviewing the most readily available ones.

Unfortunately, both M Cafe de Chaya and Real Food Daily's Thanksgiving order deadlines have already past, but here's what they're offering as something to keep in mind for the December holidays:

- M Cafe de Chaya has a thanksgiving roast made with "savory sliced seitan, herbed bread stuffing, pan gravy & cranberry relish" with two side dishes from $70 (to serve two) to $240 (to serve eight). Of course, you can always visit them now and pick up a few of their mostly-vegan-friendly deli salads to serve as tasty side dishes or even some of their brown rice vegan sushi for an Asian-inspired entree.

- Real Food Daily, for $38.95 a person, will serve up "Butternut Squash Bisque • Faux Turkey Breast • Corn Sage Stuffing • Candied Garnet Yams • Mashed Potatoes&Parsnips • Herb Roasted Vegetables • Golden Gravy • Cranberry Relish • Slice of Pumpkin Pie with tofu whip".

One vegetarian (and vegan) friendly place that may be able to accommodate your not-Turkey order is Little Tokyo's Shojin. Not exactly Thanksgiving geared, but their catering menu offers a good number of seitan and tempeh and otherwise non-meat/egg/dairy options (I've been there since going back to omnivore and I approve!). Do keep in mind they close on Thanksgiving so it'll have to be a Wednesday pick-up and a heat 'n serve the day after.

Of course, if all else fails, you can always swing by a Whole Foods and pick up one (or more) of their Vegan Thanksgiving Meals for one -- includes a cranberry-hazelnut celebration roast, cranberry sauce, and vegan-friendly mashed potatoes and stuffing. And at least plate it nicely after heating so they won't have to eat out of those plastic trays.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Special Foodventure #88: Tradition by Pascal (Newport Beach)

With Thanksgiving around the corner, there's no better time to post about some grateful experiences I've had recently, one of which is being invited to check out dinner, for free save for tipping, at Tradition by Pascal (yes, the same place that Man Bites World's Noah checked out for his France Day, except I didn't have a camera crew following me around -- for better or for worse). It all came together pretty quickly, one moment I was reading a press release about a media dinner that I couldn't make due to conflicting schedules and the next, *poof*, an invite to Pascal's, literally days after I read Noah's post. After reading about that gorgeous experience and seeing all the lovely food photos, how can I refuse? After a few more email tagging, my plus one and I settled on checking them out in early November.

Thankfully, we planned on an early arrival because we wound up needing that extra time backtracking and finding our way to the restaurant. It's not terribly hard to find, but street it's on is kind of easy to miss. Nonetheless, we got there just in time. Phew.

I checked their menu online and for a place that serves such traditional French fare, I'm pleasantly surprised that it's a fairly casual atmosphere (though a slight dressing-up, esp. for Californian standards, is in order). The mood is pretty relaxed but still elegant, like a mix between a bistro and someone's living room/den converted for a dinner party.

Chef Pascal Olhats came out to greet us and asked us what we'd like to try. Being novice to traditional French foods and not allergic to anything, we decided to let him choose our courses for us. And with a knowing, ingenius smile and nod, he soon headed back into the kitchen. Meanwhile, the bread service arrived.

I don't really make a point of blogging about bread, but I found the spread most interesting. It's a chunky, garlicky eggplant spread that reminds me of a cross between salsa verde and baba ghanouj. Definitely an eclectic spin from the traditional butter.

About ten minutes later, the floor manager/sommelier came over and poured our first wines - a light, minerally Pinot Gris - followed by the waiter come out with the first courses, mussels in a white wine broth with shallots and tomatoes. As I've noted before, I'm a particularly hard sell with mussels, but these definitely passed my muster. Very clean and fresh tasting, and the broth was wonderfully aromatic and not too wine-y, which tends to happen in this preparation. Delicious enough for me to take some bread to soak up the extra broth!

Alongside the mussels came the escargot in garlic butter with a pesto topping. After all the mussel prying and plucking, I'm glad these came already out of the shell (or I might have a Pretty Woman re-enactment). The escargots tasted pretty good, meaty but not gummy, and the sauce sealed the deal; hard to go wrong with the crunchy pine nuts and the fragrant garlic and basil butteryness. And though the pinot gris wine went with the mussels considerably better since the escargots were considerably heavier and richer, but it still worked OK here.

Beet Salad
Next came a duo-color beet salad with lemon-flavored goat cheese, roasted hazelnuts, microgreens and some well-aged balsamic vinegar (I guesstimate at least 10 years, given the syrup-like viscosity). It tasted as colorful as it looked and worked on a few levels, with the contrast-yet-balance of the different flavors and textures, from the sweetness of the beets to the tangy goat cheese and the crunchy nuts with the balsamic binding everything together. And it's so simple it lets the natural, fresh flavors come through (and I'm definitely going to try to emulate this for a future potluck.)

Foie Gras
Alongside the beets is the seared foie gras with poached fruit. My friend, tasting foie gras for the first time, practically moaned eating this, and I agreed it was one of the better specimens I've had. It had firmness, texture and flavor before practically dissolving into fatty richness in your mouth (To quote the articulate OC foodblogger Elmomonster by way of Fifth Deadly Sin, who also dined here before, "The pleasure of eating foie gras is sanguineous and carnal. It's like pornography for the palate, and you feel naughty for loving it.") So true...

The fruit (pear? nectarine?) mixed well with the foie gras juices and this time it was my friend who was sopping up the liquid with the bread. (and it was also here that my French amateurism came through, totally unaware that foie gras' natural wine pairing is a Sauternes, which, like everything else, made sense in hindsight; rich heavy dish, rich heavy wine whose honey-fruity flavors blends well with the poached fruit).

Luckily I redeemed myself somewhat when a Napa fume blanc is poured next and already can tell that some seafood dish is coming (OK, not *that* amazing a guess, but definitely an improvement compared to my earlier wine-food faux pas). Sure enough, we were served a pan-roasted whitefish filet with a tomato beurre blanc and a tomato-herb risotto with capers. An interesting take on the more classic lemon-butter preparation, but still the same idea with the acid making the sauce less heavy and complementing the flaky fish with the crispy skin and the briny capers gave it a nice little extra zing too. The risotto here is well-made and creamy, though personally I like my risotto a little bit firmer.

We were both getting pretty full, but I know there's at least another round of savory courses since land meats have yet to made a presence. As if on cue, a pinot noir is poured and a plate of sliced, roasted duck is served. I can't quite ID the sauce but it's a wonderful sweet-savory combo that blends well with the succulent, flavorful meat. I actually commented to the waiter about how the duck tasted "ducky" and he kind of freaked out, which made me embarassed since I meant it in a good way (like beefier beef, as opposed to fishy fish -- if that made any sense) but I guess I should've been more articulate. Though in my defense, we were on our fourth glass of wine.

Rabbit Stew
Accompanying the duck is the rabbit stew with wild mushrooms and a side of roasted potatoes. And at the risk of being clichéd, it tasted like a blend of chicken and lean pork with a little gameyness, but the sauce of mushroom, wine and some sort of truffle (oil? essence? maybe even actual flakes?) made it work. The colorful taters were tasty too.

Alas, given all we have eaten and as delicious as these dishes were, we couldn't finish the bugs 'n daffy. But we did make pretty good work on them by the time they were bussed away.

Of course, me being me, I couldn't refuse desserts and we're in for some pretty special sweet treats as we were served coffee and a glass of 20 yr old port (which I could sniff all day, it smelled wonderfully of butterscotch, pecan pie and rich vanilla!)

First up is the chocolate-chestnut torte, with whole pieces of chestnuts nestled within! It was dark and intense, but the lighter texture of the chestnuts made the dish less heavy and rich, so we had little guilt spooning to the very last bite.

Creme Brulee
Alongside that is lavender creme brulee in a little pumpkin; so cute! Like mussels, I'm wary of lavender since it has a tendency to be an aromatic overkill, but here it's nicely subdued by the rich custard. There's a slight perfume of the buds, but it wasn't as if I walked into a fragrance/body care shop with every bite. Needless to say, we at this to the very last spoonful too.

Of course, after nine wonderful courses -- we wanted to thank the chef and ask him a few questions, but it turned out he already left since he had to prepare/staff a charity event... but wait, he's going to drive back to talk to us anyways. Words couldn't describe how bad we felt that Chef Pascal, who's been slaving all day in the kitchen and probably ready to plop into a hot bath, or just the bed, is going to drive all the way back to talk to two Francophile poseurs (and we felt worse with every passing minute and sip of our coffees.) He showed up within 25 minutes, but our guilts said forever, and we apologized profusely before starting conversation.

And just like with Noah, Pascal was a perfect, charming man who definitely has a passion for the cuisine, showing enthusiasm for everything from intimately knowing your foods to keeping generations-passed cooking traditions alive (though he admits to modernizing the cuisine by making it lighter here than what would be served in France.)

He also spoke fondly of the 20 years he's spent here in Newport Beach (moving here after living and cooking all over Europe) and thankfully, he still looks forward to having a presence in the restaurant and plans on staying hands-on at Tradition for many years to come while hoping to expand Pascal Epicerie, a fast-casual takeout/catering offshoot offering breakfast, lunches, and prepared dinners for folks entertaining or on-the-go. We also talked about his annual cruise seven years in the running, where he and his guest sail through various regions of the world with him creating and tasting meals based on what's locally available (this year they traveled from Greece to Croatia to Italy!) And on and on we chatted, barely noticing that the rest of the place is closing up.

Not wanting to keep Pascal or the rest of the staff any longer, we left our tip on the table and made a quick departure with a full stomach, satisfied palates and plenty of stories to share and tell. My friend already can't wait to return (esp. for the foie gras) and the same goes for me, should I ever want to taste France w/o having to fly over there.

Tradition by Pascal
1000 Bristol St N

Newport Beach
(949) 263-9400

Tradition By Pascal on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Quickies #38: Appetite Stimulus Dinners, RED Event, My Thanksgiving Meal

This week has been pretty exciting in the food blogging and media world, with quite a few articles / posts that seemed to stir up a whole slew of comments from both camps. Including 1) LA Time's S. Irene Virbila's well-intentioned, but not-as-well executed editorial to rally the general populace to continue restaurant patronage in the economic downturn, 2) KevinEat's blogpost on his meal at The Bazaar's grand opening night, which opened up a can of worms on EaterLA about bloggers' roles in the food and drink discourse (though that also provoked Mattatouille to write a lovely piece on foodbloggers too!) and 3) Humor writer Jessi Klein's piece slamming on foodies in general, which, again, led to considerable wankage.

But moving onto other topics:

My Thanksgiving Menu: As is tradition here, I'm pretty much getting a heat 'n serve meal, this time with (whose meals I've had with pretty good results in the past). I am getting their maple cured ham dinner (perfect size for my fam of three!) and their bourbon pecan pie, and I'll probably whip up an extra side just to say I've spent time in the kitchen. We'll see how that goes next week!

Cube introduces Aperitivo: Taking place from 4-7p everyday, Cube will be serving a variety of tasty pre-dinner bites at $5 each and a $10 flight of wine. The items rotate each week, and so far the foods offered sounds tasty (scallop crudo with keffir lime, gorgonzola picante cheesecake with balsamic vinegar) so seems like it's worth a checkout, esp. if you are planning to dine at or around Cube anyways.

LearnAboutWine's RED Event on Dec. 3: Great for oenophiles and beef-lovers, LearnAboutWine partnered with Breadbar to put together a unique tasting event with eight different beef dishes (all made from different cuts of the cow -- featuring everything from pickled tongue salad to ox tail soup with shallots) paired with eight different wines from small California producers. So moove over and get your rezzie ($69) quick before the price goes up to $80 at the door.

And finally, I've been meaning to blog my Citrus @ Social foodventure by today but, alas, didn't have enough time. But I will say it was a superb Appetite Stimulus dinner (almost-caramelized onion tart with creme fraiche and bacon; 72 hour melt-in-your-mouth short rib; a crazy meringue-ice cream dessert with pistachio creme anglaise) and you actually get to try four courses instead of three for $35, so definitely worth checking out! As for myself, tonight I'm hanging out with bloggers Kats9Lives, I Nom Things and Rumdood at Leatherby's Cafe Rouge, here's hoping for another awesome appetizing meal (though the company alone makes it worth it)!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Special Foodventure #87: Suckling Pig Dinner @ Ford's Filling Station (Culver City)

Sometimes, food dreams do come true! Once upon a time (ok fine, mid-October 2008), there aired a Los Angeles Bizarre Foods episode featuring L.A. foodblogger Deep End Dining, who joined Andrew Zimmern at Ford's Filling Station to eat a suckling pig prepped in various fashions, including confit-style in goose fat. I am no hemp 'n granola vigilante PETA vegan, but even I had a tinge of "Poor Baby Pig!!! It hasn't even weaned yet!" Of course, that quickly got displaced by thoughts of how incredibly delicious-looking the dish was.

Fade in, fade out to early November, when FoodDigger (yep, the same folks who hosted the Jinpachi omakase) sent along an invite hosting that very same meal at Ford's earlier this month (and again for disclosure purposes, hosting here = free meal for me). So I RSVPed and eagerly counted down the days and the hours for this 8 p.m. event.

Of course, it's not a good fairy tale without a villain. This time, it's the evil stepmother of double-booking myself for dinners. And the other dinner was hosted as well. In Pasadena. At 6 p.m. (Oh yea, did I mention it's work-related too?)

Cue one of most insane, sitcom-esque stunts I've ever pulled; being the polite guest that I am, ordered a drink and an appetizer at the first dinner that didn't sit down till 6:30 p.m.; after excusing myself at 7:15 p.m., I drove faster and crazier than any pumpkin-transformed coach to make it to Culver City in L.A. peak hour traffic, aiming to get there before the clock strikes eight. Paul Walker, eat your heart out - I'll show you fast 'n furious! In a Corolla!

Thankfully I was only 10 minutes tardy, barely making the "fashionably late" mark, early enough to be a surprise (I emailed the hosts for a planned arrival of 8:30 p.m.), and, luckily, just in time before the pig came out. After a short break in the restroom to wipe off sweats of L.A. traffic fear, I joined fellow foodbloggers Sarah of The Delicious Life / Tastespotting, Ila of I Nom Things, Matt of Dig Lounge, another Matt of Mattatouille, Kevin of KevinEats, Javier of Teenage Glutster, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs and of course, FoodDigger's Marshall, Thi, Will (who also writes for LA Food Hunt) and Aaron (also of Food Destination.)
Like any meetup with foodbloggers, we had no shortage of culinary things to talk about (especially when given the social lubrication of red wine 'o plenty), but all became silent when Ben Ford came out and graced us with his presence, and a frickin' huge platter of the chopped up and beautifully laid out pork.
Once again, I got a wee little bit of hesitation -- especially with the pig positioned at me like this! But I quickly succumbed to chomping down after seeing the others (particularly the fellas) doing the same.
I literally pigged out on the swine like a big bad wolf, and definitely give kudos to Ben Ford for his use of almost the whole animal and preparing the different parts in a variety of ways. Everything was decent, but the preparations that particularly stood out were the succulent and moist smoked pork legs, the salad with pig tongue and cracklin' crispy pig ears and the pulled pork whose leftovers would make the perfect sandwich! Of course, paying homage to the show that started this, I also ate half a fried pig eyeball that looks surprisingly like a falafel. It wasn't bad at all and reminiscent of McNugget with a better breading; then again, being deep-fried and stuffed with ham-hock may have muted whatever "eye" flavors there were.

We also had some wonderful side dishes, brussel sprouts with bacon (one of my favorite side dishes to make at home!), cavalo nero (Tuscan kale) with escarole, roasted carrots with pomegranate seeds and a roasted kambocha risotto that I didn't get a snapshot of. Again, all delicious, but I was seriously craving a side that's on the lighter side (notice the nice glossy sheen on all of them? yea, that's flavorful fat!)
And despite stuffing myself silly, the moment desserts were served my second stomach opened shop! The duo that came out included a creamy Hawaiian bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream (loved the contrast from the tart apricots and the spicy edge from the dusting of anise), and a chocolate torte that's very rich and dark but also very dry (though eating it with the ice cream helped moisten it).

We were wrapping up our dinner and bouncing options on where to sober up from all that wine . . . only to wound up at Rush St. for some cocktails across the street (with Sarah buying the first round! and Will the second!) I had an orange bitters manhattan that was tasty but unfortunately came shaken, and a very girly lemon meringue "martini" that tasted just like the pie liquified and alchyed up! So after an hour (or was it two?) of "sobering up", crazy photos snapping and further mingling with foodbloggers to discuss all things edible and potable, we bid each other farewell with plans to meet up again soon. It was, indeed, a wonderful mid-month meal that kicked off the holiday season right and I am sure the others agreed.

Ford's Filling Station
9531 Culver Blvd.
Culver City

P.S. Here's my previous experience with Ford's Filling Station earlier this year. Given that this was a special dining event, I can't say my opinion changed a whole lot -- but I am grateful to Ben Ford for accomodating us and definitely open to checking out his restaurant again. And of course, kudos again to FoodDigger for setting this up and hosting.

Rush Street
9546 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

Ford's Filling Station on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mini Foodventure #86: Royal/T (Culver City)

Admittedly, I entered Royal/T with a skeptical heart; on one hand, it is pretty cool to be dine in such an artsy space filled with assorted installations, paintings and sculptures and be served by cosplay-waitresses in French maid costumes. On the other hand, if that's the selling point, how good can the food be? But since I had other friends curious about checking this place out, I decided to give this place a try.
Situated roughly midway between Downtown Culver City and the Helms District, Royal/T is a pretty expansive converted space that's part gallery (featuring some Murakami works, Gothic Lolita wall murals, and a Porta-Party that... you'll just have to go to find out!) part design shop (selling a lot of Japanese and Japan-inspired items alongside sleek designer products such as urban mini concrete planters and sleek-yet-functional insulated Bodum glassware) and of course, part tea shop. While I was most interested in the last one, it was pretty cool wandering through the whole space and checking out the various collection, works and stuff for sale. And yes, I did porta-party!
Wanting to sample a little of everything, my friend and I both got the afternoon tea set. For teas, I opted for the royal matcha green latte, which was an excellent rich and nutty brew that was perfect with a spoonful of sugar. My compadré got the Tokyo breakfast, a slightly fruitier remix of the traditional English breakfast that still went well with sugar and milk. I was also very impressed with the Bodum glassware, whose air-blown design functions like a thermos, insulating the beverage and keeping it warm way longer than normal teacups!
As for the edibles, they certainly look cute ~ but failed to impress my tastebuds. The sandwiches were all variants of open-faced white-bread with mayo and cucumber topped with something (avocado slices, spicy tuna, etc.), overall I found them unremarkable and messy to eat, but my cucumber-loathing friend absolutely didn't care for them (usually she understands if there's one cucumber sandwich in her afternoon tea set, but all four?!) The warm mushroom quiche was pretty flavorful, but the sweets (mini berry tart, dense chocolate cake, taro mousse tart) again failed to leave a mark. My biggest disappointment, however, was the total utter absence of scones (and its accompanying jellies and cream) ~ totally shattered my afternoon/high tea world!

The overall 'meh'ness of the foods only confirmed my first impression, more scene than substance -- foodwise. At least there was yummy tea to wash it all down.

Nonetheless, it was a nice atmosphere, the drinks were decent, the staff was nice (and totally didn't mind posing for the above photo -- a request which I'm sure they're used to and sick of) and the rest of the menu looks reasonably priced so I wouldn't object to a return trip and maybe try a few of their other a la carte items (baked eggs, sandwiches, rice bowls), or maybe just to have a sip of delicious tea in an artsy setting after a meal elsewhere in the C.C.

What Do Others Say?:
Potatomato loved the environs and drinks too; friend said other foods there are mediocre
Best of LA enjoyed the teas as well, sandwiches were hit and miss
Caroline on Crack got the inside scoop with owner Susan Hancock
Yelpers give it 3.5 stars
FoodDiggers graded it 86/100 (higher on vibe points than anything else, obvs)

8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
T 310 559 6300

Royal/T on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Quickies #37: Recovery before Thanksgiving edition

Being the slow packer and unpacker that I am, I still have two luggages worth of travel paraphernalia lying about my bedroom. And I haven't gotten started on clearing out my inboxes, let alone read through my snail mail (my philosophy is if the senders can afford a week for the letter to reach my eyes, they can handle another week for my eyes to actually read it). But here are few things I did manage to read up on and pass along:

OpenTable Appetite Stimulus Plan next week (Nov. 17-21): With $24 prix-fixe lunches and $35 prix-fixe dinners as well as double the OT reservation points, this promotion is pretty good for diners looking to explore some new places (or re-visit old ones) at a decent discount. Not all the restaurants have their promo menus up so you may have to call and ask, but some of the better-looking ones of batch include Akasha, Grace, Comme Ca (lunch only), Joe's and 6ix Park Grill.

Whole Foods to help with Thanksgiving Prep & Cooking: Just heard from their PR reps that all Whole Foods in the LA/OC area will being having a Thanksgiving tasting event tomorrow from noon to 3 p.m. In addition to sampling some of their Thanksgiving menu offerings (ham and turkey, stuffing, creamed corn, cranberry sauce), there will be meal experts who can help you answer all the questions involved in preparing and cooking that blowout sleep-inducing meal (whether to brine the bird, stuff the stuffing, things that can be made-ahead, etc.). Though given my penchant for not really cooking anything on Thanksgiving, I'd more likely be there to try out bite-sized side dishes and ordering the ones that I enjoyed. Also, I was told that each Whole Foods store will be sampling a unique signature dish as well - for anyone who happen to live close enough to multiple stores and don't mind putting in the extra mileage.

Rustic Canyon Beer Bash, Nov. 17: For those of you not totally beered off from all those Oktoberfests last month, Rustic Canyon is doing a six-course beer-paired menu for $68 a person. The yummy-sounding courses in this lineup include pumpkin mezzaluna with a sage brown butter sauce, braised duck leg confit with roasted apples, celery root puree and black trompet mushrooms and a simple double chocolate layer cake (but being a creation of pastry chef Zoe Nathan, I am sure it'll be heavenly sweet!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sweet and Simple NYC Thoughts

Why does L.A. NOT have one of these? WHY?!!!

Just went the Big Apple for the second time ever -- and first time with an actual food budget -- have plenty of photos in the editing room and blogposts ideas swirling about, but here's a few tidbits I picked up from the weekend that was:

-- loved the late night dining options available here!

-- the cocktail scene compared to LA is practically night and day; checked out Angel's Share, PDT and White Star (and almost got into Milk & Honey, oh well - next time), all of them served up excellent drinks with friendly, knowledgeable bartender service (even towards us West Coasters).

-- O. M. G. -- a mobile, gourmet dessert truck!
-- dining well wasn't super-pricey either. Went to a Michelin 3-star restaurant for lunch; three-course prix-fixe was less than $25!

-- had some East Coast / NYC Specialties: Dunkin' Donuts coffee, good and slightly better than starbucks and the cruellers are nice too, still prefer Peets for chain-y coffee and LA Mill for boutique. As for pizza, I rather like the New York-style slice. The thin-yet-soft crust, the light sauce, and the mozzarella cheesiness plus the oregano and red pepper sprinkles. Also did Gray's Papaya hot dogs, decent and a nice deal for .99 apiece.

-- thank goodness I had my suit jacket or I'd be totally underdressed for most of the places I went to (though at one place I had to shed it before going-in, and was the only person in there wearing a t-shirt-over-long-tee top ~ yikes!)
-- love how single-friendly many of these establishments are.
-- only things that kept it from pwning LA on every level, lack of In 'n Outs and taco trucks and the prevalence of public smoking and crazy vehicles and pedestrians (yes, even by our standards)!
-- finally, in one of those rare occasions that I agree with a certain TV food celebrity named R.R.; talking to the locals does help in finding great eats and drinks. Many of this weekend's great gems came from mingling with fellow diners and restaurant/bar staff.

Those are my brief, immediate thoughts for now, longer, tastier ones to be posted soon!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Quickies #36: Itsy Bitsy to the Big Apple edition

Not much to say this Friday because I am packing and heading to New York City this weekend. Yahoo! (of course, feel free to email any food- and drink- recommendations there, I'll mostly be in Manhattan / Queens area though).

But wanted to leave a nice tidbit for all of you in lalaland this weekend. If anyone's considering the Great Chefs event this weekend, DailyCandy just partnered with them to make tickets available for half-off. That's $75 instead of $150 and you still get to enjoy the fantastic lineup of LA's food starlets! And of course, still helping out the great cause of the Kidney Foundation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Foodventure #85: Orris (West LA / Sawtelle)

One of the more fascinating restaurants on the Sawtelle Strip, I've been wanting to try Orris for a while because of its small plates menu and its contemporary Japanese fusion cuisine. Thankfully, Aaron from Food Destination was looking to check out this place as well so I met up with him and his girlfriend at Hideo Yamashiro's Westside joint in October for some good food chit-chat and hopefully great eats and drinks.

Since I had plans later that night, we decided to do an early supper there (i.e. right when they open for dinner service) and we found ourselves the youngest of the crowd there by at least a decade, but I find it pretty cool that there are mature folks there who are still adventurous enough to explore modern, fusion cuisine in a urban-swank dining atmosphere, which was minimally adorned except for one orchid plant at the corner of the L-shaped bar and various decorative bowls hung along the walls with a pretty open kitchen where you can see and definitely smell everything's that's cooking.

After a quick study of the menu and listening to the specials from the waiter (who we later agreed is someone in the biz, given his trained voice, toned physique and ever-so-covertly curt behavior), we opted to do things family style and picked out two dishes each to enjoy - our appetites weren't enormous and we can always explore some of the other snack dives along Sawtelle if we still felt hungry like Beard Papa, boba tea shop snacks or the Crepe Nazi. We also got some drinks, Aaron picked a not-too-often-seen Asahi Black, his girlfriend chose a plummy sake and I picked a glass of Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend.

Our actor-waiter quickly served our drinks, followed shortly by our first courses.
Crab and cucumber salad, which I liked even though there were shell pieces in there. I love the different textures and flavors from the meatiness of the freshly-picked lump dungeness crab (even though they could've done a better job at that) to the crispy yet yielding cucumber strands, with both delicate flavors binded by a light gingery-mayo dressing.
Also coming out at the same time was the braised duck breast with a dab of yuzu chili paste. The duck itself was pretty unremarkable, whatever little flavor the slices had was greatly overwhelmed by the salty soy sauce pool they were sitting in. The yuzu chili paste was much more fun to try and did improve the duck some (if only as something to put the paste on) but wasn't nearly enough to save the dish. Thankfully, I was more distracted by finishing the remainder of my wine, since I noticed the rest of the courses we ordered are pretty heavy and won't pair well with my fragrant but lightweight wine.
Next came one of their special of the day: smoked salmon over potato pancakes and caramelized onions, topped with creme fraiche and tobiko. Odd as it sounded, it was a pretty amazing combo of warm pancakes and onions (which tasted like a hybrid of latkes and breakfasty home fries), the cool slices of salmon and the rich and chilled creme fraiche with the little poppity pieces of flying fish roe. Only thing that could make it better is if this was a permanent menu item!
Also out at the same time was a trio of berkshire pork medallions in a green peppercorn sauce (was the kitchen trying to accomodate our party size with their portioning?) As with the ducks, the accompaniment was tastier than the actual dish -- the pork was rather bland and dry. I like the spicy and "green" flavor of the slightly-creamy sauce but again, not enough to compensate for the mediocrity of the meat.
Next up is shrimp mousse ravioli in a shiitake mushroom sauce, and here is where our party size made things really interesting. Our waiter served us three ravioli at first, then made a point of serving us the fourth ravioli a few minutes later. I don't see the point since it doesn't make divvying up the last piece any easier, but was more amused than annoyed by this gesture. Anyhow, I am mixed about the ravioli -- I love the delicate wonton ravioli skin and the rich, silky and earthy marsala-like sauce with chunks of flavorful 'shrooms, but didn't pick up much shrimp flavor from the filling. I am not unhappy with the dish, but if they made a point of highlighting the shrimp in the menu, I'd really wished I could've tasted its presence.
Since the ravioli was buried in that delicious sauce, here's a single ravioli (raviolus?) close-up.
Our final savory course is seared foie gras with eggplant in a sweet-soy reduction. Overall delicious, though I would prefer my foie gras with a little more firmness and substance (this one basically is a crispy skin that, upon biting, snaps into near-liquid butter that rolls and melts on your tongue). The nearly-as-creamy texture of the eggplant was a nice accompaniment, as is the contrast of the sweet sauce that kind of cuts into the fat.
Our appetites were pretty satisfied with our six plates, but since we had a sweet tooth we decided to go for their banana and fig flambee with vanilla ice cream (though the menu also listed blueberries being in there). Initially this was disappointing since the fruits didn't arrive at our table lit on fire, but the flavors were definitely there. Divided up amongst three of us, it was just enough to fulfill our sweet cravings without going overboard.

Leaving Orris, I don't quite know what to make of the experience. It was nearly 50/50 in terms of what I loved and what I disliked, so unsure of whether it's one of those restaurants where there's a few select dishes they do really well, or if it's just a restaurant that's inconsistent by visit. But I'm willing to give it a gamble and come back here for another try, now knowing there are a few dishes I enjoyed and hoping they'll be prepared equally well next time around.

Didn't remember the exact breakdown of the dishes, but our 6 savory courses, 1 dessert, 3 alcoholic drinks plus tax and tip broke down to $120 so $40/person. Most dishes here fit in the $11-16 range, with drinks from $4-12.

Ambience - 3.5/5 (Simple and nice overall, slightly weirded out by the new agey background music)
Value - 4/5 (Reasonable given what's being served)
Service - 7.5/10 (No specific complaints by not really great service either)
Food - 16/20 (All over the map, really dug some dishes, others we simply regretted ordering)
Bonus/Demerits - N/A
Overall - 31/40

The Delicious Life gave it a another chance at first impression and found it, overall, much better second time around (hope that works for me too!)
Eating L.A. said it's a winner but suggests avoiding the regular menu and sticking with the specials
Potatomato was surprised at how affordably yummy it was
Teenage Glutster found it unlike any other place he's dined before (and had a much better experience with the peppercorn pork)
Foodie Universe declared it the "new favorite restaurant" back in '05, but also had service issues
Chris & Yuri, filing their report via LA.foodblogging, loved the food artistry of this restaurant
Yelpers gave it 4 out of 5 stars
And of course, my dining compadre's report on the exact same dinner, I'll let you discover his opinions yourself ;)

2006 Sawtelle Blvd,
Los Angeles
(310) 268-2212

Orris on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 03, 2008

Small PSA RE: Prop 8 ads on my blog

I almost never make a non-food related post, but I just noticed today that my Google Ads are plastered with "Yes on Prop. 8" stuff, which apparently is also a problem plaguing other LA area foodblogs. So just want to make it known that I am not endorsing that political position; I've already filtered them out via my Adsense controls but it may take a little while to activate.

/announcement, and oh yea, go vote!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

November events

Not as many food/drink going-ons this month, given the intermittent showers and of course, Thanksgiving that quite a few LA/OC restaurants are already prepping for, but here's a few nice picks for this month:

Asides from the aforementioned Grace dinner benefiting youths pursuing culinary careers, the other must-try-if-you-can event this month is the 22nd Annual Great Chefs of LA dinner benefiting the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California taking place at CBS Studio Center on Nov. 9. Highlighting a "Go Green, Go Organic" theme, the foods and beverages will, naturally, have a sustainable and environmentally-friendly focus with an emphasis on local- and organically-grown products. Hosted by
Govind Armstrong of Table 8 and 8 oz. and with Gino Angelini from La Terza and Angelini Osteria as chef of honor, the Great Chefs lineup include Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo of Animal, Raymond Alvarez of Border Grill, Josie Le Balch of Josie, Jason Travi of Fraiche , Neal Fraiser of Grace and many more plus wines from about 15 wineries and vineyards. $150/person.

For the scotch lovers, on Nov. 14 there's the
15th Annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza at Loews Santa Monica. With over 85 scotch whiskeys to taste (plus "expressions" from Japan, New Zealand and Ireland) with vintages going back 40 years! And if the thought of trying all these fine aged alcohol got your stomach knotted up, don't fret - there's a full dinner buffet at the event and it's included with the ticket price, so you won't be tasting them on an empty stomach. At event's end, attendees receive a trio of premium cigars to enjoy (or give away if you're like non-smoking me; but a classy gift nonetheless for tobacco enthusiasts.) $130/person and advanced purchase only by calling 800-990-1991.

And if you want a get a head start on learning about your bubblies before buying your celebratory bottles for the holidays, LearnAboutWine is doing a Champagne Sunday School on Nov. 16 where you learn about the production, styles and tastes of champagnes and sparkling wines from all over. Better prep that smug smile too when all your New Year's friends "Ooo" and "Aah" at all that you've learned here ;) $69/person advanced.

Finally, for something comparatively less pricey, fellow foodblogger Pleasure Palate is putting together a unique
Minas Gerais dinner at downtown's Wood Spoon restaurant on Nov. 20. For those not familiar (like me before I did a little googling) Minas Gerais is a Brazilian state well-known in the country for its flavorful cuisine, particularly its emphasis on farmhouse-style cooking using fresh ingredients, aromatic seasonings, and rustic approaches with cast-iron and earthen cookware and wood-fired ovens. It's not a cuisine readily available around town so definitely worth a look into. $43/person.


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