Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back down (with goodies) from Northern California . . .

Venus Belt Clouds at Lost Hills
Ah, it's good to be back in the LA/OC after a blissful four days up in Northern California, which was as near-perfect as a mini-vacay can get; yes, even the hours-long drive up and down the 5; it was pure pleasure soaking up the scenery in the day, clearly gazing the stars and constellations at night, and catching up on all my public radio & music podcasts. And of course, all the eating, drinking and exploring in the city of San Francisco, the countryside of Sonoma County and the sleepy-suburby-college town of Davis (my undergrad alma mater, and we have our own wiki!) I'll definitely have many happy memories to hang on to as I trim my way back down to pre-vacay weight (and to look good for BloggerProm!)

While it'll take me a little while to gather my notes and sort out all my pics (including the gorgeous Venus' belt photos in this post -- taken en route back home at Lost Hills, CA); here's a little tasty teaser -- some of the foodie souvenirs I've brought back from the North.
Loot Brought Home
Assorted Paté de Fruits (pear-lime, morello cherry, passion fruit and blueberry-cassis flavors) and the Green Box of tea-Inspired sweets from Recchiuti Confections

1/2 Pound of Giant Steps blend from Blue Bottle Coffee Co.

Two Valrhona brownies from Tartine Bakery & Cafe, plus an individual bittersweet chocolate-toasted hazelnut tart

Two dark, organic Dagoba bars (lemon ginger and beaucoup berries) that I have yet to encounter in L.A.

Tea Infused Chocolate Collection from Charles Chocolates / Teance

And, an homage to my alma mater, a mug commemorating our most infamous and made-fun-of "recreational activity"
Cow Tipping Mug
What can I say? If you can't fight it, embrace it (with a good cup 'o joe.) Keep an eye out for my NorCal food- and drinkventures soon! But in the meantime . . .
Venus' Belt at Lost Hills

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Quickies #63: Frisco and Fave Weekend Listings

Flights of Bubbles
Bon voyage cheers! Bubbly flights from POP Champagne & Dessert Bar

By the time this gets published I'm already en route to San Francisco (but will have 'net access when I'm up there, so keep those recommendations coming!) So not much of a event-previewing Friday Quickie today given how busy I'm packing and prepping my itinerary, so instead I'll point you to some of my favorite weekend guides / event calendars that my cool cat pals compile!

Caroline on Crack - not just food/drinks, but also good intel on clothing/accessory sales and noteworthy performances too!

Eat:LA - covering foodie events all over LA, nice place to check no matter which 'hood you're at.

FoodGPS's Beer Blast
- not weekend specific, but this is a must-subscribe for any LA/OC beer enthusiast. Every week you'll get the lowdown on what the local top-notch beer joints are rotating in and out of their taps and stocks.

DigLounge - good highlights of upcoming festivals and tasting events, as well as music shows.

TastingTable LA - much more food- and drink-centric than the weekend calendars of the other daily e-newsletters; a great source to find out about new openings, tasty events, as well as debuting deals & steals.

Last but not least Social Domain LA - OK, again, not weekend specific but the Craigslist-like simplicity of its layout makes it very easy for me to spot and look into upcoming events.

With that, hope you'll find some fun new to-dos. I know my weekend in Frisco will be eventful for sure! And got any of your own favorite weekend guides to share? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mini Foodventure #126: AMMO (Hollywood) Small-Batch Social

Ammo Small Batch Social
Thanks to an invite from their PR firm last month, bloggerprom co-conspirators Caroline on Crack, e*starLA and I got to check out AMMO Restaurant's Small Batch Social, a monthly mixer that they throw on with tastings of several spirited sippers from artisanal alchy producers alongside small bites from their kitchen. When I attended, the partner-in-crime was Santa Barbara-based Telegraph Brewing Co. along with beer sommelier/consultant/educator Christina Perozzi a.k.a "Beer Chick". (We also met SocialDomain's John and FoodSheThought there)
Beer Chick Christina Perozzi
Christina did a great job giving us a brief primer of the Telegraph Ales, and all the beers had a uniquely assertive character of its own -- from the tart and aromatic reserved wheat ale to the dark, oaky porter.
Telegraph Beers on Display
My personal favorites are the California ale, which has some body but still refreshing enough to quaff w good spicy-citrus hints to boot, and the stock porter that has some great malted chocolate & coffee notes.
Open-faced Sliders
While the printout have recommended food/beer pairings, it's basically a free-for-all and I actually had more fun playing mix-and-match between the different brews and hors d'oeuvres, which included hangar steak w salsa verde & arugula on a crostini, red endives w Humboldt Fog cheese, walnut and wildflower honey and bite-sized grilled cheese (the last of which are super-addicting, I had about five of those crispy, gooey goodness!)

And for those interested, their next Small-Batch Social takes place tomorrow; with theme "Juniper in June" AMMO will be highlighting three boutique gins (Bluecoat American, Right and Blue Zephyr) in handcrafted cocktails, again, paired with assorted nibbles from their kitchen. And at only $20/person, it's not a bad way to spend a Thursday night and get a headstart on the weekend. So bring a friend (or a few) and have some low-key, spirited mingling and don't forget to RSVP by calling number below.

A few more photos from the May event here.

AMMO Restaurant
1155 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Ammo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Special Foodventure #125: The Hungry Cat (Hollywood) Crabfest V

I can find two things wrong with The Hungry Cat's name; there are no cats at the restaurant, and no one leaves hungry. Case-in-point: CrabFest this past Sunday, an annual crustacean-ladened tradition five years running that's simply good summertime fun.

Knowing how fast reservations for this once-a-year event get filled, the day it was announced I just made a reservation for a table of six without even knowing who I'll be eating with. And it didn't take long for those empty seats to be filled with blogging friends Mattatouille, Choisauce, Gourmet Pigs, and ConBon -- as well as Gourmet Pig's +1 and Rickmond of Rameniac (yes, that's seven total -- thankfully I was able to up my reservation by one without much trouble.)

And so, at 11 a.m., the doors opened and we feasted . . .
Black Eyed Plum
The Hungry cat is well-known for their farmers-market-driven cocktail program, so I indulged in a brunch time Black-Eyed Plum made with cachaca muddled with plum and basil with a splash of lime. It's like summer in a cup, wistfully refreshing with clean, balanced flavors; I can taste the individual components -- the bright limes, the sweet-juicy plums, aromatic basil and edgy nibble of the cachaca -- without any single one dominating the drink. Definitely one I look forward to recreating at home while the weather's still warm and stone fruits are still in season.
Crab Roll
Our meal began with a crab roll amuse, a simply-dressed lump crabmeat salad on top of a toasted butter bun. A little bit messy to eat with the crab on top of the bread as opposed to being stuffed inside, but nicely made -- it wasn't overly mayoed-up so the sweetness of the crabmeat still shone through, with little acceptable pops of pepper, onion and celery notes. I could've done with a little less bread but the ratio isn't too off-sync.
Crab Soup + Cornbread
Next came the "Pride of Baltimore" crab soup with grilled bacon-fat cornbread: given its near-ruby, somewhat-opaque color I was initially afraid there's gonna be too much tomato in the soup, but that turned out to be not the case. The soup is very stock-driven, as the photo show, has lots of crab meat merrily swimming in it. The actual vegetal notes were mild and a nice complement, as were the occasional salty bacon pieces floating within. The grilled corn bread is wonderful on its own or soaked with the soup, and I actually liked that there were pieces of chile pepper embedded within for an ever-so-slight hint of heat.
Roasted Soft-Shelled Crab
Moving onto more substantial crab dishes, our third course is a whole pan-roasted soft-shell crab on top of a bed of haricot verts, pancetta and corn. Again, going with the "less is more" theme, there wasn't much in the way of seasoning and sauces, which let the quality of each ingredient come forth: the crispy, meaty crab to the hearty pieces of bacon and the sweet corn and beans. Towards the end though, I felt the dish was a bit too heavy as the roasted crab juices and grease got soaked up by the veggies -- thankfully, having finished my cocktail, I got a glass of Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary IPA -- a refreshing, hop-forward brew that really cut through all that fat!
Marinated Tomato & Pecorino Salad
Potato Salad
We were also served side dishes of jean's marinated tomato & pecorino cheese plate and their potato salad at this time. Even though originally they were meant to accompany the steamed crabs, I think it's great they came out now while we still can use utensils as opposed to having to switch back-and-forth when we go hands-on with the steamy suckers. Again, overall it was nice -- the potato version is again easy on the binder so not too heavy, and I loved the super-juicy, super-flavorful marinated heirloom tomatoes that the semi-soft, mild-flavored pecorino foiled nicely against.

And three course later (and I'm already feeling satiated), the main show . . .
Steamed Crab Served
THE STEAMED CRABS! Lovely-looking, coral-colored and comparatively large Maryland blues topped with specks of their house-blended seasoning.
Steamed Crab 2
We wasted no time grabbing our mallets and tearing these babies apart for their succulent, sweet flesh and the fatty, flavorful innards (which, like a good uni, yields a "taste of the sea") accented wonderfully with Chef Lentz's version of Old Bay Seasoning. I also liked these crabs much more than the one from CrabFest two years back, possibly because they are not doing all-you-can-eat this year, so Chef Lentz can pay a little more attention to them and not hurriedly trying to steam and whip out as many as possible (us having an early reservation there also helped before the restaurant got packed with crab cracking customers!) And even six crabs a person were plenty enough (and more than enough for a few of us, who wound up doggy bagging the uncracked leftovers.)

And if you're not squeamish and truly interested in the carnage we wreaked upon those crustaceans, click here. (And that's after our table was partially-bussed!)

Peach Crisp
More-than-full from more than seven crabs, I was actually happy to see that the dessert is a modest portion of peach crisp. The dessert, surprisingly, is only "not bad" -- It would've been better if it was served warm instead of chilled, though given that they had to pre-prep the sweets given their small kitchen and large number of attendees, I could've overlooked the temperature; however, the peaches were a bit overcooked to nearly mush-like consistency, and it was oddly spiced like a pumpkin pie, a marked departure from the purer tastes of earlier dishes. The crumble part, however, was great.

Despite the lackluster last note, we had a splendid three hours with good food, great conversations and just a fun time really getting messy without having to worry about the table cleanup (though we did spill quite a few glasses of water!) Definitely worth the $60/person pricetag (plus $10 for the cocktail and $6 for the beer) as I am thoroughly stuffed for the rest of the day and even skipped dinner no problemo!

I am already setting aside my June 2010 Sundays aside for its much-anticipate return!

What Do Others Say About the CrabFest?
- Eater L.A. thought it was "total summer perfection" in 2008
- Oishii Eats & Co. had "a gluttonous victory" (back when it was all-you-can-eat) in 2007
- TasteBuzz got to "keep on crabbing" at 2007, wound up eating eight steamed ones before "rolling out"

The Hungry Cat
1535 North Vine
Hollywood, CA

Hungry Cat on Urbanspoon
Hungry Cat in Los Angeles

Monday, June 22, 2009

Special Foodventure #124: Church & State (downtown)

While I try to be prompt with meetups, events and gatherings (especially with fellow bloggers,) with the actual blog itself -- more often than not procrastination rears its ugly head. Which probably explains why I have a backlog up the wazoo, and how I basically went "OH SH*T, I still haven't blogged about the Church & State dinner from almost two months ago!" when I met Chef Walter Manzke at last weekend's Taste of the Nation LA. Thank goodness for a menu we can take home and my trusty notes . . .

Anyhow, the event was put on by food-focused social review site FoodDigger (so all of us bloggers went for free), and like previous FD dinners I've attended, it was a food and wine feast of gastronomical proportions consisting of nine wine-paired courses (and that's when multiple dishes get lumped into one course, separated out I'm sure we tried closer to around twenty items of food!)

For a play-by-play of every dish, I'll point you to the detailed post and photos by KevinEats (including a photo of the night's menu)-- but here are some highlight eats and sips that I remembered fondly, even nearly two months after:
escargot pot pie - so cute and tasty, you'll forget that you're eating snails--I sure did. The little critters were merrily swimming in garlic butter, covered in a light flaky puff pastry crust (also made with generous amounts of butter, I'm sure;) I was utterly shameless when I took bread to dunk into this aromatic, fatty goodness.
charcuterie platter - a carnivore's delight, each meat were tasty yet still assert its individuality at the same time, having varying levels of smoky and cured tastes, along with nuances of herbs and spices. My favorite was the luxurious smooth and rich foie gras terrine mousse topped with a sweet port wine gelee, the combination vibrant flavors simply danced in perfect synchrony on my tastebuds.
Lobster & Asparagus
asperge a la tashiro - a special of the night crafted for Marshal, who brought in lobsters for this dish; effortlessly elegant, with thick, fresh stalks of tender Hog's Farm asparagus topped with generous chunks of meaty lobster in a light buttery sauce; a savory dish -- that's simple and beautiful, just like a haiku.
roasted bone marrow - it's hard to go wrong with this, and of course the version here did not disappoint; the long shanks were chopped in half for easy scooping and spreading on the bread. Pure meat-flavored fat heaven -- after everyone had their share I was tempted to plop one of these suckers on my plate and suck it till bone dry. But I exercise modesty, even after countless glasses of wine.
and of course, kudos to the assorted desserts served up on another platter - there were cakey tarts, creme brulee, pot de creme and a mixed berry crisp, the last of which is my favorite since it's bursting with fruity flavors that played well with the vanilla ice cream.

I also like the eclectic wine pairings chosen by their in-house sommelier -- they're not necessarily matchy-matchy with the food, but I like having to think about how the two play against different aspects of one another. Of the wines, the one most memorable is the FRV 100, a sparkling gamay that has the color and the aromas of a ripe strawberry, making it a perfect summer sipper.

And as always, the meal is only half the experience in making the evening memorable, the other half being a splendid night of chatting and conversing with fellow bloggers as we update each other on our latest foodventures, share our new favorite haunts and console one another on the perils of photo-taking and note-scribbling, and our ever growing backlogs as we literally bit off more than we can blog.
Chef Manzke
So a much thanks to Will, Marshall and others of the FoodDigger Co. for hosting another enchanting evening of fine eats and sips, Chef Walter Manzke and Sommelier Josh Goldman for serving up all that food and wine, and, of course, to the following fellow bloggers for their more-than-palatable company:

Kats 9 Lives
I Nom Things
Right Way to Eat
Kung Food Panda

Church & State
1850 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 405-1434

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Quickies #62: Tacos, Beer, Crabs and... David Hasselhoff?

Summer's here, summer's here! And what better time to enjoy an ahi burger and a cold one at Malibu Seafood?

Still being busy and having fun planning for bloggerprom - but squeezing in some time for a little food- and drinkventure of my own. Here's some events over the weekend where you can catch me chowing away :)

On Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m., Cabo Taco Baja Grill in La Mirada is doing a summer beer dinner pairing craft summer ales alongside an all-you-can-eat gourmet taco bar, with world-inspired specialties such as the gorgonzola-steak taco drizzled with garlic butter and topped with onion strings, roasted chipotle duck taco with citrus slaw, and a fiery Jamaican Jerk chicken taco with mango salsa. Paired that with over 15 great artisanal brews (including Vitzen from Angel City Brewery, The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel-one of my faves from Craft Beer Fest-, and Avante Garde from Lost Abbey) and you got yourself on heck of a Saturday night fiesta (heck, I'd even say do Dad's day one day early for this!) $35 person for all the tacos you care to eat plus eight drink tickets (additional tickets $2 each).

For those who don't want to dive to the LA/OC border, Rush Street in Culver City is having a fun sounding Baywatch Cocktail Party from 8 p.m. to 2 p.m., featuring half-priced summer cocktails ALL NIGHT (yes, on a Saturday) as well as beachy decor and games (limbo anyone?) and a David Hasselhoff Burger Eating Contest! Hilarity is sure to ensue at this event!

This Sunday, you'll find me chowing on delicious crustaceans at The Hungry Cat Fifth Annual CrabFest! While they've done away with the all-you-can-eat steamed crabs this year (only six per person, which is still plenty enough) -- the $60/person menu includes crab soup /w bacon fat cornbread, corn and haricot vert salad with pan-roasted soft shell crab and pancetta butter, crab roll and a stone fruit cobbler to finish. Of course their infamously tasty cocktails, along with specialty beers picked for the event, are available to order at the event too, along with their a la crate raw oyster, shrimp and clam menu. This event usually gets booked up pretty fast but totally worth giving a call to see if you can squeeze in last-minute.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wanted: SF-area food and drink suggestions

Making a list and checking it twice . . .

Wow, who thought time would fly so quickly? A planned trip to San Francisco area that I conjured up in mid-May is coming sooner than I thought -- and I barely did any homework of places to hit in the area, eep!

So while I do some major catch-up reading with some of the blogs and city guides, I figured I'd take the suggestion box to you readers for some great places for noshes and drinks while I'm up there.

My stay will only be 3- to 4- days, but I would definitely like to hit up some, if not all, of the below:

1) Great casual and cheapish breakfast/lunch spots, bonus points for creative dishes
2) One somewhat spendy dinner (~$50-75/person for food)
3) Of course, great bars for cocktails or respectable beer/wine lists
4) Food- or drink- worthy daytrip excursions
5) Notable afternoon teas in the area, can be traditional or modernized
6) Great food/drink events in the upcoming days in the area
7) Nice place to shop for staple food-venirs to bring back down
8) Oh yea... must-hit dessert joints!

Of course, the more details you can provide the better (favorite items, websites) but looking forward to see what my food- and cocktail- hive mind will bring. Thanks in advance and I'll definitely credit your suggestion if I wound up hitting the spot and blogging about it! Comment away :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Quickies #61: Prom, Strength and Alchy-Paired Dinner

Kiss My Bundt to Share Our Strength, this bakery is partaking in both Taste of the Nation and No Cookies Left Behind events benefiting SOS this Sunday.

Sorry if my posting frequency is waning as of late, I got BloggerProm on my mind (on the planning committee with a bunch of other wicked bloggers.) I tried making sure the bloggers I know are on the invite list, but if I accidentally miss you, drop a word here.

Anyways, lots of eatings going on for me this weekend, including Taste of the Nation on Sunday, but there are plenty o worthwhile events for the next seven days to keep any food and beverage enthusiast happy.

For those who couldn't pay or work their way into Taste of the Nation, take heart with some delicious baked treat at No Cookie Left Behind taking place at Scoops this Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. With baked treats from sweet masters CakeMonkey, Kiss My Bundt, Lark Cake Shop and even the vegan Spork Foods. A little more deets via Eating L.A. here.

And on the Westside, there's the Riva wine-paired dinner event at 5 p.m. with "five" courses each paired with an Italian wine (I put five in quotes since the third course a trio of pizzas, and the final one is a dessert assortment.) The blissful and belly-pleasing menu includes a burrata and roasted pepper salad, the spring onion and mushroom pizzas, and flat iron steak with brandy sauce, caramelized onions, mustard green and polenta fries. Not bad foor $40/person. (SinoSoul's Tony got the full menu here.)

For those who want to learn a few new tricks while they eat and drink, LA Magazine is starting up a monthly "Culinary College" where some top chefs, mixologists and sommeliers around town will share their secrets to making great dishes and drinks, with a focus on seasonal-sustainable-local ingredients. The first event will start this Wednesday 7 to 9 p.m. with Patrick Healy of the Buffalo Club, Ian Blackburn of LearnAboutWine and Bridget Bueche from Sub-Zero/WolfWest. $50/person.

Finally, for everyone who wants to celebrate with their dad but want to dodge the barrage of crowds on Sunday, take him out a bit early to "A Summer Tequila Tasting" going on at San Antonio Winery from 7 to 9 p.m., with a five course dinner paired with tequilas and wines for $80/person. Courses include Red Snapper Ceviche paired with Don Julio Reposado and 7 Lengua Anejo, Fried Avocado and Cabbage Salad paired with Baja Californian Zinfandel, and Churros with Bitter chocolate sauce and swanky 1921 Crema de Tequila. Your daddy may not even remember the rest of the going ons that weekend!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Satisfying Seafoody Saturday . . .

Strangely enough, this past Saturday I was craving all sorts of seafood, whether fishes, mollusks or crustaceans; thankfully, I had the opportunity to enjoy them all without dealing a lot of damage to my wallet.

El Mar Azul Truck
My first stop was the El Mar Azul truck at Highland Park, where I am meeting a few other bloggers to bid one of our own a fond farewell with a Ghetto L.A. food marathon.
Mixtado Tostada
Having arrived earlier than the rest of the pack and being ravenously hungry, I went ahead got myself their mixiado tostada -- a chilly mix of octopi, abalone, shrimp and imitation crab served atop a crispy corn tortilla with lashings of hot sauce. Really doesn't get any better for just $3 with generous chunks of tender, meaty seafood lightly accented with a creamy and slightly sweet sauce and slices of ripe avocado.
Mixtado Cocktail at Mar Azul
Following the arrival of Food Destination, Kung Food Panda, Mattatouille and Choisauce, we decided to share an order of their huge mixtado cocktail -- only five bucks for a 16 oz. cup filled with seafood and avocado merrily swimming in a sweet, sour and spicy cocktail, plus a few corn tortillas on the side. Again, this was a delicious, zesty steal, even if a little messy to eat with the liquidy cocktail sauce.

After that quick and satisfying bites, I did a little shopping at the Grove and then got hit with the seafood craving monster again, so I walked a few blocks up to Golden State.
Fish n Chips at Golden State
While their dishes tend to be more land-meat-based (burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches) I did have a wonderful experience with their fish 'n chips from a few weeks back, so that's what I got (along with a few beers).

The batter for the fish (icelandic cod to be specific) was a little different (1903 Craftsmen instead of Racer 5 IPA) but still as tasty as I remembered, the meat moist, smooth and fatty with a wonderful flaky-crisp coating. The tartar sauce was great but I wish there was malt vinegar as well. The already-delicious fries were made extra special with their house curry ketchup and dijon mustard.

And definitely no complaints about the Angel City Dunkel; it tasted somewhat dark with roasted malt with cocoa notes, but didn't overpower the fish or fries.

I can't wait for the next time I get such cravings so I'll have an excuse to re-visit both these places . . .

El Mar Azul truck
4702 Figueroa St.
Los Angeles (Highland Park)

The Golden State Cafe
428 N. Fairfax
Los Angeles
(323) 782-8331

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Quickies #60: No Donuts Today, but Tomorrow . . .

Go Lakers, photo courtesy of Crumbs Bakeshop

Oddly enough, I don't crave a doughnut today (though I certainly will be tomorrow when I eat some glammed-up versions at Grace). But anyhoo . . .

Lakers specials mania
- yes, a bit gimmicky but hey, three makes a trend. At CRUMBS bakeshops in town, $3.75 earns you a pretty cupcake in limited edition Lakers colors (available in chocolate cake/vanilla frosting or vanilla/vanilla as standard; though they can customize from their vast selection of flavors.) Or, if you're inclined to watch, nosh and sip, Taste on Melrose is doing discounts on finals game nights, ranging from half-off bottles of wine to 2-for-1 martinis and 25% off togo orders. For even more frugal folks, swing by the Pasadena or Torrance Melting Pot for their "Dip, Drink & Dunk," where throughout the game they'll have a complementary cheese fondue bar, along with happy hour drink specials.

Grace going-ons galore
- speaking of "three's a trend" if you couldn't get enough of Neal Fraser and Mariah Swain, they're whipping out plenty of savories and sweets at a trio of upcoming events. First is their doughnut tasting menu for this weekend in honor of National Doughnut Day. For $18 you can eat souped-up version of the breakfast favorites including salted caramel doughnuts w strawberries & bourbon pecan ice cream and buttermilk brown butter glazed doughnuts with warm rum-spiced milk (throw in another $15 and you get three wine pairings to go with.)

Next up is their hosting of the 5x5 collaborative for $150/person (+ $65 or $100 for wine pairing), with the chefs behind Melisse, Providence, Water Grill, Angelini Osteria (and a special appearance from Chicago's Spring Restaurant) contributing a dish, including a grilled sonoma lamb chop with summer black truffles; crispy arctic char with chanterelles, spring onions and fresh chamomile and Neal himself preparing mysterious-sounding air, land and sea.

Then on June 22, they're partnering with Edible LA and other chefs for an "Eat the Magazine" prix-fixe featuring courses like pacific rock cod with miner's lettuce, morels and sorrel blossoms and lavender creme fraiche panna cotta w strawberries and pistachios. This last event is a more wallet-friendly $48/person, $25 for wine pairings.

Finally, more Taste of the Nation LA deets
- the 21st annual TOTNLA is coming in less than 10 days and it looks like it'll be a blast! With more than 45 fine LA restos representing and serving samplings of their fare (including Animal, the Bazaar, Church&State, FIG, Lucques/AOC, Mozza, Rivera, Susan Feniger's STREET) as well as a plethora of wines and beverages plus the opportunity to talk and rub elbows with the movers and shakers of L.A.'s food scene, including LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold (who's hosting the "Best Mole of LA" cookoff at the event,) Evan Kleinman of KCRW-FM's "Good Food" and Angeli Caffe, and the Mozzas' Nancy Silverton, who will be honored for her philanthropic and food education efforts.

And if you can afford the extra $50 for the VIP ticket, you'll get exclusive access to the VIP "Malibu Lounge by Moonshadows and LA Confidential" w sweets from Xooros and Kiss My Bundt, seafood from Moonshadows, complementary chair massage sessions, and a VIP goodie bag to take home. Tickets are $125/$175 advanced, or $135/$185 at the door; pricey, but it's one of the premier L.A. food events (and still cheaper than American Wine & Food Festival) + 100% of proceeds benefit programs to fight childhood hunger.

Alternatively, Eating L.A. got the scoop that the event is also looking for volunteers, where you put in time and elbow grease in exchange for free access and maybe even some behind-the-scenes look at the event. For more information on shifts, positions still available, e-mail Paul Reyer at dreyer@rand.org.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mini Foodventures #123: Bottega Louie (Downtown)

I am not one to judge a book by its cover, but I've been to enough eateries to notice that a restaurant's design and its food quality tend to have an inverted relationship. There are places that serve excellent food, but the decor leans towards minimalistically-elegant and then there are eateries that's just delicious eye candy all over, but tends to be iffy on service or actual food.

So, when I took a sneak peek inside then-under-construction Bottega Louie before opening (following a cocktail or two at Seven Grand across the street,) I was quick to dismiss it as the latter kind of restaurant. High on glam, probably not-so-high on the food.
Dining Room/Bar/Kitchen Areas
But after seeing initial positive reports from various blogs and media, I decided to cast my inner cynicism aside and check out the place.
Patisserie Counter
The result? I've returned... five times... within a month.

Now I'm not about to say it's the best food I've ever tasted, but for me it does hit that sweet spot of great service, wonderful decor, reasonable pricing and, most importantly, decent dishes. The fare leans towards simple-but-fresh, with a nod towards French and Mediterranean cuisines that's effortlessly sophisticated and letting the individual ingredients truly shine with very little fuss.

Most of everything I've had thus far have been solid, but here are a few highlight items that's worth ordering over and over again (and my friends and I have!)
Hibsicus Mimosa
Hibiscus mimosa ($11) - a little tart, a little sweet and a lot of pretty; it's a beautiful spin off the traditional fizzy classic, bursting with floral and berry notes and slow, steady stream of bubbles that lasts throughout your brunch.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes w Blueberries
Lemon ricotta pancakes ($11) - I'm a definite sucker for ricotta pancakes, the cheese in the batter makes the end result fluffy-yet-chewy (al dente of pancakes) and I love the extra citrusy zing from the speckles of zest within. The accompanying blueberry-flavored maple syrups (not to mention the handful of fresh blueberries) and vibrant complements as well.
Fettucine w Arugula, Tomatoes & Parm Cheese
Fettucine Belmondo ($8) - a simple, satisfying dish with housemade pasta, arugula, garlic, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and parmigano reggiano. I love the firmer chew and snap of the fresh pasta, and this preparation really lets all the fresh flavors shine and blend beautifully with one another, from the nutty pungency of the sauteed garlic slivers to the bright arugula and tomatoes and sizable slices of the hard, almost-fruity aged cheese.
Black Cod en Papillote w Vegetables
Black cod en papillote ($23) - a bit pricey for what it is, but it's a satisfying entree that's not too heavy. Moist, meaty pieces of cod are accompanied with a nicely steamed assortment of vegetables and served a lemony beurre blanc sauce on the side. Get this with the fettucine and it's a solid light meal for two.
Chocolate Souffle
Chocolate Souffle ($9) w vanilla bean creme anglaise - not too sweet (even with the sauce) and intense with deep, dark chocolate flavors while remaining light and moist in texture, this dessert is worth the 25-minute wait.

Of course, given how expansive their menu is -- there are still quite a number of dishes I've yet to explore. But it's good to know I've already got a few favorites I can fall back on.

Bottega Louie
700 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 802-1470

Bottega Louie on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 01, 2009

Special Foodventure #122: Belated Mom's Day at Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica)

Serving seasonal, sustainably, locally-grown fare is, without a doubt, one of the hottest trends hitting LA/OC area restaurants, given diners' concerns of food safety, the carbon miles of their meals, and wanting food to taste great because they were simply picked and harvested at their peak and prime.

Of course, cooking with the seasons pose its own challenges -- particularly in terms of food supply and what's available. Even produce with regular harvest times are prone to the forces of nature, you'd never know if a drought or wet season will alter the plants' maturation/fruiting rates, or whether a pest infestation or freezing spell wound up ruining a year's worth of crops.

So, even if it seemed like every restaurant is jumping on the sustainable-seasonal bandwagon, I definitely do applaud their effort 'cause it means their kitchen is making a commitment to be flexible and creative, making do out of what they can get.

And while it seems like every neighborhood nowadays has their own farm-to-table eatery, one of the earlier ones that I've been meaning to go for a while is Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen in Santa Monica; I've heard very good things about their fare and it's great to know that they held steadfast to their "serving what's fresh" mantra for over two years, with a menu that changes every month and showcasing the season's best in a simple but elegant manner.

That time came when my mom, wise to the workings of the restaurant industry, asked I take her to a weekday dinner instead of doing a ho-hum prix-fixe Mother's Day brunch, which is nearly as pre-packaged and un-exciting as X-mas/New Year's/V-Day/Easter meals at restaurant. And since she's already fond of breakfasts at Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon seemed like a natural fit (I got her fresh flowers and tamales from the Hollywood Farmer's Market on Sunday anyways, just to stay on the safe side.)

To no surprise, the look and feel of the restaurant is -- rustic, but with a good dash of classy-chic and artsiness as well, with candle lighting, the diagonal-slanted window panes, and dark earthy tones. Has a wonderful sophisticated tavern, ski lodge restaurant feel--except I certainly wouldn't be trekking snow in.

After sitting down, we took less than a minute deciding what to order. But, first things first . . .
. . . wines. It is a wine bar, afterall. Given the dishes we planned to order, I got a glass of chardonnay from Navarro Vineyards ($10) that was clean and crisp like a just-ripened apple with nuances of toastiness. Mom, still in mother's day mode, opted for a sparkling wine cocktail made with fresh juices -- in the neighborhood of $12; her original choice of strawberry was already out, so opted for pomegranate sparkler instead, which turned out a tad too tart for her tastes but I found decent.

After placing our order and nibbling on the complementary olives for a few minutes, our starters arrived:
Spring pea soup with fresh peas, mint and olive oil ($9) - both of us are floored by soup's sweetness and the pea's crispness--we've never tasted anything like it, though our pea soup experiences thus far are limited to something that was stored in a package or can for months. The difference is beyond worlds apart! And we were split on the mint, mom thought it interrupted the pure pea taste, but I found a nice foil with its refreshing aroma.
Our other starter was roasted prawns with fresh peas and romesco ($12) - although a bit steep at $6 a prawn, this was also well-prepared -- the succulent, sweet shrimp was nicely complemented by the nutty, slightly garlicky romesco, and of course, we couldn't get enough of those sweet, firm peas (and mom's happier this time that there's no mint in sight.)
After the soup and prawns came the sweet corn agnolotti with caramelized corn ($16); while a bit bland-looking on camera, these perfectly irregular lumps of stuffed pasta are heavenly. The firm, fresh pasta are stuffed with pebbles of slightly sweet, slightly creamy puree filling reminiscent of a corny mascarpone cheese, and finished off with a light-yet-satisfying cream sauce I just want to hold onto my tongue till the very last drop.
Our last savory dish was seared wild sockeye salmon with Oregonian morels, ramps and asparagus in a mushroom nage ($34) -- solid and competent, particularly the salmon that was delightfully crispy outside while being fatty-moist within; every flavor component of the respective ingredient shown through and worked great against one another, bound together by the rich, aromatic mushroom broth.
Being pretty full, we almost opted out of desserts here until we eyed the berry crostata ($9) one table over and decided we have to share one as well. Basically a rustic, free-form individual pie -- the pastry had a shortbread-like crumbly-buttery texture, and that worked nicely with the intense, bright mixed berry filling and the luscious vanilla bean ice cream.

Two hours later and $110 poorer, we found ourselves back on Wilshire, blissfully soaking up the sea breezes and gazing at stars with that full and happy glow on our faces. This was definitely one of our better special-occasion meals of the year, and we already can't wait for an excuse to return. Perhaps mom can return the favor when my birthday rolls around . . .

What Do Others Say?
- LA Weekly's J Gold finds the food so good and simple "it seems like the only possible way to eat."
- FoodGPS pronounced that it "is serving some of the best market-driven food" in LA
- DigLounge celebrated National Burger Day here; found it pricey but worth it.
- SinoSoul had a spendy burger showdown between here and Taste on Melrose (the latter I found 'meh')

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 393-7050

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen on Urbanspoon


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