Monday, August 31, 2009

Special Foodventures #137: Simply Blissful Brunch, Bites and Sips in Silver Lake

Needing a respite from the August & wildfire-induced heat and haziness (not to mention a recovery from crazy run-and-eat-and-repeat "real food marathon" the day before,) I took myself to Silver Lake, where I enjoyed a brunch, a brief hike and a food-paired beer tasting.

Silver Lake View
The day started with a one-mile hike down Silver Lake Blvd., which felt only borderline warm-hot just before noon, so not really unbearable (I'm guessing the large reservoir helped cool the surrounding ambient temperature somewhat.) Still not exactly a weather I'd choose to jog in, as a few hardcore exercisers were doing as I hiked my way to Reservoir, a seasonal-foods-focused restaurant that recently started a brunch.
Reservoir Exterior
Even in the slightly smoky-ashy haze, the patio would be pleasant for brunching -- but given my hike I opted for the cooler interior instead. Not sure if exec. chef Gloria Felix recognized me from a previous media dinner, but she was really pleasant greeting me while chilling at the bar.
Feeling more sweet than savory (big surprise, huh?) and generally digging any brunch menu that offers ricotta pancakes, I ordered that with a side of seasonal fruit ($10) -- and I'm pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of food given. These were simply superb, griddled to an ever-so-thin layer of crispiness on the outside while being fluffy-tender within. The trio of pancakes were delicious enough to eat with just the whippy-tart lemon creme fraiche and blueberry sauce toppings, but even better with a little dip of the accompanying maple syrup.

And having been used to fruit sides of just melons, pineapples and grapes, I was also shocked to be served a bowl bursting with mixed berries and melons. Fresh, ripe and naturally sweet (unlike some fruit plates where you question whether it's been splashed or drenched in simple syrup before serving.)

Watermelon-Apricot Soju Mist
Also refreshing was their brunch cocktail, a watermelon-apricot soju mist ($9), with the fruits freshly smashed and shaken to order with soju and a sierra mist and served in a pint glass. A bit on the girly side with the soda's sweetness, but a refreshing change from the usual mimosa and bellini, and I always love a drink concocted with fresh fruits. Even better that I get such a hearty helping!
Beer Pouring for SLW Sunday Tasting
Following the delightful brunch (and a Zachary Quinto sighting, even though I am not one to get starstruck), I ordered a iced coffee to go from LA Mill to help fuel my one-mile hike back to my car, where I rested a little and caught up on my Sunday LA Times reading before the Silver Lake Wine $20/person Sunday tasting with Heirloom LA.
Weihenstephan Hefe Weisbier
This was actually their one week of the year where they do a beer tasting instead, and given the intense heat, definitely no complaints here about tasting some cold fizzy brews. And SLW being SLW (or shall I say SLB?) their picks for today are eccentrically delectable, from the lively, light and citrusy Foret Saison ale to the peachy, spicy Thai Basil-infused Bruery Trade Winds Tripel (one of my faves from Craft Beer Fest) and the rich, chocolatey Allagash Black stout.
Food Prep at Silver Lake Wine
Of course, there's the great eats from the two person catering powerhouse of Heirloom LA a.k.a. Matthew Poley and Tara Maxey (the latter also contributes the great "Market Driven" columns to FoodGPS, highlighting in-season produce, how to pick them and what to use them for.)
The fantastic dishes that they paired with the beers included a sweet-and-spicy arugula salad with sweet potatoes, shaved fennel, feta cheese, mushrooms cooked in sage brown butter and sriracha, a spinach-artichoke-ricotta agnolotti (pictured above) in more sage brown butter with their "heirloom stock" and a topping of stewed tomatoes, a beer mac 'n cheese lasagna with cole slaw and side of incredibly tender freshly-carved and sauteed corned beef, and a chocolate brioche bread pudding with a chocolate creme fraiche sauce and a blowtorch-toasted marshmallow topping.
Matt + Lasagna Cupcakes
The bites were tasty, and actually filling enough to be a meal. I did wish I planned the day a little better (or at least brought an ice chest along!) since Heirloom LA were selling their notable lasagna cupcakes and SLW were offering the reasonably priced tasted beers with an additional 10% discount. But alas, I had to be on the road for another couple of hours and I'm pretty sure both those things won't fare well sweating away in my car in the afternoon.
Silver Lake View
But a brunch and lunner (with drinks) for approx. $40 in Silver Lake definitely made for a delightful weekend day -- next time, on a cooler day, I may not even mind doing a whole 2.2 mile loop around the beautiful Silver Lake reservoir and explore (and eat) around the neighborhood a little bit more.

Additional photos from my day on the flickr here.

Reservoir Restaurant
1700 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026-1222
(323) 662-8655
Reservoir in Los Angeles
Reservoir on Urbanspoon

Silver Lake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd.
LA, CA 90039

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Quickies #71: Good, Bad and Ugly of August

So wrong, yet so right . . . wine with slim jim at last year's White Trash Wine Tasting.

First it was, when did August get here? Now it's, August (and by association, summer) is almost gone?!?! Well since it is LA/OC, I still got a few more months to rock that swimsuit (whether I have the bod for one, that's another matter entirely.)

Anyhow, the recent past and near future has totally been a case of the good, the bad and the ugly, brought to you speedy Friday Quickie style:

The good ~ since my initiation into the delightful fun that is LudoBites, I had the pleasure of making two more return trips before bidding the pop-up au revoir. The dishes were just as tasty (yes, I did re-order that foie gras croque monsieur and caviar panna cotta each time) and I love the company on both occasions, being able to reminisce and savor our favorite dishes with other LudoBites rebounders while observing the first-hand excitement that I felt from other initiates. In any case, definitely made the holiday-free August a lot more special and I eagerly anticipate Ludovic & Krissy's return to the L.A. dining scene following their well-deserved vacation!

And now, the bad ~ it's not usually my nature to blog about subpar experiences, but my friends Caroline on Crack, Sarah of the Delicious Life, and Connie of Hey Hey Scenesters and I were caught up in a disorganized blogger tasting of Wokcano's new specials. Caroline's pretty much spot on with her wrap up of the night (there were non-existent specials, outdated menus and spotty service) and even revived her "Places I'll Never Show My Face In Again" column for the occasion. But really, we were all good-humored enough to laugh off this maelstrom of mishaps, and their PR & corporate folks were extremely apologetic for our experience.

Last but not least, the ugly ~ I'm going on a dine-out diet for September! Ok, there are a few caveats, mainly for events I've already planned out far in advance (Bistro LQ dinner, White Trash Wine Tasting, a border-crossing food marathon), September will pretty much be devoid of eating and drinking out. Crazy, I know -- but it's also a great opportunity to trim my waistline while padding the wallet, not to mention catching up on my ever-expanding backlog of posts while re-embracing my love of actually COOKING my meals at home. So sorry fellow foodies, asides from potlucks, exercise meetups and maybe a hosted media/blogger event, I'll pretty much be a hermit next month.

Of course, this final ugly fact is all the more uglier with the fun going-ons in the future . . .

Saturday, August 29, 1 to 4:30 p.m. - having fun tasting restaurant bites, sipping wines and possibly sighting a celeb or a few at the Malibu Wine Classic. Sample fare from the likes of SaddlePeak Lodge, Water Grill and Monsieur Marcel alongside vino from over 60 wineries! $79/person and proceeds benefit ChildHelp to provide services and assistance to neglected and abused children.

Sunday, August 30, 6 p.m. - for lovers of local-seasonal fare, AMMO will be partnering with Windrose Farms and Tablas Creek Vineyards for their next farm-to-table prix-fixe dinner, the six-course menu includes housemade herb pappardelle with hand-cut basil & almond pesto, grilled Moro Bay tuna with roasted vegetables and marjoram, and a trio of refreshing sorbets in farm-fresh flavors of cucumber, melon and lavender. Not too shabby for $45/person ($30 w wine pairing)

Sunday, August 30, 2 to 5 p.m. - beer fans of OC rejoice, since the OC Beer Festival is going on at Silverado. For $40, attendees get to enjoy unlimited pours from over 60 brands, including SoCal favorites such as The Bruery, Ballast Point, Angel City and Pizza Port. To help you wash that beer down, there will also be barbecue and In-n-Out available at the site.

Every Wednesday for duration of Hell's Kitchen - Talk about cooking on the fly! STK has just kicked off a "Eat What You Watch" special on Wednesdays, where the kitchen will whip out dishes inspired by the previous night's show. All the fun and flavor, no need to worry about staff having emotional breakdowns and tears in your food.

Saturday, September 12, 5 to 8 p.m. - Yes, it's another two weeks out but it's the Colorado Wine Company's White Trash Wine Tasting (or as they call it, WTWT '09 -- what what, or woot woot, indeed!) Cheese and wine is Soooo over and done with; wine with pork rinds? Now we're talking! For $20, you can enjoy four lovely wines with the likes of bacon-wrapped lemonhead candies, tater-tot-topped casseroles and cheez whiz rolled in wonder bread. Here's my recap from last year's event. RSVP quick, I already did, this event is always a sell-out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mini Foodventure #136: A bowl of soba at The Shojin (Little Tokyo)

As of late, a bunch of my food and enthusiast friends have been giving their diet an overhaul. Meatless here, dairy deprviation there and even *gasp* abstaining from alcohol. Of course, with my other blog (however slowly it's being updated) I've gotten quite a few inquiries about healthier dishes and places to check out. So more than happy to oblige, and figured I might share with you as well.

Soba 2
As of late one of my favorite healthier dishes has been the tomato-avocado soba for $9.45 at the Shojin, the Japanese vegan spot in Little Tokyo that I'm already a fan of. This modern interpretation has the organic buckwheat noodles soaking in a cold soy-based broth topped with a abundant array of leaf lettuces, ripe avocado and tomato chunks, kaiware (daikon sprouts) and a wasabi-tinged veganaise.
Soba 1
It's very satisfying without being heavy, and I love combo between the snappy bite of the wasabi veganaise against the cool, harmonizing broth. And it's great nutritionally too, it's not overloaded with veganaise (just enough to give it a slight tart creaminess) and it has oodles of vegetables. And the flavors are very clean and pure, the broth only has a hint of saltiness, and you can taste the freshness of the individual components. Plus, being a cold noodle dish, excellent meal for those warmer days and nights.

It may be a bit low on protein, but definitely something you can fix there by ordering their fluffy okara cakes (topped with a smidgen more of that addictive veganaise) pan-fried seitan with their housemade yuzu ponzu or barbecue sauces (the latter has a nice tangy-sweet zip!) Or, try one of their more well-rounded and equally tasty bento boxes instead. In any case, it'll surely prove the point that eating healthy doesn't mean crappy too.

The Shojin
333 S Alameda St (3rd Floor)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 617-0305
Shojin in Los Angeles
Shojin Organic & Natural on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 24, 2009

More thoughts on Frank Bruni's more thoughts . . .

Notetaking during a foodventure...

In one of his final blogposts as New York Times' chief restaurant critic, Frank Bruni tried to explain (in short-form blogging prose, at least) what makes a restaurant truly great and worthy of the coveted four stars.

Try as he (or any other critic) may to rationalize and quantify the stars, ultimately it's still considerably touchy-feely and subjective, given the differences in palates and expectation; one person's "perfectly seasoned" may be another's "oversalted" (which was the case from a recent dinner), and what one considers "perfectly polished service" may be "too fussy, overbearing and interruptive" for the dining companion.

And so, whenever I read reviews from bloggers, critics, etc.--I definitely take those biases in mind. Such as when a critic who's used to being served hand-and-foot at fine, full-service restaurants is disgruntled about the service a casual walk-up, order, sit-down and wait eatery. Should I really take that one/two star review seriously? Esp. given all the other raves I've heard from others about their food?

That's not to say I don't have my own prejudices too, anti-chain being the most notable of them, but when I write about eateries I try to take contexts into consideration -- I certainly am not going to blog about a taco stand the same way I do for, say, Saam or Providence. And while I have a rating system too for my full-fledged foodventures posts; like Bruni noted, I don't unilaterally recommend the highest-scoring ones to my friends looking for a place to check out. I try to take their preferences, budgets and other nuances into consideration when suggesting places and dishes.

But in a world of sound bites, quick stats and short-term memories, I definitely understand how people find it easier to drop "that place has a Michelin two stars" or "FoodDigger folks gave it an A overall" or "Exilekiss gave it a 9 out of 10" rather than paraphrasing/summarizing what the folks behind those ratings actually said. Love it or hate it, that's the world we live in. But with active reading and even more active discussions (and boy, do the debates on the forums get heated every time a controversial review comes out!) maybe we can learn to read beyond the stars and ratings and just appreciate good food and a positive experience for simply that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Special Foodventure #135: More than a few bites at LudoBites (Beverly Center area)

What? Another Ludobites post in the blogosphere? Yeah, well -- I was a late bloomer. Actually, perennial procrastinator is more like it ~ since I kept putting it off until missing it entirely last year, and only went for my first time ever last week, practically 10 days from their finale (this Saturday) thanks to Kung Food Panda for organizing the event and giving me the push to finally go.

Exterior 1
And having read dozens of LudoBites postings over the past three-and-a-half months, I have to admit I entered Breadbar kind of jaded and skeptical. With only a few exceptions, most of the posts were enthusiastic raves ... almost too enthusiastic (maybe my PR brain reading a little too much between the lines.) Was his self-described "bistronomy" concept truly that good? Only one way to find out . . .

On my last week's excursion with about a dozen other bloggers, yelpers, twitterers and foodies in general (including Food, She Thought, Will of FoodDigger, PepsiMonster, Two Hungry Pandas and CityNitz, oh and my +1 Mr. Binary Tastebuds) -- we basically assembled our own tastings and pretty much ordered 80 percent of the menu. Sharing stuff family style, we just pass the plates up and down the table and took a forkful here, a spoon's worth there, seconds and thirds for those who particularly cared for a dish. Of course, this is after the obligatory photo gangbang with our point-and-shoots, digi-SLRs and even phone cameras.

I wouldn't say everything was a hit (a few items were too salty or unnecessarily greasy in my opinion,) but when courses do work, the effect is wondrous!!
Since the menu changes up every day, instead of moping about dishes that didn't pan out for me, I'd rather highlight the favorites that I truly enjoyed and hoping that they'll make a comeback when I return . . . tomorrow!
creamy polenta, cantal cheese, oxtail, black truffles ($14) - admittedly one of the less crazy-creative dishes on the menu, but I think it's equally hard to do a simple dish right, and this version is superb. The polenta had a grits-like texture (mostly creamy with micro poppity bits) that had a barely detectable tinge of truffle, and just the mildest stretchiness from the cheese. Pair that with braised-to-mouth-tender oxtails and you get a slightly elevated and simply elegant version of a comforting classic.
Croque Monsieur
foie gras black croque monsieur and cherry-amaretto sauce ($20) - as if using quality prosciutto and cheese (guessing Gruyere) isn't enough, Chef Ludovic decided to stick some foie gras in for good measure -- no objections here! With perfectly grilled bread, thankfully made black by squid ink and not a carcinogenic overkill of a char, the sandwich was lusciously rich overall but I am glad to be able to still taste the ham and the cheese components. And of course, that aromatic, flavorful jammy sauce just puts it over the top.
Spaghetti Carbonara
spaghetti carbonara w sage and Santa Barbara prawn ($22) - I had the hardest time wondering why this dish had an interesting vegetal, herbally and almost green-peppercorny flavor (surely just sage couldn't have done ALL that!) then a dining companion shocked me by saying the spaghetti is actually celery strands! After the "A HA!" I was just amazed at how they fooled me for real, if odd-tasting, pasta. Thank goodness this wasn't a few years back, or Breadbar will be swarming with low-carbing "dieters"!
Heirloom Tomato Salad
marinated heirloom tomato, feta mousse, olive, red onion ($14), or as I call it "Caprese Meets Greek" - having an appreciation of lighter, vegetable-based fare too (actually, even much more welcomed in this meal given all the heavy dishes that have been served) I love the clean, pure taste of this salad that simply lets the freshness of the ingredients speak for themselves -- extra props for the re-making of the feta, whose flavor and mouthfeel are made much more subtle by lightening up as a mousse.
panna cotta
creme fraiche panna cotta, caramel, caviar ($15) - while most of our party is going ga-ga over the much-blogged-about chocolate cupcake and foie gras chantilly cream, bacon & nuts, I actually like the panna cotta more and appreciated the playfulness of using caviar to achieve that sweet-savory contrast--adding a sea-briny, very slightly fishy elements in addition to saltiness that works surprisingly well! And of course, everyone else fighting over that cupcake's remains only means more panna cotta for me!

Of course, I'm definitely open to novel creations that'll appear on the menu tomorrow too -- and even if certain items don't work, I definitely applaud Chef Ludovic's efforts to push the envelope and deliver eccentric, high-brow fare in a casual setting and approachable prices.

And here's hoping you're lucky enough to have secured yourself a spot in these last few days, and I'm crossing fingers that he'll stick around in the LA/OC area after this is over (not to mention treating himself and his wife to much-deserved break.)

LudoBites at Breadbar 3rd Street

8718 W 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Special Foodventure #134: Delish Dishes from San Francisco

Pork 3 Ways @ Range
Pork 3 Ways from Range - glazed rib, braised belly and sausage served with white beans and pickled onions

Ok, now that I got everyone (myself included) thirsty with my favorite SF beverages -- it's only fitting that I dive into the food scene there too (afterall, this blog is titled foodventures!) So here are some of my favorite bites from that sunny June weekend in San Francisco.
Beet Salad @ Nopalito
Beet salad @ Nopalito - not on their menu since it was their special of the day (hopefully I'll be lucky enough to enjoy these again in the future), it's a simple dish made with wedges of assorted beets and citrus, with cotija cheese and a light vinaigrette. I don't order beets often because I'm always scared of the 'muddy' flavor many of them possess from being too old, improperly washed, etc., but that only makes me appreciate great beets that much more, which these were. Sweet, tart and juicy with points of saltiness from the cheese, it's a perfect way to start off a lunch with my friend.
Goat Cheese/Sorrel Ravioli @ Range
Goat cheese & sorrel ravioli with lime butter and chives @ Range - another great starter dish, I absolutely love how bright and vibrant the ravioli and the sauce is; the lime butter's tartness is definitely palate opening, followed by the molten creaminess of the goat cheese. The Pork 3 Ways dish I had for entreé is pretty decent too and a great sampler dish, but not as memorable.
Wisconsin Burger @ Taylor's Automatic Refresher
Wisconsin burger & garlic fries @ Taylor's Automatic Refresher - lacking the time to go to the actual location in Napa, we opted for this Ferry Building outpost instead. With sauteed mushrooms, melty sharp cheddar, bacon, mayo and sweet-n-smoky barbecue sauce sandwiched between sourdough bread, this Niman Ranch beef burger (which I ordered medium-well) is like Carl's Jr. Western Cheeseburger meets Jack-in-the-Box Sourdough burger -- in a very, very good-and-greasy way. Likewise for the pungent fries tossed in parsley and garlic butter AFTER being fried. With its shameless flaunting of all things carby and fatty, it's definitely no place for a dieter -- and THE place to be for delicious diner fare with a modern touch.
Burger Close-Up
If my aorta hadn't threatened to close up on me, I might have tried their mahi mahi fish n chips, their chili-spiced sweet potato fries or cold mug 'o beer too and just people-watch all afternoon long (and BOY were there some eye-catching folks when I went up, since my weekender up coincided with SF Pride 2009! It made the jam-packed light rail rides similarly interesting too . . . is it flattering or scary to be hit on while riding public transportation?)
Pork Belly Nuggets @ Magnolia Pub/Brewery
Fried pork belly nuggets w housemade honey mustard @ Magnolia Pub - it's a pub where beer pours heavy (20 oz English pints!) serving up dishes like pork belly, breaded and deep-fried to a flaky crisp w creamy interior, along with a housemade spicy honey mustard sauce. Need I say more?
Ricotta Fritters @ Alembic Bar
Ricotta fritters @ Alembic Bar - every bit as sophisticated and eccentric as the strawberry alarm clock cocktail there, the fluffy, cheesy fritters are accompanied by white-balsamic-poached strawberries, raspberry foam, and an unexpected dusting of black pepper. Simply wonderful play of different textures and flavors, sweet-sour-spicy and simply bursting with ripe berry flavors.
Tea Sandwiches @ Fairmont
Afternoon tea sandwiches @ the Fairmont Hotel's Laurel Court Lounge- while the whole afternoon tea was nice, I was particularly enamored by the quality and creativity of the tea sandwiches here, including coconut curry chicken salad on a herb roll, five-spice beeef tenderloin with apple slaw on black olive baguette and dungeness-crab-and-mango salad in a corn muffin. No stale and bleh watercress-and-cream-cheese here! And for such a delicious tea service in a classy hotel, the $36/person pricetag is totally worth it!
Spicy Seafood Soup @ Heaven's Dog
Spicy seafood soup @ Heaven's Dog - I was definitely skeptical of the cuisine here since the menu looked like gussied up Chinese fare with the prices to boot (scallion pancakes $7? $10 beef chow fun? what the...) but this $10 entree is large enough to serve two and is very tasty, even if not particularly spicy. Tender pieces of assorted seafood (wild shrimp, alaskan halibut, squid, scallop) swam in a light-yet-hearty-and-flavorful broth with firm, toothy wheat noodles. Comforting and definitely not anything I'd find in a typical Chinese restaurant, it was worth the extra price premium and yes, I did slurp every last drop of the soup from the bowl.
Blackcurrant Scone + Coffee @ Tartine
Blackcurrant scone @ Tartine Bakery - I know, I know -- with such gorgeous and tasty-looking baked goods staring back at me, all I got was a scone? Well, this was on my last day in SF and I really felt like something light after all that gluttony (not to mention having my scone interest revived with a recent Bon Appetit article.) Tartine's version was great, substantial but not brick-like, with just a kiss of sweetness and wonderfully perfumed with the lush aromas of the currants. Round it off with a cup of freshly-brewed Four Barrel coffee and I got a blissful half-hour breakfast filled with more people-watching and art-admiring (Tartine has an exhibition of paintings in the café!) But don't fret about my just-a-scone, I snagged two deeply chocolaty brownies and a dark chocolate-roasted hazelnut tart to bring back as edible souvenirs!
Mocha Mi Su @ Citizen Cake
Mocha Mi Su @ Citizen Cake - a dessert that's well-balanced in taste (if not in calories) the chocolate genoise cake is layered with mocha and creme fraiche mousses, creating a satisfying mix of flavors and textures that's intense without being overwhelming. Each individual layer is great on its own, but it transforms into something magically wonderful when eaten together -- the closest thing I can relate it to is a lighter, more airy mocha cheesecake w a dark chocolate crust. (Oh yeah, I also got one of their ginger cookie-creme sandwiches to go, which I had later that night -- totally kick Little Debbie's out of the ball park!)

Well, there's my (not-so) few favorite bites from just four days in San Francisco . . . and that's not even counting the entire day my friend and I spent in Sonoma County! (yes another post on that to come soon.)

Again, much thanks to the folks who provided me recs for the numerous places I've visited (and then some), including Mattatouille's Matt, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, Virginia of ThePerfectSpotSF, Lesley of TastingTableLA, Liz from Food She Thought, Kristin of Do You Like Bubbles; much appreciated suggestions from the others as well that I wasn't able to check out -- my stay was only so long this time, but I'll surely keep them on hand for my next visit.


306 Broderick St
San Francisco, CA 94117-2275
(415) 437-0303

842 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110-1737
(415) 282-8283

Taylor's Automatic Refresher

1 Ferry Building # 355, San Francisco
(415) 788-8200

1398 Haight St.
San Francisco, CA 94117

Alembic Bar
1725 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 666-0822

Fairmont Hotel Laurel Court Lounge
950 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94108-6000
(415) 772-5260

Heaven's Dog
1148 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-6008

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110-1528
(415) 487-2600

Citizen Cake
399 Grove St
San Francisco, CA 94102-4418
(415) 861-2228

Citizen Cake in San Francisco

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Quickies #70: Endless Summer, Please?

UC Davis Quad
Hot days of summer at the UC Davis quad from my summer NorCal mini-vacay/roadtrip

As my friend noted, "summer's ending? when did it START?!" Can't say I disagree, but this has been one of the best summers ever for me, however short it may feel. Despite taking only two actual vacays days off work during this season, with all the entertaining going-ons around town it just felt like one long continuous break (but I refuse to lend anymore credence to the word "staycation.") But all good things come to end some time, so soak up as much summer fun while it still lasts.

This weekend, there's a duo of celebratory meals for Julia Child's birthday (probably made a lot more prominent by the recent release of Julie & Julia) - Comme Ca will be doing a $65/person "Ode to Julia" five-course dinner today and tomorrow highlighting some classic dishes including lobster thermidor, beef wellington and crepes with berries & chantilly cream. Meanwhile, tomorrow Cezanne at Le Merigot will take be preparing 3 dishes from her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" that includes scallops and mushrooms in wine sauce, red wine-braised beef with vegetables and tart tatin w creme fraiche. Merci beaucoup!

Tomorrow also marks LA Sake Festival from 8 to 11 p.m. at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, where for $50/person guests can sample over 100 brands of sake, learn about its production process, taste some sake-based cocktails and even karaoke the night away! Kanpai to that!

Down at Monarch Beach, Michael Mina's Stonehill Tavern is introducing $39/person "Classic Tavern Suppers" every single night (save for Mon & Tues when they're closed) - the three-course prix-fixe affairs are largely upscaled re-imaginations of homestyle classics, from Thursdays' steak frites night w American Kobe and peppercorn jus to Fridays' cedar-plank salmon supper w a bacon vinaigrette and Sundays' seafood stew in a saffron-tomato broth. The starters and sweets are equally delightful, which include the likes of potato-corn chowder w smoky bacon and squash blossoms, frisee salad with pork belly and poached egg, root beer float with sassafras ice cream & chocolate chip cookies and butterscotch pudding w honeycomb. And to sweeten that pot, come between 5:30p to 7:30p, or all-day Thursdays, for their "social hour" with handcrafted cocktails at only $9.

Lastly, my fun foodie reads this week:

- cocktails in the morning? sure! has a nice piece featuring some daytime drinks asides from the ubiquitous mimosas, bellinis and bloody marys; and I'd personaly like to add Monk Buck to that list

- speaking of drinks, DineLA has a nice list of bars and eateries offering great noshes to go with your libations instead of the usual something-deep-fried

- local-seasonal is not only hot in restaurants but bars as well, as Gourmet highlights a farm-to-glass movement that's a-stirring witht mixologists and bartenders

- looking for some grub after a night on the town? Eat-LA has a nice list of opening-past-midnight eateries where you can get your nightly noshing on

- LA Times' food editor Russ Parsons offered a nugget of insight into Julie & Julia based on his conversations with the latter

P.S. despite what my blog title suggests, my surfing skills are dismal -- I really should take that up again though; would probably help my snowboarding skills too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mini Foodventure #133: A touch of sweets and bubbles at POP -- again (Pasadena)

seeking a sugary final note to a weeknight out, not having to worrying about DUIing since I Metro'd my way around town -- I revisited one of my favorite local sparkly-sweet stop: POP Champagne & Dessert Bar, where I'm no stranger of . . .

The menu has evolved a bit since its beginning days, but I still love the variety of desserts and bubblies (particularly the large selection of the latter available by the glass!) This time around I opted for a lighter sweet and a more eccentric glass of sparkling:

Strawberry crepes w rose petal ice cream ($7) - while not particularly photogenic, these certainly tasted refined and elegant - the freshly made crepes were still warm and surprisingly firm and toothy despite sitting in all that caramelly sauce. Round it off with some ripe strawberries and a wonderfully perfumed ice cream (topped with candied rose petals, classy!) and out comes a very sexy, romantic dessert.
Sparkling Wine
Feeling drinkventurous, I simply chose a bubbly that's on the sweeter side to complement the crepes, and my selection was way better than I imagined; the Dezzani Brachetto d'Acqui ($10) an Italian late-harvest sparkling red that had a kiss of sugar but bursting with berry aromas w a tinge of flowers, totally complementing my dessert. Definitely love at first taste.

Even as I stepped out from this session of bites and sips, I'm already looking forward to my return visit here; knowing how often my sweet tooth jaws act up, I have a feeling it won't be too long. And maybe get a group to come along too so we can take advantage of their Thursday special (33% off all bottles.)

POP Champagne & Dessert Bar
33 E. Union St.
(626) 795-1295
POP Champagne & Dessert Bar in Los Angeles
POP Champagne Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mini Foodventure #132: Tacos, Strawberry Shortcake and Coffee in Silver Lake

This past Sunday was just one of those afternoons where I wanted simple, good eats; taking a cue from the double-blog-rave-within-24-hours from Dylan of Eat Drink n Be Merry and Pat of Eating L.A., I hauled myself to Sunset Junction to pay a visit to Ricky's Fish Tacos cart.

Ricky's Fish Tacos in Silver Lake
For better or for worse, him prepping the taco was the only photo I snagged during the whole time (they were simply too tasty for me to pause, even for pic-snapping!) Freshly battered and fried, the delicately flaky, crispy pieces of basa were wonderfully paired with the fresh pico de gallo, crunchy cabbage and zesty salsas and crema (EDnBM has a great play-by-play, in photos and words, of the whole process.)

Two of these at a very reasonable $2.50 each made for an absolutely satisfying brunch on the corner of Sunset & Hyperion; it's right across from Intelligentsia, but my sweet jaws took me and my brunch companion to LA Mill -- where we followed up with an equally simple-yet-divine strawberry (and mango) shortcake and their signature blanco y negro, a chilly, intense layered parfait of coffee granita and vanilla bean ice cream -- reminds me of a chillier version of the iced French-style coffee that Vietnamese eateries serve. Purely delightful for a warm August day.

Per Pat (whose blogpost is taped to the front of his cart!), Ricky's fish tacos cart will be across from Intelligentsia Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. (look for a rainbow-colored umbrella), though he hinted that he may be moving locations within the neighborhood in the next few weeks. To get the latest deets, follow his twitter account.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Quickies #69: August Awesomeness Edition

Gazpacho Blanco w Eagle Rock Brewery's Witbier

Summer wind-down, lack of national holidays; yep folks, it's officially August -- but rather than pining and whining (or calling for the month's abolishment altogether), why not enjoy and savor the rest of the season and go out with a bang? Here's a few events that'll help you do just that!

For every August Fri-Sat starting tonight, Rush Street is doing a series of themed feasts with assorted food specials to please every fancy - from a cowboy cookout with chicken-fried-steak sliders (today-tomorrow) to Havana nights on Aug. 21-22 w arrozo con pollo (chicken & rice) with fried plantains and a cajun shrimp and crawdad boil on Aug. 28-29. And of course, feel free to celebrate with a cocktail or a few.

Tomorrow, the Korean American Coalition and Yelp are throwing the first L.A. Korean BBQ cookoff from noon to 8 p.m.; with 10 Korean restaurants (including Beverly Soon Tofu, Park's BBQ, Ham Ji park) showing off what they've got and competing for the inaugural title of L.A.'s best, as judged by LA Times Food section editor Russ Parsons, LA Weekly's J Gold, Evan Kleiman of KCRW-FM's good food and more. Other events include cooking demonstrations, a eating contest with "mystery ingredient" and of course, a beer garden. Admission is free but you'll have to pay for food (approx. $10-15/plate) so be sure to have some cash handy.

This and next Sunday, phenom vegan (+ the occasional cheese) cooks Hot Knives will be doing a "Gnosh Pit" vegan BBQ at Verdugo Bar 2 - 7 p.m.with specialties like pulled "pork" sandwiches, curry seitan banh mi and, because it is at the Verdugo afterall, beer popsicles. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised, especially if you don't think you're into vegan food -- I certainly am when I attended their cheese course & beer paired event (hosted by Citysearch) a few weeks back with Esther, Tony and others. Oh yeah, also cash only for the food, though you can use plastic to buy your beers at the bar.

Ok, so I've had cheese paired with wines, beers and even vodka, but this Thursday Colorado Wine Company is going to push the envelope a little further East with a sake & cheese pairing event from 7 to 9 p.m. Sake specialist Joel Porter will show you how, with some wonderful chilled specimens matched against cheese from Auntie Em's. They claim "it works even better than sushi" since "both are created through mold and fermentation," only one way to find out. $18/person and RSVP required.

And closer to the O.C., La Mirada's Cabo Taco Baja Grill will having an Angel City Thirsty Thursday with $3 pints from local brewery Angel City (with owner/brewer Michael Bowe in attendance) along with beer-inspired menu creations such as dunkel enchiladas with a beer-enhanced mole sauce, beer cheese nachos with a pale ale and cheese sauce, vitzen salmon salad with a citrus vinaigrette, and vanilla-stout float.

Finally, once again, my fave summer reads this week:

A SeriousEats writer went on a corn-free diet for a week (that includes animals fed/finished on corn, which is pretty much 99% of them) showing how ubiquitous and prevalent this vegetable/grain is.

In the NY Times, Michael Pollan ponders on the increasing popularity of cooking shows and its inverted relationship without our reduced time actually cooking in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, holds a best chain coffee contest between Starbucks, McCafe and Dunkin -- you may be surprised by the results.

Being no stranger to food festivals and tasting events, I found LA Weekly Squid Ink's guide to surviving at one quite helpful (I'd also throw in a tip to arrive REALLY early and/or linger late to maximize enjoyability of these events, the middle times tend to be a lotta clusterfreakage.)

And finally, another NY Times piece on how professional foodies (including Top Chef's Padma) get and stay fit; I can say from personal experience that it's no easy task.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mini Foodventure #131: La Grande Orange (Pasadena)

Given my infamous sweet jaws, with weekend brunches it's no shocker that I usually lean towards the more sugary fare of pancakes, waffles and French toasts (maybe with a side of breakfast meat if I'm feeling particularly carnivorous), so it's definitely a surprise when I decide to bat for the savory team when I went to La Grande Orange this past Sunday. The seducer . . .

Tuna Burger + Asparagus
. . . tuna burger ($12), something I don't remember having (or at least, enjoying) since Malibu Seafood Co. Thankfully, this version was just as tasty; cooked medium-rare, it was moist, juicy, possessing all that fatty-fishiness I absolutely adore and the patty was nicely accented with just a little bit of oniony-ness and spices. The generous avocado slices and the southwestern-style sauce/dip were just delightful icing on the cake.
French Toast
Thankfully for my sweet jaws, my brunching companion got sold on their recently-debutted French toast ($11) and I got to indulge in more than a few bites. The French toast here is more like a bread pudding, light and fluffy; my personal preference leans towards a crisper, denser version but this is not too bad, would be better if the cinnamon got toned down a notch. Nonetheless, next time we're definitely going for the lemon ricotta pancakes.
English Muffin
As if there weren't enough carbs on the table, we also shared an order of their famous housemade English muffin for $1.50 (OK, I convinced B.C. to go in on it with me, since I had recently read the Tasting Table rave.) Definitely nice toasted up, chewier and more substantial than most English muffins, this was delicious with the accompanying orange butter and berry jam.

But I definitely feel lucky finding a nosh-worthy fish burger that's way closer to where I work/live, and since it's offered for lunch and dinner too -- that frees up my brunch time once more to discover other sweet treats at LGO. Olive oil cake for AM meal? Why certainly...

La Grande Orange
260 S. Raymond Ave.
Pasadena, CA

La Grande Orange Cafe in Los Angeles
La Grande Orange Café on Urbanspoon


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