Friday, December 17, 2010

Table Manners Quandary...

Table Setting
Table setting @ Melisse

A friend of mine just got a (not so) passive-aggressive email from her
harpy aunt (her words, not mine,) who happens to be hosting the family Christmas party this year. Amongst other ridiculous demands for my friend's side of the family (if you don't know how to roast a prime rib, you could practice one before the party*), it also included:

"Also, hosting any type of party, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, is a thankless task so you should never have to be asked to help clean-up. So [[friend + her brother]], please be prepared to happily help do the dishes and clean-up cheerfully without being asked in all future events."

Condescending pissiness aside, it made me wonder about the default assumption in regards to whether a party host needs help or not (and whether he/she needs to ask.)

Personally I try to be a polite guest and if I arrive a few minutes early or linger a little later, I'll definitely offer to help set/clean up. But even so, my standard assumption is that the host got everything covered and if help is needed, it will be asked and definitely not
demanded. And that's certainly how I operate on the gatherings I throw in my little apartment.

But that's my two cents; and hey, holidays sometimes bring out the worst in families. But curious too as to what you assume are host-guest "duties."

*I kind of laughed at this one; it's a prime rib (a.k.a. pretty expensive cut of meat) and I love how harpy aunt is suggesting my friend's fam to buy double and practice on one. Also, it's also a pretty easy to roast one, so more passive-aggressiveness there about the fam's cooking ability (and if you're that unconfident, why not assign that to another relative?) and doesn't the host usually provide the main course?!? Ok, end tangentrant.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No. 188: WP24 (Downtown LA)

Drink Menu
"We're traveling out of the SGV for Chinese food?" asks the Gastronomer as we carpooled down the 110. Indeed, I had the same bewildered thought too ~ but how can we resist a chance to check out bar bites & drinks at WP24, celeb-chef Wolfgang Puck's latest resto housed high in the Ritz-Carlton Residences Tower @ L.A. Live.

Of course, longtime Angelenos know that this is not Puck's first foray into Far East fare. That honor goes to Chinois in Santa Monica, which opened in '83 and put some major steam behind the Pan-Asian fusion movement that is pretty ubiquitous, some say overdone, in the urban food scene now. So color me curious as to what else can be fresh and innovative in this realm more than a quarter century after.

View of DTLA
As expected, one of the biggest draw for WP24 is its spectacular view, overlooking the downtown LA skyline and the 110 freeway. Coupled with the modern-chic vibe of the lounge, it's definitely a nice spot to impress a date, out-of-town visitor or business acquaintance.
The drinks we sampled that night all leaned on the fruity side with a slight Asian flair, such as the Pinarita above with Thai basil-infused tequila and pineapple juice and the Pearfect Asian with Absolut Pear, Canton ginger liqueuer & lime. Overall they were a bit too sweet & mellow for me, but I appreciate the slight envelope-pushing aspects of the menu to gently wean the crowd away from the likes of margaritas, cosmopolitans and other vodka-based "-tinis," hopefully over time the bar will develop even more edgier selection for those looking for a real palate challenge worth the ~$16 price tag (maybe pair that ginger with wasabi to clear the tastebuds? how about something with Chinese five-spice to blend with the cuisine? Or an aromatic cocktail with fresh yuzu and jasmine tea? Or better yet, incorporate traditional Asian spirits and liqueurs for a truly fusion cocktail match against the menu!) But for now, Rivera & Cana reign supreme when I wanna get my cocktail on around L.A. Live.
Chicken "Dan Dan" Dumplings
As for the bar bites themselves, it depends on what you deemed acceptable as Asian-inspired fare. My best analogy so far is that this is the equivalent of "modernized, fusion rolls" against traditional sushi (and funny enough, the sushi & sashimi are offered as bar bites here too!) The lounge dishes we sampled included an array of dumpling and spring roll variations, which like the fusion rolly sushi, are very saucy with more richer, more pungent ingredients compared to traditional deal. Symbolic of this is the "dan dan" chicken dumplings we tried, assertive creatures with a one-two-three punch of peanut, garlic and chili -- unlike the more delicate flavors of the steamed, boiled or even pan-fried dumplings that I'm used to. I don't mean it in a better or worse way, just different.
Peking Duck Rolls
Since I easily admit to indulging in the occasional fusion rolls with spicy tuna, avocado, mayo and teriyaki sauces, there were definitely a few not-quite-authentic fusion treats on here too. My favorites included the tiny dumplings that were huge on flavor with its vibrant chili oil and black vinegar combination that delightfully complemented the rich pork belly filling and the above peking duck rolls that was packed with juicy, moist meat and made for a dippable, finger-friendly variation of the original. Too bad I didn't get a chance to try the baby pork belly bao buns, which were in short supply and high demand @ our tables.
Sushi Rolls
The fusiony sushi rolls were pretty decent too, but I wasn't able to ID this one from that given the hasty pace that they were served and how fast everyone devoured them after, giving me little opportunity to determine what I actually ate.

Overall, lounging @ WP24 was a pleasant experience with a surprisingly number of tasty dishes if one can check their authentically Asian expectations at the door and overlook the amusing redundancy in some menu items, such as the Shrimp Har Gow and Bao Buns. I for one, plan on finally feasting on those bao buns while indulging some classic drinks and maybe a delectable sweet bite, all the while soaking up the glittery landscape of the city.

More photos from the media dinner here


900 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90015

Monday, December 06, 2010

Recipe 24: Slow Cooker Hot Mulled Wine

This mulled wine recipe is fast becoming my favorite holiday party cocktail to bring to cold-weather potlucks and parties-- steaming hot and bursting with citrus and sweet spice aromas, it's absolutely heavenly to sip on over a chilly night while everyone mix 'n mingle.

And the best part is that prep work is minimal and guests can serve themselves, so you can enjoy the party too rather than obsess about mixing and refreshing drinks. That is until the entire batch disappeared in 30 minutes (which is what happened @ the soiree I brought it to.)

Here's my recipe (adapted from Epicurious' version) that makes about eight five-ounce servings:

1 bottle dry red wine (I used Old Moon Zinfandel from Trader Joe's, retailed for $3.99)
2 lemons, sliced into wheels
1 orange, sliced into half-wheels
1-2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise pods
1.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
3 ounces orange liqueuer (optional, I used Grand Marnier)

1. Prepare the spiced syrup (can be done the night before) by bringing the water to a simmer, then add the sugar, vanilla extract & the ground allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper - stir until sugar is dissolved.
2. Turn on a six-quart slow cooker to the HIGH setting, and combine the spiced syrup with the bottle of red wine, citrus slices, cinnamon sticks & star anise pods. Give it a quick stir, then cover it and let it sit for about an hour (or when it starts to simmer.)
3. Bring the slow cooker down to a LOW or WARM setting, add the orange liqueur and the mulled wine is ready to serve! (Also, the wine-soaked fruit is absolutely tasty to nibble on!)

And for all those designated drivers and others who'd rather not get spirited away -- I'd imagine this formula to be delightful for a spiced cider too. Just use 25 ounces apple juice or cider in lieu of the red wine -- and of course, no liqueur. Cheers!


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