Monday, September 29, 2008

Get $5 for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for Nat'l Coffee Day

Hey everyone! National Coffee Day is almost over but I've been approached by the PR folks at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to give out $5 gift cards to the first five folks who email me for a free cup of joe (or two). Sure, it's a chain, but it's also a drink or two on the house (and I personally am ga-ga over their seasonal Winter Dream Latte). So... start the emailing NOW! Sorry for the near end of day post -- but better late than never ;)

UPDATE: Got my five folks. Thanks for playing and hopefully there'll be more giveaways down the turnpike.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sweet sweetness at Sensi (Las Vegas)

To start things off on a sweet note (and many more deliciousness to come) in my Las Vegas foodventure series . . . my "meal" with friends at Sensi, their dessert sampler; it's a dish I had been craving ever since my '07 Vegas trip but was unable to get because they were closed between meals when I arrived (I did, however, have a pretty awesome lunch there earlier in the day -- a "Chef's Choice Bento Box" that includes four specialties for a pretty sweet price of ~$20).

This time, around four of my friends and I decided to split the ~$40 for the sampler. We figured we get about six desserts. Oh, how little prepared we were for the huge, gorgeous sugary work of art that arrived.
Yes, it's a three-tier tall tray of about 15 different desserts (use the semi-hidden martini behind the tiered trays for scale). Granted, the sizes of each dish are fairly small, but this is the biggest assortment of sweets I've seen yet!
There was a citrus granita in a light lemon cream, tiramisu (barely in photo to the right), a strawberry mousse (behind citrus granita), and pina-colada sorbet in a semi-eggshell bowl made of white chocolate and vanilla-chocolate pot de creme. . .
. . . two kinds of creme brulee (regular and green tea, the former of which has a duck-fatty taste, which oddly tasted REALLY good), sticky toffee pudding, lemon custard and meringue sandwich, various flavored truffles and cookies.
And four housemade ice creams (the most memorable being the thai iced tea flavor, the orange one above) and a conical chocolate centerpiece (yes, even the biz card is edible)! But more importantly than the looks is the taste, and I'd say everything tasted good or better. The toffee pudding, tiramisu and two cremes were may favorites, but it was definitely fun trying over a dozen sweets at once.

The drinks we ordered were pretty decent as well. I had a Thai-inspired cocktail made with rum, fresh lemongrass and their house ginger beer. Not-too-sweet and very refreshing and just want I needed before I brave the heat of Sin City summer.

(in Bellagio Hotel)
3600 Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas
(702) 693-7223

P.S. Photo credit for this foodventure goes to my friend William H.

Sensi (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Quickies #32: Top Drinks, Bottom-Priced Beef and Events in Between

Top Drinks?: Whether you're doing the AWFF, my cheap-o weekend events or something in between -- keep your head steady 'cause on Monday The Edison, in partenership with Absolut, is hosting a launch party & casting call for new reality show America's Top Bartender. The event starts at 9 p.m. Hopefully plenty of talented bartenders come to show their stuff, and not just a bunch of hunks 'n hotties making syrupy and vile apple-tinis and hurricanes. To RSVP, go their facebook page here. I'll probably attend for the earlier portion of this and getting soba/ramen at Little Tokyo too!

Bottom-priced beef: With the economy on everyone's mind, Gourmet presents a timely and pretty feature on butcher's cuts -- more humble sections that nonetheless packs great, beefy flavor such as chuck eyes, flat irons and skirt steaks. And of course, tested recipes that lets you prepare and cook them with ease. (also worth mentioning from Gourmet, an article on sustainable sushi -- I personally have been avoiding bluefin tuna when possible, there's so many other delicious seafood to discover anyways!)

2nd Annual LA Chocolate Salon in Pasadena, Oct. 5: probably the event I'm most highly antcipating this month, this year's events will feature more chocolatiers (including locals such as Chuao, Valerie and Mignon) and chocolate themed events (including a chocolate sculpting session and a "sensual chocolate demonstration"). If it's anything like last year's, then it's a definite good deal for $20 at the door or $17.50 in advance -- you can taste all the different vendors and discover the various origins and styles of chocolate making. Maybe you'll even find a new brand to crave as well! At the very least, you'll enjoy them a lot more than mockolates.

Oktoberfest at CT Lounge in Eagle Rock, Oct. 2: for another way to spend your Jackson, check out the CT Lounge from 6:30 to 9 p.m. when they will be doing tastings of several German beers along with a menu of German sausages and strudel (the $20/person is all-inclusive), with host and beer expert Jeff Musial providing his insight into the annual celebration and the German brews. Reservations are required, though, so give them a ring at (323) 257-2245 if you're interested.

Finally, some fun food reads I've discovered recently --'s "most disgusting food. ever" in Mongolia, and CakeWrecks' reminder that cupcake-cakes are never a good idea, unless for laughs (that Curious George creation looks more like Chewbacca!).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mini Foodventure #77: Adams Avenue Grill (San Diego)

It's 4 a.m. and we're dropped off at the starting point of the San Diego half-marathon. The eventual 7,500 of us are a varied mix -- from first-timers eager about their longest race yet to seasoned pros looking to beat their personal best. Me? I'm thinking "Gee, I haven't eaten since 6:30 p.m. last night -- and the race doesn't start for another three hours . . ."

You can imagine how hungry I was around 9 a.m. in the finish line area. While everyone else were hanging around the pavilion checking their times, doing cool down stretches, giving each other high-fives and picking up the usual finisher freebies, I just dashed another mile to meet up with my dining companion to head to brunch.

Like the pre-race dinner joint Terra, I found
Adams Avenue Grill through cursory searching of Citysearch, Chowhound and Yelp. Despite its limited breakfast menu, it got fairly good reviews -- so worth a shot. I also liked that it wasn't too close to the finisher's area (and thus won't be too packed and busy with other runners looking to recover their carbs as well).

Located in the University Heights neighborhood, the restaurant has a casual neighborhood, slightly artsy ambience (the closest LA restaurant comparison I can think of is Marston's, but bigger and more humble-looking/run-down, depending on how you look at it). It didn't us long to decide on our order.
I got their special blueberry-walnut pancakes, which looked nice on the menu but was a bit of a miss when it came out. The pancakes themselves were fluffy and light, but the blueberries were unusually tart and they didn't chop up the walnuts, and it's a bit jarring to suddenly get half a nut in my mouth. I'd much rather have smaller pieces distribute throughout to get a consistent light crunch.
Likewise, the topping on my dining companion's
triple-berry compote triple pancake stack turned out way too sour. Thankfully, the compote only soaked through the top cake so she ate mostly the bottom (which were decent, albeit ordinary, buttermilk pancakes). I tried to correct with extra maple syrup, but neither of us finished our stacks. The side of fruit is the usual pineapple-melon blend so nothing to write about. Coffee was good though.

Not sure if that was just an off-day for the kitchen or if San Diego folks like everything a bit more acidic, but it wasn't a brunch that I cared for. It's not so bad I'll avoid it entirely, but I'll probably return only at the recommendation of my other friends down there. In the meantime, I'm sure there are lot more great morning eats to be found in the city.

Adams Avenue Grill
2201 Adams Avenue
San Diego
(619) 298-8440

Adams Avenue Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Weekend of Wine & Food Self-Guided Tours for the Plebes

Not having cushy coffers, rich, old uncles or indiscriminate expense accounts -- the 26th Annual Wine & Food Festival (even the more accessible $150/person Red Hot @ Red Seven event) is a little out-of-reach for me at the moment, especially considering that I have some splurgy meals down the turnpike. I wish I could tell you how great of an event it'll be, but their PR folks are not at liberty to disclose the various offerings of the celebrity chefs and mega restaurants. Oh well, there are always reports from last year.

Since I doubt I'm the only foodie who will be missing out on this must-try epicurean extravaganza, I'll share with my LA Wine & Food Self-Guided Tour for this weekend:

Friday: FanciFull Fine Foods & Gift Shop is hosting a terroir wine, cheese and chocolate tasting from 6 to 9 p.m. with a focus on Italian wine and organic, "slow" made chocolates and cheeses; master sommelier Sean Crowley and store owner Terry August will be pairing and talking about how a food's geographical origin (and its soil, climate, water, etc.) affects its taste. Entertaining, educational and tasty too! $10 a person but you gotta RSVP.

Saturday: I personally am heading to the L.A. County Fair ($17 / person plus whatever you're buying from the food/drink vendors) for my third annual trip to slowly commit suicide enjoy fairtime fun and foods. I'd eat myself silly before I hit the $300 price tag of the AWFF at the Universal Studios backlot. Though I do hope I walk out with elastic arteries and a functional pancreas afterwards (not to mention a suppressible gag reflex when I can see, hear and/or smell the animals and their various activities of nature.)

Sunday: The Grand Avenue Festival is going on downtown from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.! Asides from lots of free activities and performances offered by The Museum of Contemporary Art, LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Music Hall and the Colburn School, the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion (home to LA Opera) partnered with Laetitia Vineyard and Winery for free wine tastings at 1 and 3 p.m. Tickets are required for admission and available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so get your cabooses there quick. And of course, there's a good deal of eats available in the downtown area. I am inclined to either checking out the recently opened Nickel Diner for breakfast beforehand or maybe a taco truck or Little Tokyo for early dinner afterwards. Either way, no need to dress up and no need to fork over $750 either.

You can say I'm either laying low, getting cheap sour grapes or giving the all those fancy chefs the frugal finger (though I will say AWFF's benefactor charity, Meals on Wheels, is a GREAT cause, having volunteered for them in the past). Maybe next year I'll be more financially planned for the festival, but this time around it's freebies and cheapies for me.

P.S. Feel free to let me know if you wanna join me in the above self-guided tour excursions!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Swan song for my summer sweet . . .

Just like summer songs that get lots of repeated airplay before its abrupt stop with the approach of autumn, there was one particular dish that I had the pleasure of eating multiple times before impending seasonal switch out in the coming weeks . . .
LA Mill's
passionfruit gelee with shiso-lychee sorbet, white chocolate-soy-coconut milk broth and basil seeds. So refreshing and unique, from bright tartness of the soft, custardy jelly to the delicate, slightly-herby aromas of the sorbet. Coupled with the light, delectable soup and the translucent tapioca-like seeds, it was a spoonful of ecstasy in my mouth that I tried to keep on my tongue as long as possible -- extracting every last possible flavor before hesitantly swallowing. So delicious . . . I couldn't even help take a few bites before realizing that I needed to take a photo! Oops.

But, like all good things, this must come to an end, so I bid you a fond farewell; your memories will be cherished (just like the pear gelee dessert I had earlier this year). But I also look forward to what Adrian Vasquez has in plan for fall (seriously hoping for a revival of the dessert tasting menu.)

Goes without saying, if you haven't tasted it already -- I highly recommend it, and try it soon before it rotates out! Of course, check out their coffees too; of the brews, I like the El Salvador Cup of Excellence or the Black Onyx Blend best.

LA Mill
1636 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Special Foodventure #76: Savor the Season (Downtown L.A.)

Thanks an invite from the event's PR firm, I had an opportunity to check out tonight's Savor the Season for free (otherwise, I probably would've needed a beer mug fund for it). In short, it was a stellar event.
Taking place in the Vibiana downtown, a former cathedral converted into a performing arts center and events venue, the setup was elegant and logistically friendly. There were really no mobs or bottlenecking throughout the night, and it was not uncomfortably jammed with attendees. The space could've been better ventilated, given how hot my friends and I were, but it wasn't too uncomfortable.

Of course, food was the highlight of this event -- and the offerings here didn't disappoint. For the most part, the things I've sampled were well-made (and beyond my expectations for an event, many of the foods were prepared on-site and not sweating on a tray or in a chafer dish for hours). Remarkably memorable eats and drinks included the:
Geoffrey's lobster salad in phyllo cups - despite my recent overload on this shellfish, I found this a refreshing and tasty bite. Particularly interesting to eat since the raw lobster (mixed with corn and avocado) is still firm, meaty and almost crunchy, unlikely other seafood which is usually more limp in this preparation.
Catering by Field's chilled avocado bisque (seen here with tandoori chicken croquettes) - asides from the visually appealing presentation, the bisque was very well balanced. A little sweet, a little creamy with nice texture contrast from the crisp. The croquettes were great mini biscuit sandwiches, but I didn't pick up much of the tandoori marinade/rub flavors.

Boneyard Bistro's fried mac 'n cheese fritters - I am usually not a fan of already-fatty stuff fried up, but these were not too heavy, had a great crunch and were wonderful when coupled with their house barbecue and chipotle mayo sauces.
The Saltistry's various flavored/smoked salts - If I had unlimited access to drinking water, I could spend the entire evening experimenting with all their different flavored salts! My favorite combos included a vodka-soaked tomato rolled in chili salt (an edible bloody mary) and the olive-oiled covered potato in truffle salt. Melon cubes and clementine segments in assorted fruit-flavored salts also did a number on my tastebuds too! Now I am bummed about missing out on their event @ the (now closed) Food Court LA a few months back.

The Timanoix cheese presented by Andrew's Cheese Shop - a semi-firm, brown rind cheese produced in France. It is washed in walnut liqueur and thus has a strong, pleasant smell and taste reminiscent of that nut. A few other good cheeses were offered here (Humboldt Fog and an orange Stilton) but the walnutty one definitely stands out, probably because it was so unique. Well, and because I love walnuts in general . . .
Truffle lollipops from Brix@1601 of varying flavors (the two I tasted resembled a key lime pie and macadamia caramel), I loved the feel of these, since the chocolate shells were thicker than normal and the centers were liquid. In short, a flavor explosion in my mouth followed by cocoa-licious linger of the melting shell pieces.
I was definitely glad to see the Edison mixing up drinks there too. Pictured above is their English Afterthought, made with Miller's gin, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, ginger beer and muddled blueberries and ginger slices. A well-rounded a complex drink with good aromas, taste and finish all around, particularly the fruity tang and the lingering spicy bite. They were also mixing other cocktails as well, and even commissioned a Green Fairy to push a cart giving out miniature bottles of absinthe (already mixed with water and sugar) to promote their Lucent Dossier event on Wednesdays.

Ventura Limoncello - made from lemons grown one county over, it packs a nice tang, an intense fragrance and a barely-there bitterness (some limoncellos I've tried before are unpleasantly bitter, because lemon peels - along with the aromatic zest - got steeped in alcohol, not the case here!)

Nicolas Feuillatte's Rosé Brut Champagne, presented by wine expert Bonnie Graves from Girl Meets Grape - light, summery and refreshing; while it's not sweet, the nose has distinctive ripe berry smells. Easy to drink but with decent depth and character, so a great all-purpose bubbly to serve at gatherings.

And like any other high-profile food events, part of the thrill comes from meeting the chefs, restauranteurs and food purveyors and experts who are so passionate about what they're serving (the saltistry girls were definitely the most enthusiastic of the bunch!). And of course, seeing fellow foodies, including Gourmet Pigs, Caroline on Crack and Eating L.A. as well as the guys behind Social Domain and Drink|Eat|Play, and having fun sharing what's a must-try and other culinary going-ons in town while nibbling and sipping the evening away, literally savoring the season and bidding a fond farewell of a wonderful summer of good eats and drinks.

Here's to wonderful event that's definitely worth checking out next year, and that it will be bigger and better and raise more funds for Break the Cycle to help end domestic and dating violence.

Update: 944 Mag's got some amazing photos of the event here.

Savor the Season at the Vibiana
210 S. Main Street
Los Angeles (downtown)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Special Foodventure #75: Port of Los Angeles Lobster Fest, Whale and Ale (San Pedro)

"WHAT?! You haven't done the Lobster Fest ever? How can you be a foodie and not have gone yet?"

At least three friends have said something to this effect recently (with three festivals going on in the LA area this month, I guess it's hard to not have these giant clawed, big tailed critters on people's minds).

Obviously, this is something I have to resolve right away, even though lobsters have never been my favorite of crustaceans; I'd much prefer the fattier and more flavorful crab or the easier to portion and prepare shrimp. Heck, it barely edges over crayfish on the bottom of the list and only because it provides a bigger payload of meat for all the shell-breaking I have to do.

But I gave it a go anyways, it's been quite a while since I had unadulterated lobster (i.e. not concealed in a mac 'n cheese or a pot pie), I have a friend who really wants to go after missing out on the Long Beach one two weeks prior and it gives me an excuse to check out my favorite British pub in the area (more on that later).

As usual with food events, I try to get their as early as possible to avoid long lines and the running out of foods. Apparently with this festival, I wasn't the only one.
Thankfully, the line moved quickly and we got our tickets, into the entrance, found the lobster stall and through the queue in about 15 to 20 minutes, with our single lobster meal ($17) in hand . . .
Nice! Remembering my dislike for the messy and occasionally painful process of shelling these suckers, we ran them to the cracking table where the pros gave shells a smackdown! Then off to find a table (easy!) and let the feasting begin!
What can I say? Well for starters the lobster is well cooked. It's not rubbery nor waterlogged soggy, but firm and tender. I am not exactly reminded of the Northern Atlantic Ocean when I sink my teeth in, but it doesn't taste like grungy port the event's held at either. For the $23 (it was another $6 for admission) it's alright. I wish the accompaniments were better. The packaged cole-slaw was too sweet and not crunchy enough, and the "buttery dipping sauce" had the texture of gravy and tasted like Papa John's Garlic Butter sauce (minus the garlic). So yea, I mostly had the lobster with a squeeze of lemon and used the bread to soaked up the unappetizingly green but unbelievably creamy guts, which had no off-flavors and was actually a pleasant combo of sweet 'n briny.

Here's what the meal looked like I've decimated it (hold on to your stomachs!) . . .
We were weighing on whether to split another lobster, but decided to try out some of the other stall foods too.
I got the fish taco, ($4), about twice as big as the traditional size. The fish had an good texture for being pan-fried: very crispy and flaky. I asked for tartar sauce on the side but they topped the taco with it anyways, and that's pretty much how it tasted like. I managed to pick a few stray, un-sauced pieces of fish. It was completely bland.
My friend got the curious-sounding lobster balls, it's basically spheres of surimi (a.k.a. imitation -insert seafood here-). And I am starting to get sick of the tartar cover-up.

Feeling the sweet tooth and the alchy cravings coming but finding the funnel cake stall closed, we ventured out to downtown San Pedro to one of my favorite British pubs, the Whale and Ale. As usual, service was neighborhoody friendly and our bartender, Gail, gave us lots of pointers on places to see, things to try, all the while making menu and beer suggestions (and offering us some samples of the latter).
We finally settled upon splitting their sherry trifle. As for the trifle itself, it was as tasty as I remembered it: strawberries and pound cake macerated in sherry, topped with a layer of lightly-whipped cream. Though we wished we had more cream (or eaten it more evenly at the beginning) since it was nearly sherry straight-up at the end. For drinks, my friend got the Magners Irish Cider, which he liked 'cause it's drier than the more popular Wyder's and Woodchuck varieties, and I had their house amber ale, which had a nice hop flavors and a clean, mildly bitter finish, making for a refreshing, quaffable drink.
Feeling a second wind coming on, we got an off-the-menu specialty that I remembered from my last trip here: Yorkshire pudding cups topped with prime rib. Again, every bit as good as I remembered, toasty yet light pudding cups and juicy pieces of tender beef, with a dollop of creamy horseradish and drizzle of mustard to round things out.

Finishing it all off, we both got a Bailey's and coffee after noticing that they carried flavored varieties on the bar (I got the Mint Chocolate Bailey's, he had the Caramel -- both still tasted unmistakably like the classic version, but with a nice hint of refreshing mint-chocolate and toasty caramel notes at the end). A yummy way to finish off our snacking and drinking here, and made me wonder why I don't drink hard coffees more often --- it's the classic caffeine + alcohol combo, and better-tasting than the energy drink plus spirits combo.

So did lobster climb up my list? Yes and no, I still prefer crab and shrimp more, but it is closing the gap (so made I just had badly prepared ones all this time). And I definitely would consider making a return trip next year -- and bringing my own accompaniments.

For another take on the festival, here's Gourmet Pigs' report.

Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival
Ports O'Call Village, San Pedro, CA

Whale and Ale
327 W 7th St.
San Pedro, CA
(310) 833-4833

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Quickies #31: Wine sales, Eating the World, Food Events and Community Sponsored Agriculture.

Wine sales going, going . . .: In case you missed out on Wally's Tent Sale last weekend, there's still a chance for you grab some great finds at the Last Chance Web-Only sale. Or you can check out the other ongoing bargain, BevMo's buy one get one for five-cent special expiring this Sunday! Cheers!

Eating the world, one country at a time: Thanks to Eater LA for pointing my attention to Man Bites World, written by an ambitious local (or loco?) foodblogger who's aiming to eat a different country's food every single day. Home cooking and shipped orders don't count either, so it'll be mostly LA and occasionally Vegas that he'll be dining. Are our cuisines THAT worldly? Guess we'll find out. He's about two weeks in and crossed off common finds of Mexico, Vietnam and Thailand -- but has also explored the likes of North Korea, Trinidad & Tobago and Serbia. I'm definitely having fun checking out his local-global tour and inspired to try out for more ethnic eats myself!

Beer vs. Wine Dinner: Not exactly LA-OC (it's in San Diego) but a fun enough concept to be worth mentioning (and thanks to Urbandaddy for the heads-up) - El Bizcocho in the Rancho Bernardo Inn is hosting a six-course beer versus wine dinner on October 17 (a rematch, apparently, from the same event last year), with beer from Stone Brewing Co. facing off against wine from Trinchero Family Estates. So will it be the grapes or the hops? Have both and decide!

As for my own events schedule: Tomorrow I'm checking out my The LobsterFest at Port of Los Angeles (my first lobster festival ever!) Here's hoping for short lines and delicious shellfish. Just to refresh memories, admission is $8 ($2 discount if you print the coupon off their Web site) and the meal is $17 for one 1.25 pound lobster, or $31 for two.

On Sunday, I've been invited to check out Savor the Season (I guess their PR folks noticed my enthusiasm after my initial post on the event). From what they sent me, it sounds like a lot of delicious fun. Here's the breakdown of the participating businesses/chefs and what they'll be serving:

Boneyard Bistro, Aaron Robins
Fried Mac n' Cheese Fritters
Fire-roasted Albacore Salad on Heirloom Tomatoes with Caper Aioli
brix@1601, Michael McDonald & Renee Ward
Duck Confit Spring Rolls
Truffle Lollipops
Catering By Field, Lisa Field & Corinna Conti
Chilled Avocado Bisque
Tandoori Chicken Croquette
The Edison, Andrew Meieran
English Afterthought
The Green Fairy and Absinthe Cart
The Edison Specialty Drinks
El Cholo, Gerardo Ochoa
Green Corn Tamales
El Cholo Flan
Geoffrey's Malibu, Bijan Shokatfard
Lobster Salad in Filo Cups
Chocolate Crunch Bites
Jer-ne at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey, Chad Minton
Mayan Chocolate and Caramel Fleur de Sel Truffle Pops
MAX & The Oinkster, André Guerrero & Jan Purdy
Firecracker Shrimp Spring Rolls
Mini Pastrami Sandwiches
Assorted Pastries
Salt Creek Grille, Scott Floyd
Stuffed Shrimp with Chipotle Honey Glaze
All-natural Brandt Beef with Port Demi Glaze
Tanzore, Gautam Chaudhry
Lotus Root Chips with Tuna Tartare
Chocolate Cardamom Cake
Tasca Wine Bar, Nano Crespo
Jamon Serrano & Burratta Toast

There is also a VIP Tasting Garden where various food purveyors and experts will be doing tastings of their specialties, including the Saltistry's flavored salts, Madame Chocolat's bon bons and truffles, Faerie's Finest's flavor-infused sugars and oils, assorted caviar from Beverly Hills Caviar and artisanal cheeses from the recently opened Andrew's Cheese Shop.

And of course, it benefits a great cause (Break the Cycle) so both your conscience and your tastebuds will be very happy. Takes place at the Vibiana (downtown) from 6 to 9 p.m. - tickets are $100 for regular admission, $250 for VIP.

Community-Sponsored Agriculture comes to San Marino: For adventurous cooks around Pasadena who support the Slow Food movement, Julienne's will be lending its space as a drop-off / pick-up point for community-sponsored agriculture. You pledge a certain amount of money, and get in return a regular supply of seasonal produce. It's a surprise every time and no picking-and-choosing, but you will get a recipe card on how to prepare them.

Gin-food pairings and end-of-summer dinner:
If you're a gin lover with no plans tonight, Campanile is doing a twist on its usual Friday Night Flights, and featuring three gin drinks paired with small plate dishes: curried shrimp / plymouth gin basil martini; scallop ceviche with mango relish / bluecoat gin aviation; grilled halibut and cucumber salad / junipero gin martinez (wine lovers don't need to worry, they still have two wine-food flights that night). Their upcoming chef's dinner looks pretty interesting too, commemorating the end of summer with six-courses of light and refreshing dishes such as clear tomato broth with ginger, leeks and carrots; eggplant and crab gnocchi; grilled tuna with tomato-basil vinaigrette and vanilla panna cotta with balsamic sauteéd strawberries. Friday night flight is $38/person, the chef's tasting is $85 ($35 for wine pairings).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Special Foodventure #74: Farmer's Market Dinner (again!) at Auntie Em's (Eagle Rock)

After the tasty farmer's market dinner I had here about half a year ago, I was absolutely thrilled when I got Auntie Em's email that they're doing it again this week. So I reserved asap and decided later on who my plus one is (in hindsight, I probably should've reserved for four, given how many others were interested in such an event. Lessons for next time, I s'pose).
For those not familiar, Auntie Em's is an Eagle Rock cafe and marketplace well-known for their brunches, cheese selections and red velvet cupcakes -- and of course, their occasional dinners showcasing seasonal farmer's market produce. And no corkage to boot (it's BYOB, and they often partner with nearby Colorado Wine Company for pairings).

This time, my friend and I sat outdoors - the driveway has been converted into a long community dining table that seats about 20 - and we made fast acquaintances with our table neighbors, new LA transplants who are on the lookout for things to do in the city. So we chatted a little bit between our courses - starting with:
Arugula, bread, moroccan carrots, avocado and heirloom tomatoes salad - very complex, I can't place what specific type of dressing it was, but the vinaigrette tied together the salad components very well, from the pepper arugula punch to the sweetness of the carrots (more natural looking and tasting than anything I've seen in a market, btw) while cutting into the avocado's richness. The dressing-soaked bread also added some substance to the dish.
Next came medjool dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in pancetta; so simple and so stellar! I loved the layering of the flavors as you pop it in to chew: first the crispy, fatty, salty bacon, then the chewy, caramelly date, and finally the tangy creamy pop of the blue cheese. Just 'wow' (and yet another easy-but-elegant appetizer idea for the future).

Following that lovely bite came our entrees:
I got the smoked paprika and beer braised pork stew with chickpeas, topped with gremolata served over basmati rice. Like the other dishes thus far, it's pretty multi-faceted. A little smoky, a little spicy, and I tasted an occasional zing from citrus zest. The pork itself was very tender and neither too fatty nor gristly. Overall, a well-balanced yet intriguing dish -- I kept discovering new flavors and scents with every bite.
As delicious as the pork stew was, I think I actually liked my friend's dish - lamb tagine braised all day with chiles, tomatoes and raisins over couscous - better. I loved how non-gamey the lamb was, the sweet component from the grapes, and the textural contrast between the fluffy grains of couscous against the tagine (moreso than my pork stew and rice). And, like the stew, it's one where I kept finding new flavors with each pilfered bite; thank goodness my friend is such a good sport about "sharing" the dish.

Unsure if we could finish off a bottle of wine, I opted instead to bring two Sierra Nevada's Anniversary Ale, a medium-bodied, slightly malty IPA which paired pretty nicely with the spicy, aromatic dishes we had that night. But it's funny how I picked this ale pretty much on a whim, and discovered later that it pairs well with Indian, Southeast Asian cuisines (and I guess Moroccan would fit here too, given the stew-y nature of its dishes and frequent use of spices). I am no food expert (particularly for Moroccan foods, which I had only once before), and even less well-versed in beer, but it's nice to think that I have an intuition of sorts on what would go well together.
After we finished every last lip-smacking morsel of our entrees, we were served with the cheese plate - featuring Westfield Farm's Wasabi Capri (soft goat's milk, the mostly-white one in the photo), Wisconsin sheep dairy co-op's Dante (aged hard sheep's milk, the one with the brown rind) and Townsend Creamery's Trailhead (firm cow's milk, the long pale-yellow strip) with accompaniments of sun-dried tomatoes, homemade jam, almonds, toast and crackers. Not as dynamic as the cheese plate at the last dinner (maybe because I'm VERY partial to Hook's cheddar), it was still pretty good in its own right. The Townsend was pretty mellow, and reminded of a mix of parmigiano-reggiano and cheddar with a mozzarella texture. The Wisconsin sheep cheese had a more pronounced tangy and nutty flavor, and was good with the tomatoes. But my fave this time is definitely the wasabi disc, with its creamy texture and the occasional pungence hitting my nostrils. But all in all, it was a decent plate highlighting a variety of cheeses, and it was fun to mix and match with the various accompaniments.
Finally, dessert -- a very whimiscal "Bollywood meets Hollywood" banana split - with coconut, malted milk chocolate, and chai spiced kulfi topped with banana slices and pistachio, macadamia and hazelnut brittles. Again, amazing flavors and textures at play -- each of the respective kulfi had a mild but noticeable flavor (my favorite was the chai, though the coconut one was fun too since it had shredded coconuts embedded within) and the brittle gave it a good, nutty crunch. My only peeve with the dessert is that the kulfi had ice crystals within, so wasn't as smooth as I'd like. Perhaps it was prepared ahead of time and not as carefully frozen?

Altogether, another great meal: good food, good drinks, good company and very good deal (it was $32 a person). Hopefully the next one will come sooner than six months (and yes, I'll make a reservation for more diners!)

Auntie Em's Kitchen
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

Auntie Em's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Special Foodventure #73: Dining by Design's Table Hop and Taste (Pico-Union)

My weekend of gluttony concluded at the Dining by Design's Table Hop and Taste, a $45/person preview event to look at designer interpretations of the dining room/table, taste small bites from a variety of LA area restaurants and sip various wines provided by Beringer. Swanky artsy designs, good restaurant representation and offerings, great charity tie-in (DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) -- say no more, I'm there!
I had no trouble finding the LA Design Mart (where it's being held) south of Downtown, especially given the giant dining chair that's right in the parking lot.
The attendees are more designers and decorators than foodies, no surprise given the benefiting charity and the focus of the event itself with sets laid out by many up-and-coming designers alongside well-established visionaries; but any art aficionado would've taken delight here: the dining room sets look AMAZING! Pushing the envelope at every direction, it was a wonderful varied mix -- from a birdcage dining table to a kids birthday party theme to sleek modern interpretations with the table flanked by black, nude mannequins. It's hard to pick a favorite, but the ones I liked best included the colorful Oriental garden table above and the casual-chic Napa lifestyle table below.
Of course, I did more than just gawk at pretty dining tables over a glass of wine and actually table hopped and tasted too; like the sets, many of the dishes were a dazzle for the eyes and most are just as tasty. A few notables include:
Cafe Surfa's Ultimate Grilled Cheese: warm, open-faced walnut-currant bread with blue cheese mayo, molten white cheddar and swiss cheeses, greens and a drizzle of white truffle honey. Wildly delicious that hits on so many levels texture and taste-wise -- I am definitely hitting this up next time I am in Culver City (and unlike Meltdown, etc., I don't need to worry about crazy opening days/hours!)
Equally memorable is Wilshire Restaurant's ginger squash puree topped with duck confit, roasted chestnuts and sichuan peppercorn pickled apples. Didn't really get the spiciness, but the complexity from combining the firm duck, smooth squash and crispy apples made it a very fun and intriguing dish, every bite and chew bringing a little surprise as those three main ingredients melding into a novel flavor.
Comme Ca's crostini with tomatoes, haricot verts, avocado and tapenade: very simple but tasty, definitely showcases the freshness of the produce.
Homegirl Cafe's assorted sandwiches, salads and mini-tostadas: the jicama-tequila dressing stood out for the salad, with the alcohol flavor cutting wonderfully into the tart-sweet dressing and the jicama adding a light crispness. Their "Consuelo's sandwich" with homemade jalapeno pesto and panela cheese is also wonderful, and great for vegetarians! (On a sidenote - great to see them represented, since their umbrella organization, Homeboys Industries, helps former gang members to lead normal lives with services such as tattoo removal, occupational skills training and counseling.)
Lemonade's deli salads (the roasted cauliflower with golden raisins and curry vinaigrette and the roasted beets with pickled red onions and hazelnut vinaigrette being most memorable) and their super-refreshing, not-too-sweet rosemary-watermelon lemonade, a great break from all the wines that are being poured, that I kept getting full glasses of despite me specifically asking for "just a little a bit" "a taste" and "a few sips" from the caterers . . . I felt so bad dumping the remaining wine down the garbage because I simply don't want a full glass!
Last but not least, Vanilla Bake Shop's cupcake babies (the blackberry-passion fruit one was a nice sweet 'n tart treat!) and assorted macarons, made even tastier with a few sips of Nightingale dessert wine.

Given the theme of the event, I actually took more pictures of the ambience and art than I did the food! But the eats were tasty overall, and it looks like a hit given the happy crowds and the happier staff working the event. Here's hoping their Monday night gala, as well as the rest of their nationwide tour, goes equally well.

Closing off, here's more photos of the designer dining photos (apologies for the bad quality, see what a few "tastes" of the wine does to my balance and stability?)

yes, the last dining set featured a life-size horse sculpture ON the dining table and no, I didn't realize how the wall painting behind it would give the horse an extra anatomical feature until I got home to edit the pics. *sigh*

Monday, September 15, 2008

Special Foodventure #72: Mitsuwa's Hokkaido Fair and LA Mill (Torrance / Silver Lake)

My weekend of gluttony continues in Saturday evening, where I headed down to Torrance's Mitsuwa Marketplace for their Hokkaido Fair - basically a series of pop-up stalls selling groceries, and ready-to-eat foods from that region known for fresh produce, seafood and dairy. There were cooking demonstrations and food preps galore!
Such as this lady pan-frying some frozen smelt right out of the bag ("no seasoning needed!" she emphasized) And I daresay it was pretty tasty too, firm texture with a salty sardine/anchovy taste. Not something I'd expect from a plain-looking bag of frozen-ness shipped halfway around the world.
There were also freshly-made king crab leg bento boxes that were extremely enticing (esp. the combo boxes paired with uni [sea urchin] and ikura [salmon roe]) but had to pass it up since I already had so much meat earlier in the day and it'll be another few hours till I get home.
I did, however, have enough room to try Sumire Ramen in the Mitsuwa food court; unfortunately, I had to settle for the regular ol' miso ramen ($7.99) since they ran out of the butter corn miso variety. The dish was only slighty-better-than-OK, my main grievance being the soup & the noodles being way too greasy. Not sure if that's how Sumire usually makes it or if it was because the staff overlooked quality while rapid-serving those ramen bowls like no tomorrow (and I honestly can't imagine if I had to mix in a pat of butter on top of that fatty soup). I did appreciate that the chashu were in little cubed chunks rather than the usual single slice.
I also met up with some friends (who were at the Fair earlier in the day and attested to the yumminess of the corn-butter miso ramen and the crab bento boxes, well darn!) and we dutched on a few other food items, like the curry bread (being taken drawn and quartered above) and the various croquettes (we had shrimp and corn). While a bit pricey at $2.50 each, the curry bun from Pullman Bakery was pretty delicious -- with a not-too-spicy and slightly sweet japanese gravy-style curry in a "savory doughnut" style bread. The mostly-potato croquettes (around $4 each) were pretty decent; not the best croquettes I ever had, but were better than I expected for something sitting under a heat lamp for who knows how long.
Finally, sweets time -- the Hokkaido Sweets stall had already ran out of the Yubari melon bread by the time we got there; so we tried their other specialties.
Hokkaido milk soft-serve ice cream ($2.75) that was not heavy but possessed an intense-rich milk flavor! It's like eating those japanese milk candies, frozen on a cone! After I finished the yummy ice cream, I indulged in a momentary fantasy of klepto-ing the soft-serve machine for my own creamy-licking pleasure whenever I want.
Also shared Arle Bakery's strawberry cream puff ($3.50) that held its crispy-flaky texture (I presume these puffs are made with a different pastry than the traditional choux, which tends to get soggy-soft pretty fast). The cream also had a rich-milk taste (not as strong as the ice cream though) and is also pretty light and airy texture-wise.
Finally, the red bean-glutinous rice ball ($2.00) or what I'd like to call a reverse-mochi, but the rice is still pretty whole and not pounded to a mochi-mush. And surprise, surprise, it tasted like a coarse red bean mochi! But one of those items ordered more for the novelty factor (especially when it's being freshly made at the stall) than taste.

Still early in the night but super-full, we decided to hit a sit-down beverage spot to chat, fight food coma and wash down our meal. We tried hitting Royal/T but discovered it's already closed, so went to another of my favorites, LA Mill, instead.

The four of us splitted two siphon-brewed coffees with mini burners cooking our brew right at our table (my more camera-savvy friend Jesse took some photos of the process from a previous get-together at his blog here). The varieties we chose were Black Onyx, a smooth, clean-tasting yet dark brew with chocolatey aromas, and the El Salvador Cup of Excellence, a bright and fairly bold cup with just small bite of spiciness. We loved the treat for our eyes and tastebuds during this whole time, and agreed a return trip is in order to try more of their joe (and also their delicious desserts; they are small portions, but we are still too full to try this time around.)

Delicious dreams swirled in the air that night as I slept, and I woke up already excited about the final leg of my food-tastic weekend . . . the DIFFA Dining by Design Table Hop & Taste! Stay tuned . . .


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