Thursday, December 24, 2009

Special Foodventure #148: Thankfulness for Summer's Trip to Mexico, Part 1

Continuing on my thankful December blog streak and reflecting upon 2009, the experience I'm most thankful for is embarking on a trip down to Baja California with a menagerie of bloggers, writers and chefs as we eat, drink and chatted (about more eats and drinks) our way through Baja California.

The Tijuana Arch
Organized by Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA, crossborder agency Cotuco, Tijuana Convention & Visitors Bureau and other tourism and restaurant associations, the primary aim was to showcase the myriad of experiences available in Tijuana, Ensenada and surrounding areas--be it the pursuit of the best carne asada from casual vendors on carts, seeking out refined cuisine mingling Mexican traditions with modern techniques and international flairs or just savor the sumptuous foods that are grown, raised and caught locally (particularly the seafood, no surprise considering it's a peninsula flanked by the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean) and oh yeah, that it's a fun place for tourists too!
Bus ride to Tijuana
Our trip began on Friday evening as we congregated at Union Station, where a normally 2.5 hour busride took 4 hours because of heightened border security measures. Despite the extra long wait, we were all in a jovial mood--eagerly anticipating the treats that lies ahead (though honestly, if it had been another hour longer, there might've been some real border mishaps: you don't mess with starving foodbloggers who didn't have time to eat since they raced in rush hour traffic after work to make the bus!)
Carne Asada Taco w Avocado Crema
After settling into our comfortable, and even slightly posh, hotel rooms (w Mattatouille as my roommate, bless his ears when my snoring commences) we embarked on a near-midnight taco run at Tacos el Poblano, where Bill informed us three types of meat were used to make the taco filling. Combined with a creamy avocado crema and bottles of Mexican cokes, it felt like the perfect way to sate our hunger and slake our thirsts . . . until the next stop where we were treated to Mexican beers, assorted appetizers and lively mariachi entertainment!
Mariachi at Night
Little did I know that would be the last relaxed dining experience our group would have for a while...

After a night of bedrest and about 45 minutes of swimming in their kidney-bean-shaped pool (before they actually open, but the staff didn't care,) we went on an epic nine (official) stop tour throughout Tijuana's numerous eateries:
Seafood tacos
From the casual Mazateno where we indulged in some seafood tacos and a vibrant, tangy shrimp consomme.
French food trio in Tijuana
To the more refined (but just as friendly) L'Abricot, a Parisian bistro serving authentically Parisian dishes (French onion soup, creme brulee) that could hold its own against many French-themed restaurants in the LA and OC. As surprising as finding a French bistro, led by a chef -Maribel Villareal- who actually trained in Paris, was discovering that the wine, a light red with a slight puckery-tartness, came from nearby Valle de Guadalupe, the premier wine-growing region of Mexico . . . that we'll visit the next day!
Smoked Marlin Loaf
And the glitzy and elegant Cien Años, producing upscale Mexican fare (alta cocina, literally high kitchen) serving samples of their refined offerings such as salmon-and-mango ceviche and seasoned, smoked marlin loaf with dried chilies -- the style is very similar to what the modern Mexican restaurants in downtown LA is doing, but despite the reinterpretations, the seafood here is still the main star and its natural flavors always shone through, rather than being buried in a pile of other ingredients to the point of being indistinguishable, as Angeleno chefs occasionally do.
Cream filled churro
Of course, we indulged in a little street food too; while others in our pack were getting money from ATMs, Gastronomy, Mattatouille, Teenage Glutster and I seized that opportunity to buy some freshly fried and filled churros from a cart! (Much apologies for how utterly phallic this shot of the cream-filled churro looked!)
Lengua Carpaccio
Also noteworthy is how Mexican chefs tackle the ever-tricky topic of fusion. Fortunately, it prove neither campy-tacky nor over-the-head-haute when we checked out La Querencia and were served assorted carpaccio dishes that proved exciting and familiar at the same time (beet with queso and mint vinaigrette, beef tongue with sea urchin sauce and onion flakes), and exemplifying the "Baja-Med" motto of the restaurant, using locally sourced ingredients but borrowing styles and techniques from Mediterranean cuisine, whose climate and available edibles are greatly similar to that of Northwestern Baja California.

Restaurants, aware of our visits and knowing this is one of few opportunities to mark an impression on a bunch of bloggers and mediafolks to spread the word back North, were generous with their hospitality and their portions.
Roasted Pig
Particular cases in point, at Restaurant Lorca, what was promised to be an "authentic Spanish paella tasting" soon evolved/devolved into us pigging out, literally, over a whole suckling pig brought out as a surprise by the chef; as delicious as eating all that roasted crispy-fatty pork was -- I soon regretted those seconds, and thirds, as subsequent stops came! Not to mention the overshadowed paella, which was tasty but was pretty much a No Contest against the pig.
Skirt Steak w Onions
The generosity of portions continued at Cheripan, an Argentinean themed restaurant (actually across the street from La Querencia in the "gourmet restaurant row" of Tijuana) the dishes just kept coming and coming. What I thought was just a tasting of starters (of crispy-meaty sweetbreads, Argentinean-style sausages and empanadas and a divine heart of palm salad) transformed into skirt steak with pickled onions and then, a trio of desserts (flan, dulce de leche napoleons and chocolate gelato.) Oh yeah, did I mention wine and tamarind martinis too?
Tamarind Martini @ CheriPan
Speaking of tamarind cocktails, the Tijuana trip was certainly no shortage of this sweet-tart fruit and certainly not hesitant to throw them with every imaginable spirit possible (much to EatingLA's delight, and I agree with her there should be more tamarind cocktails back in lalaland); asides from the Cheripan, we were also treated to frozen blended tamarind margaritas at La Diferencia (a much needed cooling respite from the sunny afternoon) and another tamarind martini at our last stop of the day - Villa Saverios, where we were treated to a (fortunately) light four-course Baja-Med style meal, concluding with luscious blackberry tamale with sweet cream that perfectly symbolized the day in Tijuana: warm, sweet and gut-bustingly filling.
Blackberry Tamale w Crema
And I haven't even talked about day 2 in Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe yet! That'll be showcased in an upcoming post (with much less delay, I promise!)

But in the meantime, I'm definitely thankful to be included in this epic epicurean foodventure, the generosity of all parties involved in hosting and (over)feeding us. I'll definitely treasure the memories for a long time and can't wait to sink my teeth into that blackberry tamale, carne asada taco and lengua carpaccio again -- with a tamarind cocktail, of course.

Additional photos on my flickr set here, and also reports of the July trip from:
Eating LA
Noah Galuten of ManBitesWorld
Table Conversations
Gourmet Pigs
Pleasure Palate
Teenage Glutster

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Quickies #82: Festive Drinking Edition

Jamaican Firefly @ The Tar Pit
The Tar Pit's Jamaican Firefly

It's almost all about watering stations opening this week . . . because everyone can use a little liquid courage, post-entertaining relaxation or a new place to ring in the New Year's ;)

In the Mid-City on La Brea near Melrose, The Tar Pit opens today. A collaboration between Mark Peel (of Campanile) and Audrey Saunders (of New York's famous Pegu Club) the 1940s theme restaurant and bar features surprisingly reasonable Neo-classical cocktails (most are $11), wines (everything on the list is $38 a bottle) and menu (priciest dish, Steak Diane, rings in at $17.) I was fortunate enough to be invited to a press preview party yesterday; the Jamaican Firefly (a sweet-n-spicy concoction of dark rum, housemade ginger beer and lime) is a favorite in the crowd, and the gnocchi w escargot is worth a try too.

Further out West, Bar Bouchon is also opening today - with a more casual vibe than the restaurant upstairs and seating less than 50; it's a great spot for those who want a few drinks and some small bites (a great way to preview some of the fare without dropping as much change.) And while it is a full bar, the beers (artisanal ones picked by Keller himself) and wines (carefully selected by head sommelier Alex Weil, including the Vin de Carafe program) are definitely worth more than just a passing glance.

And in the East, the much anticipated Eagle Rock Brewery finally opened! While tours and tastings are RSVP only now while they get their bearings straight. Right now they've just released their first batch of Solidarity, a mild black ale - but you may get a preview of their witbier-style Manifesto or their Revolution IPA as well. Email here or call 323.257.7866 to RSVP.

And while you're out in Eagle Rock, you may as well swing by Larkin's - a contemporary soul food joint that is doing an adopt-a-family drive now until the 23rd. Bring in clothes, toys and other non-perishables to help the cause and you get 15% off the bill, warming the soul in more ways than one (esp. when you get their seafood broth gumbo, Momma's BBQ meatloaf or their "dirty" grits with bacon, pepper and onions.)

And my favorite festive reads of the week:

Slate tackles the history and variations of the often-misunderstood fruitcake

And also answers the question for the most eco-friendly cheese to bring to the table (go young, go soft, go local)

Meanwhile, LA Times go full hog with the turducken, which test kitchen manager Noelle Carter makes seamlessly easy

And for a little more deets about The Tar Pit, Pat of EatingLA already summed up her experience from yesterday's preview

And being the chocoholic I am, definitely appreciated gawking at Diana Takes a Bite's chocolatey last-minute holiday gift list

And, for a little laughter, check out S. Irene's snarky zero-star review of Firenze Osteria and Don't Even Reply's prank response to a call-for-catering ad (makes me think twice about using craigslist!) May I interest you in a little Le Sandwich Rouge?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No. 147: Thankfulness for Cupcake Tour around L.A.

Photo courtesy of TaraMetBlog

As I have confessed before, cupcakes aren't on my top list of sweets -- with my fair share of "misses" from an off-ratio of frosting to cake, and more than one instance where the cupcake isn't finger-friendly, defeating their purpose as a portable dessert. Even after judging 40 or so of them at the Cupcake Challenge earlier this year, I was left with an ambivalent aftertaste.

Bloggers outside Pacific Design Center
But thanks to bloggerprom committee comrade Tara (of TaraMetBlog and LA Cupcakes Meetup) and GM Chevrolet, I was invited check out four of L.A.'s finest cupcakeries as part of their "Best of Tours" campaign to promote their vehicles.

Needless to say, with the unfortunate rain, we bloggers were lucky that we got to be driven around -- if it was up to our less-than-professional driving skills against the torrential rain and the other extra-rabid L.A. drivers, we'd probably just park our butts at Crumbs (our first cupcakery stop) and scrounge for food around that area, like 9021Pho! Come to think of it, that sounds pretty good for rainy weather, but I digress...

Shortly after entering Crumbs, we were greeted with smiles and, more importantly to a bunch of lunch- and maybe breakfast-skipping foodbloggers, bags of cupcakes in a myriad of flavors, generously offering coffee and "any cupcake flavor not in the bag" to boot, to which Caroline eagerly replied "ELVIS!" (because she wanted the PB & banana cupcake, not because she saw an impersonator or apparition.)
Crumbs Cookies 'n Creme Cupcake
I opted for a cookies 'n creme-style cupcake with chocolate cake and topped with half an Oreo, which def. taste like one of my fave ice cream flavors. Sweet but not sickening so, and the frosting:cake ratio was pretty spot-on, though I wish the cake itself was less crumbly after I peeled off the wrapper. But what I can say, the bakeshop IS called Crumbs!
Sprinkles Cupcakes
After a good 15-20 minutes enjoying our cupcakes and hot coffee, we made the two walk block down to the infamous Sprinkles, where Tara and her colleague picked up the cupcakes while we stayed outside since their shop interior is so teensy-tiny. Feeling a bit chocolated out from the previous half a cupcake, I opted to balance things out and got the vanilla one here -- even though the Red Velvet, with not-so-signature dot, seems to be first to go.
SusieCakes Cupcake Selection
Next stop, SusieCakes, which I remembered from the Cupcake Challenge as being too sweet for my liking, but willing to give another try since Tara said it's her fave. I got the Strawberry cupcake to-go after Tara mentioned that Martha Stewart endorsed it, saying it was "DA BOMB" (Ok, maybe not in those exact words.) Being sugared out, I didn't eat this on the spot, but when I did get around to it later, I do have to concede to the frosting's deliciousness. And I agree with Natassia from Let Me Eat Cake in that it tastes a like a yummy strawberry starburst, minus the annoying teeth-stickiness of that chew.
Lindsay w La Salsa Burrito
I'm also glad to find out I'm not the only who's overloaded with sugar. Lindsay of the LAist relented to a La Salsa burrito to get some much needed salt and proteins--smart girl!

Last, and I will say least, was Vanilla Bake Shop - which I had prev. positive moments of, most recently from their being featured at the Casa Del Mar dessert buffet brunch. But that quickly turned sour when we entered and started bringing out our cameras ready to take shots, when an enraged-looking manager stormed out from the back and screamed "NO PICTURES!" Now, I'm aware, and have respected, no photo policies at other places (see: Bourbon & Branch in SF) particularly when *politely requested* instead of angrily-demanded to do so.
But, whatevs -- maybe she had a stressful day or a bad run-in with a photographer in the past. However, just as I was about to mentally forgive and forget, she comes back out again to say "NO SAMPLES EITHER!" . . . which we didn't even ask for, so needless to say it made for a WTF moment. So I placed my order and was read to just get out of the store when I heard a toilet flush and noticed the restroom door! The mischievious gremlin in me took over . . .
Vanilla Bake Shop Cupcake w Toilet
. . . and I took a photo of their cupcake with the toilet in the background, partly to show them what I think of their policy and how they're enforcing it, but mostly for hilarity's sakes. Extra funny points that I just happened to have ordered, by pure coincidence, a dark brown bittersweet chocolate cupcake!

But despite that bummer of a final stop, overall it was a great experience to taste and compare so many cupcakes. Right now I'll say Crumbs and Susiecakes tie for my faves, but hard to compare since it was a chocolatey vs. fruity cupcake (which of course means I gotta make some return trips to do a little more R&D.) And of course, thankful to be participant of such a cool idea, all the while wishing with other bloggers that they'll take this "Best of Tours" idea for a multi-stop drinking excursion, when having a driver would really be a boon.
BLTA at Golden State
And following Lindsay's lead, Caroline, Shelley and I swung by The Golden State some much needed real food in the form of sandwiches and burgers, and they served one of the better BLTAs I've had in a while (w arugula, aioli, avocado and lots of glazed applewood bacon) w a refreshing cabbage slaw lightly dressed with a vinaigrette . . . and some beers too.

Other reports on the Cupcake Best of Tour:
Caroline on Crack whose "Elvis!" screams I'll take with a grain of saltLet Me Eat Cake fell into a cupcake comaBurrito-eating Lindsay pits these four with two more local cupcakeries for the bestPretty sandy feet tried on her wedding dress AFTER the cupcake tour... bravo!Happy Go Marni loves the cakes and the ride (Transformers edition Camaro,) only thing missing for her: Shia LaBeoufAnd of course, organizer Tara's got it down in her blog too!And more photos from the trip on my flickr here.Crumbs Bake Shop9465 S Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA(310) 550-9811Sprinkles Cupcakes9635 Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA(310) 274-8765SusieCakes Bakery11708 San Vicente Blvd.Los Angeles, CA(310) 442-2253Vanilla Bake Shop512 Wilshire Blvd.Santa Monica, CA (310) 458-6644The Golden State426 N Fairfax Ave.Los Angeles, CA(323) 782-8331

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thankful Recipe Time #17: Chocolate-Bourbon "Pousse" with Drunken Cranberries

Sweets Display 2
Table of sweets at Caroline's Treats Exchange

Since I started foodblogging here a little over three years ago, one of the things I'm most thankful for is the company of other bloggers I've met along the way--a generally jolly, slightly crazy (in a good way) bunch that I've shared many photos, notes and meals with and whom I can count on to make recommendations in unfamiliar dining territories.

Chocolate-Bourbon Pudding
And of course, there are few better ways to celebrate with foodbloggers than doing a potluck and exchange, which is what Caroline on Crack threw together yesterday at her house, with bloggers Faux LA Hipster, ShopEatSleep, TinyNancer, The Liquid Muse and vlogger Busy BethF in attendance . Feeling a little more foodventurous than the cranberry-orange rice krispie treats last year, and inspired by the Alembic Bar's Eagle Rare Chocolate Pudding with Drunken Cherries and Almond Mousse (above) I had last month (which I boldly claim is better than Mozza's butterscotch budino,) I decide to research and reverse-engineer the dessert in my own kitchen . . .
Chocolate-Bourbon "Pousse" 2
. . . and this is the result, since cherries were out of season I opted for cranberries instead (and ramped up the sugar to compensate for the extra tartness,) and I opted for an almond sour cream topping instead since it's more stable than a mousse or whipped cream topping - and finally, the texture came out more like a "pousse"--not quite densely creamy as a pudding, but not as light and delicate as a mousse. It actually could've fool me as a pot de creme, but since it doesn't involve a custard or any baking -- that would've been a misnomer. So, pousse it is (and yes, I love thinly veiled double entendre that goes with the pronounciation.)

While the final dish I made bore only second-cousin resemblance of what I had at Alembic, it was delicious to eat: silky-rich with pretty intense chocolate flavors and a nice, tangy contrast from the drunken cranberries, almond sour cream and the crunch of the crushed almond cookies. And, best of all, this is surprisingly easy to make (no-bake is a major plus for me!) And so, I share with you my recipe for chocolate-bourbon pousse, drunken cranberries and almond sour cream topping.

The below makes about 24 quarter-cup "taster" servings (since this was for a sweets exchange) -- if this was the only dessert served I'd go up on the sizes, meaning it'll serve about 12-16. All the components can be made 1-2 days ahead, but assemble just before serving

Chocolate-Bourbon "Pousse" (adopted from this Fine Cooking recipe for an actual mousse)
1.5 cups heavy whipping cream
14 oz. bittersweet chocolate in chips or small chunks (I used Callebaut's 60%, available at Surfas)
9 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. Bourbon whiskey* (I used Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon)
6 egg whites
*the flavor the bourbon is really subtle in my final product, if you want a stronger presence you can double it up; be sure to taste as you add so you don't make it too strong

Drunken Cranberries (adopted from this Earthbound Farms recipe for drunken cherries)
10 oz. fresh cranberries, halved
1 cup sugar
1 cup red wine (I opted for 2008 Old Moon Zinfandel from Trader Joe's, $3.99/bottle)
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon

Almond Sour Cream Topping (adopted from Joy of Cooking's sour cream topping for cheesecakes)
1.5 cup sour cream
.33 cup sugar
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
1.5 tsp. almond extract

.75 cup hand-crushed almond cookies/biscotti (optional)

Making the pousse
1. Combine the sugar and the cream in a saucepan and heat on medium-heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally to keep cream from burning.
2. Once simmering, turn off heat and remove saucepan from burner, stir in vanilla extract and bourbon, add the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes before stirring to combine - returning to the stovetop if chocolate didn't fully melt and incorporate.
3. While the saucepan is sitting, whisk the egg whites to medium peaks (sidenote: having no mixer, I actually hand-beat mine into peaky submission -- a good 15 minutes of rigorous arm workout!)
4. Pour the chocolate-cream mixture in a large bowl, and fold in the egg whites, gently with a spatula and one-quarter to one-third at a time.
5. Ladle the pousse mixture into ramekin, cup, molds, pans or any container of choice and let chill in fridge for at least one hour (obviously, longer if poured into a large container such as casserole dish or cake pan.)

Getting cranberries drunk
1. In a saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, vanilla and the zest and juice of the lemon and heat until a rolling boil.
2. Throw cranberries in, reduce heat and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes (for me, it was done shortly after the cranberry halves puffed up from absorbing the liquid--but the best way to determine is to taste them occasionally, deciding which sweet-tart balance works best for you.)
3. Drain the cranberries and let it chill in fridge for about an hour
Note: the leftover liquid is actually a wonderful cranberry-red wine syrup that you can save for another dessert as a sauce or even use as in cocktails!

Super-complicated topping instructions
1. Combine the sour cream, sugar and extracts

Dollop and spread almond sour cream topping over chilled pousse, sprinkle drunken cranberries, and if you want some crunch, crush some almond cookies/biscotti over it (do the cookie crushing shortly before serving, since it'll sog up pretty quick.)

Enjoy, and here are some of the other blogged recipes from the sweets exchange:
- Caroline's Fuyu Persimmon Crumble Simple-easy and almost healthy!
- TinyNancer's Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons, less insane than macarons
- The Liquid Muse's Absinthe-laced Brownies, fairyvisions sold separately

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Special Foodventures #146: Thankful for Preview at Ludobites In Bed Together w Royal/T (Culver City)

RoyalT exterior
Continuing on my thankful streak from November, December began with another event I'm humbled and honored to be invited to the preview dinner of Ludobites' new pop-up restaurant at Royal/T, courtesy of review site FoodDigger - which also provided some amazing wines for the occasion. I'm no stranger to the cafe-meets-art space-meets-nifty gift store and their constantly changing exhibitions with artists locally and globally, but I think this is the first time they let another chef take helm of the kitchen. Given his successes from the Breadbar stints earlier this year and last, I'm definitely curious to see what he got up his sleeves this time around.
Krissy showcasing light box
Being no strangers to their numerous blogger fans, Krissy invested in a lightbox for all of us to use for the dishes (thankfully I sat underneath pretty good lighting, and I preferred the warmer tone at my seat. And I'm lazy.)

The nine course affair was overall very playful, with a lot of modern, East-meets-West elements reflective of Ludo's French technique and the Japanesey atmosphere of the space. Since numerous others already gave a rundown of the entire menu that night, I'll avoid a re-hash of the nitty-gritty (I probably won't be as succinct as the aforementioned posts anyways) and highlight some of my favorite items of the night.
Raw Scallop
Scallop, brown butter, pineapple & black powder - actually no stranger to this dish, since Ludo prepared this for guests at the debut of the "In Bed Together..." exhibition. And I enjoyed it every bit as much the second time around, the combo of nearly-raw scallops and pineapple with brown butter evokes a unique texture flavor that I can best describe as somewhere between a cole slaw (minus the veggie notes, obviously) and a fruity, less acidic ceviche. The touch of toasty-nuttiness from the browned butter adds a delightful depth to this starter.
Foie Gras Beignet
Foie gras beignet w celery remoulade - a guilty pleasure, given my semi-conscientious stance on eating. But the tasty beignet, stuffed with two ounces of the fattened liver, managed to shut the trap of my higher morals. Crispy on the outside with a sweet glaze, upon biting it bursts into hot, fluffy dough and a flood of near-liquid richness. I also appreciated the accompanying remoulade and would've liked even more, it was a bright, refreshing contrast to the fattiness of the foie and was great for resetting the palate, like the ginger slices between sushi.
Marinated Hangar Steak
Marinated hangar steak with crunchy escargot, baby corn, bok choy and black olive mole - while most fusion fare typically blend influences from two disparate styles of cooking, the ever adventurous Ludo took it one extra step further with this dish and worked with three -- with French (escargot), Asian (the vegetables) and Latin-American (the mole) elements all on one plate. Being finicky with olives, I wasn't sure if I'd like the mole - but it turned out amazingly well, the olives themselves a pleasant surprise for the tastebuds, complementing the smoky, earthy and slightly sweet mole. Props for this dish also goes to Javier, a.k.a. Glutster, and his mom, who taught Ludo the art of mole making.
Chocolate Cake
Chocolate cake, coconut sorbet, caramel coffee - what really made this dish for me was the addition of the pink peppercorns that went unlisted on the menu. Chocolate and peppercorn is one of my favorite eccentric pairings - offering a mild, snappy bite of vegetal spiciness as opposed to the lingering heat and smoke of the chocolate and chili combo (which I enjoy too, but that coupling has gotten a lot more play lately.) I'm also surprise by the intensity of coconut flavor in that sorbet soup, nicely holding its own against the richer, more intense chocolate and coffee caramel.

The other dishes featured that night were delightful as well; even if the flavors didn't work for me, I definitely appreciated the complexity and the creativity in their construction, forcing me to pause in-between bites to think about what's going on in my mouth--even inspiring me to be a bit more adventurous in my own cooking. A little aioli with my steamed/poached bass? maybe veal with my udon noodle soup? Sure, why not.

Now, before you fret about missing your chance to reserve at Ludobites (since it got booked up pretty much the moment it was announced a month ago,) I was told that there has been some substantial last-minute cancellations -- so you can always trying calling in and seeing if you can squeeze yourself in. It's definitely worth a try, especially after you check out the everchanging menu. And while you're at it, the wine list too - put together by Domaine LA

And of course, I can't wait to see where Chef Ludo will pop up, or settle into, next...

Finally, goes without saying, another big thank you to Ludovic&Krissy Lefebvre (and the staff) for putting up with us, cameras, notebooks and all, FoodDigger for hosting yet another wonderful dinner and, of course, all the attendees for the wonderful company and conversation.

Ludobites In Bed Together w Royal/T
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

more photos from flickr here

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Special Foodventures #145: Thankful November Diary Pt 1

Pera Cocktail
Pera Cocktail, made with pear-infused cognac, from Drago Centro

With 2009 coming to an end, I have definitely been thinking about the 11 months that already passed. If I had to distill all those experiences into a single word, it would probably be Thankfulness. I suppose that's not a rare emotion to have this time of year, with Thanksgiving memories still lingering and all the anticipation of the holiday celebrations with close ones afoot. But it is very much a genuine feeling; thus, I dedicate December's posts to all the things I am thankful for in 2009. Starting off the dedication, I'll commemorate last month -- where, despite my announced blog hiatus, I've still been invited to numerous events, meeting wonderful new folks while reconnecting with friends I already know, all over many great meals, snacks and drinks.

November began as a total trip, literally! Thanks to winning PhishFest tickets from a LAist contest, e*starLA and I embarked on a trip to Indio over Halloween weekend for the three-day, eight-set performance by the jammin' rock band.
There's a baby in the bar
Not only do I have a whole new sense of appreciation for their music (really only having listened to them in passing before,) I also discovered some tasty treats out in the Inland Empire, including the Beer Hunter Sports Pub & Grill (boasting over 250 beers by the bottle and a sizable tap of ~30 brews.) And, since an A&W was within reach, we got fried cheese curds and root beer floats too (with some fried chicken, since this fast food stop was a hybrid with KFC!) Oh did I mention I got a brownie sundae that wound up pwning my butt? Even with Esther's help we left about half of it untouched!
Immediately following PhishFest (literally - we drove direct from Indio to Venice Beach to make the event), Esther and I headed to a Zeno Supper Club with fellow bloggers Caroline on Crack and Gourmet Pigs. We were invited by Citysearch but there was a $20 suggested donation at the door, but I thought what the hey -- there's an open bar and the foods served looked promising. And grub was certainly worthwhile, a delightful mishmash of gussied-up comfort foods (cassoulet, a "Thanksgiving" sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce and gravy within and fire-roasted oysters from Carlsbad Aqua Farms!) and nice sips (namely, beers from Stone Brewing Company.) Who would've thought that this food-packed weekend is merely a preview of many more to follow in November?
Cocktail Tasting @ Drago Centro
Two days following, I met up with almost-common-law-spouse Esther again to taste cocktails from the new menu at Drago Centro, followed by the Secret Whisky Society at 7 Grand, which was highlighting Irish whiskys from Cooley Distillery, and then snacks and ANOTHER cocktail from Bottega Louie across the street. Obviously my memories of that night is a bit blurry, but I was definitely in bliss and can ID some of my favorites of the night: the Fumo e Fuoco ("Smoke and Fire") at Drago Centro, the silky-sweet-smelling Port barrel-aged Tyrconnell and Bottega's Manhattan, echoing Caroline's sentiment.
Foodbuzz Afternoon Tasting Pavillion @ Metreon
A few days later, I packed my bags and drove up to San Francisco for the first annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, celebrating - obviously - foodblogging! The three days were jam-packed with lots of eats and drinks, from casual SF street food to a chic farm-to-table five-course affair inside a produce warehouse, not to mention the numerous "samplings" we had along the way. And once again, I'm just floored by the fresh, seasonally-driven fare that's the soul of SF cuisine.
Chocolate-Bourbon Pudding
Of course, I squeezed in a little extra time too between events and took an extra day off to enjoy some of my favorite NorCal food and drinks and to discover new ones too. Of course, the likes of Alembic Bar (chocolate-bourbon pudding OMG!) and Tartine was in the itinerary, but I was also thrilled to discover new places such as Rickhouse and their crazy punch bowls (~$30 and it can easily serve six w refills too), Anchor Oyster Bar's succulent and sweet shucked shellfish and shooters and Ad Hoc's casual but well-prepared four-course meal.
Autumn Vegetable Couscous
And on the way back, I swung by the Chez Panisse Upstairs Café for simple, sinful farewell-to-NorCal lunch. Their green goddess dressing for the gem lettuce & beet salad was divine, as was the pink lady apple and sour cherry tart with clove ice cream. Finally, the autumn vegetable couscous was just as tasty the day after returning to LA.
Souvenirs from SF
Speaking of bringing stuff down, no surprise to anyone who knows me, I brought back a lot of edible (and mostly sweet) souvenirs, along with all the Foodbuzzy schwag!
Knife Cut Noodles w Beef
I also had my share of fun outings with other actively writing blogger pals too, such as a long-anticipated trip with Gourmet Pigs to JTYH (which I'll call Justin Timberlake's forever and ever thanks to Cathy) for their knife-cut noodles, moo shu "cat's ears" and dumplings. It was solid stuff, but I think all the recent blog raves are a tad overhyped. But a great, affordable lunch/dinner option in the SGV.
Lobster Club Sandwich w Chips
The following weekend, I met up with some of my Blogger Prom committee pals over a beachside brunch at Casa del Mar, taking advantage of their $29.95 for a three-course brunch with a dessert buffet, and bottomless brunch cocktails if you text them. While the brunch and the service was lackluster, the company was definitely great! You can read Maya's ShopEatSleep blog report for the mishaps, I won't say much asides from the fact that we had to hail the manager at least three times to our table.
Caroline reacting to face-sized steak
And despite my announced hiatus, PR folks were still sending me invites to check out restaurants and events. From a lovely, casual dinner with an amazingly inexpensive wine and cocktail list at Allston Yacht Club in Echo Park (can't wait to check out again) to ten-course meal at Animal paired with assorted Samuel Adams beers along with a tasting of their 27% ABV Utopias (and they weren't skimpy with the portions, the steak was as big as Caroline on Crack's face!) Read her blog for the full lowdown on this beer and food filled fest. And somehow I still managed to talk her into going to Golden State with me to share a float made with Requiem Espresso Stout and Scoops' Salted Caramel gelato.
Bouchon's Kitchen
But Bouchon's grand opening party takes the cake as the glitziess event from that first half of November, between the celeb sightings (Julia Louis-Dreyfus! Gilles Marini and Star Jones! Ryan Seacrest, Pierce Brosnan and Fred Savage too!), the tour through their vast kitchen, and of course, plenty of tastings galore, bottomless alchy, meeting Chef Keller and of course, mingling with Eating LA's Pat, FoodGPS' Josh, Grubstreet LA's Hadley, LAT Daily Dish contributor Krista Simmons, Pleasure Palate's Abby, Juli B contributor Ket, Eater LA contributor Daniela, Tasting Table's Lesley Balla, Choisauce and numerous others. I was thrilled to have a chance to sneak peek the restaurant before opening, and looking forward to a real meal there in 2010 after the typical restaurant opening kinks and dust gets settled.
Bouchon Ice Sculpture & Caviar Station
And this is only half the month of foodventures-in-blogging-absentia, more to come about the rest of November in a future post! In the meantime, enjoy the photos from my flickr!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Quickies #81: Return to Blogging

My Eat My Blog contribution, sort of . . .

Wow, that monthlong hiatus pass by fast! And so I return to the blogging scene after a month of insanity (and probably another month of catching up!) But let's start off with a few cool events for this not-so-chilly winter. 

Tonight, 7-10 p.m., healthy-gourmet chef Eda Vesterman is back at Breadbar with another round of the "Four Elements" theme. Tonight her focus will be Fire, a night of cheese fondue - where for $25/person, diners can indulge in a fondue made with gourmet cheeses from The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, a "potato martini bar" and, given its location, lots of bread to dip. A sommelier will also be on-site to make pairing recommendations with a number of wines at $5/glass. 

Tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is Eat My Blog, a delicious baked good drive at Zeke's Smokehouse benefiting L.A. Regional Food Bank with goodies made by many of L.A's best local bloggers including Gastronomy, Diana Takes a Bite, Delicious Coma, Eating L.A., Ravenous Couple and more (including yours truly)! Over 600 baked goods at a very sensible $1-3 apiece, though it'll be hard to resist snatching them up by the truckload. For more information, check it out here!

And if you're feeling guilty from all the carbs, work it off at Edison's Repeal Day celebration at Pershing Square tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m., where there's ice-skating galore plus hot chocolates and treats for $25/person. The ticket also earns you an entry into the Edison afterwards for a tasting of their Christmas Blend of Bourbon from 8 to 9 p.m. Can't imagine a better way to warm up, even if it isn't that cold.

Alas, not much of a reading list this time as I'm busy catching up to blog-related e-mails, but I'm definitely glad to be back in the game.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Quickies #80: Another Frisco Journey Friday

Strawberry Alarm Clock @ Alembic
Wondering if I can have a second go with my strawberry alarm clock?

Once again, as of now I'm en route to SF (and still working many many words of my NaNoWriMo novel) so keeping this quickie super short to the point of second-handed!

Today, LunaParkLA is providing half off EVERYTHING (food, yes, drinks, yes, exotic entertainment... errm, wrong place), just print out this picture, bring it in, and enjoy some goat cheese fondue, make your own s'mores and cuh-razy mac 'n cheese with half the guilt (on your wallet if not your waist)

Tomorrow, it's Speakeasy Time
at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel (half priced at goldstar, $50-$75 instead of $100-$150) - with free-flowing, classic, vintage cocktails prepped by bartenders at the Edison and the Varnish ~. Here are some other preview reports.

And on Sunday, the 23rd Annual Great Chefs of L.A. benefiting the SoCal chapter of the National Kidney Foundation (also available on goldstar at $75 instead of $150) in case you missed out on all those giveaways.

And of course, for more fun local events, you can check out my favorite weekend guides. See you in a few!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Four Potlucks Chapter 1 - A Collaborative Novel

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A weekend of foodventures compressed into one day . . .

I've always been one to "Work hard, play hard" -- but when I get called in to work weekends that easily turns my mantra into "work hard, play hardER!" on the days I do have off. so that's exactly what I did this past Saturday, when I easily crammed 2-3 days worth of events and outings into one 24-hour period of fun, thrills and, of course, food.

Bloggers at Human Race
My day actually started the night preceding, when I went to USC-LA Coliseum area to partake in the Nike+ Human Race 10K (disclosure: the Nike folks were actually going for more online/social media outreach this year, so they reached out to a few local influentials, including my friend Caroline on Crack, so as a blogger and plus-one I got hooked up with some dandy running gear – more on that on my much-neglected “other half” blog coming up.) The run was wild and crazy with over 8,000 peeps taking on 5K/10K in Central LA. Being packed as it was, I didn’t set a record for my run, but still did better than I expected (53 minutes for 10K, so approx. 8:30 a mile). It was great meeting fellow running bloggers Sonja of Active Foodie, Josh of FoodGPS, and Andy + Lisa of LAist (DianaTakesABite was also there staffing the shoe trials booth) And just to make this paragraph relevant to this blog, I also enjoyed the barbecue-flavored PopChips that were provided to runners -- wildly flavorful and not greasy at all!
A little snack and an abridged five-hour sleep later, I hauled my surprisingly-not-sore legs to Venice to meet up with Sonja, Caroline and her friend Mei-Mei at Gjelina. Having arrived in the Abbot Kinney area a little early, I decide to indulge in a post-run affogato at Intelligentsia. After one sip and one spoonful, I think espresso+ice cream should be a part of everyone’s well-balanced breakfast!
Empty Tables at Gjelina
After that blissful drink, Caroline, Mei-Mei and I plopped our butts down at Gjelina (Sonja ran a little late). I’m not usually one to bag on restaurants, but what’s up with the attitude? From the curt hostess who sat us down in the most dysfunctional and fugliest table on the nearly-empty patio (turquoise, rusty AND wobbly) and not letting us switch to another four-top due to reservations (Caroline and I found that questionable, since she called a few days before and was told reservations allowed only for parties of six-plus.) And then there’s our fedora-wearing hipster waiter who was impatiently hovering around us early on while we waited for Sonja, providing abrupt replies to our questions interspersed with “are you ready yet?” and practically disappeared after getting the order down (I don’t believe he even checked up on our table.) Well, sorry if we weren’t celebrities or hobbits (I spotted Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan in semi-private area of the restaurant,) but a little TLC at the table goes a long, long way.
Chickpea Stew
As for the food, it was on the OK-to-good range – nothing that I’d make a destination for. I got the chickpea and Israeli couscous stew with spiced yogurt and harissa sauces – more on the lunchy side of brunch but it satisfied my hunger and was a hearty-but-not-heavy dish. Sonja, Caroline and Mei-Mei got poached egg dishes, and the latter two’s were more liquidy than I expected (how bout giving the eggs a little wiggle and water drainage before slapping it on top of a bed of grits and mushrooms so they don’t turn into soggy-soup?) On a good note, I did enjoy my La Chouffe Belgian blonde ale – toasty aromas with flower undertones and a little spiciness on the mouth while being totally quaffable. But yeah, while I won’t totally write Gjelina off, it’s not a place I would actively recommend if my pals and I are looking for a place to eat (esp. for $30 for brunch!) … if anything, I might steer us towards Tasting Kitchen, Lemonade or 3 Square nearby.
Marked5 Menu
Unable to resist the calls of the numerous food trucks staking their spaces Abbot Kinney, our group succumbed to Marked5 (five items on menu, $5 – including tax – for everything) and tried their Torakku Beef burger. I had a bite and thought it was alright but messy with the rice patties (though my lack of interest may be because I had a belly full of chickpeas, couscous, brussel sprouts and beer.)
Three Apples event
Remembering the Royal/T Three Apples party going on that day, Caroline and I went to Culver City to check out the Hello Kitty craziness. It was a madhouse indeed… with all sorts of Hello Kitty and tokidoki merchandise (designers from both were there doing signings) and numerous collaborative/tribute art with other artists. But it was still fun look at the pieces, and Caroline bought some funky-punky items and we chilled later on with some iced teas at the café. But definitely one of the more chaotic exhibition openings I’ve been to and bummers we couldn’t get our stuff signed by Simone though.
Ahi w Beer Sampler
Still having a bit more time to kill for the day, we opted for some beers and snacks at Library Alehouse – which I’m glad to finally visit so I won’t confuse it with downtown’s Library Bar anymore. Both of us got the $7 five-beer sampler and let our bartend, Danny, pick some of the four-ounce samples for us. Good stuff, I liked the Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Hop Head Red he picked – and of course I am pleased to sip on Allagash White (already gone by the time I took photo, heh) and Racer 5 IPA. Our dishes were also nice bar bites, I had the sesame-seared ahi tuna that was the perfect bite at the moment, very light and the wasabi and ginger went nicely with the hoppier beers. Caroline got the chipotle shrimp quesadillas; solid stuff, but I was floored by the ripeness of the tomatoes in the accompanying salsa.
Beach CleanUp
Finally happy from food AND service, we headed to the beach to join up with our friend Siel a.k.a. GreenLAGirl for the Blogger Beach Clean-Up that she co-organized. It was great meeting up with fellow bloggers and put it towards something good, even if only for 20 minutes and Caroline, Yolanda and I only wound up getting two ice cream scoops’ worth of trash in that timespan. But it was nice to know that Santa Monica is actually a pretty clean beach, and that every little step counts toward making the planet a greener and healthier place to live. And of course, meeting all sorts of bloggers I already know (e.g. LAist's Zach Behren and Jennio) and a plethora of new ones.
Backdrop at GR exhibition
While there was a happy hours afterparty for the beach clean-uppers at Pourtal, I decided to head east to check out the opening of the Giant Robot exhibition going on at Japanese American National Museum (free admission that day is a definite perk!) to check out the various Pop-Asian arts, from lighthearted cute to hauntingly dark. It was also nice seeing the rest of the museum too and to be reminded of United State’s own version of concentration camps during World War II. It seems like free drinks and food were being offered at the lobby reception, but I skipped 'cause of the lines and I already had other nosh plans.
Duck Confit Pizza
Finally, supper time, and I already knew what I want to check out – the bar bites and dessert menus at Drago Centro, which has gotten good buzz lately. To start, I picked their mozzarella-speck-pepper-arugula rolls which just alright, and an amazing duck confit pizza that had a good amount of the fatty meat, not too shabby w three thin and crispy slices for just $4. I also tried one of their cocktails, the L'Erba Bleu - Buffalo Trace bourbon with fresh grapefruit sour. Sweeter and fruitier than my preference, I really can't complain since it's only $5 and I can see it being a decent gateway cocktail for someone who insist on not liking Bourbon.
Walnut Tart
The highlight of my meal definitely came with desserts, which I was very eager to try after reading LA Weekly's profile of pastry chef Jashmine Corpuz earlier this month. The la crostata di noci ($9) was heavenly -- a not-too-sweet walnut tart topped with parmesan gelato and crisp, surrounded with marsala syrup and grapes. I felt it was the perfect lovechild from the elopement of cheese and dessert courses. Pair it with the coffee-ish Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and you got one killer combo to end your meal with (and yes, I was tempted to DIY a beer float with the parmesan gelato, opted out of it--in hindsight I wished I asked the bar for a shotglass so I can do a mini version.)

And so ends my weekend-in-a-day. Despite the ups-and-downs encountered with the different events, overall it was fun and I'm glad it ended on a high note. After 13+ hours of being out and about (and I am not even counting the 2-3 hours in the Nike+ run) I'm definitely ready for a good night sleep and take my Sunday of work in stride.

Many more photos from my day here

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA‎
(310) 399-1233‎

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA
(310) 450-1429

Marked5 Food Truck
Various locations

Royal/T Cafe
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA
(310) 559-6300

Library Alehouse
2911 Main St
Santa Monica, CA
(310) 314-4855

Drago Centro
525 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA ‎
(213) 228-8998 ‎


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