Saturday, January 31, 2009

Special Foodventure #101: DineLA dinner at the Bazaar (Beverly Hills)

The Bazaar was one of the hottest restaurant openings last year, with tapas-forerunner chef Jose Andres joining forces with local uber-hospitality management company SBE to open a three-part restaurant in the new SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. Since the Bazaar's focus is on small plates, ideally it would be great for me to go with a group so we can all order, split and share a variety of different items. And that perfect moment came when DineLA Restaurant Week rolled around, and the Bazaar's deal sounds particularly sweet since instead of a prix-fixe like almost all the other restaurants, we can choose our own courses from pretty much their entire menu, or so we initially thought.

Squirrel Coin Bank
I've been to the Bazaar for drinks a few times before (and apparently, the bartender noticed; I feel like such a lush now) and I still can't decided whether the over-the-top glitzy decor makes for fascinating, albeit gaudy, eye-candy or just an tasteless celebration of all things tacky. It certainly doesn't help the case that right next to the bar and patisserie is an exorbitant gift shop selling wares like a golden squirrel coin bank for $4,500 or limited-edition paparazzi prints of poor celebs-in-hiding for about a grand each. Oh yea, a considerable percentage of the bar and patisserie clientele unnecessarily flashy too (think guys wearing heavily-embroidered jeans and deep V-neck t-shirts with giant chest graphics, and women in neon-colored stockings and faux-fur vests and top-hats; both gender tend to sport too much fragrance) leaving me aghast and amused at the same time.
Brandy Alexander
But anyhow, my pre-dinner cocktails since I arrived early - my first drink was a Brandy Alexander (pictured above) that had nice aromas (esp. since the bartend freshly grated nutmeg on top) but ultimately too thin in texture since half-and-half was used in lieu of heavy cream. For my second drink I decided to order something I already know I'd like, the Jalé Berry with fresh jalapenos and blackberries with gin and Cointreau (I requested Plymouth). I just love the spike of spice and grassiness that the pepper added to another-wise standard and somewhat fruity ccoktail, and the overall bouquet of aromas was pleasantly complex (peppers and berries go well with the citrusy, mildly-herby aromas of this particular gin, which is one of my faves.)

Aaron of Food Destination and his g/f and ordered drinks of their own, and a few minutes later Tony of SinoSoul came with his g/f (yea, I ventured here solo -- thankfully was joined by Tony's friend Danny later on) and we slinked into our booth in the "rojo" room of the restaurant (fyi, the menu and the dining room is divided into rojo and blanca with totally different feel.)

After our waiter confirmed the DineLA setup (three tapas except from the meats & cheese sections, plus a "philly" or "hilly" sandwich and any $10 dessert from the patisserie menu) we put our budget-minded math brains to work. With tapas ranging from $6 to $16 how much one saves (or even lose) on the DineLA deal hinges on the price value of what's ordered. So of course, we mostly stuck with the pricier small plates. But we weren't being total penny-pinchers and put in an order of jamon iberico de bellota ($36 for two ounces, OK -- split six ways it's only an extra $6 each...)
First to arrive was our shared jamon and a complimentary starter of toast with olive oil and tomato puree. The toast was refreshing, flavorful but surprisingly not heavy -- like a fresh margherita pizza sans basil and cheese.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota
As for the jamon - it was divine and I can see why they kept the pigs on an acorn-only diet (and fetching the consequent high price for the ham) it had a smooth, silky and rich texture w/o feeling fatty at all thanks to the marbling and was bursting with meaty, bacon-like flavors with a slight tinge of smoke-cure and nut taste. It was hard to refrain from taking more than my share of 2-3 slices.
"Philly" sandwich
Since none of us were vegetarians, we all got the "Philly" sandwich (the "Hilly" merely swapped the beef for mushrooms) - lovely to look at and fun to eat, the best way I can describe it is that it's the eclair's savory, meaty cousin. The light, crispy bread was puffed and it's interior is filled with molten cheese. While delightful to try, I think mine had a little too much cheese, which overwhelmed the otherwise nicely-seared thin slices of beef.
King Crab in a Can
Next up was their king crab in a raspberry vinegar with fresh raspberry, served in a can as an homage to Spain's claim of having the best canned foods. I absolutely love the presentation and the spectrum of sweet to sour in this dish, from the ripe, sweet raspberries to the more subtle, tender and fresh crab pieces and the fruity-tart sauce.
Mini-Sandwich Remix!
I was curious about their mini sandwiches, so I got their foie gras on brioche with quince jam; since Tony got a trio of sea urchin on steamed buns /w avocado slices, we decided to swap one -- and we both agreed the foie gras tasted better, so buttery rich with a hint of liver flavor - the brioche were a perfect backdrop and the quince jam was a nicely matched pairing, as if I was sipping the Sauternes while eating the meat. The sea urchin sandwich was a bit lackluster due to the ratio, the sheer amount of bun and the richness of the avocado easily overwhelmed the naturally subtle sweet-briny flavor of the urchin.
My final savory (and only hot dish) is the rossejat, described as a paella-like dish with shrimp, served with a garlic sauce on the side that I'm supposed to toss in. Unlike everything else so far, this dish looked amazingly ordinary (like a stir-fried vermicelli dish minus the granules of vegetables -- or as Tony noted it "something out of a Rice-a-roni box"), and the taste was off too. The garlic sauce pretty much overpowered everything, rendering the dish more like a shrimp scampi with noodles as opposed to a paella. It's not Stinking Rose pungent, but the lingering aftertaste did stick for a quite a while after I finished this.
Six Desserts
For desserts, we all decided to order something different so that, again, we can split and share.
Apples in Red Wine, Vanilla Ice Cream
I think this time I got the bad pick with the apples cooked in red wine with vanilla ice cream (and bean, apparently); on their own the apples had no sweetness at all but retained all the tannic astringency and acid of the wine it got cooked in, I have to scoop a little ice cream with every bite to make it palatable. However the other sweets, particularly the Greek yogurt panna cotta with apricot and muscat gelatin and hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salted-hazelnut pralines, were provocatively tasty.

And of course, after the meal's over we took our sweet time exploring the space, from the various exorbitant gifts at Moss to the other sweets on display at the Patisserie to their glitzy bathrooms (mirrors all over; kinda fun, but also weird to stare at myself while I'm doing my business.) By the end I still haven't had a better clue of what the place about (asides from coming up with the phrase "bizarre Bazaar" in my head,) but the space, food and drinks are definitely intriguing enough for me to make a return trip one of these days for a special-occasion meal. Of course, not on a weekend when the tacky d-bag crowd is out in full force.

For more photos of this meal, including what others in my party had, check out my flickr set here.

What Do Others Say?
- Here's SinoSoul's account of the same meal
- Dig Lounge had a pleasant DineLA dinner here
- KevinEats came on grand opening night, tried practically every course here for 50% discount, had a less-than-stellar experience, and got invited back to check out the food again with the chef (along with FoodDigger)
- Gourmet Pigs had a better experience with her half-off grand opening meal
- Food, She Thoughts soaked in every little detail and had some great photos
- Yelperocracy gave it 4 stars

The Bazaar at SLS Hotel
465 S. La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles
The Bazaar on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Quickies #46: Deals and Steals Before and After the Big Game

Valrhona Chocolate Obsession 1

Palm Terrace Restaurant's Valrhona Chocolate Obsession with Gianduja Crust and Pecan-Covered Caramel Ice Cream, mmm.....

Yes, it's Super Bowl; but there's more than enough guides on what to do before/during/after the game already; I personally am doing my Akasha DineLA dinner (with newly-minted foodblogger Binary Tastebuds and others) during the game but mildly rooting for Cardinals though. Anyhow, onto today's quick and short musings.

Orange County Restaurant Week: to all the OC foodies, don't get jealous eyeing dineLA restaurant week from a distance (or grumpy from making that hour-long drive,) here's your chance to celebrate and patronize at your local eateries from Feb. 22 to 28. Over 60 restaurants will be offering prix-fixe lunch and dinner options from $20-40 a person, and there are some real gems in the mix including
The Ritz Restaurant and Garden, 230 Forest Avenue and Michael Mina's Stone Hill Tavern, Heck, LA folks may even want to dive down to nab some of these meal deals.

Another OC event my sweet jaws are excited about, the Palm Terrace Restaurant will be doing a "Cocoa Lounge" Dessert Buffet for the month of February, with delightful sweets created by their exec. pastry chef Michael Owens. If it's anything like the Valrhona Chocolate Obsession I had there for my Newport Beach Restaurant Week dinner (review to come shortly), it's totally worth it! It's $18/person OR complimentary for any Palm Terrace Restaurant patron who orders two or more courses for dinner there.

For the LA folks, Gourmet Pigs got the scoop on a Century City (mostly) sweets event to celebrate the opening of Jin Patisserie's second location at the Century City Intercontinental Mall. Jin's chef/owner Kristy Choo will be whipping up assorted finger sandwiches, exotic chocolate goodies (baked chocolate tart with pineapple; white chocolate with peach compote and yuzu jelly) plus a glass of wine and specially-blended chocolate drink. Sounds hard to beat for $17/person. Takes place on Feb. 5
from 5 to 8 p.m., and you have to RSVP at 310.789.6485.

And speaking of deals, the Bargain Babe blog reminded me that's super deal (literally, the promo code is SUPER) expires at the end of this month a.k.a. tomorrow! Simply put, get a $25 restaurant gift certificate for $3 -- that's some serious savings. Of course, you'll have to do some digging to find a restaurant you actually wanna eat at or try out, and be sure to keep an eye out for the restrictions (some places won't let you use the certificate unless you order above a certain amount, which blunts the blow of the bargain.) For me, it's a great way for snag a delicious discount at downtown's Pitfire Pizza -- and then grab a guilt-free drink or two at the Edison practically next door.

And finally, I got around to checking out the Kogi BBQ truck: Thanks to Matt of Dig Lounge, I scored a chance at tasting those infamous Korean BBQ tacos w/o having to stake my place in line half-hour prior or dealing with crazies. And for the most part, they're as every bit tasty as I imagined them to be. While their special pork belly tapas was unbearably sinewy and chewy (and had an unexpected bone within!) it was quickly made up for with their flavorful short rib slider and taco as well as their spicy pork taco, a nice change of pace from the usual carne asada and al pastor.

As for the Doheny itself, because they had to cater to such a large crowd, patrons were limited to the eight or so drinks from their cocktail list of the night (too bad, would've like to see what the bartends can come up with if they had free reign.) The ginger margarita was deliciously packed with sweet heat, and would've been a perfect match for that spicy pork taco if I had any left. There was also a cocktail made with aloe honey and juices that was pretty smooth and soothing at first, but ultimately too syrupy. I did appreciate the large ice cubes which kept the cocktails cold while minimizing dilution. Guess I'll have to wait for another invitation to check out this exclusive club next time...

and for those who missed out on Kogi or have yet to try, Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock is doing an event with them Feb. 26 -- tacos matched with fine wines . . . can't beat that (oh wait, there was that white trash wine tasting...); anyhow, details are still coming together (wines presented, time of event) but if you're interested regardless, email to RSVP or for more details as they become available (caveat: they are only accepting first 100 RSVPs, but do make the courtesy of canceling if you can't make it after all so others on the waitlist can get their chance.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mini Foodventure #100: The Shojin (Little Tokyo)

I'm surprised that I've yet to blog about The Shojin considering how regularly I come here (at least once a month,) but the gist of it is that it's a wholesome, healthful fare that's reasonably priced and delightfully delicious too.

Considering that Shojin offers traditional and modern organic-vegan Japanese dishes, I find it funny that it's situated a few doors from
the meat-fest that is Honda-Ya on the third floor of the mostly-vacant Little Tokyo Shopping Center. While I do love my meats, dairy and eggs, there are times when I feel like a lighter, plant-based meal ~ and this place fills that niche nicely (alongside my other mostly-vegan favorites like M Cafe de Chaya and Real Food Daily.)
Seitan Cutlet
With a wide range of items from traditional soba noodles, vegetarian sushi and japanese-style curry and pasta dishes as well as rotating seasonal specials, there's always something new for me to discover when I come back. And plenty of traditional vegan-friendly proteins such as seitan, tempeh, tofu and okara (no, not an Engrish way of saying okra) are incorporated in the dishes, making them substantial but without the usual heavy fattiness of actual meats. And your body will thank you too that these delicious non-meats are high in fiber and other nutrients too.
Bento Box
One of my favorites here is their lunch bento box, which lets you try a lot without spending that much. For $9.95 (plus tax + tip), you can choose two lunch-sized entrees, which gets served up with soup, salad, brown rice and a seasonal vegetable dish. For my most recent trip this past weekend, I chose their crispy seitan cutlet with miso demi-glace and mushroom-avocado sushi.

Both were excellent, if I had to use a meat comparison, the seitan reminded me of a lighter version of chicken-fried steak, with a wonderful non-greasy crisp and a tender, slightly chewy texture with a savory, rich "gravy". The sushi, made with brown rice, studded with toasted sesame seeds and topped with just a dab of creamy-tart veganaise, were delectable as well, I didn't even miss the absence of seafood! Wished more sushi bars would offer these creative vegan-friendly options just so my herbivore friends don't get stuck eating inari and those pitiful-looking cucumber/plum/avocado makis throughout the meal.

The staff here is very friendly as well, and I totally appreciated their patience and knowledge as they were explaining the different non-meats to unfamiliar diners.

Unfortunately, given its location casual passerbys are unlikely to discover this spot, unlike the street-level eateries in Little Tokyo. But for me, this is definitely the place to go if I feel like a delicious meal that's on the healthier side. And surely a destination eatery that's worth returning to again and again. Here's hoping that they have a strong enough customer base to stay in business.

What Do Others Say?
- Vegan foodblogger To Live and Eat in L.A. can't stop coming here too
- 63 folks from the Yelperocracy gave it an average of four stars
- VegParadise considers it "a cut above . . . a charming lunch and dinner spot"
- Omnivorous blogger Eric Nakamura likes the "great healthy food" and the nice staff
- Angelenic noted that it's sure to "rouse excitement from the local vegan crowd" but agreed on its lack of visibility

The Shojin
333 S Alameda St (3rd Floor)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 617-0305

Shojin Organic & Natural on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Special Foodventure #99: Tradition by Pascal re-visit (Newport Beach)

Whether by coincidence or clever marketing timing, the Newport Beach Restaurant Association planned their Restaurant Week exactly before the DineLA ones; since this is limited to one city, the restaurant selections are more limited -- but there are some gems and places I wanted to try there. One place I was looking forward to check out again was Tradition by Pascal, where I was treated to a blowout dinner recently. Now that I'm doing dinner on my own dime (and more importantly, not being expected by the staff,) I'd be curious to find out if they're still on their game.

Creme Caramel
My two friends (one of whom this a birthday dinner for) and I arrived at 7:30p on a weeknight to a completely packed restaurant. Looks like there were plenty of others in the know about Restaurant Week as well; even with a reservation it took about 15 minutes to get seated, guessed some of the earlier diners lingered a while longer than expected. But it wasn't an uncomfortably long wait and we settled in pretty quickly with our menus and wine list.

I took a cursory scroll through their wine binders, the place has a nice wine list with decent by the glass options as well as a good number of affordable bottles (which leans a bit towards French wines.) But since this was a celebration meal, I honed in on the bubblies and noticed they offered a 2003 sparkling syrah from Australia. It's a little different, and not too shabby for $47 a bottle, the bubbles help take edge off the tannic astringency (one of my friend's major gripes about this grape varietal) and personally it reminded me of sangria mixed with soda, with its spicy notes and full fruit flavors and the effervescence is a nice touch.
Foie Gras
With three to four choices for appetizers, entrees and desserts -- it didn't take us a whole lot of time to decide what we wanted. Additionally, we splitted a plate of their pan-seared foie gras with d'anjou pears, brioche and verjus sauce. Just like last time, it was wonderful piece of rich butteriness with just a tinge of duck and liver flavors, balanced out by the fruitiness flavors of the pears and the sweet-savory sauce. And again, my friend moaned in pleasure and sopped up every last bit of meat and juices with bread from the basket.
Onion Soup
Appetizers arrived pretty quickly after the wine; I got their homemade pâté with onion marmalade -- mainly because I've never really eaten paté outside of a banh mi sandwich and I've been craving it ever since reading a Bon Appetit article on the subject. While it didn't evoke the epic sensation that I read about, it was still delicious. Hard and coarse in texture, with meaty flavors and chopped nuts within, it tasted like a less-spicy salami minus the cured-fermented flavor and surprisingly not organ-y at all. The sweet onion marmalade and the vinaigrette-dressed mini salad were nice contrast to the savory pâté. My friends got the French onion soup (pictured above) and the roasted-beet salad with hazelnuts and lemon-scented goat cheese, which also got positive feedback (particularly the soup, more meaty and less salty and heavy compared to most -- I can only presume that they may have made the beef broth/stock in-house for this to yield that flavor.)
For entree I got their salmon with quick sauerkraut and mushroom tarragon tomato jus (pictured above). The salmon was slightly overcooked but still tasty, but I liked the sauerkraut a lot -- being the 'quick' version and one fermented for weeks, it lacked the pungency that can easily be overbearing (great with sausages, not so much a mild fish); the result is more like a mix of creamy mashed potato and celery root puree. The jus was a delight as well, a balanced yet vibrant mix, with its components adding a bright acidity, meaty-earthiness and fresh, herb aromas. It was nice dish, though I found the jus and the side more memorable than the meat. I also snuck tastes of my friends' dishes (sausage-stuffed roasted quail with cognac sauce and medium-rare beef sirloin in green peppercorn sauce) and found their proteins were better executed.
Tart Tatin
Lastly, the sweets; having missed actual apple pie just blogging about the Providence Dessert Tasting, I got their Tart Tatin. It was a nice touch that it's an individual tart instead of a slice from a larger tart, and this was nicely prepared. Apples were wonderfully caramelized, and I love their spin from the traditional crust by using a light, flaky puff pastry. Both my friends got the cremé caramel instead; it was nice and creamy, but I still preferred my tart much more.

Again, throughout the meal the service was pretty much flawless (which makes me wonder if the staff recognized me, since I saw quite a few of the same faces from last time) but I observed the other tables and their treatment was pretty much the same as ours as well.

All in all, I still feel that this is a solid traditional French option in the Orange County and the price-point feels right the food you're getting event outside of Restaurant Week. And I'd likely return again to try out more of their classic fare, maybe a glass of wine, and another serving fo the tart. And while they restaurant week has already came and gone, this place seem to still offer $20 prix-fixe lunch and $40 prix-fixe dinner option for the budget-minded.

Photo set of this foodventure here.

Tradition by Pascal
1000 Bristol St N
Newport Beach
(949) 263-9400

Tradition By Pascal on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 24, 2009

When You're Alone . . . You Can Always Go-- Downtown!

Today was just one of those breezy, spontaneous Saturdays where I wound up doing (and eating... and drinking) quite a lot on the spur of the moment and on my lonesome. Having scrapped Plans A and B with friends (a Runyon Canyon hike and a snowboarding trip) due to the weather, I decided to swing by downtown and check out some of the events I blogged about yesterday.

Thankfully, I found a free-for-all-day spot on Main by 2nd; I am guessing the meter poles on that block are being replaced but in the meantime the only parking restriction was no rush-hour parking on weekdays. Woot!

Considering all the walking I'll be doing today, I invested in a hearty breakfast at one of my fave downtown spots: the Nickel Diner, a hipster-ish recently-restored restaurant on Main between 5th and 6th serving homestyle diner fare with a little twist.

I was tempted to order their weekend-only biscuits & gravy, but opted instead for my favorite: the 5th and Main
a spicy barbecue pork hash with potatoes topped with two fried eggs and toast on the side. While I would've liked more sauce and the pork was a tad on the dry side, it still evoked that delicious memory I had in my mind: the lovely combo of the sweet-tangy-spicy mixed in with the rich, runny yolks, the meaty shredded pork and the crispy-starchy pan-fried taters. It was a pretty filling meal and for $8.75, not too heavy on my wallet either.
Sufficiently filled (for the time being) I trekked a block and a half to check out the Western Regional Barista Competition that's going on all weekend long, with baristas and roasters from all over the West ready to show off their skills and brews. Oh yea, there's also the allure of free coffee and espresso drinks brewed by these top-tier roasters and cafés.
Things were still getting prepped when I arrived so I jotted some notes, took some photos and scored some free coffee, including that beautifully-made cappuccino above made by Verve Coffee Roasters from Santa Cruz, and it was every bit tasty as it appeared: pillowy-light foam atop a creamy brew ripe with caramel-chocolate aromas and a silky-smooth mouthfeel. Mmmm....
I only stuck around to see the first two competitors do their thing (including Nick Griffith from our local Intelligentsia) and it was amazing to see the things they were doing for their signature drinks, mixing up coffees with blueberries, creme anglaise, medjool dates, orange blosssom water; made me wish I was a judge. But I'm definitely glad I am not a contestant, on top of four trained tasting judges, there are also technique judges to make sure you're preparing, plating and cleaning up properly too. I can barely cook and mix stuff up with just me in the kitchen, let alone the pressure of a few pairs of eyes looking over my shoulders and under my armpits! Definite kudos for the baristas for keeping their cool! (For more detailed coverage of this event, check out FoodGPS' incredibly succinct live-blogging report; I also saw Mattatouille there too, so keep an eye out for something that way too.)
On top lots of premo-coffee, I also tasted goodies from CakeMonkey; a Burbank-based operation that's whipping up all sorts of single-serving delights from mini-layer cakes to cookie creme sandwiches and "pop pies." My sweet jaws couldn't resist, so I got their brown sugar-cinnamon pop pie...
that definitely hit the spot! Flaky, crumbly crust (like a shortbread) and a not-too-sugary icing and filling; just the perfect size and sweetness to satisfy my cravings without overdoing it.
Moving onto my next stop, the Barker Block BBQ party featuring sausage sandwiches and beer from Wurstkuche... for free! The place has been throwing some pretty fun events as of late, I still fondly remembered their late summer Sunset at Barker Block series in collaboration with Filter magazine, featuring DJed and live music, eclectic art shows and pop-up shops and gratis alchy. I arrived right at the beginning of the event to find the place pretty barren (I am guessing the morning rain was a turn-off), but hey, that means I get to be in front of the line for the sandwiches and beer. Bring it on!
They only have a limited selection of sausages but a good mix of safe to adventurous stuff. Probably for the better, since I found myself having trouble deciding with just 5-6 choices, let alone their full range of over 20.
Feeling edgy, I got their rattlesnake-rabbit/jalapeno sausage sandwich with caramelized onions and spicy pepper plus a bottle of Fraziskaner Hefe Weisse beer. I'm definitely glad I was at the front of the line by the time I got my sandwich, since the sausages take 8-10 minutes to grill and a small line had already formed by the time I picked mine up. Having exhausted my light, crisp and refreshing beer (though more appropriate for a winter heat wave than the current post-rain cloudy gloom,) I got their Chimay Red and topped off the sandwich with whole grain mustard.
I have little experience eating reptiles or bunnies, but the sausage sandwich was pretty good, the casing had a nice snap and the interior tasted meaty and fatty at the same time -- as if bacon was embedded within. The seasoning wasn't too strong, and actually I would've preferred it a bit spicier to go better with the Chimay and my tastebuds but all-in-all one of the better sausages I've had in a while (I also had a tasting of their mango-jalapeno-chicken sausage, which I think I like slightly better.)

Afterwards, I decided to check out Mitsuwa's closeout sale before they're gone for good on Monday -- boy, was it depressing seeing all those empty aisles.
Surprisingly, the second floor of the marketplace (which hasn't opened since it was Yaohan, I believe) was also being cleared out ... alas, I didn't see anything remaining that I'd like to buy, so I spent a little time wandering around Little Tokyo and wound up buying some accessories from the PopKiller store.
Final food stop, seeing if I can catch a Korean BBQ taco from Kogi's during their debut in San Gabriel Valley. Funny enough, when I exited their freeway I am two cars behind the truck!
While the truck made some turns to get to their designated spot, I found my street parking and headed to the site ... only to discover a huge line already in waiting.
Umm, yea, I decided to take a pass on trying these tacos -- esp. since I am already scoring an exclusive chance eating them at the Doheny on Monday! Hopefully lines will be more merciful there.

That pretty much wrapped up my delightful Saturday of eats, drinks and shops, after all the heavy dishes I've had, I can't wait to cook up a simple light dinner (an Asian-ized chicken noodle soup with ginger, veggies and soba noodles.)

Wurstküche on Urbanspoon

Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Nickel Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Quickies #45: Farewells and Events

Bittersweet farewells: Spano's chocolate-raspberry truffle at conclusion of vodka-paired cheese tasting at Artisan Cheese Gallery

Some goodbyes are tough, such as
Lesley Balla announcing that she left Eater LA last week to pursue other ventures (most notably, the editor for Tasting Table LA, to debut in February.) It has definitely been a rough week catching up on local food/drink scene and gossip without her; for the interim, Ben Leventhal from Eater headquarters in NYC have been doing the postings, but the majority of them are repurposed Eater NY posts or national stories (e.g. celebrity chefs, Top Chef show) ~ and even their week in reviews and message boards wrap-ups highlighted only one of each. Nonetheless, I still have faith in ELA and hope that Ben either heed the disgruntled (and possibly-soon-to-be-ex) readers' feedback or find a replacement editor soon. And of course, best of luck to Lesley and TTLA (sidenote: I am not sure whether I prefer bloggers straight-out announcing that they're quitting, or quietly fade away like OMG Food! or Colleen Cuisine.)

A farewell that's not so tough is LA Magazine Mary Melton's parting from that crazy Gwyneth Paltrow detox diet; she was so close to sticking through with the weeklong program too, but ultimately, a weekend Obama party with chips and "Guantanamole" did her in.

Few weekend going-ons that sounds fun (yes, asides from the start of DineLA restaurant week that I've gah-gahed so much about.)

First, thanks to FauxLAHipster, found out that downtown's Barker Block
will be hosting a Pre Super Bowl BBQ catered by art district newcomer Wurstkuche (known for their wide selection of gourmet and exotic sausages, including rabbit-rattlesnake and mango-jalapeno-chicken.) Event starts at noon and is free, but you gotta RSVP.

And for coffee aficionados, from today to early Sunday downtown's Spring Arts Tower is the site of the
Western Regional Barista Competition starting today and going on till Sunday, with baristas from all over the Western U.S. with their eyes on the prize of pulling the best brew (and a chance to compete in the national contest.) Obviously, lots of coffee and espresso will be served up. For more information on this event and the contenders, check out FoodGPS' extensive coverage and profiles. I am getting wired just reading all of that.

Last but not least, eco-conscious neighborhood market
Locali finally opened in Hollywood in the Franklin Avenue area. I think Eating L.A. phrased it best calling it the anti-Famima, similar structure but featuring locally made products instead of stuff flown halfway around the globe. Sounds like a great way to discover your local food and beverage artisans while reducing your carbon footprint at the same time!

Update: Another farewell I'm not too happy about, Little Tokyo's Mitsuwa is closing up shop (not too big a surprise, the mall it's in has been pretty barren for the past couple of years); per Mikey Hates Everything, they started a closeout sale this week. Not sure how many nice wares are left by now, but worth swinging by if you're in downtown.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mini Foodventure #98: Daisy Mint (Pasadena)

Daisy Mint has been on my to-try list for some time, given its rave from Jonathan Gold, Eating L.A. and Gourmet Pigs -- but I just haven't gotten around to it since it's pretty hard to coax me out of my favorite Thai joints (Ruen Pair in Thai Town, the two Saladangs or President Thai in Pasadena.) But the occasion to finally come here arrived when I was feeling like Thai food and my dining companion, not-so-much. Since this place is more Thai-fusion and actually features quite a few non-Thai dishes (kim chi fried rice, honey pork with apple salsa) I figure it's a good middleground for both our palates (it also helps that Euro Pane, with its heavenly salt caramel macarons, is a walkable few blocks away, something to look forward to afterwards.)

For some reason, by the time we sat down our cravings swapped -- my DC opted for their yellow coconut-milk chicken curry (after eye-ing how nice it looked one table over,) and I was intrigued by their "Daisy Salmon", broiled with a creamy cilantro sauce. Since it was lunch time, we ordered the lunch special portions, which is more sensible, a little bit cheaper and comes with a side of rice (white/brown, or lemongrass/sticky for extra charge) and salad.

Daisy Salmon Lunch Special
I was pleasantly surprised by how well the salmon and the sauce turned out, the fatty fish was a great platform for the tangy-creamy sauce (reminded me of tzatziki with an herbal kick from the cilantro). I also love the sweet-tangy vinaigrette dressing for the salad; the fluffy brown rice was well made but honestly, I would've preferred some sort of flatbread so I can eat this like a Mediterranean-inspired wrap.
Yellow Chicken Curry Lunch Special
The yellow curry was only OK, partly because it felt so generic and standard; the coconut milk did add a little richness and edge but otherwise it's just a standard chicken-potato-carrot yellow curry that I can get about anywhere or make at home. (On a revisit I had their green jungle curry with beef instead, which turned out way better with vibrant aromas of basil and kaffir lime, with more distinctive veggies of eggplant and bell peppers in the stew.)

And while we already were planning to have macarons on this particular foodventure, the rotating menu of desserts here looks promising too. Once, I had a custard-filled slice 'o baked pumpkin (with the rinds on) that was neither too sweet nor too rich, and I can't wait to try their F.B.I. (fried banana with ice cream) one of these days. And I've definitely added this on my list of cheap and casual places to go (most lunch specials fall under $10, and dinner is around $10-15 a person); and better yet, I don't even have to be specifically craving Thai foods to want to come back.

1218 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 792-2999

Daisy Mint on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Special Foodventure #97: Providence Dessert Tasting (Mid-City)

Anyone who's eaten with me knows I don't have just a sweet tooth, it's more like sweet jaws; no matter how full I am, there's always room, or a house, for sugar at the end.

But what if the meal is ALL sugar? That's exactly what I am in for when Tony of SinoSoul gathered a bunch of bloggers and yelpers to check out the dessert tasting menu at Providence (where I had my splurge meal of '07.) Hang onto your pancreas, folks, as we go down the eight-course sucrose tsunami!

Having arrived a little bit early, my friend and I slinked into their bar to check out their specialty-crafted cocktails. I got the Rhode Island Red made with Hornados silver tequila, pomegranate juice, chambord, agave nectar, ginger beer and freshly-zested citrus. It reminded me of a pomegranate margarita with a little zip from the fizzy beer, it was a decent drink -- fruity but not sweet, nice tang with a little earthy, cactus zip from the nectar and the tequila.

It didn't take long before the rest of the party arrive and we all got seated. The kitchen was already expecting the dozen of us, so the service was fairly streamlined but the waitstaff was still pretty cordial in presenting our orders throughout.
Since I'm driving that night, I opted out of wine pairings and went for coffee instead. I told the waiter that I was looking for something mellow and softer in body and he suggested the Ethiopian blend (from LA Mill, of course.) It was a nice cup 'o joe, very bright notes of blueberry with a mild citrus backdrop and not heavy or bold just like I wanted. Taking sips and whiffs I can already see this pairing well with fruit-based desserts.

Within minutes of our orders (most of us opted for the eight-course tasting), the parade of sugar started coming, beginning with:
Their mojito gelee, one of their signature amuses that almost never fails to impress. Limey, minty-refreshing and palate-cleansing, it's exactly what I would expect if someone took the cocktail and had the ingenuity to gellify it (and for the adventurous home cook/mixologist, LA Times shows you how to do these classy edible cocktails at home! Sayonara to those funky-colored and cloyingly sweet jello shots!)
Following that is their kalamansi lime gelee with lychee-shiso sorbet, coconut-soy milk "broth" with tapioca pearls and coconut streusel. Yay! My favorite dessert is not dead afterall. Ok, there's been a few tweaks but it still taste as delicious as I remembered, the tart citrus gelee against the cooling, herby sorbet in that creamy broth. I can't tell if I like the extra texture contrast from the streusel since it was the one decidely hard, solid element in a bowl of all things soft and fluid. But a delightful dish nonetheless.
Next is their sous-vide Jonalicious apples with barley ice cream, streusel, pine nut puree and dried North Star cherries. Essentially, a reinterpreted apple brown betty - all the components were solid: the apples were sweet with a slight crisp, the toasted malty flavor of the barley shown through in the ice cream, and the cherries and puree added notes of bright tartness and woodsy nuttiness, respectively. As much fun as I have mix and matching the different component, and I've said this before, I always feel there's something amiss when a classic comfort dessert is taken apart and tweaked like a lab experiment, and if anything, eating this dish made me miss a traditionally-made apple betty/crisp/pie even more.
I felt similarly with the following dessert: deconstructed pumpkin pie with curry ice cream, pecan streusel with dots of coconut milk and balsamic vinegar. While I still got the slight longing for a traditional pumpkin pie, I did like this modernization better than the apples, since the adjustments of curry spices, balsamic and coconut sauces added a distinct edge to this dish and made it considerably more complex and intriguing to eat. And that smooth, creamy spiced pumpkin custard is definitely a hit.
Moving onwards, a milk chocolate panna cotta with coconut raviolo, chocolate streusel and Bailey's ice cream. Being a lover of both chocolate and panna cotta, I found myself only liking this dish. The panna cotta itself was luscious and the Irish cream flavored ice cream mixed with it well, but somehow it lacked the extra oompf to make it truly memorable. And as fun as that coconut raviolo was (which popped like the mojito gelee) the flavor of it felt out of sync with the rest of this dessert. But just to reiterate, this was still a satisfying sweet and I spooned every last chocolatey bit.
After that, we were presented with burnt caramel ice cream with a side of pears, gingerbread and chocolate cream. The duo was interesting, and I particularly like the buttery-toasty flavor of the burnt caramel ice cream (almost like a creme brulee with a lighter mouthfeel and, of course, without the crackling sugar top) The pears and gingerbread was OK, when combined the chocolate and gingerbread easily overwhelmed the fruit's flavors.
More chocolate followed, this time it's a ganache bar with peanut butter, pretzel pieces, chambly noir ice cream and beer foam. It was very, very rich (and my friend couldn't finish her ganache bar) and, again, it felt like a spin off a familiar sweet (chocolate-peanut butter pretzels) but I think the beer creams added a nice contrast with its slight hoppy-bitterness, cutting into the dense and intense chocolate and PB.
The last listed course of the tasting is another Providence signature, liquid center lollipops -- with a "crimson berry" center encased in a white chocolate shell. The waiter made very sure that we are to eat it all in one bite, which we did -- and like the mojito starter, it was very refreshing -- like having a big sip of berry punch to go along with white chocolate pieces.
Finishing off, a few mignardises -- espresso truffle, olive oil gelee and barley caramels. Of course, the olive oil gelee came out as most memorable - and I loved how it tasted "oily, but also NOT oily" at the same time. The espresso truffles were good but after all those chocolatey courses towards the end, I wasn't really feeling it. The caramels were only OK as well, the barley flavor didn't really hit it off with me and it was too chewy/sticky.

And that's how my dessert tasting at Providence went; overall it was not bad but not as memorable as I hoped (though my expectations can be partly to blame, having a high bar set from reading PoetKitty's dessert tasting report many moons ago). So many of the courses are very similar, being modern twists off homestyle desserts accompanied with streusels and ice creams (and woe to anyone in my group who's lactose intolerant), but the reinterpretations didn't really work their magic, instead of being an improvement over the classics, they seem just seem more sterile and distant and, dare I say, needlessly cocky.

I am not sure I would do an all-dessert tasting at Providence again, dropping $50 for just desserts alone is a bit excessive and the $12-14 cocktails and the $5 coffee seemed like a more worthwhile (and less risky) indulgence. I 'll still probably do desserts again at Providence since they're still pretty good, but I'll definitely opt out of the parade and ordering them a la carte or as part of their regular tasting menu.

One final note: it was total killjoy whenever the pungent cheese cart gets pushed by our table as we're eating our sweets. If any of you are planning a dessert tasting, be sure to ask for a corner table to reduce your chance of your nostrils being attacked with brie-and-bleu fumes while you have dessert in your mouth -- it's not a pleasant mix, believe me.

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170

For another take, check out what dining compadres Food Destination and SinoSoul have to say about this tasting too.

Providence on Urbanspoon


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