Monday, March 30, 2009

Special Foodventure #113: Rivera (Downtown)

The donaji cocktail is definitely chirp worthy!

If the thought of drinking tequila straight-up brings nasty flashbacks of shooters from days past that's better forgotten, Rivera's infused tequila collection will definitely convince you otherwise, as it did for me.

Smooth, sophisticated and suave (just like their sleek dining area) their ever-rotating collection of infusions include flavors like blood orange-cinnamon, tamarind and grapefruit-anise. My personal favorite so far is the pomegranate-ginger, literally a party in the mouth with a festive mix of tart, spicy and sweet. And while some of these tequilas may smell and taste almost syrupy, no sugar's been added - the sweetness is purely derived from the fruits and spices that's been steeping for a few days. And they are silky-smooth down the palate and throat with an ever-so-slight edge of roughness on the finish to remind you that these are tequila. But totally easy to sip (don't slam or chug these down) and no chasers needed. And not too shabby at $6 per flavor or $12 for a flight of three.
Blood Sugar Sex Magic
The cocktails ($10-15 range, with late-night specials of $8-9), crafted by mixologist Julian Cox, are fantastic as well, as fun to look at as they are to taste. On my most recent visit with friends and foodbloggers Christine and Matt, Julian made a variation of his Purple Rain cocktail (using gin instead of the listed vodka) that was gorgeously lined with pansies and bursting with a beautiful bouquet of floral and botanical notes from the rosewater, violet and Thai basil in the drink. Other worthwhile sips include the Blood Sugar Sex Magic (pictured above), a vermilion concoction with rye whiskey, red pepper, and basil, and the smoky Donaji with mezcal, pomegranate and chapulin salt. Or if the bartender's not too busy, go for the $14 Bespoke and let him or her take you to your customized cocktail lala-land.

And of course, save room for the food too. On a separate occasion shortly after its opening, their PR representative invited Caroline on Crack, Gourmet Pigs, Rumdood and yours truly to a blogger dinner for free, where we sampled quite a few dishes (and drinks). Just like the cocktails, the food's presentation is great and the taste, for the most part, impressive. Some of the highlights of that meal included:
patates xips ($6): Kennebec potato chips with chipotle-lime crema and caviar - a nicely balanced starter with the light, crisp chips contrasted against the rich crema that's just slightly sour, spicy and smoky, rounded out by the briny caviar. Wish there were more chips to go around for this dish, but we wound up saving the extra crema for some of the other items that night.
tortilla florales ($6): literally an edible leaf and flower press, these stone-ground tortillas (made in-house) are served with an avocado-based "Indian butter". I almost felt guilty tearing this beautiful circular discs of art, but the first bite quickly took away that regret. Nice coarse texture with an authentic 'corny' flavor, this tortilla held its own even when slathered with the "butter" or the crema from the previous dish.
Jamon Iberico de Bellotta Pata Negra
jamon iberico de bellota pata negra ($44): O. M. G. I could not believe that this was on the menu, and suddenly I was taken back to my wonderful jamon memories from my Bazaar dinner. This version, served with nicely-toasted bread, was totally on-par and did not disappoint: the marbled ham was velvety-smooth with a wonderful richness and a nice smidgen of nuttiness from the pig's all-acorn diet. It's so fatty I liken it to eating paper-thin slices of freshly-creamed pork-flavored butter. Totally worth trying at least once (or twice, in my case) should you ever encounter them on a menu or for sale at a meat purveyor.
Pork Chop
kurobota pork chop with mole and black carrots ($21): A superb entree featuring a tender, juicy slab of pork with a wonderfully complex dark molé, a sheerly delightful combination of earthy and spicy with distinct herbal and cocoa notes, I held every drop of the thick, flavorful paste on my tongue as long as possible to enjoy every element, and still can't quite figure out the mystery of what makes it work. But it does!
Baba Cachaca
the desserts here decent overall, the one that WOWed me the most is the baba cachaca ($7) a spin off the more familiar baba au rhum cake. Moist, eggy and just dense enough to satisfy without weighing down, it was nicely complemented with citrus segments, cream and some dulce de leche.

Overall, Rivera definitely get major kudos for their wonderful presentation, and both the bites and drinks are solid and edgy enough to keep me intrigued. I certainly can't wait to see what Chef John Rivera Sedlar will be bringing to the table next time around.

What Do Others Say?

- Gourmet Pigs considers it "another good and welcome addition" to the downtown dining scene
- Caroline on Crack also adores the cocktails and small bites and will "enjoy [them] . . . any day"
- LA Weekly's J Gold generally loved the food's presentation and taste as well
- even SF Chronicle's Michael Bauer gushes over this place as he relives "a culinary epiphany"
- FoodGPS is looking forward to further trying Sedlar's "arsenal" of dishes too and had some one-on-one time with the chef

Rivera Restaurant
1050 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 749-1460

Rivera on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Being a Sugar Junked Out Judge at the Cupcake Challenge

When Dan Silberstein, the man behind Drink.Eat.Play, invited me to judge the sold-out 2009 Cupcake Challenge today - my 'yes' reply was almost immediate. Even if cupcakes aren't my preferred form of desserts (more of a chocolate, pastry and pie person myself,) it's still sugar -- and my sweet-tooth-driven body of Congress voted almost unanimously (pancreas held out like Jeannette Rankin.)

With approximately 18 LA/OC cupcakeries representing and over 30 varieties being served, it's a nice event for cupcake lovers to compare the various names in the city and decide on their favorite without having to do all the driving around town.

Of course, as with any tasting event -- it's a no-brainer to arrive early and beat the crowds and potential lines, though that wasn't a particular issue here, all the tables were pretty prepared to dish out their cupcakes to the onslaught of sugar seekers.
Susiecakes Display
Thankfully, I got to check out the event venue half an hour before the official start time and had a chance to snap shots of almost every booth before they're pounced upon. (My flickr set of the setup and showdown here.)

The event itself flowed pretty smoothly, tables were regularly bussed and thankfully there was no shortage of fluids to cleanse the palate and wash the cakes down. Should one be so inclined, beer, wine and a few select themed cocktails are available to order from the bar.

As for the tasting/judging itself, I try to base my opinion on taste and presentation, but found myself having a few pet peeves.

- please please please don't bring regular-size cupcakes; I already feel guilty-wasteful enough for just eating one out of two bites in a mini cupcake, let alone a 10-15 bite version. Thankfully, I was able to split the larger ones with fellow judge Lindsay from the LAist, but a lot still wound up on the plate and eventually, the garbage can.

- figured I didn't care much for major crunches in cupcakes; subtle texture changes like toasted coconuts or slivered almonds are OK -- but harder stuff such as candy sprinkles just makes the overall cake seem sandy-gritty and unappetizing. Just realized how old that made me sound, watch next year I'll demand my cupcakes to be strained, pureed, and partly-digested before I can enjoy them.

- noticed some cupcakes are less hand-friendly than others, which kind of defeats their original purpose -- to be portable, no-utensils-needed dessert on-the-go.

That being said, I was impressed by the creativity in presentation and flavors in many of the bakeries and ultimately, I had a hard time picking out my 1st / 2nd / 3rd places in traditional / original / overall categories, but here are a few outstanding ones:

Lemon Blueberry Mascarpone Cupcake
I was floored by the lemon-blueberry-mascarpone version made by the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel itself (where the event was held at); the blueberry sauce did make it less finger-friendly, but I just love the lightness of the lemon chiffon cake and the flavorful but not-too-sweet frosting and sauce. Now, would this be actually available post-Challenge at the hotel?
Two Parts Sugar
I loved both the "traditional" raspberry red velvet and white chocolate macadamia cupcakes at Two Parts Sugar. The former features a wonderful juxtaposition between the bright, almost-tart raspberry and the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting (great since I find most red velvets too sweet) and the latter taste like a cakier version of my favorite cookie.
BoHo Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding Cupcake
Oinkster/BoHo's chocolate brioche bread pudding cupcake also stood out for me since it was more like a bread pudding in cupcake shape; moister and denser than the average cake and I love the rich chocolate flavor too.

Don't be too worried about my sway, this year, the judges' votes only count as five regular votes, and given the hundreds of peeps there - I'm more like a loose-cannon, wildcard superdelegate that's not worth the time or energy in appealing to.
Take Home Batch
Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile experience not only tasting all these carb-laden treats but to meet the passionate, enthusiastic faces behind the bakeries as well as fellow foodie media folks When Tara Met Blog, Happy Go Marni and Elina Shatkin from LA Times. Results weren't ready yet Update: Winners have been announced! They are:

Best Traditional:
1st: Susie Cakes: Red Velvet
2nd: Two Parts Sugar: Raspberry Red Velvet
3rd: Blue Cupcake: Chocolate

Best Original:
1st: Polkatots: Dulce De Leche
2nd: Sugar Jones: Blackberries and Cream
3rd: Southern Girl: Sweet Potato Pie

Best Overall:
1st: Polkatots: Dulce De Leche
2nd: Sugar Jones: Blackberries and Cream
3rd: Sugar Jones: Casanova's Kiss

For everyone else, looking forward to your comeback next time! But not too soon, Jeannette is quite the vocal one...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Quickies #52: Food Events Frenzy

Cupcakes and other treats from Vanilla Bakeshop at Dining by Design '08

Not a whole lot of food-related thoughts this week, but did get quite a few releases and advisories on interesting events - so here ya go:

In case you're wondering why the lights suddenly went out when you're dining Saturday, rest assured it's not a blackout (though it's never too early to conserve energy) -- LA Times ran a nice piece that over 40 restaurants will be participating in Earth Hour from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., turning off all possible electric lights to make a symbolic statement on concern for climate change. I'm all for environmental awareness, but hopefully I can still read the menu and not be caught in the middle of an accident with people stumbling about.

Sunday March 29 seems to have a bevy of food-related events. Asides from the previously mentioned Cupcake Challenge and the Shojin Matsuri party (both of which I plan to attend),Cafe del Rey is holding an a pre-Passover wine tasting event, with a variety of kosher wines available to try as well as kosher hors d'oeuvres and petit desserts prepared by the kitchen to prepare the annual holiday which begins on April 8. The event costs $45 advanced and $55 at door. For more information, call Kehillat Ma'arav Synagogue at (310) 829-0566.

For wine and classic fine dining lovers, on March 31st Morton's at Beverly Hills will be hosting a five-course dinner and reception with wine uber-celebrity Peter Mondavi, Jr. as guest of honor. Signature dishes such as jumbo lump crab cakes with mustard-mayonnaise, tuna tartare with avocado, tomato, Thai cream and balsamic glaze and filet mignon with bernaise sauce will be served alongside vintage wines from Charles Krug winery. $150/person all-inclusive. Reserve at (310) 246-1501 or

On April 2 at 7:30 p.m., Border Grill will be doing an UN-Margarita dinner to showcase tequilas in forms other than that ubiquitous limey drink. The four-course paired menu include ono ginger napoleon with a ginger collins cocktail, duck confit tamale with a red velvet martini and dulce de leche churros with an organic espresso cocktail with housemade coffee liqueur. Like the Ciudad wine party event I noted earlier, this one sounds like it'll sell out so make your rezzies fast.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mugs Up! Trio of Beer-Tasting Events Coming the LA Way

Seriously good craft beers at Golden State

I may have been ga-ga over wines and spirits lately, but I love me a good beer too; they are generally less pricey, more portable and perfectly portioned. And it's really coming in its own with numerous beer artisans showing their skills and passion in the craft, as well as beer educators and sommeliers teaching us how to taste and appreciate every bubbly brew.

But with all the artisanal breweries out there, it can seem like a Sisphyean task to check them all out and decide upon those favorite few. Thankfully, a trio of beer events - with numerous tasting opportunities - is bubbling up in L.A. in the coming weeks, letting you taste, learn and try numerous styles and makes.

On April 4 and 5 from 2 to 5 p.m., Drink.Eat.Play is holding the Los Angeles Beer Festival at Culver City, with over 50 breweries (domestic and international) pouring their brews for you to sample (feel free to go back for seconds, the $40/person price is for unlimited beer pours.) Vendors will also be available to sell "beer-friendly" foods of sausages, burgers, pizzas and fries.

For those who like a more structured tasting, LearnAboutWine is holding an American Craft Beer Revolution event on April 25, at its downtown Loft218. Beer Scribe Tomm Carroll will be sharing his knowledge and insights on edgy Amerian breweries that pushing the envelope in the beer scene and changing how people think about beer on a global scale. Up to 14 beers, from artisanal breweries such as Stone, Ommegang, Russian River and Telegraph, will be tasted. Event is $69/advanced but Goldstar is currently offering it for $39/person.

Finally, there's the Craft Beer Fest on May 9 at the Echoplex thrown by L.A. CABAL (that's Craft & Artisanal Beer Apreciation League). The $30/person ticket will all include gourmet pub grub, seminars and sessions from local brewers (e.g. beer/food pairings) and beer-themed food such as ale cupcakes and Scoops' beer gelatos. Thanks to beer aficionado and Eating L.A., found out participating breweries include Bruery, Craftsman, Hangar 24 and Sierra Nevada. The ticket fee also benefits 826LA, a tutoring and writing workshop nonprofit. That's definitely something I can raise my pint glass to!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Special Foodventure #112: One Sunset (West Hollywood)

When I was checking out mixologist Pablo Moix's cocktails at STK, I also had the opportunity to connect with Emily, who's in charge of marketing for the One Group places in L.A. (One Sunset, STK and Coco de Ville.) After finding out that I was a foodblogger (not particularly hard, given how I was more of a shutterbug with the drinks than with people/celebs there) she invited me to check out One Sunset during their recurring "One of Almost Everything Special" tasting Tuesdays comp'd. Since that restaurant been on my list of to-try places, one of my very few on the Sunset Strip, I agreed and brought a friend along for our early March dinner.
On Sunset Strip, pretty much anything goes with the ambience, so my friend and I were overall pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere, which has a modern, minimalistic bedroomy-lounge feel accented with Urban Nature, Greco-Roman and Pop Art Hollywood decorations. Dim and classy enough for date, yet sassy-chic enough for a group meal before a night out on the town.

One Sunset Tasting Tuesdays is, more or less, a spontaneous tasting menu - composed of courses on their regular dinner menu and any specials of the day. At $45/person for four-courses, it sounded like an OK deal, until we found out that each non-dessert course comes out as a trio of dishes and the sweets were a duo (yes, that's 11 dishes total!) And to sweeten the deal, you can get a bottle of wine for $1 extra when doing the tasting Tuesday (we were offered several varietals and got a surprisingly food-friendly Cabernet.)
Some of the dishes we really enjoyed included:
BBQ Short Rib Sliders
*BBQ Short Rib Sliders with smoked cheddar and crispy shallots - Agreed with my friend's label of a "gourmet sloppy joe" that was a wonderful combination of sweet, tangy, smoky and just a little spicy, with the meat tender and not too fatty. Worth getting the fingers dirty for and possibly even licking off in public.
Mac n Cheese
*Truffled mac 'n cheese - a hard sell for me, since I personally think truffle oiling is such an easy and overused trick for gussying-up mac, but this one works really well, particularly because it helps harmonize the sharper-tasting parmesan and goat cheeses.
Turkey meatballs
*Turkey meatballs - if the server didn't tell me it was turkey, I probably wouldn't have known. Rich and moist, the flavor profile is more like veal or pork than the too-often-dried-out bird. I also love the sweet, aromatic basil presence in the marinara. And I'm sure carnivores would love that these are almost the size of baseballs!
And of course, the desserts, moist, not-too-sweet red 'velvet rope' cupcakes that are made in-house and a deep, rich and decadent Rocky Road brownie still warm from the oven. I would've easily eaten all of it if we weren't so full from all the other dishes we've tried.

Needless to say, the two of us were stuffed to the max by the end (not to mention guilty for not finishing half the dishes presented). And at that price-point, this is a wonderful Sunset Strip deal for folks who can eat a lot and game to try anything (though the tasting can be customized a bit, with diners being allowed to request one or two dishes as well as more general preferences such as seafood-focused, etc.)

My friend and I are definitely looking forward to returning, esp. since there are still a number of promising dishes (a competent mix of creative, updated comfort foods with a California-fusion twist that strikes a nice compromise for both cautious and edgy palates) I particularly want to check out chestnut tortellini with aged gouda and sage, butterscotch bread pudding with blueberry ice cream next time around! And new exec chef Jason Ryczek plans to rotate the menu regularly to take advantage of seasonal ingredients and to keep the offerings fresh and interesting.

And of course, we'll be sure to bring an empty stomach and an extra dollar for the wine.

What Do Others Say?
- Citysearch's Mar Yvette think it strikes a nice balance between "sexy lounge" and "solid New American small plates"
- agrees that diners need a hearty appetite to pack the plenty of "small" bites on Tasting Tuesdays
- LA Daily News consider an "alluring and sensual" one-stop place to dine, drink and dance to the DJ'd tunes
- And three stars from the yelperocracy

One Sunset
8730 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 657-0111

Complete Flickr set with more photos here

One Sunset on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 23, 2009

Simply Blissful Sunday Breakfasts . . .

Pastries and Coffee
Practically a monthly routine, regularly on Sundays I'd go get a pastry or two from my favorite bakery, Susina. Sometimes it'll be their pear tart tatin, other times it might be their individual molten chocolate cake or perhaps the indulgent mini banana cream pies. But no matter my mood, they'll just have something that suits just right (even on those rare occasions when I crave savory more than sweets, I can rely on their quiche or paninis to be great-tasting too.) This time, it came in the form of their apricot-ginger scone and individual blueberry custard tart.

Then I'd head to Intelligentsia to meet up with a friend (or my folks, or even just alone with the Sunday LA Times) and relax and catch up over some great coffee.

Effortlessly delightful, I almost don't mind that Monday follows...

Susina Bakery & Café
7122 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-7900
Susina Bakery on Urbanspoon

Intelligentsia Coffee
3922 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 663-6173
Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Quickies #51: Springtime Edition

Creme Caramel
A tasty birthday creme caramel at Tradition by Pascal, no need to bring a cake or risk being overcharged for cutting and serving it.

Not a whole lot going on today, just some interesting reads and a few events.

In a town where the vast majority of waitstaff is in the biz looking for their break, it's rather refreshing to read LA Times' profile of four longtime waiters who make it their lifelong profession to cater to their customers. SAG-card-and-screenplay-whipping servers and bussers, take some pointers from these seasoned pros.

Speaking of subpar service - or simply miscommunication, a complaint letter sent to EaterLA about Wilshire's cake-cutting charge drew a lot of fire from all over, and even compelled the restaurant's general manager to reply to Eater. For me, it's more amusing than anything else watching the camps defend the customer or the restaurant's views, both of which I get (the snarkiness, not so much). But hey, at least now there's free cake this coming week (March 23-29) for everyone having dinner there.

Cue my barely-smooth-enough transition into events. Tomorrow I'll likely be checking out the Original Farmer's Market wine tasting hosted by Monsieur Marcel from 1 to 5 p.m. There'll be over 50 wines to sample, along with beers, cheeses and raffle opportunities. $15/person in advance or $20 at door. Cheers!

On March 23/24, La Grande Orange café in Pasadena is celebrating its first year anniversary with an all-day happy hour and a buy one entree, get one entree for $1 offer. If there's a time to try their veal-and-wild-mushroom meatloaf or the mesquite-grilled NY strip steak with chimichurri, now's it! Be sure to save room for their divine orange-scented olive oil cake too!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When It's Good To Be Square . . .

Sweet Square Bars
Sweet Square, a Westside-based bakery specializing in assorted dessert bars and squares, recently offered to send me a sample of their various treats. With my affinity for all things sweets, how can I refuse?

It wasn't long until their assorted dozen arrived in the mail and landed on my doorstep (for those who live within their 5 mile radius, they'll actually deliver for free!) In perfect timing too since I had friends over, so I halved the 2x2-inch squares and had a tasting with a pot 'o tea and some sparkling cocktails.

The bars we got to try were the blondies (with hunks of macadamias and white chips) the s'mores (with marshmallow, graham cracker crumbs and chocolate chips) and monkey bars (chocolate cookie chip bars with toffee and pecans) -- it pretty much transported us to a bakesale, except without worrying which mom makes the good stuff 'cause all of them tasted great (the s'mores was a little messy with crumbs falling all over, but worthwhile with the choco-mallow combination.)

In addition to the cookie-ish bars, they also offer brownies and lemon bars and even more adventurous creations like the "makin' bacon" squares (with real bacon bits embedded in brown sugar cookies, finished with a maple glaze) And at $18 for a dozen of these squares (i.e. a pretty reasonable $1.50 per bar) I can see it being a hit as a comforting-yet-creative care package or thank you gift - or a no-fuss finger-friendly treat to pack for a group outing.

For another take on Sweet Square's creations, check out FoodGPS' post or LAist's interview with the founders. And to check 'em out yourself or to order, go to their Web site at

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mini Foodventure #111: The Golden State Cafe (Fairfax District)

Since my friend and I was in the area for another event, we decided to swing by The Golden State on their opening day to check out the very well buzzed eatery. (Disclaimer: co-owner Jason Bernstein - seen below working the tables - was one of my co-workers before he took on this project and mad props to that just for that alone!)

Interior Shot 2
Arriving around 9:30 - 10 p.m., this place was still really packed and we had to stalk for empty tables after placing our orders. The menu is pretty limited but looks carefully chosen: assorted dogs and sausages from Let's Be Frank, a pretty eccentric and somewhat rare selection of wines and beers, about a half-dozen sandwiches and a few sides to boot - but not your everyday stuff, with items like jidori chicken breast sandwich with plum tomatoes, wild arugula, aioli, balsamic and parmesan (and as the name suggests, this place is dedicated to utilizing and showcasing local ingredients to highlight the state's offerings.)
The Burger
I got the burger that was gussied up with arugula, bacon and white cheddar and served in a brioche bun. It was cooked a level or two lighter than I requested (a medium-rare/medium instead of medium-well) but was delicious nonetheless, juicy and meaty with a light bitter-peppery bite from the arugula (great swap-out from the more-common iceberg or leaf lettuce!) The fries, served with a hazelnut romesco sauce, were delicious too with its distinct potato-y flavor and wonderful crisp.
Let's Be Frank Dog
My friend liked his hot dog too (with grilled pepper and onions plus aioli), the fried sweet potato wedges were a bit more iffy--came out really limp and mushy, even if though they were well-seasoned and tasted great the garlic aioli dip. Probably because of the lower starch content in sweet potatoes, which means they won't hold up as well when deep-fried naked (the reason why many sweet potato fries elsewhere are breaded.)
We also checked out two beers, the rare Allagash Curieux from Maine and the Brother David's Triple Abbey Ale -- both very distinctive but the latter seemed to work better with the food we ordered since it had a smoother, crisper edge.

Of course, we had to get some of Tai's custom crafted ice creams; I opted for the pear-sauvignon blanc that was not very winey but still refreshing. My friend loved his Kahlua-caramel, liking it even better than his up-till-then favorite Scoops flavor (horchata).

And it's little surprise that someone else was stalking our table as we were finishing our scoops, so we ate and made our way out pretty fast; overall, it's a hip, welcome new place to the Fairfax area and it strikes a nice middle ground between the pricier Animal and the greasy-spoon-deli vibe from Canter's. Here's hoping they do well and that I can still find parking next time in the not-too-distant future.

What Do Others Say?
Eating LA considers it a fresh Fairfax addition
Alli411 is simply lovin' the nice owners, the great prices and the exotic gelato.
And nice preliminary reviews from the 'hounds too

The Golden State
426 N Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 782-8331

The Golden State on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Special Drinkventure #110: Riedel Winetasting with LearnAboutWine

Riedel Vinum Set Glasses
As I previewed a while ago, the LearnAboutWine's Riedel class at Loft 218 sounded amazing; as with previous LAW events, I always pick up new and interesting facts about wine and it's always fun to mingle with my oenophiliac table neighbors. And to top it off, Riedel Crystal USA's CEO Maximilian Riedel himself will be guiding us through the different wines and glasses and I get to take home a 4-piece set that retails for around $120. So I ponied up the $59 and attended the session last night.
Just like I expected, it was a delightful, informative event and I came out amazed at all the new things I've learned from Max, who is by the is very charismatic and passionate about his generations-old craft, including:

*first and foremost, the actual pronounciation of Riedel (somewhere between 'riddle' and 'REE-dle' but definitely not the more-commonly-heard 're-DELL')

*the 11 generations of Riedel glassmaking, and their pretty involved process in developing glasses specific to not only grape varietals but also specific regions (in our session alone, we used a Burgundy and a Bordeaux glass, though in a pinch it could double over for Pinot Noir and Cabernet/Merlot, respectively.) Their longstanding expertise in this craft actually led them to be approached to make spirit- specific glasses as well.

*and most importantly, how even minor adjustments in the glass' size, roundness, taper and finish affects the final sensation and perception of the wine - running the gamut from how the wine flows through your tongue's different taste zones to how aromas and alcohol is concentrated and diluted.
Wine Observing
To showcase the final point, Mr. Riedel had us taste the same wines in assorted glasses and I was surprised by how dramatically different the wine smells and tastes just by swapping the glass. The one that struck the biggest chord with me was how a wonderfully fragrant Cabernet (and this is for a varietal that's not one of my faves!) in the Bordeaux glass wound up smelling one-dimensional and tasting puckery tannic when drank from the Chardonnay glass.

Asides from proving his point that glass sizes made a difference, Max Riedel also demonstrated two of his elegant but functional decanters (and it's his belief that all wines, including whites and even sparkling, benefit from decantation prior to serving) and then took audience questions in regards to proper usage and maintenance of wine glassware.
Bags and Boxes
And, because this event sold out so fast -- Max is actually doing this class again tomorrow (which is why I'm blogging about it so soon.) Ian from LAW told me there are only a few seats left for tomorrow's class so act quick if interested! (And for those looking to get more than one Vinum set, additional ones will be offered for a special discount at the event.) Alternatively, Georg Riedel (Max's father) will be doing a tasting of his own in the upcoming LA Winefest... price tag is a steeper $150 though (though the set you take home there may be different.)

Of course, either of these classes will likely leave you being a wineglass snob henceforth, you've been warned.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Special Foodventure #109: Gold Standard (West Hollywood)

Mozza Caprese Salad, photo taken by plus-one extraordinaire Binary Tastebuds

Thanks to goldstar, a great site that sells various event tickets, including concerts, performances and food/drink festivals, at a discount, my friend and I had the chance to check out the Gold Standard for free. And even at their discounted price of ~$42 (compared to the regular price of $60) those tickets sold FAST! Not that big a surprise really, the event isn't too pricey for a tasting event and boasted a pretty wonderful collection of well-known L.A. eateries. So the event was definitely one of the highlights of the week that was.

Since there was so much going on that afternoon, I'll spare you the detailed play-by-play and just provide some of the day's highlights (between all the blogposts, Yelp entries, Chowhound threads, and goldstar reviews I'm sure all the corners got covered thrice-over.)

*As with most tasting events, there are bound to be lots of people and lines at some of the more popular table. However, the Smashbox venue made it worse since there were quite a few chokepoints between the four event spaces -- the doorways and comparative narrow passages definitely made it hard for the throngs of folks, all teetering on the edge of spilling their plates and cups, to squeeze through.

*On a similar note, more eating surfaces (even high-boy tables that we can just stand and put our plates down) would've been nice.

*Thankfully, I decided to do away with dealing with traffic and parking by Metro-ing to Hollywood and Highland and walking the mile and a half over. I could use the hike given all the food I'll be eating.

*Some of my favorite eateries and food: the Mozzas' fresh made mozzarella with roasted tomatoes, basil and olive oil, Drago Centro's wonderfully rich panna cotta with citrus segments, Palate Food & Wine's pork belly with grits and violet mustard.

*Other food booth highlights: the uber-spicy beef curry dish at Jitlada that got me all red and sweaty, Tiara Cafe's vegetarian pho dish in the most outlandish booth setup, and props to Sona for having their bartender make mocktails and Loteria Grill for providing the much-needed refreshing agua frescas!

*Surprising amounts of wine were available -- though between the cramped space and body heat I would've like to seen more beer as well (I only recall Singha, Kirin and Stella being available there). Felt sorry for the cash bar, with all that wine and beer poured generously for free, who's going to really pay for a spirited drink?

*Of course, met a whole lot of bloggers and writers. Waited in line with Food Marathon and the Glutster, hung out a bit with Caroline on Crack, e*star LA and Binary Tastebuds, Mattatouille, folie a choisauce and SinoSoul, and also met Diglounge, Gourmet Pigs, Food Destination, Eating L.A. and Social Domain. Heard chowballa and Pleasure Palate were there too. Sorry if I missed anyone!

*And of course, how could I forget the J.G. behind this event? Saw Jonathan Gold making the rounds a few times throughout the evening (I hope he actually got to eat some of the stuff being served!) Totally chill and pleasant guy, with a local food IQ that's off the charts!

For an inaugural event, this was a pretty good one and I would definitely hope that it'll roll back again next year. Some pointers for improvement: a logistically better space or more crowd control, partnering with spirit brands so cocktails are free or just do away with the bar altogether, and of course, I wouldn't complain if there was even more restaurant representation (invite the entire Gold 99? ;) ) Of course, hoping that all parties, from the participating eateries to LA Weekly and Heal the Bay, considered this a success.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Quickies #50: Must-reads and almost-must-dos

Wondering if Shojin will be serving these amazing avocado-mushroom-veganaise brown rice sushi at the March 29 matsuri?

Wow, this week has been great in terms of fun food reads and oodles of wicked events coming up. And of course, sharing is caring ;)

It's nice knowing that LA Times' Food staff is only human too, that's certainly how I felt when I read editor Russ Parson's account of botching up his vegetable soup for a dinner party, followed by a sitcom-like-sequence of attempts to repair the bitter and salty concoction before doing a decent fix job at the end. The chaotic frenzy sounds like my usual cooking style in the kitchen and yea, I don't entertain often.

I also quite enjoy Mike Steinberger's essay at about the American obsession with the health benefits of wine. A Puritanical guilt trip for imbibing something so pleasurable? The ever elusive quest to justify the French paradox? (Let's not even go into all those medical recommendations on exactly how many glasses to drink a day/week/etc. to thwart cancers and heart diseases) Whatever the case, I'm in pretty good alignment with Mike, drink the stuff 'cause it taste good and enjoy it in moderation and just let the good times roll.

Also, The Knife comes back with vengeance with a nice blogpost about food writers and bloggers dining for free and, more importantly, the etiquette of tipping at these events. She pretty much blows all the usual excuses out of the water and frankly, I agree, it's a bit tacky to just assume management will take care of the gratuity or that the staff expects no extras, and besides, isn't tipping a nice thing to do after scoring all that free food and beverages? In any case, my general M.O. is to guesstimate how much the comp'd food/drinks would otherwise cost and tip my usual ~20% based on that. It's bad enough that I can be considered a shill (even if I do disclose my freebie blogposts) I don't need cheapskate as a personal modifier too.

But onto happier things with a few delicioso events down the turnpike . . .

March 8: If the Gold Standard isn't taking place on the same date, I really would've considered checking out Hungry Cat's 4th Anniversary event from noon to 10 p.m. that day. The hostess was a little hush-hush about the details when I called, but I was told a giant clambake is in the works, along with special prices on their delicious, market-inspired cocktails and their primo raw oysters. Reservations are recommended, but they're prepared for walk-ins as well.

March 12: West Hollywood's Trust Beauty Salon is holding a kickin' party from 8 p.m. to midnight with music, art and fashions with food from downtown's Tapas & Wine Bar C and Venice's new vegan spot Seed Kitchen and Marani vodka cocktails and swanky goodie bags with lots of chic hair- and skincare products. The admission price? A large bag full of non-perishable foods for the Westside Food Bank to help feed the city's less fortunate. For those who don't want to be shlepping bags up and down WeHo, I was told pre-assembled bags will also be available for purchase there.

All March long: One of my favorite vegan joints, Shojin, is celebrating their 1st year anniversary with a special five-course dinner every night for $19.95! Additionally, they'll be having their anniversary festival on March 29, with live music and all-you-can-eat vegan goodness buffet (including vegan sushi, which I'm a big fan of over there!) for $20. Tasty, wholesome and wallet-friendly.

March 29: 18 cakeries will be squaring off at The Cupcake Challenge at Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, with lots of mini-cupcakes for attendees to taste and judge to determine the city's best. This year's contender list include a mix of old and new from SusieCakes to Kiss My Bundt. Oh yea, free coffee and Nesquik will be served to stave off that sugar crash. $40/person.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Mini Foodventure #108: Chicky BBQ & Grill (Duarte)

One of my favorite loves about L.A.'s food scene is the wonderful representation of many ethnic cuisines, which are not only tasty but often very affordable as well (heck, even the five-stop, eight-hour jungle food marathon was about $40.) Another case in point, Chicky in Duarte, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite lunch spots in the San Gabriel Valley.

A fairly small strip mall fast-casual eatery specializing in Indonesian fare, their dishes are generous in portions and wonderful in flavor and aromas, a complex mix of sweet, savory and tangy with a good dose of spiciness that makes it perfect for a rainy day.
Nasi Kuning Combo
It's hard to decided on a favorite dish, but one I reliably order time and again is the nasi kuning (simply meaning yellow rice, from the color it takes on from the tumeric), that is served with tumeric-flavored fried chicken, beef and egg in a vibrant and spicy red sauce and potato croquette (also tumeric/curry flavored). It may sound like a spice-overload, but it is very well balanced with the other ingredientss (like coconut in the rice, or the plain starchy-ness of the potato), making for a combo plate that is infinitely vibrant and ever more intriguing and delightful with every bite. And all that for $6.95!

And oh, they also have avocado and durian shakes too (for those who are into that.)

For those with more conservative palates, they also serve Americanized Chinese/Japanese fare like orange chicken, teriyaki salmon, egg foo young and tonkatsu curry too. But if you're as foodventurous as I am, stick to the stuff that needs pronounciation and explanation guidance from the staff ;)

Only one other opinion so far: Gate 419 also marveled at the main courses here

Chicky BBQ & Grill
1206 E Huntington Dr., Suite A
Duarte, CA 91010
(626) 357-1500

Chicky BBQ & Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 02, 2009

Eating Happenings Around Town . . .

Queso Flameado
The tasty Queso Flameado at CASA (too bad the fire went out by the time I could take a photo)

Now that the rain and the cold's winding down and it's "going out" weather again (is it March already?! Those first two months zoomed by fast!) the events (one-time and recurring) are picking up too. Here's a few that came to my mind by way of other bloggers, PR folks, and my own sleuthing for fun and yummy to dos.

For those who can't get enough of multi-restaurant tasting events after the Gold Standard -- and have the dollars to splurge -- Planned Parenthood is holding its 29th Annual Food Fare event at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on March 12. Some of the more noteworthy restaurant participants include A.O.C., Il Grano, the Mozzas, Animal, Lucques and XIV along with drinks provided by Wally's, Quady Winery, Bonny Doon Vineyards and Angel City Brewing. Prices range from $125 to $200 (depending on if you're doing the day or evening session and if you pre-ordered or buying at the door). More info at their webbie here.

Famed wineglass-making company Riedel, known for their finely-crafted glasses specially made to accentuate the characters of different varietals, is pairing with LearnAboutWine for a Riedel Tasting Seminar on March 11 - with Max Riedel himself guiding the tasting. In addition, participants will also get to take home the complete Riedel "Vinum" four-wineglass set (valued at $129) -- all for $59/person (additional sets will be available for a special price at the event.) Sounds very worthwhile for both the budding and the seasoned oenophiles. More info here.

Another fun downtown wine event will take place at Ciudad on March 15, when they pair with Jake-Ryan Cellars to do a tapas-paired roundtable tasting. In addition to four wines from Jake-Ryan and five courses from Ciudad (including Spanish-style duck rillettes and drunken grapes withh blue cheese toast, rosemary and crispy serrano ham) you'll also taste Brazilian Palma Louca beer and Ciudad's hand-muddled pomegranate mojito made with Starr African rum. A delightful way to spend an afternoon for $45/person.

There are a few ongoing events of worthy note as well. First is Craft's new Craftbar menu, featuring a variety of not-your-everyday bar bites for $9 or under (think spaghetti with local abalone and maine lobster & smoked bacon roll) and $8 cocktails. For more info, check out the intel from Zagat and Tasting Table.

Another debuting ongoing event is downtown CASA's happy and late-night hours, with specials from $3 Modelo cervezas to pitchers of house-blended sangrias for $12. The under $7 happy hour menu includes their gooey, tequila-fired queso flameado and albondigas (Mexican meatballs) with a roasted salsa roja. And I can definitely testify to the deliciousness of the queso (I presumed the albondigas to be mighty tasty too, at a preview event the whole tray got emptied by the time it got to my table... twice!) Hours and menu posted here.


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