Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Quickies #59: Wine, wine and more wine edition

Gâteau au Chocolate en Plastique (Ding Dongs) with Barros 10 Year Tawny Port at the 2nd Annual White Trash Wine Tasting at Colorado Wine Company

Totally psyched about some promising eats and drinks happening in the near future, from tonight's dinner at Susan Fengier's STREET to tomorrow's Rosé Wine Tasting (Cowboys v. Mimes v. Von Trapp family) at Colorado Wine Company to next week's Old Town (Pasadena) Restaurant Week (the menus for POP Champagne & Dessert Bar, Vertical Wine Bistro, Heritage Wine Company and La Grande Orange look particularly promising.) But here's a few more nice tidbits to come:

LearnAboutWine is kicking up it's summer TASTE series first Wednesday of each month (starting June 3rd), this year's location is at the Grove. For $45/person (or $60 if you buy at the door), you can taste to your palate's delights from dozens of the hottest wineries from around the globe with appetizers from Maggiano's Little Italy. The theme for the June TASTE is "Go Burgundian" (followed by "Rosé & Rhone" in July, "No Oak" in August and "Full Throttle & Voluptuous" in September.) To sweeten the pot, proceeds from this event will benefit the TJ Martel Foundation for cancer research at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

For more substantial food and structured wine tasting, TAPS Fish House & Brewery is teaming up with Chalk Hill Winery on June 10 to do a five course wine-paired dinner for $85/person; the menu includes intriguing and tasty-sounding dishes such as "a study in wild Alaskan salmon" with Asian pear, Hawaiian mango and meyer lemon; lightly smoked serrano-wrapped monkfish with fava beans, leeks and oyster mushrooms; and a "Berry Good" dessert incorporating five kinds of berries with zabaglione and pound cake. All paired with estate wines from the Sonoma County-based winery. Mmm...

Finally, thanks to fellow foodbloggers Food Destination & Kung Food Panda for their intrepid deals & steals sleuthing and letting me know, Providence is reducing the prices of their tasting menus in commemoration of their upcoming four year anniversary. The five-course tasting $75 ($110 w wine pairing) and the nine-course is $95 ($150 w pairing), their original 2005 prices; the deal lasts until their actual birthday on June 17 so get your reservations in fast! (To shave off a few more dollars, ask for the "worst table discount" of 10% when reserving)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Special Foodventure #121: Food & Wine Festival at Disney's California Adventure (Anaheim)

Disney theme parks and wine aren't exactly two words you'd find in the same sentence (OK, maybe asides from the Napa Rose restaurant in the Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, which I heard is one of the best in O.C. and been meaning to try,) but I definitely changed that tune when I was invited to check out their Disney's California Food & Wine Festival at the California Adventures Theme Park for free. A combination of California Screamin' and some screamin' Californian wines? Count me in.

From studying the programs and schedules, the Food & Wine Festival is not so much an open tasting like other wine fests I've been to, but more a series of seminars and demonstrations with sommeliers, winemakers, etc. So be sure to check out the schedule at the Festival Welcome booth and plan your day around the events you'd like to attend.
Missed Out Wine Tasting
Since it took a little longer than expected to get my tickets, I wound up missing one of the wine events (no late admittance) -- oh well, time to soak up some sun and enjoy a few rides.
Ferris Wheel in the Day
After a brisk spin and whirl on the Orange Stinger and Mulholland Madness, we got back to the patio area in time for the Scherrer Winery seminar and tasting with winery owner Fred Scherrer.
Scherrer Wine Flight
The wines are decent (most taken aback by their rosé, which is not cloyingly sweet at all and would even pair nicely with a chicken or light pork dish) but what I love was the casual conversation style of the seminar, particularly with Fred's at-ease speaking style; he can explain basic concepts (e.g. how grape varietals, vintages and regions influence the product) without making the audience feel dumb while tackling more technical questions ('organic' wine certification, estate bottling) without 'geeking out'.
Fred Scherrer
Another perk of the seminar/tasting is that should you choose to buy a bottle of the sampled wine, you can get the bottle signed and can pick it up at Guest Relations/Lost & Found on your way out so you won't have to worry about shlepping that vino all day long.
Baked Cooking Demo 2
Following the wine seminar, we went on a few more attractions, got some fastpasses, then swung by the cooking demo, where the co-owners of Brooklyn's Baked were preparing their Oprah-approved brownies (a mixed blessing, esp. since they went from baking 2-3 trays to 40+ trays practically overnight, but a welcomed endorsement nonetheless.) The recipe looks simple enough, but I picked up a few tips and tricks on brownie baking (e.g. using a mix of white and brown sugars for a slightly molassey flavor, use paddle instead of whisk and to beat/fold slowly to avoid incorporating air for a fudgier brownie) and of course, the best part of all.
Tasting the decadent final product, which I heartily improve too. Moist, rich and as fudgy as possible without falling apart, this will definitely be on my itinerary next time I'm in New York City while questing for a L.A. equivalent.
The last event we were able to squeeze in was the World Beer Styles. I totally forgot take down the name of the lecturer (Dave? Dan?) but he definitely knows his stuff, albeit a bit more 'geeked out' during the seminar than Fred Scherrer. Less fortunate was the beer tasting itself . . .
Beer "Shots"
. . . served in 2 oz. shot glasses and were room temperature by the time we got to taste them. While I totally understand it's a free event and that thousands of people will be served over the course of the festival -- there's approx. 60 people at any given seminar and it would've been so much more pleasurable to taste and enjoy chilled, freshly poured beer in preferably larger portions (especially since we were ask to taste each shot three times to analyze different components.) But oh well.

On top of the seminars, there were other signature events tied into the festival, include a wine or beer walk where you pay-as-you-go to taste and try assorted alchy, as well as open tasting receptions, wine-paired meals, and "meet the food/wine celeb" affairs that are also available for additional charge (and most require reservations ahead.) Since I hadn't made any RSVPs beforehand not feeling particularly spendy, I enjoyed the rest of my day with the various California Adventure rides and attractions.
Night View
But overall, I think the Food & Wine Fest is a nice supplement to the whole California Adventure experience, particularly with a group of adults or in a family where some members aren't as open to riding the Tower of Terror. With schedules posted at every venue, it's also a great way to pass the time, learn a little something new and possibly taste something delicious while waiting for that fastpass time to go into effect. A tip for those planning to attend, do line up early especially for the later events! After the venue is filled up -- that's it.

And with all events I attend, hopefully next year's will be better and funner!

The California Wine & Food Festival goes on until June 7, for more information and schedules, click here.

Disney's California Adventure
1580 S Disneyland Dr.
Anaheim, CA‎
(714) 300-7800‎

Additional photos on my flickr set here

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tasting Caramel Corn at LA Mill

Caramel Corn
When LA Mill's PR agency sent me word of their new spring menu, I was eager to check it out -- since the new signature coffee drink, caramel corn, was barista Amber Johnson's submission in the U.S. Barista Championship competition earlier this year. I am definitely excited, since the opportunity to taste these eclectic creations are rare outside of a competition (and even, then pretty hard to experience unless you're a judge or personally knowing the barista.)

Unfortunately, when I went the caramel corn had not been released yet, so I wound up ordering the sweet basil julep
instead. But lo and behold, when said agency heard about it, they graciously extended an offer to try the drink for free, an offer that I merrily accepted.

While the drink was not prepared by Amber herself, I have no doubt in its recreation by Ariel, the barista of the day who has done a wonderful job with the drinks in the past (and blurrily photoed in above pic).

As for the beverage itself; simply put, if you like the buttered or caramel popcorn jelly bellies -- which I do -- then you'll definitely love this. Made with freshly pulled espresso shot, then layered with peanut milk, sea salt popcorn-infused cream, and caramel sauce ("All house-made!" Ariel told me with a smile) it looked like a liquid sundae. Ariel advised me to take a licking of the caramel and cream first before mixing the layers together, which I did and found heavenly, a sweet-savory-nutty combination of caramel sundae and kettle corn. And every bit as intriguing as those corn-flavored beans. I was so infatuated with the lovely, tiered complexity of the mixture that I forgot to ask if the "peanut milk" was a milk derived from peanuts (like rice or soy milk) or regular milk flavored/infused with peanuts.

In the end, though, I did find the beverage a bit too sweet for me (though I do disclose that I have been weaned off the sweetened latte-ish drinks in favor of black coffees and espressos to be more liquid calorie-conscious) but it's still a wicked once-in-a-while indulgence. I can almost forgo dessert! (Keyword being almost, alas, the cherry creme fraiche scone was calling my name.)

LA Mill Coffee Boutique
1636 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA‎
(323) 663-4441

La Mill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Improving Foodblogging . . .

While it seems more fitting for a New Year resolution, or even a birthday self-promise (and is it really coming that soon?!), I figure now's a good time as any to reinforce my resolve to be a better blogger . . . specifically, to improve my writing.

Yes, my photo taking/editing skills need some major polishing up as well and I will work on that too, but my true passion lies in the written text. From that perfectly chosen word to the carefully structured sentences and the concisely crafted paragraphs and tales, those are aspects that lingers, that enchants, that haunts me. "Food porn"/gastroerotica/well-shot food photos are nice to look at, but they are temporary and fleeting, albeit drool-inducing, images in my mind; the articles and blogposts I remember best are the wonderfully-penned ones that are richly descriptive and simply succinct, opinionated without being overbearing and easily approachable while still imparting that secret nugget of knowledge or insight that I, as a reader, so crave for.

Of course, I can't guarantee that every post henceforth will be a canon-worthy work of writing, and there'll probably still be pieces that read like the sh*tty first draft due to time constraints, shoddy self-editing, etc., but I will definitely make a concerted effort to do more than just "I ate/drank this and it was good/bad" and hopefully paint as good a picture so that you, my readers, fans and supporters, can truly relate to how I feel at the restaurant, bar or event.

Additionally, I'll be devoting more time to feeding my voracious reading appetite, but with a more careful eye to "what makes this piece of writing work/bomb?" (wow, flashback from all my creative writing / journalism workshop sessions!) This applies not only to food-related articles but to everything I read, even fiction, since good writing translates across all platforms and who knows what inspiration or lessons are buried within the pages.

Likewise, given that I'll be focusing more on the "steak" of good writing, I'll pay less attention to the "sizzle" of promotion, namely, cross-posting my blog entries on message boards, social review sites, etc. I won't be a hermit and will still visit and contribute where relevant, but simply put, I'm going back to the basics and primarily blogging here. And everyone knows that good steak is best on the rarer side and without too much sizzle.

If nothing else, it's definitely a great refresher course for all the writing and journalism classes I took in college and graduate school, and decent practice should I ever choose to dive back into that crazy world of freelance writing again. Besides, that Strunk & White's The Elements of Style and John Trimble's Writing with Style, amongst others, have been sitting on my bookshelf yearning to be revisited, and like my resolution - what better time than now?

Hope you and I will enjoy what's to come even more . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Quickies #58: Beer, Coffee, Wine and More ... Oh My!

Sausage Sandwich and Beer
Ooo... another opp for free Wurstkuche sausage sandwiches?! It's my dream downtown day all over again.

Again, one of those marvelous self-writing Friday Quickies; so many fun and worthwhile going-ons I wish there were eight days in a week!

Tonight from 8p.m. to 1a.m., to comemmorate the (finally!) opening of Intelligentsia Venice, they are teaming up downtown's Wurstkuche and Silver Lake Wine for a party full of freebies. That's right, free premo coffees, free eclectically tasty wines, free kegs of beer from Stone Brewing Co., AND free sausage sandwiches. So much for a quiet Abbot Kinney night. A word of warning, this event is already well-publicized (already wound up on Urbandaddy, CarolineOnCrack and DailyCandy's weekend guides) so plan appropriately (e.g. get there early, be ready for long lines and/or have a Plan B in place.)

And for the SF Valley folks, TastingTableLA got the scoop that the Valley Greek Festival is taking place this Sat. to Mon. from 1 to 9 p.m. Free admission, but you pay your way for assorted greek delights, including moussaka, loukoumathes, galactoboureko and pastitso. Sounds Opa-worthy!

For the active foodies out there, join my blogging pals FoodGPS and EatingLA on May 30 in their Bike Bender tour, where you'll be bicycling 10 miles of Glassell and Highland Park while exploring the local eateries along the way. It's $15/person and that covers the fantastic craft beers you'll enjoy at Verdugo Bar the end of your bike ride (what better way to celebrate!) ~ but you gotta bring cash to pay-as-you-go for the stops along the way. Reserve and pay soon if not now, according to FoodGPS it's already 60% full.

In the soon-to-come future is the LA Winefest, and goldstar came through and is offering discounted tickets for them (a one-day pass is $33, plus $5.75 service fee, instead of the regular $55). There'll be opportunities to taste hundreds of wines, beers and spirits at the event, not to mention plenty of free informative tasting sessions with winemakers and sommeliers, and I can attest from last year's event how much fun it was! (for the spendy, there's also the Riedel tasting event at night with Georg Riedel himself - it's $99, no goldstar discount for that, but you get to keep the fancy Riedel stemware.)

And last but certainly not least, one of few highly anticipated annual food events, Taste of the Nation, will be descending upon LA on June 14. Held again at Culver City's Media Park, a sweet $125 (or $175 for VIP) will earn you three hours of wonderful tastings from L.A.'s coolest restaurants, including BLD, Riva, FIG, Craft, Nobu and the Bazaar. Add some cool cocktail and wine samplings and tasty chef demos (including the Mozzas' Nancy Silverton, Too Hot Tamales Mary Sue & Susan and XIV's Michael Mina) and you're in for some gastronomical goodness. And of course, you'll not only eat well, but also feel greatthat 100% of ticket sales benefit the very worthwhile non-profit Share Our Strength's fight to end childhood hunger.

A year ago, I overloaded on dairy products and tequila, then ran a half-marathon
Two years ago, I got mooned at eat. on Sunset

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Special Foodventure #120: One Sunset... Again! (West Hollywood)

Thanks to Abby and the One Group, I got another opportunity to check out One Sunset for free (save for tips at the end) -- this time with a bunch of other foodbloggers! Since it's been about a month or two since my last visit there (when Jason Ryczek just became the new executive chef) so it's also a good opportunity to see how he steered the menu.
Like last time, the event occurred on a Tuesday to, of course, promote their "One of Almost Everything" Tuesday special ($45 for a four-course meal, each course being a duo or trio of dishes so more like 11-12 belly-busting "tastings", and a bottle of wine for only $1 more!) but this time, One Group mixologist Pablo Moix was on hand to help create cocktail pairings with the various courses. Which totalled up to five cocktails PLUS wine... um yeah, I'm thankful for my tolerance and my semi-legible notes (which, of obvious reasons, got more illegible as the night went on.)
Sucker Punch
Of the drinks, the ones I loved the most are the LUSHious raspberry served at the beginning (a delightful combo of fresh raspberries, Leblon cachaça and Gloria Ferrer Champagne) and the pictured-above Sucker Punch (Tommy Bahama rum, clover honey syrup, red wine with mint garnish -- or as I call it, the delicious lovechild of mojito and sangria.)
Braised Short Rib Sliders
Some of my favorites from my previous time there made a reappearance, including the short rib sliders with smoked cheddar and the "adult candy" (medjool dates stuffed with bleu cheese and wrapped in bacon) and those turkey meatballs that are SO moist and fluffy they don't taste "turkey" at all, but here are some new items I really liked:
Strawberry Caprese Salad
- Strawberries and burrata - a simple spin off a traditional caprese salad, with strawberries standing in for tomatoes, but the subsitution was sublime. The strawberries still lent that familiar tartness to offset the creamy cheese, but I love how its ripe, sweet, fruity aroma worked with the almost syruplike balsamic vinegar. A generous sprinkling of pink peppercorn also gave it much-welcomed extra little zip.
Tuna Tartare on Eggplant Tempura
- Tuna tartare on eggplant tempura - ok, not entirely 'new' since I had it at the last tasting, but this one worked considerably better since the eggplant slices were smaller so it didn't taste too heavy; the ratio of the crispy batter, the creamy eggplant and the fatty, meaty raw tuna were 'just right'.

- Chowder in a clam shell - asides from the cute presentation, it's a nicely-sized mini-course of roasted clam, chorizo and creamier-than-usual chowder sauce, satisfying my palate for something heavy without making me feel guilty for slurping down a whole bowl of chowder.
Vegan Ice Cream
- Vegan Godiva chocolate gelato w a side shot of Disaronna amaretto - the gelato was deep and intense with cocoa flavors and not-too-sweet, and if Chef Ryczek didn't mention the vegan aspect of it I wouldn't have been able to tell, since instead of the usual rice or soy milk he used agar to give it that creamy/thick consistency (I'm sure it's more complicated than just throwing agar gel, cocoa powder and sweetener together -- but the rest I chuck up to culinary magic.) Mixing in that amaretto worked enchantments of its own as it slowly turns into an alcoholic chocolate-almond non-milkshake.
Chef Jason Ryczek ... flashed! (sorry)
And as with most hosted dinners attended by foodbloggers galore, a major part of the fun is chatting up with them, as well as with Chef Ryczek, on food trends, places they love to hit up, and noting their food preferences from how they reacted to the dish (my sweet tooth is easily unveiled by my love of the desserts as well as the short rib sliders, which others felt were a touch too sugary.)

Nonetheless, I'm definitely glad to still be able to recommend the "One of Almost Everything" Tuesdays as one of the better and tastier deals going on at the swanky Sunset Strip, and with the seasonal menu direction that Chef Ryczek is adapting, I'm definitely looking forward to something fresh and innovative the next time I'm swinging by, which I'll gladly do on my own dime.

For other reports of this same meal, check out the posts by gas•tron•o•my, Kevineats, Tangmeister and When Tara Met Blog.

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

Complete Flickr set with more photos here

One Sunset on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Quickies #57: Springtime Sweetness...

Black Orchard Beer
The delicious Black Orchard beer from the Bruery, enjoyed at Riva!

I love weeks like this when my Friday Quickies practically write themselves, lots of tasty going-ons just over the horizon so without further adieu...

Found out via FoodGPS and Caroline on Crack, the Bruery is having their 1st anniversary celebration party tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For $25/person you can enjoy foods from Beachwood BBQ while enjoying this craft brewer's various concoctions (I, for one, am ga-ga over their light and flowery Black Orchard) as well as the Trade Winds Tripel from Craft Beer Fest. Oh yes, there'll be goodies to take home too!

And to give some representin' to my local 'hood - Old Town Pasadena is having their restaurant week from June 1st to June 8th, with three-course lunches for $15/$25 and dinners for $25/$35. For those who think Old Pas has nothing edible to offer, I beg to differ, especially with exhibits from the menus of POP Champagne & Dessert Bar and La Grande Orange Café (and a few other solid choices, such as Vertical Wine Bistro and Red, White + Bluezz, whose menus aren't up yet). Anyways, this is one of few restaurant weeks that actually goes into the weekend too (unlike others that blackout Fridays and/or Saturdays) so do use this opp to give some of those restos a try!

A little more west, Cube Marketplace has a fantastic menu this week featuring fried soft-shell crab with sweet corn puree and arugula salad, seared diver scallops with lemon risotto and asparagus w bacon vinaigrette and raspberry pavlova with stewed mulberries. Delicioso indeed! And get there fast since this menu is only till May 20, when at least a few fab items will surely rotate out.

Also, LA Mill Boutique introduced a few new things in light of the season and the economy. Their spring drinks menu will feature sweet basil julep (or as I call it, a "detox mojito" with white tea and basil instead of rum and mint -- tried it during a warm afternoon and it was utterly refreshing!), caramel corn (with housemade peanut milk, espresso, popcorn, sea salt and caramel sauce! oh my!) and a recession roast that's cheaper option by the cup ($2.50) or the pound ($11.75). The recession roast will rotate, when I was there last weekend it was Ethiopian Limmu, a citrusy, winey brew that is very smooth and just easy-to-drink. Oh yea, I tasted their spicy-cheesy jalapeno-cheddar biscuits that's so heavenly fluffy; as if I needed yet more reasons to go there.

And last but not least, the winner of the McCormick&Schmick gift card giveaway, drawn at random, is Mike from FamishedLA. Congrats!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

10 Under $10 Lunch at McCormick & Schmicks and Gift-Card Giveaway!

some of the 10 under $10 lunch specials, photo courtesy of McCormick & Schmicks

McCormick and Schmicks is well known with my circle of frugal friends because of their
famous Happy Hour specials - between the 2.95 cheeseburger with fries and their trio of oyster shooters for around $5, it's definitely a wallet-friendly way to unwind after punching in the ole 9-to-5. And a great promo to get people in the door to check out the space.

Now M&S is introducing another option that's easy on the budget: the 10 under $10 lunch specials, where ten items are available for 7.95-9.95 each. As is the M&S's style, the menus will rotate seasonally and the selections vary between locations, but some locally available items include Oregon Bay shrimp mac 'n cheese, a gussied-up tuna melt with fresh ahi and albacore tuna and salmon skewers with jasmine rice and vegetables (and for the fish-wary, there's a variety of land meat and vegetarian items such as caprese sandwich w fresh mozz on foccacia bread and tri-tip and ground chuck beef chili.)

And as part of their 10 under $10 promotion, their PR folks teamed up with me to hold a giveaway of a $10 McCormick & Schmicks gift card, so you can have an opportunity to check out their lunch deals. To enter, simply comment and I'll draw the winner at random by midnight Friday. Good luck!

P.S. goes without saying, if your e-mail contact info isn't readily available (on your own blog or profile) do leave your addy in the comment too. You can even mangle it up - use (at) instead of @, for example - if you're scared of bots and more spam (Mmmm... spam...)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Foodie Flashback: 1st LA Craft Beer Fest (Echo Park)

What my friend conbon did and didn't like at the Craft Beer Fest.

When I heard about the Craft Beer Fest about a month and a half ago, that was my must-go event of May - with a nice list of artisanal brewers and free grub to go along, it sounded like it was gonna be a happy, hoppy time.

Well . . .

. . . on the plus side, thanks to my previous experience with food events, my friends and I got there early (1:15 p.m.) and I got my tickets presale, so I managed to get in right away (and my friends joined in a 1/2 hour) but I heard there were crazy lines 2+ hours long. Add to that the steamy, not-very-well-ventilated interior of the Echoplex and it's practically a college house party gone out of control where everyone brought +1s... and 2s... and 10s. And unfortunate for the later crowds, the free grub ran out pretty fast - so they either had to buy their food at the taco truck parked outside or *gulp* drink their beers on an empty stomach.

But back to my main point, I got there pretty early so I had a good chance to check out a lot of the different foods served, including the cheeses and freshly-roasted nuts from Nicole's Gourmet Foods, Scoop's gelatos, and small items from the vegan Pure Luck (including vegan hefeweizen cupcakes!) The L.A. Burrito project was there too handing out fairly hardy burritos gratis too (I think they should've cut them up, at least in halves, so more people can have them and so that it's more portable. I felt BAD throwing the last third of mine away 'cause I was so full!)

As for the beers? Even with the mildly disappointing development that the event isn't really all-you-care-to-try (you get 15 tickets, each good for a ~3 oz. pour, with additional tickets available for purchase) it turned out to be more than what we could drink, and between my friends and I getting different beers we definitely checked out the entire menu! Given how hot and crazy crowded the spot was, my faves of the day were definite on the light and refreshing side, including the juicy, citrusy Orange Wheat from Hangar24, the Tradewinds Tripel from Bruery and the Carlsbad Hefeweizen from Pizza Port.

Of the heavier ones (most of which I tasted during the beginning of the event) I enjoyed the assertive, caramel-coffee-ish Arrogant Bastard from Stone and
the Bruery's Cuvee Jeune young lambic ("tart cherry pie w creme fraiche" was my notes) - the latter pairing wonderfully with the intense-yet-still-creamy Beemster XO Aged Gouda.

Overall, we had a fun time at this event (as well as everything else we did after!) -- but definitely hope next year (crossing fingers) they'll hold it in an outdoor venue and have a better system for controlling the crowds and bottlenecks.

P.S. Sorry to all the folks my friends and I cutted in front of... multiple times! Seriously, after one 20-minute wait for 3 ounces of beer, we decided to wise up Echo Park style and just weaved in where we could. Thankfully, folks were to oblivious, shy or drunk to call us out.

Here's what LA Times & EatingLA had to say about the same event.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Special Foodventure #119: Jitlada (Hollywood)

Thanks to an invite from Mattatouille, I was able to check out the L.A. (possibly U.S.) gold standard of Thai food in late March, Jitlada, for free! After doing a little homework and reading up on them, I knew I was in for a foodventurous treat -- provided my tastebuds don't get seared to a crisp.

Situated on the southern edge of Thai town on Sunset between Normandie and Western, from the outside Jitlada looks like a very typical, and very packed, Thai restaurant. Cloth-covered tables topped with a glass pane, lots of gold embellishments and assorted Buddhist-centric items (yes, including the waft of the incense.)

Not-so-usual was the menu, particularly the last pages with there were over a hundred items listed under the "Southern Thai Specialty" category (apparently, this was a step up from years past -- when this part of the menu was just written in Thai, and had way fewer dishes -- and only natives or the curious would get to taste.)

Now should folks be so inclined, there is the "regular" menu with more familiar and ubiquitous (insert color) curry, pad thais and pad see ews, but truly appreciate what this place has to offer, you gotta talk the owner, Jazz, and just trust the dishes she suggest. On our excursion, that's certainly what we did and our meal was nothing short of spectacular.

Practically every course Jazz dished out was a delight, with a vibrant explosion of assorted aromas, flavors and textures that's wonderfully layered upon one another. It's hard to pick out one favorite dish because many of them are uniquely tasty, but here's some of the highlights for me:
Morning Glory Salad
- Fried-morning glory and shrimp salad: It took me a while to figure out whether "morning glory" was a descriptor or actual ingredient in the dish (turns out it's the latter.) Nonetheless, this simple starter was bright, fresh and beautifully balanced, combining crunchy greens, plump shrimp and lightly-fried morning glory with a dressing that's a little spicy, a little sour, a little sweet and plenty intriguing and addictive.
- New Zealand mussels in Thai-style broth: despite how I feel about foods shipped from far away, these mussels were totally worth the carbon footprint. Tender-yet-meaty minus any of that off-flavor I get with substandard mussels, it was wonderfully enhanced by the light broth, with a subtle bouquet of ginger, basil, lemongrass binded the warmth of chilies.
Soft Shell Crab
- Deep-fried soft-shelled crab with sweet mango salad - who knew it would be so good to be burned. This deceptive little number starts out sweet, fruity and crunchy -- but rapidly gave way to a wave of spiciness that left me going OMGWTFMYMOUTHISONFIRE!!! (kudos to Food, She Thought - who was there on a separate visit - for inspiring this very accurate, if non-journalistic, description) A good ten minutes, two cups of iced water and nearly a full glass of Thai iced tea later (i.e. an eternity in hell) the heat finally dissipated. Not sure if it was the rush of endorphins following the capsaicin attack, but I was left pleasantly numb, and almost wouldn't mind if this was the only dish served in hell. Almost.
- "Pork Jerky," slightly chewy, fairly savory and plenty caramelized. While the flavor profile it didn't ring particularly Thai to me (especially after the other dishes that wildly darted all over my palate) it was a very comforting bite ~ reminiscent of the Chinese/Taiwanese-style fried pork chops, only more finger friendly.

Overall, it was certainly a lovely adventure discovering new dishes, expanding my palate and, of course, enjoying great company (other dinner companions included Choisauce, Food Marathon, and Scoops' owner Tai Kim) in a casual, relaxed setting. It may not have the uppity-fine-dining panache that's typical of other LATimes reviewed places (which only gave this place a paltry two stars recently) but it's definitely a must-try-if-you-are-in-LA in my book.

More photos of other courses here, and of course, here's what a few others have to say about their Jitlada trip:
- Of course, Mattatouille's glowing post and full rundown of every dish
- Sinosoul is utterly addicted to the scoville smackdown here
- EatingLA braved this place on a packed weekend, but still mostly enjoyed the dinner
- FoodGPS havs some great notes on this place's history and rise to stardom

5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(213) 667-9809
*P.S. Reservations highly recommended, heard it's packed even on weekdays!

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