Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Quickies #68: Ending my Birthmonth . . .

Time's a perfect to whip up another batch of my spicy-yet-cooling summer wine fizz

Even though I didn't have an official birthday thing this year asides from a dinner w the folks, this month has been nothing short of splendid. Between the extended food & wine weekend in Baja California (posts to come), BloggerProm, a sponsored dinner at Melisse and a myriad of other events ~ it's easily the best birthMONTH yet! But I'm definitely glad things are winding down, which gives me more time for blogging. And some extra-intense exercising to work off all the "happy pounds" I've accrued, though it'll be hard given all the tempting events coming up.

Tonight, new downtown-LA focused lifestyle site is celebrating with a tasting event and launch party featuring delightful eateries that are contributing to the area's dining renaissance; participating restaurants include Provecho, Remedy and Magnolia. This is followed by the official launch party with sponsored beverages provided by Rain Vodka, Peroni, Pom Wonderful and other drink sponsors. Taste of dtownLA is $40, and launch party afterwards is $30.

Tomorrow marks the 7th Annual Plate by Plate food and wine tasting event (benefiting Project by Project, a non-profit that helps Asian and Pacific-Islander owned small businesses) at the California Science Center. Participants in this extravaganza run the gamut of all pricepoints, from the ultra-chic XIV by Michael Mina, the Bazaar by Jose Andres to local everyday faves like Scoops and Mendocino Farms. Tickets (UNTIL 11:59 a.m. today) are $150 general / $275 VIP -- and at the door for $200 general.

For vodka aficionados, Bar Lubitsch is hosting a tasting event tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring a variety of different brands for sweet price of a Jackson. Many of the brands are boutiquey and unique, including Modern Spirits, Pinky and Hangar One, so it's definitely great way to sip, savor and compare. Just be sure you have a walkable place to hang out or rest up afterwards, or have a DD on the ready. No RSVP needed, just a strong liver . . .

On Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., the Patina Group is continuing with its weekly locals' night series with a Tuscan Summer themed event at Zucca ristorante. Enjoy complimentary pizzas while sipping on $4 Tuscan wines or $5 Italian-influenced cocktails (small noshes of chicken-rosemary, shrimp and vegetable skewers are also a Lincoln each) while mellowing out to tunes by KCRW's DJ Jason Eldredge. Oh yeah, did I mention door prizes too?

And once again, delightful reads from the week that was:

- Speaking of summer sippers, Epicurious have a delightful feature on some refreshing, cooling classics -- and explains not all ice are equal in a cocktail (along with a list of their fave summer fruit-forward libations and this year's best summer beers, with a kudos the local Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel, one of my faves from Craft Beer Fest)

- Slate brings up some interesting food for thought in regards to gluten-intolerance (and whether we are becoming too tolerant of folks who cry the no-wheat foul)

- Meanwhile Serious Eats' Critic-Turned-Cook columnist examines the real vs. TV-produced drama that goes on in the kitchen restaurant

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Special Drinkventure #130: Fave Cocktails from San Francisco

Cocktail Prepping @ Alembic
Bartender "JaNiece" mixing things up at Alembic

Since I'm becoming increasingly adventurous and passionate about beverages, you better believe that during my June weekender in San Francisco that I did my share of R&D into their assorted liquid libations, especially given all the tales I've heard of their vibrant cocktail culture that pushes the envelope in every direction possible.

And I'm happy to report that San Francisco pretty much delivered on its potable promises, let's take a stroll through some of my favorite Nor. Cal. sips shall we?
Strawberry Alarm Clock @ Alembic
Strawberry Alarm Clock at Alembic Bar - vermouth-soaked strawberries pureed up and mixed with malt whiskey, finished with a dash of tabasco and a few drops of parsley-peppermint oil; or as I call it, a party for your palate. From the pretty looks to its complex aromas (a mix of herbacious and fruity that reminds me of a summer salad laced with berries) and a festive mouthfeel and flavors, esp. with the heat-induced tingliness from the hot sauce. I wouldn't mind waking up to this every day!
Monk's Buck @ Heaven's Dog
Monk Buck at Heaven's Dog - made with 8 y/o Armagnac, yellow Chartreuse, organic ginger, lemon, soda; essentially a lemonade kicked up a notch with ginger and booze -- I'm usually skeptical of Chartreusey cocktails (whose herbal notes have a tendency to overwhelm the drink) but here it made the drink a little more intriguing and sophisticated--and totally cool, refreshing and perfect for lunch and brunch. Can't wait for this to join the regular cast of mimosas, bellinis and bloody marys as a daytime drink.

Ambajador at Bourbon & Branch (no pic of cocktail since photos aren't allowed at this by-reservations-only speakeasy, exterior pic courtesy of Caroline on Crack) - "recommended" by our saucy, tattooed, unnaturally crimson-haired and somewhat surly temptress of a server who told me, "No - this is what you want!" after I meekly tried to order something else. With kaffir lime-infused tequila, passionfruit nectar, lemon, foamed egg white and a dash of cinnamon - this, like the alarm clock, is a vibrant yet balanced blast of flavors on the tongue; I love the combination of the tropical fruits, slight vegetal edge from the tequila and the little spicy zing from the cinnamon, and the foam really lightened the texture and opened up different flavors and aromas. And that surly-sexy-temptress is right, this was exactly what I needed to end the night.
Mai Tai @ Tonga Room
Mai Tai at Tonga Room - OK, the mai tai isn't all that (off balance with the juices and wound up being too tart and sweet at once) but the $10 pricetag to admire the elaborately decorated space was worth it -- from the huge tiki statues to assorted huts and the huge central pool. I was even lucky enough to catch a thunderstorm show!
Hibsicus-Blood Orange Sparkler @ Nopalito
Housemade Blood Orange-Hibsicus Sparkler at Nopalito - It's a virgin but still really tasty, this is another great summer sipper (esp. for situations where alchy may not be the way to go); just mildly tangy since it's mixed with sparking water, which also helps deliver the fresh aromas of the citrus and flower. Of course, given the many other luscious liquored-up libations I've had - can't help but think of possible ways to devirginize this drink . . .

Blogging and reminiscing about these dreamy drinks got me feeling like I left my heart in San Francisco; but given the evolving and ever-learning bartending scene here in L.A. I look forward to seeing some of these NorCal influences to filter down South -- and definitely can't wait to re-visit SF (and revisit some of these plus discovering new delicious stuff) later this year.

And much thanks to Liz of Food, She Thought, Nathan of Binary Tastebuds, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, Lesley of TastingTable LA, Virginia of the Perfect Spot SF and others for their recommendations!

Coming Soon: Favorite eats in San Francisco + a day of winery touring in Sonoma Co.!

Alembic Bar
1725 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 666-0822

Bourbon & Branch
501 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 931-7292

Heaven's Dog
1148 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-6008

306 Broderick St
San Francisco, CA 94117-2275
(415) 437-0303

Tonga Room
950 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94108-6000
(415) 772-5278

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 and Special Foodventure #129: Ten Favorite Dishes from Ten Years of Business at Melisse (Santa Monica)

In Los Angeles, where restaurants are continually turning over with name and ownership changes, a revolving door of management/chef swaps and unfortunately closing altogether, it's pretty impressive that an eatery will last more than a couple of years. So when Santa Monica's Melisse announced their ten-year anniversary, it was definitely good reason for them to celebrate their longevity and being a quintessential fine dining establishment.

And celebrate they did -- by offering a special menu in July highlighting ten favorite dishes from their decade in business for $150/person. To further sweeten the deal, corkage for first two bottles of wine (normally $30/bottle) is reduced to $10/bottle per table AND each diner is presented with a $50 gift card for a return visit.

Even given this good bargain, the meal was still on the spendy side (and I already had my 2009 splurge at Saam earlier this year) but much thanks to foodbuzz and their 24,24,24 program, which provides 24 bloggers around-the-world every month with $250 for their dream meals, I was able to partake in Melisse's milestone meal without having worry about pinching pennies!

So off to Melisse I went with the folks behind KungFoodPanda, PepsiMonster, PrincessKitty, FoodDigger and one bonafide Yelper from the O.C. Arriving early (so we can maximize on natural day lighting for our photos) we were led into a seamlessly elegant dining room that was delightfully sprinkled with modern touches - from the purple-and-white color scheme to a huge automatic glass sliding door to the wine cellar & kitchen areas, funky table sculptures and what I call a "nouveau chandelier."
Table and Champagne
I assumed when KungFoodPanda made the reservation he noted we were there for the anniversary tasting, since those were the only food menus aleady lying on our table upon our arrival; we were also presented with a winelist, and Will of Fooddigger generously got a bottle of Gosset Grand Réserve champagne ($129) for the table on top of the Chablis he brought. The bubbly was a totally delightful starter to drink with: a balanced nose of nuts, yeasty-toastiness and apple-pears, a medium-full body and a slightly bready finish that lingers just for a second or two.
Meanwhile, the efficient, professional yet very friendly and approachable service staff quickly served up our amuses - an heirloom tomato half enrobed in goat cheese and covered in pistachios, and a tri-layer shot of cucumber flan, tomato gazpacho and tomato gelee, with the staff instructing us to plunge our spoons deep so we can get each each layer for full effect.

Both were pretty delightful and fulfilled their role as amuses in every way -- I loved how goat-cheese-tomato bite just popped with sweet-and-sour juiciness in my mouth, accompanied by the fun crunchiness of the crushed pistachios. The flan and soup shot was refreshing yet luxurious, simply a nice combination of vegetal notes, acidity and fattiness that just gave it freshness and some substance without feeling too heavy.
Bread Service
While we were enjoying our amuses, we were also presented with bread service which, along the usual suspects of french rolls and ciabattas, included basil brioche, olive bread and bacon foccacia. I tried all three of the unique ones and found them wonderfully flavorful and remarkably light (a definite surprise with the foccacia) even after spreading on the sweet and soft butter.
Lemon Caviar
Our first official dish is "egg caviar" -- a soft-poached egg served in its shell topped with lemon creme fraiche, dollop of American Ossetra caviar and a sprinkling of chives along with a stick of puff pastry. Very luxurious and wonderful layered mix of flavors, from the poppity-briny caviar to the slight tartness of the lemon creme and the pure richness of a soft-poached yolk, and the chives were just enough to accent the dish without being overwhelming. I also appreciated the pastry too, which I bit into between spoonfuls of the egg to help reset my palate.
It is also here that the Chablis is opened and poured; again, very lovely -- most Chablis (or Chablis-style) wines I've had tends to be very minerally, some almost to the exclusion of other flavors, but this one's stony-flinty notes was nicely complemented with notes of apples, melons and a wee bit of citrus along with a super-crisp finish. Definitely great with some of the earlier, lighter dishes we have on the menu.
Tuna Tartare
Next is Melisse's version of tuna tartare, served in a layered tower with pickled cucumbers, avocado mousseline and a pool of yuzu vinaigrette. Distinctively Cal-French in style, the ingredients were top-notch (particularly surprised by the sweetness of the cucumbers) and the vinaigrette nicely tied the whole dish together. The avocado mousseline was tasty but I found it unncessarily fussy, since whole avocados chunks would've worked just as well.
Mandarin-Tomato Soup
Following that is the mandarin-tomato soup, prepared tableside. We were all first brought a bowl with tomato tartare, mandarin sorbet and basil chip, and then the warm, vibrantly-colored soup was poured in. Easily the most playful dish of the night, it was a jubilee of juxtapositions in my mouth as the sorbet and soup components hit my mouth individually before melding together-- hot and cold, savory and sweet, fruits and vegetables (yes yes, even if tomato is technically a fruit). Totally fun and totally tasty, I agree with one of my tablemates that this is the best tomato soup I've tasted ever, but falls just short of perfect by the basil chip -- packed full of flavor but having a chewy texture more like a jerky than a chip.
Foie Gras
Afterwards, a seared lobe of Sonoma Valley foie gras on top of a lavender-peach compote and pain d' epice with a white balsamic reduction and a roasted peach on the side; it's hard to not love the buttery, fatty texture of seared foie gras, but this version took it to a wonderful new level. Instead of more typical sides of just brioche and some form of apple & pear, the pairing here with the in-season peaches, white balsamic reduction and the gingery spice-bread breathed fresh air into the dish. And of course, it helps that the lobe is perfectly cooked too, soft and buttery but not overseared to the point of just bursting into a liquid in my mouth.

Shortly after finishing our foie gras, a bottle of Trousseau from Jura that I bought from Silver Lake Wine (and suggested by Matthew Kaner) was poured. It actually fooled quite a few of us (including the assistant sommelier, who had a taste) as a pinot noir, and despite being lighter red, it managed to hold its own even against some of the heavier dishes we had onwards, starting with . . .
Lobster bolognese with fresh capellini pasta, heirloom tomato sauce and a lobster-truffle froth. Excellent pasta that had a nice toothy yet tender feel, and I love the overall lightness of the sauce and the froth, which harmoniously blends in the truffle, lobster and tomato flavors instead of smacking me in the face with it. The diced lobster tail was a nice touch but seemed superfluous, since I was unable to identify the meat from this dish.
Next up are dover sole goujonettes over sweet white corn, chanterelle mushrooms, blistered almonds and a browned butter. The lightly-battered fish was firm and flakey but otherwise kind of bland, so best when combined with the tastier 'shrooms, corn and almonds. And despite how remarkably simple it is to make a browned butter sauce, everyone at the table --including me-- just went ga-ga over its nutty-caramelized flavor, and we were shameless in ripping pieces of our many-courses-ago bread to soak it up before the dishes were bussed away.
Our final meat course of the night is cote de boeuf with a wild mushroom fricasee, summer pole beans, potato-leek torte, herb jus and a sweet wine reduction. The rare ribeye was simply succulent and flavorful, and I love the accent of the jus (though some found it a bit too heavy on the rosemary). The torte, which is more like a potato and leek-stuffed puff, was wonderful too. My only qualm here is the heaviness of the vegetables -- the mushrooms and the beans were unnecessarily greasy-tasting, I would've preferred a much lighter preparation to better showcase their fresh flavors plus to balance against the already-heavy torte and beef as well as the numerous rich courses we've had so far.
But unadulterated, fresh veggies did sneak their way in as an accompanying salad in the pear & Fourme d' Ambert tart with a honey-pepper gastrique, essentially our cheese course of the night. While I can see where this dish was trying to go (being a savory-sweet cheese-fruit combo), the blue cheese just totally dominated every bite. Even when I generously rubbed it in the gastrique, the initially sweet honey notes quickly gave way to the cheese, the pears don't even stand a chance. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially for fans of blue cheese, but I found it a pity to prepare such a lovely fruit tart and unique sauce only to have it just totally decimated. Having said that, the partly melted cheese was a fine one.
For our first sweet, we got a duet of chocolate souffle (prepared tableside with an injection of chocolate sauce) and a banana mousse with caramelized bananas and Valrhona chocolate ice cream. Everyone else at the table loved their souffle, but I actually found mine dry and grainy, as if overbaked, not sure if I just happen to be unlucky or was being super-sensitive with souffles (so not my modus operandi, given my crazy sweet tooth). Nonetheless, it did have deep, complex cocoa aromas and was OK when mixed with the sauce. Their interpretation of a chocolate-banana fared much better -- creamy flan, great ice cream, crisped-up bananas -- hard to go wrong with that combination.
Our final listed course is Melisse's fancy version of the "fruit on the bottom yogurts" -- with housemade strawberry puree and vanilla bean yogurt topped with strawberry sorbet and fresh mint. Simple and excellent dish to end the tasting -- just light and fruity and mildly sweet and purely refreshing . . . one would almost healthy (wait, did I really just have creme fraiche and foie gras and ribeye in the last four hours?)
Along with our bill came some fun mignardises, mini caneles that tasted more like custardy-crisp churros, delightful peanutty-chocolate chip cookies, and wedges of plums (or pluots?) with cream and sugar.
For Next Time...
And of course, our $50 gift cards.

We also requested to have a few words with exec. chef Josiah Citrin, but he was occupied with the newly-opened Caché Restaurant (where he's a consulting on the menu), but chef de cuisine Ken Takayama and our server-captain/assistant sommelier Jay did have a few moments with us, discussing the anniversary, cooking at Melisse and their career trajectories (Ken's was particularly fascinating: he started out at a Monterey Park local-divey sushi restaurant, but took some interesting turns, including stints with Patina Group, that ultimately landed him there.)

Being a table of bloggers and hardcore foodies, we of course wasted no time analyzing the meal and comparing it to other restaurants' tasting menus. Overall, we found the dishes competent and solid; though not necessarily mindblowing in terms of creativity, maybe that's why they've been favorites, it's just straightforward cuisine with a few nice touches that have consistently great (and no doubt re-ordered numerous times) over the decade.

For those who can afford to make it this week for the anniversary special, I surely would recommend it. But for those who don't, there's no need to fret -- the Melisse folks were pleased with the popularity of this event and so are planning to extend it (minus the gift card special) possibly for the rest of '09, swapping and adapting courses as seasonal produce changes--and I look forward to a return trip here myself.

What Do Others Say?
- Gourmet Pigs had this same menu earlier this month and thought "the quality of the dishes . . . were excellent [and] service was spot-on"
- Dining compadre PepsiMonster was here earlier this year for the summer discovery menu a.k.a. "a dream meal that lives up to reality"
- J Gold of LA Weekly is unsurprised by its Michelin two stars
- Loving Annie found the dishes good "but not . . . memorable or spectacular" and the "service across the board lacks polish."

1104 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA

Melisse in Los Angeles
Melisse on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Quickies #67: tequila, beer floats and reads

The Liquid Muse's Jungle Juice made with Pinky Vodka being served at BloggerProm2009, photo by Food Woolf

Phew, now that the fun chaos of Blogger Prom and the Baja Media/Blogger Trip is behind me (believe me, there'll be plenty of blogging about both) -- time to finally tend to my own blog baby!

National Tequila Day couldn't have come at a better time for my fellow prom committee folks and I, and Taste on Melrose is making it even sweeter to down by having 2 for 1 tequila drinks all weekend long! Just go "tequila makes me happy" at your server or bartend to score this deal!

This Sunday, foodblogging/journalist FoodGPS is organizing a Beer Float showdown at Blue Palms in Hollywood -- with Golden State/Scoops butting it out against Bottlerock/MILK. For $23 (or $26 at door) attendees can taste two eight-ounce floats from each contender and vote for their fave. To top it all off, this events benefits 826LA - a worthy writing/tutoring non-profit. To RSVP (though I heard spaces are nearly out) e-mail FoodGPS at

Also going on this Sunday is Angeleno magazine's "Chef's Night Out" event coinciding with their annual restaurant issue, where their critic, Brad Johnson, and others will be handing out awards for some of the best eats around town while benefiting the Children's Institute to help kids traumatized by violence; Chefs including Ray Garcia from FIG, Evan Funke from Rustic Canyon and Adrian Vasquez from Providence will be preparing signature dishes paired with award-winning wines and spirits. Tickets are $125 general and $250 for VIP (includes entry into award ceremony and reception.) Click here for additional info and to order tickets.

On Monday, AMMO Restaurant (which has been throwing some pretty kicking libation mixers lately) will be partnering with Austrian winemaker Schloss Gobelsburg for a tasty five-course, seven-wine dinner for $55/person. Enjoy Rieslings, Gruner Veltliners and other Austrian wines while noshing on fresh and elegant courses such as hamachi with radish & celery salad and roasted Niman Ranch pork shoulder with baby veggies and roasted mission figs. To RSVP, give them a ring at 323.871.2666.

On Thursday, Century City Breadbar is holding its monthly Hatchi event, with a guest chef serving eight dishes for $8 apiece. This month's event is especially noteworthy since it's Michael Voltaggio, who was chef de cuisine at the Bazaar, replacing Craig Strong as chef de cuisine at Langham Pasadena's Dining Room AND a contender on Season 6's Top Chef. And the $64 eight-course affair, which includes miso cake with jasmine "rice cream"; wagyu beef with horseradish "styrofoam" and veal sweetbread with coffee-cardamom "soil", is WAY more affordable than either places he's perma-cheffing at (not that they aren't worth a visit anyways, budget allowing.) Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, this event is already sold out -- but another Hatchi, with chef Roberto Cortez, is not too far in the future, with an equally intriguing "Unfamiliar Conflict" themed menu on Aug. 6 -- so book your rezzies fast!

Finally, some great reads:

NY Times' critic Frank Bruni published an excerpt from his upcoming book about his relationship with food since his baby years; including struggles with weight, drugs, diets, fasts and even bulimia. Nice food for thought (pun intended) though the excerpt felt very abrupt.

For something way more light-hearted (and totally PR driven by the Hellmann's and Best Foods mayo folks) check out this Chicago Tribune article on what your sandwich preference says about you. (FYI, I'm a chicken/egg salad person myself)

Last but not least, you can find me out being quoted in LA Times' food truck article!

And salud to National Tequila Day!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Quickies #66: So Much To Do, So Little Time To Actually Blog!

Bulgarini Gelato
Six-dollar gelato from Bulgarini

Eeek, between bloggerprom planning, my recent fantastic birthday dinner at Rustic Canyon, still going over notes and editing from my NorCal excursion and doing a food media/blogger trip *at this very moment in Baja California* -- I barely have time to sort through my e-mails, messages and facebook invites of foodie going-ons, let alone meeting my daily minimum requirement of foodblog reading! Ack! So today's Friday quickie will be dedicated to the week that was--

After many months of procrastination, I finally had the chance to check out Bulgarini Gelato in Altadena; in a word - amazing! I love the uber-smooth and rich texture of the gelato and the sorbetto, and the flavors delectably fresh and tasty -- from the usual suspects of hazelnut and chocolate to the more eccentric blood orange, milk with lime and yogurt with oil (the last one is like a cheesecake, I swear.) For a few more thoughts on this place, check out my FoodDigger review.

Speak of cold treats, I also had the chance to try shaved snow at schoolhouse-themed Class 302 in Rowland Heights; unlike shaved ice, the "snow" is actually a mixture of condensed milk and ice and comes out with a whippy-fluffy texture, kinda like fresh powder that you eat rather than ski/snowboard on! Totally delectable with its assortment of sweet toppings (from fruits to azuki beans to mochi globs). Another FD review here.

And thanks to their PR for comp, I also had a chance to check out East LA Meets Napa - a wonderful event that highlighted a great representation of Latin-American cuisine from traditional to modern-eclectic and showing that, yes, you can pair them with wines! Photos and more info to come later, but it was definitely great tasting all thoses treats, wines, even a "tequila from the future" and meeting up with fellow bloggers. Hopefully this event was a success for the fundraisers and the restos/wineries represented and that it'll make another comeback next year!

Finally, as I age another year, I guess now is good as any other time to express my thanks and gratitude to the foodie community of L.A./O.C. -- from the industry-savvy media that provides interesting and in-depth coverage of the eating and drinking scene, to the fellow bloggers who I can always count on for foodventurous nibbles, sips and the occasional borrowing of well-taken photos, and even the PR folks for their news, intel and the occasional hookup with freebies. I started this blog almost 3 years ago just to share my thoughts and feelings on events, favorite hangouts and discoveries of new places, but so many doors have opened along the way, which I'm always delighted - and extremely humbled - to be a part of.

So here's to another year of great and adventurous eats and that, like many edibles and potables, things DO get better with age!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mini Foodventure #128: Tender Greens (West Hollywood)

Having some time to kill between picking up a friend at LAX and a wine & cocktail meetup with fellow BloggerProm committee members Esther, Tara and Caroline -- I decided to check out West Hollywood's Tender Greens for a quick, healthy and (hopefully) tasty bite.

For 9:30p on a Wednesday, the place was pretty packed with a diverse WeHo crowd, from older couples mellowing out with their meals and a glass of wines to younger peeps decked out in club gear wolfing down their sandwiches vacuum-cleaner style. It was also quite funny hearing the gay couples in line scanning the menu, then moan and whine about what's fattening and carb-loaded. But hey, kudos to them for their nutrition discipline, even if it looks like they'll be downing 2-for-1 shots and crazy-colored vodka-tinis later in the night.

The menu is pretty simple, primarily the three Ss - soups, salads and sandwiches - with a few entrees and daily specials thrown in, all pretty reasonably priced with nothing over $11. After I scanned the menu, I opted for their $10.50 flatiron steak salad with red & green butter lettuces, radishes, red and gold beets and horseradish vinaigrette (got on the side), a pretty light and simple salad with some protein to help me power through my strength workout later in the day. Oh yea, and a $4 strawberry tart (it was on their daily special menu; how can I possibly resist? could be gone tomorrow!!!)

After moving cattle-line style from the ordering section, down the foodprep line to the pickup and finally the cashier (within five minutes!) I paid and plopped onto a patio table for my salad and sweet.
I have mixed feelings about the salad; nothing was bad per se, in fact, the veggies tasted very fresh (sweet beets, radishes with nice pepper bite, crunchy lettuces) and the meat was juicy-tender -- but it seemed haphazardously prepared and assembled, the lettuce were too wet and could've been chopped or ripped into smaller pieces (with quarter heads practically intact, it was almost like a wedge salad on my plate) and it seemed all the ingredients kind of clumped together on their own, so it was hard to get a little of everything on my fork, and it just felt weird having to go at a salad with a knife!

The dressing was a little bit watery too and could use a bigger horseradish kick, though maybe it's a dressing meant to be tossed with the salad rather than dipped into.

The strawberry tart made up for it though, lighter and less sweet than most strawberry pie/tarts, it had a nice shortbread crust, juicy strawberry slices and just thin smear of custard and glaze. Just enough to satisfy my craving without inducing guilt.

Despite the recklessly made salad, I'm fairly sure I'll be back esp. when looking for eats in the WeHo 'hood, since it seems to have the potential to walk that fine line between tasty, budget-friendly and healthy (as opposed to the rest of the neighborhood's eats, which seems to be polarized camps of either the heart attack-inducing or health-food-gross or just plain overpriced.) So crossing fingers for a knife-free salad next time.

Tender Greens
8759 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA
(310) 358-1919

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Quickies #65: Pre Bastille Edition

Coffee and a Jelly Donut
Coffee with a Jelly Donut at LaMill

Ok, move over Americans - it's the French's turn to celebrate... the storming of a prison? Ok, ok, still red, white and blue so it's all good. Depending on how you feel about the French, here are some Francophile and not-so-Frenchy events for Bastille Day (and the days leading up to and following . . .)

All July long, modern-French restaurant Melisse will be celebrating its 10 years in business with a special 10-course menu higlighting exec. chef Josiah Citrin's favorite dishes from the decade that was. To sweeten the pot of this $150/person offer, corkage is only $10/bottle for first two bottles and diners will receive a $50 gift card good for a future dinner.

On Bastille Day itself, enomatic wine bar Pourtal will be featuring wines from the French country; no pricey bougie stuff here, just simple-yet-sexy reds, white and rosés. And if you recite the serment du jeu de paume (Tennis Court Oath), you'll be treated to a complimentary glass of Kir (probably best to do this before you get your wine on!)

On July 15, dine out and help fight breast cancer with Dine out for the Cure, where numerous restaurants will be donating 10% of their day's profits to the LA chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The participant list stretches all over LA from the Roy's in Pasadena/Downtown/Woodland Hills to Michael's on Naples in Long Beach to Ford's Filling Station and Rush Street in Culver City. That's definitely something I can raise my fork to.

On July 17, the folks of LearnAboutWine are back at it with RED, a bovine smorgasbord with 7 beef courses (and 1 cheesy dessert) each paired with delightful red wine. Preparations include beef cheek terrine with a mimosa sauce and grilled rib eye with ginger-soy reduction. All of which makes for one happy cow eater. $89/person.

And for those attending the East LA Meets Napa event tonight, I'll see you there at Union Station!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Special Foodventure #127: Bar Celona (Pasadena)

I've been compelled to check out Bar Celona ever since I found out that Josef Centeno (well-knowned years past for his spontaneous tasting menus at Opus) is consulting there, but my group of Old Town friends have never felt particuarly inclined to go, preferring the gianormous-if-mediocre portions offered by the various Pasadena chains over the small plates tapas-style dishes this place is known for. That tide quickly changed with they announced their latest event . . .

all-you-can-eat paellas

Being a sucker for this Valencian dish in general, I heartily accepted when their PR folks invited me to check out the celebration on the house. So my friend and I visited them on the first day of their anniversary event.
Flamenco Kiss
Having spent the better part of my Sunday in the sun, I was definitely in the mood for a light, refreshing cocktail when I arrived at 7 p.m. The Flamenco Kiss, made with vanilla vodka and fresh strawberry puree, does the task well -- simple but tasty, like a liquid strawberry pie with lots of whipped cream.
Seafood Soup
Before the paella main show, we started off with sauteed cremini & oyster mushrooms with bay leaf & thyme cream ($7) and an aromatic seafood soup ($21), both heartier and more substantial than their tapas label suggest. The 'shrooms, meaty and earthy and perfectly palatable on their own, was wonderfully enhanced by the herby cream sauce -- though I might opt for it on the side next time since it was pretty heavy. We both we loved the seafood soup, comforting even on a summer night and packed full of firm and plump shellfish (shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams) swimming in a light, fragrant saffron-flavored broth.
Paella Quartet
Now for the main show -- the paellas! Being indecisive about which one we wanted, the staff was gracious enough to bring us a small sampler of all four -- from vegetarian, castellana (beef, pork sausage and chicken), marinaera (shellfish) and valenciana (surf & turf, looks like a combo of the previous two) ($18-24). Asides from the addition of assorted meats, the four paellas tasted nearly identical, aromatic with a bouquet of herbs, a little spicy and just savory enough w/o being oversalted. The rice had a great toothy (firm yet chewy) texture that I loved, though my friend would've preferred a creamier, softer risotto-esque preparation. And having had the two starter dishes beforehand, we alas threw in the towel after a single serving of paella -- though being a carb-filled fare I'm not sure I would've been able to do more than two servings otherwise.
We also had a taste of their red wine sangria, which is complimentary with an AYCE paella order, whose portion was larger than we expected. Like the cocktail, it was not fussy and totally pleasant to drink - striking a nice balance between the wine and juices so it's neither too tannic nor fruity-sweet.
Seasonal Fruit Crisp
Despite our collective fullness, a second stomach popped up when we were offered the sweets menu -- so we opted to share a seasonal strawberry-apple crisp a la mode (even though I was seriously eye-ing the churros & chocolate or the crema catalana). Like everything else so far, it was incredibly satisfying and elegantly simple, a fine exhibit of the fruit crisp/pie dessert.

Also a bit surprising is how reasonably priced the meal was, when the bill came (the determine our tips) we found out the total was in the $70-80 range; considering we had 2 cocktails, 2 starters, 2 entrees and a dessert -- that's not bad at all. And since the paella is all-you-can-eat and comes with a sangria, couples can totally get away with ~$50-60 bill and a merrily full stomach.

If you can't make it tonight or tomorrow for their celebration, don't fret; I was informed they plan on bringing back for Sunday dinners. I for one can't complain about starting off a week with soup, paella and sangrias (finished off with perhaps a churro or two...)

And FYI, their anniversary celebration culminates tomorrow night -- when they have All-Night Happy Hour specials on drinks and tapas, along with dish demos & tastings, live music AND a mechanical bull at the bar, should you feel courageous enough (or had enough liquid courage.)

What do others say?
Eating L.A. sampled some of its fare after Centeno consulted on the menu and found it "hits the tapas sweet spot"
- Gayot finds it offers "reasonably authentic Spanish cuisine" in a "hip, contemporary scene"

Additional photos on flickr here

Bar Celona
46 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 304-1000
Bar Celona on Urbanspoon

Bar Celona in Los Angeles

Monday, July 06, 2009

Recipe Time #16: H.C. Summer Wine Fizz

A little fruity, a little efferverscent, a little spicy and super simple -- the H.C. Summer Wine Fizz has a little heat but is super cooling (thus the H and the C); I made this refreshing cocktail on a whim for a near-last-minute potluck that I attended this past weekend.

Totally easy to drink but with just a bit of zip to keep things interesting, this is definitely something I look forward to making over and over again for these hot summer months.

Ingredients (10-12 servings):
1 cup vodka (alternatively, light rum would work for an extra zing)
2 ripe mangos
12 oz. (2 cartons) blackberries
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 limes
1 750mL bottle light to medium-bodied white wine
1 750mL bottle sparkling lemonade (alternatively, 2 cans of lemon-lime soda)

Muddling and Infusing Vodka
1. Day before, make the vodka infusion by combining the vodka with 6 oz. blackberries, 1 mango (diced) and the cayenne pepper. Muddle so that the berries and mango cubes are broken up, which helps release their flavors into the vodka. Cover up and store in refrigerator, along with the white wine and lemonade, overnight.

2. Just before serving, prepare the garnishes - dice up the other mango, slice 4 limes and skewer them w the remaining blackberries. Set aside.
3. In a pitcher, combine the vodka infusion (which should take on a rich ruby color by now, like above) with the juice of 1-2 limes, the sparkling lemonade and white wine (I prefer the more aromatic white varietals for this such as viognier or gewurztraminer, whose fragrances hold up well and complement the fruity smells of the infusion and also quite inexpensive at $9 or less a bottle.) If you have any extra lime slices leftover from the skewers, toss them into the pitcher too.

4. Fill glasses/cups with ice and pour, topping each glass with the blackberry-diced mango-sliced lime skewer and enjoy!
And of course, the best part of this "recipe" is that it's totally adaptable -- you can easily pretty much swap out any ingredient to match whatever's in season or to your taste preference; just keep it around 12 oz. of fruit infused in a cup of spirit with a little spice or fresh herbs, then mix with a bottle of wine and same amount of a sparkling mixer. So play around and have fun with different combinations, I definitely will!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Quickies #64: Independence Day (almost...) edition

Blood Sugar Sex Magic
The time's ripe for a Blood Sugar Sex Magic from Rivera, especially when it's only five bucks tonight!

Whether you're staying in or hanging out, there's lots to do for this coming week; so here's to a delightful 4th of July!

For lovers of cheese & wine, Palate Food + Wine is introducing a Cirque du Fromage Tuesdays 7-10 p.m. where, for a easy breezy $12, a flight of three wines will be served three cheeses chosen by Todd "The Cheese Guy" Jasmin; for this coming Tuesday, the pairings will focus on Loire Valley Goat Cheeses along with wines from the Loire and Rhone regions. In case you want a little more to nibble on, there's a creative C.U.I. (cooking under the influence... of cheese!) menu with assorted fun bites for $6 each (think maytag blue chocolate bonbons and grilled cheese with Hook's 10 yr. cheddar and "Bourbon onions")

For those who are still feeling festive after Independence Day, swing by Bar Celona at Old Town Pasadena for their 5th anniversary "Running of the Bulls" special from July 5th to 9th where consulting chef Josef Centeno (formerly of Opus and Lot 1 fame) will be whipping out all-you-care-to-eat paellas, along with a complementary glass of sangria, for $22 to $28 (depending on the paella). There'll also be extra specials on July 9th, with all night $5 happy hour prices on drinks and tapas, cooking demos and tastings, live flamenco music and DJs -- and, for those so inclined, a mechanical bull for you to ride and tame at the bar. I can certainly Olé (and Aiyeeee!!!) to that!

On Friday July 10th is the Fourth Annual East LA Meets Napa festival at Union Station -- highlighting traditional and modern Latin cooking, wineries owned or operated by Latin-Americans while benefiting AltaMed Health Services, which provides healthcare to underserved populations in Southern California. The $125/person event will including tastings from numerous well-established classics as well as hot newcomers, such as Rivera, Cook's Tortas, Porto's Bakery alongside sips from J Lohr and Illumination wineries. For a full list of participants and ordering info, go to the Social Domain page here. And of course, since it does take place in the Union Station -- do your road raging 'tude, the environment, and possibly not-quite-sober-body-afterwards a favor and commute by the Metro if possible.

Finally, the motherload of all tasting events, the 27th Annual American Wine & Food Festival (benefiting LA Meals on Wheels) taking place from Oct. 2-4, 2009, are starting to sell tickets now. Even in these tough economic times, this top-dollar event series sells out fast -- from the $150/person Red Hot @ Red Seven on Friday to the actual $300/person festival at the Universal Studios Backlot on Saturday and the Chef's Grand Tasting dinner for $750/person on Sunday. So snag those tickets before you regret it.

Or if you're inclined on staying home, like I do most weekends, here's some fantastic worthwhile foodie related reads I've found from the week that was:

- Quarrygirl's "Operation Pancake" investigation into LA area vegan restaurants, and discovering quite a few of them having casein (a milk-derived protein), eggs and even shellfish in their foods!

- Alinea's Grant Achatz's column in the Atlantic on why some diners get "special" treatment -- the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

- The New York Times trying to break down the perfect burger into its various components, with major kudos to Comme Ca's version. This after their fairly recent quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, hmm. . .

found out today from foodblogging friend FoodGPS that Rivera, ringing in their summer cocktail menu, will be celebrating with $5 cocktails starting at 9PM TONIGHT - so you know where I'll be at ;)


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