Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Quickies #87: Mad Hatters and March Madness

Artsy Cappuccino

March is almost here and I'm still mis-dating documents as 2009 *sigh* but here's to longer, sunnier days and me finally getting used to 2010 (before my bank's grace period for one-year-old checks expires!)

Today, 4 to 10 p.m., after about two months of soft launch with a RSVP-only tasting room, Eagle Rock Brewery is having their grand opening! Enjoy their three regular brews, they will also debut the Libertine Imperial Amber Wit, a hefty 8.6% ABV brew made with caramel malts, spices and honey for a sweet-fruity-spicy concoction. The tasting room will also serve guest beers from brewery friends and the Frysmith truck will be parked outside from 6 p.m. onwards for your eating pleasure!

Today to Sunday, the Western Regional Barista Competition is back, this time taking place at Siren Studios at Sunset. Watch as West Coast's finest baristas compete in pulling perfect cups of espresso-machine beverages, and push the envelope with signature coffee drinks with mixology and culinary techniques! And of course, there'll be complimentary coffee provided (and pulled by some of the best baristas in the state) and even workshops to learn how to cup and analyze coffee. Complete schedule of events here.

From now until Tuesday, blogger friend Gourmet Pigs is having a re-do of Bid and Eat for Haiti, this time with a more East sider streak with gift certificates for La Casita Mexicana, Elements Kitchen and The Raymond. Last time's auction raised $765 for CHF International and Operation USA, so hope this round of bidding do just as well (Gourmet Pigs is aiming for at least another $235 to make one grand or more)

Monday, March 1, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Tavern's Larder is bringing back their Wine and cheese nights! For $29/person, attendees can nosh on small plates paired with delectable wine sips and Sous Chef Melody Bishop guiding through the pairings. This Monday's event will focus on Southern Rhone wines, which will be paired with dishes such as roasted root vegetables and midnight moon cheese // smoked duck hazelnuts, fried sunchokes and fig jam // a Reuben variation with red cabbage slaw // wild mushrooms with spinach, garlic and truffle butter. Call to reserve 310.806.6464

From March 1 to 31, 3 to 5 p.m. - coinciding with the Alice in Wonderland movie, The London's Boxwood Cafe will be offering a $28/person "Mad Hatter Tea" for the entire month of March. The whimiscally colorful affair include treats such as Queen of Hearts Tarts, Unbirthday Cakes and Caterpillar Caps alongside their assortment of teas and mini-sandwiches. The affair finishes with a "Drink Me" champagne toast with assorted color-themed mixers (Red w pom juice and PAMA liqueur, Green w apple liqueur and lemon/pineapple juices, Purple w Framboise, etc.) at $5 each.

Wednesdays, all night long - Echo Park gem Allston Yacht Club is debuting their "Wicked Wednesdays" where everything on their menu is just $5 each! Whether you're jonesing for their cedar planked salmon, sweet potato fritters with minted yogurt, or roasted brussel sprouts with balsamic reduction and bacon -- it's all just a Lincoln apiece. With that kind of savings, you can even indulge in some of their affordable wine and cocktails without much guilt (on the wallet, at least.)

And my favorite reads of this week:

FoodGPS interview The Bitter Truth makers and got the lowdown on what they're doing to this crucial cocktail component.

SeriousEats is all about at-home cheesemaking, with two fast and simple instructions on how to make ricotta and goat cheeses at home, along with a drool-inducing apple-goat cheese-honey tartlet recipe.

CHOW is taking a gourmet spin off March Madness snacks, presenting 11 gussied-up variations on roasted jalapeno poppers.

LA Times look into the absence of Filipino cuisine in the local restaurant scene, and offers up one place that does whip up a mean adobo and pata.

Still gleefully reminiscing on the Porco Rosso from Edison's Radio Room, I discovered this nice oldie but goodie blogpost from the Cocktail Nerd about sweet vermouths as an apertif and drink component, plus ratings of several popular varieties.

Beans, beans, the magical fruit! A visual guide to the numerous varieties (and how to prepare them) from CHOW.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Special Drinkventure #155: Radio Room at Edison (Downtown LA)

Brian Miller Mixing
Even though I've been to the Edison's Radio Room several times, I've always been a bit hesitant to blog about the event since they're single-event affairs, and the performances, the guest bartenders and drinks made that night may not ever make an appearance again. But every time I go, I've been amazed by the cocktails du jour and the knowledgeable-yet-friendly bartends (even when juggling a nonstop frenzy of orders for most of the night) so I figure it's high time to officially endorse this monthly soiree, which I was fortunate enough to be invited to by their PR (though from how popular the event turned out, they probably don't need another plug from me!)

In its latest incarnation earlier this week, the Radio Room decided to showcase the drink-making skills of its incoming director of spirits, Joseph Brooke (who has been tending at Copa d'Oro and was the season 2 winner of LX.TV's "On the Rocks" bartending competition,) Brian Miller from NYC's Death & Company and Erick Castro of San Francisco's Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse.
Joe Brooke @ Side Bar
Between these three talented crafters, the drink menu of seven was a whimsical mix that really ran the gamut, covering quite a range of spirits and showcasing a broad spectrum of flavor profiles, from the fruity (but only mildly sweet) Kentucky Buck with strawberry puree, to the spicier Hispaniola with tea-infused rum and a sugarcane-ginger syrup, and a light, fizzy, refreshing (yet deceptively potent) Miss Behavin' with apple and pear brandies topped with a little bubbly!

The most memorable of the night for me, though, was the Porco Rosso; not only does the name remind me of my favorite anime legend, the drink itself (made with High West Rye, Aperol, Carpano Antica, bitters, citrus) was delightfully fragrant with sweet spices and orange, a rich, warming mouthfeel, and a velvety-smooth finish. A wonderful sleight-of-hand twist from the Rye Manhattan, and since this was Joe's creation -- I hope it'll make it onto the permanent drink list at the Edison, or at least him not minding a do-over when I return.
Vagabond Opera
The entertainment of the night (which also changes with the Radio Room) was Portland's Vagabond Opera; since I'm even less adept to describe music than I am with food and drinks, I'll turn that over to my friend Hey Hey Scenesters! My brief take in a sentence: a rambuctious fusion of big band, cabaret and Monty Python's Spamalot -- not exactly danceable but it does get crowds riled up!
Christophe Happillon w Oysters
Speaking of getting excited, I was definitely thrilled to see seafood specialist Christophe Happillon happily shucking and serving up British Columbian Fanny Bay oysters near the back bar of the Edison. It was great to meet the famous Oyster Gourmet in person, listen to his excitement over the bivalve, and of course, sampling one of those delights (absolutely delicious on its own: sweet and meaty, with clean, briny liqueur!)
Edison Interior
And while I do miss the earlier days of the Radio Room, a more intimate setting in the back bar when everyone can get a seat with a view of the show and a drink in their hand in a few minutes, this bigger version has an interesting, if different than original, vibe for it too, particularly the fresh infusion of energy and creativity from the guest bartenders and performers. So I'll still be back to check it out, and if mobs and potentially long waits are not your thing, try to come very early (half-hour before start time) or very late (45 minutes before end time.) Oh, and take mental notes of Caroline's observations and ordering advice.

Few more photos on flickr here

The Radio Room at The Edison (next one is on March 30th, with March 4th Marching Band performing)
108 W 2nd Street
Los Angeles

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Recipe Time #19: Midnight Brownies w Ganache Glaze

One of the things I love about the food industry and community is how giving and generous its members are, and there's no finer case in point than the events that sprang forth in light of the Haiti disaster. When I first heard about the quake, I knew that a few charity events will soon follow. But I certainly didn't expect such a large scale and outpouring of goodwill from everyone involved, who opened their pantries, ignited their kitchens, mobilized their resources and organized like-minded folks to pool efforts (and cooking skills) for an all around feel good, and taste great, spectacle.

Pre-opening display at bakesale
The first of such events I had the pleasure of participating in (well, asides from patronage) was the Cookies Without Borders bake sale organized by the No Cookies Left Behind folks. I'm surprised to be approached to contribute a dish, since baking isn't really my strength (not big on exact measurements and having to patiently wait and NOT meddle while it's in the oven.)
Midnight Brownie Batch w Ganache Topping
But I still managed to whip up some midnight brownies topped with a dark chocolate ganache glaze, adapted from this flourless chocolate cake recipe at Epicurious. Incredibly fudgy, not-too-sweet and pretty forgiving to make; it's definitely a dessert made for a strong brew of tea, a darker roast of coffee, a nice stout or just warmed up (and topped with vanilla ice cream!)

Ingredients (for 9" x 13" pan, approx. 20 brownies):

For brownies
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (or finely chopped pieces from a block) - aim for 55%-75% cacao content
- .75 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 5 large eggs, room temperature
- 1.5 stick unsalted butter, chopped into small cubes (extra as needed for greasing pan)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For ganache topping
- 3 ounces heavy whipping cream
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or fine pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease baking pan w butter or cooking spray
2. Heat butter in saucepan, as soon as it's completely melted; turn off heat and immediately add bittersweet chocolate and vanilla extract - stirring/whisking vigorously until completely melted and uniform
3. Remove saucepan from stove and add eggs, one at a time; mixing until egg is incorporated before adding next one
4. Add sugar gradually (quarter cup at a time), again, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch; repeat with cocoa powder
5. Pour the batter mixture onto the baking pan, using a spatula or spoon to help scrape the bottom and sides of saucepan
6. Bake in center rack of oven for approx. 30 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in center comes out relatively clean
7. Once baking's completed, let cool for at least another 15 minutes before cutting; when ready to top with ganache glaze, start prepping the below

Ganache glaze topping
1. In a saucepan (if using the same saucepan as brownie batter, be sure it's is completely dry before proceeding) bring the heavy whipping cream to a simmer
2. Turn off heat, remove from stovetop and again, quickly whisk until the mixture is event
3. Glaze away and enjoy (FYI, the ganache will harden a little as it cools down)

For another variation, use the vanilla cream cheese frosting recipe from my dessert pizza - which is what I did for bite-sized versions of these brownies for the Stir It 28 charity cocktail party.
Cookies Without Borders bakesale
And of course, the sweetest news is finding out that Cookies Without Borders raised over $5,000 in just a few hours. That, and all the other goodies I brought home, certainly puts a smile on my face!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Quickies #86: Early Springtime edition

From looks of all the upcoming going-ons, looks like the groundhog's out of the hole! And with the heat wave I can definitely use a summer wine fizz!

Tomorrow, 6p to 11p - La Mirada's Cabo Taco Baja Grill will have their Winter Warmer Beer Festival, bringing in delightful, heftier brews perfect to warm your soul (even if the weather isn't exactly chilly) - over 20 beers are available for sampling, such as Bootleggers' Chocolate Mint Porter, Port Brewing's Santa's Little Helper, Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi and New Belgium's 2° Below. $25 gets you a commemorative glass and eight taster tickets ($2 extra for each additional tickets, though if it's anything like their previous beer fests -- those eight are plenty enough given their "sample" pours.)

Sunday, Feb. 21, 4p to 7p - It's the Stir It 28 cocktail party fundraiser to help Haiti earthquake relief/recovery efforts. Numerous foodbloggers (including me!) will be serving up their homemade appetizer and dessert bites, and The Liquid Muse will be serving a variety of specialty cocktails and alcohol-free "mocktails"! $35/person at the door, or $30/person with advanced RSVP by contacting me. Additional info on their facebook page here.

Monday, Feb. 22, 7p to 10p - South Coast Plaza's Charlie Palmer restaurant will be holding a "Mixin for Haiti" cocktail competition for the American Red Cross's Haiti Relief Fund. Watch as some of SoCal's finest bartenders mix up some lively cocktails in a friendly contest. To sweeten the deal, guests can try out the competing cocktails for just $7 each!

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 8p - Edison's famous "Radio Room" returns, the first with Joseph Brooke (formerly of Copa D'Oro in Santa Monica, and winner of season 2 "On the Rocks" bartender competition) at the helm as their new director of spirits. Guest bartenders tonight include Erick Castro (of Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse in San Francisco) and Brian Miller (of New York City's Death & Company) making cocktails such as High Tea (black tea infused gin w honey, lemon milk and soda) Kentucky Buck (bourbon, strawberry puree, turbinado syrup, lemon juice and ginger beer) and Miss Behavin' (apple and pear brandies with chamapagne and citrus sugar). Also live jazz entertainment from The Vagabond Opera! $10/person cover.

Wednesday, Feb. 24 till April 10 - continuing their culture of pop-up and collaboration, Third Street's Breadbar will team up with Debbie Lee (who previously partnered with Gyenari for "Seoulful" dishes) for a limited time "Seoultown Tapas" engagement. Dishes start from $8 and will be reflect a fusion of Korean and tapas fares, such as: Korean rice cylinders with maple smoked bacon and jalapeno ponzu; kimchee ramen with egg drop, spicy fish broth and japapnese popcorn; pork and potato stew with charred Korean peppers and spicy mustard greens and sesame doughnuts with chestnut glaze.

Thursday, Feb. 25, 5:30p - In partnership with model/actress/cancer survivor Olivia Fox, Fraiche Santa Monia will hold a cocktail party benefiting her charities (CONCERN foundation / L.A. Marathon) and to launch its new bar and lounge menu. The signature cocktail of the night "Olivia's crush" costs $20, but the entire Jackson goes towards Fox's charities and the healing cocktail will be made with a enticing mix of vodka, blackberries, acai, reishi mushrooms, mint, housemade ginger syrup and prosecco. Oh, and you can meet Fox and her friend, Kevin Connolly of Entourage fame, in-person as they mix things up from behind the bar.

Phew! And this week has been pretty prolific in interesting food-related reads too! Here are some of my favorites:

-Watching your weight doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor, as Rants and Craves shows with her delicious sunomono with octopus recipe

-The Wanderkind highlights the hilarity of As Seen on TV ads with the EZ Cracker video (who cracks their eggs against a table top?!) and similarly fun list of useless kitchen knick-knacks at Good Bite

-Frank Bruni uses El Bulli's impending closure to put boastful foodies in their place

-Slate looks into the arbitrary nature of expiry date labeling on foods

-LA Weekly's Squid Ink dishes on Bazaar's water menu, but no water sommelier yet!

-SeriousEats solves the conundrum of a charred & dry burger versus a soft & juicy burger with its FLOOD burger (basically, a burger stuffed with the frozen, rendered juices of another burger before cooking)

-The Atlantic covers the blind taste test showdown between Wal-Mart and Whole Foods produce

-Finally, the Hot Knives made a vegetarian faux gras for a PETA cash-prize challenge, only to find themselves disqualified for using butter (the recipe and video are cool though!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bon Bon for BonBonBars!

BonBonBar package
Since blogging friend Caroline on Crack got to talking about BonBonBar's bourbon candy bars, I figured the time's ripe for me to get off my procrastinating blogging butt to talk about its across-the-Atlantic cousin, the Scotch Bar infused with Talisker Distiller's Edition Single-Malt Island Scotch aged in oak and sherry casks.

Now, these are NOTHING like those horrific of saccharine, liquor-cordial-filled chocolates of gag gifts (literally!) past. Nor is this a bar that you'd wolf down to get your everyday cocoa fix fulfilled (though I think the $5 per bar price tag already suggests that.)
It's a bar meant to be savored slowly so you can enjoy its complexity of flavors and textures -- smooth, rich dark chocolate with flecks of sea salt, melting away into butter caramel and the Scotch-infused ganache. The whiskey's presence is definitely noticeable, but it's warm and comforting; a little fruity, a splash of vanilla, the slightest hint of roasted maltiness. It's the edible equivalent of sipping, and savoring, a little sherry-aged Scotch at the end of the day (w a little chocolate truffle to nibble on the side!)

And even though BonBonBar's owner/candymaker Nina Wanat has moved from LA to SF, I'm just thankful that BonBonBar resurrected (my last order was one of her last batches before her then-indefinite hiatus while she moved.)
BonBonBar package opened!
Won't be long till I place my next order of Scotch, Bourbon and even peanut butter bars (no ordinary Reese's here, these dark chocolate beauties are filled with not only PB but also organic strawberry jam and wildflower honey!) Or just save yourself the hassle of choosing JUST ONE KIND and get an assortment to enjoy!

Just be thankful I'm highlighting them after Valentine's Day; delicious as they are, you would probably be fighting with your significant other over getting the last piece, if not the whole order! And kudos to ShopEatSleep for telling me about these lovely edibles.

sold online and at a few select (lucky!) stores nationwide

Scotch bar photo courtesy of BonBonBar

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Special Foodventure #154: Cafe Pierre (Manhattan Beach)

As far as food goes, Manhattan Beach had never been high on my radar of destinations; if I was taking an association test, mention of the city will trigger 1) invites from high school & college acquaintances to join them on a drunken caravan and barhop all over the downtown district (invites that I've always declined, btw) 2) the 24-hour Kettle as a Plan B C D if I absolutely needed to grab grub in some crazy time of night in the LAX area 3) fond memories of coordinating and promoting my client's first booksigning when I did freelance PR and 4) a place that leaves me counting down to actual food destinations further south on the 405 such as the Torrance/Gardena Japantown.

Cafe Pierre exterior
So it was quite a surprise when I received a press release (and later, an invite) to Cafe Pierre, headed by Remi Lauvand smack in the middle of downtown MB, alternately between "Really? There?" and "Well, I guess if any neighborhood is need of a fine-dining establishment -- that'd be it!" Since I was no stranger to Remi's tasty creations when was working at Citrus at Social, I accepted the invite to check out the restaurant and what he's bringing to the menu.

Upon my arrival, I was a bit puzzled about why a throng of bloggers were invited to begin with - the place was packed on a Thursday! When I asked their PR about this, I was told that Cafe Pierre has quickly become a neighborhood favorite (confirming my "filling the fine dining niche" theory) but the restaurant is looking to expand their range of clientele, a.k.a. younger foodies from other neighborhoods like me, who wouldn't have been inclined to stop by Manhattan Beach to eat, let alone make a destination out of it. Taking another look at the tables, they do seem more of the olders, locals crowd.
Roasted Marrow
But, onto the food -- which there were lots of! Between family-styling six housemade meat jars, six appetizers, six entrees AND five desserts, I was left worried for my ever expanding belly, and didn't know whether the Cafe Pierre kitchen wanted to showcase a wide range of different things they do well, or if they're taking a scattershot approach and hope that a few good dishes will hit and stick (which sounds bad but is pretty understandable when hosting a diverse group of bloggers, all with their own taste preferences.)

With the exception of one dish (the jarred sardines, with pinbones galore that made it too troublesome to eat) the dishes I had were positive. Now, of the dishes I can't wait to return and order again . . .
Head Cheese
Jarred head cheese and pig trotters - while others were gaga over the foie gras parfait w quince confit and spiced bread (good, I'll admit) I was more impressed by these two jarred pork products: a great combo of savoriness, fattiness and tenderness - a profile I associate more with thick-cut pork belly.
Acorn-Fed Hog Two Ways
Jude Becker's acorn fed hog duo (sausage, short rib) - FoodGPS and Sinosoul did a better job at capturing what makes this dish so good, the only thing I'd reiterate/add is that this dish really reflects the quality and care that went into raising the pigs, resulting in beautifully-flavored and unbelievably-well-marbled meat (several at our table thought we got pork belly because of the striations of fat, but I already took note that what we got was boneless short rib.)
Black Sea Bass
Black sea bass with braised endives, glazed carrots and orange zest - this dish stood out primarily because it's so clean and light compared to all the other heavy dishes on the table, but I also love what the hint of orange did to jazz and brighten up an otherwise simple dish.

70-hour braised short rib (no photo, sorry) - Yes, braised short ribs are pretty easy to make -- but there are versions that are just good, and then there are stellar variety, and I fondly remembered the 36-hour version that Remi offered up at Citrus. While I can't tell whether doubling the braising time made the ribs twice as tasty, the version here was definitely solid, comforting stuff; the beef was remarkably tender, juicy and deliciously saturated with the red wine reduction. The fries were a nice spin and a welcoming textural contrast from the usual mashed potato that typically accompanys this dish.
Baba au Rhum
Baba au rhum w slow-poached pineapples - the most distinctive of the desserts offered, I also loved this best since it was light-yet-substantial, satisfying my sweet fix without weighing me down (as if all the meaty dishes beforehand haven't already done that.)

Thankfully, the price-point at Cafe Pierre is very reasonable (a typical dinner is ~$50/person,) especially with their ever-changing, market-driven prix-fixe, approximately $35 for three courses.

And with all the dishes I can't wait to re-discover, along with new ones I'm eager to try (wild boar ragu with papardelle and portabella! the braised rabbit with gnocchi and wild shrooms!) I do say I AM looking forward to this Manhattan Beach **destination** for future feastings. And maybe finally check out Simmzy's nearby too!

Full flickr set here - better yet, check out weezermonkey's post for some gorgeous photos; and here's LAist's take on the jarred meats

Cafe Pierre
317 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Twitter for restaurant
Twitter for Chef Remi

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Special Foodventures #153: Urban Hike and Eating Off Streets!

Who knew being indecisive would lead to one of my most exhilarating foodventures yet?

It all started with the buzz about the L.A. Street Food Fest, where I contemplated dropping $30 for the VIP ticket. But wishy-washy, procrastinating me hemmed and hawed for days on whether to buy now or later and lo and behold, they sold out. But instead of thinking like a rational person and just go for the general admission $5 ticket instead, a bug in my head went "What if...?"
And that's exactly the path I chose, deciding on spending $40 (or less) and have a traveling foodventure for the day -- hike along the streets, admiring the city sights and stopping at eateries as I please. No lines, no crowds, no rush -- and me being no stranger to multi-food stops, long hikes, or even a combination of the two... no problem! (yes, I realize my budget is exactly the same as Rachael Ray's show -- I have no intentions of trying to one-up her... I simply figured two Jacksons is probably how much I'd blow on food and drinks at the festival anyways, if not more!) -- and indeed, that's only $35 in the photo... I was banking on at least one place to take plastic even for small sales.
Before I embarked on the Metro to Union Station to start my hike, I decided some hearty nourishment is in order if I'm going to do a 20-mile stroll to the ocean. Thanks to FoodGPS' intel, I found out that Tip Top's Sandwiches, raved by him, Mattatouille (and oh yeah, the LA Times) as one of the best banh mis shops in SoCal, has a new location in Rosemead that opens at 5 a.m. -- plenty of time for me to grab a bite and hop on the rail.
I got the BBQ Pork sandwich for $3.45+tax and it was pretty good stuff, I'm particularly impressed by the baguette's quality (a light crisp, with a chewy-tender-spongy interior) and the buttery mayo spread, well worth the extra premium in price. On the other hand, this sandwich was just too meaty. One of the things I love about a good banh mi is its perfectly balanced ensemble of savory meat, sweet-and-sour pickled veggies, creamy spread, aromatic cilantro and the occasional spicy bite of pepper. In this sandwich, the meat is the definitive diva with all the other ingredients relegated to supporting, even cameo, roles. But hey, if you're one to think banh mis are skimpy on the meat, this may be the place to go. Nonetheless, I'm already envisioning the perfect banh mi with Tip Top's bread and spread and Banh Mi My Tho's proportion of ingredients.
After getting off Union Station away on a hike I went, starting through Olvera Street, then working my way onto C├ęsar Chavez until it turned into Sunset (2008 GreatLAWalkers may remember this route!) I was actually surprised by my stride and pace as I passed through Chinatown, Echo Park and Silver Lake in an hour. Not that I had any stops, most places were not opened yet and I'm still full from the banh mi. But great to finally know where the likes of Park Restaurant and Two Boots Pizza are.
Since I'm too full to eat, I detoured my way off Sunset onto Silver Lake and into La Mill for a cup of Guatemala La Flor de Cafe for $4 + tax/tip, a rich, earthy, slightly chocolaty brew that hits the spot.
I also noticed an installed rack with wine glasses, and found out that today was their first day of serving beer/wine/sake (unfortunately in the afternoon, too late for me!) -- but I made a note to return in the near future to check out their alchy offerings, especially after the hostess said it'll be totally unique with a lot of coffee- and tea-infused concoctions!
Jubiliant (or maybe jittery) from the joe, I continued down the familiar GreatLAWalk trail until I hit my next stop, Falafel Arax on corner Santa Monica and Melrose, which I've never been but remembered reading good reviews about (esp. as a cheap eat,) not to mention some egging on by a graffiti I saw earlier on the hike.
So in I went and I got a falafel to snack on now, and a falafel pita sandwich for later ($5 plus tax for the two.) That freshly-fried falafel was amazing! Zingy with herb flavors, a texture of loose ground meat, and a freaking crisp, not-so-greasy exterior. Now I kinda wish I backtracked and ordered another one (dozen...) of those 50-cent suckers. But, onward I went.
Remembering the bleh-ness of Santa Monica Blvd. until West Hollywood, I decided to diverge from the GreatLAWalk trail for now and went down Normandie onto Melrose. Unfortunately for my tastebuds (but probably better for the wallet) I wound up being too early for the likes of Scoops and Mozza2Go and kicking myself that I forgot to bring my Larchmont Larder Groupon. But at least now I have a better idea of where restaurants are in the nebulous "Mid-City."
My next stop wound up being at DomaineLA, which was actually open before noon! Owner Jill Bernheimer, who I met at a Ludobites dinner a while back (and was in charge of the fun winelist at its latest pop-up in Royal/T) was an absolute doll, talking to me about various wines (including, obviously, great bubblies for Valentine's,) letting me refill my water bottle (and a little floor mopping when I made a mess pouring-Oops!) and chit-chatting about various eats and drinks topics.
But what stunned me was when she gracious sold me a half-bottle of Minetto Prosecco for a penny (a technicality since law/license/permit wouldn't allow her to give wine!) So many thanks for that unexpected pleasant surprise!
Continuing down Melrose, I actually did a little bit of fun windowshopping at the numerous vintage and designer stores -- and then spotted a mini gathering of food trucks (Lee's Philly Gogi, iKimchi21 and Bullkogi.) Were they not invited LA Street Food Fest? Did they politely decline? Or did other vendors already there not appreciate the competition in similar category? Who knows. Alas, I passed up on food truck nosh since I still have the falafel wrap in my backpack, and I was actually in the mood for something chilly in the high noon heat . . .
. . . which I found in the form of Scoops Guava Yuzu Sorbet ($2) at The Golden State.
Sufficiently chilled but still craving sweets, I decided to check out LA bakery institution Sweet Lady Jane, a place I haven't been in *years* since I had the impression they had atrocious service and an uncomfortable vibe. However, the staff is fairly friendly today, so maybe I was just there on an off-day in the past. The space, on the other hand, is still fairly cramped and stuffy, so I opted for a cherry scone to go for $2.50. Prosecco, pastry, sandwich -- it'll be a perfect picnic lunch!
Or perhaps not . . . turns out my original locale for lunching (the West Hollywood park across from Pacific Design Center) is fenced off and undergoing some major construction work - so I hiked another 20 minutes to the Beverly Hills greenbelt. Then, I found out the prosecco is not twist-top (and I'm sans bottle opener); oh well, no risk of public drunkeness citation then! And lastly, the wrap left me so full I didn't get a chance to taste the scone.
As for the wrap itself, it wasn't bad -- the falafel is obviously soggy by now, and I could've done with less yogurt dressing, but it was flavorful and filling.
Definitely not looking presentable by Beverly Hills standards (though not as atrocious as the above silver dung sculpture), I decided to stay on Big Santa Monica Blvd's greenbelt until I reached Century City, where I got a favorite treat from a favorite place...
Ginger Limeade from Clementine for $2.50 -- score! (and yes, I was tempted by their pastry case too, but I still have the scone in my backpack so managed to resist picking up more -- even the nanaimo bar!)
The final 6-8 miles crossing was an alternating mix of boredom (strip malls, mechanics and auto lots *yawn*) and indecision (should I detour to Diddy Riese? Or maybe something from Crepe Nazi?) But in the end, I wound up just gawking and photoing places I haven't had a chance to try yet (e.g. Il Grano, Echigo Sushi)
And around 4:30 p.m. -- I've reached the pier! My goal was to get there before sunset, so seeing the sun still high and shining definitely brightened my mood!
My body, on the other hand, is having enough of all the meat, dairy and baked carbs that I ate so far today -- it's practically screaming "GIMME SOME FRUIT OR I'LL SHUT DOWN!!!" So, I obliged - instead of Happy Hour snacking at The Yard, Bar Pintxo or FIG, I wound up going to Real Food Daily, where I got the priciest item of the day, an antioxidant smoothie at $5.95 + tax/tip. A pretty penny even for smoothie standards, but I do appreciate that it's non-dairy (bananas and ice were primary thickener, along with mixed berry juice, raspberries, blueberries and acai) and that it's not-too-sweet.
Sufficiently satisfied with finally getting the daily fruit allowance, I paid a visit to my favorite Santa Monica bar Copa d'Oro -- where I enjoyed chatting with mixologist Vincenzo and checking out their $5 happy hour cocktail menu. Feeling I need something potent for the ride home, I got the Affinity - scotch mixed with extra dry and sweet vermouths, dash of orange bitters and orange peel. So basically, a perfect scotch manhattan on the rocks, which did the trick in mellowing me out on the bus ride home . . .
. . . along with some indie pop tunes on my mp3 player (especially the Idyllists, who had a fun album release party and performance last night) and some quirky, intriguing articles in the latest New Yorker (especially the ones about mules in military and how culture is tied to alcoholism.) I'm surprised I stayed awake the whole ride back!
After a comparatively speedy one-hour bus trip to get back to Union Station, I hopped on the Gold Line and made one final budget-friendly stop, the Metro special offered by Pasadena's La Grande Orange (right at the Del Mar stop.) Just show your stub and you only pay $1 for your choice of draft beer, house red/white wine or their housemade white sangria (w fruit chunks and I believe peach brandy.) I saw they had the very quaffable and refreshing Eagle Rock Brewery's Manifesto Witbier on tap, so that's what I got. A great way to wrap things up for the day.
Oh yes, the Sweet Lady Jane cherry scone! Finally had it when I got home -- love the fresh-tasting cherries, and the scone's flaky butteryness, but could be a tad more sweet. Definitely will be back for other sweets (especially the berry cake Jill recommended!)

Now, let's do it Rachael Ray style and break down the money spent (except without the creative accounting or stiffing on gratuity)

Banh mi @ Tip Top's + tax: $3.77
Coffee @ La Mill + tax/tip: $5
Falafel & Falafel Sandwich @ Falafel Arax + tax: $5.49
Sorbet @ Golden State (no tax): $2
Scone @ Sweet Lady Jane (no tax): $2.5
Ginger Limeade @Clementine (no tax): $2.5
Smoothie @ Real Food Daily + tax/tip: $7.53
Cocktail @ Copa d'Oro + tip: $6
Beer @ La Grande Orange + tip: $2
Total Spent on Food/Drink: $36.79 (woohoo!)

Too bad the $3.21 isn't enough change to get my feet a much needed massage even in the SGV!

Nonetheless, today was just a delight, from checking out new places, to revisiting familiar ones, even just wishful thinking fantasies of places I wish I could go (Mmm, Providence, Osteria Mozza, the new Hatfield's...) And the 8-hour hike was just blissful therapy for the body and mind (not to mention some serious calorie burn to offset my indulgences today.)

Finally, and not meaning to get all award showy here, while I did hike solo -- this foodventure and blogpost was collectively inspired by quite a few muses, so thanks to:

*Of course, the LA Street Food Fest for planting that seed in my head; SauceLA & UniqueLA, props to corraling all those trucks into one spot, hope it was a success and that there's a bigger & better next rendition!
*GreatLAWalk, started by Franklin Avenue, for nurturing my love of urban hikes and discovering Los Angeles on foot!
*The rockstar of multi-stop eating Food Marathon, obviously!
*LA Weekly's J Gold and SinoSoul for their "eating through an entire street" projects -- something I can only dream of and look up to.
*workout-vigilant bloggers (particularly Diana Takes a Bite, Active Foodie and Gastronomer) for showing me that a love of food and staying in shape aren't mutually exclusive; in fact, it can even be done together!
*The folks who supported me today via twitter replies, DMs and text messages; you know who you are!
*Last but not least, my alma mater -- whose four years have shown a fast-paced, harried, usually-caffeinated, urbanite me the pleasures of slowing down, soaking in the senses and savoring every bit of it!

Full flickr set of today's urban hike and eat foodventures here (photo descriptions to be added soon) -- I'm already excited about doing another one in March. Perhaps less than 21 miles & 8 hours next time . . .
And to all the tasty food trucks and food pals I missed seeing today, hope to see you around town in the near future. Maybe you'll see me doing another crazy urban hike n eat!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Quickies #85: 3 Holidays, 1 Weekend

Flying pig truck at Abbot Kinney, found shortly after eating at Gjelina

Three holidays (Valentine's, Lunar New Year, Prez Day) rolled into one potentially long weekend (though I personally do not get the 15th off, pfffttt) - of course you know the food events are out in full force.

No big surprise, but the one that's gotten the most buzz and chatter is the L.A. Street Food Fest just outside downtown. Whether than worry about where all your favorite or wanting-to-try mobile food vendors are at, you can stop by here from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and enjoy them in a veritable pop-up food truck court. Admission is $5 (sorry, $30 VIP tickets already sold out!) and after that, you can sample most items for $5 or less. Oh yeah, did I also mention Ludo's Fried Chicken will make an appearance?

On Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Frysmith will collaborating with Verdugo Bar for a "One Night Stand" event with four courses paired with beer. Courses include duck legs braised a cognac sauce w collard greens and fries, seared scallop with spanish chorizo, lemon jam & apple "fries" and a trio of mousse cakes. $23 in advance or $28 at door (until the patio hits capacity!)

This sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., Culver City's Royal/T Cafe will have a "Love for Haiti" winetasting event for $28/person (with $20 of each ticket sale going to Doctors without Borders). On top of some tasty vino, you will also include light appetizers and gourmet cheeses from Nicole's Gourmet Foods and La Maison du Pain.

And as always, favorite reads:

Serious Eats' Food Lab column dissects the science of making a good chili

Diana Takes a Bite survived (noneofyourbusiness) years without ever tasting a cheeseburger, and needs help with her initiation

LA Times' great piece on micro distilleries around town (including some of my faves Modern Spirits and Ballast Point) and how they're weathering against big corporate brands and the current economy

CHOW's 10 stylistic considerations when photographing food; too bad I'm not that into visual details

And Gourmet Pigs' review of Langham's blowout $75/person Chinese New Year brunch buffet, in case you got the change to drop

As well as way more affordable, and vegetarian, options in the SGV from Tasting Table

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mini Drinkventure #152: The Surly Goat (West Hollywood)

For awhile, the property on 7929 Santa Monica Blvd. has been in identity crisis mode, with some frisky sexual experimentation too -- at various times in the past few years, it's been a pretty explicit gay bar (iCandy, with very NC-17 flicks projected onto the walls) a decidedly straight nightclub (Seven, no affiliation to kickass whisky bar Seven Grand in downtown) and a glitzy, flamboyant bi-curious ultralounge (24K, with gold-themed decor up the wazoo and boasting a $100 martini with real gold in it!)

Surly Goat Bar Interior
Thankfully, the latest incarnation is something I can get behind (pun possibly intended), The Surly Goat! Co-owned by restauranteur Adolfo Suaya (BoHo, formerly Bar Delux, and soon Osaka) and Ryan Sweeney (the well-known beermeister behind Verdugo Bar,) this bar definitely fills the specialty beer niche in the WeHo area. The ambience takes a turn back to casual-masculinity, but in general it gives off a friendly, if slightly upscale, neighborhood bar vibe, and when I visited on a post-rainy Tuesday (their 2nd day in soft opening mode) it was pretty happening with a very diverse and happily-buzzed crowd.

One decorative feature definitely checking worth out is all the beer-and-goat posters Ryan has collected and adorned the walls with. When asking about them (and the bar's name) he retold an old German fable where a noble was drinking a bockbier and wound up unconscious, with some confusion on whether it was the beer or a billy goat (also named bock in German) that knocked him out -- and thus, then have been numerous goat-beer advertising posters highlighting the brew's tastiness (it's goat approved!) and, of course, its "knock-you-out-fast" alcoholic strength.
Taps at The Surly Goat
Of course, the main star of the bar -- its awesome blossom beer list (but like Verdugo, they have spirits and wine too, for any weird beer-loathing plus-ones you may bring along...) The unique tastings I had that night included the New Belgium Brewing's Tart Lychee (a bright and tangy wild ale with a lovely fruit fragrance) and a half-pint of EagleGoat Bock (a nutty-caramelly, dark but easy-to-drink bockbier made by Eagle Rock Brewery especially for this bar's opening!)

The only downside, their tasty-sounding cask ale (rum-barrel-aged Victory at Sea, a coffee-vanilla porter from Ballast Point) is not ready yet, but I guess that only means I need to return again soon!

And lastly, The Surly Goat is still in soft opening stage right now so have a little patience while the staff get their bearings straight, but in the meantime, enjoy the brews, check out the artwork, feel free to bring your own food in, and keep your eyes peeled for the grand opening event in the coming weeks (I was a told a live goat will be involved.)

The Surly Goat
7929 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 650-4628
The Surly Goat in Los Angeles

Partial-Freebie Disclosure: Ryan, the ever generous beer-sharing soul who recognized me from Verdugo and beer events past, comp'd me half-pint "tastings" of the EagleGoat Bock and the Victory Kolsch Ale after I bought the Tart Lychee and Ommegang's Three Philosophers.


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