Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No. 210: Caviar 101 Tasting @ Petrossian (West Hollywood)

Petrossian's been doing their Caviar 101 class for a while now, and having missed the caviar boat completely the last time I was there (a.k.a during my strictly vegetarian phase) -- I took the plunge earlier this month, not knowing exactly what to expect, giving my woeful lack of experience & knowledge with this gourmet treat.
Chris Klapp
Thankfully, there really are no questions too dumb to ask here, and General Manager Christopher Klapp (in foreground) was extraordinarily patient and tactful responding to a broad range of inquiries (ranging from a comparatively basic "are the caviar-producing fishes wild-caught or farmed?" [at Petrossian, the vast majority are sustainably farmed] to being quizzed average size/weight of sturgeon [varies considerably depending on species & region caught/raised].)
Caviar Shot
Likewise, it was definitely enlightening to go through a structured, almost-analytical tasting of different caviar and other fish roe (Klapp noted that real caviar should really be sturgeon eggs that are salted & processed in a specific fashion, not just any 'ole roe.) 
Caviar Sampling
In a manner similar to wine tasting, we were encouraged to engage all our senses -- from looking at the color & size of the roe, to smelling for any particular aromas, to the tactile feel & audible sound of the beads as they roll and pop in your mouth, and of course the eventual flavors that land on the tastebuds.
Pommery Champagne
And on this particular Caviar 101 class, instead of the usual glass of vodka or champagne that comes with the tasting, the brand ambassador from Pommery took us through a flight of their champagnes to mix, match & pair with the caviars (pictured above is their Brut Rosé.) Of the four, I found the Pommery Brut Royal most memorable, with a creamy-toasty aroma that quickly gives way to a bright, citrusy tang and a clean, dry finish. 

The assorted fish roe and caviar samples were served on plastic spoons, since Klapp mentioned that metal affects the flavor of the caviar--and quickly added their tins are lined to protect the flavor & integrity of the caviar.
Caviar Flatbread
Between samplings, we were also treated a few snacky, caviar-infused bites by Chef Gisele Wellman, including flatbread topped with caviar, chopped egg, chives and capers and a refreshing, multi-faceted shot of caviar with diced watermelon, microgreen, sesame and ginger-soy sauce. 

And while the kitchen does have fun and take liberties with incorporating caviar, Klapp said he prefers savoring caviar in a simple, traditional manner (with just blini and creme fraiche) so that the roe's flavor not interrupted or overshadowed. Nonetheless, he conceded that there are many traditions and styles of enjoying caviar, and if customers prefer a little onion or capers or other stronger accompaniments, that's OK with him too.
Caviar 101 Menu
Last but not least, I found out I'm sort of a cheap date as far as my caviar tastes go. To mitigate price-related biases, we tasted our way through the eight roes without knowing how much each costs (though I did suspect we were going from cheapest to priciest.) My favorite of the tasting was the Wild-Caught Hackleback from the Midwest U.S. of A., which had a sublime oiliness with a intense flavor and bewitching aroma that I can only best describe as "amplified sashimi." And for 30g (approx. 2 tablespoons,) it clocked in at $55. Still a luxury item in my book, but small fry compared to Royal Ossetra--which we also tried--that's $139 for the same portion.

And throughout the tasting, Klapp sprinkled in all sorts of fun trivia about raising, sorting/grading, storing and serving caviar . . . but I'll let you discover these fun tidbits yourself. Needless to say, I found the experience more than worth the $35 (+tax/tip). But be sure to R.S.V.P., it was a full house when I went and it only takes place two days out of each month (first Thurs & Fri).

Or, if you have a little more experience, sophistication and discretionary income ($75 + tax/tip) -- Petrossian also offers a Caviar 201 session on the last Thurs. & Fri. of each month, offering a few more snacks, more luxe caviar tastings and a little more fun with beverage pairings. And something for me to aspire to... in the meantime, I might consider wrangling a few friends and share a formal tasting of that Hackleback.

What Do Others Say About Caviar 101?
- LA Weekly said it's "one class we wouldn't mind running late" considering "in most classes, you don't get to drink vodka and eat caviar. [Here] you do nothing but."
Eric the Epicure said "if you love the fancy black stuff, but don't know much about it, this is a great chance to learn more about caviar from one of the world's finest purveyors"
- Caroline on Crack shared her top 10 learnings from this class and "came away an appreciator of salty pearls."
- Deep End Dining wrote a hilarious post on the experience, concluding that the roe "were all buttery, nutty and briny and definitely vodka-y by the end of the class."

321 North Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90048-2415
(310) 271-6300

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recipe 30: Chives n Cheese Cream Scone

As I noted time and again, while I love to cook, I don't fancy myself as much of a baker--a craft that's finicky with exact measurements and pretty much a done deal once you pop it in the oven. So when Hodgson Mill approached me to do a Grain Day contest featuring their flours, I was flummoxed for a baked good that's simple, delicious and a wee bit playful.

But then I remembered a simple Cream Scones recipe that turned out well for a brunch with preserves and clotted cream, so I adapted a savory version that will be great on its own (or perhaps with a pat 'o butter or some gravy.)
Chive Cheese Scone
Sure enough, the Chives 'n Cheese Scones came out wonderfully - a little savory backed with a truly wheaty flavor and crumbly texture. But what makes it truly heavenly was its slightly onion-y aroma and the gooey, melty cheese strands when you bite/pull it apart while it's still steamy-warm out of the oven. 

And if even I can make them, they are pretty much foolproof for any "I don't bake" types. So here's the recipe!

Ingredients (for 12 scones)
3 cups flour (I used Hodgson Mill's Stone-Ground Whole Wheat)
2 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/3 cup (6 tablespoon) unsalted butter
1 & 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped fresh chives

1. Preheat oven to 400F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Sifted Dry Ingredients
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and onion powder
Wet Ingredients Added
3. Melt the unsalted butter, combine with heavy whipping cream and fold into the dry ingredients with spatula -- it will have the texture of a slightly sticky dough.
Kneading Time
4. Pour cheese & chives onto the dough and knead in with your hands until they're evening distributed throughout the dough.

5. Pull out pieces of dough and hand roll into individual spherical scones (or whatever shape you prefer, really) and place evenly across baking sheet.
Ready to Bake
6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (it will be a golden with slight browning on top.)

7. Remove, let cool for a few minutes and enjoy (they are great the day after too, just reheat in the microwave for half a minute.)

**Giveaway Contest Closed**

In addition to providing the flour for this recipe, Hodgson Mill is also graciously offering a giveaway with a $25 gift certificate to their online store. To enter, simply comment with your e-mail address & favorite baked good to make @ home. I will choose the winner at random by tomorrow, Dec. 16, at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Good luck!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Recipe 29: Goat Cheese-Honey-Pear Truffles

Almost Done
As bummed out as I am to miss out on partaking in Eat My Blog 4.0 (having volunteered for the previous three) due to a previously-planned excursion, I'm glad to at least be able to contribute something. Hopefully if you bought one of the Goat Cheese-Honey-Pear Truffles, you enjoyed eating them as much as I did making them.

And to let you in on a little secret . . . these impressive, intensely-flavored little gems are amazingly easy to make! Requiring only five ingredients and less than an hour of actual prepwork, I hope these treats make your gift-giving, or bakesale-contributing, repetoire!
Ingredients (for approximately 50 bite-sized truffles):
6 oz. creamy goat cheese (salted is OK, in fact, I rather like the tinge of savoriness!)
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (I used Trader Joe's Pound-Plus bar)
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. pear liqueur/brandy (I used Mathilde, leftover from my Autumnal Mulled Wine)
1/2 cup unsweetened powdered cocoa, sifted (if you don't like in-your-face bitterness of straight-on cocoa, you can sift in some powdered sugar too.)

Goat Cheese Mixture
1. Cream together the goat cheese, honey and pear liqueur until thoroughly incorporated (it will be kind of runny, that's OK)
Melting Chocolate
2. Over low heat of a stove and a watchful eye, melt the bittersweet chocolate chunks, stirring constantly to prevent burning (Tip: Be sure to the saucepan is completely devoid of water and that no water touches the melting chocolate, or you'll get a grainy seized mess!)
3. Once chocolate is melted, pour gently over the goat cheese mixture and fold to incorporate; it will have the feel of a brownie batter.
4. Cover with plastic wrap and let it chill for at least 2 hours (I used that time to sift my cocoa powder, clean my cooking supplies and enjoyed a beer.)
Truffle Rolling
5. Take the chilled ganache of the fridge and use a spoon to pop out teaspoon-sized dollops, use your hands to mold them into sphere-ish truffles (the warmth from your palms and fingers will instantly make the ganache rather pliable), then roll in cocoa powder.
Rolled Truffles
6. Serve or store in fridge (I prefer eating them just a touch colder than room temp.)

Monday, December 05, 2011

No. 209: Venison Fair @ Chaya Venice

In LA, it's a rather tricky affair when restaurants decide to put game meats on the menu. Sometimes it gets so buried with other flavors and texture you wonder why even bother with an exotic meat, and at the opposite end of the spectrum there are dishes that so unapologetically, unctuous and gnarly you kinda regret ordering a whole entreé size portion of it. Basically, you would feel jipped for that premium price.
Venison Fair Banner
So I was quite pleased to report back from a media dinner @ Chaya Venice that their Venison Fair (going on until Dec. 11) have something for every palate on the foodventurous-ness spectrum, from innocently curious to the full "Game On!" 

As such, I'll start with the most innocuous dish and go progressively wilder, so hold on to your palates.
Venison Meatballs
Of the four dishes featured in this fair, the mildest one is definitely the venison meatballs with marinara sauce with pappardelle & shaved parmesan. I would've guessed veal if I tasted these meatballs blind, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering the herbs & spices in the meatballs themselves and the vibrant tomato sauce. And overall, this was a hearty and satisfying course, but if you are looking for more of an "Oh, deer!" factor - I'd vye for one of the three below.
Venison Chili Con Carne
Such as the venison chili con carne - given how spice-heavy this was I thought the venison-ness of this would be pretty mellow too, but the meat's gamey flavor and leaner texture does shine through here since venison steak chunks (as opposed to grounded up in the meatballs) is used. While the menu disclaimed this was 'spicy' - for me it was totally tolerable amount of heat, more of a 4 or 5 on a 1 to 10 scale.
Venison Sliders
If you are looking for a distinct venison flavor, go for the Texas-spiced venison burger. Yes, the meat is grounded up, but it's a whole big solid patty of it that really let its flavor and texture (that I place as a hybrid of bison & lamb) shine through. Of course, you can always pick apart the burger to taste the venison alone, but I personally loved its accompaniments of peppery, crunchy arugula, mildly-hot pepper jack cheese, the sweet-and-hot combo of spicy mayo and red pepper chutney, and of course, the crispy fattiness of thick-cut bacon. (Note that these were special slider versions served at this particular media dinner, on a regular order it would just be one normal-sized burger.)
Venison Tenderloin
And for those gung-ho about tasting deer in all its glory, go for the roasted venison tenderloin with blueberry peppercorn sauce. If you don't care for fruity sauces on your meat dishes, you might want to ask for it on the side, but I had no problem with it drizzled on top, the berries and peppers added a playful complexity and balance to the venison slices. Combine that with the haricots verts, mushrooms and chestnut puree and you got quite a forest-themed main course on your plate.

And at the server's suggestion, for all these deery dishes we shared "The Ball Buster", a 2009 Australian Red Blend from Tait Wines that proved to bold enough to hold up to more spice-heavy courses, but with a fruit-forwardness and soft-enough tannins that makes it sippable on its own too.
Cafe L'Orange
Also surprising is the number of "hard coffee" drinks they have on their menu (always a fond reminder of my days on the East Coast, where these are more prominent -- presumably so people can warm up and get buzzed in two different ways!) The Cafe L'Orange I got was just citrusy & liquored enough to add a delightful zing to the coffee without compromising its smoothness (unlike say... poorly made Irish coffees that just uber-bitter and burns going down the throat.)
Sandwich Board
Finally, no worries if deer isn't your thing -- their regular menu is still available for your dining pleasure. If nothing else, their all-night happy hour is worth a checkout too.

For other takes on the Venison Fair, check out the posts by my dining compadres that evening: TreasureLA & Savory Hunter

Chaya Venice 
110 Navy Street (cross: Main St)
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 396-1179

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recipe 28: Autumnal Apples & Pears Mulled Wine

A lighter and more autumn-y take than my spicier & more robust mulled wine from last year, I concocted this version for a friend's pre-Thanksgiving/housewarming potluck celebration this past weekend - partly because it was going to be rainy (warm cocktail would be a major plus) and there were more than a dozen attendees (so I'd much rather do a batched cocktail rather than making individual ones) and because I was late to RSVP, and almost all the other appropriate food dishes (from appetizers to sides to desserts) have already been spoken for, but no one took the cocktail slot. What better way to show off my amateurish mixing abilities, or how much of a lush I am.

Mulled Wine
And, actually I'd consider a "new & improved" version of the mulled wine. It still has the bite of the sweet spices (maybe even a little more so, since I used fresh ginger this time,) balanced with the breezy fruitiness of apples and pears (which I kicked up another notch with apple juice & pear liqueur.) Plus, being a slow cooker recipe, it's one you can have simmering throughout the party and just have guests ladle away.

So without further ado...

Apples & Pears Slow Cooker Mulled Wine

Ingredients (for approx. 15 5 oz. servings)
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
1 cup pear brandy or liqueur (I used Mathilde's Poire), separated in 2 half-cup portions
1.5 cups sugar
2 medium apples (I used Jonagolds), 
2 medium pears (I used Boscs)
1 medium lemon
3-inch piece of fresh ginger root, rinsed and cut to 1/8-inch thick pieces
4 star anise pods
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 bottles of light, dry white wine (I used Fresh & Easy's Ora Pinot Grigio, discounted @ $3.99 a bottle when I bought it)

Preparing the apple n pear spiced syrup (can be done night ahead)
Simmering Syrup
1. Combine apple juice and water in a saucepan over medium heat, bring to a gentle boil.
2. Add sugar and stir vigorously until combined, then add ginger slices, star anise pods, cinnamon sticks, ground allspice and nutmeg.
3. Reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer for about 15 minutes.
4. Turn off heat and add half a cup of pear liqueur. Proceed to making mulled wine or store in the fridge.

Making the mulled wine
1. In a six-quart (or larger) slow cooker, combine spiced syrup, 2 bottles of wine and the juice of 1 lemon. Set the slow cooker to a low setting, which is usually just below alcohol's boiling point. (if you want, you can strain out the spices from the syrup at this time, but I left them in to amp up the spiciness & fragrance as the slow cooker heats it up...)
2. While the mulled wine is heating up, rinse, core and chop the apples and pears into thin pieces/slices/wedges. Add to slow cooker, cover it and allow to heat for approximately an hour.
3. Add the remaining half-cup of pear liqueur just before serving. You can leave it on the low setting, or dial it down to the "keep warm" setting, for the duration of serving.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

No. 208: Brunching at Cecconi's (West Hollywood)

Cecconi's Exterior @ Daytime
When I first received the invite to try out Cecconi's Ricotta Pancakes, I'll concede my first reaction was an indifferent "Ok, well good for them." I mean, I love ricotta pancakes and their airy-light, creamy-rich and slightly chewy texture, but they are kinda all over town.

However, upon closer inspection of PR pitch and realizing that these are actually cheese-stuffed pancakes with "ricotta oozing out," my curiosity got piqued and so I went there for a hosted sampling with The Minty and Dishing Up Delights.

Of course, this blogger meetup turned out to be more than just a pancake tasting . . . it was a boozy brunch feast that left all of us rolling in satisfaction.
Assorted Cicchetti
Our meal started out with an assortment of Cecconi's cicchetti, traditionally Italian snacky bites though here 2-3 orders would be substantial enough for a meal, especially given how hearty they were (such as Cubano-esque porchetta & fontina sliders, quail eggs with tonnata sauce and marinara-smothered, goat cheese-stuffed squash blossoms.)
Gnocchi w Romano, Gorgonzola
But being carb-fiend that I am, my favorite small plate was definitely the gnocchi [alla] romana with gorgonzola. The fluffy, oversized dumplings went wonderfully with the stretchy, rich and ever-so-mildly-bluey cheese sauce, the baked-on sage added a nice aroma to boot. And actually I think it's a smart move to keep this at a manageable cicchetti size, 'cause as indulgent as these things were, I don't think I can handle even a primi portion of it.
Brunchy cocktails
At the risk of sounding like a Semi-Ho, it wouldn't be a proper brunch without a some libations. But unlike Semi-Ho, our cocktails were actually respectable sippers - all leaning on the breezy and refreshing side, such as classic Moscow Mule and Queen's Park Swizzle. I opted for a more modern Rye whiskey-based Peach Smash, a simple-yet-effective summery cocktail that's equal-parts spicy, spritzy and fruity [without being too sweet.] Alas, with peaches going outta season looks like I'll have to wait till next year to re-embrace this particular drink.
Potato Rosti w Duck Egg, Black Truffle
Next up came our savory entrees; while I did enjoy my wood-baked frittata with pancetta & mushrooms, the clear standout is definitely their potato rösti topped with a sunny-side-up duck egg and black truffle shavings. It's a seductress of a morning dish that tempts all the senses, with its more-orange-than-yellow yolk, intoxicating truffle perfume, and clearly audible crisp with each cut & bite of the rösti. You can only imagine how it feels & tastes . . .
Ricotta-Stuffed Pancakes w Blueberry Sauce
And then, the dish we were all looking forward to - the ricotta-filled hotcakes with blueberry compote. Consider my curiosity & palate thoroughly satisfied . . . these were amazing-tasting lovechildren of cheese blintzes and ricotta pancakes. In fact, I'd even say they one-upped their parents, since I've never cared much for blintzes (too much cheese for the thin crepey pancake) and as tasty as standard ricotta pancakes are, the back of my mind is always wondering "Ok, where is the actual cheese?" The compote here is solid stuff too, vibrant with blueberry flavor and adorned with lots of succulent berries too!
Dessert Sampler
Finally, even though we thought we just had dessert with the hotcakes, the Chef sent out a sweets sampler platter with all sorts of fun bite-sized sugary treats. Since I'm already on a ricotta kick, I loved the mini canoli and light-than-usual cheesecake best. (Tip: I was also informed that this can be ordered as an off-the-menu special.) Oh, if only people can hand these out instead of waxy, bland, [not so] fun-sized candies during Halloween . . .
Cecconi's Patio @ Brunchtime
But all in all, color me a convert of brunch @ Cecconi's. The price is a tad upscale, but the premium is well worth it particularly for a special occasion brunch. The food was solid and the service impeccable (not just for us blogger folks, I've been observing our dining neighbors too...) and the patio setting, surrounded by high hedges and topped with a frosted skylight, made for a great respite from its noisy, urban surroundings.

And you can definitely count on me to return for that gnocchi, rösti and hotcake!

What Do Others Say?
- In a two-star review, LA Times' S. Irene Virbila noted that "with the possibility of half-portions, thin-crusted pizza and moderate prices, I'm betting this user-friendly Italian will have legs."
- Gayot declared it a top 10 Italian & celeb-spotting restaurant for 2011, adding that "far from the molecular-minded trends of today's dining scene, Cecconi's feels classic and timeless."
- In the write-up to accompany its now-expired deal, Gilt City L.A. says it "is one of the city’s most glamorous Italian restaurants, reprising the original Cecconi’s London that hosted royalty throughout the ’80s. The L.A. version caters to more modern aristocracy."
- Deep End Dining got an alien autopsy/squid ink extraction experience here, then enjoyed a "truly exceptional" squid ink risotto with clams.

8764 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 432-2000

Monday, November 07, 2011

Dr Chocolate w Trader Joe's, Fearless & Moonstruck

Anyone following me on twitter knows that I go to therapy once a day, therapy with #DrChocolate - a quick respite from the hum-drums of the workday, usually in mid-afternoon. Just a quick bite of a bar, or occasionally a few truffles, is enough to bring balance & peace into my life. And it inoculates me from diving face first into a six-layer, molten lava cake with hot fudge sauce...

But alas, not all Dr Chocolates are alike, and I figured it'll be fun every now and again to blog about my recent therapy sessions, if they were worthwhile and whether I'll book another appointment again.

These past two weeks my sessions included:

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar: Toffee with Walnuts and Pecans

Photo courtesy of Dark Chocolate Diary
Cost of Session: $1.99 for 3 oz. bar

Physician Marketing: "The Caramel Toffee bar is infused with a crunchy, salty toffee, crafted from a third generation recipe. We've added pieces of pecans & walnuts for extra crunch and even more rich flavor. Both of these are artisan-made chocolates for which you might expect to pay art-gallery level prices."

Patient's Notes: A thinly-veiled partnership/copycat of Vosges' Exotic Caramel Toffee Bar (down to the "third-generation" part, Vosges' site noted the toffee is a tribute to the chocolatier's grandmother). 

The major notable difference between the two is cacao content (70% for the TJ bar, versus 45% for Vosges.) Which wound up being my major gripe for this bar--I generally gravitate towards dark chocolate but this is one exception where "deep milk chocolate" worked so much better, with its creamy, subdued character blending harmoniously with the buttery toffee and softly-crunchy nut bits (and I do mean bits, those looking for significant chunks of nuts should find another therapist.) With the dark chocolate, the bold, intense cacao flavor kinda works against the other components of this bar.

However, the major bonus is that this is only a $2 (versus $6-8 for a Vosges bar of the same size.) I can readily overlook the more intense, possibly harsher, taste for that price. And it's probably slightly healthier too, what with all those extra antioxidants in dark chocolate.

Likelihood of Rebooking an Appointment: 9/10, due to the extremely reasonable price

Fearless Chocolate's 70% Matcha Green Tea & Peppermynt
Cost of Session: $5.99 for 2 oz. bar online, I got mine @ a discounted $4.99 at local market

Physician Marketing: "Peppermint cool-kisses the milky mist of Matcha in a rich raw cacao, merging the two most anti-oxidant rich foods on the planet." Also, note that their marketing includes having a "bite" taken out of the chocolate bar to symbolize their charitable commitments.

Patient's Notes: I was skeptical about this bar -- anything with peppermint (or as they preciously called it, peppermynt) can easily go South fast and wound up tasting like toothpaste or chewing gum. But I wound up snapping this bar up because it also had matcha tea added, and because it's made with organic raw cacao, thus devoid of typical additives like soy lecithin or refined sugars (in fact, they even opt out of agave nectar, using rapadura instead as sweetener.)

Unfortunately, when I opened this bar, I discovered that it had bloomed and the texture was definitely less-than-ideal--slightly grainy instead of the expected silky-smooth. Thus this became more a chocolate that I chewed instead of letting it sit on my tongue to melt. But having said that, the flavor is a pleasant surprise, with the cooling mint and roasty green tea coming in delightful wisps and tinges and surprisingly well-synced with the fruity notes of the chocolate itself.

Likelihood of Rebooking an Appointment: 7/10, though might adjust it higher/lower depending on if next bar's bloomed too.

Moonstruck's 68% Chile Variado Bar
Cost of Session: $4.25 for 3 oz. bar online, I got mine @ $3.99 in Portland

Physician Marketing: "A chocolate bar with a kick! We infuse our decadent dark chocolate with Ancho and Chipotle chiles, resulting in a bar that features a finishing hint of spice, just as chocolate was originally enjoyed."

Patient's Notes: I'm a lover of spicy chocolate (be it from chilies, ginger or even wasabi) so I'm always on the lookout for new varieties to try. This particular bar is a great one to try even for the heat-averse, with just a slight, lingery kick and a little roasty smokiness. The chilies also does a great job complementing the chocolate's aroma (strongly advise you rub the bar & have a sniff before taking a bite.) Finally, I love how incredibly smooth this bar is. Just let it sit in your mouth and let the mini-fireworks show commence on your tastebuds.

The only ever-so-minor demerit is that this is one whole bar (as opposed to sectioned off squares like the other two above) that makes portion controlling just a wee bit harder.

Likelihood of Rebooking an Appointment: 8/10, though I got this bar in Portland and doesn't seem likely I'll find it in a store in Southern California.

Friday, November 04, 2011

No. 207: Bruery Provisions (Orange)

As "dine/drink out" foodbloggers, we are almost always on the prowl for the new & exciting places to check out - be a restaurant that finally opened (after months prolonged anticipation due to permit-related delays), a food truck that's hitting the road or a pop-up featuring a guest chef and an eclectic menu.

And while it's great to constantly discover new gems in this ever-changing dining landscape, the big downside is that there are very few places where we can be regulars. And worse yet, sometimes we just overlook blogging about these favorite spots--whether because it lacks the razzle-dazzle of simply being new or maybe because we subconsciously want to keep it a lower-key hang out just for those in the know.

In any case, I'm going to try to make a bigger effort to blog about places that I perennially patronize. If anything, they are even more deserving of the shoutout since they are consistently dishing out the good stuff (as opposed to numerous new places where food and/or service goes downhill after a honeymoon phase.)

Bruery Provisions Collage
The first of these regular haunts that I'll highlight, Bruery Provisions in Old Town Orange - the more consumer-friendly space of the Placentia-based brewery that's great for beer enthusiasts who want to sample and learn a little more about crafty beers.

At Provisions, beers are served primarily in taster flights (four to five 2-3 oz. servings) -- which I love since I can sample a few different things at once and it keeps out the rowdy riff-raffs looking to get plastered off pints while screaming at a sports game (oh yeah, there's no TV here either.)

Beer Flight
Bruery's Specialty/Seasonal Flight (L to R: Humulus Wet, Rub-a-Dub-Dubbel, Snicklefritz, Autumn Maple and Oude Tart)

For those unfamiliar with Bruery beers at all, I highly recommend their $3 standard flight, featuring their five of their year-round beers like Saison Rue & Loakal Red. From there, move on to their $5 specialty flight that's constantly changing (and my usual go-to), sometimes it'll have seasonal releases like Autumn Maple, or it may be their limited-edition beers such as their anniversary series, or collaborative projects with other craft breweries or even home brewers.

Even for those who know their Bruery beers up and down the wazoo, Provisions offer at least 2 rotating flights highlighting beers from other worthy breweries, usually organized around some sort of theme such  as geographic region, beer styles, best of the season, etc. And if you got company who are especially beer-averse, they offer two wine flights too.

Cheese Plate
Also noteworthy is their variety of sophisticated small plates, also assembled as a flight of different bites, from exotic charcuterie and eccentric cheeses to artisanal olives and specialty preserves. Great noshes to go with beer or on their own.

Last but not least, the store itself -- with a delightfully-curated selection of specialty beers and foods that you'll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. So be sure to save some moolah for shopping too. If nothing else, you'll definitely want to snap up a few bottles of their Provisions series beers, which isn't readily sold anywhere else. (Personally, I endorse the Salt of the Earth, a gose-style beer made with truffle salt and an excellent pairing with super-savory dishes, as well as the rich, malty Workman's Friend porter that's a great go-to brew after a long day's work.)

But be sure to set a budget limit too, or you may find yourself buying out their entire specialty cheese section. Believe me, I was tempted...

Bruery Provisions Exterior

What Do Others Say?
- Caroline on Crack went to Provisions after the attending the exclusive Bruery Reserve Society initiation party earlier this year, but found that "it only carried a very limited selection of Bruery beers. Just some of its year-round beers like Saison Rue, Rugbrod and Mischief." (ed note: I think they've been way better since about stocking their more seasonal & special-edition bottles, on my most recent shlep out there I got a Batch 300 & their Dogfish Head collaborative brew that benefits Japan earthquake victims )
- KevinEats went there for a beer & cheese event organized by Marian the Foodie, and said "the beers, of course, were unique and delicious in their own right, but it was perhaps even more interesting to see how their flavors were enhanced, tempered, and complemented by the paired cheeses."

- DineDelish noted that this place "would be heaven for anyone trying to host and wine and cheese party or any exotic beer enthusiast. The prices are affordable and trying out a cheese tasting or wine and beer is really fun."
- The BeerAdvocate collective gave this space a solid A
- Not a review of Provisions per se, but also worth reading is OC Weekly's feature profile on the Bruery and founder/CEO Patrick Rue by Michelle Woo

The Bruery Provisions

143 N Glassell St
Orange, CA 92866

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

No. 206: American Farmhouse Tavern (Manhattan Beach)

Exterior 2
Continuing on my love of South Bay's resurgence in the dining scene (see: Strand House, MB Post), I had the lucky chance to check out American Farmhouse Tavern for a media dinner in late September. While it was a bit more inland and away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan Beach, I was intrigued by its menu (particularly the complete meal concept) so again I went to the M.B. (which has already became one of my favorite beaches in town.)
Upon arrival, I took notice of the place's interior. True to its name, it has a rustic-country farmhouse feel with a few modern touches here and there, such as studio lights juxtaposing against vintage family portraits and assorted wall curios.
Buffalo Smoke
While waiting for the dinner to commence, I settled into the bar and got a cocktail, the Buffalo Smoke made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, St. Germaine, peach nectar and a bacon-wrapped sugarcane. The drink leaned a bit too sweet for me at first, but it later proved to be a nice contrast against the smoky, savory bacon. Of course, it's also ingenious for being a cocktail I can drink AND eat at the same time!

After a while (and a few small bites to keep our appetites at bay,) we were escorted into the Parlour Room in the back for our dinner. As I noted, what sets American Farmhouse Tavern apart is the complete meal menu, where almost every entree includes soup, salad, choice of side AND choice of dessert. And the four-course dinner is totally worth the bang for the buck, ranging from $13 for a Linguica Sausage sandwich to $29 for a bacon-wrapped filet mignon.

On this particular dinner, we sampled a fwe items from their fall menu -- but first off we started with
Make-your-own Santa Maria Soup
Farmhouse vegetable stew with cattleman beans, Santa Maria vegetables in broth and Santa Maria-style salsa that you get to combine to your liking. This starter was a delightful mix of contradictions, with the delicately savory broth set against the zesty pico de gallo-esque salsa, and the rich, hearty beans.
Santa Maria Soup combined
Of course, I appreciated the "customize-your-own" aspect. As you can see, I kept mine on the light side with way more broth & veggies -- since I know there'll probably be plenty to nosh on later.
Wedge salad
After the soup came the wedge salad, which was another much-welcome surprised. Whether than the typical wedge of milquetoast iceberg lettuce & bland tomato drowning in a heavy Bleu Cheese dressing, here it's a flavorful blend of Bibb, grape tomatoes and carrot-onion strips in a tangy-spicy Cabernet Vinaigrette. Normally another pet peeve of mine are salads that I have to use a knife on, but I definitely didn't mind cutting this up and eating all those tender, crunchy, flavorful layers of vegetables.

After that came the trio of entrees, which I was more thankful to split with my +1.
Prime Rib
A generous cut of perfectly-roasted prime rib with creamy horseradish and savory au jus, plus a thick cut of Texas toast and two ice cream scoops worth of addictive mashed potatoes (that we later found out was made with LOTS of butter...) In short, solid and comforting steak 'n potatoes fare.
Duck & Squash Pappardelle
Next we tried the Housemade pappardelle pasta with butternut squash, spit-roasted duck, sage and browned butter - a decidedly 'sweeter' entree thanks to the squash and a hint of sweet spices, the components definitely scream 'Autumn!' and this is an interesting seasonal spin for the pasta dish, though I might prefer this more as a half-portion primi dish than a full-on entree, being one of those pastas that's fun to eat for the first few bites, but a bit overwhelming to finish, though my friend was more than happy to doggy-bag the remainders for lunch the day after.
Pecan-Crusted Rainbow Trout
Pecan-crusted rainbow trout with lemon herbed butter and rice pilaf - a straightforward-sounding dish that was excellently executed, the fish was firm and not dried out, and the crust lends a pleasant woodsy, nutty crunch without being too greasy or gritty. The lemon butter was a nice addition, though I think the fish was totally fine on its own. And the pilaf is a decent accompaniment, fluffy and tender, though less memorable of a side dish compared to the buttery taters.
Fruit Cobbler w ice cream
Even though we were stuffed to the brim after all those belly-busting courses, I couldn't resist the pie a la mode that came out. Flaky crust, check. Not-too-sweet fruit filling, check. Alas, even with my love of all things sugary, I only finished about half this pie.

Of course, as we chatted with the chef & public relations rep throughout and after the meal, they made it known that there's no shortage of incentives to come back. From a fried half-chicken night (Sundays) for $15, to a lunchtime/pre-dinner/late-night happy hour with $4 draft beer, wines and well drinks, and the occasional entertainment events from Monday Night Football to live Jazz performances.

Though between the budget-friendliness, deliciously satisfying meals and the MUCH easier parking are all the perks I need to keep me coming back for more!

What Do Others Say?
- South Bay Foodies said "given the grill, the cocktails, and the fun farmhouse theme, I’m sure they will be setting the standard for Taverns & Dining Halls for a while."
- Gourmet Pigs noted that "if you're looking for a simple meal with great grilled meats, look no further."
- LA Weekly's Squid Ink praised their happy hours, mentioning that "there couldn't be a happier place than American Farmhouse Tavern & Dining Hall in Manhattan Beach."
- South Bay Sparkles said "a place to go out for dinner that’s traditional and yet has a few memorable twists."

American Farmhouse Tavern
924 North Sepulveda Boulevard
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 376-8044


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