Thursday, January 27, 2011

No. 189: Lou [on Vine] (Hollywood)

Lou on Vine has been languishing in my list of places to try for a while. A casual-chic wine bar in the most unexpected setting (the less glitzy parts of Hollywood, in a strip mall and next to a laundromat,) it sets the benchmark for a wine bar that's unpretentious, casual and adventurous with a smallish menu of comforting yet mildly eccentric bites. And soon approaching its fifth year anniversary, surely a good sign.

So when Conbon proposed checking Lou out for their $55/person wine-paired Monday supper w our mutual friend Mr Grumpy, I immediately agreed.

Pig Candy
To start off, we shared a plate of the Pig Candy that they are so famous for: pieces of thick-sliced bacon coated in brown sugar and cayenne for a curious combo of sweet, savory and spicy. But like many sweet-savory dishes, it was a fun little trick on my tastebuds but got boring quickly, so I was glad I splitted this already smallish dish--the equivalent of one and a half strips. Nonetheless, glad to finally taste what all the hoopla's about.
Oyster Stew + Chardonnay
Our first official course of the Monday supper was oyster stew, inspired by the Oyster Bar @ NYC's Grand Central Station and definitely a foreigner of a soup in Los Angeles, a city still obsessed over pure├ęd soups w a monotonous consistency resembling warmed baby food. The stew here was a delightful coupling of contradictions . . . lusciously milky yet still dainty & delicate, with the ever-so-subtle flavors of the sweet, succulent oysters, the occasional tangy pop of the cherry tomato half and the aromatic sprinkling of chives & coarse black pepper -- co-existing in a sensual harmony. It was also a beautiful pairing with Domaine Rolet Cotes du Jura Oak-aged Chardonnay, which on its own was a bit too puckery and funky for my tastes (especially as a first wine) but was a wonderful complement against the mildly rich and slightly savory soup.
Hanger Steak + Southern Rhone
Still basking in the comfort of the soup, we were presented with the main dish - Niman Ranch hanger steak seared medium-rare with wild mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, Tepary beans and what I think is a basic pan gravy. I do believe this is my first steak since my vegetarian days, and boy do I remember what I missed--this piece of beef was simply divine. Juicy, just tender enough and bursting with meaty flavor--so impeccably seasoned and seared it hardly needs the sauce, which was practically liquid umami. The vegetables were tasty too but I wished there were more of it (my plate had only four romanesco cones and only a smattering of shrooms,) and the beans remind me of Indian lentils but were a great conduit for that tasty gravy.

With something a dish like this, the pairing of the Rhoney Domaine Viret Solstice VII wasn't a surprise. Bold with muskiness & leathery tannins, it stood up well against the beefy steak and savory gravy, which in turn opened up the berry and flowery characteristics of this wine. Talk about putting the dynamic in biodynamic (which this wine is -- and according to Lou's blogpost, the farming practices for this vineyard "makes [other] biodynamics look like a Monsanto sponsored experiment.")
Cheese + Riesling
After the big n bold course and wine, we were taken back to a lighter side with an undressed salad of frisee, apple, walnut and Big Woods blue cheese. The cheese itself felt like a cross between a gorgonzola and an aged cheddar, having that ripened nutty tang, a fairly firm texture and the occasional streak of assertive blue spunk, nicely complemented by the delicate, faintly bitter greens, crisp and sweet apple wedge and crunchy nuts. The wine, a Auslese Riesling from Bert Simon, was rich, full-bodied and sweet, with peachy-apple and gasoliney notes that weirdly played very well with the salad.
Dessert Stack
Finishing off our meal was a simple stacked dessert of sponge cake, whipped cream, slivered almonds and chocolate ganache. The ganache itself is definitely infused with orange, and the cream had a tinge of almond. The dessert was just 'not bad' mainly because it had "straight out of the fridge" feel -- unusually cool, bordering on stale. I can totally see why this place, with a presumably small kitchen, would pre-prep its desserts especially for a prix-fixe night, but wish they'd work with something that would be easier to make ahead, store and serve instantly (say... a pot de creme, panna cotta or a tiramisu?)

The other off part of the night came when we paid our bill (w separate cards & cash) where the server interpreted "the rest in cash" as "*keep* the rest in cash." While we really wanted only $5 in change and still leaving about $30 in tip, it was a unexpected service faux pas. But we didn't press for the money back.

Despite the two final mishaps (guess they haven't read up much on the peak-end rule,) I still found my supper at Lou a relaxing, pleasant and overall delicious experience that's a worthwhile bang for the buck. Now that I've tried the pig candy, I don't feel compelled to have to order it again next time around, but I do look forward to checking out more of their eclectic wines and maybe give them a second chance with the sweets.

Lou (on Vine)
724 Vine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Cheesy Midwinter Night's Dream . . .

Grilled Cheese Get Together
When twitterings of a grilled cheese potluck/cookoff came to fruition last month w a few blogging friends, I knew this was no ordinary white bread & American cheese occasion (or to use Grilled Cheese Invitational Speak--no missionary positions here, just kama sutra & honey pot all the way! Which makes me wonder, did we just have a cheesy hat trick that night?)
Anna Showing Homemade Bread
Since I amongst esteemed and well-palated bloggers, I did my best to bring on a worthy sandwich with a drink to match . . . only to get butterflies in my stomach when fellow grillers Anna (@BananaWonder) and Andy (@Windattack) disclosed that they made their own bread for the occasion (or had it shipped from artisan baker far far way, more on that later) making my Panera Honey Wheat seem like the big corporate GMO'd bread of the night.
Camera Time
Just like the last Andy hosted gathering I attended, it was one of those effortlessly elegant, classy-yet-casual affairs that just provokes all sorts of conversation, food geekery and hipstery snapshot taking. And in good hosty fashion, there were snackages of nuts, olives and tangerines to nibble on while we took our turns grilling our sandwiches.
Chanterelle Grilled Cheese Cooking
Starting our cheesy lineup was Andy with his shipped-outta-Michigan Roadhouse Rye from Zingerman's. Like Connie (@conbon,) I was skeptical of the bread at first (since rye can go south really fast especially if it's overloaded with caraway seeds) but it turned out quite lovely when toasted up, with a soft crisp, a delicate crumbly texture and a touch of molassey sweetness. And no one complained about the absence of caraway.
Chanterelle Grilled Cheese
The bread made for a wonderful sandwich foundation as it was layered with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms, taleggio & gruyere cheeses and capers--a well-balanced, gooey sensation with hearty, meaty 'shrooms and an occasional pop of brininess from the capers. Definitely a recipe EVERY vegetarian needs to have on file.
Apple Cider Being Poured
Thankfully, Nathan (@chocomeat) brought a dry French apple cider as a pairing, as recommended by Domaine LA, whose crisp lightness, slight acidity and mineral effervescence served as a nice contrast against the heavy dish.
Greek Grilled Cheese
After such a hefty sandwich, we were thankful that Anna's creation was on the lighter side (as far as grilled cheeses go, anyways.) Using her homemade olive oil Tsoureki bread that's as feathery as an angel food cake, it was stacked and grilled with manchego cheese and quince preserves for a simple but divine combo of sweet-and-savory plus fruity-and-nutty, making me giddy-and-happy.
Greek Grilled Cheese w Cabernet Sauvignon
Keeping with the contrasty theme of drinking pairing, the wine for this was a 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon straight from the prestigious cellar of Anna's folks, who in turn got it from good ole' TJ's. Initially puckery tannic, the quince in the sandwich actually brought forth more fruit and cocoa notes in the wine while the wine's acidity helped offset some of the sweetness--possibly creating an exception to the "white wine with white foods" rule.
Indian Grilled Cheese
Moving on is probably the most kama sutra of grilled cheeses, with Andy's other-worldly take on the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. It consisted of his homemade naan coated in coconut butter and stuffed with grilled paneer & onions, served a side of sassy homemade masala sauce with who knows how many ingredients (I lost track when I ran out of fingers to count as he named off the ingredients.)

This sandwich kicked some major ass with all sorts of textures and flavors one'd never expect to find in a grilled cheese, from the vibrant aromatics of the mildly-spicy masala, to the pillowy texture of the naan bread, the distinct ginger-garlic-cilantro flavor from the marinated paneer plus the whisper of a crunch from the marinated sliced onions. Even conbon, who pretty much vetos anything with a smidgen of cilantro/coriander, asked for extra masala to-go with her half-a-sandwich to take home!

Andy w Maui Coconut Porter
To pair with this unusual naanwich, Andy served up an equally eccentric beer, Maui Brewing's Coconut Porter -- a brew that's coffee-ish in color and initial flavor, but gets more coconutty as we noshed on more of the grilled cheese & masala 'soup.'
Granny Smith Fizz
With everyone feeling plenty stuffed from the three courses of grilled cheese, I decided to make my Granny Smith Fizz as an intermezzo of sorts while I got started on my desserty grilled cheese . . .
Dessert Grilled Cheese
. . . of mascarpone, mesquite honey, blackcurrant jam and whole blackberries on honey wheat bread (yes, inspired by version @ Syrup Desserts in downtown.) It was a tasty sweet treat (think warm, molten berry cheesecake) but next time I'd definitely grill or toast the bread on its own first, since the bottom slices got sogged up from all the liquidy components. But a messy sandwich only means finger-lickin' fun, right?
Nathan & Connie Talking
With our bellies more-than-sufficiently full from pounds of cheese, bread, butter and beverages, we spent the remainder of the evening collectively cleaning up (ever-so-slowly, in true food coma fashion) while engaging in more fun chit-chats about food, music and fashion . . . eventually leading into Andy doing an impromptu bow-tying demonstration and Conbon and me tasting Maui's Pineapple-infused Mana Wheat beer before the magical night comes to its inevitable's end . . .

. . . at least until the next potlucky get-together, involving some beery recipes. Can't wait to get my culinary creative juices flowing for that one!

But in the meantime, read the grilled cheese reports (and gush at even more photos) from Andy, Nathan, Anna and Connie! And a few more photos on the flickr set here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Recipe 25: Granny Smith Fizz

As part of bloggerprom committee, I'm no stranger to harnessing the power of social media to plan & organize events. And as fun as putting together 200-people bashes are -- equally enjoyable are small and spontaneous get-togethers, which is exactly what I did with Andy (@windattack), Anna (@bananawonder), Connie (@conbon) and Nathan (@chocomeat) when we decreed via tweets that we should have a beverage-paired grilled cheese potluck. Esi (@dishingdelights), need I remind you again that you missed out? Heh.

Given all the bread & cheese on the menu, and with me preparing the final dessert course -- I opted to make a light, sweet, refreshing drink to lighten up all the heavy sandwiches beforehand. Seeing the simple and tasty-sounding Green Apple Sparkler recipe on CHOW, I decide to give it a grown-up twist by swapping out the club soda for sparkling wine to make a Granny Smith Fizz - An Alchyed-Up Apple Soda for Adults!


And it turned out remarkably well, a super quaffable, bubbly intermezzo that gave everyone a little liquid respite while I prepped my sweet-n-cheesy sandwich. And it was equally well-received when I encored it for a New Year's Eve gathering. So here's my adaptation of CHOW's foolproof recipe!
Granny Smith Fizz
Ingredients (for six servings):
2 medium Granny Smith apples
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
6 oz. lime juice (about 6-8 limes' worth)
1 750mL bottle sparkling wine, chilled (I used Barefoot Brut Cuvee that was ~ $8; cava works fine too!)
Large ice cubes/chunks (optional)

1. Combine sugar and water in a pot and boil to make a simple syrup; meanwhile, destem and cut the apples in slices or wedges, place in 4-cup container..
2. Juice the limes (or pour lime juice) over the apples
3. When syrup comes to a rolling boil, turn off heat and pour over the apples & lime juice. Give it a quick stir to make sure the slices are covered in syrup, then wrap and store for at least 3 hours.
4. When serving, pour 2 oz. of the apple syrup in the glass, straining any stray seeds or woodsy parts.
5. Top 4 oz. of sparkling wine and give it a quick stir. Adjust with more syrup/wine to your liking as needed.
6. Add ice as needed to keep the drink cold; use large cubes/chunks to minimize dilution.
7. Garnish with a syrup-soaked apple slice/wedge, repeat with other 5 servings. Serve and enjoy!
*obviously, as indicated by the originating recipe, the virgin variant is using sparkling water/club soda.

The recipe for my grilled cheese (along with all the other tasty sandwich contributions by Anna and Andy) to come in the 2nd post, but in the meantime here's a fun teaser video of Andy demonstrating his bow-tie technique.


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