Saturday, April 16, 2011

Artisanal LA, Apr. 17-18

Seriously, just go

Artisanal LA logo
This was my first Artisanal LA experience (missed out on their previous ones since the timing didn't work out) and I'm floored by the amazing vendors and all their quirky & fun offerings. And being a near-lifelong Angeleno, seeing all these local homegrown businesses - and the delightful personalities behind them - just reinforced my love of the city.

Of course, it also helps to be properly filled up on food (in form of crafty sandwiches by Daily Dose, plus a plethora of samples from dozens of vendors) and liquids (coffees from Intelligentsia, teas from Numi, plus detoxy cocktails by Veev and organic punches by Greenbar Collective.)

And to whet your appetites some more, here's a collage of photos I quickly cobbled together, taken by my friend Eric.
Artisanal LA photos by Eric So
Of course, between camera trigger-happiness he and his g/f had a fab & tasty time too.
Eric & Christy
As for me, even though I was trying to exercise some fiscal restraint -- I finally caved into the sweet-savory-smoky bacon bourbon chutney by Cast Iron Gourmet and can't wait to serve them up for a dinner party tonight.

So yes, get your ticket, bring some cash (even though a good number of sellers do take credit), and be prepared to leave with an enlightened mind (from the various demos, workshops & lectures they got going on), a thoroughly satisfied belly and maybe even some deliciousness for the days & weeks following.

Artisanal LA @ Santa Monica Place

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recipe 26: Coconut Panna Cotta & Balsamic Reduction

Panna cotta is one of those desserts that's ideal for parties. The name itself evokes such an Ooo la la air about it, but in reality it's super-easy to make. And since it's prepared and batched ahead of time that's one less thing for the host(ess) to fuss about when entertaining guests. Take it out of the fridge, top it off with a few bright fruits for color, and maybe even a "fancy" dessert sauce, and it's ready to serve!

Coconut Panna Cotta w Fig Balsamic Reduction
And that's exactly what Connie & I did when we co-hosted a supper soiree this past weekend. So without further adieu, here's the unbelievably simple recipe for Coconut Panna Cotta & Balsamic Reduction.

Ingredients for 4-5 servings
For Panna Cotta
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 packet of powdered gelatin (more if you want it firmer, mine came out with a pudding-like consistency)
1 oz. cold water

For Balsamic Reduction
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar (a friend got some fig balsamic vinegar so I used that)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup of bite-sized fresh fruits

1. Dissolve the half-packet of gelatin in the cold water, set aside (it will gel up in a few minutes.)
2. In small saucepan over medium heat, combine heavy whipping cream, coconut milk, sugar and vanilla extract.
3. Once it starts simmering, remove from stove and add the gelatin/cold water mixture, stir a few times to make sure it's completely dissolved.
4. Pour into individual bowls/cups/dessert dishes, cover each with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 3 hours.
5. While panna cotta is chilling, clean & rinse the saucepan and use it to make the reduction, simply combine vinegar & sugar and heat @ medium-high heat until it reduces to half its volume (took about 10-15 minutes for me,) stirring occasionally.
6. Pour the reduction into another container, cover and let it chill in fridge.
7. When ready to serve, top the panna cotta with the fruit and drizzle the reduction on top.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

No. 193: Stark Bar @ LACMA

The Stark Bar @ LACMA
The Ginger Rogers always had a special place in my heart, it was the first "serious" cocktail I've ordered -- at the ripe age of twenty-one years & a month at Dupont Circle's Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe (also known for their everything-but-the-kitchen sink Dysfunctional Family Sundae) -- and a far cry from the collegey drinks I've had thus far (whose "recipe" - if you can call it that - is burying the burn of cheap spirits with whatever cloyingly sweet, artificially colored and flavored mixers at hand.) The Ginger Rogers was fizzy and tingly and refreshing and absolutely perfect for those balmy D.C. summers. In short, it got me dancing on air after a long day of interning.

Alas, it's rare that I got this drink after my Washington days, I hardly see it in menus and when I inquire about it most bartenders steered me towards the gin-gin mule instead. It's fine, esp. since ginger syrup is not exactly a standard bar component, but oh -- how I long to tap my feet with Miss Rogers again.

So you can imagine the gleeful nostalgia I got when I saw this very drink on the Stark Bar cocktail list . . .

Ginger Rogers
. . . yes, please! And it was just like I remembered - the spicy-sweet ginger, the citrusy zing from fresh limes, the cool refreshing scent of mint -- all backed by that subtle, florally Plymouth Gin bouquet. Combine this with the al fresco setting of Stark Bar and you got total bliss.

Likewise, they did a magnificent job with the Bijou; another classic that's rarely on a drinks menu and another one that I usually hesitate to order, since it's made with three potent potables (gin, vermouth, chartreuse) and can be easily thrown off-balance by slightest error in proportions. Thankfully that wasn't the case here, and this silky, fragrant jewel of a cocktail made for a wonderful sipper.

Bacon Flatbread
The gussied-up bar bites here are well worth ordering too, Connie and I shared the marrow & bacon flatbread. Roasted marrow is pretty much a no-fail, but we appreciated the extra zip of pesto on top, which we continued to lap up with the grilled bread long after marrow's spooned out (and yes, we did contemplate sucking on the bone.) The flatbread - generously topped with mozzarella, pancetta and kale - was more than satisfying, and I justified that the crispy kale mean that it's a healthy dish.

The bar
Nutritional debate aside, Connie and I decided that our nibbles & sips were tasty and this place is definitely worth checking out again (esp. for some outdoor sipping & snacking in the summer, or perhaps after a cultured tour through LACMA.) Maybe even a full meal @ Ray's too!

What Do Others Say?
- Caroline on Crack did a "He Said, She Said" review of their signature cocktails w John from Social Domain, agreed that it "would be a perfect way to pass a warm summer evening."
- EstarLA found that "there are really just so many cocktails and treats – not to mention mains – to try on this menu."
- Sinosoul, in a retort to Midtown Lunch's snarky tweet, did a picture-only post of his hosted meal there.
- Chowballa declared that "lunch is a no-brainer here since it’s at the museum . . . But I think it’s worthy of its own trip, even for dinner."
- EatingLA noted that "LACMA finally has a restaurant worthy of the sleek new buildings on its campus."
- FoodGPS highlighted Ray's Chile Relleno as part of his Dose of Vitamin P series.
- StreetGourmetLA was also enamored with the space. "The moment I arrived I felt as though I were arriving at some gala event. This is going to be a hot spot in the summer."
- ShopEatSleep pretty much summed it up with her blog headline "Coolest museum eatery ever."

Stark Bar @ LACMA
5905 Wilshrie Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

No. 192: LA Market by Kerry Simon (Downtown)

LA Market Collage
While the L.A. Live area has its fun share of watering holes (Rivera, Cana, Corkbar... maybe the Trader Vic's if I feel tiki-ish,) slightly trickier is finding a decent, moderately price place to eat (gotta have something to soak up all that alchy, right?) So I was pretty stoked to be invited to check out L.A. Market, the downtown outpost of Kerry Simon's restaurant empire. I had a few bites before at his other restaurant in town, Simon L.A. near the Beverly Center, and I could see how this type of cuisine ("modern American cooking with California flair") would work in L.A. Live complex. It appeals to both challenging and conservative palates by being a bit sassy contemporary while paying nostalgic homages to classic American dishes, plus a nod to Southern comfort cooking with Hell's Kitchen winner Nona Sivley taking charge.
Braised Short Rib
For me, the updated classics menu worked pretty well . . . whether in the form of a braised short rib (pictured above), or brick-pressed and roasted chicken, the classic rib-eye steak or even a simple wedge salad (the last being an extra hard sell for me since I generally loathe salads I have to use a knife on,) my general impression is that it tasted like something prepped and cooked in a person's home kitchen with lots of meticulous TLC. The chicken was wonderfully moist with little smoky, crackly caramelized pieces where the bird meats the brick, the steak was juicy, beefy medium-rare, and the tender, flavorful short rib just falls apart with little fork effort.
Grilled Ribeye
At the same time, there were little culinary twists and spins reminding me that this is a slightly elevated meal with dabs and touches of creativity. For example, the ribeye above was accompanied by a gorgonzola polenta, with a bleu-y pungency just assertive enough to add a little zing to the overall equation without detracting from the steak. In a similar vein, the chicken was served atop a bed of farro, which soaked up all that delicious poultry & citrus jus while retaining a fun & firm & slightly-'poppity' texture. A definite upgrade overall the standard potato and rice starches, and I love how it inspires me to be a little bit more experimental in cooking too.
Tuna Dynamite
There are also a few dishes that harken to California's take on sushi, such as the tuna dynamite stack above with lump crab meat, tobiko plus dynamite & teriyaki sauces -- and the sushi pizza topped with wasabi cream, lump crab meat, raw tuna, avocado and fresh greens. Sushi purists will definitely scoff at dishes like these, but I found them enjoyable for what they are -- it's not oversauced and you can still taste the seafood, and perfectly fine fusion-y starters to split while waiting for the mains.
Gnocchi & Lump Crab Meat
But my favorite appetizer of that night was gnocchi with lump crab meat in a truffle-parmesan cream sauce... despite the bland color, it tasted anything but. The crab was firm and sweet, the dumplings were impeccably fluffy, and that aromatic, velvety sauce struck that perfect balance of being rich and delicate; like the gorgonzola in the polenta, the truffle in the sauce was a nice subtle accent without dominating the whole dish.
Taste of Georgia
While Kerry Simon restaurants' signature dessert (or desserts rather) is the junk food platter, a mega-sized plate of recreated and updated childhood cavity creaters, I actually preferred the more subtle and sophisticated "Taste of Georgia" with a sublime pecan ice cream and smooth, silky brulee'd banana custard pudding. Still, the junk food platter remains a "gotta try at least once" kind of things (esp. if you have a group of sugar-hankering friends with you, it's definitely made for 2 or more.)

Overall, the meal I had was solid, with a few standout superb dishes, and I would definitely return to nosh on some of fave items (the gnocchi, the chicken, the banana pudding) while checking out some of their other modern comfort fare, esp. when they start switching up the menu to reflect the fruits and veggies in season. Of course, they better not rotate the gnocchi out, or there might be a mutiny amongst the diners!

What Do Others Say?
- Darin Dines thinks Chef Sivley "brings a fresh perspective to the menu, and it’ll be interesting to see how her Southern roots blend with Chef Simon’s modern fare."
- TaraMetBlog also loved the short ribs & gnocchi as well as the tuna dynamite.
- LA Confidential thinks the restaurant is "ll about how Angelenos like to eat [with] . . . modern, quintessentially Californian fare."
- Hello Los Angeles says "the food here is anything but minimalist or straight-edged" and gave another must-try kudos to the junk food platter.
- Diana Takes A Bite agrees on the deliciousness of that chicken with its "taut, crisp skin . . . delicately scented with lemon and so tender it makes me wonder if Texas-native Nona is running a chicken massage parlor."

More photos from my flickr set here

LA Market by Kerry Simon

900 W. Olympic Blvd. 1st Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90015


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