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 Ros√©.) 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


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