9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
The past five weeks or so I have been enmeshed in Food Buzz's Project Food Blog, a 10 week long contest comprised of progressive challenges which each week lead to the elimination of a certain number of contestants. I was dropped at the end of week five, week pizza.
I am not a pizza master. Either that or I'm not popular enough, or I drink too much in my posts or show too many pics of my dogs or who knows what. But this week it is time to get back to business as usual, which includes more blogging about things other people cook, in addition to ruminating upon the experience.
Last Sunday D and I forced ourselves to leave the cave, head west and have dinner at Test Kitchen (finally) with some damn fine company: Linden of The Gastronomnom and his fiancee Amy. Christian Page was on the second of a two might engagement, soon to be cooking full time at the Daily Dose in the Biscuit Company lofts DTLA.
D and I skulked around the bar checking out the scene and acquiring adult beverages while waiting for A & L to make it west through the inclement weather.
That one guy was bar tending, the one who used to be at Church & State. Not Michel of Neve, the other guy. He makes good drinks too.
My Pear Lady
Sipping a little effervescence (bosc pear, lemon, pear eau de vie, gin, champagne), I thought about Project Food Blog. This contest is really much more directly aimed at home cook food bloggers than a review food blogger. Now, I dabble in blogging of the home cooking nature, but sparingly and without a high level of proficiency. I recognize now both kinds of blogging are completely different skill sets.
When Amy arrived at Test Kitchen, she went for a "Testing Cocktail" of the most daring kind. "Pick your poison, choose your flavors and leave the rest to us". She stated tequila as her booze of choice but when queried as to flavor profile, she declined to state. She left it all to the mixologist. Daring little minx! It was good, whatever it was, and had pomegranate seeds.
Initial blast-off in Project Food Blog was probably the most challenging post up until the pizza. I had to write about myself, who I am as a food blogger and all that self-reflective self-promotional nonsense that I avoid writing in a diary by writing a food blog. Kinda antithetical? Maybe only to me.
view from the bar
Test Kitchen is super exciting. Very reminiscent of a Manhattan hot spot in a subterranean way, slightly glossy but not overdecorated, big long bar, open-ish kitchen, crowded but not too loud, dark dark dark. Linden mentioned he has seen really poor quality photos coming out of Test Kitchen (generally speaking) most likely because of the light quality. Definitely because of the light quality. Don't get me wrong, I love a dark room and will happily sacrifice a great photo for a sexy mood. But don't expect to see stellar photos in this post. I was enjoying the company too much to walk my food around the room seeking light. And as we know, flash is the debbil.
As soon as we sat down we ordered all the bar bites, there were only three. We ate 'em family style.
Sonoma Eat-Balls: Sonoma lamb, goat cheese mornay, paprika oil, crispy basil
The next four posts on Project Food Blog were all tests of my home cooking and photo taking skills. We started with non-French/Italian classics. I tackled a couple Hawaiian staples: poke and loco moco. There were two big learning moments in this challenge. Making decisions (after the fact) about what photos to include, how to format them and realizing I need to learn how to food style. Food styling isn't just about what tastes good together on the fork, but also beauty of presentation, whimsy, and utility of the components. How does it make sense to eat this dish? I also learned that successful home cooking bloggers don't just throw a meal together and snap it right before devouring (my methodology). In many cases they try a recipe more than once to get it right, tweak the ingredients and plating. I made the loco moco three times before I was happy with the results.
Carlsbad Three-Way: Carlsbad oysters, cucumber-habanero granita
Carlsbad oysters are lovely but I tasted hide nor hair of the granita.
Once You Go Grassfed You Never Go Back Burger
If I have an intention toward blogging more home cooking, I need to really care a little more about the posts. And I do care. I found it incredibly gratifying to cook for my friends and family and post about it. Every one of those meals was a celebration for the people who shared it.
off the menu potato chips
Challenge three, the luxury dinner party, was a toughie. I wasn't convinced I would make it through the second round and therefore didn't want to invest the money in a luxury dinner party until results were posted Friday afternoon. Despite my jubilation at making it through the round, this was stressful. I had a long drive home from the desert on Friday, heading immediately to the grocery store to forage for ingredients to make things I had mostly not made yet. I'd never thrown a luxury dinner party (my cooking is very casual) so didn't have a backlog of recipes to draw from. What did I learn? When throwing a dinner party, use recipes that are tried and true. Even if you have to try them as a dry run during the week prior. You will be more at ease and your guests will likely be more well fed.
Back at Test Kitchen, D and decided to share one wine pairing between the two of us with the prix fixe, it being Sunday and all that nonsense. I fell to the meh side of approval of the wine pairings. Not bad but nothing to note in your ledger.
All dinners at Test Kitchen are prix fixe, and not outrageously priced. Five courses, $45 per person. Most items were served family style which I don't love. But thankfully Linden and Amy are clean and have manners beyond reproach.
The view from our back corner booth. Yes, that's Linden's head.
Bread, Butter & Jelly: baguette, pasture butter, preserves, pork rillette
About the time Food Buzz posted advancement from round three to four , the Internet started to buzz quietly with unease about challenge criteria and advancement on the part of bloggers ignoring clear challenge details. The unease was Twittered, Facebooked and commented upon in blog comment sections. My first thought was sour grapes, but exploring further I did see some merit to the ever loudening buzz.
Fired Up Mussels: oven roasted Carlsbad mussels, grilled ciabatta, compound butter
Page's second course. I have never had more perfectly cooked mussels. Sometimes the edge/vein of the organism has a tendency to get a little tough. These melted in my mouth almost like an oyster. If Page has these on his menu at Daily Dose as the months go forward, I will move mountains to get to them.
off the menu pork belly in gastric
One ever so slightly disgruntled blogger, Foodalogue, wrote and posted an open letter to the Project Food blog people listing some ways she feels the project was kind of unfair. What stands out to me about the contest now in retrospect is this is a contest geared toward driving traffic for Food Buzz and its sponsors rather than being about who necessarily has the best blog or follows each challenge the best. I wouldn't go so far as to publish the open letter here. Although I am not without one or two sour grapes for being eliminated in a round when one advancer didn't even cook (simply listed recipes for pizza, wtf) I don't want to be a sore loser because I did learn so much about myself and the my cooking skills. Cooking skills which run surprisingly deeper than one might have thought.
What're You, Chicken?: fried chicken, honey vinaigrette, chicken leg cassoulet, pistou
Grass-Fed Hash: coffee-cacao corned beef hash, slow poached egg, paprika oil, greens
This would have been my favorite dish if the hash weren't quite so crispy, a little too crispy. I love that Chef Page uses only grass fed beef. It's supposed to be much better for humans because it's lower in fat, cholesterol, ands calories than corn fed beef. And the fat that it does have has higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. As my friend David Flick says, shouldn't we be eating food that spends its time eating the food it's supposed to eat? Left to its own devices and without opposable thumbs, cows would not be trying to eat kernels of corn. They'd be hanging out in a grassy green field ruminating on...grass, natch. We were served "Dey Dey" grass fed beef from the Santa Rita hills in three courses. I learned about John Debruin and his local beef from online magazine, Edible Santa Barbara.
off the menu flank steak
Our last savory course was served off the menu. One of the nice things about dining with other food bloggers is that everyone tends to know someone else everywhere you go, turning almost every experience into a dinner party. Linden and Amy have been to Test Kitchen several times thus Brian Saltsburg (and apparently his hair) spent quite awhile chatting with us about the future of Test Kitchen. Bill Chait swung by the table, Christian Page made a few visitations as well as the bartenders, a food photographer and a couple other food bloggers. Good times!
French Tickler: brioche French toast, honey/sour cream ice cream, pistachio tuille, raspberry syrup
Um, yeah that dessert? Whoamygod it was good.
Will I enter Project Food Blog again next year? It depends on a couple things. First of all, where I head with my home cooking/blogging. Will it continue to develop this year? If I strengthen this practice, then yes maybe. Recognizing that this is a popularity contest leaves me feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing when during one challenge we were instructed not to cook French or Italian and the Reader's Choice winner for the week cooked French. I wasn't thrilled with popularity contests when they were all the rage back in high school. Now I just want to eat and cook good food, take photos of it and write about the experience. I would be much more encouraged to participate next year if greater weight in judgement fell upon the chosen experts (Nancy Silverton, Pim Techamuanvivit and Dana Corwin) rather than driving traffic for sponsors such as Buick LaCrosse. But I would be even more encouraged if there was some expectation that other participants were held accountable to challenge criteria.
Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time. My friends and family who bandwagoned trying to propel me to successive rounds were tireless cheerleaders, loving every minute of it. I love YOU guys, and love that you love me and the blog, I am sure in that order.