Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Late Summer at Drago Centro and the Taylor Swift Experience

Saturday a very dear, dear friend came to town for a special one night only appearance. After spending the hot humid afternoon showing her LA's original Farmer's Market, we escaped the heat for an early and climatized late summer dinner at Drago Centro. Afterward, we took in a mega-concert at Staples. The two together made for an epic evening of intense experiences. A trifecta of sight, sound and taste.


Above, the amuse. Perfect tiny cubes of watermelon in a white balsamic drizzle with micro-basil. Pop goes the bright burst of flavor!


My starter was actually from the degustation menu. I almost always plead for something on their tasting menu as a starter. I guess I am that customer. They seemed pleased to oblige, so I don't care. Heirloom tomatoes with cuttlefish, arugula and dehydrated pesto. The highlight of the dish is the scoop of Bloody Mary granita on top. I made everyone taste. This salad epitomizes what I love about Drago's food. The best ingredients with classic Italian partnerships and something else just a little interesting. Not Jose Andres interesting, nothing that will overpower the Italian-ness of it all or put your life at risk. But just a little something to talk about.


For my entree, seared scallops on a tomato panzanella with zucchini, fresh and pureed arugula. The bread chunks under the scallops were perfectly soaked in cool watery tomato juice and the bright verdant mix of arugula textures have me scheming about how to recreate this in my own kitchen. Don't think I won't try.


The three of us lingered over coffee and dessert, not caring if we missed the opening act. We shared but didn't finish a chocolate mousse. I am eternally spoiled by my mother's cooking, and this case is no exception. Mom's mousse is much lighter than this, this was a mousse/cake hybrid. I'm really not sure what characterizes an Italian mousse as opposed to the mousse recipe my mom still makes that she has been carrying around with her from her gourmet supper parties in the seventies and early eighties. But hers stands out in my mind as the mousse against which all others shall be judged and found lacking. Taix on Sunset makes a mousse akin to my mother's. I once scooped out the lingering mousse along the sides of the bowl with my fingers, my husband was appalled and said so. Ooops.


The basil ice cream over crunchy chocolate cookie bits? Amazecream. So good I am thinking about exactly how to add basil essence to a creme anglaise next time I am ice cream making in Lake Havasu with Carrie. Best part of the dessert. The cookie bits held their crunch and the sweetened basil flavor, herbaceous and sweet at the same time.


The exclamation point on our day was the Taylor Swift concert. To the right of the middle of the photo you can see a bright white kinda square shaped thing floating through the darkness. That's Taylor in a basket swooping through the glitter and fireworks. I hadn't expected a show to rival the likes of Madonna and dozens of dancers in camouflage on yards of scaffolding extended above the crowds or J. Lo descending on a giant swing, but that's exactly what we got. I expected something a little more down home. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every minute. The combination of Vegas meta-musical, Disney Princess, Americana and pop concert is every tween's dream show. It might have been a bit much, but I enjoyed the music and the spectacle. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Moment in Barceloneta

Barceloneta is a neighborhood running along the northwest of the port of Barcelona. Originally constructed in the 18th century to serve the residents of the Ribera neighborhood, the shops and restaurants along the boardwalk are now fairly modern looking.  Barceloneta definitely has a locals feel to it. Just to the left of this photo between the boardwalk and the water is an unfenced dog park and along this sidewalk dozens of joggers and roller bladers pass by.


One evening we ventured into Barceloneta under the promise of fresh seafood, more than a little tired of the sodium laden pintxos and tapas. Prior to dining, we stopped for liquid refreshment at this kiosk.


Kiosks like this pepper the city wherever there is room on a sidewalk, near a museum or similar attraction. They sell ice cream, sandwiches & snacks, drinks & booze.


Bacardi & diet. I fantasize about running a small business like this, just me. Open everyday to serve locals and tourists. Putting out my aluminum chairs, napkins and menus everyday in the cool morning air.


We took a seat and enjoyed some liquid refreshment as we watched the city pass by.


The treatment of dogs all over really impressed me.  There are dogs literally everywhere, in every neighborhood, accompanying every kind of person. I didn't see a single stray dog, dog without collar and only the occasional dog off leash following owner very closely. I love to think about the well cared for dogs of Barcelona.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Strolling Pismo Beach

This week, I slept 40 miles from my work location in an effort to experience a little central California change of scenery. These are some of the things I saw on a stroll up and down the beach and through town.


I don't know why I was expecting a Manhattan or Huntington Beach, but in town the architecture in Pismo Beach is much older than our local beaches in L.A. or O.C. 


PB brought to mind the film Brighton Beach Memoirs because most of the buildings looked to be built in and around the 30's and 40's. Indeed, the first fishing pier was built in 1924. You can still fish of the end of the pier without a license.


In the water there were plenty of surfers, body and boogie boarders. I passed a few people sprinting theoretically post work toward the water in their half-suit with a board under their arm trying to get in some time on the water before the sun went down.


Parts of the town are a tiny bit run down and there are some prime beach front pieces of property empty and for sale, a sign of the economy probably more than a sign about Pismo Beach.


Pismo Beach was thrumming with vacationers this week.


The hotel I stayed in, every restaurant I visited and the water's edge were all populated heavily with Europeans. "Foreign", said the waiter near me at one spot when I stopped for local oysters on the half shell. 


I heard Spanish, British, German, Japanese and more.


Conveniently for me, Pismo Beach sits right at an intersection of the 1 and the 101, making it an easy 40 mile trip from the ocean to my training site inland.


There are other little beach communities to the north including Grover Beach, Avila Beach (home to one of my favorite wine bars, Cuvee), Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.


Pismo Beach is known as the clam capitol of the world, hosting the Clam Festival every October.


The places you'll go and the things you'll see.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ferran Adria's 41° Barcelona

Avenguda del Paral-lel, 164
08015 Barcelona, Spain


After days of strolling the streets of portside Barcelona, late night tapas and happenstance meals (some wonderful, some mediocre) we headed for something a little more high brow.  Ferran Adria's newest restaurant is located in his home town of Barcelona and has a circuslike atmosphere and an impenetrable velvet rope. Well, kind of impenetrable. You can make reservations months in advance and barring that you can request to be squired into 41° next door, Adria's darkly luxurious bar with a wide range of nibbles and a playful drink program.


Drinks start on with the right ice. Ice with as little oxygen as possible frozen into the giant cube from which smaller chunks are chipped off all evening long. Note the glassy appearance.



Salted air margarita. 


Our bartender adds the salted air made from, well, salt & a lime fluid with soy lecithin for foaming...


...atop the lightest most well balanced margarita you may ever have the joy of tasting.


The bull motif is in full disco effect.


Plating for the liquid olives.


Liquid olives are served in an olive oil bath barside...


...and scooped gently into our personal spoons. Despite what the bartender insisted, that Ferran's olives are the original and really better than Jose's, really, they were the same. Delightful and yet kinda weird.


The oysters were by far the highlight of the visit (aside from the drinks, which were sublime).


With salmon roe in a miso broth.


Something and a little of something else. I stole a copy of the menu and promptly lost it. Or lost it later in my office after returning to LA. You tell me.


Kim chee marinated oyster on the half shell.



Japanese inspired seaweed and crispy sesame seeds.


A crispy rice treat with spiciness on the outside, this reminded me of Rice Crispies repurposed and seasoned with Lucas.


This absolutely threw D over the edge. All the creations at 41° are inspired by world cuisines, Catalan and elsewhere. The above crispy rice treat was shaped like an octopus and colored with squid ink. But it tasted like Rice Crispies. Nevertheless, it was fun.


Bloody Mary with rosemary, nothing molecular about it. Simply delicious.


The very popular Romero y Julieta.


Vodka with rosemary, lemongrass and some other nice stuff. None too sweet.


Annoying and intriguing at the same time. The sushi served at 41° looks very similar to the wonderful sushi we get in Los Angeles, but. BUT. The rice is actually a savory rice marshmallow. Why? Just why?


I don't know why. Why not?



The last two items were the most similar to tapas all over the city. Above is a puff pastry shell filled with cheese and topped with a sprinkling of smoked paprika. Delicious.


Hot little cakes filled with cheese and meat. After all the strange airy nibbles above we were both ready for something that would proverbially stick to the ribs.

Far and away the best item on the menu at 41° was the service. Every single person behind and in front of the bar gave service of exactly the style one would expect at such an establishment. Sleek and glossy, friendly without being necessarily personable. Every recommendation food and drink-wise was on the money. The staff took their job seriously, but not themselves seriously, if you catch my drift. It was a lovely experience. Next time I am going to be in Barcelona, I will try harder to get a real reservation at Tickets, and after dinner head directly to 41° to top it off.

Hello Lily with Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice & Sea Salted Chocolate Dipped Shortbread

The second weekend in this unseasonably temperate August was sweetly punctuated by a visit to almost one year old Lily and her parents. We chatted and cooked and coo'd and ate, sipped at wine and napped on the couch.  My contributions to the evening: spicy tuna on crispy rice (a staple at trendy sushi-esque spots all over LA), and almond shortbread dipped in chocolate sprinkled with sea salt (recently inspired by Valerie Confections).

The tuna dish recipe is compiled from two different websites: The Ravenous Couple and Salty Seattle. Below, Ravenous Couple on the kitchen counter in my iPad. They cannot be beat for stunning visuals and solid instruction.


I buy sushi grade tuna at the Little Tokyo Marketplace, probably my favorite grocery store. I, like The Ravenous Couple, prefer my tuna in small cubes rather than processed within an inch of its life into a sort of baby-foodesque tartare. Not quite as large as I like it cut for a poke, but still quite distinct chunks.


Add Kewpie mayonnaise (mayo with rice wine vinegar and msg), sesame oil, sriracha, finely diced green onions, sesame seeds if you want. One of the diners told me it needed soy sauce, but I personally feel soy saucing this would be overkill. You want the subtle flavors of the tuna, sesame oil, etc. This is decidedly not meant to be a poke.


On the side I serve more green onions, slices of jalapeno and a doctored up kabayaki sauce. I buy the sauce bottled and add generous amount of wasabi paste.


Sushi rice escapes me. Even using the exact directions on the rice steamer, then precisely following step-by-step instructions garnered from several web sites that all rec the same method my rice was way too sticky. For this dish, stickiness was not an issue because you are frying the rice. My nasty old rice would not do for making sushi. This needs to be addressed at some point. Not today.

Nevertheless, I used a mold to get the perfect shape. You can really pack the rice in there tightly to ensure that it stays in one piece when frying.


Fry the rice patties in hot oil at 350F, if using and electric fryer. If cooking stove top, cook at medium-high heat and watch like a hawk turning frequently to avoid overcooking.


You can see below the finished product. I am working at not overcooking my rice in the fryer. You want it crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, not hard like zwieback. Also, I roll some of the rice patties in furikake before cooking, you can see the black and white sesame seeds on the outside.


The set of spicy tuna on crispy rice I assembled at Lily's had very overcooked rice. Luckily Lily's dad loves anything crispy and a little blackened. Between the six of us, we did gobble down every piece with nary a broken tooth, surprisingly.


Better than a kitchen witch.

As a dessert appetizer (K and Lily made carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting as the main course), I threw together almond shortbread dipped in chocolate liberally sprinkled with sea salt. I have been a little bored to death this week with a case of the summer head cold, this entertained me immensely. For the recipe, I consulted with Cookistry blog. Her recipe was easy and flawless.

In my food processor I first blended the dry ingredients (almond meal, salt, sugar, flour), then added eggs and vanilla. I made a double recipe because one of my oldest and dearest friends is coming to town next weekend and she has a soft spot for shortbread. We like to eat it with a glass of heavy handed chardonnay.


Add the butter and pulse until all the ingredients stick together in a homogeneously mixed lump.


Form into a log on plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or more. I am keeping the second log until next Saturday.


Cut in quarter inch slices.


Arrange on cookie sheet. The recipe specified leaving some distance between the cookies but I found literally no spreading occurred whatsoever. Take that for what you will.


While the cookies cool, melt chocolate pieces in a double boiler or bain-marie. I simply use a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water. Very effective. 


Worth noting, this was inspired by a little cello bag of the exact same cookie made locally by Valerie Confections and sold at Silver Lake Wine. I am pretty much 100% sure Valerie used better quality chocolate than I did. I used Nestle Semi-Sweet chips. They did the trick and idgaf.

Dip the cookies in the chocolate.


I used parchment to line the sheet for both baking and cooling. Parchment is my only baking trick. I suck at baking and was shocked these came out so well.


Liberally sprinkle with sea salt. I used my chunkiest sea salt short of kosher salt. Fleur de Sel de Guerande


The food was good, the conversation loving and the baby is happy.