Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three Tastes as the Sun Sets in Palm Springs

Staying overnight at the Colony Palms on business this week, I wish I had a playmate to keep me company. We'd have a go at the enemy ball with an Irish peel wearing post-Labour Day white linen, a G&T in one hand and a mallet in the other.

three tastes 2

Taste with your eyes.


Solo, a Grey Goose martini and an English text were my solace.


It was just the one night.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wine Tasting Paso Robles: Di Raimondos, Lone Madrone, Oso Libre

Di Raimondos Italian Market
822 13th Street
Paso Robles, CA

Working in Paso Robles on a very regular basis over the past year and a half has its perks. Great wine and lots of it,  delicious food and truly amazing kind people who have helped make me feel like Paso really is a second home. This last trip, Mom met me a day early for wine tasting, a picnic and general merriment. We both arrived mid-afternoon and headed straight for Di Raimondos Italian market for a few items to bolster our lunch goods.


Di Raimondos is mostly a cheese shop, but they also carry lots of Italian goods, like a nice selection of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, olives in bulk and so on. Above is their soft and goat cheese case.


The bleu cheese case that houses my love, cambazola.


A gorgeous selection of harder cheeses. One of the things I loved about the owner was that even if we were decided on buying a cheese, as soon as she unwrapped it to cut it she gave us a taste just for fun. It's cheese, when isn't a taste of cheese fun?


This bread. They only had a few loaves of this delicious bread in stock, probably because it was a Monday. Lightly dusted in cornmeal on the bottom and fairly heavily dressed with sea salt on top, this bread is off the chain, as my friend Carrie would say.


The picnic. To the far right is a gorgeous slightly firm Italian taleggio, in the middle is my friend a French cambazola, and on the left is a soft goaty cheese from somewhere on the European continent.


Mom's fruit salad. This is a wow dish. Raspberries, mango, honeydew and a fruity sauce of ginger and mint with just a touch of sugar.


We picnicked on the grounds of my current favorite winery, Lone Madrone, after wine tasting. The kind folks at Lone Madrone introduced me a couple months back to Nebbiolo, an Italian varietal. When done well, it has an almost truffley bouquet and tastes beautiful. More earthy than a syrah, deeper than a pinot noir which is currently a little out of my palate's favor at the minute. We bought a bottle to drink at Lone Madrone's shaded picnic tables.


Making friends and influencing people at Turley, where they specialize in zins.


Our last stop of the wine tasting journey was Oso Libre. I'm going to be honest here, by this time I was kinda tipsy suffering from palate burn out. However, the last wine I tasted at Oso Libre seemed like it was probably good, so a bottle made its way home with me for future cracking open.


I adore the tasting room at Oso Libre. It's bright, fresh, modern and artsy in a very youthful way.


The father and son ownership team and their dogs were hanging out chatting with us. I have to admit their dogs were as charmingly well trained and handsome as their owners.


Both dogs are trained to run around the tasting room patios, visit with guests, play with toys and stand at the open door of the tasting room without entering. Good dogs!


Like most wineries, Oso Libre has a wine club. What I thought was fun is that they also have a meat club. They have grass fed Black Angus beef on the property, and while the prime cuts go to the club, the leftovers such as fajitas meat, some oxtails here and there, and some other very nice cuts still make it into the freezer for purchase in the tasting room.


The marrow bones tempted me. I have been wanting to roast them in my oven with olive oil and parsley. However, my hotel room has a fridge but no freezer, and etc.

The Oso Libre website will tell their story of sustainable agriculture and a commitment to grid free energy better than I can during a 2 am bout of insomnia. Here is a blurb from their site:

Preserving our environment, we proudly utilize sustainable agricultural practices and renewable energy strategies. Olde English Babydoll sheep, grass fed Black Angus and free range chickens all work together to tend our vine rows and graze land. Our Babydoll sheep program was implemented strictly for our vineyard maintenance in accordance with our sustainable farming practices. Thanks to the sheep’s small size and robust character these remarkable little full time workers graze our vineyards and are ideal for organic weed abatement, fertilization and soil management. As an adjunct, our free-range chickens are social partners to our sheep and cattle and assist in providing nutrients, fertilization and insect control to our vineyard. These charming allies all help to reduce our dependence on energy consumption and pesticides. When you visit our tasting room, we believe you too will be captivated by their presence and work ethic.
The wind and sun supply over 100% of our electricity for our winery. We conserve energy by proudly utilizing our progressive Wind Energy Conversion Facility (WECF) or windmill, 77 solar panels, and our electric all- terrain vehicles.
In conjunction with our vineyards and winery, Oso Libre is a traditional San Luis Obispo cattle ranch. Our Black Angus cattle are free range, grass fed, hormone free animals. We are excited about the future of our Angus beef program.

Next time I wine taste in Paso, I am hitting Oso Libre first when I am sober my palate is fresh so I can offer their wines the tasting they deserve. I was charmed by the people, the atmosphere and their story.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recreating Canele's Fried Farro & Poached Eggs

I categorically should not be blogging right now. There are a million and one things I need to do to prep for my trip this week including planning a lesson for 35 eighth grade kids on the original intent of passages of the Declaration of Independence (that funky old language is a hindrance to the comprehension of this text messaging generation) and a second lesson for 30 adults on something as yet undecided in physical science. However this breakfast was such a success, I couldn't wait to share.

A few weeks back when my friend Jessica was in town we went to Canele in Atwater Village for brunch and I love love loved their fried farro. Several people think Canele is the best brunch in town and I would agree with the sole reservation being that I am not super brunchy. I prefer to stay home and cook most weekend mornings. At any rate, I had planned to take Karla to Canele for this amazebrunch, already with the fried farro in mind since I am a repeat orderer. After an epic Saturday evening that started at El Compadre and ended at Three Clubs with stop offs at The Tasting Kitchen, a Furious Seasons show, Boa, and some very drunk and very friendly stranger's bachelorette party at Trousdale we ended up spending Sunday morning asleep instead of at Canele. But I was determined to have my fried farro with poached eggs. Time to cook!

This recipe was conceived in my head as I progressed, so just follow along.


Cook farro according to package directions, drain and set aside. Canele has the most amazing bacon in their fried farro, it was chunky like a lardon and melted in my mouth. I used the thickest cut bacon I could find, which I surprisingly found at the ghetto Von's by my house. Cook until just before crisp. I wanted a meaty texture, not crunchy.


After cooking the bacon, set aside on paper towels to drain and cool. Reserve a couple tablespoons of bacon fat in the hot pan, toss the rest. Throw in the garlic briefly, let it brown slightly.


The allium genus trifecta: shallots, garlic and green onions. Add shallots to the pan and any vegetable matter you might fancy. Canele's fried farro had kale, but if I wasn't making it to Canele I most certainly wasn't going to the grocery store. I cleaned out the produce drawer in the fridge coming up with crookneck squash and a zucchini.


Chop vegetables into small pieces appropriate for a fried rice dish, small cubes. My cubes were smaller then they look in this snap.


Add veg to pan and saute for maybe ten minutes or so. You want to cook it past the soggy point, some of the water in the vegetables you use will preferably cook off so your veg mass will be fairly dry and maybe even ever so slightly caramelized on the outside with the shallots, garlic and bacon fat making an almost sticky consistency.


Add the farro and bacon.


Cook stirring frequently until the grain starts slightly sticking to the bottom of the pan. Scrape all grain from the pan, the scrapey bits are pure heaven. Eat with your fingers when no one is looking.


Top with two perfectly poached eggs and eat now. 

I admit mine is not as good as Canele's. D and Karla both commented there's no way Canele's fried farro is better but a) they were hungover and someone was cooking for them while they lounged around the house and b) they haven't had Canele's. Canele's has a special flavor from something I didn't identify at the time and cannot remember. I do remember it had a nice roasted garlic flavor. Last week I even roasted some garlic for this purpose and set it aside, garlic which I am sure made it into the garbage during my absence in Paso Robles last week. Nevermind, my outcome was delicious and will definitely be repeated chez moi some other Sunday morning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Nocturnal Urban Hiking: Bario Gotico, Barcelona

The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is the heart of the oldest architecture in the city. The neighborhood used to be a Roman village, some buildings and streets dating back to pre-medieval times. You will see the remains of a Roman wall to the north of the district. Within the district lie important sites such as the Avinguda de la Catedral, the Placa Reial and its stunning arcade teeming with tourists but more notably youth from midnight until the sun comes up, and El Call the medieval Jewish quarter. Personally, I was most truck with the labyrinthine nature of the ancient streets where it is nearly impossible to catch your bearings as you wind through them during the evening. Many streets house  a couple tiny bars, cafes, ice cream shops open at night. If you wander down the wrong cobblestoned direction, you may find yourself in desolate corridors of tall old buildings darkly lit by lanterns or candles on the ground. What follows are some snaps taken during a night of wandering.


Above and below, different views of one of the many small plazas the streets open into.



I could easily see myself drawn to this quarter for living...D and I fantasized about cashing in our chips and running a small bar, jut us and the J, living above one of these tiny streets.



I'm not going to lie and say it felt perfectly safe. As we took some ill informed turns there were moments that felt decidedly sinister with certain ne'er do well groups behaving just dastardly enough to make D uncomfortable.



Then occasionally you happen past an inviting and beautifully lit restaurant, tapas bar or cafe.




A row of scooters or an automated bicycle rental rack are always signs of population. If you can find your directional bearings and head west you will most likely spill back onto La Rambla and the familiarity there.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Three Tastes

Saturday night, sipping a few skinny margaritas with my mate JAF. The skinny margarita is not about the calories, it's about fresh lime flavor not being overpowered by sweet & sour or some nasty mix. If you're not a believer, try one. Pop in to El Compadre in Echo Park and see Danny.


If you aren't going to eat before or during the drinking of said skinny margaritas, you can always stop on by the bacon wrapped hot dog cart at the corner of Sunset and Portia. This never agrees with my tummy the way they agree with my taste buds, and my taste buds tend to do the talking after a little tequila.


Saturday night we stopped into City Sip; Wine for the People with our good friend Claudia.  They have changed their white bean puree crostini a little this year, but they're still delicious. White bean puree, arugula, cherry tomatoes and a little goat cheese. A highlight of my Saturday evening stroll.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

LaOn: Small Plates in KTown

LaOn Dining
1145 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006


My friend C is an incredibly adventurous diner. In the sense that she always wants to try what's new and novel, not in the sense that she'll eat anything. As a matter of fact, she won't eat almost anything, she's very specific about what she'll eat. C chose LaOn for us because it's new and supposedly has a pescetarian-friendly Korean BBQ-esque menu. I am going to say that LaOn is pescetarian-possible rather than friendly. Several dishes on the menu looked like they would be meat free but weren't. However, since I am decidedly a meat and fish and vegetable and fruit eating omnivore, I was in a pretty happy place. I can eat whatever the eff I want to. And I did, and I liked it. I don't think C went home hungry either.


LaOn is sleekly trendy, nothing over the top, fairly simple actually. Attached to co-owned Don Dae Gam Pork restaurant with the saucy pink pig on the sign looking down on dark Western Ave, they share a valet and a bathroom.


LaOn: emotion of great delight or happiness; exceptionally satisfying.


I was a little disappointed in the cold sake list. LaOn sells Nigori unflitered for ten bones a small bottle then immediately jumps up to $55 for Kubota Senju and from there on up. Not that Kubota Senju isn't worth the money. It's a wonderful sake. But I would have liked seeing something in between the $10 and $55 price points. I like unfiltered sakes like Nigori, indeed I went through a whole unfiltered sake phase. But nowadays I am not always in the mood. Some other options would be nice. That's all.


Simplicity in the banchan: spicy pickles and a tomatoey kimchee, both totally delicious.


Above, Salted Fingerlings. Small skin-on salted baby potatoes with a verde sauce that tasted mostly of cilantro. Yum. 


It's really hard to see what this is from the above snap. It was chilled cucumbers kind of folded over topped with beef, two kinds of mushrooms, enoki and shiitake, and a little egg. Supposedly delicious, all tasting parties reported. And now that I think about it, everyone but me tasted it which means they all ate a little meat. :-/


The above sea bass dish was wonderful. Grilled in a dark sweet/savory sauce with chestnuts, gingko, dates and an asparagus spear.


LaOn is technically a small plates/Korean tapas place, however they do have giant vents over each table and if you order from the Hwa Ro part of the menu, they bring out a miniature grill to the table.


Shrimp, squid, enoki mushrooms, marinated boneless short rib and unmarinated skirt steak there to the bottom left.


Scallop skewers with BBQ sauce. Does anyone ever actually spell out the word barbecue anymore?


Spicy pork wrapped asparagus. This was a beautiful little taste. I would have preferred to have a few more vegetable options on the menu without meat but this was a stand out taste of the evening. I'll take my veggies wrapped in meat if I have to. Meat good.


Actually, this dish might have been the highlight of the night. There are three that really struck a chord, the sea bass, the pork wrapped asparagus and the above. Our server suggested this. 


Sizzling stone hot pot with crackling rice and five kinds of fish egg. I would return just for this.


This is a sneaky little item. I had already ordered enough meat for D and I. With Korean food twice in one week, we have been on a beef tangent. This sounded vegetarian, but had sneaky bits and pieces of meat smuggled into its Korean yummy-ness. Japchae. Stir fried vegetables with clear glass rice noodles. Really delicious sounding and tasting but there was beef in it, the pieces were tiny, but still.


The chef sent out dessert to our table. Totally weird but completely good.  To the left was mochi. One little chocolate mochi ball and behind it is a flat piece of mochi that had some caramelized sugar on the outside. Wow! And a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the right.  The creaminess of the ice cream balanced the caramelized mochi beautifully. Thank you, chef!

I have been on the hunt in the last few weeks for a fun restaurant with a private dining room. LaOn has such a space, a long table for about 14 people with three ventilation units above all wrapped in a black plexiglass wall of semi-privacy. While it is too small for my needs, I highly rec this for a dinner party. It's fun and interactive, like all Korean BBQ places. I adore the engaging nature of playing with one's food. And LaOn is a little more sleek than most BBQ places in the neighborhood. It's not filled with families and kids running between tables (which I don't mind at all in the right time and place). It feels youthful and fresh without being overly trendy.