Friday, June 1, 2012

Fresh & Easy Wine Tasting May 2012

4211 Eagle Rock Blvd
Glassell Park, CA 90065

Every now and again, Fresh & Easy does a wine tasting tweet-up. Fresh & Easy sends us Twitterholics a gift card and directions about which wine to buy, then we all meet up at the designated time to chat about the wine they gave us. Fun!

The first wine on the docket is called Charonge. With a chardonnay base and a spritz of orange, I was skeptical. The idea reminded me of Franzia, the fruit flavored wines my mom and Sue drank back in the late 70's/early 80's when they were just getting into wine. (Now Mom drinks Williams-Selyem, so all is forgiven.) Charonge is nowhere near that sweet, and I found the orange quite subtle. To be honest, after the tweet-up was over, I retired to my couch with a last healthy splash of Charonge before falling asleep in front of a Friends marathon on TBS. Early summer TV sucks.

Fresh & Easy was generous enough with our gift cards to offer us snacks in addition to the wine recs. I visited their cheese section. One of the nice things about band practice night is that I can eat whatever the hades I want for dinner, no full meal or much forethought necessary. My cheese all looks very white, but the flavors are very distinctive. From the left, Cablanca, a goat gouda. Top middle, Drunken Goat. Drunken Goat is a Spanish goat cheese cured for 48-72 hours in red wine. The flavors are beautiful and soft, very goaty. The small complete round is my all unrivaled favorite, Cambazola. Cambazola is a triple cream cheese with bleu veining, neither brie not bleu. Heaven.

The second wine is from Big Kahuna, at $3.99 definitely a bargain brand. We tried the Sangria, which I poured over ice. It comes in a generous 1.5 litre plastic bottle perfect for picnics or general hobo'ing drunkenly around places you don't want to worry about breaking glass. I can easily see adding some fruit and brandy or rum to punch it up a little for a party. I'd still be pretty happy just drinking this over ice on a Saturday front porch afternoon. I nibbled at the Cablanca gouda with this, the gouda didn't overpower the fruity flavors.

I popped the cork on the I <3 CA red blend last. This was my favorite of the three wines. It has a nice jammy quality to it that became a little earthier as it opened, without much of a finish. At the $5 price point, that's acceptable. Some Tweople had a hard time finding this in their Fresh & Easies. I had to ask for it, as it lived at the end of one row about 50 feet from the rest of the wine. Glad I found it. I slurped at this with my precious Cambazola, and the flavors loved each other in my mouth.

This post was generously sponsored by Fresh & Easy. I left my house at 6:40 for the Fresh & Easy in Glassell Park, grabbed my wine and cheese, breezed through the self-check without a line and was home by 7:10. Easy summer breezy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jeon Ju

2716 Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

First off, many thanks to J. Gold for one of his last articles at LAWeekly, "60 Korean Dishes Every Angeleno Should Know".   I've referred to this article several times before heading over to K-Town. It led me to Jeon Ju for bibimbap, now I'm a repeat customer. I lived at the Dubarry in Koreatown for years, and never got to know the culinary landscape of the neighborhood the way I am getting to know it now. It helps that my husband loves Korean food and is always game to try a new hole in the wall or AYCE BBQ spot.  

K-Town is intense. Its heavy population density houses Korean families and the young partying set as well as plenty of Latinos and young hipsters who can't quite afford the rents in Los Feliz and Silverlake. Koreatown has the largest concentration of 24-hour businesses in all of California. That coupled with the number of busy drinking establishments makes it the perfect spot for a walkabout night on the town. We end up here at least once a month bouncing from place to place, meeting people, snacking and occasionally getting sucked into a karaoke room with someone we just met. Good times, folks.

Jeon Ju is a very casual little spot, open from lunch through to dinner, no booze. I've also ordered food to-go, pleased with the variety of banchan they pack in individual little containers in your plastic bag of deliciousness. I do kind of wonder how restaurants will deal with the new plastic bag ban in LA county. Will restaurants be subject to the ban? Wet take away food and leakages make paper bags seem nonsensical. I bird-walk. The banchan here is yummy. My favorites are the gelatinous white cubes with sesame sauce and the purple rice cakes two dishes over. Of course, I love kimchee in all its forms.

Bibimbap is a rice dish with a variety of vegetables such as spinach, zucchini, sprouts, mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots and I assume whatever might be on hand in the fridge. Possible proteins include an egg, beef, various fish, squid, pork, etc. Bibimbap has been a traditional Korean dish for a couple hundred years. A recipe for bibimbap is found in Siuijeonseo, an anonymous Korean cookbook from the late 19th century, considered the resource for researching traditional Korean foods.

This trip, D and I both ordered the Dor Sot bibimbap with beef...dolsot bibimbap comes sizzling in a stone bowl and continues to cook the entire time you are eating. Toward the bottom of the bowl, the rice is a solid crunchy mass with a satisfying crispiness. I like to add plenty of the umami-spicy hot sauce gochujang, then stir the veggies, seaweed, egg and beef around til it's completely mixed together and everything gets a chance to sizzle a little. The second best thing to eating from that sizzling stone pot is eating the leftovers later that same afternoon at home on the couch.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sunday Brunch Happiness: Bacon and Eggs Cups

There are blog posts about these little lovelies all over the Internet. Here is my own personal spin on a quick and easy weekend breakfast favorite chez FST.

Par cook bacon about 2 minutes, then line each muffin hole with one slice bacon. I use turkey bacon usually, but any bacon is good bacon in my opinion. Use a small coffee cup to cut out circles of bread to stuff down into the bottom of each hole. Here we have rye bread, we always have rye bread. But with bacon, egg and cheese any bread should be fine. Sometimes I make these with no bread.Plop in a little cheese. This particular Sunday I used tiny chunks of brie; I've also been known to use chevre, cheddar, whatever! Scramble eggs. Roughly one egg for each cup, or you can plop the egg unscrambled right into the pan. Scrambling gives you the opportunity to add more flavors, a little dairy, green onions, chipotle salt. It does use another bowl that you will later have to wash while wearing your pajamas. Just saying.

Once filled, put pan in 375˚ for about 20 minutes.

Ta da!
1829 West Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

Arami is publicized in a few places as one of the top sushi spots in Chicago. It was in our price point for the weekend (unlike Katsu) and I liked the things I read about Arami. Simple, clean sushi with a few signature dishes. No white washed college neighborhood metarolls. C, D and I gave it a Sunday evening whirl. We showed up with large appetites and deep thirst.

The much hailed Toro Tartar Bite. Toro, chive, Asian pear, caviar and house soy sauce. These are a nice opener, luscious but not overpowering.

Oysters of the day; a little chili, yuzu and salmon roe. You had me at yuzu.

This is the type of thing I normally avoid, but it was on my little mental list of "to try" items. Togarashi seared tuna with seaweed and a Meyer lemon dressing. It is nice and the creaminess wasn't overwhelming, but I don't think I would order it twice. Bear in mind, many would disagree.

This is where Arami excels. Beautifully cut fish partnered with subtlety. Hamachi with tiny mushrooms, a trace of truffle oil and radish sprouts. The truffle oil didn't overpower the flavor or velvety texture of the hamachi, the mushroom complemented and the the sprouts counterbalanced. Loved this.

Simple tuna maki. Crisp, warm nori.

Hamachi nigiri, a different cut.

Spicy tuna roll. This was an oopsie in the service.

Spicy hamachi maki. D used to hate hamachi. As his taste for sushi has evolved he has grown into a hamachi lover. Oopsie number two.

Shiro anago, white eel nigiri. I had never tried this (that I can recall, hello sake). It is beautiful, a quiet experience compared to unagi with kabayaki sauce. Yes, I know kabayaki is a method of prep for the eel we commonly eat in more run-of-the-mill sushi joints. But when I need that sauce, the one that covers the eel in savory sweetness, I buy kabayaki sauce in a little plastic bottle at Woori.

Spicy tuna I-don't-know-what. Oopsie number three.

The food was good. As you can see, not quite what I would call simplicity but almost. Definite nods at sushi trends for the masses without pandering. However, the service issues were plentiful enough that I wouldn't return. I made reservations many weeks in advance for an early dinner. Despite this (and a half full restaurant) we were ushered to the back patio, alone. Additionally, it appeared that our server was new. S/he consulted many times with another server working the front room. S/he was unfamiliar with sushi terminology. This is an issue when you order a spicy tuna hand-roll and it comes back as maki. You explain the mistake and it happens again with the spicy hamachi.  I wondered to myself if a hand-roll is colloquial to California sushi eaters until the "experienced" server came back to the patio, apologized and offered to order proper hand-rolls as well. By then we were full and ready to continue our foot bound journey back north. But I wasn't pleased with the service experience. Especially in a restaurant so bally-hoo'd.

 Luckily tonight I can head to Shibucho right down the street for sublime sushi and service. Yes, we might be a little spoiled.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Three Tastes: Cliff's Edge Mother's Day Weekend

It's been awhile since my press dinner at Cliff's Edge.  Having followed Chef Bailly from Petrossian to Fraiche, I was thrilled to have him in my own neighborhood. Also thrilled to see Silver Lake adopt a chef of note to add some polish to a neighborhood spot.  Since the press dinner I have been in three times with various folks to try more things on the menu, and my initial assessment holds true. Bailly elevates the menu with delicious dishes across the board retaining the same Mediterranean focus and approachable atmosphere. Three items from an al fresco pre-Mother's Day dinner.

Grilled pears, burrata, pomegranate vinaigrette.

Mom had the flat iron steak with arugula, basil, bleu cheese and a tomato panzanella. D has ordered this a couple times, it's a favorite.

Seared scallops, lebne, cauliflower, vadouvan, and a verde sauce.

A few tried and true items from the menu: chick pea fritters, chicken liver crostini, smoked trout rillettes, the skate wing (my favorite). Something new this week that I am continuing to obsess over is the crispy polenta with fried egg and mushrooms.  Try any and all of this with the Duende the glass or bottle.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Walkabout in Chicago March 2012

Funny how you get busy in life and work. Look up and it's been months since you've blogged despite the many fun experiences in your mental tank and camera just waiting to be re-explored. In March I visited my great friend C in her home town; she took me on several long walking tours during the four day weekend. Friday, we left the Water Tower neighborhood and rambled toward the Art Institute.

Crossing the Chicago River.

Early modernism; me of a zipper.

A beautiful early spring day. Blue skies, mild temps and the wind died down as we headed southward.

Fell in love with the Rock of Gibraltar relief by Alfonso Iannelli, who also worked on  Midway Gardens with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

The L.

Later that same weekend, walking northward from Water Tower toward Lincoln Park and Old Town.

C's parents live in the oldest standing neighborhood in Chicago. It managed to escape ruin during The Chicago Fire of the 1870's.

Even later that same weekend, as our time draws to a close.

Under the L.

We walked westward through trendy Wicker Park on Easter Sunday, shopping and noshing and sipping and chatting and gesticulating, even.

The mild winter and early spring had set the lilacs in bloom, which left this lilac lover shocked but not paralyzed. Lilacs in March? WTF! This is a Kodak moment, brought to you by iPhone.

Books. I could see myself inside this room. And I think the projection of myself as a Chicagoan was facilitated by the enjoyable weather. Realistically, Chicago weather scares me.

The last gasp of evening light, before dinner and the inevitable walk back to the hotel to pack and prep for Monday's flight.

Monday, March 26, 2012

IDGI: Rokuan vs. Ojiya: Sushi in the IE

I bounce around California a lot for work, many days I eat a home packed lunch sitting in an empty classroom or in the driver's seat of my car. Some days I actually eat at a table with knife and fork or chopsticks like a civilized human. This month I played two sushi restaurants in the Inland Empire against each other, one my long time favorite Rokuan and the other Yelp favorite Ojiya. I ordered exactly the same at both restaurants. Here's what I ate and what I thought about it.

14230 Chino Hills Pkwy
Chino Hills, CA 91709

I have been praising the wonders of Rokuan's ramen for a couple years now. I have also eaten sushi here a few times, loving their simplicity and freshness, the deftness of the cuts.

Nothing to disappoint from Rokuan. Crunchy cabbage salad with a dark umami-esque sesame dressing. Hotate and hamachi nigiri, the hamachi generously cut, the hotate looked like the entire scallop (rather than sliced in half) and neither  was over-riced. Spicy salmon handroll. I love how he loosely packs and wraps the seaweed, you can see that it doesn't even come to a point at the back, sort of laying slightly open. I like the balance of fish to rice in this handroll, it makes for easy eating and doesn't overwhelm the beautiful crunchy nori. The service can be a tiny bit on the chilly side at the sushi bar, friendlier if you take a table. I chalk it up to sushi genius behind the bar, because I find the simple sushi perfect in every way.

4183 Chino Hills Parkway
Chino Hills, CA 91709

Same exact lunch order a couple weeks later at Ojiya. An iceberg lettuce salad with ginger dressing that I have to say I was not keen on. The lettuce seemed to have been kept a little too close to freezing in the fridge because it had that slightly limp translucent quality, although it didn't seem not fresh. Iceberg browns so quickly when it's not fresh and this was very green. Very disappointed in the scallop sushi. I didn't look at a menu when I ordered, and the chef gave me no indication this would be a creamy bay scallop nigiri. It wasn't bad, but it's not my style. However, the scallop was generous and succulent. Regarding the hamachi. I know absolutely nothing about cutting fish for sushi and assume there are different schools with regard to the slicing. Ojiya slices theirs much thinner and longer than Rokuan, compare the photos. Ojiya also served the hamachi much colder, and I know I am right in thinking serving it slightly warmer delivers the flavor of the fish more effectively to your taste buds. The spicy salmon handroll was fine, although the generous scoop of fish made the nori a little soggy and messy to eat. Still, it was good.

Ojiya is always packed. I admit I don't 100% get the love for Ojiya. It's good, it's not great. I went by a couple times before getting to eat this lunch. The first time I got there 15 minutes after opening and there was a 20 minute wait. This week, my friend K got there before me to put our name in 5 minutes before they opened. I found the service friendly but on the slow side, and for some reason they seemed surprised we were going to sit at the sushi bar to "eat sushi?" I don't know, maybe I missed something in the translation of our request. Like Ojiya, Rokuan also gets busy as the lunch hour extends itself, and the single time I drove out for the amazing ramen on a Sunday night the joint was packed with Asian folk. We waited for a seat. Nevertheless, Ojiya seems to be a Chino Hills favorite, probably because of their more extensive menu and lunch specials. For me, hands down Rokuan is the favorite. When I go for sushi or ramen, I am not looking for 12 different kinds of rolls nor izakaya style side dishes (although I love these, too). However, there seems to be room for both kinds of restaurants in Chino Hills. I just know which one you will find me dining at on random weekday mornings at 11:35.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Tastes: Michael Mina Vegas Spring 2012

Michael Mina has always gotten a lot of love chez FST. I like that his restaurants feel luxurious but not in an over-the-top Roman bingeing and purging kind of a much more approachable "this restaurant could be in your hometown kind of way". Solid food and good service, I can honestly say I don't think I've ever had a sub-par experience. Dinner #1, both Friday and Saturday during New Year's Eve 2012 make-up weekend.

Nob Hill Tavern
MGM Grand

New England Crab & Lobster Rolls

Nob Hill has changed a lot since its early days, not for the worse. Dining is a little more casual and the price point is a little lower (although not much). These sweet little slider-esque baby New England style crab and lobster rolls were lots of fun with micro tarragon and just enough creamy mayo to smooth out the shellfish and sweet roll. Down the hatch.

 Duck Fat Fries

Instead of bread at Stripsteak, your server will start you off with a Mina-typical trio of duck fat French fries, cut narrow, fried crunchy and served with three sauces: ketchup, creamy horseradish and truffle aoili.

Hamachi Sashimi

Hamachi sashimi with white soy, little chips of browned garlic, and citrus greens. Every bite was perfection, and there were a lot of bites. This was generously plated.

Food images courtesy of iPhone and Instagram, Jackson photo courtesy of Masterpiece Me! As the iPhone cameras get better and better, my Nikon stays at home more and more often.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dinner #1 at Playa, Playah

7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

vodka martini (gasp)

We had an impromptu meal at Playa Saturday (dinner #1) and they really delivered. Playa is clearly the more casual but no less elegant sibling to Rivera. The decor has a similar sleekness but is less dark & moody. The interactiveness of the bar seating is enjoyable, great view of the kitchen and entertaining to watch the mixologists go to town. I have a couple negative things to say about the service at the bar, but instead I'll state what was positive: by the end of the meal we were loving our server and the 180° in attitude he showed us...recommending a dish to round out our meal and the perfect nightcap. 

bespoke cocktail: in the 'tenders hands

maize cake breakfast: 63˚ egg, truffle cheese espuma, exotic mushrooms, spinach

This was my favorite, I love a runny egg and I love truffle anything. But a light whipped truffle cheese with runny egg yolk? Mmm'hmm.

octo-palm: grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions

This light protein salad was great, it has a slightly tart flavor to the dressing. Tiny grilled tomatoes round out the acidity. The octopus is cooked perfectly, no overly chewy bits or otherwise. You know how octopus can be sometimes.

maize cake gambas; grilled shrimps, spinach, nitro mustard ice cream

This one is really fun. I love the flavors of shrimp and spinach with the crumbly nitro ice cream. The ice cream actually tastes like the sharp honey mustard you might find in a deli.

tamale chipotle: wild mushroom duxelle dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle Bearnaise

This dish is stunning. It was rec'd to us by our bartender/server, so I hadn't read the menu descriptor before we ate it. I couldn't figure out what was making the tamale dark, and was betting on black beans. It didn't taste of black beans, though, and the texture wasn't quite right, it was lighter than black been and masa would be mixed together. Mystery unraveled. Wild mushroom duxelle, one of the most heavenly concoctions created by humans. Mushrooms chopped finely and cooked til all the moisture has been cooked down and evaporated. Duxelle is usually used as the layer outside the pate but inside the pastry in a Beef Wellington. The beef was beautiful and cooked perfectly medium-rare, even D liked it, he who typically likes his beef cooked within a minute of jerky. But the star here for me is the chipotle Bearnaise sauce. Amaze.

The entire meal thrilled me, I might prefer the casual setting and service of Playa to Rivera, which to me is sometimes pretty fancy, yo, for a weeknight-no-occasion meal. Choices, it's nice to have Sedlar choices.