Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Learn, Forage, Taste

Did you know you can pick sage at a public park - for free? If you know where to find it and what it looks like, of course! But most of us think of foraging as a stone-age activity, except for the highly specialized art of wild mushroom foraging. I know of people who have foraged for nettles, but I never did nor knew how. Under the radar, the duo Urban Outdoor Skills and Transitional Gastronomy have taught small groups of people how and what to forage nearby and how to prepare not just edible, but gourmet dishes from the pickings.

The class meets at Hahamongna Park, just east of the 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge. When you enter the park, keep driving until you see the restroom building. The class meets at a picnic bench next to that building. Pascal Baudar of Urban Outdoor Skills then takes the students around to forage while Mia Wasilevich of Transitional Gastronomy stays behind to prepare lunch.

Until our foraging class, I had never heard of chickweed. The edible chickweed looks similar to purge, which isn't. The difference is that chickweed has pointy leaves, lighter green color, and fine hair and buds that look like bells. Its flowers are white with what looks like 10 petals but actually 5 split unto 2. To make distinguishing them easier, if you snap the stem, purge will release sap.

Chickweed is actually very nutritious and filled with vitamin c, calcium, and iron.

He showed us how to pick stinging nettles without getting pricked (thorn prick can cause skin irritation). They're edible after being blanched and can supposedly lower cholesterol. They make a nice sauce too, Rustic Canyon has a pasta dish with nettle pesto.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Coco Cafe: Coconut Water and Coffee? Yes!

Two hyped-up beverages meet in this carton package: Coffee and Coconut water!
It's true, Coco Cafe is a combination of coconut water - believed to be a source of plenty electrolytes and subsequently good for hydration (and hangovers) - and cafe latte which, for its virtues and despite its vices most of us cannot live without. As their packaging says: "Hydrate. Caffeinate."

I first saw this at a gym in Venice and was intrigued but didn't make the jump. Then, coincidentally, they sent me a case to review. OK, on to the drink. As you can see, it looks pretty much like a Starbucks bottled frappuccino.

Does it taste weird, you ask? Actually, no! I found that it tastes predominantly like cafe latte (that's not too sweet). The taste of coconut water subtly comes out at the end. I liked the coconut water aftertaste, but if you're still worried about the combo, don't. It's just like a cafe latte, but it's better for you and it's made using fair trade coffee.

Coco Cafe is now available at the SoCal Whole Foods markets and Vicente Foods, among others (and apparently certain gyms). You can also buy it online.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tsujita LA: Artisan Noodles and Izakaya

This small, new restaurant on Sawtelle got a false start before finally making big waves in the LA food scene. While the sign clearly says "Tsujita LA: Artisan Noodles", they initially did not have noodles - they apparently were still working on perfecting that part. Now, they only serve their noodles (ramen and tsukemen) for lunch, and at dinner service it turns into an izakaya. Even so, almost immediately after, the twitterverse was filled with talks of the tsukemen.

At Tsujita, the tsukemen, which means "dipping noodles", is a bowl of slippery, chewy noodles and a bowl of thick, rich broth made by simmering bonito, sardines, pork bones, chicken bones, and vegetables for 12 hours. The fishy bonito flavors predominate and the richness can stick to your ribs - both of which make this tsukemen unforgettable.

Pictured is the Ajitama Tsukemen which is served with a boiled egg and costs $10.95, or $13.95 with chashu.

Originally the sign instructs you to eat 1/3 of the noodles with the broth, then mix in shichimi and eat another 1/3, and lastly to squeeze lime into it and mix it again (traditionally it is served with sudachi, but I guess you can't get that in LA). For some reason, they had taped off the 2nd instruction for the shichimi.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No More Roxolana for Me (yet again!)

***UPDATE: The owner of Roxolana emailed to apologize and said that my photo was set to be used on Yelp by mistake, and that he had uploaded it before the first incident. ***

Some of you may be familiar with the incident where Ukrainian restaurant, Roxolana, in Pasadena used my photo without permission or credit for their Groupon deal a while back. I asked Groupon to take the photo down, and emailed the owner which resulted in a ridiculous email exchange (documented below).

Well, I thought that was that. But NO! This morning a fellow blogger told me that she saw my photo used by Roxolana yet again, this time for their Yelp deal! Here's a screen capture of the deal page:

This was my photo on flickr, uploaded in July 2011
Chicken Kiev cross section

The photo on Yelp was apparently uploaded by an "Alex R." who has no review and 3 uploaded photos, all of which are of Roxolana. I mean, seriously, once was annoying enough, but to do it AGAIN??

Pig: A Restaurant - A Foodie Parody

You know you love to make fun of people - foodies, bloggers, ourselves! Now there's a whole comedy show making fun of the restaurant world, which is playing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in LA on Thursdays January 26 and February 2.

Pig: A Restaurant is written by Leila Cohan-Miccio. The premise is apparently the opening party for the "most pork-obsessed restaurant in Brooklyn" (I already know many people who can relate to that ...). I don't know my comedians/comedy writers, but I know Gothamist, Eater, Grubstreet, and Saveur have sang praises for it. And hey, it's only $5 to see the show! So why not, right?

Here are the deets:
Tuesday Jan 26 and Feb 2, 8pm
UCB Theatre
5919 Franklin Ave. Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 908-8702

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Durian, from Indonesia to Singapore

Among all the sticky fingers and durian burps came the anticipated question: Should we get another one?
Our tummies were full, we seemed to vacillate but we all knew the answer: Yes.

Fruits. They're what you grab at grocery stores and farmer's markets, to be eaten as snacks or accompaniments to your meal. Garnishes, palate cleansers. But not durian. In Singapore, durian sellers have set up tables and chairs. They will open the fruits up for you to enjoy right there and then.

Butter Durian
This practice is spreading to part of Indonesia, too, like in Medan. I think this is partly for two reasons. One is that the stinky fruit is banned from public transportation like MTA and buses in Singapore, so it's harder to buy and take them home. Second, unlike berries that you'd eat as snacks, when you eat durian, you want to eat them.

You may think all durians are alike, but once you land in Singapore you'll realize you're wrong. There are as many varieties of durian as there are in the family of oranges/clementines/tangerines! One of the more popular is the butter durian (pictured above), smaller but sweeter than the durian monthong from Thailand. A box like the one above was S$10. The durian sellers can also tell you which ones are sweet vs "bitter" (they're not really bitter but has more of a subtle bitterness or more fermented taste underneath the sweetness). How? I have no idea until I eat them, but somehow they can. This isn't variety dependent but is a characteristic of each fruit.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cebicheria Erizo (Tijuana, Mexico)

Chef Javier Plascencia from Tijuana can be likened to Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles, dominating the Tijuana dining scene with numerous restaurants. Capping off the weekend-long Baja Culinary trip this past year was a tasting at one of these restaurants, Cebicheria Erizo, specializing in fresh seafood (including, of course, ceviches). Seafood from fish to octopus to clams are displayed in refrigerated cases as you enter; daily specials written on the blackboard above it. For our visit, though, we left it up to Chef Plascencia to serve us whatever he wanted.


To whet our appetite was a shot of leche de tigre with cucumber, fish jerky, and sea urchin (erizo de mar, the restaurant's namesake) hidden at the bottom.
Uni ShooterSea urchin

Following up was a bowl of lightly spicy callo de hacha, Baja scallops with chicharrones
Instead of scooping up ceviche with tortilla chips, why not take it to the next level with chicharrones? Better yet, can we replace salad croutons with chicharrones from now on?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Common Grains Soba Pop-Up

Have you ever had fresh, hand kneaded, hand cut soba? If not, get to the Common Grains soba pop-up shop at Breadbar while you can, because it is nothing like other soba you've ever had.

Sonoko Sakai is one of LA's soba masters, but you'd normally only be able to taste her soba if you take one of her soba making classes (which I have and highly recommend). Now, as part of a Japanese educational program, Common Grains, she and another soba chef, Mutsuko Soma are serving up soba at BreadBar in Century City until January 22.

Juuwari Soba
The soba here is made with 80% buckwheat flour (organically grown and stone-milled) and 20% wheat flour, but you can also try the Juwari soba made with 100% buckwheat flour. Kneading pure buckwheat flour without no binder is that much harder, trust me.

I recommend trying either the zaru soba ($12) or juwari soba ($13.50, pictured above) so you can fully taste just how much better the soba is here, but understandably it is still cold out and you might want a bowl of something warm. Get one of the seiro soba, served with a bowl of warm soup that you can dip your soba into.
Pork Seiro Soba

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mollusk Heaven at Papa Kerang (Medan, Indonesia)

When one thinks of food in Medan, images of kwetiauw (flat rice noodles), spicy Padang rice, and noodles will invariably pop up. But what about a dinner filled with bivalves?
The first thing I noticed when I got to Papa Kerang in Medan was the row of trays, filled with various clams, snails, and scallops adorning the front of the "kitchen", none of them frozen.


Papa Kerang ("Papa Clams") is what we call a "kaki lima" in Indonesia, literally meaning "five feet" (not the distance measurement). It refers to cheap eateries without brick and mortar, looking more like tents on the roadside or parking lots of other businesses.
Here, the concept of your meal is simple. The clams you ordered are boiled and served on a plate, to be eaten with a special sauce.

As common in Indonesia, clams are eaten with a mixture of chili sauce, sweet soy sauce, lime, and crushed peanuts. Papa Kerang gives you a decent sized bowl of the sauce, with a generous helping of the crushed peanuts (and you can always get more).
Other than the normal clams above, they had kerang bulu ("furry clams"). I'm not really sure what the Latin or English name for these are, since top google results for the Indonesian name lead to an adult video site ...
Regardless, these were a favorite among many with their big and plump meat.
Kerang Bulu

Friday, January 13, 2012

La Mar Cebicheria (New York)

The first time I visited La Mar in Lima, Peru, I fell in love. With ceviche, with causa, with Peruvian rice. We loved it so much we went back for a last meal before we left Peru. I was very excited when La Mar in San Francisco opened. Alas, I was disappointed - I think the service (and lack thereof) contributed to my bad impression (I received the wrong ceviche and when I told his waiter, his response was "ok". No apology and no correction was made).

I gave La Mar in the US another try with the New York location, where the kitchen is managed by executive chef Victoriano Lopez who was Gaston Acurio's right hand man for almost twenty years. Unlike the casual, outdoor Lima location, the New York La Mar is lavish and posh.

We started with the Cebiche tasting, pre-set to consist of three types: elegance, popular, and nikei cebiche) - $28

Ceviche sampler
The "elegance" was a cebiche with warm water fluke, red onions, Peruvian corn, and yam in a "leche de tigre of five elements" - whatever the five elements are. The "popular" had salmon, shrimp, and Spanish day-boat octopus in a green leche de tigre with crispy calamari. The "nikei" is reminiscent of an ahi poke, made with yellowfin tuna, red onion, cucumber, daikon, avocado, and nori in a tamarind leche de tigre.

All three of the ceviches were very good, with all of us having different favorites (mine was the "popular"). On the other hand, for the price the portions were really small. Since there were four of us, it was definitely not enough and we had to get a full order. I wanted to try something different so we ordered the Limeno cebiche (fluke, Spanish day boat octopus, calamari, scallops, blue shrimp, in aji limo leche de tigre) - $19
Limone Cebiche
The seafood used was really fresh and unlike many ceviches I had in LA where the leche de tigre is so tart, we even drank the ones here by the spoonfuls even when the fish was finished.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Singapore Slinging at The Long Bar, Raffles Hotel (Singapore)

The Singapore Sling is now more than just the country's national drink. Most of the Singapore Slings served around town are made with mixers, and sometimes even from dispensers. Souvenir shops sell Singapore Sling mixers and even Singapore Sling flavored chocolates. The drink was first created by a Hainanese-Chinese bartender at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, Ngiam Tong Boon - supposedly in 1915. A famous cocktail by a Chinese bartender! I never had the chance to come here when I visited Singapore with my family, so since I'm spending half the day solo, I decided that I'm due for it.


The historic Raffles Hotel is a beautiful space, a respite from the busy, noisy streets of Singapore.

You can take the elevator, escalator, or stairs up to the second floor, where the Long Bar is now located. The bar was busy at 4 in the afternoon, but even though the tables were full, the fans slowly waving on the ceilings gave it a relaxing atmosphere.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dog Haus Biergarten (Pasadena)

When one thinks of typical American food, perhaps what comes to mind are burgers and hot dogs. With "gourmet burger" places opening all over the country, hot dogs are trying to follow. Dog Haus in Pasadena has been pretty popular and gotten good reviews with its 1/4 lb all-beef dog on grilled King's Hawaiian bread, and they recently realized how much better dogs would be when paired with beer. Then, Dog Haus Biergarten was born.

The biergarten took over the space that was (for a short while) Point 08 - a larger space than one would expect from a hot dog place, complete with outdoor seating and full bar. I was invited to visit the biergarten, but I actually had never visited the original Dog Haus before, so of course I had to try make sure to try the dogs.

We ended up trying three dogs between two people.
Our favorite was actually the first dog my friend ordered: The Grand Slam (smoked bacon, egg, tater tots) - $5.95

The Grand Slam was indeed a grand slam. I mean, everything is just better with fried egg, bacon, and fried potatoes. I tried a bite of my friend's and didn't really want to give it back! As for the dogs, I liked the browned edges of the grilled bread. Fellow blogger Destination Eats said before that good hot dogs are all about the "snap", and I think the ones here had a nice one. Not that I'm a dog expert.

Probably encouraged by the previous success, my friend ordered another dog with eggs. This time it's a new addition to the menu, the Lumberjack with scrambled cheddar eggs, 2 strips of smoked pepper bacon, and maple syrup ($5.95)
This one pretty much tasted like breakfast to us. Pretty good, but we preferred the Grand Slam.

I wanted to try their new Old Town Dog with caramelized onions, sauteed spicy peppers, Haus chipotle mayo, and Cotija cheese ($5.95)
I should've known better than to order one with spicy chili peppers, but I love cotija cheese. Turns out, this dog was too spicy for me!

If you still need some small bites after a dog, they have burger sliders for $1.50 each, though the meat was pretty small and it lacks toppings. Well, what can you expect for $1.50? But I'd rather spend more and get a real burger or dog.

I do recommend getting the Tater tots ($1.95) though. I thought it was a pretty good price for a good portion of crispy taters.
The Biergarten, unlike the old Doghaus, has a full bar. Since I was there during a workday lunch, I decided to go with a soda. They offer some interesting bottled soda ($3 each). I got a Kutztown Birch Beer and my friend got a Vanilla Cream soda.
Dog Haus Biergarten seems to be a pretty good place to get an inexpensive meal in Old Town. I didn't get a chance to check out their beer list or cocktails. They kept the same mixologists as Point 08 which also meant they kept most of the cocktails on the old list, but soon I'll be there to check out their list of 20 beers.

Dog Haus Biergarten
93 E Green St
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 683-0808
Dog Haus Biergarten on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: this visit was hosted.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Stanton Social (New York)

The lounge on the second floor of The Stanton Social turns into a hopping party at night. I don't usually go to these types of places for the food, but The Stanton Social was featured on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate for their French Onion Soup Dumplings. French onion soup what? Yes, dumplings.

The kitchen at The Stanton Social is helmed by Executive Chef Neill Howell and Chef/Partner Chris Santos, and their menu definitely looks much more promising than other lounge-y types.

Of course, we had to try the French Onion Soup Dumplings ($12)

French Onion Dumplings
(sorry for the flash. It was impossible to take photos without it!)
The dumpling is covered with melted gruyere and topped with croutons. Bite the chewy dumplings and hot french onion soup will come spurting out. It's not "the best thing i ever ate" but it was pretty damn good and addictive. I'm also bookmarking Habeas Brulee's recipe for it. Who knows, perhaps one day I'll actually attempt to recreate it.

The cocktails ($13 each), while couldn't stand up to Milk and Honey's which were still fresh on my mind, were pretty good and interesting. The Blood Orange Jalapeño Margarita is made with jalapeño-infused Milagro Reposado, blood orange juice, fresh lime, and Cointreau. Even though vodka has a bad rap among cocktail enthusiasts these days, I still enjoyed the Basil-Lime Gimlet made with Belvedere Vodka, muddled basil, lemon syrup, and fresh lime (I'm curious if it'll be better with gin though).
The Stanton also features some locally distilled liquors. Try the Brooklyn Lemonade made with Brooklyn Gin, lemon syrup, lemon juice, muddled cucumber, and ginger beer.

OK, moving on to more of the food.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Of Rice and Soba: "Common Grains", An Upcoming Delicious Education Program

Know what makes good food even better? Insight into the culture and what goes into its making. The upcoming Common Grains events will provide just that for Japanese grains, including Japanese rice and soba.

The Common Grains program will kick off with an onigiri making contest at the Japanese American National Museum’s annual Oshogatsu festival. The contest is part of the museum’s New Year celebration of the Year of the Dragon.
Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Sunday, Jan 8, 2012. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Then, you can try delicious artisanal soba at the Common Grains Soba Pop-Up Restaurant and Sake Bar at BREADBAR Century City.
These aren't your run of the mill soba, but one made by artisan soba makers Sonoko Sakai and Mutsuko Soma. The soba is hand made using freshly stoned and milled buckwheat. I've participated in Sonoko's soba making class before, and trust me, her soba is nothing like you've ever had before (unless you've had them in Japan).
BREADBAR Century City, 10520 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067. 
Tuesday, Jan 10 – Thursday, Jan 19, 2012. 5-10 p.m.

After having her soba, you're going to want to make them yourselves. Well, you can attend the Common Grains Artisan Soba Demonstration and Tasting at Mitsuwa Marketplace, where guests will also have the opportunity to purchase fresh soba and homemade dipping sauces that can be prepared at home.
Mitsuwa Marketplace, 21515 S. Western Ave., Torrance, CA 90501
Thursday, January 26, 2012 – Sunday, January 29, 2012, demonstrations at 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.
No cost to attend the soba demonstration, $18 for fresh soba for two with homemade dipping sauces

There's also the Soba and Rice Workshops at Tortoise General Store
The workshops will showcase different preparations of rice and soba for guests to learn how to cook healthy, simple Japanese meals at home.
Tortoise General Store1208 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291
The workshops will take place on multiple dates:
Saturday, Jan 21, 2012 / Sunday, Jan 22, 2012 / Saturday, Feb 18, 2012 / Sunday, Feb 19, 2012. 
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
COST: $65 pp for the two-hour workshops
RSVP to Tortoise General Store at 310.314.8448

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011's Most Memorable Meals, Dishes, and Desserts

Happy New Year!
This may be the 100th "best of 2011" lists you've seen by now. Well, here's my list of the most memorable experiences and tastes I had this past year! What's on your list? What do I need to try this year?

Most Memorable Meals:
1. FIG's Table-to-Farm dinner at McGrath Farms

Beet and Triple Creme Goat Cheese

2. The Aviary's Kitchen Table experience in Chicago

Most Memorable Dishes
1. Quesa Taco at Tacos Los Salceados (Tijuana, Mexico)
Quesa Taco

2. Bihun Bebek (Duck Noodle Soup) at Bihun Bebek Asie (Medan, Indonesia)
Bihun Bebek

3. Peking Duck from WP24
Peking Duck

4. Blue Corn Muffins from Playa - or are these considered desserts?
5. Squid ink pasta with uni and caviar from Petrossian (Beverly Hills)
Squid Ink Fettucine, Uni, Caviar

Most Memorable Desserts
1. Buckwheat waffle at King's Row Gastropub (Pasadena)
Buckwheat Waffles

2. Chocolate gelato at Grom (Malibu)
Grom gelato

3. Banana cream pie at Random Order Coffeehouse (Portland, OR)
Banana Cream Pie

4. Coconut panna cotta with guava soup, caramelized pineapples at Scarpetta
Scarpetta Coconut Panna Cotta

5. Eating durian on the roadside with my family in Medan, Indonesia.
Durian Medan

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