Monday, February 27, 2012

Cucina Enoteca (Irvine, CA)

Cucina Enoteca is the new restaurant at Irvine Spectrum, the second venture of Cucina Urbana in San Diego. The decor in the large space varied from a rustic patio, a high ceiling with caged bulbs in the dining room, and abstract painting in one section of the wall.

Cucina Enoteca
Cucina Enoteca has an adjoining wine store, where you can pick out wines at retail price and pay minimum corkage (on Sundays, you can get free corkage for any bottle over $20 that you buy here).
The kitchen is now headed by Chef Lauren "Lulu" DeRouen (formerly of Pinot Provence). She wasn't in the kitchen the night I was there so I ordered instead of having the kitchen send out stuff. They did anyway!
The kitchen sent out a trio of vasi : ceci bean hummus with piquillo jam, burrata with roasted garlic confit, and duck rillette with apricot mustard.
All three were great - I also enjoyed combining the burrata with the duck rillette together. The fresh, creamy burrata is made by DiStefano Cheese in Baldwin Park (the same one they have at Stella Rossa Pizza).

I didn't realize they were sending out the burrata vasi, so I had ordered the burrata and speck ‘caprese’ salad, with pickled pear, arugula, candied pecan, fried shallot, and sherry vinaigrette.
Burrata Salad
Well, I didn't really mind more burrata, and this one was great especially with the pear.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

March 8: Planned Parenthood Food Fare (and 2011 recap)

Planned Parenthood has been in some controversial news lately and it seems like more than ever they really need our support! Well, the annual PPLA Food Fare is returning for the 33rd year on March 8th - an easy way for you to give support while enjoying yourself!

The event is divided into a Day Session (10:30 AM - 2:00 PM, $150) and an Evening Session (6:30 PM - 9:30 PM, $225). The proceeds, of course, go towards supporting their various programs including health care services - half of which are screenings and prevention for cancer and STDs.

This year's Chef of the Year is Suzanne Goin so naturally you can expect AOC, Lucques, and Tavern to be at the Food Fare, along with 150 others including Craft, Clementine, and Border Grill.

At last year's event I discovered some great desserts including a lovely spread from La Provence Patisserie and Cafe...


this amazing chocolate bourbon cake from Immaculate Confections (weird name, but they make all liquor cakes, which I can definitely stand behind)
Bourbon Cake

Joe Miller from Bar Pintxo and Joe's of course had his big pan of paella, and Momed brought out my favorite duck shawarma.
PaellaMomed Duck Shwarma

I also liked this event because they had a number of vendors selling things like vintage bow ties, and their silent auction had probably the best item I had ever seen in a silent auction: a complete set of Mad Men Barbie Dolls!

Cafecito Organico
I was just on my way out when I ran into some bloggers who told me that Cafecito Organico was hiding in the back! We had some great cappuccino (spiked with some great tequila from a vendor nearby ...)

This year's PPLA Food Fare will be at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on March 8. You can buy your tickets (or if you can't make the event you can make a donation) here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Haven Gastropub (Pasadena, CA)

Haven Gastropub had become a favorite in Orange County, and it recently opened a second location in Old Town Pasadena, complete with a (future) brewery. I was recently invited to a media tasting and had a six course paired meal that went beyond the image I had in mind of a "gastropub." Sure, there were beer food, like the beef cheek poutine pictured below, but there were much more.


Haven Brewery
The brewery part of Haven is encased in glass so you can see the stills. They weren't operating when I was there since they were still gearing up, but hopefully that will happen soon. In the meantime, they have plenty of great beers from other breweries on tap!

When I arrived, I didn't realize I was going to have my whole meal paired, so I ordered a beer to start off with: an Ommegang Aphrodite, which is a fruit beer made with raspberry and beer. It's not a sweet beer but it certainly is fruity.
They also have cocktails that are riffs of old classics, like this Walnut Manhattan. I found the cocktails to be a bit unbalanced, though. I'd stick with the beers!
Walnut Manhattan
The first course was something I expected from a gastropub: Mac n' Cheese with black truffles, gruyere, fontina, parmesan. This was paired with Bacchus sour ale.
Mac n Cheese
This was a good version of mac n cheese, with a nice crispy crust and rich creamy cheese. I love the smell of fontina and black truffles.
The sour ale, Bacchus was great. It was not too sour and was pretty light.

There were also a trio of house marinated olives (the black olives were my favorites).

Next is the Pork Rillette - "confiture de cochon" served in a mason jar, house mustard, artisan bread.
These two were paired with Point the Way IPA from the newly opened Golden Road Brewery.
Pork Rillette
Pork rillete made in pork fat. Rich, with a nice (kind of fiber-y) texture.

Moving to the lighter side of the menu with Hiramasa Crudo - ruby red grapefruit, fresno chili, pickled shallot, micro peppercress, pink salt, arbequina oil
Paired with St. George Gin Fizz
Hiramasa Crudo
I loved the hiramasa crudo. The fish was fresh and meaty, the flavors lightly sweet and tart from the grapefruit. There was a crunchiness from chili (which was not too spicy) and also from the pink salt. I found the gin fizz, like the manhattan earlier, a bit unbalanced.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Soba-Ya + Common Grains Soba Pop-up (Torrance, CA)

After having Sonoko Sakai's hand cut soba at her soba making class and the Common Grains pop-up at BreadBar, I just had to have them again. Luckily, Common Grains is doing another pop-up at Soba-Ya in Torrance until February 21!

It seems a bit funny for me - a soba pop-up at a soba restaurant, but Soba-Ya, who also makes their own soba (but doesn't hand cut them, it's not a scalable operation) is newly opened and is eager to work with Common Grains. There are only two of Sonoko's handcut soba on the special menu, so we also ordered some of Soba-Ya's soba.

One of the handcut soba option is the Teuchi Arabiki Soba with soy bonito dipping sauce and pecan dipping sauce ($12) - a cold soba with two dipping sauces. I've had the pecan dipping sauce during my soba making class with Sonoko. It was excellent and I highly recommend trying it, but since I've had it I decided to try the other dish:
Premium Mushroom Seiro Soba, white truffle oil, bonito dipping sauce ($16)


The truffle oil smell is light. The hand cut soba slippery and chewy. As always, just really, really good.

All tables get a small bowl of fried soba "chips" to snack on.

I ran into Food GPS and we all sat together and shared some appetizers.
Agedashi Tofu
Agedashi tofu

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Los Angeles Mag's The Food Event 2011 Recap

Hey folks, Kung Food Panda here. I’m back, and again have the privilege of guest blogging on GP’s site. Some of you may remember me from such post as the Chocolate Salon a few years back

LA Mag The Food Event 2011
With Gourmet Pigs out of town, she generously gave me her passes to document the LA Magazine’s The Food Event, located at the beautiful Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu. I’ve attended this fantastic event in the previous two years, and loved it both times. The location of Saddlerock Ranch was serene and beautiful, and the food, well, there are definitely a lot of things to try during the event. As shown in some of the pictures below, I definitely had some tasty bites. 
LA Mag The Food Event 2011

One in particular was the Flan de Elote from Playa Rivera. My main regret was not going back for seconds and third of this flan. Simply, my favorite thing I ate that day. 

LA Mag The Food Event 2011

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February: Tamal Festival at La Sandia (Santa Monica)

"Tamal." It's a Mayan word meaning ‘wrapped’. This traditional Latin American dish is also one of my favorites, made of masa (usually stuffed with chicken, pork, or cheese) then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed.

Apparently, Mexican tradition states that on Dia de Reyes (Day of the Kings), people partake on special bread which may contain a hidden doll. Just like King Cakes in New Orleans tradition, the person who gets the doll hosts a party! In the Mexican tradition, this party is a Tamal Party in February. Well, seems like Richard Sandoval found the doll, since he is holding a Tamal Festival throughout February at La Sandia.

During this Tamal Festival, Sandoval explores the diverse regional varieties of tamales throughout Mexico. I was invited to a media tasting recently and, as it turns out, there are way more tamale variations that I had anticipated, and they go way beyond the stuffing and the salsa!

Kumquat Cocktail
While waiting for the others to arrive, we were served a refreshing (and strong) welcome cocktail made with kumquats and prosecco.

Chips were served with a freshly made guacamole served in a moljacete. I enjoyed the guacamole so much I didn't want them to take it away. But I suppose I should save room for the dinner.
Our first course is good indication just how creatively they have used tamal in Mexico (just a note, we got tasting size portions during this dinner, not the full size you will get when you order):
Torta de Tamal Mexico City
Mexico City style sandwich, chicken tamale, lettuce, tomato, onion, chipotle aioli, salsa verde
Tamal Torta
Yep, carbs sandwiched in carbs! I liked the buns which were almost like biscuits, but lighter. I had thought this might be bland with both buns and corn masa tamal, but there was enough shredded chicken inside the tamal and it was pretty flavorful with the chipotle aioli.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pacific Standard Time at Playa. Food and Drink as Art.

Cooking is an art, but now food, cocktails, and art are really coming together with the "secret" Pacific Standard Time menu at Playa and Rivera. This special menu is part of the huge collaboration throughout Southern California that is Pacific Standard Time, celebrating the birth of the LA art scene and the art movement in LA from 1945 to 1980. Chef John Sedlar from Playa and Rivera told them that they needed to include cuisine as part of this effort, and so the PST menu was born. From now until the end of March, just ask the staff for the PST menu - a three course prix fixe menu served on prints of iconic PST artwork.

I was invited to check out the special menu last week at Playa in West Hollywood.
The first course is the Crudo assortment served on "Fish Platter" by Beatrice Wood. The dish consisted of "Fresh and smoked seafood with kumquats, fresno chiles, lime, red seaweed."

Fish Platter
Just like the art scene, Sedlar explores the diversity of seafood from a lightly flavored hamachi with kumquats to scallops with Vadouvan (curry powder) and seared tuna with crispy seaweed.
Seared tuna

Thursday, February 9, 2012

MochiCream (Torrance, CA)

As you may know, my mom sells her own handmade mochi in Indonesia, so when I found out that MochiCream, a popular Japanese mochi brand, had opened up shop inside the Mitsuwa Market in Torrance, I thought I should try them. You know, for "research".

Mochi Cream
MochiCream does not sell ice cream mochi like Mikawaya. The mochis here are filled with bean paste and whipped cream, but they are all made in Japan and shipped frozen.
Mochi Cream Torrance

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Brunch at Nopa (San Francisco)

Brunch is apparently as big in San Francisco as it is in Los Angeles, and there are plenty of great choices (which fill up right away). One of the places offering a more unique menu is Nopa.

Eggs are a staple brunch item for me so I went with the Curry spiced sausage, poached eggs, green lentils, kale, delicata squash, and coriander yogurt ($14)

The casing for the curry sausage gave a nice snap, and the sausage was flavorful. I also liked the runny egg yolk over the kale and lentils. My dish suddenly pales in comparison after trying my friend's dish, though:

Chile rubbed pork, fresh shelling beans, hominy, collard greens, and a black pepper biscuit ($14)
Chile Rubbed Pork
This was a hearty bowl packed with a lot of strong flavors. Tender chile rubbed pork? Intensely earthy collard greens? All check. It wasn't a dish I would've ordered at brunch (because it didn't have eggs), so I was really glad my friend did and I got to taste it.

Our other friend got the grass-fed Hamburger with housemade pickles, and herbed french fries ($13)

For part of dessert, we had a small order of the Custard French Toast, caramelized apples and maple butter ($6)
French Toast

It was a very buttery French Toast, but I could've used more apples. Luckily our other dessert was the Rome Beauty Apple Tarte Tatin, sweet creme fraiche ($8)
Apple Tarte Tatin
I always love a good apple tart tatin. This one could've had more flaky pastry, but the coolness of the creme fraiche made up for it.

It was overall quite a good brunch and the food came out in a timely manner despite being so busy (I'm sure they've gotten it down by now). When you're bored of the standard eggs benedicts and omelettes, try this place out.

560 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 864-8643
Nopa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

FRIDA Restaurant Group Brings Casa Azul Cantina to Westwood

With all the new restaurants popping up in the past year, Westwood is looking to be a pretty good place to dine. One of the newest addition is Casa Azul Cantina from the FRIDA Restaurant Group. Frida in Beverly Hills has been a popular destination since it opened in 2002, introducing westsiders to more than tacos and burritos. UCLA students and staff alike can now be grateful for a Mexican place within walking distance that's not Acapulco (even if they all have to admit they've enjoyed the $1 margaritas there ..).

Casa Azul takes its name (and decor) from Frida Kahlo's blue house Coyoacán, and many of the items from Frida make their appearance here as well.

Tamarind Margarita
Speaking of margaritas, I was happy to find tamarind margarita on the menu, even if it's frozen blended! ($9)

Prefer them shaken? Try the Matador Special ($10) made with fresh muddled cucumber, agave, tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice. If you like it spicy, the jalapenos in the "El Diablo" will give you the kick you want.

Matador Special
The aren't martini-sized drinks either, the glasses they used were actually really big (and heavy).

Shrimp appetizers abound; I prefer the Gambas al Ajillo (fresh shrimp prepared with olive oil, garlic, guajillo chile, and lime juice) to the Camarones Aguachile. I've only had camarones aguachile with raw shrimp before, and even though the sauce was good here I thought the shrimp was overcooked. In contrast, they were tender in the gambas al ajillo dish.
Garlic Shrimp


Friday, February 3, 2012

STARS of Santa Barbara Wine Tasting

Learn About Wine is the one responsible for many great wine events and tastings in LA throughout the year, including the recent STARS of Santa Barbara held at The Peninsula Hotel. Ian Blackburn of LAW had gathered quite the lineup for the event (from Santa Barbara area and beyond). There was too much to taste without spitting - but I have a hard time spitting good wine...

It was impossible for me to try everything due street parking time limit and my liver, but here are some highlights, from old favorites to new discoveries. Being a new wine making region, you can find diverse varietals and styles from Santa Barbara wines.

Palmina from the Lompoc "Wine Ghetto" produces some white of the Italian varieties, including Arneis, Tocai Friulano, and Malvasia Bianca. For the quality, they are quite inexpensive at $12-18 per bottle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Le Bon Garçon, Trés Bon Caramels

Truth is, while I love the taste of caramel, I don't usually go for caramel chews. Why? They're usually either hard or really sticky and I have a hard time cleaning my teeth after. I never really enjoyed eating caramel until I met these babies ... Le Bon Garçon!

My friend got them at a bakesale last year and said that they were amazing. Recently, they sent me a box of the caramels so I can try their new, limited time flavor, Caramour. Both the name and the pretty box are perfect for a Valentine's gift, don't you think?

In the box were bags of their four flavors: Salted, Macadamia Nut, Mango-Passion, and Caramour. No hardened, sticky, chewy caramels in this box; Chef Justin Chao's creations are absolutely soft and creamy, even a week after. Now, oftentimes with "flavored caramels" you can barely taste the flavors, but not so here. You get bits of coarse sea salt in the salted caramel, the mango-passion is noticeably fruity and tart, and so is the Caramour, made with one of my favorite fruits: blood orange. As the fruit itself is seasonal, so are the Caramour caramels, so get them while you can.

In light of the upcoming "holiday", if you're tired of sending/receiving chocolate this Valentine's, try sending some Bon Garçon caramels! (Note that the last order for guaranteed V-day delivery is February 7)

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