Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring Shrubs and Bacon at Villains Tavern

You would never stumble upon Villains Tavern just walking around downtown LA, as it's hidden in a pretty desolate part of downtown near the arts district. You'd likely come across signs of a shoot or taping as you get close, but when I found it I loved the ambiance. The indoor bar is fairly small with little seating, but this is LA and outdoor seating is where it's at, especially when there's live music (as there frequently is here).

The spring menu is divided into two section: The Garden and The Shrubbery. The Shrubbery contains all the drinks made with shrub (aged liqueur made with vinegar). I noted it was now a thing and popping up all over, but this was the first bar I encountered that had a whole section dedicated to shrubs.
The Venus Flytrap ($12) is made with Milagro Reposado, apricot orange muscat shrub, fresh lime juice, sea salt, and orange oils. The shrub was made using orange muscat vinegar and cane sugar.

The head bartender said that he would suggest this cocktail for those who like margaritas but wanted to venture out.
The Garden section also has the Autumn crocus ($12), what the bar calls "the ultimate spicy Margarita" with reposado tequila, agave, muddled mango, chili (Tapatio), lime, and salt. The Autumn Crocus had suck a kick to it, though, that I personally thought it was more adventurous than the Flytrap.

I also liked the White Snakeroot ($13) made with Black Bush, Cardamaro, Rosemary and strawberry aged balsamic shrub

Aged strawberry balsamic is apparently the easiest shrub to make, but making the cocktail is hard because of balance. Just an excess drop of the balsamic shrub would throw the whole thing off.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kiyokawa's New Sashimi-centric Omakase

Kiyokawa had been on my to-try list for some time since Jonathan Gold loved it so much, but I had sort of forgotten about this little place in Beverly Hills and stored it in the back of my mind. I recently dug it out and made it a point to finally go.

There are two omakase options at Kiyokawa, a full omakase (kaiseki) for $78 or a sushi-only omakase for $48. As I sat down and read the omakase menu there were things like miso black cod and other cooked items, but then they told me to ignore the menu. They had just started a new omakase menu and it was completely different than what was written. They recently changed the omakase menu to be more sashimi-focused rather than cooked dishes. Sounds even better to me.

Sushi Chef Satoshi Kiyokawa
Our first course came in an orange sitting on ice. Inside the orange was some halibut sashimi with cucumber sunomono and tomato

Albacore salad topped w crispy green onion
This was a rather big plate for a second course with plenty of albacore. As the ponzu sauce that normally comes with albacore tends to be too astringent for me at times, I preferred this.

Live sweet shrimp and Hama Hama oyster topped with uni
Did I mention the amaebi was a live? The legs attached to the head were still moving on the ice! (Sorry PETA)
Still, the oyster with the creamy uni stole the show for me.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Revisiting Asia de Cuba (West Hollywood)

I remembered Asia de Cuba as an early date place, with its view of West Hollywood and its lobster mashed potatoes and plantain fried rice. Eons ago. I haven't been back, what's with all the new restaurants in town to try, and the restaurant is pretty expensive (especially with $12 valet). It's one of those "seen and be seen" places. I was recently invited for a tasting, as the menu had changed quite a bit with the arrival of the new chef, though signature dishes still remain.

There is now a whole ceviche section, served with plantain chips and toasted sesame tapioca chips:
Black grouper, sevilla orange, aji amarillo, yuzu and horseradish

Photo courtesy of Asia de Cuba
Wild salmon and salted avocado helado, spicy coconut milk, bird's eye pepper and black lava salt ($7)
The avocado helado (that's ice cream for you) was a cool addition to the dish in both sense of the word.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Roti Tissue and More Goodness at Kedai Sabindo (Surabaya, Indonesia)

In Indonesia, you don't have to hang out at upscale cafes and bars after dinner. Desserts at a dive works just as well for many people, and Kedai Sabindo is always packed. As with other dives in this country, there's no air conditioning and you sit on plastic stools, yet people clamor to this place for its roti tissu ("tissue bread", also known as tissue prata).

Roti Tissue is a Malaysian Mamak (Tamil Muslim) food and is basically a wide, round-shaped, thinner version of roti canai, grilled until crispy on the spot...
.. rolled up on the grill
.. until you get this cone of very thin, crispy "tissue", doused in toppings on the inside (chocolate sauce, condensed milk, or cheese - or whatever sounds good to you).
It's a very simple yet very addictive dessert. Large enough to share but good enough to not share with too many people. It costs less than $1 anyway, so splurge ahead.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Perfect Croissants and More for Brunch at Luca on Sunset

About a month ago, e*starLA blogged that Luca on Sunset has the best pastries in West Hollywood, so when I got invited for a brunch tasting, I was quite excited. Little did I know I would be in for an eight-course brunch!

Our brunch started with a spread of the pastries we couldn't get enough of:
croissant, almond croissant, chocolate brioche, scone, apple danish, blueberry muffin, sweet potato speck biscuit, citrus poppy seed muffin

The pastry chef at Luca, Rebecca West, apparently was a runway model in France, where she lived off of coffee and croissants. When that career had to end, she thought making croissants was the logical next step!
Well, it's true. The croissants are definitely some of the best I've had from the buttery plain croissant to the flaky chocolate brioche. I had been looking for a good pain du chocolat or something similar ever since Bite Bar closed, now I've found one.
If I didn't have the menu of the other seven courses in front of me as a reminder, I would eat all of them. ALL.

Unlike the muffins at most bakeries where they drop a few blueberries at the top so they're visible but there's nothing inside, Luca's muffin is chock full of blueberries inside!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Candy and Fire: Spring at 1886 Bar

Cocktails on fire, beer cocktail, a flight of barrel aged cocktails, Chartreuse candies, and spiked sodas. You can find all those and more on 1886 Bar's new spring cocktail menu. The food side boasts lamb neck, shrimp toast, and "onsen" egg. In other words, there are plenty of reasons to visit 1886 this season, even if you hav
The Cinnablossom ($12) by Lacey Murillo is a table-side show, where the server will light up Lemonhart 151 on fire in the glass, then the cocktail itself (made with gin, lemon and homemade cinnamon bark syrup) is poured into the glass and extinguishes the flame.

The Bittersweet Farewell from Marcos Tello also gets fired up. The cocktail is made of gin, homemade passion fruit syrup, lemon juice, Campari, then the lemon garnish is doused with Lemonhart 151 and set on fire.

The Barrel Roll ($15, also by Lacey) is made with Bols barrel aged Genever, Carpano Antica, green chartreuse and garnished with a Campari "glass" candy. It's not just a garnish gimmick, the cocktail actually does taste better with the Campari candy.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Notable Events: 5x5, Ludobites Foie Gras, Asian Night Market

This Saturday, April 14, is Pasadena's (and LA's) first ever Asian Night Market! The list of 80 vendors at 626 Night Market looks promising with offerings from Japanese dango to stinky tofu to Indonesian satay. The night market will be held from 5-11:30pm on N Oakland Ave between Colorado and Union.

On Tuesday, April 17, Ludobites is holding a one-night "Best of Ludobites" foie gras dinner which costs $105 for 5 courses at Gram and Papa's. Reservation opens on Urbanspoon on Friday, April 13 at 10am.

The 5x5 Collaborative dinners are returning for another season to benefit the Special Olympics, this time hosted by Chefs Josiah Citrin, Michael Cimarusti, Gino Angelini, Michael Voltaggio and Rory Hermann. Each chef (plus a special guest chef each night) will prepare a course. The dinner costs $150 (wine pairing, tax, and gratuity not included) and you'll need to contact each restaurant for that dinner. Here's the dates and chef line-up so far:

Sunday, April 29, 2012: MELISSE, with Guest Chef Ludo Lefebre
Monday, May 21, 2012: PROVIDENCE, with Guest Chef Jeremy Fox
Monday, July 16, 2012: ANGELENI OSTERIA, with Guest Chef Michael Tusk
Monday, August 20, 2012: BOUCHON, with Guest Chef to be announced
Sunday, September 16, 2012: ink., with Guest Chef Chris Cosentino

You can take a look at a previous 5x5 dinner here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LA Vegan Beer Fest Returns May 12 (+ Last Year's Recap)

IMG_1785The LA Vegan Beer Fest, hosted by The Quarry Girl, Tony's Darts Away, and The Roxy, is returning for its third year on May 12. As usual, the festival will be held in the lot next to The Roxy on Sunset, and there will be plenty of vegan beers to cool you down from the heat.

For the $45 ticket, you get unlimited craft beers while listening to local bands from 1-5pm. The $55 VIP ticket gets you in earlier at noon. Proceeds from the tickets will be donated to the CA Wildlife Center and you can buy them here.

A couple of years ago, my reaction was "huh, beers aren't vegan?" But no, apparently not all beers are vegan since some use animal products like gelatin or fish bladder to clarify their beers! Lucky for the vegans, there are plenty of vegan beers. I went to last year's festival and most of the local breweries seemed to have been represented from Eagle Rock Brewery to Ballast Point to Lost Abbey. From hemp ales to pilsners to IPAs, there are plenty for everyone's tastes. They haven't release this year's list yet but more than 50 beers are promised.

There will also be vendors with food for sale should you want to soak up the beer.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chef Laurent Quenioux's Spring Menu at Vertical Wine Bistro (Pasadena)

Vertical Wine Bistro in Old Town Pasadena has seen many personnel changes in the past two years and now Chef Laurent Quenioux (formerly of Bistro LQ) seems to be settling in as the kitchen's helm.

He may be pushing the envelope at his LQ @ SK dinners (including a weed "herb" dinner) but he returns to simplicity here in old town Pasadena. A recent tasting of their new spring menu showcases Chef Quenioux's love of great produce.

We started with a salad of watercress, endive, valdeon cheese, hazelnuts, and pear.

Endive Salad
Normally endives are a little too bitter for my taste, but surprisingly these were sweeter. The crispness is balanced out by the valdeon cheese (which I also loved by itself).

This is Vertical Wine Bistro after all, so all our courses were paired with wines. The endive salad was paired with Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux, Loire, France - chosen for its acidity.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pitfire Pizza Opens in West Hollywood

Pitfire Pizza recently opened its West Hollywood outpost a block away from Fairfax and Melrose. Despite having a great meat shop (*cough* Lindy and Grundy), there wasn't much by way of restaurants in that immediate area. I had only been to the downtown and Westwood locations and the WeHo space is definitely much bigger, with a bar (with various craft beers on tap) and a patio dining area - and a pink Foosball table! Oh yeah.

Pitfire WeHo
Pitfire Pizza is very proud of their interior design: the Barbara Bestor-designed Culver City location won an AIA design award last year. This time they brought in Ana Henton and they particularly loved the way the elevated kitchen worked out. This location was actually two separate spaces and they worked out one of the elevated one into the whole design. You can easily see the kitchen staff working this way.
Pitfire Kitchen
The food menu is the same as the other locations.
On a chilly night, start with some hand-crafted chicken meatballs ($6)

One of our favorite dishes was actually the Farmers Market Roasted Vegetables ($9.95). The winter platter featured roasted sunchokes, brussel sprouts, braised chickpeas with chard and harissa, roasted rainbow carrots with chili honey and rosemary
Farmers Market Platter
Possible the sweetest carrots I've had in a while, sunchokes that almost seem like potatoes, and great brussel sprouts.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pre-Theatre Prix Fixe at Boulud Sud (New York, NY)

Early in the evening, Daniel Boulud's new Mediterranean restaurant, Boulud Sud, has a pre-theatre prix fixe menu, three courses for $55. Since I was going to see War Horse and the restaurant was just a stone's throw away from the Lincoln Center, I thought it would be a perfect time to check it out.

The restaurant was pretty full when we got there, but it was still quiet enough to hold a conversation.

The "bread", of course, was Mediterranean. 
For my first course, I ordered the Octopus a la plancha with marcona almonds, arugula, Jerez vinegar
I liked how the subtle accompaniments showcase the flavors of the octopus itself, which also had a great texture.

My companion ordered the House made lamb kibbeh, swiss chard, feta, pine nuts
Lamb Kibbeh
It was not what he expected, apparently. It was good but I thought it was a little dry and we both preferred the octopus.

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