Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter Cocktail Pairing at Trattoria Neapolis (Pasadena, CA)

Ken Baranda has left the bar at Trattoria Neapolis, but his successor, Chris Doyle, is doing just fine, as exemplified by his winter cocktails.

The first cocktail I tried during a recent tasting was a warm one, a variation of hot buttered rum: Fireside (Appleton dark rum, Matusalem light rum, butter, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest)
Not too heavy, warm, and would be perfect on chilly nights.
The cocktails were paired with some bites. The Fireside was paired with some Beef short rib "manwiches" on house focaccia
Darling Clementine (Tito's vodka, fresh clementine juice, housemade cranberry ginger chutney, Combier, fresh orange and lemon juices)
Clementines are a great citrus alternative for cocktails! This drink was so refreshing but with some spice from the ginger chutney. We all loved this one. Despite my usual snobby tendency to avoid vodka cocktails, this was my favorite.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Revisiting Picca with Gojuchang Lamb Chops and Avocado Cocktail

I never got around to writing about Picca when they first opened, so with the newly decorated upper level mezzanine (I love the warm lights) and new menu items come my opportunity to write about it.

They did not change the entire menu but there are plenty of new items, my favorite of which is the Anticucho de Cordero (lamb chops, gojuchang marinade, aji amarillo miso, $28)

It's a bit pricey for two lamb chops but I just can't get enough of that gojuchang marinade! The lamb was tender but even after the meat was gone I wanted to keep sucking on the bone ...

There are a couple of new cocktails as well, but one of my favorites remained from the old menu, which is the green one pictured below: The Avocado Project (5 Island white rum, fresh avocado, vitamin C (orange juice perhaps?), fresh lime juice, agave nectar, salt, $12)

When I first ordered this drink I was expecting a creamier drink, instead the citrus cuts it nicely, making it a beautifully balanced drink with a hint of avocado flavor.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dim Sum Carts, Liquid Nitrogen, and Canned Cocktails at The Church Key

The Church Key brought the "dim sum cart" concept to Sunset Blvd, except instead of the classic grouchy dim sum ladies pushing their metal carts, the servers at Church Key are dressed in PanAm stewardess outfit pushing airline carts (one said PanAm while another cart said Delta). Various small plates, canned cocktails, and liquid nitrogen cocktail otter pops can be found on these carts.

Just like at dim sum, they stamp your card with the dishes or cocktail you received. Unlike Chinese dim sum, the restaurant is large, spacious, and sexy.
You won't find Chinese dim sum here, though. Instead, look for one of our favorite dishes of the night: Crispy pork belly, gojuchang glaze, cashew butter, radish, sesame ($14)
Word of warning: this was a bit spicy, but I love the crispiness! Everyone raved about the pig's ear cheetos but unfortunately I didn't get to try them as they were sold out.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fondue by the Pool at Après at The W Hotel in Westwood

It's getting cold out. Cold enough for fondue, even. But you're still an Angeleno at heart so you're going to want your fondue by the pool. Well, you can at Après at The W Hotel in Westwood. Not après ski, but après skinny dip?
Available at the poolside cabanas (but they'll serve it inside or at the bar if you ask nicely) are cheese and chocolate fondues, s'mores, and special cocktails.
There are three choices for the cheese fondue ($16 for 2), including the Miss Swiss which is the traditional gruyere cheese with sherry and garlic, Dive bar made with cheddar, IPA, and bacon, and Jako-Dip made with goat cheese, white wine, and pumpkin puree.
Cheese Fondue
My favorite is still the traditional Swiss style, but the pumpkin one is fun to try as well. They come with bread and vegetables as usual but also some cured meats.

The chocolate fondue also comes in three choices and served with strawberries, dried pineapples, marshmallows, Oreos, and graham crackers.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Langer's #19 is Chowzter's Tastiest Fast Feast in North America!

I had been recruited by a new website and app called Chowzter to curate the best of Los Angeles "fast feasts" - the dishes that are not from a chain or fine dining restaurant. I've been contributing items to their list which can be found here (although some of those still remain from the old list!)

Anyway, Chowzter recently held an award for North America's Tastiest Fast Feast in San Francisco, and I had nominated some of LA's finest including Langer's #19 pastrami sandwich and Tsujita's tsukemen! At the end of the night the winners were announced .... and Langer's took home #1!! That's right, New York, LA's pastrami is numero uno. They even made a nifty video for it. You can see the full list of winners here.

Chowzter's trophy for Langer's
You can see my post of Langer's #19 here. So, anyway, I found out I wasn't supposed to keep that nifty trophy but give it to the restaurant instead :p
I went over to the deli last week to hand over the trophy to Norm Langer himself and his family. Such an honor to meet them!

The new trophy will replace the golf balls on top of the cash register. The daughter couldn't wait to get rid of those golf balls :)

Of course, since I was there I had to get some lunch. #19 may still be my favorite but I wanted to try something new and went with #6: pastrami and chopped liver on rye bread.

The chopped liver is creamy and doesn't taste too much like offal. It's a nice accompaniment for the pastrami. Psst, they also have a secret off-menu item right now ... pastrami chili cheese fries!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bulgogi Banh Mi and Juices at Fruit Farm in Little Tokyo

An unassuming cafe called Fruit Farm had popped up inside of Little Tokyo's Galleria mall, serving fresh juices, smoothies, sandwiches, and salads. What to know is that one of the owners is Korean so you can get fun sandwich mash ups like this bulgogi banh mi ($6.75 gets you the two pieces shown below and you can get half filled with something else!)

What I actually like even better was the spicy pork banh mi that I got in my other half of the sandwich.
The bulgogi tends on the sweeter side and I think the light spiciness of the pork works better with the banh mi accompaniments, but both were good and interesting.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top 6 LA Bites in 2013

It's almost the end of the year and looking back at 2013, I've certainly had many great meals! Here's a look at what I remembered to be the best bites in Los Angeles in the past year. Because the list only covers LA, it doesn't include the absolutely amazing kouign amann at B Patisserie, but you should definitely try that if you're in San Francisco. These also only include the things I tried for the first time in 2013, so while there are many great dishes in LA they may not be on this list. Also, I'm bound to have missed a few things due to my failing memory, so feel free to add what you think is the best bite in the comments!

In no particular order:

1. Uni Caviar Lobster roll at Petrossian
Uni Lobster Roll
Chef Giselle Wellman has devised the ultimate lobster roll, topped with fresh uni and Petrossian caviar on a brioche roll. While the lobster roll and fries aren't cheap, each bite will assure you that it's worth it.

2. Mandilli di seta at The Factory Kitchen
Almond Pesto
I still dream about this silky smooth handkerchief pasta and that subtle almond basil pesto.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Chat and Taste with Evolution Fresh Juice Founder

With all the fresh pressed juice trend going around, have you tried the bottled Evolution Fresh juices? I've seen them around at Starbucks but never thought to try them until I got to chat with the Evolution juice founder, Jimmy Rosenberg. I thought they would be like the overly sweet, pasteurized Naked juices, but I was wrong!

Speaking of Naked Juice, it's interesting to know that Jimmy also founded Naked Juice. The original idea was just selling juices on Santa Monica beach in the summer of 1984. That grew, as I'm sure you know, but their subsequent partnership with Chiquita led to the partner demanding cheaper cost and the use of processed fruit purees. That was not what Jimmy had in mind, so he left, signing a non-compete agreement. After the non-compete period had passed (he was farming lettuce in the meantime), he started again with Evolution Fresh.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

643 North: Polenta Pizza and Craft Cocktails in Chinatown

While Italian restaurants and craft beer and cocktail bars are abound in downtown Los Angeles, 643 North occupies an unusual location: Chinatown. You might be confused driving there through a desolate part of Chinatown, but don't worry, it's there. Plus they have a free parking lot to the left, perks of a cheaper real estate.

Actually, 643 North isn't really an Italian restaurant although the menu leans a bit in that direction. They also have other items like these Crab sliders (blue crab patties, chipotle remoulade, daikon sprouts, brioche, $13)
You shouldn't miss their pasta, though, especially the Ossobuco ravioli (braised veal, housemade ravioli, baby heirloom tomatoes, broccolini, Parmesan broth, Parmesan cheese, $17)
I was expecting a heavy dish, as ossobuco typically is, but this is light and lovely. The al dente ravioli sits in a bright parmesan broth, letting diners experience ossobuco in a different way. This was one of the highlights of my meal.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the cocktails here, created by Adam Acuff from Far Bar, which is more known for their beers rather than cocktails (643 North also has a good beer list). All cocktails are $12 and include drinks like Smokey the Pear (High West Campfire, St Germain, spiced pear syrup, lemon bitters) which was nicely balanced.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Peru to Malaysia Test Kitchen at Zengo

Richard Sandoval's Zengo at the Santa Monica Place does a different "Test Kitchen" menu every once in a while, and the latest is a Peruvian Malaysian take. Malaysian food is very similar to Indonesian so I wanted to check this out! The Test Kitchen items are indicated with a "TK" to the left of the item's name on the menu.

I like the entrees on this TK menu. Try the Char roasted halibut, ginger chile marinade, crispy lentil rice cake, sambal butter sauce, charred banana leaf ($25)

The halibut was nicely cooked, sitting atop the aromatic banana leaf, and I liked that sambal butter! It's not that spicy as far as sambal goes but definitely packed some spices.

I also enjoyed the Arroz con Mariscos, mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp, yellow curry, Malay rice, Thai basil ($14)
This seemed more Thai than Malaysian with the curry broth, but nonetheless it's a flavorful and comforting dish for the cold weather. The two dishes above are probably my favorites of the TK menu.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tiki Cocktails by the Beach at Larry's in Venice

Larry's was already a popular destination in Venice Beach for food and beer, but they have recently gotten a full liquor license as well and launched a tiki-focused cocktail menu.

Pina colada gets an upgrade with a red wine float in #Delicious (rum, coconut cream, lemon, pineapple, red wine - $12). Yes, the hashtag is meant to be there.

It's on the sweeter side but I'm still a fan of pina coladas after all, and a lot of people would love this drink. The red wine adds more complexity. For something a little less sweet, I really enjoyed the Sun Poison (gin, falernum, passionfruit, lime, orgeat, orange bitters - $12)
Tiki Cocktail
Falernum any day

The bar food menu is worth a look, as well. If you don't mind offals, get the Bacon wrapped chicken liver skewers, yakitori sauce ($6)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Brunch at Caulfield's (Thompson Hotel, Beverly Hills)

Caulfield's Bar and Dining Room at the Thompson Hotel has started brunch service with pastries and a diverse array of dishes. We started brunch with their Whole grain blueberry muffin ($6) and Braeburn apple turnover ($7)


It's more expensive than going to a bakery and getting them to go but you're paying to dine there after all and I was happy that the muffins were full of blueberries instead of just a couple garnishing the top.

There are traditional mimosas and bellinis but I had to try the prickly pear one.
Inadvertently, I ended up having a vegetarian brunch! But don't be deterred by my brunch, because they do have hamburgers, pork belly, steak au poivre, chicken and waffles and the likes for brunch. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fleming's Steakhouse Adds Steak Companions Menu

Fleming's Steakhouse has now added a "steak companion" menu to all their locations. These are seafood and other "toppings" that you can add to your steak!

The companions include a truffle poached lobster with bearnaise sauce and caviar, which obviously I had to get. Going to a steakhouse is already a splurge, but for special occasions might as well get lobster and caviar.


They had a bone-in filet mignon that night, which I highly recommend over the other steaks! My friend got the bone-in filet mignon and after trying hers I didn't want to return it ... especially the tender parts near the bone. We topped this with the King crab with herb butter.

The other companion options are Diablo Shrimp (baked with spiced barbecue butter sauce), and a Flavor Trio of steak spreads. They also have three sauces like chimichurri and peppercorn that are complimentary.

We also had fun with their new digital wine list. You can browse by types of wine or look at the recommended pairings for specific dishes.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Factory Kitchen: A Strong Italian Contender in Downtown LA

I've had many good meals, but every once in a while, one stands out above the rest. This was my experience at The Factory Kitchen, which opened up in downtown LA recently. I didn't know much about it before, so I was quite surprised, but I really should've heard more. The chef, Angelo Auriana, was the executive chef at Valentino for 18 years before moving to Farina in San Francisco. The manager, Matteo Ferdinandi, was a business partner of Celestino Drago. Both of them are the epitome of Italian hospitality.

Because of the name, I was expecting a small restaurant, but the large dining room is simple but elegant.

 The bar is headed by Karl Steuck, who was previously at Writer's Room and Hatfield's.
I tasted another writer's Urban Cowboy (bacanora, cochhi americano, grapefruit, lime, sage honey - $10)

Bacanora is a rare find in the US, and I love how he used it in this cocktail.
I ordered the Soon To Be Divorced (tequila, campari, lime, agave, thyme - $10). I've never had tequila and campari together, but this was very drinkable with the lovely thyme aroma. Other than these seasonal drinks, Karl has a short list of classics as well.

For the wines, Francine Diamond Ferdinandi, who's worked at Gramercy Tavern and Spago, has created a small but impressive wine list. We left it to her to choose our wines and so should you.

Be sure to get the Prosciutto, which came in an unexpected form. 24 months Parma prosciutto is served atop a lightly fried sage dough, with some stracciatella in the middle ($18)

Barberosse Gratinate: oven baked sliced beet casserole with melted Asiago ($10)
Beet casserole
It may sound strange at first, but the beet slices actually make a great vehicle for the melted cheese.
Pancotto (farmer's duck egg, red potato vellutata, sauteed greens, semolina bread crostone - $9)

Rather than pizza, The Factory Kitchen serves Focaccina calda di recco al formaggio, a thin focaccio crust. We liked both the traditional (with Ligurian olive oil) and Cotto (crescenza, cotto ham, rosemary - $17)
The focaccina is stuffed with crescenza cheese which was creamy but light. 

Now, the pasta. Handmade pasta is one of my favorite things in the world and there's one pasta dish here that blows the rest away. It is the Mandilli de Seta (handkerchief pasta, Ligurian almond basil pesto, fiore sardo - $19)
Almond Pesto
This... This was outstanding. It's the dish that makes the entire table fall silent. So simple yet from the silky handmade pasta to the beautifully subdued pesto that covers it. This is a dish that you dream about days after eating it. It was heavenly paired with the white wine that Francine had chosen.

Pappardelle (taggia olives speckled pasta, duckling ragu, Italian parsley - $19)
This is also a wonderful pappardelle, although it was difficult for me to go to other pasta after the previous one. I usually like pappardelle with meat ragu so I'm going to have to eat this again another time before the mandilli di seta.

Porchetta (rolled pork belly, red onion, carrots, fennel celery - $24)
This porchetta is one of the best I've tried in recent memory. The richness and fattiness doesn't overwhelm, it's tender and flavorful.

Anatra (duck breast, huckleberry, romanesco, broccoli di cicco - $26)
The duck breast was excellent, but it's the leg confit that everyone fights over!

If you want something lighter, the dentice (pan seared tai snapper) is perfectly prepared.

I had to try one more drink. The Backyard Boogie (Templeton rye, root, fennel, absinthe mist, orange oil - $10) is perfect for those who prefer stronger, more aromatic cocktails.
For dessert, you can't miss the cannoli. We saw them make the cannoli shells earlier that night.
Perhaps it was the orange marmalade on one end, or the pistachio on the other, but this ricotta-filled cannoli was simply the best I've had.

Chef Angelo Auriana
I hadn't heard much about The Factory Kitchen prior to coming in, so I came in with no expectation and was wowed. I wasn't eating out when Chef Auriana was helming Valentino, so I never knew what it was like, but I'm glad he decided to return to Los Angeles with The Factory Kitchen.

The Factory Kitchen
1300 Factory Place #101
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 996-6000
The Factory Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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