Thursday, January 30, 2014

Valentine's Day Menu + A Revisit to Baleen Kitchen at PortofinoHotel,Redondo Beach

While Baleen Kitchen, hidden inside the Portofino Hotel, is relatively unknown to those not living in the South Bay, it tends to be to go-to special occasion restaurant for Redondo Beach locals. I personally had only been for lunch more than 2 years ago but remembered liking it. For Valentine's Day, they've put together a 5-course menu for $85 ($115 with wine pairing). I got to taste three of the menu items as a preview.

There will be an amuse Bouche of Shaved tuna, chili tapioca, lime sorbet
The lime sorbet added a really nice texture and temperature contrast to the dish.

Grilled maitake salad, avocado, haricot vert, heirloom tomato
I like how the focus on the dish is still the salad, with maitake accompanying each bite. The crisp vegetables combined with the earthy mushrooms get your appetite going. The other appetizer option is the Peekytoe crab cake.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Xian Wei Dinner Series Elevates Regional Chinese Flavors

Chinese food has long been cornered into the "cheap food" category, but 19 year old Luther Chen tries to fuse his fine dining culinary training with the regional Chinese cuisines that he tasted when he was traveling through China. The Xian Wei (which is the equivalent of "umami" in Chinese) is a dinner series taking place at Luther and partner Kenny's home in San Pedro (they will also soon launch a Chinese food truck called Shaokao). Curated by blogger Clarissa Wei, the underground dinner promises a journey through "5 courses, 5 regions". The next dinner is taking place on Saturday, February 8. The suggested donation is $75 and you can reserve a spot here
Luther Chen

I tasted the menu during a Saturday afternoon. My lunch started strong with an amuse bouche of 30 second microwave sesame cake, one served with sesame salt, the other served with fermented bean curd
The sesame cake is light, sweet and fluffy. Surprisingly the savoriness of the fermented bean curd complemented it quite well. This was inspired by an El Bulli dish which was a black sesame cake with miso.

There is a wine pairing for $35 but we're hoping that Xian Wei will start opening it up to a BYOB or partnering with a local wine store, in the spirit of supper clubs!

The first course is Sichuan pickles (daikon, cucumber, wood ear mushroom, sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette, sesame sand)
Sichuan Pickles
This was a great starter, as well, with the pickled daikon and the spicy vinaigrette getting your palate going.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Sauvignon Blanc Dinner with Brancott Estate at Soho House

Sauvignon Blanc makes up 70% of all the wines produced in New Zealand. Brancott Estate was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes in Marlborough, back in 1975, and they seek to keep breaking ground with their new Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand sauvignon blancs are typically fruit forward and drank within the first 2 years. Their prices range no more than $30-35, in comparison to French sauvignon blancs which can go for $120-150. Brancott Estate and a few other pioneering wineries are now trying to make sauvignon blancs that are more about the structure and complexity, and can be aged, which is atypical for New Zealand.

I got to taste some of these wines and compared them to the French ones during a private dinner held at Soho House. Great food, great wine, and a beautiful view of Los Angeles.

2010 is the first vintage of Chosen Rows to be released to the world (it will be released this year), and as such, we compared them to all 2010 vintages of two other New Zealand and two French wines.
Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Pour
Photo courtesy of Brancott Estate

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Go Greek Yogurt: A Greek Yogurt Bar in Beverly Hills

Combining the popularity of Greek yogurt and Pinkberry, Go Greek Yogurt provides a place in Beverly Hills to get authentic, imported Greek yogurt with various toppings. The yogurt is flown in directly from Greece.

There are three options for the Greek yogurt, based on the fat content. The most authentic one is 10% fat but you can also get a 2% or a nonfat Greek yogurt.
The 10% obviously tastes the best, but the 2% is still smooth and creamy. I can't eat the Greek yogurts they sell at the grocery stores without adding something to it, but this one I can eat by itself. The yogurt is stored in terracotta bowls, and when you order some to go they will also pack it up in terracotta pots. I want to get one just as a souvenir!

Before moving on to the toppings, don't miss the two most important sections: the preserves and honey. They have authentic preserves that the Greeks eat with their yogurt, including carrot, sour cherry, and rose preserves.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Vegan Sunday Suppers and Carnivorous Comforts at Willie Jane (Venice, CA)

Los Angeles vegans rejoice, Willie Jane has started a 3-course Meatless Sunday Suppers for $26 pp. Chef Govind Armstrong does have vegetables and herbs growing at the urban farm next door, Cook's Garden, so you can imagine how delicious and fresh his vegetables will be.

I tried out the vegan supper one night, and dinner started with a Hearts of Palm and Vegetable "Crab" Cake, miso remoulade, edamame hummus

Vegan "Crab" Cake

This was vegan? Chef Armstrong got the flavors and textures of crab cakes right on point with the hearts of palm. I couldn't even tell it was vegan, and it was in fact better than most crab cakes I've had!

Many people love Govind Armstrong's shrimp and grits. At least for the entree, you can try his grits. The entree is a plate of Anson Mills grits with romanesco cauliflower, "chorizo" aioli, cabbage chip
It's hearty full of flavor - you won't be missing the meat with the mushrooms around in this dish.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Newport Beach Restaurant Week Menu: Great Maple at Fashion Island

Newport Beach Restaurant Week starts today, January 17, and goes on until January 26. I took the chance to explore some Orange County eats, since I'm not there much, and tried out the Restaurant Week menu at Great Maple Libations and Seasonal Plates, located inside the Fashion Island. The Great Maple will have a 3-course dinner menu for $30.

After driving to OC in LA traffic, we needed a refreshing cocktail to calm down! Lucky for us, the cocktails here were pretty good.

We started with the gin drinks. I had the Midnight Pineapple with cucumber and caramelized pineapple.
I like that the drinks here weren't too sweet. This was refreshing and hit the spot after the long drive.

Newport Sunrise Cooler made with G'Vine gin, basil, grapefruit, lime, Cointreau
The appetizer choices included Crispy calamari, lemon caper mayo, chili flakes, olives
The salty olives in the calamari were a great and unexpected addition. More fried calamari should come with olives!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Game Meats at Burger Lounge

Did you know Burger Lounge has a rotating burger series made of game meats? The aptly called "Game Changer" series featured burgers with bison, boar, and elk.

I'm blogging late in the game (ha!) so we already missed one, the Grass-fed Bison Burger which ran from October 2013 – November 2013. The $10.95 was served on the signature Lounge Bun (there's a gluten free bun option) with blue cheese, pickled onion, and roasted garlic aioli. 
For those looking for leaner meats, bison is a great burger alternative.

You still have time to try the second one though, which runs through the end of January. The Wild Boar ( $10.95) is served with crispy onion rings, smoked mozzarella and house-made BBQ
This was my favorite of the three burgers, being the juiciest one. Plus, it's topped with crispy onion rings!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Whiskey in Winter and Opening Day Races at Santa Anita Park

What did you do the day after Christmas? I went to a whiskey tasting and watched horse races at Santa Anita Park! Santa Anita Park held a Whiskey in Winter event in their beautiful chandelier room, coinciding with their opening day races.

Attendees tried half a dozen whiskeys and cocktails around the room and voted for their favorite. The favorite winner will get the cocktail featured at the bar here. I was in a dilemma because my favorite whiskey and my favorite cocktail of the day was different, but since they're featuring the cocktail, I voted for that one.

The whiskey we tasted that day included: Breakers Bourbon, Calumet, Koval, Lexington, Whippersnappers and Whistle Pig.

The winner might surprise you! You may not have even heard of it, since it's a newcomer from Buellton. Yep, that's near Santa Barbara. Ascendant Spirits is Santa Barbara's first distillery and their Breakers Bourbon is worth a taste!

The cocktail was called "Sure Bet", created by Jeremy Lake (Crossroads).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cinco: Solid Cocktails, Craft Beers, and Mexican Food Near LAX

I had always thought Westchester was a desert for food and drinks, but I discovered Cinco, a great place to grab some beers, cocktails, and food when you need to be around LAX. Its location is perfect for your friend's short layover.


They have a big list of craft beers and a surprisingly great cocktail program.

I came for brunch, which offers additional cocktails like the "Iced Coffee" made with aged rum, coffee, horchata, cinnamon, and nutmeg for only $6. This is how I want to take my coffee every weekend.

The most popular food item is perhaps the Coctel de Mariscos, a huge bowl of octopus and shrimp in tomato and lime juice topped with avocado, onion, and all that good stuff ($11)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cocktail Academy's Apartment A, Now Open for Education and Parties

Sometimes a job leads to new comrades and new opportunities, as is the case with the team behind Cocktail Academy. Meeting while working together at 41 Ocean are Max Kestenbaum (bartender at Sassafras), Brandyn Tepper (bartender at Hinoki and the Bird), Matt Landes (in charge of management, worked at Montage Beverly Hills), and Ana Moskus. They all left 41 Ocean but their friendship and common vision led to Cocktail Academy.
Cocktail Academy will eventually (soon!) open a couple of bars downtown, but in the meantime, they have Apartment A available for private events and for them to throw educational workshops. And parties, of course parties. You can check out what they have coming up on the Aparment A's website. Their previous events and tastings have showcased amazing punch and cocktails like this one made with Buffalo Trace, Averna, marasca maraschino, and Miracle Mile chocolate chili bitters

Apartment A itself is a beautiful space. The first thing I noticed while trying to find the place is the billowing white curtain by the door. Stepping up the stool reveals the dimly lit room decorated with hanging vines and lovely couches. It's cozy, charming, and comfortable. It won't hold a lot of people but it's perfect for small parties or intimate tastings.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tour and Tasting at Alaskan Brewing Co (Juneau, AK)

If you find yourself in Juneau, whether you're passing through on a cruise or spending some time there to hike the glacier, be sure to stop by the Alaskan Brewing Co.

No mini tasting glasses here, very generous pours
If you don't have a car in Juneau, that's fine. There's a shuttle that runs hourly from their downtown store location (the "depot") on Franklin St to the brewery. The shuttle costs $15 round trip but, hey, once you get to the brewery you get to taste all their beers for free! The shuttle driver even gave me some fun historical anecdotes about Juneau. The brewery itself is in a somewhat industrial part of Juneau, with not much around it.
You first get ushered in to the tasting room for their four standard beers while listening to the history of the brewery.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Revisiting The Little Door

It's been many years since I last came to Little Door, and their outdoor dining area is still as charming as ever. The regulars still pile in for happy hour and dinner, and Executive Chef Nicolas Peters still personally makes runs to the farmer's markets after 17 years at Little Door.

I came in the fall for a tasting menu. Preparing for the colder weather, we started the dinner with a bowl of Celeriac soup with pomegranate and shaved walnuts

Maple sherry vinegar glazed chanterelle and frisee salad
Beautiful mushroom salad, perfectly complemented by the glaze and evoking the flavors of fall.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Insomnia, An Intimate Magic Show at Hotel Casa del Mar, Santa Monica

Starting on January 26, Hotel Casa del Mar will host magician ("modern conjuror") Derek Hughes for his new comedic magic show, Insomnia. 

The $55 ticket (which can be purchased here) not only includes the show, a beer/wine reception ...

 ... with some hors d'oeuvres, but also parking. That's invaluable in these parts of Santa Monica! Given the price of shows in Los Angeles these days, this is quite a good price.

It's hard to capture a magic show with photos alone, so check out this video preview on youtube.

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