Monday, June 30, 2014

Genius Hour and Ramen at Backbar in Somerville (Boston, MA)

4-6pm at Backbar in Somerville's Union Square is dubbed the Genius Hour. I just found out that happy hours as I knew it in LA is illegal in Boston, as in they're not allowed to discount alcohol. What Boston bars/restaurants do instead is discount food or have special food items during "happy hour". Backbar's Genius Hour, then, is the only 2 hours of each day when you can get their lauded Genius Ramen.

It's a great time to chill at the bar, as well, though. It's calm and quiet, the sunlight passes through the skylight.

The ramen's broth changes from season to season. In the winter you might find a rich tonkotsu (pork) broth. At the end of spring when I went, they had a chicken dashi broth, finished off with tare ($14).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Emporium Thai: Southern Thai Cuisine in Westwood

by guest blogger @iam_robot

I remembered a few years ago Thai food was considered an exotic cuisine prevalent only in big cities. These days, getting a Thai food fix is becoming an easier process than locating the next Starbucks. And they’re often mediocre – heat is often tempered while sweetness accentuated to adjust to American palates.  Therefore, I’m always looking for a good Thai Food - something a little better and different from the conventional.

Last week, I was very excited to attend a tasting at Emporium Thai Cuisine in Westwood. This place has been open since 2000 and it’s owned/ operated by the same family as the super famous Jitlada on Sunset Blvd. Rumor has it, this is the place where Jazz and Tui of Jitlada started out before venturing out on their own.

Nevertheless, Emporium Thai Cuisine is a cut above the usual. Focusing on authentic Southern Thai recipes, Emporium is swank but the price is right. It offers an extensive selection - beyond the usual suspects like green papaya salad, chicken pad thai, pork satay, fish cakes and various curries, they have other lesser-known but even more intriguing dishes to try– Crying Tiger Beef, Khao Yam (fragrant rice salad with dry shrimp and coconut), Mussel Soup, and Crispy Pork Pad Prik King. If you're like me, you'll want to try them all at the highest heat level. I love how all the dishes can be customized to our preferred spicy scale of 1 – 10, with 3 being moderate and 10 being devilishly spicy.

Below are the dishes I tasted that night:
Coco Mango Salad with Fried Tofu
Coco mango
This is a very common Southern Thai appetizer. What struck me with this dish were the variety and vegetables, herbs, spices and accents in the salad. Shredded raw mango, dried coconut, Thai chilies, lime juice, and deep fried tofu were all present in perfect proportion. I thought this dish was a great way to start – light, refreshing, sweet and a tad spicy. In terms of texture, I really like the tofu crispiness and the red onion crunch.

Crying Tiger Beef
Crying Tiger
This is the same Crying Tiger Beef I always ordered at Jitlada. 5 years ago, I remembered I had to go to Jitlada the next day after watching Curtis Stone cried his eyes out proclaiming “hot, hot, hot” at The Best Thing You Ever Ate (Food Network). Essentially, this dish is char-grilled, marinated beef served with their homemade chili sauce. If I have to guess the chili sauce is made with shallots, onions, mints, fresh Thai chilies and lime juice. I love this dish so much! Meat is sliced thinly but very tender to the bite. The sweetness from the beef marinade complements perfectly with the heat and tanginess of the chili sauce. This is my definition of fun-eating!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Secret Kitchen Item from Crustacean

by guest blogger Bryan Tsunoda @btsunoda

Crustacean in Beverly Hills has been around for quite some time. The roasted crab and their famous garlic noodles are crowd pleasers and what Crustacean is best known for. Despite its name, Crustacean is so much more than that and I recently had the opportunity to sample some of their new offerings.
Crustacean is also known for its “Secret Kitchen.” A closed door kitchen within a kitchen, it’s where some of the restaurant’s most coveted dishes are prepared. Since their opening in 1997, only six dishes have been created in the Secret Kitchen. Now, there's a new Secret Kitchen item that we'll be tasting tonight.

As I entered Crustacean, a three piece jazz ensemble provided entertainment to the bar patrons. The walk on water entrance features a serpentine shaped aquarium that doubles as a floor. It was obvious that Crustacean is still a place to be seen as everyone seated at the bar had the required ‘look’.DSCF2018 Our group was led outside through the side door of the restaurant, entered an unmarked exterior door and walked up a flight of stairs. We learned that this is Crustacean’s new “Secret Room” - a new private place to dine. Celebrities enjoy the fact that they can be whisked in from valet parking through the separate side door.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Exploring the Borough Market in London

One of the Chowzter stops in London was The Borough Market, one of the largest and oldest food markets in London.

I never realized until then just how much the Brits love their cheese. It seemed like more than half of the market was selling cheese! And they look and smell amazing. If only there was a way for me to bring them home ...

One of the Chowzter picks is the sausage roll from The Ginger Pig. The Ginger Pig is a butcher shop so they make their own pork sausages with sage and breadcrumbs. The sausage is wrapped in a crispy puff pastry. Surprisingly large and sure to fill you up. During the holidays they add cranberry to the sausage as well.
Sausage roll

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Brunch at LA Spice (Culver City)

LA Spice is a catering veteran in Los Angeles, having catered some of the biggest events in town (and outside of town). The owner, LeAnne Schwartz, started missing the daily interaction with customers, though, and decided to open a small cafe in Culver City. LA Spice Cafe is mainly open for lunch and brunch (from 8am-4pm daily).

There's a cornmeal-crusted fried green tomato sandwich with jack cheese, avocado, pickled red onions on a demi baguette ($10.50)

I added bacon to this to make it a BL-fried-T sandwich! Crisp, fresh green tomatoes encrusted in crispy cornmeal batter, add to that the creamy avocado for a satisfying bite.

The eggs benedict is served on housemade biscuits with oven roasted tomatoes, goat cheese and avocado hollandaise ($12.95)
The avocado hollandaise is a nice touch and brings the dish together.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Oyster and Sauvignon Blanc Pairing with Matanzas Creek

Oysters and Wine
It's unusual for one winery to produce four different Sauvignon Blancs, but Matanzas Creek Winery took the challenge. One afternoon, I attended a tasting of their four sauvignon blancs, each paired with a different oyster. The tasting took place at L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake.

We started off with the Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc. In this one, there's high acidity and I definitely tasted the lime and nectarine. To produce this, the winery uses a lot of dry ice to keep moisture out during low temperature fermentation. The winemaker, Marcia Monahan, has moved towards picking the grapes based on color instead of brix.
Matanzas Creek
They paired the wine with Shigoku, a tumbled oyster from Willapa Bay in Washington. I learnt a lot about oysters during the tasting, too. So the Shigoku is the same species as the Hama Hama oysters, but farmers put them in metal tumblers. Being tumbled throughout their lives, the Shigoku develop more muscle and a thicker shell. Tumbling oysters are supposed to make them sweeter, firmer, and milder.

This was a very traditional pairing. With a high acid sauvignon blanc, it brings out the sweetness of the oyster and extract a stronger "sea" flavor. I like the Shigoku better the Bennett Valley, though.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Build Your Own Burger at Nick + Stef's

Nick + Stef's in downtown LA has started a Craft Your Own Burger experience, available daily after 5pm at the bar and patio areas only.


You can choose your own 8 oz patty, toppings, cheese, and sauces, but being a Patina Group restaurant, there are some wild card options like bone marrow and mac n cheese! I, of course, had to make one with bone marrow. You can see the options below:
BYO Burger Menu

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hungry Cat's Crabfest Returns July 27, Summer Crab Nights, and Last Year's Review

The annual Crabfest at The Hungry Cat will return to the Hollywood locaton on July 27! This year, the Santa Monica location will hold "Summer Crab Nights" which will be more like a mini Crabfest. The Summer Crab Nights will be held on Sundays June 29, August 10, and September 7, where you can get half a dozen Maryland blue crabs with sides of corn on the cob, tomato and watermelon salad, cornbread and a dessert for $35. The dealio is at 3-8pm on those dates.

The big Crabfest (now in its 10th year) itself is $75 for 5 courses and will be at 1-7pm - again, July 27 at the Hollywood location.

Here's what the Crabfest was like last year:
We each started with a bowl of Maryland Crab Soup, a flavorful and comforting soup with a generous serving of crab.
Crab Soup
Next was a Beer-battered soft shell crab sandwich, b&b pickles, spicy remoulade
Softshell Crab
This was a substantial sandwich for just the second course! It's a well proportioned sandwich with good bread that complements the crispy soft shell crab.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sipping through the Spring Cocktails at Mo-Chica

by guest blogger Brian Lee @iam_robot

By now I trust you all have made it to Mo-Chica. Since its opening more than 2 years ago, this modern Peruvian delight is known for its fantastic lunch deal, expansive happy hour menu and wildly exotic fares (alpacas stew, Amazonian fish escabeche, etc). It’s definitely one of my favorites and it almost seemed like a miracle when Zarate moved to this upscale DTLA location after 3 years residing as a modest food court stand in Mercado Paloma (east of USC). I remember I was redeeming my $20 groupon and I was thoroughly wowed with his mashed potatoes & crab dish (Crab Causitas).

Last Monday I had the chance to taste their spring cocktail menus. Each season, experienced mixologists update their cocktail menu to accentuate local and seasonal ingredients and both classic and new trends. This time, Deysi Alvarez, also mixologist at Zarate’s Paiche & Blue Tavern, incorporates fresh fruits and floral accents to match up Zarate’s fresh tropical dishes like Chicken Truffle Causitas and Crab Causitas. I think I ate 8 of those crab causitas ...
IMG_2477 IMG_2479
I really like how Alvarez infuses lots of unconventional ingredients into her drinks (egg whites, chica morada reduction, or rhubarb cardamom gomme). As strange as some of these ingredients sound, her drinks are very approachable to amateur cocktail drinkers like me – they mostly taste refreshing without being overly fruity or sweet.

Below is the list of cocktails presented to me:
Basil Blossom - Thai basil infused quinoa vodka, violet liqueur, fresh lemon, simple syrup, soda water
IMG_2476 This is probably my favorite. I am bewildered with the floral aroma and burst of fruity flavor from the vodka and violet liqueur. I was hesitant about the violet liqueur inclusion at first but the aroma is very subdued & not artificial at all. Overall the cocktail feels very light with some fizzy finish. I thought this would pair very well with lightly seasoned dishes or steamed vegetables.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Produce-Forward Cuisine at Verbena (San Francisco, CA)

Verbena is the new restaurant from Chef Sean Baker of Oakland's Gather. The hip Russian Hill restaurant is not a vegetarian restaurant, but its produce-focused menu is certainly vegetarian friendly.

While I normally wouldn't have ordered this based on the description, I was immediately glad the waiter suggested the Sprouted seed bread with chevre and beet sauerkraut ($7)
The housemade chevre has a nutty tone and the warm, toasted seed bread, even on its own, is outstanding.

Here, you will find hard-to-find ingredients in unusual combinations, like the Cardoons and Rhubarb with caramelized honey dressing, Douglas Fir yogurt, nepitella ($11)
Nepitella is an Italian herb also known as Calaminta. While I'm not a huge fan of the tart rhubarb, it plays nicely with the yogurt.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Flying Out in Style with Petrossian LAX

On the day I left for London, the new Petrossian at LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal was having a media tasting, so of course I had to go! Talk about perfect timing. It was my first time at the new terminal, and the classy Petrossian decor matched the sleek terminal.

Now, jetsetters can wait for their flights while drinking cocktails garnished with caviar powder. The High Society cocktail is made with Tanqueray gin, St. Germaine, and green chartreuse. The glass is rimmed with caviar powder, which is also in the lemon "boat"
Caviar Cocktail

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Theatrical Cocktails at Artesian Bar (London, UK)

I had limited time on my first London trip, and a lot of cocktail bars to try. Artesian Bar in The Langham London was named World's Best Cocktail Bar by Drinks International in 2013, so I knew I had to try it.

I liked the bar as soon as I entered. It's beautiful and comfortable, the menu is intriguing and the service and pacing impeccable.

I was served a glass of sparkling wine upon seating, garnished with a petal in that Langham pink color.
The menu is revamped annually. This year it is a color coded wheel. Yellow indicates rich and aromatic drinks, green is refreshing, etc. You read the menu drink by drink through the butterfly shaped opening.

Friday, June 6, 2014

New Cocktails Hit Santa Monica at The Charleston

Realizing there wasn't really a spot for craft cocktails on that strip of Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, The Charleston's new GM, Chris Cheng, decided to launch a brand new cocktail list. There's no famous bartender involved, but his experience working with Beau du Bois at The Corner Door helped him create a solid starting list.

One of my favorites was the Cootie Catcher, made with gin, honeydew, luxardo triplem, lemon, and orgeat. Name aside, it's rare to find a honeydew cocktail and the honeydew flavor is nicely enhanced here. The orgeat they use is St. Vincent, which is infused with orange blossom and rose water - it's a local product made by one of the bartenders at Bestia!

Honeydew cocktail

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