Monday, December 31, 2007

My New Year's Resolutions

Everyone needs something to strive for and bloggers are no different, so I composed this list of New Year's Resolutions. These are just a few of the food and drink oriented goals I hope to accomplish in the coming year.


Go for Indian in Artesia


Artesia is home to a large South Asian community and countless Indian restaurants. I've never dipped in and it's time to start.


Get to Know Brandy


I'm fluent in whiskey and at least conversant in most other spirits, but I'm a brandy ignoramus. Yes, I admit it, I can't tell my Cognac from my Armagnac. Lately, I've been sipping some on the sly, and it's a whole world of flavor. It's high time I filled this massive gap in my liquid education. Too bad there isn't a day of the week that begins with B.


Eat East LA


I've sampled East LA's Mexican scene, but I'm still a stranger on Whittier Boulevard and haven't been to some of the most famed establishments. And I call myself an LA food blogger...go east young blogger.


Go to Seven Grand


A bar in downtown LA specializing in whiskey and I haven't been...it's downright embarrassing.


Find the Best Banh Mi in the OC


I love everything about the Vietnamese sandwich. The crusty bread, the salt of the meat, the crunch of the vegetables, the creamy pate. It's time to break out of Mr. Lee's grip and get to know the small-time players.


Explore Macallan


I've always sort of shunned Macallan. I like smoky, flavorful, complex whiskies. What do I need with a pumped up, overpriced sherry spiked Speysider. But recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a few Macs and I thought, maybe there is something to all this hype. It's time for me to go back to basics and revisit this ubiquitous malt.


More Korean Food


As I was enjoying some pork blood sausage at the Koreatown Galleria foodcourt (Reason #8 why I love this town: blood sausage at the mall), I thought, for a Koreatown blogger, I really don't review much Korean food. There are numerous reasons for this. First, living in the neighborhood, most of my Korean food experiences are casual...parties, back yard barbecues, school events for the kids, etc. Second, with Bon Vivant and Raven doing regular Korean restaurant reports, I feel like the pressure is off in that department. Still, I owe it to my 'hood to show some pride in the local cuisine, so this I will try to do.



Will I keep my resolutions? Who knows? I'll have at least as much chance as keeping my non-food resolutions like exercising and leaving less of carbon footprint.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coming Next Year

I'll be taking a week off between Christmas and New Years, so no new posts until January 1, but I wanted to give you a sense of just a few of the things I have in store for next year.


Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

I'll be expanding my chocolate profile in a big way, tasting and reviewing some of the world's finest chocolate from producers big and small.


I'm Young and I Smoke


Whiskey Wednesday will launch into a series of ultra-young, ultra-smoky Scotches for the new year.


Viva America Sur


I've been doing some South American eating lately and will report in on some of the great LA South American eats.


LA's Best Liquor Stores


A rating of the best places to buy spirits in LA.

All that along with the pupusas, cheese, whiskey, butter, dumplings and fried food you've come to expect.

And tune in January 1 for my New Year's Resolutions.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Tis the Season: Broguiere's Egg Nog



One of my favorite treats of the holiday season is Broguiere's supremely rich and creamy egg nog from Montebello. With a smooth, nutmeg taste and a consistency of melted ice cream, there is simply no better store bought egg nog, and I've tried a lot of them.

You can find Broguiere's at most premium and gourmet markets, including Bristol Farms and your higher end Ralph's stores.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: 'Tis the Season for Whiskey Gifts

Looking through the last year of Whiskey Wednesdays, I tried to come up with some whiskey oriented gift suggestions.

People often ask me what to get for their Whiskey Loving Loved Ones (WLLOs), and it's probably the hardest question around. There are so many variables that I hate to recommend something as a gift without knowing someone's particular taste, but with that caveat, here are a few whiskies and whiskey related items that would make great gifts for any whiskey lover.

1. Gifts for the Whiskey Novice

Two excellent introductory books for the beginning whiskey lover in your life.

For the beginning Scotch lover: The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch by Kevin Erskine is a must-have for anyone just getting into the wonders of Scotch. As I noted earlier this year, even a more experienced Scotch drinker can learn something from this slim but valuable volume.

For the beginning Bourbon lover: Bourbon, Straight by Charles Cowdery is an introduction to American whiskey (Bourbon, Tennessee and Rye) which includes general information, trivia and history. As with the Instant Expert's Guide, this is a must have for the enthusiast.

2. Bourbon


Buffalo Trace, the spicy standard bottling by the greatest Bourbon distiller in the country is now available in California for around $25.00. It's a great Bourbon with a nice rye kick.

Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel Bourbon. As I noted last week, this is a fabulous Bourbon at a great price -- about $35 at most premium liquor stores. It really does not get much better in the world of Bourbon.

3. Rye


Sazerac Rye - both the standard bottling and the 18 year old are wonderful ryes with a subtle spice. Available at K&L Wine Merchants for $24 and $55, respectively.

4. Scotch

Want to surprise your Scotch loving friend? Do it with a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki Japanese Whisky. The Japanese whiskey industry is in full swing and both the 12 and 18 year olds are great whiskies. They won't believe it's not Scotch.

For an extravagant gift for your truly advanced Scotch lover, try a bottle of the ulta-hyped, ultra-collectible Bruichladdich PC5. I haven't yet reviewed this smoky 5 year old Islay malt (that review will be coming in January), but it is all the rage, and priced as such. Last time I was at Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys, they still had a shelf full of bottles going for $120 a piece, and there were four left on the shelf at The Wine House in West LA as late as yesterday. Is it worth that much? Who knows, but it is definitely the flavor of the month in the Scotch world.

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 16, 2007

'Tis the Season: Gift Ideas

Well, we missed Chanukah with this post, but we are still in time for Christmas and the New Year. If you need gifts for your foodie friends, here are some suggestions, in no particular order.


1. DeVries caramelized cocoa nib clusters.

These addictive nuggets are nickel sized dollops of DeVries 77% Costa Rican chocolate topped with caramelized cocoa nibs (nibs are roasted cocoa bean pieces). They combine a deep, complex chocolate taste with the pleasant crunch of the nibs. At under $5.00 a pack, these handy snacks are a huge bargain, but they are being grabbed up quickly and supplies are limited, so order now!


2. Ratatouille

Pixar's wonderful film about a foodie rat in a Paris restaurant is now out on DVD. This is the ultimate movie for restaurant lovers and should not be missed. The DVD comes with an entertaining mini-documentary about rats and a brief "making of" piece featuring French Laundry chef and film consultant Thomas Keller, where you will briefly see him making the film's signature dish. I wish we could have seen more Keller in this piece, but overall it's still a great package and the perfect gift for food lovers of all ages. $14.99 on Amazon.

3. Lucid Absinthe

Newly legalized in the U.S., Absinthe is the wii of the spirit world this year, the must have gift for spirit-lovers. In my recent review, I found it to be very pleasant and, of course, full of mystique and ritual. Lucid is available at Hi-Times Wine Cellars for $59.99.



Coming This Wednesday: Whiskey Gifts

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Ultimate Guide to the LA Farmers Market


Well, I did it! A little more than a month ago, I pledged to visit every food stand in the Third and Fairfax Farmers Market, and I'm proud to stand on the proverbial aircraft carrier and say, "Mission Accomplished." Below are a few notes about my mission followed by a complete summary of my findings. My more detailed reviews are available here.

How did I do it?


My mission was simple, eat at every stand in the Farmers Market: old favorites as well as places I'd never gotten around to trying. However, I did not include chains (Starbucks, Johnny Rockets, Pinkberry) or restaurants in the adjacent properties (Marmalade Cafe, Morels, etc.). I also excluded the second floor sushi restaurant Kado; this was to be about the places occupying the actual Farmers Market property.

For the past six weeks, I ate at the Market two to three days per week, sometimes more. Often, I would have more than one meal a day (or at a time) at the Market and, whenever possible, I would drag friends along to help increase my sampling possibilities. For stands I had never tried before, I tried to sample a variety of dishes, including specialties.

I ended up going to 34 different food stands/restaurants. Of those, 10 were places I had never tried before.

It was an interesting experience and gave me some small sense of what it must be like to be a professional food critic. Fun, but also tiring.

How did I rate them?


I divided the Market stands into three tiers using the following criteria:

TOP TIER: A great find. A place worth a special trip to the Market.

SECOND TIER: A good place. Not worth a special trip but a place that you might want to try if you happened to be at the Market.

THIRD TIER: Places that I would not go to again. Not necessarily bad (though some were), but generally unexceptional.

Of my new tries, two made it into the top spot, but most were relegated to the third tier.

Without further ado, here is the complete list with a few brief comments. New tries have been marked with an asterisk(*).

TOP TIER


Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts - LA's best cake doughnuts and apple fritters

Country Market* - Funnel cake of the gods

Du-Par's Restaurant - Great pies, pancakes and the last great Monte Cristo in LA

The French Crepe Company - Tasty Crepes, sweet and savory

Littlejohn's - The best toffee around and other tasty candies

¡Loteria! - Mexican, great chilaquiles and queso fundido, avoid the bland tacos

Moishe's Village* - Boerek (Turkish pizzas), get it with fried eggs

Monsieur Marcel's - Best fondue in town

Pampas Grill - Brazilian churrascaria

Patsy D’Amore’s Pizza - Real NY style pizza


SECOND TIER


Bennett's Ice Cream - Decent homemade ice cream

The Gumbo Pot - Cajun food, po-boys, jambalaya, etc.

Moishe’s - Lamb ka-bob and other Middle Eastern fare

Singapore’s Banana Leaf - Paratha with Curry sauce is the go-for dish

Thee's Continental Bakery - Good cookies and pastries

Tusquellas Fish & Oyster Bar - Fish & chips


THIRD TIER

The Bread Bin - Eastern European sweets

Bryan’s Pit Barbecue - Dry, underseasoned barbecue

Charlie's Coffee Shop* - Basic diner food with a homey atmosphere

China Depot - The better of two Chinese steam table stands

Coffee Corner* - A small selection of pastries

Deano's Gourmet Pizza* - Pizza and pastas

Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream - Soft serve

Kokomo - New school diner food, interesting in theory, boring in fact

La Korea - Basic Korean food

Magee's Kitchen* - Carving station meats and old-time Mexican dishes

Market Grill - Cheeseburgers and fries

Peking Kitchen* - The lesser of two Chinese steam table stands

Phil's Grill* - Basic Jewish deli fare done competently

The Salad Bar* - My choice for worst place in the Market -- lackluster salads and cold sandwiches

Sushi A Go Go* - A small step up from Ralph's sushi bar

T&Y Bakery - Cakes and pastries that look better than they taste

Ultimate Nut and Candy - Flavored popcorn and candies

Ulysses Voyage - Unexceptional Greek sit-down restaurant

For more complete reviews, see my original postings, cataloged here.

There you have it, another exercise in my obsessive completionist tendencies and the Ultimate Guide to the Farmers Market.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: A New Favorite - Elijah Craig 18 year old


Elijah Craig, 18year old, single barrel, Straight Kentucky Bourbon, 45% alcohol, Heaven Hill Distillery.

Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel Bourbon is a massive whiskey. A burst of rugged flavors: caramel, oak, polished wood, maple. Its combination of smoothness and complex flavor reminds me of a Northern Highland Scotch. In fact, in some ways, I'd call this a Scotch-lover's Bourbon. In any case, this is one that will serve an exalted, if short life on my shelf. It usually goes for between $35 and $45, a real steal, and is widely available at fine liquor stores near you.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The International Chocolate Salon

On Sunday, I attended the International Chocolate Salon at the Pasadena Convention Center. Billed as "the first major chocolate show in the Los Angeles area this millennium," the advertising puffery promised "the finest in artisan, gourmet & premium chocolate in one of the world's great culinary metropolitan areas." (We can debate the primacy of Pasadena as a "great culinary metropolitan area" at some later date).

The Salon (apparently a more romantic term than "trade show") featured 23 participants, mostly chocolate purveyors as well as a few wineries, publishers and one dealer of chocolate liqueur. It also featured speakers on topics such as chocolate as an aphrodisiac.

As a registered chocoholic, I went with high expectations and envisioned myself tasting amazing new chocolates from the word's finest purveyors. Instead, I found the Salon, which charged $20 admission, to be disappointing. Most of the chocolates were mediocre. There was a fair amount of schlock, such as the inevitable melted chocolate fountain and decorative dipped strawberries, and a few things that were truly awful (a grainy, vegan chocolate curry sauce served over Rice Dream frozen dessert product gave me bad memories of mid-1970s carob). The wines were mediocre and the chocolate liqueur was downright bad. And as to the "International" designation of the event, I'm not sure which of the participants could be deemed international, except inasmuch as the chocolate was harvested abroad, as almost all chocolate is, since the climate of 49 of our states is inhospitable to cacao.

That being said, I found four tables to like at the Salon.


1. L'Artisan du Chocolat

I've praised L'Artisan du Chocolat in the past as one of LA's best chocolatiers. Christian Alexandre and his wife Whajung Park make wonderful truffles out of their modest First Street store. Rather than a slick marketing rep, as some of the bigger companies had, Alexandre staffed the stand himself and gave out samples of some of his wonderful chocolates. I love L'Artisan's adventurous flavors including their delicious Kalmata Olive. The newest of these was Korean Red Bean - though, sadly, it was not available for sampling. He did have samples of his excellent plain chocolate truffle, one of the best around.


2. E. Guittard

Longtime Bay Area purveyor E. Guittard was at the Salon with samples of a wide range of their excellent chocolate bars. My favorite was the Nocturne, which weighs in at a dramatic 91% cacao. Other ultra-dark chocolates (i.e. over 90%) are too close to baking chocolate to eat plain, but the Nocturne was a fantastic bar, packing a deep chocolaty punch but lacking the bitter finish you might expect at that level. I also loved the 72% bar, which had wonderful flavor, and the various wafers, chocolate discs intended for cooking but just as good for snacking. Overall, I thought Guittard's blended bars were better than their single origin bars, having a more balanced flavor.


3. Chuao Chocolatier

I was excited to try the well regarded San Diego based Chuao Chocolatier, which I have heard good things about but never sampled. Chuao brought a delicious assortment of bon bons and bars. I particularly liked their passion fruit caramels and their chili spiked "picante" choco-pods. Unfortunately, they did not have any plain chocolate bars, which I really would have liked to try.


4. Malibu Toffee

I love toffee, but good toffee is, alas, hard to find. Malibu Toffee is a recent entry into the toffee game. Founded in 2006, it is essentially a one-woman show, run by founder Sheri Swist. Swist's is a small operation sold through her website and Malibu retailers. Her toffee, and toffee is her only product, is quite good, with a nice buttery crunch. Swist staffed her booth and showed the enthusiasm so good to see in small producers. I asked Swist what direction she is going in with her business, and she said she would love to get a contract for hotel turndown service...a great idea. I'd much rather have a piece of handmade toffee on my pillow than that boring old mint.

Overall I'd say the Chocolate Salon was a bust, and I doubt I'd pay $20 for the pleasure next year, but it's great to see small producers like Sheri Swist and Christian Alexandre show up to personally stand with their wares and give people a chance to pull away from that chocolate fountain and have some truly great chocolate.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Blind Date with the Green Fairy


Lucid Absinthe Superieure, 62% alcohol.

Absinthe [AB-saunt]. The stuff of myths. The muse of artists. The fuel of psychosis. The thing that drove Van Gough to chop off his ear. Celebrated in turn of the century France, banned in twentieth century America, this viridian, anise flavored spirit spiked with the toxic and allegedly hallucinogenic wormwood is now legal in the United States.

I must admit to being caught up in the excitement generated by Absinthe's reentry into the US market for the first time in nearly 100 years. Never mind that much of the mystique is myth and legend. For the real skinny on Absinthe, check with the good people at the Wormwood Society, who will tell you everything you wanted to know about the Green Fairy but were afraid to ask.

There are two genuine Absinthes which are now available in the US:

Kubler is a Swiss absinthe; a blanche, it is white rather than the traditional green. It is available at
Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa for $50.

Lucid is a traditional green Absinthe from France. Initially, it was only released in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. However, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have developed a knack for tracking down hard to get spirits, so I managed to snag a bottle and am here to report my findings. Since I acquired my bottle, I've noticed that Lucid is now listed by Hi-Times as well, for about $60.


Lucid Absinthe comes in a sleek black bottle with what appear to be cat eyes. I must admit, I was made uneasy by the prospect of drinking something that was watching me.


The Preparation

The imbibement of Absinthe, like most things that cause hallucinations, includes great ritual and requires strange paraphernalia.

Here's the process: you pour a glass of Absinthe, then place a slotted spoon on top of the glass. A sugar cube is then placed on the spoon. Slowly, you drip water over the sugar cube, into the Absinthe, until it becomes cloudy throughout. This cloudiness is called the louche and its consistency and color is very important to Absinthe drinkers, who view it similarly to the way a serious espresso drinker views the crema that tops an espresso. The final ratio should be three to five parts water to one part Absinthe.

After reading up on the preparation, I was ready to try it.


The Tasting


Lucid Neat

First I did what you are not supposed to do and sampled the Absinthe neat. Undiluted, the Absinthe had a light green tint and a strong licorice aroma, along with citrus and fruit notes. The taste is also dominated by the anise, like liquid black licorice...it's an overpowering and syrupy sweet taste. This is definitely in need of dilution.

Lucid Prepared

Now, as noted above, Absinthe drinkers love paraphernalia and use fancy specialty glasses and decorative slotted spoons, but I'm a whiskey drinker, so I don't have any of that. Instead, I used a wine glass and a fork, which seemed to do fine.

Then, the preparation. For my first sampling, I added three and one half parts water over two cubes of sugar, until it reached the desired cloudy consistency. The addition of water revealed a somewhat more complex aroma that could be detected from several feet away. All of the licorice aromas of fennel and anise were there but there were also more herbal scents. The candy taste was gone, though it was still too sweet. As I further diluted the Absinthe, it revealed a subtler anise flavor with a slight bitterness (wormwood?). Even with dilution, the heavy anise numbs the tongue.



As follow ups, I tried several different ratios of water and sugar and found that I liked four parts water to one part Absinthe with one sugar cube. As noted above, I found two cubes too sweet and no sugar produced an overly bitter taste.

At first, I felt the strong licorice taste of Absinthe was unpleasantly overwhelming, but over a week's worth of experiments, I came to recognize some of the subtler botanicals and herbaceous tones that made it quite a nice after-dinner drink. And there was something comforting about its palate numbing qualities.

Overall, my date with the Green Fairy went well. I'm not saying we're jumping into any sort of committed relationship or anything. After all, I'm a whiskey man first and foremost, but I could certainly see becoming life-long friends.

And, just for the record, I can't say I had any hallucinations or an urge to disfigure myself after drinking the Absinthe...though I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: Get Your Buffalo On at K&L Wine Merchants


K&L Wine Merchants, located on Vine just south of Sunset (behind the Arclight Theater), is a relatively new entry into the LA retail liquor scene. Opened last spring, the store is the third in a small family owned chain based in the Bay Area (the other locations are Redwood City and San Francisco).

The store is mostly wine, but on the back wall there is a spirit section. While modest in quantity, the whiskey selection is of excellent quality, including quite a number of selections I have never seen in Southern California.

For instance, they have the hard to find Lagavulin 16 year old Distiller's Edition (as opposed to the regular bottling). The Distiller's Edition is a well regarded vintage Lagavulin (meaning all of the whiskey was distilled the same year). It goes for about $100.

Equally impressive, they have the entire Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. As you might recall, Buffalo Trace is one of the most innovative and skilled distilleries in Kentucky, making amazing Bourbons and Ryes packed with flavor. Their Antique Collection is the BT crème de la crème, a sort of holy grail for Bourbon lovers, but they are very hard to come by. Of the five bottles, I have only previously seen one or two of them on sale anywhere in Southern California. To have all five in one store is a real rarity and a Bourbon lover's dream come true. On top of that, the price is right. Most of the bottles seem to go for a quite reasonable $55 a pop; the much heralded Stagg is $65 which is about as good a deal as you will find on it anywhere.

The collection includes:
  • George T. Stagg - Deeply flavorful firewater
  • Eagle Rare 17 year old - Elder version of a favorite sweet sipping whiskey
  • W.L. Weller 19 year old - An older version of a popular Bourbon
  • Sazerac 18 year old - A beautifully smooth Rye
  • Thomas H. Handy - A cask strength version of the Sazerac Rye


If you are a Bourbon/Rye fan, you really can't do much better than this series, and if you know a Bourbon/Rye fan, these would make wonderful Chanukah or Christmas gifts.

In addition to a great selection, K&L has a knowledgeable and helpful staff. I had always rued the fact that there were no really great liquor stores in mid-city LA. Now we have one, so check it out.

K&L Wine Merchants
1400 Vine Street (south of Sunset)
Hollywood, CA, 90028
(323) 464-9463

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Farmers Market: Third Tier

You've seen the best, now here's the rest. The unexciting, uninspired and just plain bad. Unfortunately, most of my new tries ended up on this list. I guess there was a reason I hadn't been going to all of those places.

Charlie's Coffee Shop



I would love to recommend Charlie's. It has a great old-time diner ambiance, even though it's only a stand. The staff is friendly, not in the corporate "Hi my name is Joe and I'll be your server" way but in a genuine and empathetic way. Breakfast regulars abound and are greeted with a knowing, "Hey Bruce, the usual?" The place exudes the small time old school charm that is the best of the Market. Unfortunately, I'm a food blogger, not an atmosphere blogger, and the food at Charlie's is pretty unexceptional. Sure they do up a fine French Toast and a decent breakfast, but nothing to rave about. Still, go by and breath in the atmosphere.


Magee's Kitchen

Magee's is the original FM food stand, dating back to early in the century when the Market really was occupied by farmers selling goods and they needed some sustenance. Magee's has a two prong menu, one with carving station type meats (corned beef, roast beef, etc.) the other with very old school Mexican (enchiladas, tacos, etc.). Neither are very good, but they do make a mean horseradish, which you can buy by the jar.


China Depot and Peking Kitchen


The Farmers Market is bookended by these old school, steam table Chinese eateries with their one, two and three item plates of fried meat nuggets with bright, sweet sauces. If you must have Chinese at the FM or have that odd hankering for orange chicken, go to China Depot, on the east side of the Market, which does this genre decently. Peking Kitchen, whose logo is suspiciously similar to that of Panda Express, gets no stars in my book.

Kokomo

The dishes on the menu of this souped up diner are good in concept, but the execution is lacking. I had food there that was both poorly seasoned and poorly cooked. Ten years ago, I might have put Kokomo in the second tier, but the quality has definitely declined since then.


Ulysses Voyage


Ulysses Voyage, the Greek sit-down restaurant at the back end of the Market, has its defenders, but I'm not one of them. On my most recent visit I reconfirmed my earlier impressions...they offer a wide variety of fairly bland and unexceptional Greek classics. If I want hummous and kabobs, I'll go to Moishe's.

Bryan’s Pit Barbecue


This place smells great, so take a deep sniff...and keep walking past the dry, bland meats at this poor excuse for a barbeque pit.


Deano's Gourmet Pizza


Middling pizza and pasta.


La Korea

Basic Korean standards. You really want Korean food? Drive 15 minutes east and you'll have hundreds of choices.


Sushi A Go Go

One small step up from the Ralph's sushi bar.


Phil's Grill


Basic Jewish deli faire done competently but not spectacularly.


Market Grill


Burgers and fries...nothing special.


The Salad Bar


Only if every other food stall in the market burned to the ground would I consider another meal at The Salad Bar, which serves lackluster salads and sandwiches. There was absolutely nothing to recommend the $8 tuna fish sandwich, which pretty much anyone I know could have done better at home. The exotic tropical juices were sickly sweet and the pathetic salad bar looked like something out of the early '70s...this place was a huge bummer.

Next week: The Final Tally