Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bam! -- The Food Network Top Ten

The Food Network, the only source of nearly 24 food television, does not get a lot of love from foodies or the blogosphere. You are more likely to see vitriolic attacks against its hosts and shows than anything resembling balanced criticism. Now, I've been watching the Network since the mid-90s and I certainly understand where the critics are coming from. The Food Network is as guilty of peddling mind-numbing schlock as any other network, but there are gems out there, so I thought I would show TFN some love with this list of the ten (or so) best TFN shows ever.

1. A Cook's Tour

Following up on Kitchen Confidential, his edgy inside look at restaurant life, Anthony Bourdain and a camera crew sought out great food in both likely and unlikely places around the world. In many ways, this is the show that changed food television forever. In a network full of people standing behind kitchen sets with preprepared food in the oven, this show took flight. It showed that the life of the eater could be just as interesting, if not more so, than the life of the home cook, who most of the Network's other shows catered to. Bourdain was funny, rebellious, spontaneous and inquisitive. He introduced fabulous characters and questionable eats.

TFN just began rerunning these episodes and the show holds up well. At that time, early in his celebrity career, Bourdain was cynical but not yet world weary. The locations and the entire concept were as new to the viewers as they were to him. The writing was succinct and humorous. Alas, it's a schtick that couldn't last, and his new, longer show, No Reservations on the Travel Channel, is too often contrived, over-written and filled with self-conscious navel gazing. It's like when your favorite punk band signs on with a major label...rebellion just isn't as fun when it goes establishment. Still, we have the reruns.

2. Iron Chef (Japanese)

Almost from its inception, TFN was looking for a culinary game show (Ready Set Cook was among their early attempts), but they had to look abroad to find one that would really capture viewers' imaginations. First shown in the US on public television in San Francisco, the original Iron Chef was a campy, over the top production pitting chef against chef in the vaunted Kitchen Stadium. When Food Network started airing the show, they created a cultural institution.

Iron Chef also taught its audience more about food and cooking than the average cooking show. Who knew there were so many uses for bonito? And I've always wondered why the American Iron Chefs never use fat netting.

I like the American version (see number 8, below) but it's just not the same. Somehow, the campiness doesn't translate and the menus and ingredients are less novel. Part of the fun of the original was the window it gave you into the tastes of another nation, both in terms of their traditional cuisine and how they interpreted international foods, and that element is necessarily lacking in the domestic version.

3. Good Eats

Alton Brown is one of the most competent and knowledgeable personalities on the Network. His long-running program Good Eats mixes food history, science, cooking and corny, pseudo plot-lines to present an ever-entertaining half hour of solid information and practical cooking. Like Julia Child before him, Alton teaches cooking by emphasizing techniques as opposed to recipes. He even has a nerdy cult following who are prone to quote him ("I'm not a cultural anthropologist.."; "Stuffing is evil;" etc.). Now, if they could just do something about the hokey opening graphics and music. It looks like something a graphic arts student did in 1995.

4. Dining Around

In the early days of the Food Network, TFN was still struggling to bring us something more than the "stand and stir" cooking shows that were its mainstays. One of the more innovative shows was Dining Around, starring Esquire restaurant critic Alan Richman and fashion writer Nina Griscom. The concept was a newspaper restaurant column...on television. Why not? Movie reviewers have television shows, and in fact, Dining Around borrowed the format of Siskel & Ebert's popular movie show. After showing a brief clip of the restaurant, the hosts opined on its merits.

Of course, televised restaurant reviews have some inherent limitations. For one, the program covered the types of restaurant reviews that might have appeared in the New York Times...largely high end. Combine that with the fact that they were broadcasting to a national audience and you end up with a show reviewing restaurants that 99.9% of the viewers will never visit, though I always found it interesting to see the hot new restaurant in Cleveland or Dallas or Vancouver.

Still, Dining Around was the only TFN show to attempt a serious look at the American restaurant scene. More importantly, it was the only show that involved actual criticism. Not everything at every restaurant was greeted with a "yum" or a semi-orgasmic "oooooh". This was largely because, unlike the cheesy restaurant-going shows that have followed it (including the nails on a chalk board program The Best Of, the insipid Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and the annoying panoply of Rachel Ray travel shows), the hosts did not broadcast from the restaurant with the chef standing next to them. I mean come on, you aren't going to give your honest opinion about a dish when you've got your arm around the chef. "Smile for the camera chef...and this dish sucked." Even Bourdain doesn't do that unless he's pretty sure the cook doesn't speak English.

Dining Around was typical of an early, low-budget cable show, but I hope the Network at some point will reconsider the idea of putting some sort of real food criticism on the air. I'd love to see Jonathan Gold host a show on taco trucks or the best tripe in town.

5. Ace of Cakes

Ace of Cakes is a reality program focused on the cake decorating talents of Duff Goldman and his hipster crew of bakers at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore.

To appreciate this program, you need to understand that it really isn't about food. While technically edible, the creations of CCC are more akin to sculpture. Indeed, I don't think I'd want to taste one. The cake itself appears to sit around for days being decorated, often with inedibles like wooden posts and frames. Every cake is also topped with a thick layer of fondant, a slightly sweet decorating paste that has the texture and consistency of vinyl. And the show's principles are never seen discussing matters gustatory. How does the cake taste? What would be a good filling? Do the customers like it? Not on Ace of Cakes. It's all about the look.

Normally, I would look down my nose at a Food Network show that has almost nothing to do with food, but if you view Ace of Cakes as a show about art, you get a different perspective. Charm City is not a bakery. It's an art studio whose medium just happens to be cake. Once you make that leap, there is a lot to like.

The sculptures produced by CCC are a feast for the eyes. They can be funny, endearing, sentimental or edgy. The strength of the program is that it is about the craft: how, when and under what circumstances these cakes are made. You see the creative process from start to finish, complete with last minute improvisations and trouble shooting, all managed by a collection of wry decorators who appear to have been lifted from a mid-1990s alt rock video or, perhaps, the movie Slackers.

And unlike most reality programs, this really is all about the art. There are no workplace grudges, smoldering romances or other frivolities. Ace of Cakes may be the least food-oriented show on the Food Network, but it's also one of the best reality shows on television.

6. Two Fat Ladies

What's apparent from this list is that some of the best TFN shows are the ones they don't produce. A BBC program, Two Fat Ladies featured Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson cooking what often looked to be barely edible English food. Again, the show was fun for its look at the cuisine of another nation as well as the quirky personalities of the hosts. It also shows that Anthony Bourdain wasn't the first rebellious TV cook to smoke and drink on camera.

7. Taste with David Rosengarten

A show from the Network's early days, Taste was, in many ways, a forerunner of Alton Brown's Good Eats. Rosengarten, who could battle Brown for the title of biggest nerd on TV, stood at a table and cooked, but he focused on information and the background of the dish and ingredients. His show had pretty low production quality, mostly him cooking in front of an overly sterile white background if I recall correctly, but he always had some good tidbits of information for the audience.

8. Iron Chef America

It pales in comparison to the Japanese original, but Iron Chef America still retains some of the Iron Chef energy albeit with less shiny outfits. Its best quality is the play-by-play by Alton Brown, though there is not much better feeling than seeing Bobby Flay get bested on national television. It's less campy than the original, but has more knowledgeable judges. (Extra points for anyone who remembers the short lived, ultra-campy Iron Chef USA on UPN hosted by...William Shatner). The curmudgeonly, sloth-like Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue restaurant critic and author of numerous popular food books, is one of the funniest personalities on the entire Network. This is a guy who should have his own show!

9-10. [Reserved]

It's sort of sad how hard it was to come up with the above best shows. The truth is, I got nothin' else. I'm thoroughly unimpressed with the endless cavalcade of celebrity chefs with their multiple shows: the Marios, Rachels, Emerils, Bobby's, and Giadas. I have no doubt that they are skilled professionals; I just don't find their shows the least bit interesting. I must admit to taking some pleasure in the deceitful ways of Robert Irvine...who pulled one over on the Network's top brass, but how many times can you watch a guy cook 500 chicken wings for a wedding. The Next Iron Chef seemed promising but turned out to be little more than a warmed over, none to subtle copy of Top Chef. I mined my brain for any other shows that merited mention here, and I couldn't think of one, so I'll reserve this space in the hopes that there will be future good shows, preferably one about wine and/or spirits.

The good news is that food shows are no longer relegated to the backwater of TFN and PBS. There are credible shows on the Travel Channel, Bravo and Fox. As more and more networks jump on the foodie bandwagon, there hopefully will be increased pressure on TFN to step away from the schlock. Until then, I leave you with the top 8.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

American Samoas

Among the wonderful foods that remind me of spring are strawberries, cream eggs, Easter ham, matzoh ball soup, and...Girl Scout cookies, especially delectable Samoas. There is really no earthly reason why I should like these little coconut-caramel-shortbread rings, drizzled, as they are, with waxy, flavorless fake chocolate. But there is something about them that I just can't resist, and I go through box after box.

And why are they called Samoas? Do they claim some Polynesian ancestry? Is it because of the coconut? Did they name them by spinning a globe and randomly stopping it with a finger? Ah, but I suppose the mystery is part of their allure.

I buy mine at the Hollywood Farmers Market, where the Girl Scout stand looks strangely out of place with its packaged, mass produced cookies among the organic arugula and varietal strawberries.

Get 'em while you can.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Malt Whisky Yearbook

Are you a whiskey geek? I mean, are you a real whiskey geek? Do you care whether whiskey is spelled with an e or not? Do you have firm opinions about things like chill filtering, the impact of terroir and Indian whiskey exports? Do you have The Scotch Blog bookmarked?

If you answered these questions affirmatively, you owe yourself a copy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook, an annual publication now in its third year.

The Yearbook is every whisk(e)y geek's dream come true. It includes profiles of all the working Scotch and Irish distilleries as well as profiles of independent bottlers, the major blends and closed distilleries, articles about the year in whiskey and best of all, charts and graphs tracking whiskey sales and forecasts. While it is a pretty Scotch-centric publication, there is a nod to Japanese, American and other malt whiskies as well as a list of whiskey publications and blogs (though they have woefully neglected mention of this fine website).

If you've ever lain awake wondering what the capacity is of the Glendullan distillery or what Italy's whiskey consumption was in 2006, you need this book. And if you read an obscure whiskey fact in this blog, chances are it came from the Malt Whisky Yearbook.

The Yearbook is now available on Amazon for $25.75.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Strawberry Fields

One of the signs of spring in California is the onset of beautiful, plump varietal strawberries at the local farmers' markets. Like bananas, there are hundreds of varieties of strawberries, but only one variety is widely available to American consumers: chandlers. They are big and fine tasting, but like most agribusiness products, they were bred more for durability than flavor.

Thankfully, with the onset of farmers' markets, we now have access to strawberries that make those old chandlers taste like cardboard. Strawberries that burst with flavor, sweetness and juice. Strawberries that you will gobble up by the basket because they are so good and that will forever ruin supermarket berries for you.

My farmers' market of choice is the big Hollywood Farmers' Market, every Sunday morning on Ivar Street between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard. In the spring, the market has berries galore, but there are two purveyors who specialize in varietal strawberries: Harry's Berries, which is usually on the east side of Ivar in the north half of the market, and a second stand with no signage, which is across Ivar and usually a bit north of Harry's. Harrry's carries gaviotas and seascapes, and has just returned to the market, but be warned, they sometimes sell out early in the day. The other stand carries a greater variety but not necessarily all of them on any given day. They sometimes have gaviotas and seascapes, but also have 269s and camarosas. Below is a listing and description of some of these treats.

Gaviotas: Gaviotas are my favorite of all the strawberries. A ripe gaviota at the height of the season is one of the single greatest gastronomic experiences there is. Gaviotas are very sweet, heavy on the juice and have a great fruity taste with not much in the way of acid. They are about as close as fresh fruit gets to tasting like candy. Harry's Berries stocks them for $15 for a three-pack, and they are worth every penny. Harry's excels at gaviotas and when they have them, I always get a three-basket pack.

Seascapes: Seascapes are gaviotas' more sophisticated sibling. They are less sweet, more acidic, very juicy and in someways have more of a traditional strawberry taste. Their season is shorter and their yield is smaller than the gaviotas, so they can be a bit harder to find. There are good Seascapes at Harry's and the stand across the street.

Camarosas: Camarosas have a thicker skin than gaviotas and seascapes and tend to be available earlier in the season. They are a good teaser for what is to come, but not one I would spend much time on once the gavs and seascapes come in.

269s: This is a cross between a seascape and a common chandler. It has a bit more durability a la the chandler but has some of that seascape flavor and juice.

Buying and Storage Tips:

Bigger is not always better. I find that smaller berries are sometimes juicier.

Be cautious with your berries. They bruise very easily.

I store my berries on a counter out of direct sunlight and never in the refrigerator. As I noted before, farmers market varietal berries are not bred for durability. They last one to two days buy as many as you will eat within that time, and then wait until next week (or the next market you can get to).

As I mentioned above, you need to take caution. If you begin to eat these berries, you will never be satisfied with supermarket berries again. You will look askance at the strawberries served at restaurants to garnish your chocolate cake or omelet. Every time you eat a regular, old strawberry you will pause, sigh, and know that it is but a pale imitation of what a strawberry should taste like.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Larchmont Blues

Lately, there has been much hue and cry in the Hancock Park vicinity about the closure of a number of Larchmont Boulevard restaurants. La Luna closed and Sam's Bagels is allegedly on the chopping block. The rumor is that they will be replaced by chains, possibly a Crumbs cupcake shop or a Panda Express. The HP crowd claims that the local Mom and Pops are being forced out in place of big, impersonal corporations.

Larchmont Boulevard is, of course, a two block commercial strip to the east of Hancock Park. It's home to a number of restaurants and other businesses and has a distinctly Yuppie aesthetic.

Now, I am all for small businesses, but I have to dissent from the conventional wisdom here. First, Mom and Pops aren't always good and chains aren't always bad. Peet's Coffee, for instance, is far better than the undistinguished Cafe Roma which it replaced on Larchmont a few years ago. It makes better coffee and is more of a neighborhood hangout.

In addition, there's a big difference between the giant, mediocre corporate chains, of which there are already several on Larchmont (Noah's, Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Jamba Juice, Baskin Robins) and smaller chains that make a quality product. While Panda Express fits in the former category, Crumbs is a tiny chain, with six stores in New York and one in Beverly Hills.

It would also be different if Larchmont was a treasure trove of good eating, but the sad truth is that the food on Larchmont is mostly mediocre. Every restaurant on the block could vaporize tomorrow and the only thing I'd miss would be Village Pizzeria (which is doing well and opening another branch - which will make it a chain). I really don't find anything else on the strip to recommend.

If great restaurants were closing, I'd be up in arms, but they aren't. I will say that I am saddened by the closure of Larchmont Hardware, a fabulous little shop with good selection and a helpful staff. I'd much rather go there than a large, impersonal Home Depot. I also like the bookstore, but I'm sure that, as with all independent book stores, its days are numbered.

I certainly don't want to see this neighborhood become a generic strip of Anywhere USA chains, but I also don't think that every closure is a tragedy. I don't want Panda Express but I don't think every single shuttering should be greeted with indignation. It would do well for some of the lackluster eateries on Larchmont to be replaced by higher quality places. Until I see what happens, I will reserve judgment and won't be singing the Larchmont Blues.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: In the Red -- Redbreast

Redbreast is that most Irish of whiskies: pure pot still and triple distilled at Midleton, the home of Jameson. Aged 12 years, it's part of the new wave of Irish whiskies which do all they can to belie the reputation of Irish whiskies as lacking in serious flavor and worthy of being dumped in coffee.

The aroma of Redbreast is floral and is definitely Irish and isn't trying to hide its character. The taste is distinctively malty, but with some lightness to it. You could mistake if for a Scotch, either a very good blend or a smooth Lowlander, if tasting it blind.

This is the first time I've ventured outside the big names of Irish Whiskey, and it's very promising. I will continue to delve into the emerald isle...and maybe I'll even do it during one of the other eleven months of the year.

Redbreast is available at most good liquor stores for around $40. They make a 15 year old which is supposed to be fabulous but which is not available in the US for now.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Taking a Stand for Breakfast: The Stand

Encino's The Stand is a well known hot dog joint. They may not make the best hot dogs in town, but they do a reliably good dog. On a recent morning when I happened to be in the Valley, I headed over to get some dogs. Much to my chagrin, however, I arrived before 11:30 and was told that hot dogs were not a breakfast food. I consoled myself by ordering what turned out to be the best breakfast sandwich I have ever had.

This behemoth consists of a nice, garlicky sausage topped with a plain omelet, cheese and an order of hash browns, all mushed between your choice of toast or a bagel. It is literally, breakfast in a sandwich. I felt I had died and gone to breakfast heaven.

The Stand
17000 Ventura Boulevard
(Just West of Balboa)
Encino, CA 91316
(818) 788-2700

The Stand also has a location in Century City and a new one in Westwood.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

King of Cheeses: Epoisses

Epoisses is the shit! The definitive, stinky French cheese is probably my favorite cheese in the world. So odiferous that it is allegedly banned on public transportation in France, the cheese reminds me of the old saying about Durian, the stinky Thai fruit: smells like hell, tastes like heavan.

Epoisses is a soft, washed rind, cow cheese from Burgundy. Over the past ten years, it has become very available in the Los Angeles area, and now can be found in pretty much any cheese store or gourmet market and on every restaurant cheese board in town.

While there are a number of producers, the most commonly available is Berthaut, which makes small wheels for sale in wooden boxes. True French Epoisses is made from raw milk. Of course, the American version is pastuerized by requirement of America's anti-cheese laws, but it still retains a lot of punch. Here then, is a quick guide to Epoisses.

Buying Epoisses

While Epoisses is readily available, you are best off buying it at a good cheese store that properly stores their chese, like the Cheese Store of Silverlake or Beverly Hills.

Open up the box and look at the Epoisses, which will be encased in plastic wrap. It should appear as a firm round wheel. If the surface is flat such that you cannot see the rounded edges, it has been sitting around too long. There should not be condensation on the inside of the plastic wrap. That indicates poor handling.

I like the fresh taste of a young Epoisse, so I always check the date on the bottom of the box, and I'm not above asking the cheese monger to go in the back and get me the youngest one they have. If you like a stronger taste, you may want to go for an older one.

Serving Epoisses

Like all soft cheeses, Epoisses should be served at room temperature. Unless it is sweltering, I usually take it out of the fridge five to eight hours prior to serving it. That way you will have the wonderful effect of cutting into it and seeing the off-white, viscous ooze that is Epoisses.

I usually serve it in the box, to avoid it running all over the place and my fingers smelling like Epoisses rind for the next week.

The orange rind on a young Epoisses is edible and I serve it along with the cheese. On an older Epoisses, it can get super-funky, in which case guests might want to avoid it.

Tasting Epoisses

While the smell can be overpowering, the taste of Epoisses, especially young Epoisses is comparatively mild, with notes of straw and grass and only a light saltiness. The flavor is strong, but in no way offensive.

When served at the proper temperature, Epoisses has a thick, creamy mouthfeel, and the rind barely distinguishes itself from the cheese.

I like to eat my Epoisses on a good, crusty bread (I usually use a sourdough boule from Los Feliz Bakery). It does well accompanied by apples, pears and a good white wine.

Frankly, I think Epoisses gets a bad rap in the aroma department. Yes, it can smell strong, but its taste is nothing compared to some other cheeses. I've had Taleggios that would make your toes curl, and no small amount of powerful Livarots and other French cheeses that make Epoisses smell like roses. When stored properly and served young, Epoisses is low on the stink but very high on the flavor. Sublime and even subtle, it is truly fit for a king.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Luck of the Irish

I admit, it's cheesy to do this for St. Patrick's Day, but the holiday reminded me that I have yet to do a blog entry on Irish Whiskey. So this will be a brief primer and we will follow up next week with a tasting.

What is Irish Whiskey?

Well, it's whiskey from Ireland silly, from the people who invented the stuff. Yes, it's true; whiskey's birthplace is the emerald isle. Only from there was it carried across the North Channel to Scotland.

But alas, the Irish whiskey industry, once thriving, was reduced to only two distilleries by the 1970s: Midleton (makers of Jameson) and Bushmills, and they were owned by the same company. Since that time, they have been sold off. Bushmills is now owned by liquor giant Diageo. And in 1987, Cooley, a new independent distillery opened, and it has since opened a second distillery. Now things seem to be happening in Irish Whiskey for the first time in a long while.

There are three major types of Irish whiskey:

1. Single Malt Whiskey: As with Scotch, a whiskey made from 100% malted barley. Cooley, in particular, specializes in single malts, even making a peated version.

2. Pure Pot Still: This is a unique contribution of the Irish, a whiskey made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still. As far as I know, this designation exists only in Ireland.

3. Blended Whiskey: Again, as with Scotch, a whiskey made from a blend of barley and other grains. Usually, an Irish blend will have malted barley, unmalted barley and other grains.

And also as with Scotch, the biggest sellers (Bushmills, Jameson, Tullarmore Dew) are blends, but there is a growing market for single malts as well as a few pure pot stills.

What does Irish Whiskey taste like?

This may be a harder question to answer for Irish than for any other whiskey. The stereotype of Irish is the flavor that characterizes its blends: light and sometimes vaguely sweet. The traditional lightness comes from being triple distilled (unlike Scotch, which is double distilled). But the pure pot stills have a different, distinctively malty characteristic. And now, with the advent of pure pot stills like Redbreast and the single malts coming out of Bushmills and Cooley, it is getting hard to define the typical Irish Whiskey. In the next few years, the distilleries of Ireland will have to guide us in recreating this legendary whiskey. One thing is for sure, Irish Whiskey isn't just for St. Patrick's Day anymore.

Next Wednesday: Redbreast Pure Pot Still Whiskey

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kids Eat the Darndest Things

As a proud father of two and a committed eater, I've never been one to let kids cramp my eating style. Between loving to eat and not wanting to pay for babysitting, we started taking our older daughter (now 6) out with us almost everywhere we went. It may seem silly to some to take a three year old (her age at the time) to Valentino, but it's actually a lot cheaper than babysitting.

Between going out with us and living in a the multi-cultural world of Koreatown (kim bap is her favorite lunch snack), our daughter has developed quite the palate (our younger one is still an infant so her tastes are limited to strained this and that). At age six, she regularly eats things that I hadn't even heard of until I was in college.

She's wanted to be on the blog for a while, so I told her to come up with her top ten favorite restaurants in LA. The initial comments are hers, while the bracketed comments are mine.

1. NBC Seafood
404 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754-3279
(626) 282-2323

1. Ocean Star
404 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754-3279
(626) 282-2323

You can try something sweet or something savory and you can always experiment if you see something that looks good. And the other thing is that you get to taste millions of delicious things without getting too full.
Favorite Dishes: Pork Buns, Cream Buns.

[There is probably no more kid friendly type of cuisine than dim sum. The palaces are chock full of kidlets of all sizes and so loud that a child could have a screaming tantrum and no one would notice. Plus the cart service makes for a fun time. I prefer NBC, but she couldn't decide between there and Ocean Star and so made it a tie.]

3. El Torito Grill
9595 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

I like seeing the fresh tortillas being made.
Favorite Dishes: taquitos, spare ribs, steak nachos, quesadillas, corn cake.

[I've had to come to terms with my daughter's love of this southwestern incarnation of the El Torito chain in Beverly Hills. I order one of the weak margaritas, generously butter my tortillas and do my best. Over time, I've even come to like the little blue shrimp taquitos.]

4. Mastro’s Steakhouse
246 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

I like the Macaroni & cheese…the creaminess, the cheesiness and the deliciousness. And I like to get bites of other people’s meat.

[We only took her here once for a big family birthday, but she immediately took to it and has been bugging us to take her back ever since.]

5. Atlacatl
301 N. Berendo St.
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 663-1404

I like the turkey sandwiches [pan con pavo]. I like the moistness of the bread of the juice the turkey is dipped in and the yummy hot turkey.

[Atlacatl is not my favorite Salvadoran place, but it's close and also kid-friendly.]

6. Yai on Vermont
1627 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 644-1076

Favorite Dishes: Pad See Ew with pork or chicken. Roasted Pork with Chinese Broccoli.
What she likes about them: The noodleyness and the porkyness.

[Kids and noodles of any ethnicity, a match made in heaven].

7. La Pupusa Loca
5716 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 957-2967

Favorite Dishes: Pupusa Revuleta [pork, cheese and beans].
I like the yumminess of the pork and tortilla mixed together.

8. Noshi Sushi
4430 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004-1802
Phone: (323) 469-3458

Favorite Dishes: Tamago (Egg sushi), Unagi sushi and rolls. I like seeing the things made.

[This is a popular neighborhood joint on Beverly Boulevard. The prices are right but the sushi is pretty basic. I'm not sure what makes it a huge draw with a line on most weekends. This was actually her birthday dinner choice for the last two years.]

9. Fassica
10401 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 815-8463

I like the injera’s texture, like kind of doughy and mushy, kind of. I love eating with my fingers.
Favorite Dishes: The Fassica Special.

[She immediately took a liking to Ethiopian. Like she says, you can eat it with your fingers. What's not to like?]

10. Lucky Devil's
6613 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 465-8259

I like the cheesiness of the macaroni and cheese and the delicious cobbler with frozen custard.

[The picture is a LD's slider. She likes the delicious Kentucky Cream Cake for dessert (and she's little) so she hasn't been affected by the milkshake shrinkage].

Runners Up:

Astro Diner
Bay Cities Deli
Dumpling Master
Mssr. Marcel's
Square One

Next Wednesday: Her favorite whiskies (okay, maybe not)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hooked on Cheddar: Hook's 10 Year Old Cheddar

Cheddar is really the province of the English...Montgomery and Keene's are incredible, salty, winey cheddars birthed in the English countryside where cheddar originated.

When I think of Wisconsin cheddar, I inevitable think of the big orange bricks that were shredded onto nachos, slided onto grilled cheese or burgers or melted onto Triscuits in my childhood. Comfort cheese, but not eatin' cheese.

Not so, anymore, with the American artisinal cheese revival comes the rebirth of orange Wisconsin cheddar by Tony and Julia Hook of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Hook's ten year old cheddar is a thing to behold. The bright orange brick wouldn't look out of place on the supermarket shelf, but the taste is, excuse the expression, off the hook.

Hook's doesn't taste anything like the aforementioned English cheddars. It has a crystallized texture, almost like an aged Gouda, but the taste is pure American cheddar...but on a higher level. It's like a super-cheddar, full of cheddary flavor, but richer, more dense, more intense. It begs to be paired with a good beer...and what's more American than that.

Hook's ten year old cheddar is available at the Cheese Store of Silverlake.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Back in Black -- Black Bottle

For the final part of our three part series on blended Scotch, I thought I would try one of the more popular new blends.

Technically, Black Bottle isn't a new blend, but it was reformulated several years ago to include malts from all seven working distilleries on Islay: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. As Islay is hot right now, Black Bottle took off with this new formula and extra dark bottle (see picture - okay, it's not really that dark).

Black Bottle produces two expressions, a ten year old and a younger blend with no age statement. I've never seen the younger version in the US, but the ten year old is widely available at good liquor stores, usually in the $33 range.


Black Bottle 10 year old, 40% abv

This is the first time I've had a blend which, if I had been tasting blind, I definitely would have pegged as a single malt. It has strong island flavors, peat, smoke...not too much in the way of medicine. There's also a pleasant malty lightness to it. In some ways it really is the uber-Islay, with elements of the many complex malts of that island.

At $33, Black Bottle is a great deal and shows that blends can play with the big boys. Check it out.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shrinkage at Lucky Devil's

I've always been a big fan of Lucky Devil's, the new American cafe on Hollywood Boulevard, but lately, there have been some unfortunate developments involving shrinkage.

First the fries shrank. LD's makes great fries...dark, crispy sticks embedded with big crystals of salt. A few months ago, they switched to smaller and fancier dishes. With those smaller dishes came a smaller serving of fries with your burger. Disappointing, but I could deal.

But now they have done something unforgivable. They have toyed with the toasted pecan shake. The shake is probably LD's most beloved dish; it certainly is by me. It used to come in a big, metal shake glass, stuffed full of custard and a huge mound of whipped cream. It was truly a thing to behold.

This weekend, however, I ordered my shake and was horrified to receive a tiny little shake glass. It was the same shake, but the glass must have been half the serving of the old one...and at the same price. This is a sad development. LD's always seemed like a place that cared for a respected the customer, and now this.

LD's doesn't include an email address on their website, thereby preventing us from barraging them with emails, but if you are an LD's patron, or a believer in all things good in the world, then on your next trip, make it known that you are opposed to shrinkage and demand the return of the full-sized shake!