Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Budget Booze- Take a Peak at Pikesville Rye

Since writing up some good whiskey buys for under $20 a few months ago, I've been getting lots of inquiries about where to find cheap whiskey, so over the next few weeks, I'll be featuring some budget booze.

The only thing better than a good rye is a good, cheap rye, and Pikesville scores on both counts. A Heaven Hill product, Pikesville is a three year old rye which goes for around $15. Pikesville was originally a much beloved Maryland rye, but the old Maryland distillery is long gone. The label claims it is still distilled from an "old Maryland formula," which is curious since I believe it uses the same mash bill as Heaven Hill's Rittenhouse Rye, which is allegedly an old Pennsylvania style rye. Both, of course, are distilled in Kentucky. Marketing aside though, this is good stuff.


Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey (Distilled by Heaven Hill), 3 years old, 40% alcohol. ($11-16).

Good rye spice on the nose. This has a very straightforward rye flavor. It has good spice, a bit of caramel sweetness, good body, and the spice carries you all the way to a very nice, spicy finish. All in all, a text book rye whiskey. Great stuff for the price and easily better than some ryes I've had that are much more expensive.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Palatable Pickels+ Pottage

Tucked between the rental car centers and auto dealerships on Glendale's Brand Boulevard of Cars is one of the most talked about restaurants to open in the last year: Palate Food + Wine. Specializing in pickling and charcuterie, Palate does these things well, but falls short in other areas.

The Palate menu is delivered in a legal size file folder, which will make lawyers feel like they're still at work -- pig claims intentional infliction of emotional distress based on excessively porky menu. The menu divides into five sections, the "porkfolio" which is a charcuterie plate, potted meats, pickles, cheeses and other dishes (i.e. soups, salads and entrees).

The two dishes we had that were excellent came from the potted meat and pickles sections of the menu. The potted lamb was a wonderfully salty, preserved lamb with ample fat. Much of the lamb gaminess had receded in favor of the salt and brine, which made it akin to an addictive, salty snack with a hint of game; I found myself wishing for a larger portion. Other potted items on the menu the night we were there included pork and hamachi.

For pickles, out of a selection of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and grapes, we chose grapes. These grapes exploded in your mouth with vinegar and tarragon, almost as if they were one of Jose Andreas' "spherifications"; in fact, I'm not sure I could have identified them as grapes in a blind tasting, though a slight grape flavor does emerge later in the palate. These little wonders left me intrigued about the other menu items and reaffirmed my commitment to eat more pickled fruit.

The porkfolio, aside from the great name, fell a bit flat. It included parma prosciutto, lomo, speck, and three salumi, but all of it was rather ordinary. As a pork and charcuterie house, I held Palate to a high standard, and I didn't think they came through on this, their signature dish. Of everything on the plate, the speck and lomo were my favorites, but the salumi suffered from lack of distinction between the varieties and parma prosciutto is just not that special in these days of charcuterie innovation.

If the porkfolio didn't meet my rather high expectations, the entrees really disappointed. Flat iron steak was overcooked and the accompanying marrow was completely unseasoned. Calamari on greens with chili paste and garbanzos was a nice enough dish if not particularly memorable.

Since I have enough good cheese in my life, I didn't order a cheese course, though the menu selections looked nice enough.

The Palate wine list is creative and I appreciate that they offered three different sized pours of each wine (this is definitely a trend that should catch on), but avoid the cocktails. This is a wine place and the mixology was lacking.

Given the raves that have been heaped upon Palate, I was surprised to be largely underwhelmed. That being said, rave reviews are a mixed blessing and so I came with high expectations. If the place were in a more restaurant heavy district, I could see going back for a pre-meal snack of potted meat, pickles and a glass of wine. Alternatively, they are open for lunch on weekends and the aforementioned would make a nice light lunch. That being said, I'd stick to the top of the menu.

Palate Food + Wine
933 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204-2107
(818) 662-9463

Thursday, September 24, 2009

She Wore Red Velvet

I'm not much of a cake baker. I tend to stick to chocolate desserts for my baking, but when your significant other loves cake and it's her birthday, what are you going to do? In fact, nearly all my cake baking has taken place around one of her birthdays over the past 15 years. I've fumbled a few, though I've had a few triumphs as well, including a nice tres leches that I made from an Alton Brown recipe.

One of her favorite cakes is red velvet, so this year I took it on. After searching high and low, I found this Chowhound post. All I can say is, use it. The recipe is near-flawless. The secret ingredient is a bit of vinegar and baking soda, which adds that fizzy CO2 to the batter. I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter with the exception of substituting butter for the Crisco, since I have a deep-seated fear of Crisco.

And the frosting is wonderful, though be warned it is a buttercream, and some folks prefer cream cheese frosting on their red velvet cake. As for me, you could frost dog shit with a good buttercream and I'd happily lap it up.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Festival Edition

For Whiskey buffs in LA, fall is festival season, and this fall may be one of the best of all.

October 10 - Hi-Time Wine Cellars Whisk(e)y Tasting

Hi-Time Wine, Orange County's best whiskey purveyor opens up the vault and offers tastes of over 100 whiskies plus appetizers at the Costa Mesa Holiday Inn. The event takes place on Saturday, October 10 from 4:00 to 8:00 and the entry fee is a more than reasonable $50. Reservations are required so if you are interested, visit their website.

October 20 - WhiskyLive LA

For the first time ever, LA will be home to one of the big, magazine-sponsored festivals. Whisky Magazine's WhiskyLive will take place on Tuesday, October 20 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. WhiskyLive features classes, entertainment, food, and of course, whiskey. Tickets range from $99 for a regular pre-ordered ticket all the way up to $149 for a VIP ticket at the door. Check out this site for more information and to order.

November 20 - Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society's (SMWS) sixteenth annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza will take place on Friday, November 20 at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. The SMWS is a private club for Scotch lovers, but their festival is open to the public and will offer over 85 single malts. Tickets are by advance purchase only and cost $115 for members and $130 for nonmembers. For more information and to order tickets, see their website.

I will be doing my best to provide continuing coverage of these excellent events for Southern California's whiskey-loving public.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

XLB/Shen Jian Bao Alert: Tasty Bao at Tastio (Dean Sin World)

I Love the popular xiao long bao (XLB), or soup dumplings, but my real love in the area of Shanghainese cooking is shen jian bao. Shen jian bao are pork buns, steamed in deep water and then fried in oil and topped with black sesame seeds. I headed to Tastio because I'd heard great things about their XLB, but their shen jian bao won my heart.

I heard about Tastio, aka Dean Sin World, through the excellent e-newsletter Tasting Table and was surprised I'd never heard of the place given my love of dumplings, though it seems to be pretty off the radar. It's a tiny (four tables) shop in a strip mall on Garfield, just north of Garvey in Monterey Park.

The shen jian bao at Tastio are excellent, perfectly seared on the bottom with bread that is chewy but not too doughy, bursting with juice when you bite into them and full of succulent ground pork. These were possibly the best shen jian bao I've had, though I loved the version at Shanghai Restaurant, back when it was good.

The XLB were also excellent, though maybe not as refined as those at Din Tai Fung. T We also had fried dumplings which also burst with juice, a sort of flat cabbage spring roll, which was good and scallion pancakes, which were a bit too greasy. Shrimp wontons were served in a lovely chicken broth, that no one at the table seemed to be able to get enough of.

Tastio is not very accustomed to non-English speakers and while the menu is in English, the staff's English is limited to none, but they were very nice and excited to share their great food with us, and with some effort on both our parts, we managed to mostly understand each other.

The menu at Tastio isn't as diverse as some place, but for what they have, I would certainly pick them over the more popular Mei Long Village and J&J. Those places are fine, but they don't make my heart sing, and it sings still for the shen jian bao.

They also sell frozen dumplings to take home at 50 pieces per bag for around $12. I steamed some XLB at home and they came out pretty well. The shen jian bao, which are a bit more complicated to cook, are a bit intimidating and, for now, are still sitting in my freezer.

Tastio Bakery & Deli
306 N Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 571-0636

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Red Velvet...Cookies at the Studio City Farmers Market

I'm on a bit of a red velvet binge lately (more on that next week), and at the Sunday Studio City Farmers' Market on Ventura Place at Laurel Canyon, there is a new stand called Xtreme Desserts. Their specialty is the red velvet cookie, a sandwich cookie featuring two large cookie shaped pieces of red velvet cake and a cream cheese frosting filling. The red velvet was moist and flavorful, though a bit too red for me (easy on the dye guys) and the cream cheese filling was creamy and smooth with the right amount of sweetness and tang. It's really more cake than cookie, like an oreo that's been crossed with a red velvet cake, or a souped up Southern spin on some Hostess treat. They have a few brownies as well, but the red velvet cookies seemed to be the mainstay.

They also have a website where you can order the red velvet cookie and lots of other tasty looking treats.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: The Dark Roasted Goodness of Glenmorangie Signet

Glenmorangie Signet was one of the most talked about releases from last year. Innovation isn't new to this very popular Scottish distillery. They were one of the first to popularize cask finishes, moving a whisky from one barrel to another for its last months or years to impart different flavors. Their regular line still includes port, sherry and Sauternes finished whiskies.

The Signet was an entirely different type of experiment that went to the core of whisky production: the barley. You don't hear much about barley in the Scotch world. Being the core ingredient of the Scotch Whisky, you would think that people would argue about its quality, roast and breed, but no, discussions of barley are largely absent from Scotch aficionado banter.

Signet changed that by focusing the whiskey world's attention on barley. Signet diverged from common practice by uses chocolate barley as the base of its Signet. Despite the sound of it, chocolate barley is not a new sweet snack from Trader Joe's. It's a darker roast of barley than is used in malt whisky; it is used in beer, specifically porters and stouts. The Signet malt used chocolate barley for 15 to 20% of its 100% barley mash; the rest was presumably the traditional roast. What effect will this dark roasted barley have on the finished product? We shall taste and find out.


Glenmorangie Signet, 46% alcohol ($200). The whisky has no age statement.

The nose is sweet and honeyed with some banana. It reminds me of Canadian Whisky or even Cognac more than malt. The flavor is sweet; the first sip reminds me again of a super-rich Canadian or maybe an American malt like Stranahan's. Then there is grain, and yes, some chocolate or mocha type flavors. There is a thick, rich mouthfeel that gives this whisky a certain weight. Then, at the end of the palate and continuing with the finish, there is malt, the pure, sweet malt that is the trademark of Glenmorangie.

This is a really extraordinary whisky, both in the fact that it is pleasing to the palate, but also in that it is something totally new in the world of Scotch, both in concept and flavor. Check it out!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Better Than Genet: Little Ethiopia

Continuing my renewed survey of Little Ethiopia on Fairfax, I stopped by...Little Ethiopia. This is one of a handful of the eateries I've never visited, so I decided to find out what I'd been missing; it turns out, I'd been missing a lot.

I ordered the standard veggie and meat combos (the veggie combo is the Yatkelilt Wot; the meat combo isn't on the menu, but the chef will make one for you if you ask) and an order of shiro.

The standard combo dishes were excellent. The yellow lentils were spiked with more garlic than usual and all of the veggie dishes, red lentils, greens and alicha had great flavor.

In the meat combo, the wots were excellent. The doro wot sauce was more comparable to a Oaxacan mole than any other doro wot I've had. It was both sweet and a bit spicy, and had the flavor of countless spices, roasted and crushed into a thick paste that is the hallmark of a traditional mole. The beef wot was similar but less sweet and more spicy; both were excellent. Indeed, these were some of my favorite wots in town, and all of the meat dishes were less greasy than at many Ethiopian spots. I was less enthused about the yebeg alicha in which the lamb was a bit chewy.

The other distinguishing thing about Little Ethiopia was that the butter flavor was so discernible in their sauces and stews. Butter is the cornerstone of Ethiopian cooking, but the pure taste of butter is often lost to the bold spices that compromise the various stews. At Little Ethiopia, you could taste both spice and butter, which gave the dishes a profoundly rich flavor.

My only complaint about Little Ethiopia was that the shiro was a bit bland. The others in our party enjoyed it though, and I must admit that my own tastes in shiro are blinded by my love for a certain Manhattan Ethiopian restaurant whose shiro I hold in near reverential esteem and to which I compare nearly every shiro, all of which seem to come up short. That, however, is another story.

The servings at Little Ethiopia are generous and the staff is friendly and courteous. While I enjoyed Genet, I liked Little Ethiopia's bold flavors better, the atmosphere was more relaxed and the servings were more generous. So far, this is my favorite of the Fairfax strip.

Little Ethiopia
1048 S. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 930-2808

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Goaty Goodness from Paris Caramels

Summer is a tough time for candy. I love chocolate, but as the days swelter on, anything remotely meltable will turn into sludge within minutes of landing in my un-air conditioned house (if it hasn't melted on the way). You can kiss chocolate goodbye.

In the heat of summer, I'm thankful for caramel. It's seemingly indestructible. The warmth just makes it deliciously soft, like an epoisse at room temperature.

My latest great caramel score came form Surfas. Goat milk and roasted buckwheat caramels, a French import by Paris Caramels, come in a small wooden box with a green goat stamped on the top. The caramels, in traditional, wrapped cubes, are a French version of cajeta, with its distinct sweet, goaty flavor. The caramels are made not just with goat milk but with goat butter as well. The addition of the buckwheat kernels doesn't appear to impact the flavor but gives the candy a satisfying texture and crunch, and it holds the caramel together in a way that makes it less sticky in your mouth.

So if your hankerin' for some summer candy, give these a try. They melt in your mouth, not in your hands.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Bernheim Wheat Whiskey

What the heck is wheat whiskey? Well, as you may recall, Bourbon whiskey is a whiskey made with corn and rye whiskey is a whiskey made with rye, so it stands to reason that wheat whiskey is a whiskey made with wheat. The requirements for wheat whiskey are the same as for Bourbon, except that it uses wheat instead of corn: it must be made from at least 51% wheat and must be stored in new, charred oak barrels. As with Bourbon, the remaining 49% may be composed of other grains, such as corn, barley or rye.

Keep in mind that a wheat whiskey should not be confused with what in Bourbon lingo is referred to as a "wheater." A wheater is a Bourbon in which the remaining grains, beyond the required corn, contain wheat instead of rye. In a wheater, corn is still the base grain. In wheat whiskey, which is not Bourbon, wheat is the base grain.

For years, Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey, made by Heaven Hill, was the only wheat whiskey on the market. Recently, a number of microdistilleries have experimented with wheat whiskies, though I still haven't seen any on the shelf in California, so if you want to try a wheat whiskey, Bernheim is your best bet.


Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, distilled by Heaven Hill, 45% alcohol ($40).

There is a certain thrill that goes into trying a type of whiskey that one has never experienced. What will be the influence of a majority wheat mash? Will it taste like a wheater Bourbon or will it be something new entirely? Let's find out.

The nose is lovely and subtle. There is some syrupy, Bourbony aroma there, but also wood and wood polish. If I nosed it blind I would guess either at Bourbon or Scotch single grain, both of which sometimes include wheat, so that is sensible enough.

The flavor is just lovely. It definitely reminds me of Scotch grain whiskies I've had. It's got a bit of sweetness but is not overwhelmingly so; the whiskey is very smooth with an underlying oak and a deep savory note at the end, which is similar to what I get in wheated bourbons. A rather complex drink that continues to reveal itself with every sip, this wheat whiskey is a keeper.

Any fan of American whiskey or Scotch grain whiskey who hasn't tried a straight wheat whiskey should run out and grab a bottle of Bernheim right away. This is good stuff. The only question in my mind is why there aren't more straight wheat whiskies out there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mozza on the Home Front: Mozza2Go

I've dined once each at Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, and while I enjoyed the food, the hassle of trying to wrangle a reservation has, thus far, been too much to lure me back. All of that changed with the recent opening of Mozza2Go, the new, take-out arm of the Pizzeria.

Operating out of a little storefront on Melrose adjacent to the Osteria, Mozza2Go offers a stripped down version of the Pizzeria menu. A recent visit confirmed my previous assertion that the pizza is good, but the most amazing tastes can be found elsewhere on the menu. In this case, the dish that warmed my innards was the chicken liver bruschetta with capers, parsley & guanciale, a spruced up version of chopped liver on a cracker topped with bacon. The chopped liver had a liberal spritz of citrus which cut the richness perfectly, and the guanciale added salty, porky notes which gave it the perfect balance of richness, salt and acid, and a beautiful contrast of mushy liver and crunchy pork fat.

Also excellent was Mario's Lasagna. This was one of the richest lasagnas I've ever had. I'm not sure what they use to get that effect, possibly veal, maybe some livers, but it is rich and creamy and wonderful, though pricey at $21 for a modest serving.

And yes, they do have the butterscotch budino on the take out menu.

Even more enticing is that fact that they deliver, and to a wide area. I was shocked that they my Koreatown abode was within their delivery zone. Not even Village Pizza in Larchmont, which is 5 minutes away, will deliver east of Western.

So kudos to Mozza for this stroke of brilliance. At last, chicken liver bruschetta with guanciale on my couch!

6610 Melorse Ave. (park in the Mozza lot on Highland)
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 297-1130

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vera's Chips & Salsa

Last week, in discussing the Farmers' Kitchen and their use of the excellent chips and salsa from one of the Hollywood Farmers' Market stands, I got several inquiries about that, so I thought I'd post a brief follow-up.

Vera's stand is on Cosmo, which is the street parallel to Ivar, to the west. From Ivan, walk west on Selma and when you see the Thai food vendor, take a right. Vera's has excellent fresh chips and jars of tangy salsa verde and rojo. I can't decide which I like best. They also sell tamales, which are fine, but the chips and salsa are the real treasures.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Michter's Unblended American Whiskey

Michter's was the name of a Pennsylvania distillery that produced the venerable A.H. Hirsch Bourbon. The distillery closed in 1991 and the name was purchased by Chatham Imports, which uses it to market whiskey that it purchases from other distilleries which remain unnamed. Currently, the popular Michter's line includes a number of Bourbons and ryes as well as their unblended American Whiskey.

Like Early Times, Micther's Unblended American Whiskey is essentially a Bourbon that was aged in used barrels. This is the first Michter's I have tasted


Michter's Unblended American Whiskey, 41.7% alcohol ($35-$45).

Strong maple syrup, candy and sweet brandy on the nose. Smells Canadian! The taste is candy sweet as well, with not much depth. Again, this American unblended whiskey tastes very much like a Canadian blended whisky with a sweetness that grips you by the collar and won't let go.

To sum up: Way to sweet for me.