Archive for August, 2009

The First Real Food Marathon

August 31, 2009

I exercise so I can eat whatever I want. Never has that been more true than on Saturday when we ran the first ever running food marathon.

RFMRunners1

When food marathons started thirteen years ago there was never any intention of running. Cathy the GastronomerThe “marathon” portion of the title only referred to the sheer quantity of food consumed and the length of time spent eating. So when I was finally called out last month by Cathy from GastronomyBlog.com on whether I was a runner or not, I was struck with worry. Despite the name I am certainly not a runner- I hate running. Cathy, a high school and college cross country runner, obviously was as serious about the “marathon” part of the name as the “food” part. Station FireAnd thus the sixth blogger mashup marathon was born… with actual, real running.

The plan started as a beach side run, for weather and terrain reasons. Somehow it ended up being a streets-of-the-San-Gabriel-Valley, ultra-carb, end of August, heat-wave marathon with the added bonus of brush fires (because LA smog isn’t bad enough). Six restaurants (mostly Chinese) spread over five miles of gridded suburb (mostly flat) were mapped for our foot assault. Foodbuzz funded the event for the 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Posts series. Mattatouille drove the pace car and documented in still and motion photography. Participants included the Astronomer some Gastronomy readers, bloggers HC from LA and OC Foodventures (who runs as well as he eats) and Sook from Yutjangsah.

We all met up at the first stop, Dean Sin World. Despite the other names on the sign the pictures below are in fact from this wonderful restaurant.

Dean Sin World

The first thing we ate was Wine Brew, a noxious concoction of hot wine with chunks of egg and mochi-esque tapioca. This was absolutely not what I signed up for at 9:30am on a Saturday. This was the only dish of the day that I didn’t enjoy. The xiao long bao, beef tendon and delicious Lion’s Head Soup were much closer to what I expected from the day.

Dean Sin World

I was nervous at this point because the first stop of a food marathon usually doesn’t have so much food. Pace is the most important aspect of a normal food marathon and we still had five miles to run…

Stop number two was a very short distance away. We arrived at Mama’s Lu a mere five minutes into the run.

Mama's Lu

This was one of the top places on my list of SGV restaurants to try so I was thrilled. A wonderful and appropriate documentary about noodles was playing on the flat screen TV behind our table as we ate scallion pancakes, fried pork dumplings and Shanghai rice cakes.

Mama's Lu

The pancake was phenomenal and will garner a repeat visit. I look forward to trying the rest of the menu.

And that’s when the running started. At this point we’d eaten more than a breakfast’s worth and the just-under-two-mile run was about to begin. In sweltering heat, with salt-filled stomachs we ran towards the blazing hills.

101 Noodle Express

101 Noodle Express was another list-topping SGV restaurant I’d wanted to try and was our third stop. The steamed pumpkin and shrimp dumplings were superb, with a much softer stuffing then most dumplings. The dan dan noodles were tasty but it was the Shandong beef roll that took its place as one of the top dishes of the day.

101 Noodle Express

Barely recouperated, we only had a street-crossing-jog to the next strip mall stop, Bamboodles. A recent recipient of Jonathan Gold accolades, Bamboodles is known for the unique way in which their noodles are made (as seen in the documentary at Mama’s Lu). They also have a $1 special, which was fish balls On Saturday. On that front you get what you pay for.

Bamboodles

For the other dishes, they are worth ten times their price. The spinach-based noodles were perfect. The tiny, flavor-packed spicy wontons were so good I could have eaten fifty of them- if I wasn’t in the midst of a ridiculous run, of course.

Bamboodles

The next stretch of molten asphalt was gonna be the toughest. Four restaurant’s down and almost two miles left to the next stop, Kingburg Kitchen. Disregarding the atrocious heat we powered through, knowing more succulent fried pork dumplings lay in wait.

Kingburg Kitchen

Kingburg Kitchen was less crowded than some of its neighbors. Although their air conditioning probably wasn’t that great, it felt like an arctic hurricane after our run. We opted for cold dishes: tofu spaghetti and beef tendon with bean curd. Nothing special on either front but the fried dumplings were outstanding. Another dish that will require a second non-running visit.

Kingburg Kitchen

The highlight was the Kingburg pancake, which was like a Chinese pretzel donut. At this stage I knew the bulk of the running was behind us and I was in good shape. I could have eaten a lot more. We only had a little over a mile to the final stop, which was frozen yogurt at Blue Cherry.

Yogurt

Although they have Beijing-style yogurt, I opted for the traditional Pinkberry-style choice with strawberries and chocolate chips.

Food Marathoners

I have to thank Cathy and Foodbuzz, as I never would have gone through an event like this on my own. It easily could have been called The Gastronomy Foodbuzz Food Marathon. And I might be crazy but I’m doing it again. Stay tuned for the next border-crossing running food marathon…

What Exactly is New York BBQ?

August 27, 2009

After trying California BBQ at The Smokin’ Joint, I thought it only fair to try New York BBQ as well. Let the east coast/west coast bar-b-q battle begin.

NY BBQ

NY BBQ is located kitty-corner from Umami Burger. In contrast to the trendiest burgers on La Brea, NY BBQ is a no-frills strip mall, order-at-the-counter/served-in-styrofoam BBQ joint. They do dine in and carry out as well as catering.

NY BBQ

We ordered a baby back dinner and Angus beef ribs a la carte. The dinner comes with two sides and bread or cornbread (mac and cheese, cole slaw) and we ordered a side of potato salad as well.

NY BBQ baby back

The sauce is the main difference between NY BBQ and other bbq places in LA. Their sauce is thick, dark, rich and not too sweet. It’s not overly smokey, there’s a hint of spice at the end and did I mention it’s thick?

NY BBQ beef

The baby backs were very tender, the beef ribs were big (but not as big as Baby Blues’).  The mac and cheese was really good and gooey (rue-heavy, not too crispy on top). The cole slaw and potato salad were both above average but not the best I’ve ever had.

For dessert I went with a cool, sweet cup of banana pudding. On a hot summer day, after hearty/saucy ribs, this pudding was worthy of bathing in.

NY BBQ banana pudding

Overall I like NY BBQ. Their meat is good quality and their service is friendly but their sauce is very specific. For those that like their sauce thick and tangy, this is your place.

The Gorbals is Speaking My Food Language

August 26, 2009

the gorbalsSometimes a new restaurant opens and there’s a couple things on the menu that look great. Never, however, have I ever seen so many dishes that seem specifically built for me personally as those on the menu at The Gorbals.

I was more than intrigued when chef Ilan Hall described his new restaurant’s cuisine as “old Jewish food date-raped by bacon.” In principle it sounded like a mantra I could live by. In practice it looks symphonic:

Octopus with gizzards and lemon
Description: This is a warm salad, composed of octopus, braised in red wine, then made crispy on the griddle. Alongside this are chicken gizzards that have been slow-cooked in olive oil, until tender, and then finished on the griddle to make crispy as well. These are all dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, fresh garlic, parsley, and crispy pinto beans.

Cucumber-Avocado Salad fried chickpeas, zahatar
Description: This is fresh raw cucumber, chunks of avocado, all tossed in a vinaigrette made with zahatar (a middle eastern spice blend of sesame, sumac, black pepper, and hyssop). The finishing garnish on this is a large fried sesame leaf and fresh garbanzo beans.

Bacon-Wrapped matzoh balls with horseradish mayonnaise
Description: This is a traditional matzoh ball wrapped in bacon, with fresh black pepper, and mayonnaise infused with fresh horseradish. (If they ask, the mayonnaise is made in-house) Matzoh balls are a dumpling made with matzoh meal, eggs, seltzer, baking powder, and olive oil.

Sweetbreads with cashews and corn
Description: Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a veal, that have been crusted with cashew nuts and flour, deep-fried until crispy, served over fresh sweet corn with smoked paprika butter melted over it. This is finished with fresh sliced scallions, and a vinaigrette made with white wine vinegar, olive oil, and chunks of cashews.

Shepard’s pie in potato with egg
Description: This appears like a stuffed potato skin, and in fact that’s what it is. In the skin there is ground beef, spiced with cumin and coriander, and on top of it are mashed potatoes and a soft-cooked quail egg. This dish is also finished with fresh chives.

Gefilte fish and chips dill vinegar
Description: Gefilte fish is ground whitefish, blended with matzoh meal and eggs (almost like a meatball), spiced with fresh dill and dill seed, formed into croquettes, battered, and deep-fried. This is served with a side of fries that have been double-cooked, once in water, and then deep-fried until crispy. This is served with a side of dill-infused vinegar.

Turkey wing fatback tabouleh
Description: This is a whole turkey wing (with the bone) that has been slow-roasted in the oven until very tender and crispy, with a tabouleh salad: bulgar wheat, fresh parsley, tomatoes, and chunks of pork fatback (pork belly?) browned in a pan and finished with vinegar.

Chilled tomato soup bread salad
Description: This is done in the style of gazpacho with fresh cucumbers, roasted red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil, blended while maintaining some texture. This is served with a garnish of bread croutons, soft-cooked onions, and fresh cracked pepper.

Razor clam omelette green onions and garlic
Description: This is razor clams and (depending on the market) other clams, steamed just until they are opened, finished with chicken eggs, garlic, green onions and a little bit of worcestershire sauce and old bay seasoning.

Manischewitz-braised pork belly clapshot and mustard
Description: This is belly of a pork, with the skin, marinated overnight in manischewitz red wine, then slowly braised until tender, served on top of clapshot (equal parts mashed potatoes and mashed turnips with chives and butter). The pork belly is then slathered with spicy mustard.

the gorbals

And with that, I’d like to extend an invitation to Ilan Hall to join me on the yet-to-be-scheduled Jews Eating Chinese Food Marathon.

Jump Starting Pasadena Dining

August 25, 2009

The Langham Hotel is a century old enchanting haven tucked away in the foothills of Pasadena. It’s beautiful and luxurious but in need of an infusion of youth. Michael Voltaggio is a thirty year old chef focused on modern technique, flavor and presentation. He is that youthful infusion.

Langham

Let’s start with the grounds- superbly manicured, definitely enchanting, like being hundreds of miles away from LA. The decor is dated, but the restaurant will be remodeled at the end of the year. Before even talking about the food I just want to say, the framed ships on the walls must stay. No question.

Langham Langham

Now the food.  The tasting menu definitely employed modern techniques and presentation. Every single dish was cooked to perfection- from the suckling pig and pigeon to the lamb and turbot. Most unique of all was the octopus, which was cooked in a way that softened it through and through. It was closer in consistency to a thick German sausage then octopus.

Now, in full detail with pictures stolen from My Last Bite:

After an amuse bouche of blue fin tuna and hibiscus air we were served pacific yellowtail, sashimi style; soy-watermelon, sea sponge, smoked egg yolk with a 2008 Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontes, Cafayate. Overall the dish reminded me of cream cheese and lox, which is the highest possible rating from this Jew.

Langham

Next was the aforementioned Octopus, buttered popcorn, piquilla confetti, cilantro with a 2005 Peter Howland Maxwell Vineyard, Chardonnay, Hunter Valley. Unique consistency, flavor and a popcorn hinted wine to accompany the dish made this one of the most special of the night. The confetti strip looked like old school dot matrix printer paper but tasted much better.

Langham

Pastrami pigeon, rye-infused jus, brussels-kraut, puffed gruyere cheese with a Unibroue 17, Strong Dark Ale (that’s beer). This play on a reuben only fell short because of the cumbersome stack of ingredients. The flavors were all there, but were difficult to combine on the fork.

Langham

Turbot, artichoke, tomato granola, lime & vanilla with a 2007 Salwey Henkenberg GG, Pinot Gris Qmp. This was my favorite dish. The fish was sublimely cooked with a delicate texture that balanced perfectly with the crunchy granola.

Langham

Suckling pig, pistachio beans, onions, OJ, coriander with a 2000 August Kesseler “S”, Pinot Noir, Assmannshausen. I. Love. Suckling. Pig.

Langham

Lamb confit, vadouvan (curry), pickled tongue, eggplant-raisin, fresh hummus with a 2006 Villa Creek Avenger, Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache, Paso Robles. A lot of strong flavors, combining to produce a very good dish. The pickled tongue was very tender.

Langham

The palate cleanser came in the form of a delectable jasmine rice sorbet. It was followed by a play on Coffee Cake-  baked honey, espresso mousse, lemon curd with a 2004 Paringa, Individual Vineyard, Sparkling Shiraz.

Langham

Langham

Chef Michael Voltaggio is currently on Top Chef: Las Vegas. Even if he doesn’t win he’s gonna have a strong career as a chef.

The Langham Hotel is currently planning renovations scheduled to start on Jan 1st. If they can update the look without losing the elegance and enchantment I think the hotel can be a big draw for foodies and non-foodies alike.

Snoop Dogg’s Favorite Restaurant?

August 24, 2009

The Smokin Joint’s ribs are as smokey as a Snoop Dogg concert. I tried them during their first official day of dinner service.

the smokin' joint

The entire menu is made from scratch: the sauces, the pickles the red velvet cake… and you definitely can tell. We started with corn bread and fried pickles and there’s a substantial difference between jarred pickles and The Smokin Joint’s homemade variety. They’re big, juicy and crunchy. The mini cornbread muffins were moist, possibly in part to their small size.

The Smokin' Joint Fried Pickles

Next we ordered the catfish bites and the smokin wangs with a lil’ kick. Both were good but I hoped for more flavor all around. The catfish was well cooked and the batter was light. The wings weren’t kicked up at all, not even with the help of their spicy sauce. It was actually closer to Tabasco. We combined their medium sauce with their spicy to get closer, but still wasn’t hitting the spot.

The Smokin' Joint Catfish Bites

The Smokin' Joint Wings

The baby back ribs were well seasoned, smokey and meaty. They weren’t fall off the bone tender, but the flavor was solid. The sides were weak- the sweet corn with chile lime butter needed more chile and lime, the greens with applewood smoked bacon and garlic needed more bacon and garlic and the french fries were too thin. The mac and cheese was good but it’s hard to screw up mac and cheese.

The Smokin' Joint Ribs

Finally the red velvet cake was amazing. One thick, rich, monstrously sweet slice could easily satisfy Snoop Dogg and the entire Dogg Pound’s munchies.

The Smokin' Joint Red Velvet

The service was very attentive and the room was lively with a large 9-tv screen wall playing old jazz and big band videos. I live walking distance so I didn’t have to deal with the parking- which I’m sure is atrocious on that corner. All in all it’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Old Hollywood, New Cocktails

August 18, 2009

It’s very rare that I venture onto Hollywood Blvd anymore. About ten years ago my first office was on the corner of Hollywood and Highland- before the Oscars and giant elephants moved in and when traffic was only slightly insufferable.

1927, Roosevelt Hotel

It was the beginning of the gentrification of Hollywood and new clubs (Las Palmas), bars (Beauty Bar) and restaurants (Ammo) were opening in the strictly-for-tourists walk-of-fame neighborhood of Hollywood proper. It was drawing locals back to Hollywood Blvd and away from the Sunset Strip (sorry A Night at the Roxbury).

At that time The Roosevelt was rotting away, many years after its hey day as the trendiest hotel in classic, golden era Hollywood. A few years later, in 2005, the Roosevelt had plastic surgery to become the trendiest venue for the reality TV set (note, TMZ started that same year). The Red Bull-and-vodka-chugging crowd has inhabited the hotel ever since then.

1949, Cinegrill, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Luckily things are changing at The Roosevelt again- this time at the hands of newbie mixologist extraordinaire, Matt Biancaniello. Nestled quietly away from Teddy’s velvet rope and the Tropicana’s pool party, the Roosevelt’s Library Bar is a dark lab in which Matt operates. Concocting cocktails from farmer’s market fresh ingredients, Matt impressed us repeatedly with modern takes on classic drinks.

His seventeen-step Bloody Mary is closer to a botanical wonderland than a tomato-based breakfast beverage.  His Blood and Sand makes the Dresden’s seem as staid and out of tune as Marty and Elayne.

Roosevelt Bloody Mary Blood and Sand at The Roosevelt

His Last Tango in Modena is heartier and more elegant than most first courses in the hotel’s restaurant (and it’s topped with St. Germain foam). Check out the full review with ingredients at Caroline on Crack.

Roosevelt Bar

Matt went ahead and secured his place in the upper echelon of LA’s finest bartenders when he won The Chartreuse Sweet 16. With this kind of passion and talent I predict another restaurant will poach him sooner than later. If The Roosevelt wants to work back towards their old Hollywood prestige I suggest doing all they can to keep him.

An Essential Chocolate Experience?

August 17, 2009

“Rich and full bodied” with “delicate nuances of nutmeg and cloves” and “floral notes of cherry that linger on your palate during a long lush finish.” Sounds like a wine description but it’s not. Could be scotch, or even cheese, but it’s not. Those complex tasting notes are describing ice cream. Not just any ice cream- Choctál’s premium, single origin chocolate and vanilla ice cream experience.

Choctál Ice Cream

I had the pleasure of trying five flavors at Plate by Plate and I was blown away by the distinct differences between them and the outstanding consistency and flavor. Made from cacao and vanilla beans from different regions of the world, these amazingly bold and distinctively different ice cream flavors boast so many brilliant attributes that their $6 per pint price tag is totally justified.

Chocolate ice creams from Kalimantan, Ghana, Dominican, and two regions of Costa Rican cocoa stand deliciously next to their vanilla ice cream counterparts from Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Madagascar.

Before summer ends I implore you to try a few of Choctal’s flavors.

The Plate by Plate Food Marathon

August 11, 2009

Plate by Plate 2009

Plate by Plate was one of the best run food events that I’ve ever been to.

Plate by Plate 2009

The space (The Wallis Annenberg Building at the California Science Center) was well appointed, had good circulation and most importantly was big enough to handle the crowd. It was a one stop food marathon that made following my tips easy.

Plate by Plate 2009 Drummers at Plate by Plate 2009

The music, layout, bar tables to eat on, ample trashcans and most importantly restaurants choices made it an amazing night.

Plate by Plate 2009

So onto the food.

Plate by Plate 2009

As Project by Project’s partner this year was the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program, the abundance of Asian food was appropriate.

Plate by Plate 2009

Small Asian American businesses (Good Girl Dinette, Vanille de Patisserie) stood next to larger ones (Katsuya, Roy’s).

Good Girl Dinette at Plate by Plate 2009 Katsuya at Plate by Plate

Celebrities like Aziz Ansari chowed down

Aziz Ansari at Plate by Plate 2009 Aziz Ansari at Plate by Plate 2009

next to Top Chefs like Marcel Vigneron (who was there working for The Bazaar).

Marcel Vigneron at Plate by Plate 2009

Delicious dishes abounded, like Mendocino Farms’ banh mi

Mendocino Farms at Plate by Plate 2009

and Mo-Chica’s ceviche.

Mo Chica at Plate by Plate 2009

Desserts came in all shapes- Xooro’s churros (much better fresh and hot then when I had them in the store in Santa Monica)-

Xooro at Plate by Plate 2009

and forms- Golden State + Scoops = Sour Beer Float.

Golden State and Scoops at Plate by Plate 2009

There were a number of great alcohol options as well, including Saporro, The Bruery

Sapporo at Plate by Plate 2009 Orchard Wines at Plate by Plate 2009

and Bottlerock.

Bottlerock at Plate by Plate 2009

My favorite discovery was Choctál, the chocolate and vanilla experience that deserves its own post, so stay tuned for that.

Choctal at Plate by Plate 2009

There were some big misses throughout the event. From Roy’s colorful but bland rice cups,

Roy's at Plate by Plate 2009

to the dont-be-fooled-by-the-pretty-looks grotesquely flavored seafood debacle from Moonshadows.

Moonshadows at Plate by Plate 2009

The celebrity sous chef idea fell a bit flat as well.

Celebrity Sous Chefs at Plate by Plate 2009

When this event comes around next time it’s definitely worth checking out. I know I’ll make a point of it next year, with designated driver in tow…

Vanille at Plate by Plate 2009 Vanille at Plate by Plate 2009

Vanille at Plate by Plate 2009

Dub Plate at Plate by Plate 2009

Stay classy LA.

Plate by Plate 2009

Welcome to the Neighborhood Bistro LQ

August 10, 2009

The thing that stood out most about my recent dinner at Bistro LQ, wasn’t the stellar service, Ibiza-esque techno music nor the range of foie gras options. It was the value. Like its neighbor Ludobites, Bistro LQ currently is in corkage fee, BYOB phase. This meant that dinner including tax and tip, cost us $40 per person. That’s for sea urchin, foie gras multiple ways, sweetbreads, crab, oysters, baby goat, monkfish cheeks AND scallops. We’re talking an array of expensive ingredients, beautifully presented with impeccable service for about half of the price that you’d expect to pay.

My favorite way to eat is to sample small bites of as many things possible (thus, the reason for food marathons and my affinity for sushi and Korean food). Bistro LQ offers half portions of all their dishes (3 per person minimum), as a way to let diners try more of their menu. Although it’s more labor intensive, it’s not reflected in the price.

Overall it was a solid showing, with a few misses here and there. The amuse bouche was a mini version of the cornucopia filled with Chanterelles, coconut emulsion, watercress coulis, fresh date “loukoum”. Would we have known we wouldn’t have also ordered the same dish with sweetbreads, but our waiter didn’t tell us. That was his only mistake of the night.

The dishes below ranged from terrific (sea urchin tapioca) to good (baby goat).

Bistro LQ Foie Gras Three Ways

Bistro LQ Uni Oyster

Bistro LQ Scallops

Bistro LQ Crab Bistro LQ Goat

Bistro LQ Salad

Everything was farmer’s market fresh and plated with care. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year offers.


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