Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tater Tots and sangria at The Must

Thursday night was our first meet up with the foodie crew from Vinovents, and the venue of choice for that night was The Must -- a wine bar and gastro pub nestled in the corner at 5th and Spring in downtown LA.

Driving there after work from West LA took about 45 minutes -- about par for a 5pm commute along the 10 eastbound. Some parking meters are available along Spring street, but more than likely you'll have to resort to one of the $5 lots in the area, which is precisely what we did.

Upon arrival we were greeting by the other foodies, as well as a flight of sangria pitchers situated on the table:

Pictured left to right, you have black, white, and red sangria. The black sangria--overly bursting with fruit pulp--was much too thick for a typical sangria and almost had the consistency of a cheap, watered-down smoothie. The other two were better, with my preference for the white as it was least sugary and tasted more like a wine than the other two.

Here's more of that pulp I'm referring to:

The Must has a formidable happy hour menu which includes select sangria, wines, beer, some cocktails, and about a dozen apps, all at discounted prices from 4-7pm. This is easily one of the better happy hours I've come across in recent times.

Enough with the fibrous drinks, let's eat! So as a first course, someone in the group ordered the fluffernutter to start the night. Now, normally the staff at Exploratory Dégustation prefers to order dessert as the last course, but when something tastes this unbelievably good, we're happy to have it during any course.

This was outstanding. The combination of bananas, roasted peanut butter, and marshmallow fluff all encompassed by grilled brioche made for an explosion of flavor and mouth feel. Do-over on a scale of 1 to 10: 42.

With dessert clearly out of the way, it's time for some savories. First up is a basket of house-made(?) pretzels with spicy grainy mustard:

These soft, warm chewy pretzels with course chunks of salt were very satisfying and a bargain at just $3 during happy hour.

Next up is the small-elbow noodle mac' and cheese with bacon:

A little too heavy with the bread crumbs (can I get some mac' and cheese with those breadcrumbs?) in my book. And I prefer the larger elbow macaroni, but overall this was tasty.

Here we have grilled brioche with cheddar and Manchego. Too much bread going on here:

If you look closely you can actually see some cheese between the thick slabs of brioche.

Deep-fried chicken sliders:

I didn't have any, but the consensus from others was that these were good.

Cheese plate with Point Reyes blue cheese, brie, Parrano Robust, and a fig almond cake:

The cheeses were excellent--especially the Point Reyes; the fig cake, however, was a bit dry and lacking in flavor. I should also note that the rustic bread was not sliced through properly which made for difficult if not impossible clean rips with the hand. I'm surprised I didn't elbow anyone when I ripped off a slice.

Portobello sliders with smoked mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions:

Everyone praised these and for good reason. The rich, complex flavors melded very well, and the toasted mini-brioche held up well and wasn't overpowering. These went fast; I easily downed three of them.

Lastly, Tater Tots with Velveeta wine fondue and smoked pepper ranch:

This is comfort food kicked up a notch, and I certainly felt most comforted after eating a dozen of these. I finished off the night with a pint of Allagash Curieux 11.2%. Potent stuff.

Overall it was a great experience. The place was packed but not too loud, and the service was friendly. As the night went on, the happy hour goers moved out while the first-dates and sit-down diners moved in to reclaim the tables.

Special thanks to Shelley and Vinovents for arranging this wonderful happy hour.

The Must in Los Angeles

New domain name!

I now have my own domain name!

It was a bit of a struggle to get my domain settings at GoDaddy to work properly with Google's server setup, but everything looks good, and both and the "naked" work A-OK.

So now you're wondering, "hey this is a food blog, where are the food pics?" Well here you go; some random food pics from our Vegas trip:

Donuts at Bouchon, Venetian. A little dry but nothing a little jam and Nutella couldn't save.

No trip to Vegas is without a stop or two or three at the many outlets. At the Fashion Outlets at state line, there's a placed called Koraku and it's probably the foodie's choice in the mall if you go hungry as your other options are Subway, Carl's Jr, Taco Hell, and the like. Pictured above the spicy tofu ramen, which was very satisfying but not hot enough for my taste buds.

This last picture has nothing to do with Las Vegas. In fact, it's the pastry display case at Bristol Farms in Westwood. I just felt this display of sugary goodness was worthy of an iPhone snap.

Within the next two weeks I'll be visiting The Must, LudoBites, Westside Tavern, and hopefully Riva. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pho Show in Culver City

Let's face it, Vietnamese cuisine isn't exactly a highlight of the west side's culinary arsenal, but when the pho withdrawals kick in and you're in no mood to make a spur-of-the-moment exodus from West LA, then your options are quite limited. Our local go-to pho spot has been PhoReign on Sawtelle and it's not bad; the meat is flavorful and plentiful, the price is recession-friendly, and the location is perfect for us. But the broth--the most important component of solid pho--is lacking that depth of flavors you'd come to expect from good pho.

Now, I am no pho expert, but--having been to Saigon and eating countless bowls of this Vietnames staple--I know a good bowl of noodles when I scarf one down.
Having known about Pho Show for some time, I convinced my wife to give it a shot and see how it compares to PhoReign and our other west side pho spot, Pho 99.

Beer goes well with pho so naturally I ordered one. Pho Show carries a Vietnamese export called "33" beer and I must say it was very good. I don't remember seeing this in Vietnam, or least I never noticed it past the hordes of Tiger and San Miguel advertisements.

My better half went with a Thai iced tea. I had a few sips and it was nice, refreshing.

For my entree, I ordered pho with rare beef, large portion. My wife ordered a small combo of rare beef, tripe, and brisket. The beef was anything but rare; in fact it was a bit tough and lacked a beefy flavor. The broth, however, was actually very nice and almost saved this place.

Rare beef. This picture taken as soon as the bowl arrived at our table. At the better pho places, the meat would still be red/pinkish (or better yet, served on the side, raw)

Rare beef, tripe, brisket. I can see faint signs of red/pink.

Sprouts and mint. What? No chilies?

The prices were very attractive. Two bowls of pho, a Thai iced tea, and one beer came out to $25 with tip. But overall it's the taste that matters most, and in that regard this place pails in comparison to PhoReign. And so needless to say, we won't be back to Pho Show.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mostly good Japanese fare at Raku, Las Vegas.

Raku gets high praise on Yelp and on several foodie blogs I regularly follow, so it was a no-brainer to make a trek off the strip for dinner at this critically acclaimed Japanese restaurant. The first thing you'll notice about Raku is that fact that you might not even notice it -- it's a well hidden hole-in-the-wall establishment with maybe 8 tables and a small bar. We went on a Tuesday night and it was packed; reservations are a must at this place and I had certainly made mine during the previous week. Raku serves cold dishes, hot (robata) dishes from the grill, and a very good selection of sake.

I ordered a flight of sake to start the night:

I don't remember the names of each one, but they were all very good, with the unfiltered one on the right being my favorite.

Our server whipped out the portable chalkboard with about a dozen or so specials. Just about everything looked appealing, but we went for the pork belly, squid two-ways, and the house-made agedashi tofu.

Pork belly was sublime; the balance of sauce and pork was textbook.

Squid two ways:

Sashimi style. The taste and texture is similar to fresh octopus; actually there's not much taste to this. It's more about the texture - a bit chewy but not as so much as octopus.

A close-up picture.

Robata style. This was very good and I felt the grilling method really brought out the freshness of the squid.

I don't have a picture of the tofu -- I think we were quite entertained (distracted) by a first-date going on at the bar between a middle-aged poorly-dressed gentlemen and a younger lady dressed in her finest funeral-black attire. I won't deter too much here, but let's just say the man had the "it's all about me" attitude and at one point, made a loud cell phone call to some "A-lister,", all this while the lady clearly showed no interest.

Back to the food. We ordered two more dishes -- grilled yellow tail and grilled eggplant.

The yellow tail was a bit dry, even with the sauce.

The eggplant was absolutely tasteless and not even worthy of space on my SD card. Sorry.

Our bill for two with sake, beer, and 5 dishes came out to just over $100 with tax and tip. It was decent but we both prefer Ichiza, which is just down the street.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The best damn Boston cream pie in the United States of America

So after our unsatisfactory dinner at Raku, we decided to salvage the night's degustation by driving over to Joe's Stone Crab in the Forum Shops of Caesar's Palace. Why Joe's? Well, last year we took a trip to Chicago to visit some friends, and it was there where we indulged in one of the best meals of our life at the original Joe's Stone Crab. Aged NY prime strip, prime filet mignon, Alaskan king crab legs, mac and cheese, creamed spinach...what's that noise Homer makes when he thinks of food? Insert that sound right here. And we had not one, but two desserts consisting of banana cream pie and a ridiculously good Boston cream pie. When I learned that a second Joe's opening recently in Las Vegas, I made sure to pencil in a visit into our packed itinerary for some of that delicious Boston cream pie.

We've had many a Boston cream pie in and around our area, but this one, well, takes the cake and easily wins our vote for best in show. The cake is uber moist, the filling is rich and extremely fresh, and the chocolate ganache topping dripping along the sides makes for a beautiful combination of sugary and buttery flavors. The other dessert in the picture is a half-slice of key lime pie, which was also very good.

Two decadent desserts and a coffee came out to $16 with tax and tip. Our night was indeed saved.

Mediocre burger with a great view at Country Club, Wynn

Without a doubt my favorite hamburger has been the dry-aged prime offering from Father's Office in Los Angeles. Well I can tell it still is and probably will be for very long time, especially if all other burgers turn out anything like the 1/3lb of overcooked mediocrity I had at The Country Club restaurant in the Wynn, Las Vegas. We arrived at the adjacent hotel--Encore--a bit early for our check-in time so we decided to grab lunch at Country Club and kill an hour or so. Situated across from the 18th hole of the Wynn golf course, Country Club describes itself as "the new American steak house", and serves mostly bistro fare.

As you can probably guess, I ordered the hamburger, medium rare. Here you go:

Firstly, it was way overcooked--I'm talking medium well to well-done. Not good. I didn't bother sending it back because I was quite the hungry tourist and it had already taken these people 30 minutes to send out our food. The meat--dry and flavorless. The bun--almost stale-like in taste and is clearly taking up way too much real-estate. If you're going to use day-old bread then at least toast it, yes?

The fries were seasoned well but just OK in taste and texture. I ended up eating more of the bread and salted butter.

My wife ordered the Cobb salad with shrimp. This was actually very good and I finished half of it for her. Large shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, pork fat, and crisp greens. Exxxxcccellent.

Service was dismal -- our waiter didn't even show us a drink menu or offer us drinks. And after taking our order, she wasn't to be seen until our food arrived some 30-minutes later. And this place is not cheap -- our burger and salad came out to about $55 with tax and tip. Not a do-over for us two.

The absolute best part of this lunch was the view. We could easily see a foursome playing on the 18th hole; I can't imagine playing in 110-degree heat (although I clearly had no issue playing in 99-degree heat just a few weeks earlier in Encino, CA). And on the other side of the 18th green is a nice wide waterfall, a perfect distraction you can blame when you miss your birdie put.

This is what I look like in 110-degree heat (view from the restaurant patio)

And I suppose this picture is either better or worse, depending on your viewpoint :)

Positively the best smoked salmon at Tableau at the Wynn

Before departing back to Los Angeles, we stopped by Tableau for breakfast as our last meal in Las Vegas. This place gets great reviews on Yelp and the menu looked enticing, so I had been wanted to try it before we left sin city.

Tableau is probably the fanciest restaurant Wynn and Encore have to offer for breakfast; decor, tableware, and service were impeccable during our visit

My wife ordered the eggs Benedict with the béarnaise sauce on the side. She had no complaints, and although it looks a bit small for a breakfast entree, it is a rather rich meal with the poached eggs and heavy sauce.

And this is what I came for: the smoked salmon with mascarpone cream cheese on a sesame bagel. Tableau says the salmon is smoked on site; it definitely had a very fresh and not-too-salty taste. This is the best smoked salmon I've had . And note how they sliced the bagel -- yep they sliced it in three. Very nice! That must have been a rather tall bagel.

Another picture, just because:

We'll definitely be back when we visit Las Vegas.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Counter Burger

Friday was the last day for one of our coworkers and we wish him the best in his future career plans. To bid him a celebratory farewell, we took the entire team out to lunch at Counter Burger in Marina del Rey. This is a relatively new location in the CPK shopping center, which shares space with SugarFish, Chipotle, and a few other eateries.

Counter can be best described as the antitheses of Father's Office -- you can get your burger your way with any combination of toppings you desire. You take your seat, fill out a Scantron-like form with a small pencil, and hand over to your waiter. Just quickly doing some math with the options and selecting only two toppings, I calculated some 2,073,6oo possible combinations of meat/size/cheese/toppings/sauce/bread. Compare that with ONE option at Father's Office (although you can specify the done-ness of your meat). Anyway, enough with the pre-eat routing, here are a few pics of the finished products:

1/3lb burger with roasted peppers, tomatoes, a fried egg cooked a perfect medium, and regular bun. Mayo on the side.

1/4lb house-made veggie burger with goat cheese, lettuce blend, honey-cured bacon, English muffin, and sweet relish on the side.

I actually had the veggie burger this time after reading other boards and blogs that this was one the best veggie patties in existence. It did not disappoint, and with the goat cheese and honey bacon, it was easily one of the most satisfying burgers I've had, beef or turkey or any protein for that matter. I've had the beef burgers here and they are indeed very good and the Counter cooks will cook them a bit rare if you'd like; I've also had the turkey and I would not recommend it as they are very dry and bland. Truthfully, I have yet to find a turkey burger that can equal or better the Gouda-filled ones I make at home.

Now my all-time favorite burger is still the Father's Office dry-aged prime burger with the usual components of bacon compote, arugula, and stinky Maytag blue cheese, but these are two different venues which in my opinion, fulfill two very different desires. At FO, you take a bow to Sang Yoon and his prized unalterable trophy burger, whereas at Counter you're the one calling the shots and creating your own masterpiece.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Breakfast at Camp

Our all-guys annual golf-camping trip took place last month, and despite a heavy downpour on the first night, extremely good times were had by all. Here's a pic of my tent several hours after the rainfall:

Not to worry, I was completely dry inside and actually slept very well.

No camping trip (especially an all-guys trip) is without some serious artery-clogging campsite grub. Our friend Mike brought his stove, which somehow was named "Three times a lady", and this was our ticket to some fine breakfast burritos, porterhouse steaks, short ribs, teriyaki chicken, and, well, hot dogs. BTW when is the last time you named your stove or any appliance/cooking-apparatus?

I believe that's 24 eggs on the griddle portion of the stove. Remember we're feeding 6 hungry golfers.

The meats and a few onions.

More egg scramble action, with the bacon precisely situated within the mass of eggs.

Sorry I don't have any pics of the assembled burritos -- I was, um, way too occupied scarfing down not one but two enormousness bacon-sausage-egg burritos wrapped in the biggest tortillas Ralph's has to offer. And you know what goes well with breakfast burritos, Guinness. Who knew?

Buttermilk pancakes and a king-size griddle

On Sunday, after an early-morning golf outing, I came home and made brunch on for my wife and I. On the menu - buttermilk pancakes with pure maple syrup, sunny-side up eggs, prosciutto, French roast coffee, and of course the requisite mimosas. Since I was quite busy at the helm, I didn't have the opportunity to take many pics, but above is an action shot of the enormous Presto electric griddle my wife bought for me recently. The pancake recipe is Alton Brown's buttermilk variety; they are quite delicious and go well with just maple syrup (butter not needed), and maybe some fresh blueberries on top. The large griddle really helps with making a size-able batch of pancakes in very little time.

Homemade Pizza

My first job was at a very busy pizza restaurant in Wilmington, CA, where I assembled pizzas, sliced and chopped ingredients, wiped tables with dirty rags, and spent endless hours overstuffing the napkin holders. The work was tiring, back breaking, low paying and had zero sex appeal, but it was a paycheck which afforded me such luxuries as MC Hammer cassette tapes, Reebok Pump shoes, and 89 cents/gallon unleaded fuel for my '84 Datsun.

Little did I know that this job would--some 18 years later--spark a passionate interest in crafting artisan pizzas from scratch using home-made dough, organic vegetables, and nitrate-free cured meats. Nowadays, it's weekly ritual I undertake and I take it very seriously. Well maybe not that seriously, but it is something I take pride in, knowing that the end result will be a very satisfying dinner and enough leftovers for several days.

Making pizza at home is a bit time-consuming but it's not difficult and is very rewarding provided you follow some basic rules.

Dough tossed and stretched, ready for saucing.

Let's start the dough. The recipe I've been using for the past year or so is from Tyler Florence, the Food Network star, and calls for flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil. There are a variety of flours on the market, but the one I overwhelmingly prefer is King Arthur's Bread Flour, which you can find at Whole Foods or Ralph's Fresh Fare. It's a few bucks more that other brands, but the dough will have a better rise and texture. Also, don't use tap water; use bottled water or filtered water--this is a rather important detail because water typically comprises 1/4 of the dough ingredients, and you don't want city tap water to be that 1/4 makeup.

After letting the dough rise, you can place it in the fridge overnight, just be sure to take it out 2-3 hours before you start prepping. As for dough tossing and stretching, this takes practice and your first pizza doughs will probably resemble football shapes with holes in them. Sorry, but there's no other way around this other than to practice stretching/turning/tossing.

With some practice though, you'll get nice round-ish shapes with an even thickness center to edge.

Thick-sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano

Small pizza with pepperoni from Whole Foods (nitrate-free)

I cook my pizzas on a pizza stone in a 500-degree oven that's been preheated for at least 30 minutes. The pizza stone, which I picked up at Surfa's in Culver City, provides for a crispy, evenly cooked crust with a soft, chewy middle section.

Just out of the oven. Perfect, crispy crust.

The finished pair. The metal peel on the left is from the pizza parlor where I first worked. The handle broke off during an insanely busy night, and the owner allowed me to keep the peel.

When finished, you'll have pizza cooked with fresh ingredients and that isn't greasy like at so many pizza places. It will taste so much better with intense flavor and texture that can only come from a homemade pizza pie.

Hello world!

Welcome to my food blog! Stay tuned for posts about my cooking and eating adventures.