pluot empanadas

Pluots are my favorite fruit.  There, I said it.  Developed stateside by an American biologist, I feel they can be a perfect blend of sweetness and tartness, with a nice texture, and they don’t spoil too too quickly.  They are derived from a cross between a plum and an apricot called a plucot, in which the plum dominates (if it’s more apricot than plum, you get the aprium).  Later generations of plumcots are called pluots.  I only discovered them once I moved to California, where many varieties are available in the farmers’ markets.

So I thought, now that they are in season, what should I do with them, aside of just eating them?  I thought about maybe a pie, but then I can’t eat a pie by myself; that’s gross.  So how about a mini-pie?  Inspired by a mango empanada that I had, I decided to try it out.

And to try it out, I collaborated with my friends at The Secret Menu.  They cook great food, and are actually good at photography and design and what not as well.  Click on the link for the recipe and amazing photos and video (!), and you’ll want to subscribe to their blog too.

UPDATE: the secret menu link now directs you to the secret menu, not wikipedia.


le comptoir

We live temporary lives, do we not?  Our labor is temporary, we move from place to place, and most of the things we own were made in the past decade and will probably be in the pacific ocean within the next decade.  Good thing the oceans are getting bigger!  That probably includes this expensive typing machine, which may not work in half that time, and this blog, which will end up in the interent version of the pacific ocean.  Good times!  Now, how to respond to this precarious situation?  By consuming it, of course!  ‘nom nom,’ etc.

Enter the pop-up restaurant trend.  I don’t know when pop-up restaurants started, but they do seem of the moment, no pun intended.  London in fact has taken the pop-up aesthetic to new heights, with pop-up cinema, pop-up museums, pop-up gardens, and pop-up olympic stadiums.  Anyway, my dour big thoughts aside (that being the whole point of this blog) I quite like the idea of going pop-up restaurants.  They seem so…secretive and cool.

Even when they are not that secretive.  Take Le Comptoir, which has been up at Tiara Cafe for six months now at least,and was reviewed in LA weekly by Jonathan Gold.  Rest assured, if eating at this restaurant required being in the know, I certainly wouldn’t be reviewing it.  In any case, I convinced TAL to go with me, despite what seemed like a somewhat extravagant prix fixe cost.

And it was cool to walk into a closed Tiara Cafe, through the wrong door, to see diners from the 6pm sitting finish their courses while others waited about.  Then, when they were ready, we made our way to “the counter” along with maybe 8 other people.  This turned out to be an excellent set up.  All of the food was put together by Gary Menes and two of his friends right before our eyes, and there was frequent interaction with the chefs.

Menes on the far left

Le comptoir offers a five course prix fixe.  For any of the courses you can opt instead of a ‘supplement’ which costs more.  It is therefore ideal to go with another person, because then you can share.  TAL and I did this for two of the courses, choosing to not partake in the fois gras, duck breast, and cheese plate.  I have very complicated thoughts about animals, which get more complicated and idiosyncratic when it comes to ducks,  but all the talk about the foie gras ban made me want to try it to see what the fuss was about.  But TAL pulled me off the ledge on that one.  Anyway, we also got the wine pairing, which was four wines for the first four courses.

We start however with an amuse bouche, because that’s what civilized chefs do.  It’s been a couple weeks, but I think it was grits with candied lemon and a couple other things.  The flavor was so simple but so intensely of corn and lemon, with a smooth, appealing texture and beautiful presentation.  It was a perfect preview to the central motifs of this meal.  And yes, this meal had motifs, for real.

grits with candied lemon

Next we had the “sweet corn velouté with farinette, greek yogurt, herbs.”  I’m not sure that description does it justice!  They served us a little pancake with greek yogurt on top first, and then poured over the corn soup.  Now, I find making a good soup to actually be somewhat challenging for whatever reason, so I appreciate a good soup.  This corn soup again concentrated intensified the flavors the corn, was viscous but smooth, required multiple pieces of an extraordinary sourdough bread to fare le scarpezze.


This was accompanied by a chateau les arromas sauvignon blanc.  I love wine and am really not into wine pairings.  That is, I think it’s fine to pair food and drink in general, but it’s also overrated.  My friend M insists otherwise, that once you have the perfect food-wine pairing it elevates both into a different kind of experience.  But I guess I just haven’t had that experience yet.  Mostly, food overpowers the flavor of wine or any drink, so I prefer to have them separate.  In this case, the wine was very sharp and bright, and, you know, did ‘go with’ the soup.  It wasn’t that kind of platonic wine pairing M speaks about, but I did notice and like the wine, so that’s good.

Anyway, next were two dishes that TAL and I shared.  The first was a “sunny side-up egg, young lettuce, herbs, flowers, sorrel jus.”  What’s important here, though, is the making-of.  Since being right in front of the chef is apparently too removed of a culinary experience, for this dish they gave you a little cast iron pot with the egg, and then a plate with greens, some edible flowers, a compound butter, and salt and pepper.  You are supposed to add all of this into the dish, as you like, and let everything cook.  Then they come by the sorrel jus.  It’s all very hands on.

accompaniments for sunny-side up egg

It was fun, and very fresh tasting.  I suppose we could have added fewer of the greens in order to emphasize the egg, but it was still very flavorful and creamy.  The other second course was “lompoc asparagus, fried duck egg, brown butter croutons, citrus, parsley.” I’m pretty sure there was also parmesan cheese in there (I’m referring to their current menu, and of course the menu changes week to week). I thought this dish was just completely masterful.  They had large cast iron skillets in front of us with oil that was pretty much smoking.  They showed us these beautiful blue, large duck eggs that they had just received and then finally cracked them in the oil.  Other places assuredly do asparagus-egg combos but the depth, and again, intensity of flavor here was really notable.  The asparagus was beautifully charred, the butter and cheese added creaminess, and the citrus was little squares of candied citron, which really popped in your mouth and made everything wonderful.  It was good, is what I’m saying.  I must obtain some of this candied citron.

Back to wine: now again, I like the fancy, sure, but I don’t like to get too precious with things, especially wine.  It doesn’t have to be so rarefied and over the top.  Why do you have to describe wine as tasting like toasted elderberry and terrycloth towels, with notes of birch root and chips ahoy?  Why not just stick to words like ‘sweet’ or ‘tangy’?  I’m just letting you know my ideological opinion on this one.  That is, you’ll never find me getting loopy with my wine descriptions.  EXCEPT THIS ONE TIME.  For the second course they served us a ” cote du rhone grenache blanc.”  It had the most distinctive flavor of any white wine I’ve ever had.  That I can remember.  I kept tasting it while eating wondering what made it so familiar.  I came up with the following two flavors: 1) angostura bitters, and 2) cardamom.  Or, um…the wine was redolent of aged angostura bitters, with toasted cardamom on the nose.  TAL wisely ignored me.

At this point I think we decided that we were getting amazing food, and excited to be only two courses in.  The third course would be the best, in Shakespearean fashion.  We got the standard, and the supplement.  The supplement was “acquerell carnaroli rice, [and] black summer truffles.”  The wild, short grain rice had the texture and flavor of a nutty risotto; meanwhile, they did not skimp on the fresh truffles.  Truffles are the caviar of the 2000s, and again, maybe a little overhyped.  But that’s not to say they aren’t rich and delicious in their own right, and there is something fun in watching someone grate them at length onto your plate.  The dish was extremely rich, but a little bit of white wine added at the end gave it enough bounce and brightness to contrast the truffle-risotto flavors and textures (I asked Menes if he added citrus to the dish, because I thought it was lemon juice or something, and he explained  his splash-of-white-wine-at-the-end-of-risotto-making technique).

Along with this came the main prize: a plate of vegetables!

And no, it’s not just because I like vegetables.  TAL agreed – this was the best and most impressive course of the evening.  Each vegetable or fruit was prepared in a different way it seemed, and the notable thing was that each tasted like the essence of that vegetable of fruit.  Unlike chefs who make a carrot taste nothing like a carrot, this carrot was so carrot.  This was the most carrot-y carrot that I’ve had in a while.  Same for every other item.  It was so impressive that at the end of the meal TAL and I first discussed not which dish we liked best, but which fruit/vegetable we liked best on this particular dish.  I liked the carrot, green cauliflower, peach, and celery.  Yes, THE CELERY WAS FUCKING AWESOME.  Imagine celery without the fiber and water and with a really intense celery taste.  I still feel like you don’t believe me, but it was really good.  And pretty.  Along with this we had a bright, lively cab franc.

The denouement then commenced with a “summer ‘cassoulet’ [of] petite purple, yellow and green beans , spanish butter beans, spring onions, farro piccolo, doughnut peaches, [and] confit young garlic.”  Again that’s the current description; we had plums instead of peaches  The vegetables continued to be excellent, though I was actually getting a bit full by this point.  The highlight of this dish were the different kinds of beans, which played off each other and the plums really well.    The final wine, by “henry marionnet,” was deep but mild red wine.

Finally, for dessert: a doughnut hole with different kinds of lightly cooked fruits, macadamia nuts, with a sour cream (that was actually mildy sweet) and crushed graham cracker on the side.  The fruit and doughnut were great, but the sour cream stole the show, especially with the macadamia nuts.  When used correctly nuts can have a lot of impact in a dish.

We stayed around to chat with Menes (or, Gary – can I call him Gary?) after, noting how impressed we were with the vegetables.  He deflected most praise on to the people growing the food, who he knows well of course. The woman who sat next to us had been to this pop-up six times.  Oh, endless capital!  It’s ok though.  In the end we got a real ‘five star’ dining experience for relatively little cost.  Menes previously worked at the French Laundry, and TAL even said the experience there was similar in terms of the individual thought and care put into each dish.  But then this experience was so personal as well, sitting right in front of and chatting with the chefs.  In any case this set up was both fancy and laid back, which is just my style.  Anyway, if you are in the area and you want to go, go soon, because this place has been popped-up for quite a while and may disappear at any moment.

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A few posts back I mentioned the meat-centeredness-trend in LA cuisine.  This means not only serving a lot of meat, but fetishizing meat and its consumption (pigs seem to be particularly in vogue).  Comfort with a meat centered meal is pretty much a  requirement if you wish to eat and enjoy Umamicatessen, Adam Fleischman’s latest addition to the Umami chain.  The idea seems to be that it is a kind of kitsch cafeteria, with several different ‘counters’ each serving different menus.  In addition to the standard Umami Burger, there is “the Cure” which is a take on a jewish deli; “Pigg,” put together by Chris Cosentino, which is devoted to pork and serves in part a variety of cured means (somewhat confusing, given the name of the previous counter); “back bar” for drinks; Spring for Coffee providing coffee; and “& a doughnut” for sweet things.  While these counters do have separate physical spaces within the restaurant, you do simply order of a single menu, so it’s a bit of a conceit.

There are maybe too many such conceits at this place (such as the “hoof and mouth” sandwich; har har).  My friend A and I started with crispy pig ears with something called “brainnaise”.  Having had and enjoyed, somewhat to my surprise, both pig ears (at Ink) and brain (at Baco Mercat), I was sort of looking forward to this dish.  The pig ears were great, very salty and quite meaty, a bacon-light effect that I didn’t mind that much for whatever reason.  The brainnaise sort of tasted like nothing.  I have a feeling that they started out with the name and worked backward to create the actual condiment, which is not necessarily bad unless said condiment ends up tasting like nothing.  Still, not a bad start.

I also had a sweet whisky cocktail called “9th and Bread” consisting of Woodford Bourbon, carpano antica formula (seemingly a cousin of vermouth and fernet), Apricot Liqeur and bitters.  This sort of whiskey drink went well with the super salty, dense food.

Anyway, next we had the potato knishes, which were extremely fluffy and soft and filled with cheese.  What stole the show, however was the freshly made mustard with still-whole mustard seeds.  And I don’t even like mustard that much.

Next came the part of the meal that I was most anticipating, which was cured meat from “pigg”.  It didn’t disappoint.  They have about fifteen different types; we went with the Surryano ham.  The slices were soft and quite smoky but not overpowering, at least for me.  I really loved the texture and immediate flavor.  Also by the time we finished with this I think I had met my recommended salt intake for the entire week.

The menu has a section entitled “around the world in 8 hams” which is presumably a selection of several of their hams.  Eight, for example.  I definitely plan to get four or five people together to split this sometime in the near future.

A and I opted not to get an umami burger, because why, and instead got the pork liver pate sandwich which included the rare green vegetable sighting (arugula), along with the liver, caramelized onions and a very delicious, salty, bouncy bread.  The arugula and sweet onions were actually key in making the sandwich a success, as liver can be, you know, quite liver-y, with a somewhat heavy, almost chalky texture.  Is that just me?  Anyway, I still liked it.

Last but certainly not least, were the doughnuts.  I’m definitely a day late on this fried dough trend.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to hope that cookies come around once again.  Anyway, we had the tres leches and german chocolate doughnuts.  If one reason to return to umamicatessen is to have a meal centered around the cured hams, another would be to come back just for doughnuts and coffee.  The tres leches was just a smashing success.  The german chocolate was a bit dense, but still good.  I mean, I know it’s pretty hard to fuck up fried dough but still.

All in all umamicatessen was actually quite a bit better than I had expected.  I mean, I like umami burger, but I’m not a devotee like some.  But this place has many other things to offer that are unique and interesting.  It’s a bit smirky but not overbearingly so, and anyway the food is really good and not too too expensive.  Just eat lots of vegetables the next day.

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frozen planet at the hollywood bowl

Do I do anything other than cook, and eat?  Yes, sometimes I do in fact.   This last weekend it was watching the LA philharmonic provide musical accompaniment to the nature documentary, Frozen Planet.  There was no David Attenborough, unfortunately, but there was George Fenton, who composed the music, and was the conductor, and is British.  The hollywood bowl is quite scenic, as well.  And they gave us free polar bear masks.  They made us look like polar bear serial killers, which we all are, at heart.

harissa and white fish

I’m realizing quickly that the best seafood preparations seem to be seasoning/sauce + not overcooked fish.  Which is great because it allows me to experiment more with seasoning and sauces, of course.   The idea to make harissa to coat a white fish came from wanting a spicy seafood stew, but not wanting to actually make a stew, because its summer and very hot.  It turns out broiling a fish makes your kitchen pretty hot too.  Anyway, home made harissa also sounded fancy, and you know how much I like the fancy.  The recipe here comes from Saveur with some modifications.

Harissa and white fish

3.5 -4 oz dried chili peppers (I used a combination of new mexico and california chilies, because that’s what vons had)

1⁄2 tsp. caraway seeds
1⁄4 tsp. coriander seeds
1⁄4 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. dried mint leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

5 cloves garlic

Juice of 2 lemons

salt to taste

Oh and some 1″ thick white fish fillets, bones removed, skin on or off

1. Cut of the stem of the chilies, but leave the seeds.  Put chilies into a large enough bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let sit for 20-30 minutes to soften.

2. Put caraway, coriander, and cumin seeds in a small saucepan (don’t use non-stick, unless it’s all you have) and toast for 4 minutes or so on medium-high heat.  They should be fragrant.  Don’t burn them, duh.  Then add to a spice grinder and grind to a powder (along with the mint, if your dried mint isn’t already powdery (to make dried mint, hang a mint bundle upside down in your closet for a week, then painstakingly remove the dried leaves and grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (as I did, because, again, I’m fucking fancy)).

3. Drain chilies.  Add everything to a food processor and puree for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides if you need to.  At this point you may want to add more olive oil or some water.

4. Saveur says to store that you “transfer to a sterilized 1-pint glass jar and fill with oil until ingredients are submerged by 1⁄2″. Refrigerate, topping off with more oil after each use.”  Really, Saveur?  You can just store it in a tupperware container and put it in your fridge for five weeks or so.  But then my landlord installed a new fancy dishwasher in my apartment, one that has a ‘sanitize’ option, so I ‘sanitized’ a jar and did the whole bit with the olive oil.  This makes quite a lot, so you can feel free to have some with anything you make, just like any hot sauce.

5.  To make the fish: easy.  Cover your fillets in a generous amount of harissa, then put a couple more spoonfulls of harissa in a plastic bag along with the fish.  Close, making sure to take out all of the air, and jumble up.  Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Once marinated, put a cast iron pan 3″ under your broiler preheat on high for five minutes, until the pan is really really hot.  Remember not to burn yourself.  And *then* put in the fish skin side down (or up – varying opinons on this) and broil for four minutes.  A good way to check doneness is to insert a skewer.  If it doesn’t meet any resistance, you are good to go.

I would agree with my friend VH that most times you make food, and you’ve bought things from the farmer’s market and you are a somewhat competent home cook and yeah, it’s good, but nothing really special.  I feel like I’ve made this point before.  But this was tasty enough to surprise me with an always fun “I made that?” moment.  The harissa was spicy and flavorful, and broiling gives the outside a nice crust.  The skin, which again I placed against the surface of the pan, was also good; I suppose if I put it facing the broiler it would have gotten very crisp.  Either way, I liked it.  The inside of the fish was very tender and flaky and not overcooked, which, again, is the goal.  While eating, you will surely have to fend off your jealous cat.  Peeky is still a little sore at being mostly confined to science diet, which I do understand.  On the other hand, most people who see pictures of her ask if she is a fat cat (not that one has to subscribe to normative cat-body images).

food day

Dana Goodyear, in her excellent 2009 piece about Jonathan Gold for  The New Yorker, quotes Robert Sietsema, who describes an average day of eating for Gold:

Not long ago, Sietsema said, Gold visited: “He and I went on a typical binge. We started with porchetta sandwiches, then went to David Chang’s new bakery for foccaccia with kimchi, then we had salty-pistachio soft-serve ice cream, cookies, and coffee milk. Then we went to a pizzeria famous for its artichoke slice, where we also had a Sicilian slice, and then we took the train to Flushing and visited a new Chinese food court and had half a dozen Chinese dishes there. Then we went to the old food court down the street, visited three more stalls, and had a bunch of things, including lamb noodles, and then Jonathan had to go to dinner somewhere. After dinner, he stopped by my apartment, and we went to Ten Downing, where we ate another three-course dinner.”

Which I found, of course, impressively epic.  I think it was this article that made me more aware of the ‘food scene’ in a way that I hadn’t been before (though I had the San Francisco coffee, burrito and bar scenes pretty well covered, at one point being able to quickly list my 10 favorite dive bars in the city (I didn’t go to any other kind) in reverse order.  Those were the days.).  One of the fundamental points of the article, that Los Angeles, due to its somewhat isolating landscape, is the an “anti-melting pot,” a place where one can “get true, undiluted regional cookery” is something I have oft repeated when singing the praises of this city.  That, and the fact LA has one of the largest if not the largest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the United States at any point in United States history (plymouth rock is not a city).  Something like that.  Anyway, point is, probably the best way to experience Los Angeles is to spend a day travelling around and eating.  And so, with my dear friends M and VH in town, that is what we did.

left: rice wrapped in lotus leaf, right: char siu bao – pork filled bun

First up was NBC Seafood in Monterey Park for dim sum.  The three of us have been having a long-standing discussion about what constitutes ideal dim sum – indeed, if ideal dim sum even exists as such.  Basically it stems from a statement VH made that dim sum is always good, but never outstandingly perfect, or even ‘the best’ dim sum, and furthermore the ‘best’ dim sum doesn’t exist, only good or very good dim sum that is nevertheless can not ever be the best in relative or absolute terms .  Later M modified this to claim that dim sum, at its best, had in character a unpretentious ‘ordinariness’ about it, and so dim sum at its best would not be some sort of extraordinary experience; that is, the perfect dim sum is, ironically, dim sum that is not perfect.  I had never had dim sum before, but was simply interested in the philosophical aspect of this discussion (there were other additions to this conversation, with RT saying something about it being ok not have relative superlatives, and E saying that in this formulation dim sum as non-existing ideal is similar to communism).  And so, we made plans to have dim sum, at NBC Seafood, as I mentioned above, before I bored and confused you.

We had probably 12-15 different things.  I quite liked the congee, the shrimp dumplings, rice wrapped in lotus leaf, a pork and shrimp dumpling (Shaomai?), fried taro, and even this fluffy bun that was filled with pork (Char siu bau?).  Oh and the black sesame balls (Jin deui?).  I’m not confident with these names, as indicated by the question marks.

clockwise from top left: turnip cake, pork of some kind, fried taro (yum), black sesame balls

Overall it was a lovely, long experience.  I felt completely full, and thought that I might have a light dinner at most.  Little did I know…

Next, we stepped outside to a Vietnamese coffee place that shall go unnamed due to their napkin-stinginess.  In any case, I personally didn’t have coffe there,  though M’s friend M did.  I did buy a water.  More to the point, we sat outside an ate doughnuts the Michelle brought from The Donut Man.  VH and I shared their famous strawberry doughnuts, which were not too filling because they were more strawberries than dough.  The dough took in a lot of the strawberry juice and it was very good (sorry, didn’t think to take pictures).  She also got a boston creme doughnut, which is my favorite, so I picked away at that too until I ate like half.  I was then given the rest of the doughnuts to eat the following day or two.  Ok, so *now* I was full and done eating for the day.

Or at least for a while.  We retreated to my place to hang out with Peeky and play with a rubik’s cube.  But soon it was happy hour.  Wanting to be even more happy, we headed over to Blue Cow because I heard Steve Livigni talk about the barrel-aged cocktails he was making there, and wanted to maybe try one.  Blue Cow ended up being in the same plaza as Starry Kitchen, a foodie vietnamese fusion place that I don’t like (although their very peppy and annoying owner did just throw a cannabis dinner, so that’s something).  Anyway, the place was full of suits drinking and doing whatever they do after work.  It made the experience more ethnographic on the whole.  Also, they were showing the apparently inescapable Heat-Thunder game.  I tried not to pay attention, lest Chris Bosh ruin my appetite.

pink eggs and ham at Blue Cow (beet marinated deviled eggs with Mendocino Mustard, double smoked bacon & candied jalapenos)

On to the drinks, and food.  They only had one barrel aged cocktail actually, and that had tequila in it, so I didn’t get it.  Instead I got the Allagash beer cocktail that had “allagash curieux, spicebox whiskey, gran classico, apple juice.”  It tasted about what you think it would taste like – creamy and chocolatey from the beer, sweet from the apple juice, and a bit of a kick from the whisky.  Not bad; would return if it wasn’t located where it was located.  We also had some fried potatoes and “pink eggs and ham” :”beet marinated deviled eggs with Mendocino Mustard, double smoked bacon & candied jalapenos.”  Those were very creamy, and good, and cute.  I didn’t try them with the bacon, obvs.

Is this post making you feel lethargic and overstuffed (with words), yet still wanting more?  Imagined how we felt.  Again, I thought I would try a couple things at dinner, but not go overboard.  Again that didn’t happen.

We decided to go to Aburiya Toranoko, an izakaya place next to the Lazy Ox. And we ordered like ten things, and beer, and I had a cold sake.  We started out with fried shishito peppers.  The peppers are a bit sweet, but they were charred a bit on the outside and mixed with a soy sauce, which was simple and worked very well.  They also were topped with bonito flakes that danced because of the heat.

Then came two types of agedashi tofu: their regular one and one that was mixed with uni.  Both were good, but the latter was something really new and different to me.  It had a very clear uni flavor, but the texture was completely smooth, really as if it were just soft tofu.  That was amazing.

agedashi tofu in front, uni agedashi tofu in back

Next was a delectable and photogenic monkfish liver pate, decadent but light and sweet also, a crab roll which was beautiful and fresh tasting, and a kind of stuffed cucumber roll which I don’t see on the menu now.  All came with elaborately crafted pickled vegetable garnishes; they were unexpectedly pretty.  We also had a   okonomiyaki pancake, which I didn’t like as much, maybe cause it was greasy and the rest of the meal was very not greasy.  Oh, and chicken livers.  Jesus, we really ate.  As mentioned, I also had a cold sake which I think is called Mizuno Shirabe, though it might have been a different one.  Usually, I expect and almost want sake to have very little flavor; that was *not* the case with this one.  It was sweet (but not too) and actually complex; if I was actually fancy and good with words I would talk about the different notes it had, but let’s not venture into dangerous territory.  It did have notes though, several.  Definitely some notes on that one.

monkfish liver on the left, crab roll on the right

The only things this placed had going against it were a) the dave matthews-blues traveller-90s soundtrack.  Not cool.  and b) not only was the inescapable heat-thunder game on, but the heat won the championship while we there, and there were heat fans at the bar.  Were they bros wearing white tank tops?  Yes, of course they were.  Anyway,  I was pretty exceptionally full at this point, somehow more so than everyone else, but over dinner M had regaled us with stories of mysterious and beautiful young Korean mafia people who sold shaved ice that was also, incidentally, really good.  And so, why not, let’s go to korea town and have some goddamned shaved ice.  The night was young.  The place was Haus, and was filled with fashionable young k-town kids getting dessert and watching k-pop videos on mute out of the corner of their eye.  I was somewhat mesmerized by the videos, which are like N’Sync videos on steroids, not to subscribe to a Western progressivist cultural aesthetics in which Anglo-American political, economic and cultural forms ‘precede’ those of the ‘developing’ world which is, by definition, in a less advanced, perhaps primitive, technological and culture state.  Anyway, we did indeed have the shaved ice, preceded, for good measure, by a piece of their “crepe” cake, which was alternating levels of chocolate and cream with ice cream on the side and was very good but then I like all sweet things.  The shaved ice was also good, and had a texture so smooth and was so room-temperature stable as to make it not quite like ice at all.  Clearly they had done something to this ice to make it like this.  It was topped with fruit and red bean.  I could see the appeal, but I wasn’t necessarily a convert.  I would go back to Haus though, as it’s quite the scene.

shaved ice

So there you have it: dim sum, speciality doughnuts, craft cocktails, americanized izakaya, and Korean mafioso shaved ice, all in the space of 10 hours, which also allowed for a lengthy break to play with toys and cats and such.  I think M even got a hike in, in the morning  And I probably spent less than $60 the whole day.  I could see the appeal of doing this sort of thing all the time.  I leave you with pictures and  a very intense video from a band that was the food of M’s thoughts during her brief stay in her favorite city.

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bloody james

I love alcohol in the morning – who doesn’t? – but never quite liked bloody marys, because for some reason I don’t like tomato juice.  Which is odd because I love tomatoes; they are probably my favorite fruit.  Anyway, though I’ve tried, I could never get around to liking the bloody mary.  Fortunately, the Splendid Table has come along with this great recipe for “watermelon soup,” that, if converted into a drink, sort of reminded me of a bloody mary.  Maybe it’s a bit forced.

Bloody James

2-1/2 to 2-3/4 pounds sweet watermelon flesh (I had about 10 cups after blending)

Zest of 1 large lime

Juice of 2 large limes (about 1/2 cup)

1 Thai chili (seeds removed if you are sensitive to spice)

1 tsp fish sauce (yes; trust me)

10 or 12 fresh basil leaves from your wilty basil plant, coarsely chopped (or thai basil, in keeping with our ‘thai’ theme here)

15 or so mint leaves

Generous pinch of salt

4 or 5 grinds of black pepper

3 tablespoons sugar

Vodka or Gin


1. Toss everything except the vodka/gin and ice into a food processor or blender and puree.  You may have to work in batches.  Don’t worry if you have to blend some watermelon, set it aside, and then blend the rest of the watermelon plus the other ingredients separately.  It’s all going to be mixed together eventually, meaning right now.

2. Mix everything together and let it sit for 30 min our so (or longer?).  I don’t know if this step is necessary or does anything, but it seemed like a good idea.

3. Strain through a mesh strainer.  At this point you can taste it to see if it needs anything. (I even strained it, returned what was left to the food processor, and strained it again, but this is not essential).

4. Chill for a few hours.  So that it’s cold.

5. Fill a tall glass of ice, add a shot of vodka or gin and fill with watermelon drink.  You can garnish with a cube of watermelon, mint or basil, a lime slice, or all of the above.  How fancy!

The dominant flavor is still watermelon, but you can still taste the fresh herbs, a bit of sourness from the limes, and there is a definite ‘kick’, as they say (I left the seeds of the chili in).  The fish sauce kind of rounds out all the tastes (I initially made this without the fish sauce, but then added some slowly to my glass to see if it would be ok).  Also, it could do with more of anything – limes, sugar, mint, even chili (and of course gin…) – according to your taste and still be a nice watermelon drink.  And, you can easily adjust this after straining it, in some cases just with a garnish (a trick: if you place some sprigs of mint so that the leaves are just at the rim of the glass, when you go to take a sip you’ll get that mint aroma and it will make the taste more minty).

I have to admit I don’t have any vodka or gin on hand (I know, I know…) so I had this virgin.  Virgin, like the virgin queen, Elizabeth.  But this drink is not named after her, but rather King James, because he was as bloody if not more so than Queen Mary.  They were both quite bloody.  Because they were BLOODY ENGLISH TYRANTS.  Just like notorious brits King George, George Michael, Michael Caine, non-mimetic taxes, baked beans with ‘brown sauce'(?), Barack Obama, posh spice, and the spanish inquisition.

Happy fourth of July!

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