red tofu falls

Hello everyone, all 12 of you.  I would like to announce something.  A hem.  Concomitant with the disintegration  and denigration of society, along with the ruination of everything else, I have started a tumblr blog.  About food.  I may be posting there more often than I post here.  To follow, you need a tumblr account, or RSS in a post-google-reader world.  Courage, dear readers.

 

Everything But the Duck

 

and also check out my LA blog

bottle octopus

 

Thank You

– Management

 

Advertisements

LAX, 6:30am

lax

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had to take an early morning flight to Boston (pre-storm, thankfully).  The fog was really thick in the morning and visibility seemed to be 50 feet or less (it’s hard to gague these things).  Driving on the 105, you couldn’t see the ground or any of the trees, or really anything except for the road and lights from nearby office buildings, which made it look as though you were floating.  The parking lot had a nice empty feeling to it, though eerie with the odd traveller dragging a suitcase along.

Mo Chica and Chicken Cau Cau

It was Dine LA week again recently.  Last time I decided to go to Ricardo Zarate’s lovely Picca, and had a wonderful time.  So this time I decided to go to his ‘original’ restaurant, Mo Chica.  I put original in quotes because Mo Chica was originally in a different and more down-scale location, but has recently moved to a more glamourous spot next to Bottega Louie and across the way from 7 Grand.

The new Mo Chica is correspondingly glamourous and shiny on the inside, and tiny in a way that makes you feel special.  No true bar, which was unfortunate.  In any case, they didn’t skimp on the Dine La menu, similar to Picca.  Picca seemed to have more of a Japanese influence than Mo Chica, but other than that they seemed quite similar.  Between the two of us TAL and I could order most of what they offered from their Dine La menu.  We had:

Tuna Tartare (avocado yuzu mousse, soy dressing, wonton chips): sometimes creamy avocado concoctions fall a little flat, but this added the right amount of body and depth to a very sprightly and bright tartare.  A good appetizer.

Ceviche Crocante (local halibut, leche de tigre, crispy calimari) :  the halibut was hidden under the calimari, and both were cooked perfectly.  Whatever the ‘leche de tigre’ was it was good.

Arroz Chaufa de Marisco (seafood medley, Peruvian fried rice, pickled radish): very similar to a dish at Picca that I still remember as being hearty and delightful.  But then who doesn’t like fried rice.

Chupe Gratinado (lobster and scallop gratin, potato, sea urchin ceviche sauce): sea urchin sauce!  the whole dish was rich, creamy and delicious.  It was a main entree that arrived before the Ceviche dish that was an appetizer, thus messing with my OCD, but the dishes were basically the same size anyway.

Corazon (anticucho sauce, twice cooked potato, huancaina, rocoto pesto): apparently beef heart is hard to cook, which makes me even more impressed with this very tender heart.  Aww.

Chicken Cau Cau (Peruvian chicken stew, jalepeno salsa criolla, cumin yogurt): a hearty chicken stew with a delicious piece of grilled bread.  What was in that bread?  No one else on the internet seems to talk about it and thus we will never know.

Tres Leches Cake and Vanilla Pisco Flan: the flan was amazing.  I opted to not get the flan at Picca the last time around and regretted it.  So this time I made sure to get it.  I mean, there were two of us, and two desserts on the menu, so we got both, but still.

My new thing (I have a new thing) is to try to make dishes I have at restaurants.  I think it comes from going to Italian places and feeling I could easily make what I just spent $14 for.  And I could.  But with food like this, it’s more complicated.  I decided to attempt the Chicken Cau Cau, because it’s a more straightforward chicken stew and seems not impossible to make.  And because recipes would be available on the internet, that being my old thing.
Chicken Cau Cau

(from a few different places, so, basically mine at this point…)

• Ingredients •

2lbs potatoes, cubed (4 medium sized potatoes, works out to 2 cups)

2lbs boneless chicken breast, cleaned and cut into cubes

1 regular onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 aji amarillo or jalepeno peppers, minced

1 tsp tumeric

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper

1 cup chicken broth

juice of one lime

3 tblsp fresh parsley or mint (or both), chopped

1/4 cup yogurt

• Directions •

1. Peel potatoes and chop into bite-sized pieces.

2. Cut the chicken breast into equal sized cubes.  I bought these kitchen shears, which are very handy for this kind of task.

3. Blend the aji amarillo/jalapeño peppers into a paste.  Add some vegetable oil to help make it paste-y.  Aji amarillo are a peruvian pepper and it looks like this.  I used jalapeños.

4. Heat some vegetable oil in large heavy bottom pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute over medium heat until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, tumeric, cumin and salt (if you had not already) and mix to combine.  Cook for one minute and then add pepper paste

5. Add chicken to the pan, stir for about 1 minute. Next stir in potatoes and add 1 cup of chicken broth or water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low-medium heat for 15 minutes, opening cover to stir occasionally and ensure nothing is sticking to bottom of pan.

Finish by stirring in lime juice, yogurt and herbs.  Serve with…

Salsa Criolla 

(from here)

Some raw/lightly pickled ingredients really brighten up the above stew.  You can just put some of this salsa on top of the stew in the serving dish.

Ingredients:

2 red onions, sliced in very thin half moons
1-2 ají or jalapeño peppers, sliced into very thin matchsticks
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro or parsley, or both
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation:

1. Soak the onions in salt water for 10 minutes. Drain and let dry.

2. Mix onion with the rest of the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

3. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Grilled Bread

As mentioned above, the bread was amazing.  I kept trying to think about how to replicate the bread.  There is a traditional anise seed bread in Peru, but it’s more a sweet bread, and served as rolls.  But was the amazing taste of the bread anise seed?  It was bright and forward and self-important, so maybe anise in part fills that description.  What I ended up doing however, partially because I was lazy and didn’t want to make bread, was to zest some lime into olive oil, brush it on the bread, and put it under the broiler.  If I had more time I would have made a lime oil by heating the olive oil/zest mixture (with more zest) to ‘infuse’ as they say (I hate the word infuse, just because I do).

Overall, the dish was good, if not particularly inspiring.  The same was true of the original though, which is why I chose to make it at home, so maybe it was inspiring, in that sense.  Really what I wanted was that bread.  Oh and I made poached pears for dessert, just randomly.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Boléro

Now that the season for the LA phil is underway, I decided to get rush tickets for a performance of Ravel’s Boléro.  It was a delightful and fun performance of one of my favorite songs.  Gustavo was not conducting, unfortunately.

Dine LA restaurant week

I had the chance to eat somewhat less expensively recently, because of Dine LA restaurant week, which just concluded.  Ok, it concluded several weeks ago, but I didn’t get around to posting about it.  I’m sorry, but there’s been 3500 hours of olympics to watch, people.  I even watched some handball, which is sort of not really a sport, amirite?  Anyway,  do I even remember what I ate?  I think so?

Jar

Appealing because I’ve actually been re-watching top chef masters seasons 1 and 2 for some reasons, when they were actually playing for charity and not just to get more people to visit their restaurants.  Anyway Season 1 featured Suzanne Tracht, chef at Jar, which calls itself a “modern chophouse” which means they make steak and things.  The decor feels very 70s; the chairs had wheels, for example.  That’s ok I guess.  So, the food

Prime Rib Eye: first time I’ve eaten steak in fifteen or so years!  It was good, maybe a bit too chewy but then I asked for medium rare.  TAL, who is my fine dining partner (apparently?), said the steaks were wonderful, like the platonic ideal of steak.  I can’t really judge since it’s been so long.  They are certainly very filling.  I’m not sure how necessary it is to just eat a big slab of meat, but maybe my opinion will change over time.

 

Butterscotch Pudding: really really really good!  I think I just like soft caramels.  Once it cools down, I’m going to make this for the first person who comes over to my house to eat.  I will make you some butterscotch pudding and you have to eat it.

Picca Peru

The next week, I ventured *all the way* out to Beverly Hills to try Picca with the Secret Menu, A and J.  Picca is a very hip, of the moment place.  There was a lot of wood panelling and a ‘cabin’ look, exposed filament lightbulbs, no tablecloths, and open kitchen and bar within the restaurant, a large wall mirror with things written on it (mirrors might be the new chalkboards), and odd things on the walls.  It’s just how things look these days.

Picca Peru

Anyway, the food.  Picca is a Peruvian restaurant, obviously, and the menu is strongly influenced by Japanese cuisine  like Peru itself.  We had some options because this is a ‘small plates’ place, of course.  Well first drinks, while we waited for our table.  I honestly forget exactly what was in my drink, but it had strawberry air, I believe.  A’s drink was also fancy:

That’s the top of the drink.  The period is what makes it fancy.  And then…well to be honest, it’s a bit of a haze at the moment.  That’s the trouble with food.  It goes away, leaving only haze.  But a delicious haze.  In some cases a strawberry haze.  mmm.

But I think these or slight varions on these were among the parade of small plates:

chicharron de pollo. marinated crispy chicken, salsa criolla, rocoto sauce, ceviche mixto. mixed seafood, sweet potato, choclo, tres leches de tigre. rocoto, aji amarillo, sea urchin shooters, arroz chaufa de mariscos. mixed seafood, peruvian fried rice, pickled radish, causa snow crab. cucumber, avocado, huancaina sauce, bisteck a lo pobre. skirt steak, egg, pan fried banana, chickpeas tacu tacu, alfajoresvanilla bean pisco flan.

Also an eggplant dish that’s not on their menu anymore.

I can speak best to what I ordered.  The “bisteck a lo pobre” was a pretty amazing combination; I think mine also had rice..  Steak, egg, banana and chickpeas and rice go really well together.  In fact I was very pleasantly surprised by how well fried egg and fried banana pair.  The causa snow crab came in two cute little bites and was lovely and refreshing.  The ceviche was a really nice way to start the meal.  The Alfajores was good – sugary and crisp, though the creamy flan was probably better.  If I went back…well, I would try new things, but probably hit up the bisteck dish again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2.

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.

pre-soup

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

umamicatessen

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

%d bloggers like this: