Monday, August 31, 2009

Festival Food that will give you energy to ROCK out @ Outside Lands, SF

The Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is a three day concert event that was held at the Golden Gate Park this year (August 28-30). 2009 marks the second year it has been around. I decided to attend the first day that featured rock bands such as Pearl Jam, Silversun Pickups, Incubus, The National and West Indian Girl among others.

If you have a Visa Signature card, you get access to their private lounge.

The lounge was shaded (which was very key since it was unseasonably hot at over 90 degrees), had a bar area and couches, wide screen TVs replaying music sets from the day, and most importantly, bathrooms! Granted they were portable trailers but they were air conditioned, had real toilet seats and seat covers, and sinks. This sure beats the porter potties that were sitting out in the heat all day.

The venue is massive and allows for three concert stages, a wine tasting tent and a host of food vendors. There were so many food options that one should peruse the grounds before making a premature decision.

BBQ Oyster. A good little fresh, simple tangy bite. Yes you might be nervous about seafood sweating in the heat, however we got this early on in the day so the oyster was still looking fresh. Otherwise, avoid at all cost!

Tuna poke. I have to admit, I've never had poke before because I don't care for raw tuna. However this dish was so well flavored and you could tell that the tuna was fresh. The tuna was chunky with a bit of spice from the marinade. The dish was surprisingly light and was perfect for the hot day. And fried wonton strips? Who doesn't like that!

Chicken Taco, with onions, cilantro and lime.

Three mini sliders. I was quite surprised that these little sliders were so delicious and the meat was juicy.

After waiting 20 minutes for the chicken and waffles, I forgot to snap a picture. This was my favorite of the day. The chicken skin was crispy (there were two plump dark meat pieces) and when topped with maple syrup, the sweet and saltiness together was such a lovely combination. This ignited our craving for Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles; somewhere that I haven't been since I was a kid.

Arepa, from the Argentine stand. An arepa is a semi-fluffy corn bread stuffed with meat, tomatoes and salad. It was good, but not mind blowing, although the corn bread was a nice change from your regular tortilla or sandwich bun.

Freshly deep fried beignets with a drizzle of chocolate. This was another favorite. The chocolate syrup was melting on the piping hot beignets, and the inside was warm and soft. I loved how they were made to order; you had to wait a couple minutes but there's nothing worse than soggy, lukewarm beignets.

Yes, music festivals are all about great music, but if you are going to be on your feet for 10 hours, you'll need some sustenance. There's a good variety of street food at the Outside Lands Festival that will take care of your hunger, and most of the servings are small so you can even create a tapas-style meal for yourself.

Outside Lands Festival
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA

Monday, August 24, 2009

5 great chefs, 1 great night: 5X5 Collaborative @ Water Grill

The 5X5 Chefs Collaborative occurs annually and includes five separate dinners. The dinners rotate at five noteworthy Los Angeles restaurants (Providence, Melisse, Water Grill, Angelini Osteria and Grace), and each of the famous chefs from the five restaurants prepare a dish at each event. A guest chef also joins the team each session. This is not a cheap meal at $150 per person ($215 with wine pairing), however a potion of the proceeds goes towards a great charity. Last night, LB and I attended the one held at Water Grill.

Water Grill is located in Downtown LA and specializes in upscale seafood cuisine. Seafood guru Michael Cimarusti worked at Water Grill for seven years before leaving to open up Providence Restaurant. Both restaurants currently hold Michelin Stars (One for Water Grill and Two for Providence). During the 5X5 series, the chefs prepare their dishes to the style of the host restaurant, so we were expecting a lot of seafood on the menu.

Bread and butter. The bread choices were ciabatta, french loaf and olive bread. The waiter made a couple stops to our table when he noticed that we had finished our bread.

Amuse Bouche
Trio of Big Eye Tuna with Heart of Palm, Bay Scallop, Uni and Cha Soba, and Kumamoto, Sea Grapes, Organic Brown Rice Vinegar Granite - David LeFevre (Water Grill)
*Francios Mikulski, Bourgogne Aligote 2006

This was such a good dish; the seafood was fresh and the presentation was lovely; Oyster and Scallops on shell, and tuna on a plate in the center. The uni was delicious; it only required a small piece as it had such an intense flavor. It was creamy and tasted of the ocean. The soba noodle garnished with the scallop and uni was tied up in a ribbon. This whole dish was very delicate and pleasing to the eye. I actually have never had such a comprehensive amuse bouche. Typically you get a tiny bit of something, so I was pleasantly surprised with this spread.

#1. King Crab, Steelhead Roe, Kalamansi, Tangerine Lace and Togarashi - Curtis Duffy (Guest Chef)
*Heyman-Lowenstein, Reisling Qba, Schieferterrassen, 2006

What an amazing dish. First of all, the colors were eye popping. I also loved how the ingredients were unique; I had to do a google search of Kalamansi at the table. The crab was fresh and a little sweet, and the cucumber sauce that it was sitting in had such a lovely creamy flavor that we were trying hard to get in every last drop. I typically do not like roe because it tends to be very fishy. However the steelhead roe was fresh, not pungent and just a little salty.

When we raved about the dish to our waiter, he called the chef over to our table. Chef Curtis Duffy, previously at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, currently cooks at Avenues, the restaurant at the Peninsular in Chicago. He's obviously very talented and also extremely good looking. I can't wait to watch his career explode.

#2. Calamari with Cherry Tomatoes and Baby Arugula - Gino Angelini (Angelini Osteria)
*Signaterra Sauvignon Blanc, Russian RiverValley 2008

It was interesting to see Chef Angelini present a non-pasta dish, after all his restaurant is known for its pasta and pizza dishes. This was another delicious dish. The calamari was grilled to perfection and lightly salted. It had such clean and simple flavors. The colorful cherry tomatoes brought vibrancy to the plate.

#3. Nori crusted Wild Striped bass with Eggplant and Essence of Seaweed - Josiah Citrin (Melisse)
*Cote de Lune Blanc, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley 2008

Foam was poured on the plate table side which added a buttery flavor to the fish. There was a top crust on the bass that tasted like crushed fish bones. I loved the texture; it was crunchy and had fish essence. The eggplant puree was smooth and creamy. All the flavors were amazing and worked well together, with the white fish as a blank canvas. Melisse is known for its classic French cuisine and Chef Citrin is all about foie gras, caviar and truffles. When eating his contributed dish, you can see this on the Water Grill menu and really not something you would expect at Melisse. Indeed Chef Citrin cooked his dish to the style of Water Grill.

The wine that was served with the dish was so buttery. When drinking it alone, it was a little overwhelming. But when pairing it with the bass, the rich flavor of the wine worked well with the fish.

#4. Confit swordfish with Truffle, Maiitake Mushroom and Spinach Velute - Michael Cimarusti (Providence)
*Domaine Desertaux-Ferrand, Le Sceaux, 1er Cru, Beaune 2005

This plate looked similar to the last: white fish with a nice crust. I rarely see a confit of fish but I can only imagine that it was the reason that the swordfish was so flaky. I liked the earthiness of the truffle. In an eagerness to eat this dish, I forgot to take a photo until it was too late. Above photo shows the last chunk of swordfish.

Thankfully, Michael Cimarusti came by and I told him that his dish was so delicious that I forgot to take a photo. Towards the end of the night, he brought by another plate of swordfish so that I could take a proper photo (above).

#5. Grilled Dry Aged New York Steak
Corn, Fava Beans, Hominy and Shrimp Bernaise - Neal Fraser (Grace)
*Chateau Vignot, saint Emillion Grand Cru 2004

I liked the individual components of this dish. The steak was tender, and I loved the corn and bean sauteed under the steak. The bernaise was also not too heavy, unfortunately even though it had a shrimp in it, it was not infused with the shrimp flavor. I didn't think there was a WOW factor to this dish. The bernaise sauce seemed a little disconnected from the rest of the dish, like it was slopped on as an afterthought. Perhaps if it was a lighter and smoother sauce that melted into the meat, it might have combined better with the dish. I didn't have the urge to lick the plate.

#6. Pistachio Pavlova with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Lavender, Mascarpone Ice-Cream, and Strawberry Sorbet - David Lefevre (Water Grill)
*Yalumba NV

This dessert was light and sweet but it wasn't the chocolate dessert that we had hoped for. I felt that since most of the courses were not too heavy as most of them were seafood items, a rich dessert would have been a nice end to the meal. In any case, the dessert was still good. Pavlova is a meringue and is crunchy and airy.

The night ended with mignardises including pistachio macaroons, chocolate ganache and lychee geelee. Yes, we got our chocolate fix!

Overall, what an amazing dinner. I was excited to be in the presence of such notable chefs. From my seat, I could see them in the kitchen, huddled around a kitchen table, working together. The food was memorable, the ingredients were fresh and unique, and the presentation was lovely. I also felt that the wine was well paired.

The service was outstanding. Our waiter was knowledgeable about the food and wine, and seemed genuinely excited to be part of this event. The chefs were also very good hosts and were warm and welcoming. They came out of the kitchen to speak with the guests and to ensure that everyone was satisfied. Even Providence co-owner and manager Donato Poto was on deck, pouring wine and facilitating service.

Our waiter told us that unfortunately the turnout for 5X5 this year was dismal (85 guests vs. 135 last year). He also mentioned that the advertisements and promotions were lacking this year. I find this very tragic. I am not sure if the lack of advertisement played a huge role in the low turnout, or perhaps diners are not willing to pay the $150 price tag during these recessionary times. As a portion of the dinner proceeds goes towards the Southern California Chapter of the Special Olympics, I had hoped there were more guests at the event.

There is one more 5X5 dinner, at Angelini Osteria on September 21 which LB and I will be attending as well. If you can spare the cash, come support the chefs and the charity. You'd be hard pressed to find another event that showcases such excellent dishes from five culinary geniuses.

Hits: service, the chefs,king crab, amuse bouche, it's for charity :)
Misses: meat dish could have been a little more noteworthy, low turnout
Rate: *****

5X5 Chef Collaborative Dinner
Water Grill
544 S. Grand Ave.,
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 891-0900

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I ain't waiting 40 minutes for a Taco: Kogi at Alibi Room

Kogi is the mobile culinary phenomenon that gave rise to the now numerous food trucks in Los Angeles that utilize social networking tools such as Twitter to connect customers with the ever-changing location of their trucks. Currently, you are able to get a variety of street food on the road including sushi, BBQ food and Vietnamese sandwiches (bahn mi). Kogi offers Korean BBQ tacos and burritos; one of the first popular Asian-inspired Mexican fare.

We decided to get some Kogi tacos before our Kings of Leon concert at the Great Western Forum. I've waited in line once at the Kogi truck, but since the Alibi Room in Culver City serves the menu in its bar, I wonder why anyone would wait in line and consume their tacos on the side of the street? I like to eat in the comforts of a restaurant/bar/home, alongside an alcoholic beverage. As such, Alibi Room is the ideal place for me.

The Alibi Room is located away from the busy stretch of Downtown Culver City. The interior includes a wraparound bar that takes up half the space, a couple couches and a patio.

I started with a glass of Pinot Gris. The food menu is limited. There are tacos, sliders, burrito, hot dog and quesadilla; all of which are Korean flavored.

They have miniature bottles of Pacifico (7 oz).

Taro and lotus root chips to start. Crunchy and with the right amount of salt. I loved the little lotus roots; it made for a pretty presentation. Here's hoping that it's healthier than potato chips.

3 tacos with choice of bbq chicken, spicy pork and Korean short ribs. I enjoyed the spicy pork the most and only other time I had Kogi, so I decided to double up on that. Besides, BBQ chicken sounds so generic. The tacos were delicious; the meat was tender and juicy. These tacos are salty and have such a unique burst of flavor. The squeeze of lime added a citrus flavor to the spiciness. Each taco is a good two bites full and is a great quick snack.

Ice cream sandwich (pretzel cookie and pale ale ice cream). I thought it would be served on a plate with utensils but instead it came wrapped in plastic cellophane. I suppose it goes with the whole theme of the bar menu: portable food. The cookie did not taste like pretzel except for the coating of salt. The ice cream sandwich was also a little messy. When you attempt to take a bite, the ice cream gets squished between the sandwich and it ends up dripping all over you.

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Alibi Room. The tacos were delicious, however I don't know how people have the patience to wait in line for almost an hour at the food truck. The tacos are good but they ain't THAT good, in my opinion. I'm just glad that they decided to offer Kogi in the comforts of a bar and with a short wait.

After our Kogi meal, we headed off to the concert. Awesome night filled with good music, some dancing and satisfying Korean nibbles.

Hits: spicy pork taco, no crazy waits in line
Misses: ice cream sandwich
Rate: ***

Alibi Room
12236 W. Washington Blvd.,
Culver City, CA 90066
(310) 390-9300

Recipe: Banana Chocolate Muffins

I try to have a banana in the morning. Unfortunately this workweek, I've been a little greedy and instead have succumbed to the commissary at work for savory breakfast items ala croissants and hash browns. By the end of the week, I found myself with a bunch of bananas that looked like they would not last another few days.

What to do with them, I ponder. Banana Bread! But wait, I want to give some to my friends and family.. so what is the best way to divvy up the bread? Muffin form, I think. I decided to adjust my banana bread recipe into a banana and chocolate chip muffin recipe.

Result: Both regular sized and mini (I love these tiny bite size of goodness) muffins, recipe below.

Banana Chocolate Muffins:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed over riped bananas
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two mini muffin trays

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Fold banana mixture into flour mixture. Add chocolate chips and stir to moisten. Pour batter into muffin tray, filling each muffin mold about 1/2 full.

Bake in oven for 18-20 minutes or until muffin tops are golden and toothpick inserted into center of the muffin comes out clean. Transfer muffins to rack and cool, and ENJOY!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Even a Parisienne will love Le Petit Restaurant

Friday night dinner plans with the family was looking uncertain. My sister's mother in-law, MTR, the guest of honor at my parent's home, was on her way back from San Francisco and as of 6pm, she still seemed pretty far away. To top it off, it was during Friday work traffic. When she walked through the door at 7.30pm, we quickly bolted for the restaurant soon after to save our 8pm reservations.

Le Petit Restaurant in Sherman Oaks is a lovely French bistro. I find that the food is consistently good, and reasonably priced. Corkage is $10 per bottle.

We started with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that MTR brought over from France. It was in a champagne sleeve, one that I have never seen before.

We ordered an appetizer and entree each.

Bread and butter. The butter was whipped, and came with a trio of hummus, babaganosh and chile.

Escargot. This was excellent. The snails were cooked well and not rubbery. The dish was so flavorful and the mixture of parsley, lots of garlic and butter was delicious on a piece of bread.

Frog leg provencale. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The frog legs were sauteed in caper butter lemon. I haven't had frog legs in years and I have only had them Asian-style, sauteed with garlic and black bean sauce. They were delicious and tender. My favorite part was the cartilage; it was chewy and a little bit softer than chicken cartilage.

Shrimp picante. Four shrimp pieces simmering in thick, spicy sauce.

Mussels with white wine and shallot. A rather large plate; it did not seem like an appetizer portion for $9.95. The sauce was flavorful, rich and a little creamy.

For dinner, we opened a bottle of syrah from Harris Ranch that MTR purchased on her road trip back from SF. Harris Ranch is located in Coalinga, CA, and is know for its high quality beef.

Crispy duck. Two large duck legs with wild rice, haricot vert, carrots and cooked in orange grand marnier. It was delicious. The skin was crisp, the portion was huge and the rice was bathing in butter. This is what I call a great duck, unlike the disappointing duck that I had at FIG restaurant a few days ago. Tonight's duck, SATISFACTION!

My dad ordered his usual fare: Lamb shank. The shank was a huge, savage piece. The meat was so soft and rich, and cooked in a stew of mixed vegetables. The gravy was flavorful and went well with the light and airy couscous.

Fresh 1 1/2 lb lobster with a side of clarified butter and french fries. The lobster was fresh and simple. My sister's mother-in-law did not eat her lobster with the butter. Maybe that's how the French women are able to stay so slim amidst all the rich food.

Last up, dessert. Since the starter and entree portion were huge we decided to share one dessert between the four of us. There were many good dessert choices; bread pudding, sorbets and molten chocolate cake. But when there's a creme brulee on the menu, my dad does not waiver. The creme brulee had a layer of raspberry underneath the custard. Everyone at the table was impressed, especially the mother-in-law who lives in a city that is abundant with first-rate desserts.

Le Petit Restaurant is an authentic french bistro. The food was delicious, the service was attentive, corkage is reasonable and even my sister's mother-in-law from Paris who has exquisite taste in food, loved the meal.

Hits: frogs leg, escargot, duck
Misses: nothing- everything was excellent and well priced
Rate: ****

Le Petit Restaurant
13360 Ventura Blvd.,
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 501-7999

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Notable Appetizers @ FIG Restaurant

The Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica is located near the ocean. The hotel is luxurious and beautiful, with its long driveway lined with palm trees and its hotel restaurant that has garnered much praise. FIG Restaurant is known for its fresh ingredients from the nearby Farmers Market. The restaurant comprises of the dining room and a covered patio area overlooking the pool. LB, G and I sat in the patio area that was a perfect spot to check out the sunset, however the lights were broken therefore it got dark real fast and we were left to dine in the dark. Towards the end of the night, we were having difficulty seeing what was on the plates.

The online menu was up to date with the one at the restaurant. I like that because you know that whatever you plan on ordering will be available. The menu included the typical bistro fare; cheese, charcuterie, appetizers with many salad choices, and entrees. Reading up on Yelp, CH and various blogs, most raved about the foie and liver parfait, the duck and the steak frites. Salads and appetizers are priced in the mid teens, entrees are around $20-26. The bottom of the menu lists items that are in season and some that are soon to come. Figs, plums, avocados, beets are currently in season. You'll notice most of these ingredients on the menu accordingly.

We decided to start with cocktails since the menu looked interesting. The cocktails boast of fresh and home made ingredients, and lots of fruits and spices. All cocktails are priced at $12.

Blood orange and beet margarita. It was made with beet juice, orange puree, agave nectar and Tequila. The drink was strong. Good but not as yummy as I had hoped. Blood orange juice is typically citrus and refreshing. Unfortunately you could not experience this in the cocktail.

LB and G ordered the Bubble & Squeak- Muddled cucumber, fresh watermelon juice, tequila and pink salt.

Bread served with arugula butter. The petite bread was fresh and warm, and served individually in a brown paper bag. The butter was vibrant green and very unique.

We started with an amuse bouche of pear with mascarpone cheese and lemon caviar. What a delectable little bite. We decided on three appetizers and an entree to share between the three of us. Lately I have been leaning towards ordering little starters in lieu of an entree. This gives you the opportunity to sample more dishes.

First up, Curly Endive salad, poached egg and pig ears. The pig ears were sliced thing and fried crispy. It tasted no different from slivers of fried pork; G didn't even know that they was pig ears. The salad is dressed in cider vinaigrette which was light and a good compliment to the fried pig ears and the rich runny yolk. On the plate was also a brioche and jicama. This was excellent and not your typical boring salad.

Foie gras and chicken liver parfait with fig compote. Oh so delicious. The bread was toasted and buttery. The liver parfait was smooth and rich.

The third starter was the Braised tongue with tomatillo sauce and radish. Another good dish. The tongue was tender and the sauce was a little spicy with a nice hit of citrus. There looked like two cuts of tongue; oblong-shaped and thinly sliced. This dish has amazing flavors and was what you would imagine Mexican street food to be like.

After we had devoured our appetizers, we ordered another round of drinks.

The Signature FIG mojito with home-made fig preserve, mint, rum and lime juice.

A glass of Cava, and the Blueberry and thyme cocktail. The latter was made with blueberries, lemon thyme, vodka, elderflower and chartreuse.

Once again, the two cocktails sounded great in concept, but were not head turning.

We shared the duck magret entree which was served with mission figs, arugula and walnuts. There were a few missteps with this entree. I liked the way the duck was cooked; it was seared with a little caramelized skin, however the meat was not seasoned well. G felt that the duck was a little too rare for her taste. In addition, the greens were horrible. Just imagine taking a mouth full of garnishes; dill, parsley, basil. They not dressed well and I felt they did not go well with the duck.

This dish was so disappointing. When you think of duck, you usually feel a sense of satisfaction after eating it. You walk away thinking, OMG that was so delicious, rich and I am in my happy place right now. Unfortunately, this dish did not evoke those thoughts. Instead, it looked like an ahi tuna salad, prepared for someone on a diet. I did not taste that decadence or that richness that comes from a great duck entree.

This left me a little discontented. After such great starters, we would hate to end the meal on a blah note. Hopefully dessert could save the day. The strawberry shortcake came recommended.

Shortcake with greek yogurt and ice cream. The pastry was rather dry, but I liked the light fluffy yogurt.

Fig newton. I suppose it was fresh but it really didn't taste unique. I really still tasted like the Nabisco type. No kidding. Also, the piece of fig on the plate was not sweet. I did like the chocolate piece on the plate which tasted airy, like ice cream cone. I felt a little cheated by this dessert as I didn't think it was much better than the packaged good. I was hoping that it would be a creative interpretation of a fig newton. Instead, it was exactly like a fig newton, served with ice cream.

The service was swift; they cleared our glasses and plates promptly. The hostess was friendly, even when I was on the phone with her.

However, service does not a restaurant make. I have heard great things about the food at Fig, but I left the restaurant a little unsatisfied. If we had ordered a good entree, I think we would have walked away elated. Overall, I thought that the appetizers were good, but the entree fell short. Additionally, the cocktails were not memorable. The concept was good, the ingredients were fresh but they did not combine well into a great drink. Unfortunately, I think I walked in with very high expectations, and even though there were many high points of the night, ultimately the duck entree and the ordinary fig newton dessert were letdowns. A pleasant surprise was the complimentary parking, which is unheard off in LA, let alone at a hotel.

Hits: salad, tongue, foie parfait, strawberry shortcake, free parking
Misses: fig newton, duck was not exceptional, dining in the dark
Rate: **

FIG Restaurant
101 Wilshire Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 319-3111