Thursday, April 19, 2012

Springfest 2012 CicLAvia, Rib Eating Competition

The first Springfest was held in Chinatown this past weekend in conjunction with CicLAvia, the LA event that closes streets across town to promote a car-free environment. To kick off the festival, Chinatown closed off select streets and set up a stage for live music and a rib eating competition hosted by Spring Street Smokehouse. My friend was emceeing the event and knows the owner of the restaurant so we made our way to downtown for the festivities. Since we anticipated a parking mess in the downtown area, we took a train from my friend's place in the valley. First time taking a train in the city and I have to say I was quite impressed with the cleanliness of the stations and trains.

After a 30 min train ride, we arrive at Union Station. The smokehouse is only a short walk from the train station.

If you're going to feast on some BBQ, alcoholic beverages are necessary. Even though we got the giant PBRs, note that the restaurant actually offers a nice selection of craft brews.

We started off with one of our favorites - the pork rinds. Fresh from the fryer, the pork skins were still warm and crunchy. The cracklings were seasoned with sugar and spice - great combination.

Cup of chili was filled with chunks of meat as well as ground meat.

Our sides included baked beans and sweet potato fries. I've also tried their collard greens and corn bread.

Burnt ends are the ends of smoked brisket. Looked dense but was actually rather tender.

The Cajun Stuffed Chicken comprised of chicken thighs which were stuffed with jalapeno, onions & cheese, and wrapped with bacon. It had just the right amount of cheese, not over gooey or dripping out of the chicken. The choice of juicy dark meat over white was a good one.

The star of the meal was the baby back ribs. The slab had 12 large ribs and were tender with nice chunks of crunchy cartilage and slathered in smokey tangy BBQ sauce. Good BBQ sauce is really all about preference. When I first tried this sauce, I wasn't too keen on it - I was more a fan of the sweet tomato based BBQ sauces. But I have really come to enjoy Spring Street's version. It's vinegary and spicy, akin to the Carolina style

After lunch, we headed over to the stage area where the bands were playing. Have to say I was quite impressed with the selection of rock music. To the side of the stage was the "biergarten" which was essentially a parking lot with a couple stands offering kegs of beer from Karl Strauss, Stone & Lagunitas.

When the rib eating competition started, everyone gathered to the front of the stage. It was quite a sight to see contestant of all sizes participating. The winner actually ate over 3 slabs of pork spare ribs (smaller than the baby back ribs but still a lot nonetheless).

The Springfest wasn't crowded at all, it seemed more like a neighborhood street party. Perhaps they could have done more advertising or set up the stage facing Cesar Chavez road instead of away from the main street in order to draw a larger crowd. Still a fun time especially when there are beer and ribs involved.

Springstreet Smokehouse
640 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-0535

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recipe: Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tart

Recently, I decided to have some friends over for a cocktail/appetizer party but I did not have too much time to slave in the kitchen so I decided to prepare a rustic tart. I found a recipe online from Closet Cooking but I replaced the gorgonzola cheese with gruyere and parmesan. I can't believe how great it turned out - the guests really enjoyed every last bite. It's a really simple recipe, and this tart is flatter and thinner than a heavier crusted pie. I went simple with the mushrooms and onions, but this versatile recipe can also be changed up a little by adding some meats or veggies.

Saute the mushrooms and onions.

The end product is simple and quick to prepare.

Serve the tart with an array of cheeses and salami from Trader Joe's. My favorite is the cheddar with caramelized onions.

Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Tart Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion (sliced)
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
1 clove garlic (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon thyme (chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup white wine
1 sheet puff pastry (thawed as directed on package) 1/2 of a 17.3- (1 sheet)
1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon oil
1 handful parsley (chopped)

Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
1. Heat the oil in a pan.
2. Add the onion and cook until it starts to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
3. Add the butter and let it melt.
4. Add the mushrooms and saute until they start to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
5. Add the garlic and thyme and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
6. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Add the wine, deglazed the pan and cook until it has evaporated.
8. Roll the puff pastry out to a 16x10 inch rectangle.
9. Score a line around the puff pastry 1 inch from the edge and brush the edges of the pastry with water. Prick the center of the pastry thoroughly with a fork.
10. Spread the mushrooms and sprinkle cheese over the middle of the puff pastry.
11. Brush the outside inch of the pastry with the oil.
12. Bake in a preheated 400F oven until the a the pastry is golden brown, about 15-25 minutes. Let the pastry cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Cut into 24 (3x2-inch) rectangles. Serve warm.
13. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Hour at new SaMo bar - The Charleston

Ever since I started the new job and have been traveling to Dallas for the last 3 months, this poor blog has been lacking. Most weekends that I am back in LA are spent doing laundry and catching up on my TV programs on my DVR. As my project began to wind down, I took the opportunity to check out a new spot while meeting up with my dear friend who was in town for the weekend.

The Charleston is a new restaurant/bar/lounge that opened up in Santa Monica, next to Wilshire Restaurant. The space used to be occupied by Angel's and interestingly enough, the decor remains barely unchanged (including the mural of an angel on the wall). But it seems less loungey and there are less couches and more tables which bodes well for an establishment that is positioning itself as more of a restaurant than bar. My eyes may be failing me but I also noticed that it was less dark and dim compared to Angel's.

The restaurant, barely open two weeks, was born by Jet Tila, former chef at Vegas' Wazuzu at the Encore. I'm not going to lie to you - I had no idea who he was. I definitely have been out of the dining scene these days... Apparently he is known for his Asian cuisine and also did some pop-ups in LA last year. Interestingly enough, the menu at The Charleston was not heavily Asian influenced. It is more on the lines of American comfort food.

Happy hour runs daily from 4-7pm, with extended HH on Wednesday. This is upscale happy hour prices, but you do have to remember that you are in Santa Monica after all.

My friend first ordered a cocktail on happy hour: The Charleston. The whiskey-based drink with green Chartreuse, Dom Benedictine and orange bitters was extremely strong. Good to know they don't skimp on the booze during happy hour.

The second cocktail (not on happy hour) was the Mint mule, a variation of the classic Moscow mule was a bit easier to drink. The addition of mint to the vodka/lime juice/ginger beer was refreshing.

Short Rib Taco was one of my favorites of the night, and one of the very few Asian inspired dishes on the menu. For $2 a piece during happy hour, you get
slow roasted short ribs with shaved Brussels sprouts on a rather fresh corn tortilla. The flavors were bold with Korean spices and the meat was tender.

There was a nice selection of four flatbreads on the happy hour menu.
Bacon, egg & cheese flatbread was just like a breakfast pizza. I really enjoyed the crispy crust and the smokiness from the bacon. The flatbread was topped with semi-runny quail eggs. I liked that there was just a slight amount of cheese and they did not overload the flatbread with toppings. Sometimes simple is better.

Sausage, Fennel and arugula pizza was such a unique flatbread. The sauteed sausage almost seemed like tomato paste and gave the pizza a nice moisture. The sausage definitely had good spice to it. I also enjoyed the sharp flavors of the arugula which paired nicely with the rich sausage and gave the flatbread a freshness to it.

Other items on the happy hour menu that we sampled but did not photograph were the Mac & Cheese with bechamel, smoked cheddar and gouda (very good) and the Sweet and Spicy wings (a few at the table thought it was too spicy, I didn't think so. Not bad but pretty common flavors).

Basket of fries not on happy hour (the portion was actually larger, this was taken after we had plowed through half the serving).

Manchego stuffed piquillo peppers with toasted pine nuts and pesto was interesting and surprisingly quite tasty with the spicy peppers and the piquant cheese.

I thought that The Charleston had a pretty good happy hour menu - definitely on the upscale end but there were quite a good amount of food options. Given Jet Tila's reputation, it was interesting to see that the menu leaned more towards American, with only some Asian dishes. When I left the restaurant, I was still unsure as to what the theme of this place is - apparently they might house culinary pop-ups, but they also have performances, comedy shows and karaoke on their calendar. Not exactly sure who their target clientele is. But it's still early in the game, perhaps all they need is just a bit more time to build their image.

The Charleston
2460 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 828-2115