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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ricky's Fish Taco Stand-Ensenada Style Fish Tacos

When will I learn? Too much of a good thing is bad, right? Thing is, I don't necessarily believe that, as I'm sure Monsieur et Madame Lefebvre will attest to. I guess I've got to realize portioning is the key, as in, when I have to stop mid chew and take a few deep breaths. That's enough of a portion for you, sir.

Let's just say I haven't learned just yet. Today, on my way to the office(yes, it's Saturday. What's it to you?), I suddenly got the urge to change flight plans. For no reason at all, Eat, Drink and Be Merry's blogpost about Ricky's Fish Taco Cart popped in my head. It's a good read: http://eatdrinknbmerry.blogspot.com/2009/08/rickys-fish-tacos-one-man-stand.html

Then I remembered LA-OC's blogpost, http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com/2009/08/mini-foodventure-132-tacos-strawberry.html, and decided to do a Google search for the spot in Silverlake that Ricky spends every weekend at. Considering there was no address, and the fact that I was on the 405 going south, it was quite the task. But I remembered HC mentioning that it was in front of Intelligentsia on Sunset. A few hairy moments on Google maps, and I had directions.

From reading the posts, I found that Ricky sets up shop across the street from Intelligentsia, on the corner of Sunset and Hyperion, from 12pm-4pm on Sats and Suns. Since I arrived early, I bought some cheeses at Silverlake Cheese and began searching for the rainbow umbrella that was also mentioned. Noon came and went, and no rainbow umbrella. At 12:20, I spotted a rainbow something moving behind a parked car. A few moments passed, and I realized it was a shirtless, somewhat obese man, pushing a baby stroller with a rainbow flag. At 12:30, I gave up and hiked the 3 blocks to my car. Always the optimist, I passed by the location, did a u, and gave it another pass. Truly giving up, I did a last u to get back to the office. On this last u, I saw the umbrella. A smile creased my face and I cut off three cars to grab a parking spot.

Right away, I got a good feeling about Ricky's stand. Though completely mobile(as in, I'm out in 5 if the cops show), everything was clean and orderly. Since he just arrived, the oil needed a few minutes to heat, so we chatted at bit. I mentioned Eat, Drink and Be Merry's blogpost, and he smiled. We talked about his food, and as some time passed, I learned that Ricky was indeed from Ensenada. His batter, which looked amazing, comprised of self rising flour, baking powder, various spices and saffron flower. The fish? Vietnamese Basa, whose flesh is tender and juicy. The condiments? Pico de gallo, finely chopped with onion, tomato and parley. Crema made with skim milk. Cabbage, finely chopped and fresh. Salsa, slight heat and great flavor. The tortilla? Corn. When I asked how he heated it, he said there was no need. He knew the vendor, and they were just made two hours prior.

I noticed the oil seemed different than the oils I've used. I love frying everything, so I asked what the oil was. He told me exactly what it was, but asked that I not tell. Let's just say, I can think of no better 'oil' to use!

As Ricky finally handed me my first taco, I remembered to take a picture. Only one, so enjoy:

Upon sinking my teeth into this montrosity, I immediately got all of the flavors of the condiments at once, followed by the crunchiness of the fried batter and finished with pillowy soft fish. I finished that thing in 30 seconds, shoving the last two bites into my mouth. As I struggled to not choke to death, Dylan of Eat, Drink and Be Merry walked up with some colleagues. How fitting, I thought to myself! So, I re-introduced myself and let him know I was there because of his blogpost.

After finishing a second, I ordered three more to go. I told Ricky about my cheese in the car, so he quickly assembled three more monstrosities and sent me on my merry way. Dylan was a little astonished that I had ordered so many, but I ignorantly professed that I could eat ten of these. After arriving at the car, I scarffed down numero tres, and started feeling a little push in the gut. After the fourth, I was downright full. It was at this point that I started thinking about how far I'd travelled, and how long I waited for Ricky to show up. I decided I couldn't wait any longer and powered through the fifth, and most painful, taco.

Even though I feel disgusting, I'm glad I was able to find Ricky's Fish Taco Stand. At $2.50 a pop, these gorgeous tacos are a bargain. Needless to say, I will NEVER go to Rubio's again. Set yourself on a mini food adventure and head over to Ricky's in Silverlake. Just don't eat five...I need to go lay down now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The New Double O at BondSt

In the Bond series of movies, Ian Fleming's portrayal of an MI-6 agent gaining double 0 status has excited movie goers for decades. James Bond is a ruthless killer with a weakness for women. BondSt's new man? Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski. Much like an MI-6 agent, Chef Redzikowski goes about his job with a focused precision. Unlike an MI-6 agent, he strives to be known.

Recently, I received an email from the Chef, asking us to come by and try his cuisine. Up until receiving that email, I knew little of BondSt, which is located in the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills. I'd heard a chef came in and was turning things around, but that was really it.

Considering we had just finished a smashing success of an event with Ludo Lefebvre at Ludo Bites, I was ready to focus on our next event. My thought processes never brought me to BondSt, but with that email, I thought I'd give them a go and see for myself what was going on. As founders of an online food review site, we are the fortunate recipients of a good number of offers of meals. We tend to say "thanks, but no thanks" if the restaurant doesn't fit our criteria. You see, we try to look for some sort of cachet in the restaurants we choose for our events, and if I don't see it right away, I won't waste the restaurant's time just for a free meal.

After some back and forth with the Chef and my fellow founders, we decided on Wednesday. Chef Redzikowski decided to create a 13 course menu so that we could experience his cuisine and see what he'd done to turn things around.

At the last minute, we had a spot open up, so we invited Sook of http://www.yutjangsah.blogspot.com/ to join us. At 8:00 pm sharp, we arrived and spotted Sook sucking down a cocktail at the bar. We were then seated and handed menus. "Um...I think the chef is creating a tasting menu for us", I say. The lovely hostess then said that this was our menu for the evening. A bit confused, I opened up the menu to find our 13 course meal printed out, with our logo at the bottom. After a few moments of internal confusion and turmoil, I realized what was going on was was quite pleased. Our drink orders were taken, and Chef Redzikowski came out and introduced himself.

Before we get to the food, a little background on the Chef. He graduated first in class from the CIA. After completing his externship at Le Cirque 2000, he secured a job at Alain Ducasse. After a stint as Executive Sous Chef at Nobu Matsuhisa in Aspen, he was opening Sous Chef at Joel Rubuchon in Vegas. Still in Vegas, he left to open Yellowtail at the Bellagio before he decided to take on the challenge of revamping BondSt.

Now, to the food:

Tuna Tarts with micro shiso and white truffle oil on a crispy wonton. Beautiful slices of tuna atop a friend wonton round. The truffle oil was delicious, with the micro shiso adding to the earthiness.

Sashimi consisting of two items, king crab encased in sushi vinegar gel, and hamachi belly with a thin soy film strip. The crab was sweet and decadent, and the hamachi was rich and fatty.

Skeena River Salmon Nigiri with soy 'caviar', or mini soy spheres. The salmon nigiri was wrapped in a shiso leaf, and topped with the soy spheres. It was a departure from what I was used to eating, but quite nice. I'm not normally a fan of raw wild salmon, but this one was very good.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawn on a steamed corn flan with carrot marshmallow, sweet pea foam. One of the favorites of the night, the seared pieces of spot prawn brought all of the components in the dish together.

Jidori chicken sous vide, with baby root veggies and fingerling potato puree. Another favorite, the chicken was cooked perfectly, with a nice sweetness and slight gaminess.

Japanese Bouillabaisse with squid, lobster and uni rouille. The favorite of the night, we were instructed to mix the uni rouille into the hot lobster bouillabaisse. The rouille added additional richness and flavors of the ocean like only uni can. Simply delicious.

Snake River Farms Pork Belly, with artichoke foam and olive oil powder. We were instructed to mix the foam with the powder, which formed a very nice olive oil flavored sauce for the silky smooth pork belly.

Foie Gras x 2 which consisted of a foie gras strawberry cone, and foie gras lollipop. The foie gras mousse in the cone was marvelous, with hints of strawberry rounding out the finish. The lollipop, which was prepared en torchon, was served with cocoa, yellow pepper glaze and yogurt pudding. I love foie gras, and this did not dissapoint.

Australian Wagyu Rib Eye with cippolini onion puree, mini veggies, soy-garlic laze. The wagyu was prepared sous vide and was accompanied by a carrot "sphere" atop a bed of crispy house made bacon. The rib eye had a nice fattiness to it with the bacon adding a smoky complexity.

Vosne Romanee, a nod to the great pinot noirs of the Burgundy Region of France. This was a pinot noir and strawberry sphere with a spiced red wine glaze and chocolate orange galette. This was a nice segue to the desserts.

Caramel Popcorn with Kaffir lime. The flan of caramel, which had the essence of Kaffir lime, was accompanied by popped popcorn and topped with popcorn froth. The flavors were intriguing and complex.

Mochi, which was deep fried, along with candied rhubarb and coconut ice cream. If you read Sook's blog, she wants to change her name to Mochi. I see why. The mochi was crispy on the outside, and slightly chewy on the inside. Absolutely delicious.

Chocolate with liquid vanilla bean ice cream, atop a bed of caramel powder. We were instructed to break open the round "truffle", which led to the release of the liquid vanilla bean ice cream. Mixing the liquid with the caramel powder created this deeply complex sauce that I remember most from this meal.

At the end of the meal, I actually wasn't sure how much I liked it. The first three courses left something to be desired, but in the days since the event, I've realized it was because I didn't know what to expect. Once I got into the flow of Chef Redzikowski's philosophy, I really started enjoying what we were experiencing. Truth be told, I wasn't sure how I felt until I phoned Thi, a FoodDigger founder who was unable to make the event. I went over each dish with her and realized that I really loved most of the dishes.

Prior to this amazing dinner, which by the way was accompanied by wine pairings, I was leaning towards another restaurant for our next event. Now I'm not so sure. That, my friends, is something different for me. Once I get my mind on an idea or place, it takes mountains to change my mind. This mountain, in the form of the new double 0 at BondSt in Chef Brian Redzikowski, is making me rethink things.

After dinner and a tour of the kitchen, Chef took us upstairs to the rooftop. When the door opened, I saw a gorgeous bar with a clear night in the background, and beautiful people left and right. Chef led us to a little "room" that can accomodate 12...how fitting, since our events generally involve 12 people! It was the perfect setting.

Regardless of whether or not we have our next event at BondSt, I do recommend trying Chef Redzikowski's cuisine. He uses his classic French roots and mixes it with Asian inspired ingredients and modern technique driven cuisine. In theory, much like Ludo. In practice, something so different, but still amazing.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dinner And A Show With Ludo

"What izz zat?!?! Can't zey understand me??? Why do zey do zat!?!"

We all bust out laughing, as Ludo goes nuts commentating about the subtitles on his appearance on Top Chef Masters. This is essentially the beginning of the end of a truly special evening...a night which truly began just hours after our last FoodDigger event on April 24th, at Church and State. As we continue watching the huge LCD, my mind wanders...flashbacks of how this all began start to flood my mind.

It was exactly two months from that moment, when I hopped online to see if anyone had written a blog post for Walter Manzke's masterpiece 11 course tasting menu that he prepared for our little group of bloggers. While searching through the blogs of each attending blogger, I felt the inclination to look up Ludo Lefebvre. It truly came out of nowhere, this random thought, so I was surprised to find that he was coming back to LA to do a second coming of his Ludo Bites menu at BreadBar. It was over a year since we had experienced his first stint at BreadBar, an experience that had remolded our ideals of haut cuisine. The second I found out he was coming back from his year long stint in Las Vegas, I felt that fleeting, yet all too familiar twang in my gut. "We're having our next event at LudoBites!", I said to myself.

Without consulting my FoodDigger cohorts, I sent an email to the address listed on Ludo's site, http://www.ludolefebvre.com/. For a couple of weeks, I heard nothing. Then out of the blue, I received an email. "Hi, this is Kristine, Ludo's wife. We'd love to have you for your next event."

As I continued watching Top Chef Masters, I continued laughing and finding myself rooting for Ludo like he was my brother running a race. I starting despising his competitors. Rick Bayless, whom I've always admired and who won the night's battle, started sounding annoying to me. I actually started hating them all, like I started hating the Orlando Magic players during the NBA Finals.

"I'll make a comeback!", Ludo exclaims, after finishing last in the Quickfire Challenge.

It was then that my mind wandered back to the evening as it started. Marshal extolled the virtues of the new functionalities on our site. The EasyLinks that enables bloggers to more easily move their content to our site, and the revamped FlavorMatch that hopefully, after some tinkering, will give users ideas on which reviews to trust. As Marshal finished, I introduced Ludo, who announced that this was the first, and the last, tasting menu that would be experienced at BreadBar. It wasn't for a lack of interest, he stated, but the difficulties of performing a tasting menu, in addition to providing the regular menu, was a daunting task in the kitchen of a bakery with one sous chef...about a dozen fewer than he's accustomed to working with.

"Hey guys, cooking is about fun." That simple statement set the tone for the 11 course tasting menu which began.

-Deconstruction of Bloody Mary

Served on spoons, the celery root puree worked in pefect harmony with the tomato cocktail and vodka gelee.

-Tuna Sashimi with Sushi Rice Ice Cream, Shishimi Togarashi-Sushi grade sushi slices topped with sushi rice ice cream, fried shallots and Togorashi. Beautiful interpretation of nigiri with the fried shallots leaving a lasting richness on the tongue.

-Chorizo, Onions, Cornichon-"How pedestrian", I had thought to myself when I first eyed the menu days before. "Hmmm....I wonder what twist he's going to throw at us?" Sure enough, the dish came out as a chilled soup. The smooth and cool soup had the essence of Spanish chorizo meshed with the richness of heavy cream. Topped with a canele of cornichon ice, this dish blew me away with it's simplicity and thoughtfulness. All preconceived notions of sausage were thrown out the door with each spoonful and lick of the empty bowl.

-King Red Salmon, Smoked Vinegar, Watermelon, Mint

Signature Ludo, as we were instructed to take the tuna in one bite, than follow with the watermelon. The mint tied all of the flavors together.

-Shrimps, Sweet and Sour, Rosemary-These were perfectly cooked shrimp topped with a slightly sweet, slightly tangy sauce that really enhanced the natural flavors of my favorite crustacean.

-Foie Gras Tart, Lemon Paste, Mushrooms, Four Spices

This maple tart, topped with foie gras and mushroom slabs, was accompanied by a thick lemon paste. I refuse to give more, as only tasting it can do it justice. Truly a "blow me away" dish, that is now on the regular menu at LudoBites.

-Diver Scallop, Port, Creme Fraiche-The perfectly seared scallop was enhanced by the creme fraiche foam. Absolutely delicious.

-Halibut, Spiced Butter, Fresh Porcini, Tonnato Style-Once again, the halibut was perfectly cooked. The spiced butter enhanced the natural sweetness of the fish, with the mushrooms bringing a gorgeous earthiness to the party.

-Duck, Almond, Crispy Skin Puree, Tapenade, Turnip-Ok...I have to admit, I had trouble understanding this dish. The duck was moist, the chopped almond topping sweet, the tapenade added a nice saltiness and the turnip texture. This dish, however, inspired countless thoughts and observations...a true testament to Ludo's cooking. Good food not only tastes good, but makes you think. This dish made me think.

-Cheese-Brin D'Amour, Epoisse, Affinois, Etorki, and a fifth I cannot remember. These were accompanied by toasted hazelnut, edible honeycomb, a date puree and a couple of other housemade sides. Perfect segue to dessert.

-Panna Cotta, Caviar, Caramel-Last...definitely far from least. This is the one dish I truly wish I had taken a picture of. Truth be told, I was intrigued by having caviar on my dessert. So distracted was I that I jumped right in, never giving thought to my camera. Before I could even realize what I had done, I had finished. My eyes were closed, visions of fleur de sel atop a caramel candy, but somehow better.

"I'll be back!", exclaimed Ludo, as the show ended and Rick Bayless was announced the winner. As Krissy turned the tv off, we all broke off into smaller groups to take in the memory of the evening. Seeing the satisfied looks on everyone's faces allowed me to finally relax a bit. Instantly, exhaustion came over me. The work put into making this event the best possible all hinged on Chef Ludo working his normal magic. I had hoped for best, and he came through in spades.

I'd like to offer a big thanks to each attending blogger:

Sook of http://www.yutjangsah.blogspot.com/
Diana of http://www.dianatakesabite.blogspot.com/
Javier of http://www.teenageglutster.blogspot.com/
Wesley of http://www.twohungrypandas.com/
Victor of http://www.grubtrotters.com/
Alli of http://www.alli411.com/
Cathy of http://www.gastronomyblog.com/
Danny of http://www.kungfoodpanda.blogspot.com/
Fiona of http://www.gourmetpigs.blogspot.com/
Pam of http://www.rantsandcraves.com/
Kevin of http://www.kevineats.com/

You each came in ready for anything, and you took the time to understand the food and the chef.

Special thanks to Krissy for making this event a success and for allowing the last minute addition of two very special bloggers, Sook and Diana. You were very patient with me and all of my emails and requests.

And finally, special thanks to Ludo for deciding to do this event, and then blowing us all away with thoughtful, creative dishes that toyed with our ideas of food. I am happy for the friendship you've shown us, and I'm grateful that you have returned home to Los Angeles. I didn't realize how much that first experience at Ludo Bites affected me, and I didn't know how much I missed having you in LA. Many of the times I've seen you, you've been exhausted from all of the heart and soul you put into your food. I, and many others, are thankful for that. A blogpost about that first visit was written on my personal blog. It spoke of how your food touched me. This FoodDigger dinner blew that away.

If you haven't been to Ludo Bites, do yourself a favor and make a reservation asap. It's only around until August 22nd, although he is looking for another location. But just remember he ended up in Vegas after the first Ludo Bites!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Church and State Blogger Wine Dinner

For our latest FoodDigger blogger dinner, we had the pleasure of working with Chef Walter Manzke of Church and State. Formerly of Bastide, El Bulli, Patina and most recently, Bouchee in Carmel, Walter joined forces with restauranteur Stephen Arroyo and Yassmin Sarmadi in December of '08. And he didn't come alone. With him, he brought along Josh Goldman as Maitre d' and sommelier, and a number of staff from Bastide. Josh was previously GM of Bastide and a former sommelier at Bin 8945.

Walter, who is old friends with FoodDigger founder Marshal, agreed to come up with a four course meal with wine pairings. Bloggers in attendance included H.C. of http://www.la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com/; Sharon of http://www.weezermonkey.blogspot.com/; Cathy of http://www.gastronomyblog.com/; Kevin of http://www.kevineats.com/; Mike of http://www.pepsimonster.com/; Ila of http://www.inomthings.blogspot.com/; Danny of http://www.kungfoodpanda.blogspot.com/; and Kathleen of http://www.kats9lives.com/.

After some back and forth with Walter and Yassmin in the weeks prior to the event, our four course meal became an 11 course extravaganza of a chef's tasting menu. Walter was given carte blanche of the menu, and decided on the fly what would be served. Josh noted that in addition to his duties as maitre d', it was quite the task to pair 9 wines for our party of 12 as Walter decided what would be served.

Our dinner began.

Apertif of Floc de gascogne. A vin de liqueur fortified with armagnac, it was served with ice and orange zest. This sweet wine had hints of almond and honey.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue- Bacaloa, or salt cod, mixed with mashed potatoes and deep fried as fritters. With barely any potatoe, these beignets were amazing, especially accompanied by the saffron aioli.

Iced Kumamoto Oysters-Served simply on a bed of ice with lemon wedges and a red wine mignonette. Kumamoto oysters, originally from Japan, are now farmed in Washington, in particular bays that have similiar characteristics to the Japanese waters whence they originated. Always a favorite of mine, with their delicate sweetness and brine.

The initial dishes were paired with a Hugues Beaulieu-Coteaux de Languedoc. This white wine paired nicely with the oysters, with hints of grapefruit and lemon.

Gambas a la Nicoise- Santa Barbara spot prawns, halved and broiled, then topped with lemon and olive oil. Sweet, tender...simple and delicious, topped with a vegetable relish.

Bistro Sushi-a tiny, molded slice of fingerling potatoe salad topped with smoked herring. The smokiness from the herring dominated the dish. I like it very much.

The shrimp and herring were paired with a 2007 Domaine de Persenades-Cotes de Gascogne. Refreshing hints of citris and floral notes made this wine from the southwestern region of France a great pair for both dishes, although the smoked herring almost overpowered the wine.

Assiette de Charcuterie-This was a selection of housemade pates and meats that included saucisson sec(dried sausage), foie gras terrine with port gelee, pork rillettes with prune confiture, among other items. The charcuterie was incredible...one of the signature offerings of Walter's menu. It paired with an N.V. Terres Dorees FRV100 Beaujolais.

Asperge a la Tashiro-Hog Farm's Asparagus topped with Maine lobster. Hog Farm, owned by Ray Ranscioni and located in Carmel, began over 30 years ago and produces a thick and beautifully tender asparagus. The lobster, generously donated for the meal by Marshal, was poached and topped the steamed asparagus, which was lightly seasoned and dressed with olive oil. Marshal included a few extra lobsters, intended as gifts to Walter and Yassmin. Walter, however, chose to create this dish and dedicate it to Marshal, and included it on his menu for the night. Apparently, Josh saw a number of orders come through, so hopefully, it will become a mainstay.

Escargots de Bourgogne-snails in garlic and parsley butter, placed in a tiny ramekin and topped with puff pastry. I can honestly say this is the best escargot I've ever had. Pushing the flaky baked pastry into the melted butter allowed the already butter-rich topping to absorb more butter and garlic. Truly awesome!

The asparagus and escargot were paired with a Domaine Boisson-Cairanne Grenache. I'm not a fan of Rhone wines, so I wasn't thrilled by the pairing.

Flamenkushe-A flat bread topped with caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere and veggies. The bread was light and airy, and the smokiness of the bacon lardon and the sweetness of the onions dominated the dish. Some opinions were that it was too sweet, but I found it delectable.

This paired with an '07 Maupertuis La Guillaume-Auvergne. Guillaume is William in French, so I had no choice but to love it.

Moelle de Boeuff-Roasted marrow bone. Marrow bones, about 8 inches long, halved and seasoned simply with salt and pepper, were roasted. Served with toasted slices of brioche and a radish relish, this was my 'heavenly light shining down on me' dish/moment.

The marrow was paired with an '07 Domaine Cros de Romet-Cairanne. I can't really remember the grenache/syrah blend's pairing, as all that comes to mind is that rich flavor of roasted marrow tempered by the radish relish.

Steak Frites-Frites au lard, with steak. Accompanied by a Bernaise and Beaujolais sauces. Quite franky, after the richness of the marrow, I was done, especially after finding it was too rich for some and luckily having much more than my share. The beef was a bit overdone at medium, making it a bit tough. I enjoyed the sauces, as it allowed a segue on my palate from the marrow. Kevin noted that it overpowered the beef in a negative way. I agree that it did overpower the beef, but I think it was necessary after the marrow.

Paired with an -06 Domaine Etxegaraya.

Dessert-Creme Brulee, Cherry tart, apricot tart Croustade aux Baies Pot de Creme au Chocolate.

This gorgeous platter of desserts looked amazing, but my senses were in overdrive. I did not partake in this last dish, but I heard the 'hmmms' from numerous bloggers. I did, however, partake in the pairing of Julien Fremont Cidre Brut Par Nature.

Overall, the meal was amazing. Incredible food, thoughtful wine pairings and phenomenal company are always a recipe for a memorable meal. Walter came through with this special meal, and he even found a number of opportunities to chat and take photos. Special thanks to all of the bloggers who made it out for the evening, and also to Walter and Josh for making this 'one of best events yet', to quote Kevin. Based on the glazed looks and satisfied smiles of Mike, H.C., Danny, Kathy, Kat, Kevin, Ila and Sharon, I would agree.

These events are great fun and we thank the bloggers for their continued support. Only with their support can we truly make our visions of a viable restaurant resource a reality. If you're a blogger whom we haven't reached out to yet, let us know and share a future memory with us.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saam-The Restaurant Within A Restaurant

The restaurant within a restaurant. Continuing with his concept of having a restaurant within a restaurant, Chef Jose Andres has now introduced Saam. Much like MiniBar in Cafe Atlantico, Saam is a separate restaurant inside the Bazaar. Saam offers a chef's tasting only for $120 per, and provides a 20 course experience of Bazaar's cuisine, in addition to some items not offered at the Bazaar. Unlike MiniBar, which only offers seating for six, Saam can accomodate closer to 40.

Named after Sam Nazarian, Chef Andres' partner and founder of SBE, Saam allows for the enjoyment of the cuisine in a more formal atmosphere, with attentive waitstaff at your beck and call. We came here tonight for a reservation of seven, and were blown away. The cuisine, apparently having matured and perfected since our initial visits, was enjoyed in a much different fashion than it has been in Blanco or Rojo, Bazaar's two dining rooms. The quieter, more formal setting only enhanced the dining experience and the ability to appreciate the food. Our 20 course meal began as soon as Brian and Jan arrived, joining Javier of http://www.teenageglutster.com/, Kevin of http://www.kevineats.com/, Ryan of http://www.tangbro.com/, Mike of http://www.pepsimonster.com/, and myself.

We began with a complimentary chef's cocktail, the salt air margarita. It's a margarita topped with salt and lime foam. The foam plays the part of the salted rim, and was infused in every sip. Then the food began:

Sweet potato chips: Super thin cut slices of sweet potato, fried and accompanied by a yogurt, tamarind and olive oil sauce. Simple, but so good.

Cotton candy foie gras: A cubed piece of foie gras terrine, covered in cotton candy, on a stick. The sweet cotton candy made for a playful companion to the richness of the terrine.

Olive oil bonbon: A olive oil from California with a green and nutty flavor, was encapsulated by a candied exterior. As you can see, the exterior was like a glass syringe.

Caviar steamed bun: A Chinese bao stuffed with creme fraiche and topped with paddlefish caviar and salt foam. The saltiness from the caviar and foam contrasted well with the slight sweetness of the bun and cream fraiche.

Bagel and Lox Cone: The cream, filling the crispy cone, was topped with salmon roe. Simply, it was delicious. The saltiness and texture of each individual salmon egg bursting in my mouth paired well with the creme inside.

Olives Ferran Adria: Juice made from the finest olives of the season from Spain, dipped in a calcium bath and sodium alginate. Dropping spoonfuls of the olive oil juice into the calcium bath forms a skin, giving liquid olives. Always a winner here.

Jose's Ham and Cheese: Air bread filled with cheese and topped with thinly sliced Jamon Iberico. A sophisticated interpretation of such a simple sandwich, this bite sized portion was heaven in my fingers.

Sea Urchin Conservas: Sea Urchin served in a can, over what was described as close to a pico de gallo, with the vegetables minced finely. Not as good as what we've had in the past at Bazaar, but still very refreshing.

Boneless chicken wing: Deboned wing, topped with olive puree and greens. Another favorite.

Shrimp cocktail: Santa Barbara spot prawn, poached rare, with a syringe of broth made from the head. One of the highlights of the evening, with the sweetness of the shrimp sharpened by the broth in the syringe.

Nitro gazpacho: Made exactly in the same fashion as the nitro caiparinha, gazpacho is added to a bowl with liquid nitrogen, almost freezing the gazpacho and provided a creamy texture to this clean and delicious dish.

Bluefin tuna toro: A tender slice of toro accompanied by compressed watermelon, a slightly poached quail egg and salt foam. Though I heard some opinions that the sweetness of the watermelon didn't work with the toro, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The watermelon brought out some of the fishiness of the toro, and the quail egg yolk brought back the richness.

Norwegian Lobster: Another favorite, a sliver of lobster over fresh seaweed, accompanied by a broth in an espresso cup made from the head. The essence of lobster is revealed here in marvelous fashion.

"Smoked salmon": A one ounce to one and a half ounce portion of brined salmon, poached, was served with a tzatziki sauce that went through the spherification process similar to the olives Ferran Adria. The salmon was moist, with hints of the brine. Quite nice.

Not Your Everyday Caprese: A cherry tomato, compressed, with the 'sexy tomato seeds' and a mozzarella sauce prepared with the spherification process. Topped with a pesto sauce, this made a normal caprese seem pedestrian.

Tournedos Rossini 2009: Our final savory dish of the evening.

A dish was created in honor of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, a noted gourmand. In Chef Andres' new interpretation, a piece of A-5 Japanese wagyu is topped with a truffle gelee, mushrooms and slices of foie gras. This extremely rich and decadent dish was a great finish to the savory dishes. I cannot adequately explain how delicious this dish was.

Dragon's Breath Popcorn: Candied and carameled pieces of popcorn, dipped in liquid nitrogen. Eaten with mouth closed, a puff of smoke comes through the nose. This dish has come under a bit of fire in the recent past. Intended by Chef Andres as something playful and unexpected, numerous internet writeups have taken the surprise away, causing Chef Andres to essentially remove it from the rotation.

Chocolate Biscuit Coulant Michel Bras- a mini chocolate souffle like cake over a bed of whipped creme flavored with cardamon and sugared ginger pieces. The souffle was runny on the inside and the cardamon added an interesting flavor contrast. Pleasant, but still trying to decide how much I enjoyed it.

Coconut in 'Half Shell': Coconut creme in a cocunut flavored edible shell. Passion fruit sauce made this dish Fiji on a plate.

Petit Fours: Candied passion fruit, chocolate drizzle on a stick and saffron truffles. Although the truffles were way too sweet, this was a great ending to a great meal.

At the end of the meal, our server got us a tour of the kitchen, where chef de cuisine Michael Voltaggio thanked us for our patronage. Our group of seven caused a bottleneck in the kitchen, but no one seemed to mind. Each and every person in that kitchen welcomed us like family, including Marcel Vigneron, of Top Chef fame. We stayed much too long in the kitchen, talking food with Chef Voltaggio. They even took the time to take pictures with us, and offered us full run of the place. We graciously got the heck out of there, as we saw how busy they were.

Saam is a true success that allows for the diner to have an option to enjoy the meal in a formal setting. In some instances, the lack of quality in food is exposed when eaten in a nicer atmosphere(try Father's Office). In the case of Saam and the Bazaar, the food was allowed to shine. This was truly a special meal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Authentic Regional Mexican Food...In LA?

Surprising to some, but burritos are not authentic Mexican cuisine! I know it must be a shocker to some people, but authentic, regional Mexican cuisine is much more complex than what you'd normally find in most LA Mexican restaurants.

Because of what Javier of http://www.teenageglutster.blogspot.com/ described as serendipity, he had the opportunity to meet Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin Del Campo, both of La Casita Mexicana. Jaime and Ramiro were two chefs Javier became acquainted with while watching Univision's Despierta America. Gathering up his courage, he walked up to these two television personalities one day at the Gold Standard and began a new friendship. After a lengthy conversation on food, specifically regional dishes of Mexico, the two chefs generously offered to host a dinner for Javier and some of his pals. So, a special night was born at La Casita Mexicana, where a lesson, and amazing Mexican cuisine, were had.

Javier sent out an email, and we all converged on this tiny restaurant in Bell. As we all settled down in our seats, the chefs began the evening by showing us ingredients used in different regions of Mexico. Dried chiles, black corn, cactus...there were so many things I've rarely or never seen. It was evident, though, the chefs' passion for their food. They inspiringly conveyed their desire to showcase what Mexican food is truly about.

They then began the meal by making three salsas in thier molcahete, or mortar and pestal.

-Salsa de Jitomate con chile serrano y cilantro Mexicano.

-Salsa de Tomatillo de Milpa con semillas de calbaza y chiles de arbol tostados.

-Salsa Cruda de Tomatillo y Hoja Santa.

All three were beautiful. However, the chefs would not allow for chips, as they were concerned that we would fill ourselves up too quickly. They planned on serving 18 dishes that night, so they were so right!

The dishes were:

Sopa de Pescado con Hoja Santa(fish soup with Hoja Santa leaf)-A clean fish soup with a squeeze of lime.

Chile Jalapeno Rellenos de Atun-Jalapeno chiles stuffed with Tuna. Very good, with the spiciness muted by the removal of the seeds and the veins.

Queso Azteca-4 different types of cheeses blended with Epazote, and baked in a fresh banana leaf, then grilled on flame. A bit salty, a bit tangy...bested any queso fundido I ever had growing up. Served with fresh made tortillas.

Tomalitos de Huitlacoche-small tamales filled with corn fungus. My 1st experience with huitlacoche...definitely not my last. The beautiful earthy flavors of the fungus opened my eyes to what was once considered a pest to corn harvests.

Enchiladas de pollo con tres moles-Three enchilas, each topped with a different mole.

Each mole, consisting of well over a dozen ingredients, was painstakingly created by the chefs. Experts in mole, the chefs served up six different types of mole this evening.

Enchiladas Rojas de Queso Cortija. Made in the Michoacan style, these simple enchiladas consisted of tortillas dipped in chile sauce and filled with grated Cortija cheese. Really simple, yet marvelous.

Mole de Almendras con carne de puerco-Almond mole with slow cooked and shredded pork.

Mole Blanco-made with white chocolate over chicken breasts.

Puerco Adobado-reminiscent of a Filipino pork adobo. The smokiness from the dried chiles made this dish a winner.

Cochinita Pibil-Pork roasted with achiote and habanero, wrapped in plaintain leaf

Pescado en Salsa de Tamarindo con Chile de Arbol-Sea bass with a tamarind sauce. One of the weaker dishes, but still quite good

Cecina al chipotle-dry cured beef sauteed and covered with a chipotle sauce. By far my favorite dish, as the concentrated beef flavors from the curing really came through. The chipotle only accentuated the flavors of the beef. Dish hails from Veracruz.

Chiles en Nogado

These stuffed poblano chiles topped with a mile cream sauce were indescribably delicious.

Churros Rellenos de Cajeta-Churros stuffed with caramel. Not anything you'd find normally in LA...or Baja, for that matter. Crunchy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside. Paradise in a bite.

Flan de Calabaza de Castilla-Pumpkin flan. The massive flan served 20 of us, and was only half gone!

Ponche de Jamaica con Jacotes y Nuez-Hibiscus punch with chopped pecans and Jocote fruit. Sweet and nutty...a great drink.

Flan de Calabasita-Zucchini Flan

Toronja Grajeada con pasta de Chocolate Mexicano-These were crystallized pieces of grapefruit rind, with a dipping sauce of super thick Mexican chocolate. To create the dried grapefruit rind requires a 24 hour process involving multiple techniques. Originally served to cardinals of the Catholic Church. A truly religious ending to a religious meal.

Throughout the evening, the chefs answered any and all questions and were amazingly gracious. They not only enlightened us on what true Mexican cuisine was, but they showed us their passion with the foods they created. Our evening at La Casita Mexicana will not be one soon forgotten. Many thanks to Javier for having the huevos to begin a conversation with these two super chefs, and many thanks to Ramiro and Jaime for an unforgettable night.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

DineLA Week Kicks Off With Press Conference at The Bazaar by Jose Andres

Mayor Antonio Villagarosa officially launched dineLA week today at a press conference held at SLS Hotel. Held in front of a raucous crowd of press and LA chefs, the Mayor introduced, among others, speakers Chef Jose Andres of The Bazaar and Chef Evan Kleinman of Angeli Caffe.
Chefs Andres and Kleinman captivated the crowd with brief story telling and charm, as they conveyed the importance of what has become one of LA's most exciting dining events.
DineLA Restaurant Week, in its second year, is the annual event held by LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitor's Bureau and American Express. The event features over 160 participating restaurants in LA. Each restaurant will be offering prix-fixe lunches for $16-$28 and dinners for $26-$44. The event will be held two consecutive weeks, on January 25-30, 2009 and February 1-6, 2009. Participants such as The Bazaar, Valentino, STK, Patina and Grace head the formidable list of LA dining options.
At the conclusion of the press conference, Chef Andres presented Mayor Villaigarosa with his interpretation of a Philly Cheesesteak, then invited the crowd into The Bazaar for food and drink. Waitstaff passed around "liquid olives", Philly Cheesesteaks, King Crab with Raspberry, Croquetas de Polla, and a variety of other tapas. The Jamon bar was in full swing, with chefs slicing Jamon Iberico straight from the leg.

Some of the chefs mingling in the crowd included Ben Ford(Ford's Filling Station), Neil Fraser(Grace), Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feninger(Ciudad), Piero Selvaggio(Valentino), Joachim Splichal(The Patina Restaurant Group) and Kerry Simon(Simon LA).

We were able to get a few minutes with Chef Andres, who continued his conversation with us about cooking and creativity, as well as Chef Ford, whom we thanked again for the amazing confit of suckling pig dinner he cooked for us. We also ran into Joshua of FoodGPS.com, who was a participant in our Shibucho red wine and sushi pairing.

The press conference was like no other we'd been to before, with Chef Andres again playing the gracious host. Upon exiting, two stations serving up goodbye snacks provided caviar cones and liquid nitrogen dipped popcorn bites. The popcorn bites were expecially entertaining, with Executive Pastry Chef Michael Gillet dipping the bites into liquid nitrogen, then instructing us to put the bite into our mouths and only biting down once our mouths were closed. The resulting puffs of 'smoke' coming out of our noses was fun and a great way to close the event.

DineLA week, as expressed by the Mayor, is a great opportunity to try the many dining options LA has to offer, for a great price tag. Although the economy is sagging, it's a great reminder of some the more positive things life has to offer. Being able to eat some amazing meals created by some amazing chefs for great prices...it's a once a year chance. I'm making my reservations asap...I suggest you do the same!