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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shibucho-Old Reds Paired With Sushi and Bloggers

3114 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057


For our latest event, we chose to experiment with a red wine and sushi pairing. We all know that beer, sake, champagne, softer whites or even pinot noir could pair with most types of sushi, but Bordeaux and Rioja? Generally, Bordeaux is highly tannic...Rioja, not so much, but still overpowering. We were concerned that the wine would simply overpower the delicate flavors of raw fish. Not so, according to Shibucho's Shige-san. He's been promoting the pairing of Bordeaux and sushi for decades. The secret? The wine has to be OLD!

And so, our event was born. We invited a group of our favorite bloggers, mixed in with a couple of new faces. In attendance were Ryan of tangmeister.com, Kevin of Kevineats.com, Ila of inomthings.blogspot.com, Fiona of GourmetPigs.blogspot.com, Joshua of FoodGPS.com and Tony of sinosoul.com. Brian, Marshal and I rounded out the group. The three of us brought:

'82 Pavie-Decesse
'78 Ducru Beaucaillou
'76 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Vina Tondonia
'76 Lopex de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Vina Boscania
'75 Leoville Barton
'75 Montrose
'89 Beycheville

Kevin and Ryan generously provided a '78 Dom Perignon, which we started the meal with.

We paired the Dom with Ankimo, or monkfish liver. Shige-san provided two different cuts. The one on top had an orange hue. The ankimo was topped with ponzu, scallion and chili infused daikon. Paired well with the Sauternes-like champagne. The orange hued piece was a better match, as opposed to the bottom piece.

Next, we had the Pavie Decesse paired with a mirugai, aoyagi, hotate and seaweed salad. The salad, with a white miso base, was really mild. This was our first test with the red wine pairing. Even though the wine was young compared to the other bottles, it didn't overpower the clams and scallops.

We followed next with an albacore salad, toro sashimi, maguro sashimi, Buri sashimi and Hirame sashimi. Shige-san then threw us a curveball and served an eggplant parmesan. After that, we had a sake and ikura salad, followed by toro nigiri, hamachi belly nigiri, sea bream nigiri and golden eye snapper nigiri.

Getting a bit intoxicated at this point, we had all discussed the different pairings. Some were definite hits, like the toro...some were not quite there, like the halibut and it's fishiness being drawn out.

We moved on to a buri daikon and anago nigiri. Some of us finished with an uni handroll, which blew away any crabroll I'd ever finished with at Sasabune, Echigo, Kiriko or Wa.

Kevin and Ila did an amazing job of recounting the meal, picture by picture...so please read their blogs for a blow by blow, and some history.

Towards the end of the evening, I stepped outside to make a phone call. As I finished, I looked up and noticed Shige-san gesturing me to come over. He was at the back door entrance, and he led me inside. Slightly confused, I followed. Shige-san lead me in and began showing me his immense wine collection.

As we went through the closet, and additional temperature closets not pictured, he showed me, with great pride, the many bottles he's collected over the years. Petrus, Screaming Eagle, different vintages of all of the first growths...the list was endless. I was so excited, I asked if I could bring everyone else in. 'No...it's a secret! Only you can see!'

The evening itself, with the amazing conversation, incredible company and thought provoking pairings, was memorable. Shige-san showing me his personal cellar? Now that was priceless. As we left after midnight, we all took pictures with him. He welcomed us back and bowed goodbye. Our first visit weeks before, Shige-san was guarded...so I know where some people come from when they criticize his demeanor. But once he sees a love of food and wine in you, it's almost like he becomes your mentor. He had so many words of wisdom and was so kind. I'll always remember my little tour of the secret wine cellar.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Philosophy, Food and Wine with Jose Andres

For the soft opening of The Bazaar on November 17th, I had dinner with Kevin of kevineats.com, Ryan of tangmeister.com, and three of their friends. On that night, we set out to try each of the 63 dishes on the menu. We got as far as 48 before we threw in the towel...to be fair, we had two of each dish up to about dish 30.

As soon as he got home, Kevin went about composing his blog entry, finishing around 7 or 8 the next morning. In the blog, which you can read at http://www.kevineats.com/2008/11/bazaar-los-angeles-ca.htm he included pictures of every dish we tried.

Interestingly, Kevin received an email from Chef Jose Andres, inviting him to get together to talk about "creativity and cooking". Apparently, Chef Andres got wind of Kevin's blog and wanted to meet him.

Kevin asked if I was interested, and so we met up with Chef Andres last night at 8:30 pm at The Bazaar. Going into the evening, I wasn't sure what to expect. Was Chef Andres going to chastise us, or Kevin, for writing this blog? Was he going to have an attorney present to personally present Kevin with a cease and desist order, since he took pictures even after we were told we were not allowed to?

On the contrary, we were treated like family. I arrived an hour early, so I tried a couple of nitrogen caipirinhas. It's the traditional caipirinha drink mixed with liquid nitrogen, forming a sorbet-like consistency, and topped with edible flowers and herbs. The consistency was creamy, the drink a big winner. On my second, Chef Andres stopped by to say hi. He warmly welcomed me and we made small talk. I let him know Kevin and the rest of the party were on the way. Once everyone arrived, Jose sat with us in Bar Centro and invited each of us to order a drink. I got a third nitrogen Caipirinha, and thus the evening began.

While scooping up my 'drink', Jose asked what description came to my mind regarding the drink. "...and don't say molecular gastronomy, or I'll throw you out of the restaurant", he jested. He explained that he simply wanted a certain consistency, and since the drink was almost pure alcohol, this was the only way to freeze it. He then segued into discussion regarding his cooking. He essentially asserted that his cooking was based on his experiences growing up, when eating at home was a necessity. Although I'm rather certain his family dinners growing up didn't include liquid olives and nitrogen caipirinhas, I got his point. His menu, although extensive, was an acknowledgement of his past and things new. Every dish was carefully thought out and executed to his liking.

After an hour or so, we moved over to Rojo, where Jose ordered a bunch of stuff, and a gorgeous white wine. He also directed his head sommelier to decant the '95 Vega Sicilia that Brian and Jan brought. Throughout the rest of evening, Jose was greeted by friends. On two or three occasions, dishes were brought for his opinion. He explained that they constantly discussed dishes, always perfecting them. He went on about the importance of doing things right, whether it be cooking or writing.

Among the items ordered were some of the dishes that Kevin did not appreciate. As we tasted each one, he gave us either a brief history or explanation of the dish. I'm not sure what it was, but the dishes such as the Japanese eggplant and the salt cod fritters tasted much better the second time around. It could have been that we were too full that first night, or it could have been that the kitchen staff was on point for us, since the chef was sitting at our table.

Overall, Jose sat with us for close to three hours. He told many stories. He expressed the importance of seeing things not only from your own perspective, but from many. He gave us some suggested reading so that we could learn more about what we're writing about. He spoke fondly and often of his wife and kids, and of his responsibilities to each and every one of his staff.

Although many lessons were taught and learned, the most intriguing thing was Jose's passion for life, which poured over into his cooking. He got a bit emotional at times, speaking of certain things. He was even a bit patriarchal at other times, extolling the importance of not necessarily liking or not liking something, but looking at it from different perspectives for a better understanding. As busy as he is(he had just landed a few hours before), he took the time to explore the minds of people who took time to write about food. He wanted to understand and be understood. Never pretentious and always sincere and honest, he was a delight. He ended by thanking us for coming and by telling me that I would have to cook for him, so that he could critique me. I told him I would be more than happy to, but only if he was in for a good laugh. He said he'd give me a year, but we'll see if I ever get the courage to do that.

I'm not sure if we changed our opinions on his cuisine that much, but the experience really made me think about what we write. Jose, who really could have a God Complex at this stage in his career, was welcoming and warm and somewhat open to criticism. He showed a very human side that is sometimes forgotten when we criticize. He showed a great passion, telling us that he poured three years of his life into The Bazaar. Most of all, he showed that he cared about what his diners thought. Breaking bread with us for three hours proved that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Pinkberry on Every Corner

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Or something like that. I went to Abbot Kinney Blvd for dinner last night. I love that stretch of shops and restaurants in Venice, Ca. Over the years the area seemed to somehow resist the growing intrusion of corporate chains and is home to many specialty furniture, craft, and boutique stores as well as up and coming restaurants - most notably the recently opened Gjelina and AK Restaurant and Bar.

As I surveyed the street at night a brightly lit store stood out from the rest with its signature green and blue stripe facade and ubiquitous trademark. Pinkberry is definitely a chain but I was a bit surprised at how it made no effort to blend in to Venice's artsy neighborhood. The first thought that came to my mind was how similar it was to Starbucks. Not too surprising since Starbuck's founder, Howard Schultz, has famously invested $27.5 million in Pinkberry from his venture capital firm. I see that Mr. Schultz has left his mark on his investment making Pinkberry as accessible as Starbucks has become - with one on every corner.

I actually like Pinkberry's frozen yogurt quite a bit but it had more appeal to me as the fun, upstart company founded by a young Korean couple. Now that they have honed its brand, design, and image I feel like it has lost its innocence and I hope its presence on this street is not a sign of what's to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Riva - Jason Travi's New Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA

312 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA

On October 28, Riva opened it's doors for the first time. Hours are 11:30 am to midnight, 7 days a week. However, the first two weeks will have a special schedule of 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm from Mon-Thur, and open til midnight on Fri-Sat.

Jason Travi's newest Italian restaurant features a decor that's a bit more upscale than that of his first child, Fraiche. On one side, there's a bar that seems a bit less approachable than the lively and welcoming bar at Fraiche; on the other, a pizza bar.

We stopped by a few days ago simply because of our love of Fraiche. We first got wind of Riva's impending opening 6 months ago during a conversation with Chef Travi. He was apparently having difficulty getting served at his bar one night, so he sat and talked to us for 45 minutes.

Upon seating, we decided on the following:

Geoduck, orange, watercress, mint, basil seeds

The raw geoduck slices were really tender and sweet, and the orange royales and basil seeds really worked well.

House made head cheese

Simply amazing with the fattiness cut by the radish slices.

Roasted quail, farrow, butternut squash, pistachio pesto

Tender roasted quail on farro...beautifully tender and flavorful.

Pignoli pizza made with pine nut, tomato, smoked pancetta and reggiano

Interesting pizza. Couldn't taste the pine nuts, but the pancetta was great.

Tradicionale pizza made with proscuitto, arugula, and pecorino romano

Best pizza of the night. The proscuitto and arugala were fantastic. Also noteworthy, the three pizzas we did have had inconsistency in the dough. The crust for this pizza was close to perfection, but the others were chewy.

Bianca pizza with spinach, ricotta and pecorino romano

House made ricotta with spinach. Slightly browned ricotta was delicious, but the spinach left something to be desired. The crust on this pizza was lacking...too chewy.

Considering there were only three of us, and none of us were hungry, I think we did a good job.

Riva did a good job too, I would say. New restaurant jitters and the need for some time to get things down were evident, but not glaring deficiencies. Service was decent and food just a tad under great. Like a fine wine from Chef Travi's list...a little time and it'll be great.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Food Event: From the Vine, Oct. 26, 2008

Here's a quick post about a food event this weekend.

The Facts:

Presented by: The Los Angeles Magazine
When: Sunday, October 26th 1 - 5 pm.
Where: Saddlerock Ranch, 31727 Mulholland Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
Restrictions: Must be 21 and over (sorry parents, this means no kids) and no pets.
Tickets: Advance Tickets:$60, Day of Tickets:$75. Tickets can be purchased here. Type in foodevent08 for a $10 discount when purchasing the tickets online - tip courtesy of HC of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures. Thanks HC!
Charities benefited: $20 of each ticket will be shared between two non-profits - Los Angeles Regional Foodbank and Concern Foundation

Who should go:

Anyone interested in celebrity cooking demonstrations with highlights to include the likes of the two dudes of Animal, Nancy Silverton of Mozza, and Top Chef Season 3 Chris "CJ" Jacobson.

Anyone who wants to sample cuisine from restaurants such as Café Rodeo at Luxe Hotel, Chaya, Dakota Steakhouse, The Foundry on Melrose, Four Seasons Westlake Village, Frida Restaurant, Joss, La Cachette, La Provence Patisserie, Luxe Hotel Sunset Blvd, Saddle Peak Lodge, Tra de Noi, and Paperfish.

Anyone who wants to taste wine from 337 Cellars, Gnarly Head Cellars, HammerSky Vineyards, Irony Napa Valley, Kenwood Vineyards, Lake Sonoma Winery, Loredona, Peju Province Winery, Raymond Vineyards, Saddlerock, Semler, Valley of the Moon Winery, Vina Robles and more.

Anyone who wants to talk to experts about cheese and wine pairing, selecting beer and wines and other food trends.

More information can be found on the LA Magazine website and press release.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to Eat Pho

This post is intended for those who have wanted to try this popular dish but may have been a bit intimidated by all the garnishments and meat choices encountered at pho restaurants in the U.S. To the rest, who already know it well, you can keep me in check.

Pho is one of the most beloved Vietnamese dishes. Pho (pronounced "fuh") to most Americans means Vietnamese beef noodle soup but that is technically beef pho or pho bo. There is also chicken pho and lesser known pork pho. Beef pho is the bridge for many Americans when it comes to trying Vietnamese food as numerous pho houses have popped up in cities across the nation. I am always pleasantly surprised when someone tells me they’ve become addicted to this traditional dish. To me the pho broth has magical, restorative benefits - it is the first meal I want after a weary trip, the cure for a hangover, and the perfect meal on a cold night.

Pho gets its distinctly sweet, savory flavors from hours of stewing beef bones with charred onion and ginger and a cheesecloth of spices ranging from cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and black cardamom - in combinations that vary from chef to chef. Each person's broth is different and distinguishes one pho house from another.

Trying pho for the first time in Vietnam might actually be simplest. When I was back in Hanoi recently there wasn’t a list of five meats and twenty combinations to figure out. You simply ordered pho and then a bowl appears before you as you sit on a small stool and eat in an open restaurant. However, in the U.S. some pho menus are a full page long with several permutations of the various meat combinations for each bowl.

If you’ve decided to try pho and have now found your way to a small neighborhood restaurant, you’ll most likely open the menu and see words and meat combinations you don’t understand. Well let’s walk through it now.

The Meats - Here are all the different meat options:

Tai- rare eye of round steak (served rare but cooked by the broth)
Chin – well done lean meat
Nam – well done flank
Gau – fat brisket
Gan – soft tendon
Sach – tripe
Ve Don –skirt flank
Bo vien – beef meatballs

To the beginner I suggest starting with pho tai, the simplest pho with rare beef. It is the most approachable. Pho tai is made by assembling cuts of rare beef on top of rice noodles in a bowl. The rare beef is cooked when the boiling broth is ladled into the bowl. (Some folks request the rare beef on the side so that they can add it to their bowl themselves – ensuring that the meat remains barely cooked). Pho tai nam or tai chin is the next suggestion giving a bit more variation to simple pho tai with the addition of well done lean meat or flank. I prefer the tai nam to the tai chin because the chin meat tends to be more dry. If you want to dive in and try them all, then the pho dac biet (literally, special pho) order generally includes all the different cuts of meat. The bo vien is chewy and fun to eat. Sometimes you can specify plain bo vien or bo vien gan (meatballs with bits of tendon for extra texture). Also you should know that you can request any combination of the available meats at a pho restaurant, even if they are not among the enumerated No. 1 through No. 20 combinations provided for you on the menu. This is usually fine and accepted as each bowl is made to order. At the end of the day what you choose to include depends on your personal taste.

The Broth – You can actually specify the kind of broth you want for your pho. The broth is referred to simply as nuoc pho (literally, pho water). For the nuoc pho, you can request nuoc beo (fatty broth) or nuco cham (clear broth).

The Noodles – Pho is eaten with rice noodles called banh pho. Banh pho can vary in width from a thin 5mm noodle to a toothier 1cm or more. Generally a pho restaurant offers one kind of banh pho and it is not something you can specify. However, there are some that offer fresh banh pho which tends to be of the wider variety. I prefer the fresh banh pho and recommend trying it if you are at a restaurant that offers it.

The Accoutrements – Before I get to the many things you can do to customize your pho experience, you will find that a bowl of pho already comes garnished with scallions, sliced onions, and cilantro. I mention this only because some people have an aversion to cilantro (although, I personally think it is one of most wonderful herbs on the planet). You will find this sensitivity recognized at many Korean pho restaurants, where they will “warn” customers that pho has cilantro and allow you to order it without.

Now onto the garnishments and condiments. After you’ve ordered your bowl, a plate is brought to the table containing: bean sprouts, Thai basil, sliced chili peppers, lime wedges and sometimes saw herb.

On the table you’ll also find: hot chili sauce (typically Sriracha sauce), Hoisin sauce, black pepper, and fish sauce.

Before you start putting things in I suggest trying the broth first. See what it tastes like and note how it changes with what you add.

Now what to add? Here’s where a bit of history helps. Pho originated in Northern Vietnam and there the people tend to be purists. The only thing they add to pho is lime, chili sauce, and sometimes Thai basil. Their philosophy is that the broth is the focus of this dish and less is more when it comes to messing with it. As someone who is Northern Vietnamese, I try not to wince when someone adds Hoisin sauce or bean sprouts into their bowl as those will completely overpower the broth’s beefy flavor. That said, do what you like.

When adding the herbs it is nice to shred them to release their flavors. A dash of black pepper will provide some spice. I add sliced chili peppers instead of the Sriracha to give spiciness without altering too much of the broth. However, either is fine. A squeeze of lime is a must as the tanginess is a nice balance to the richness of the broth. If the broth is too salty, more lime can mellow it further. I like the flavor of Hoisin sauce and Sriracha but I don’t like the way it overpowers the broth. So I use one of the small dipping plates and squirt a bit of each onto it for dipping my meats. This way the broth remains as pure as possible.

For the Advanced - Never on the menu but always ordered by my parents is a side dish of hang giam (sliced onions soaked in vinegar) or hang tran (green onion bulbs blanched in pho broth). I’ve only eaten pho with hang giam and find that it is a nice way to cut the fattiness of the beef broth. If you order it, you can add a bit of sugar and lime juice to the onions to temper the flavors and then mix in some hot chili sauce.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ryugin-Michelin 2 star in Japan better than 3 star in California?

Roppongi 7-17-24
Roppongi Building 1F

6 pm- 2 am daily, closed Sundays

On my recent visit to Tokyo, I had the task of choosing one great meal. Initially, my intention was to explore the finest dining Tokyo had to offer over three nights and three amazing dinners. However, my plans changed and I felt it best to cut it down to just one. I still took advantage of Tokyo's great cuisine...I just wasn't able to fully utilize the list of Michelin rated restaurants I received from Kevin, of kevineats.com.

After a bit of soul searching, I decided on Ryugin. Per my research(and a generous helping hand from Thi), I found that Chef Seiji Yamamoto presented a non traditional kaiseke meal. I secured a 6:00 pm reservation and showed up on Ryugin's doorstep on my second night in Tokyo.

Upon seating, I was presented with two different meal options. The first, for about 21,000 yen, looked quite good. The second, for 27,650 yen, looked quite similar, with the main difference being an offering of Ryugin's House Special Soft-Shelled Turtle Soup. My waiter, Takeo, was extremely responsible and immediately relayed his concerns that Americans usually didn't like the soup. So...I opted for the meal with the turtle soup.

I proceeded to go over the sake menu, and Takeo came up with two great sakes to go with my food.

We started with an Ichiaban Dashi Soup with puree of Maitake mushrooms and conger eel.

The soup was slightly tangy and a fantastic start to the meal. Hidden in the soup was a nice piece of conger eel that gave a textural parade in my mouth. I was then presented with a deep fried sea urchin wrapped in seaweed.

The uni was accompanied by slightly seasoned sliced of Matsutake mushrooms and spinach. Lightly battered, it was rich and smooth. Next, we had Aichi figs with port flavored foie gras terrine and sesame cream.

This picture doesn't do it justice. The terrine was silky smooth and delicately flavored. The figs were tender and a bit sweet. The combination, with the sesame cream, was absolute heaven.

Each bite melted in my mouth and I began to realize the depth of the Chef's skills and culinary knowledge.

After this bit of heaven, the dish I'd been waiting for all night came. Blue japanese swimming crab meat and Shanghai River crab eggs, on top of tender abalone. The crab was topped with apple vinager gelee.

The last time I had Shanghai River crab eggs was 25 years ago in China. I remember begging my parents to bring back some crabs each time they went back for 4 or 5 years after that. The chef added the Japanese Blue Swimmer crabmeat because the meat of the Shanghai River crab lacks in flavor. With the tender and sweet abalone, I felt like I could have died and been happy. This dish was everything I could have ever wanted in a last meal. I contemplated begging for one more serving, but refrained.

The next dish was the infamous soft-shelled turtle soup. Meat from the turtle was minced and wrapped in napa cabbage, making meatballs in the soup. A piece of turtle skin topped it all.

The soup was encapsulated with the flavor imparted by fried leeks. Overall, this was thought provoking and...weird. Good, but strange. I've been trying to figure out how to describe the flavors, but I can't. I'm just happy I was able to try something so different.
The next dish was an assortment of sashimi.

We had saury, Japanese bluefin toro, slightly seared lobster claw meat from the English Channel, and Japanese squid topped with incredible Beluga caviar. Each offering was the best I'd ever had. The chef came out and poured the house made soy himself. This is where I learned he was only the tender age of 38. I praised him on his grasp of food, secretly hoping he would hook me up.

The next dish was Japanese ankimo with house made tofu.

Never have I had ankimo that had no hint of fishiness, and such a pleasant sweetness. At this point, I truly felt like I was on a journey. Next was a chargrilled seaperch.

The fish was encrusted with rice that was crisped. The image of the fish was actually sauce that I was instructed to rub the fish into. Freeze dried tofu and lotus root rounded out the flavors of the dish.

The next dish was Japanese pigeon.

The rare pigeon meat, with its slight game-like taste, was thought provoking and, quite frankly, close to being the best dish of the night. If it wasn't for memories of Shanghai crab eggs, this would be the deal maker. Paired with soy mash topped with seasonal white truffle shavings, this gorgeous dish made me rethink life. The generous portion of white truffle shavings completely engulfed its aroma into the soy mash. I immediately promised myself to shop for white truffles as soon as I returned($250 a truffle on the internet. I'm rethinking my posture on the issue)

The last savory dish served was a chargrilled Pacific Saury and shaved chestnut form Kyoto, on rice, with miso soup.

The saury was a bit fishy, but paired with the charred skin and the salty miso, this dish was quite good. I'd like to think this dish was better than I remembered, but every single dish prior to this was awe inspiring, and this dish fell a bit short of that.

Now we had the finishing touches, to cleanse the palate and to enrichen the tongue.

Ginger gelee made with six degrees pressure with fresh Asian pears. The ginger gelee bubbled from the CO2. The flavor was overwhelmingly strong of ginger, but was tempered nicely by the pear.

Caramel ice cream with 'Wasnbon Sugar'. Served with grated milk curd and a genmai tea on the side(not pictured). The caramel ice cream, topped with what was essentially dried condensed milk shavings, was familiar, yet new. The shavings melted on my tongue along with the ice cream, and left a slightly burnt sugar flavor.

Baked yuzu and orange cake, served on a red maple leaf presentation. The cake, slightly tangy, slightly sweet, was an amazing finish to this culinary journey. Slight hints of orange peel, with the tartness of yuzu, balanced well on the palate, and left me refreshed.

Overall, this was a thought provoking meal that took me on a journey I'd never been on before. This was an excercise on the use of the best ingredients available, not only in Japan, but in the world. It was a meeting of old world kaiseke with new world ingredients that included the implementation of state of the art tactics and new world flavor combinations, along with classic pairings.

So the question comes to mind...is a Michelin 2 star in Japan better than a Michelin 3 star in California? My answer is juvenile, at best, as I've only been to one 3 star in California, and one 2 star in Japan. But based on my minimal experience, I would give a resounding yes. Maybe my tastes have something to do with it...I've grown up with many of these Asian flavors. To pair them with my favorite non-Asian flavors, and to do it successfully, makes me think so. Ryugin was an eye opener, and 8 days later, I'm still smiling at the memories of that crabmeat on my tongue.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How to Edit Your Reviews

I've been asked a question recently about how you can edit a review you've submitted on FoodDigger. The first thing you need to do is make sure you are logged in to FoodDigger. Once you are logged in, you will see that on the restaurant page for any restaurant you have reviewed the "Write a Review" button has been replaced with an "Edit Your Review" button.

For example, I have not been to Cut in Los Angeles yet (although it is on my Try List) and haven't written a review for it. Therefore, when I go to the Cut restaurant page on FoodDigger, the button underneath the restaurant reads "Write a Review".

However, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco is A16 and I have written a review for it. So when I go to the A16 restaurant page the button now reads "Edit Your Review". (If you are not logged in though it will still say "Write a Review" because we don't know if you have reviewed it. That's why it's important to log in first.) Click on this button to edit your review at anytime.

To get to a restaurant page for one of your reviews you can use the Search box or click on the restaurant name when browsing through your reviews from your MyFD page. I hope this helps!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Are you a wine-o?

I think we all know what wine is...fermented grape juice. It's such a simple concept, really, but in reality, wine is so complex.

I don't think there's enough space here to go over every aspect of wine, and quite honestly, I'm the last person to give a wine class. My knowledge of wine is limited to my consumption...which I guess can be considered quite vast(if only based on consumption!). Truth is, I love wine. I love pairing it with different foods, I love drinking it on its own. I even love learning about it. I can see, however, that wine drinking could seem daunting to many people.

I hear and read about a wine's tastes..."possesses that liquid minerality that denotes a great terroir, along with a tremendously sweet liqueur of black currants and cherries intermixed with melted licorice and spice box. Dense and full-bodied yet remarkably elegant and delineated, this is a stunning achievement for the 2002 vintage."

This is Robert Parker's description of the above pictured Chateau Pavie from St. Emilion in Bordeaux. 'Sweet liqueur of black currants and cherries intermixed with melted licorice and spice box.'? We drank this at French Laundry, and I remember none of that. All I remember is that this wine was good!

Truth be told, I am far enough along to know a few things, but when I'm eating a great dinner, the last thing I'm looking for is hints of creme de cassis in my wine. I'm still not certain what creme de cassis is, much less what it tastes like.

That, though, is the great thing about wine. You can drink it and enjoy it; but if you choose, you could spend a lifetime mastering it. You could learn about the infinite varietals, like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet frank, viogner, marsanne, merlot...to name a few. You can learn about terroir, which is the piece of dirt and the climate the vines grow on. You can learn about the 5 classes of Bordeaux, or about the difference between Left Bank and Right. You can argue why LaTour is a First Class while Pontet Canet a Fifth Class, even though they're spitting distance away from each other. Or...you can just enjoy a few different varietals with dinner amongst friends, and judge which wine goes with which dish.

We at Fooddigger have had many a wine pairing since the idea of our site was born. The best meals have been the ones where the conversation bloomed from the pairings. Wine is a beautiful thing...something that is close to our hearts. We've even created a Fooddigger wine pairings card with a tip chart on the other side as a giveaway to help people with food pairings, and with the tipping in case you're too drunk from the wine. If you'd like one, let us know and we'll see if we can get one to you. Otherwise, grab yourself a glass of pinot noir and pair it with an aged Gouda.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival - September 19, 20, and 21

Who knew that the world's largest lobster festival takes place in Los Angeles where the lobsters eaten are shipped in from Maine? The reason for not serving Pacific lobster? Well it is not in season, of course. At least that's what they claim on the website for the Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival which starts today at 5 p.m. and goes on through Sunday in San Pedro. The main draw is the discounted Maine lobster meals for only $17 but that is not the only draw foodwise - many other seafood delicacies as well as roast corn and other festival goodies can be found at this annual event. I've never been and the low priced lobster meal gave me pause but I was told by a friend that it was actually quite good last year.

Entertainment: For families, the Lobster Festival has a free magic show (2 pm) and a treasure hunt (3 pm) at the pirate camp for kids on both Saturday and Sunday. There will be street performers, and a full musical line up with performances going as late as 9pm on Friday and Saturday.

Good to know:
Cash only is accepted at the gate. Tickets are $8 for adults, reduced to $6 with this coupon. Children under $12 get in free. Once inside, there is an ATM to get cash for your food and other purchases but I'd bring plenty of cash as standing in line may not be fun.

Monday, September 15, 2008


This past weekend, we stopped by the LA BBQ fest. Situated in the parking lot next to Santa Monica Pier, it was not difficult to find. The smallish event consisted of a number of local bbq joints, two out of town joints, a cupcake stand and various other booths selling vacations, and what not.

Strolling passed the booths, we quickly decided to focus on the out of towners. The first thing we noticed was a line forming for LC's BBQ from Kansas City. No other booths had a line(except for the beer line), so we hopped right in. We were fortunate on two counts. First, we had about 5 people ahead of us, but by the time we were served, the line was about 50 behind us. Second, LC served up some mean ribs. They were pork spare ribs, smoked over hickory with a dry rub. The meat was slightly charred on the outside, and moist and tender on the inside. Delicious, especially with the baked beans that accompanied them.

While we were waiting in line, I slipped over to Bandana's BBQ of Louisville. The baby back ribs were dryer, and it was also seasoned with a dry rub. I'm pretty sure they used hickory, as well, for smoke. They offered 4 different sauces, all of which were a bit more vinegary than LC's. Bandana's also came with baked beans, but they were too sweet.

After gorging on these ribs, we hit up the cupcake booth, or Leyna's Kitchen. They offered two mini cupcakes, one a pink velvet, the other a strawberilicious, for four dollars. These delicious cupcakes were a welcome contrast to the smoky ribs.

We were there for just an hour or so, but we walked away full and satisfied. If you missed the BBQ fest this year, mark it on your calendars for next year. Ten dollar entrance, ten dollars a plate, and they have a beer stand.

Friday, September 12, 2008

How to Add a Restaurant to FoodDigger

I've been asked this question many times so I thought I'd write a quick post about it. The question is: "How can I add a restaurant to the site?" or "I searched for a restaurant that I wanted to review and it wasn't there." Although we would like to have every restaurant you are looking for already in our database sometimes things slip through the cracks. I'm sorry about that but please help us make the site better by adding it to our list.

We are working on making it more visible but right now I thought it worthwhile to point out that there is an option to add a restaurant to the site. If you scroll down to the bottom of any search results page, you'll find our "Add a restaurant" button. In the above screenshot, you'll see a search results page based on my search for African restaurants in San Francisco. Only two results currently appear. Right under that you'll see the option I'm talking about. See the words "Don't see the restaurant you're looking for?" and the "Add a restaurant" button? Click on that button and you'll be on your way.

After you submit a restaurant it goes to our administrator who checks for errors and possible duplicate entries before it gets approved. We don't want more than one entry for the same restaurant as that just gets confusing. Approval can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on what time you made the submission. Sorry but there are actual people who review these submissions so you might have caught us while we were sleeping or (what's more fun) out eating. Thanks for asking the question and I hope this helps.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Now back from the 2008 Summer Olympics - Here's the Scoop on Beijing Eats

[Guest post from Snooshiking.] Before going to China for the Olympics, we weren't exactly looking forward to the food in Beijing. Sure, I've had Peking Duck, but aside from that (and real authentic Chinese Ja-Jang Mein, not the Korean version), what else was there to eat there? The northern part of China is not known for its food. Aside from hearty dumplings and stews, what else was there? I've been to the Northern Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel before, but only when I was in the mood for rustic, peasant food.

Day 1: The first few days in Beijing confirmed my fears. At a friend's suggestion, we went to Hua Jia Yi Yuan (Flower Family Garden) on DongZhimen Inside Road. It was a really nice location, felt like a '30s style grand courtyard with natural lighting and chirping birds in cages. Mostly northern Chinese, with a few Szechuan dishes thrown in. Tried their famous Mandarin fish, fresh bamboo, hot and sour cabbage, vegetables with mushrooms, and even their Peking Duck. But the food was a bit rough around the edges, a bit too salty and a bit too oily. Decent, but not great. The duck - definitely not great. In fact, not even good. (I later learned that to really have good duck, you have to go to a place that specializes in duck.)

Day 2: On the second day, we tried the Red Capital Club, located down a small alley in a traditional hutong. A few years ago, it was named as one of the hot 60 tables in the world by Conde Nast, so we thought it would be good. The vibe is fantastic - an old, restored courtyard home filled with Communist memorabilia, including furniture from Lin Bao's office (former defense minister under Mao) and Madame Mao's Red Flag limousine parked in front. The menu features interesting historical tidbits, and the owner just might be one of the longest-residing Americans in Beijing (25 years). A real friendly guy with great stories. But the food - just so-so. A mixture of different cuisines. Mao's pork is bland. Spicy chicken - OK, but not that special. The best dishes - the cold vegetable appetizers. Clearly made for the western palate.

Day 3: It wasn't until the third day that we finally had something good. Lu Lu, right near the entrance to the Military Museum, is a Shanghainese restaurant that can almost compete with the best from Shanghai. Thoroughly modern, clean and authentic. We had a group of 10 people and ate almost 15 dishes, so I can't remember any with any particular detail, except that it was all pretty good.

Day 4: Next up, authentic Peking duck at Ya Yuan, in the City Hotel. Not the most modern place, vibe is a bit "local," but my friends told me this was the best duck in Beijing. Not as well known and not as big as the mega-duck restaurants, but the best because it's prepared the old-fashioned way. First came the appetizers. Duck tongue - amazing! Cold sliced duck liver - sublime. And then came the actual Peking duck. Sliced in front of you, the duck skin and meat is rolled into something like a thin flour tortilla, along with green onions and sauce. Most important is the skin - the best I've ever had. A rich dark brown, it has a crisp yet resilient texture, but once you place it in your mouth, it almost melts. The meat is infused with the taste of apple wood, which is the traditional way of roasting the duck. The chef explained that each duck takes approximately 1 week to prepare, drying and refrigerating, to get the skin just right. And the sauce is rich and multi-dimensional, almost like a fine Bordeaux. He explained that he gets it from one particular small producer, then adds his own secret ingredients.

Day 5: That night, I go to sleep craving for more duck, so the next day, we go to DaDong one of the most famous (and many people say the best) duck restaurants in Beijing. Now, this is a big, fancy restaurant. Four floors, private rooms, nice tablecloths. Their menu probably the thickest thing I've ever seen! Imagine a wedding album, full of beautiful photos, but triple the size. It must have weighed 15 pounds! The opening courses were fantastic! Seared foie gras, cold numbing hot sesame chicken, prawns, etc. All were amazing, and almost French-Chinese fusion in their execution. I was getting excited, and I later learned that they're particularly well known for having great dishes aside from the duck. They even have good Chinese wine (the price is directly proportional to the quality in China, and the expensive wine (by local standards) can actually be quite good. Now, about the duck - it's just OK, especially compared to Ya Yuan. The skin is crispy, but the texture is like a shrimp chip - a bit too crisp. The meat is almost flavorless. I mean, it's definitely good, but is it the best? For me, no.

Day 6: On the sixth night, we stumbled onto a restaurant right by our hotel. We had just finished watching Track & Field, it was almost midnight, and we were starving! Luckily, Beijing has lots of late-night choices (like most Asian cities). We choose this restaurant, Meizhou Dongpo, because the large number of government plaques on the outside. (In China, the government will give awards to certain restaurants, and you'll see these plaques proudly displayed by the front door.) Once inside, we knew we were in the right place. It's Sichuan food, but in a refined style. Supposedly, the famous poet who invented Dongpo Pork (otherwise known as Pork Pump, or Roasted Pork Leg) was actually from the city of Meizhou in Sichuan before he moved to Hangzhou (near Shanghai), where the dish eventually became more famous. This restaurant's version of the Dongpo Pork is roasted with ginger, picked green peppers, and other assorted goodies that, in my opinion, make it much more interesting than the typical Shanghai version. In the Beijing Food Olympics, before the actual Olympics, the dish even won a gold medal! In fact, three of their dishes had won a gold medal award from the city, including their Bang Bang Chicken and smoked numbing sausages.

Day 7: The next night, when we came there again, we enjoyed a spicy buckwheat noodle as well as this amazing fish. It was a live fish, cut into a fan shape, and steamed with fresh green numbing peppers which impart almost a pine-like fresh scent with just a little bit of numbness.

What started off badly definitely ended well. Overall, I think Beijing offers greater variety than Shanghai in terms of cuisine styles, and if you know where to go, you'll definitely be rewarded.

Hua Jia Yi Yuan
235 Dongzhimen Nei Dajie
(two other locations as well)
Phone: 6405 1908

9 Fuxing Road, West side of the Military Museum entrance
Phone: 6858 3661

Ya Yuan
Inside the City Hotel, Beijing
No. 4 East Gongti Road, Chaoyang District Phone (hotel): 6500-7799 Call 1 hour ahead so that they can begin preparing your duck

Da Dong
Bldg 3, Tuanjiehu Beikou, Dongsanhuan Lu, SE corner of Changhong Qiao, Chaoyang District (Other locations as well)
Phone: 6582-2892

Meizhou Dongpo
Multiple locations

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Take a Bao - Asian Fusion?

Generally, I'm not a fan of Asian fusion. To label a place Asian fusion is equivalent to giving it a death sentence - I will never go there. Asian fusion was the code word for Westernized Asian food. So if you love authentic Asian dishes like I do, the bastardized Asian fusion versions represent a step backwards. But lately I've been grappling with places that seem to be less about fusing two different cuisines and more Asian inspired. I started thinking that unless we allow Asian food to evolve in the United States, will authentic Asian dishes be limited to those recipes brought by immigrants to this country? Can true Asian food evolve outside of its native country?

This brings me to Take a Bao. Although there are probably better restaurants to illustrate my point, it recently opened and the thought came to me as I was biting into my Pomegranate Steak bao. I love the traditional Chinese bao filled with bbq pork or chicken. And I've also always liked peking duck where the same bao pancakes hold delicate slices of peking duck skin, with a bit of fresh scallions to cut the richness, and a brushing of hoisin sauce to extend the sweetness. So why not take the bao dough and fill it with other Asian ingredients?

The owners of Take a Bao thought of this concept and ran with it - using Asian inspired ingredients for filling such as miso braised beef, teriyaki chicken, japanese radish, pickled carrots, and marinated cucumbers. If that was done in China by an up and coming chef no one would say it was Asian fusion. But we are not in China.

So for now, Take a Bao is under Asian Fusion on FoodDigger.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Don't drive away, Mr Taco Truck!

You see them driving down any street, stopping by construction sites to provide workers with a quick, hot meal. You see them parked in all types of neighborhoods, from East LA to West LA. Our favorite has been a fixture, parked outside of Pep Boys on Pico for 6 days a week, for as long as we remember.

In April, the county supervisors passed an ordinance that fined violators for parking in one spot for longer than an hour. The violators? Taco trucks. The fine? $1000 and six months in jail. The ordinance, penned by Supervisor Gloria Molina, was in response to complaints placed by restauranteurs who felt that taco trucks were taking business away.

This week, Judge Dennis Aichroth overturned the ordinance, ruling that it was vague and unconstitutional. Taco trucks all over LA have earned a reprieve, but the county vows to appeal and fully expects to win.
Although we at FoodDigger prefer to stay neutral from the political standpoint, we have a soft spot for taco trucks. We understand the concerns of restaurant owners...taco trucks don't have to pay rent, except for that quarter every 30 minutes. But, there is definitely something to be said about eating tacos on the sidewalk. It's an experience few, if any, restaurants can provide. And honestly, if a restaurant is competing with a truck, really...how good can it be?
We can go on and on about all the pros and cons of taco trucks in LA, but we're just happy we can hit up our local favorite for at least a little bit longer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

Sometimes you can try your best to describe something that a picture would take a second to shoot and just a few more to upload. Eating is a sensory experience that captivates you visually as well as through your sense of smell before you even take the first bite. Although after the fact, we can only try to share the aromas and tastes of our dining experiences through words, a photo is still a great medium for sharing what we saw and more.

A photo captures the food and also the atmosphere of a place through even the subtlest expression of its presentation. Just look at this photo from minimal. Not only does the crawfish look deliciously seasoned but from the plastic bag presentation you also get a sense of the casual vibe of the Crawfish House.

Or take a look at the oysters enjoyed by RawPepper at Jinpachi. The precision of the presentation reflects the elegant dining at Jinpachi itself.

And from the rustic wood table, hearty slices of bread, and bistro porcelain bowl in this picture of the gazpacho from Le Pain Quotidien, you can see the focus on artisanal breads and the café setting.

But I know how it is. Sometimes you write a review and your camera, which holds that photo you took, is in your car or at the bottom of your bag. No worries. You can easily add the photo later (as well as edit your review) by clicking on the “Edit Your Review” button on the restaurant page of your review.

And as always, please photograph your food responsibly. No flash (which is just rude) and no photos of other people (because you may have eaten at Pink's in Hollywood at 1 a.m. on Saturday night but there are others who may not want the rest of the world to know they were there too).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cantaloop in Culver City!

Frozen yogurt has become such a fad since Pinkberry brought it back into the LA mainstream. Back in the day, it was Penguin's frozen yogurt. They had this great combination of vanilla frozen yogurt, topped with brownies and chocolate fudge. Memories of eating that are reminiscent of most everyone's memories when they were a kid. Running down the street after hearing 'The Entertainer' being blasted in the distance...that knowing feeling and growing excitement that the ice cream truck was coming through.

Froyo was dead for awhile, with Big Chill carving a niche in the West LA market, hitting the young, healthy and attractive bunch. Pinkberry restarted the fad, but with tart yogurt. The fad, becoming more mainstream, forced the likes of Big Chill to come up with a tart flavor when business started to slow.

With the re-emergence of froyo through Pinkberry came dozens of copycats. There are so many, we can't even begin naming them all. But there is one that is not only serving up great tart yogurt flavors, but bringing back the old school flavors of vanilla and chocolate. Cantaloop, with it's newest location in Culver City, is hellbent on serving not only premium tart yogurt, but providing these almost overlooked flavors. We recently had the vanilla yogurt that I could almost swear was vanilla soft serve ice cream. Its texture creamy, its taste not unlike the best vanilla bean ice cream. All with the benefits, and lower calorie count, of yogurt.

For an even better experience, they've created a list of Cantaloop Creations, with a combination very similiar to that of our Penguin's days. We're not certain if the other Cantaloops in LA offer the variety of flavors and combinations, but Cantaloop in Culver City has definitely become a FoodDigger favorite.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dim Sum and Then Some

Dim sum...the phrase itself means to 'touch the heart'. In Cantonese, the meal is more commonly referred to as 'yam cha', or to drink tea. To yam cha, or go eat dim sum, is to experience a myriad of small dishes pushed around on little carts in a busy, and loud, Chinese restaurant.
Historically, the origins of dim sum take us back to the travellers and farmers on the Silk Road. Needing a place to rest, the weary travellers and exhausted farmers would go to teahouses to relax over some tea. It was soon discovered that drinking tea aided in digestion, so teahouse owners began serving small snacks. Dim sum was born.

With the establishment of Chinatown in LA in the late 1800's, dim sum's arrival was a natural progression.

Today, dim sum is offered in Chinese restaurants all over LA. While you can get decent dim sum in West LA or Santa Monica, the best bet for an authentic experience is in Chinatown or Monterey Park. Empress Pavilion and Ocean Seafood in Chinatown offer up amazing dishes of har gow, shu mai and dumplings, to name a few. Empress Harbor and Elite are just two of the many places to go in Monterey Park.

Diners will be pleasantly surprised at the variety of dishes offered. Ladies pushing carts will stop at every table to offer their goods. Just pointing your finger or giving a slight shake of head is all that is needed to order or pass on a cart.

If you've never tried, please do. Our FoodDigger staff believes it's truly an experience that can touch the heart.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mulberry Street Pizzeria – Even a kid could tell you it’s like NY’s

My sister and her husband took their three kids to New York City this past July. My sister is an avid foodie who made sure that along with visits to the American Museum of Natural History, the Met, and Times Square, her kids also had a taste of New York’s famous deli sandwiches, pizza, and Crumbs cupcakes on their trip. Because of my sister’s passion, her kids have developed a particularly sophisticated palate. Her youngest daughter was eating sashimi without any garnishment of wasabi or soy sauce at the early age of four. The other two kids will eat things at yakitori restaurants that I don’t even try, such as, gizzard, heart, liver and cartilage. This is all to give you enough background to appreciate an exchange I had with my sister yesterday about Mulberry’s pizza.

Our staff is particularly fond of Mulberry Street Pizzeria – with many holding the conviction that it is the most authentic New York style pizza in L.A. About a month ago I was at my parents’ house in the Valley and picked up some pizza at Mulberry’s Encino location. As usual, I underestimated the size of their large pizza and was left with two full pizzas for leftovers. I packed them up and put them in my parents’ freezer - making a mental note to grab them the next time I went to visit and bring them home. My sister beat me to it and took it home for her kids. She mentioned to me yesterday that upon eating the reheated Mulberry pizza her eight year old son, Russell, proclaimed: “This tastes just like the pizza we had in New York!”

Well, Russell, our staff would wholeheartedly agree with you.