Friday, May 30, 2008

"Got Milk?" Campaign with Milk

One day, I received an email invitation to attend the Got Milk Open House at Milk, Chef Bret Thompson's eatery in Los Angeles. It certainly wasn't a reach as to why these two got together. I'm just surprised it took so long. The purpose of the Open House was to introduce milk-based recipes developed by Chef Thompson to be featured as exclusive summer treats on the Got Milk website and for invitees to do a tasting of those recipes. I've always been curious about Milk, especially after having heard repeatedly how wonderful their ice cream bars were, but I just hadn't had any opportunity to stop by yet. Strangely enough, a couple of weeks after the invite, I dined with friends at a nearby restaurant and since we were in the neighborhood, I swung on over to get a preview.

Once I stepped into Milk and looked at the menu board, I was a little surprised. I thought that Milk primarily was an ice cream/dessert shop and yet, on the menu board were everything from salads to soups to sandwiches, but after having already filled up at dinner, the only thing on my mind was something sweet. After "oohing" and "ahhhing" over the cuteness of the cupcakes in a cone and puzzling over what was making the blue velvet cake "blue", I was finally torn between the rose ice cream sandwich and the butterscotch banana ice cream bar, but the ice cream bar prevailed.

When I finally got the bar in my greedy little hands, the first word that came to my mind was "big." That ice cream bar was quite substantial. I wasn't even sure I'd finish half of it, but somehow I did. I loved how the ice cream had a fresh banana taste to it, almost like eating a frozen banana. While I liked the butterscotch covering, especially with the nuts, I would have liked it just a little thinner so it would have been easier to bite into it without the butterscotch breaking off each and every time.

Overall, I could see why people raved about the ice cream bars. I also managed to take home whoopie pies, which had a lovely fluffy marshmallow filling and lemon bars, which I thought were a bit too tart for my taste, but okay overall. After my initial visit, I was definitely looking forward to the Got Milk Open House.

Finally, the day arrived and after having checked in and given a raffle ticket, I walked into Milk and was immediately greeted with my first tasting, the Savory Butternut Squash Soup. I absolutely loved this soup. I've had butternut squash soup once or twice in the past that seemed too candied; yet, Chef Thompson's version definitely had other flavor nuances. I checked out the recipe and saw that he included ingredients like onion, bay leaf and lemon juice, which definitely added a wonderful richness, at the same cutting down the sweetness of this soup.

While we were all sipping our soup, Tatum Wan, a representative of RL Public Relations, welcomed us, many of whom were bloggers, to Milk and than introduced Chef Bret Thompson, owner of Milk, and Steve James, Executive Director of the CMPB (California Milk Processor Board). Chef Thompson talked briefly about his recipes and about how they were all hand-made and Mr. James talked a little about the Got Milk campaign and how they ended up partnering with Chef Thompson. Apparently, Chef Thompson will be helping to promote this partnership by serving as a spokesperson in some upcoming media events that will happening all over California. After the brief introduction and a message that they will be raffling some prizes towards the event, we went back to our tasting.

Soon after the soup, the other 6 items came out in quick succession and believe me, my taste buds were ready for action. I don't quite remember the order that everything came out in, so next, I'll just talk about the other savory item on our tasting menu, which was the Cornbread with a Raspberry Jelly and Whole Corn Kernel Filling. After my last extremely disappointing corn bread experience at a soul food restaurant in recent months, I had high hopes and they were met and in fact, exceeded my expectations by Chef Thompson. Teenage Gluster said it best when he described the corn bread as tender and cloud-like. I'm more of a restaurant goer than a cook, but even I felt inspired (almost) to break out the pots and pans just so I can have a taste of this recipe whenever I wanted. Of everything we sampled, this corn bread was my absolute favorite of the bunch.

Now on to the sweet stuff. First, the Ice Blended Green Tea, which was quite refreshing, but there was really nothing that unique about it. The cuteness factor came to play (remember the cupcakes in the ice cream cones?) when the Banana Dulce de Leche Ice Cream was served in miniature ice cream cones. The banana ice cream, just like the ice cream bar I had on my first visit, tasted like fresh bananas and considering that the recipe calls for fresh banana pulp, it's easy to see why.

As for the Milky Way Malt, I was digging the blending of the vanilla ice cream, the chocolate and caramel syrups and the rest of the ingredients, but one thing was missing, the malt. I didn't really taste any malt at all. On its own as a Milky Way Shake, it would have been just fine, but as a malt, it was missing all that malty goodness.

The cuteness radar reared its again when the mini Arroz Con Leche Ice Cream Sandwich was
being served. My friend who came with me really enjoy the textures of the crispy macaroon and the creamy ice cream. As for me, it's more of a preference thing. My perfect ice cream sandwich is ice cream put between two soft, chewy cookie halves, preferably either chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies. I did enjoy the ice cream itself. With hints of cinnamon and vanilla, I almost felt like I was eating a frozen Horchata drink, but the crisp macaroon cookies themselves were just not for me.

When it came to my favorite Chef Thompson sweet creation, it had to be the Berry Tres Leches Cake. One word. WOW! For those of you who didn't know, Tres Leches is a sponge cake that is soaked in three different kinds milk: condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk, which can make for a rich, but if done wrong, dessert that can be way too sweet. What's unique about this recipe is that Chef Thompson purees blueberries and than strains the juices into the milk mixture. How ingenious. Not only do you get great antioxidants from the blueberries, its tartness adds a unique flavor nuance to the tres leches cake.

By the way, remember how I had mentioned the blue velvet cake earlier? I was thinking that it was probably just chocolate caked dyed blue. Isn't that the process with red velvet cake? It turns out that there isn't any chocolate at all in the blue velvet cake. Like the Berry Tres Leches Cake, blue puree was used in the blue velvet cake.

I also chatted for a while with Chef Thompson about how long it takes for him to develop recipes, to which he replied "37 minutes." Hmmm...not even a round number. He elabor
ated by generally saying that when it comes to recipes, you don't really have to re-invent the wheel. Sometimes, all it takes is getting a recipe and just tweaking it and making minor changes and voila, the dish is something just a little different. When I asked him about what inspires his Milk menu, he mentioned that Milk is all about American Cuisine, but he's also influenced by the ethnic diversity to be had in Los Angeles or even in his own personal/working life. For example, the rose ice cream sandwich came about because his partner is of Middle Eastern descent.

Overall, this was a fun tasting event and it was a great reminder of the different ways we can incorporate milk in our cooking and in our diet, from something as simple as an ice blended drink to something that may take a little more effort like a tres leches cake. In the end, "milk truly can do a body good" so it's important to get your daily allowance, but if that liquid goodness can come, every once in awhile, in the form of heavenly berry tres leches cake, that's even better.

As for Chef Thompson's Milk restaurant, if his delicious desserts are any indication of how good the rest of his menu is, than I'm definitely looking forward to having a meal there one day.

To see pics, go to:

7290 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 939-6455

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