Saturday, February 23, 2008

Foodie Quote

"I don't even butter my bread; I consider that cooking." - Katherine Cebrian

Ethnic Food Word of the Day

ajo blanco [Spanish] a chilled creamy white soup made with almonds, garlic and bread, garnished with grapes.

Taken from Pocket Dictionary of Ethnic Foods

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chocolate Tasting at Compartes

Walking into Compartes for a chocolate tasting I had set up, I wasn't sure what to expect. For the past few months, I've reading off and on about chocolatier, Jonathan Grahm and was definitely curious as to how someone in his early 20s had already made quite a name for himself in the very competitive world of artisanal chocolate making.

Soon the rest of the group arrived and it was time for Jonathan Grahm to start off our tasting event by giving us some background about himself and Compartes. With his talk, we found out that Compartes was originally owned by Mrs.
Compartes and had been around since 1950. Back then and up to when Jonathan took over, Compartes was more of a traditional candy store than a real chocolate shop. When Jonathan's family, of Bonny Doon Wine fame, purchased the shop, at first they weren't quite sure what to do with it, but at age 19, Jonathan volunteered to take it over and because of his creativity, Compartes reached new heights.

Even at such a tender age, he knew not to completely throw out the old and replace it with everything shining. Compartes' signature line were chocolate dipped fruits, everything from apricots to orange peels, so that stayed and what he added to the mix were truffles and ganaches utilizing exotic combinations of various spices, nuts, fruits, etc. Also, since his passion is dark chocolate, that's generally what Compartes sells.

What impressed me throughout the rest of his talk was how some of his chocolates were limited because he would only make them if he was able to get the ingredients directly from the source. For example, you aren't seeing umeboshi plum truffles until he's actually made a trip to Japan and picked some up to bring home. Now that's dedication to your craft. He finally ended with telling us that at the age of 23, he finally bought the business from his family and now it was really all his. I think that's pretty cool.

Now it's time to taste chocolate and we tried 8 different ones. Here's the run down:

1) Love Nuts (
vanilla roasted and caramelized nuts sprinkled with sea salt, covered with chocolate and dipped in cocoa powder) - There was quite a cornucopia of ingredients, yet the combination of sweet-salty flavors combined with a nice crunch worked well together.

2) Brown Butter and Sage Truffle - Don't ask me why but the ingredients of brown butter and sage reminded me of a roast turkey with stuffing. I wasn't quite sure how it would translate with chocolate, but it did. The nuttiness of the brown butter and the slight peppery kick from the sage really complimented the dark chocolate.

3) Cup of Coffee Truffle - I'm not much of a coffee drinker, so I wasn't expecting much from this truffle. After my first bite, I decided that it should be called Perfect Cup of Coffee Truffle because if coffee tasted like that, I'd probably be drinking (or eating) a lot more of it.

4) Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Peel - I really don't have much to say. It was tasty and of good quality, but too "classic" for my taste.

5) Chocolate Covered Candied Apricot - Ditto.

6) Lavendar Violet Marshallow topped with Sugared Violet Petal - I love lavender and I've had it a few different ways from ice cream to chocolate, but a lavender marshmallow was something quite unique and how can you say no to a lavender marshmallow dipped in dark chocolate? You'd be a stronger person than me. What worried me was that the lavender might be overpowered by the dark chocolate, but it wasn't. The lavender certainly wasn't in your face, but I think the concentration of it was just enough in the marshmallow that you could appreciate it.

7) Bonny Doon Dessert Wine Truffles - These particular truffles were extremely limited in that once all the dessert wine was used for this chocolate recipe, you wouldn't see these particular truffles back on the shelves. I can't quite remember the story, but it had something to do with those dessert wines not being produced anymore, so there was only a small number of them left.

I'm not much of a wine drinker, so while I remember liking it, it didn't stand out as much as some of the other chocolates we sampled.

8) Smoked Salt Truffle - Of the 8, this was my hands down favorite. I've had chocolates sprinkled with sea salt before, but not smoked salt. It was something different. The name of the truffle really describes how it tasted to me - a little smoky, a little salty, but just the right amount of sweet from the dark chocolate somehow balanced all the flavors together.

The range of chocolates we sampled really showed a good example of "traditional" Compartes as well as a more "forward-thinking" Compartes, a company that is willing to take culinary risks, all in the name of chocolate. Throughout the tasting, Jonathan would talk about how he likes to experiment with new ingredients. Here's a hint for you. If you walk into Compartes, look into the display case and if you see chocolates without a label on the front of the tray, more than likely, the "Mad Chocolat
e Scientist" was at work again. If you're feeling brave, ask about those unmarked chocolates. You'll never know what treasure your palate might experience.

After the tasting, Jonathan gave us a tour of his "chocolate factory" with factory being quite a misnomer since it brings to mind automated machines belching out items from a mechanized production line. Instead, all the
chocolates are hand made and hand-dipped in chocolate tempering machines and they're never refrigerated, with the exception of the original line of Stuffed Fruits, where one or more of fruits like grown apricots, dates, figs and prunes are combined with almonds and walnuts.

Overall, it was a great event. Jonathan really impressed me with his passion for what he does. After all, it's obvious that only someone who is quite dedicated and inventive can come up with truffles like Sichimi 7 Spice (Japanese spices), Lemongrass, Olive Oil Vanilla, Peach Rosemary and Raspberry Pink Pepper. Like I said earlier, he's only in his early 20s. I think it'll be amazing to see what else he comes up as he continues to evolve. I, for one, am looking forward to tasting the end results of all his hard work.

To see pics, go to:

Compartes Chocolatier
912 South Barrington Avenue
Brentwood, CA 90049
(310) 826-3380

Compartes on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 18, 2008

Indo Kitchen

Over the years, I've definitely eaten my share of Indonesian food. While I've always enjoyed it, it wasn't until I had dinner at Indo Kitchen one night that I was really wowed. I was there to participate in a "tasting." Someone in our party was going to be hosting a holiday dinner featuring Indonesian dishes and since she didn't have much experience with that cuisine, she wanted some help choosing the right foods to serve. Suffice to say that we had quite a feast - a feast of 14 dishes, believe it or not.

Except for the Beef Rendang, which I found to be lacking in zing, the
majority of the dishes were wonderful, but even then, I definitely had my favorites. Our meal started with Gado Gado which is an Indonesian salad with tofu, egg, veggies, shrimp chips topped with a peanut sauce. Whenever I've had this dish in the past, it's always been a disappointment. I think a lot of it had to do with the sauce. Either the sauce was too thick, too thin and/or just lacked punch. I've also had Gado Gado where it was made up of primarily lettuce which the sauce would make limp. Yuck!

Indo Kitchen's Gado Gado; however, was a hit with me. First, I liked the use of cabbage and other crunchy veggies like bean sprouts and green beans. The eating texture was just so much fun. The peanut sauce was also amazing. Its consistency was just right because it clung to the ingredients as opposed to being absorbed by them. Also, you can definitely tell that more than peanuts went into the sauce, evident by the various spice specks mixed into its liquid goodness, which definitely contributed to a more flavorful kick to your palate.

The other must-try is their Ayum Bumbu which is a crispy seasoned chicken. My oh my! A part of me wonders if they double fry this poultry dish because the crispiness of the skin was beyond words plus after taking your first bite, you may be an addict for life. How can you not be addicted to a food that is coated with ground spices, nuts and garlic and than deep fried? Those little crispy bits that were falling onto my plate as I bit into my chicken leg were quickly picked up with slightly oily fingertips, also to be consumed. They were just that tasty and not to be wasted.

With my Filipino palate, I always enjoy more sour and tart foods. In fact, my favorite Filipino soup is called Sinigang which usually is made up of a tamarind-based broth. At Indo Kitchen, you can order their Tamarind Soup. After doing some online research, I discovered that young tamarind tends to be more on the tart side and I can definitely say that describes Sinigang to a tee; however, ripened tamarind, while still retaining some sourness, is also sweeter. Now I know why my first spoonful of the Tamarind Soup was so surprising. Instead of the tartness, I got to enjoy a different flavor profile of the tamarind which I've never experienced before: sweet and sour.

The other dish that made my evening was the Tahu Campur, which is egg with tofu and cabbage in a peanut dressing. The Tahu Campur was actually a pretty simple dish with the egg, made into an omelet, covering the tofu and cabbage on the plate, but I liked how the omelet was browned and a little crispy at the edges. Add the crunchy cabbage, the spongy tofu plus the awesome peanut sauce, also used in the Gado Gado we had previously and what you get is an egg dish that you, more than likely, won't see in your local Denny's.

As for dessert, we three different kinds, but the Ice Cendol which includes mung bean jelly in palm sugar and coconut milk, was what put a smile on my face. I could easily see myself downing the Ice Cendol on a hot summer day, but even in what California classifies as winter, this dessert drink is still a sweet way to end your meal.

Overall, I really enjoyed Indo Kitchen and am looking forward to a return visit so that I can do even more Indonesian Cuisine exploring.

To see pics, go to:

Indo Kitchen
5 N 4th St

Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 282-1676

Indo Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ethnic Food Word of the Day

ajo / ah'-ho / [Spanish, other] garlic.

Taken from Pocket Dictionary of Ethnic Foods

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Dim Sum of the Month Club" at New Capital Seafood

Next up for the "Dim Sum of the Month Club" was New Capital Seafood in Rowland Heights! Awhile back, I read about this tasty dim sum restaurant from Elmomonster's Blog, Monster Munching and ever since then, I really wanted to check it out and I finally got my chance.

To start, New Capital is extreme
ly busy, but even though there were people packed like sardines both in front of the restaurant and inside the waiting room, our group of 10 didn't have to wait too long before we got seated. Once we got to our table, the onslaught started. Those carts came from everywhere, from the left, from the right, etc. I wouldn't have been surprised if they even floated from the ceiling. Of course, at the first sight of steaming dishes, we pounced.

Considering that all the dim sum dishes were under $2, it was easy to get carried away. When the dust settled, we had ordered 19 savory dishes and 5 desserts, with multiple orders of most of them, adding up to over 50 dishes. Even with tax and tip, our group of ten each paid only $13. Yes, $13! I had to re-calculate just to make sure that I didn't make a mistake. You may think that with such a value, the food may not have been as up to par, but in this case, you'd be mistaken.

While I liked some items better than others, for the most part, everything that was served to us was pretty good. Some of my favorites included the Chiu Chow Dumplings, which had a nice crunchy vegetable filling and the breaded shrimp paste with sugar cane inserts with its light crispy texture on the outside. Other items I'd want to order again were the mini burgers which had a pork patty topped with crisp cabbage, the steamed fish paste that was stuffed partially into what I think was bitter melon and also the leek/chive dumplings.

As for what was more forgettable, I'd say that both the BBQ and steamed pork buns were nothing that special. Generally, I'd rather skip them myself and go for more of the unique items, but I can also understand why like a pair of comfortable shoes, people may want to have dishes that are familiar before diving into foods that are more unrecognizable to the eyes and the palate.

Overall, New Capital Seafood became one of my favorite Dim Sum places that morning. When you consider price, value and quality, you really do get a bang for your buck. Also, the sheer variety of dishes was amazing. Even as we were standing up and walking away from the table, I saw foods coming out of the kitchen that weren't present earlier. I was almost tempted to sit back down for more dim sum, but reason prevailed. For those of you on the Westside, Rowland Heights may be quite a trip to make, but if you're in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop by. You may find that New Capital Seafood may actually be worth the drive anyway.

To see pics, go to:

New Capital Seafood
1330 Fullerton Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 581-9813

Friday, February 01, 2008

"The Great Burger Quest" at The Counter

Time for the next outing for "The Great Burger Quest" and this time, I found myself at The Counter in Santa Monica. Having heard how busy this restaurant gets, I had my dining group meet me at least half an hour before they opened. While waiting, a couple of us started chatting with two other customers who actually drove from Bakersfield just because they had a burger craving specifically at The Counter. After hearing that, my expectations shot through the roof. That's long drive just for a meat patty in a bun. Those burgers must be stellar.

Finally, the doors opened and we swarmed in. Before we
were even seated, we were given a "Build a Burger Sheet" to help us customize our burger. So what was the first choice? Simply, burger or Burger in a Bowl? Craving carbs, I pooh-poohed the whole bowl thing and went for those carbohydrates. Of course, my hips and the rest of my body weren't too happy, but I decided to appease them with choosing lots of healthy toppings. The key word being "lots." You'll get what I mean later.

Now that I settled on a hamburger with an actual bun, I had 10 different cheeses to choose from. Cheesehead that I was, I had to restrain myself and finally settled on the Gruyere and Horseradish Cheddar. Then came the plethora of choices for toppings, about 24 that were listed. My eyes glazed over and my head started pounding. What to get, what to get. Of course, self-restraint wasn't in my vocabulary, so I went for the lettuce blend, the roasted corn and black bean salsa, an avocado and shhhhh....don't tell anyone, but topping that all off was a fried egg.

Ok, toppings done and jeeze, now I have to pick a sauce, too? All right, the winner was the ginger soy glaze and to complete my burger, my choice of bread was a honey wheat bun. Of course, you can't have a burger without deep fried dill pickles or sweet potato fries and how can you resist a peanut butter shake?

After we turned in our orders, we sat down to chit chat before our meal arrived and let me tell you, that early meet time paid off, because within a half an hour after opening, almost every booth and chair were taken. First to arrive were the sweet potato fries, regular fries and deep fried dill pickles and we happily nibbled on those until our burgers arrived. I definitely liked the sweet potato fries. I found them light and crunchy and but still prefer the sweet potato fries at Father's Office, which I felt had really good seasoning.

As for the deep fried dill pickles, well, it just wasn't my thing. Pickles to me should be cold and crunchy and somehow, hot battered pickle chips just seemed wrong, very wrong, in fact. My peanut butter shake arrived soon after and I have to say that it was the most disappointing shake I've ever had. I hardly tasted any peanut butter at all. Even when you look at the picture, it actually looks like a vanilla shake.

Finally, the burgers arrived. When my plate was placed before me, I felt sorry for my burger. The poor thing was stuffed to the gills with all the toppings I ordered and when I put the top bun on top, it looked like the "Leaning Tower of Burger." Thar she blows...over, that is. So I took my knife, cut it in half and finally took a bite.

As I was chewing away, the words "Less is More" came to mind. While all the ingredients separately were tasty, I don't think my choices in ingredients had flavors that complemented each other as well as they could have. Plus there was just too much. I went overboard and then some. The beef patty itself was fine. I found the quality to be good. The meat could have been a bit juicier, but still I was more than happy with that part of my burger. In general, I think it would have been a better burger for me if I focused on just one or two toppings and one cheese as opposed to the hodgepodge I had.

Upon reflection, it's difficult to include The Counter Burger in a side-by-side burger comparison. Whereas, other restaurants have burgers with specific ingredients each and every time, your burger at The Counter will change with your mood. There's never really going to be a complete consistency in the flavors of your ingredients. Given that, I feel that The Counter should just be judged on its own merits.

On that note, restraint, people restraint! What's cool about "Building Your Own Burger" is simply that you can build your own burger. Whatever foodie whims you have at the moment, you're free to indulge in. That's definitely the Counter's appeal. Choose whatever interesting combination of ingredients you like, but remember, 8 ingredients won't necessarily make your burger better. After all, what you don't try today, you can certainly try at your next visit.

To see pics, go to:

The Counter
2901 Ocean Park Blvd # 102
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 399-8383

Counter on Urbanspoon