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

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stone Cold Sober at 3 Drunken Goats

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats 

Maybe not as bad as Stone Cold, but doesn't that title sound better than just Cold Sober at 3 Drunken Goats? Anyway, before I really get into my dining experience at this new tapas restaurant in Montrose, I want to mention that my visit was during a soft opening, which basically meant that there were still kinks being worked out before this eatery could find its footing. So even though my thoughts on 3 Drunken Goats may not be overwhelmingly positive, that doesn't mean that a later visit would not yield a meal more worthy of praise.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

On that note, I'll go ahead and start. When my friend first told me about a restaurant called 3 Drunken Goats, I actually laughed because I didn't believe that was the actual name of the restaurant, but after Googling it later on, I saw that I shouldn't have doubted her even for a second; however, I really didn't find out where that restaurant name came from until I read a recent Yelp review. Basically, the "3" refers to Chef Jason Micheaud from Cobras and Matadors, Owner Brandon Kim and General Manager, Daniel Sevilla. "Drunken Goats" is an artisan goat's milk cheese from Jumilla, Spain that gets its irresistible name from its seventy-two hour soak in Doble Pasta wine before being aged for a couple of months. So there you have it, the mystery of the unusual restaurant name solved.

Walking into the restaurant, I really liked the dark brown color palette. To my right was a small wine retail area and to my left was the bar. In front of me was the main dining room and to the back, the kitchen was open to anyone who wanted to take a look at the action. It wasn't very full so we were seated really quickly. The first thing we noticed was the glass candle holder which was a bit spotty. It's not a big deal by any means, but I would think presentation is important, even when it comes to candle holders Then my friend was given a water glass with lipstick on it. Granted, when she told our waiter, he did replace it with a new glass, but what stuck in my head was if a glass with a lipstick stain was able to get out of the kitchen on a night when only a quarter of the restaurant was full, what happens when it's packed to the gills? Something to think about.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

Finally, we placed our order of 7 different tapas. While we were waiting for our first course, we somehow got a sampling of the corn chowder. Unfortunately, it was a bit lukewarm and it also wasn't that flavorful. We were hoping that it wasn't an omen of things to come.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

Then our first dish arrived, but before we even really got a chance to sample it, the other 6 dishes arrived in quick succession, both cold and hot items. What the heck??? Generally, tapas are something that should be paced: cold before hot and arriving at the table one by one allowing for some time between the courses. I looked around expecting to see a huge crowd anxiously waiting to be seated. Why else would they give us everything at once, if not to hurry us along to accommodate all these starving people. But no, the restaurant was still fairly empty. I just didn't get it. Well, all the food was before us so we just dug in.

While eating our way through the 7 dishes we ordered, I didn't find anything spectacular about any of them or I may have liked some of them better if not for a component of the dish that didn't work for me. For example, there was the Belgian Endive with Grilled Radicchio, Almonds and Apples. Belgian Endive can be a bit bitter and pairing it with radicchio, also a bitter leaf vegetable just didn't work at all. However, the sweetness of the apple and the nuttiness of the almonds were the perfect counterpart for the Belgium endive and was a much more successful combination.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

Then there was the Mussels with Chorizo, Protocolo Wine and Fingerling Potatoes, which I found to be a little salty, both the broth and the mussels themselves. I don't think I've ever had salty mussels before. I found out later that there were two types of chorizo in this dish, one that was more on the sweet side and the other which wasn't as sweet. Definitely, more of the former and less of the latter would have made a tastier dish.
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Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

The Braised Pork Shank with Onion Confit could have easily been one of two possible favorite dishes of the evening. The meat was meltingly tender, but it didn't have much flavor. Also the bread it was sitting on became mushy because the dish was sitting there for awhile before we got to it; whereas, if it had been properly coursed out, the bread still would have been crispy.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

As for the other dish which would have been a home run, the Pan Roasted Striped Bass with Fennel Two Ways had a lot going for it. First, there was lots of oomph to the palate that was missing in the pork shank. The fish meat was tasty and I also enjoyed the two different fennel presentations; however, while I totally loved how the fish skin was left on and enjoyed its crispiness, the skin was also a bit salty.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

I do have to say that my dining partner absolutely loved the Bacon Wrapped Dates with Chorizo. For me, it's a preference thing. I like the smaller, less meaty dates and I found these dates to be too big and a little mushy, but at least, out of the 7 we had, there was at least one dish that someone found perfection in.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

When all was said and done, I was pretty disappointed in my overall meal and although I knew that this was a soft opening for 3 Drunken Goats, I wasn't sure if I wanted to make a return visit. However, two things changed my mind. First, let's talk desserts. We shared two, the Queen Nut Cake and Housemade Churros. The Queen Nut Cake had great flavors, nutty and with a hint of citrus from the zest mixed into the batter, but was a bit dry; however, the addition of some chocolate sauce that came with our Churros on top of the cake made a wonderfully tasty difference.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

As for the churros, wow, they were some of the best I've ever had: light, crispy and just the right amount of sugar for sweetness, but not to the nth degree. Honestly, the churros were so good on their own, the chocolate sauce was just an after thought.

Dinner at 3 Drunken Goats

Second, as we were walking out of the restaurant, we ran into the Chef Micheaud and Owner, Brandon Kim taking a break. Earlier, we had mentioned to Brandon about the spotty candle holder, the lipstick on the water glass and also that the coursing of the meal was way off, all of which he took in stride.

When asked what we thought of our meal, my friend and I didn't hold anything back. What was cool is that Chef Micheaud really listened and even talked through adjustments he could make to improve some of the dishes For example, he mentioned adding more sweet chorizo to help lessen the saltiness of the Mussels dish. He talked about creating some kind of citrus sauce to top the Queen Nut Cake with that will complement the orange zest already in the cake plus give it some moisture.

Now I don't know if any of these things he mentioned were actually implemented since I haven't made gone back yet, but I really appreciated Chef Micheaud's willingness to take our critique seriously and without any type of prima donna attitude. I think that's really admirable and speaks well of Chef Micheaud. Although I wasn't very satisifed with the food, the to die for housemade churros and a Chef who's willing to listen to his patrons is definitely worth a return visit to this very memorably named restaurant. After all, how can you resist a restaurant called 3 Drunken Goats?

3 Drunken Goats
2256 Honolulu Ave
Montrose, CA 91020
Neighborhood: Glendale
(818) 249-9950

Three Drunken Goats on Urbanspoon ^

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sizzle and Fizzle at Hunan Seafood Restaurant

A couple of years ago I had my first experience with Hunan cuisine at Hunan's Restaurant in Alhambra. Overall, it was a tasty foray into this new food and I was looking forward to trying more. Unfortunately, several months later, it burned down, but like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Hunan's Restaurant re-invented itself as Hunan's Seafood Restaurant and moved from Alhambra to Rosemead.

For my dining group's second return, we opted to share 8 dishes. Of the 8, only one really knocked my socks off, one in a "Damn, this is so hot, my lips are burning" kind of way, but also in a "Damn, this is hot, but it's so good, I can't stop eating it" way. So what's the name of that dish? It's the House Special Lamb Rib with Spicy Sauce. All you have to do is look at it to see why it's so incendiary.

First, the lamb ribs are completely covered with a mound of red peppers and than there are the
seeds and I'm talking chili seeds plus the peppercorns. Yikes! At first, I thought everything was for show, but one bite of my lamb rib and I knew that this was one show that wasn't going to have a closing night. It was such a hit at our table, we actually placed another order for it. Suffice to say, we were gluttons for punishment.

As for the other menu items, there was a running theme among some of them that bothered me a lot. For example, the Clams with Black Bean Hot Sauce was the first to land on our table. The slight saltiness of the black bean sauce along with its heat went well with the clams, at least when there were clams. I'd say 1/3, if not more of the shells were empty of clam meat. The House Special Chicken with Hot Sauce paired well with the earthy mushrooms that came with this dish, but the chicken itself was quite bony. Forget "Where's the Beef?" It was more about "Where's the Chicken?"

The Steamed Hunan-Style Fresh Fish that I absolutely was gaga over at Hunan's Restaurant stilled packed lots of flavor punch, but was about half the size of what I had before and like the chicken, the fish was too bony and didn't have enough meat to it. Even as we were digging into the lamb ribs, I almost like using a shovel so that we could find that meaty goodness underneath all the peppers. It wasn't as if I was expecting a lion's p
ortion of food, but how can bony chicken and fish and half-empty clams be acceptable by any restaurant standard unless you're a restaurant that cares more for the bottom line than feeding your customers and making them happy.

As for the rest of our menu for the evening, the Stir-Fried String Bean and Ground Pork was nothing spectacular, but at least, the restaurant was generous with the beans. I found the Steamed Hunan Ham we ordered to be a little too salty for my palate, which is a problem I had with in the past with other dishes that I tried at Hunan's Restaurant. The Boiled Fish with Hot Sauce was a bit of a mystery. It looked like a soup intially, but the "sauce" was actually very oily. Some of the group just ate a little bit of the fish and left it at that. I actually poured that sauce over my white rice and ate the fish with it. The rice became a little greasy; yet, it worked for me.

For the most part, I enjoyed the flavors of the food. Those lamb ribs were spectacular, but for a restaurant to be so spare and scant in the meat portions of some of their dishes, it doesn't serve themselves well and literally, doesn't serve their customers well either. Maybe, I'll make my way back to Hunan Seafood again, but for now, there are still so many other restaurants to check out that it'll probably take another year or two before I do a return visit.

To see pics, go to:

Hunan Seafood
8772 E. Valley Blvd.
Rosemead, CA 91772
(626) 289-8389

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Joy at Izayoi

Having experienced eating tapas-style in the past, my first foray into izakaya dining was at Izayoi in Little Tokyo. For those of you who didn't know, the name "izakaya" is a compound word consisting of "i " (to remain) and "sakaya" (sake shop), showing that izakaya originates from sake shops where a night out consisted of dining on bar food in between bouts of sake and beer, very similar to the concept of eating tapas paired with wines. Since I'm not actually much of a drinker, it was all about the food and for our meal, we sampled 15 different dishes, from salads all the way to dessert. Being a first-timer, Izayoi has definitely set a pretty high standard for future izakaya outings because except for 2 or 3 items that were just so-so, everything I had was extremely tasty.

First to arrive was the Cooked Broccoli Served Chilled with Spicy Cod Roe Dressing. This dish was pretty straightforward but I really enjoyed how the sweet and tangy onions along with the slight salty-heat of the dressing added great flavors to a vegetable that a lot of restaurants normally cook to an unappetizing mushy mess. Along with the broccoli came the Mustard Greens and Fried Bean Curd Tossed with Sesame Dressing, which was fresh and even re-freshing. Both were great starters for the meal to come.

A couple of dishes later, the Homemade Tofu with Ground Sesame Paste landed on our table. At first, it didn't look very appetizing. I kept thinking about camouflage colors every time I looked at it. After a few bites, I did end up appreciating how the fairly creamy tofu absorbed both the nuttiness and a tinge of bitterness from the sesame sauce for a duet of flavors that somehow worked well
together. The Steamed Clams with Sake Broth also hit the spot. Though not a hearty soup, it's a bowl of goodness, tasty and light, that would be great to have on a chilly evening when you're not in the mood for a heavy meal.

Something that else that stood out for me was the egg custard presented in a tea cup with a little wooden spoon. It was a perfect complement to a meal with ts fair share of grilled and deep fried items. Both creamy and silky, it helped give our taste buds a rest in between courses and in a way, was a great palate cleanser as well.

Other delicious offerings from Izayoi were the Garlic Sauteed Scallops and Mushrooms, though a tad oily, still packed a lot garlicky punch while the Miso Eggplant was on the other end of the flavor spectrum because of the delicate sweetness of its miso glaze. Overall, most of the dishes we sampled were quite stellar, but there were those 2, even 3 items that did disappoint.

First, there were the tempura squid legs. The tempura wasn't light or crispy. In fact, I found it to be a bit heavy. What I also found unappealing is that when trying to take a bite out of the squid legs, the whole thing literally came out of the tempura. I felt like a cat in front of an aquarium looking perfectly innocent while a part of a fish was hanging out of its mouth. Get the picture? The whole squid leg section was just too big to have been fried because there was certainly no way anyone could eaten the whole thing in one bite. Second and third actually because both the Miso Duck and Ponzu Grilled Chicken had the same problem. Both meats were a little too over cooked and as a result, a little chewy.

In the end, to have only 3 out of 15 items not quite come up to par, definitively speaks well of Izayoi. People have told me that izakaya food actually tastes better with sake and/or beer, but in my book, Izayoi's food really doesn't need any further enhancement. Their menu can definitely stand on its own merit.

To see pics, go to:

132 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-9554

Izayoi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 04, 2008

One Dish Quickie at El Zarape

My one dish quickie at El Zarape was the Beef Chile Colorado with rice and beans. Although I did have chips and salsa beforehand, I don't count that as an entree, so we'll skip over that and go straight to my main dish. First, let's talk about the sides. While I tend to avoid refried beans, the addition of the cheese definitely gave it more appeal, so thumbs up! The Mexican rice was a little dry and didn't have much flavor, so thumbs down!

As for the Beef Chile Colorado itself, there were definite positives. The red chili sauce was wonderful. It had lots of flavor and just the right amount of heat. The meat was tender and moist. Overall, it would have been a real hit, except for one thing. It was just a tad salty, not so salty that it was inedible, but just enough that kept me from enjoying my eating experience wholeheartedly.

So what's the verdict? Based on just one dish, I wouldn't say that El Zarape is a place I'd go out of my way to visit, but if I were in the neighborhood, I might be willing to give it another try and this time, I'd ask for a lighter touch with the salt.

To see all the pics, go to:

El Zarape Grill
1601 S. Mountain Avenue
Monrovia, CA 91016

El Zarape Grill on Urbanspoon