Sunday, July 27, 2008

One Dish Quickie at Spitz

Don't you have those days sometimes when you're kind of hungry, but not really, when you don't know what you want to eat, but know what you don't want to eat? You know? Those kind of days? Well, I was having one of those days when I stopped by for dinner with a friend at Spitz, self-proclaimed Home of the Döner Kebab in Eagle Rock. For those of you who don't know, the Döner Kebab is a Turkish dish made of meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order. The meat may be lamb, mutton, beef, goat or chicken. Anyway, after perusing the menu, nothing was really grabbing my attention, but the hollow spot in my stomach wanted to be filled. Finally, I settled for the The Döner Plate.

So what's the Döner Plate? It's practically everything but the kitchen sink. The ingredients were as follows: mixed chicken and half-lamb/half-beef on a bed of sweet potato fries and topped with Tzaziki and chili sauce. It's also served with lettuce, onion, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, Feta cheese, pepperocini, Kalamata olives as well as falafel balls, hummus and two lightly fried pita chips. I'm getting exhausted just reading through all the ingredients. In my head, I was just thinking that with all these choices, I'm bound to find something tasty that would satisfy my hungry, yet not hungry self.

Finally, it landed on my tab
le and my, oh my, what a cornucopia of ingredients. There was a lot to this dish so I decided to just dig in and worked my way from top to bottom. First, the pita chips were light and crispy and dipped in the hummus were a tasty combo, while the falafel, being a bit dry though had some nice flavor, also went well with the hummus. The lettuce was crisp and both the lettuce and tomatoes were really fresh. The salt of the olives and the dill topped Feta cheese mixed well with the veggies.

Before digging my way down, I enjoyed the papery thinness of the chicken and felt it was seasoned just right. Further down into the dish, the lamb and beef were quite salty. At first, I thought it was just me, but my friend had ordered the Classic Döner sandwich with a half beef/half lamb mixture and also found it over salted. I eventually made my way all the way to the bottom where the sweet potato fries resided. Light and crunchy, they were the highlight of the whole dish.

Since this Döner Plate was really made for two, I barely even made a dent in it. What I did have was okay. For the most part, it satisfied my weird on-off physical hunger. Maybe, if there was something extraordinary about the meat, which is really what Spitz's bread and butter is all about, I would have felt my palate hunger for something to tantalize my taste buds realized and it would have broken me out of my foodie funk. Alas, it wasn't to be.

Would I go back based on this one dish? I wouldn't make a special trip to Spitz, but if I was in the neighborhood and if I was in a better foodie mood, I might stop by to give it another shot. This time, I would definitely go for something much simpler than the every ingredient Döner Plate.

To see pics, go to:

2506 Colorado Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 257-5600

Spitz on Urbanspoon

No Standing Ovation for the "Cooking by Hand" Dinner at Ford's Filling Station

I don't often go to special restaurant events just because generally the cost of attending one is equivalent to several dim sum and/or ethnic food outings, which tends to be my foodie passion anyway. However, thanks to a friend's kindness as well as a little good karma that came my way, I got invited to the "Cooking By Hand" Dinner at Ford's Filling Station with a menu designed by Chef Ben Ford, Chef Neal Fraser of Grace and BLD and Chef Gino Angelini of Angelini's Osteria and La Terza. Impressive line-up, don't you think?

The "Cooking by Hand" six-course menu wa
s created with the idea that all the food would be primarily handcrafted using strictly seasonal ingredients. By handcrafted, it's mortar and pestle instead of an electric grinder and it's a hand-cranked ice cream maker as opposed to an electric one and so on. Apparently, this back to the basics kind of cooking was intended to inspire discussion which the chefs were supposed to lead about what it means to taking cooking "slow" and literally putting a little bit of muscle into it.

Unfortunately, the discussion didn't happen. While Chef Ford gave a little speech about the theme of the evening before the meal, no inspired discussion really followed. I think it just had a lot to do with the crowd. They were more here to grub than chit chat about the food's preparation, but at the very least, if the menu itself had a description about what hand craft methods were used to create the dish, that could have at least been a subject for discussion at the various tables.

By the way, just a quick backwards, before we even sat down to our main dinner, we were served 3 different appetizers first: a tomato soup, a sturgeon confit on toast and steak tartare on housemade potato chip. The tomato soup was at room temperature and the crouton inside the soup was a bit jarring or should I say hard? I'm not sure if the soup was meant to be hot or not, but regardless, it was too tangy for my taste. The other apps weren't memorable in flavor, but at least had a nice presentation.

So let's get on to our six c
ourse menu that started with Chef Angelini's salt cod served two ways: one as a Baccalà Mantecato and other with Tomato, Arugula, Roasted Pine Nuts and Raisins. The Baccalà Mantecato is salt cod fish that's creamed with milk, salt, pepper and other ingredients. It was a nice starter dish that was light and creamy and not too fishy. As for the salt cod salad, although I found it overdressed, I surprisingly liked the slight chewy texture of the fish itself and with it being a pretty mild fish, it paired well with the peppery arugula.

Next up was Chef Ford's Summer Cassoulet, which was made up of beans, Tuscan black kale, duck confit and bread crumbs. First, I really liked how the kale was fried. It had crispy, slightly bitter taste to it that I enjoyed a lot. As for the cassoulet itself, I felt that it was just okay. Not bad. Not outstanding. I appreciated how the duck added a nice hit of fattiness to the beans, but other than that, everything felt a tad under seasoned for my taste.

The highlight of the meal for me was our next course, a family recipe of Chef Angelini's, and that was the Lasagne Verde "Ommagio Nonna Elvira". Ingredients for this dish included fried spinach, spinach lasagna with a beef and veal ragu. Liked the fried kale, the crispy texture of the fried spinach was a definite hit. As for the dish as a whole, it was perfect in every way. The pasta was just right, not too firm, but also not too soft. The beef and veal ragu added a meaty richness that balanced well with the fresh flavor of the spinach. Of everything we ate that night, this is the one dish that I hope to actually show up on the Angelini Osteria menu (if it hasn't already), just so I can have a second chance to enjoy it.

As for the next couple of dishes, both came from Chef Fraser and unfortunately, I was not a fan. First up from him was his Pig in a Box, so called because it was cooked in a La Caja China Box earlier in the day. The pig was portioned out and served with spaetzle in a peach mustard drizzle. My disappointment mainly had to do with me getting a more fatty section of the pig plus I didn't get any crispy skin. The meat, while moist, was way too chewy. I did like the peach mustard because it gave a nice zing of fruity-spice to the meat and thank goodness, since it was quite under seasoned.

Then out came the Beef Cheek Daube with seasonal mushrooms. The meat was meltingly fork-tender, but that was the only thing I really liked. What bothered me was the sauce. It had a strange tangy/bitter after taste that I couldn't get past and the flavors didn't work with the woodsiness of the mushrooms. One of my dining companions mentioned that she thought that there was orange zest in the sauce and that may be that was contributing to the tangy/bitterness I was tasting. Our waitress confirmed the orange zest, but regardless of whether the orange zest was the culprit or not, this was my least favorite dish of the night.

Finally, it was time for dessert. To get in the spirit of using handcraft methods to create food, Chef Ford actually had two rotating hand-cranked ice cream makers circulating the restaurant. Almost everyone got a turn at that crank and in fact, contributed to the making of our ice cream with fresh peaches. Perhaps because of the work we all put it into or it there's something to be said for cooking by hand, that ice cream was one of the best I've ever had. Refreshing and oh-so-creamy, it was the best way to end the meal. One thing I wanted to note was it surprised me that the peaches were a little salty, but according to Chef Ford, by adding a little salt to the peaches, it helps balance the ice cream so that it doesn't taste over sweet. It's a trick he learned while cooking in Spain.

Even with highlights like Chef Angelini's lasagne dish and Chef Ford's housemade ice cream, this wasn't the best meal I've ever had. It lacked consistency. It ranged from okay to good to fabulous to dishes I rather would have just skipped altogether. But I got to spend time with two fun foodie friends and sometimes, that's what makes the meal more than the meal itself.

To see pics, go to:

Ford's Filling Station
9531 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tasting Extravaganza at Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato

When Cecilia, one of the organizers of my dining group went into Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato to see if she could set up an ice cream tasting for Pleasure Palate, little did she know at the time that it was going to snowball into a tasting extravaganza. Apparently, Cecilia came in at the perfect time. Executive Chef Roxanne Gin, of Glacier, had been contemplating adding salads, sandwiches and soups to the menu and what better way to get feedback on her recipes than from a bunch of passionate foodies. So on one of Saturday afternoon, 16 of us walked in and by the time it was all said and done, 16 of us had to be rolled out.

Our afternoon started off simply enough with bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and a couple of basic salads: Caesar and Cobb. While we were sampling these items, Chef Gin gave us a little info about Glacier Ice Cream and Gelato, which by the way, was selected as one of America's Best Ice Cream Stores by Forbes Traveler Magazine. Glacier actually started in Colorado and just opened another location in Manhattan Beach. Lucky us! We also learned a little more about Chef Gin, who has been a chef for over 20 years. Along with ice cream, Chef Gin creates desserts (petit-fours) for cruise lines, the Fresh & Easy stores as well as various high end hotels.

The salads, while fresh, didn't really have any wow factor, but the two soups that followed were quite tasty. One was a roasted veggie and meatball soup, with a vegetable broth that was so surprisingly rich that we all thought it was chicken broth. The second was a refreshing crab gazpacho soup. I enjoyed the chunky vegetables. but would have liked more broth.

Two more salads appeared and gave the wow that the Caesar and Cobb lacked. One was a Pasta Salad and the other was an Potato-Egg Salad. Generally, these are basically picnic salads that are more of an afterthought than anything else, but let me tell you, other than the gelatos, these two salads were the talk of the group. The pasta salad ingredients included basil, tarragon, tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls. What was great about it was that it wasn't over-dressed plus I really enjoyed how the basil added a little pungent hit of flavor. The Potato-Egg Salad was also quite delicious and the addition of tarragon gave it a nice herb-y freshness.

So far, we've sampled bread, 4 salads and 2 soups. Next up were samplings of 6 different panini sandwiches. I'm just glad I hadn't had breakfast. Of the six, two really did it for me. One was the Roasted Turkey Sandwich with ingredients that included housemade cranberry sauce, red leaf, cream cheese and housemade herb mayo (mint, oregano and Italian parsley). I'm not much of a sandwich person, but this turkey one was just scrumptious. The cranberry sauce added a wonderful sweet tartness and being a cheesehead, the thick slab of cream cheese really made my day. I also really liked the housemade herb mayo, which I thought added a wonderful flavor that went well with the rest of the ingredients.

The other sandwich that also appealed to me was the Proscuitto and Salami Sandwich, which also included arugula, pesto and a thick cut sun-dried tomato. I honestly think that arugula should be the new lettuce. The combination of the peppery arugula, the meat's saltiness and the sun dried tomato that had been packed in oil and herbs was the perfect Italian sandwich.

With all this food, I bet you thought we wouldn't have room for dessert, huh? But you were wrong. After a brief demonstration of their gelato-making process, a gelato and ice cream sampling frenzy started with Chef Gin basically letting us sample as much gelato and ice cream that we wanted before choosing what we wanted for our dessert.

She even set up a little sundae bar, but honestly, the gelato and ice cream, for me, really stood out just on its own and didn't need any additional ingredients. After sampling everything from Manhattan Beach Plum to Cantaloupe to Peanut Butter to Cinnamon, etc. and that doesn't even include the ice creams I tried, I finally settled on the Coconut Stracciatella and the Cantaloupe Gelatos. I actually preferred the gelatos finding them lighter and more creamy than the ice creams, which seemed a bit heavy to me.

The Coconut Stracciatella had a wonderful richness and creaminess to it while the Cantaloupe was just so refreshing. I also ended up taking home a Papaya Sorbet, a Vermont Maple and Honey Ice Cream and one other one that I'm totally blanking on. I thought the Papaya Sorbet was a little icy, but the Vermont Maple and Honey Ice Cream, like the Coconut Stracciatella, was richly creamy.

Overall, it was a fun event and Chef Gin was extremely gracious and generous throughout our visit there. She was also open to all comments, positive or negative and that's definitely a sign of someone who really wants to put out excellent product, which for the most part, she did.

To see pics, go to:

Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato
1605 N Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 545-9730

Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One Dish Quickie at El Tepeyac

There's just something I love about fried eggs, especially when it's fried to the point that the white edges are browned and yet the yolk still retains some of its liquid gold. Sometimes a fried egg sandwich on lightly buttered toasted bread is all I need for a satisfying meal. Why all the egg talk? When it comes to dining out, I always seem to drawn to dishes that feature fried eggs, whether it's fried quail eggs on scallops or fried eggs on pizza.

So when I was out with friends to d
inner at El Tepeyac, a restaurant icon in East LA, I had a hard time deciding what to order. Finally, something finally caught my attention and made my palate say "Ole!" Do you know what that was? Well, it certainly wasn't taquitos.

My one dish quickie at El Tepeyac were the Beef Enchiladas topped with Fried Eggs. When I finally got my order, I looked down and then I immediately looked around to see who'd be willing to share this dish with me. It was huge, but so were a lot of the other dishes ordered by my companions. I was definitely on my own.

Fork in hand, I cut into egg and enchilada and was happy to see the yolk gushing out. My first bite was delicioso. Granted, your doctor probably wouldn't recommend a steady diet of melted cheese, beef and eggs, but for that moment, I didn't care.

Now is this the best enchilada I ever had, even with the fried egg? Probably Not. Would I go out of my way to return to El Tepeyac just for this dish? Not really. But for that moment, it was tasty, filling and hit the spot. Of course, whenever I go to into a Mexican restaurant in the future, I just might have to see if the chef would be willing to take a special request - fried egg on enchilada, anyone?

To see pics, go to:

El Tepeyac

812 N Evergreen Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 267-8668

El Tepeyac Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Korean Fried Chicken Smackdown: Kyochon vs BonChon

Kyochon Chicken, a Korean Fried Chicken chain, has been on my list to try for awhile now. With thoughts of hot and spicy, double-fried chicken constantly running through my head, it was getting harder and harder to resist making the drive to Koreatown just to see what the fuss was all about. However, when I heard that Bon Chon, whose specialty is also Korean Fried Chicken, opened down the road, I knew it was time for a Korean Fried Chicken Smackdown! Oh yeah!

So with a few hardy souls from my dining group, we spent an afternoon checking out both
restaurants, one after another. Our first stop was at Kyochon. The first thing that surprised me was that I was expecting to order at the counter, but instead, we were seated and given menus. Even more surprising? A call box. I was definitely not anywhere near Kentucky Fried Chicken

At Kyochon, there are two kinds of chicken: garlic soy sauce chicken and their hot chicken. Chicken options also included ordering them just as wings, drumsticks (referred to as sticks) or as a whole cut-up chicken. We opted for the garlic soy sauce chicken wings and the Hot Sticks as well as rice, pickled radish and french fries.

While the sides came first, the chicken with a side of coleslaw that was topped with mayonnaise and ketchup, soon followed. In front of me was dream to reality so I was more than ready to dig in. I sampled the garlic soy sauce chicken first. Oh my! It was absolutely delicious. The crispiness and crunchiness of the chicken was out of this world. Thank goodness for double-frying! What I liked about this chicken were the subtle seasoning nuances, when combined really made for a flavorful chicken. Yes, I could taste the garlic and the soy sauce, but there were other flavors tripping along my palate that I couldn't quite identify. According to the menu, the garlic soy sauce chicken was made with 20 ingredients. Perhaps they meant seasonings or spices? All in all, it was pretty tasty.

Now let's talk about the Hot Sticks, which are basically drumsticks with the hot sauce. When I took my first couple of bites, I thought it was hot, but not overwhelmingly so. However, the more I ate into my Hot Stick, the heat slowly started spreading from the tip of my tongue towards the back of my throat and then kind of lingered there for awhile. What appealed to me about the hot chicken was the counter balance of sweetness to the chicken's spiciness because that interplay of sweet and hot gave Kyochon's hot chicken a fullness of flavor that I found appealing.

After a satisfying starter meal at Kyochon, let's jump to Bon Chon. Like Kyochon, there is tableside service. We were seated and given menus. Also like Kyochon, they had a soy sauce garlic chicken and a hot chicken on the menu and of course, we ordered both. Now comes the differences. First, at Bon Chon, we were served complimentary iced barley tea and pickled radishes Pickled radishes were $1 at Kyochon. Their coleslaw came out separately from the chicken and was topped with Thousand Island dressing. Also, while our chicken came out fairly quickly at Kyochon, we were specifically told at Bon Chon that our order would take 30 minutes to make and they were definitely right about that.

Half an hour later, our chicken wings arrived and when they arrived, we couldn't tell which ones were the soy garlic and which ones were the hot chicken. They looked absolutely the same. The only difference was the basket liner. One was green and white and the other was orange and white. So we went by the maxim that orange meant hot, which equated to hot chicken and it turns out we were right. Of course, for all we know, the liners weren't specific to the chicken and we were just lucky.

Since it's better to go from mild to hot, I tried their soy garlic chicken first. Like Kyochon, it was crispy and crunchy, but unlike Kyochon, it had a little bit of glaze to it. As for flavors, I actually felt that the soy sauce and garlic flavors were more prominent in the Bon Chon version and being a garlic lover, I couldn't help but applaud that.

As for Bon Chon's hot chicken, I can safely say that it was much hotter than when I experienced at Kyochon. My first bite of Bon Chon's hot chicken reminded me of tabasco sauce and a lot of it. In fact, my lips were even tingling a little bit. Like wildfire, the heat quickly spread from tip of the tongue to the front of my mouth to all over my palate. The spiciness itself was something I could handle, but food shouldn't be spicy just for the sake of being spicy. Bon Chon's hot chicken just seemed one note to me and I didn't really want to play along. By the way, if you have a palate that doesn't handle heat very well, be sure to partake of the pickled radishes that come with your meal, because that will help tame the beast for you.

Overall, what I truly appreciated about both Kyochon and Bon Chon was that their chicken wasn't greasy and also that that the chicken skin was fried to a thin, crackly goodness as opposed to having that flabby layer of skin remaining intact, when chicken is deep-fried, the traditional
American way, with batter.

So what are the smackdown results? In regards to the soy sauce garlic chicken, while I enjoyed both, I'm giving a slight edge to the Kyochon version because I enjoyed the different flavor nuances, but I'd also be just as happy with the garlicky goodness that I experienced at Bon Chon. When it came to the hot chicken version, hands down, Kyochon does it for me. Bon Chon's hot chicken just wasn't a hit for me. In regards to the rest of my dining group, the
overall consensus seemed to go by way of Kyochon Chicken.

By the way, with all these myriad of spicy, garlicky, savory flavors in our mouth, we ended our foray with Korean Fried Chicken with the refreshing Korean shaved ice desserts at Ice Kiss, right next door to Bon Chon. Fire followed by ice in Koreatown. What a perfect ending!

By the way, to get more detailed info about the Korean Fried Chicken method, click here!

To see pics, go to:

Kyochon Chicken
3833 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA, 90020
(213) 739-9292

Bon Chon Chicken
3407 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA, 90020
(213) 487-7878

ADDENDUM: Since having visited the two places above, I also had a chance to visit the Rowland Heights location of Kyochon Chicken. At this location, it's more of a food court atmosphere You order at the counter and either eat at the outside tables or take the food to go. What I found interesting is although they're part of the same chain, the chicken tasted different. At the Rowland Heights location, their hot chicken was actually even hotter than Bon Chon's hot chicken. and their soy sauce garlic chicken was a little saltier and lacked the depth of flavor I found at the Koreatown location. So although the Rowland Heights location is a bit closer to me, I'd rather make the trek to Koreatown.

KyoChon Chicken on Urbanspoon