Monday, May 31, 2010
One thing I love about the Assistant Organizers of my dining group, Pleasure Palate, is that they are truly passionate about exploring LA's culinary landscape. This past Saturday, 7 of us went with one of my AOs, Cecilia, on her East LA Foodie C'Rave. C'Rave by the way is short for Culinary Rave and I can only rave about the fun we had, as we hit 7 foodie destinations in East Los Angeles. Our first stop was at Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita.
While waiting for the rest of the group, a few of us early birds shared a Taco Abaje with pork and chipotle. It seemed more like a thinly rolled burrito than a taco. I liked the kick of the chipotle sauce and a squeeze of lime added a tart freshness to the pork.
Once everyone arrived, we ended up sharing 3 different Cemitas. Since we weren't sure of everyone's heat tolerance, we ordered the chipotle on the side, which I thought was a good idea, because it gave me a chance to taste the meat by itself before adding the spice to my sandwich. My favorite was the Milanesa. I really enjoyed the beef's crispy battered coating. I liked the Barbacoa second, although I found the lamb to be a bit dry on its own. The addition of the chipotle sauce fixed that right away. Unfortunately, I thought the Carnitas Cemitas was a little too salty for my taste. For all three, I really enjoyed the bread, which was crusty and not overly thick.
After finishing off our Cemitas, we headed to Birreria Chalio. Walking in, I was quite surprised to see all the deer heads on the wall, especially since I don't recall seeing venison on the menu.
Our stop here was all about the goat tacos, which this restaurant is known for. Even before our goat fixin's arrived, I have to admit to being enthralled with their corn tortillas, which were the biggest I've ever seen. They were big and fluffy and I could have easily just eaten that spread with butter and dipped into salsa.
Finally, our goat meat arrived and with it the goat consomme. After tearing off a small piece of the tortilla, I topped it with goat meat, some goat consomme, cilantro, onions and a squeeze of lime, wrapped it up and took a bite. Although there was good flavor to the goat meat, it was a bit dry and while the consomme added moisture, it didn't add much in the way of flavor. The salsa on the other hand gave it the boost it needed. This is actually my second time having the Birreria Chalio's goat, with my first experience being at the East LA Meets Napa event last year. In this case, my first taste was a tad better with the goat being the star on its own.
After goat tacos, it was time to head out to the Santa Rita, Jalisco Taco Truck. While this truck sells a variety of Mexican foods, what they're known for is their Pescuesos de Pollo, better known as Chicken Necks. Let me tell you, those chicken necks are addicting. They're deep fried to the point that the skin around the neck puffs up to a crispy and crunchy goodness. It's hard to eat just one and I didn't even bother with the tortillas. It was all about those chicken necks.
Our small group also ordered a couple of other items that were also appreciated like the tongue taco and the al pastor taco.
By the way, I really wanted to take a picture of the Al Pastor, which was inside the truck and the cooks were kind enough to let me step in, take some photos and then jump back out. How nice is that.
We've already done quite a bit of feasting, but that didn't stop us from going to our next stop, which was Nina's, who won this year's 2010 LA Vendy Awards. I've actually been eating Nina's food off and on since my first visit in 2007 and she's rarely disappointed. One of things I always try to get when stopping by Nina's is one of her agua frescas, which are never overly sweet. My favorite is the Melon, which is made with cantaloupe.
I also like the variety of salsas that she offers and if you want to try something different, you have to try the salsa de semillas, which is made up of peanuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chile de arbol and peanut oil. You can see a great close up of that salsa on top of the flautas that our group ordered.
Our East LA C'Ravers also shared Nina's Pambazo (which was her winning entry at the LA Vendy Awards). The pambazo is bread dipped in a red guajillo red chile sauce with a chorizo and potato filling and then grilled. This is definitely a must order, if you hit up Nina's. You won't be disappointed. We also shared a wonderfully cheesy squash blossom quesadilla.
Next to Nina's was Lupe's Pancakes and her specialty is cream cheesed filled pancakes (or crepes) topped with your choice of fruit topping.
It was fun to watch her at work. With just a ladle, she was able to pour out an almost perfect circle of batter on the griddle and once it was cooked, she flipped it with her fingers. Yikes! I can't even imagine how hot that would be. Next, she added the cream cheese, let it melt for a bit, rolled it up, placed it on a plate and added the fruit topping.
For my pancake, I asked her to add both the blackberry preserves and fresh blackberries. While the preserves were a tad sweet, it balanced well with the pancake and the cream cheese which weren't too sweet at all and the fresh blackberries which added that nice hit of tart. Someone else in our group opted for the blueberry topping for her pancake, which included whole blueberries.
By now, you're probably thinking we were down and out, but nope, we headed to Tacos Baja Ensenada next, where we either ordered our own or shared both fish and shrimp tacos. This was my second visit to Tacos Baja Ensenada and I have to say that I wasn't that impressed with the fish tacos the first time around. Second time was definitely the charm. This time, I asked for the sour cream and red sauce to be on the side and somehow that made a big difference. Overall, I just liked the quality of the fish and the batter much better without that red sauce and sour cream drenching the entire taco.
Now we definitely were starting to reach our limit so we headed off to our final stop, La Monarca Bakery, so that we could sit awhile and enjoy some coffee and dessert before heading off home.
We shared a variety of sweets from ice cream and pastries to cookies and cake. My favorite dessert at La Monarca was the Tres Leches Cake. It was so moist and delicious that it was hard to share it. I also got a second taste of their Chorizo Empanadas, which I also had for the first time at the East LA Meets Napa Event last year. It was definitely just as good now as it was then.
So ends this 5 hour C'Rave and wow, it was definitely a fun experience. It gave me some new food experiences, but also gave me a chance to re-visit foods I've had before as a way to see if a second chance would change my opinion about them and as you read, it was definitely hit and miss. Overall, this was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday and I count myself lucky that I was able to spend it with people who truly appreciate food and its many pleasures.
Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita
3010 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90063
3580 East 1st Street
Los Angelese, CA 90063
Santa Rita, Jalisco Taco Truck
3900 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90063
Breed Street and E. Caesar E Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90033
Breed Street and E. Caesar E Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90033
Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90022
La Monarca Bakery
5700 E. Whittier Blvd
Commerce, CA 90022
Posted by pleasurepalate at 4:25 PM
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Last April, I was invited by Lauren Fricchione of Dossier Brand for a Media Industry Night at Madame Chocolate in Beverly Hills for a fun evening of chocolate and wine. This is actually my second visit to Madame Chocolate, but it was more of a short drop-in as opposed to a longer stay. Walking in, I could tell that this sweet shop was ready for Easter. One way to tell for sure was the 3 foot chocolate bunny waiting in the kitchen to be decorated.
There were beautifully decorated eggs hanging from a crystal chandelier, colorful Easter baskets filled with treats and Easter themed candies abound on tables and shelves.
Along with all the Easter happenings, plenty of chocolatier, Hasty Torres' chocolates were on display, some of which were going to be paired with wine a little later on in the evening.
While waiting for other people to arrive, I was able to sample a couple of her chocolates ahead of time. One was a peanut butter bon bon in the shape of a ladybug while the other was a passionfruit bon bon. Hands down, that passionfruit bon bon was my favorite, even after sampling more chocolates by the end of the night. After a bit, Hasty came out to give some information about her culinary history and her inspiration for Madame Chocolate. You can read more about Hasty by clicking here.
She also talked about the tools of her trade, which included a Chocolate Tumbler. The chocolate tumbler is where she puts certain foods to be coated by chocolate like her chocolate covered cheerios, which are addicting by the way. We also got up and close and personal with her dark chocolate and milk chocolate tempering machines. Watching those tempering wheels turning round and round was a bit mesmerizing. I think some of us would have been happy to dive in, if it wasn't for the fact that no one would have fit.
Finally, we all settled in the kitchen, sitting at the tables for the rest of the evening where we were treated to a chocolate and wine pairing. To tell you the truth, I was more focused on the chocolate itself than how each individual wine went with each chocolate. For the most part, I remembered that of the 5 pairings, one wasn't my cup of tea.
The five chocolates we sampled included: Belgian White Chocolate, Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate Caramel, Mendiant and Cocoa Dusted Chocolate Truffle. The Chocolate Caramel Heart almost stole my heart away, but I was still loyal to the Passionfruit Bon Bon.
Overall, it was a fun evening getting to know Hasty and enjoying her delicious chocolates. What was even nicer is that we left with a goodie bag of those addicting chocolate-covered cheerios I mentioned earlier along with other sweet treats. I was so impressed with Hasty, her shop and her chocolates that I actually set up a Chocolate Tasting with her for my dining group, a month later. This time around, Hasty was ready for spring. Check out the butterflies on the chandeliers that were evident when I walked in. By the way, Hasty mentioned that her Mom does all the decorating in the shop.
Like my last visit, Hasty also gave an overview of her background and information of how she started Madame Chocalat. During her talk, we were all enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, made by dipping either a milk chocolate or dark chocolate spoon into a cup of steamed milk and mixing it all up. I think some of us ended up licking the spoon as it melted more than anything else.
She also gave a talk about how chocolate was made and even brought out a whole cacao bean that was dry but gave us an idea of what one would look like. We even got to sample some of the cacao nibs which I found a bit too bitter for my taste.
Then of course, there's the beautiful chocolates on display. Some of them were the same from my last visit, but there were also a few new contenders, but all looked scrumptious.
My favorite was still the Passionfruit Bon Bon, but other tasty options included bons bons flavored with citron, orange juice and liquid caramel and rum. It was also my first time trying the Espresso Bon Bon shaped like a coffee cup. Orange juice and espresso bon bons actually brought breakfast to mind. It could be a breakfast trio if Hasty came up with some kind of maple bon bon to represent pancakes and at a media event we both attended, Christy of Pardon My Crumbs suggested a dark chocolate bacon bon bon. Wow! Now that's a breakfast I could stand behind. All I have to say is that if Hasty goes for it, Christy and I expect royalty fees or at least, as much chocolate as we can eat.
Something else that was prevalent throughout the shop and what definitely caught the attention of the ladies in the group were the Designer Solid Chocolate Heels that came in a gift pack that included chocolate sunglasses and a chocolate purse and were on a chocolate base. They looked amazing.
Hasty also gave my group a kitchen tour and was happy to answer questions. She even told us how to temper chocolate even if we didn't have a tempering machine of our own. In the kitchen, we also got to try her chocolate covered marshmallows and rice krispies. Don't get me wrong. They were good, but what I would have done for a whole bag of chocolate covered cheerios.
Towards the back of her kitchen were even more of those designer chocolate heels, including a pair for one of the new "Housewives" of Beverly Hills, in all its pink glory.
This was definitely a fun evening, made even more so by Hasty, a charming hostess, who was very generous and willing to answer any and all of our questions when it came to chocolate. It's easy to see why she was cast to be one of the judges on TLC's Chocolate Wars. So far, there's only been one episode, but hopefully, there will be more because from what I saw, Hasty was really fun to watch. So the next time you're in Beverly Hills, be sure to stop by Madame Chocolat for bon bons sure to impress and make your tastebuds happy.
212 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5302