If I could cook aka if I had the patience in general and I was in the mood for turkey, below are links to recipes that might actually get me in the kitchen, courtesy of images I saw on TasteSpotting! Bon Appetit!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
I find it interesting that while I enjoy sushi, it's not something I necessarily crave. In fact, when I'm trying to decide where I want to eat out and I'm going through the files in my head of cuisines and restaurants, a sushi restaurant doesn't usually make a blip on my brain waves. But when I received an invitation to dine at the new downtown location of Sugarfish, how could I say no to a restaurant owned by celebrated sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa? After all, if I'm going to have sushi, a Nozawa-owned restaurant is the definitely the place to be.
I was also told that I could bring a guest, so when my friend arrived and we were seated, we first took a look around the decor. I liked the use of the natural woods, the lights enclosed in globes that reminded me of water bubbles and the back wall that had a wave pattern that made me think of ocean waves.
Soon we were joined by co-owner, Emmanuelle "Lele" Massimmi, who sat with us and ordered the first part of our meal. This more one-to-one exchange was a little different from the usual media dinners I've attended in the past where there were usually 10 or more other bloggers in attendance. What I liked about this approach was the personalization of the whole experience where he was able to share info as a part of a dialogue that also allowed me to ask questions where I could get an immediate response. I'll share some of the info I learned as I talk about the food.
For dinner that night, Lele ordered for us"The Nozawa", a tasting menu that included 9 items from their current menu and a 10th item, which is a daily special. The cost runs between $35-$38 and is dependent on what that daily special is. Earlier, Lele mentioned their food utilizes only between 2 to 3 ingredients. That was evident in our first course, a Big Eye Tuna Sashimi. The dish was comprised simply of the tuna, a sprinkle of green scallion and their house ponzu sauce and it was absolutely delicious.
Next was a trio of fish that included Albacore Sushi with a House Ponzu, Snapper Sushi with a Chili Ponzu Sauce and Salmon Sushi. Again, for each item, only 2 to 3 ingredients were at play, but there was something different about the sushi rice that I've never experienced before. Instead of a cold, white rice, the rice was warm and loosely packed. Apparently, the rice is made in small batches every 20 minutes. I absolutely loved it. The softer, warmer texture of the rice just meshed well with the tender texture of the fish itself. It was as if you were just eating one food. Whereas, fish on top of a rice that is cold and sometimes more tightly packed feels like two separate entities that you just happen to be eating together.
Our next foray into seafood goodness included Yellowtail Sushi, Halibut Sushi and the "Daily Special", which were Scallops with Yuzu Ponzu, all on one plate. Lele mentioned in our conversation and it's also noted in their menu, that the sushi that already comes with sauce should not be dipped in soy. I have to say that the various ponzu sauces that I had tasted up to that point were fantastic, a perfect balance of salty, tart and citrusy flavors. Interestingly enough, even for the fish that didn't come with a ponzu sauce, I steer cleared of the soy sauce. The fish and the rice were just so fresh and tasty on their own that they didn't need the additional embellishment of that soy sauce.
The last two items of The Nozawa were the Toro Hand Roll and the Crab Roll. Eating these two hand rolls were at the same time delicious; yet, also like being part of a speed eating contest. Simply, the seaweed that makes up the nori comes from the deep waters of the Japanese coast and is a very special order that Chef Nozawa makes for all his restaurants. To be really enjoyed, these rolls have to be eaten as soon as they are placed in front of you. Your first bite can literally be a clean bite through that first section of the roll that you can quickly chew and swallow. If you linger too much, the nori will absorb the moisture from the fish and the rice and nori can get quite a bit chewier. According to Lele, three bites does it for him.
After the Nozawa Tasting menu was complete, Lele invited us to order other things from the menu. He personally recommended the Halibut Fin (Engawa), which I've never had before. Of course, the ponzu sauce it came in gave it some great flavor, but I wasn't that enamored with the fins' chewy texture.
My friend also had the Nozawa Shrimp Sushi while I had the Unagi (eel) and we shared the Blue Crab Rolls and Yellowtail Rolls. We liked our respective sushi, but unfortunately, we let our sushi rolls sit for a little too long because we were busy catching up. By the time we got to them, the nori lost its crispness so the overall rolls were more on the chewy side.
Overall, I really enjoyed the sushi at Sugarfish. Although I'm not a regular sushi eater, I can say that based on previous experiences, I definitely haven't had very good sushi. It's as if I've been flank steak all this time when I could have been enjoying a rib eye instead. I love the fact that Chef Nozawa is responsible for shopping for the fish for both his high end restaurant, Sushi Nozawa and all the Sugarfish locations. In fact, the same fish is served at Sushi Nozawa and Sugarfish, although Sushi Nozawa will feature more specialty seafood items that aren't on the menu at Sugarfish. So there's definitely no scrimping on fish quality.
When it comes to Sugarfish, the real emphasis is on "Everyday Sushi as an Everyday Luxury." By keeping to a limited menu and eliminating the presence of a sushi bar, the margins are brought down and savings are passed down to the customers. Of course, this is all done without compromising quality.
With more affordable sushi prices, customers don't have to think of sushi restaurants as special occasion restaurants. In fact, Lele mentioned that Sugarfish locations in Brentwood and Marina del Rey have taken on the mantle of being like neighborhood restaurants where customers dine there several times a week. His sincere hope is that this new downtown Los Angeles location will also attract a regular, loyal clientele and after the wonderful meal I had there, I don't see that as a problem.
600 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
When it comes to a simple egg salad sandwich, I've never found one I've really liked outside of my own homemade version. Egg salad sandwiches I've had elsewhere have been to dry or too wet. The dryness comes from not enough mayo and/or overcooked eggs while the wetness comes from too much mayo and/or undercooked eggs. I've also had egg salad sandwiches that were too under seasoned or had too much of one ingredient like pickle relish where that was all you tasted.
My egg salad sandwich bad luck ended when my friend, Wasima, introduced me to the Open Faced Egg Salad Sandwich at Euro Pane Bakery. Oh my. At first sight, my eyes grew big. It was certainly a generous serving. In fact, it was a mountain of egg salad with arugula on a tomato pesto slathered rosemary currant bread. This egg salad sandwich seriously needed a knife and fork because there was no way I was going to try to eat that with my hands.
Once I ate my first forkful, I knew I was in egg salad nirvana. What I loved was the egg salad's creamy texture. It was obvious that the eggs were probably medium boiled, which meant that the yolks still retained some of their liquidy yolky goodness, when mixed with the mayonnaise. The addition of the tart tomato pesto and the peppery arugula added some wonderful flavor nuances, but the final kicker for me was copying Wasima, who sprinkled a little sea salt on her egg salad. Just a little sprinkle of that sea salt made my sandwich that much better.
The only thing that didn't add much, at least flavor-wise, to my sandwich was the Rosemary Currant Bread. Maybe, on its own or with other more complementary ingredients, it would have stood out more. In this case, it's purpose was merely to serve as a vessel to hold all that egg salad goodness, but the Espresso Macaron I had for dessert was one of the best macarons I've had in awhile. I can easily seeing myself coming back for Europane's egg salad sandwich and getting a box of macarons to go.
I'm going to end this post by simply saying, "Thank goodness for my foodie friends!" They certainly play a big part in my exploration of Los Angeles' food landscape and I don't know what I'd do without them.
345 E Colorado BlvdSte 101
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
The Day that I was a Judge for the LA Cadillac Culinary Challenge and Why Driving a Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan is Like Fine Dining
Last month, thanks to General Motors, I got the double pleasure of being a Guest Judge at the Los Angeles Cadillac Culinary Challenge that took place at the Americana at Brand in Glendale and I was also able to test drive a Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan for an entire weekend (more on that later). For the past several weeks, the Cadillac Culinary Challenge had been traveling to different US cities. At each event, there were cooking demonstrations as well as a cooking competition (aka Culinary Challenge) by two popular area chefs. During the cooking demo and competition, attendees were also able to get up and close personal with various Cadillac models, which included being able to test drive any of the models.
For my stint as a judge, the two chefs in competition were Chef David LeFevre of the Water Grill and Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence. Before the competition started, we first took a look at some of the Cadillacs on display, which included a Hybrid Escalade, a CTS Sports Wagon, a CTS Coupe and a SRX Crossover.
Also on display were the 2-Mode Hybrid Systems for the Hybrid Escalade, which Cadillac has dubbed the World's Full-Size Luxury Hybrid.
Finally, it was time for the Culinary Challenge between two chefs known for seafood greatness and it was going to be Battle Scallop. It started with an introduction from the event MC, Mary Nolan, former TV host of Chic and Easy, which previously aired on the Food Network.
One thing to mention about the competition itself were the TV screens beside each of the prep kitchens. They really gave you a bird's eye view of what the chef was doing as he demonstrated his particular recipe.
It started with Chef David LeFevre of the Water Grill Restaurant demonstrating his recipe for Seared Diver Scallops and Heirloom Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Black Truffle and Chestnut Agnolotti.
After the demonstration, the audience were given samples to try and of course, the judges were asked for their opinion. I thought that Chef LeFevre's dish was perfect for fall. It made great use of seasonal ingredients and I really enjoyed how the nutty and woodsy flavors of the truffle and chestnut paired with the sweetness of the scallop.
Next was Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence and he did a demonstration for his recipe called Bobby's Block Island Sea Scallops with Crushed Potatoes and Shimeji Mushrooms.
As before, samples were given out to the audience and to the judges. What I liked about Chef Cimarusti's dish was that the scallop was the clear star and that the rest of the ingredients were there simply to enhance it. I loved the creamy texture of the potatoes in contrast to the medium-firm scallop. The woodsy, umami flavors of the mushroom sauce were also a perfect counterpart to the sweeter scallop. By the way, if you couldn't tell already, my vote went to this scallop dish and with a vote of 2 to 1, Chef Cimarusti's scallop dish won the Cadillac Culinary Challenge.
It was definitely few hours well spent and it was a real pleasure meeting everyone involved.
But wait, remember that I mentioned earlier about being able to test drive a Cadillac CTS Sports Sedan for the weekend? Kindly lent to me by General Motors, it was definitely an awesome ride. In fact, as a food blogger, I can definitely say that driving the Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan was like a fine dining experience. First, there's the look and feel. Most fine dining restaurants have an elegant feel to its exterior and interior with an ambiance that makes you feel you're somewhere special. How can you not feel like you're somewhere or in something special when driving the car below?
Second, there's the menu that features quality dishes. In the case of the Cadillac CTS Sports Sedan, their menu included some awesome amenities from a leather wrapped, heated steering wheel to dual zone climate control. I was definitely loving the dual zone climate control. I like cooler temperatures while my passengers usually favored a warmer climate.
Then, there's the heated and vented driver and front passenger seats, power heated outside mirrors, a Bose 5.1 surround system and keyless access. Not having to pull out a key was awesome. All I had to do was keep the remote card in my purse and as soon as I walked by the car, the doors unlocked. No more fumbling with keys, especially at night and there's still so much more. Click here to see all the features and specs.
Third, fine dining is also about exceptional service that is beyond one's expectations. What really topped the cherry on my sundae were a few things that I wished my current car had like their Navigation System that comes standard with this model. Considering how much dining out that I do all over Los Angeles, it was like having an experienced Maitre'd always there to show me the way.
Also standard is an XM Satellite Radio that comes with 3 month free trail. I would have gladly paid the subscription fee just so I could avoid all the radio ads that I usually have to suffer through. Finally, the car already comes equipped with a one year directions and connections plan with OnStar®. Whether you choose to utilize the XM Satellite Radio or OnStar after the trial period or not, at least everything is already in place for you and you didn't have to do anything additional.
As for the drive itself, it was so smooth and quiet that it felt almost meditative to me. I also loved how sturdy the car felt, especially when I was driving on the rain-slicked freeway roads, which I had been doing the entire weekend. When it was time for the car to be picked up, it was almost hard to let it go.
I truly felt spoiled, as did anyone who were passengers with me that weekend. In fact, my six year old grand-niece loved my "new" car so much that she came up with a way for me to keep it. "Just offer them a check for $20, Nana," she said. "If only that would be enough," I replied. So bye-bye went the Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan, but like a fine meal, the memories will linger on.
Winning Cadillac Culinary Challenge Recipe
Bobby's Block Island Sea Scallops with Crushed Potatoes and Shimeji Mushrooms
Shimeji Mushroom Sauce
8 ounces sweet butter, divided
6 ounces Shimeji mushrooms, cleaned
1 ounce shallots, finely diced
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
3 ounces soy sauce
8 ounces chicken stock
2 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat 2 ounces of butter in a stainless steel saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mushroom and saute for approximately 4 minutes. Add the shallots and season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and the soy sauce. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken stock and reduce by 20%. Reduce the heat to low and add the remaining butter in small amounts, whisking to emulsify. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed. Reserve and keep warm until ready to serve. Chopped tomato and chopped parsley should be added before using.
4 ounces sweet butter
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled, peeled and fork crushed
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 small bunch chives, chopped
salt and white pepper, to taste
Heat butter in a stainless steel saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the potatoes and stir with a fork to incorporate the butter and fluff the potatoes. Add the olive oil and continue to fluff the potatoes until they are heated all the way through. Add the herbs and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Keep the potatoes warm for service.
1 tablespoon butter
8 medium-sized scallops
salt and pepper, to taste
Melt butter in large nonstick saute pan over high heat. Season both sides of scallops with salt and pepper. Add scallops to pan; cook until golden and almost opaque in the center, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. While scallops are cooking, spoon a small amount of potatoes in the center of each bowl. Finish the sauce with the tomato and herbs; spoon the sauce over the potatoes. Place two scallops in the center of each bowl. Serve immediately.
Monday, November 08, 2010
One of the things I love about running my dining group, Pleasure Palate, is being able to introduce my members to cuisines they may be unfamiliar with as well as to restaurants I enjoy dining at. That's why when I set up a Oaxacan Food, Ice Cream and Raspado Tasting at both Guelaguetza and Natura Bar, it was a win-win situation for all.
By the way, since this tasting, the Guelaguetza location we dined at is now Pal Cabron, a wonderful Cemitas Sandwich Shop, that along with Guelaguetza and the Natura Bar is also owned by the Lopez Family. There are still two Guelaguetza locations, one on Olympic Boulevard and one in Lynwood.
At the beginning of our tasting, Fernando Lopez was there to start our meal with a little Guelaguetza history plus some small bowls of Fried Chapulines aka Fried Grasshoppers. Some of the group didn't want to partake, but those who did, whether it was their first time or not, enjoyed the grasshoppers' salty-crunch. Fernando also mentioned that the grasshoppers could be quite big depending on the season, but I think most of the group were fine with sampling the mini me versions.
Also on hand were bowls of tortilla chips topped with red mole sauce and cotija cheese. If you've never had mole before, it's a great way to try it with something neutral like tortilla chips to see if it's something you'd like. The fact that those tortilla chips disappeared as soon as they hit the table spoke volumes.
As a part of our meal, we could choose from one of two drinks, an Horchata or a Chilacayota. An horchata is a drink that can be made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice or barley. I'm not sure what Guelaguetza uses to make their horchata, but I do know that it's topped with a cactus fruit syrup, nuts and cantaloupe (or other type of melon).
I've had Guelaguetza's horchata before, but the chilacayota was completely new to me, so of course I had to have it. It's a drink made up of pumpkin pulp, pumpkin strands, small chunks of cantaloupe and a mixture of cantaloupe and tamarind juice as well as piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar). I really liked the sweet and slightly sour interplay of flavors and believe me, I ate every bit of pumpkin and cantaloupe left in that glass.
After the chapulines and the tortilla chips, our main meal started and first up was a plate that included Tamales de Mole and Tacos de Barbacoa de Chivo.
The Tamales de Mole was a banana leaf wrapped tamal with white chicken meat topped with a black mole sauce. I liked that the masa for the tamale itself was moist because chicken breast as a whole can be dry, but wrapped in the masa it was just right. As for the black mole sauce, it can contain anywhere from 20 to 25 ingredients or more, including chocolate, various nuts, seeds and spices as well as chili peppers, onions and garlic. With all that going on, the sauce itself has layers of flavors and can be quite intense with a slight bitterness and smoky and earthy undertones. That's what I got from the black mole sauce on my tamal and I loved it.
On the other half of the plate were the Tacos de Barbacoa de Chivo, which were deep fried taquitos stuffed with barbacoa seasoned mutton and covered in guacamole sauce. What I enjoyed was the tiny bit of heat that came from the meat, perhaps due to the addition of some chilies. It definitely paired well with the sweet, chunky guacamole.
Our next plate consisted of a Chile Relleno de Picadillo and Empanadas de Huitlacoche con Quesillo.
The Chile Relleno de Picadillo was a fresh Oaxacan-imported green chile stuffed with shredded chicken breast, raisins, peanuts, tomato and onions. When I've had Chile Relleno in the past, it's usually with a panela cheese or some other type of cheese. The only other non-cheese chili relleno I've ever had was at a Guatemalan restaurant and it had a filling of ground pork, beans and carrots and I enjoyed every bite of it. I also enjoyed every bite of this chili relleno and I didn't miss the cheese at all. What also did it for me was the spiciness of the filling. The heat made this dish even better.
Our final savory dish was the Empanadas de Huitlacoche con Quesillo, which are hand made empanadas stuffed with Oaxacan string cheese and corn truffles aka corn fungus. The flavor is similar to a truffle in that huitlacoche can be woodsy, earthy and even a bit smoky. It's definitely an acquired taste, but it's something I've always enjoyed eating whether in a taco, quesadilla or in this case, an empanada.
Now that we were done with the savory part of our tasting, it was time for something sweet from the Natura Bar, which is right next door. The Natura Bar is the newest member of the Lopez Family group of restaurants and it features Oaxacan-inspired drinks, juices and ice cream.
We started with an ice cream sampler of the following flavors: Burnt Milk, Cactus Fruit, Mamey, Vanilla, Walnut, Lemon, Pineapple Blossom and Coconut. It was an interesting variety of flavors. The burnt milk was a little smoky while there was a mild-kiwi sweetness to the cactus fruit. I was most intrigued by the Pineapple Blossom ice cream since I didn't know that anything could be done with pineapple blossoms in general. To see what one looks like, click here. Although it was subtle, I could still taste the pineapple flavor without the tartness that's usually present and it was a nice change.
Along with the Mamey ice cream, we also sampled a Mamey Licuado. A licuado is a drink that is made up of milk, ice and a fruit or a mixture of fruit. It's equivalent to a smoothie. The mamey is a tropical fruit that is similar in texture to a papaya or avocado. I'm not quite sure how to describe what it tastes like although some comparisons have been made to pumpkin or sweet potatoes in that it has a sugary taste to it.
From ice creams and a licuado, we go to raspados, which is the Mexican version of a shaved ice dessert. We sampled 4 different flavors: Coconut, Rompope (egg nog liquer), Lime and Mango. My favorites were the Mango because it came topped with fresh mango and the Lime because of its tartness.
Our finale was a Lemonade, which was refreshing and a great palate cleanser for the entire meal.
Overall, it was a great dining experience. We were shown wonderful hospitality by everyone at the restaurant and Fernando was always on hand to answer any questions about the food we were enjoying, as well as about Oaxacan food in general. From the chapulines all the way to the lemonade, everything we had was tasty. Even better, I was introduced to something I've never had before, the Chilacayota. That was a wonderful new find that and something I'd order again.
3014 W. Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Guelaguetza in Plaza Mexico
11215 Long Beach Boulevard #1010
Lynwood, CA 90262
3335 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005