Thursday, June 28, 2007

hot damn, summer in the [windy] city*

friends, i'm going to chicago for a week tomorrow. i expect that most of my time will be filled with family obligations (the size of the family is a direct correlate to the quantity of obligations, and i have a loooot of relatives!). so, i'll probably be spending my time in various suburbs, at the homes of various aunties and cousins, but if you've got any recommendations, foodish or otherwise, for the windy city, i'd love to hear them -- hopefully i can squeeze in some city time.

* yes, i know, the real lyric to the song is 'hot town, summer in the city', but that's kind of weak, don't you think?

[thanks aphantos. for the photo of chicago's river east art college]

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cozying Up to Not-My-Type

I love when this happens. You define yourself in a certain way -- you have your likes, your dislikes, and the things that just don't interest you. But then, thanks to circumstances, and the interests of those around you, you grow, and your definition of yourself changes.

One example for me is the entire continent of Asia (well, actually, not the entire continent. Far East, really, for the sake of this example). Never felt the need to get into Asian culture. I mean, I could see the merits -- obviously a strong, deep-rooted culinary history, great youth culture coming from the more metropolitan cities, and of course centuries of history and art and ninjas and all that stuff. And of course I dabbled in sushi and orange chicken and the like. But I'm a Middle-East-Mediterranean-Latin-America girl. The Far East just isn't my type. But, fortunately, I have friends who hail from this part of the world; and others who don't, but manage to be incredibly well-versed anyway. then, wouldn't you know it, I'm now fascinated with every fun Japanese phenomenon I find, I have cravings for soup dumplings and house special noodles from Mei Long Village regularly, and I've mastered much of the menu at Koreatown's less gringo-friendly pubs. Would I ever have visited Tokyo were it not for friends opening me up to the possibility? Doubtful. I even can handle spicy now, despite being a self-professed wimp when it comes to chilis. Who would've thought?

Same goes for beer. I really never liked it. (Well, not never. Between the ages of three and five, my uncle helped me acquire a taste by sneaking me little sips while he played rummy -- I became such a fan that I would later drink water out of my dad's empty beer cans just to get a taste. And no, I was not raised by a bunch of drunks. No, really.) As an adult, given the choice, I choose wine. If I go to a barbecue, I take cider. Beer really just is not my type. But then comes Library Bar. Then comes Christina Perrozzi, and all her utterly palatable beer tutelage (particularly the Blanche de Chambly, which might just be the illicit love child of beer and Champagne -- mmm). Then comes all kinds of yum contributor Jason Bernstein and his brainy passion for the details of the craft. And, what just tipped it? This interview with Mark Jilg, the brewmaster of LA's own Craftsman Brewing Company.

Friends, after reading this interview, I want to become a connoisseur of Craftsman's beers. A teeny tiny local brewery, a mere three employees strong, that hand delivers its wares in a beat-up/totally rad Studebaker? Who every summer brings back the Triple White Sage, a seasonal brew with the scent of of one of my favorite herbs? That puts out a new specialty beer every month? Truly a civic treasure! (Yes, I know Pasadena is technically not Los Angeles, but humor me here, it's as close as we're gonna get.)

I want to be a Craftsman groupie. I want to have an informed opinion of each of these flavors of the month, so I can spread the gospel of this fine organization. As it stands, they don't sell their beer in bottles, so I'd have to get myself to one of LA's more beer-centric bars to get a taste. But, oh how fun to do so! A new treat every month, fresh from the source, and a barstaff who, on the insistence of the brewery, is educated on the story behind every lovingly crafted brew. This is all right up my alley. Maybe I am a beer person after all.

[thanks dogfaceboy for the photo!]

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Control Group

I always liked the mee goreng at Singapore's Banana Leaf in the old Farmers' Market, but I never realized how much I liked it until I tried some other guy's mee goreng.

See, I'm uninitiated to the culinary world that gave birth to mee goreng. I vaguely recall eating at some Malaysian restaurant in Berkeley years ago (coincidentally, it too had 'banana' in the name. I guess Southeast Asia is really into bananas. I wonder how they feel about this), but aside from that, and some mention here and there of how nothing in this country compares to what you get at a 'hawker stall' back home (is it just me, or does 'hawker stall' sound somehow shady?), I know nothing. I have no frame of mee goreng reference. All I have is Singapore's Banana Leaf.

But then one day at work, I decided to check out Singapore Express, a Singaporean fast food joint in Marina Del Rey. Oh boy was I disappointed. The slouchy pile of Singapore Express noodles were apathetic underachievers who didn't even care enough to feel shame for their sorry state anymore, rooting around in a sauce like so much thinned out ketchup. Never again would I take for granted the noodles almost literally in my own backyard.

Everything about the mee goreng at Singapore's Banana Leaf screams fresh. Feisty rebellion: despite the necessity to be cooked (pan-fried in this case), these noodles are going to do everything in their power to convince you that they're radically, youthfully fresh. The noodles themselves are incorrigibly ratty -- so curly that you'd find spots that were pleasantly browned while the surrounding stretch showed no trace of contact with the pan. Potatoes, in small dice, are just off alive: perfectly cooked, not mushy in any way. The light sauce, slightly sweet from fried onions and caramelization in the pan, makes a delicious foundation for the dish, but our Farmers' Market friends keep it vital, waking up the dish with crunchy raw bean sprouts, scallions, and wedges of fresh lemon to squeeze on. Even the presentation -- with the noodles piled atop a shiny banana leaf -- reminds you that this mee goreng has less to do with stews, curries, long braised meats -- or ketchuppy underachievers for that matter -- and much more with a ripe fruit picked right off the tree.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Torn Between Three Lovers

Really it's a toss-up. One one hand, there's the amazing Google Maps API. Sweet as candy. Love it to death.

Then there's that deliciously large Pulitzer Prize winning local-boy-done-good, LA Weekly food columnist Jonathan Gold. Love, adoration, irrational pedestalization, uncontrollable passion.

But then, there's the LA Weekly's stalwart website. Kind of shy, not one to steal the spotlight, but pretty damn hot.

So, has Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential Restaurants up on their site, along with the amazingly handy interactive LA 99 Google Map to show you exactly where each of those ninety-nine lives. Oh, baby. I'm seriously swooning.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Guest Bloggery!

So, last week, I was kindly invited by Downtown's Library Bar and my new favorite BeerChick, Christina Perozzi, to a beer tasting event. Now, I am not a beer woman (unless it's about the experience: Erdinger and a slice of lemon On the Waterfront, or a michelada with dinner al fresco in Guanajuato) by any means, but I'm lucky enough that my dear friend Jason Bernstein is a consummate expert on the good brew. I brought him along, and in the middle of his explaining to me the origins of the India Pale Ale, I knew that he, not I, was the right man to write up the event.

Which meant I got to socialize frivolously, which really, is what I do best. And snap photos, which isn't.

So put on your thinking cap and read below some big words on the topic of beer, straight from the precious brain in this precious head:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lagers, Bloggers, and Library Cards

"A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it's better to be thoroughly sure.” – Czech Proverb

It is this person’s opinion that the hallmark of humanity is the proper interaction of man with his environment. This doesn’t diminish the wonderment or power of Angel Falls or the Grand Canyon, but they don’t exist as a result of us. It would follow that the greatest food in the world is that which allows the flavors of the world best disclose themselves. Sometimes a juicy peach plucked right from the tree is a paradigm. Other times, we have to intervene and it is our handiwork that best discloses the latent potential of the raw ingredients. Malt, hops and yeast. In their raw state, all of the ingredients, are actually quite repellent. But with patience, artisanship and time, the ingredients Voltron themselves into an elixir called beer. And while the ingredients, in the broad sense, stay the same, subtle changes in temperature, varietal and storage lead to vast differences in result. On Tuesday, June 12, 2007, the panoply of flavors coaxable from malt, yeast and hops were fully showcased.

If one assumed that on an evening called “Bloggers and Beer” one would find bloggers and beer, then one would be right. But I wasn’t expecting the two phenomena to be so partitioned. Most of the bloggers seemed to be aware of each other’s work. The (marginally lit) room at the Library Bar downtown was abuzz with conviviality. The bloggers seemed relatively unified in another fact: no one that I had the chance to speak to knew much about beer. And so, before detailing any of the beers that were actually served, special praise is due to the originator and organizer of the event, self-professed BeerChick, Christina Perozzi. There are probably dozens of people around this city that are at least as knowledgeable and excited about beer but there is no one else who has the ability, utilizing only charisma and erudition, to make you more knowledgeable and excited about beer.

Like any successful multicourse endeavor, the beers were selected and presented in a particular order. When you walked into the bar, you were handed a set of 8 "library check-out" cards – a little slice of adorable – and told to enjoy the beers in the order laid out on the cards. Each card told you the name of the beer, its style, some tasting notes and had room for notes of your own. So as not to occlude your palate, the beers were presented generally in order – starting from lighter and simpler and progressing towards the heavier and more complex. (I say “generally” because I don’t wish to imply that a light beer doesn’t possess complexity, but in terms of complexity, lighter beers tend to emphasize grassy undertones whereas darker beers have fruity/spicy undertones.)

The first beer of the flight was the Craftsman 1903 lager. Without getting overly detailed, there are two types of beers, ales and lagers. The manufacturing process is quite different but the main divergence is that lagers are made at cooler temperatures and ales are made at warmer temperatures. The 1903 was the only lager of the evening. It was a good place to start and many of the people I spoke to declared it their favorite beer of the evening. I sort of get its charms – mild and smooth with some hints of straw and walnuts, but frankly I think the best description of the beer is the “rich man’s Budweiser.”

Along with presenting different styles of beer, Christina was interested in showcasing beers from different areas of the world. Two of the beers, the Blanche de Chambly and the Maudite are Belgian-style ales brewed in Canada. The Blanche de Chambly is a white ale and the Maudite is a strong red ale. Both of them wear their heritage on their sleeves – clearly nodding to the Belgian ales they are modeled on. The Blanche de Chambly was particularly well received by many of the bloggers precisely because it is deep yet approachable. On the surface, it bears some resemblances to Champagne because of the small bubbles and the fruity aroma. When the beer warms slightly its fruitiness becomes more prominent and some of the sourness (presumably from the yeast) dissipates.

The most divisive beer of the night was certainly the Saison Dupont. This was one of two Belgian ales served (as opposed to ales brewed elsewhere in the style of a Belgian beer) and its merits seemed not to disclose themselves to this audience. Most of the people that I talked to felt that the Saison was sour and acidic. Prior to that night, I had actually recommended that particular beer to friends of mine that claim they only like wine. After this evening though, my recommendation was probably mistaken. Maybe my friends were humoring me but the folks that I talked to were definitely mixed. Saisons are an idiosyncratic beer. They are light, yet higher in alcohol than one might expect (although they were traditionally brewed to be quite low in alcoholic content). And there is a distinctive sweetness, like fresh hay, underneath the lemon and pepper. Saison Dupont is a great example of Christina’s willingness to expand the horizons of the attendees. Most people have never tasted a beer of this style and whether one enjoys it or not, they’re at least apt to toast to its uniqueness.

After sampling an excellent porter (Black Butte Porter) and a less than excellent one (Road Dog Scottish Porter) we arrived at the Westmalle Tripel. I don’t think that anyone could deny that this particular beer had the most going on. Now, you may not like what it has going on, but it is a BIG beer. It may not look like much – pale, straw translucence and less carbonation than the Saison – but when brought to your nose, or rather, a foot from your nose, you know you’re in for something different. Christina educated me on the fact that “triple” is actually a name for a style of beer, not (as I had thought) a description of how many times it was fermented. She pointed out that the two phenomena usually dovetail but it isn’t necessarily the case – often one encounters a “triple” that hasn’t been fermented three times. That all said, the Westmalle Tripel is one of the most classic and emblematic of the style.

While high in alcohol, the beer is never overpowering or “spirit-y”. Instead, it combines some of the best aspects of the lighter and darker beers we had during the course of the evening. Eschewing the maltier notes of the previous two porters (because most of the sugar has been turned into alcohol), the Westmalle instead floats on a balance of the two pervasive characteristics of light lagers and dark ales. The straw and pine of some of the lighter examples of the evening are present (a la the Craftsman 1903 and Saison Dupont), as are the headier, spicier smells of the heavier Inversion IPA and Maudite. A fitting culmination of the flavors of the evening where there could have been a de-escalation. Between the camaraderie shared among the bloggers and the celebration of one of our oldest crafts, this evening aptly showed that the attentive interaction of different ingredients results in something worth talking about.

Library Bar is at 630 W. 6th St., at Hope.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Project Chicken Soup: Urgent Call for Volunteers

Hi friends, we've talked quite a bit about Project Chicken Soup around here, and what a great experience volunteering with them is. Well, they are at it again this Sunday, and they are short volunteers this time around. If anyone is available to help out, please let me know. Here are the details:

- It's a four-hour commitment, from 8 am to noon.
- The work involves preparing and cooking about a week's worth of wholesome, healthy, delicious meals -- noodle salads, fresh pear cakes, steamed vegetables, roasted chicken and chicken soup (of course) -- in an industrial kitchen, for about 100 people around Los Angeles living with HIV. (After the prep, another set of volunteers hand-delivers the meals to these people's homes.)
- It's fun! All of the volunteers are nice, nice people, and working in an industrial kitchen (vats of soup, mixers the size of a chimney), with such huge proportions of food, is a very cool experience.
- This all goes down at a community kitchen on Fairfax, just north of Beverly.

So, if you're in LA, and you have a few hours to spare on Sunday, please let me know as soon as possible. Thanks all!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mango Madness

The LA Times is on my wavelength with this article from today's issue featuring mangos. Apparently, the Indian ones, which according to the article are transcendent in texture and flavor, have made their way to the states, but you have to drive to Artesia to get them, and you have to shell out 3.50 a pop. Hmm, we'll see if that happens.

In the meantime, I just want to reiterate my love of this fruit, and offer up a mango fruit salad recipe from last summer that is truly one of my favorite recipes ever:
- the love
- the fruit salad

And then there's this sexy mango.

And thanks Fábio Pinheiro for the photo.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Girlchild in the Promised Land

Have you ever noticed that we never really grew out of the standbys of our childhood? They may change name, or slightly change form, but even if they've fallen out of vogue, those marketing wizards finds a way to sneak them in. Station wagons went away, but SUVs, only slightly less dorky, filled their giant shoes. Easy listening now goes by the names Kings of Convenience, Iron and Wine, and The Shins. Milkshakes are no longer part of the diet, but what's a Frappucino but a milkshake on crack? And playing video games? Well, it's been replaced with playing video games on your own widescreen.

Milk, the newish ice cream and bake shop on Beverly, speaks directly and persuasively to our inner child, with sugary sweet cookies, cakes, ice cream treats and more. It's like, we all had these dreams of pigging out on all this stuff back when we were kiddies, but there was mom, keeping all the goodness away from us. But now we have cars and incomes and we could probably take on mom, so binging on sugarflourcreamfatbutter is as easy as finding parking on Beverly (in fact Milk has a little parking lot of its own, so even that's taken care of).

Milk is not about balance, health, whole grains, and tempeh. Even their thick slices of honey bran bread belie the 'bran' in the name and the toasted oats sprinkled on top: they are heavy with honey, and the burnished crust surrounding the dense cake is so stickily sweet, it's almost too much. Nor is Milk about high-brow, sophisticated sweets piercing flavors like lavender or cayenne pepper. Instead, chase your honey cake with an ooey gooey chocolate cookie (their name, not mine), a tastes-like-homemade chocolate chip cookie, or an old-fashioned ice cream sundae (by the way, the mint ice cream is the kind of green reminiscent of those little vials of food coloring you'd use to tint tubs of Betty Crocker frosting -- and, don't even get me started on the color of the blue velvet cake), or a perfectly decadent coffee toffee ice cream sandwich, where the 'bread' is giant macarons so airy you can bite right through without smushing ice cream out the back of the sandwich and into your lap. Even the cappuccino tastes more of comfy warm milk than biting, grown-up espresso, and stiffly starched scones are brought down-home with bacon and cheddar.

It's funny, amidst one of LA's largest and most visible Orthodox Jewish communities, we find the land of milk and honey. The promised land, mannah from the heavens above, pure hedonistic flavor that appeals to our most childish tastebuds, all in a bright corner shop. (Of course there are also very decent (and slightly less gluttonous) salads and sandwiches here, but the sweets are really the thing here). And with temptation at every turn, an old lesson still rings true: our only salvation lies in moderation.

Milk is at 7290 Beverly Blvd. at Poinsettia (4 blocks west of La Brea).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Little Next Door

I was walking on Third Street Saturday morning, as I've done a million times before, but this time, surreally, the sidewalk in front of Doughboys was completely empty. The crunch of tables, pancakes the size of film reels, and droves of waiting Hollywoodistas that generally buzzes around was conspicuously absent. In fact, the whole place was closed. Two pieces of paper posted on the door gave interesting dimension to the story: First a handwritten one, to the effect of "we're closed for renovations". Second, one with the seal of the State of California, all official and stuff, announcing that they were shut down for violating health codes. Bummer.

L.A's Own Tube?

If only...