Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday to Golden State

Monday night at Golden State was pretty much like any other night at Golden State.  You walk in, you're greeted with earnest warmth, you invariably run into someone you know, and mouthwatering food, Scoops ice cream, and a ridiculously good beer list are all at your disposal.  Except last night, the kitchen guys relinquished the grill so that Mexicali Tacos could take over, and instead of burgers, they were vending cachetadas, vampiros and other awesome/exotic combinations of grilled tortillas, melted cheese and copious amounts of meat (more details on the food here).  After all, it was a celebration:  The Golden State turned two years old on Monday!

It was good to be there.  I've felt like a part of Golden State since the very beginning.  I was there at Jason's mom's house, when Samir made the very first incarnation of The Burger, and then expected us to put into words how delicious the thing was in focus-group-esque questionnaires that helped determine the menu that the cafe still offers today. (We also got a taste of the legendary beer affogatoJolly Pumpkin's dark ale, mulled with spices, reduced to a syrup, and poured hot over Scoops brown bread ice cream. Unholy good.)

When they painted the outside of the shop, I dragged myself out of bed and up Fairfax to come take photos.  I hung around during back-and-forth with contractor after contractor.  Over months, I heard every detail of city codes, regulations, and licenses, and began to wonder if the restaurant would ever open. 
Open they did, and I was there the first night (pictured above).  It became my go-to when I was hungry for food and socialization.  I could walk the three blocks from my apartment and know I'd be among friends.  Jason would chat about beer, I'd get updates from Jim as he went from newlywed to homeowner, to dog owner, to dad, and when they were busy, Rene would entertain me between grilling burgers with his absolutely nonsensical conversation.  I even did a stint behind the counter one afternoon!  After my first taste of the Golden State Salad, I chided Jason and Jim about my new least favorite thing amidst a menu of knockouts.  We almost got in a fight that day, but now it's our joke:  they threatened to name it after me, and now every time I go in there, they offer me a Sassooni Salad.

When I did a blog mash-up with Food Marathon, taking him through my hood, I made sure gstate was on the itinerary.  We were greeted there by my dear friend Nick -- Jim's brother visiting from New York, and after a bunch of other friends showed up still reeling from dinner at animal, an after-hours dance party erupted in the place.

Jim and Jason kindly contributed to No Cookie Left Behind the last 2 years (though they had to hold down the fort at the restaurant during the actual event); they've been nothing but supportive.  They hooked me up with bake sale contributor Kristin Feuer of Bakelab (back when it was Laurel Avenue Bakery) after she brought them a box of cookies, unprompted, to sell at the restaurant.   And after the 2009 bake sale, satisfied, but totally spent from a full day of bake sale action, nothing felt better than plopping down in their familiar dining room, sipping a cold beer, and watching the Lakers beat the Magic in the playoffs. 

It's pretty amazing.  A couple knuckleheads don't have a mite of experience with restaurants, but have excellent taste and undeniably keen intuition.  And within 2 years, their place is named one of Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants. Though I don't live in the neighborhood anymore, the Golden State is essential to me, too, and for me it's also a source of great pride in my friends.  Here's to many more beers, many more burgers, and many more years of success for Jim, Jason, and the Golden State Cafe.

Golden State Cafe is located at 426 N. Fairfax Ave., 1 1/2 blocks north of Beverly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I hate green beer.  I don't see the point of adhering to a theme at the lowest, least clever level.  Also it looks gross and unappetizing.  (I also hate green mac and cheese, and green butter, and all the other green things our otherwise incredible commissary at work manages to churn out on Shrek days.  Come on, we're adults.  Is this really necessary?)

When it comes to unnaturally green foods, I draw the line at grasshopper pie (though you won't get me to scoff at this truly incredible fresh mint ice cream (I know it looks pale yellow in the photo.  Trust me, it's beautiful pale green.  And insanely good.)).  I like to weave in themes other ways.  More subtle ways.

So, after a delightfully Irish coworker invited me to an office hallway St. Patrick's Day celebration, my thoughts didn't go in the direction of sickly green hors d'oeuvres or sweets.  As usual, they went to cheese.  I decided to take a classic French recipe for gougeres, fluffy savory cheese puffs, and replace the cheese with an Irish cheddar.  Delicious idea.

I came home with a pretty special cheese:  it's an Irish cheddar, but flavored with porter beer, giving it the look of chunks of cheese marbled with deep brown porter.  In the store, it seduced me with its prettiness, but when I got home, I freaked out a little.  What if this brown cheese makes my gougeres look like little turds?  I forged ahead, resolving that I would take them anyway:  if they are delicious, and I have put work into them, what's a little turdish-looking-ness among friends?  Better than throwing away perfectly good food.

Well, it turns out they look beautiful and not at all turd-like!  A deep golden brown, with pockets of gooey cheese and a sprinkling of cracked black pepper on each.  This is my way of cooking for St. Patrick's Day. 

And if you're hankering for a little more Irish-ish, how about some fancy cranberry fennel soda bread?

Irish Porter Cheddar Gougeres
adapted from Gourmet

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Irish Cheddar cheese with porter

For pâte à chou (cream-puff pastry)
1 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 jumbo eggs, or 4 to 5 large eggs
black pepper

In a heavy saucepan bring water, butter, and salt to a boil, then lower heat to medium.  Add flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from side of pan, about one minute.

Transfer mixture to a bowl, and beat in all but one egg, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition (You can use a mixer for this, but a wooden spoon works fine).  Batter should be stiff enough to just hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, in a small bowl beat remaining egg lightly and beat into batter a little at a time, until batter is desired consistency.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or line with parchment paper or foil.

Stir cheese into pâte à chou.  Arrange level tablespoons about 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Sprinkle tops of gougères with black pepper and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching positions of sheets halfway through baking, 30 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown and crisp.

A note on yield:  The original recipe says it makes about 40.  I must have been generous with my tablespoons, as I got about 32.  Guess it depends how big you want your gougeres.

We Jumped Over Fire

I celebrate new years three times every year: our western one, in the middle of freezing cold winter, Rosh Hashana, which lands in fall, and the one that has always seemed the most right to me, Norouz, Persian New Year, celebrated on the first day of spring.  It's a celebration redolent of sweet rebirth:  painted eggs, sweets on the table, fresh fruit everywhere.  The scent of fresh herbs and hyacinth waft through the day's traditions.  And on the eve of the last Wednesday before Norouz, you light a fire, then you jump over it.

Somehow this particular tradition -- a holiday known as Chaharshanbe Soori --  had escaped me until now.  I mean, my family doesn't even go camping, so I suspect getting a fire lit outside, let alone the grave dangers involved in jumping over it, were just too much for us.  But tonight, a sweet coworker named Saba invited me to her home to share in a tradition she holds on to from her own days in Iran.  I had no idea what to expect, but I'm so glad to have experienced the warmth of the fire and of Saba's hospitality.

 For me, tonight was a whole new way of doing Persian.  In my head, the associations with Persian events are words like overdone, super-fancy, formal, and stuffy.  But, tonight, the setting was Saba's cozy-artsy apartment in Franklin Hills, and the event was much more personal.  Not that the spread was not impressive:  Saba's home is peppered with accents from the old country, all with a unique touch.  Her gorgeous old silver tea set was a find at an antique shop in Tehran, and the beautiful but quirky miniature painting of a dainty Persian dancer in traditional baggy pants standing on her head?  Saba painted it herself, natch.  There are bits of beauty in every corner of this home.  Little dishes of dried fruits, nuts, and Persian sweets covered the coffee table, and she whipped us together a homey version of the traditional Norouz dish of sabzi polo mahi, which sat in my heart much more comfortably than the giant mounds of rice I'm used to at Persian parties.  An avocado and cucumber salad, and a bowl of some of the freshest leaves of basil, tarragon, and mint I've ever seen completed the spread. 

 sabzi polo with perfect tahdig, lemons from Saba's tree

And, oh the company!  As we sat on Saba's deck watching the fire burn, she and her friend Asal (Persian for honey) -- a San-Francisco-based artist in town preparing for an opening in Tehran -- fed my endless hunger for stories of current life in that city: this world of thrift store shopping, daily protests in the streets, conversations with cabbies, tea made from leaves freshly picked, pimps decked out in their finest standing on street corners in the middle of the night, and a youth population perfectly well versed in sex, drugs, and rock and roll -- all the delicious details CNN does not cover.  I got to speak Persian (nothing new, but lately it's been especially fun), and these lovely women even complimented me!   All the while, Asal's husband Bijan kept the vibe going as our DJ for the night.

Like any good Iranian hostess, Saba would not let us leave without tea and a little dessert.  I'll tell you this: I might never again eat ice cream without a sprinkle of rosewater on top.  But before we got dessert, we had to do the jump.  You start with a mantra you direct at the fire:  "my yellow is yours, your red is mine".  It's a pledge that as a one year comes to a close and spring pops up all around us, we'll feed the fire all our sickliness and cowardice, and leap into the new year with all the heat and glowing life of the fire.  The world seems rife with challenges right now.  Sometimes it seems like they're too overwhelming to even begin to know how to deal.  Tonight, a declaration of the fire within us all is a good place to start.

Oh, and since the sabzi polo page on this blog has now surpassed the homepage in hits, let me give you people what you want:  Here is my detailed sabzi polo recipe, and here are a couple photos of the delicious finished product.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Secret Places

Have you been to 55 Degree wine shop in Atwater Village?  Nice place, lots of wine, blahblahblah.  But did you know that if you step towards the cash register, there's a stairway that goes way down to a cellar that is a secret wine bar?  It's a treasure.

It's a pretty special space.  Much larger than the store itself, it's cavernous, and yet with its dim light, it's intimate.  It's a place for telling secrets.  Order a drink from the lovely person behind the counter -- in our cases, it was a flight of cavas, whose Spanish names the British barmaid lovingly pronounced with an Italian accent.  Maybe pick up a bite to eat from the food truck outside, or just grab a handful of almonds from the counter.  A few sips in, you'll find yourself sharing things you'd squeezed super-tight not to let out.  Your non-judgmentalness muscle will be challenged as your companion starts sharing taboo secret things of her own.  As you dip into the glass of mineraly Santa Barbara Giallo that you probably didn't need after the generous flight of bubbly, you'll find that that muscle is stronger than you'd even imagine.  And so are you.  Which, maybe, is a fact worth sharing.

55 Degree is at 3111 Glendale Blvd., just north of Glenfeliz.