Sunday, September 30, 2007

more living less blogging

I know, I know! Two weeks and no post! This is truly terrible. But the last few weeks have been this busy: the produce drawer in my fridge molded over, I've missed the last three episodes of Top Chef (and this with a DVR), and until this morning, there was hardly room to move among the basket of clean laundry yet to put away, the displaced dirty laundry strewn all over the floor, birthday gifts still in disarray, and all the other crap that manages to accumulate when everything is already a mess.

In fact, this whole summer has been a busy one, and there were a lot of great days, meals, events that I would have loved to share here, but got lost in the shuffle. But the last couple weeks were a particularly harrowing one-two-three punch: all on pretty much the same day, summer ended, Yom Kippur came and went in all its misery glory, and good lord, I turned thirty.

So, in a cleansing ritual befitting the start of the Jewish New Year (so, it was three weeks ago. Do I look like the atomic clock?) -- one of three New Year's celebrations I participate in each year -- I present you with

Everything I Should Have Blogged About This Summer, But Didn't
  • Sonoma. I spent a dreamy weekend in a cottage in the woods of Sonoma this August. Two of my closest college friends and I trekked up for the long-awaited wedding of our friend Jana. This wedding was supposed to happen three years ago, and now that Jana has been in full remission for a couple years, and has gotten law school and the bar out of the way, it finally did. The whole trip was a dream that ended too quickly -- after marking our arrival into town at a late-night taco truck, we found the perfect little cottage that a scheduling glitch had bumped us into, complete with infinity pool. So we romanced the next day up with home-cooked breakfast, then cheese, fruit, chocolate, and of course wine, all poolside, accompanied by every variation on the In Touch/Us Weekly/OK family of pap we could find (in addition to The New Yorker, thank you very much). The wedding itself was perfect, too: paper lanterns in the trees, tables in the dirt, flowers in jelly jars, jugs of aguas frescas and bottles of local wine, hosted by a sister, officiated by an old friend, and the bride and groom looking happier than we've ever seen them.

  • Summer Dinner Parties, or Tannaz hones her Persian rice skills. First Rachel and Ashley invited some friends over to grill fish and eat it outside. I went with the traditional Iranian accompaniment to fish, sabzi polo: delicate Persian rice made even more fragrant by layering it with fresh dill, parsley, fenugreek, and chives. Then when the bake sale girls had a late summer reunion, the main course was a sultry dish of chicken roasted with fresh peaches and rosewater, so I made a sweeter riff on zereshk polo, which is usually made with tart barberries: Persian rice topped with a mix of slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and onions, sauteed together with saffron. Both were huge hits, and my tahdig skills continue to improve! (One of these days we need to get into the nitty gritty of the art that is Persian rice.)

  • Beach Days. One took us south to Laguna Beach: walk to Crescent Bay, lie under the sun with magazines and gossip, dip into the water for a chilly swim, finish the day with cocktails and dessert overlooking the ocean. The other took us north towards Zuma, with a stop at the Malibu Fish Company: fresh seafood and some of the best fries ever, followed by the discovery of a secluded semi-private beach that our rowdy crew managed to happily stomp all over.

  • Rosh Hashana. In the homes of most Ashkenazi (white) Jews, you eat apples and honey, have a round challah with your dinner, and you're good to go. But the Sephardic (brown) tradition -- well, the Iranian leg of it anyway -- has a full-on seder, as complex as the Passover one. Before dinner, we have a soul-food-esque feast that includes beets, tongue, black-eyed peas (especially good with leftover honey), dates, and pomegranate, each with symbolic significance for the year to come, and each with its own prayer. Our family has many irreverent takes on these ancient rites (like the annual demonstration of the sound of a cow without a tongue mooing), but that's a story for another post.

  • The birthday. For the first time since I was born, my birthday fell on Yom Kippur this year. So, hot on the heels of 26 hours of fasting, I met friends for a great night of drinks and silliness in the pretty much perfect setting of the Hotel Figueroa's poolside bar. The next day held a barbecue hosted generously by my parents, where we learned that Violet is a natural at the art of guacamole, and that margaritas make even the best day better (well, I already knew that last one). I was bowled over by the generosity of friends and family. They obviously know for whom they are shopping: cookbooks, a Mozza gift card, funky pearl tea from China with gorgeous earthy tea cups from the MOMA store, more fancy tea -- this time with dried fruits and sunflower seeds built in, a hunk of swoony Humboldt Fog cheese the size of my fist (well, let's not take away from it -- it's really size of a normal person's fist), cookbooks, jewelry, an ice cream maker, and more. As if this wasn't enough, 2 friends took me to a birthday dinner of a seemingly endless string of tapas on the cozy patio between La Loggia and Next Door Tapas in Studio City -- banana caramel napoleon, anyone? -- and 2 other friends took me out to Little Tokyo for a delicious izakaya dinner at Izayoi. Simmered tripe, anyone? (Seriously, you should try it -- it's surprisingly delicious.)
So, as you can see, the blow of leaving my fun-sounding twenties and entering my depressing-sounding thirties (and oh boy, was it a nasty blow!) was cushioned by good times and massively great friends and family. Looking back on this action-packed summer actually makes me feel okay about already being in the thick of autumn (not to mention the autumn of my life. ok now i'm just being dramatic). Hopefully now that I've gotten that bottleneck of items out of the way, posting here will resume as usual. Thank you for your patience, and happy autumn.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

the dearth of coffee beans around here

It looks like a Coffee Bean is coming to the corner of Third and Crescent Heights. This is great news, as I was really getting tired of having to walk all the way to the one on Third and La Cienega, or the one a block away, at Third and Fairfax, or the one about 5 blocks from that one, at Third and Martel. I mean, sometimes as I'm walking past the Coffee Corner and the Starbucks in the Farmer's Market to the crepe place to get an iced cappuccino, I think to myself, there really aren't enough places to get a decent coffee in the area. I mean, granted there's Bagel Broker a block up Fairfax, Mani's all the way down Fairfax, and the espresso bar at Whole Foods in between, just across from Frank's keeping it real with their delicious regular coffee; and yeah, there's Doughboys (ahem, not at the moment, but usually), and Little Next Door right, well, next door. And of course there's Joan's, Toast, Alfredo's, and Who's on Third, and I guess, the Seattle's Best Coffee inside Borders, and the Starbucks in the Beverly Connection, and the Starbucks and the Coffee Bean inside the Beverly Center. But seriously, is it too much to ask for a couple coffee shops around here? Geez.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Boule Atelier: Champagne Wishes, Chocolate Dreams

The crowd at Boule Atelier's opening party was artsy, sophisticated, and rich. I am none of these things, but managed to sneak in to the delicious new space for champagne and sweets.

Jammed into the new space -- from the minty green storefront back to the impeccable kitchen -- guests chatted over pink champagne and an endless flow of smartly appointed baked goods. Trays flowed with the most elegant pain au chocolate; deeply chocolaty sables; dainty mini-macarons in lemon/saffron, matcha, and raspberry; lemony warm-from-the-oven madeleines; tiny eclairs brushed with vanilla-specked glaze; cubes of pistachio nougat in edible paper; and even savory breads: a bacon ciabatta pulled into organic shapes, foccaccia topped with minced olives, crisp breadsticks, and some of the most gorgeously frilly croissants I've ever seen.

Boule's chocolates were not on the night's menu but sat prettily in the display case across from Boule's gelati, each piece a perfect little cube, artfully rendered, ingeniously flavored (campari citrus caramel, anyone?). The space itself is equally refined. It doesn't quite capture the charm of Boule's posh robin's-egg blue boutique a few doors up, but the new shop is at least twice as big, and high ceilings and hexagonal tile floors give it an urban feel, with enough pretty touches to carry along the boutique's luxurious style.

All in all, it was a nice little respite from the average weeknight: champagne and excellent sweets, all in a lovely space. My kind of happy hour.

Boule Atelier is at 408 N. La Cienega, one block north of Beverly. Note though, that according to Eater LA, it doesn't open officially for another week. For now, get your fix at Boule's original bakery a few doors down at 402 N. La Cienega.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cube: Philosophically Mine

Once upon a time, I conjured up an idea of how the perfect diet would go. It involved everything fresh and bright: lots of vegetables, even more fruit -- particularly figs, ripe and tender -- salads dressed with grassy olive oil, the most vibrant colors splashing every plate. Meat consumption would be slim, but would come in the form of seafood and the occasional bit of red meat -- if not cured or smoked and sliced impossibly thin, then definitely grilled. Wine, prosecco, minty ades all would be part of the discourse. And everything would be eaten outside. Maybe it's a little silly, but over the years, my friends and I have spent inordinate amounts of time developing The Philosophy. And this weekend at Cube on La Brea, it came to life.

This tiny spot used to be the Divine Pasta Company, and still has an Italian bent: the menu covers an extensive list of artisanal cheeses, panini, and pasta -- Divine Pasta, of course, including a wide variety of ravioli -- as well as gorgeous salads, vegetable sides, and meatier mains. I swooned over how well the menu understood the spirit of the Philosophy: dishes like grilled prawns with salsa verde, or summer cantaloupe with black pepper, olive oil, and ricotta were summer incarnate. We ordered light: a cheese flight, a ravioli dish, and a salad.

A meal on Cube's front patio is festive. While, admittedly, our server seemed a little bored with the proceedings, he did adhere to the no-corkage policy, so a few twists of the corkscrew and we were adding to the bubbly chatter of the small sidewalk space. Even the cheese was living it up: along with a nutty 3-year provolone, ciambella all'aglio, and 2 kinds of salumi, we also got ubriaco al prosecco -- a cow's milk cheese that's bathed as it ages in all the grape stuff that's left over from making Prosecco -- all sitting happily on a slab of chalkboard marked with their names. The pasta was a delight too -- rapini and pecorino ravioli with brown butter and sage.

The prize of the night was the salad though, with even its name sounding like it had been preened and primped for hours by a food stylist: first of the season pink pear apples, speck, shaved fennel & red cow parmesan with acetoria apple balsamic vinegar. Perfect half-discs of fresh apple had it looking like a piece of modern art, and flavors clamored for attention like a bunch of rascally kids: smoky, pungent, nutty, sweet, even a pleasant bitterness.
Top it all off with a Valrhona chocolate lava cake, as decadent and deeply chocolaty as it sounds, oozing into vanilla bean gelato. (Perhaps you'd say this dessert was a little heavy for our summery Philosophy, to which, in this case I would reply, philosophies were made to be broken.)

Cube is casual but thoughtful food. It's got a cafe atmosphere (in fact, the shop itself sells take-home pasta, artisanal cheeses, gourmet olive oils and much more, but all this is lost in shadows at night), but with its no-corkage policy, seasonal produce and quality ingredients, a informal meal here becomes something special. I guess that's what The Philosophy's all about.

Cube is at 615 N. La Brea Ave., between Clinton and Melrose.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

odds and ends: bake sale photos and the new yorker food issue

Two Fun Things for a Summer Day:
  • Photos from the No Cookie Left Behind Bake Sale are HERE. delish!
  • This week's New Yorker is The Food Issue and it's awesome. A long, meaty article about my personal inspiration and genius of all that is the Sephardic kitchen, Claudia Roden; and a story on Singaporean food by perhaps my favorite food journalist, Calvin Trillin, and more more more. I will be reading it cover to cover on the beach in Malibu tomorrow. Happy day.
Guys, I'm melting.