Friday, June 27, 2008

The Bake Sale Heard 'Round The World

I am filled with gratitude right now. Like, beside myself. I put the word out to a few people about our bake sale on Saturday, a few of those people spread the word even further, and before I know it, DailyCandy is featuring us, we're in the print edition of Metromix, and there's buzz about our little event in corners of the internet I didn't even know existed. You guys! This is amazing.

We've challenged ourself with a lofty goal this year, and with all this awesome exposure, we just might meet it. Here are a few of the fabulous blogs -- some friends, some bizarro internet friends, and some, kind strangers -- who have spread the word on No Cookie Left Behind.  You guys are totally sweet.  Many thanks!!

Racked LA
Relish Small Pleasures
LA in Bloom
Caroline on Crack
Nothing to do in LA
Dig Lounge
Green LA Girl
Franklin Avenue
Las Angelenas
Eater LA
Pico and the Man

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No Cookie Left Behind: 2nd Annual

So, once upon a time (last year), I received an email from an organization called Share Our Strength. They were having this thing called the Great American Bake Sale, where they mobilize people across the country to have bake sales with proceeds going to ending childhood hunger, and could I post about it on my blog?

Well, I'm never one to turn down a food-related charity -- it is, after all, the only way I can really balance out the food indulgence that is my everyday life. And I do love baked goods. So, I thought to myself, yeah, I can sink into my bed and write about this thing, but why don't I also get up and actually have a bake sale? So, several accomplished, well-connected, and food loving friends, an inventive ice cream man with a heart of gold, and a million emails later, No Cookie Left Behind was born. The enthusiasm for our little bake sale floored me at every step. Before we knew it, we were getting nods on DailyCandy and KCRW's Good Food, and all over blogland (what? i just don't feel like saying blogosphere.) The good vibes that we felt on what may have been the hottest day in the universe spread from vegan bicyclists to merciful parking enforcers. Through the glory of banana bread, lemon bars, and many pink cupcakes, we were able to raise over $1500, easily surpassing our goal of $1000.

And Saturday, June 28, the No Cookie Left Behind Bake Sale and Hootenanny is back!

Please join us again at Scoops for even more deliciousness and good times! This year's offerings include banana caramel cake, homemade chocolate peanut butter cups, chocolate Guinness cake, dozens of cupcakes, lemon bars, zucchini bread, sweet almond bread, a wild mushroom tart, many mini banana bread loaves, Spork Foods vegan cookies, Paulette macarons, Lark Cake Shop cakes, and much, much more.

And if all that is not enough incentive, come for the ice cream. After all, it's Scoops! And if it's still not enough... well, clearly you're dead inside. Sorry.

But if you want to make a tax-deductible donation, maybe you're not dead inside after all. In fact, you're awesome and we love you. And if you love to bake, we'd love you even more if you contributed something: just drop me a line.

Here are some bake sale photos from last year to whet your appetite. Hope to see you on the 28th! (And if you do come by, do introduce yourselves! No Cookie Left Behind is also about community.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fairfax: The Third Wave

a little local color

In the near-seven years that I've lived a quick walk away from Fairfax Village, that stretch of the eponymous street between Beverly and Melrose, it went through an odd transformation. While its traditional mix of old-country Jewish establishments and gritty punk rock sensibility still held strong, a new urban hip-hoppy scene developed there over the last couple years: think Japanese kids in baggy shorts and fancy Nikes stopping for mandelbrot at Schwartz Bakery. Now Fairfax is changing once again, to something hipper, a bit more grown-up, and far more delicious.

I have walked this stretch of Fairfax maybe five million times, so I quickly learned what it's about: guys decked out in skinny black jeans, pale gaunt scowls, and spikey dyed hair share the sidewalk with headkerchiefed bubbes picking up their Sabbath rugelach from Diamond Bakery. At Canter's Deli, you can order your matzoh ball soup from a booth dedicated to none other than devotee Rodney Bingenheimer, local hero who pretty much created an alternative music scene here in Los Angeles. Or do some late-night brooding in a dark banquette at Damiano's, then wash down the sausage pizza an ornery tattooed waitress threw on your table with a bottle of kosher wine you picked up at Sami's market up the street.

Hall of Fame

But in the last few years, the vibe took an unexpected turn -- to streetwear. It started with Supreme, with its giant stylized skate bowl taking up most of its shop; and now every other storefront is some riff on the streetwear theme. Shops like Flight Club LA, Hall of Fame, and alife elevate the scene with stark, gallery-like stores, while Reserve teaches the skater kids some hip-hop history with its collection of vintage art and graphic design books.

peaceful coexistence

Lately a whole new thing is going on. Somewhere amongst Fairfax's Jewy punk-rock history, the street-kid finery, and the tiny art-nerd subculture held down proudly by the Family bookstore and Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater, things are getting fancy. But it's a kind of fancy that still suits the neighborhood. Delicious things are afoot, but they don't seem to come with pretentiousness.

Schwartz kosher bakery and Animal, together in perfect harmony

John Shook and Vinnie Dotolo's restaurant animal opened last week, and while definitely a fine dining establishment, it also has, even with no art on the walls yet, a bit of edge, not to mention a sense that it will quickly become a go-to for regulars looking for a casual place to dine on artful market-fresh dishes.

Largo no longer

Even the French restaurant slated to open in the Black Sea space can't be too snotty. I mean, it's owned by the former manager of Dominick's -- a place that beautifully walks the line between an elevated dining experience and an unostentatious atmosphere. And, it's going to be called Mec -- French for dude. Dude.

soon to be Golden State

And then of course, there's Golden State. Granted I'm biased, as the owners, Jason Bernstein and Jim Starr, are close friends of mine, but this also means I can tell you more about these guys. Between the two of them, they have an encyclopedic knowledge of food, wine, and especially beer -- they're really thoughtful about eating and drinking. But don't expect their restaurant, taking over the Nova Express Cafe space, to be stuffy: their goal is to bring the best of what California has to offer -- in beer and wine, as well as pub food and a few impressive culinary tricks up their sleeve. To me, Golden State could be exactly what our neighborhood needs: good food and drink, reasonable prices, in a casual, but not dumbed down, venue.

what will come?

I'm guessing this is just the beginning -- now that Largo has moved to the Coronet Lounge space on Beverly, its old space is available, and there are a few others up for grabs as well. Here's hoping, as the Fairfax District grows and changes, that it gets more and more delicious.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

animal. soft opening. i was there.

putting on the finishing touches

You know those stories girls tell, where they had nosebleed seats at the concert (you know, Billy Joel or the Stones or something), and some guy treks up to their section and whisks them down to the front row to squeal and revel in their favorite pop idol's sweaty rockstar glory? I kinda had that tonight.

I've been hearing about the opening of animal, the restaurant from local caterers John Shook and Vinnie Dotolo (aka the Two Dudes -- remember their Food Network show?) for a good while. And I was excited: I watched the show, and saw the dudes -- eminently competent chefs -- in action, so I had a bit of personal investment in the enterprise. I felt a lingering affection for the space from its T on Fairfax days. And, come on, Fairfax is my hood. Of course I'm stoked about new spot a quick walk from home.

But I knew these guys cook pretty fancy, so I figured it'd be a while before I made it over. I mean, I certainly didn't think I'd be spending tonight sharing a dining room with the fish guy, the insurance guy, and some hipster swilling Tecate from a can with his flatiron steak with bordelaise and sweetbreads. But then comes Jason. My dear friend Jason Bernstein, who's written here before, is, along with our friend Jim Starr, opening a bar and restaurant -- Golden State -- across the street from animal in the coming months (more on that soon!). Jason and Jim were invited to animal's friends and family opening tonight, but Jim had other plans, Jason called me, I was in, horray!

Friends, animal is good. It's funny to think how the food is best typified as light, extremely fresh, almost feminine in its delicacy, amidst all the hoopla about the greasy stoner dudes who opened a restaurant called animal. In fact, tonight there are several seafood options, and quite a few vegetable-centered ones as well. (Who knows if they'll be there tomorrow: as Shook explained to us when he stopped by the table, the menu -- as well as the beer and wine list -- is in constant flux.) The amberjack poke is a beautiful dish: pink and dainty with the freshest fish, tiny wedges of rosy peach, and lightly spicy harissa. The rock cod, served with a chervil butter and vegetables (melty leeks and spinach, sweet farmer's market carrots in orange and gold), never felt heavy, but had the savory punch of a much richer dish.

The food shined the brightest when it was at its simplest. Heirloom spinach with poached egg, bacon, bread crumb, and la serena cheese, was delicious: like no other spinach I've encountered, it had a crinkled leaf and a kale-like heartiness. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, slightest acidy tang, rich with egg yolk -- good, good good. And for dessert, we opted against the wacky bacon chocolate bar, and went with a simple take on a classic: ginger creme brulée. I agree with Jason's assessment: the creme brulée was spectacular. Beneath the crackly browned sugar crust, the ginger added sweet warmth without a hint of sharpness, and the texture of the custard was absolutely luscious.

It's a new place, and they've still got some kinks to iron out: the copper bar is gorgeous, but the stark white walls are aching for art (although, ladies, the women's bathroom? Surprisingly well-decorated. With vintage accents and fresh flowers, it might be the coziest room in the restaurant!). The espresso machine isn't in working order yet, Jason had to ask for a glass for his beer, and, the service is a bit rushed. But these are all fix-its. Overall, the place is inviting and funky, bustling with conversation. Even though, sigh, I'll have to go back to the cheap seats for my weeknight dinners, it's nice to know the view from the front row is very, very good.

animal is at 435 North Fairfax, between Oakwood and Rosewood.
Call for a reservation: 323 782 9225

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Lesson in Love, Milano Style

(Hi, I'm back. Don't know what happened to me, but I apologize for the lapse. Things get hectic. Anyway.)

Last month I was kindly invited to attend a class on Milanese cooking at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Never one to turn down an offer to play with Italian food, I gleefully accepted. What a delight: four hours in a kitchen-classroom with a learned and charming Italian chef-instructor ("I've never eaten spaghetti and meatballs, and I never will."), quality ingredients, and a delicious end product, in generous proportions, that I took home as a souvenir. And it wasn't until I got home, happily weighed down with a giant osso buco atop polenta, a hefty serving of ridiculously delicious risotto a la milanese, and a container full of priceless braising liquid, that I realized what I had really experienced: a practical lesson on an old adage. These few hours left no doubt; food really is love.

In every aspect of the class, I felt I was being cared for. The fresh scones that another chef had baked just for our class, the patient discussion of each dish, peppered with Chef Rossi's own tips and secrets, ones you'd never find in a cookbook ("Perfection is irrelevant. The 'skew' of an imperfect wine is what makes it approachable"), and an extensive packet including the day's recipes, an explanation of ingredients and methods, and a brief history of Milanese cuisine, were all bits of a sweet culinary indulgence.

I mean, these are ingredients that make you feel loved: oxtail broth, which would take over a day to make at home, provided to braise our osso buco; opulent threads of saffron portioned with a generous hand; gremolata hand-chopped for us by our chef-instructor; that delicate square of gold leaf imported from Italy crowning the risotto; grana padano grated from a wedge of cheese that nearly was bigger than a breadbox (that's right kids, we're in Milan. Move over parmigiano-reggiano. Grana padano is the local cheese here.). And everything made obviously delicious with heavy gobs of Plugra butter.

And the end result, seriously, wow. Everything smelled amazing, flavors ran deep, and textures were opulently rich. You don't want to let one bit of that brown 'gravy' surrounding the saffrony grains to go to waste (And finally getting a definitive risotto how-to, after so many untutored home attempts, is a revelation). And then you taste a bit of the braising liquid and it's equally rich and decadent but in a completely different way. And to think that I created those delicious flavors myself! Pretty impressive.

CSCA has a couple more of these Consumer Education classes coming up in June: "Strawberry Fields", and "Burgers with a Twist". Admittedly, they're a little spendy. But can you really put a price on love?