Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love Apples

An etymology post! Remember those?! They're my secret nerdy favorite.

So last night, I went to an amazing dinner and talk featuring Fallen Fruit, an organization that you all should learn about. More on that later though (UPDATE!); let's focus on a detail. As Matias Viegener, one of the Fallen Fruit guys, spoke about the many varieties of tomato we were about to chow down on, he mentioned that one was called Love Apples.

(I should note that nothing from this point on is fact: for one, I feel like pretty much all etymology is speculation -- it's very rare you find consensus on a word's origin, and for another, I'm completely spazzy on the details here. The word origin stories are still lovely though, even if they're just true-ish.)

Anyway, apparently, this is what tomatoes were called when they were introduced to the English language: love apples. Why, you ask? Because, well, the Brits first learned about tomatoes from the Italians, who of course call them pomodoro, and mistakenly thought the word was derived from adorare. Actually though, the word more likely derives from d'oro, as in "golden apple" (a sweet reminder that red is just one of the many colors tomatoes can be), or de Moro, "apple of the Moors". Either way, I had never made the apple-tomato connection within pomodoro; I think it's pretty cool.

(Now that I think about it, one day we should talk about the apple-potato connection, which oddly/awesomely comes up in quite a few seemingly unrelated languages. People, get excited.)

[thanks to jackie-dee for the gorgeous tomato photo]

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bundt Kissing Begins Tomorrow

Just got word that Kiss My Bundt, a bundt cake bakery on West Third about 50 steps from my apartment, opens tomorrow. They've got a big grand opening planned for September 6, but they soft-open tomorrow at 8 am. Chrysta Wilson, the owner of Kiss My Bundt, was really warm and generous when I randomly emailed her soliciting contributions for the Bake Sale earlier this year. She hand-delivered a couple trays of little bundts, and I'm happy to report, they were super fudgy and delicious. She also claims better-than-Coffee-Bean coffee, which is good because it means we can go there for reasons other than stuffing our faces with bundt cake goodness, though that's what we really want to do.

Anyway, go tomorrow, go again on September 6, and maybe a few times in between. And welcome to the neighborhood, Kiss My Bundt!

Kiss My Bundt is at 8104 W. Third St., just west of Crescent Heights.

[thanks for the photo]

Food Blog Summit 2008

In spite of its lofty name, this summit consisted of just one current food blogger -- myself, along with bunch of in general really cool dudes, sitting around eating carne asada and drinking beer. (It's better this way, and not unlike the Supreme Council of Semitic Languages, which consisted of me, Rachel, Alon, and Vani getting drunk off happy hour wine and mini pizzas at Palomino and comparing curse words in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian (which, yes, I realize is not Semitic, but rather Indo-european. Don't worry, it's ok.).)

Despite the lack of formalities though, it was a night that was very much about food, blogs, writing in general, not to mention culture and the virtues of our amazing Los Angeles, so obviously, the discourse of the evening was very close to my own heart. You see, my friend Noah is about to embark on a project that encompasses all of these topics, so he organized this summit to get the conversation going.

He's a writer who's turning some downtime into an opportunity to explore Los Angeles in a unique way: his plan is to, each day, go to one restaurant representing a different country, until he runs out. And then of course, he'll write about it. Simple concept, but potentially amazing. Not only will he eat really well and discover new facets of his city on a daily basis, he'll also share these experiences with a whole host of people on the web, exposing how awesome LA is in this particular way (he's already got 90 countries covered!), opening up the discussion to a potentially limitless crowd, and hopefully creating a forum where we can all learn something from each other.

It's interesting. Unlike my own little blog, which developed completely organically, out of a nebulous desire for a writing outlet and some sort of personal web presence (I cringe using buzzwords like that, but really, I did describe it once as a web presence. Ugh.), and eventually fell into exactly what it is now -- a strictly personal ode to cooking, food politics, and the unique pan-ethnic dining experience that LA offers --, Noah is taking a very thoughtful approach to designing his project. And for me, it was really thought-provoking to hear how much weight is put on trying to build a place where people can connect to the words on the page (er, screen), even if they are not food-obsessed. It's something I struggle with: As I write more -- in fact, by virtue of having this very blog, I have more opportunities to become an educated eater. And as I learn more, I want to share more of these sometimes esoteric details, and fear that as I do, I lose my own voice, which, if you read the earliest posts here, was rougher, more eclectic, self-deprecating, and, I think, relatable. Is my blog eating up its own identity?

franklin guards the tecate

Regardless of my own concerns, though, the night's conversation was great. A group of people who are as jazzed to talk about fresh salsa verde from CarnicerĂ­a Sanchez as they are about the funky Chinese breakfast crepes they learned about in Wednesday's LA Times (not to mention Miss Irene's crotchety unwillingness to look past the name of John Shook and Vinnie Dotolo's animal restaurant to all the delicious menu items showcasing in-season farmer's market fruits and vegetables)? How refreshing! Indulging in the debate of how best to represent massive food nations like Mexico or China with only a days' worth of eating? This is my kind of table talk.

So, I left the summit with the taste of Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza on my tongue (thanks Jason!) and lots of homework (ask Talal about Bahraini restaurants, and Ares about Dominican ones, Matt about Ghanaian ones, etc.). And a head full of thoughts on my little all kinds of yum. Nothing concrete just yet, but still, it's nice to have everything rustled every once in a while. I guess that's what food blog summits are for.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Whoa: Massimo's Mudspot

Guys, this is revolutionary. I'm here to write about Massimo's Mudspot, and I am currently at Massimo's Mudspot! This is the future! (OK, so maybe this is not new. But it turns out my blog is kind of a luddite, have you noticed? Aw, poor neglected little bloggie.)

Anyway, I'm sitting at Massimo's, a new coffeehouse that opened next door to the Little Bar on La Brea at 8th. It's big and airy, with funky mismatched furniture, including a couple couches in the front where just a few minutes ago, 2 cute little boys were playing, they have free wireless, Danessi espresso, and Galaga.


Sorry, just got distracted by the cutest baby ever gazing at me. See that? Live blogging, people. Amazing!

Anyway, yeah, Galaga. And lots of baked goods (lavender lemon bar, anyone?), sandwiches and salads and what not from Organic To Go, jazz wafting through, and a subtle Italian theme created by the black and white photos and old movie posters on the walls -- obviously, I love that. Oh, and did I mention free wireless internet?

OK, i'm going to go buy something else since I've been sitting here forever and don't really understand how a place can stay in business when people buy like 5 bucks worth of stuff, then sit for 3 hours. So, come by, buy lots of stuff, then leave, so that there's always a table for me! Cool, thanks.

Massimo's Mudspot is at 759 S. La Brea, on the northwest corner of 8th.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where Are They Now?

When last we visited Peggy and Chris, they were a new couple, canoodling over fried lentils at Cobras and Matadors. That night was the first time I met Chris, and they were at that stage of the relationship where, on the drive over, I turn to Rachel and ask, "So are Peggy and Chris an item or what?" and she nods and smiles a little excitedly, "I think they are!"

Flash forward about 2 years to this weekend. Dinner party at the newly engaged (!) couple's new house (!) in Silver Lake, in the dreamworld that is their backyard. Peggy has gone back to her Lebanese roots in creating an amazingly perfect Mediterranean lounge on their patio, complete with mini lanterns twinkling through hanging grapevines, star jasmine growing on the hill, a fig tree, and couches (couches! outside! my favorite thing in the world!). On this particular night, there was even a sweet and mellow dog roaming around.
In the middle of all this summery coziness was a long table set with grilled flank steak over a mound of pine nut couscous (the juices from the steak made the couscous kind of irresistable), a gorgeous vegetable tian, and the cocktail of the night, a refreshing mint lemonade spiked (generously) with vodka.
While we sat gossiping about mutual acquaintances, discussing new projects, planning future dinner parties, Chris was back behind the grill, this time on dessert duty: grilling perfect peaches to serve with Breyers French Vanilla ice cream and crumbled ginger snaps. A sweet ending to a sweet night.

[thanks to shutterbug Rachel for all the good photos]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Varying Degrees of Amazing

OK, friends. I have to tell you about a new restaurant. Why? Because it's delicious. You see, I go to a good amount of restaurants, and I often go places that are fresh, use great ingredients, are fancy, but it's rare that the food really is delicious. Last week, I went to Ronin Izakaya Bistro, a new Japanese tapas spot on La Cienega, and although the service and ambiance were certainly fine, it was really about flavors. The dishes were brimming with fresh, strong tastes, each different from the next, and each delicious.

As those of you who frequent this site (sorry, I can't say it with a straight face) know, I'm a big fan of izakayas. So, when, in my endless hours of poring through the internet, I discovered that people are raving over a new one so close to my neighborhood, needless to say, I rounded up my Team Tokyo's LA contingency, and headed over to check it out.

The place isn't raucous and alcohol-centered like you'd expect from a typical izakaya. Its small dining room is a little more subdued, although samurai movies projected on one wall add some edge. The menu is made up of cold, hot, and sweet tapas -- mostly inventive twists on Japanese basics -- as well as beer, sake, and a small wine list.

The moment the first bit of the washu beef tataki hit my tongue, I swooned. Now, I don't know what a washu is, but I want it in my mouth for dinner every night. Sitting atop a bed of greens, ribbon-thin slices of tender beef, seared on the outside, glistening pink in the middle. You take a bite, and are confused at the explosion of intense smokiness in something mostly raw, which also manages to feel rich and light at the same time. It's a fantastic kind of confusion. Totally the standout. So very good.

And of course, their signature dish, the taco-shimi -- a Mexican-Japanese fusion of seared ahi on tortilla chips with guacamole, shiitake mushrooms, and a wasabi sauce -- did not disappoint. After the chunks of fish were long gone, I was dragging slices of kumquat through the creamy wasabi sauce to make sure I got every last bit.

Nearly every dish we tried came with a salad component, and it was never an oversight. In the case of the tataki, it included crisp Asian pear and ponzu dressing. In other dishes, it was flavored with yuzu, or with a wasabi cream sauce. It kept the meal light, despite our ordering, between the 4 of us, about 300 dishes.

Yuzu is another welcome theme. Our tried and true savory citruses, lemon and lime, are so well-loved, but it's actually really exciting to get that same clean tartness with a flavor that's totally new. The yuzu custard's richness is cut with a topping of refreshing yuzu granita and served with fresh berries.

Other highlights included the chocolate bar dessert, a rich 'bar' of flourless chocolate cake, served with vanilla milkshake shots and fresh berries; and the miso cod, sweet and buttery, skirted with a purple mash of taro.

So, yes, the food was the thing at Ronin the other night. In fact, one dining companion compared it to Musha, a similar restaurant, and came to the conclusion that while some dishes at Musha are winners, it's hit or miss overall, but at Ronin all the dishes are just various degrees of amazing. I'm in clined to agree, but it was the hospitable service that makes me want to go back (well, actually it's the list of menu items I still haven't tried ... and the washu beef tataki ... that makes me want to go back). Between a personable and attentive waitress, and a couple check-ins from the restaurant's owner, I felt really taken care of during our meal -- like I was an esteemed guest at the home of someone who happens to be a crazy amazing chef. Hope they don't mind me dropping in again and again.

Ronin Izikaya Bistro is at 359 N La Cienega between Beverly and Oakwood (next door to the nudie bar, if you're looking for a landmark, you perv). Call ahead for a reservation: 310/289-8404.