Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dim Sum, Elevated

Dim sum at Elite Restaurant in Monterey Park. A damn-near perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

Note the bowl in the left foreground -- empty save for a few baby bok choi and a bit of broth. Doesn't sound like much, but really delicious, and a nice respite from all the friedness and dumplings. The vegetables always get the shaft. (On that note, why is it that whenever I go to dim sum, I see big beautiful dishes of Chinese broccoli on the tables of families who seem to know what they're doing, and yet I never order it? Mark my words, friends, next time I go for dim sum, there will be Chinese broccoli, and how!)

Check out Heather's photos of her trip to Elite. Dare you not to drool.


Elite Restaurant is at 700 Atlantic Blvd. in Monterey Park.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Food Blog Mashup: The All Kinds of Yum Food Marathon

A food blog mashup: two food bloggers come together to eat, meet, and take awkward photos in restaurants. One provides the premise -- that's Food Marathon, with his flights through several eateries in rapidfire succession; the other provides the location -- Fairfax Avenue, where I could offer Food Marathon a taste of my neighborhood, all within a block's walk.

Food Marathon likes to keep some anonymity on the web, so we'll refer to him as FM from here on in. Since FM already had covered West Third Street with another favorite local blogger of mine, I suggested Fairfax. And since the offerings on Fairfax lend themselves to late night noshing, we decided to make it a night owl's food marathon. In a gametime decision, we nixed Chameau, since, despite its delicious Moroccan fare, there actually is a limit to how much I can eat in one night. This left us with three stops: Canter's, Animal, and Golden State.

We met at Canter's Delicatessen, immediately got past the potential weirdness of a blind meeting over nothing but food (guess it's not that weird to us anyway), and got down to business. We ordered four items, all noteworthy for the restaurant: corned beef on rye, known as some of the best in town, the humble waffle, which LA Magazine named the best in the city in 2005, the meticulously composed fruit cup, and an egg cream -- a throwback to FM's childhood Canter's visits.

As we ate, we talked -- not just about food, though it was a popular topic. FM's made it a point to get to know as many local food bloggers as he can, and it was eye opening to me to learn what a network our city has developed over the many years. He also told me about his idea for a different kind of food mashup -- taking items from different restaurants, and combining them to make new dishes -- all while sandwiching some corned beef between a couple waffle wedges, as if to demonstrate his point.

All well and good, but it was time for the next stop. FM handed off our leftovers to a homeless guy outside Canter's, and we stepped over to the bar at Animal. It was here that our mashup would soon take on new meaning, but we didn't know that yet. What we did know was twofold: Joe's doughnuts and the bacon chocolate bar. The latter has been the talk of Animal since its opening -- the old schtick of the two dudes that are such meatheads they even put pork in their dessert. And it was all you'd expect: rich and chocolatey, with that winning salty-sweet-smokey combo. But the other dessert, Joe's doughnuts, completely stole the show. I'd had them once before, and was excited to share them with FM. And to eat them again myself -- these doughnuts are incredibly delicious. They come freshly made and warm, three fluffy orbs, in a pool of dark caramel sauce.

It was as we were leaving the restaurant that one table caught our eye for two reasons: I saw a guy I met at 11 in 11 (talk about food marathon), FM saw an old high school friend. Both were the same guy. This one table brought the mashup full circle, as social circles merged unexpectedly. FM caught up with a couple more schoolmates as I chatted with another 11 in 11 compatriot; they all mentioned their plan to go to Golden State after their dinner, and then Jon Shook, whom I'd first met through Golden State's Jason Bernstein at Animal's soft opening, came out and told us how well the restaurant was doing in the late night hours. Exactly why we were there!

We let our friends carry on with their dinner though, as we still had to get to Golden State ourselves. I walked in immediately elated: Golden State is home turf for me, and in addition to owners Jim and Jason, two of my best friends, Rachel and Nick -- Jim's brother, in town from New York to check out the new place -- were also hanging out. Though I was hoping that FM might see the place for more than his first impression of "Scoops comes west", we really couldn't eat anything substantial at this point. So, he got Scoops. And I got wine. And we chatted with my friends. Jason and FM talked shop, Jim told us the history of the Canter's fruit cup (apparently an old schoolmate of his has made a documentary on the topic), ice cream flowed, and -- I hope -- good times were had.

But eventually, every great mashup must end. FM said his goodbyes, and I hung back at Golden State a little longer. At some point the rowdy crew from Animal made their way in and a dance party ensued, with my friends and FM's friends rocking out together in the middle of the now-closed restaurant. Welcome to my neighborhood, Food Marathon. This is how we do things here.

Here's Food Marathon's take on the night.

Canter's Delicatessen is at 419 N. Fairfax.
Animal is at 435 N. Fairfax.
Golden State is at 426 N. Fairfax.
All of these spots are between Beverly and Melrose.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Neighborhood Nibbles

Mid-city West is getting fun (as much as I still wretch a little when I say Mid-city West)! To wit:

L.A.'s Original Farmers Market Cookbook: Meet Me at 3rd and Fairfax. Someone (namely Joann Cianculli) did the footwork and collected recipes from nearly every stall at the iconic Third and Fairfax Farmers Market, in addition to fun anecdotes about the 75-year-old market. I live a half-block away from the Farmer's Market, and it has been my own backyard/dining room for the last seven years. So, I love this. According to Eating LA, I will finally learn the secret behind the awesome mee goreng at Singapore's Banana Leaf, and get Nancy Silverton's hailed spec for ground beef from Huntington's Meats for perfect hamburgers, plus recipes from Lotería, The Gumbo Pot, Magee's, and more. And according to Tasting Table, there was a book signing at Anthropologie Thursday night. Hopefully they still have some signed copies on hand this weekend!

West Third Street Spring Stroll
. These little Third Street events are always nice, but now that the weather's getting warmer, it's the perfect time for one. Hopefully they'll offer some good valet parking events like they did for the last one, but even if not, discounts, specials, and refreshments mean people will be out walking around. Saturday and Sunday, May 2-3.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Vinoteca Farfalla is a Nice Place

I forget about Los Feliz, but turns out it's still there. Did a little Hillhurst pub crawl a while back, which started at Vinoteca Farfalla. This tiny box of a wine bar was super crowded, but if you can get yourself a table, you can be cozy within the bustle. It's a nice vibe. And they have the kind of staff that will engage you in a conversation about wine, if you're into that kind of thing (and not wine-timid like me), and will also tell you if your cheese selection is boring (which is to say, they are not cheese-timid. Nor am I). They also have a full menu with a subtle Brazilian bent amidst predominantly Italian offerings.

Vinoteca Farfalla is at 1968 Hillhurst Av., between Los Feliz Boulevard and Franklin Avenue

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't Tell Anyone: The Varnish

Can you keep a secret? It's a really good one. I've discovered a portal into another time and place, but I kind of want to keep it to myself. It's actually a tiny door in the back of Cole's downtown. You step inside, and are magically transported.

Cedd Moses, the guy behind the 213 group of bars downtown that includes the Broadway Bar, Golden Gopher, and Seven Grand, recently brought Cole's into that fold, transforming the century-old cafeteria from 'old' to 'retro' in a truly charming way. And in the back of Cole's, he built the Varnish, a 1920s speakeasy hidden in modern-day downtown.

Though few spots can really be secret these days in Los Angeles, you really do feel like you're in on something with the Varnish. The small windowless space is decorated with old traincar booths and dim lighting (the vibe matches that of the Edison, though much more intimate), and you could swear the music wafting through is coming from a shaky grammophone (more likely an iPod, but let's not talk about it). It's the kind of place that makes you second-guess wearing jeans to go out -- stockings with a seam running up the back of each leg might be more appropriate. And pincurls.

But while the vibe is quite impressive, what goes on at the bar is the thing here. There is fresh produce on ice in a glass case. There are beautiful bottles holding exotic spirits. There are laboratory flasks filled with liquids of all colors. The night when I visited, Marcos was our able bartender. All of us took him up on the 'bartender's choice', and he did not disappoint. We stood rapt as he meticulously concocted a whiskey drink with honey and lemon juice; a Pimm's cup with lots of cucumber and fresh mint; El Diablo, a zingy tequila drink with homemade ginger syrup, seltzer, and a float of scarlet framboise, and the night's winner, something amazing with ginger syrup and lots of fresh mint (muddled really well so the drink had a gorgeous pale green hue), and garnished with a chunk of candied ginger skewered on two toothpicks. Watching this Marcos at work is quite a treat. He mixes each cocktail with focus and perfectionism, then after giving it the most vigorous shaking I've ever seen, he pours it into its glass over a single giant block of ice (preferred over smaller ice cubes because they melt more slowly, preventing the dilution of these precious drinks), then garnishes beautifully and adds the signature metal straw.

Guys, this place is so special. You have to go. I'd recommend a weeknight, as it can get crowded on weekends. In order to avoid a line through the middle of Cole's, though, on busy nights they take your cell phone number and contact you when you've been let in -- civilized, no? So, get there. But please, don't tell anyone about it, ok?

The Varnish is at 118 E. Sixth St., at Main, Downtown.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

the blues, unleavened

i don't want to be here right now. i want to be home, with ample time to pore over recipe after flourless recipe, using the excuse of restriction to let my imagination, and my appetite for dessert, go wild. i mean, it's the tradition of my people, right? tomorrow night is the first night of passover, and i've promised my mom i'll bring a dessert to her house. thursday, we have our second seder at my aunt's house, and i can't show up empty-handed. i'm also in charge of dessert at friday night's surprisingly thoughtful and tradition-filled "rock and roll seder" at my friends' home. i'd really love to be writing out shopping lists for brown butter hazelnut cakes (a religious experience if i've ever heard of one), and pondering over what fruit would make the best filling for meringue sandwich cookies (leaning towards raspberry...then again, chocolate is one of my favorite fruits). i feel like this is what i should be doing. i can already taste the caramel matzoh crunch. instead, i have to test the new features in our shot tagging tool, figure out why the goose's model seems to be missing a wing and why the pigs' ears have no controls. all in a day's work, but then there's the fact that my car is broken, i'll probably spend the better part of tomorrow morning at the dealer, and i'm not even sure how i'm getting to my mom's house for seder tomorrow night. big heaving sigh woe is me waa waa waa.

[thanks paurian for the photo]