Guilty as charged.
Guilty as charged.
Well it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything. Truth be told I hardly ever take my camera out with me anymore. I know it’s not much, but you can find me here while I’m getting my shit together.
I’ve probably (definitely) written some disparaging things about the food scene in LA. Let’s just say I don’t agree with this article. I’ve eaten at Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza and thought it was kinda shitty, and I’ve had trouble finding what I view to be pretty basic ingredients in LA (county) grocery stores (green garlic, pea sprouts, frisee, the list goes on). But I can honestly say that when I was down there over the summer I had a world class dining experience. You know a restaurant is still on its game (read: has not gone downhill due to neglect by an empire-building proprietor) when you see the chef owner himself wandering around the dining room on a Saturday night, checking on patrons. My dining experience at Providence was so much more than just exquisite food in my mouth; it was a moment of reconciliation. The fact alone that it was my first time doing a tasting menu with my parents made it a hallmark in my frivolous, pleasure-seeking adult life. But I also reconnected with an old friend who I hadn’t spoken to in years and a locale I’d grown up next to but had hardly ever explored. I realized that LA really does have something to offer, not just in terms of fine dining, but in terms of night life and unpretentious, good food, as evidenced by the hip/divey whisky bar and late night ramen joint we went to once his shift was over. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I could probably, maybe stand living there, if I had to. This is a complete departure from the prejudices I’d always previously held against LA culture.
Chowhounders seem to think that the best restos in LA are Providence and Melisse. Having eaten at both, I’d say Providence wins by a long-shot. Maybe I’m just partial to fresh, well-executed seafood over classic French in general, but Melisse just wasn’t that memorable to me. Well, the bill was. Also, I think KV hooked us up a bit when we were at Providence [e.g. by sending out Wagyu instead of whatever meat was being served to the plebes]. Here’s what we ate.
This is where I spent the next three hours of my life, slowly getting drunk while draining my iPhone battery. I read the Economist, saw Michael Cimarusti (who I recognized from Top Chef Masters) and silently geeked out over this to myself and to Facebook.
Who knows if I’ll ever find myself living in LA? I know many cool people who have chosen to settle there, and that must count for something. If the food was this good at Providence, then maybe LA isn’t the gastronomic wasteland I always thought it was. For once in my life, I’m curious to know more.
I’m curious to see if owning an iPhone 4 S will make me a better blogger. Being able to instagr.am one’s photos – which have been taken with a fairly decent cell phone camera – and upload them instantaneously, well, that ain’t nothin’. That means I can edit photos and blog at the airport, or on Bart, or while lying in bed…
Christmas Lunch in Garden Grove
It seems like the feast my step-mom prepares for each of the two big holidays becomes more and more meat/offal-centric with each passing year. On Thanksgiving she made mushroom soup, whole-roasted duck, salmon, papaya salad with liver, and veal to go along with my step-sister’s deep-fried turkey. This year she made something even more exotic…
These delicious meat parts went into some homemade bun bo hue. I really need to get this recipe from my step-mom.
But here’s what really got me – there was another very special dish in this spread that I’d never seen or even heard of before. My step-siblings jokingly referred to it as duck “pizza”…
Gelatinous until you scoop some off the plate, this concoction of duck blood and various duck parts is finished off with lime juice and eaten with sesame chips. Yes, I ate quite a bit of it. It was delicious. I understood that this dish could only be made with very fresh duck blood, but didn’t realize just how fresh until my step-brother explained to me the process of preparing this dish. You take a live duck, pick the feathers off its neck, slit its throat, and hold it over a bucket, draining all the blood out while the poor duck is still struggling. Then you cook up its liver, its meat and various other organs and, in the words of Mary-Kate and Ashley, PUT IT ON DA PIZZA. Anyway, this is how the dish is traditionally prepared. I think this time my step-mom just bought fresh blood from the Asian market, though it was likely extracted in this same way. Inhumane? Yes. Delicious? Yes. But I doubt I’ll indulge in this dish next year.
Lastly, what Vietnamese Christmas meal is complete without a bûche de Noel? My step-brother’s wife actually made this herself. Pretty impressive in my humble opinion.
Day After Christmas Meal in Rolling Hills
You might’ve noticed a recurring theme in my celebrations of the big American holidays: they always include a big Vietnamese meal with my dad’s side of the family and a big Italian meal at my mom and step-dad’s house. (Dad’s surname is Italian after all.) This year was no exception, except this time Anais came over to help with the cooking (and to help me kill a rosé, a Rochiolo chardonnay, and a 2007 Napa cab).
Nothing better than a hearty meal with an old friend eh?
And in case you’re curious, here’s a few more photos from my SoCal Christmas:
Not sayin’ I’m going to do all my posts like this from now on – the backlog of photos on my camera right now is ridiculous – but it was nice to get things down on paper without having to open up a photo editor on my computer. I love technology!!!
I’m not much of a baker (or blogger, for that matter). After a long day of being “analytical”, the last thing I want to do is undergo the tedious process of measuring exact amounts and mixing things in a specific order. I’m even less inclined to put in the effort if the pay-off is, well, something sweet like a dessert. When it comes to baking I try to keep it simple yet thoughtful. I improvise, as I do in regular cooking, and this sometimes yields amazing results.
In the week preceding Thanksgiving I’ve already baked on more occasions than I think I have in the past year as a whole. I’ve baked two things, both of which were pretty low-key in terms of preparation, yet which managed to garner glowing accolades. These dishes were: a butternut squash, leek & sage galette for Friendsgiving at Jane’s, and a pear-cranberry-gingersnap tart for the annual Thanksgiving pie-baking contest at my work. One a strong opener, the other a strong closer, both baked and both seasonally appropriate :D.
Butternut Squash, Leek & Sage Galette
– all purpose flour
– a stick of butter, unsalted, cold
– fresh sage, chopped
– 6 tbsp of ice water
– an egg, beaten
– a butternut squash
– warm spices like paprika and nutmeg
– 2 leeks, washed and sliced
– about a cup of ricotta cheese
– fontina cheese
This recipe is largely based off of this one, but I made some important changes to the flavor profile.
1. Make the crust.
Cut the cold butter into ½ inch cubes and combine with 1 ¼ cups of flour and 6 to 8 sage leaves, torn up, in a food processor. Add a pinch of salt. Pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Drizzle 4 to 6 tbsp of ice water evenly over the mixture and pulse until the dough just begins to form a ball.
If I had known how easy to is to make crust with a food processor, I would’ve added so many pastries to my repertoire by now! It’s like magic.
Press the dough into a 5 inch disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for an hour or more.
2. Prep the vegetables.
Peel and seed a butternut squash then cut into ¼ inch discs. Toss with olive oil, salt, paprika and nutmeg. Roast in a 500 degree F oven til tender. Set aside.
Wash and slice the leeks. Saute in butter until tender. Season with salt.
3. Assemble the tart.
Roll out the dough into a 13 inch round on a well-floured surface. Transfer to a baking tray.
Spread an even layer of ricotta cheese over the center of the dough, leaving a border of a few inches. Top with an even layer of butternut squash, then leeks. Top with grated fontina cheese and chopped sage. (For presentation purposes I might put the fontina underneath the squash next time.)
Fold the dough on the edges to cover the outer rim of the filling. Brush the crust with a beaten egg. Bake at 375 – 400 degrees F until crust and cheese are slightly browned. YUMZORS.
Making a galette in addition to my usual cornbread chorizo stuffing was a nice way to mix things up for Friendsgiving this year. It may even have earned a permanent place in my Friendsgiving dish rotation, but I guess that’ll depend on my mood next year.
Pear-Cranberry Tart with Gingersnap Crust, Crumb Topping & Bay Leaf Whipped Cream
– all purpose flour
– a stick and a half of unsalted butter
– 40 to 45 gingersnap cookies, or about a box
– three ripe Anjou pears
– fresh cranberries
– a lemon
– granulated sugar
– brown sugar
– heavy whipping cream
– bay leaves
– vanilla extract
1. Make the crust.
Break up ~ 32 gingersnap cookies, grind in a food processor and combine with ½ a stick of melted butter. Add a few pinches of salt. Press mixture evenly over the bottom of a spring-form pan, allowing crust to come up on the sides. Set aside.
2. Prep the filling.
Peel and core the pears then cut them into thin slices, ¾ to an inch thick. Toss the pears in a bowl with a few handfuls of cranberries, a healthy squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch or two (maybe a tsp?) of cinnamon, a few handfuls (maybe half a cup?) of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of cornstarch. (Sorry — I didn’t really measure things out, even though you’re totally supposed to while baking. I was loaded with sake, it was 10.00pm, and I just wanted to get the damn thing done!) Arrange the pears in a circular pattern on top of the crust. Spread cranberries evenly over the top.
3. Make the crumb topping.
Grind up about a dozen more gingersnaps. Combine with ½ to ¾ a cup of flour, ¾ a stick of butter that’s been melted then cooled and a pinch of salt. Added ⅓ cup each of white granulated sugar and brown sugar. Combine well then spread evenly over the top of the tart. (When I made the crumb topping I tried to follow this recipe, but didn’t have enough gingersnaps left to do so. I just ended up eyeballing everything and consequently my crumb topping was a little on the wet side. That is to say, it’s probably not supposed to look the way it does in my photo, but I was fine with how this slightly off, clumpier version of a crumb topping turned out.)
Bake the tart at 350 degrees F for an hour to an hour and a half, until cranberries have begun to shrivel and the crumb topping is a little brown.
4. Make the bay leaf whipped cream.
Make a bay leaf simple syrup. Bring equal parts granulated sugar and water to a simmer with bay leaves (I used 5 or 6 fresh bay leaves with ½ a cup each of sugar and water). Simmer for just a few minutes then turn off the heat. Allow syrup to cool completely with bay leaves still in it. Actually you might even want to chill the syrup.
Whip up cold heavy whipping cream until it’s almost whipped cream. Add bay leaf simple syrup and vanilla extract to taste. Serve with pear-cranberry tart.
In spite of my failure to measure things out properly, I still won the “taste” prize in the RA pie baking competition that took place during the office Thanksgiving luncheon this year. I was worried that one of two things would happen: that I would lose because my dessert was too tart or that I would be disqualified because it was a tart. I dodged both bullets. I think the Principals appreciated my frou-frou approach, and as a result, I was awarded a $50 Visa debit card (and a wooden spoon). Hey, baking ain’t so bad!
Lots of cooking and eating ahead. Enjoy your feast tomorrow, okay?
We kicked off the final leg of our trip with appointments at some of the Dry Creek Valley wineries. Every winery we visited was absolutely lovely. We started off at Unti, which sells to pretty much every resto in the SF Bay Area worth knowing that I can think of. (Not to mention Bi-Rite, which is super convenient.) The tasting fee was only $5 and the bottles were shockingly well-priced!
The Dry Creek Valley wineries were markedly less touristy, more legit, and better-priced than their Sonoma and Napa counterparts. A tour of this region could’ve made our trip alone!
Our next stop was Preston, which had the most charming grounds and the most delicious house-made sauerkraut (and loads of kitties).
We took some citrus-y Sauvignon Blanc (which you can apparently purchase at Berkeley Bowl) and a container of sauerkraut to go.
Soon it was time for the final winery of our trip — the grand finale, if you will – Copain. Oh COPAIN, Copain — my favorite winery of our trip by far! We were treated to spectacular views and delicious wines. (And I brought two very expensive bottles back with me as well. As soon as I pay off my credit card I’m ordering a few more bottles of the Les Voisins Pinot, since I just drank mine yesterday.) As a side note, I dined at Daniel in NYC a few weeks ago (for my first ever three Michelin star experience) and I noticed that they use the Les Voisins Pinot as a pairing on their tasting menu. They also sell bottles of it on their wine list for like $90, but I don’t have to pay those prices ‘cos I live in California beysh!
[The barn/tasting room/cellar at Copain.]
[Our view while tasting.]
With wine on our teeth and the sun on our backs, how could we not be gleeful?
So, the finale to our trip was actually a two-parter. The second bit? Dinner at the bar at Cyrus. (It seems I’m incapable of going to wine country without hitting at least one Michelin star joint.)
[An ode to a Pimm's cup called "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" -- gin, Pimm's #1, lemon juice, ginger, orange bitters, cucumber-lemongrass foam.]
Once again we found ourselves victims of age-ism. We watched two parties who arrived at the bar after us get their extravagant bread baskets before finally asking for our own. That bartender was a bitch.
[Chilled cucumber consomme with avocado and hearts of palm.]
[Sea bass with artichokes in sake lees, pea sprouts and dashi.]
[Aged abalone with sake, melon and sea grapes OMFG.]
[Foie gras torchon with cherry, pistachio and ginger...!!!]
[Sweet corn and black truffle risotto with taleggio.]
[Kurobuta tenderloin with cranberry beans, potato and persillade.]
A delicious, boozy (if not ulcer-inducing weekend) with the most delicious company — Nina and my car. Car, I miss you!
On our second day we drove into Sonoma proper for a full day of wine tasting. We started off with breakfast at the much loved Fremont Diner, which more than lived up to its reputation (on Chowhound).
With so many delicious low country menu items to choose from, we had to be strategic in our ordering.
Our first winery of the day was Keller Estate.
We met a lovely woman who taught us the difference between stainless steel and oak aged whites.
Next was Gundlach Bundschu, where the ageism was ample but the pours were not.
I ended up getting a 100% Cab Franc and my tasting fee was not waived upon purchase.
Gundlach is a five minute drive from Sonoma square, where we had a light lunch at The Girl + the Fig.
Our lunch consisted of fig royales, heirloom radishes with anchovy butter, a cheese tasting, and a BLT with green tomatoes.
Our final winery of the day was Scribe, which does tastings by appointment only. This was by far our best tasting experience of the day.
We decided to explore this rundown hacienda.
It was time for our tasting appointment so we drove to the end of the trail, where this idyllic scene awaited us.
The wines were pricey but I couldn’t leave without a bottle. I chose a Syrah.
After Scribe we went back to Sonoma square to split a bottle of rose on the grass and bask in the sun. Once the sun went down we had a quick dinner at La Salette. We were pretty haggard at this point so had to cut it a little short. The food was definitely tasty, but the place was practically empty and had a washed up kind of feel. It didn’t help that their menu was typed in Comic Sans MS.