Saturday, March 31, 2012

Post 81: By Invitation: Tasting Menu at Maximiliano (LA: Highland Park)

I got a chance to meet Marian the Foodie when she joined the Six Taste team last year.  Lucky for me (and all of us at Six Taste) Marian is an extreme foodie who has many culinary connects across town.  Even luckier for me... she was kind enough to invite me and Ken to attend a private tasting menu that Chef Andre Guerrero of The Oinkster put together.  This nine course dinner took place with Marian and her foodie friends at Chef Guerrero's latest restaurant called Maximiliano.  I got a chance to see Chef Guerrero's passion for cooking, talk to him about his love for Chinese food... and drink a lot of wine.  Oh, and I met OG food blogger kevinEats too.  Worth the two hour drive up from Orange County? I'd say.

We sat down to a house smoked salmon pizza served with a glass of Prosecco.  The thin crust was warm, and the smoked salmon was the right amount of salty.  The pesto gave me a world of happiness, but my favorite part was the dollop of Burrata right on top of my slice.  That topping, along with the chopped scallions, gave a freshness to every bite and complemented the saltiness of the smoked salmon so well.  Best pizza I've had in a long time.

Our next plate was a faux gras mousse, chicken liver mousse, croustades, house mad pickles, and crisp chicken bacon.  Yep, you read that right... faux gras not foie gras, and thankfully because I embarked on an eight course foie gras dinner in the week prior, and I was not ready for another taste of foie.  The spreadable mousses on the crisp croustades made for an unbeatable texture contrast.  The house mad pickles were ever so slightly spicy yet full of lip puckering sourness... absolutely delightful.  Perfect for cutting the richness of the liver mousse.  And the chicken bacon? Can't... deny... bacon.

Next up was a highlight of dinner... asparagus, bacon confit, and soft scrambled egg topped with bread crumbs and served with a 2004 Domaine Berthet-Bondet Cotes du Jura from France.  Everyone agreed that this was the most comforting of all the dishes, especially with the pork belly bacon confit at the center of the dish.  The asparagus was tender yet not overcooked or too soft.  The soft scrambled eggs reminded me of a soft cheese or almost like the slightly burned top of a potatoes au gratin.  It was just so homey and innocent... nothing could taint the purity of this dish.

The next four courses were all different pasta dishes that hit more to the core of Italian home cooking.  The porcini mushrooms really came through in the chicken ravioli topped with truffle oil and reggiano cheese.  The cream sauce really allowed me to savor the flavor of the pasta.  It was served with a 2009 Beaujolais by Henry Fessy "Fleurie" of France.

The baked polenta was unlike anything I've ever tasted.  Prepared with pomodoro and creamy gorgonzola, the polenta was truly rich in flavor.  I scooped the pomodoro over the square of polenta repeatedly hoping to recreate the last bite I took.  This, and the next dish, were served with a 2009 Sangiovese by Cecchi "Bonizio" of Tuscany.

Course number six featured a classic Italian pasta.  A capellini with pancetta, pomodoro, and reggiano really captured my heart.  The noodles were perfectly al dente, and the pancetta popped with every bite.  I loved that the pasta was swirled in an updo and that it was dotted with pancetta confetti.  It seemed like this dish oozed with love and passion.  If I didn't already know Chef Guerrero was in the kitchen, I could have sworn an Italian nonna prepared this dish.

Our final pasta dish was an orecchiete.  It had fennel sausage, cavolo nero, chile, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and pecorino romano in it.  Orecchiete has never been a favorite of mine, so what really stood out for me in this dish was the fennel sausage and the cavolo nero.  This meat and vegetable combination really play well against each other, one with the more savory umami flavor and the other with the more cleansing touch.  This was paired with the Monkey See Monkey Do, a double IPA from Craftsman.

The last entree to arrive was short ribs prepared sous vide with red wine sauce, spaetzle, and fava beans.  Even though we were given serrated knives, there were not necessary because the short ribs were ridiculously tender.  I could slice through it like butter.  The red wine sauce really made this dish though.  A combination of savory, salty and sweet clung onto the short ribs like paint on canvas.  The spaetzle really sealed the deal for me.  I swiveled the spaetzle around on my plate until it was completely coated with the red wine sauce before eating it.  I could have closed my eyes and died right then and there.  This final entree was served with a 2005 "Pandora," by Peter Waygardt Mas de la Devez in France.

But no time to die just yet... eight courses completed and only dessert to go.  Everyone's got a second stomach for dessert, right? What was listed on the menu was a mini lemon tart, but what was placed in front of me was nowhere close to being mini... not that I'm complaining. 

The lemon cream had just enough citrus to cause a tart tingle but not enough to cause squealing of any kind.  Its creaminess could not be described in any way other than heavenly.  The coif of cream at the top was almost like a cute Asian cartoon poop.  It was light, airy and fluffy... and the highlight of burned brown on just one side made for a picturesque garnish that was almost too beautiful to break with a fork. 

Surrounding the lemon tart was a trio of ice cream: a lavender ice cream, olive oil ice cream, strawberry sorbet.  The lavender ice cream was rightfully floral, a giddy girl's dream.  The olive oil ice cream was remarkably refreshing, a smart way to cleanse the palate.  The strawberry sorbet was perky and foreshadowed the coming summer harvest.  Served with a Moscato d' Asti, the lemon tart was a great way to end a nine course meal.

A big thank you goes out to Marian for the invite to dine with kevinEats and to partake in Chef Guerrero's old school Italian dishes.  It was definitely a fun experience.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

This post features photography by Ken Lee.

ML - 20120320

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Post 80: By Invitation - Clifton's Cafeteria Facade Unveiling (LA: Downtown)

It's been quite a while since I've visited Clifton's Cafeteria.  In fact, it's been at least 15 years since I last visited Clifton's Silver Spoon location on 7th Street in Downtown LA.  When I would visit my dad at work on the weekends, he would take me down to Clifton's for their fried chicken and mashed potatoes or sliced turkey and stuffing.  On birthdays and other special occasions, my dad would bring Clifton's multi-layered chocolate cakes home to share with family and friends.  I loved Clifton's fried chicken.  It was crunchy and crispy and eons apart from the Pioneer and Kentucky Fried Chicken that I was used to.  On the occasions that I ordered the turkey and stuffing, I munched on the bread stuffing as slow as I could so that I could make the savory taste linger around on my tongue.  I always remembered those times because it was rare to have things like mashed potatoes or chocolate cake.  It was such a treat to have classic American fare because I was so used to having traditional Chinese and Taiwanese food at home in my younger years.  Anytime that I could get away from a taro birthday cake from the local Chinese bakery was a cherished moment in my eyes.  Clifton's has definitely been missed.

So imagine my excitement when I was invited to attend the revealing of the original Clifton's Cafeteria facade.  The building's facade at the Brookdale location had been covered with metal grating for almost half a century, so few people know (or remember) what the classic cafeteria actually looks like.  New owner Andrew Meieran (who also owns The Edison) put plans in to renovate Clifton's and restore its facade and entryway as part of the Bringing Back Broadway project.  Local media and fellow culinary cohorts were invited to have lunch at the cafeteria and watch the revealing of the facade.  How freaking cool.  The first person I thought to bring along was my dad.

Okay, so the facade needs a little work.  But we'll let the pros handle that.  In the meantime, though, I'm eagerly anticipating the classic cuisine of Clifton's Cafeteria from back in the day... except now it's going to be made with all organic produce and sustainable ingredients.  Other areas that the newly renovated Clifton's will bring are the bakery, a bar and lounge area, and a classic soda fountain the 50s.  The famous indoor waterfall will also be preserved.

During the media lunch, we were first treated to the cafeteria line... buffet style.  I went straight for the mashed potatoes.  The pot roast was definitely a side to my mashed potatoes.  There were plenty of choices for salad, but classic Caesar can't be beat.  Clifton's macaroni was prepared in the simple old fashioned way as mac n' cheese rather than macaroni drenched in cheese sauce.  The slightly burned cheese crust was magnificent.  I kept lunch light for fear of a food coma induced faltering of work place productivity.

For dessert? Raspberry jello, of course.  Personally, I think that jello has got to be one of the worst culinary inventions in history.  Truly, for the lack of a better word... yuck.  But I was in a cafeteria.  And when in Rome... raspberry jello it was.  Luckily, there were a variety of cupcakes at the dessert counter.  No multi-layered chocolate cake, but these red velvet cupcakes kept my nostalgia at bay.

Thank you, once again, to Arpi and Barbara for inviting me and my dad to attend this historic unveiling.  It brought back some cherished childhood memories for me, and it fueled the anticipation for Clifton's grand re-opening.  18 months and counting... can't wait to see it when it's complete!

Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120208

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Post 79: By Invitation - The Edison New Food and Cocktail Menu (LA: Downtown)

Earlier this year I was invited by The Edison to partake in their new food and cocktail menu.  I have visited this venue enough times previously that I had almost taken the Prohibition era feel and the cool foggy glow of the basement space for granted.  With special care given by Arpi of Sunshine Sachs and Barbara Jacobs of The Edison during the tasting experience, all the feelings of awe and inspiration that I felt during my first visit years ago returned as I descended the steps of the historic Higgins Building.

After meeting fellow bloggers and foodies while munching on bacon-maple beer nuts, we were presented with the charcuterie & cheese platter paired with the Pig's Tale Ale.  The smorgasbord included salami, savory paté, and a creamy Brie, all of which are my favorite items on their own.  The Pig's Tale Ale was a white ale, usually not my favorite of brews, but this was surprisingly refreshing.  It was a blessed blend of something light yet flavorful, slightly sweet with a mild bitter aftertaste.  Many sips and silent nods later, we agreed that the Pig's Tale Ale was a new favorite for our palates.

Next up was an albondigas soup graced with Kobe beef meatballs.  Plopped in the midst of the tomato and chicken broth were carrots and potatoes as well as ground Kobe blended with cumin, paprika, cilantro and rice.  The meatballs were tender and moist, and the broth itself was more than comforting.  This soup could warm my hands on a rainy winter day, and it could just as easily serve as a shoulder of consolation at the end of a long day at work.

Our first cocktail of the night was the Eye of the Beholder, a creative concoction made with mescal and tequila blended with pineapple gum syrup, and a duo of red and green jalapeños.  A lemon wheel danced atop the foam of citrus and cayenne pepper.  The drink itself was peppery but not spicy at all... the cayenne pepper further enhanced the naturally smoky mescal.  Vida, the most sought after Oaxacan mescal used in the Eye of the Beholder, mixed with the pepper and chile helped paint the ancient culinary taste of Mexican natives.  The sweet and sour notes from the lemon and pineapple gum syrup brought friendly reminders of last summer's hard lemonade.

The soup was quickly followed by A Simple Salad.  Small mixed greens with shrimp, corn, tomatoes and avocado was as simple as it could've gotten, but simple was by no means an indication that it was lacking in taste.  The harvest was glossed with a dressing of Meyer lemon and balsamic vinaigrette.  It was light enough to keep the featherweight greens propped up in three dimensional fashion.  The plump, jumbo shrimp was cooked to seafood al dente.  Everything tasted so fresh I could have sworn that it was summer, and the vegetables were picked straight from the backyard of the Higgins Building.

Paired with the sensational salad was the Brass Flower, a glowing grandeur of gin and grapefruit that was as beautiful to look at as it was to drink.  The color made it radiant.  The finishing touch of Prosecco made it sweet.  Had all the electricity gone out in The Edison's basement, the Brass Flower would have been the only light fixtures that shined.  Simply beautiful.

Following the salad was a bouquet of balance.  Not only did this basket of 50-50 fries balance out the healthiness of the mixed greens by adding a fried presence to the meal, it also mixed potatoes and sweet potatoes together in a fusion of harmony.  The age old question used to be... fries or onion rings? Nowadays, we have the luxury of debating between the classic French fry or the more avant garde sweet potato fry.   Lucky for us, The Edison solves the dilemma in just one basket.  Amazing.

Up next was a trio of protein in the form of beef, pork, and a chicken egg.  The beef was a remarkably rare Kobe slider with tender beef, onion marmalade and Maytag bleu cheese.  The pork was formed into what The Edison calls the Boiler Room, a sandwich with the texture reminiscent of Vietnamese banh mi... soft, savory swine and crunchy cucumber wrapped with a crunchy shroud of freshly toasted bread.  The Angel Egg was a classic deviled egg adorned with shiny black caviar.  The smoothness of the creamy yolk gave way to the salty crunch of the caviar for a texture contrast that was very much appreciated.  The trio was served with the Secretariat, a cocktail fused with Kentucky bourbon, pistachio honey, walnut liquor, and rumored hints of all spice and cloves.

If that wasn't enough to fill us up, along came the Downtowner, a plate of jumbo prawns on a bed of stone ground grits with spinach and a poached egg.  Grits, although typically thought of as Southern food, didn't taste like Southern food at all.  Maybe it was the setting.  Maybe it was coarse ground texture.  Maybe it was the velvety egg yolk and silky spinach that I incorporated into the grits and crunchy bacon.  Whether it had the essence of the South or the feel of the Prohibition didn't matter... it was good.

On the same plate as the shrimp and grits was the Cabernet braised short ribs with mashed potatoes & creamed leeks.  The red wine permeated deep down into the sinews of the center, and its juice made for a natural gravy to be expunged onto the mashed potatoes.  For a little extra color and garnish, a floral swirl of roasted heirloom carrot sat above the braised ribs.  The Mistress, a vodka drink shaken with pomegranate and hibiscus liqueur, was served with this plate.  The freshly squeezed lemon juice in the beverage provided a cleansing finish to the main course of the meal.

Got room for dessert? Sure.  How about three desserts? Well, if the desserts are The Edison's house chocolate chip cookie, the Elvis, and the Merry Widow sandwiches, then there's an acre of free space for these items.  The chocolate chip cookie was baked to perfection with a combination of bitter and semisweet chocolate chips.  The Elvis was Curious George's dream... a peanut butter and banana sandwich pan-fried with clarified butter.  If the monkey ever got his hands on this sandwich, he would have buttery fingers, peanut butter goo on his chin, and a belly full of bananas... and he would die happy.  The Merry Widow had a similar concept except Nutella substituted the PB.  The Elvis would fair well with those who like slightly savory desserts, while the Merry Widow would work with traditionalists who think dessert should always be sweet.  The sandwiches were served with caramel dipping sauce and fresh whipped cream.

The final cocktails of the night were a Perrier Jouet Champagne and the Natasha Mila, which whisked in flavors of lemon and raspberry.  These concluding artisan drinks were great ways to say thank you and bid adieu to Barbara, John, and the more than hospitable staff at The Edison.

A note on social responsibility: always have a designated driver, especially if half a dozen drinks are in your evening plans.  However, if your DD somehow can't resist the carefully crafted cocktails at The Edison (and who can resist), then make sure to inform the staff at the venue.  The great thing about The Edison, as told by Barbara, is that they will call a cab for whoever cannot safely drive themselves home... at their expense.  Barbara and The Edison are extremely proud that they are one of the only venues in Los Angeles that has never had a drunken driver cause an accident after leaving the premises.  Let's keep it that way.  Props to The Edison for having this policy to keep us car loving Angelenos safe.  Please don't drink and drive.

A big thank you goes out to Arpi for the invite and Barbara for hosting a wonderful evening.  The new food and cocktail menu will definitely beckon many to this beloved Downtown venue.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120201

Monday, March 19, 2012

Post 78: St. Patrick's Day Is Awesome

I love beer.  I love being green (recycling).  Minus the supposed delicacy called Lucky Charms, I love St. Patrick's Day.  It's Mardi Gras for everyone outside of New Orleans (and everyone who lives in New Orleans too).  This St. Patrick's Day I went without my dad's annual corned beef and cabbage meal, but I did substitute all of that for some delicious St. Patty's desserts and festivities with good friends.

Behold... the St. Patrick's Day cupcake from SusieCakes.  It's made with true Irish culinary creations... the cake is a mix of chocolate and Guinness stout, and the frosting is Bailey's buttercream.  Hell yeah.

Also, a piece of Susie's Famous Southern Red Velvet from the menu that will be the star dessert at Chron's wedding.  Christina + Ron = Chron.  Think Brangelina.  But cooler... and less baby adopting.

Check us out in our big green hats at the local Irish pub in San Diego.  We met many festive partygoers on account of our big, green hats.  Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody! May the luck of the Irish be with you.

Thanks Chron for bring the awesome desserts! Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120317

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Post 77: Fun Size Korean School Food (LA: Koreatown)

My roommate recently introduced me to School Food Blooming Roll, a restaurant that makes food that Korean students would typically bring in their lunch boxes to school.  This concept is quite unique, so I was eager to gather some friends for some famous Korean fare.  We ordered School Food's two most popular dishes, a super spicy tteokbukki and an epic platter of nine different kimbap. 

The rice cake typically used in tteokbukki are tubular and cylindrical, but School Food serves their version in a shape more similar to marshmallows, tater tots or fun size Snickers bars.  It's as if the restaurant purposely cut the size of the rice cake down so that elementary school children would enjoy their lunches more.  Who doesn't like miniature versions of everyday food?

The flavor profile is not just spicy but a melange of sweet and spicy together.  The thick, crimson sauce from the first taste of the tteok is sweet, but the peppery spice penetrates the taste buds soon after.  This wasn't the spiciest tteokbukki I've ever had, but it was pretty damn close to it.  We all know that gulp after gulp of water doesn't help, but I think that the spiciness led to a bit of temporary insanity because that's all I did to relieve the pain of the spice.  It wasn't until I munched on the kimbap and the accompanying sweet mayonnaise that my tongue calmed down and my ears stopped ringing.

Our massive platter included the following types of rice rolls: beef, garlic and bacon, anchovies, squid and squid ink, smelt roe, Spam, tuna, spicy anchovies, and kimchi.  And just like the tteok, the kimbap were bite sized too.  Korean style rice rolls are usually bigger than Japanese style sushi, so it takes more than one bite (depending on the size of your nom) to munch on the entire thing.  Luckily, these itty bitty kimbap were junior sized, which meant that popping a rice roll into your mouth didn't require much effort.  Hmm... is this the lesson we want to be teaching in schools?

My favorite kimbap were the ones that had tuna, Spam, and squid ink wrapped inside.  The tuna and Spam weren't anything out of the ordinary, but the saltiness of canned tuna and canned lunch meat really complemented the neutral flavor of the white rice well.  Japanese sushi relies heavily on the freshest raw fish to taste good, and since Korean kimbap focuses on ingredients other than raw fish, I found that the stronger the flavor, the more I ended up liking the kimbap.  

The squid ink kimbap, on the other hand, didn't quite have a strong flavor.  In fact, the squid was subtly sweet, and the flavor of its ink didn't really shine.  We all liked it just because the rice was black, and it seemed almost like a novelty food item.  It was unique, and we have the evolutionary bodily function of a certain cephalopod to thank for it.

After seeing the dishes, I could really imagine Korean school children carrying the fun size versions of tteokbukki and kimbap to class.  The food wasn't amazing delicious, but it was definitely fun to eat.  It was almost like revisiting the school cafeteria to have some of those nostalgic chicken nuggets, fish sticks... or for those of us from AUSD... crispitos! By the way, where can we find crispitos? Simply reminiscing about those school lunches from the good ol' days isn't going to cut it for me.  I'm going to need to munch on some real crispitos real soon.  But until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120225

Friday, March 2, 2012

Post 76: In the Pipeline & TW543's 5-Must-Try Burger Places in Taipei

Hello blog world!

Yes, I am still alive.  Yes, I will continue to post on S.O.F.A.T.  Yes, I am also extremely far behind on my posts... almost six months behind, in fact.  Eek.  Some things I have to finish:

Post 73: 48 Hours of Seoul Food
Post 74: In-flight meals and airport food
Post 75: Year-end Wrap Up for 2011

Yes, I realize that it is March now... maybe I'd catch up on my blog posts if it weren't for new episodes of The Voice and this ridiculous Linsanity craziness.  Rock on, my brother from another mother.  Posts that I have yet to work on:

Post 77: The Edison's New Food and Cocktail Menu
Post 78: Re-opening of Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway
Post 79: Snow Monkey Ice
Post 80: Six Taste Food Tours - The Thai Town Experience
Post 81: Ohshima Omakase in Orange County
Post 82.1: What to Do with Mrs. Haraguchi's Butternut Squash
Post 82.2: What to Do with Auntie Li's Gigantic Lobster Tails

Will I ever catch up? Uhhh... I guess we'll see.  But if you're looking for something to satisfy your hunger visually, check out TW543's 5 Must-Try Burger Places in Taipei.  The CC Heaven burger with Camembert cheese and cranberry sauce from KGB Kiwi Gourmet looks killer.  Mmm... cranberry and beef has got to be just as good as cranberry with turkey.  Until I catch up to my eating adventures, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.