Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Post 88: By Invitation - The Edison Celebrates Herbie (LA: Downtown)

I recently received another invitation from The Edison to help celebrate the creation of the Happy Herbie, a cocktail made with Templeton rye whiskey in honor of Disney icon Herb Ryman.  The Edison pulled out all the stops for this celebration... there was a Model A parked outside the front door and a complimentary shoe shining station.  There were dancers on stage, dancers on the floor, and one in the air that twirled about using ropes and ribbons (and extreme core muscle strength) in a very Cirque du Soleil style.  It was quite the celebration.

The main attraction, however, was not any of the acrobats in the air or the props and services around the space.  It was the Happy Herbie.  A combination of Templeton rye, jasmine liquor, baked apple bitters, and lemon juice, the cocktail had a serene balance of whiskey taste and sweetness from the jasmine liquor and baked apple bitters.  John Maraffi, the Bar Manager at The Edison and creator of the Happy Herbie, paid us a visit, and we paid his some compliments.  We liked that there was still a hint of whiskey flavor in the drink without it being too strong.  We also liked that the lemon juice helped cut the sweetness just enough, but it was still just a tad sweet enough for some of the ladies to want a second round.  John let us in on some of his thoughts as he was creating this drink.  Not only was the cocktail named after him, it was also made using the liquor that is almost spelled out in his last name... how fitting.  It was a cocktail well done for a well known Disney icon.

We also tried some of the new food items on the menu, including the ginger chili Shanghai Wings and the yellowtail sashimi.  The wings weren't too bad, but we still love the items from the spring menu a little bit more.  Luckily for us such dishes as the Downtowner, Cabernet braised short ribs, and 50-50 fries all returned for the summer menu.  A new favorite was the Electric Squid, an urn of fresh calamari served with a trifecta of dipping sauces... cilantro honey lime, cocktail sauce, and a delicious aioli.  The calamari was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside without the least bit of chewiness.  Our absolute favorites are still The Elvis, The Merry Widow, and house made chocolate chip cookie.  Really, they are the best.  Hopefully everyone gets a chance to test out some of the sweets and the cocktail treats from The Edison soon.  Big thank yous go out to Arpi, Barbara and John for the gracious hospitality.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120829/20120711

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Post 87: More Fried Chicken and Waffles (OC: Costa Mesa)

Continuing with the thought of fried chicken and waffles in honor of National Fried Chicken Day, I now take you down south to a waffle purveyor in Orange County.  Nestled in between boutique shops and an indoor mini mall with food related retail is The Iron Press.  The supposed restaurant seems more to me like a waffle bar or delicatessen rather than just a restaurant.  It is a simple and modern space with an open kitchen where the masters of the presses whip up wondrous waffles while the wistful waiting watch with their wandering eyes. 

The chicken and waffles was quite simple... almost minimalist even.  The buttermilk fried chicken breast was sandwiched between golden brown waffles and served with a jalapeño maple syrup.  The cole slaw that I had thought would come as a side was actually already inside the sandwich.  The chicken was not the least bit greasy, and the cole slaw was prepared without mayonnaise.  And although that may be good news for the health conscious, it may have been too progressive for me.  The maple syrup was neither spicy enough nor sweet enough.  In the world of Real Housewives, this was so very Orange County.  Atlanta Housewives has the drama of untouchable egos, extramarital affairs and extremely low blows.  Like Honey's Kettle Fried Chicken, it's a little dirty and such a guilty pleasure.  Beverly Hills Housewives has the drama of mo' money mo' problems... bling, bling, bling.  Like the ad hoc fried chicken from Bouchon, it's elegant, rich, and classy... but when you're immersed in the middle of it, it oozes bits of naughty pleasure as well.  OC Housewives, on the other hand, revolves around unconfirmed dirty looks and eating cake that isn't yours.   And like the chicken from The Iron Press, there's just not enough drama.  I ordered a side of bacon just so I could have that greasy, salty taste that I so desperately desired.

What made more of an impression on me was the burger.  With fresh ground rib eye and the bite of raw red onions, the burger waffle had much more oomph than the chicken.  The combination of juicy meat and ooey gooey cheese helped create the hearty quality of comfort food.  There is more of an emotional attachment that keeps 'em coming back for more... much like a trashy episode of Atlanta or Beverly Hills Housewives.  I wanted oil.  I wanted salt.  I wanted to say ooooh, that's good.  And I got it from the burger and waffle fries.  Oh, the waffle fries and the accompanying garlic aioli were ooooh, so good.

There are many more items on the menu, including the ham and smoked gouda waffle, the bratwurst waffle, the breakfast waffle sandwich, dessert waffles and the Guinness ice cream float... all of which have descriptions that preview a bit of tasty drama for the next visit to The Iron Press.  On the backs of the shirts that the staff wear, the Iron Press proudly exclaims, "WE LIKE BEER & WAFFLES."  Well, so do I.  Until the next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120828/20120527

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Post 86: A Glorious Easter Feast - Bouchon Ad Hoc Fried Chicken (LA: Beverly Hills)

In celebration of National Fried Chicken Day this past Friday, I am writing about none other than fried chicken and waffles.  The last post was about a multiple course foie gras dinner that almost stopped my heart, so this post about a fatty feast of fried chicken is going to seem relatively healthy.  Where did this fried chicken feast take place? KFC? Roscoe's? Not even close.  It was Bouchon in Beverly Hills, a French inspired restaurant known for its steak frites, croque madame, and platters of fresh seafood... not a likely place for fried chicken.  Having been to Bouchon many times before in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, I had only ever noticed the chicken and waffles on the menu once, and it was amazing.  I knew immediately that I wanted to bring friends and family to indulge in the delicately prepared chicken and waffles.  News that the restaurant would embark on an ad hoc fried chicken meal served family style was more than intriguing.  I made a reservation for a group of six on Easter Sunday, an appropriate day to gather for good food and good company, especially if the good food happens to be from a Thomas Keller restaurant.

While waiting for our friends to gather, we were greeted by the ever gracious manager of the restaurant Stephen Cook who never ceases to provide superb services to the guests of the restaurant.  We were presented with an assortment of freshly baked pastries on the house... still toasty from the restaurant's very popular bakery.  The viennoiserie stole the spotlight for me.  The croissant was buttery just as it should be, and the pain aux raisins with the honey glaze over the top was simply remarkable.

Every visit to Bouchon requires some sort of platter of fresh seafood.  I love a raw oyster down to my core, so we arranged for an assorted dozen of Kumamoto and the Kusshi oysters.  The two types of oysters are relatively small compared to types such as the Blue Point, which can grow to be larger than the average tongue.  The Kusshi grows deep within its shell, so it's a bit harder to dig out, but the prize is worth the work.  With a squirt of lemon and a splash of mignonette, the small Kusshi oyster is a light start to the meal.  Next we slurped up the Kumamoto, an oyster with a very milky taste and creamy texture.

The fried chicken meal finally arrived in all its glory.  We ordered five servings for our group of six.  It was served family style with accompaniments such as waffles, grits, and all the butter, gravy and Vermont maple syrup the heart desired.

The buttermilk fried chicken was beyond crisp... in a good way.  Every bite was met with a deafening crunch, quite possibly loud enough to cause an avalanche had a mountain of snow been nearby.  Whether it was dark meat or white meat, the flesh was beautifully moist inside.  And it was because of my last experience with the juiciest white meat chicken I've ever had that brought me back to Bouchon.  The sprigs of thyme helped with the aesthetics, but they got brushed aside when it came down to business.

Some serious waffles came to play with the serious chicken.  Little bits of bacon and chive dotted the waffle canvas.  Spreading the Tahitian vanilla bean butter over the bacon and chive waffles was like painting pristine clouds over landscape.  The waffles were light and airy... truly.  Along with the sauce chausseur, mushroom gravy in layman's terms, it was a truly decadent experience.

The cheesy cheddar grits was smooth and creamy... enough to be swiveled and swirled by a fork.  It was not too salty but actually savory.  It provided a great flavor and texture contrast for the chicken and waffles.  The presentation in the cast iron skillet was simply... cool.

Although we had more than enough food, a meal at Bouchon seemed a bit inadequate without the steak frites.  The steak is one of the most consistently made dishes at the restaurant... absolutely succulent and tender all the way done to the last bite.  And although the steak did not need any help from the butter, it definitely did not hurt to have a bit of the herb infused lipid melting all over the top.  Oh, and who can resist fries?

My friends sure can eat.  A few pastries, a dozen oysters, five servings of fried chicken and steak frites later, our bellies were protruding and our hearts were content... but it seemed like everyone had a little extra room just for dessert. 

We were first brought a dessert on the house that intrigued us with its looks.  The Ile Flottante had a center of meringue, and it sat afloat a vanilla creme anglaise.  Almonds and caramel were drizzled over the top, and two crispy ears jutted out of the meringue.  Could it be the Easter Bunny in dessert form? It sure resembled it.  The meringue was smooth to the taste, and the anglaise brought a milky sweetness. 

I've had the Marquise au Chocolat on previous occasions.  On such occasions the dark chocolate mousse was simply irresistible... this was no different.  The dense yet ever luxurious mousse balanced with the freshly made whipped cream did not taste overly sweet at all.  The carefully placed drops of burnt orange gave just enough bite to the mousse to truly allow the tongue to dance around the slightly bitter dark chocolate.  As long as Bouchon has this dessert on the menu, I will order it... forever.

Our final dessert arrived in the form of a Tarte au Citron.  The seemingly simple lemon tart was just that... a simple, lemon tart.  With enough pucker in each bite to help us truly appreciate the tartness of the lemon, this may have been everyone's favorite dessert.  Simplicity done right is the epitome of haute dessert, and we definitely witnessed it here during the final course of our glorious Easter feast.

As always we were well taken care of by the staff at Bouchon... many thanks to the great attention to detail that Stephen Cook holds to the employees that work with him.  The restaurant's high standard of customer service was what helped drive them to press through the brunch rush straight into the dinner service on that busy Sunday afternoon.  The staff did not take any breaks that day because so many patrons had arrived at the last minute without reservations.  And although the restaurant did their best to accommodate everyone who had arrived, I would highly suggest making reservations well in advance for any future events.  Thank you Stephen and the Bouchon staff for the great food and hospitality.  Until the next glorious feast, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

This post features photography by Ken Lee and Diana Lui.

ML - 20120731/20120408

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Post 85: Fight for Foie - A Farewell (LA-SGV: Pasadena)

Earlier this year I attended Fight for Foie at Haven Gastropub in Old Town Pasadena.  The event was held in support of keeping the fatty goose liver on restaurant menus in California.  Proponents of the ban on foie gras argue that force feeding geese and ducks in order to plump their livers up is inhumane.  Those against the ban on foie gras say that palatable poultry do not have gag reflexes and that the birds naturally overeat in the wild anyway.  Both sides made their voices heard.  Despite the dozens of protesters outside the restaurant armed with picket signs, iPads, and fliers, drovers of foie gras fiends continued to walk into the restaurant to dine on the delicious delicacy.  I was one of them.  As soon as the restaurant opened for this private event, my friends with foie fetishes and I dined on a multi-course (seven to nine courses depending on how it's counted) tasting menu designed all around the fiendishly fatty foie.

We were first treated to an amuse bouche in the form of a foie gras lollipop rolled in crushed pistachio.  The look reminded me of a See's Candies lollipop because of its rectangular shape, but the texture of this foie lolli was nothing like rock hardness of the See's candy.  It was soft to the bite, but it was densely packed with liver fattiness.  One bite and we knew we were in trouble.  The first course had not even arrived yet.

Our first course was a smoked foie gras torchon surrounded by oatmeal crumb, spiced orange rind, and sorrel.  The pate of foie gras was cooked after being wrapped in a towel allowing it to retain all of its moisture and original flavor.  It was luxuriously smooth with the crunch of the oatmeal, and it was buttery and spicy... and very insanely rich.  Connie and I could not continue savoring the foie gras without ordering some hot tea... but props to Ken for not only finishing his foie but mine and Connie's as well.  Holy...

Next we were served foie for breakfast complete with duck blood biscuits, duck bacon and a sunny side quail egg.  In the world where turkey is the most popular form of bacon made from poultry, this duck bacon was definitely a taste for sore taste buds.  The deep crimson color of the duck was beautiful and had a profound depth of flavor to match. 

The biscuits had a few drops of duck blood in each one, and they were accompanied by an airy whipped foie butter and pickled cherry jam.  The biscuit was crumbly like a cookie but cohesive like a shortbread.  The tartness of the pickled cherry jam peaked through the foie butter at the right moment.  It was almost like an adult version, albeit a very expensive adult version, of the classic PB&J.  This course was creative and clearly set itself apart from the previous course, which was basically an offensively large chunk of foie gras.

After breakfast came a creamy foie soup with strips of chicken skin, bottarga, and hearts of palm.  I'm all for crispy textures against a soft or sultry background, but the chicken skin was not a favorite of mine.  Bottarga, a cured fish roe that is also known as the poor man's caviar, was dotted throughout the soup.  The soup itself was perhaps a bit too airy and not as concentrated as I would have hoped... although perhaps a more concentrated foie soup may have provided the basic elements to trigger a heart attack.

A meal heavy in fatty foods definitely calls for a few digestive walks, so I walked over to the open kitchen to discover the many chefs, servers, and other staff hard at work.  Since the majority of the restaurant patrons began dinner service at the same time, the kitchen was busy preparing dozens of the next course.  Although coordinating a multiple course foie gras tasting menu requires relentless energy and effort, the chefs and staff made the dinner service seem effortless.

After an amuse bouche and three courses of foie gras, a wild escolar with roasted foie gras, petit pois a la francais, and sauce albufera was presented.  The fresh fish and English peas made for an initially lighter dish, but the Hollandaise and béchamel sauces helped tie the richness of the foie gras back in.  This was a sous vide fish, and it was very mild and ambivalent in a good way.  After a heavy onset of fatty foie, the fish dish returned the heaviness back to center, which made for a pleasant course in the middle of the meal.  Many thanks to the crescent of lemon for the help.

A multiple course meal isn't a multi-course meal without a pasta dish.  Our pasta dish was a tortellini in duck tongue brodo.  The pasta was stuffed with foie gras and rhubarb, and beech brown mushrooms and micro celery floated around in the broth.  It was St. Patrick's Day at first sight, but the foie gras didn't exactly start a party in my mouth.  The foie gras was a bit too soft, and the tortellini skin was a bit too thick for the soft foie texture.  A ravioli may have been a better pairing with the foie, but it may also have been too predictable... though the mushrooms did complement the broth well.

The blackberry sorbet intermezzo arrived two courses before the end of the meal... and it could not come quickly enough.  By this time in the meal my friends and I decided that we would only take one bite of the remaining dishes because the foie gras was so rich in fat.  I could feel my heart beating faster than normal.  My body was trying to tell me something... that perhaps banning foie gras in California would be better for my health... although I did not like the idea of having to travel to another state just to satiate a foie gras craving.  The sorbet was quite refreshing, but it was not enough to truly cleanse my palate.  I ordered another cup of hot tea... my fifth or sixth now.

The penultimate course came in the form of a za'atar crusted squab with a foie gras pastilla, fennel, and Meyer lemon.  The dill and fennel done three ways were cool and revitalized my palate a bit.  The dish paired the flavors and textures well.  This was my first time having squab, and it was quite delicious.  The fattiness of the squab was quite similar in texture and flavor to the foie itself.  The foie gras pastilla could be described as an egg roll stuffed with soft foie.  It was something I could have much more of if it was served as an individual appetizer or earlier in the meal.  The crackle of the pastilla wrapper was music to my ears... but half a dozen courses of foie gras in, and I was about to throw in the towel.

Naturally the final course was dessert.  And if there was anything that was both a blessing and a death omen combined, it was this duo of foie gras cheesecake and foie gras bon bon.  The vanilla crumble, hibiscus gel and micro tangerine lace were light and just sweet enough.  The chocolate in the bon bon presented a balanced, chilled sweetness.  Ken exclaimed that he was so happy to see chocolate... whether it was because he actually just likes chocolate, or it was because chocolate seemed so light in comparison to all the foie gras we had just eaten... well, I'm not sure.  But my thoughts exactly... something sweet after all the savory fattiness was quite the blessing.  Connie thought the cheesecake just tasted like cream cheese, but I this was the death omen.  I understand that foie gras and cheesecake blend well together, but something lighter and more refreshing as the final course would have fared better.  One bite of the cheesecake, and the towel was in.  Time for some more hot tea.

All in all the multiple course Fight for Foie was quite the experience... one that I would never forget.  The many different chefs all put their best foot (feet) forward in terms of presenting the best examples of their foie gras dishes.  However, the meal was quite heavy and may have helped the protesters prove the point that the ducks and geese are tortured during their overfeeding.  I felt a little overfed and plumped up myself.

But at the end of the day, the choice to eat organic vegetables, sustainable seafood, or meat products that have not been augmented by the human hand should be the choice of the consumer.  This should not be dictated by any government body whether state or federal.  Those who want to eat will find a way to eat what they want to eat.  Banning foie gras in California may cause avid diners to spend their money in states that permit the sale of foie gras.  Nearby foodie cities such as Seattle and Portland or even big dining cities as far away as Chicago and New York may see a slight boost in their economies at the expense of LA and San Francisco simply because a product in demand is offered there rather than here.  Let that be some food for thought.  Let the Fight for Foie continue on.  Until the next fatty meal, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

This post features photography by Ken Lee.

ML - 20120312