Friday, July 22, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Bowmore, Laphroaig, Willett and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Beam Suntory cleared a label for a new no age statement Bowmore: Vault Edition First Release, because, you know, there aren't enough NAS limited releases out there.

Last week, Beam Suntory cleared a label for a cask strength Laphroaig 30; this week, they cleared a similar 25 year old (aged in Oloroso and American casks).

A label cleared for Dalmore 35 year old.

Willett cleared a new label for Old Bardstown, a long-time sourced whiskey, which now says it is "Distilled and Bottled by the Willett Distillery."  Thus, it appears that Willett will be bottling some of its own bourbon under the Old Bardstown label. The label doesn't include an age statement which means the bourbon must be at least four years old, which works out since Willett opened its distillery in 2012.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Good Impressions of Szechuan Impression

Farm Chicken in Chili Oil
Szechuan Impression serves some of the best food in LA. This won't be news to a lot of people, but I was slow to get there.  I had a mourning period after Chung King closed and then settled into Chengdu Taste. I had heard great things about Szechuan Impression, but just hadn't made it there. I was lucky that My Annoying Opinions was in town and suggested we meet there.

My Annoying Opinions is a whiskey blogger who visits LA twice per year. We usually meet up in the San Gabriel Valley for a meal, to exchange whiskey samples and so that he can get material to make fun of me for the next six months.

Almost everything we ordered at Sichuan Impression, and we ordered a lot, was outstanding. The traditional Sichuan dishes that I'd also tried at Chengdu Taste were better at Szechuan Impression with more spice and brighter flavors.  Here are the highlights:

  • Farm Chicken in Chili Oil, cold chicken bits and peanuts in a stupendous chili oil.  This is all about the sauce, which I would have been happy to slurp from the bowl if I didn't think it would spill and permanently turn my shirt bright red. It's hard to explain in words how good this stuff is, which is I guess why I stopped food blogging in the first place, but it's really good.
  • Lamb on Toothpicks, pretty much the same as the popular dish at Chengdu Taste with intensely cumin flavored lamb buried under a mound of cilantro. 
  • Boiled Fish with Rattan Pepper. This is probably the best Sichuan boiled fish I've had. It's fairly similar to other versions with pickled peppers and lots of peppercorns, but the flavor is sharper with a bit more acid. It's really wonderful.
  • Leg Crossingly Yum Beef Soup. Is there a better name for a dish anywhere in the world? This is similar to the Korean bone broth seolleongtang with its cloudy beef broth and thin strips of brisket. This one also had radish and some chili powder for topping. 
  • Fried Rice Cake with Black Sugar. For dessert, this is crispy fried rice cake served in a pond of deep, black sauce which tastes like molasses. Another dessert on the menu, Cinderellas Pumpkin Rides were tasty fried pumpkin fritters, though I preferred the rice cakes.  
So check out Szechuan Impression, and also see My Annoying Opinion's review which has photos of every dish hastily taken in the few seconds he could hold me off before I jammed my chopsticks into the bowl.

Szechuan Impression
1900 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 283-4622 


Monday, July 18, 2016

Dream a Dream of BBQ

Dream Korean BBQ, at the corner of First and Western (in the spot that used to be Suhrabal), is one of my favorite of the all you can eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ spots. They have three distinct menus that offer different BBQ choices:  Four items for $10.99 per person; 15 items for $18.99 per person and topping out at a choice of 22 items for $24.99 for person.  All of them come free with a salad bar buffet, except that it's an extra $3.99 if you order the $10.99 at dinner (it's free at lunch with that menu too).

I always get the $10.99 menu.  The salad bar is a mix of banchan, traditional salad fixings, fruit and other assorted appetizers like California rolls and a really good tempura fried squid.  The noodle dishes, japche and spicy vermicelli, are particularly good.

For the $10.99 BBQ  menu, you can get brisket, bulgogi, pork belly and/or chicken bulgogi. The brisket is my favorite, paper-thin, lusciously fatty and good quality for the price.  Pork belly is also good, bulgogi is okay, and I've never made it to the chicken bulgogi. My MO is to just keep ordering brisket until I'm full.

They also do a very nice gyeran jjim (steamed egg). Often a throw-away dish, the Dream steamed egg, which arrives mid-way through the meal, has succulent flavors of pork and sesame oil with a perfect light, fluffy, souffle-like texture. They must cook it with pork broth. This may be one of my favorite egg dishes in town, and it's a perfect contrast to some good, plentiful grilled meat.

Dream Korean BBQ
100 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(213) 388-7668

Friday, July 15, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Old Scotch, New Booker's and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Duncan Taylor continues to clear labels for a series of very old Scotch, including Highland Park 1968, Glenlivet 1968Bunnahabhain 1968 and 1969, Glenrothes 1970 and Glen Grant 1972.

Beam Suntory released a label for a Laphroaig 30 year old bottled at cask strength.

Beam Suntory released two sets of new batch labels for Booker's Bourbon, mostly for release in 2017.

William Grant cleared new labels for Chapter 2 of its high roller Balvenie DCS series. These included  vintages from 1972, two 1990s (one of which appears to be sherry cask aged), 1997 and 2001.

Copper & Kings cleared a label for a new expression of apple brandy: Floodwall.

And California bottler Frank-Lin cleared a label for a no age statement Canadian rye, which wouldn't be worth notice except that they are using their "Historic Stitzel Distilling Company" label (which they have already used for a bourbon) and the word "Canada" is in very small print on the back label.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Golden Age of Ice Cream

Sweet Rose
In Los Angeles, we are lucky enough to be living in a golden age of ice cream. Ten years ago, high quality ice cream was sparse in LA. Now, there are excellent ice cream shops all over the place (with more coming). Here is a list of my favorite ice cream shops in the Sku Eating Area*

1.  Traditional Ice Cream

No one beats Fosselman's in Alhambra for old-fashioned, high butter-fat traditional ice cream. Sure, they give a nod to modernity with flavors like taro and lychee (which are both very good), but this place is still an old-fashioned parlor dishing it out the old way.  My favorite flavors are coffee & cookies and peppermint (which is especially good in a hot fudge sundae).

Mateo's Ice Cream and Fruit Bars at Pico & Vermont is a traditional  Mexican ice cream shop with excellent paletas and great tropical fruit flavored ice cream.

Top Round, the Roast Beef sandwich place on Olympic and La Brea, does thick, creamy frozen custard, the mid-western way, which you can get plane or in a concrete with various mix-ins. Probably the best frozen custard I've had in LA.

2.  Hipster Ice Cream

The new wave of ice cream definitely has some of that ridiculous hipster vibe - everything locally sourced from farmers markets, cacao percentages listed on a chalk board, uncomfortable metal chairs, flavors like uni-fennel sorbet and olive oil goat cheese swirl, but you know, the stuff can be really good.

In this category we've got Sweet Rose Creamery, probably my favorite (everything is great from the punchy fruit sorbets to the standards like salted caramel and coffee), Carmella (especially the ice cream sandwiches), Jeni's (where pretty much everything is good) and Salt & Straw, which is definitely the silliest (which makes sense since it's an import from Portland) but still quite good.

3.  K-Town Favorites

Koreatown has developed its own unique ice cream culture with places like Snow LA, HoneyMee (which has multiple locations in the LA area) and CottonHi. SnowLA is a shaved ice cream place mostly fun for the diverse toppings bar. HoneyMee has a really delicious ice milk soft serve base. I like it plain or topped with honey, though if you like the idea of a big, waxy honeycomb in your ice cream or ice cream in a hot dog bun, you can get those too. CottonHi is soft serve topped with cotton candy. It seems like a silly novelty, but the soft serve is really good.

4.  Gelato

Bulagarini in Altadea was the winner of my gelato tour of many years ago, and it still towers above the competition.  Altadena is a bit outside the Sku Eating Area, but it's worth the trip. The yogurt gelato with olive oil is the classic, but the seasonal fruit is wonderful and the nut gelatos (e.g., pistachio and macadamia nut) are as trasnscendent as a frozen dessert can be.

As to more Sku-adjacent gelato, we are now lucky to have Grom, an Italian gelato chain that serves up great stuff just like you can get at an Italian train station. The only downside, and it's a pretty big downside, is that it's located at Hollywood & Highland. Rumor has it that we will be getting a Venchi, an even better Italian gelato chain, when Eatly opens in the Century City mall. 

Those are my favorites.  Did I miss anything good?  Let me know, but don't say Milk. Milk is an abomination, a really popular abomination where you stand in a long line to get beautiful, overly sweet, mediocre ice cream. God bless them though, because I'm happy to let people stand in line there while I breeze into Sweet Rose across the street.

*The Sku Eating Area or "SEA" is not an official LA culinary designation, but it is the area of the city in which I most frequently eat and therefore that with which I am most familiar. It includes an area of mid-city bounded by Hollywood/Franklin/Los Feliz Blvds. to the North, La Cienega Blvd. to the West, Venice Blvd. to the South and the 110 freeway to the East as well as the western San Gabriel Valley.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Recent Reads: Drinking with the Democrats and Republicans

Mark Will-Weber has written a pair of election year trivia books about the connection between alcohol and the Presidents of the United States, from their personal drinking habits to alcohol related policies and anecdotes. Each of the volumes, Drinking with the Republicans and Drinking with the Democrats, tells the alcohol-related stories of that party's presidents, although, presumably in the interest of completion, the Democratic volume includes the Democratic-Republican Presidents and the Republican volume includes the Federalists and Whigs.

I have to admit that when they sent me these books, I didn't have high expectations. Aside from being a whiskey blogger, I'm a big U.S. history buff, and I figured this would be some gimmicky election year book filled with a bunch of half-truths and stories I'd already heard.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. These volumes are well researched and while the format is certainly that of a trivia book - a collection of anecdotes about each President -  there is a lot of information in here that's not widely known, including not only the drinking habits of every president but also alcohol-related historical incidents and issues. For instance, we learn that Andrew Johnson went on a day and a half long bender after his inauguration as vice-president, that James Buchanan predicted that a national prohibition would fail long before we actually tried it, that Theodore Roosevelt grew mint at the White House for his juleps and that Martin Van Buren was known for "imbibing enormous amounts of intoxicants without the usual results." There are numerous stories about Presidents trying to tactfully avoid the Chinese spirit maotai during diplomatic meetings.

The one flaw in these books is the inclusion of a number of cocktail recipes, most of which have, at best, a tangential relationship to their subjects. The recipes have the feel of a heavy-handed editor saying, "What this book needs is cocktail recipes; people love cocktails!"

Regardless of that minor annoyance, both of these books are full of fun and interesting stories and well worth a read for any fan of political or liquid history. The books are published by Regnery History and are listed at $15 each.

Thanks to Regnery History for the review copies.

Friday, July 8, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Old Scotch, Medley Bourbon and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Duncan Taylor cleared labels for a bunch of very old whiskeys, including 1983 Port Ellen, 1975 Banff, 1975 Glen Mhor, 1973 Teaninich, 1972 Caperdonich, 1970 Glen Grant, 1968 Strathisla, 1968 Macduff, 1968 Glenrothes and a 1978 Interleven single grain, 

California bottler Frank-Lin cleared two new labels in the Medley line of Kentucky bourbons: Charles Medley Master Distiller Diamond Collection and Medley Family Private Reserve.

A label cleared for a new Scotch whiskey from French blender Michel Couvreur: Candid.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.