Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cranky Friday

A few people have noted that my reviews tend to be positive and have asked why nothing ever get the thumbs down from me. I actually think I tend to be fairly critical, but it's true, I tend to post about places that I find delicious and exciting. I figure that's more helpful to the reader. After all, who needs to hear that Pupuseria X on Alvarado is only mediocre. The only exception I make is for places that have received lots of attention. In that case, I may post a contrarian review if I disagree.

That being said, I have a few genuine dislikes and pet peeves that I figured I would take the opportunity to air. Having had a grueling month at work, I'm particularly cranky, so I thought it was time to unleash some venom.

Vosges Chocolates.

Okay, first let's discuss the hideous bacon flavored chocolate. I know the trend is to put bacon on everything these days, and I love bacon as much as the next Jew, but tastes like bad chocolate with Bac-O Bits...I couldn't even finish the thing and for me and chocolate, that's saying a lot.

The bacon flavor is just putrid icing on the really bad cake though. Vosges dresses their chocolate in gourmet packages and sells it at up-market venues like Whole Foods and Intelligentsia, but the truth is, it's crap. Vosges contains additives, like soy lecithin, that better chocolate makers disdain. These additives are undoubtedly supposed to make it taste creamy, but instead give it a greasy, artificial mouthfeel. They try to cover for this by mixing with strong flavors like chili and salt, but to me, that just makes it worse, and they make the flavors so strong, it creates and unbalanced mess. Yuck!

Celebrity Chefs in LA

Five years ago, you could get into nearly any LA restaurant at any time by calling, at most, a week in advance. Sona, Spago or Melisse for 4 at 7:30? No problem. But then came the celebrity chefs. Bankrolled, book writing, Today show appearing chefs who started noticing that there was life west of Vegas. You know the routine. They show up for the first month to do interviews and cook for the beautiful people after which they speed back to Manhattan. In their wake, they have given us a little bit of New York in LA, and not in a good way. Restaurants that are all but inaccessible if you're not rep'd by William Morris, reservations available before 4:30 pm or after 1:30 am and customers who have more money than taste buds. Is the food good? Who knows? Who gets in? The only good thing, there's more space than ever at Melisse. So thanks for that Mario, Tom and Gordon.

The Back Room of Dim Sum Palaces

There is no more terrible feeling than showing up at your favorite dim sum house in the San Gabriel Valley and being shown to the back room. These overflow rooms, adjacent to the main hall are the places where carts fear to tread. So far afield are they that only chinese broccoli and chicken feet are allowed in. There you sit, hungry, waiting, watching the chicken feet go by for the fifth time, wondering where the rest of the food is, dying for a pork bun, some lotus-wrapped sticky rice or any other mosel. It's a Coleridge like horror: "Dim sum, dim sum everywhere but not a drop to eat."

Boring Scotch

There are a number of Scotches which, while I wouldn't say they are terrible, are overrated and unexciting. Most of these are highly promoted Speysiders which seem to be marketing to an otherwise whiskiphobic crowd. They are fine whiskies which I can drink, but can't get excited about. Among the malts in this category are: The Glenrothes vintage series and the Glenmorangie series of finished whiskies. Yawn! (I would have added Balvenie Doublewood, but given that good ole Doc Whiskey is singing their praises these days, I will give them another chance.)


One of the best sites to learn about Bourbon is It's got a great FAQ, information on distilleries and brands (though it could use some updating) and a great forum with regular posts from distinguished whiskey expert Chuck Cowdery.

What perpetually gets in the way of my enjoyment of this site, though, is that nearly half of the posts seem to have nothing to do with Bourbon whatsoever, but instead are various right wing polemics about the myth of global warming, the right of every man woman and child to sport an uzi and the latest screed they heard on Rush or saw on Fox News.

I'm sorry, I came here to read about Bourbon. If I want to read right wing bullshit, I'll go to some right wing bullshit site...there are only, what, 35 million of those. Post something left of Mussolini on Straightbourbon and you will be called out as the Communist you inevitably are. Now, granted, the right wing posts are generally by a small minority of posters, but it gets in the way of a lot of good Bourbon information, and it's just annoying. In retaliation, I've got a mind to go to and make 5,000 posts about the beauty of Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel!

Michael Ruhlman

I've got no patience for this darling of the food media world. His books are overwritten and boring, as is his blog. His adherence to traditional French food is stodgy and boring. His TV appearances are, well, just boring. Please kick this guy to the curb and bring us Jeffrey Steingarten or someone who at least has a sense of humor.


There aren't many foods I flat-out dislike. In fact, about the only other one I can think of is tripe (no menudo for me thanks). But I just can't deal with hazlenuts. I hate how they grace every chocolate dessert, ruining the taste of fine chocolate with their rancidity. There is nothing worse than the pervasive smell of hazlenut flavored coffee that exudes from every pour of my body if I spend even a minute in my local 7-11. Hazlenuts are evil!! And don't even get me started on Nutella.

Wow, that felt good. I should do that more often.


Anonymous said...

hehe Venom is fun :)

Agreed on the bacon bar. It could work, but it's way too greasy and smoky. Couldn't take a second bite. I'm not sure about the soy lecithin issue, though.... It's in a lot of chocolate. I've yet to find an organic chocolate that I like, possibly b/c they don't contain soy lecithin. Not that I'm a fan, per se, but it can help texture a lot. Michael Cluizel is the only one that I know of that doesn't use it and has chocolate that I like. And at least Scharffen Berger and European chocolates use non-GMO.

Yeah, celebrity chefs infiltrating LA... but don't write off Thomas Keller's upcoming LA Bouchon yet... If they get it right, their cheese danish is possibly the best thing on earth.

Balvenie Doublewood makes for good caramels, I swear. :)

I used to hate hazelnuts, too, until I discovered Oregon hazelnuts. They're bigger and sweeter, without that horrid rancid flavor of the small ones from Turkey. If it must be hazelnut, let be Oregonian.

And I used hate Jeffrey Steingarten and his contentious interactions with other Iron Chef judges, but I look forward to him now. He's original, and though I still think he's jerky, now it seems like it's in a good way. Where's his own TV show???

sku said...

Thanks for your comments Nina.

A lot of the chocolates I have reivewed (Amedei, DeVries, Patric) don't have additives; in fact, I think most of the new artisnal bean to bar producers don't use them. That being said, I can't say for certain that the additives are the reason I dislike Vosges, I just don't like its taste or texture. It's true though, that pure cacao can be gritty if it's not done well.

I'm worried that Keller will just add to the mess. It's not that his food won't be great, or that hte others' aren't great, it just adds to a culture of dining that is more exclusive and seemingly inaccessible to anyone without a high-powered agent (or who doesn't want dinner at either 4:30 pm or 11:00 pm). I've got kids, I can't sit around for three hours hoping that a bar seat opens up.

Hmm, Oregon hazlenuts. I am intrigued. Have you used them in any of your bars?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I could see the bean to bar producers not using it. In couverture, it's pretty common. I had a Bread & Chocolate Theo bar yesterday without it yesterday whose texture was awfully crumbly and sandy, so I was feeling slightly pro-it at the time. I didn't realize Amadei didn't use it -- they're much smoother.

Hm, maybe the more celebrity chef restaurants that open, the more the crowd will be spread out, and the more free tables there will be. :) In any case, I'll probably just be in and out of Bouchon for the danish!

I haven't introduced it yet, but my coffee bar has Oregon hazelnuts. I'm not sure where they are on the east side, but the Coop in Santa Monica carries them, unskinned. Trufflebert Farms is one of the top producers, if you ever see them named on a menu.

sku said...

Thanks for the Hazlenut rec, I'll check it out. And of course, if you use it in a bar, I will definitely try it.