Thursday, April 30, 2009

Friday Village BBQ

I've written up Village Kitchen on Beverly Boulevard before, but I need to add a word about their awesome Friday Barbecue special. On Fridays, this mostly take-out joint on Beverly, east of Union, does a BBQ plate with chicken, pork ribs, potato salad, mac & cheese, corn bread with honey butter, and a spiced, apple sauce.

Now, the chicken and ribs are fine but nothing special, but the sides are wondrous. The potato salad is vinegary, maybe with a bit of mustard, one of the best potato salads I've had. The mac & cheese is excellent with a good crust, and the corn bread is nice and moist and goes well with the honey butter. These sides are so good that I've even considered asking them to hold the meat and just give me the sides.

Check it out, but remember, it's Fridays only and lunch only.

Village Kitchen
1667 Beverly Blvd. (east of Union)
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 235-1487

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: American Independent Bottlers

Over the last two weeks, I have been providing lists of American whiskey distilleries and their brand names. If you peruse those lists, though, you will find that there are many brands that aren't listed. The reason is that these brands are not released by the distillery but by independent companies.

The phenomenon of independent bottling is well known in Scotland, where there is a long tradition of bottling companies buying casks of single malt Scotch and selling them under their own labels. Unlike in the US, however, in Scotland, the bottlers usually say on the label where the whiskey was distilled. For instance, a bottle of Signatory whiskey will clearly state that it is a Signatory product distilled at Laphroaig (or wherever).

In the US, independent bottlers almost never say where their whiskey is from. They market it as an independent brand and many even imply that they distill it themselves. These are practices which I have long condemned and I renew my call for American bottlers to openly state that they are bottlers and tell us where they got their whiskey.

Please understand that this is not a criticism of the whiskey in the bottle. As with independent Scotch bottlers, there are independent Americans who are fully capable of putting out great whiskey. I just wish they were more honest about how they came to acquire it.

With all of the brands out there, it gets very confusing. I consider myself a very knowledgeable whiskey consumer and I still had many challenges in putting together this list and trying to find out the straight dope about who was making what brand and who was really distilling. I sent emails to bottlers, and I perused the writings of experts like Chuck Cowdery and other authorities for hints and theories.

Nearly all bottlers concentrate on Kentucky Bourbon and Rye. If you read our list of Kentucky distilleries, you know that there are a limited number of sources for Kentucky whiskey. So where does all of this whiskey come from? Heaven Hill is known to be a major supplier of independents as is Tom Moore/Barton Brands. In addition, some of the independents have old stock from closed distilleries such as Michter's or Stitzel-Weller. But, alas, in most cases, we won't get too far in this guessing game and will just have to accept that we don't know who makes this stuff.

In addition, some of the brands listed below are brand names held by one company that contract with a bottling company to acquire and bottle the whiskey, so they are actually twice removed from the distillery.

Another phenomenon in the independent bottling world is that many of the new microdistilleries which want to release whiskey but don't have any of their own yet are releasing whiskey purchased from other distillers, usually the big Kentucky distilleries. Some of the micros are forthright about this, but others imply that they, themselves, are distilling the whiskey.

Unlike my distillery list, the list below is not exhaustive. There are many independent brands, and I'm sure that some have been left off, but it's a good start. If you see any that I missed, please let me know. And as with my other lists, all brands refer to Bourbons unless otherwise stated.

Chatham Imports: This company sells Bourbon and rye under the Michter's label, which is bottled for them by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (see below). Michter's was a Pennsylvania distillery, the last of whose Bourbon is owned and bottled by Preiss Imports (see below). This Michter's brand has nothing to do with that distillery except that Chatham now owns the name.

Conecuh Ridge Whiskey: This Alabama bottler uses Kentucky Bourbon for its Clyde May's Conecuh Ridge Whiskey.

Diageo: The world's largest spirits corporation owns the George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey distillery, but they don't own any Bourbon distilleries. To get into the Bourbon game, they released Bulleit Bourbon, which is made for them by Four Roses.

High West: This Utah company is planning to distill rye whiskey; for now they have released Rendezvous Rye, which is a blend of two rye whiskies distilled elsewhere.

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers: I shudder everytime I read the name of this bottler which shamelessly refers to itself as a distiller. KBD is the big daddy of Bourbon and Rye Bottling, using all of the following brand names, many of which are popular and have garnered positive reviews:

Black Maple Hill Bourbon and Rye
Classic Cask
Corner Creek
Johnny Drum
Kentucky Pride
Kentucky Vintage
Michter's Bourbon and Rye (bottled for Chatham Imports, see above).
Noah's Mill
Old Bardstown
Pure Kentucky XO
Rowan's Creek
Vintage Bourbon and Rye

Luxco: Luxco sells Bourbon under multiple brands, including Ezra Brooks, Rebel Yell, Rebel Reserve and Yellowstone.

McCormick Distillery: Unlike some of the entries on this list which call themselves distillers, this Missoui producer is an actual distillery. For years, this distillery made Platte Valley Corn Whiskey at their Missouri plant. McCormick still owns the brand but apparently isn't making the whiskey anymore. No one seems to know for certain who produces it, but given that Heaven Hill is the only macrodistillery producing corn whiskey, they are a pretty safe bet.

McLain and Kyne Distillery: There's the dreaded D-word again. McLain and Kyne bottles Bourbon under the brands Jefferson, Jefferson Reserve and Sam Houston.

Old Pogue: Bottlers of Bourbon under the Old Pogue label.

Preiss Imports: Preiss imports is a bottler and importer that bought up the old stocks of A.H. Hirsch from the closed Michter's distillery in Pennsylvania. (The Michter's name is now used by Chatham Imports to bottle unrelated whiskey). They are bottling the last of the old Michter's Bourbon as A.H. Hirsch, but they are also using the Hirsch name on a variety of whiskies, including a Canadian whisky, a rye and an "American whiskey," none of which appear to have any relation to A.H. Hirsch.

Prichard's Distillery: This Tennessee microdistillery makes its own rum, but they also bottle a Kentucky Bourbon under the label Prichard's Double Barrelled Bourbon Whiskey.

Templeton Rye: This Iowa microdistillery aspires to make their own rye whiskey but for now, has bottled a rye from elsewhere.

Wathen's Bourbon: It's unclear to me who exactly is making this stuff or where they are getting it. They imply that it's made at the Medley distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, but that distillery shut down years ago (though Chuck Cowdery reports that there are plans afoot to reopen it). An email to Wathen's went unanswered.

Now when you see these labels in the liquor store, I hope you will have a better idea of what they are, even though you won't know who made the whiskey in the bottle.

Next week, we will wrap up our series on American whiskey distillers and brands.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Korean Fried Chicken: BBQ Chicken on Wilshire and Vermont

BBQ Chicken is a chain which recently opened a Koreatown location at 7th and Vermont. Contrary to what you may assume from the name, Korean BBQ doesn't serve much in the way of barbecue. In fact, according to their menu, the B-B-Q in BBQ Chicken stands for "Best of the Best Quality."

Instead, this is another of the Korean fried chicken joints, the major selling point of which seems to be that the chicken is fried in olive oil. I ordered a number of dishes to check it out.

The olive oil fried chicken, known as Olive Original Chicken, was very nice. The batter was crisp and light with a very mild seasoning. Generally, I haven't cared for the non-seasoned fried chicken at the various Korean chicken shops. Without the marinade, they tend to be bland, but I really liked this one which tasted fresh and had nice flavor from the olive oil.

The Teri-Q is more similar to the soy-garlic standards at places like KyoChon and BonChon, but the version at BBQ Chicken was greasy, overcooked and not as intensely flavorful as its competitors' chickens.

As with most of the Korean chicken joints, the further you move from standard fried chicken offerings, the more questionable the dish. The "seasoned chicken" at BBQ consists of fried chicken nuggets coated with a dreadful sauce tasting of sweetened ketchup, and the marinated barbecue chicken was a rubbery airplane-like dish (from the days when the actually served food on planes, that is).

The standout at BBQ Chicken is definitely the Olive Chicken; I can't imagine going back for anything else.

BBQ Chicken
698 S. Vermont Ave, #101 (SE corner)
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 739-1047

(Additional LA area locations in Fullerton and Irvine.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cranky Friday: The Foods I Hate

Even the most open minded eater has foods they don't like, so I thought I'd take a Cranky Friday to sound off on a few of the foods to which I am adverse. As you know, if you are a regular reader, I'm not squeamish about food. I may be no Andrew Zimmern, but I'll give most anything a try. Still, I have my dislikes.

Now mind you, I'm not talking about preparations I don't care for, I'm talking about ingredients; foods I don't like in anything, foods for which the addition of a teaspoon will ruin an entire dish. I covered hazelnuts in the last Cranky Friday installment, so I won't revisit them, but here are some additional foods that I just hate.


I know they are very hip, and I admit that they look good with their bright red and yellow colors. These days, it seems you can't go into a middle to high end restaurant without having to face-down a beet and goat cheese salad, but I just don't like them; they taste like dirt to me. The one exception is borscht. For some reason, the beetness seems muted once it's stewed with dill and cabbage, but otherwise, I don't want to see these pretty things on my plate.


Generally, I'm very pro-offal. I love liver, sweet breads, blood sausage and other mushy, meaty delights. In fact, I'm somewhat embarrassed of my aversion to tripe. It's an essential ingredient in so many cuisines, from French to Vietnamese to Central American, but I just can't stomach it (no pun intended). I've tried and tried again, but I just keep staring at that big, steaming bowl of menudo with its big lumps of chewy, spongy, white tripe. I try gnawing on a piece, cutting it with lime and cilantro, but I just can't do it. It's not for me.

Lima Beans

I really detest lima beans. Now, on this one I have to admit that I may just never have had a good preparation. I am recalling the lima beans of Campbell's vegetable soup and frozen succotash or the lima bean thrown onto a plate of Mexican rice. They are mealy and grainy and sad. I still leave open the possibility for good limas. I like fava beans, after all, and they are really just big limas, so maybe there is hope for the bean after all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Beyond Kentucky - Whiskey Distilleries in the Other 49

Last week we examined the nine distilleries in Kentucky. This week, we attempt to create an exhaustive list of every non-Kentucky whiskey distillery in the US. Unlike many of the Kentucky distilleries, most of these distilleries market their whiskey under their own name.

Looking at this list, it is amazing how the microdistillery category has grown. A couple of years ago, I gathered all of the microdistilled whiskey I could find for my American single malt tasting and ended up with four. The list below shows the explosion of these distilleries along with the diversity of whiskies they are producing, which includes nearly every recognized American whiskey category.

Outside of the Tennessee Whiskey distilleries, A. Smith Bowman and Lawrenceburg, Indiana, all of the distilleries on the list below are micros, and I only included those that are actually selling whiskey. There are many other projects that are just starting up or waiting to get their first bottles on the market. In fact, with new micros popping up all the time, this list was much harder to pin down than the Kentucky list. After a lot of work, though, I believe we've crated one of the few complete lists of microdistillery whiskey. If, however, you know of any that I missed, please drop me a line or a comment.

You may notice that many of these microdistilleries produce corn whiskey. That's because corn whiskey is the only type of American whiskey that does not have to be aged. This quality makes it attractive to start-up whiskey distilleries because they can put it right on the market while they are waiting for other whiskies to mature.


Anchor Distilling: The makers of Anchor Steam Beer in San Francisco opened one of the first microdistilleries, making single malt rye whiskey under the name Old Potrero.

C&C Shine: This Monterey area distillery is somewhat of a novelty line, making unaged rye spirit that is sold with a small barrel or a piece of oak for ageing. They don't label it whiskey, probably because it is unaged, but once you age it at home, whiskey is what you have. Along with their Monterey Rye Spirit, they make Clear Madness California Moonshine, a corn-based spirit.

Charbay: This Napa Valley distillery has issued limited releases at extravagant prices of a single malt and a hop flavored whiskey.

St. George: Like many of the micros, St. George makes vodka and brandies as well as a very nice Absinthe. They make a single malt which is probably the fruitiest whiskey I've ever tasted.

St. James: Located in Irwindale, California, St. James Spirits makes Peregrine Rock single malt.


Colorado Gold: A new micro in Colorado's Western Slope, they are currently making barely aged corn whiskey and have plans for Bourbon.

Peachstreet Distillers: This Colorado distillery has recently marketed a two year old Bourbon labeled Colorado Straight Bourbon.

Stranahan's: One of the most well reviewed of the new microdistilleries, Stranhan's makes its single malt Colorado Whiskey from local barley.


Lawrenceburg (Angostura/CL World Brands Ltd.): Angostura, of bitters fame, owns this Indiana distillery. While they don't market any of their own whiskey, the distillery produces Cougar Bourbon and rye for the Foster's Corporation. Cougar is an export-only whiskey market primarily in Australia. Lawrenceburg is also said to make the whiskey component of Diageo's Seagram's 7 Crown blended whiskey.


High Plains Distillery: This Kansas distillery makes Most Wanted Kansas Bourbon and has also made a single malt, a rye and a wheat whiskey.


Triple Eight Distillery: This Nantuckett distillery's single malt, known as Notch (i.e., Not Scotch) is the most expensive new American whiskey I know of at $888 (or triple eight, get it?). They also have made Nor'Easter Bourbon, though I don't know if that whiskey is still in production.


New Holland Brewing Co.: Another brewery which has branched out to whiskey, New Holland makes Zepplin Bend Straight Malt Whiskey.

New York

Tuthilltown: Tuthilltown has recently expanded distribution of their line of whiskies which includes: Hudson Baby Bourbon, Hudson Four Grain Bourbon, Hudson Manhattan Rye, Hudson Single Malt and Old Gristmill Corn Whiskey.


Woodstone Creek Distillery: A Cincinnati winery recently turned distillery, Woodstone Creek makes a Bourbon, a malt whiskey and a blended whiskey.


Cascade Peak Spirits: This organic vodka distillery has released a rye whiskey and is also working on Bourbon and corn whiskey.

Clear Creek: This Portland distillery uses imported Scottish barley to make America's most peated whiskey, McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt.

Edgefield: One of the earlier entries in the micro world, but still hard to find, this Oregon distillery makes Hogshead single malt and Devil's Bit rye whiskey.

Rogue: Following Anchor's lead, this popular brewery recently jumped into distilling with Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey, a four grain whiskey make in Oregon.


George Dickel (Diageo). The other Tennessee Whiskey, owned by liquor giant Diageo, is my favorite of the Tennessians.

Jack Daniel's (Brown Forman). Makers of the world's top selling whiskey, Jack Daniels is, for much of the world, the first and last name in whiskey, not to mention t-shirts, barbecue sauce and other trinkets.


A. Smith Bowman(Buffalo Trace/Sazerac Co.): A. Smith Bowman is your source for Virgina Gentleman, the only Virginia Bourbon. This venerable distillery has been owned by Kentucky's Buffalo Trace since 2003.

Copper Fox Distillery: This Sperryville, Virginia distillery makes Wasmund's single malt whiskey and an unaged rye spirit; they are working on a rye whiskey.

Virginia Moonshine: Makers of Virginia Lightening corn whiskey and Kopper Kettle three grain whiskey.

West Virginia

Isaiah Morgan Distillery: A winery that makes an unaged rye as well as Southern Moon, an unaged corn liquor.

West Virginia Distilling Co.: Claiming the banner of legal moonshine, this Morgantown, West Virginia distillery produces corn whiskey to use in its Mountain Moonshine Spirit Whiskey.


Death's Door Spirits: This distillery only recently started marketing its Death's Door Wheat Whiskey.

As far as I know, this list, combined with last week's list of Kentucky distilleries, constitutes an up to date list of every distillery in the United States that is currently distilling and selling whiskey. There will be more to come, as I know there are distilleries starting up, ageing whiskey and even planing releases in Maine, Texas, Utah and Washington state, among other places. Clearly, the American microdistillery movement is in full swing and there is lots out there to taste and experiment with.

In looking at the last two weeks of lists, you may ask, what about Black Maple Hill, Wathen's, Michter's and all of those other Bourbons I see on the shelf of my local liquor store? We will answer all of those questions next week with our list of Independent bottlers. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunset & Hollywood: Il Capriccio Pizza

There is a section of Disney California Adventure called the Hollywood Pictures Backlot which is set up to like the backlot of a movie studio. It's all very post-modern; Disney's parks, of course, use various sets and props to create an artificial environment, but the Hollywood section contains sets and props that are meant to look like Hollywood sets and props. That is, they are fake fakes.

As a resident of the greater Hollywood area, I've always been amused at a street sign in this section of the park which indicates that it is the intersection of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. As a tourist from abroad or the Midwest, the idea of this intersection must conjure some romantic notion of movie stars and glamor. We Angelenos, of course, know that this particular intersection is anything but glamorous. Standing in the shadow of the Kaiser complex and within view of a Circuit City, there's not really much there, other than a Von's.

Now, however, the Italian restaurant Il Capriccio has opened a pizza shop, Il Capriccio Woodfire Pizzeria, right at this apparently storied intersection. I took a few trips to check it out.

First I tried the salsiccia, a sausage, garlic, rosemary pie. The sausage was nice, but I didn't taste the rosemary. The whole thing was a bit too salty, but I did find myself reaching for more. I went on to try cheese and pepperoni pizzas, both good, if standard pies.

The thing that really shines at Il Capriccio is the crust. It's the right amount of chewy, slightly charred and just a tad salty. Crust is probably the hardest element of pizza to get right, but Il Capriccio does a good job with it.

All of the pizza was above average, though none of it left me in the throws of pizza exhilaration. Still, if you're in the area and wanting pizza, it's a good bet, and Disney California Adventure would be lucky to have pizza that good at its Sunset and Hollywood.

Il Capriccio Pizza
4518 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 644-9760

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In Memory of Fassica: Rosalind's Little Ethiopia

I'm still mourning the loss of my beloved Fassica, the best Ethiopian restaurant in town. As a coping mechanism, I've decided to rediscover Little Ethiopia, the one block stretch of Fairfax Avenue south of Olympic filled with Ethiopian restaurants. About five years ago, I ate at all the Fairfax spots, but I stopped going when I discovered Fassica. Suddenly, all of them seemed to pale in comparison. But now, I need to deal with my loss and search for a new source of great Ethiopian food, so I will begin a project to visit each of the Ethiopian restaurants on Fairfax and see what I find, a project that may take some time, but hey, I'm in no rush. Today, we start with Rosalind's.

Rosalind's was never my favorite Ethiopian place, but I hadn't been in years, and I was pleasantly surprised. As I typically do, I ordered the vegetarian and meat combinations. The meal starts with a salad. The salad components are a fairly lackluster serving of lettuce and out of season tomatoes, but it is topped with a delightfully tart dressing with a strong dose of lime and salt.

In the veggie combination, the lentils were fairly standard, but the alicha (a stewed mix of cabbage, potato and carrots) was nicely flavored. The meat dishes were all very nice. The combination includes beef, chicken and lamb wots (stews), the beef and chicken were bathed in nicely spiced, traditional, thick sauces with intense, concentrated flavors of peppers, onions, garlic and spices. The lamb was stewed in a nice curry sauce. While the flavors were good, all of the dishes were overly greasy, and the injera was stiff and lacking in flavor. Overall, though, it was a good meal.

1044 S. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 936-2486

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: The Kentucky Distilleries

As as service to the whiskey-drinking readership, over the next few weeks, we will be doing our best to identify every American distillery which makes and sells whiskey as well as many of the brand names those under which those whiskies are sold. We will start today with the big boys, the Kentucky Bourbon (and Rye) distilleries. We will then proceed to cover the whiskey distilleries outside of Kentucky, including the growing category of microdistilleries, and then, we will list the major independent bottlers. Our goal is to make it easier for you to figure out where your bottle of whiskey was actually made.

Not all of this information is easy to come by and I'm grateful for the work that's been done by Chuck Cowdery and the good folks at the Straight Bourbon forums, Barturtle in particular, in revealing some of the harder to find tidbits.

Below is a list of the nine currently operating Kentucky distilleries, along with their corporate owner and their most prominent brand names. All of the brands are Bourbon unless otherwise stated. The list of brand names is not exhaustive as some of these distilleries produce regional brands, blended whiskies and other products; the aim was to cover the biggest brand names.

Brown Forman's Shively Distillery: Brown Forman owns three distinct American whiskey distilleries (Shively, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniel's). Their Shively, Kentucky plant makes Old Forester Bourbon and Early Times Kentucky Whiskey. They also make rye whiskey for Heaven Hill (see below).

Buffalo Trace (Sazerac Co.): Formerly known as Ancient Age, the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky is one of the most loved by whiskey aficionados. They market their whiskey under one of the most diverse collection of brands, including:

Ancient Age
Buffalo Trace
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection
Eagle Rare
Elmer T. Lee
George T. Stagg
Hancock's Reserve
Old Charter
Rock Hill Farms
Sazerac and Thomas H. Handy Rye
Van Winkle and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and Rye
W.L. Weller

Four Roses (Kirin): Lawrenceburg, Kentucky based Four Roses only recently began bringing their Bourbon back to the US. Aside from their own Four Roses label, the distillery makes Bulleit Bourbon for Diageo.

Heaven Hill: The last family owned distillery in Kentucky, Bardstown based Heaven Hill's diverse brand portfolio includes Bourbon, rye, Kentucky's only straight wheat whiskey and nearly all of the American corn whiskey brands. To make it more confusing, Heaven Hill's rye whiskies are actually distilled at the Brown Forman Shively distillery (see above).

Cabin Still
Elijah Craig
Evan Williams
Fighting Cock
Heaven Hill
Henry McKenna
Old Fitzgerald
Parker's Heritage Collection

Pikesville Rye
Rittenhouse Rye

Wheat Whiskey
Bernheim Wheat Whiskey

Corn Whiskey
Dixie Dew
Georgia Moon
JW Corn
Mellow Corn

Jim Beam (Beam Global/Fortune Brands): Jim Beam is the biggest name in Bourbon. The brands made at their signature operation, with facilities in Clermont and Boston, Kentucky, include:

Basil Hayden
Jim Beam Bourbons and Rye
Knob Creek
Old Crow
Old Grand-Dad
Old Overholt Rye
(rī)¹ (Rye One)

Maker's Mark (Beam Global/Fortune Brands): Simplicity reigns at this Jim Beam owned distillery in Loretto Kentucky. It makes only one brand - Maker's Mark.

Tom Moore/Barton Brands (Buffalo Trace/Sazerac Co.): Constellation Brands recently sold this Bardstown gem to Buffalo Trace. Beloved for their Bourbon in Kentucky and for their rye in Wisconsin but little known outside those states, they are the makers of:

Fleischmann's Rye
Kentucky Gentleman
Kentucky Tavern
Ten High
Tom Moore
Very Old Barton
Ridgemont Reserve 1792

Wild Turkey (Pernod Ricard/Campari): News recently broke that drinks giant Pernod Ricard is selling this venerable name in American whiskey to the Italian Campari company. Most of the Bourbons and rye whiskies made at this Lawrenceburg distillery carry the Wild Turkey name, though they have recently begun to market Russell's Reserve as a separate brand.

Woodford Reserve/Labrot & Graham(Brown Forman): Brown Forman's second Kentucky distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, makes Bourbon marketed under the Woodford Reserve brand.

Along with the big nine, there is a new microdistillery in Bowling Green called Corsair. As with most new microdistilleries, they are only marketing unaged spirits right now, so no Bourbon yet, but they do have something called Wry Moon Unaged Rye Whiskey, which is distilled from 100% rye. (Technically, if it wasn't stored in oak for some portion of its life, they cannot call it rye whiskey, so they must have done some minimal storage of the spirit if they are within the regulations). They have plans to make Bourbon and a regular rye whiskey.

Next week we will look at the whiskey distilleries outside of the Bluegrass State, including a complete list of whiskey producing microdistilleries.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Better Know a Strip Mall: Argentinian Empanadas at 1253 Vine

We continue our series on the amazing diversity of restaurants at 1253 Vine with Argentinian Empanadas. This modest shop sells fabulous empanadas either to eat in or frozen to take home. I tried all the savory varieties and they were excellent across the board: Chicken with a nice curry seasoning, ham and onion and ham and cheese were reminiscent of French onion tarts, corn and potato had a sweet corn taste, veggie had a creamy spinach filling and the ground beef was well seasoned. These are the ultimate party food; I know the next time I have a party, I'll be grabbing a couple dozen to cook at home.

Argentinan Empanadas also claims to have the city's best milanesa, a claim I will definitely check out and on which I will report back.

Argentinian Empanadas also has locations in Venice and on Robertson.

Argentinian Empanadas
1253 N Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(310) 963-7354

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

Vermouth is the herbal, fortified wine that is so often a throwaway ingredient in cocktails. Sweet vermouth is used in Manhattans, Negronis and other classic cocktails. Now comes Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, bringing this wine to a whole new level. This sweet vermouth is super-aromatic, with wonderful notes of clove and mulled wine. I could just sniff it all day.

Used in the classic cocktails, it adds some real vigor and intensity. If your whiskey isn't up to snuff, this vermouth will dominate, so to get a real balanced Manhattan, you need to use a whiskey that will stand up to it (more on that in a few weeks).

After much cocktail experimentation, though, I think I've decided that the best way to serve Carpano Antica Formula is on the rocks. There may be no better appertif for a spring afternoon.

Carpano Antica is generally available at good liquor stores and goes for about $30 for a liter bottle.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Great Myths of American Whiskey

American whiskey is filled with myths and legends that are often repeated and universally believed despite their fallaciousness. I've read so much debunking of distillery histories, much of it by Chuck Cowdery in his excellent newsletter, the Bourbon Country Reader, that I don't believe any claims made about distilleries on the back of the bottle anymore. But there are even more fundamental myths that continue to pervade the world of American whiskey. Here, we set out to debunk four of the most prevalent.

Myth #1 Bourbon Must be Made in Kentucky

I have debunked this myth in previous posts, but no matter how much I shout, I always seem to hear this myth repeated. I won't belabor it this time except to restate that Bourbon can me made anywhere in the United States. The micro-distillery movement may play a role in quashing this long-enduring myth once and for all. As new distillers start to make Bourbon all over the country, people will begin to realize that Bourbon is not a state-specific spirit.

Myth #2 Bourbon County, Kentucky is a Dry County

It would be a delicious irony that the county from which America's premier spirit took its name was dry, if it were true. It's not. You can, indeed, buy a Bourbon in the spirit's namesake county, though no Bourbon is produced there anymore.

Some of the confusion may be due to Bourbon County, Kansas, which remained a dry county after prohibition, all the way up to 1992. Of course, Bourbon County, Kansas has no historical connection to the whiskey of the same name. If you're looking for an actual dry county that produces booze, you need look no further than Moore County Tennessee, home to none other than Jack Daniel's.

Myth #3 Jack Daniel's is a Bourbon

Jack Daniel's is a Tennessee Whiskey. As I have explained, before, Tennessee Whiskey is essentially the same as Bourbon except that after being distilled, it is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal, a technique known as the Lincoln County Process. Serious whiskey geeks argue about whether JD should really be considered a Bourbon as it fits the regulatory requirements, but as a matter of tradition and industry usage, it is not considered Bourbon but rather, the distinct category of Tennessee Whiskey.

Myth #4 There Are Dozens of Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries

This is less a myth than a misperception. If you walk into a well stocked liquor store, you will see dozens of Bourbon brands. This leads many people to believe that there are many more Kentucky Bourbon distilleries than the nine that actually exist. This is in part because many of the distilleries have multiple brands which do not list the distillery names on the label and in part because independent bottlers also market multiple brands without stating that they only buy and bottle the Bourbon but do not distill it.

This has always been a pet peeve of mine about American whiskey and over the next few weeks, I will be doing a run down of the Bourbon distilleries, bottlers and brands to give everyone a sense, once and for all, of where their Bourbon comes from.

Next Wednesday: The Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Better Know a Strip Mall: Cuban Food at 1253 Vine

Whenever I have visitors from out of town and tell them I'm taking them to a fabulous sushi bar or the best Thai food in town, they are inevitably shocked to learn that the restaurant is in a strip mall. Apparently, outsiders find it hard to believe that an excellent restaurant would share its parking lot with a 7-11, a nail salon or a Korean video store.

But we know better. Southern Californians know that some of the best food in the city, really the country, can be found in LA strip malls. We are not phased by the proximity of other businesses, the lack of parking or the apparent tackiness. Hell, this is LA, what isn't in a strip mall?

There are strip malls out there that are true culinary gems. The San Gabriel Valley has some amazing strip malls like the one that combines Luscious Dumplings and Vietnam House or the San Gabriel mall featuring Mei Long Village and J&J, but few strip malls can match the sheer diversity of 1253 Vine.

This Hollywood strip mall on the southwest side of Vine and Fountain boasts a stunning array of cuisines: Argentinian, Eastern European, Cuban, Armenian, Thai, Mexican and Japanese. It's a microcosm of LA's multicultural life, expressed in fried pounded meats (available at four of the establishments), dumplings and noodles.

I hadn't really noticed this mall before, but given its dramatic culinary diversity, I had to dive in, so I proudly present our first in what may become a series of, with apologies to Stephen Colbert, Better Know a Strip Mall. Over the next few weeks, I will be sampling some of this mall's diverse eateries and dutifully reporting back. We start with the Cuban restaurant El Floridita.

El Floridita is a Cuban restaurant with live music and a dance floor. It has many of the Cuban standards, but I particularly enjoyed the appetizer combo with potato balls, ham croquettes, empanadas, fried yuca, chicharron, tostones and a tamal. Whoever is working the frier in this place knows what they're doing. Roast chicken was very good. The roast pork came in a delicious, drink-it-by-the-spoonful sauce, but the pork itself was dry. One of my favorite things may have been the simple lemon-butter-garlic sauce served with the bread. I could bathe in that stuff.

El Floridita
1253 N. Vine St.
Hollywood, CA 90038
(323) 871-8612

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gelato Bar

I happened upon Gelato Bar in Studio City recently and really enjoyed it. I had a coffee-mascarpone, a white chocolate gelato and a number of other excellent, very creamy and well flavored gelatos. Very good stuff.

I also ordered an espresso, which usually would be a throw-away at a gelato shop, but was very nicely pulled with a thick head of crema...intriguing.

I will definitely be heading back.

Gelato Bar
4342 1/2 Tujunga Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: New Concepts from Bruichladdich and Beam

Bruichladdich A&W3

Bruichladdich, the Islay distillery that is legendary for their innovative limited releases, has introduced yet another ground-breaking concept that is sure to turn the whisky world upside down. Bruichladdich A&W3 is a malt aged in used root beer casks. "The root beer imparts beautiful flavors of birch and sarsaparilla which bring our malt to a whole new level," says master distiller Jim McEwen, who continues "A&W3 not only makes a great dram, it goes well with ice cream."

The three year old whisky will retail for $570 US.

Jim Beam's New Bourbon Concept

Pleased by the great success of its (rī)¹ [pronounced "Rye One"] rye whiskey. Beam will be introducing a new Bourbon, entitled #!*# [Pronounced "The Bourbon Formerly Known as White Label"]. The new Bourbon will retail for $73 US.