Sunday, May 31, 2009

Top Ramen: Daikokuya

There are a number of established, vaunted LA institutions to which I have shamefully never been. I've never had Welsh rarebit and a tableside Caesar salad at Musso & Frank's Grill, I've never had a reuben and Brent's Deli and I've never had a bowl of chili at Chili My Soul. Until recently, I had never sat down to a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya, the Little Tokyo ramen temple with additional locations in Costa Mesa and Monterey Park. I am happy to say I have now remedied that sad situation.

The Daikokuya ramen bowl is truly a thing of beauty. As I slurped, I debated whether the rich, murky brown, intensely porky broth even qualified as a soup as opposed to a gravy or jus. The broth dominates the dish, as it should, making the nicely chewy noodles almost an afterthought. One of the unexpected delights of the ramen is a hard boiled egg, so saturated with broth that it tastes almost like a pork product. As I ate the porky egg, I thought of a Dr. Seuss-like egg laying pig.

The Daikokuya ramen pairs well with a side of salmon roe on rice (available together as a combination) and an order of gyoza. Being a porketarian, I ordered the pork cutlet with my ramen. The cutlet was probably the meal's only weakness. It was very eggy. The sauce was a bit too sweet, and it made the crispy, fried coating soggy.

My favorite ramen in LA is at Santoka Ramen at the Mitsuwa Market in West LA, so that is what I naturally compared Daikokuya to, though I did not do a side by side comparison. The broth at Santoka is also wonderful, but a bit more greasy than Daikokuya's. The actual pork slices in the ramen are better at Santoka. At Daikokuya, they were flimsy and seemed to be more of a flavoring agent than an actual element of the meal. It would definitely be a close call between these two great ramens; we will have to set a date for a ramen-off.

I always feel like something sweet after eating a lot of pork, and after poking around at the Little Tokyo Mall, across the street from Daikokuya, we found a little, generic-looking ice cream parlor that serves Fossleman's ice cream. A scoop of Fossleman's taro ice cream was a perfect end to the meal.

327 E. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-1680

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hawaiian Chocolate

I love Hawaii and I love Chocolate, so trying Hawaiian chocolate was a natural for me. As our most tropical state, Hawaii is the only state that can actually grow things like coffee and chocolate.

About ten years ago, I tasted my some excellent chocolate from Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate, which arrived early to the American artisanal chocolate movement. For whatever reason, while craft chocolate has exploded in the US, Hawaiian Vintage has moved toward a commercial sales model which deemphasizes retail sales. They only sell chocolate to the public through their website and have only a limited selection with no bars.

There are some other Hawaiian bars on the market and today we will sample three chocolate bars from two makers.

Malie Kai Chocolates, Single Origin Waialua Estate, 55% cacao

Dole's Malie Kai Chocolates are made from cacao grown at the Waialua Estate on the North Shore of Oahu. While the beans are grown in Hawaii, they are processed by the old Guittard chocolate company in San Francisco.

The Malie Kai had a nice chocolate scent and a good mouthfeel, but it was much too sweet, even for the relatively low 55% cacao level. I generally like Guittard and this definitely tastes like at Guittard product. I'll have to try the 70% bar.

Original Hawaiian Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, 60% cacao

Unlike Malie Kai, Original Hawaiian Chocolate both grows its cacao and makes its chocolate in Hawaii. They have single estate bars, but the bar I'm sampling is a blend. The cacao is grown on the Big Island.

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate (OHC) bar was also quite sweet and had a sort of clay-like mouth feel that I didn't care for. It also had a bit of a chemically taste. It uses both soy lecithin and vanilla powder in place of vanilla beans. Possibly the off tastes and mouthfeel I get from this bar came from those ingredients.

Malie Kai Kona Coffee Espresso

Malie Kai also makes a Kona coffee bar made with "Kona blend" beans. I enjoyed this bar which had a nice strong coffee taste. It was almost like the bar form of a chocolate covered espresso bean. As with all of these bars, though, it is on the sweet side.

I'm still waiting to try a truly remarkable Hawaiian chocolate bar. For now, these chocolates aren't yet playing in the big leagues.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Microdistilleries to Watch

As I learned in compiling my Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries, the world of craft distilleries is booming. In doing the research, I found a number of whiskey distilleries or planned distilleries that do not yet have anything on the market. I thought I would list these distilleries so we can follow their progress. The status of these operations varies from working distilleries that have whiskey maturing in barrels to projects that seem to be little more than a guy with passion and a website. In any case, the following distilleries are either producing or have plans (or dreams) to produce whiskey but don't have anything on the market yet.

Balcones Distillery, Waco, TX. This distillery is under construction with plans to make a single malt whiskey.

Dryfly Distilling, Spokane, Washington. This producer of gin and vodka is currently ageing their DryFly Single Malt Whiskey.

Ellensburg Distillery, Ellensburg, Washington. Ellensburg licensed a distillery in October 2008 and is selling futures for Gold Buckle Club Washington Frontier Style Whisky, a cask strength rye whiskey.

Garrison Brothers Distillery, Hye, TX. Garrison Brothers is currently ageing its Texas Bourbon, a wheater, which it hopes to release in 2011.

Nashoba Distillery, Boston, MA. This winery turned distillery is planning to release a five year old single malt in August 2009.

Penobscot Bay Distillery, Winterport, ME. This micro plans to open this year and aspires to produce Bourbon, rye, single malt and multi-grain whiskies. You can read about their start-up on Slashfood's Diary of a Distiller.

Pioneer Spirits, Chico, CA. This new Northern California distillery reports that they have a California corn whiskey "in production" as well as a light rum.

Roughstock Distillery, Bozeman, MT. This distillery is making Roughstock Montana Whiskey, a single malt which they claim will soon be coming to "a liquor store or watering hole near you."

Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby Wyoming. Wyoming Whiskey have plans to make "America's next great bourbon." It's not clear that they have built a distillery yet.

If you know of any others, please let me know, and if you are from one of these distilleries, I'd love to hear from you about your plans and progress.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unlucky Devils

It's always sad to see the decline of a good restaurant. More than once, I have witnessed a much loved eatery decline into mediocrity, and it's never fun.

I was a big fan of Lucky Devils when it first opened, with their juicy burgers, perfectly cooked fries and luscious, toasted pecan shake. I stopped going for multiple reasons, including the shrinking shake but also the inconvenient lack of high chairs once I had a high chair bound child. I recently went back a few weeks ago and was sorely disappointed.

The once great fries were now salted to death. The shake remains small but now also had a somewhat sour taste that was unpleasant and seemed to have less of a toasted pecan taste as well. The burgers were fine and the cobbler with frozen custard was still very good. Gone from the menu was one of my favorite desserts, the Kentucky Cream Cake.

In addition, the place itself doesn't look great. I'm not sure if they are in the process of remodeling or have just let it fall apart. There are parts of the walls which appear to be stripped of paint. The old TVs which ran a montage of extreme sport and nature shots have been replaced by regular TVs playing basketball games. In other words, the aesthetic, along with the food, has suffered.

The patronage has, as you might expect, dropped off. I went on a Thursday night and the place was empty. There was one other person there, a solo diner, during any part of our meal. The economy you say? Perhaps, but Loteria Grill, only two doors down, was packed on that same night.

I guess nothing goes on forever, but I will always remember the toasted pecan shake the way it was meant to be.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Super Salumi: Fra'Mani

Fra'Mani is a Berkeley based producer of hand crafted salumi, or cured pork products. Founded and run by Chez Panisse alum Paul Bertolli, Fra'Mani makes various styles of dry salami, sausages and pate.

I've enjoyed their products in the past, but for my recent birthday, I was lucky enough to get a big Fra'Mani gift pack. There were all pretty wonderful, but not for the faint of heart. These are big, spicy, garlicky pork products, full of fat and protein, but no hormones or other unnatural ingredients. Here's how they stacked up.

Pork Liver Mousse: For pates, I generally favor fowl, but this pork liver mousse was phenomenal. It was creamy, but not quite as strong as I expected. The pork melded well with the spices, and there was a good, thick layer of aspic on top.

Classic Italian Sausage: This was a great sausage, with great pork flavor, if a bit heavy on the garlic.

Spicy Italian Sausage: This one was more like a chorizo. It was red, with big chunks of fat and, when cooked up, leaked that deep orange grease that you get with chorizo. Like all of these products, it was hyped up on garlic. As to the spiciness, it had a light kick, but nothing to heavy in that department.

Breakfast Sausage: Of all the sausages, this was my favorite. It was like a breakfast link on steroids, with more spice and juicier, more flavorful pork. They held back a bit on the garlic with this one, which was good.

Salametto, dry salame: This is great dry salami in small doses. It is a huge garlic bomb, which makes it a tad overwhelming, but I still can't seem to stop eating it.

Salametto Piccante, spicy dry chorizo: I loved this chorizo in a dry salami-form, something I hadn't had before. It has a nice, light hotness to it and contrasts well with the Salametto.

All of these were good, though Bertolli could use the occasional restraint with the garlic. If you like the pork and the garlic, you should definitely explore some Fra'Mani products.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Bush Babies - Two Bushmills

We continue our series on Irish Whiskey with a look at two whiskies from Bushmills. The only one of the three Irish Whiskey distilleries that we have yet to review any bottles from, Bushmills is located in Northern Ireland.

Along with Midleton's Jameson, Bushmills' standard blend is one of the big players in Irish Whiskey. I will forgo that ubiquitous blend, and instead taste two popular Bushmills whiskies: Black Bush blend and Bushmills 10 year old single malt.

Black Bush, 40% alcohol ($25-$30)

Black Bush is a blended whiskey matured in sherry casks. It has a nice, malty-sherry nose. The flavor follows up with both malt and sherry...very Scotch tasting, like a lighter version of Macallan. I really enjoyed this Bushmills. It would make a good everyday drink; it's flavorful, has some complexity but isn't too heavy. Very nice.

Bushmills Malt, 10 years old, 40% alcohol ($25-$30).

Bushmills Malt is a triple distilled single malt aged in two woods, Bourbon and sherry. The nose is very light with a bit of malt and a perfumy quality. The flavor is also light, with malt, hay and a slight sweetness and sherry taste at the end. It's a nice whiskey, but a bit too light for my tastes.

I usually prefer single malts over blends, but I have to say that I preferred the bolder taste of Black Bush to the Bushmills Malt. I'd never before sampled any Bushmills beyond the standard blend and found both of these impressive.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Doughnut Days: Arcadia Crullers

As you may recall, in the spring, I eat doughnuts, lots of doughnuts. Well, actually I eat many fewer the older I get, but I still do a doughnut tour every spring. I always hit a few favorites but also try to find something new each spring.

I've been to all of the touted Doughnutteries, and every year it becomes harder to find something new and promising. This year, I consulted the good folks at Chowhound where poster JeetJet turned me on to two Arcadia doughnut shops within a couple of miles of each other: A.M. Donuts and Peacock Donuts.

We started at A.M., which is located in a strip mall under a sign that simply reads "Donuts." I tried a raised glazed (my standard), a buttermilk bar and an old fashioned. The raised glazed was light and pillowy, as promised, but it was a bit bland. It lacked the yeasty flavors that I love from Stan's in Westwood, and it was a too sweet. The other doughnuts were competent, but not particularly exciting.

Then it was on to Peacock, where we tried the glazed French cruller. Now, while my doughnut days usually focus on raised glazed, I love a French cruller; I've always been a fan of the cruller's light, airy consistency. The crullers at Peacock were out of this world. The dough had a wonderfully soft, moist, egginess to it, almost like a custard. I quickly ordered more. These were definitely the best French crullers I've had in town, though I should note that I've never had the crullers at Donut Man in Glendora, which are much loved (they were out of them the time I went). If you love crullers, Peacock Doughnuts is definitely worth a trip.

Both these places open early but close when the doughnuts run out, which is usually around 2:00 p.m.

Peacock Donuts
34 E. Duarte Rd.
Arcadia, CA 91006
(626) 445-6564

A.M. Donuts
34 W. Las Tunas Dr.
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 574-0160

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ooh Baby, It's Making Me Crazy: How Bazaar

Having waxed philosophically about the phenomenon of molecular gastronomy earlier this week, I now delve into some real word experience. A few weeks ago, I had dinner at Bazaar, Jose Andreas' new restaurant in the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel, which is actually in Los Angeles (maybe they should call it the SLS Beverly Hills Adjacent Hotel).

Is Bazaar all it's cracked up to be? Yes. Is it experimental? Yes. Is it bizarre? Somewhat, but not to the extreme. Aside from the molecular tricks and post-modern decor, is it great food? Absolutely.

Bazaar is a tapas restaurant; the menu is broken down into two parts: traditional and modern. The traditional dishes are the types of cured meats, cheese and seafood tapas that you would expect to see in a Spanish restaurant. The modern reveals the chemist side of the establishment. There are also two tasting menus which mix it up a bit, a small one at $45 per person and a larger one at $65. We decided to go for the large tasting menu. I should note that the night I attended, chef de cuisine Michael Voltaggio was not in, so the sous chefs, including Top Chef Marcel Vigneron, were running the show.

Even the cocktail menu at Bazaar is divided into traditional and modern, so we tried a number of modern cocktails. The Manhattan came with a maraschino cherry "spherification," a cherry shaped, cherry flavored, liquid filled gel. The margarita was topped with a salty foam, and the much reviewed magic mojito was poured over cotton candy, which melted upon contact with the liquid.

This was not the best start to the meal. These cocktails appeared to justify the worst stereotypes of molecular gastronomy. They were gimmicky and the molecular tricks enhanced neither the flavor nor the experience of the meal. It was like a movie that was all special effects and no plot. Luckily, the rest of the meal did not follow suit.

It speaks volumes to Andreas' talent that among the three or four best dishes of the night, half came from the traditional menu and half from the modern menu. The two sided menu allows Andreas to demonstrate his traditional chops as well as his creativity. I won't go through every dish, but these were the absolute highlights.

One of the first things we were served was Jamon Iberico, which is one of my favorite cured hams. It was light and subtle and had that melt in your mouth quality of only the finest Spanish hams. I suppose serving a plate of ham doesn't reveal much about your cooking talents, but it certainly reveals good taste.

Another favorite from the traditional menu was the goat cheese stuffed roasted red pepper. This was such a basic dish; it sounds like a throw-away antipasto, but it was beautifully executed. The pepper was smooth and sweet and the cheese was tangy, and just slightly melted. The dish came together so beautifully with the sweet, the tangy, the chewy pepper and the semi-liquid cheese. In some ways, this dish was the antithesis of everything that molecular gastronomy stands for. It was the simplest of dishes, pairing two very basic elements to create a beautiful harmony.

The next dish that really wowed me was lamb, cooked sous vide with a wild mushroom jelly and wild mushrooms on a potato foam. Full of foam and gel and cooked sous vide, this dish sounded like a molecular gastronomy greatest hits plate, but it all worked marvelously. The lamb was wonderfully moist and tender, but not too gamy. The mushroom jelly had a rich, concentrated flavor, and the potato foam was like a cloud of mashed potatoes. Here, in contrast to the cheese stuffed pepper, each element of the dish was quite complex, yet it still came together in remarkable fashion.

My fourth favorite was something we added on to the menu after seeing it go by. The popular foie gras cotton candy consists of a cold square of foie gras on a stick, topped with crushed corn nuts and wrapped in a cloud of cotton candy. You ate it from the stick in one bite, first sensing the sweetness of the cotton candy and then the deep, cold richness of the foie gras. We had it as our final dish before dessert and it was a lovely end to the procession.

Not every dish worked as well as these. There was a lack of emphasis on seasonal produce that hurt some of the dishes. A "salad" of a cube of watermelon topped with tomato pulp might have been wonderful in July or August, but with neither tomatoes nor watermelon in season, it was bland and dull.

On the molecular side, other interesting dishes included the starter of sweet chips and a Greek yogurt dip with anise, tamarind and olive oil which was whipped to an almost foam state. There was a caprese salad with tomatoes, basil and liquid mozzarella balls that looked like regular mozzarella balls but exploded in liquid upon the first bite. It was texturally fun, though the taste was not much different from that of a traditional tomato-basil-mozzarella salad. I enjoyed the cous cous made from cauliflower, which felt like cous cous but tasted strongly of cauliflower. The lobster bisque was a small cup of strong lobster broth with a foam of cream on top, which was served with a small piece of Norwegian lobster on a seaweed salad. One of the most amusing dishes was the Philly cheesesteak, a pastry, filled with something approaching cheesesteak cheese whiz, with a seared slice of Kobe beef on top. The cheesesteak was playful and fun, but not the best dish of the evening.

Several themes emerged during the meal. There are playful ingredients that Andreas loves to work into his dishes. These include cotton candy and corn nuts, both of which appeared multiple times on our menu. From where we were sitting, we could see the kitchen's cotton candy machine, which was in nearly constant usage for mojitos and cotton candy foie gras. We wondered if he makes his own corn nuts or simply grabs a few of the red bags from the nearest 7-11.

I approached Bazaar with a healthy degree of skepticism, but in the end, I was fully converted. This was a WOW meal, not just for in form, but in substance. How Bizarre indeed.

SLS Hotel
465 S. La Cienega
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 246-5567

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Irish in May - Two Cooley Blends

Just to show that I don't only review Irish Whiskies on St. Patrick's Day, I'm going to spend a couple of weeks doing some Irish in May.

This week, it's two blended whiskies from the independent Cooley distillery: Michael Collins (which is independently bottled using Cooley whiskey) and Kilbeggan. These are the lowest end bottles from these lines; higher up in the price range the Kilbeggan line has a 15 year old and the Collins line has a single malt. Both of the blends we are tasting today weigh in at the basic 40% alcohol. The Collins goes for $20, the Kilbeggan for $16.

Michael Collins

Malt on the nose with pineapple and other fruit. A nice flavor, a fair amount of malt with some butterscotch. A very nice whiskey.


Fascinating scents: pine, anise, Absinthe, spicy. Interestingly, those flavors aren't very present on the palate, which is more straightforward, presenting mostly with malt but for some spice and pine in the background. In some ways, this is a very Scotch tasting whiskey.


The Collins is the lighter of these two; the Kilbeggan would probably be more pleasing to Scotch drinkers and is the one I'd likely reach for. Overall, both of these were very impressive and enjoyable whiskies. I will definitely have to spend more time with the Cooley brands. I guess it pays to drink Irish more than once per year.

Next Wednesday: We Continue the Irish with Bushmills

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Molecular Gastronomy: Better Living Through Chemistry?

Beginning in the early 1960s, America was treated to a avalanche of new "space-aged" products created using new advances in chemistry. Suddenly, you could by powder that transformed into an orange-flavored beverage with the addition of water, processed cheese that squirted out of an aerosol can, and a dairy-free dessert topping that had the look and feel of whipped cream (finally allowing for a Kosher version of the Jewish-American classic, brisket with whipped cream). Suddenly, chemists in lab coats were replacing cooks at America's food companies.

Of course, all of this food chemistry led to a strong culinary backlash of organic, local and back-to-basics cuisine, and these days, any foodie worth his or her salt would just as soon starve than ingest Tang, aerosolized cheese-food or Cool Whip.

In light of that history, it's ironic that some forty years after the introduction of most of these products, the use of some of these same chemicals in high end cuisine became the hottest trend in food.

Molecular gastronomy, as everyone now knows, emerged from Spain at the dawn of the Twenty-First century, and Ferran Adrià of El Bulli became its most renowned advocate. It spread quickly to the United States through the likes of Grant Achatz in Chicago and Wylie Dufresne in New York, and finally hit the mainstream through the famously big-haired Marcel Vigneron on Top Chef.

The goal of the space age food of the 1960s was convenience. In contrast, molecular gastronomy used chemistry as an artistic medium, seeking to challenge preconceived notions of taste, texture and culinary composition. However different the attitudes of their practitioners, though, industrial food and molecular gastronomy are more closely related than most food snobs would like to admit. Tang challenged traditional notions of orange juice in the same way many of the molecular creations have challenged culinary assumptions.

And just as occurred in reaction to the space-aged food, there now appears to be the beginnings of a backlash to the molecular scene, and the criticism is largely the same: we should not be putting unnatural chemicals into our bodies, some of which could have harmful effects.

Los Angeles, for its part, never jumped on the molecular gastronomy bandwagon. Other than the very brief tenure of Ludo Lefebvre at one of the many incarnations of Bastide and his occasional project Ludobites, we never had a food-chemist pioneer make a home here, until now.

José Andrés is quickly becoming the Wolfgang Puck of the molecular gastronomy movement. This El Bulli trained chef presides over a growing empire of fine dining spots that produce molecular cuisine and various takes on small plate dishes. Add to that an appearance on Iron Chef and his PBS series Made in Spain and you have the full house of celebrity chefdom.

Now Andrés has come to LA with his much heralded restaurant Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, staffing none other than the aforementioned Mssr. Vigneron as sous chef. On Friday, I will continue this feature on molecular gastronomy with a review.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Power of the Pen: Post-LA Times Pho Minh

Having read the moving LA Times story last week about Pho Minh, a critically acclaimed but financially struggling Pho house in South El Monte, I decided to check it out.

The good news is that for breakfast the weekend after the article came out, the place was pretty bustling. Most, though not all tables were full and lots of pho was coming out of the kitchen.

Pho Minh pretty much does only pho. There are no other noodle dishes and not much else on the menu. They do have cha gio, Vietnamese spring rolls, but while the filling was good, they were made with egg roll wrappers rather than the more traditional, and much more tasty rice paper.

Now, as a preface, I should say that I am not a pho-natic. My Vietnamese meal of choice is the noodle dish bun, but I like pho and can appreciate, though not worship, a great one.

The key to pho is the broth; someone once told me it should be made using the whole cow. It should be the essence of all that is beef, accentuated with whatever seasoning and garnish you choose to add to it. The broth at Pho Minh was superb and magnificently beefy. The broth was so rich and wonderful that I was hesitant to add any of the sauces or chilis, just a squeeze of lime and some herbs made it perfect. I wanted to taste it over and over to get all of that beef flavor. In addition, the noodles were perfectly cooked, nice and chewy. The pho comes in both a small and large size, but the small was plenty for me.

Is this pho "divine," as Jonathan Gold opined? As noted above, I don't really find divinity in pho, but this is seriously good pho, and certainly the richest and most delicious I recall having in the LA area.

In the LA Times article, proprietor Eric Lam talked about expanding the menu, but I like it the way it is. There is something wonderful about a restaurant that does just one thing, but does that thing very, very well.

Pho Minh
9646 Garvey Ave # 109
South El Monte, CA 91733
(626) 448-8807

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: The Distiller That Doesn't Distill - Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD)

After our recent series on independent whiskey bottlers, it struck me that I've never reviewed an independently bottled Bourbon. Given that there are so many on the market, I figured I should give them some attention, and since there is no bigger name in independent Bourbon than Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD), I thought I would start there.

This Bardstown Kentucky bottler puts out Bourbon under multiple brands, none of which they distill, despite their name. It's widely speculated that much of their whiskey comes from Bardstown neighbor Heaven Hill, but the whiskey in any given bottle could be from any of Kentucky's nine distilleries. Today, I will try three of the four brands that make up KBD's small batch collection: Rowan's Creek, Pure Kentucky XO and Kentucky Vintage. The fourth in the series is Noah's Mill.

A quick note on the idea of a small batch Bourbon. The term "small batch" is commonly found on Bourbon labels; Four Roses, Jim Beam and others have employed it on various bottlings. Despite its popularity, the term has no fixed, legal definition. It is largely a marketing term, the purpose of which is to appeal to consumers looking for something artisanal and hand-crafted. If it's small batch, the reasoning goes, it must be good and worth a higher price, even if it's made by an industry giant like Beam. When I see the term, I ignore it as so much marketing puffery.

For today, all of the Bourbons I'm tasting have different alcohol levels and different age statements. The Kentucky Vintage has no age statement, though the label indicates it is aged for "many long years." The Pure Kentucky includes the designation XO (extra old), which is a French brandy designation indicating an age of at least six years. The term, however, has no meaning under US laws, and it's impossible to know what it means in this context; I've heard claims that the Pure Kentucky XO is between 10 and 11 years old. The Rowan's Creek is 12 years old.

Kentucky Vintage, 45% alcohol ($25-$35)

Sweet on the nose, with some vanilla. This is a very light Bourbon, with a bit of a soapy flavor, some fruit and a sweet finish. I get nothing in the way of rye in this. It's smooth to the point of slick.

Pure Kentucky XO, 53.5% alcohol ($30-$40)

A very distinct nose with an almost brandy like fruit scent. This has a real aged, Bourbon taste, with a woody, mustiness that is typical of older Heaven Hill Bourbons. It reminds me of the Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel, which is a great whiskey.

Rowan's Creek, 12 years old, 50.05% alcohol ($35-$50).

Light on the nose with some rye. Big rye kick on the palate, followed by some corn sweetness and then back to big rye on the finish. A bit rough around the edges and harsher than I would expect for its age. Whatever this is, it's something with a high rye mash bill.

I'm impressed that these are three very different Bourbons. (Of course, they could be from entirely different distilleries). Looking at the three together, the Pure Kentucky XO rose above the rest for me, as I like that aged Bourbon flavor. The Kentucky Vintage, a lighter whiskey, was my least favorite and the Rowan's Creek was fine, but nothing I'd get excited about.

Next Wednesday: Irish Whiskey in May?

The Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries & Brands

PLEASE NOTE: This list has moved. Click here for your up to date list of all American whiskey distilleries and brands.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Dim Sum at Lunasia

Lunasia is yet another new entry into the higher end dim sum category. In the building that used to house Triumphal Palace in Alhambra (on Main, about a block east of Atlantic), Lunasia is of the menu-ordering genre of dim sum (as opposed to the cart genre).

The dim sum was generally very good, though most of the typical dishes are better prepared at Sea Harbor, Elite, or just down the street at King Hua.

There were three dishes which were stand outs even among the stiff dim sum competition. The pork belly consisted of thinly sliced squares of belly, with a nice, very thin cracklin' skin on one side. They were succulent and delicious with a great pork flavor and they were on the lean side, which I like. The Xiao Long Bao, Shanghaniese soup dumplings, were among the best I've had at a dim sum restaurant and better than some I've had at Shanghainese restaurants. With a rich, tasty broth, the XLB were great bites. Lastly, the baked pork buns were a stand out. Instead of the more typical filling of small pork cubes and sticky, sweet sauce, the Lunasia filling was more of a puree; it was less sweet and was nicely seasoned, and there was more of the filling than typical, which makes for a better mouthful of bun.

Given the growing number of great dim sum we have these days, I'm not sure if I would rush back to Lunasia, though those pork bellies may just call out to me loudly enough to draw me back.

500 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 308-3222