Thursday, July 30, 2009

The One - A Guiltless Pleasure

In the constant struggle to eat well and be well, I sometimes daydream fantastical questions for myself. For instance, if you could pick any one food of which you could have as much as you wanted without gaining weight or otherwise having ill effects, what would it be?

At first, my mind turns to luxuries, like foie gras or sweet breads, but the truth is, I don't eat those foods very often, so how much joy would I really be giving myself. Then I think about three of my greatest food loves: chocolate, cheese and doughnuts. Each of these though, has its limits. How often can I eat them, okay maybe a lot, but would eating them in quantities take away from their specialness, make them drab and monotonous.

Then I think of milkshakes. I rarely drink milkshakes (well, rarely compared to other treats), but if I could, I would easily do so daily. They go down so smoothly and offer such variety. A taro shake from Fosselman's, a Beam and Mint shake from Scoops, a traditional vanilla from Fred 62, frozen custard, malts, throw in a liquado or batido for good measure; the possibilities are endless. Ah yes, a milkshake a day, that would be dreamy.

What would be The One for you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Parker's Heritage Collection 27 year old

Last year, I reviewed the massive Bourbon that is Parker's Heritage Collection. The more recent version of this Heaven Hill Bourbon is 27 years old (the previous edition had no age statement but was about ten years) but isn't cask strength like its predecessor.

Just a few years ago, it was unthinkable to age a Bourbon for nearly 30 years. Bourbon, the theory went, was best at about 10 years and would be harsh and overly oaked and anything over 15. Unlike Scotch, Bourbon is aged in new, oak barrels, so the oak comes through faster and stronger than for Scotch whiskies aged in used barrels. Lately though, Heaven Hill has been pushing the age envelope. They have 21and 23 year old versions of their Rittenhouse Rye and now this. At 27 years old, this is the oldest Bourbon I've ever tasted. Let's see how it holds up.


Parker's Heritage Collection, 27 years old (Heaven Hill), 48% alcohol ($185).

The nose is on this thing is huge, swimming with vanilla, maple syrup and some fruit along with polished wood. There's some quick sweet, caramel taste on the palate and then an acidic, citrus flavor, then there's a blast of wood that lingers into the finish, which is very nice. While there is wood here, I would never guess that this is a 27 year old whiskey. The wood is much less dominant than in many younger whiskies I've had. It also tastes more like a wheat Bourbon recipe than a rye recipe, but I have not seen anything definitive from the company about which recipe they used (Heaven Hill has both).

Side by side with the younger, previous incarnation of Parker's Heritage, the 2007 is the stronger whiskey. The strange thing is that the younger version tastes, well, older. It has the thick mouthfeel and musty, woody taste that I associate with older Bourbons, especially those from Heaven Hill. The 27 year old, meanwhile, carries that acidity, which is a bit sharp. Between the two, I prefer the first edition of Parker's. The older version is interesting but not as spot on with its flavors.

The 27 year old Parker's Heritage runs more than double the price of the previous incarnation. My advice is to get the older one if you can still find it, and I have occasionally seen it still on the shelves.

Last week, Heaven Hill announced that the third edition of Parker's Heritage Collection will include whiskey from as far back as the 1960s. Despite my misgivings about the 27 year old, Heaven Hill is clearly on a creative roll here, and the fun just keeps coming.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rousing Roe: Al Bap at A-Won

In the heat of LA in the summer, I look for the cooler things in life. In Koreatown that means one of the various cold soups, bi bim bop or al bap at A-Won, a Korean-Japanese sushi restaurant on Western. Al-bap is similar to bi bim bap except that instead of meats and veggies, it is made with seaweed and roe. There are at least five types of roe topping an A-Won al bap bowl, including uni, salmon eggs, smelt roe and other roe in hues of green, red and yellow as well as a small, triangular slice of omelet (continuing the egg theme). The mixture of the rice, seaweed and roe creates a salty, fishy, bite that pops in your mouth as you bite down on the various eggs (fish roe - the original pop rocks). A creamy slab of uni is the cherry on top of this rousing roe.

So on a hot day, stop into Al Bap for a roe break.

913 S. Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 389-6764

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Nickel Bag of Funk: Nickel Diner and the Maple Glaze Bacon Donut

I never bought into the whole bacon for dessert trend. Don't get me wrong. I love bacon and I love sweets, but most of the versions I've had which combine the two, even the highly touted versions, left me feeling flat. Because of this experience, it was with some hesitation that I pulled into downtown's Nickel Diner and ordered one of the famous Maple Glaze Bacon Donuts, but I'm glad I did.

Where others failed, the Nickel pulls off the sweet and the porcine. This may be because the doughnut lacks a chocolate element. Part of my dislike of bacon desserts is that they always seem to involve chocolate, and while I love chocolate, its flavors clash with bacon. The bitterness of good chocolate enhances the bacon's greasiness and you lose all of the subtlety of good chocolate in the flavor explosion that is bacon. But the Nickel doughnut eschews chocolate; instead going for a flavor pairing with maple. It is, essentially, a doughnut bathed in maple syrup and topped with crumbled bacon. As such, it references the pancake breakfast in which the syrup spills over to your bacon and creates a lovely combination of sweet and salty. In contrast to the bitterness and complexity of chocolate, the pure, unadulterated sweetness of maple syrup brings out all that is good and porky and salty about bacon.

The one complaint I had is that while the maple-bacon topping is spot on, the doughnut itself seems mostly an afterthought, an unexceptional, overly soft pastry lacking any crispness. I found myself dreaming about what the bacon-maple glaze topping would taste like on one of the beauties from Stan's or Bob's. That would catapult this dish from tasty to transcendent.

I also sampled a red velvet doughnut, which strangely, was not made from red velvet type cake. As with the Maple Glaze Bacon Donut, the red velvet topping, which consisted of a sweet, red crust and a healthy dose of cream cheese frosting, was tasty but it was heaped on the same unexceptional doughnut.

As for the food, the pulled pork hash was well done, though the red BBQ sauce on top was a bit overwhelming, and my companion's salmon salad seemed fine, if not exciting, but who are we kidding, this is a place you visit for the funky doughnuts.

Nickel Diner
524 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 623-8301

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: When You Wish Upon a Star -- Ardbeg Supernova

As I reported last week, both of the new, super peated Islay Scotches, Bruichladdich Octomore and Ardbeg Supernova, are now available in Southern California. These were the most highly peated whiskies ever released and they have been hard to come by, so if you are interested, grab them now. I quite enjoyed the Octomore. Now it's time for Supernova.

Whereas the Octomore stated that it was peated to precisely 131 parts per million of peat phenols, the Supernova is a bit more cagey, stating only that it is "in excess of 100 parts per million." This Ardbeg contains no age statement.


Ardbeg Supernova, 58.9% alcohol ($130).

The nose is sweet with smoke, but the smoke is not overwhelming. The first thing to hit the tongue is sweetness, followed immediately with a blast of smoke. The sweet and the smoke are intertwined throughout this whiskey, from start to finish; it's like a smoky candy - liquid smoke + simple syrup. Then, the smoke degrades a bit into bitterness and coal on the late palate/early finish. The final exhale, though, is pure smoke.

The consensus in the Scotch world is that between Octomore and Supernova, Ardbeg makes the better whisky. For my part, though, I have to say I preferred the Octomore. The sweetness is more reserved and the peat punch is bigger and more funky, in a good way. Octomore is a bolder whisky and comes together better on the palate, it presents the whole package in a more appealing way.

In the UK, Bruichladdich recently released the next edition of Octomore (version 2.1) which is up to 140 ppm. The peatiness will keep on coming, and I will be here to taste it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Will Sweat for Food: Chung King

Another finally made it story for me...I finally made it to Chung King, the much loved Sichuan eatery in San Gabriel. I head out to the San Gabriel valley around three times per month, but my usual quest is dim sum or other dumplings which are Cantonese or Northern Chinese in origin. I'm not as schooled in the piquant stews and stir fries of Sichuan, but after hearing and reading raves going back many years, I was ready to remedy this experiential deficit and sample some of the dishes I'd heard so much about.

The popular Chung King Fried Chicken was a delightful take on the dish, with small, very salty chunks of fried chicken served in a pile of chilis, garlic and peppercorns. A salty snack that I wish I could get at a ball game.

I also loved the pork and pickled chilis. Shredded pork bits are enhanced by the little green pickled chilis which impart flavors of brine and vinegar onto the pork.

We also ordered the braised beef and noodles, a rich, spicy soup with braised beef. The broth was a deep brownish reddish color and had a flavor of beef braising jus and spices; it would have been nice to cut it with some lime. The beef itself was tender but not as flavorful as I would have liked, yielding perhaps to the spices.

The highlight of the meal, though, was the boiled beef, one of the most talked about dishes at Chung King. The dish features a bowl with slabs of beef and cabbage bathed in a soup of spice and peppercorn. The beef was sensational, a spicy revelation. The best pieces were those on top, which protruded from the broth and were coated with chilis and peppercorns. Placing these on my tongue, tasting and feeling the effect of the spices and Sichuan peppercorns was something I don't get much, a totally new culinary experience.

Chung King, and the boiled beef in particular, is less about flavor, though there is plenty of that, than about the physical interaction with the food. There is so much flavor with the heaping piles of garlic, ginger, scallions, chilis and peppercorns, that it is almost a taste overload that seeps from your senses of taste and smell into the other senses. There is so much to interpret that your entire body gets into the game. While Sichuan food is known for spiciness, I didn't have much in the way of the burning mouth or lips which are typical of more conventionally spiced meals. What I did develop was a tingly sensation on my tongue (a commonly reported effect of Sichuan peppercorns). I also began sweating and didn't stop until the meal was over, despite the cool, air conditioned Chung King dining room. It was a fully physical culinary experience, beyond mere taste and flavor, and one I hope to experience more of in the future.

Chung King
1000 S San Gabriel Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776-3113
(626) 286-0298

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Brandy Friday: Germain-Robin Shareholders' Reserve

We are back with our occasional series, Brandy Friday, to try another offering from the Germain-Robin distillery in Northern California.

As you may recall, I loved the Germain-Robin XO and fondly look back at that most excellent though long since emptied bottle. The Shareholders' Reserve was originally produced for the initial investors in the Germain-Robin company. (I wonder if any of them looked like the old 19th century guy on the label?). Since 1991, it has been a regular though limited release.


Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy, Shareholders' Reserve, 18th Bottling, 40% alcohol ($65)

The nose is sweet and fruity with raisins. The flavor follows up with the sweet and the fruit as well as dessert wine, pineapple, then some old wood later in the palate giving it a nice finish. This is a sweeter and more straightforward brandy than the XO, less complex but delicious in its own right.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Fiddich' Times Three

Last week, I went back to taste the three Glens and reaffirmed my preference for the 12 year old Glenfiddich over Glenlivet 12 and Glenmorangie 10. Based on that experiment, I decided to dig into the 'Fiddich a bit more with a vertical tasting of the 12, 15 and 18 year olds.

Glenfiddich 12 year old ($20-$25).

I retasted the 12 year old as a baseline for this exercise. There it stood, in all its malty glory. The more I taste it, the more I remember the smooth, malty qualities that attracted me to Scotch many years ago. Its flavor is among the most consistent I've had, providing the same experience from nose to finish in a way that very few whiskies can do.

Glenfiddich 15 years old ($30-$40).

The 15 has a fruitier nose than the 12 with a bit more fruit on the palate with hay or straw. It almost reminds me of a good Irish whiskey.

Glenfiddich 18 years old ($60-$70)

A beautiful nose with sweet fruit. The taste starts with fruit and then yields to malt, oak and polished wood. It has a big flavor and the wood of a fine, aged whisky.

These were all good whiskies. I enjoyed the 18 year old the most for its interplay between fruit, malt and wood, then the 12 for its straightforward maltiness. I preferred both to the 15 which, for some reason, struck me as less mature. I tasted these along with a cask strength version of the 15 year old that is only available on the European market. I didn't add the cask strength version to the notes since it isn't available in the US, but it pushed the 15 to a new level, with more complexity and flavor.

For all that people take Glenfiddich for granted, it is definitely a whisky worth returning to.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Soup Got Your Tongue? Hanbat Shul-Lung-Tang

ChowDigest Editor and LA Times contributing food writer Thi Nguyen kindly turned me on to the beauty of Hanbat Shul-Lung-Tang. A small entry tucked into a short block of shops on Fifth Street just west of Western reveals this restaurant serving only shul-long-tang (alt. seolleongtang), a long boiled, beef bone stew.

This soup is one of the great beef broths. Pure and simple, it reminds me of pho in its essential beefiness, though it has that cloudy, slightly viscous quality that comes from bones and melted marrow simmered for hours. Also, like pho, the broth is unseasoned and you are expected to add condiments to your liking, including coarse salt, pepper, Korean chili paste and scallions. I wanted to maintain as much of the beef flavor as possible and not cover it with chili, so I stuck to some salt and scallions, which made for a wonderful broth that I slurped to the bottom of the bowl.

Within the broth are a few cellophane noodles and your choice of meat: brisket, flank steak, assorted innards (tripe, spleen, etc.) and tongue. I avoided the innards since tripe is one of the few things I just don't like, but I tried the others. The flank steak was a bit fatty and the brisket was fine but lacked flavor. The tongue, however, was wonderful. Thin, lean slices perfectly complimented the beefiness of the soup. Tongue can be chewy or tough, but this was as tender as steak and more flavorful than either the brisket or the flank steak.

Hanbat Shul is about beautiful minimalism, about doing one thing well and not letting much (including salt) get in the way of that one thing. The soup is pretty much the only thing on the menu here, though it appears that you can get the meats alone. The panchan consist of two bowls of kimchi, cabbage and daikon (both are very good renditions) and then there is a bowl of rice. You will not be asked if you want a beverage though if you do, you can get some cold Korean tea. And that's it. So go, slurp soup, eat tongue and contemplate the beauty of its simplicity.

Hanbat Shul-Lung-Tang
4163 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 388-9499

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Whiskey Update: Big Peat Comes to LA

The two peatiest Scotch single malt releases are now available in LA, but only in limited supplies. Bruichladdich Octomore is on the shelf at Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys and Ardbeg Supernova is available at Hi Time Wine in Costa Mesa.

The Octomore at Wine & Liquor Depot goes for $163, which is around $20 cheaper than the other local shops that have briefly carried it. The Supernova at Hi Time Wine is $130.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thirsty Thursday: New Orleans Cocktails

Thirsty Thursday is that place where Whiskey Wednesday and Brandy Friday collide; I am using the moniker to denote cocktails that include both whiskey and brandy. Today we look at two cocktails from one of the cities at the heart of cocktail culture: New Orleans.

Home to the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival, which is going on at this very moment, New Orleans is the home of the Sazerac, but there are other New Orleans cocktails as well. Today we focus on two cocktails which are identified with particular bars: The Vieux Carre from the Carousel Bar and the Cocktail a la Louisiane from the Restaurant de la Louisiane.

You will recognize that these are similar mixtures. Both contain a few drops of New Orleans' own Pechaud's Bitters and a dash of Benedictine. Benedictine is a French, Cognac-based liqueur which is heavy on the aromatics. It's quite sweet and syrupy and tastes of mild anise and cloves with vanilla on the finish.

Both of these are very simple drinks, which involve mixing a bunch of liquors and bitters, stirring them over ice and straining them into a rocks glass with a garnish, very simple stuff on the drink-making scale of difficulty.

Vieux Carre

Ingredients (from Drinkboy):

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/8 ounce Benedictine
1 dash Peychaud's bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Garnish with a lemon twist.

Vieux Carre, or old square, is the French term for the French Quarter. The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, where the drink originated, actually revolves in carousel-fashion. I love the Vieux Carre cocktail for its aromatics. The vermouth, bitters and Benedictine combined with the already spicy rye and Cognac make this a flavor explosion. Even with all of these intense flavors, the combination somehow works out to produce a slightly sweet, spicy drink.

Cocktail a la Louisiane

Ingredients (again from Drinkboy):

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce Benedictine
3 dash absinthe
3 dash Peychaud's bitters

Garnish with a cherry.

The Restaurant de la Louisiane where this drink originated is long gone, but the cocktail lives on, at least in New Orleans. Like the Vieux Carre, this is simply a mixture of spirits and bitters, with vermouth and absinthe in place of the Vieux Carre's brandy and Angostura bitters.

The La Louisiane is a bit sweeter than the Vieux Carre due to the larger serving of Benedictine. I have trouble with very sweet drinks, so I didn't favor it, but I appreciated the nice interplay between the anise flavor of Absinthe and Peychaud's and the sweet, spicy anise of the Benedictine. If you take it with only 1/8 of an ounce of Benedictine, it cuts down on the sweetness but maintains the flavor combinations well.

Next time you're feeling festive, pull out the Benedictine and stir up some New Orleans cocktails.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Put a Little Glen in Your Glass

Recently, Dominic Roskrow wrote an interesting piece in Whisky Magazine encouraging people to revisit the three Glens: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie. The 12 year old versions of Glenfiddich and Glenlivet and the 10 year old Glenmorangie are gateway whiskies, often the first tasted and the ones that open up the world of whisky to the uninitiated. Yet many aficionados turn away from these basic whiskies once they have explored the rich world of Islay Scotches, limited editions and 20 year olds. Roskrow encouraged us to go back to these whiskies::

All three of them are successful for a reason, and if it's been some years since you've tasted them, should they really be dismissed as lightweights and not worthy of consideration by the connoisseur?

He went on to compare his return to the three Glens to falling in love all over again.

Well, I was persuaded, so I picked up mini-bottles of each to revisit the basics, which I haven't tasted in years and haven't ever written up. To eliminate any possible biases, I tasted them blind.

Glenfiddich [pronounced glen-FID-dick], 12 years old, 40% alcohol ($20-$25).

Glenfiddich is a Speyside whisky which is the top selling single malt in the world. Along with it's Speyside sister Glenlivet, it is the most ubiquitous single malt in the US. If an American bar stocks any single malt, it will more than likely be the 'Fiddich or the 'Livet. Glenfiddich is owned by William Grant & Sons.

I have a special affinity for the 'Fiddich as this was my own gateway Scotch. I was mostly a wine and Tequila drinker, but when I sipped my first 'Fiddich those many years ago, I was instantly converted to malt whisky, and for a few years, before I became a malt adventurer, the 'Fiddich was my main drink, unless they didn't have it, in which case I settled for the 'Livet. The 'Fiddich I started on though, may have been the earlier version without an age statement, which is no longer in production.

In any case, I tasted these whiskies blind mostly to cover up any sentimental bias I might have had for the Glenfiddich. The result of the blind tasting was that I preferred one of the three samples far more than the other two, and that turned out to be the 'Fiddich. Where the others emphasized sweetness and fruit, the 'Fiddich emphasized malt. It was the only one that had strong malt on the nose, and this was followed up in the flavor with some sweetness. Since starting with the Glens, I've mostly graduated to the Highland and Islay malts, and the 'Fiddich had the most similarities to those malts which I love. (Even though Glenmorangie is a Highland, it drinks more like a Speyside).

Glenlivet, 12 years old, 40% alcohol ($20-$25).

Glenlivet is the second best selling single malt. Like the 'Fiddich, it is everywhere. The 'Livet is owned by spirits giant Pernod Ricard. In the tasting, the Glenlivet ranked a distant second to the 'Fiddich. It had a heavily fruity nose, with scents of sweet white wine and green grapes. The taste was sweet and had some malt, but lacked any real umph.

Glenmorangie [pronounced glen-mor-AN-jee], 10 years old, 43% alcohol ($35-$40).

Glenmorangie is not as ubiquitous in the US as the other two Glens. In the UK, however, this Highlander is the second biggest seller behind 'Fiddich, far outselling Glenlivet. Worldwide, it is the fourth biggest seller, separated from the other two Glens by Macallan. Glenmorangie gains somewhat more respect in the US than the other two and lately, the distillery has become a real innovator. It was among the first distillers to experiment with cask finishes, in which a whisky aged in used Bourbon casks is transferred to some other cask for its last time in the barrel. Of late, they have been experimenting with barrel wood and the use of darker roasts of barley. Glenmorangie is owned by Moet Hennessy.

In our tasting, I liked Glenmorangie the least. The nose was a bit musty and alcoholic. The taste was exceedingly fruity and sweet, with dried fruit notes (prunes). It was also a bit harsh with alcohol on the palate, even though it was only 3% more alcohol than the others. In some spirits, the alcohol taste simply isn't integrated into the whisky as a whole.

It was fascinating to go back to these power-selling malts after years of drinking them only under the duress of bad selection. Next time I'm in an airport bar, I will take some time to ponder the Glen in my glass.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

You Say Oyster: Carlsbad Aquafarms at the Hollywood Farmers' Market

I love raw oysters; I love the salty juice, the briny flavor and the juicy pop when you bite into them. I shudder at those who drown them in red sauce and shoot them; it's like taking shots of a good whiskey. The oyster is meant to be chewed and savored, not to slip down your throat like a ten year old on a Raging Waters ride.

I've always been intrigued by the Carlsbad Aquafarm shellfish stand at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers' Market, with its bags of mussels, clams and of course, oysters. Recently, they've added a little table to eat your fresh, raw oysters, so I finally took the plunge, buying several of each of their raw oysters on the half shell.

The Aquafarm offers three varieties of oysters. My favorites were the Catalinas. These mollusks are large enough to fill your mouth and give you a strong, briny taste, like biting into the ocean.

Next up were the Carlsbad Blondes. They had some brine but also some sweetness. They were a nice middle ground between the fiercely oceany Catalinas and the more subtle Lunas.

The small Luna oysters are a crowd pleaser for their gentle sweetness, but I found them a bit bland, lacking the powerful flavors of the other two varieties.

At $2 per oyster with no minimum, the Carlsbad stand is a great way to taste before you buy or simply have a mid-morning snack, and yes, I was sucking down bivalves before 10 am. I'm just that type of guy.