Thursday, October 29, 2009

The New Food Blogging Twiteratti

In an effort to be the absolute first to review new establishments, from now on, I'm going to Twitter my reviews. That way, I can have the definitive first word and no one else will need to review them.

In case you missed it, here is my first Twitter project. I stopped by the opening night of Bistro Merde in Hollywood on Saturday night and gave this report.

Banging on door...I need to be first in!
5:28 PM Oct 24th from web.

I hope none of these other foools are blggrs.
5:29 PM Oct 24th from web.

Sitting down, nice decor - blue walls and mirror.
5:32 PM Oct 24th from web.

Tap watter please - don't rip me biatch
5:37 PM Oct 24th from web.

No wine - can't tweet on the drive home if I'vebeen drinking - tooo risky.
5:41 PM Oct 24th from web.

Menu is long - will try to download photo
5:43 PM Oct 24th from web.

Sorry, had to take a call and missed contemporaneous tweeting of amuse- damn!@!
5:48 PM Oct 24th from web.

Sweetbread app - first bite is good/ crisp and firm
5:52 PM Oct 24th from web.

Second bite - CAPERS!!! Fkyeah
5:53 PM Oct 24th from web.

Mopping up sauce w bread now
5:58 PM Oct 24th from web.

@SoupBlogger, hey are you at the table near big mirror - whup?
6:02 PM Oct 24th from web in reply to SoupBlogger.

My date thinks this is not what she signed up for - I'm doubting I'm taking her for a second date.
6:05 PM Oct 24th from web.

Mains are here - almond crusted arctic char for her; duck confit for me.
6:12 PM Oct 24th from web.

Damnn, pickkked up dulk legh and greazze gt on my ipone ewijlks.ssjlie
6:16 PM Oct 24th from web.

Duck is good but char is overdone
6:18 PM Oct 24th from web.

Decrumbing happening
6:28 PM Oct 24th from web.

Great bathroom decor
6:32 PM Oct 24th from web.

6:33 PM Oct 24th from web.

Dessert - for me lavendar chocolate mousse with lemongrass/garlic sorbet
6:36 PM Oct 24th from web.

Date in bathroom - eating dessert so sorbet won't melt
6:37 PM Oct 24th from web.

Date still in bathroom - bill is here
6:47 PM Oct 24th from web.

Waiting for date - jeez what's up?
6:59 PM Oct 24th from web.

Shit, she was my ride home
7:26 PM Oct 24th from web.

Two and one half stars - FAIL- I mean how good can a place be if your date feels she has to walk out - will yelp it while I wait for cab
7:38 PM Oct 24th from web.

Look out twenty-first century, Sku has arrived!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: WhiskyLive LA

Last Tuesday night, whiskey lovers from across the Southland converged on the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for a four and a half hour tasting extravaganza. To the strains of the inevitable bagpipe and drum corps, we sampled Scotch, Bourbon, Irish and Japanese whiskies (as well as some beer and rum), took classes, and talked to knowledgeable brand representatives from all over the whiskey world.

WhiskyLive, sponsored by Whisky Magazine, is one of two major international tasting events (the other being Malt Advocate Magazine's WhiskyFest), and this was the first time that either festival was held in the LA area.

I sampled 28 whiskies through the evening and there were many highlights. The Suntory Company was there with samples of two whiskies that will be new to the US this fall: The Hibiki, a very pleasant blend, and the exceptional Yamazaki 1984, a vintage single malt distilled in Orwell's favorite year. The beauty of whiskey festivals is that you often get to taste whiskies that don't make it to market, and Suntory had a large collection of these, including the component whiskies that go into its Hibiki blend and whiskies aged in different types of barrels that go into its Yamazaki single malt. The brand representative also told me that there are "discussions" about bringing Suntory's other malt, Hakushu, to the US.

I attended two of the five "master classes" that were offered. Maker's Mark, like Suntory, offered versions of their whisky which are not available to the public, including the unaged, new make spirit, a one year old version and a nine year old version, which they referred to as "overaged." The point of the lesson was supposed to be that by ageing Maker's for five to seven years, they arrive at the perfect point of maturation. Frankly, I preferred the "overaged" version. (I'll finally do a Maker's post sometime this fall).

Highland Park's master class allowed me to taste most of the line of one of my favorite single malts side by side: the 10, 15, 18 and 25 year olds as well as the luscious 30 year old. The Highland Park program was more stand up comedy routine than traditional whiskey education, and brand ambassador Martin Daraz had us all in stitches. Even as much of a whiskey geek as I am, at hour three of the festival, I think people were happier to laugh a bit than to hear a long lecture about kilns and malting.

The Scott's Selection table was another highlight. The brand representative for this independent bottler was particularly knowledgeable (not all brand reps can hold their own with a crowd of intense whiskey geeks) and was pouring a fabulous variety of well-aged whiskies, including a 38 year old Longmorn and a 45 year old North of Scotland single grain whisky (an older version of the whisky I reviewed at 42 years).

Oh, and the picture at top of the page (i.e. the bottles, not the bagpipes) shows the table sponsored by the LA Scotch Club, who weren't pouring drinks but were showing off their impressive collection...membership apparently has its privileges.

While the event was well attended, it was not overly crowded and there was easy access to all of the libations. The vibe was friendly and casual, and the drinking was responsible.

We in LA owe many thanks to the good folks at Whisky Magazine for bringing WhiskyLive to Los Angeles, and here's hoping that they make it a regular event.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bayou Worthy Oyster Po Boys: Big Mama's in Pasadena

One of the hardest cuisines to find a decent version of in LA is Cajun. Having had a job which required me to roam around the entire state of Louisiana for two years in the early '90s, I developed a deep love and respect for Cajun food. Not the refined creole dishes of New Orleans, but the rustic, fried seafood, jambalaya and gumbo of the Cajun country. The object of my deepest affection back then was the fried crawfish po boy, but given that mud bugs just don't make it out of Louisiana all to often, the best you can hope for west of Houston is a half way decent fried oyster po boy.

In the best version of this delicacy, the oysters are fresh and plump, flash fried and slapped on a bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Then, you add hot sauce to taste, which for me, means enough to saturate the bread and blend with the mayo, turning it the color of Russian dressing.

For a few years after moving to LA, I relied on the fried oyster po boy at the Venice Boulevard Uncle Darrow's shack for my fix. Unfortunately, that location closed years ago, and while there is another Uncle Darrow's in Marina Del Rey, I simply never make it out to Marina Del Rey.

On my recent LA gelato tour, I found myself hanging out in Altadena to sample the wondrous Bulgarini Gelato and needing someplace to eat after knocking down some goat milk gelato or olive oil yogurt. I didn't find a lot of options in Altadena, but just over the Pasadena border is Big Mama's Rib Shack.

Big Mama's is not an impressive looking place. More of a lounge than a shack, it has the feel of a run down night club. A massive TV greets customers at the front of the restaurant, and the place is divided in half with two separate decors. The left half of the room has some stylish touches, tables and a bar, but the right side features worn out booths with ripped fabric and a carpet in need of a serious cleaning.

As the name indicates, Big Mama's is a barbecue joint and the menu tends to emphasize the barbecue options. But when I scanned the menu, my eyes landed immediately on another section, tucked away on the side: Jambalaya, file gumbo, fried seafood, and a whole list of po boys...Louisiana food. One of my rules of life is that if an oyster po boy appears on a menu, I will order it, although in California, usually it will disappoint.

The Big Mama's po boy was an unassuming creature. A smaller version than is typical, featuring just two large oysters, but biting into that po boy was one of those moments in life you treasure, when you realize that you have found something truly and unexpectedly wonderful. The first bite revealed a crisp, nicely spiced cornmeal crust encasing a beautifully cooked, huge, juicy oyster within. It included the typical lettuce and tomato, though with a bit of onion and mustard as well. I grabbed the hot sauce, splashed some on to make that perfect bite and sat back, dreaming of shacks on the bayou, the decks of which I used to lounge on eating something like this. It was one of those flavors that takes you back. I was so happy that I came close to ordering a second one right on top of the first, but I try not to overindulge in such ways as I slip into middle age.

The hush puppies were good, but nothing else we ordered was worth noting. Despite the fact that Big Mama's bills itself as a rib shack, the ribs were unexciting and the catfish had that musty, dirty taste they get when they aren't prepared quite right or aren't the best quality to begin with, but none of that mattered. For now, I've found the best LA oyster po boy that I've had in years and within just a few miles of one of the best gelato shops anywhere. This was my definition of a find, and a balanced meal to boot.

Big Mama's Rib Shack
1453 N. Lake Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91104
(626) 797-1792

Friday, October 23, 2009

Candy Fans Rejoice: BonBonBar is Back!

In this economy where so many great restaurants have shuttered, it's great to be able to relay a success story, especially one about chocolate.

I am happy to report that BonBonBar, makers of the best dang candy bars around, is back. As you may recall, BonBonBar's owner, Nina Wanat, closed up shop and moved to San Francisco in August, unsure if she could keep up the business.

Thankfully, she seems to have landed on her feet. She announced last week that BonBonBar was back up and running with new bars as well as old favorites (I can't wait to try the Coffee Bar featuring Blue Bottle Coffee). You can order through through the website.

Welcome back Nina! We always knew you would make it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two Luscious Soft Cheeses: Wynedale and Nevat

I haven't written up a cheese plate in a while, so I thought I would highlight two excellent soft cheeses I picked up at the Cheese Store of Silverlake.

Wynedale is a Belgian cow cheese. It is a pungent cheese with an underlying sweetness, and notes of wine or liqueur. The flavor is almost fondue like (i.e. cheese plus liqueur). I absolutely love this cheese and it pairs well on a plate with some of the stinkier cheeses, adding some contrast with its very particular flavor.

Nevat is a Spanish goat cheese from Catalonia. It has the look of a major stinker, but then surprises you with a totally different flavor profile. It's light and salty and a bit acidic tasting. It pairs very well with nuts.

I put these two on a platter with some Epoisse (of course) and had a great soft cheese plate.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whiskey Tuesday: Tonight is WhiskyLive

Tuesday night is WhiskyLive in Santa Monica! Along with samples from distilleries making all kinds of whiskey and catering by the Patina Group, there will be masterclasses from Highland Park, Maker's Mark, Yamazaki and Diageo.

I'll be going with the early crowd and attending the Highland Park Masterclass. If you see me, please say hi, and I promise a full report for next week.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Soup is Good Food - My Favorite LA Soups

As the air finally begins to develop something akin to a chill, for Southern California at least, my thoughts turn to soup. Soup is a comfort food in nearly every culture; perhaps the warm, wetness appeals to our desire to return to the womb and feast, once again, on amniotic fluid from the one time in our lives when we lacked any literal independence and were totally and completely dependent on the care of others. Or maybe it's just warm and tasty.

In no particular order, then, come a few of my favorite LA area soups.

Seolleongtang with beef tongue at Hanbat Shul-Lung-Tang. Like Pho Minh's pho, the broth is the essence of beef, though this time, it's beef bones, oxtail to be precise. The murky, milky broth shows the presence of stewed bones and reaches out to comfort every extremity. The tongue is sliced so thinly and is so tender that you might think you are eating ultra-thin strips of filet mignon. This may be the best of the cold-day soups on the list.

Ajiaco at La Fonda Antioqueña. Made from specially imported potatoes and only available on weekends, ajiaco is a Colombian chicken and potato soup in a rich, corn broth. The rich, yellow broth yields flavors of corn and chicken fat and puts the rest of the ingredients to shame, making you wonder why they are; even there. This may be the most delicious broth on the list; it's hard to stop eating.

Pho at Pho Minh. There are thousands of phos throughout the Southland, but none that I've tasted is as intrinsically beefy as Pho Minh's. The broth is so full bodies and representative of beef, that I hesitate to add any of the traditional condiments lest they interfere with that broth. Unlike the beef bone broth at Hanbat, this broth is the essence of the meat, the cow, simmered for God knows how long to wrest every last bit of flavor and present a liquid composition of meat.

Napa Soup with Lamb and Hand Cut Noodles at Dumpling Master. It's tangy, sour and gamey, filled with cabbage, boiled lamb, a good dose of vinegar and chewy, hand cut noodles. This funky Northern Chinese soup is one of my go-to soups and seems like it should cure hangovers, improve virility or have some other mystical effect.

Cream of Corn at La Cabanita. Given how much I love cream soups, it's odd that this is the only one on the list. I just haven't been excited about that many creamed soups in LA. La Cabanita's cream of corn, however, is velvety smooth, sweet and corny. It's topped with crumbled Mexican cheese, which gives it just the right amount of added salt. La Cabanita has a number of excellent soups, but the cream of corn is my favorite.

Bean Paste Casserole at Seongbukdong. The funk continues at this home style Korean restaurant with the bean paste casserole. Not a casserole at all, in the way westerners conceptualize of such a thing, this is a chewy, salty fermented soy bean soup. It tastes like eating an entire bowl of slightly diluted doenjang, the fermented soy bean mash served as a condiment to Korean BBQ. Since it's all I can do not to eat doenjang of the condiment tray with a spoon, this casserole suits me just fine.

Ramen. I'm no Rameniac, but I like a good bowl of ramen, and I go back and forth between whether the ramen is better at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo or Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace. I have a porky soft spot for both Santouka's fatty broth and the pure porky goodness of Daikokuya.

There are other soups I love, but don't have a great example of in LA. Lobster bisque is one of my favorites (are there any Hamburger Hamlets left?). I'm a huge fan of vichyssoise, but I really like my own version the best and besides, it doesn't really count as a cold weather comfort food. And Hawaiian chicken long rice from Ono Hawaiian in Honolulu always deserves a shout out. Then there is Laksa and...well, I could go on.

What are your favorite LA soups?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Little Pig Went to Cuba: El Conchinito

A recent trip to Southern Florida accompanied by some heart-stopping pig put me in the mood for some good Cuban roast pork or lechon. Cuban isn't a real strength of Southern California, and I've never been a huge fan of the much loved Versailles, especially their pork. For a while I've been eyeing the popular (porkular?) El Conchinito on Sunset in Silverlake, so I thought I'd finally give it a try.

The only thing I can say to sum up is that El Conchinito (literally, the little pig) is a flavor explosion. The lechon, roasted with huge amounts of garlic, is crispy and juicy and fatty and wonderful in every way. It may be a bit too greasy, certainly moreso than the Florida lechon I had, but if you get the sandwich (pan con lechon), which is really just the pork on bread, the grease is absorbed into the bread creating a wondrous porky, garlic bread.

The fried yuca is also excellent, consisting of perfectly fried yuca pieces (underfrying of yuca is a common crime) topped with another dollop of fiery garlic sauce. This is the burger and fries of cuba and Conchinito does it proud.

The Sandwich Cubano, a traditional Cuban sandwich of roast pork, ham, pickles and mustard, was good, but I would have liked to see more roast pork and more pickles on it. Lechon is definitely the thing to get here.

El Conchinito
3508 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 668-0737

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Budget Booze - Ancient Age

Continuing our series of whiskies in the $10 range, we move to Frankfort, Kentucky where the distillery now known as Buffalo Trace used to be the Ancient Age distillery. Even with the name change, Buffalo Trace still produces the old namesake Ancient Age, a three year old Bourbon in the $10 range. There is also a ten year old version, known as Ancient Ancient Age, but it is only marketed in and around Kentucky.


Ancient Age Bourbon, 3 years old, (distilled by Buffalo Trace) 40% alcohol ($10-$12).

This Bourbon has a soft nose with some juniper and rye spice. Lots of rye early in the palate, then lots of sweetness as the rye recedes, but a nice spicy finish. The flavor profile is similar, though somewhat sweeter than the standard Buffalo Trace label Bourbon with its prominent rye notes.

This is another fine budget whiskey in the $10 range.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The LA Gelato Tour

Recently, I've been in a gelato phase, lapping the stuff up like a thirsty mutt near a puddle. I've also been downing my share of affogato (gelato doused with espresso). Obsessive that I am, once I got the gelato jones, I had to try a broad swath of SoCal gelato and write it up.

Before we start, a brief note on the distinction between gelato and ice cream. Generally, gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream, so it actually has less fat. Because it is churned at a slower rate than ice cream, gelato also has less air whipped into it than ice cream. The rich, thick characteristic comes from the lack of air, not from added fat. Traditionally, gelato did not have eggs in the custard base, which ice cream generally does.

That being said, as a practical matter, there is a lot of murkiness in the distinction. Many people simply consider gelato to be an Italian style of ice cream and judge it based on presentation (e.g. laid out on trays rather than in tubs) and aesthetic rather than anything technical. I pretty much just went with places that called their product gelato. Note that I did not include Scoops on Heliotrope here since I believe they call their product ice cream, but hey, you all know Scoops rocks anyway and I was after places that were new to me.

Not every place offered an affogato but I tried to have one at each place that did (though I did miss one). The beauty of the affogato is that the rich espresso melds with the gelato and forms a heavenly coffee ice cream float. When done well, it is a beautiful gestalt of flavors, halfway between a solid and liquid but filled with flavor. When done poorly, it's a scoop of ice cream sitting in a cold puddle of coffee, a sad affair to say the least.

As I am wont to do, I've broken the contenders out into tiers to rank them.


Bulgarini Gelato, Altadena. I'm happy to report that the hype surrounding this Altadena gelato shop is well deserved. Tucked away in a run down strip mall anchored by a Rite-Aid and a Kragen on East Altadena Drive, just west of Lake, Bulgarini was my favorite gelato. The best flavors here were transcendent in both flavor and texture, particularly the olive oil yogurt, a fluffy, light as air tart frozen yogurt with a smooth olive oil taste topped with olive oil. It reminded me of some sort of olive oil foam you might get at Bazaar. The day I visited there was also a beautiful sheep milk and parsley gelato with madeira. Also excellent were the regular chocolate and the lemon cream. The Florentine chocolate, a chocolate with sea salt, had a nice chocolate flavor but was a bit too salty to have more than a bite.

Affogato is an off menu item at Bulgarini but they do make it. The one I had was very nice with a nice crema on the espresso and good proportions, but although they said it was an item they served, they asked for instruction on how to do it correctly. It was nice enough, but I would stick to the excellent gelato at this place.

Bulgarini Gelato
749 E. Altadena Dr.
Altadena, Ca. 91001
(626) 791-6174

Gelato Bar, Studio City. The biggest surprise in my gelato tour was how well this relatively unsung gelateria compared to the others. Owned by Gail Silverton, sister of Nancy, Gelato Bar offers innovative (though not overly weird) flavors that are bold without being too sweet. Their gelato is a perfect textural, specimen, rich and creamy with a dissolve in your mouth quality. It's neither as innovative nor as transcendent as Bulgarini but it is perhaps more what I think of as traditional gelato (at least in my American experience) done about the best way it can be done. My favorite flavors here were the chocolate sorbetto, stracciatella (chocolate chip), mango, ricotta and Veneziana (candied orange peel with chocolate).

The affogato at Gelato Bar was the best of the bunch. Made with a perfectly pulled Ecco Cafe espresso, whipped cream and Valrhona cacao nibs, the Gelato Bar affogato shows the importance of proper espresso preparation in the dish's composition. Gelato Bar makes a great espresso with a thick head of crema which blends perfectly with the scoops of gelato, creating that lovely synthesis that is the affogato. Why this place hasn't entered the pantheon of great LA gelatos is beyond me, but you owe yourself a trip.

Gelato Bar
4342 1/2 Tujunga Ave
Studio City, CA 91604-2751
(818) 487-1717


Pazzo Gelato, Silver Lake. I'd been looking forward to this popular Sunset Boulevard shop, but unlike Bulgarini, it did not live up to the hype. While I liked the milk chocolate, which had a Mexican chocolate spice to it, the flavors, in general, were too sweet, not intense enough and generally lacking in excitement.

The pazzagato, Pazzo's version of the affogato, got points off for using canned whipped cream and too much gelato. It's tempting, I'm sure, to load the cup up with gelato for the affogato, but moderation is part of the key. Too much ice cream turns the espresso cold and gives you the aforementioned cold puddle of coffee. And while I love Intelligentsia espresso in cappuccinos, it's too tannic for affogato, which really calls for something darker. The popularity of this place leads me to have serious questions about hipster tastes.

Pazzo Gelato
3827 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 662-1410


Al Gelato, Beverly Hills adjacent. This was another disappointing one for me. I'd heard a lot of praise for Al Gelato, on Robertson, but it simply didn't live up to the hype. The issues were similar to Pazzo Gelato: unexciting flavors, too sweet and a texture that lacked the rich and creamy qualities that I crave, and was even a bit icy, which is a cardinal sin of gelato. Al Gelato makes an affogato, but I didn't get to try it.

Al Gelato
806 S Robertson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 659-8069

Hollywood Gelato, Los Feliz. Hollywood Gelato, on Hillhurst in Los Feliz, was simply uninspiring. The flavors were too sweet and the gelato was icy. It lacked the rich and creamy qualities that make a great gelato. Apparently they are not doing so well as they have scaled back their hours fairly severely. They didn't have an affogato on the menu.

Hollywood Gelato
1936 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 644-3311


Best Gelato: Bulgarini with honorable mention for Gelato Bar

Best Affogato: Gelato Bar

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gin for Whiskey Lovers: Genevieve Genever Style Gin

My dad, who came of drinking age in the early 1960s, is an old-fashioned gin-drinker. His drink of choice is a "martini" with gin and two olives; no one even bothers to whisper the word vermouth. I've never had much of a palate for gin. In general, white spirits don't do much for me, and I dislike flavored white spirits in particular. I like my liquor with some age and oak on it: whiskey, brandy, reposado and añejo tequilas, you know what I mean. But that was before I discovered Genever Gin.

When people speak of gin, what they usually mean is London Dry Gin, which is essentially a juniper berry flavored vodka, Absolut Juniper, if you will. Two hundred years ago, though, another style of gin was predominant. Popular in continental Europe as well as the US, this gin was known alternately as Dutch style, Genever gin, Geneva gin or Holland gin. As cocktail writer David Wondrich recently pointed out in Malt Advocate Magazine, whereas London Dry Gin is an herbally enhanced vodka, Genever gin is an herbally enhanced whiskey. This caught my attention as it characterized gin as a brown spirit, albeit a flavored one.

As with many antiquated spirits, Genever Gin is making a comeback. I was excited to learn that one of my favorite distilleries, Anchor (makers of the excellent Old Potrero Rye Whiskey as well as Junipero Gin) makes a Genever style gin known as Genevieve. Genevieve is distilled in a pot still from a mash of wheat, barley and rye malts (i.e. whiskey, though unaged), with various flavoring botanicals. The resulting spirit is but a distant cousin to Tanquery and its ilk.

While the nose of Genevieve has definite gin characteristics, there is a softness to it, a perfumey quality with, yes, some grain notes. Its flavor is more understated than the thundering juniper notes of a London Dry, and there is more than juniper doing its work in this gin. I pick up a bit of anise and other herbal notes, similar to one of the more herbal Absinthes like St. George. In any case, this is a far cry from the stark London Drys that we all are used to.

How should you drink this new and exciting spirit? Over ice is the best way to absorb its unique flavor profile, but I most enjoyed a slightly adjusted version of the traditional gin cocktail suggested by Wondrich, which is essentially a gin old fashioned.

The Genever Gin Cocktail

Muddle one sugar cube with 3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters and a splash of water until the sugar is dissolved. Add two ounces of Genever gin. Fill glass with crushed ice and stir until chilled. Garnish with a lemon twist. Note that this only recently rehabilitated drink meets the traditional definition of cocktail: a drink containing spirit, sugar, water and bitters.

The sugar, bitters and lemon accent and complement the herbal notes of the gin, and the added sweetness gives it a refreshing quality, making it the perfect cocktail for a sweltering summer day in Los Angeles. I would take this over a traditional gin and tonic any day of the week.

Wondrich suggests using Fee's Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters instead of Angostura, which gives the drink a nice, spicy cinnamon kick, though on balance, I think I prefer the Angostura.

Anchor's Genevieve goes for around $30. The only other Genever gin I've seen available is Bols which is in a similar price range.

Oh and my dad? He can't take the Genever style gin, so I'll still keep a bottle of Tanqueray just for him.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Budget Booze - Ten High for Ten Bucks

Tom Moore Distillery, previously known as Barton Brands and recently purchased by Buffalo Trace, does great things with cheap booze. Known and loved for Very Old Barton in Kentucky, the distillery's biggest problem is that not much of their whiskey makes it out of Kentucky.

One of the few budget brands from Tom Moore that make it out west is Ten High. A Bourbon, Ten High usually weighs in at $10 or less so it definitely falls into the budget category, but at a mere 40% alcohol, it doesn't have the punch of some of the stronger versions of Very Old Barton.


Ten High Bourbon (distilled by Tom Moore distillery), 40% alcohol ($10 or less).

The nose is a bit harsh, but then there is some caramel and even some wood. With the first taste this is unmistakably a Barton Bourbon, sweet but with some real depth and complexity. Beneath the sugar, there's polished wood and spice and savory notes as well.

No one does good, cheap booze like Barton Brands. This sip of Ten High makes me wish we could get the higher proof but still cheap Very Old Barton in these parts. Maybe Buffalo Trace will widen the distribution and bless us with some of it, but until then, you can't do much better than Ten High for less than ten dollars.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back to the Frier: Fear and Loathing at the LA County Fair

I love the LA County Fair and head out to Pomona every year for the festivities, but this year, I am worried that the fair food at has officially gone overboard. It all dates back six or seven years ago when the first fried Snickers bar appeared at the fair. The fried Snickers bar created food-oriented media coverage that went beyond the typical corn dog and barbecue fair food staples and people flocked to the fair to check it out. That is the earliest I remember the fair being a real food destination.

The thing about the battered, deep fried Snickers bar is that it is terrific. When done well (which is not always the case), the innards melt into a mash of chocolate, caramel and nuts which soaks into the fried batter in a most pleasing way. There are several fried Snickers purveyors at the fair, but the best is the Texas Donuts stand, near the Blue Gate parking entrance. This year, the stand added a new candy bar, identified only as a Fried Reese's. Now, this was not a peanut butter cup, so it must have been one of the Reese's bars. Since I don't really eat Reese's candy bars, I couldn't really tell which one it was, but based on an internet search, I'd guess a Fast Break. In any case, it was delicious; peanut butter cream and melted chocolate oozed out into the battered covering and made for a gooey, peanut butter treat. I've always wondered why they fry all manner of inappropriate things at the fair but don't fry more candy bars. Clearly they should.

But I digress, the fried candy bar is a good product, but it started a trend of frying more and more absurd things simply to get attention. Then, they started covering equally absurd items with chocolate. Now, the fair food pavilions look more like something from This Is Why You're Fat than anything you would want to eat. It is a victory of shock value over taste.

This year, selections included chocolate covered bacon, cotton candy, pickles and Cheetos. The new fried item of note was the Zucchini Weeni [sic], a battered, deep fried hot dog stuffed zucchini. I couldn't bear to try one.

The battered, deep fried zucchini was courtesy of Chicken Charlie, the fair's most prominent fried food vendor. Charlie is the one who first brought deep fried Twinkies, Oreos, frog's legs, Coke, s'mores and White Castle burgers to the fair, as well as the monstrosity that is the Krisy Kreme fried chicken sandwich. Charlie gets a lot of publicity for his efforts, but the truth is, I've never really enjoyed anything that I've purchased from his stand. The Oreos are not bad, but most of the food is lackluster. It's high concept, low quality, and a symbol of what has gone awry in Pomona.

So what was good at the fair this year aside from the deep fried candy bars? Well, I finally stopped at the cute little gingerbread house near the farml. The warm gingerbread cake was moist and nicely spiced, but it was topped with an ultra-light tasting whipped cream. Had it been topped with a heavier whipped cream, or even better, a homemade one, it would have been great.

And Dr. Bob's ice cream is always a fair treat. I was looking forward to the soy sauce ice cream I had heard reports about, but they weren't serving it the day I went. Instead, I had some wonderful blueberry ice cream, with strong blueberry flavor and lots of mashed blueberries throughout.

Even though I've grown a bit cynical about fair food, I look forward to the experience every year, and I will undoubtedly be back in 2010 to try the chocolate covered, deep fried ostrich fillets or whatever next year's specialty happens to be.

Fair Report 2008
Fair Report 2007

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Quickie: Village Bakery & Cafe

On Wednesday, I stopped by the new Village Bakery & Cafe on Los Feliz Boulevard at the site of the old LA Bread. I really liked LA Bread's sourdough boule and other breads, and luckily, the same baker is still making the same breads for the new spot, but there is a whole new line of pastries.

The maple bacon scone was delicious. The scone was flaky and buttery but not at all dry. The maple was subtle and the bacon wasn't overwhelming either, consisting of small pieces in the dough which managed to stay moist and chewy through the baking process.

I also had a blondie and an almond bar, both of which were good but not exceptional. The maple bacon scone was the real standout. They also have breakfast and lunch menus.

Village Bakery & Cafe
3119 Los Feliz Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 662-8600