Sunday, February 28, 2010

China Islamic

About ten years ago, I got my first taste of food from the northern, mostly Muslim areas of China at the old Tung Lai Shun in San Gabriel Square. After hunting around, I transferred my allegiance to Dumpling Master in Monterey Park with its mastery of lamb and tasty dumplings. I never got around to trying the other northern stalwart, Chinese Islamic in Rosemead, but I figured it was finally time to give it a try.

China Islamic is really two restaurants. As a halal Chinese restaurant, it caters to a mostly South Asian Muslim crowd in search of standard Chinese-American dishes. So there is beef with broccoli, sweet and sour beef, fried won tons and other standard American dishes sans pork. But, as noted, it also serves the cuisine of the Northern Chinese plains, and this means lamb. Lamb warm pot with picked cabbage had great flavor, tangier than many, but I wish the noodles had been hand cut.

Mongolian beef, a dish that caters to both sets of patrons, was one of the best versions I've had, with plenty of scallions and a rich but not viscous gravy. Lamb chow mein, though, paled in comparison to the spot-on version at Dumpling Master, and fried beef dumplings were too doughy with a filling that was too bland.

And of course, there is the mandatory starch at Islamic Chinese restaurants, scallion bread, served in large rounds that are sent out for to-go orders in pizza boxes. I like the thick version, studded with sesame seeds and filled with scallions, which is perfect for sopping up sauce.

China Islamic
7727 Garvey Avenue
Rosemead, CA 91770-3003
(626) 288-4246

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brandy Friday: Bang for Your Buck Brandy -- Fillioux Cognac Balzac VSOP

In an age of inflated spirit prices, there is something wonderful about a great drink at a good price. Jean Fillioux is one of my favorite Cognac houses, and I can't say I've ever had one of their brandies that I didn't love. At $35 to $40, though, the Fillioux Balzac VSOP is probably the best bang for your buck in the world of Cognac. Like most Fillioux brandies, the nose is pure Cognac -- what else is there to say? The flavor is rich and sweet, less wine like than some Cognacs, but fruity nonetheless. This is a smooth drinker, and one of the best deals around, so rest assured that drinking well doesn't have to mean breaking the bank.

Now, if you want to spend an excessive amount of money, tune in for the next Whiskey Wednesday, and I'll help you out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Olympic Whisky

Did you know that Laphroaig, that lovely, peaty, medicinal single malt Scotch, is the official Scotch of the United States Curling Association? Curling is of course, a rather strange Olympic event that involves teams competing on what appears to be a shuffleboard course covered in ice using brooms to furiously sweep around something that looks like a teapot. Curling was invented in Scotland, so the Scotch connection is clear, though I have to say it seems odd for an American association to have an official Scotch. I'm guessing that the British Curling Association does not have an official Bourbon. Of course, Laphroaig is owned by Beam Global, an American corporation, which may explain it.

Curling has been an official Olympic event since 1998 and is typically dominated by Switzerland, Norway and Canada. The US won its first curling medal, a bronze in men's curling, at Torino in 2006. It has developed what has been called a cult following in the US; I tried to watch some and its like watching, well, shuffleboard.

So far, the Laprhoaig does not seem to have helped the US teams, but at least they'll have good whisky.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: The Balvenie Guys (and Gals) Come to LA

Last week I attended Balvenie's tasting to kick off their new 17 year old Madeira cask whisky. Balvenie is, of course, one of the most popular Scotch whiskies in the US, loved for its smoothness and drinkability. Balvenie fans gathered at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills to sample the Balvenie range, including the 12 year old doublewood, 15 year old single cask and 21 year old port wood, as well as the new Madeira cask. The Madeira cask is a limited edition, annual release of Balvenies aged in different types of barrels (it was preceded by a rum cask). A large complement of Balvenie brand representatives were on hand to answer questions and engage in whisky-related banter, including veteran Global Ambassador David Mair, local representative Andrew Weir and the inimitable Dr. Whisky.

From my tastings at the event (disclaimer: event tastings are not as rigorous as my normal home-tastings), I found the Madeira cask to have some nice malt and some nice sweetness lasting into the finish that likely comes from that Madeira cask. Overall though, if I had to pick my favorite Balvenie, it would still be the 21 year old port wood, followed by the 15 year old single barrel. The port flavors of the 21 integrate well into the malt to give it some real heft and the 15 year old single barrel is a good, punchy whisky.

On the shelves, the 12 year old doublewood goes for around $40, the 15 year old single barrel is $50, the 21 year old port wood is $190 and the new Madeira cask is $120.

Thanks to all of the Balvenie folks who made the event possible. And a note to other distilleries: this free event had a great turnout and was filled with many whisky novices who will probably be buying a lot of Balvenie in the next months. Come to LA and let us taste your whisky!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stick a Golden Fork in Me (and throw in a grilled quail)

The Golden Fork is an Armenian restaurant in possibly the smallest strip mall in LA. A tiny two shop operation with a cramped couple of parking spaces (luckily, there is plentiful parking on nearby Serrano Avenue).

The staff doesn't speak much in the way of English, but all you really have to know about is grilled meat. A grilled combination plate yields lamb kabob, lamb chops and chicken kabob, but more importantly, ultra-tender and juicy beef and chicken lula kabobs. Far from the often overcooked dry rocks that often pass for the Middle Eastern sausage, the Golden Fork's lula kabobs pop with juice as you bite into them.

The grilled quail, also part of the combo, is among the best I've had. It's tender with a good rub over its thin skin, and peeling it open reveals a special treat -- the intact heart. The combination is served with home-cut french fries, the best of which are at the bottom of the platter where they've soaked up the grease from the meat. Add a big platter of rice, and wash the whole think down with a fluorescent green Tarragon soda.

There is a selection of traditional mezza at Golden Fork as well, and while I liked the labne, most of them were unexceptional. They also have grilled fish on the menu, which would be worth a trip back to check out.

The Golden Fork
5341 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90029-1105
(323) 467-2224‎

Thursday, February 18, 2010

You Say Rum, I say Rhum: Depaz Rhum Agricole

Rhum Agricole (literally "agricultural rum" in French) is rum from the French Carribbean, principally Martinique. Unlike rums from the Anglo and Spanish Carribbean which are distilled from molasses, rhum agricole is distilled from sugar cane juice. This tends to give it a fresher, lighter quality than other rums.


Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole, Martinique - Saint-Pierre, 45% ($33)

Nose of fresh, sweet agave spirit and corn whiskey, not really rummy but a touch of sugar. Flavor is a smooth treat with hints of that agave. The corn whiskey nose yields to mulling spice and some cane sugar. Great stuff! Depaz is possibly the most drinkable rum I've had, and one of my favorite spirits on the market.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mezcal Miercoles: Métl Añejo

Every now and then, Whiskey Wednesday crosses the border and is transformed into Mezcal Miercoles. Mezcal, as you may recall, is an agave based Mexican spirit. Most non-Tequila mezcals come from Oaxaca.

Today we are tasting the Métl añejo, 2002 special reserve. This mezcal is made from the espadin variety of agave, from which most mezcals are made. Métl is bottled by Jaguar Spirits, a Los Angeles area company which sources mezcal from Oaxaca (According to the company, métl is the Nahuatl word for agave).


Métl añejo, 2012 Reserva Especial, 40% alcohol ($43.99)

The nose is almost Laphroaig like, smoky and briny with some sweetness and a big hit of agave. The taste is smoky but much smoother than the nose with some salt and brine.

I really enjoyed the smoky qualities on this Mezcal. If you are a fan of smoky spirits, you should definitely consider picking some up.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Downhill Alert: Makkah Hallal

Sad news about a once reliable place that is reliable no more. Makkah Hallal is a Bengali Indian restaurant on Vermont near Fourth Street which I've relied on for years for tasty versions of Northern Indian classics. As a bonus, they had a great lunch buffet and delivered.

Within the last month or so, however, the food has changed. I suspect a new cook is on hand as the dishes are completely different, lacking the zest and care that was their hallmark. The old saag paneer was full of spice and the paneer was given a good sear. The new saag is bland and the paneer has all the flavor and texture of raw tofu cubes.

The cheese naan is now filled not with Indian cheese, but with orange cheddar, making a sort of Indian quesadilla; even my kids wouldn't eat it, and when kids won't eat bread with melted cheese, you know something is wrong.

This is a sad, sad fate for a once tasty venue. Luckily, Bangladeshi goat palace Taurat Tandoori is just up the street, but I still have to find someone else in the vicinity to deliver.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bourbon and Champagne: Two Chocolate Picks for Valentine's Day

If you're looking for the perfect Valentine's chocolate, there are lots of options, but if you or your loved one is a fan of fine spirits, consider these selections.

BonBonBars Bourbon Bars

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Nina Wanat has done it again. Wanat, the Chocolate genius from BonBonBar, excels at making gourmet candy bars and has a knack for sniffing out the best quality ingredients. I first wrote about BonBonBar after tasting the excellent single malt Scotch bar using smoky Talisker as the key ingredient. Since then, I've tasted just about everything they have to offer and have corresponded with Nina here and there. She impresses me as someone who is always thinking about flavor and as a true artisan who literally does everything herself and uses only the finest quality ingredients.

It shouldn't have surprised me that in picking a Bourbon to use in a candy bar, she would reach for the king of all Bourbons: George T. Stagg. For those of you who don't know, Stagg is a high proof, limited release Bourbon made by the Buffalo Trace distillery. It is one of the most loved of all whiskies by aficionados and packs a powerful and complex flavor punch. Released each fall, Stagg is snatched off of store shelves almost immediately, so if you didn't get some last year, you may have to wait until next fall. Luckily, Nina snatched a bottle.

The BonBonBar Bourbon bar contains a smooth chocolate Bourbon ganache, topped with caramel, coated in chocolate, sprinkled with Maldon salt and pepper and topped with a crispy corn wafer. Be aware that this is not a Bourbon ball or a liquor filled chocolate. The Bourbon's presence is subtle and comes only after the dark chocolate, caramel, salt and just a touch of pepper have washed over your palate. As with all of Nina's offerings, it's a composition of flavors that comes together remarkably well, though I've heard several people wish there was a stronger Bourbon flavor.

BonBonBars has relocated from LA to San Francisco, but you can order Bourbon bars ($15 for a box of 3) and other treats on their website.

FTC Disclaimer: In my order, which I paid for, Nina slipped in a few extra bars.

Valerie Confections' Champagne Truffles

Valerie Confections, purveyor of fine toffee and lovely liquid caramels has a few new items of note, including a very nice rose and passion-fruit truffle. My favorite, though, is their champagne truffle. If you like Teuscher's famous champagne truffles, you will be blown away by these velvety smooth truffles flavored with Taittinger. They have a refined Champagne flavor but also a strong chocolate that is missing from Teuscher's. Valerie also has a single malt truffle using Macallan 10 year old, which is nice but not as exciting as their Champagne truffles.

Valerie Confections
3360 W. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(888) 706-1408

Have a spirited, chocolaty Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Breaking News - Malt Advocate Blog Wins Malt Advocate Award

In a move so self congratulatory that it would make even a reality television star blush, John Hansell's blog has announced that Malt Advocate's award for Pioneer of the Year goes to: whisky bloggers. That's right folks. Apparently, one of the preeminent whisky blogs in the country thinks that it is so pioneering that it is worthy of a special award. And as any resourceful blogger will tell you, if you can't find an award to win, make one up.

In the way of an acceptance speech to this award which he has given himself, Hansell says:

I view my own blog as a “living, breathing” version of Malt Advocate. In my mind, it is a magazine—one that complements the hard-copy version. I think whisky blogging is evolving into its own form of publishing. Its value is only going to increase, but it’s already indispensable if you are a true whisky enthusiast.

And he'd like to thank the Academy, God and his mother as well. The award was immediately praised by all of the bloggers who inhabit the comments section of the blog.

Now don't get me wrong; I'm a fan of Hansell's blog. In fact, there is probably no better source for breaking whisky news on the web or for reviews of new releases. And the comment section, mostly inhabited by lesser whisky bloggers such as myself, is home to some spirited spirits debate, but the award still strikes me as a bit self-serving. And throwing the rest of us small fish in the award by making it applicable to all bloggers, while certainly a crowd pleaser, doesn't alter the fact that John's blog, along with maybe two or three others, is really the biggest fish in the whisky blogging world, so awarding whisky bloggers really awards himself.

What's next? John gives Malt Advocate the award for Best Magazine of the Year?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mobile Dosas: Dosa Truck

These days, it's another day, another food truck. Recently, I was over at the Cheese Store of Silverlake buying some cheese when I happened upon the Dosa Truck. Another one of the new food trucks, the dosa truck serves...dosas, South Indian crepes. Apart from the unfortunate name, I particularly liked the "Slumdog" dosa. The Slumdog is essentially a saag paneer dosa, stuffed with fresh spinach, paneer, potatoes and their "Indian pesto," which appears to be a pretty standard mint & cilantro chutney. The crepe itself was very well done, crispy on the outside but nice and chewy. Less exciting, but still fairly good, was the Mumbai Madness masala dosa, which was filled with a potato curry similar to that commonly found in samosas; the filling was a bit on the bland side.

I also got an order of the masala fries. They weren't crispy enough and the curry ketchup accompaniment lacked enough tang for me.

All in all, a promising truck and one of the few ways to get some South Indian food north of Artesia.

Dosas are an ideal street food that you can munch on while you walk or shop. The truck parks at Sunset Junction every Wednesday which allows for a culinary hat trick: order a dosa, grab a cup of coffee at Intelligentsia and then head to the Cheese Store of Silverlake to pick up something special for dinner.

For other times and dates, you can, of course, follow the Dosa Truck on Twitter or their website..

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Langer's Hashes it Out

My principal rule at Langer's is don't stray from pastrami on rye. I know the #19 (pastrami with swiss and coleslaw) has its followers, but for me, you can't beat straight pastrami on their crunchy rye bread; at least, though, the #19 is still pastrami-based. With the lone exception of the chopped liver, which I get a hankering for every now and then, straying from pastrami on the Langer's menu can only result in heartache, tedium and regret.

A few weeks ago, though, on a Chowhound post, many respected Hounds heartily recommended the corned beef hash. This was intriguing. Corned beef, after all, is a close relative of pastrami, so it certainly stood to reason that this could be an acceptable menu alternative.

Well, less than a week after reading the post, I found myself at Langer's around breakfast time. Normally, I would eschew our cultural food norms and simply get a pastrami on rye for breakfast, but I remembered the hash, so I ordered it, along with matzoh brie.

The hash was all you would expect from the meat masters at Langers. It was full of crispy, greasy morsels of chopped corned beef, spiced with salt and parsley (and maybe some other herbs). There may have been a few potatoes interspersed in it, but not enough to notice. It was a revelation in hash, by far the best I've had. The matzoh brie was unexciting but it served its purpose of soaking up some of the grease that came with the hash.

Corn beef hash at Langer's - check it out!

Langer's Delicatessen
Sorry, not giving an address here. If you don't know where Langer's is, you really shouldn't be reading food blogs.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Whisey River Take my Mind

The world of whiskey is mostly absent of celebrity endorsement. There are a few examples, David Lee Roth with his ever present bottle of Jack Daniels and Laphroaig's constant touting of Prince Charles' love of their peaty malt, but for the most part, whiskey lovers aren't interested in celebrities. They don't grace whiskey packaging like a Wheaties box or appear in whiskey ads, and as far as I know, there's never been a Newman's Own Bourbon.

Old Whiskey River is the exception, a whiskey commissioned by Willie Nelson and named for his song Whiskey River. Nelson's bottling is a six year old Bourbon made by Heaven Hill. Early versions came with Nelson style bandannas, CDs and guitar picks, but from what I've seen lately, they are now just selling the Bourbon.


Old Whiskey River, 6 years old, 43% alcohol ($22)

This Bourbon has a nice, very distinctly Heaven Hill nose with some fruit, candy and a bit more age than I would have expected for a six year old. The flavor doesn't please me quite as much as the nose does. There is, initially, a very strong sweetness, followed with medicinal notes and a bit of oak. It has a very pleasant finish. The whiskey has some bright notes but falls a bit flat overall.

Of course, I may not be the target audience for this celebrity, themed whiskey. Perhaps it's intended for all those girls Willie's loved before.