Monday, December 31, 2007

My New Year's Resolutions

Everyone needs something to strive for and bloggers are no different, so I composed this list of New Year's Resolutions. These are just a few of the food and drink oriented goals I hope to accomplish in the coming year.

Go for Indian in Artesia

Artesia is home to a large South Asian community and countless Indian restaurants. I've never dipped in and it's time to start.

Get to Know Brandy

I'm fluent in whiskey and at least conversant in most other spirits, but I'm a brandy ignoramus. Yes, I admit it, I can't tell my Cognac from my Armagnac. Lately, I've been sipping some on the sly, and it's a whole world of flavor. It's high time I filled this massive gap in my liquid education. Too bad there isn't a day of the week that begins with B.

Eat East LA

I've sampled East LA's Mexican scene, but I'm still a stranger on Whittier Boulevard and haven't been to some of the most famed establishments. And I call myself an LA food blogger...go east young blogger.

Go to Seven Grand

A bar in downtown LA specializing in whiskey and I haven't's downright embarrassing.

Find the Best Banh Mi in the OC

I love everything about the Vietnamese sandwich. The crusty bread, the salt of the meat, the crunch of the vegetables, the creamy pate. It's time to break out of Mr. Lee's grip and get to know the small-time players.

Explore Macallan

I've always sort of shunned Macallan. I like smoky, flavorful, complex whiskies. What do I need with a pumped up, overpriced sherry spiked Speysider. But recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a few Macs and I thought, maybe there is something to all this hype. It's time for me to go back to basics and revisit this ubiquitous malt.

More Korean Food

As I was enjoying some pork blood sausage at the Koreatown Galleria foodcourt (Reason #8 why I love this town: blood sausage at the mall), I thought, for a Koreatown blogger, I really don't review much Korean food. There are numerous reasons for this. First, living in the neighborhood, most of my Korean food experiences are casual...parties, back yard barbecues, school events for the kids, etc. Second, with Bon Vivant and Raven doing regular Korean restaurant reports, I feel like the pressure is off in that department. Still, I owe it to my 'hood to show some pride in the local cuisine, so this I will try to do.

Will I keep my resolutions? Who knows? I'll have at least as much chance as keeping my non-food resolutions like exercising and leaving less of carbon footprint.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coming Next Year

I'll be taking a week off between Christmas and New Years, so no new posts until January 1, but I wanted to give you a sense of just a few of the things I have in store for next year.

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

I'll be expanding my chocolate profile in a big way, tasting and reviewing some of the world's finest chocolate from producers big and small.

I'm Young and I Smoke

Whiskey Wednesday will launch into a series of ultra-young, ultra-smoky Scotches for the new year.

Viva America Sur

I've been doing some South American eating lately and will report in on some of the great LA South American eats.

LA's Best Liquor Stores

A rating of the best places to buy spirits in LA.

All that along with the pupusas, cheese, whiskey, butter, dumplings and fried food you've come to expect.

And tune in January 1 for my New Year's Resolutions.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Tis the Season: Broguiere's Egg Nog

One of my favorite treats of the holiday season is Broguiere's supremely rich and creamy egg nog from Montebello. With a smooth, nutmeg taste and a consistency of melted ice cream, there is simply no better store bought egg nog, and I've tried a lot of them.

You can find Broguiere's at most premium and gourmet markets, including Bristol Farms and your higher end Ralph's stores.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: 'Tis the Season for Whiskey Gifts

Looking through the last year of Whiskey Wednesdays, I tried to come up with some whiskey oriented gift suggestions.

People often ask me what to get for their Whiskey Loving Loved Ones (WLLOs), and it's probably the hardest question around. There are so many variables that I hate to recommend something as a gift without knowing someone's particular taste, but with that caveat, here are a few whiskies and whiskey related items that would make great gifts for any whiskey lover.

1. Gifts for the Whiskey Novice

Two excellent introductory books for the beginning whiskey lover in your life.

For the beginning Scotch lover: The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch by Kevin Erskine is a must-have for anyone just getting into the wonders of Scotch. As I noted earlier this year, even a more experienced Scotch drinker can learn something from this slim but valuable volume.

For the beginning Bourbon lover: Bourbon, Straight by Charles Cowdery is an introduction to American whiskey (Bourbon, Tennessee and Rye) which includes general information, trivia and history. As with the Instant Expert's Guide, this is a must have for the enthusiast.

2. Bourbon

Buffalo Trace, the spicy standard bottling by the greatest Bourbon distiller in the country is now available in California for around $25.00. It's a great Bourbon with a nice rye kick.

Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel Bourbon. As I noted last week, this is a fabulous Bourbon at a great price -- about $35 at most premium liquor stores. It really does not get much better in the world of Bourbon.

3. Rye

Sazerac Rye - both the standard bottling and the 18 year old are wonderful ryes with a subtle spice. Available at K&L Wine Merchants for $24 and $55, respectively.

4. Scotch

Want to surprise your Scotch loving friend? Do it with a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki Japanese Whisky. The Japanese whiskey industry is in full swing and both the 12 and 18 year olds are great whiskies. They won't believe it's not Scotch.

For an extravagant gift for your truly advanced Scotch lover, try a bottle of the ulta-hyped, ultra-collectible Bruichladdich PC5. I haven't yet reviewed this smoky 5 year old Islay malt (that review will be coming in January), but it is all the rage, and priced as such. Last time I was at Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys, they still had a shelf full of bottles going for $120 a piece, and there were four left on the shelf at The Wine House in West LA as late as yesterday. Is it worth that much? Who knows, but it is definitely the flavor of the month in the Scotch world.

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 16, 2007

'Tis the Season: Gift Ideas

Well, we missed Chanukah with this post, but we are still in time for Christmas and the New Year. If you need gifts for your foodie friends, here are some suggestions, in no particular order.

1. DeVries caramelized cocoa nib clusters.

These addictive nuggets are nickel sized dollops of DeVries 77% Costa Rican chocolate topped with caramelized cocoa nibs (nibs are roasted cocoa bean pieces). They combine a deep, complex chocolate taste with the pleasant crunch of the nibs. At under $5.00 a pack, these handy snacks are a huge bargain, but they are being grabbed up quickly and supplies are limited, so order now!

2. Ratatouille

Pixar's wonderful film about a foodie rat in a Paris restaurant is now out on DVD. This is the ultimate movie for restaurant lovers and should not be missed. The DVD comes with an entertaining mini-documentary about rats and a brief "making of" piece featuring French Laundry chef and film consultant Thomas Keller, where you will briefly see him making the film's signature dish. I wish we could have seen more Keller in this piece, but overall it's still a great package and the perfect gift for food lovers of all ages. $14.99 on Amazon.

3. Lucid Absinthe

Newly legalized in the U.S., Absinthe is the wii of the spirit world this year, the must have gift for spirit-lovers. In my recent review, I found it to be very pleasant and, of course, full of mystique and ritual. Lucid is available at Hi-Times Wine Cellars for $59.99.

Coming This Wednesday: Whiskey Gifts

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Ultimate Guide to the LA Farmers Market

Well, I did it! A little more than a month ago, I pledged to visit every food stand in the Third and Fairfax Farmers Market, and I'm proud to stand on the proverbial aircraft carrier and say, "Mission Accomplished." Below are a few notes about my mission followed by a complete summary of my findings. My more detailed reviews are available here.

How did I do it?

My mission was simple, eat at every stand in the Farmers Market: old favorites as well as places I'd never gotten around to trying. However, I did not include chains (Starbucks, Johnny Rockets, Pinkberry) or restaurants in the adjacent properties (Marmalade Cafe, Morels, etc.). I also excluded the second floor sushi restaurant Kado; this was to be about the places occupying the actual Farmers Market property.

For the past six weeks, I ate at the Market two to three days per week, sometimes more. Often, I would have more than one meal a day (or at a time) at the Market and, whenever possible, I would drag friends along to help increase my sampling possibilities. For stands I had never tried before, I tried to sample a variety of dishes, including specialties.

I ended up going to 34 different food stands/restaurants. Of those, 10 were places I had never tried before.

It was an interesting experience and gave me some small sense of what it must be like to be a professional food critic. Fun, but also tiring.

How did I rate them?

I divided the Market stands into three tiers using the following criteria:

TOP TIER: A great find. A place worth a special trip to the Market.

SECOND TIER: A good place. Not worth a special trip but a place that you might want to try if you happened to be at the Market.

THIRD TIER: Places that I would not go to again. Not necessarily bad (though some were), but generally unexceptional.

Of my new tries, two made it into the top spot, but most were relegated to the third tier.

Without further ado, here is the complete list with a few brief comments. New tries have been marked with an asterisk(*).


Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts - LA's best cake doughnuts and apple fritters

Country Market* - Funnel cake of the gods

Du-Par's Restaurant - Great pies, pancakes and the last great Monte Cristo in LA

The French Crepe Company - Tasty Crepes, sweet and savory

Littlejohn's - The best toffee around and other tasty candies

¡Loteria! - Mexican, great chilaquiles and queso fundido, avoid the bland tacos

Moishe's Village* - Boerek (Turkish pizzas), get it with fried eggs

Monsieur Marcel's - Best fondue in town

Pampas Grill - Brazilian churrascaria

Patsy D’Amore’s Pizza - Real NY style pizza


Bennett's Ice Cream - Decent homemade ice cream

The Gumbo Pot - Cajun food, po-boys, jambalaya, etc.

Moishe’s - Lamb ka-bob and other Middle Eastern fare

Singapore’s Banana Leaf - Paratha with Curry sauce is the go-for dish

Thee's Continental Bakery - Good cookies and pastries

Tusquellas Fish & Oyster Bar - Fish & chips


The Bread Bin - Eastern European sweets

Bryan’s Pit Barbecue - Dry, underseasoned barbecue

Charlie's Coffee Shop* - Basic diner food with a homey atmosphere

China Depot - The better of two Chinese steam table stands

Coffee Corner* - A small selection of pastries

Deano's Gourmet Pizza* - Pizza and pastas

Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream - Soft serve

Kokomo - New school diner food, interesting in theory, boring in fact

La Korea - Basic Korean food

Magee's Kitchen* - Carving station meats and old-time Mexican dishes

Market Grill - Cheeseburgers and fries

Peking Kitchen* - The lesser of two Chinese steam table stands

Phil's Grill* - Basic Jewish deli fare done competently

The Salad Bar* - My choice for worst place in the Market -- lackluster salads and cold sandwiches

Sushi A Go Go* - A small step up from Ralph's sushi bar

T&Y Bakery - Cakes and pastries that look better than they taste

Ultimate Nut and Candy - Flavored popcorn and candies

Ulysses Voyage - Unexceptional Greek sit-down restaurant

For more complete reviews, see my original postings, cataloged here.

There you have it, another exercise in my obsessive completionist tendencies and the Ultimate Guide to the Farmers Market.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: A New Favorite - Elijah Craig 18 year old

Elijah Craig, 18year old, single barrel, Straight Kentucky Bourbon, 45% alcohol, Heaven Hill Distillery.

Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel Bourbon is a massive whiskey. A burst of rugged flavors: caramel, oak, polished wood, maple. Its combination of smoothness and complex flavor reminds me of a Northern Highland Scotch. In fact, in some ways, I'd call this a Scotch-lover's Bourbon. In any case, this is one that will serve an exalted, if short life on my shelf. It usually goes for between $35 and $45, a real steal, and is widely available at fine liquor stores near you.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The International Chocolate Salon

On Sunday, I attended the International Chocolate Salon at the Pasadena Convention Center. Billed as "the first major chocolate show in the Los Angeles area this millennium," the advertising puffery promised "the finest in artisan, gourmet & premium chocolate in one of the world's great culinary metropolitan areas." (We can debate the primacy of Pasadena as a "great culinary metropolitan area" at some later date).

The Salon (apparently a more romantic term than "trade show") featured 23 participants, mostly chocolate purveyors as well as a few wineries, publishers and one dealer of chocolate liqueur. It also featured speakers on topics such as chocolate as an aphrodisiac.

As a registered chocoholic, I went with high expectations and envisioned myself tasting amazing new chocolates from the word's finest purveyors. Instead, I found the Salon, which charged $20 admission, to be disappointing. Most of the chocolates were mediocre. There was a fair amount of schlock, such as the inevitable melted chocolate fountain and decorative dipped strawberries, and a few things that were truly awful (a grainy, vegan chocolate curry sauce served over Rice Dream frozen dessert product gave me bad memories of mid-1970s carob). The wines were mediocre and the chocolate liqueur was downright bad. And as to the "International" designation of the event, I'm not sure which of the participants could be deemed international, except inasmuch as the chocolate was harvested abroad, as almost all chocolate is, since the climate of 49 of our states is inhospitable to cacao.

That being said, I found four tables to like at the Salon.

1. L'Artisan du Chocolat

I've praised L'Artisan du Chocolat in the past as one of LA's best chocolatiers. Christian Alexandre and his wife Whajung Park make wonderful truffles out of their modest First Street store. Rather than a slick marketing rep, as some of the bigger companies had, Alexandre staffed the stand himself and gave out samples of some of his wonderful chocolates. I love L'Artisan's adventurous flavors including their delicious Kalmata Olive. The newest of these was Korean Red Bean - though, sadly, it was not available for sampling. He did have samples of his excellent plain chocolate truffle, one of the best around.

2. E. Guittard

Longtime Bay Area purveyor E. Guittard was at the Salon with samples of a wide range of their excellent chocolate bars. My favorite was the Nocturne, which weighs in at a dramatic 91% cacao. Other ultra-dark chocolates (i.e. over 90%) are too close to baking chocolate to eat plain, but the Nocturne was a fantastic bar, packing a deep chocolaty punch but lacking the bitter finish you might expect at that level. I also loved the 72% bar, which had wonderful flavor, and the various wafers, chocolate discs intended for cooking but just as good for snacking. Overall, I thought Guittard's blended bars were better than their single origin bars, having a more balanced flavor.

3. Chuao Chocolatier

I was excited to try the well regarded San Diego based Chuao Chocolatier, which I have heard good things about but never sampled. Chuao brought a delicious assortment of bon bons and bars. I particularly liked their passion fruit caramels and their chili spiked "picante" choco-pods. Unfortunately, they did not have any plain chocolate bars, which I really would have liked to try.

4. Malibu Toffee

I love toffee, but good toffee is, alas, hard to find. Malibu Toffee is a recent entry into the toffee game. Founded in 2006, it is essentially a one-woman show, run by founder Sheri Swist. Swist's is a small operation sold through her website and Malibu retailers. Her toffee, and toffee is her only product, is quite good, with a nice buttery crunch. Swist staffed her booth and showed the enthusiasm so good to see in small producers. I asked Swist what direction she is going in with her business, and she said she would love to get a contract for hotel turndown service...a great idea. I'd much rather have a piece of handmade toffee on my pillow than that boring old mint.

Overall I'd say the Chocolate Salon was a bust, and I doubt I'd pay $20 for the pleasure next year, but it's great to see small producers like Sheri Swist and Christian Alexandre show up to personally stand with their wares and give people a chance to pull away from that chocolate fountain and have some truly great chocolate.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Blind Date with the Green Fairy

Lucid Absinthe Superieure, 62% alcohol.

Absinthe [AB-saunt]. The stuff of myths. The muse of artists. The fuel of psychosis. The thing that drove Van Gough to chop off his ear. Celebrated in turn of the century France, banned in twentieth century America, this viridian, anise flavored spirit spiked with the toxic and allegedly hallucinogenic wormwood is now legal in the United States.

I must admit to being caught up in the excitement generated by Absinthe's reentry into the US market for the first time in nearly 100 years. Never mind that much of the mystique is myth and legend. For the real skinny on Absinthe, check with the good people at the Wormwood Society, who will tell you everything you wanted to know about the Green Fairy but were afraid to ask.

There are two genuine Absinthes which are now available in the US:

Kubler is a Swiss absinthe; a blanche, it is white rather than the traditional green. It is available at
Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa for $50.

Lucid is a traditional green Absinthe from France. Initially, it was only released in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. However, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have developed a knack for tracking down hard to get spirits, so I managed to snag a bottle and am here to report my findings. Since I acquired my bottle, I've noticed that Lucid is now listed by Hi-Times as well, for about $60.

Lucid Absinthe comes in a sleek black bottle with what appear to be cat eyes. I must admit, I was made uneasy by the prospect of drinking something that was watching me.

The Preparation

The imbibement of Absinthe, like most things that cause hallucinations, includes great ritual and requires strange paraphernalia.

Here's the process: you pour a glass of Absinthe, then place a slotted spoon on top of the glass. A sugar cube is then placed on the spoon. Slowly, you drip water over the sugar cube, into the Absinthe, until it becomes cloudy throughout. This cloudiness is called the louche and its consistency and color is very important to Absinthe drinkers, who view it similarly to the way a serious espresso drinker views the crema that tops an espresso. The final ratio should be three to five parts water to one part Absinthe.

After reading up on the preparation, I was ready to try it.

The Tasting

Lucid Neat

First I did what you are not supposed to do and sampled the Absinthe neat. Undiluted, the Absinthe had a light green tint and a strong licorice aroma, along with citrus and fruit notes. The taste is also dominated by the anise, like liquid black's an overpowering and syrupy sweet taste. This is definitely in need of dilution.

Lucid Prepared

Now, as noted above, Absinthe drinkers love paraphernalia and use fancy specialty glasses and decorative slotted spoons, but I'm a whiskey drinker, so I don't have any of that. Instead, I used a wine glass and a fork, which seemed to do fine.

Then, the preparation. For my first sampling, I added three and one half parts water over two cubes of sugar, until it reached the desired cloudy consistency. The addition of water revealed a somewhat more complex aroma that could be detected from several feet away. All of the licorice aromas of fennel and anise were there but there were also more herbal scents. The candy taste was gone, though it was still too sweet. As I further diluted the Absinthe, it revealed a subtler anise flavor with a slight bitterness (wormwood?). Even with dilution, the heavy anise numbs the tongue.

As follow ups, I tried several different ratios of water and sugar and found that I liked four parts water to one part Absinthe with one sugar cube. As noted above, I found two cubes too sweet and no sugar produced an overly bitter taste.

At first, I felt the strong licorice taste of Absinthe was unpleasantly overwhelming, but over a week's worth of experiments, I came to recognize some of the subtler botanicals and herbaceous tones that made it quite a nice after-dinner drink. And there was something comforting about its palate numbing qualities.

Overall, my date with the Green Fairy went well. I'm not saying we're jumping into any sort of committed relationship or anything. After all, I'm a whiskey man first and foremost, but I could certainly see becoming life-long friends.

And, just for the record, I can't say I had any hallucinations or an urge to disfigure myself after drinking the Absinthe...though I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: Get Your Buffalo On at K&L Wine Merchants

K&L Wine Merchants, located on Vine just south of Sunset (behind the Arclight Theater), is a relatively new entry into the LA retail liquor scene. Opened last spring, the store is the third in a small family owned chain based in the Bay Area (the other locations are Redwood City and San Francisco).

The store is mostly wine, but on the back wall there is a spirit section. While modest in quantity, the whiskey selection is of excellent quality, including quite a number of selections I have never seen in Southern California.

For instance, they have the hard to find Lagavulin 16 year old Distiller's Edition (as opposed to the regular bottling). The Distiller's Edition is a well regarded vintage Lagavulin (meaning all of the whiskey was distilled the same year). It goes for about $100.

Equally impressive, they have the entire Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. As you might recall, Buffalo Trace is one of the most innovative and skilled distilleries in Kentucky, making amazing Bourbons and Ryes packed with flavor. Their Antique Collection is the BT crème de la crème, a sort of holy grail for Bourbon lovers, but they are very hard to come by. Of the five bottles, I have only previously seen one or two of them on sale anywhere in Southern California. To have all five in one store is a real rarity and a Bourbon lover's dream come true. On top of that, the price is right. Most of the bottles seem to go for a quite reasonable $55 a pop; the much heralded Stagg is $65 which is about as good a deal as you will find on it anywhere.

The collection includes:
  • George T. Stagg - Deeply flavorful firewater
  • Eagle Rare 17 year old - Elder version of a favorite sweet sipping whiskey
  • William Larue Weller - An older version of a popular wheated Bourbon
  • Sazerac 18 year old - A beautifully smooth Rye
  • Thomas H. Handy - A cask strength version of the Sazerac Rye

If you are a Bourbon/Rye fan, you really can't do much better than this series, and if you know a Bourbon/Rye fan, these would make wonderful Chanukah or Christmas gifts.

In addition to a great selection, K&L has a knowledgeable and helpful staff. I had always rued the fact that there were no really great liquor stores in mid-city LA. Now we have one, so check it out.

K&L Wine Merchants
1400 Vine Street (south of Sunset)
Hollywood, CA, 90028
(323) 464-9463

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Farmers Market: Third Tier

You've seen the best, now here's the rest. The unexciting, uninspired and just plain bad. Unfortunately, most of my new tries ended up on this list. I guess there was a reason I hadn't been going to all of those places.

Charlie's Coffee Shop

I would love to recommend Charlie's. It has a great old-time diner ambiance, even though it's only a stand. The staff is friendly, not in the corporate "Hi my name is Joe and I'll be your server" way but in a genuine and empathetic way. Breakfast regulars abound and are greeted with a knowing, "Hey Bruce, the usual?" The place exudes the small time old school charm that is the best of the Market. Unfortunately, I'm a food blogger, not an atmosphere blogger, and the food at Charlie's is pretty unexceptional. Sure they do up a fine French Toast and a decent breakfast, but nothing to rave about. Still, go by and breath in the atmosphere.

Magee's Kitchen

Magee's is the original FM food stand, dating back to early in the century when the Market really was occupied by farmers selling goods and they needed some sustenance. Magee's has a two prong menu, one with carving station type meats (corned beef, roast beef, etc.) the other with very old school Mexican (enchiladas, tacos, etc.). Neither are very good, but they do make a mean horseradish, which you can buy by the jar.

China Depot and Peking Kitchen

The Farmers Market is bookended by these old school, steam table Chinese eateries with their one, two and three item plates of fried meat nuggets with bright, sweet sauces. If you must have Chinese at the FM or have that odd hankering for orange chicken, go to China Depot, on the east side of the Market, which does this genre decently. Peking Kitchen, whose logo is suspiciously similar to that of Panda Express, gets no stars in my book.


The dishes on the menu of this souped up diner are good in concept, but the execution is lacking. I had food there that was both poorly seasoned and poorly cooked. Ten years ago, I might have put Kokomo in the second tier, but the quality has definitely declined since then.

Ulysses Voyage

Ulysses Voyage, the Greek sit-down restaurant at the back end of the Market, has its defenders, but I'm not one of them. On my most recent visit I reconfirmed my earlier impressions...they offer a wide variety of fairly bland and unexceptional Greek classics. If I want hummous and kabobs, I'll go to Moishe's.

Bryan’s Pit Barbecue

This place smells great, so take a deep sniff...and keep walking past the dry, bland meats at this poor excuse for a barbeque pit.

Deano's Gourmet Pizza

Middling pizza and pasta.

La Korea

Basic Korean standards. You really want Korean food? Drive 15 minutes east and you'll have hundreds of choices.

Sushi A Go Go

One small step up from the Ralph's sushi bar.

Phil's Grill

Basic Jewish deli faire done competently but not spectacularly.

Market Grill

Burgers and fries...nothing special.

The Salad Bar

Only if every other food stall in the market burned to the ground would I consider another meal at The Salad Bar, which serves lackluster salads and sandwiches. There was absolutely nothing to recommend the $8 tuna fish sandwich, which pretty much anyone I know could have done better at home. The exotic tropical juices were sickly sweet and the pathetic salad bar looked like something out of the early '70s...this place was a huge bummer.

Next week: The Final Tally

Thursday, November 29, 2007

DeVries Chocolate

I first read about Steve DeVries in Mort Rosenblum's engaging book Chocolate. Rosenblum chronicles DeVries' obsessive search for the best cacao beans and his hands on approach to every step of the chocolate making process. At the time the book came out, there were no on-line sales of DeVries chocolates, but now there are.

DeVries sells two varieties of chocolate, Costa Rican and Dominican, at three different percentages, 77%, 80% and 84%. I recently sampled a variety of his product and found it to be excellent. The only ingredients in these bars are cacao and sugar. He leaves out vanilla, which is often added to dark chocolate to lift or lighten the this is hardcore stuff.

The Costa Rican chocolate is a bit more tangy and acidic, reminding me of red wine. The Dominican varieties were my favorite. They had a smooth, almost creamy taste and a deep earthy feature. The Costa Rican, with its complexity, appealed to my head, but the deep flavors of the Dominican appealed to my heart.

Probably my favorite DeVries product, though, are the carmelized cocoa nib clusters. These addictive nuggets, pictured above, are nickel sized dollops of DeVries' 77% Costa Rican chocolate topped with carmelized cocoa nibs (nibs are roasted cocoa bean pieces). The little discs are a handy snack and not a bad pick-me up either. At under $5.00 a bag, they would make a great stocking stuffer or Chanukah gift.

DeVries chocolate is available through their website.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mezcal Miercoles: Tasting Session

As part two of our Mezcal Miercoles series, here are some samplings of the spirit of Oaxaca:


Del Maguey mezcals are some of the easiest to find in Southern California. Their single village series is stocked by many premium liquor stores. We sampled three of them. Except for the Tobala, they are named for the village in which they were made. The Del Magueys lack age statements which leads me to believe they are unaged or blanco mezcals.

Chichicapa, 47.8% alcohol

This was my favorite of all of the mezcals we tasted. It has a distinct smoky flavor, almost comparable to an Islay Scotch. The smoke and agave flavors are beautifully interwoven in a way that made me want to keep sniffing and sipping.

Minero, Santa Catarina Minas, 49.2% alcohol

The Minero is very tangy and fruity with some sweetness. This was probably my least favorite of the three, but had a very distinct flavor that others may like.

Tobala, Wild Mountain Maguey, 46.1% alcohol

Unlike the other mezcals on this list, Tobala is made with the tobala variety of agave as opposed to the more common espadin variety. The Tobala had some smoke but the more dominant flavor was fruit. Clocking in at about $120, it's almost double the price of the Chichicapa and more than double the Minero.


Los Danzantes, Reposado, 42% alcohol

Smoky and smooth this reposado (rested - aged from six months to one year) mezcal had a very sophisticated feel to it. In the Scotch realm (all things must be compared to Scotch) I'd compare it to a smooth Speysider, though it did have some smoke. I found it very of my favorites. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it in California...this bottle came from New Mexico.

El Señorio, Reposado, 38% alcohol

This smoky mezcal does not appear to be available in the US but was purchased in Oaxaca by my brother-in-law on a recent trip. It has very good smoke and great agave flavor, though it lacks some of the subtlety of Los Danzantes and is less powerful than Chichicapa. It's also con gusano (there's a worm in the bottle) which is frowned on by mezcal purists, but doesn't seem to make this stuff taste any less good.

I hope you have enjoyed our brief journey into mezcal, and if you haven't tried it, I hope you will. I leave you with this Oaxacan saying:

Para todo mal, mezcal.
Para todo bien tambien.

For all that is bad, mezcal.
For all that is good as well.

Next Week: Back to Whiskey on Wednesday

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Farmers Market: What's for Dessert?

Along with its diverse selection of food stands, the Farmers Market is filled with sweet shops of every description. As a man with a sweet tooth the size of an eclair, I've eagerly exposed myself to all of their wares as part of my quest to master the Market.



Littlejohn's old-fashioned candy shop should have a warning posted in its window: "Once you eat our toffee, you may never be able to eat any other toffee again." Littlejohn's toffee is so good that it has absolutely ruined me for other toffee, the only exception being See's. LJ's toffee is a sweet, buttery smooth, crunchy concoction that doesn't stick in your teeth. Coated with the traditional chocolate and nuts, it's the butter that comes through the most, and who doesn't love butter? This stuff is one of the most addictive foods I've eaten. No matter how much I buy, I never seem to make it through a sitting with any left.

The peanut brittle, a related species, is also excellent and I love the chocolate and caramel coated homemade marshmallows. Littlejohn's is a true LA treasure that shouldn't be missed.

Country Market

Owned by Thee's Bakery, the Country Market, located in the middle of the FM, bakes up cookies, cinnamon buns, apple dumplings and other baked treats, but their true calling is funnel cakes. These cakes are to fairground funnel cakes what a high end molten chocolate cake is to a Hostess Cupcake, a creature so vastly superior that it does not appear to be of the same species. The funnels are handmade with great care and topped with a mix of homemade fruit topping (no canned glop here) and fresh whipped cream. The cake is perfectly fried, crunchy on the outside, chewy within. This was a new try for me but it immediately bolted into a regular stop. The best funnel cakes I've ever tasted, bar none. It's like the fair, but so much better.

Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts

In my Doughnut Roundup last Spring, I named Bob's as the best cake doughnut in town...get a caker glazed, with powdered sugar or even plain. They also do the best apple fritter in town and have excellent glazed doughnuts as well.


Thee's Continental Bakery

Thee's offers good croissants, cookies and sweets. I'm a particular fan of their tres leches cup, a parfait spin on the traditional Latin American "three milks" cake (though I wish they'd leave out the cherry pie filling glop). I also like their marzipan logs and little chocolate mousse filled Florentine cookies. I would pass on their cakes though, which tend to be dry and uninteresting.

Bennett's Ice Cream

Competent homemade ice cream. If you have an ice cream hankering, it will suffice, but nothing to write home about here.


Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream

The best thing about Gill's is their old-fashioned soft serve, which you can get dipped in chocolate. If you are ever craving Dairy Queen or the old Fosters' Freeze, this may be your best bet. For hand scooped ice cream, go to Bennett's, Gill's no longer makes their own ice cream, but uses Dreyer's and Thrifty, which are no great shakes (excuse the pun).

T&Y Bakery

Everything looks great, but that's about the only redeeming quality of this little bake shop.

The Bread Bin

Eastern European pastries...too much dough, not enough flavor, and I'm not a fan of their bread either.

Ultimate Nut and Candy

Does the world really need 15 varieties of flavored popcorn? I'm inclined to say no. Even the traditional caramel and butter toffee corn here is overly candy-coated in a way that uncomfortably sticks to your teeth. The other candies are just so-so.

Coffee Corner

A small selection of unexceptional pastries.

Honorable Mention: Magee’s House Of Nuts

Technically, I suppose, Magee's isn't a sweet shop, it's a...nut house, but I have to mention this house of nuts and homemade nut butters. The main attraction for me is the peanut butter machine, displayed for all to see as it churns fresh peanut butter. There is something hypnotic about the way it slowly and monotonously swirls; round and round it rotates with such smooth, fluid motion making me fall into a peanut butter induced hypnosis. I could stare at this thing for's like peanut perfection.

The PB itself is good with a strong peanut flavor, bordering on sweet...but, as advertised, it's just peanuts, and it needs salt...after all, who wants to eat unsalted peanuts?

Next week: We begin the Third Tier of Farmers Market eateries

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Farmers Market: Second Tier

We continue our comprehensive review of the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax with the second tier. These may not be my very favorites, but they are decent places that will do in a pinch.

Tusquellas Fish & Oyster Bar

Fish and chips are the mainstay of Tusquellas, and they do a competent version. The fish is crispy and the fries have a nice chewy texture, though the accompanying cole slaw is fairly flavorless. They used to do a nice fish/oyster combination, but that seems to have disappeared from the menu.

The Gumbo Pot

Having lived in Louisiana for a couple of years, I love Cajun and Creole food. Uncle Darrow's was my mainstay back when they had a little sandwich shack on Venice Boulevard, but since that closed, there's not much in the way of Cajun food east of the 405 and north of the 10. The Gumbo Pot, the lone Cajun contender is popular, but for me, always seems to disappoint. The po-boys are made from lackluster bread, and while the cornmeal battered oysters are good, there aren't nearly enough of them on the po-boy. The gumbo and jambalaya are passable but nothing to write home about, and the alligator is mostly a good novelty dish. I still go from time to time because, as I said, it's hard to find good Louisiana food in LA, but it mostly makes me dream of real Cajun food.

Singapore’s Banana Leaf

Another relative newcomer, Singapore's Banana Leaf may be the only restaurant in LA claiming to serve Singapore-style food. A combination of the flavors of India, Thailand and Indonesia, my favorite dish at Singapore's Banana Leaf is the Roti Paratha, fried Indian bread served with an awesomely flavorful curry sauce. I also enjoy the Cane Juice which has a wonderful sugar cane taste.


Moishe's dishes out standard Middle Eastern fare...falafel, hummous, kabobs, etc. Nothing thrilling, but all done fairly well. Their best dish is the lamb kabob, which is perfectly cooked and well seasoned.

Next week: Sweet Shops of the Farmers Market

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Introducing Mezcal Miercoles

Whiskey Wednesday is on hiatus, south of the border, for the next two get ready for Mezcal Miercoles.

I love the whiskey, but sometimes you need a break, and when I do, I often reach for mezcal, the Mexican agave based liquor that is growing in popularity. So, join us for the next two weeks as we explore this enticing drink.

First, the basics:

What is mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. Agave is a large succulent with leaves shooting out in a flower-like pattern. The American century plant, which you may be familiar with if you live in the southwest, is a variety of agave.

But isn't Tequila made from Agave?

Yes. Tequila is actually a type of mezcal, just as Bourbon is a type of whiskey. In practice, however, when people talk about mezcal, they are usually referring to the Oaxacan variety, and that is how I will use the term here.

Tequila must be made with the blue agave species. Mezcal, in contrast, can be made from any variety of agave but most mezcal is made from the espadin variety. Most Tequila is made in the western Mexican state of Jalisco (home of the town of Tequila which gave the drink its name), while most mezcal is made in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Is mezcal aged?

It can be. Pursuant to Mexican law, mezcal uses the following age designations:

Blanco (White): Unaged
Reposado (Rested): Aged from six months to one year
Añejo (Aged): Aged more than one year
Extra Añejo (Extra Aged): Aged more than three years

Gold tequila, as in Cuervo Gold, is an unaged Blanco with gold color added.

All of the aging takes place in oak barrels.

The Extra Añejo designation is new and, consequently, many Tequilas and mezcals currently labeled Añejo are actually more than three years old. Unlike whiskey, exact age statements are rare on mezcal labels, so it is sometimes a guessing game.

Is mezcal a new drink?

Hardly. Mezcal dates from the sixteenth century when the Spanish colonists brought distillation to the Americas. In recent times, it has often been equated with fire-water and moonshine, largely due to worm-in-bottle rot gut being put out by large producers. In Oaxaca, however, it has long been considered a refined spirit made by artisans in small batches.

Mezcal was late in coming to the premium spirits party sweeping North America, and it suffered through the 1990s watching its upstart cousin Tequila become chic and expensive. But now, finally, mezcal is getting some recognition as the complex and interesting spirit that it truly is.

Now is actually a great time to get into mezcal because, while it is getting some recognition, most mezcal hasn't yet made it to the triple-digit, sold in a unique hand-blown bottle status that makes so many Tequilas and whiskies out of reach financially.

What does mezcal taste like?

Mezcal has its own flavor profile. Oaxacan mezcals do not taste like Tequila, though they have some commonalities. Mezcal tends to have sharper, stronger flavors, often with intense smoke or tangy qualities absent in today's smooth premium Tequila. To me, it's a more distinctive flavor than that of Tequila, and the various mezcals offer more variety of flavor than do Tequilas, which tend to stick to a pretty consistent flavor profile.

How do I drink mezcal?

Mezcal should be enjoyed like any fine spirit...neat in a snifter or other glass that allows you to enjoy its aroma. While there are a few mezcal cocktails out there, I don't think the strong flavor of mezcal lends itself particularly well to mixing, but then, I'm not generally a cocktail buff.

Where can you buy mezcal in LA?

Premium Mezcal is still somewhat hard to find in LA, but you'll find decent selections in the same premium liquor stores where you find good whiskey selections. This includes Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys and Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa.

What are some good mezcals?

Next week, we will have a Mezcal tasting comparing a number of Mezcals. If you are looking for a place to start, the Del Maguey series of single village mezcals offers a variety of different style mezcals, each made in a different Oaxacan village. Next week's tasting will include a variety of Del Maguey mezcals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Best of the Farmers Market

For my big Third and Fairfax roundup, I'm dividing the food stands into three tiers. The top tier are the very best, places worth a special trip to the Market. The second tier are very good; maybe not worth a special trip, but good choices if you happen to be there. Third are the rest..the unexceptional and unexciting.

This week is the top tier. These are my very favorites, the old standbys I rely on most and a new try that impressed me. I'm still tasting, so this list isn't complete and more may qualify for the top tier (and sweet shops will be handled in a separate post). They are listed in no particular order.

Monsieur Marcel's

This French Bistro started as a small cheese kiosk and has expanded into a full-on restaurant with its own seating and a gourmet market. This French bistro makes the best fondue in LA. They have a traditional Gruyere based fondue, which is good, but the highlight is their signature Fondue Savoyarde which includes other more flavorful cheeses such as Morbier and Roquefort. I also enjoy their moules frite and their croque monsieur. Take pains, though, to avoid their adjacent gourmet market of the same name which is vastly overpriced.

Moishe's Village

This stand, specializing in Boerek, was a new try for me but one that will definitely enter my pantheon of staples. No, Boerek was not that movie about that guy from Kazakhstan. It is a Turkish pastry served at a stand adjacent to the original Moishe's Middle Eastern stand. It's similar to a rectangular pizza, topped with cheese and your choice of toppings...I can't get enough of the egg. Two eggs, sunny-size up are fried onto the dough. The soft whites and fluid yolks mesh with the cheese and dough to create a delicious doughy, cheesy, eggy delight. I also enjoyed the spinach and cheese as well as the interesting sides like Swiss chard tzatziki and white beans in tomato sauce. As far as I know, Moishe's Village is the only place in LA where you can get this particular, pizza-like version of Boerek (as opposed to the Armenian meat pies of the same name available in Hollywood).


I was a late convert to the Mexican stalwart at the center of the market, and I still think this Mexico City style snack shop tends to be a bit overrated by reviewers, but that may be due to the dearth of good Mexican in this part of mid-city. They make a whopping eleven different type of tacos, but I find their pre-made fillings to be generally underseasoned. Their mole is popular, but it pales in comparison to the excellent Oaxacan moles you can get at numerous locations a mere ten minutes away. However, their chilaquiles (a breakfast dish consisting of fried tortilla chips with sauce) are some of the best in town; I like them with the tangy salsa verde. They also make an excellent version of queso fundido (Mexican fondue) topped with chorizo, which is a dish that's not easy to find in LA. And they do a great nacho plate, of all things, though sometimes the plate could use a few more minutes under the broiler.

Patsy D’Amore’s Pizza

In a city in which good pizza is a scarcity, Patsy's tends to fly under the radar, but this FM stalwart (with mandatory photo of the owner mugging with Frank Sinatra) consistently pumps out good, thin crust New York style pies. The toppings ain't much, so stick with plain cheese.

Pampas Grill

A relatively recent entrant into the FM, Pampas Grill puts a fast food spin on the Brazilian churrascaria. All of the traditional elements are part of the Pampas buffet: the massive salad bar, the scrumptious cheese breads, fried yuca, feijoda (black bean stew), and of course, the meat. Pampas has all the traditional churrascaria cuts: picanha (garlic beef), alcatra (sirloin), lamb leg, bacon wrapped chicken and sausage (pet peeve: why can't I find chicken hearts at any LA currascaria?) The food is good and it's a lot cheaper than you will pay at any sit-down currascaria.

The French Crepe Company

This creperie dishes out sizable crepes, both sweet and savory. The white flour creates a result that is more akin to a thin, dense pancake than a traditional French buckwheat crepe, but the results are still delicious. For savory, I love the Raclette, prosciutto and cornichon's especially good when drizzled with some of their dijon mustard salad dressing. For sweet, I like the Grand Marnier, or just the plain crepe filled with butter and sugar and topped with whipped cream.

Du-Par's Restaurant

I've written before about the great pies at this newly rehabbed diner which anchors the west side of the Market, but Du-Par's is more than just pies. The light fluffy pancakes are an LA institution and they make one of the last great Monte Cristo sandwiches.

So that's my best of the best so far. Next week, I will post my second tier. Meanwhile, I'm still trying stands; so far, I've tried 27 over the last two months. I have only two more to try that I've never been to before and three I need to revisit because it has been a while since I sampled their wares.

Onward and upward...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whisk(e)y Wednesday: To e or Not to e (Continued)

There was a lot of discussion last week about the whisky vs. whiskey controversy on the various forums and discussion boards, including Whisky Magazine, Straightbourbon, Peatfreak and Bourbondrinker.

Commenters raised various arguments that we hadn't discussed in last week's blog. The following is a brief summary.

Not to E

The consensus on the various boards and the few emails I received seemed to support the "not to e" position. Many in this camp expressed a "'taint broke, don't fix it," logic. One poster noted that no less than Michael Jackson had endorsed the multiple spelling position.

Another reader opined that using the e generally but switching back to no e for proper nouns, as Chuck Cowdery suggests, can lead to inconsistent use in the same sentence, which looks odd and may prove confusing: "Whisky Magazine has numerous articles about whiskey."

To E

Among the e supporters, several gave examples of people assuming that, because of the spelling difference, whisky and whiskey were fundamentally different types of alcohol, leading to the exact type of confusion against which Chuck cautioned us.

Who Cares?

A number of readers seemed under the mistaken impression that this issue was somehow trivial or otherwise lacking in gravitas. It greatly saddens me that there are still people who do not take seriously issues which may not seem "sexy" but which can have lasting and life-changing impacts such as global warming, nuclear proliferation and how we spell the names of various spirits.

Can't We All Just Get Along

One poster suggested that we can live with divergent spelling practices as we do with variations of indefinite gender pronouns (e.g. "he or she" or "his or hers"). There are multiple acceptable ways to express the concept of "he or she" when discussing a group of individuals of mixed gender, including he or she, they, (s)he, and he/she. Similarly, the writer pointed out, we can live with some who use the e and some who don't. While I appreciate the sentiment, I must point out that my little blog is nothing compared to the amount of ink which has been spilled on the proper use of gendered pronouns.

So, at this point, I'd say this controversy has been fairly well explored. It will be interesting to see if our little discussion generates any response from the magazines and other publications that have to deal with spelling issues.

As for me, all of this discussion has made be hungry for my favorite pastry, but is it doughnuts or donuts?

Next Wednesday: Meet Whiskey's Mexican Cousin

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Meet Me at Third and Fairfax: The Farmers' Market Challenge

I've loved the old Third and Fairfax Farmers' Market since I first visited it as a teenage tourist in LA. When I moved to LA, ten years ago, I lived in Park La Brea, so I was within walking distance of the FM and spent ample time there in the last years of its pre-Grove existence. In fact, my oldest daughter's first trip outside the house after coming home from the hospital was for a lunch at the FM.

In a world of carbon copy food courts (do people still say "carbon copy" or does that just date me?), Cheesecake Factories and fast food, the FM is a breath of fresh air, Starbucks and Pinkberry notwithstanding. It has a vast array of eateries encompassing a number of genres and ethnicities in a casual, old fashioned market setting.

Over the years, I've sampled many of the wares at the FM and have many favorites, but there are some, both old and new, that I just have never gotten around to. I pledge, here and now, to cure that shortcoming. By the end of the year, I will dine at every food stand at the Market and review them here.

I'll start with my old stand-bys, move to my stand-away-froms and close up with the brand new tries. I will ignore the few chains and the mediocre food at the adjacent Grove shopping mall, as well as the newly adjacent restaurants, such as Marmalade Cafe, which are really more Groveish. This will be the old-school FM food stalls.

Next week, I'll begin with some of my favorites, the top tier of Farmers' Market dining.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

LA gets PC

After over a year of waiting, PC5 has come to LA.

What is PC5?

It's not a new brand of personal computers.
It's not the latest theory of political correctness.
It's not a previously undiscovered album by jazz bassist Paul Chambers.

To Scotch fans, PC5 is Bruichladdich's much heralded 5 year old, cask strength Port Charlotte single malt (notice how I avoided the "w" word?)...and it has finally come to LA.

Like many distilleries, Bruichladdich faced economic trouble in the 1980s and '90s and actually closed its doors in 1995. But unlike other distilleries, the Laddie, as it's known, was reopened under new ownership in 2001. The fiercely independent Jim McEwan was named production director, and the distillery has been a huge success story ever since with a reputation for innovation.

Released in 2006, PC5 is the first bottling of a Scotch distilled under the new ownership. PC stands for Port Charlotte, a long-shuttered Islay distillery which the new bottling claims as its model.

When PC5 was released last year, it sold like hotcakes across the UK and Europe. The brash, highly peated five year old flew in the face of Bruichladdich's traditional flavor profile of low-smoke, non-peated malts.

Now, more than a year after its European release, a small number of bottles have made their way to the US. They were supposed to come in May, but none showed up, and I've been hunting for them high and low since then.

I finally found some PC5 at the always reliable Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys. They told me they had about ten bottles and they are going for $120 a pop.

Is a five year old Scotch worth $120? I'll let you know as soon as I try it, but if you know someone who's a Scotch fanatic or a big fan of smoky malts, it would make a fine holiday gift.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Whisk(e)y Wednesday: To e or Not to e

As you may know, there are two alternative spellings of my favorite alcoholic beverage: whisky and whiskey. In Scotland, Canada and Japan, they drink whisky. In Ireland and (mostly) here in the US, we drink whiskey. Now, to the person whose only interest is in drinking the stuff, who the hell cares how you spell it? But to those of us who write about it, there is an issue. Should we spell the word according to the type of drink we are writing about or should we pick one spelling and stick to it? Recently, a suggestion to change the standard practice by Chuck Cowdery erupted into a controversy that may soon rock the whisk(e)y world.

Deep Background

The term whiskey is said to have evolved from the Gaelic uisge beatha, meaning "water of life." Of course, the term "water of life" has been used in many European cultures to refer to the local liquor: Aquvit in Sweden (derived from the Latin aqua vitae) and eau de vie in France refer to regional spirits in those nations.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary does not differentiate between whisky and whiskey, using a single entry for both terms. It does, however, list several alternative spellings which were used in the eighteenth century, including whiskie and whiskee. It appears that no consistent spelling was being used in the nineteenth century, with American and English writers using both spellings interchangeably. The standardization of the various spellings may not have occurred until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

The Current Practice

The current practice among malt writers in the US and UK is to change the spelling based on the type of drink being discussed. If it's Scotch, you call it whisky (e.g., Highland Park is a great whisky), if it's Irish, you call it whiskey (e.g., Bushmills is a fine whiskey)...etc. This is the usage in both of the major magazines covering the area: Whisky Magazine (British) and Malt Advocate (American).

When simultaneously referring to two whiskies with different spellings, Scotch and Irish for example, many writers use the term whisk(e)y.

To E: Chuck Cowdery

Chuck Cowdery argues for a change in this standard practice. Cowdery publishes the Chuck Cowdery Blog and is the author of Bourbon, Straight one of the best books around about Bourbon and rye.

A few weeks ago, Chuck proposed, on his blog, that American writers always spell whiskey with an "e". Chuck compared the use of "whisky" by American writers to the use of other spellings that are nonstandard between American and British English:

Whiskey is one of those English words—like aging, center, color, maneuver, and many others—that Americans and Brits spell differently. American writers often struggle to use the British spelling when referring to scotch whiskey (i.e., 'whisky,' no 'e'). UK writers occasionally return the favor. An American would never think of spelling color with a 'u' just because the subject is colors used by an English painter, for example. Why should whiskey be any different?

Chuck makes an exception for proper nouns. When the word is part of a name, it would be spelled as such. This is also consistent with general American usage; for example, an American newspaper would write about the British labor movement but the British Labour Party.

Why is this issue important? Chuck is concerned that the different spelling "suggests that 'whiskey' and 'whisky' are two different words with different meanings when they are not." In Chuck's view, this creates confusion and leads people to imagine "nutty distinctions" between whisky and whiskey.

As a disclaimer, I should note that, when I started this blog, prior to Chuck's posting, I decided I would use the "e" in my blog for the same reason Chuck gives, namely, that is how we normally deal with US/UK spelling distinctions. However, I have been reexamining that position based on the debate presented here.

Not to E: Kevin Erskine

After seeing Chuck's post and being intrigued by it, I went directly to someone I knew would take the contrary position. Kevin Erskine publishes The Scotch Blog and is the author of The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch, the best introduction to Scotch around.

Kevin is a strong believer in using the version of the word which is consistent with the type of drink being discussed. Indeed, he has unabashedly taken no less than the Wall Street Journal to task for using the e in reference to Scotch.

Kevin takes issue with Chuck's modest proposal. From his perspective, whisky and whiskey refer to different drinks. To call Scotch a whiskey is to mislabel it. "Whisky" describes Scotch, "whiskey" does not.

And Kevin doesn't buy the analogy to words like color and colour. He thinks it's more akin to Fish & Chips. We call it by its British name rather than altering it to, say, Fried Fish Fillet & Fries, because Fish & Chips is the dish's proper name. It seems that the crux of Kevin's reasoning is not that there is a difference between whisky and whiskey, both are distilled and aged grain spirits just as Fried Fish and Fries is the same thing as Fish & Chips, it's that whisky designates a particular style and implies certain qualities. If I order Fish & Chips, I know I'm going to get a fillet of fried white fish served with malt vinegar and tartar sauce, whereas, if I see a menu item entitled Fried Fish Fillet with Fries, I wouldn't have the same expectation -- it could be salmon or snapper and I would have no hint as to the condiments.

Moreover, Kevin thinks this is a matter of respect and that imposing our spelling will be taken as typical American egotism by our friends in Scotland, Canada and Japan. Since journalism on this issue has a world-wide audience, this is not a trivial concern.

To E and Not to E: US Spellings

While we have been discussing this issue primarily as a US/UK issue, or more accurately, a US-Ireland/UK-Japan-Canada issue, there is a variance of usage even within the US. The standard spelling used for the US drink in writing is whiskey, but it's not clear cut.

The Code of Federal Regulations, which provides the official, legal definition of the term actually uses the British spelling: whisky. (27 C.F.R. §5.22). Most American whiskies, however, use the e, though not all. Makers Mark, for instance, leaves it out.

For Tennessee Whisk(e)y, which is not defined by law, the problem is particularly acute. There are only two producers of the drink and they spell it differently. Jack Daniels is Tennessee Whiskey while George Dickel is Tennessee Whisky. So, when writing about Tennessee, generically, would it be whisky, whiskey or whisk(e)y?

In a recent article about Tennessee, Whisky Magazine actually used both spellings in successive sentences, though it's possible that one was a typo. (See The Tennessee Question, Whisky Magazine, December 2007, p. 74).

The Verdict

Chuck and Kevin are both fonts of knowledge and are as passionate as they are knowledgeable. Based on their writings, I respect both of their opinions and know that they have a deep knowledge of the drink and the industry in which they specialize (Bourbon for Chuck and Scotch for Kevin). Clearly, reasonable bloggers can disagree on this issue.

So, what of the "e"? Is its use a symbol of American arrogance and a fundamental mislabeling or is it simply a sign of consistency and standardization (standardisation?) of spellings?

The matter is op(e)n for debate...Let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall Cheese Plate

As always, clockwise from 12:00...

Haystack Mountain, Red Cloud
Washed Rind Goat

After loving the Haystack Peak from this Colorado goat farm, I vowed to try more. The Red Cloud is a semisoft goat cheese with a wonderfully mild flavor, which really doesn't have much goat to it. It tastes a bit more like a semisoft cow, almost like a milder version of the famous Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Upland Farms Dairy in Wisconsin. The piece I had appeared to be fairly well aged.

I must note, however, the fact that the name is quite familiar to the Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, an award winning washed rind cow cheese that looks very similar to the Red Cloud...something going on here or mere coincidence?


Washed Rind Cow

Brinata is often described as Italian brie, but I really don't think that's accurate. First of all, it has a washed as opposed to bloomy rind. Second, the scent was more like an Epoisse than a brie, though the taste is a bit more mild and earthy. All in all, an enjoyable cheese but one I'd like to try fresh. This piece had clearly been sitting around for a while.


Firm Cow
Menorcan (Spanish)

From the Mediterranean island of Menorca comes this firm, crumbly cheese with a bright orange rind. Mahon is delightfully salty but also fruity. It cries out for a sweet wine to accompany it. This would be good crumbled over salad as well.

Served with Jamon Serrano, shredded duck leg confit, cornichon and pears.

All cheese was purchased at Surfas in Culver City. I love Surfas for their gourmet items and cooking supplies, but I honestly don't recommend their cheese, at least from the in-store refrigerated section (as opposed to the cafe). This is a case of pre-cutting and pre-wrapping cheeses until they sit around for God knows how long and can be victims of moisture and other bad things, and I've had my share of bad experiences with Surfas' cheese. Cheese, like wine, is a living, evolving thing and should be treated with more care.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

One Two Three, Look at Mr. Lee: Lee's Sandwiches

Lately, my (very) significant other has been on a banh mi fix, a yearning for the Vietnamese sandwiches which combine meat and pickled vegetables on a baguette. A great banh mi is the perfect gestalt of crunchy and chewy, tangy and savory, sour and salty.

Unfortunately, there is not much choice of banh mi in the mid-city area. We enjoyed the grilled pork banh mi at Gingergrass and the sardine sandwich at Vietnam Soy Cafe, both in Silverlake, but we yearned for more.

So, on a recent trip to Orange County, we had to stop at an outlet of the famous banh mi chain, Lee's Sandwiches (We stopped at the Beach Blvd. location in Westminster, right off the 405).

This place had it all. Large, fresh baguettes, crunchy marinated veggies and a host of excellent fillings. We most enjoyed the chicken with it's big chunks of marinated bird and the creamy, livery pate but also enjoyed the BBQ pork with its thin slices of Chinese style char siu pork. Priced at an amazing $2.20 per sandwich, this may the best deal in Southern California.

Frustratingly, there are 12 Lee's in Southern California and not a single one within the LA city limits. The closest to my area of mid-City is probably the Alhambra branch. This is a commercial oversight bordering on the criminal. A Lee's would mop up in's a guaranteed success. I mean, I would go three days a week and I'm pretty sure my SO would go five. Come on, if we can have 20 million shops dedicated to boba and tart frozen yogurt, the least we can get is a decent banh mi.

Most offensive is that the menu reveals a Lee's in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City gets banh mi but not LA??!! This is a massive offense and flies in the face of all that is right in the world.

For now, I will drive to get my banh mi, but please, Mr. Lee, go North and fill our empty Los Angeles baguettes with your love.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: Costco Goes Macallan

Recently, while shopping at my local Costco (Los Feliz Blvd.), I noticed that they are now selling an 18 year old Macallan under their Kirkland label. The Macallan, which was going for $60, was bottled by Alexander Murray & Co., the same bottler which bottles for Trader Joe's. As you may recall, I was not a fan of the Trader Joe's bottlings by Alexander Murray, so I passed, but it peaked my interest about this independent bottler who seems to only bottle for American supermarkets.

Anyway, if you've tried the Costco Macallan let me know, because at $60, if it's good, it's still a good deal for an 18 year old Mac.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Instant Fondue: Petit Sapin

Petit Sapin is a soft ripened cheese from the Jura area of Comte, France. It comes in a small wooden box a la Epoisse.

And when I say soft, I mean that at room temperature this stuff is instant fondue. Crack open the rind and just dip small pieces of bread as you would a fondue pot. It has a mild but ripe and complex taste and a wonderfully runny texture, one of the best new cheeses I've had in a while.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Indo Cafe

If you live in southern California, you have a choice of hundreds, maybe thousands of Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Salvadoran, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese restaurants sprinkled throughout the city. Not so with Indonesian food. I can name all the Indonesian places I've heard about in LA on one hand, but luckily, Indo Cafe, an Indonesian gem in west LA, will give you an excellent Indonesian sampling.

Gado gado is probably the most known Indonesian dish. It consists of a salad of veggies, egg and tofu covered in a peanut sauce. Indo's sauce is thick and rich and the veggies are crisp and fresh. Gado gado is popular, but their other dishes are more exciting.

One of the best dishes I've had anywhere is Indo's lamb satay (satay kambing) with lamb chunks marinated in a sweet soy sauce to awesome effect. The little black lamb chunks become flavor bombs, sweet, tangy and savory. This is a fabulous dish and one I keep going back makes me salivate just to write about it. (Okay, too much information, I know).

Also excellent are the pan fried noodles (kwetiau goreng), fried fish cake with noodles in a sweet sauce (empek empek) and the various curries, especially the lamb, and the amazing fried rice (nasi goreng). Meals are served with a pungent and essential fermented fish condiment which is thicker than Vietnamese nuoc mam.

There is an intriguing list of desserts including various concoctions containing avocado, jackfruit and durian, none of which I've yet tried.

So, if you are interested in trying Indonesian, you can't do much better than Indo Cafe.

Indo Cafe
10428 1/2 National Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 815-1290

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: Ichiro's Malt

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, thanks to a friend who travels regularly to Japan, I have been able to sample a number of Japanese whiskies that are not available in the US.

Other than the Suntory Yamazakis that are available in the States, two of the most common whiskies in Japan are Nikka Yoichi and Suntory Hakushu. I tried the 12 year old Hakushu and a Yoichi without an age statement. The Yoichi was good with a similar flavor profile to the Yamazakis (malty, a bit smoky) but was a bit less smooth.

I didn't care as much for the Hakushu which was a lighter style whiskey, similar to a Glenlivet or other typical Speysider...just not my cup of tea.

Most recently, my pal was able to snag me a couple of Ichiro's Malts, which he found difficult to acquire even in Japan. Ichiro's Malts, according to the label, come from the Hanyu distillery in the town of Hanyu on the Tone River. The distillery was closed in 2000 and dismantled in 2004, but the founder's grandson is apparently trying to start it back up.

These whiskies were on par with the best of Scotland. The 15 year old was bold and smoky with subtle fruity notes. The 20 year old was extremely complex and well balanced. There was light smoke, fruit and just a lot going on flavor-wise. It's an enchanting and intriguing whiskey, one of those that you look forward to tasting again and again because, like rereading a Tolstoy novel, each time you do, you find something new and interesting.

If you're ever lucky enough to get to Japan, get some Ichiro's Malt.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Donuts and Mariscos in Moorpark

We headed to Moorpark this weekend for our annual visit to Underwood Family Farms to pick out a pumpkin. Sure we could have bought a pumpkin at any number of LA spots, but the farm is similar to the LA County Fair in that it is a place for urban kids who think of feral cats and pigeons as wildlife to see livestock, hay and people in cowboy hats.

I was skeptical of the chance for reportable eats, but there are actually a few good finds in the MP.

On the Underwood grounds, hungry pumpkin pickers can snack on Tia's Fresh Mini Donuts. The popular stand fries bite-sized donuts to order, topped with either powdered sugar or sugar/cinnamon. There's just nothing like fresh donuts and these have a nice little kick of nutmeg. They also cook up fresh potato chips that look good, but the donuts met my fry quotient for the day (see Mom, I have a fry quotient), so I abstained.

After observing livestock (emus, who knew?), eating mini doughnuts and picking out some good pumpkins, we set out for food and stumbled upon Mariscos San Felipe at the corner of Moorpark and Los Angeles Avenues in "downtown" Moorpark. The homey restaurant shares a building with a psychic, which I assume means they knew we were coming.

Mariscos San Felipe was a pleasant surprise in what we had feared was a culinary wasteland. It's a great little Mexican seafood joint with a similar rural/country feel to Mexican seafood joints I'd been to in east Texas. The place has only been open for about a year, and the staff had a down-home friendly feel that also reminded me of Texas.

I ordered octopus, scallops and shrimp al ajillo, which were sauteed with dried red ajillo peppers. The tangy, smoky ajillo skins combined well with the seafood, especially the octopus, which soaked up all of the ajillo flavor. The richness of the seafood and tang of the dried pepper was a perfect counterpoint. The seafood medley was served over rice, which further soaked up the rich ajillo. All courses were started with a vegetable soup in a succulent chicken broth.

In December Underwood Farms switches from pumpkins to Christmas trees. I've never been for that, but I may head up, just to get another meal at Mariscos San Felipe.

Mariscos San Felipe
50 Moorpark Ave. (at Los Angeles Ave.)
Moorpark, CA