Thursday, May 31, 2007

Favorites: Paris Baguette

What it is: A Korean owned French bakery with excellent French pastries. A dry erase board outside tells you when things come out of the oven.

What to get: chocolate feullette, anything with cream or custard (fresh made and heavenly), green tea pastries, plain croissant ...mmmm.

Paris Baguette, First and Western.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Whiskey Wednesday: Trader Joe's Scotch

Getting Started: Visit Trader Joe's

If you live in California, there is no better place to start sampling single malts than your local Trader Joe's. TJ's carries some excellent malts at excellent prices from a variety of Scottish regions (we'll talk about the regions at some later date). Here are some you can start with. (For you out of towners, TJ's is a popular discount gourmet store.)

Glenfiddich, 12 year old, Speyside Region

Glenfiddich is the world's most popular single malt. If you've never had a single malt before, you should try it. And even though I feel I have outgrown it, I have a soft spot for the first single malt I tried and the one that served me dutifully for years before I got more adventurous. Glenfiddich sold me on its has no harshness; it's light and pleasant. It is a malt stripped down to its maltiness and a good example of the smooth, mellow style of the popular Speyside region. TJ's price: $23.99

Dalwhinnie 15 year old, Highlands

Like Glenfiddich but more so, Dalwhinnie is super smooth but with a richer taste. You start to see the complexity that scotch can have. I think it smells sort of grassy, maybe that's what they call floral. I get some vanilla in there too, wait there's more: honey, heather, treacle...Noooo. Hey, you were supposed to stop me. Anyway, you get the drift. TJ's price: $41.99

Dalmore, 12 year old, Northern Highlands

Now we get to the good stuff. I think of all the malts on this list, I like Dalmore the best. I generally like Northern Highlander malts. They are rugged, pungent and complex. Dalmore doesn't smell like flowers; it smells like the earth and tastes like the sea. The oak of the barrel comes through and right at you - screaming WOOD. It is complex and thick and if you hold it in your mouth it actually gets a bit sweet. This is rugged whiskey for rugged people living on rugged terrain. And at $22.99 at TJ's, it's about the best deal you will ever find for a malt of its quality.

Laphroaig, 10 year old, Islay

Here it is in all its smoke and glory: Laphroaig 10 year old. The most affordable of the smokers. This is your typical south Islay, with all its peat smoke, medicinal flavors and oily textures. I'm an Islay fan and a smoke fan and if you've never had a scotch with powerful smoke, Laphroaig is a good place to start: TJ's price: $29.99

There you have it. A fabulous one-stop intro to scotch for about $120 (an amount a scotch nut could easily spend on a single bottle). And remember, unlike say, wine, which you have to drink within days of popping the cork, an open bottle of scotch can last for years (though mine never seem to). So, you get more for your money.

TJ's also has its own line of private label independent bottlings; I've seen them from Aberlour, Glenlivet, Macallan and Bowmore, but haven't tasted any yet...maybe that will be a future tasting.

Next Whisky Wednesday: Lagavulins Young and Old

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Quick Picks: Corn Dog Castle at Disney California Adventure

Disney theme parks are not food destinations, to say the least, but Corn Dog Castle, in the Paradise Pier area of Disney California Adventure, is serious fair food. You can get a juicy, jumbo hot dog or hot link (choose the hot link), dipped in a slightly sweet batter and fried crispy and golden brown but moist on the inside. The battered coating is thick such that the finished product looks like a miniature baseball bat. It has the perfect Corndog Textural Counterpoint (CTC, for those in the know) when you bite through the sweet, crunchy cornmeal and into the juicy, spicy dog. This is one of the best corndogs I've had in the admittedly low-corndog density Southern California area.

Sure, it's almost $6, but at Disneyland, what isn't?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Recent Reads

I read a lot of food books and will occasionally report on those I find interesting:

The United States of Arugula by David Kamp.

David Kamp provides a delightful and gossipy romp through the past 50 years of American food history, from David Beard and Julia Child to Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck. Lots of fun and a quick read; five stars.

Heat by Bill Buford.

Buford documents the year he spent working in Mario Batali's famous New York restaurant Babbo and apprenticing to a butcher in Tuscany. Hard core Batali fans might love this book, but I found it a bit tedious. The voyeuristic thrill of looking into a celebrity kitchen wears off quickly, and I didn't find Buford's hand wringing and performance anxiety very compelling. The chapters on the butcher are fairly slow. All in all a decent book to pass the time but not one that is thrilling or life changing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Recent Drinks: A Passion for Scotch

I hereby anoint every Wednesday Whiskey Wednesday on Recent Eats, where I will review or otherwise opine on my favorite spirit. Starting next week, I will be doing some scotch reviews, so I thought I would give a basic scotch outline for anyone who's not experienced with this elixir of life.

What is Scotch?

Scotch is a whiskey made in Scotland (hence name), where by the way, they spell it whisky. The primary grain used in Scotch is barley. Generally, we can break Scotch down into two major categories:

1. Single Malts

A single malt is a Scotch made by a single distillery from 100% malted (germinated) barley. Single malts you might have heard of if you are not a scotch aficionado are Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, The Balvenie and The Macallan.

2. Blended Scotch

A blended Scotch is a scotch made by a company that buys single malts from a variety of distilleries and blends them with cheaper and usually more neutral tasting grain whiskies. All of the biggest selling Scotches are blends: J&B, Dewar's, Cutty Sark, Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, etc.

While there are some examples of high quality blends, I have found that I favor single-malts; they seem to have more distinct and interesting flavors.

What does Scotch taste like?

Scotch is a complex tasting spirit containing a wide variety of flavors and aromas that can be found across various scotches or in a single bottle. One of the most notable flavors is peat or smoke. In making scotch, the malted barley is dried by a kiln which is sometimes fueled by peat, a fossil fuel derived from swamp moss, haggis and other Scottish things. The peat imparts a smoky taste to the spirit. Sometimes the smoke is subtle and sometimes it is like drinking Liquid Smoke straight out of the carton. Islay, an island off the west coast of Scotland, is famous for making smoky Scotches like Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig.

Other common flavors associated with Scotch include "malt" which is the flavor of the barley and is that which makes Scotch taste like Scotch. In addition, many Scotches that are aged in old sherry casks have a distinct sherry taste. Macallan, in particular, is known for its sherry flavors.

Where can I buy scotch?

For the Southern California beginning scotch drinker, you can get all you need to introduce yourself to Scotch at your local Trader Joe's. Next week I will describe some of the excellent single malts available there.

For the intermediate to advanced drinker, I have found no better place to purchase Scotch than Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys. They have a selection that rivals any I've seen in the US, with an emphasis on independent bottlings.

Where can I learn more about Scotch?

The best introductory text on Scotch is the slim but extremely instructive Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch by Kevin Erskine, available from Doceon Press. I can't say enough good things about this book. There are a lot of books about Scotch, but most of them are written assuming a fairly vast knowledge. Precious few give the type of basic, helpful information needed by a novice. I had been drinking and reading about Scotch for several years before I bought a copy, and I learned some very basic things that had previously eluded me. If you want to get into Scotch, you owe yourself a copy. (Kevin Erskine is also the author of the excellent Scotchblog, the leading website on Scotch industry news and happenings.)

There is also an excellent whiskey posting board, with loads of Scotch information, on the website for Whisky Magazine, a British publication with lots of great news and insight into the world of whiskey.

How do you drink Scotch?

As with bourbon and other whiskies, Scotch should be enjoyed straight or with a dash of water. However, if the occasional ice cube strays into your glass, it won't kill you (though the Scots might since they disapprove of such adulteration).

As with wine, professional Scotch tasters have an annoying habit of coming up with bizarre descriptions of Scotch's taste. Their reviews often devolve into free association, such as "malt, smoke, ripe apricots, blueberry jam, Skippy peanut butter, spring almonds, extra virgin olive oil, fresh cod livers, turnip stalks...etc." I find these descriptions to be pretty much useless in determining whether I will like a given bottle of scotch, and alienating to new imbibers.

In addition, since so many of the experts are British, they use descriptive terms that have little meaning to Americans, like treacle, for example. I don't know what treacle is, what it smells like or what it tastes like, although I have a vague recollection that Harry Potter eats it at some point, and it may or may not have turned him into a ferret. Another popular descriptive term is "iodine." This is the 21st century...who the hell knows what iodine smells like anymore? And don't even get me started on "heather"!

In any case, I swear an oath unto the Great Scotsman to never engage in pretentious tasting note free association. In addition, I will never, on this blog, utter the terms tipple, dram, angels' share or New Labour. To the extent I use similes, I will try to do so only when there is a clearly evident comparison to be made to a common taste or smell. This is my oath to you the reader.

Next Whisk(e)y Wednesday: Get Started at Trader Joe's

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Choice Meats

Living, as I do, in the center of the largest Korean population outside of Korea has its perks, primarily, a selection of over 5 million Korean barbeques. Sometimes, though, you just don't feel like hiking half a block to the closest BBQ joint, and for those times, there is Choice Meats.

Choice Meats is an excellent Korean butcher located in the strip mall at the southwest corner of Third and Western. I go right for their pre-marinated packages of bulgogi and kalbi. The bulgogi is sliced thin and the Kalbi is wonderfully fatty. They also have beautifully marbled beef slices you could use for roast gui and marinated pork, but I have yet to try those.

From there it's easy. Stop off at HK Super, up the street at First and Western for some panchon to go, head home- fire up the grill, start up the rice cooker, cook, serve and enjoy. The paper thin bulgogi cooks in minutes, the kalbi takes maybe 15 minutes of frequent flipping...and then, you have a restaurant-quality Korean BBQ meal made at home.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Melisse: A Good Egg

While I tend to eat low-end, my love of good food causes me to scrimp and save so that I can eat high end, which I define as over $50 per person, a few times per year. (My motto is wear shabby clothes, drive old cars, eat good food). Over the last 5 years, between savings and the kindness of relatives, I've been able to hit a fair amount of the high-rated and high-priced LA eateries at least once.

Generally, I'm hesitant to weight in on High-End Dining trips (HED trips), as I hit only a few a year and will almost never repeat a visit in the same year, but I can certainly tell you what I love.

A weekend ago, for my birthday, I was lucky enough to be taken to Melisse, in Santa Monica, and enjoy the 13 course (I think it may actually have been more) carte blanche tasting menu. I have to say that this was one of the most extraordinary meals I've ever had. Over the years, I've had tasting menus at Spago, Sona and Providence and I've been to Melisse twice before, including one carte blanche menu, which I remembered fondly. This trip, however, was the best such meal I've had, including the past visits to Melisse, and the highlight was The Egg.

The egg is a Melisse signature dish that I'd had two years ago and had been dreaming about ever since. I was thrilled when it showed up again. It is a poached or soft-boiled egg, with a slight bit of cauliflower puree served in an egg shell, topped with crème frâich and caviar. It is the most rich, luscious dish I've ever had. The salt of the caviar, the rich, fluffy cream and the drippy, viscous egg yolk, all scooped up in one little mother-of-pearl spoonful, make for a silky texture and a taste that is as rich and heavenly as pure cream. Really, it's a rather simple dish. It doesn't have any molecular gastronomic effects. Its elements are very pure, egg and cream cooked perfectly and combined in a way that creates what must surely be the path to nirvana.

This is not to say that I have anything against molecular gastronomy. Another dish I enjoyed was a delicious apple soup, topped with apple foam and dotted with "apple caviar" -which I gather is a gelatin made with a syringe-like apparatus, and then there was the beef...

Beef sous vide. The sous vide technique, as I understand it, consists of placing meat in a vacuum packed plastic container and cooking it in warm water for a long period (in this case 72 hours). It retains all of its juices and comes out a perfect pink. This was juicy, tender and hugely flavorful beef; some of the best beef I've had. I wonder if you can replicate this with some Saran Wrap at home?

Lastly, big kudos to the cheese plate. I'm a bit of a cheesehead (will write about that more in the future), and I expect a lot out of high end restaurant cheese service. I want to talk about the cheese, its age, producer, composition and country of origin. Cheese is a growing, living and constantly aging thing, like wine, and restaurants that serve a cheese plate should put as much thought and expertise into its selection and service as they put into their wine selection.

Instead, however, many restaurants treat the cheese plate as an afterthought, something that Americans don't dig and don't know about. I've been mystified by how little the waiters at some restaurants know about the cheeseplates they serve. Not so, Melisse. The cheese board was excellent, including a wide variety of cheeses (maybe 40 or so). We tried a fairly generous number of selections, all well aged and interesting, and the waiter was knowledgeable about cheese and able to discuss its origins.

Anyway, if you want a splurge, and I do mean a splurge, but one that you will remember, check out Melisse.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Recent Drinks: Buffalo Trace Bourbons

I'm generally a scotch drinker when it comes to whiskey, but I've been enjoying drinking bourbon lately. Since it is May, the month of mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby, I thought I'd give a few tips about bourbon and some of my favorites.

What is Bourbon?

Here is a very basic definition.

First, the obvious: bourbon is a type of whiskey, a spirit distilled from a mix, or "mash," of grains and aged in oak barrels.

Bourbon is made from a mix of grains composed of at least 51% corn and aged in charred new oak barrels. Contrary to popular belief, whiskey does not have to be made in Kentucky, though it gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky and most bourbons are, in fact, made in Kentucky (though I don't believe any are made in Bourbon County).

What does bourbon taste like?

Generally, the taste of whiskey, any whiskey, is based on three factors: (1) what kinds of grains it is made from; (2) what kind of barrels it is aged in (as noted above, all bourbon is aged in charred new oak barrels); and (3) how long it is aged.

As bourbon is made from corn, which has a higher sugar content than most grains used in whiskey production, it tends to have a sweet, syrupy taste. It's not that it tastes surgary, like say a liqueur, more that it has an underlying sweetness as compared to other whiskies, such as rye or scotch. That corn-flavor is, to me, the essence of bourbon.

How do you drink bourbon?

Well, for the kind of bourbon I'm talking about, you drink it straight or with a dash of water to get the maximum flavor (though Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve, which I mention below, make a fine mint julep). When I talk about any whiskey, I'm talking about a drink you sip and enjoy slooowly and in moderation.

What are some good bourbons?

If you have never tried bourbon before, you should try some of the basic brands to get a feel for what bourbon tastes like. Jim Beam is the biggest selling bourbon in the US, but I prefer Wild Turkey. Then, move up a level to Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve, two excellent mid-level bourbons.

Once you get into bourbon, lots of people will point you to the Jim Beam small batch collection: Knob Creek, Baker's, Booker's and Basil Hayden. I'm not thrilled with these very popular and heavily marketed bourbons. I've tried them all and I feel that they lack depth of flavor -- there is not enough distinct about them, and they have the air of a giant corporation (Jim Beam) trying to pretend it is a small-time artisan. All in all, I would take Maker's or Woodford Reserve over anything in the small batch collection.

For my money, I have found that the most important two words in bourbon are Buffalo Trace. Buffalo Trace is a distillery that makes 17 different lines of bourbon (well, bourbon and a few rye whiskies). The three Buffalo Trace bourbons I've been lucky enough to try have been the three best bourbons I've had, which has given me enormous confidence in this label. The flavors are deep and complex, often subtle, and each bourbon has its own character. The only problem is that the Buffalo Trace whiskies are not widely or consistently available. The best Southern California source for bourbons I've found is Mission Liquors in Pasadena.


Eagle Rare, 10 years old. Eagle Rare is one of the most available of the BT bourbons in Southern California. Eagle Rare is like a standard bourbon but with an extra something special. The tastes are all the familiar corny flavors of bourbon but with a subtler edge compared to a Maker's or Woodford. There is a muting of the corn that gives it a pleasant taste, and it smells delightfully floral and caramelly.

Buffalo Trace. The BT standard bottling is probably my favorite of the three. The good news is it goes for only $25. The bad news is I have never seen it in California, and I had to have a friend bring it in from Tennessee via a meet-up in Florida, allowing him to fully realize any prohibition era rum-runner (bourbon-runner?) fantasies he may have had. BT has a powerful rye flavor. While corn has to make up 51% of bourbon (and in good bourbons, is usually much more), the additional 49% is up for grabs and it's clear that this bottling fills it in with no small amount of rye. Unlike corn, rye has a strong, spicy taste; it will make you think of a spice cabinet - nutmeg, allspice, maybe even cinnamon or pepper. I'm a fan of rye, and I think this bourbon has a great corn/rye balance, making it less sweet and more interesting than other bourbons.

George T. Stagg. George T. Stagg is often viewed as BT's best bourbon and, by some, as the world's best bourbon. Stagg is an alcoholic powerhouse, weighing in at 65-70% alcohol (the one I tried was 65.9%). For comparison, standard Scotch is about 40-45%, high alcohol cask strength scotch is 50-55% and standard Bourbon is around 45-50%. With Stagg, you feel the burn! There is clearly a lot going on in Stagg. There are layers upon layers of flavor, but the alcoholic content is so great that it kills off some of the subtleties that I enjoy most in the other BT offerings. Even with water added, I feel there is an integration of alcohol and flavor that is missing. Stagg is tough to find and will cost you in the $50-60 range.

There are a number of highly regarded Buffalo Trace bourbons I haven't yet tried, including the WL Weller, Van Winkle and Blanton's lines. I would have loved to add them to this report, but it turns out that doing a bourbon round-up is much more expensive than a doughnut round-up; who knew?

Where can I learn more about bourbon?

At your local library of course. Well, maybe if you live in Kentucky, but otherwise try the good folks at, which has a helpful FAQ to get you started.

Coming Soon(ish) to Recent Drinks

Scotch: Lagavulin taste-off
Rye Whiskey
American Malts: Whiskey ain't just from Kentucky anymore.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Great Los Angeles Doughnut Roundup

“In springtime, a man’s fancy turns to thoughts of doughnuts.” Johnathan Gold.

It seems like this spring, everyone has done doughnuts, from Jonathan Gold to Eating LA ; maybe it has to do with the coming release of the Simpsons Movie (mmm, doughnuts).

In any case, every spring, for the last ten years, I have done a mini-doughnut tour of my favorites (usually 2-3 locations over several weeks). Inspired by all this doughnut-mania, I embarked this year on a major doughnut tour, hitting all of the fabled doughnuterias I could in this thriving doughnutropolis. Some of these were visits to my old standbys, but some were first timers. I describe them below in chronological order, starting in early April. And if you don’t want to read all of this, skip to the bottom for a summary.

I should explain that I am a raised glazed man, and my standard for best doughnut has much to do with whether you can make a raised glazed or not. However, where a doughnut shop has a particular specialty, I try to get one of those as well.

Donut Man, Glendora (first time visit).
The menu: raised glazed, strawberry, raspberry cheesecake.

Yes, I finally made the pilgrimage to Donut Man. After reading the multiple glowing reviews at Donut Man, I packed up and headed to Route 66, singing all the way (Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Glendora…). I wanted to like Donut Man, heck I wanted to love the Donut Man and particularly his world famous Strawberry Doughnut, listed by Saveur Magazine as one of the ten best doughnuts in the country…but I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. Let’s start with the strawberry; the legendary strawberry doughnut sandwich that made Glendora famous. It’s good, but it’s stop on the way to work and pick one up good, not drive to the edge of San Bernardino County good. Much hay is made of the farm fresh strawberries, big Chandlers; maybe I’m spoiled, but I couldn’t help but think how much better this would taste with the gaviotas I get at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. The strawberries are lacquered with a glistening red syrup. The doughnut itself is a solid yeast doughnut, and the best part is sopping up the gloppy red syrup with the doughnut shell. The raspberry cheesecake doughnut was a glazed disk covered with an enormous amount of cream cheese frosting and a dollop of raspberry jam. The frosting was good, and it’s nice to see a doughnut place put some love into the flavored icings and fillings which are so often sub-par, but it was piled so high as to overwhelm the doughnut itself. The raised glazed were fine, but nothing to write home about. If I lived in Glendora, I would no doubt happily patronize Donut Man on a regular basis, but based on my experience, I think it is held in higher esteem than merited.

Frittelli’s, Beverly Hills (first time visit).
The menu: raised glazed, heath bar cake doughnut, apple fritter.

Frittelli's, the fancy schmancy, no trans-fat doughnut vendor to the stars, was by far the worst of all the places I tried this tour. Though laid out in aesthetically pleasing array reminiscent of the museum cum food shop style of Boule, the doughnuts were lackluster at best. The raised glazed was heavy and dry and the glaze lacked character. The Heath Bar doughnut was probably one of the worst cake doughnuts I have had. Now, I grant you, I am primarily a yeast doughnut man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like a good cake doughnut now and then and that I don’t know one when I taste one (see Bob’s below). In my mind, the ideal cake doughnut is fried such that it has a delicate crispy crust on the outside, giving you some resistance when you bite into it, and tender cake on the inside. And it should have some real flavor. The Heath Bar doughnut was terrible. There was no difference in texture between the crust and the inside and, while it appeared to be chocolate, it had no discernable chocolate flavor. It was topped with a small bit of chocolate icing and a few crunched Heath Bars, but they were not enough to make up for this ridiculously bad (and might I say, overpriced) doughnut. The apple fritter was horribly dry, not very crispy and did not have much apple in it…the worst apple fritter I’ve ever had. Dryness was an across the board problem here.

Bob’s Doughnuts, 3rd and Fairfax Farmers’ Market
The menu: raised glazed, apple fritter, plain cake

I am convinced that Bob’s is one of the unsung heroes of Los Angeles doughnutry. It sits there, inconspicuously, between Patsy’s Pizza (another unsung hero) and the ice cream shop, surrounded by admiring pigeons and elderly regulars; it never seems to get the level of kudos reserved for Donut Man or Primo’s, but it pumps out some of the best doughnuts around. The razed glazed was one of the better I had on the tour. It was light as air, with enough but not too much glaze, but it was really the cake doughnut that shined. The cake doughnut was spectacular. Perfectly crisped on the outside, soft on the inside…only slightly sweet with a hint of nutmeg. I got the plain because they didn’t have the powdered sugar variety. The added powdered sugar would have enhanced the overall doughnut, but tasting the plain cake gave me the opportunity to taste a really well done caker, stripped to its core. The apple fritter was a flat disk, fried to an almost black color, with many nooks and crannies which increase the amount of surface area available to the deep fryer. Bob’s is somewhat famous for the apple fritter, and this one was above and beyond most fritters, but it seemed a bit burnt on some of the edges, which took away from my enjoyment.

Primo’s Doughnuts, National and Sawtelle.
The Menu: buttermilk bar, raised glazed, butterfly cinnamon roll

I hereby declare, even though I have openly professed my preference for the yeast variety of doughnut, that the Primo’s buttermilk bar is the supreme, ultimate best doughnut in Los Angeles! Primo’s is one of my standbys…I was first led there by Chowhound and since my first taste of the crisp, sugary outer layer and the divinely buttery center, moist and yellow, melting in my mouth….I knew it was the best and I am happy to report that so it remains. There is not enough I can say about this doughnut. I was tempted to buy a dozen of these brick sized, perpetually warm bars of doughnut gold. Primo’s rocks. All of Primo’s other doughnuts are good, the butterfly cinnamon roll is particularly so, with a great balance of cinnamon, glaze and dough. Their raised glazed is good but not really special…but none of it compares to the BMB. Hail the BMB!

Grace, Beverly Blvd, west of La Brea (First visit)
The Menu: butterscotch doughnuts

Okay, one of these things is not like the other. Grace is not a doughnut shop; there are no pink boxes, no wax paper, no case or rack of glistening crullers, no table of regulars sipping coffee and they aren’t open in the morning, but Grace is much heralded for its butterscotch doughnut dessert, so I thought I’d mix things up a bit and add it to the list. The butterscotch doughnut is not really a doughnut in the traditional sense, but more of a beignet. The dough is a light, delicate beignet style dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The butterscotch filling is sublime, tasting of butter and slightly of caramel but really not very sweet. This is a great dessert but it’s not really fair to compare it to the other doughnut shops listed here. Plus, I think beignets tend to be easier to perfect than doughnuts, and in that sense, it might be unfair to compare these to the “true” doughnuts on the list. I have had many a bad doughnut; done improperly they can be rock hard, flavorless, greasy or overly sweet. In contrast, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad beignet: light batter, fried quickly, sprinkling of powdered sugar - easy peasy. Still, these were well done and the butterscotch filling, in particular, was excellent; maybe next year I will do a beignet tour.

Stan’s, Westwood Village
The Menu: raised glazed, chocolate peanut butter, buttermilk bar, glazed pretzal

Stan's was the best all-around doughnut shop I visited. The raised glazed was near perfection. It was puffy, slightly beyond normal proportions, the glaze was sweet but not overwhelming and there was a slight sour-yeasty taste to the doughnut. This visit reinforces my opinion that Stan’s is the best raised glazed in LA, at least among the one’s I’ve had. The chocolate peanut butter, or “Robbie,” seems to be somewhat of a house specialty and was wonderful. A nice sweet, peanut butter inside, more like real peanut butter than, say, Reese’s filling. It was topped with chocolate glaze and mini-chocolate chips, but the glory was in the doughnut, which, like all the Stan’s selection I had, was perfectly crisp on the outside, light and airy on the inside, which made for the perfect coating for this confection. The only disappointment was the buttermilk bar. It had a nice buttermilky flavor but the texture was not to my liking, lacking the outer crispness. Maybe cake-type doughnuts just aren’t their thing. The pretzel, a sort of cinnamon twist type doughnut, was also excellent, and again, fried perfectly. For some reason, my impression is that Stan’s is held in low esteem among the LA food intelligentsia…like the Pink's (another of my favorites) of doughnuts. I seem to hear from people that it is overrated or has gone downhill…I have to disagree. Stan’s was on the mark and did more doughnuts better than any place I visited.

Best Doughnut – Primo’s Buttermilk Bar
Best Raised Glazed – Stan’s
Best Cake – Bob’s
Best Specialty – Stan’s (chocolate peanut butter)
Best All Around – Stan’s

So, that’s a rap. My arteries have until next spring to unclog. And now, dear readers, please let me know what I’ve missed. Are there places of this caliber that should go on my list for next year. While I have been in the past, I neglected to make it out to Randy's in Inglewood, oh thee of the big doughnut in the sky – a clear deficiency in my report. And are there doughnuts in the Valley or Orange County that I should be aware of? Let me know and I will add them to my next spring fling.

Thanks for indulging my indulgence.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Quick Pix: La Buca, Fassica

La Buca (Melrose west of Wilston): Best gnocchi I've had. Beautiful soft pillows of pasta, so different from the hard little pebbles I've been served at other places. They were delightful with the pink fumé sauce which had onions, bacon and cheese.

Fassica (Washington Blvd, across from Sony in Culver City): Forget Ford's Filling Station or all the other new yuppie food temples in Culver City. When I'm there, usually after a trip to Surfas, I can't not stop at Fassica, a small Ehiopian place across the street from the giant Sony Pictures complex. Fassica is the best Ethiopian I've had in LA, beating out anything on Fairfax. The problem with some Ethiopian places is that the dishes have a certain sameness - a parade of different color lentils with the same spicing. Not so at Fassica, with its clear, crisp flavors and high quality ingredients. Get the Fassica special, a combo of eight different dishes. The lentils are great, the sauce on the doro wot (stewed chicken) has the color and consistency of black molé with a sharp, slightly spicy flavor. I always add a side of shiro, the smooth, rich sauce made from powdered roasted chick peas. And the injera is soft, thick and spongy with a perfect sour taste. Much better than the afterthought that is injera at many of LA's Ethiopian spots.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pinkberry: Are You Eating It or Is It Eating You?

I don't get Pinkberry. I'm sorry, I just don't. Unless you live under a shell, or in Riverside, you know that the sour frozen yogurt (or maybe it's not "frozen yogurt" - I don't care about that either) has taken LA by storm, and has even moved east to New York.

That people have gone ga ga over this frozen dessert, calling it crackberry is beyond me, but is also eerily reminiscent of the 1980s B movie thriller, The Stuff. For those of you who didn't spend a lot of time watching B-grade horror movies in the mid-1980s, The Stuff is about a group of miners who discover an alien substance and market it as a gooey frozen dessert treat. Well, it turns out that The Stuff is highly addictive (enough is never enough...of The Stuff), and it flies off the shelves. Far from a benign dessert treat, however, The Stuff takes over the brains of those who eat it and turns them into mindless zombies. Crackberry, hmmmm.

This post is in no way intended to insinuate that Pinkberry products (whether actual frozen yogurt or reconstituted powder) are actually brain consuming alien life forms. All similarities between Pinkberry and The Stuff are purely coincidental...we hope.

Sku's Salutations

Well, here it blog. I have finally entered the 21st century. A note of introduction of myself and how I intend to use this blog to entertain (mostly myself). I, Sku, am a public interest lawyer living in the vibrant Koreatown/Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. My hobbies are, in no particular order, eating, drinking, cooking, reading about food, well... you get the picture. I'm one of those food obsessives, foodies, fooders, chowhounds, whatever you call them. I live for the next taste sensation, and since moving to LA in 1998, I have made it my base of gastronomic operation, though I travel frequently and will report when I do.

I thought I would start this blog to chronicle my journey, my favorites tastes and treats and maybe be helpful in identifying the tastes that make me smile and giving a good tip or too.

A quick food profile:

I get a few super high-end meals per year, but I am by and large, a middle to low end eater: pizza, pupusas, bi bim bop, pho, dim sum, etc.

I love sweets, particularly doughnuts and chocolate (though not necessarily chocolate doughnuts)!! I'm in the midst of a massive, artery-altering doughnut roundup that I will post about next week.

I idolize our home town pulitzer award winning Jonathan Gold and find my best tips on Chowhound where I've been posting, as sku, for at least six years.

Wine is fine, but Whisky's quicker...I love to sip a single malt, rye or bourbon and I will occasionally post on them in the "Recent Drinks" category.

I DON'T TAKE PICTURES OF FOOD! This is not a food porn site. I can barely work my digital camera. And frankly, I don't get food bloggers who go to a restaurant, pull out a camera, and take pictures of every dish. I mean, the waiters must think you're nuts....okay, here's another food blogger taking pictures of the sweet breads, make 'em pretty folks.

Anyway, welcome to my blog (big welcome if you aren't related to me) and enjoy the ride...

Coming soon(ish):
LA's Greatest Pupusas
The doughnut roundup
What is Pinkberry, really?
Long Beach Cambodian