Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year in Review

This marks the end of the first full calendar year of Sku's Recent Eats. (We started up back in May 2007). I thought I would take this opportunity to do something that is almost never done...see if we made good on last year's New Year's resolutions. Let's take a look back at the resolutions I posted on January 1, 2008.

1. Go for Indian in Artesia. We did it, and found some great eats, but I'd still like to do more.

2. Get to know Brandy. Not yet, but it's coming, really, I swear. Early next year we will introduce a series of Brandy Fridays.

3. Eat East LA. Well, I did do a comparison of two of the big Mexican chains that originated there and checked out Babita, but I never made it to Whittier Boulevard, so we'll chalk that up as a not yet.

4. Go to Seven Grand. We went but decided we liked the Daily Pint better.

5. Find the Best Banh Mi in the OC. Well, we've been to a few since then, but no write ups yet, so not yet for this one.

6. Explore Macallan. I did sample the Cask Strength Macallan, so by a loose definition of the term "explore," I'm going to count it.

7. More Korean Food. This one we hit out of the ball park with visits to Korean Barbecues ChoSun Galbee, Suhrabal, Ham Ji Park and Park's BBQ. We also explored the new Korean Fried Chicken outlets KyoChon, BonChon and Chicken Day. In addition, we checked out the Korean-continental Haus Dessert Boutique and the Korean pizza joint Mr. Pizza Factory.

Overall, out of seven resolutions, I accomplished four and will have another one (brandy) done very soon. I'd say that's not a bad record. If all Americans kept the majority of their resolutions, we'd all be a lot thinner and have less debt.

In addition to all of that, we had a lot of fun this year. I especially enjoyed our trip to Hawaii, our ten part American Whiskey series, our recent Disney Dining review, my daughter's favorite restaurants and my series on classic American whiskey cocktails, not to mention all of my dalliances with the holy trinity of cheese, chocolate and whiskey.

And now it's on to 2009. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dogfish Head Beer in Los Angeles

Did you read the recent New Yorker article about Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and immediately wonder where you could get some of this "extreme" beer? So did I. The answer, for us Southern Californians is Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa (also available through their on-line shipping) or Beverage Warehouse in West LA.

I'm not a beer maven and I won't pretend to be. I prefer my beer distilled into whiskey, but I really liked the three Dogfish brews I was able to pick up at Beverage Warehouse: Midas Touch is the most interesting of the three, a sweet, light brew that includes muscat grapes, honey and saffron which is allegedly based on an ancient analysis of beer remains; Palo Santo Marron is called a brown ale but drinks more like a stout; and 90 Minute IPA is medium bodied with a complex flavor.

Dogfish is obsessed with the history of beer and experimentation which you can find out more about on their site. It's definitely worth a taste.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And a Spammy Christmas to you to Mr. President!

We know the President Elect is a fan of the local favorites of his home state, including Zippy's and Rainbow Drive Inn, but only now do we have evidence of his love of one of my island favorites, Spam musubi.

As reported by the Washington Post in describing a golf game played during Obama's holiday vacation:

About midway through the course, Obama stopped by the snack bar, where he purchased two hot dogs, two passion-orange sodas, one Powerade and one Coke. He also bought two Spam musubi, a sushi-like Hawaiian delicacy consisting of Spam and fried egg on a slab of rice, all held together with a dried seaweed wrap. (He paid a total of $17.75, but it was unclear whether the president-elect ate a Spam musubi.)

Damn straight he ate those musubis. Although, I guess you don't get pecks like these from eating a lot of Spam.

Next week: The year in review.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Chanukah!

I love Chanukah and all of it's oil-soaked glory. What could be better than a holiday in which you are practically required to cook fried foods? The fact that it has a cheese tie in is just gravy.

I love cooking the Chanukah meal and use my well-tested recipes for latkes (with homemade apple sauce) and noodles kugel.

For the second year, I've also tried some doughnuts. Last year, I did little cake doughnuts. This year's batch were glazed yeast doughnuts, but the yeast didn't really do its thing, so they were a bit dense but still tasty.

When Chanukah is this close to Christmas, it's a real hardship for the bi-religious home cook, so soon I'll be mixing up eggnog. We will do traditional Jewish Christmas Eve at a Chinese restaurant (I'll report back) and then I'll be cooking Christmas dinner.

Happy holidays!

Whiskey Wednesday will be back for the new year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Little Egg for your Noggin

I have another guilty pleasure confession to make: I love egg nog. Yes, egg nog is one of those cocktails that is all about the cream and the egg and the milk and not so much about the character of the spirits, a trait which I emphasized in my series on classic whiskey cocktails. But is there anything more comforting than a sweet, thick glass of egg nog around Christmas time?

In general, I don't partake of packaged egg nog, with the exception of Broguiere's lusciously thick and rich nog. But Broguiere's, for me, is more of a dessert and is better consumed straight than cut with alcohol.

For my own alcoholic nog, my go-to recipe is an old Craig Claiborne New York Times recipe that was republished last year. It's full of whipped egg whites and whipped cream such that the resulting nog is like drinking a fluffy, alcoholic cloud. It's so thick, you need to eat it with a spoon; in fact, it probably qualifies as more of a mousse than a nog, but it is heavenly.

Now the Claiborne recipe is wonderful, but it is fairly labor intensive with all the beating and such. For a quicker, thinner but very tasty nog, you can't go wrong with this recipe by cocktail expert Jeffrey Morgenthaler. The most beautiful thing about it is that the whole thing can be made in a blender!

Interestingly, while the NYT article recommends equal parts brandy and Bourbon, Morganthaler uses equal parts brandy and rum. I've tried both of these combinations and they are both delicious. As I noted above, egg nog is really less about spirits and more about sweetness and texture, so in the end, the choice of spirit is less important than in some cocktails.

Now allow me to raise my glass and wish you all good cheer.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pralus Chocolate

Pralus is a French chocolatier that makes single origin bars. Each Pralus bar comes from a single location and uses a single type of bean. On Chocosphere, you can buy variety packs, showcasing all of the bars for $45.95 for 50 gram bars or $8.95 for 5 gram bars. The full-sized 100 gram bars are $8.35 each.

I really loved the Pralus bars. Shockingly, for fine chocolate, the bars ingredients include soy lecithin. Most fine chocolates sneer at such additives, though at least they use only GMO-free soy lecithin. However, I judge by taste, not by purity of additives, and these are good bars. Each bar is 75% cacao.

Just a quick reminder on bean type, since Pralus, unlike many other chocolate makers, uses a variety of beans. Forastero beans are the most common used in bulk commercial chocolate but can be fantastic when handled correctly. Crillo is considered a more gourmet bean and is used in much high-end chocolate. Trinitario is a hybrid of criollo and forastero.

Here are my thoughts on the range:

Papouasie (Papua New Guinea), Trinitario beans
Beautiful, subtle chocolate flavor. Very understated. Dark but not bitter and only a light sweetness.

Indonesie (Indonesia) Criollo beans
Fruit and acid flavor...maybe cherries. Fairly typical of criollos.

Sao Tome (Sao Tome & Principe) Forastero beans
Very nice, earthy with strong olive tones. Reminds me very much of Michel Cluizel's Los Ancones bar which has that similar olive and brine flavor.

Trinidad, Trinitario beans
Very dark, a little bit soapy and earthy. Very low acid.

Venezuela, Trinitario beans
Very Venezuelan. Sweet with some berries and dried fruit. This flavor profile is why Venezuelan chocolate is so popular, though, for my part, I generally prefer some of the darker, earthy chocolates from Africa and the Caribbean.

Tanzanie (Tanzania) Forastero beans
Dried fruit but not too sweet. A nice bar.

Ghana, Forastero beans
Dark, rich, very low acid and low on aromatics. Meaty, evincing beef, poultry and umami flavors. A really fabulous and very different bar.

Madagascar, Criollo
Dark but also acidic, in a generic, non-fruity way. This one lacks balance.

Colombie (Colombia) Trinitario beans
Good flavor, moderate acidity, nice balance, very even keeled.

Equateur (Ecuador) Trinitario beana
Subtle, a slight bit of grittyness though nice flavor.

Overall, I really enjoyed these chocolates. They encompassed a wide range of flavors - from heavily acidic, to fruity, to simply dark, and it was fun to taste some of the non-criollos and taste the differences across bean type and geography. The texture of the bars was generally good and lacked the artificial mouthfeel that can sometimes come with soy lecithin, though none of the bars had the creamy quality that some great bars have. I'd place them in the higher range of chocolate bars generally, though not at the very top.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Whiskey Gifts

It's that time of year again, time for whiskey gift recommendations. Since I spent most of the year on Scotch and American whiskies, I'll make recommendations in each category.

American Whiskey

This has been an amazing year for American whiskey, and just in time for holiday shopping, there is a vast array of high end whiskey on the market. Heaven Hill has released a 27 year old version of its well regarded Parker's Heritage to rave reviews and has 21 and 23 year old versions of Rittenhouse Rye. Buffalo Trace just released its new, always popular Antique Collection, which continues to be one of the best deals in whiskey, with prices ranging from $55 to $85.

For the money though, there isn't a better deal than Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon which runs in the $40 range. This Bourbon is new to California this year. I found it to be refined, subtle and complex. It is a great deal for the price and is my pick as best bang for your buck for a Bourbon gift. Four Roses is widely available at good liquor stores and on-line retailers.

If you're a rye fan and have a slightly larger gift budget, check out the new High West Rye. I haven't posted my review yet (it's coming), but High West rye is made by a Utah company from a blend of two Kentucky high-rye content ryes. It's wonderfully smooth with a strong rye flavor. It goes for about $50. You may have to hunt for it a bit, but it still seems to be available from your better retailers.


Unfortunately, the year hasn't been as great, or at least as accessible, in the world of Scotch. Scotch inflation has gotten so ridiculously out of control that the biggest new releases all seem to go for several thousand dollars. Hey, don't get me wrong. I would love to try some Black or White Bowmore, Highland Park's new 40 year old or the Last Drop Blend, but the stuff just isn't anywhere near my price range. Of the slightly more affordable new releases that have created a buzz, Ardbeg Renaissance is not available in the US and Bruichladdich's super-peated Octomore seems unlikely to reach our shores by the end of the year. For all of these reasons, it was a somewhat disappointing year for Scotch compared to the amazing year American whiskey had.

However, there are still some good gift ideas out there. I absolutely loved the Bruichladdich 15 year old Second Edition with its rugged, maritime notes. It still seems to be out there in the $80 range. This one is a real people-pleaser.

Another new entry in the single malt market that I really enjoyed was Ardmore, which I reviewed just a week ago. This nicely peated, sweet Highlander is in the $30 to $35 range and is now widely available. It's the first time that Ardmore has released a distillery bottling, so there is definitely some novelty to it if you're looking for a fun Scotch gift.

Happy Holidays to all the whiskey fans out there!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

'Tis the Season: Holiday Gifts

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah. It's the season for giving, when I do a service to my reading public and comb through my year of blogging and eating and make gift recommendations from the best stuff I've had. On Wednesday, we will cover whiskey gifts as part of our regular Whiskey Wednesday.

1. Bonbon Bars

This was a year of chocolate for me. Lots of great chocolate. And what makes a finer gift than chocolate. I'd say, of the many great ones I tried this year, the top gift recommendation would be the wonderful, hand made candy bars from Nina Wanat's BonBonBar. As a whiskey lover, I love the Scotch Bar, but every time I give these bars as a gift, the one that gets the most raves is the excellent Caramel Nut Bar, filled with lusciously gooey caramel, nuts and cacao nibs. One commenter wrote, "If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to be reborn as this candy bar." It really does set a new standard for candy bars. Get them here, but order soon because she makes them all by hand and you want to allow some time.

2. Sur La Table Cooking Classes

This is actually a gift I received last year: a Sur La Table gift card intended to be used for a knife skills class. As I reported last month, when I finally got around to using it, I loved everything about the class and am eager to check out their other classes as well. If you know a novice cook who's looking to improve, this is a fabulous gift.

3. Diplomatico Rum

The spirit that blew me away this year was Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum from Venezuela. It's now become fairly available and has a deep, sweet molasses flavor. Really wonderful stuff.

Coming this Wednesday: my whiskey gift recommendations.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Disneyland Wrap Up

My reviews of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure got quite the treatment both in my own comments section and, even moreso, on Chowhound, see here and here. It turns out people are pretty darned passionate about their Disney dining experiences, and I received both criticism and praise for my choices. (I never get that much controversy for posts on the best pupusas).

Anyway, one thing I decided based on people's kind suggestions is that I need to check out the various dining options at the Grand Californian Hotel, the lodge-style hotel directly adjacent to Disney California Adventure, which even has its own entrance to the park. A good review of one of its eateries appears on the site of uber-Disney fan Michael Kaye at Famished LA. He's also done a fabulous review of Club 33, the exclusive, members-only restaurant in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland. It's sort of the Skull & Bones of theme park eateries.

So, consider this an introduction to Disney dining, but our exploration and reviews will continue. Oh, and I hear they have rides too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Ardmore

A lightly peated Highland whisky, Ardmore is an old but little known single malt. For years almost all of its stock went into blends, predominantly Teacher's, a blend popular in the UK but less known in the US. All of that changed when Jim Beam's parent company, Beam Global/Fortune Brands, purchased Ardmore in 2005 along with Laphroaig.

Beam decided it would finally market Ardmore as a single malt. The first bottling came to US retailers only a few months ago but is now widely available, and knowing Beam, you should expect to see more.

First a few production notes. This Ardmore has no age statement. The text on the bottle tube notes that it is matured first in traditional oak barrels and then transferred to smaller, quarter casks. Quarter casks are, essentially, a way to make young whiskey taste older by increasing its exposure to oak. The fact that it's quarter cask matured along with the lack of an age statement indicates that there are likely some very young whiskies in this bottle. Please note that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

Also, given that it explicitly says it's non-chill filtered, but doesn't mention coloring, I'm guessing that caramel color is added. If a distillery were going to brag about its malt being non-chill filtered, it would likely brag about not having added color as well, if it could.


Ardmore, Peated, non-chill filtered 46% alcohol ($33.95).

Nice, light nose, fruit and peat. Very good flavor follow-up on the aroma. Smooth, definite peat along with some nice fruit and sweetness; in the end, sweetness wins out over peat. This is a highly drinkable whiskey, similar in character to the BenRiach Curiositas but with less peat and overall better balance.

This is a promising first bottle for a new malt on our shelves. I look forward to what the future holds at Ardmore.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Mediocrest Place on Earth - Disney Dining Part 2: Disney California Adventure

Welcome to part two of our series on Disneyland Park dining in which we delve into Disney California Adventure. (See here for part one). Since its lackluster opening in 2001, Disney California Adventure has been the Rodney Dangerfield of theme parks, getting so much criticism and so little respect that Disney finally caved in and started a major revamp this year. Personally, I've always liked DCA, and in dining terms, California Adventure is significantly better, on average, than its mousy counterpart, and there's booze to boot.

Like Disneyland, Disney California Adventure is divided into different themed lands, but the lands at DCA are a bit less defined. I will group the eateries by location but also try to give some description of where they are. As with my Disneyland reviews, this list in not exhaustive and includes only food within the park, so no Downtown Disney and no hotel food (sorry Napa Rose). One additional note, due to the refurbishment of the Park, there have been some closures and others are expected.


If you take a right at the park entrance, there will be a number of eateries leading up to the excellent Soarin' Over California ride, including the basic but decent Bakers' Field Bakery and Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream (serving Dreyer's ice cream).

Taste Pilots' Grill

The aviation themed Taste Pilots' Grill, adjacent to Soarin' Over California, serves ribs, chicken and burgers with big waffle fries and onion rings. Usually Disney just mangles this type of food, but the pork ribs are pretty decent, and I like both the rings and waffle fries. This is definitely one of the more edible choices in either park.


Paradise Pier is the boardwalk-style area located near Paradise Bay. The Golden State eateries are adjacent to the pier in the wharf area which appears to be modeled after some combination of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and the Monterey Cannery district.

Corndog Castle

I've written up Corndog Castle before, in its own right, and as I explained last week, I think their corndogs are better than the similar ones on Main Street in Disneyland. These giant dogs are fried to perfection, creating a non-uniform crust that bulges at the top and tapers down to the stick. The batter has a great sweet corn taste that melds well with the dog juice, and the texture is just right -- crisp on the outside and corn bread/cakey underneath. I like the hot link best, but the original dog is also excellent. This humble dog is probably the best single dish in either park, so don't miss it. My only quarrel with the Castle is that, like many Disney dining establishments, they don't open until 11:00 a.m., and I'm usually craving one of these babies by 10:30.

Burger Invasion/McDonalds

The only chain fast food restaurant in the park, this McDonalds at the edge of Paradise Pier is cleverly disguised as something called Burger Invasion. Did someone think this would fool us? Did they think people would think that Disney has its own restaurant that just happens to serve Big Macs? Despite the fact that this is a McDonalds, as I noted last week, Disney makes some of the worst burgers in the world, so if you must have a burger, this might be your best bet, though it is currently closed as part of the refurbishment.

The Boudin Bakery Tour

Boudin bakery has a stand in the wharf area which is the equivalent of what you'd find in their airport stores with fresher bread, which they bake on premises. The food is fine, but I really enjoyed the Boudin Bakery tour. While peering through glass at the actual breadmaking process, you are guided by a series of videos, starring Rosie O'Donnell, which do a nice job of explaining the elements of sourdough bread baking. The Boudin Bakery and Tour are scheduled to close February 9 for the refurbishment, so catch it now if you're interested.

The Mission Tortilla Tour

The Mission Tortilla tour is similar to the Boudin tour but less informative, though you do get to see the tortilla machines in operation. At the end of the tour, you get a fresh tortilla (sometimes corn, sometimes flour), and heck, even a Mission tortilla is pretty darned good when served hot off the press.

Rita's Margaritas

Outside the Boudin Bakery is Rita's margarita stand. It may seem tempting to walk around the park holding a margarita, but resist that temptation. These frozen, fluorescent concoctions are to margaritas as Disneyland's "mint julep" drinks, which I discussed last week, are to real mint juleps, with the exception that the Disney margaritas at least have alcohol in them, or so they claim. These are syrupy sweet and artificial tasting slushies with little redeeming value. AVOID.


Award Wieners

The only proper food in the Hollywood Backlot section of DCA is the unfortunately named Award Wieners hot dog stand. I thought this sounded promising given the great dogs at Corndog Castle, but alas, it was not to be. These dogs were totally lackluster, cooked to a sickly, wrinkled state and served in stale buns. I had a plain dog and a BBQ, the latter of which was covered with an overly sweet BBQ sauce and a few sad onions. If you want a dog, head to the Castle.


A Bug's Land is a toddler-friendly land based on the 1998 Pixar film A Bug's Life in which the mean grassphooper, Hopper, tries to enslave a colony of friendly ants. In a perfect world, A Bug's Land would feature Hopper's Chapulines stand. Well, needless to say, it doesn't, but there is a half-way decent ice cream place called San Andreas Shakes, serving flurries and shakes made from soft serve. I like it, but I'm sort of a sucker for soft serve, shakes and flurries.

Now's the Time to Say Goodbye

Well, I hope you have enjoyed our guide to culinary survival at the Disney parks. I know haven't tried every single eatery and have even missed some landmarks like Ariel's Grotto (my family went without me and refused to return on a subsequent visit, which I took as a bad sign) and Wine Country Trattoria. If I missed something good or even vaguely edible, please let me know.

Friday, December 5, 2008

New Whiskey Minute: Japanese Whiskey

We have a new Whiskey Minute up on YouTube covering Japanese whiskey and featuring an intervew with YouTube celebrity Ken Tanaka.

And don't miss Ken's video of his trip to the Yamazaki distillery.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Domori Chocolate

Domori is an Italian chocolate producer which makes chocolate from a number of different beans, mostly from Venezuela. Domori has both a criollo line, made from 100% criollo beans, and a cru line, made from a blend of criollo, trinitario and nacional beans.

Just a quick note on bean type, since Domori cru uses a blend of beans. Forastero beans are the most common used in bulk commercial chocolate. Crillo is considered a more gourmet bean and is used in much high-end chocolate. Trinitario is a hybrid of criollo and forastero. Nacional beans are a rare South American cacao varietal.

I tried three Domori varieties, two criollo and one cru.

Domori Puertofino, Venezulea, criollo 70% cacao ($4.95 for 0.9 oz. bar).
Nice flavor but somewhat indistinct, some vegetal and soil notes, mushrooms.

Domori Porcelana, Venezuela, criollo, 70% cacao ($4.95 for 0.9 oz. bar).
Beautiful, perfume nose. Dark and stormy with some fruit (berries). Mouthfeel is nice and creamy.

Domori Rio Caribe Superior, Venezuela, Cru, 70% ($7.95 for 2.64 oz.bar).
Huge nose with fruit and chocolate. Rich and complex with dried fruit throughout. Creamy but not oily mouthfeel. Really superb.

I tend to like blends better than single origin or single bean chocolates and Domori's bars are no exception. The cru bar had more complexity than the 100%criollos which tended to be rather one dimensional.

Overall, I liked Domori's bars but wouldn't rank them among my very favorites.

Next week in chocolate: Pralus Chocolate

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Great Deal North of Scotland

What would you say if I told you I knew where you could get a 42 year old Scotch whiskey for around $150? What would you say if I further told you that this 42 year old was from a shuttered distillery? What's the catch, you'd ask skeptically. Well, there is a slight catch. This particular Scotch is a single grain whiskey, North of Scotland single grain whiskey bottled by Scott's Selection to be exact and last time I checked there were at least five bottles of it on the shelf of Wine & Liquor Depot at Van Nuys for $151.

North of Scotland Distillery was a grain whiskey distillery that ran from 1958 until 1980. Its stocks are currently owned by Diageo. The bottle from Scott's Selection was distilled in 1964 and weighs in at 45.7% alcohol.

Oh, I know what your saying. You wouldn't even pay $100 for a grain whiskey. That's the cheap stuff, the stuff they stick into blends to lower the price. Well, this grain whiskey is different. It is a truly beautiful whiskey that I would rank up there with some of the finest Scotches I've had.

The nose carries lovely notes of caramel, Bourbon and fruit. The flavor has a corn sweetness and a rye spice. It has all the flavor of a Bourbon or rye with all the complexity of a Scotch whiskey. There is shockingly little wood for something that's been sitting in the barrel for that long.

If you've never been a grain drinker, and especially if you like Bourbon and rye as well as malt whiskey, take a chance on North of Scotland. And thanks to the LA Scotch Club for exposing me to this fine stuff.

Next Wednesday: Ardmore

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Mediocrest Place on Earth - Disney Dining Part 1: Disneyland

Ah Disneyland, home to fun and adventure for children of all ages. The happiest place on earth...except when it's time to eat, when it becomes a minefield of overpriced mediocrity and downright horribility. Is it possible to find great food in Disneyland? Not really...but there is the better and the worse. As a fairly regular guest, I thought I would share my experiences in Disney dining and help you identify the pitfalls and possibly, a few hidden gems.

This week we will focus on the the popular Disneyland Park and next week, we will cover the less popular though in my estimation underrated Disney California Adventure, but first, a few helpful eating tips for both parks.

Tips for the Hungry Mouse

1. You can bring outside food into the park. That's right, you can bring food from home or elsewhere and eat it in the park. Technically, you are not supposed to actually enter the park with outside food, but should eat it at the front picnic area, but I've never had a problem setting up at one of the outdoor restaurant tables with a sandwich. (There is a Lee's Sandwiches that opens at 7:00 a.m. just a few miles from the park on Harbor Blvd.) Even if I don't bring a full meal, I usually bring some healthy snacks so I have some alternative to the high priced goodies that tempt you throughout the park.

2. Bring water. Even if you don't bring food or snacks, there is no reason to pay Disney prices for water. I usually bring at least a bottle per person. If you freeze them the night before, they stay pretty cool most of the day.

3. Avoid Hamburgers. Even at the places I say are decent, do not order hamburgers. I don't know what Disney does to their hamburger patties but they are revolting, grey discs that have no place between a bun. Anton Ego would not swallow.

4. Remember the First Corollary of Disney Dining: Nothing is Great/Everything is Expensive. You will have a better time if you accept this rule. As a food blogger, I suspend my usual standards when I enter the Magic Kingdom. There are a few good bites, but no amazing finds, and sweets tends to be better than savories. Just repeat the rule to yourself: Nothing is Great/Everything is Expensive. You'll live to eat another day.

5. Reserve a table. At some choice dining spots, particularly the Blue Bayou at Disneyland and Ariel's Grotto at California Adventure, reservations are required. Call Disney Dining at (714) 781-DINE.

6. Disney is dry/California Adventure is wet. You won't find alcohol for sale at Disneyland park, but you will find it at California Adventure.

And now for the food, by Disney location. First a few caveats for both this list and next week's. This list is by no means exhaustive but reflects some of the things I have experimented with, for good or ill, over the years. Also, it covers only food within the park, not Downtown Disney or food at any of the hotels.


About that corndog cart

The only single Disneyland food that gets buzz among foodies is the corndog cart on Mainstreet USA. Even Jonathan Gold has sung the praises of the little red wagon. It's located on the right side of Main Street, from the direction of the entrance, right before you hit the Carnation Cafe. When done well, these things are indeed wonderful...a perfectly fried, sweet and chewy cornmeal coating, hand dipped such that it bulges at the top and locks in the hot dog juice. Of late, however, they have had a problem with the grease having a rancid odor, a smell that makes me nauseous before I even bite into the dog. If you can smell the grease before you can see the cart, you may want to pop across to Disney California Adventure's Corndog Castle, which I will cover next week. Same dog, fresh grease.


New Orleans Square has some of the most promising food in the park, as you might expect from an area that is named after one of America's most prominent gastronomic destinations.

Blue Bayou

One of the most sought after seats at the Disney table, the Blue Bayou's main draw is the location. It is situated inside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which gives you the feeling of dining alongside a bayou at night. It's fun to sit and watch the pirate boats pass by. The food is mostly mediocre, but they do serve one of the last great Monte Cristo sandwiches. I love a Monte Cristo...ham, cheese and turkey on white bread, battered and fried and served with jam. The BB does a near perfect version of this classic. My biggest beef with the Bayou is that the food is ludicrously expensive, and this includes the Monte Cristo which weighs in at almost $20 (although it is big enough to easily feed two). Overall, the BB is a great thing to do once, but call in advance for reservations, (714)781-DINE, because it fills up.

Cafe Orleans

For the food of the Blue Bayou without the fun of eating inside a ride, Cafe Orleans is a table service restaurant with a similar menu, including the vaunted Monte Cristo, and reservations are not required.

French Market Restaurant

The French Market Restaurant is a decent cafeteria style restaurant right next to Cafe Orleans. They do a fine fried chicken, and I like the pork on the BBQ pork po-boy, though the bread is perpetually stale.

At the service window on the patio of the French Market you can get little apple dumplings and the popular "mint julep" which is also served at the Cafe Orleans and the Bayou. Now, as a fan of real mint juelps, I have to say that I am deeply offended that anyone would call this non-alcoholic, fluorescent green elixir that smells and tastes like something you would polish furniture with, a mint julep. I don't know what it is; I don't know that I want to know what it is, but it certainly does not contain mint or Bourbon and therefore, has no business being called a mint julep.

Royal Street Veranda

The Royal Street Veranda is a window near the Pirates ride which serves clam chowder and gumbo in a sourdough bowl. It's not bad when doused with Tabasco (think a decent canned soup in a Boudin boule) and pretty quick if you are trying to get on with your day at the park without a long lunch break.


Tomorrowland Terrace

The futuristic Tomorrowland Terrace is a large circular stand at the center of Tomorrowland. In the world of tomorrow, food will apparently have lost all redeeming value and have been reduced to tasteless burgers, wilted lettuce and flavorless chicken sandwiches. Tomorrowland Terrace may be the worst food in Disneyland, which is saying a lot...AVOID, AVOID, AVOID.

Redd Rockett's Pizza Port

Big slices of pizza and pasta are available at the Space Mountain adjacent Redd Rockett's. It's pretty similar to a Sbarro or similar mall-Italian place. They do have some decent pastas with some nice garlic in the sauce. Pizza Port is a pretty safe bet in the otherwise dangerous culinary world of Tomorrowland.


Bengal Barbecue

I'd heard some good recommendations for the satay-style skewered meats at Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. The skewers looked like satay, but they were salty, really, really salty. I won't be returning.

Tiki Juice Bar

One of the few places you can get a Dole Whip outside of Hawaii is in the juice bar outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Personally, I'm not fan of these popular tropical fruit sherbets which come out of the soft-serve machine. They have an artificial/chemical taste I find off-putting, but if that's your thing, you can get it here. Now, an Enchanted Tiki Bar, that would be cool.


There are lots of carts that serve food at multiple locations around the park...here's a guide to just a few of them.


Disneyland does a pretty decent churro. They are crispy on the outside, chewy within...my standard Disney breakfast.

Ice Cream Bars

There are carts all over both parks selling various ice cream novelties such as mouse shaped ice cream sandwiches, frozen bananas and chocolate covered Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. Most of these are pretty decent. I particularly like the chocolate covered Mickey Mouse bar. The chocolate is rich and the ice cream isn't too sweet. However, these ice cream bars come with two caveats: (1) Do not read the ingredient list...just don't; (2) I don't know what Disney uses in their freezer carts, but these things are hard as rocks. Seriously, you could chip a tooth on one of these things...or kill someone if you threw it hard enough. I literally wait 15 minutes before eating one of these mouse-eared treats, maybe less on a really sweltering summer day.

Well, I hope that will help you avoid the bad and seek out some of the good on your next trip to Disneyland. The food is actually a bit better at Disney California Adventure, which we will review next week, so stay tuned Disney diners.

UPDATE: See this entry and extensive comments on Chowhound.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: A Little Tennessee for your Turkey

For Thanksgiving, I thought I'd return to the US and try a little Tennessee with my turkey.

In my Tennessee Smackdown, George Dickel put Jack Daniels in a headlock and ruthlessly banged him against the mat. Given my love of Dickel, I opted to check out the more refined Barrel Select bottling from our friend George.


George Dickel Tennessee Whisky Barrel Select, 43% alcohol, owned by Diageo ($35.99).

Now I was a big fan of Dickel number 12, but this more expensive cousin just doesn't do it for me. It tastes for all the world like a watered down version of No. 12, and at 43% abv compared to Number 12's 46%, maybe it is. Who ever heard of paying more for less alcohol? Sheesh.

Is this sweeter, lighter version of Dickel and attempt to mimic Gentleman Jack? Come to think of it, the rounded flask style Barrel Select bottle resembles the Gent's own bottle. Oh George, don't feel like you need to mimic your rich, ultra-popular Tennessee cousin. You're better than that! Jack may have the money, but you've got the flavor.

That being said, Dickel Barrel Select is still better than any Jack, but for my part, I'll save $15 and stick with old number 12.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Welcome to the Chocosphere

Now that the weather finally seems to be cooling down a bit in Southern California, I can return to my favorite obsession of the cool months: mail order chocolate.

As you know, one of my many obsessions is fine chocolate, and there is no better place to get great chocolate bars than Chocosphere.com.

Portland, Oregon based Chocosphere has an utterly amazing array of chocolate brands. We're not just talking big names like Valrhona, Michel Cluizel and Scharffen Berger but also hard to find bars like Amedei, Bonnat and Askinosie. Currently, they offer chocolate from nearly 50 producers. You won't find most of this stuff on sale anywhere in LA.

And Chocosphere has fantastic customer service. They will consult the weather and pack your chocolates accordingly, a big plus for someone who lives in a climate that can suddenly turn summer-hot in November. And if they have any shipping or other concerns about your order, they will call you personally and fill you in. It's the type of personalized service you don't see at many internet based companies, and it makes all the difference.

Over the next few weeks, I'll post reviews of my latest Chocosphere shipment which included some Italian Domori and French Pralus bars. Mmmm, autumnal chocolate; the (bitter)sweet season is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Chosen Kalbi

Of the biggest, most often mentioned Korean BBQs, one of the only ones I'd never ventured to was ChoSun Galbee. ChoSun is a giant, cavernous place, full of side rooms of various sizes. It's staffed by an army of fast moving attendants who seem to have a strict division of labor (only the grill lighter lights the grill, etc.). The crowd is distinctly more diverse than most Koreatown BBQs (i.e. not 100% Korean), and the look is a bit more on the upscale side.

Panchan at ChoSun were plentiful and pretty good, but not particularly impressive (I do have a weekspot for fried fishcake, which they did very well). As with most Korean BBQs, it is really the meat that tells the tale and ChoSun had excellent meat.

We started with one of my favorites, ross gui, thin slices of unmarinated beef. I love the buttery goodness of Gui, quick-fried on the buttered grill then doused with the sesame oil/salt mixture that accompanies it. ChoSun had some of the best Gui I've had, and that includes Soot Bull Jeep and Dong Il Jang (which specializes in Gui). It was melt in your mouth delicious, smooth and carrying that wonderful buttery-beefy taste that is the essence of ross gui.

We moved on to the ChoSun Galbee, because how can you not order the signature dish? The galbee was plump, fatty and very lightly seasoned. I liked it but I wouldn't put it in the category of one of my favorites.

In terms of meat quality, I would definitely put ChoSun up their with Park's, though I still prefer the overall experience at Park's. Being a gui fan though, I will definitely be returning to ChoSun.

ChoSun Galbee
3330 W. Olympic Boulevard (one block west of Western)
Los Angeles, California 90019

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Forty Creek

For our first Canadian Whiskey of the entire Whiskey Wednesday series, we try one of the most acclaimed Canadians (to the extent that any Canadian is acclaimed), Forty Creek Barrel Select.

Forty Creek is made by Kittling Ridge, a winery and distillery in the Niagara area of south Ontario. Independently owned, Kittling Ridge makes wine as well as a wide variety of spirits including brandy, liqueurs, rum and vodka as well as Forty Creek, a blended Canadian whiskey.

Forty Creek has won some accolades and certainly has sought to separate itself from the ocean of Crown Royals and Canadian Clubs. Let's give it a try.


Forty Creek Barrel Select, (Kittling Ridge Distillery) 40% alcohol ($20.99).

The nose is very distinct...fruity and sweet, more like a Cognac or even a rum than a whiskey. The whiskey is light on the tongue. It's syrupy though not as sweet as I would have guessed from the nose, and you can definitely taste the influence of the sherry casks along with a strong caramel flavor. I'm guessing it's mostly corn because I didn't detect anything in the way of rye flavor. The lightness is such that it almost evaporates on the palate leaving very little in the way of finish except for a quick but pleasant woodiness on the way down.

The lightness and the character make this a very different drink than the whiskies I'm used to. In some ways, I don't know quite what to make of the stuff. It's pleasant enough but doesn't really satisfy me with the full flavors I expect of a Bourbon or Scotch.

While I have no immediate plans to try new Canadians, I have been on the lookout for interesting ones and will hopefully sample more in the future.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Meals Fit for a King...or a Super Giro

I love my neighborhood for its diversity of cuisine. I sit smack in the middle of enormous Korean, Thai, Central American and Filipino populations. Within five blocks, I can walk to tons of pupuserias (including the best pupuseria in LA), Korean BBQs, and countless other spots. But the one thing my neighborhood is lacking is great tacos, tortas and other Mexican staples.

We have some of the best Oaxacan food around, which is great, but sometimes, you just want a great taco or torta stuffed with the carnitas and al pastor in the style of the western states of Jalisco and Michoacan.

What I really should do is finally get serious about East LA and do some Whittier Boulevard or Huntington Park exploration, but I haven't yet, so I get really excited when I get somewhere where there is a King Taco, and recently, I've added the popular Gallo Giro to my list.

El Gallo Giro [GUY-oh HE-ro] is a 20 year old chain which now has multiple locations, mostly in eastern LA, but also Long Beach, Van Nuys and Santa Ana. They do traditional Mexican fare: tacos, tortas, fabulous aguas frescas and pastries.

King Taco is in many ways a similar institution, dating back to the '70s and serving tacos and burritos to a crowd of hardcore taco fans from its outlets across LA County. In Long Beach there is a King Taco nearly a block away from a Gallo Giro, so I was able to try both and do a little compare and contrast. Being a porketarian, I concentrated on the al pastor and carnitas.

Al Pastor

The Gallo Giro al pastor was nicely spiced, but the King Taco pastor blew it away. The spicing on the KT pastor was above and beyond. Not only chili, but great seasoning with almost a bit of sweetness to it.


If KT wins the al pastor award, Gallo Giro takes it for carnitas. Their carnitas were crisp and oh, so juicy, if a bit on the fatty side. The KT carnitas were fairly standard.


Both establishments serve excellent salsas. The red salsa at KT was spicier and I think the KT green was my favorite, but Gallo Giro's salsa were also quite good.

El Gallo Giro has great aquas frescas (loved the pineapple) and a panaderia, though I didn't try any baked goods.

El Gallo Giro also has daily specials, including the family pack: meat, rice, beans, tortillas and a liter soda for $15. Now, during a recession, that deal makes El Gallo a true hero.

So whether your a King or a Hero, there's good stuff (and pork) all around.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Cut Above: Knife Skills Class at Sur La Table

Even though I love to cook and do a fair amount of it, I seldom write about it on the blog. Why? Because I am an ambitious but totally self-trained cook. I have terrible technique; the only things I know I learned from reading Julia or watching Alton.

About a year ago, I was trying to go all Iron Chef on some cantaloupe and I cut my thumb so badly that I had to visit the emergency room to get it stitched up. The next Christmas I received a well intended Sur La Table gift card to be used for a knife skills class (regular price, $70).

Well, it took me almost a year to get to it, but I finally signed up for a class at the SLT at the Third and Fairfax Farmers Market, and I'm so glad I did.

Super-animated but down to earth instructor Tina Rogers started with the basics of knives: the different knife types, sharpening and honing and proper handling. After that, she gave us demos of the basic cuts and hints about how to improve technique, subsequently setting us loose with the knives to try it all out. We sliced, diced and julienned to our hearts' content using everything from ceramics to santokus to big old Shuns.

Rogers was a great instructor with a good sense of humor who was game to answer any question, relevant or not, and I literally learned at least a dozen things that will improve my game in the cutting world. While there was a "shopping break" for which to use our complimentary 15% off coupon, there wasn't any hard sell, and in fact, Rogers was less than enthusiastic about the world of $300 knives and unnecessary knife accessories.

During the class, our beautifully cut food was carted away to the front kitchen where it was turned into a pasta dinner that we enjoyed, with wine, after the class. Considering this, and the fact that during the class there were ample snacks and bottled water, it's a pretty good deal for $70.

Now, I've got to admit, I'm not a Sur La Table fan. Let's face it, you can get pretty much everything they sell for at least half the price at Cost Plus or Surfas, but this class was both fun and gave me new skills. The next day, when I chopped up apples for my baby daughter, I took the opportunity to give her nicely julienned strips.

The Sur La Table culinary program, which is only available at selected stores, includes a number of interesting sounding classes including baking, holiday meals, sauces and even molecular gastronomy. Some classes, like knife skills, are hands on, but others are demos, so check that out when you sign up. Tina Rogers seems to teach knife skills about once a month, but sign up early because they do fill up.

Given how much I enjoyed this class, I know I'll sign up for more. Until then, I plan to engage in lots of injury free cutting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Oh, Canada

I've been writing about whiskey for a year and a half and nary a drop of Canadian whisky has touched my palate. In many ways, Canadian whisky is treated as the ugly stepchild of the whiskey world; Americans treat Canadian whisky the same way they tend to treat the nation itself, pretty much ignoring its very existence. American whiskey publications seem to write more about Japanese whisky than Canadian, even though there are only two Japanese whiskies available in the US while Canadian is widely available.

So what is Canadian whisky and does it deserve to be passed over like so much cold poutin? Is there more to it than Crown Royal and Canadian Club? We will spend the next few weeks answering those questions, but first, the traditional Recent Eats whisky primer:

What is Canadian Whisky?

Well, Canadian whisky is whisky from Canada...pretty much any whisky from Canada. Per Canadian law, Canadian whisky is a spirit distilled from cereal grains which is aged in wood for at least three years. Canadian whisky may contain caramel coloring.

Canadian whiskies are mostly blends of different grains, though there are now some single malts being made in Canada, most notably Glen Breton, made by the Glenora distillery in Nova Scotia (which, of course, means "New Scotland") as well as a few single grains.

One element unique to Canadian whisky is that under the law, it can contain 9.09% flavoring agents. Those agents are often other spirits (Bourbon or Brandy are common) but could be anything, including vanilla, sugar or fruit juice. This is something that really sticks in the whiskey lovers' craw, as the idea of fruit juice or sugar in whisky seems designed to cover up the flavor of a substandard spirit. Of course, not all Canadian whisky uses flavoring additives, and particularly some of the newer Canadians are leaving this suspect practice behind.

Isn't Canadian Whisky the Same as Rye?

No. Well, at least not in the way we use the term in the US. Long ago, most Canadian whisky was rye-based, so people started calling it rye, and eventually all Canadian whisky became known as rye. This nomenclature has been preserved in Canadian law which uses the terms Canadian Whisky, Canadian Rye Whisky and Rye Whisky. However, nowadays, rye is not a central ingredient in most Canadian whisky, and the term just serves to confuse the stuff with American rye whiskey, which is actually rye-based.

That being said, there are a few Canadian whiskies that are still rye-based, including Alberta Premium, one of the well reviewed new Canadians.

What does Canadian Whisky Taste Like?

Canadian Whisky is known for being light, sweet and fruity. This is another reason that it tends to be looked down upon by serious whisky drinkers. Whether this reputation bears out is something we will have to see for ourselves.

Over the next few weeks we will sip a few Canadians and see what our frozen cousins from the north have to offer.

Next Wednesday: Forty Creek

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The New NBC - Proud as a Peacock

NBC Seafood, in Monterey Park, has long been my favorite of the giant-palace variety of dim sum places. For the past couple of years, the strip mall in which it is located has been in the process of being very slowly dismantled, and the parking lot was a complete mess. Still, I regularly braved it for the excellent dim sum. Then, about a month ago, it closed down and the rumor spread that it had been sold. When a beloved eatery is sold, I always get a nervous chill down my spine. Will it stay the same? Will the new owners ruin a good thing? Okay, it's not that there aren't plenty of other great dim sum places in LA, but NBC is something special.

Well, this week was the grand opening, so we headed over this morning to see how NBC faired. What we noticed immediately was that the place looked better. The rundown old palace had received a paint job, a new sign and some better looking linens. The old, somewhat lackluster staff had been replaced by a more attentive and service-oriented group of staffers. Rumors had been that the new NBC had forsaken carts in favor of a Sea Harbor/Elite style menu system, but carts abounded.

But how was the food? Well, it wasn't the same. In fact, it was better. Ingredients were higher quality, shrimp were plumper and the cart dim sum were much fresher. The danger of cart dim sum, of course, is that the food sits on the carts for hours, but here, the cart food seemed fresh out of the oven. Pork buns glistened; there was shen jian bao, look fun and all the old favorites along with some new. For dessert there was a much improved yellow, sponge cake and cream buns filled with a purple yam paste. The only things I missed from the original NBC were the original cream buns and the duck. NBC's duck was always succulent, greasy and dripping with fat and jus. The new duck was still good, but a bit dry.

Overall, I was very impressed by the new NBC. For the most part, it retained the good and even improved it. I'll look forward to further sampling their menu.

NBC Seafood
404 S Atlantic Blvd (south of Garvey)
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-2323

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Good & Goaty: Andante Acappella

Andante Dairy in Petaluma, California is the one woman project of the musically inclined Soyoung Scanlan who has been making cheese for 10 years. Andante makes cow, goat and sheep cheeses.

I was very impressed with a small ash covered round of her Acappella goat cheese which I picked up at the Cheese Store of Silverlake. This aged cheese had an intense goaty flavor, though not in a barnyard sort of way. It was sharp and intense in the way that aged goat cheese can be when it's at its best, with the creamy consistency of a soft cow cheese. This little round packs an excellent punch.

I will be excited to try her other products.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Gone Votin'

Sku has been shipped out to a battleground state for the election. He'll see you after November 4 when we will continue the eating and drinking!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The First Rule of Halloween

With Halloween begins my fall/winter bacchanal. Halloween candy followed by Thanksgiving turkey, Channukah latkes, and the many sweets and treats leading up to Christmas and New Year's (ah, to be a polyreligious eater). It's a fun time, but these are important traditions, and gosh darn it, there are rules.

Rule Number One of Halloween: Give chocolate. I know you see that pack of 5,000 Dum Dum Pops sitting alluringly on the shelf of the 99 Cent Store, but come on. If you were a kid would you want to end up with a bunch of Dum Dum Pops? It's only once a year, cough up the dough for some Snickers, mini-Hersey's or M&Ms. Even one of those micro-sized half-bite Snickers is better than a Dum Dum.

Okay, I'll give you half-credit for Skittles, Starburst, Milk Duds, Juji Fruit, candy corn and Tootsie Rolls because at least they are real candies, but it still ain't chocolate.

And remember kids, do what this guy says and stay safe:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Smoke-Free Islay

Islay, of course, is an island off the west coast of Scotland, known among malt fanatics as the vaunted producer of such peated Scotches as Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Caol Ila. But Islay has always had a less smoky side, represented chiefly by Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain. Caol Ila, as well, is now making a delightful non-peated malt.

Lately, however, the formerly non-peated Bruichladdich seems to be vying for the title of master of peat. First they issued the peated 3D, then their well reviewed Port Charlotte series, and now, they are on the cusp of releasing Octomore, billed as the most heavily peated Scotch ever.

With all of this smoke (mirrors anyone?), it's sometimes hard to remember that Bruichladdich used to be known as one of the lowest peated whiskies on the peatey island of Islay. Indeed, this prolific distillery still produces a number of low-peat items, and we will try one of those today.


Bruichladdich 15 years old, Second Edition, non-chill filtered, no color added, 46% alcohol ($79.99).

This is a rockin' good malt. I thought it would be milder, blander, but it's rugged and complex, with good wood, malt, a pinch of salt and just the slightest trace of smoke...very maritime. I'd compare it to Old Pulteney. The mouthfeel is heavy and dense, in an interesting way. This stuff is anything but light, but it's darn good. I may have to dig deeper into the vast selection of 'Laddies.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stuffing the Chili at Babita

The beautiful thing about Mexican stuffed chilis is biting into a pepper and getting something unexpected, be it cheese, meat or, with my favorite chilis en nogada, sweet nuts and raisins.

Much the same could be said for Babita restaurant, which, from the look of its exterior, seems an unlikely venue for one of the most creative Mexican kitchens in Southern California. Babita is housed in a dumpy little house on an unassuming stretch of San Gabriel Boulevard north of the I-10 freeway in San Gabriel. But open the doors and you see white table cloths, a sophisticated menu and a dedicated and enthusiastic chef who will seat you and take your order before the waitress has a chance to say hi. ("I'm always too late," she noted when we told her that the chef had already taken our order).

Chilis and refined sauces are the emphasis at Babita - nuts, moles and the interplay between sweet and spicy are recurring motifs. Two of the best dishes we had were daily specials. A soup duo of carrot and pecan soups, served elegantly with sour cream and chilis en nogada was rich and showed a wonderful contrast between the ingredients. "Don't eat the soups together," the chef cautioned, "because that would be a soup that doesn't exist." On second thought, he added, "but when I give it to you it's yours and you can do what you want with it." We tried them both together and separate. He was right, they were better separate.

I was pleased to find that one of my favorites was also on special. Chilis en nogada is a chili stuffed with raisins and nuts, topped with a walnut cream sauce and tangy pomegranate seeds. The version at Babita, fresh and clean tasting without being too sweet, was on of the best I've had.

Not every dish we had was a winner, but they all had glimmers of brilliance. My fillet mignon was unimpressive, but the pool of tamarind tinged mole poblano it sat on was delicious, and the tiny chili relleno and fried quail eggs that topped it were superb.

There is something so endearing about this place. I love the creativity and energy of Babita as well as the unassuming nature of its exterior. I'm already thinking about what I'll get when I return.

Babita Mexicuisine
1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 288-7265

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Books for the Baby Foodie

Looking for a perfect gift for your foodie friends who have a young child? Want to give your own little kids some early culinary education? Check out the works of Amy Wilson Sanger.

Sanger has written and illustrated a number of kid's books about great food. Each little board book is a poem dealing with a style of food cleverly illustrated with paper cut-outs.

For my own little one, I've got the First Book of Sushi:

Ikura, squishy salmon roe
like dabby dots of jelly,
salty on my lips and yummy in my belly

and Yum Yum Dim Sum

Why, oh why, my little siu mai,
why do I love you so?
What treasure hides,
jing cha siu bao,
pillowed in your dough?

Other titles available include Chaat and Sweets and Hola Jalapeno. Each book goes for just $6.95 on Amazon. It's the perfect gift for the 0-4 set at the sushi bar near you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Three Old Broras

Wow! Today I review Broras, and not just one Brora, but three Broras. I feel like Serge over at Whiskyfun. Maybe I should start including concert reviews.

Why Brora and why now? Well, it's depressing economic times, so I decided to reach back into my closet for some of the most expensive stuff I own. Consider it a sort of goodbye to the luxuries we may not be able to enjoy for a while.

To the uninitiated and unobsessed, Brora is one of the fabled shuttered distilleries of Scotland. Opened by the Clynelish distillery in order to produce a more peated malt, Brora operated only from 1969 to 1983, and the peating level became lower in the '80s. Now, Brora is an obsession with malt-heads and collectors. Among the shuttered distilleries, only Port Ellen rivals its popularity, which is pretty impressive for a distillery that was around for less than fifteen years.

Most Brora on the market is from indie bottlers. Diageo, which owns Clynelish, inherited the old stock of Brora and annually releases some as part of what it used to call its Rare Malts series; they usually make it to the US just in time for Christmas. Today, I'll be trying two indie bottlings (both by Douglas Laing and one of the Diageo releases.

Since the distillery closed 25 years ago, all Brora is old Brora. And, as a corollary, all Brora is expensive. The cheapest one I've seen was about $165 and the Diageo bottlings go for $375 to $400.

Could Brora possibly be worth the hype? I tried a Signatory Brora years ago and found it fairly unexciting. When a whiskey makes it big on the collector's market, it's hard to tell how much of its popularity has to do with flavor and how much has to do with scarcity. On the other hand, I love Clynelish, so I'm excited to see what these three are like.

None of these bottlings uses artificial color or chill filtering.


1. Douglas Laing's Premier Barrel Brora, 23 years old, single cask, sherry cask matured, 46% alcohol ($214.95).

I'm not sure if the kitschy look of the Premier Barrel series of Douglas , with its ceramic bottle, is intended to be tongue in cheek or not, but it certainly is interesting. (The series also includes bottlings of Port Ellen, Springbank and Macallan). The bottle text is full of playful alliteration. To wit, the Brora is described as:

Prodigiously provisioned to purveyors and proprietors of probity, for an absolute appreciation in abundance. It is ablaze with abiding acceptability within this dazzlingly delicious delectation of the delightful distillate!

Okay, I suppose it is tongue in cheek, but how does it taste? Good. Rich, malty, woody, with that Northern Highlands ruggedness and a bit of sweetness and vanilla as well. The smoke comes out late in the palate and a bit on the finish. Very similar to a Clynelish, but much more expensive, so I can't say that it is worth the price tag.

2. Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask Brora, 23 years old, distilled 1982/bottled 2005, single cask, 50% alcohol ($193.95).

Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask is a reliable independent bottling series. They are all non-chill filtered with no artificial coloring and all are bottled at 50% abv.

This one is pure and powerful. Syrupy sweet at first with fruit, then smoky. The flavor is more pronounced than the Premier Barrel version, both in the sweetness and the smoke.

3. Brora Official Release, 30 years old, bottled in 2007, cask strength, 55.7% alcohol ($374.99).

This is both the only Diageo bottling of Brora I've tasted and the only Brora from the 1970s I've tasted. Seventies Broras have the reputation as being peatier than those bottled in the '80s and are much sought after.

Wow! Huge flavor. Dense with smoke, this is far peatier than its brethren. It is more akin to a southern Islay...in a blind tasting, I'd probably guess Lagavulin. Water produces a beautiful nose, hearkening back to Clynelish again, and additional flavors of evergreen and other woodsy things.

This is a truly wonderful whiskey. The good news is that now I get what all the fuss is about. The bad news is, it will cost you.

Next Wednesday: Islay Lite

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Holy Mackeral: Aburi Saba at Musha

LA is in about year five of a massive gastro-pub fad. A gastro-pub, of course is a bar offering excellent eats. The fad blew in with Father's Office in Santa Monica, famously doling out burgers and sweet potato fries along with their large selection of brew.

The izakaya is the Japanese version of the gastro-pub, which accompanies your drinks with tapas-sized plates of fish, tofu and other Japanese and Japanese-Western fusion dishes. The LA izakaya fad came in on the heels of the gastro-pub fad and both remain strong.

Musha was one of the early izakaya in Torrance which then expanded to Santa Monica. I headed to the Santa Monica branch and was not disappointed.

There was so much good food at Musha that it's hard to know where to start. Thin strips of beef tongue, Korean BBQ style with a sesame oils sauce were beautifully beefy and lacked any of the negative textures I associate with tongue. MFC (Musha Fried Chicken) had a light, crunchy batter and a tangy (yuzu?) sauce. Anago rice was served out of a hot pot that created a mash-up similar to bi bim bop dol sot. There was even a tribute to Father's Office in the sweet potato fries with ranch dressing, though they weren't as good as the spectacular FO fries.

But my favorite dish was the aburi saba, or flamed mackerel, a side of mackerel seared table-side with a blow-torch. Mackerel, in my experience, is a risky order. Handle it poorly and it becomes oily and develops a strong fishy order, but fresh, well-handled mackerel is something to behold. This mackerel was fresh and firm with a wonderfully subtle taste; the skin-side was seared but the bottom of the fillet remained cold. The flavor was strong without being fishy. Certainly one of the best mackerel dishes I recall having anywhere.

The desserts at Musha were also notable. Their selection is a mix of preprepared dessert from a distributor and desserts made especially for Musha by a pastry chef who apparently goes only by the name Carolyn (you know, like Cher or Madonna). We stuck with the specially made desserts (tiramisu, apple tartin, creme brulee and chocolate souffle), which were quite good, though only the creme brulee was exceptional--thick and creamy with an excellent custard flavor. Creme brulee may be ubiquitous, but it's still surprisingly hard to find a great one, so I'm always happy when I do...and both the brulee and the apple tartin are torched table side, a la the mackerel (okay, so these guys are a bit pyromaniacal).

Prices on the dishes are pretty reasonable. Most things we ordered ranged from $6 to $8, but as with any small plates establishment, they add up quickly.

424 Wilshire Blvd. (just east of the Third Street Promenade)
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-6330

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dim Sum Elitism

The last five years or so has been a real renaissance for dim sum in LA. It started with Sea Harbor, the Vancouver import that opened a more refined style dim sum restaurant in Rosemead (with another location in Rowland Heights). At Sea Harbor, you order from menus, not carts, and it's a regular-sized restaurant as opposed to a grand palace like NBC or Ocean Star. It's emphasis on fresh cooked and innovative fare (goose liver dumplings anyone?) quickly moved it to the top of my list of dim sum, and I eat a lot of dim sum (like, at least once per month).

Sea Harbor was followed by similar restaurants Mission 261 and New Concept. These followed the Sea Harbor pattern, but I've never really cared for either of them. They seemed more concerned with being new and different than making great food.

Now comes another entry, Elite Restaurant in Monterey Park, just a block south of my favorite palace, NBC (which was recently sold and is currently closed). Elite lived up to both its name and my expectations. At Elite, you order from a menu, but fresh cooked portions are also offered as the come out of the kitchen.

The food was fresh and wonderful. The lotus wrapped sticky rice was most and saturated with the juice of its various meaty contents, some of the best I've had. Chinese pancakes, both sweet and savory, had a pleasant gelatinous chew, and short ribs were all juice and flavor. We had a lovely plate of deep fried chicken bits with garlic and chili. They were perfectly fried and tasty, though the actual meat was something in the tendon or knuckle family which was largely inedible.

Elite's take on the cream bun, was probably the best dessert I've had at a Chinese restaurant. The outside was smooth and flaky and the filling was an almond flavored cream. I could have eaten a dozen of these babies.

It also has a nice looking regular menu with tasty sounding dishes like spicy pork shank, frog with pumpkin, smoked bacon roll with broccoli and three types of abalone (Japanese, Mexican and Middle Eastern).

Elite sometimes has a long wait, though when I arrived at 10:00 last Saturday morning, there was plenty of room.

Elite Restaurant
700 South Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-9998

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA--Epilogue

I thought I would take some time to reflect on my recent American Whiskey series. It started as an opportunity for me to taste some of the great Bourbons I've read about but never tried (as well as some new versions of old favorites) and grew into a ten part tasting of 8 Bourbons, one rye and one Tennessee Whiskey.

I have to say, looking back at the ten week venture, I am floored at the great quality of Bourbon that is available today. So much of what I tasted was fantastic, and so much of it offered unique flavor profiles - Bourbon is anything but a one-note wonder. The prices on these whiskies ranged from $13 for Very Old Barton (if you're lucky enough to live somewhere where they sell it) to over $150 for A.H. Hirsch, but the vast majority of these were in the $30 to $50 range. In a world of whiskey inflation, Bourbon remains a very reasonable drink, even for the high falutin' ones.

After opening and tasting all of these (per usual, I buy my own bottles...except for the Stagg, a sample of which was generously provided by my brother), the ones I keep returning to are Parker's Heritage, Pappy Van Winkle, Very Old Barton and A.H. Hirsch. Rock Hill Farms and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon were good whiskies, but didn't live up to the others. The only one in the series that I genuinely disliked was Jack Daniel's Single Barrel.

So, drink Bourbon. There is so much out there to enjoy that is so affordable, it would be a crime not to. And if you find something great, let us know.

Next Week: Back to Scotland

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pretty at Pink's

There may be no beloved LA institution that is more detested by the fooderati than Pink's, the famous hotdog stand on La Brea and Melrose. I may be the last foodie to defend Pink's but defend it I will. The meat, while good, may not be as good as Carney's, the fries not as good as Skooby's, but the overall dog experience is grand.

The Pink's dog has a nice, mild flavor with an excellent snap. The buns, steamed in their bags, cling to the dog in a way that a toasted bun never does. In fact, the steamed buns may be the thing that makes the Pink's dog what it is. I always think toasted hotdog buns taste stale and don't sufficiently mesh with the dog, but with the steamed Pink's bun, the dog and bun combine into a single, glorious meat-bread entity.

Pink's may be known for its wide variety of add-ons and weird celebrity influenced dogs, but when it comes to dogs, I'm all for simplicity...which means no guacamole, chili, bacon, pastrami, cheese or other non-dog indulgences. Maybe kraut, maybe onions, but more often than not, only mustard graces my dog, and that is the proper way to enjoy Pink's.

I also like the fries and onion rings which, reconstituted from their frozen state by the frier, have a nice crisp skin.

Is it worth the giant lines you'll find on a Friday night? It is definitively not. That's why I typically pick up a 10:00 am breakfast dog, barely any wait at all. Breakfast of champions, indeed.