Thursday, May 29, 2008

Show Me the Chocolate: Patric Chocolate

When I think of artisan chocolate makers, I don't tend to think of rural Missouri, but deep in the heart of the "show me" state lies Patric Chocolate. Patric markets what they call "micro batch" chocolate. Their offerings are limited to two bars from the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar, a 67% and a 70% cacao. The ingredients of the 67% are beans, sugar and cocoa butter. The 70% includes only beans and sugar.

High cacao chocolate bars which don't contain any vanilla often have a flat taste. Chocolate makers use vanilla to give the bar some complexity and elevate the flavors, so I was somewhat skeptical going into the Patric bars.

Despite the lack of vanilla, however, the Patric 67% is excellent. It has great chocolate flavor, a touch of acid and a nice balance. My only complaint would be it's a bit too sweet. Interestingly, if I tasted it blind, I would probably guess that it was a lower cacao content, maybe in the high 50s; this may be due to the sweetness.

The 70% bar also has good flavor, a bit more acid and a darker taste, though still fairly sweet. I liked it, but the 67% had a more balanced flavor.

You can get Patric bars at their website: $5.75 for a 1.75 oz. bar.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: I am Curiositas (Smoky)

If you are interested in Scotch, and you do some reading or web browsing, one of the first things you will see people do is to describe the various regions of Scotland and their styles of whiskey. Typically it goes something like this:

Lowlands - light
Speyside - smooth and classic, lots of sherry
Highlands - rugged, woody, salty
Islay - super smoky peat monsters
Islands - also smoky

The problem is these rules are full of exceptions. First, it's important to note that the regions originated as taxation divisions; they had nothing to do with the style of whiskey being produced.

Second, there is substantial debate about whether location means anything in the production of whiskey. Many distilleries don't use local barley or even Scottish barley and some don't age their whiskey on site.

These geographic labels and the corresponding flavor profiles, at best, represent traditional styles that are predominant in the region. At worst, they are a lazy shorthand which allows us to escape really delving into what the whiskey tastes like.

To wit, Glenmorangie and Dalmore have quite different flavor profiles but are fairly close neighbors in the Highlands.

Similarly, not all Islays are smoky. Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain make predominantly unpeated whiskies and Caol Ila also makes an unpeated version. Peating, of course, is just a matter of how you cook the grains...anyone can do it.

And that brings us to BenRiach's Curiositas, a peated Speysider. For years, BenRiach was a go-along, get-along Speysider, making smooth, floral malts. In 2002, however, owner Pernod Ricard shut it down. Luckily, two years later, a South African group bought BenRiach and reopened it as an independent distillery.

After that, strange things started happening. The distillery began churning out new releases, including new age expressions, "finished" whiskies (those put in different types of barrels for final maturation) and a peated whiskey appropriately named Curiositas. All of this innovation won it much praise from whiskey lovers along with some suspicion from the Speyside establishment. BenRiach joined Bruichladdich, Compass Box and Buffalo Trace in the exclusive club of independent, innovative whiskey producers.


The BenRiach, Curiositas, 10 years old, 46% alcohol

BenRiach makes no bones about its peat-soaked malt. The peat comes right at you in the nose, close to the smell of Bruichladdich's PC5, but with some fruity scents underneath...I smell pears. The taste that hits you first is some sweetness, an almost sugary sweetness, followed by smoke. The finish returns to fruit and a bit of the smoke.

I don't think I've had a smoky Scotch that was this sweet and fruity before. The ten year old Ardbeg of a few years ago had some sweetness, but not this fruity sweetness. It's really a new kind of smoky whiskey. The combination of sweet and smoke is reminiscent of kalbi, the Korean barbecued short ribs that are marinated in a sweet but salty sauce and grilled over smoky coals at Korean BBQs (see if you find that in anyone else's tasting notes -- eat your heart out Jim Murray)!

Curiositas certainly defies regional traditions, but in a way, it's the type of smoky malt you might expect if you were to guess what a Speysider with smoke would taste like...smoke but sweetness and fruit as well.

It is aptly named.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

KFC #3: Chicken Day

This is the third in our series of Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) Joints. Chicken Day is a new fried chicken outlet at the corner of Third and Western (right next to Choice Meats) with another shop in either La Crescenta or La Canada (they seem to use the names interchangeably).

If you've read the first two parts of our series, you know the drill: whole chicken cut in chunks with either a soy/garlic sauce or a hot sauce, sometimes with a no-sauce option, served with a side of pickeld radishes.

Unfortunately, Chicken Day doesn't measure up to KyoChon or BonChon. The chicken had a thicker batter and had more the taste of traditional fast food fried chicken (i.e. the other KFC). The Teriyaki sauce chicken was definitely the best of the three flavors, but it had a strange sort of breading on it and the flavor was not very intense. The spicy sauce was a thick, sticky goo that seemed to mostly be composed of left a bad taste in my mouth.

I didn't find much to like about Chicken Day. Lucky for us, it's only one of many neighborhood chicken choices.

Chicken Day
301 S. Western Ave., #107 (Corner of Third Street)
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 387-9933

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Baklava Flow: Baklava Factory

I love the various Greek, Armenian and Middle Eastern bakeries in town that have 30 or 40 different baklavas. It is amazing how many variations there are on a dish consisting of honey, nuts and phyllo dough. You can get them drizzled with chocolate, surrounded with slivers of dough like bird's nests, or rolled in little cigarette-like fingers. In the end though, I'm a purist, and I tend to be happiest with the traditional square or diamond shape, walnut studded baklava.

I've always favored the Baklava at Papa Cristo's, which is dense and flavorful, but I recently had some excellent goodies from Baklava Factory & Fresh Bakery, which has locations in Encino, East Glendale and North Hollywood.

Their baklava was excellent. Maybe not as dense as Cristo's, but juicy and not too sweet, for baklava that is. My favorites were the walnut squares and the pistachio fingers.

Check it out!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Speysides Part 2 -- Linkwood

Continuing with our selection of Speyside Scotches, we are moving on to Linkwood, one of the most intriguing of Speysiders. Linkwood's original bottlings are not available in the United States, so the only way to get it in this country is through independent bottlers.

I had my first Linkwood last year, an excellent bottling by by Dun Bheagan. That Linkwood was memorable in that it tasted much more like a typical Northern Highlander than a was rugged and woody and lacked the smoothness that Speyside is famous for (but that I'm not so fond of). Ever since then I've been trying to expand my Linkwood experience


Linkwood, 11 years old, Distilled 1990/Bottled 2002, Bottled by Murray McDavid, aged in fresh sherry casks, 46% alcohol.

The nose on this baby is pure sherry...fruit, wine and all that jazz. The taste gives you some malt, followed by sherry and wood and that sherry stays on for the finish. First glass out of the bottle of this was ultra woody on the finish, but I found that mellowed over time.

This is a heavily sherried Linkwood, but much more complex than the Macallan cask strength we tried two weeks ago. It has a heavy sherry aroma but the flavor has malt and a good portion of wood. Overall a nice whiskey, but not as appealing as the earlier Linkwood I'd tried.

Next Week: Peat comes to the Speyside

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mr. Pizza Factory

There's probably not much to be said about this Korean pizza joint on Wilshire that hasn't already been said in this hilarious review by Jonathan Gold, one of his best.

I recently stopped into the lone US outpost of this massive Korean chain. We had a few decent but unremarkable appetizers (potato skins and calamari) before the main event: the Grand Prix, a half shrimp, half potato pizza with a built in dessert in the form of a scone crust.

Unlike Gold, I actually enjoyed this monstrosity. The potato half includes potato wedges and ham. I thought the flavors melded well. As Mozza's popular potato rosemary pizza demonstrates, potatoes actually do well on pizza. The shrimp half includes varies veggies, olives and some small pieces of sausage. While not outstanding, both were enjoyable.

The scone crust, which forms the crust ring around the pizza, is a nice, moist scone with raisins. It's tasty when dipped in the very sweet, slightly artificial tasting and somewhat addictive strawberry dipping sauce.

We also had a bulgogi pizza which I expected to be another cross-cultural wonder, but it was really just a regular pizza with some slightly sweet ground beef...not much different from something you'd get at Domino's.

An especially entertaining element of the meal are the pizza chefs, who twirl, toss and magically manipulate the raw dough, drawing flocks of kids, and a few adults as well, to observe their magic. It's like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, but with pizza.

Mock it all you want...I had fun at Mr. Pizza Factory and enjoyed the flavor combinations involved in this Asian interpretation of an Italian and American classic. I'll be back when I get that particular craving for shrimp-potato-scone pizza with strawberry sauce.

Mr. Pizza Factory
3881 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 738-0077

Thursday, May 15, 2008

King of Cinnamon Rolls: Royal Donuts

In spring, I eat doughnuts, lots and lots of doughnuts. Each spring I go by some of my old standbys, but also try to venture out to a few new places.

This was my first stop at Royal Donuts in West LA, situated in a strip mall at the southeastern corner of Sepulveda and Palms, right across the street from the West LA Guelaguetza. Royal is known most for their cinnamon rolls and their crumb doughnuts (pictured above).

The cinnamon roll at Royal is a beautiful thing. A giant disc of nicely fried dough, crisp on the outside and chewy within; it has a nice balance of cinnamon and glaze. I'm not a cinnamon roll connoisseur, but this was certainly one of the better rolls I've had, though my favorite such treat is still the cinnamon pretzel from Stan's.

I was less impressed with the crumb doughnut, a traditional, though large, raised glazed smothered in crumbs. The raised glazed, while fine, was nothing to write home about, and I wasn't too excited about the crumbs. Enormous apple fritters were too dry and Boston cream was good with solid custard, but nothing too special.

My other favorite doughnut at Royal was the glazed old fashioned. It had the perfect crispy crust and nice, moist cake. The cake had an extra, intriguing flavor I couldn't identify. I actually thought it was rosewater, though others in my party thought it was lemon. Whatever it was, it made for a tasty old fashioned that differed from the run of the mill version.

Royal is a solid second-tier doughnuttery that I'd recommend for the cinnamon roll and the old fashioned. The problem is that it's very close to Primo's, and unless I had a major cinnamon roll craving, I think the gravitational pull of Primo's would just be too great to allow me to get to Royal.

Royal Donuts
11138 Palms Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 390-0840

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Sku's Whiskey Minute Hits the Airwaves

We've gone multi-media at Sku's Recent Eats. That's right, we have a new YouTube Channel. Sku's Whiskey Minute, on YouTube, features short videos with very basic whiskey information. So far, we have videos up discussing whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey and how to drink whiskey.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Next week we pick back up with our Speyside tastings. Still to come in no particular order: Linkwood, Longmorn, BenRiach and Glenrothes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More KFC: BonChon Chicken

We continue our exploration of the Korean Fried Chicken phenomenon with the newly opened BonChon Chicken on Sixth Street and Catalina in Koreatown. BonChon is of the same genre as the recently reviewed KyoChon Chicken, offering fried chicken in regular and spicy sauces.

BonChon's two flavor choices are soy garlic and hot. The soy garlic is mildly garlicky but with nice flavor. The hot is quite spicy without the sweetness of KyoChon's. You can order the fried chicken without sauce, but it is fairly bland. As with KyoChon, the chicken is served with pickled radishes.

So what to make of the KyoChon/BonChon rivalry? Overall, I preferred KyoChon's excellent garlic chicken to BonChon's, but I liked BonChon's hot chicken better.

The real difference between the two, though, is revealed on their websites. Whereas KyoChon is a "synonym flashed upon with taste," BonChon characterizes its product as "tasteful and nutritiously enriched." So, if you prefer a synonymous flash, head to KyoChon, but if nutritional enrichment is your thing, you should be eating at BonChon.

BonChon Chicken
3407 W. 6th Street (at Catalina)
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 487-7878

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Birthday to Recent Eats

It is hard to believe that it's been a whole year since I decided to up and start a blog focused on food and drink in the LA area. Since then, I may have eaten my weight in doughnuts, pupusas, cheese and chocolate, all washed down with whiskey and mezcal...not a bad life if you can get it.

On this blog birthday (which coincidentally coincides roughly with my own), I thought I would take some time to reflect on some of the things learned in my year of blogging.

1. Blogging is harder than it looks

Sure, I thought, it'll be easy to do. I love food, what's the big deal if I occasionally write it up. Well, after a year of keeping to a pretty rigorous schedule of three posts per week, I have to say that it's pretty tough. Sometimes you get writer's block, or you just don't have time (we have jobs, you know) or you just want to eat somewhere you've been before ("I went to NBC Seafood again" doesn't make for great blogging). So if the posts occasionally lack finesse or originality, if you shrug and say "so what, everyone knows about that place," then you'll know, it's been a tough week, and hopefully those occasions will be the exception and not the rule.

I might add that one thing this project has done is increase my respect for real food critics. Before I review a place, I usually go one or maybe two times tops. My articles are short and I mostly give my opinion. Huge props to the Ruth Reichels, Irene Virbilas and Jonathan Golds of the world who do three, four...ten visits, engage in intensive research on each place and its cuisine and still manage to crank out one or two well-written, engaging columns per week. It's harder than it looks and probably less fun than it sounds.

2. Food blogging is Fattening

The New York Times recently covered this issue, but I can confirm it's true...I have the new pants to prove it.

3. Food blogging is expensive

If you work at a magazine or are a food critic, your employer generally pays for your meals, but if you are a food blogger, unless you are one of the few, really high profile ones, you pay your own way. Now, as a lower end food blogger who likes to review Thai, dim sum and hot dogs, this isn't such a big deal for me since, hey, I gotta' eat anyway. Where it gets me is the whiskey.

Like food critics, professional whiskey writers get free samples. For me, if I review a whiskey, it's very likely that I shelled out for the bottle. It's possible that I tasted it at a bar or from a friend, but given the dearth of good whiskey bars in LA, I most likely paid for it...and that adds up. It has also created somewhat of a backlog of mostly full bottles at my house, to the dismay of some family members who don't seem to care for finding whiskey bottles commingled with their shoes, clothes and other belongings. Someday, I'll open my own whiskey bar and won't have to buy any stock.

I'd like to say that I refuse to take free samples or comped meals because I think it would compromise my ability to do honest reviews, and I really do think there is some truth to that. It's hard to write something bad about someone who sends you free stuff. But the truth is, no one has offered to give me comped meals or send me whiskey samples. It's sort of like the tree falling in the forest when no one is there. If a blogger refuses to take free stuff when no one has offered can he still be self-righteous?

4. It's hard not to care who reads your blog

At first, I took the cavalier attitude that I would do this for me and I didn't really care who, if anyone, was reading the thing. After all, it's not like I'm trying to get a book deal or something. But then, on a whim, I installed Sitemeter, which tells me how many people visit. Then I began obsessively checking it, wondering how someone from Peru or Australia found my blog and looking at the various Google searches that led people to my site. Eventually, as the numbers grew, although they are still relatively small, I stopped checking obsessively because there were just too many, but I no longer kid myself. I do want people to read and enjoy...who wouldn't.

5. Thanks

I want to take this naval-gazing opportunity to give thanks to everyone who has read this blog, commented, emailed me or participated in my dining and drinking pursuits for the sake of blogdom. I want to give the big shout out to some of my fellow bloggers who I have met (in the virtual sense) through this endeavor: Bon Vivant at My Culinary Adventures who is leaving us to find her fortune in the wine country; Drammie winning whisky blogger Dr. Whiskey; Koreatown's own Raven at Kbloginla; the dean of LA food bloggers, Pat Saperstein at EatingLA who followed my Farmers Market quest; and spirit bloggers supreme Kevin Erskine of the Scotchblog and Chuck Cowdery who indulged me in the great debate of how to spell whisk(e)y (an issue about which I, and probably only I, still regularly fret).

6. Next up

I hope to continue on at the rate of three posts per week for the next year. We'll see if it happens. I also have ideas for a YouTube channel, among other projects. Stay tuned and find out.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Calling a Spey a Spey

Set along the Spey River in the Scottish Highlands, the Speyside district is the center of whiskey production in Scotland. It includes one of the greatest concentrations of distilleries in the world. Many of the biggest names in Scotch are made there, including Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan and Balvenie. For people who have only tried one or two single malts, most of them have tried a Speysider.

My problem is that I've never really been a fan of Speyside whiskies. I like the intense smoke of Islay or the rugged wood and malt of the northern Highlands. Speyside is known for its smoothness, not something I find all that interesting.

Of course, the regions of Scotland (Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islands) are merely geographic designations and don't really tell us anything about style. While there are popularly accepted regional styles, there are exceptions to all of them.

Given the importance of Speyside whiskies and the lackluster attention I've paid to the region, I decided it was high time to dip my toes in the River Spey and do some tasting. So, over the next month, I will review a series of Speysiders, and what better place to start than one of the world's most respected whiskies: The Macallan.

Macallan, owned by the Edrington Group, is known for its deeply sherried taste, which comes from aging in old sherry casks. I should admit up front that I am not, generally, a fan of sherried Scotches, so you need to take that into account. Rather than go for the regular line, which I'm familiar with, I decided to dive into a cask strength Macallan.


The Macallan Cask Strength, no age statement, no color added, non-chill filtered, 58.6% abv, aged in sherry oak casks from Jerez, Spain. (Owned by Edrington Group)

From the minute you move your nose over this Scotch you get bowled over with that traditional Macallan sherry. I identify sherry flavor in Scotch with tastes like prune, raisin and other sweet, dried fruits. The taste of this Scotch is strong on the sherry but not as much as I expected given the smell. A few drops of water really balances out the sherry, bringing in some malt flavors and making it quite pleasant.

The fact that this Macallan doesn't carry an age statement means that there is very likely some young whiskey in it. Despite that, it has a beautifully developed reddish-amber color which denotes that enough of it has been in wood long enough to soak up some of that sherry wine red.

Despite my predilection against sherry, with water, I have grown quite fond of this Scotch, and it's one to which I will certainly return. I actually like it more than some of the traditional Macallans with age statements.

Next Wednesday: Linkwood

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Let's Float Down to Peru: Balcones de Peru

For a city with a comparatively small Peruvian population, LA is awash in great Peruvian restaurants...the wood fired chicken of Pollo a la Brasa, the garlicky shrimp and pasta of Mario's Peruvian Seafood, the rich saltados of Don Felix and Pollo Inka, and the list goes on and on.

My favorite, though, for LA Peruvian is Los Balcones de Peru (The Balconies of Peru). Located on Vine south of Sunset, Los Balcones offers a somewhat more refined, more sophisticated cuisine than the rest of LA's Peruvian spots.

This is one of those places where everything I've ordered has been great, but these are some of my favorites. Camarones a la piedra is a ceviche of cooked shrimp with hominy and a delicate yellow sauce which you will dab your bread in until it's gone. Tacu-Tacu Con Lomito Al Jugo is a perfectly cooked skirt steak (a la carne asada) with tacu-tacu, a sort of course rice and bean paste. Saltados, those Peruvian stir fries of meat, veggies and french fries, are also good. One of my favorite things is the red onion garnish that comes on several of the dishes including the ceviche. It's a simple salad of thinly sliced red onion marinated in a vinegar dressing...I could eat it all day.

Balcones has a prime location, and it's a convenient spot before or after catching a film at the Arclight, buying some gaviotas at the Sunday Hollywood farmers' market, picking up some music at Amoeba or searching for a rare single malt or Bourbon at K&L. Check it out!

Los Balcones de Peru
1360 Vine St (south of Sunset)
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's Good to Be the King: Flan King

The world of artisanal desserts is really booming right now. There are so many new, high quality dessert makers propping up on the internet and at farmers' markets. It is definitely a good time to have a sweet tooth.

My latest find in this world is Flan King, a new stand at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market. Flan King makes...flan, but not just any flan, rich, smooth and creamy flan, that you can take home with you. When I stopped by last weekend they had two sizes: an individual size for $3 and a small for $5, but their cards include larger sizes. The medium (pictured) is about three inches in diameter. Ingredients, of course, are simple and all-natural: milk, eggs, sugar, coconut, vanilla, salt.

To make it look like a flan, you can flip it onto a plate, but barbarian that I am, I just ate it out of the tin. The custard was fantastic. It had just the right balance of creamy and eggy. While coconut is listed as an ingredient, there is no discernible coconut flavor. The caramel syrup pooled on the bottom was delicious. The very bottom layer (which is supposed to be the very top) was a hard, caramelized sugar crust. So, if you flipped it, you would really end up with something more akin to a creme brulee than a traditional flan. Regardless of the form, the entire thing was delicious.

Flan King
Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market and Sunset & Ivar.
(323) 960-0770