Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 9 - A.H. Hirsch

Some myths are so ingrained in the collective psyche that no matter how many times you issue corrections, no matter how often you try to set the record straight, the myth endures. These are not just urban legends told in gullible emails, but factual contentions that are wrong but constantly quoted, even in newspapers and on TV news programs that should know better.

So, it is always worth repeating that you cannot see the Great Wall of China from space, that Nixon did not win the debate on radio and that Bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky.

So where else is Bourbon made if not in Kentucky? It's made in Virginia, New York and Indiana, among other places. And it used to be made in Pennsylvania. More precisely, it used to be made at Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. The distillery, one of the last remnants of the booming mid-Atlantic whiskey industry, closed down in 1991. The remaining stocks were purchased by Preiss Imports, and once those are gone, that will be the end, for now, of Pennsylvania Bourbon.

There are several bottlings of Hirsch, but we will be trying the easiest to find in California, the 16 year old reserve with gold foil cap. As the product of a closed distillery, it is expensive, and the price is likely to keep rising. I was able to find this one for $170 at Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys, which is about as cheap as I've seen it (you'll pay almost $100 more at some places).


A.H. Hirsch, 16 year old reserve - Distilled 1974, (gold foil) 45.8% alcohol.

This is a beautiful and unique Bourbon. It is smooth, with a lot of vanilla; it's not too sweet, almost Cognac like. In the finish, you pick up some wood, which is accentuated with a drop of water. This is another wonderful Bourbon that I keep coming back to.

If you've got it in your budget, get some of this stuff before it's gone.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

It Takes a Kitchen: The Village Kitchen

I don't know that many people would consider the stretch of Beverly around Union, just west of downtown, to be a village, but village or not, they are putting out some great food at the Village Kitchen.

The Village Kitchen is a storefront cafe founded by the Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women and Children. The cafe, which is open for breakfast and lunch, is staffed by recently homeless or imprisoned women who are learning the ins and outs of cooking and learning it well.

The Kitchen offers an assortment of sandwiches, salads and baked goods which daily specials. They have a commitment to natural, made from scratch food. Best of all, the food is great.

Among my favorites have been a sausage sandwich with nicely stewed onions (a gourmet take on the NY red onion sauce you get on street dogs) and a salmon blt with a big chunk of salmon, excellent bacon and homemade mayo. I also enjoyed the grilled chicken sandwich and the giant Thai beef salad, an extra healthy rendition of the dish you can find all over nearby Thaitown. This version has mesclun mix, mango, avocado, big hunks of warm, marinated beef and a nice lime-garlic dressing.

The desserts are also fabulous. The red velvet cupcake is more died-red than it should be, but has a good flavor. The chocolate cake, while it had a great buttercream frosting, was much too dense.

While there are a few chairs outside, Village Kitchen is largely a take-out lunch business (along with a small breakfast menu that I have yet to try). It's, quite simply, one of the best things to hit this neighborhood in years. So give it a try.

Village Kitchen
1667 Beverly Blvd. (east of Union)
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 235-1487
Hours: M-F 6:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What, No Prize? Long Beach Caramel Corn

Flavored pop corn is almost always disappointing to me. Cheese corn isn't cheesy enough and kettle corn smells better than it tastes. Caramel corn may be the most disappointing of all. It tends to be sweet and sticky, but with no real caramel taste. In fact, I hadn't really had a caramel corn I liked until I stopped by the Long Beach Sunday Farmer's Market last weekend.

As you know if you are a regular reader, I'm a farmers market junkie. So spoiled by farm-fresh produce am I that I will seek out farmers' markets wherever I am. So when I was visiting Long Beach this past Sunday, I stopped by the market at the Long Beach Marina, just off 2nd Street, right before you hit PCH. It was a goodly sized market. The produce and prepared goods were pretty standard LA farmers' market fare.

As in many markets, there was a kettle corn stand doling out free samples. Without thinking, I sampled some caramel corn. This was not your average caramel corn. The popcorn was dark brown and had the true flavor of caramelized sugar. It was only marginally sticky and didn't get caught in my teeth. I can't finish a box of Cracker Jacks, but I couldn't put this stuff down. The small sized bag was $2.50 and was enough for the whole family to snack on.

The only thing missing was the prize.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 8 - Four Roses Single Barrel

Next in our series on American whiskey is something new on the California scene. Around fifty years ago, Four Roses was a major US Bourbon brand. Then, parent company Seagrams stopped distributing it domestically. For half a century, Four Roses was enjoyed in Europe and Japan, but was virtually unknown in the US. That changed in 2002 when Japanese beer giant Kirin purchased the distillery and made the decision to start releasing it in the US. Since then, Four Roses has done a slow roll out. They started in Kentucky and are now present in six states. A few months ago, the first bottles arrived on the shelves in California. (If you are interested in a more detailed history, Chuck Cowdery has an excellent piece on the distillery in the October 2008 issue of Whisky Magazine).

Four Roses has three expressions available in California: Yellow Label ($20), Small Batch ($35) and Single Barrel ($40). I picked up some Single Barrel, probably the most admired of the collection.


Four Roses Single Barrel, 50% alcohol.

This is magnificent stuff. Refined, subtle, no blast of alcohol or sweetness. There is a lot in there: caramel, wood, a little bit of acid that adds to the complexity. With water, I taste vanilla and citrus (like a creamsicle).

This is great Bourbon with a unique flavor profile. Another one to add to the list.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Smoke and Gas - Korean Faceoff

There seems to be an assumption among those who frequent Korean Barbeque that charcoal barbeque beats gas. I can understand that. There is something authentic about real charcoal. There's the scent of the coals, the red embers that fly up from the grill, the smell that stays on your clothes for the rest of the day. But in terms of taste, charcoal is overrated.

It's true, my favorite BBQ, Park's, uses charcoal, but one of my other favorites, Dong Il Jang, uses gas. Soot Bull Jeep, probably the most popular Korean BBQ place among non-Koreans, is famous for their sooty charcoal, but I've always thought their food was overrated. I get that charcoal imparts a good smokey flavor, but it's less important than people give it credit for.

Suhrabal, at First and Western, is a temple of charcoal. In most BBQ houses, the coal is already in the table's barbeque pit, waiting to be lit, when you sit down. At Suhrabal, after you order, the waiter brings a tray of burning red coals and places it in the table's pit; it clanks and bangs as it goes down, sending up waves of smoke and embers. (The liability insurance for this place must be through the roof.) The waiter then places grills over the pit and, after it warms up, places the meat. It's a fun and slightly scary ritual.

For all the smoke and fire of Suhrabal, though, the food is nothing special. The kalbi is a bit too fatty for my taste, and the seasoning is pretty run of the mill. Ross Gui is not as good as the beautifully marbled meat at gas-powered Dong Il Jang.

So while charcoal can impart some good flavor, don't write off gas or automatically bless charcoal. Eat and learn.

Park's Barbeque
955 S. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1718

Dong Il Jang
3455 W 8TH St
Los Angeles, CA 90005-2517
(213) 383-5757

100 S Western Ave. (at First Street)
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(213) 388-1975

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Fly New Blogger in Town: Flypnay

Food blogs breed like bacteria on a bacon-wrapped hot dog, but every once in a while one pops up that is worth noting. Flypnay is in its infancy, but already has some great entries. It focuses on eating good by eating well, emphasizing home cooking of healthy but good food and eating around California.

You can tell that the author is a food lover gone straight. Heck, who else would come up with a healthy version of loco moco. A longtime Californian who's lived in Hawaii and Texas, flypnay promises a healthy take on the good stuff, with a special emphasis on Asian Pacific cuisine. (Pinay is slang for Filipina, and her use of "fly", despite it being 20 year old slang, still indicates she is hipper than I am). She also has a sweet tooth (always a plus in my book) and promises loads of book reviews.

Check it out!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 7 - Rock Hill Farms

In Episode 7 of our ten part series of American whiskey tastings, we visit yet another offering from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. (I promise the remaining tastings will not be Buffalo Trace whiskies). Rock Hill Farms is a much loved single barrel Bourbon featuring that other pride of Kentucky, horses, on the label. (Thanks to my daughter for use of her horse for our photo).


Rock Hill Farms, Single Barrel Bourbon (Buffalo Trace), 50% alcohol ($34.95).

This is a nice, very drinkable Bourbon. It has a good Bourbon flavor, fairly sweet, overall a very straightforward drink. I can't say, though, that it excites me as much as it has some others. I find it too sweet, with the alcohol coming too much to the fore and masking any complexities. There's not much in the way of wood here and not much subtlety, though I do get the tiniest bit of smoke on the finish.

It's definitely not in the same league as Pappy or Parker's, which I reviewed earlier this series, but at about half the price of those bottles, it's certainly a good buy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Come Fry With Me: Our Annual Sojourn to the LA County Fair

Every September we pack up and make the trek to the Pomona Fairplex for the LA County Fair. It's one of my favorite days of the year, a ritual marking the beginning of fall with fried food, barbeque, a curious number of hot tub vendors, farm animals and beer, lots and lots of beer. You can find my report on last year's Fair here. This year, I yet again indulged in an orgy of fried foods, sweets and meats and lived to tell about it.


It is a Fair tradition, and perhaps even a legal obligation, that every year, something new and unexpected must be plunged into the deep fat frier. Among the new offerings given the deep fried treatment this year were cupcakes, spam and pop tarts. Among the most repulsive sounding, though, was the deep fried White Castle burger, an entire White Castle slider dipped in batter and deep fried. To me, this demonstrates that the deep fried fair food phenomenon has moved from things that might actually taste good (Snickers, Oreos, artichoke hearts) to a focus on shock value, not unlike the booths asking fifty cents to see the world's smallest horse or largest steer (and hearkening back to the bearded woman and other freakshow oddities). As if sliders weren't gross enough on their own, the closest White Castle is more than 1,500 miles away from LA. So, these are frozen burgers dipped in batter and fried...double plus yuck.

I also have to say that Chicken Charlie's, the most prominent fried food stand at the Fair (pictured above), is pretty mediocre. There is good fried food if you seek it out, but I've never been particularly impressed by Charlie's. While I avoided the puke inducing sounding deep fried White Castle and spam, I did have an order of frog's legs. They were terrible. The order came with just two measly legs on a large bed of fries. The frog's legs tasted like tough, overcooked cod. Even the fries were mediocre, which for a place that touts its frying abilities, is pretty disgraceful. This is consistent with my experience last year with the monstrosity that was the Krispy Kreme fried chicken sandwich. Thankfully, they did not see fit to repeat that failed experiment.

For years, my favorite fried snack at the Fair has been the wonderful deep fried Snickers bar available at the Texas Donut Stand. The Stand lies about 100 yards to the right of the Budweiser Clydesdale display as you enter the Fairplex. Dropping the kids at the Bud stables, I headed out for my Snickers. To my shock and disappointment, Texas Donuts was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere. I mean, sure, fair stands come and go, but Texas Donuts is an institution, and the deep fried Snickers was the initiator of the new fried novelty trend. It can't be gone.

Defeated, I wandered back toward the race track. There I saw a new mini-donut and ice cream stand that advertised a deep fried Snickers. Had this stand replaced Texas Donuts? I bought the Snickers, dreaming of the gestalt of melted chocolate, caramel, peanuts and fried batter, all blending into one magnificent experience, transcendence on a stick. But it was not to be. The new Snickers wasn't melted enough, the batter was too chewy; it just wasn't the same. I was utterly defeated, my favorite fair food destroyed, how could they do this to me?

Later, as we exited the Fairplex and drove around the outer gate, we saw through the gates on one of the hidden, out-of-the-way alleys...a Texas Donut stand. One stand, hidden away where only those who happened to turn into that lonely corner to see whatever was going on there (raccoon wrestling? bottle cap collections? masonry demonstrations?) would see it. Did they still have the Snickers? Was it still just as good? I'll have to find out next year.


I'm nearly always disappointed with fair barbeque. It always smells great and then tastes just okay. But this year, upon entering the Fair, I saw the much heralded Outlaw Grill,a grill, filled with charred meats, as big as a semi.

Actually, a grill that is a semi.

Faced with this amazing contraption, I had to try a sampling, so we indulged in a pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich and a turkey leg. The pulled pork was decent, though not at all exceptional. The brisket was horrible; mealy and lacking in flavor. The best of the lot was actually the turkey leg, which surprised me because I tend not to like those giant, Flintstone sized turkey legs that they sell at the Fair. The ones I have had in the past are as touch as leather with a flavor to match. This one, however, was moist and tender with a good turkey flavor. And, of course, it's big enough to feed a family of four, or one hungry child.

Turkey leg, before,

...and after.

Dr. Bob's Ice Cream

I've long been a fan of Dr. Bob, but his pints, which I usually pick up at Bay Cities or Surfas, are never as good as the fresh scooped ice cream we get at the Fair. His famous strawberry, sour cream, brown sugar ice cream is grainy and indistinct out of the pint, but at the Fair, it's a perfect blend of sweet and fruit with a wonderful creamy texture. My favorite flavor, the Works, which is a blend of Scharffen-Berger chocolate and cacao nibs, does pretty well in the pint, but is still that much more wonderful in the cup or cone. This year, the old Dr. Bob's stand may have been my single greatest joy at the Fair.

The Cycle of Life

The great thing about the Fair is that you get to observe the full cycle of life. The barnyard exhibit houses fresh litters of pigs, baby goats, and the cutest little bunnies. Next year, they will have grown into the mothers feeding their young, and the year after that, they'll be battered, fried and shoved on a stick.

Next year's pulled pork sandwich.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Bagel Grows on Beverly: Brooklyn Bagel Bakery

Every Angeleno loves it when their friends/relatives/business associates from New York come to town and complain endlessly that there aren't any good bagels in LA. Never mind that we have the greatest variety of Chinese food outside of China, an enormous spread of Southeast Asian cuisine, Korean, Armenian, Central American and out of this world Mexican. No, if you can't make a dough-shaped ring to their liking, your city sucks eggs (or egg creams).

Now, New Yorkers may annoy us with their queries (in retaliation, I take them to Langer's and let them awe at our counterintuitive pastrami superiority), but in this case, we have to admit that they are right. Our bagels largely suck. They are too big, too soft and filled with things like fruit and chocolate that have no business ever touching a bagel. (Of course, it's ever harder to find a proper bagel in Manhattan, but that's another story).

By far, the best bagels I've had in LA are at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery on Beverly. Their bagels are properly hard on the outside and chewy in the middle. They do have some of the aforementioned fruit flavors, but we will cut them some slack due to the quality of their product.

So, when your cousins from New York come to town...try to get them to go for a Oaxacan breakfast, but when that fails, head down to Brooklyn Bagels.

Brooklyn Bagel Bakery
2217 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 413-4114.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 6 -- Very Old Barton

I'm enjoying this Born in the USA series so much that I'm going to double it. I had originially intended to go through five American whiskies, but I'm having so much fun, I think I'll do nine or ten.

All this American whiskey is well and good, but what do they drink in Kentucky, the hub of US whiskey production? Well, one of the things they drink is Very Old Barton. It's one of the best selling Bourbons in Kentucky, but it's nearly impossible to find outside of Kentucky and its vicinity. There are four expressions, all six years old, at varying proofs: 80, 86, 90 and 100. (You will recall from our series on whiskey label terms that the proof equals double the alcohol percentage or abv).

On a trip to Tennessee, a colleague picked up the 100 proof version for me (it pays to have friends who travel).


Very Old Barton, 6 years old, 50% alcohol (Barton Distilling) $13 (Cheap!).

The nose is very crisp and clear, Bourbon and spice with fruit as well. Very nice. The taste is a good follow up. Sweet with a fair amount of oak. The flavor is very distinct and different from what I'm used to. Complex, though not very smooth. The quirky, complex flavor keeps me coming back for more. It actually has more complexity than many higher priced Bourbons, and it is much better than others in its low price range.

What a deal for those lucky folks in Bourbon country.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

More NoHo Thai: Sri Siam

I was in the Valley recently buying booze and tried Sri Siam in North Hollywood which I'd read about on Eating LA.

This is a great little strip mall Thai place. Overall, the food was fabulous and the staff was delightful. Especially good were the papaya salad, much better than the standard, and green curry. The only dish I didn't care for was a daily special of crispy fried duck which was too much batter and not enough duck. Mango sticky rice was good but didn't rise to the level of my much missed Wat Thai mango sticky rice.

I definitely am coming around to the position that North Hollywood Thai food rivals that of Thai Town.

Sri Siam
12843 Vanowen St
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 982-6262

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Craft Work

If I want to try a new, buzz-worthy restaurant, I always try to wait a few months...until the buzz has died down, the glamorous have all been seen and fed, the glitches have been smoothed out, and the celebrity chefs have long ago sped back to New York, the book tour or the TV studio set. It is in this spirit that I finally make my way to Craft, the one year old outpost of New York restaurateur and Top Chef host Tom Colicchio in Century City.

I've always found Century City to be a rather ominous place, filled, as it is, with impenetrable skyscrapers accessible only from underground parking garages. It is a future cityscape out of some sci-fi flick intended as an exaggerated critique of modern life. It is not welcoming. It isn't warm.

Craft the restaurant may reflect some of that spirit in its sparse, modernist decor, but not in its service or food. The service is friendly and helpful, tolerant and empathetic in a way that is unusual in LA restaurants, and even more so in New York. Servers were kind and the entire staff seemed poised to create an atmosphere that would help you enjoy your meal as much as possible.

The food at Craft is simple, well executed and superb. Colicchio is known for highlighting ingredients and cooking technique without relying on sauces or molecular gimmickry. The menu is divided by cooking method. Under meat, there are headings for braised and confit. The food is served family style, which means it works best with a large party (or family).

There were so many good dishes, it is hard to describe them all. Sweetbreads were lightly fried, a plate of beautiful hen of the woods mushrooms was also lightly seasoned to highlight the flavor of the 'shroom. One of my favorite dishes was the rabbit wrapped in bacon...a traditional dish done beautifully. Per the house style, seasoning was light, cooking was perfect, ingredients shined.

I often find that high end restaurants in LA are weak on desserts. There are many places where I have enjoyed a wonderful meal followed by a lackluster desserts. Craft was the exception. Salted peanut butter cup with peanut butter ice cream and peanut brittle was a peanut-lover's delight. Ice creams were creamy and well flavored (loved the black pepper and the blueberry cheesecake flavors, didn't try the maple-bacon).

And yes, they had doughnuts. Fried, glazed yeast doughnuts, which were crispy on the outside, soft within. They looked and tasted like what you always want a Krispy Kreme to taste like, but it never does. For the record, I am fully supportive of the new doughnuts-for-dessert trend that has been hitting high end restaurants (the bacon-for-dessert trend, not so much).

And Craft knows what customers like: freebies. We received four individual complementary courses: amuse bouche (could have been better); palate cleanser (a wonderful lemon spritzer with coconut sorbet), petite four (very nice) and a delicious coffee cake for breakfast the next morning (a great idea if there ever was one).

I left Craft not only satisfied, but wanting to come back immediately to try what I'd missed.

10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 279-4180

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 5 - Russell's Reserve Rye

As I look back at my various rye whiskey reviews and tasting notes, I'm hard pressed to come up with a rye I didn't like. I love the spice and flair of rye. Rye is still a boutique spirit in the marketplace so those who make it are doing so with love and skill, which is what may account for the high quality of rye whiskey (or maybe I've just been lucky).

Wild Turkey has a long-standing, excellent rye whiskey in their Wild Turkey 101 Rye. It has a good rye punch, some nice, corn sweetness and it's one of the best ryes you can get for the price. Given my experience with 101, I jumped at the chance to get some of the distillery's new Russell's Reserve Rye.

Russell's Reserve is the moniker Wild Turkey gives to one of its premium Bourbons, named for WT's master distiller. Recently they added a rye whiskey to the Russell profile. In addition, they are now marketing both Russell's products simply as "Russell's Reserve" without any mention of Wild Turkey. This may be an attempt to cultivate a premium crowd which, doesn't consider Turkey a high end brand.


Russell's Reserve Rye, KY Straight Rye, 6 years old, 45% alcohol ($20).

Nose is light. Nice rye flavor, sweet with light spice. A nice sipping rye and a very good mixing rye (yes, I made some Sazeracs). I didn't taste them side by side, but I'm not sure I'd prefer this over the old-school Wild Turkey 101 rye, which is a great whiskey. Russell's is more subtle, but I like the punch of 101. Regardless, it's a very nice rye.