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