Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kogiberry & Korean Kupcakes - The Newest, Hottest Food Truck

People stand in lines for hours waiting for it, they track it on Twitter and they rave about it on Yelp. Unless you've been living in a cave for the last two days, you know that I'm talking about LA's newest food truck: Kogiberry & Korean Kupcakes. Serving a diverse crowd including hip Westside clubbers, hip Westside industry types and hip Westside students, the bright orange truck has taken LA by storm.

Kogiberry & Korean Kupcakes (Triple K to its followers) offers up something new in LA food truck fusion: tart frozen yogurt tacos with kimchi cupcakes. Triple K founder and publicity guru jImmMMMMMMMmmmy, a Third Street Elementary School student, described the concept to me, "we just thought, hey we like tacos and Korean food and tart frozen yogurt and cupcakes and trucks and orange things and money; we should do something that puts them all together. And then we thought, what if we sold food out of a truck? I mean, no one's really done that before, right?"

But don't plan on just going up to the truck to order. All orders must be texted. As jImmMMMMMMMmmmy explained, "when we were opening up, we thought, you know, why should we talk to all these people? I mean, no one talks anymore. It's like writing a letter; it's obsolete. So, if you want some tacos, you come up to the window and text us."

Triple K is beyond a doubt, the most popular new food truck to emerge in the early part of this week, but will it have staying power? jImmMMMMMMMmmmy hopes so, "I'm saving up to buy a wii."

Next week: PuMi - The Vietnamese Pupusa Truck

Thursday, August 27, 2009

RIP (for now) BonBonBar

I am very sad to write about the demise of yet another much beloved food purveyor. BonBonBars burst onto the artisanal candy scene last year with a high quality take on the humble candy bar. I, along with many other fans, raved about the excellent Scotch Bar which married chocolate, caramel and sea salt with a hint of Talisker, and the fun just kept coming with wonderful, light and fluffy marshmallows and a chocolate-caramel-nut bar that wowed nearly everyone who tried it. These were, quite simply, the best candy bars I have ever tasted.

Like many small enterprises, BonBonBars was a one woman project, run by Northern California transplant Nina Wanat who also blogged about her candy-making. From what I gather, the bars were mostly made to order in a small, commercial kitchen.

Nina was the best type of artisanal craftsperson. She was experimental, she was always trying something new and she sought out the highest quality ingredients. Her enthusiasm for the chocolate bars she was making was contagious. Reading her blog was almost like an apprenticeship in candy making. She shared both the joys and trials of filling orders, mixing chocolate and experimenting with new candies. It added to the whole experience by giving each candy bar a back story.

I don't know the reasons or circumstances of the shutdown, but in a letter to her customer mailing list, Nina informed us that she was moving back to Northern California and that BonBonBars was going on "hiatus". I will miss Bonbon Bars; they were a wonderful treat and a perfect gift. I wish only the best for Nina, and hopefully, in not too long, the public will again have the chance to share the fruits of her candy-making genius.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Early Times Kentucky Whiskey

We've talked about Bourbon and rye and even American single malts, but Early Times is something different, slightly. A Brown-Forman product, Early Times labels itself as Kentucky Whiskey, but what does that mean and what differentiates it from Bourbon?

You'll find the answer in the small print. On the side of the bottle, there is a notation: "Matured at least thirty-six months in reused cooperage." Bourbon, as you may recall, must be aged in new oak barrels. Because Early Times reuses barrels, it cannot be called Bourbon. Instead, Brown-Forman has chosen to label it Kentucky Whiskey.

While Bourbon must legally be aged in new barrels, there is nothing inherently wrong with reusing barrels. Nearly all single malt Scotch is aged in used barrels, many of them Bourbon barrels, since the single use rule for Bourbon makes Kentucky's distillers a good source of barrels. Indeed, some Scotch distilleries reuse barrels multiple times. It's not necessarily a bad thing to create a corn-based whiskey aged in used barrels; it's just not Bourbon.


Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, (Brown-Forman) 3 years old, 40% alcohol ($10)

The nose has some banana, honey and rubbing alcohol (mmm, flavored rubbing alcohol). The initial taste is a bit nicer than that with some corn and fruit, a very light taste; going down it's a bit on the harsh side. The finish is light and quick. A touch of water brings out the wood, but it's a flat wooden taste at the expense of the nicer notes.

I wouldn't say that this an objectionable whiskey, but there's not much too it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Farmer's Kitchen

The Farmer's Kitchen spent more time opening then most restaurants stay afloat. Rumors of its impending arrival began years ago (I recall a large "Coming Sprint 2007" sign on the door for a long while), but now it is finally open for breakfast and lunch. The Kitchen is located at the corner of Selma and Morning Side Court, at the edge of the Sunday Hollywood Farmer's Market and makes its food from the wares of the market vendors. A testament to slow food, the Kitchen is a project of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), the nonprofit organization that runs the Hollywood market. The Farmer's Kitchen has limited hours; it's only open from 11am to 3pm, Tuesday through Friday, but on Sunday, market day, it's open from 7:30am to 2:00pm.

The Market menu varies, presumably based on what they find at the market. The day I was there, I had a nice version of Chilaquiles, though it was more of a scramble (or a migas) than a traditional Mexican chilaquiles. Along with chips from the Market's excellent chip vendor, the plate was loaded with eggs, chicken, juicy, fresh bell peppers and onions and topped with a very nice guacamole. My only complaint, which was true of much of the food, was that it was a bit underseasoned, but a few shakes of salt made up for that. The accompanying beans, a medley of black beans and black eyed peas were both underseasoned and a bit undercooked. The serving was huge for a mere $7.

Strawberry waffles consisted of a huge serving of four waffle squares with strawberry sauce and whipped cream. A nice enough if unexciting dish, and the waffles were a bit soggy.

I like the idea of the Farmer's Kitchen, but I'd like to see a little better execution. Using farm-fresh produce is a wonderful thing, but it's not the only element of a great dish. If they tweak their seasoning a bit and put a bit more effort into preparation, they could have a real winner. I know I'll be rooting for them.

The Farmer's Kitchen
1555 N. Vine Street #19 (While the address is Vine, the Kitchen entrance is at the corner of Selma and Morning Side Court).
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-7600

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vacation Journal: New Hawaii Finds

Another fine trip to Hawaii!. Here is a list of some of my new and exciting finds on this trip.

Sconees Bakery. This Kaimuki bakery makes light and flaky scones as well as absolutely amazing lilikoi bars. The bars are nice and tangy with a good lilikoi flavor on a rich, buttery shortbread crust...mouth wateringly good.

Sconees Bakery
1117 12th Ave. (between Harding and Waialae)
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 734-4024

Kauai Chocolate. I wasn't a huge fan of the two Hawaiian chocolates I tried earlier this year, which I found too sweet, but I enjoyed the Kauai Chocolate Company's 72% bar. According the their website, Kauai company chocolate is a blend of Peters, Callebaut and Hawaiian chocolate (though no word on the percentages of each. It has a clean, dark flavor with a good mouth feel. The 72% bar is available at the Shirokiya store in Ala Moana at $7 for a 5 ounce bar.

Fatty's Chinese Kitchen. Good food is hard to find in the Waikiki area, but Fatty's is a solid Chinese lunch stand adjacent to, of all things, the International Market Place. A popular spot for local hospitality workers, Fatty's has tasty noodle plates and a particularly good pork chop on rice. The pork is spiced with peppers, scallions and a touch of anise, almost a Shanghai meets Sichuan preparation minus the peppercorns.

Fatty's Chinese Kitchen
2345 Kuhio Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 922-9600

Liliha Bakery. Every time I visit I buy some excellent coco puffs at Kalihi's Liliha Bakery, but I also try something new there and have yet to be disappointed. Last year, it was chantilly cake. This year, it was the guava chiffon pie (pictured above). The pie is as light as air, like a very light mousse, with a strong, sweet guava flavor, topped with a sweet, guava glaze and whipped cream. It's like biting into a guava flavored cloud.

Liliha Bakery
515 N. Kuakini Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 531-1651

Well, it's back to the Mainland and back to work, but I always savor my bites of the Aloha State.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Pendleton Canadian Whisky

I've written about both Scottish and American independent whisky bottlers. Companies that buy whisky from distilleries and bottle it under their own labels. Lately, there are a number of US companies that are bottling Canadian Whisky under their own labels. Independent Whiskies include Hirsch Canadian Whisky bottled by Preiss Imports, Snake River Stampede bottled by Indio Spirits and Phillips Union, a blend of Bourbon and Canadian Whiskey.

Another popular Canadian bottled in the US in Pendleton. Bottled by Oregon based Hood River Distillers, Pendleton is Canadian blended whisky diluted down to 40% alcohol using the "purest glacier-fed spring water from Mt. Hood (Oregon’s highest peak)." Hey, if you're going to dilute, you might as well try to get some good advertising copy from it. It carries no age statement.

Like Snake Rive Stampede, Pendleton has a rodeo/cowboy motif; Pendleton's logo is a rodeo rider on bucking bronco with the slogan "Let 'er Buck." I'm not sure why these bottlers equate Canadian whisky and rodeo, but hey, that's marketing I guess.


Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky (Bottled by Hood River Distillers) 40% alcohol ($25).

You can tell it's Canadian right on the nose. It's got that soft grain smell, a bit of rye but not the intensity of an American straight rye and that damp grass aroma that practically sings O Canada. It's also got a bit of plastic or styrofoam in the aroma. The immediate taste is light and very sweet, the sweetness lingering and pretty much covering up any other flavors. It's neither complex nor very substantive, a one dimensional, sweet, light whisky.

Considering that you can get the more complex and tastier Forty Creek Barrel Select for $5 cheaper, I'd reach for that if you're hankering for a whisky to watch rodeo by.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacation Journal: Honloulu Farmers Market

The Honolulu Saturday Farmers' Market at Kapiolani Community College is a thing to behold. Operating from 7:30 to 11:00am, the market is packed from the very start, making our own Hollywood Market seem sparsely attended.

The market has a wondrous selection of tropical fruit, including many varieties of mango and papaya, lychee, longan, dragonfruit, local pineapple and other produce. About 50% of the stalls are prepared food, including every sort of island delight from a lovely locally made butter to butterfish to spam musubi.

I was thrilled to see these fresh abalone on the grill at the Big Island Abalone stand. The size of large oysters, these plump beauties are farmed on the Big Island and explode with juice when you bite into them. At 2 for $5, you won't find a better deal on abalone.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vacation Journal: North Shore Updates

On every trip to Oahu, I make a mandatory pilgrimage to the North Shore to partake of fresh shrimp and shave ice. Not much has changed since last year's sojourn, but I have a few updates:

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck

They now have hot dogs! The dogs are dipped in the garlic scampi sauce, and no, I didn't try one. I just couldn't resist the shrimp, but they looked good.

Shave Ice

A new shave ice vendor, Haleiwa Shave Ice, joins Matsumoto's and Aoki's, but doesn't bring much to the table. Haleiwa's flavors were weak and watery and they skimped on the azuki beans. I'm always looking for a North Shore alternative to the lines at Matsumoto's, but this wasn't it.

Pickled Mangos

This was the hit of the North Shore visit. I'd long seen the small sign advertising pickled mangos at the corner of Haleiwa Road and Kamehameha Highway but had never before acted on it. Just up the road on Haleiwa, across from the boat entrance to Ali'i Beach Park, there is another sign identifying the house where the mangos are. This isn't a fruit stand; it's just a house with a mango tree. The folks who live there make amazing pickles from their home grown mangos, pickling them in sugar and vinegar, with a li hing mui plum in the traditional style for home cured pickled mango. The mango slices are firm and crunchy with a perfect sweet/sour balance and a very slight mango inflection. They are sold in one pound bags for $9 and are highly addictive. Check it out!

Next Week: Farmers Markets, Hilo and More.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Knappogue Castle

I've been drinking quite a few Irish Whiskies of late. My latest try is Knappogue Castle, an independent bottler of vintage whiskies. Knappogue Castle was founded by an American aficionado of Irish Whiskey, Mark Andrews, who grew the bottling project into Castle Brands, a publicly traded spirits company that also owns McLain & Kyne, which bottles Bourbon under the Jefferson's Reserve and Sam Houston labels.

As with wine, a vintage whiskey is one that is produced in a single year. Most distillery whiskies are not vintage as they include a mixture of whiskies of different ages. Most independent bottlers, in contrast, bottle vintage whiskies.


Knappogue Castle 1993 (Bushmills), 40% alcohol

The Knappogue I am trying today is a single malt made by Bushmills in 1993 and was bottled in 2001, so it is approximately 8 years old. The nose is very interesting, some green grapes, peaches and nectarines, though all the fruit is fairly muted. The flavor is quite light and malty, almost Glenfiddich-like with the fruit returning late in the palate and on the finish.

I quite enjoyed this whiskey. It's light with a bit of fruit, a nice before dinner drink. I bought this as a mini bottle for $2 at Hi-Time Wine but haven't seen the 1993 as a full bottle on the shelf anywhere. The 1995 version, also a Bushmills and still available in full size, runs anywhere from $35 to $50.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Vacation Journal: Hawaii Updates

I'm back in Hawaii for vacation. Last year, I did an extensive journal of my island eats. This year, I'll stick to a few updates and some new finds. Our original plan was to head to the Big Island today and do some excellent local eating in Hilo, which I haven't visited in years, but between being laid up with a bad case of food poisoning (an occupational hazard of the food blogging hobby) and the impending visit of Hurricane Felicia, it looks like that will have to wait for next year.

Today, a few Oahu updates:

  • Eggs 'n Things. My traditional first day breakfast spot has changed ownership and location since my last visit. (It's now located at 343 Saratoga Road, right off Kalakaua on the west side of Waikiki). Thankfully, the food hasn't changed. My beloved mac nut pancakes were as delicious as ever and the loco moco special was a solid traditional version of the great island dish. The staff seems largely the same and the new location is more spacious, with a nice balcony area. My only complaint is that the new ownership changed the hours. Eggs 'n Things used to close only from 2pm to 11pm, making it the perfect spot for jetlagged mainlanders. Now it opens at 6:00am, making it less of an option when I'm up at 4:00 on my first morning (Luckily, the excellent Liliha Bakery is open 24 hours). Parking is also difficult at the new location.

  • Diamond Head Grill, which I loved
    last year, now has pancakes. I loved the coconut pancakes, studded with shredded coconut throughout and topped with coconut syrup. Luscious. Between Eggs 'n Things, Liliha and now Diamond Head Grill, is it possible that Honolulu is becoming the pancake capital of the US?

  • Sam Choy's Breakfast Lunch and Crab gets worse every year. Nearly everything I had was salted into submission, though my favorite kalbi marinated butterfish was still good. It's sad how Choy has fallen and my hopes for a resurrection are beginning to wane.

  • The popular Chinatown bakery Shung Chong Yuein has reopened as Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery, with the same layout and wares of the bakery that closed up shop last year. They make moon cakes and various traditional Chinese cookies, though these weren't as good as I remembered from the previous store. Of particular note, though, are their macadamia nut caramel candies which come in several varieties; I especially like the coconut-Mac candies.

On Friday, an update from the North Shore of Oahu.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mo' Better Meaty Meat Market: El Gaucho Meat Market II

Frequent Chowhound poster Das Ubergeek turned me on to El Gaucho Meat Market II in Anaheim. This market and deli sells Argentinian sandwiches, and as with most Argentinian food, the beef is what's best.

I've had many milanesa sandwiches in my day, but El Gaucho's really stood out. The beef was crispy and still had a good beefy flavor to it. The white roll was crusty and light and the toppings didn't dominate, as can happen with milanesa, and it stood up well to the house chimichurri sauce.

The skirt steak filled sandwich de entraƱa was excellent as well, with thin slices of skirt steak on the same roll. The strong beefy smell alone was enough to make me swoon.

I was not as much a fan of the beef roll sandwich matambre, consisting of an egg and vegetables encased in beef. I found the flavors in this clashed a bit. I will, however, return for the chorizo.

Next time you're in Anaheim, check it out.

El Guacho Meat Market II
847 S State College Blvd
Anaheim, CA 92806
(714) 776-6400

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Van Winkle Lot B

This week's whiskey is another from the popular Van Winkle series. As you may recall, I tasted Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old last year. The 12 year old Van Winkle, also known as "Lot B" is very popular among Bourbon enthusiasts.

While they are both under the stewardship of Julian Van Winkle and are both wheat recipe Bourbons, the Lot B and Pappy likely were produced by different distilleries. The Pappy 20 year old is still composed of whiskey made at the old Stitzel-Weller distillery which closed in 1991. While it's not totally clear that the 20 year old is 100% Stitzel-Weller Bourbon, that is the common assumption. Van Winkle Bourbons younger than the 20 year old Pappy were distilled at Buffalo Trace which now produces the whiskey under Julian's guidance.


Van Winkle Special Reserve, 12 years old, Lot "B", 45.2% alcohol ($55)

A nice aroma on this one, full bodied and forceful on the nose with some savory, meaty notes and a wee bit of nail polish in the background. A good savory follow-up on the taste; it's an umami whiskey. I like the Van Winkle series, in general, because it challenges the assumption that wheater means sweeter. It hasn't developed the chewiness of the 20 year old yet, but you can see it going in that direction. Late palate there is a bit of acid which closes out a very nice Bourbon.

I'm not sure I am as enthusiastic about Lot B as many in the Bourbon world, but like the older Van Winkles I've tried, it is a good complex whiskey that deserves pondering over.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Meals by Genet

I continue my very slow, post-Fassica effort to revisit all of the Ethiopian restaurants on Fairfax. This week, I visit the most critically acclaimed of the eateries, Meals by Genet. Meals by Genet carries a snob appeal absent from its neighbor eateries. Aside from its pretentious name, it touts itself as "the only authentic gourmet Ethiopian restaurant in Los Angeles," quite a claim to make on a street that has a half dozen or more Ethiopian restaurants. The restaurant itself goes for a white tablecloth, cloth napkin aesthetic though, on the evening I went it still seemed to have a casual vibe, with patrons in everything from shorts and T-shirts to slightly dressier attire.

I hadn't been to Meals by Genet in several years, but it was mostly as I remembered it. Our party ordered the vegetarian combination, chicken doro wot and the lamb dish. I like meat dishes, but I tend to judge Ethiopian restaurants on their vegetarian dishes; the combination of spices that goes into the various lentil and potato dishes and even the traditional, vinegary romain salad are a window into the soul of an Ethiopian restaurant. This is, for me, what differentiates a standard Ethiopian shop from a great one, that and my unending quest for the best shiro, but that's another story and Meals by Genet doesn't serve shiro anyway.

Genet does its flavors very well. The various lentil dishes, which at some eateries can seem redundant, have very distinct flavors emphasizing different spice combinations. In addition to the typical veggie combo standards like lentils, greens and alicha, Genet's includes a potent mustard and a sunflower puree. The romain salad had a pleasant, garlicky salad dressing.

With eleven elements, the Genet veggie combo comes with more variety than most, but at much reduced portions and a higher price. The small portions are a bit frustrating for a bigger group, as there are as little as a tablespoon or two of some items, but they are all very good.

The two meat dishes were good but fairly standard for the block; the doro wot was nearly identical to other versions I've had and the lamb was fairly unexciting.

It's hard to enjoy an Ethiopian meal if the injera, the only component in every bite, is lacking, and Genet does a great injera. It was nice and fluffy with a decent chewiness and a good sourdough punch. I'm not sure to what extent that eateries in Little Ethiopia all make their own injera or get some of it from common sources, but Genet's was definitely better than some of the other places on Fairfax.

Reflecting Ethiopia's brief colonial period, Genet also offers a spattering of Italian dishes, but I've never tried anything from that portion of the menu. If anyone has, please chime in.

Meals by Genet does their lentils, potatoes and other vegetable dishes well, but I would like to see more for my money there and less pretension. If going with a big group, I would recommend a double order of the veggie combo and might hold the meat altogether.

Meals by Genet
1053 South Fairfax Avenue (west side of the street)
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 938-9304