Sunday, October 31, 2010

Great Deals at Bawarchi Indian Kitchen

Bawarchi is a small, vegetarian steam table Indian spot in Culver City where you can get good Indian food at a great price. For a mere $8, you get to choose one of two rices, one of three breads and three main dishes from the steam table, along with a small salad, pappadum and raita. There must be a dozen main dishes to choose from, and they change with some frequency (the labels on the steam table seem to change somewhat less often, so it helps to ask what the dishes are). The day I was there I tried a nice jackfruit dish, paneer in cashew sauce, saag with corn and a lentil dish. All of it was nicely spiced, though not too hot, and tasty. Good food at a great price is hard to beat.

Bawarchi Indian Kitchen
10408 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 836-8525

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Downhill Alert: Peet's Coffee

I don't write this lightly. As a Bay Area kid, I grew up on Peet's Coffee. I had Peet's beans shipped to me by UPS when I lived in New York. When the first Peet's shops opened in LA, I would go out of my way to get to Beverly Hills or Manhattan Beach to get some of that deep, smoky brew. Back then, they didn't even carry syrups in their stores, it was just coffee.

I suppose it was bound to happen with expansion. It's simply hard to keep a product at a consistently high level of quality once you reach a certain point (take note, Intelligentsia, don't let this happen to you!). With hundreds of stores spanning six states, Peet's has simply overreached.

I still buy Peet's beans for my own use, but the in store service for the last few years has really gone down hill. Peet's used to be reliable for a thick, smoky espresso with a good crema or a cappuccino with a light head of milk. Now, my espressos often lack any real crema and the caps are drown in milk. The coffee sometimes tastes burnt (too long in the warmer for drip or bad temps for the espresso). Peet's in LA was always a chain, but it used to be a sizable step up from Starbucks; while I wouldn't say it's as bad as Starbucks had become, it's about as bad as Starbucks was five or ten years ago, which is not good.

It's not just the fact that the bar has been raised. Even a couple of years ago, when Intelligentsia and LA Mill were already on the scene, I still enjoyed the pleasures of a dark Peet's espresso. But now, when I crave an espresso drink, it's nearly always Intelligentsia I head to.

I would love to see Peet's reclaim its former glory, but I fear they have morphed into Starbucks Junior. Farewell, my dark and smoky friend, farewell.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Whiskey Persons #1 - A Blogger With a Secret

One of my favorite new whisky blogs is Oliver Klimek's excellent which includes tastings, articles and interviews with people of the whisky world. Oliver's blog is so impressive (and listed in the Malt Whisky Yearbook after little more than a year in existence!) that I decided to copy it and start doing some interviews, but they didn't quite work out as I had planned.

This first interview is with one of the web's most famous whisky bloggers. If you are a whisky lover, it's a name I guarantee you would recognize, but this is a blogger with a secret. I must warn you that the interview that follows may shock you and lead you to question everything you thought you knew about the whisky blogosphere.


What gave you the idea to start blogging about whisky?

I was lonely. I had a family, but I wanted a more intimate community, one that would think I was really special, so I started hunting around on the web. For a while, I posted on gardening sites, but those people are horrible. I mean, if you suggest that you use the wrong shaped hoe or soil, they will flame you to death. I just couldn't handle the stress of the gardening forums. I flirted briefly with the parakeet-loving community, then I followed a link to a whisky forum and I loved it. Right there, I said, okay, this is for me.

Had you been a whisky drinker before that point or did you only start tasting whisky when you became involved with that forum?

Oh, I don't drink.

I'm sorry, what do you mean?

I don't drink whisky, or anything alcoholic, not even a bit. I just blog about it.

But you rate and sample whiskies by the hundreds, you are a household name among whisky fans, and you are in a famous tasting society. How can you not drink?

I'm interested in blogging, not drinking. It's really quite easy. When I started out, I read everything I could find about whisky, studied ratings, bought every book and became knowledgeable. I know how whisky is supposed to taste from sherry and spice, to malt and heather, to peat, iodine and seaweed. I mean, once you know those combinations, you just make up the rest. It's easy and it's a great creative exercise. I use heather and treacle all the time in my reviews, and to be honest, I have no idea what those things are, but they sound great.

You're kidding, right? I mean, you've sampled Bowmore Black and Macallan Lalique. Did you just make those up?

Oh, those are the easiest. With whiskies that almost no one else in the world will ever taste, I don't even have to try. Who's going to prove me wrong? Do you think some Russian tycoon is going to post a comment saying my tasting notes are bogus? That's why I confidently wrote that I tasted "Iam's kibble for senior cats" in the finish of the Mortlach 70. Why not?

But don't the distilleries send you samples?

I get more of those damned things than I know what to do with. I do like the little bottles though. They're so pretty! The whisky? Most of it goes down the drain.

You dumped a Bowmore Black down the drain?

I don't dump all of them. I give some of them to the wino who hangs out on the stoop outside my apartment.

What about your scores? Whiskies have been known to double in price when you give them a high score?

Scores are just a way of imparting confidence in the consumer. When you think about it, I'm like the Wizard of Oz, and the consumer is the Cowardly Lion; all they need is the courage to make the choice they know they want to make anyway. People want Ardbegs, Broras, Port Ellens and Highland Parks to get high scores, so I oblige. They don't care about much else, except that they like it if you occasionally give something that's really expensive a low score. That reaffirms the consumer's feeling that they aren't missing anything. Scoring isn't a matter of taste or math; it's a matter of psychology. And, of course, who can disagree? Taste is subjective, and I include the disclaimer that my scores are only my opinion and it may be different from that of others, which is certainly true.

How do you live with yourself?

My liver is very healthy.

Common Questions

Your Three Tips for Whisky Novices

1. Always listen to the experts. Remember, your palate is not sophisticated enough to judge whisky. Leave it to those of us who know what we're talking about.

2. Don't buy anything that scores less than a 98.

3. Please support my advertisers.

Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers

1. Always listen to the experts. Remember, your palate is not sophisticated enough to judge whisky. Leave it to those of us who know what we're talking about.

2. Don't buy anything that scores less than a 98.

3. Please support my advertisers.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Good Things in Small Packages: Platine's Pot du Creme

Platine is a small bakery on Washington in Culver City. It carries a sparse set of offerings at premium prices. There's nothing wrong with the small one dollar cookies, but I feel like I could make most of them myself. The chocolate chip with salt is nice enough, but the black and white cookie is unexciting, and it's cookie isn't cakey enough (as is needed to support a true black and white).

I tend to avoid high priced, museum-quality bakeries, but the pot du cremes at Platine are delightful. The chocolate pot du creme is thick and creamy, textured half way between a mousse and a ganache. Served in a little custard cup the size of a large thimble or a small demitasse, the pot du creme is the perfect mouthful of thick, dark chocolate with just a touch of salt sprinkled on top. It will set you back $2.50, including a dime that you get back if you return the ceramic cup.

When I was last there, the special, for a dollar more, was a wonderful pumpkin seed pot du creme. This was another winner. More chunky than creamy, it was rich and nutty tasting with a flavor that reminded me more of pistachio than pumpkin seeds.

The danger of Platine is that I save up those pot du creme cups to return, (more because it seems sad to waste them than because I need the dime), but each time I return one, I buy at least one more, and so the cycle continues.

Platine Bakery
10850 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-9933

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Charamel: Garrett Chicago Mix Popcorn

I'm woefully underexposed to Chicago, having set foot in the Windy City only briefly, and I look forward to exploring it, but for now, I will need to rely on friendly travelers, layovers and the like. In terms of food gifts from Chi-Town, hot dogs, deep dish pizza and Italian beef just don't travel well, so the good folks of Chicago came up with Garrett Popcorn. Garrett is a popular flavored popcorn shop that makes caramel and cheese popcorn. The caramel is good but pretty standard, while the cheese is fairly special, more greasy than powdery and full of cheesy-salty goodness. But the prize at Garrett is the Chicago mix, equal parts cheese and caramel corn (my daughter has dubbed it "charamel") which play off the sweet/salty flavors that we all find so enticing.

I have no idea if real Chicagoans eat Garrett popcorn or if it's simply a tourist thing (Chicagoans, please let me know), but the best thing about Garrett is that there are at least two at O'Hare (and they make the popcorn fresh on site).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: WhiskyLive 2010

Last week was the second annual WhiskyLive Los Angeles, sponsored by the good folks at Whisky Magazine. This year, the festival moved from the Santa Monica Civic Center to the more centrally located (and much more posh) Beverly Wilshire Hotel. While it lacked some of the more casual atmosphere of last year's event, the whisky was good and there was a wide variety of it to be had.

Some special treats that were being offered included a 40 year old Tomatin and a nice range of unusual single malts from Duncan Taylor, including Auchroisk, Imperial and a peated Bunnahabhain. There was also a wide variety of American whiskey on display. At the Heaven Hill table, they were tasting several versions of the Parker's Heritage series of Bourbons, including the most recent wheated version which I found very impressive. Dave Pickerell was there with his WhistlePig Rye which I was glad to finally get to taste. And it was nice to see a whole table devoted to my favorite underrated whiskey, George Dickel.

As usual, apart from the tasting floor, there were masterclasses dedicated to specific distilleries. For the true whiskey geek, there was the class by High West's David Perkins (bottles pictured above). Perkins not only offered tastings of two of his newest whiskeys which aren't on the market yet, but ran a "virtual distillery," in which he provided samples from the various phases of distillation, including the heads, heart and tails, and explained how distillers make the all important cut that creates good whiskey. It was a fascinating experience and went far beyond the basic brand promotion that is the norm for most masterclasses.

Next up in the fall tasting lineup is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Extravaganza on November 18.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Why I Shed No Tears for the Stolen Mortlach 70

The big news in the whisky world over the past week or two has been that a bottle of the Gordon & MacPhail 70 year old Mortlach, reputedly the oldest whisky ever bottled, was stolen from the Gordon & MacPhail importer's table at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival. The bottle was stolen after the show while the supplies were in a locked room. Mark Gillespie has a thorough report on this week's episode of WhiskyCast.

For those of you who have been living under a rock (or drink it on the rocks), the Mortlach 70 was released earlier this year and goes for around $15,000 per bottle. Of course, while this may seem like a lot to the uninitiated, two bottles of Dalmore sold last week for around $150,000 each.

Now, I don't condone theft of any kind, but I can't say I'm shedding any tears for the folks at G&M (or importer Symposium). If you are going to start selling whisky for the same price as rare jewels, you better be prepared to treat it like rare jewels. I'm talking armored cars, motion sensor laser activated alarm systems and briefcases handcuffed to the brand ambassador. Leaving it in the back of the stack of bottles just ain't going to cut it anymore. Sorry, but the industry brought this on themselves.

In my dreams, some whisky Robin Hood figure took the bottle and will be pouring it at his local pub.

And I hope someone is on the phone with Henning Mankell. This would make a great Wallander mystery.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Thai Food Meets Fair Food: It's Thai Noodle 'N More

At first blush, the new Koreatown restaurant It's Thai Noodle 'N More looks like any non-Thaitown Thai place. The small restaurant adjacent to Ham Ji Park and Ice Kiss on Sixth Street, serves a decent pad thai and has a good assortment on its menu. It bustles at the lunch hour as businesspeople rush in for the multiple lunch specials. Most things I had were fine if not exciting. And then there was the fried som tam.

Fried som tam (green papaya salad) can best be described as what would happen if you opened an authentic Thai restaurant at the LA County Fair. It's as if someone took an entire green papaya salad, battered it and dumped it into the frier, papaya, green beans, shrimp and all. the only un-fried elements are the tomatoes and a few cashews. The sauce is a bit sweeter than typical but has a nice blend of chili spice and lime juice which helps cut the grease.

Eating it is like eating the best of fried fair food. It's both addictive and somewhat repulsive. It's enjoyable at the time, but feels like dead weight in your stomach. Throw it in a cardboard box with some red, checkered paper and I'd be looking for the ferris wheel.

It's Thai Noodle 'N More
3407 W. 6th St., 100C
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 738-8849

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Disney's Soda Fountain - Great Shakes, Bad Food

The Disney Soda Fountain, adjacent to the Disney owned El Capitan theater, is like a small Disneyland outpost in Hollywood. Enter it and you could very well be in one of Disneyland's many shops where food, gifts and Disnified decor intermingle. The cramped space is divided about half and half between a gift shop and a soda fountain with a few tables. I had lunch at the Fountain a few weeks ago after watching a Tinkerbell movie at the El Capitan and expected the food to be roughly the same as the movie, recognizable and kid-friendly but overhyped and utterly unoriginal. On balance, I was about half right.

The food at the Fountain was uniformly bad. My French Dip was served on a roll that should have been parbaked but wasn't. The meat was sad and dry and the jus was little more than tepid salt-water. The pastrami sandwich was similarly uninspired with a few slices of deli pastrami on cold, supermarket-style rye bread. The hot dog was a lackluster Hebrew National.

But this is a fountain and they should really be judged on their fountain drinks. I figured there was some hope here, since at Disneyland, the sweets are nearly always better than the savories, but I was surprised at what I got.

I ordered a simple vanilla malt and what I got was a nearly flawless version of the classic specimen. The shake was thick but sippable through the straw, the malt was perfectly balanced with the ice cream, and yes, they even gave us that sadly endangered species, the metal cup with the overflow shake. Had they used home made whip cream instead of the can, it would have been perfect.

I wasn't expecting this milkshake to be so good partly because of the low quality of the food and partly because of the various absurd ice cream items on the menu, including various Disney themed toppings such as Mickey Mouse shaped sprinkles and Tinkerbell green marshmallow cream (which seems more akin to what you would get if you stepped on the fairy). I must say, though, that I'm now interested in trying some of their sundaes and other items.

The Fountain is usually packed after the more popular movies so avoid it as you're coming out of the latest Pixar release, and instead, go during show time, or better yet, take in a Tinkerbell movie.

Disney's Soda Fountain
6834 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 817-1475

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Amrut

Amrut, an Indian single malt whisky, entered the US market about six months ago, but they have been using the fall whisky season as a sort of west coast coming out party, holding tastings and appearing at whisky festivals throughout California. I hadn't tried Amrut before but was able to sample their whole range at an excellent tasting at the Wine House (Note: as usual, I paid my own freight).

Unlike some Indian distilleries which have caused controversy by using molasses in their whiskies, Amrut makes single malt whisky entirely from barley. The barley comes from Punjab and is distilled and aged at the distillery in Bangalore. Amrut has been making whisky, mostly for domestic blends, since the 1970s, but starting exporting single malts to Britain and the EU in 2004.

Amrut is a single malt in the Scotch tradition, and tasting blind, I would certainly guess that it was Scotch. They have both peated and unpeated expressions as well as a new, sherried malt and the Fusion, a blend of the peated and unpeated malts. All of their malts are four to six years old, but likely due to the high heat in Bangalore and the use of some new American oak, they seem to age quickly and taste older than their years.

The current Amrut range is as follows:

  • Amrut Single Malt, 46% abv ($55)

  • Amrut Peated Single Malt, 46% abv ($70)

  • Amrut Fusion, 50% abv ($65)

  • Amrut Cask Strength, 61.8% abv ($75)

  • Amrut Cask Strength Peated, 62.8% abv ($85)

  • Amrut Intermediate Sherry Cask Strength, 57.1% abv ($125)

All of these malts were good. My favorite was the regular cask strength malt, which had some very nice spice and fruit notes; the sherried malt was also nice with some candy notes, though at $125, I wouldn't see myself buying a bottle. I was less enamoured of the peated malts, which were fine but didn't offer much more or different than is currently available in the world of peat. Distilleries without a strong peat tradition need to learn that it is not absolutely essential to peat everything, especially when the chances of improving on the existing world of peat are pretty slim.

This is a good start for Amrut. Right out of the gate, they have shown themselves to be a quality distiller, and I'll look forward to more of their output.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New on Larchmont: Larchmont Bungalow

The commercial strip of Larchmont Boulevard between Beverly and First Street is known for many things such as roaming $1,000 strollers, overpriced crappy restaurants, and being the furthest point east within the city limits that many Hancock Park residents will go without a police escort. Now, there is a welcome new addition to the strip. Occupying a former antique furniture shop, Larchmont Bungalow is a homey place which smells warmly of the fresh coffee they roast in the front window. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and have a full pastry counter. I had brunch there a few weeks ago and have been doing my best to sample a wide variety of the pastries ever since.

The Bungalow has a large breakfast selection, available any time, including crepes, omelets, benedicts and more. I ordered the Latkes and Lox plate which is similar to Square One's salmon benedict, including lox and a poached egg over a potato latke. The latkes were a bit too crisp, really fried to the point of being tough, but the eggs were perfectly poached and I really enjoyed the wasabi creme fraiche.

The coffee is fine, but nothing special, which is too bad given the amount of effort they are putting into roasting their own. I had an espresso and a cappuccino, and wasn't impressed by the technical quality of either. The espresso was a bit thin and the cappuccino was too milky.

The Bungalow has a lovely pastry cabinet with a mixed bag inside. One of my favorite things was the strawberry muffin, a deeply pink muffin with a good strawberry flavor. I also enjoyed the chocolate cigar, a rolled chocolate croissant type pastry. The cupcakes were decent, but a number of the sweets, including both the lemon bars and the moon pies, were too sweet.

The cake selection looks very familiar if you have ever been to Sweet Lady Jane, the princess and berry cakes are almost identical to to popular versions at the Lady. I'm wondering if the Bungalow baker trained there or just "took her inspiration" from it. In any case, they are good copies. The princess cake's custard is rich and creamy with a distinctive egg/custard taste, but the cake is a bit dry. They also have a chocolate truffle cake, which is delightfully rich but a bit on the sweet side.

My favorite sweet was the chocolate bread pudding, a huge (though size varies) sort of muffin shaped creation. When warmed, the chocolate oozes over the bread in just the right way.

Not every dish is a star, but overall I really enjoyed the Larchmont Bungalow and it's a good addition to the neighborhood. I'm looking forward to more deeply exploring their menu.

Larchmont Bungalow
107 N. Larchmont Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 461-1528

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blogger Profile: JayMan and the Noodle House

The blogger who goes only by JayMan is a food blogger like any other, except for one thing. He only reviews one restaurant.

"The first time I went to Jay's Noodle House in Alhambra, I was blown away. I was like, how could this little hole-in-the-wall have such great noodles."

Since that time, JayMan has reviewed nearly every one of the 47 dishes on the Taiwanese Noodle House's menu. (He doesn't favor eggplant, so he is missing a couple of dishes on that account). His popular blog also reports on staff changes, decor, some of the regular customers and other news from the restaurant.

"One of my biggest scoops was when Hsin Jr. started working exclusively lunch shifts. I think I had it up and posted before he even made the switch. I was also the first to report when they switched to shorter hours for two weeks back in August when the owners went back to Taiwan."

The owners of Jay's, while they appreciate his business, seem somewhat bemused by all of the attention.

"I think he is a very strange man," said owner Hsin Yu-Shan. "I put up a new picture or sweep the back room and he puts it on his blog. I think he needs to get a real job or something."

Jay shrugs off comments like this as well as the odd stares he sometimes gets from the restaurant's patrons.

"Hey, I've got to be true to me," he says.

When asked if he would ever blog about different restaurants, he is indignant.

"The internet is full of people posting about all sorts of restaurants and cuisines they know almost nothing about. I may only post about one place, but I am the world expert about that place."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Whiskey Calendar and Books

Fall is the big season for whiskey in LA. It's when all the new releases come out, all the big whiskey festivals take place and all the new edition whiskey books publish. Here's a quick guide to the events coming up soon and the books that are just coming out:


October 13:WhiskyLive LA is back. Whisky Magazine's tasting event has moved east to Beverly Hills at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

November 18: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Scotch Malt Whisky Extravaganza will be held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, 1700 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica from 7:00pm-9:30pm. Sign up on their website, and don't forget to use your Sku discount: SRE2010. FTC Disclaimer: Sku was invited to attend this event free of charge.


Jim Murray's 2011 Whisky Bible is available for preorder. Now in its eighth year, the Whisky Bible is a massive compendium of whisky tastings. Murray rates whiskies of all types from all over the world. Now, I personally think Murray's ratings are pretty much useless, but it's a very thorough listing of current releases and it's always interesting to see what he thinks. More importantly, Murray is a great writer, and the articles in the front of the book, and prefacing each section, are usually worth the price alone.

The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 is also available for preorder. The Yearbook is an invaluable tool for any whisky fan, with detailed listings of all of the malt whisky distilleries, bottlers, and blenders and containing articles reviewing the year in whisky. It's another one that I buy every year.

So drink, read and be happy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Where in the World is the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection?

Each fall, American whiskey lovers wait with baited breath for the release of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. This release typically features some of the best Bourbons and rye whiskeys in existence and includes George T. Stagg, William Laure Weller, Sazerac 18 year old rye, Thomas Handy rye and Eagle Rare 17. Typically, the releases are announced in September and advance reviews start going out in mid-October, which is around when the bottles are released in Kentucky. They typically don't make their way to California until late October/early November.

But this year, we've heard nothing from Buffalo Trace. We've seen no press releases, advance reviews or anything else. What's happening?

The reason we love the Antique Collection is that it is extremely high quality (among the best Bourbons on the market) at an extremely affordable price. Even the vaunted Stagg can usually be found for $75-$80. At a time when more and more American whiskeys are inching up over the $100 mark, especially for special releases, American whiskey lovers are especially thankful for the Antique Collection.

I've heard nothing in the way of rumors about what's happening, so hopefully, it's just an issue of production delays. This happens in the industry; for instance, the 2008 edition of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon wasn't released until early 2009, but usually, those problems are accompanied by some news from the distillery.

So, is this just a delay or are the folks at Buffalo Trace trying to build up suspense for something new? Anyone know what's going on and when we can get our Antiques?

UPDATE: Buffalo Trace announced this very day that they are releasing the Antique Collection, which will consist of the traditional lineup. I'm nothing if not timely.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Black Cod in Red Sauce at KangNam

I was glad to finally make it to KangNam on Olympic at the western edge of Koreatown. They have a wide and varied menu with BBQ and sushi, but seem to specialize in home-style dishes. It's sort of a less funky version of the food at Seongbukdong.

The fried oyster pancakes had a nice oyster flavor but were a bit too doughy; I would have liked to see a lower oyster to dough ratio. The boiled short rib is actually braised and served in a sweet jus with apples, cherries and chestnuts. The meat was tender, but the sauce was a bit thin. The KangNam version only made me yearn for the bolder braised kalbi at Seongbukdong.

But the spicy boiled black cod with mixed vegetables was a home run. The dish is a braised code with scallions, rice cake, tofu, daikon and assorted vegetables in a thick Korean chili paste braising sauce. The cod itself was cooked perfectly, maintaining its buttery texture while soaking up the spice from the sauce. The assorted accompaniments added a wide variety of textures and the sauce was sippable by the spoonful.

They also do a good, somewhat spicy chapchae (the ubiquitous Korean noodle dish that we always order for the kids).

4103 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 937-1070