Sunday, February 27, 2011

Behold the Latte Art

Well, sort of. Here's the update. After receiving the awesome Rancilio Silvia espresso maker as a holiday gift (from myself), I set about to drag my '90s era barista-self into the third wave.

At first, I tried to find someone who would take my hand and teach me the fine art of microfoaming and latte art, but to no avail. So I set about on a totally DIY course, reading coffee forums, watching endless videos of people pouring milk and practice, practice, practice. My conclusion: it's harder than it looks.

After two months, this is probably the best I've done. A friend on Facebook called it a tornado, which I'm willing to go with. As my art evolves, I'll continue to post. And I'm always open for hints, suggestions or other schooling.

FYI, this was made with Cafecito Organico's Espresso Clandestino.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Culver Crepes: L'Epicerie

L'Epicerie is the little market/restaurant from the former owner of Fraiche. I recently stopped by for lunch. There is a nice menu of pretty basic sandwiches, all of which were good if not very exciting, but I particularly liked the desserts. Ice cream sandwiches were sandwiched with large, macaron cookies. The grasshopper with mint chocolate chip cookies was fabulous. The highlight, though, was the brown sugar crepe, a simply enough made crepe with melted butter and brown sugar, but it was spot on, chewy and a bit eggy, with sweet melted butter popping out as you bit into it.

The dinner plates look intriguing as well, especially the house made charcuterie and duck and pork belly confit, some of which are also available in the small market section of the restaurant.

L'Epicerie Market
9900 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 815-1600

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Mini Me

My recent review of Highland Park 40 got me thinking about one of my pet issues: miniature bottles. I could never have afforded a full bottle of Highland Park 40, which goes for around $2,000. The miniature version goes for about $125, and while it ain't cheap nor is it beyond the realm of affordability. Personally, I would nearly always rather buy a miniature than a full bottle. I'm a taster more than a drinker, and there are very few whiskeys of which I need more than 50 ml to satisfy my curiosity. Plus, my closets and drawers are already bulging with whiskey bottles.

Yet for some reason, especially in the U.S., miniatures are mostly reserved for bottom shelf and mass marketed whiskeys. I know that every new bottle size costs money for the bottlers who need different sized crates, boxes and shelves, but having more minis would be a huge boon for the curious consumer.

So, my plea to whiskey companies, make more minis!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chicken Fried Steak - Quantity over Quality in Texas

After my awesome chicken fried steak at Rosie's in Tahoe, I was jonesing for another plate of chicken fried goodness when fate would land me in San Antonio, Texas and breakfast at Lulu's, a place that's famous for its chicken fried steak.

Now, I should have known to be skeptical when the menu cover noted that Lulu's had been featured on Man vs. Food, the Travel Network show in which Andrew Richman gorges himself on ridiculous quantities of food while a rapt audience watches to see if he'll vomit...yes, that apparently is what passes for entertainment in twenty-first century America.

We all know that things are big in Texas, but this place was ridiculous. The giant cinnamon roll, which I expected to be large, was bizarrely enormous, the size of a whole cake. Having seen this monstrosity, I ordered the smallest chicken fried steak on the menu, which was good sized, but not mutant-like; it was served with eggs, toast and hashbrowns for around eight bucks.

I have to say that this "as seen on TV" steak did not come close to the glory of Rosie's. It was tough and the batter easily flicked off. The gravy was think and lacked the meaty goodness of Rosie's, probably indicating more milk and less drippings. The eggs and hashbrowns were good, but how hard are those things to make.

I'll stick with the quality of humble Rosie's over the quantity of celebrated Lulu's any day.

Lulu's Bakery & Cafe
918 N. Main Street
San Antonio, TX 78212

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tahoe Report: Country Cooking at Rosie's Cafe

There are many great cuisines in LA, but there are also things that are sadly lacking. One of them is country cooking, the hearty cuisine of the old Scotch-Irish protestant population of the south and southern midwest. But journey into the interior of California, and you will find this cuisine, a remnant of the dust bowl refugees that poured into California during the Great Depression.

In the Tahoe area, if you look beyond the newer, gentrified spots, you will find plenty of country cooking. Diners and cafes that specialize in heavy breakfasts and hearty meals, often dating back thirty, forty or even fifty years. One such place is Rosie's Cafe in Tahoe City.

Decorated with ancient ski equipment and dusty hunting trophies, Rosie's sits directly across Lake Boulevard from Lake Tahoe. Founded almost thirty years ago, Rosie's features a full bar and breakfast until 2:30 pm.

One of my favorite country cuisine classics is chicken fried steak, and Rosie's has a wondrous version. A slab of steak, with a thick fried batter buried in creamy sausage gravy, accompanied by two perfectly cooked eggs (over easy in my case), hash browns and home baked cinnamon raisin bread. You may be able to get a great milanesa in LA, but you can't get a chicken fried steak like this, crunchy and crusty on the outside and tender within, a mid-day breakfast will stick to your ribs all day, just like country cooking is supposed to.

Rosie's Cafe
571 North Lake Boulevard
Tahoe City, CA 96145
(530) 583-8504

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: The Evolution of a Whiskyfun Reader

How we learn to read our most beloved malt review website as our tasting experience grows:

Malt Experience: 1 year (six malts)

What's this? Whiskyfun? Why would I read this? The format sucks, there aren't any comments, I've never even heard of most of these distilleries, and it's filled with weird music reviews and these God-awful comics. I'm heading back to What Does John Know.

Malt Experience: 2 years (24 malts)

Hmm, searching for this "Brora" I read about on-line, I found a lot of reviews on this site; it must be really good stuff. I mean, this guy seems to know what he's talking about. Maybe I'll try to find some.

Malt Experience: 3 years (89 malts)

Hey, I tried that Tomatin. I finally tried something on Whiskyfun! Hmm, I must have missed the "faint dustiness in the background."

Malt Experience: 4 years (143 malts)

Oooh look, a 21 year old Brora on ebay! Never mind, Serge only gave it a 92.

Malt Experience: 5 years (263 malts)

Oh man [hilarious guffawing], Pete and Jack just nailed it.

Malt Experience: 8 years (1,654 malts)

Dear Johannes and Serge, please consider this my application for the Malt Maniacs. Enclosed is an 8,500 word epistle on the influence of sheep ticks on the distillation of Northeast Highland whisky in August, 1958. I thank you for your consideration.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tahoe Report: Truckee Thai

I grew up spending a lot of time in the Lake Tahoe area, and I always love heading back. We stay in Truckee which is adjacent to the beautiful Tahoe National Forest and has access to some great ski slopes. While there are a few goodies that I've reported on through the years, the area is not exactly a culinary destination. Usually, if we go out, we hit one of a few familiar places or end up suffering through something mediocre.

I must admit, living a few blocks from LA's Thaitown, I was pretty skeptical of trying a Truckee Thai restaurant. How good could a Thai restaurant be in an area with virtually no Thai population? How wrong I was.

Thai Nakorn, on Donner Pass Road in Truckee, was superb. Nearly everything we ordered there was a hit. The menu is pretty typical American-Thai (no boar, not morning glory, etc.), but the flavors of everything really stood out. Papaya salad had a deep fish saucy flavor with none of the sweetness that can infect the dish; pumpkin red curry was rich with coconut cream and slices of pumpkin while green avocado curry had plenty of Thai basil and Thai eggplant; the noodles in the pad see ew were nicely charred. But the highlight was the duck noodle soup special. The broth was deeply ducky, with noodles, slices of duck and scallion; it was slurpable. For dessert we enjoyed a nice version of mango sticky rice.

This was a fantastic Thai meal, easily competitive with the best of the same dishes in Thaitown.

Thai Nakorn
10770 Donner Pass road
Truckee, CA 96161
(530) 550-0503
(They have another branch in South Lake Tahoe)

We'll have more Tahoe later this week.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Angeli Caffe - Affordable and Fun!

Angeli Caffe, the Melrose Italian restaurant, has been around for years but I never made it there. With high powered Italian spots like Mozza and Angelini Osteria within a short drive, it's impressive that Angeli has held on for so long, so I figured I would finally check it out.

The atmosphere of the restaurant reminds me of Manhattan. It's a tiny cube of a room with small tables pressed up tightly against each other. It's a bit cramped.

The hot loaf of bread delivered to your table is delicious, tasting a bit like a good, pizza dough (and they do serve pizza, so that makes sense). We next headed for the antipasti which was just fantastic. The marinated veggies which dominated the antipasti plate (ours was the special, but they have several), were wonderfully done. Carrots had a nice tang and zucchini a sweet zing, along with a nice goat cheese wrapped in marinated eggplant. The small sprinkling of olives and mozzarella balls on the plate were sort of throwaways that didn't seem to match the great veggies.

For entrees, after hearing much lauding of the gnocchi of the day, we went with the ricotta gnocchi and a chicken piccata special. Both of these were very nice as well. The gnocchi were light and fluffy in a luxurious butter sauce, and the piccata was very nice, creamy and not too sour.

And one of the best things about this place was the price. There aren't many more formal LA dining spots where you can eat and enjoy a few drinks in the $70 range and finding one, was indeed gratifying.

I'm glad I finally made the trip after all these years, and I will be back, for pasta, pizza and more.

Angeli Caffe
7274 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 936-9086

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Cleansing with Highland Park 40

What can I do to restore my palate after three weeks of the Whisky Weirdos World's Worst Whisky Awards? Well, I thought I should go with something really great, or at least really expensive. Highland Park is one of my favorite distilleries, but I don't write much about them because they don't put out many new releases that are priced within reach to the average consumer. Despite some of their high prices, I have great respect for HP and it was a Highland Park whisky that was probably most responsible for turning me into a whisky nut. I also appreciate that at whisky fairs and tastings, they pour generously from their 30 year old expression, which for a long time was their oldest regular expression. A few years ago, though, they came out with a 40 year old, followed by a 50. I assumed I would never taste the 40, but here I am with a miniature in my possession.

Highland Park 40, 48.3% (Several Thousand Dollars)

The nose on this is a beautiful balance of sherry and malt; the sherry is present but not at all overwhelming, yielding beautiful fruit notes. The nose is really wonderful, balanced, nuanced and very consistent with the same fragrances in the first and last sniff. The palate begins with sweet sherry notes and trails off into malty, grassy and some floral notes with maybe the faintest tinge of smoke, which comes to life in the finish. This is very nice stuff with lots of interesting elements. Overall, I'd say the palate is not quite as balanced or nuanced as the nose, but good stuff nonetheless.

Of course, given the prices on this, it's hard to recommend it to anyone who's not a tycoon, but it sure was fun to try.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Porkin' it Up at Ramen Jinya

I was pretty skeptical of Ramen Jinya when I strode up to this ramen spot that shares space with Marshall's in a Studio City strip mall. I'm used to the frenetic pace and jockeying that comes with ramen at Daikokuya or the Japanese food court aesthetic of Santouka. Instead, Jinya is a bright, modern space with menu items that include California rolls and something called a LaBrea roll.

As is tradition, we started with gyoza, which were nicely fried and flavorful, though not as good as the big, overstuffed dumplings from Daikokuya.

Then came the ramen, I tried for the super-porky hakata, but at 6:00 on a Saturday, they were already out, so I went for the basic tonkotsu ramen with "half cooked" egg.

With the first sip of porky goodness, all of my preconceptions melted away. The broth was truly a thing of beauty, more purely porky than any other ramen I've had in LA. It was bursting with flavor. The other elements: scallions, cha siu and noodles, were all good, but the broth was the star here. I couldn't get enough of it. The half cooked egg, a ramen favorite of mine, is an add-on, but one you should definitely get. The yolk is soft but not runny and the outer egg is pleasingly salty; it blends right in with the ramen.

I put my head down and spooned and slurped, not looking up until I was done. The only thing I was left wondering was if this is the regular broth, what is the hakata like?

I will be back.

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 980-3977

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Home Espresso Users: Great Videos from Seattle Coffee Gear

If you are like me, a relatively inexperienced home barista, then there is no better series of instructional videos than those from Seattle Coffee Gear. The crew from this Seattle area retailer
knows their stuff and give clear and concise, no-nonsense demonstrations for the home espresso maker. They are particularly helpful for those who own a Rancilio Silvia or a Giotto Rocket, which seem to be the two they spend the most time on. They cover everything from making espresso to grinding, and most helpfully, cleaning and maintaining your machine. They also have excellent videos on choosing an espresso machine.

If you own a Silvia or a Rocket, you need to check these folks out.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: A Tale of Two Bowmores

It was the best of distilleries, it was the worst of distilleries. Bowmore is a legendary Islay distillery known for putting out some extraordinary single malts. The Black Bowmore is a deservedly legendary dram, blending sherry and peat so intensely that hardly any other similarly profiled whisky can compare. I recently was at a Bowmore tasting and marveled at the richness of the 30 year old Sea Dragon and some lovely independent bottlings. These Bowmores are about balance, between peat and sherry, fruit and smoke.

But there is another Bowmore, a darker, evil twin that tastes like cheap perfume. Bowmores produced in the 1980s in particular seem to have this heavily perfumed quality. Now, I freely admit that I may be oversensitive to this particular taste, but I just can't stand it. I can smell it a mile away, and I've even been able to detect it in blends. Now I've heard that they've changed practices such that they don't end up with that flavor profile anymore, but if there is any left in casks anywhere, please someone destroy it.

I also recently tasted an old 21 year old, as part of the tasting described above that included the Sea Dragon, that carried aromas of rotting food, which some described as corpse-like.

How can one distillery produce both some of the most exceptional malts but also some of the worst? Buying Bowmore is like a combination of the lottery and Russian Roulette. When you win, you win big, but when you lose, you really lose.

This ends our series of the world's worst whiskey. It's interesting to note that all of my worst whiskey choices were single malts, and two of the three were Scotches. That's not to say there aren't bad whiskeys from other parts, but these were the most interesting bad whiskeys I came across.

After a good palate cleanser, it's time to get back to the good stuff, and I mean the really good stuff! Tune in next week.