Sunday, August 27, 2006

If Fruit Could Talk

Shoot. My laptop crashed and I had to send it to the repairman. Stuck on the hardrive are all my photos from San Francisco, Jar, Magnolia, Bombay Cafe, and a few other places I still need to write up.

All I have on Brian's computer are these strange photos I took about a month ago, right after we went to see the masterlesspiece Lady in the Water by M. Night i'mabigShamalan.

I think my original idea was to retell the story of the movie using fresh produce, but somewhere along the line, I forgot which items represented which characters and here I am. This, of course, will only be somewhat amusing if you saw the movie and heard all the ridiculous plot and character lines within it... Narfs. Scrunts. Uh huh.

This iteration of the photos doesn't make a lot of sense either.

I'll be back with some real food blogging soon. Promise.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cherry Pie Massacre

Sometimes you draft a food post and leave it sitting in your queue for days, then weeks, then months. Occassionally, this isn't obvious to your readers - who cares if you ate at Boa last week, or in 2004? But sometimes, it's painfully obvious, as is the case with my cherry pie experiment, which went out of season 2 months ago, and which I served at a BBQ back in mid-July.

Why have I had such a hard time writing this post? Probably because of the horrific images seared into my mind from the experience. Tender cherry flesh, ripped open and sprayed all over the walls in my kitchen... bloody red juice trickling down my arms... pastry dough stretched too thin and falling off in fleshy chunks on the floor...

It was kinda like The Shining, but with cherries.

I've always had a fascination with cherry pie. My mom used to sing this song when I was a kid, "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy, can she bake a cherry pie, charming Billy?" Then we would go to Polly's Pies and I would get the biggest, most obnoxiously-sweet piece of cherry pie I could ever imagine. I don't even think I like cherry pie anymore, but somehow childhood memories win out and I continue to call it my favourite pie flavour.

So when I got invited to a July BBQ at the height of fresh cherry season, I knew it was time to bake my first ever cherry pie.

OK, here's where it gets messy. Baking a fresh cherry pie is no small task. You've gotta go to the farmer's market and buy the freshest cherries possible, of course, but then there's the problem of the pits. Uggh. "The pits." You start to see where that phrase comes from.

I had heard of a fun-sounding kitchen device called a cherry pitter. I thought it might be something incredibly automatic, like you pour the cherries in one end and they come out pitted on the other. No, my friends, a cherry pitter is more like a garlic press, only it requires much more effort, attention, and patience.

It also requires a lot of bleach. You know, the kind they use when cleaning up a crime scene? Until you've pitted 100 cherries, you haven't truly seen the horrors of the kitchen. By cherry number 20, I was covered in red juice, and by cherry number 50, the furthest reaches of my kitchen counter were splattered - I was finding new spots and cleaning it up for days.

Maybe I'm giving the cherry pitter a hard time - it's actually a pretty useful device (you can use it to pit olives too). But I can't say that I'll forgo the frozen cherry section of my grocer's freezer next time.

If there is a next time...

After you crush and pop open the juicy cherry flesh, leaving bits of cherry innards scattered everywhere, you heap them all up in a pan and set them on fire. The point of this is to soften them and leach out the cherry juice for later, but at this point, I'm thinking any cherry torture is a good thing.

Did I mention one of my favourite shirts is now permanently stained with cherry juice? Burn, cherries, BURN!

After unleashing my cherry aggression, it was time to focus on the crust. The soft, tender, flesh-like crust. Unfortunately for me, the recipe called for an unusual method of lattice building: they instructed you to build the lattice separately on a baking sheet, then slide it off onto the prepared cherry pie. Ha haa. So simple.

"Sliding" lattice onto a pie is about as easy as stapling jello to the ceiling. And the end result looks about the same. The entire thing slid to one side, so instead of lattice, it looked more like a tight basket weave, covering only the left third of the pie. Somehow, I managed to separate it out without breaking to many strands, and popped the sucker in the oven.

Phew. Crime is tough.

If anyone still wants to attempt this recipe after seeing the aftermath, you can find it here (note - I used madagascar vanilla and cut the amount of vanilla by two-thirds).

Nearly two months ago, this was the last time I baked. No wonder...

Monday, August 21, 2006

San Francisco: 36 Hours, 3600 Calories

We food geeks love to skip town for a little culinary adventure. That's why we adore people who make that a possibility, like my sweetie pie husband Brian who swept me off to San Francisco for the weekend with one quest: TO EAT.

Ever since Taco Bell coined the concept of "The Fourth Meal," I've made it my mission to approach out-of-town fooding with a series of broad, well-paced, and frequent meals. For this trip, we'd start with dim sum for breakfast, followed by dessert, then a lunch/dinner, then another snack, then a late dinner. Five meals, five things to blog, YIPPEE!, right!?!

Unfortunately, my blogging eyes were bigger than my stomach, and by the time we were approaching our 10:30PM fifth meal at Delfina, I was reeling from too much bread, too much dim sum, too much gelato, too much... everything. So we had to call it a night and ended up bedridden at the hotel, me massaging my aching belly. Be warned - eating can be hazardous to your health.

Saturday morning started out innocently enough with dim sum at Gold Mountain. I was lucky that Jeni called that morning to inquire about the location of the Koreatown Pinkberry (yes, we foodbloggers are obsessed), because I was able to pick her brain about some places to visit in Chinatown. "I'm looking for a dim sum emporium," I inquired, and she kindly pointed me to Gold Mountain.

Gold Mountain definitely meets the definition of dim sum emporium: it's big, it's loud, it's crowded, and it's good. They have a ton of stuff, lots of variety, and many things you don't find at your regular Chinatown dim sum. However, during this visit, I started to confront the awful truth that...

I don't think I really like dim sum.

I've tried, really, I have. After about 20+ visits to Empress Pavillion in LA's Chinatown, trips to just about every dim sum place in NYC's Chinatown, and now this, I just... I just... I think I like different things for breakfast. Why can't dim sum be a bar food?

My personal self-confrontations aside, Gold Mountain delivered. They had a ton of different dishes and I was curious to try many of them, but because we were on meal #1 of 5, we decided to go slow and not accept everything that passed our table. Which was wise, because everything that passed our table involved shrimp in some form or another.

Don't get me wrong, I'm cool with shrimp. But it can get old after three dishes in a row. After the 15th waitress passed by with yet another iteration of shrimp, we were relieved when they started to bring out some other meat. Even though it was unidentifiable meat. What's that? Well, it wasn't pork, it wasn't shrimp, and it didn't really taste like chicken either. It was "other," hidden inside a greasy dumpling.

Fortunately, we did get to sample the sesame balls at the end, which are my favorite dim sum offering. Despite the fact that they became a greasy lead weight in my stomach later on, they sure tasted good. Hot, sweet, sticky, and oh-so-sesame-y. More sesame seeds per square centimeter than any other sesame ball I've had... EVER. Guaranteed.

Budget-wise, we were off to a good start. Is it possible to incur more than $15/person at dim sum? I've never had a check above $30, and this was my second lowest check on record. The lowest was $13 at Empress Pavillion, when they decided to stop serving non-Chinese people around 12:30PM.

So what's the ideal dessert after shrimp and mystery meat dumplings? Why, durian and Budweiser gelato, of course...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bread & Porridge

The morning after...

It doesn't really matter what you're recovering from - a great morning-after breakfast is practically a Sunday prerequisite. When you're single, the morning-after breakfast could be a number of things... a second date, a time to soak up your hangover, a dish session with your girlfriends, or maybe all three combined (you crazy kids!). When you're married, however, the morning-after breakfast means recovering from a wild night of going to yoga and watching South Park DVDs. I mean, do that two nights in a row and you are hitting it HARD! Whew!

Even when I'm completely rested with no debaucherous memories, a morning-after breakfast at Bread & Porridge is always a treat. About six years ago, when I lived in West LA, B&P was a weekend staple. They offer great, wholesome food in a cute little space - it's not granola cruncher healthy, but real, fresh picked, fresh-tasting favourites.

They also have an interesting staff philosophy. When I took Brian a few days ago, I was somewhat surprised to see the exact same people working there as I remembered from many years ago. Apparently, all of the employees serve all the different functions - host, waiter, busboy, chef, dishwasher - on a rotational basis, and they pool and split all the tips. Some might call this Communism, but I call it love. And it seems to keep the employees around for quite a long time.

But enough rambling, let's get to the food! I believe the secret to a great breakfast place is really, REALLY delicious coffee. Bread & Porridge delivers on that and then some, with a lovely French press that brings rich, aromatic, and very strong coffee to your table.

What's a French press? I'm glad you asked! Photo below, definition here. Dang, Wikipedia has an entry for everything! The hardest part about this method of delivery is waiting three minutes before you press down the plunger.

When it comes to the breakfast dishes, you really can't go wrong. You can check out the menu online for an idea of what they offer.

I almost always go for the eggs: two of my favourites are the sweet pepper scramble, which has roasted, marinated red peppers and feta cheese, and the breakfast quesadilla, which packs a nice jalepeno kick inside a freshly made tortilla.

Brian's more of a griddle man, so he usually goes for the pancakes or the french toast. Although the pancakes pictured are of the plain buttermilk variety, I've also tried some of the fillings/toppings, which are great - particularly banana pecan and blueberry!

Everything at Bread & Porridge is simple, but you can taste the quality ingredients. Like, instead of plain Farmer John sausage, they serve a variety of gourmet sausages (try the Maple Breakfast - it's like sausage infused with maple syrup!). Add that to great prices, and you've got a breakfast place you can frequent every weekend.

Even if it's not the morning after...

Bread & Porridge
2315 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
310-453-4941 Launching Soon

The fabulous and ever-stylish Ms. Lee tipped me off to a new Web site launching soon:

Look familiar?

It should, it's owned by the same people who brought us the new and "improved" (which, sadly, I rarely use anymore... it's easier to search, yes, but not as much fun).

It might also look familiar it you ever read Chow magazine. I was a HUGE fan of Chow magazine... sadly, one of not too many fans, for the magazine folded before it even really got off the ground. But if you're able to find and get your hands on the Nov/Dec issue (at left), it's a must read - if only for the Turkey Two Ways recipe alone.

I'm hoping the new site has a similar feel to the late Chow magazine: it was hip, fun, and slightly irreverent, but still very much gourmet. A magazine that really spoke to those Gen Y foodies - it was sort of like Food & Wine meets Design Within Reach meets Maxim (in about a 50/40/10 ratio).

Check out the NY Times article here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Wally's Central Coast Wine & Food Celebration

Two weekends ago, my friend Susan invited me to help set up the silent auction tables at Wally's Third Annual Central Coast Wine & Food Celebration. I'm always up for meeting new people and checking out new things, but I had no idea what a food and wine extravaganza I was in for! After about two hours of setting up tables, checking in silent auction items, and arranging and rearranging tables, the food and wine vendors began to show up. And boy did they ever!

Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of the wine tables, but suffice it to say that some of Central California's best and brightest were in full force: more than 50 wineries, including favourites Qupe, Saxum, Sea Smoke, Summerland and many more. We tasted about 10 different wines and most of them were quite excellent.

Once we had sampled the wine, it was time to eat! Wally's rounded up some great restaurants to accompany the tasting: Sona, Spago, Grace, Campanile, Bouchon, and several others.

First off, the Hitching Post, which rose to notoreity following the release of the movie Sideways, where the restaurant played a key background setting. Hitching Post had some excellent french fries and tri tip, and if you were quick, you could scurry back to the tent and pair the snack with the Hitching Post Pinot (I didn't, but in hindsight, probably should have).

A recurring theme at this event was beef. Bring on the beef! Wagyu (Kobe-like) beef made a prominent showing at the tasting, with a Wagyu kobe burger from Spago and braised wagyu beef from Bouchon. Mr. Hefter himself was on hand to serve up the rich and juicy McSpago, and if you are by any means a chef stalker, you would have been in heaven to meet and chat with the many chefs in attendance (me, I like to admire from a distance).

LA's handsomest chef David Myers of Sona made an appearance, serving up a steamed white fish with hand-peeled baby tomatoes in a citrus reduction... mmm, yummy! And the folks at Literati II served up a pretty little dessert - puff pastry topped with panna cotta and fresh berries.

Heading back to the Spago table for dessert, we were greeted with two delicious sorbets: espresso and raspberry. Both were handmade, and equally divine. The espresso was rich and creamy with a strong espresso finish, the raspberry bright and fruity, heavy on the berries (in a good way). I still can't decide on a favourite.

The sorbet made for a good palate cleanser as we headed into dessert. I'm a major sucker for Grace's amazing desserts (hello, doughnuts), and their tasting stood up to all my expectations. They served a very grown-up popsicle, which actually became a plated dessert as the afternoon sun wore on. The flavour? White chocolate cashew schezuen peppercorn, topped with pralines. They were perfect. I ate three of them.

After eating several popsicles on a plate, I was craving a popsicle on a stick... and Campanile had them! I'm not entirely sure what this stainless steel contraption does, but the end result is a cute, fruity, mini-popsicle, freshly baked.

After a couple hours of non-stop eating and drinking, I was woozy and a bit sleepy. I hung out a little longer, snapped some photos, chatted with Pat from Eating L.A., and made my way home for a nap.

Susan - thanks so much for inviting me... it was lots of fun!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fiore Frozen Yogurt

The LA Times got me all excited by promising that the Koreatown Pinkberry would be opening "sometime next week." Well, the last official day of "sometime next week" is today, and the Koreatown Pinkberry isn't exactly looking open.

Fortunately, my friend Jeni from Oishii Eats tipped me off to a new Pinkberry-esque joint called Fiore, located in Japanese Village Plaza (p.s. Jeni - sorry for copying your photo layouts, but I couldn't resist!).

Fiore calls itself Natural Italian Yogurt (who invented this stuff anyways - Korea or Italy?), and while they're not the first sour frozen yogurt joint in L.A., they are the first one with their very own Web site. Not yet. Come on guys... it's not that hard.

Fiore is similar to Pinkberry in many ways: they both offer all-natural low-fat yogurt with lots of fresh fruit toppings, served in a cute mid-century modernish space. One key difference between Pinkberry and Fiore though is that Fiore sweetens their yogurt with stevia, not sugar, which means fewer calories and more natural-ness. They also have a few more toppings, such as cucumber, red bean, and some others.

While Fiore's first location opened just a week or so ago, already the online buzz is beginning. While some say it tastes exactly the same in every way, minus the parking problem, my own experience did not deliver the same results.

First of all, I'm crazy about food. People who are crazy about food do crazy things, such as go to one yogurt store downtown, then immediately drive across town 10 miles to another yogurt store to do a side-by-side taste test. While my side-by-side taste test sample 1 (Fiore) didn't quite make it to West Hollywood, I had enough of the taste in my memory to really see how different they were. Bottom line: Fiore is really good, but Pinkberry is better.

Here's why: Pinkberry's yogurt is more sour, guaranteed. Fiore's tastes somewhat sour at first bite, but about halfway through, the sourness seems to disappear. It seems subtle, but when you eat Fiore and Pinkberry side-by-side, the difference is remarkable. Second, Fiore's yogurt has more water in it, which gives it a slightly icier texture than Pinkberry. The mouthfeel of Fiore's yogurt is like a good italian ice meets gelato: it's creamy and stiff, but when it melts it's more watery. Pinkberry on the other hand has a richer base: it's creamier, not quite as stiff as Fiore, and when it melts the consistency is thicker and milkier.

So there's a new kid on the block... they're very good and I recommend you try them. But when I see you in line at Pinkberry once again, we'll smile at each other and know exactly why the WeHo parking nightmare is worth it.

Fiore Frozen Yogurt
134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hours: 11AM - 10PM daily

Saturday, August 05, 2006

M Cafe de Chaya

Mommy, what's macrobiotic?

It sounds like a disease, or perhaps, the medicine used to treat a disease, but macrobiotic is defined simply as "The theory or practice of promoting well-being and longevity, principally by means of a diet consisting chiefly of whole grains and beans."

The theory and accompanying diet come from Japan by way of Europe, emphasizing organically grown whole foods that provide a balance between yin and yang properties.

Most sources break down the diet like this:

  • Whole cereals: 50-60%
  • Vegetables: 25-30%
  • Beans: 10%
  • Soup: 5-10%
  • Seaweed: 5%
Thrilling, no? And while proponents tout the amazing health benefits of eating macrobiotic, foodies usually cringe as the inherent blandness of eating 115% plain healthy food. No sugar, no eggs, no dairy, no red meat... what's a girl to do?

Fortunately, M Cafe de Chaya brings a little finesse to the macrobiotic lifestyle. Describing their fare as contemporary macrobiotic cuisine, M Cafe offers a broad range of dishes that even include healthy versions of naughty foods like cheesecake and chocolate truffles.

Their menu features breakfast, lunch and dinner items, with most of the food available on demand from a glass display case. The upside of this is that the food is available quickly, the downside being that if you go late in the day, which we did, the food may have been sitting out for a while. That's fine if you're getting a wrap or sandwich, but not so great for sushi...

M Cafe's Tuna Inari sushi sure looks pretty, all wrapped up in a tofu pouch with organic brown rice...

Didn't taste so pretty though... the tofu/rice pouch being completely soggy, the tuna stale. Maybe it's better if you get it made fresh.

The hummus and falafel wrap was much better...

A big tortilla chock full of hummus, falafel and veggies, with fresh whole wheat pasta salad and a tahini-soy yogurt dressing. This is big and filling - enough for one man or twelve actresses.

I had the "M" Chopped Salad, which was just OK...

Like the sushi, this tasted like it had been prepared six or seven hours earlier, and had been sitting out in the display case for most of the day. Even so, it was satisfying and seemed like it had potential - great tamari roasted almonds, and the tempeh "bac(fake)on" was an interesting touch... tasted almost like real bacon if you closed your eyes and visualized Ms. Piggy.

The ginger ale tasted more like sparkling apple cider (the Trader Joe's version is way better)

And by far the highlight of the meal was the tofu cheesecake.


Seriously? Tofu cheesecake (the name alone is such an oxymoron I can't stop saying it) is something most people would scoff at. I mean, if you're going to have cheesecake, why not just go for it and get the dense, fat-and-sugar-laden real stuff? I won't lie, I had my doubts about this one...

After tasting M Cafe's cheesecake though, I have to say I prefer the taste and texture of it over regular cheesecake - it's fluffy and creamy, not too sweet, and it feels light in your mouth and in your tummy. I usually get a stomachache with the regular stuff, so this is a good substitute. And yes, it really does taste like cheesecake... almost. Enough to be convincing.

Yes, I'm going to say it: tofu cheesecake is good.

You pay a bit of a premium for M Cafe's fare - about 2 to 3 dollars per entree over what you'd pay at a regular bistro or deli. But if you're into the healthy thing, the upcharge for quality, tasty, health-conscious food is probably worth it.

The best part? Starting in September, there'll be a Pinkberry next door. I have a feeling I'll be getting lunch at M Cafe much more often...

M Cafe de Chaya
7119 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA

Friday, August 04, 2006

I'm A Pinkberry Addict

Yes, it's true, I'm a Pinkberry addict. Originally, I just ate it, but a couple weeks ago I got into smoking it and just yesterday I started shooting up. I tried to keep it to myself, but there it is, splashed all over the LA Times in black type:

"It has been called "Crackberry" and "frozen heroin juice" by its fans and detractors because many of the college kids, television writers and well-to-do families who cheerfully queue up as many as four nights in a single week agree with food blogger Rosie [Colleen], who wrote recently: "I would get Pinkberry IV'ed into my veins if I could."

It's a great article and reveals some key tidbits about new Pinkberrys opening soon: Koreatown opens next week, La Brea/Melrose will open in September.

However, my favourite part of the article is that she calls Kiwiberri a copycat - I love it! Now we know the truth about all those weird comments John Bae left on my previous Pinkberry/Kiwiberri posts. In case you missed them, these are some of the comments he left and then deleted (they get sent to my email before they're posted):

-----Original Message-----
From: Johnbae11 []
Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2006 11:52 PM
Subject: [Colleen Cuisine] 7/05/2006 11:52:01 PM

I heard pinkberry stole the idea and recipe from a hard working korean family who own a shop called "red mango"
Posted by Johnbae11 to Colleen Cuisine at 7/05/2006 11:52:01 PM

-----Original Message-----
From: Johnbae11 []
Sent: Thursday, July 06, 2006 12:00 AM
Subject: [Colleen Cuisine] 7/05/2006 11:59:33 PM

here's to people who steal ideas and like to pretend they came up with it.only thing you came up with is a poorly designed room that your trying to disguise bad taste by putting glass everywhere good idea! I love the shitty track lights too!!
Posted by Johnbae11 to Colleen Cuisine at 7/05/2006 11:59:33 PM

Nice, real professional. There are a bunch of other comments about how great Kiwiberri is that come from the same IP address, so apparently, he's taken to creating fake user profiles too. Gotta love the internet! I promise to still give Kiwiberri a fair chance if and when it opens.

Check out today's LA Times article on Pinkberry and Kiwiberri here (it's free to read, you just have to register).

Read my other posts on Pinkberry and the L.A. Frozen Yogurt scene here:
Pinkberry (the post that started it all)
Pinkberry coming to La Brea/Melrose
Sprinkles Bites Pinkberry's Dust
Pinkberry vs. Fiore vs. Kiwiberri
Fiore Frozen Yogurt