Friday, July 31, 2009
So swell in fact, that I was able to rally for a gluttonous excursion to Breed Street that night for huarache con pollo, my first horchata (a very successful experience) and the best churros I’ve ever had in my lifetime of ingesting them at (and only at) Disneyland.
Everything was going great until the “cleanse” salad I made myself for lunch the following day gave me a slight case of food poisoning.
It was at this juncture that I decided my body was trying to tell my something.
“Hey, you! The girl with the big mouth, slutty credit card and engorged stomach! Stop with all the rich food and wine! You live in LA, for goodness sakes! The body is supposed to be a temple -- not a depository for bacon! In the words of Joey from “Full House,” “CUT. IT. OUT!”
So I did.
I turned down the invitation to go to Sapp Noodle Coffee Shop on Tuesday. I said “Heck no, we won’t go!” when “the Gastronomer” demanded that me and my stomach meet her at the West Hollywood grand opening of Joe’s Pizza that same night. I shied away from an evening of fun at El Cholo with friends courtesy of my still unsteady stomach that wasn’t yet ready for margaritas and blue corn enchiladas. And I sat alone at my dining room table last night, eating a single serving organic (which we know now is fairly meaningless) frozen spinach pizza and huge bowl of steamed broccoli whilst a cadre of my blogger friends feasted on eight delectable plates prepared by "Top Chef" contestant Michael Voltaggio at Bread Bar.
Today will be the sixth day of my restaurant/alcohol hiatus, and I’m feeling great. When I slipped on my dress this morning, it was noticeably looser around my stomach/butt area (I’m guessing due to my decreased sodium intake), my head is clearer and I feel the inexplicable urge to skip barefoot across the park near my office.
The only problem is that I’ve been bored out of mind this week. (Which may explain my desire to go skipping.)
While I kept myself busy with my usual Bar Method classes on Monday and Wednesday nights, finally got caught up on episodes of “Top Chef Masters,” and watched an hour-long photo slide show of my friend Hank’s three week trip to the Congo, I was noticeably aware of all the things I was missing out on in the name of my good health.
It didn’t feel good.
As of now, I plan to continue my alcohol purge until the San Antonio Winery Boutique Beer Tasting on Sunday, August 9th, and will try to save my “restaurant splurges” for things truly worthy of the indulgence (and subsequent physical repercussions), but I am ready to get back on the horse again.
Just as soon as I finish this bag of carrot sticks.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
And I feel terrible about it.
While my parents weren’t the type to demand I finish my plate because “children are starving in Africa,” and I regularly dismissed my plain, well-done hamburgers after a bite or two as a child, today, I’ve become somewhat paranoid about wasting food. Part of it stems from the satisfaction I get when emptying out my refrigerator and finding a place for every broccoli floret, shallot and garlic clove, but part of it also stems from my increased awareness of just how much food costs.
Plus, I feel like if I use it all, I can justify spending $3.99/lb on asparagus or $2.99/lb on sweet and tart Pink Lady apples (the best varietal aside from the Honeycrisp).
As a result, I’ve started to get in the habit of actually using up ingredients I buy for some of my “one-off” recipes like the corn soup and white bean bruschetta I made for dinner two weeks ago. The effort reaped a considerable amount of leftovers that included extra husked corn kernels, tomatoes, white beans, basil, and roasted red pepper, and I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing all or any of them go to waste.
Using some roasted shallots, whole wheat orzo and feta cheese that I always have on hand, I whipped up a hearty and healthy summer pasta salad that I dressed with my standard balsamic vinaigrette (balsalmic vinegar + lemon juice + squirt of agave syrup + dollop of Dijon mustard + olive oil + salt, pepper). Not only did I get to assuage my guilty conscience, but I also had a delightful lunch to look forward to whilst I updated excel documents at work the next morning.
It was a win-win. And a tasty one at that.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I smile. “I like it!” I say and to prove it, take another big bite of the steaming huarache con pollo from Tina’s stand at Breed Street.
As I continue chomping my way through the cheese-coated, fried disk of succulent dough, I feel happy to be there. I’m so glad I came, I think.
Earlier in the evening, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to make the trek east from my WeHo apartment...
“I don’t know if I should go.” I whined to my mother. “My stomach isn’t upset any more, but I’m soooo tired.”
“It probably won’t be a late night.” She reasoned.
I grunted. “True. I just don’t want to overdo it. What if it makes me start to feel sick again? I have to be in tip top eating shape for Ludo Bites tomorrow night!”
“Just get a couple tacos. Those aren’t that heavy.”
“No! If I’m driving all the way out there, I’m going to do it right! With corn fungus quesadillas! And churros!” I protested.
“So are you going to go?”
I sighed. “Yes. I don’t want to miss out!”
I hung up and pulled myself out of bed. My head felt thick and groggy, as though I’d been submerged under a sea of churning ocean water.
Is this what the bends feels like? I wondered. Like getting out of bed too fast?
I called my mom back.
“I just got out of bed, and I’m sort of dizzy. You really think it’s okay to go?”
It was her turn to sigh. “Yes. Go. Have fun. Call me when you get home so I know you made it back safely.”
“Fine. Talk to you later.”
40 minutes later I arrived at Breed Street, off Cesar Chavez Avenue in East LA, armed with my digital camera and a pair of cajones that I didn’t know I had.
“Why are you taking pictures?” Two young girls asked me as I snapped photos of the scene.
“I’m a food blogger. I’m meeting some friends here and we are going to write about the food we eat on the Internet.” I explained with my most disarming smile.
They looked skeptical – of both me and my camera, but encouraged me to try their mother’s tamales and the fried bananas.
I promised I’d make my way over to their stand once the others – Evelina and Wes from Two Hungry Pandas, Cathy from Gastronomy, Marie from Starchy Marie, and our Breed Street leader, Jocie – arrived.
Ten minutes later, Jocie was giving our motley crew of adventurous eaters a tour of the various venders and her favorite dishes at each.
“The pupusas are excellent here.” She said, while my mouth watered over the steaming cornmeal pancakes stuffed with black beans and cheese or pork.
“Can we get them now?” I asked, my formerly queasy stomach now roaring with hunger.
She mistook my impatience for enthusiasm and laughed. “Let’s finish the tour first.”
“They serve goat tacos here.” She announced. My stomach lurched at the mental image of a Billy Goat. It wasn’t quite keen on the idea in its current state.
“… and lengua steamed tacos here.” She continued as she led us by the stand that many consider a must try at Breed Street.
“Can I get horchata?” I interrupted, my mind rapidly leaping from eating tongue to quenching my tongue’s thirst for a cinnamon-flavored rice beverage. “My friend Hank loves horchata and I’ve never tried it!”
Jocie smiled, the ever patient hostess for the loud hungry American. “Yes, they sell it here.”
I grinned and continued to plot my feast in my head. First horchata, then pork pupusa, then tamale, then a taco? And finally, the huarache con pollo from Tina’s that the regular Breed Streeter recommended when I got a confused look on my face at all the options available there. And, of course, muchos churros for dessert.
After we finished making our way around the overburdened parking lot, our group of hungry eaters made a bee-line for the pupusa stand. Hot from the grill, they nearly scalded our overly aggressive mouths. The almost overbearing heat disguised the pork flavor, as did the thick encasement of cornmeal flatbread. It was good, but didn’t make me think, “Gee, I’m glad I’m risking my stomach health with this.”
I was also less enamored with the pork tamale.
“It’s kind of gelatinous.” I whispered to Cathy as I discretely spit a piece of fatty pork into my napkin. While the unfatty strips of tender Wilbur were a compelling contrast to their cornmeal cover, they were unfortunately not as prolific as I’d hoped.
She rolled her eyes, saddened that I haven’t yet come around to enjoying the fatty bits that many consider the best part. “Oh Diana.”
“You can finish the rest.” I said apologetically, somewhat ashamed of the pickiness of my palate and began to set my eyes on other (less jiggly) pastures.
Cathy and her crew of Astronomer and Astronomer’s sister and I moved on from the tamale to share an oversized sticky grilled sandwich that was bathed in red sauce and stuffed with unidentifiable, yet deliciously goopy ingredients.
I found Wes and Evelina near the goat taco stand, and at their recommendation, attempted a lamb taco that unfortunately contained more of the gelatinous substances that my mouth frowns upon. One bite in and I decided it was time for Tina’s – the hub of the Breed Street space.
“So you really like it?” The young girl asks, smiling at the white sauce that is dribbling down my chin from the hot mess of the huarache con pollo.
I grin. “Soooo good.”
As are the two churros that I devour a moment later. The freshly made fried pastries are the best I’ve ever had, and blow anything I’ve encountered at Disneyland out of the water.
It’s a happy groan – I’m glad to have made the trek outside my comfort zone. Even if I did fail to try the corn fungus.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
It’s not that I don’t trust the opinion of the girl who loathes tomato sauce, but lists pizza (with tomato sauce) as one of her favorite foods. On the contrary, I actually consider her one of my finest foodie companions and would trust her implicitly to pick out a restaurant or cook me up a bowl of her infamous noodle soup.
The reason I didn’t care about the “wow” taste of Haagen-Dazs' new product is because I refuse to buy full-fat ice cream.
That’s not to say that I’ve never dabbled in 250+ calorie ½ cup scoops before. In college I partook in Ben & Jerry’s pints on more than one occasion (paper writing begets cravings), and two years ago, I gave in to the cry of seasonal pumpkin ice cream and purchased the Double Rainbow version at Trader Joe’s. Of course, on the day of reckoning (ie. Halloween), I could barely enjoy my indulgent purchase. All I could think was, “I could eat a full cup of Dreyer’s Slow-Churned Pumpkin instead of this measly ½ cup portion that is actually closer to a full cup because of scoop inflation.” It didn’t help that each bite tasted like it had been churned out of butter. I could practically feel my butt expanding as I spooned my way through the bowl. Armed with guilt, I couldn’t get myself to finish the rest of my pint.
I continued on my track of low-fat and soy creamy ice cream-only freezer stocking for many many moons (two years and 9 months) thereafter. If I wanted to splurge, I’d splurge at an ice cream shoppe where there were no damning nutrition labels on display. It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I even glanced in the general direction of the Haagen-Dazs pints in the supermarket.
The circumstances were these:
My friend Ashley and I were in Gelson’s looking for a suitable vanilla ice cream to pair with the baked peaches we were going to make for dessert that night. I secretly wanted the Dreyer’s Slow-Churned variety, but didn’t want to be so brazen as to suggest the low-fat version of the product that Serious Eats described as “halfway defrosted Cool Whip” during a recent blind tasting.
“Which one do you want?” I asked, eying the Dreyer’s Vanilla with all my might.
She shrugged. “I don’t care. Which one are you more likely to eat up?”
I shrugged back. “I don’t know. Whatever you want is fine.” I said, again, eyeing the Dreyer’s Vanilla with all my might.
“How about this one?” She asked, pointing to the Haagen Dazs Five Vanilla Bean that was on sale.
“That’s fine,” I responded with a well played air of indifference. I begrudgingly reached in and abstracted the full-fat ice cream from the freezer case. I blanched at the nutrition facts. 220 calories per ½ cup, 11 grams of fat – 7 of which were saturated.
May God have mercy on my thighs, I thought as we proceeded to check-out.
Later that evening, after our peaches were hot and bubbling with brown sugar, I tentatively dragged a spoon into the lush sea of diet doom. Unlike my Dreyer’s low-fat, it didn’t hesitate to extract itself from the carton. It glided unto the scooper like the glass slipper onto Cinderella’s foot. I hesitated, and then went in for another small scoop. And then, when Ashley wasn’t looking, I added a teensy bit more to my bowl of peaches.
The ice cream was everything that my Dreyer’s vanilla is not – satisfying in and of itself, redolent with the intense kiss of real vanilla beans, and drinkable in its melted form, as Ashley and I both discovered when we lifted our bowls to our lips and finished the remaining pool of cream at the bottom.
The next two nights, I savored the last two remaining servings of the full-fat ice cream. Unlike the Double Rainbow pumpkin, it didn't taste heavy, and the intense vanilla flavor reminded me of the tapioca pudding my mother made for my brothers and me as kids.
When my last bowl was gone, I immediately logged on to Gmail to report my change of heart to Ali.
“You are right - Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Five is awesome.”
My future lawyer friend is a pretty smart lady. (Even if I do disagree with her taste in pasta sauce.)
Monday, July 27, 2009
He turns back to me, cocking a questioning eyebrow.
“He does… unexpected things.” I explain. “Did you read the concept on his website?”
He nods. “I did my research.”
“Cool.” I respond, seemingly satisfied, but not really satisfied at all.
I’m taking my roommate, a journalist for the French paper 20 Minutes, to Ludo Bites for a story he is writing on Chef Ludo Lefebvre, and I’m nervous that the food will be a bit too adventurous for him – a guy who doesn’t particularly care for seafood and isn’t always familiar with the ingredients I use in my relative simple cooking. I consider myself at least somewhat open-minded and well versed with regards to gastronomy, but it still took me two visits to fully appreciate Ludo’s vision.
We find a suitable (ie. less than $15) bottle of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, ignoring Jonathan Gold’s admonishment that it “isn’t going to cut it with the hanger steak with charcoal oil,” and are soon on our way again, dodging slow-moving vehicles on West 3rd Street in the direction of Bread Bar.
As we walk into the now familiar space of the candlelit bakery, I feel even more protective of Ludo and LudoBites. I want Philippe to have the same experience I had there the last time. I want him to feel excited about food items he never knew he liked, and I want him to be pleasantly surprised by the often jarring combination of unique flavors and textures.
“You have to try the honey lavender butter,” I enthuse once we are seated at our communal table in the middle of the restaurant. “And the bread is fantastic – it’s from the bakery – freshly made!”
I watch intently as Philippe smears the lush butter over a warm slice of the whole wheat bread and then sinks his teeth into the tender flesh. A smile spreads across his face, and I exhale the breath I’ve been holding.
Our first dish of the evening (not counting the three slices of bread we both inhale as a conduit to eat more of the butter) is the green beans salad with peach, coconut, apple, lemongrass, and a hefty dollop of horseradish on the side ($9).
“I like the coconut in this,” Philippe comments as he deftly maneuvers one of the thinly sliced pieces onto his fork.
Relief sets in as I register his approval of our first official “bite” of the evening. The beans are tender yet still maintain a pleasant crispness that is mirrored with the other components of the dish. It is a Ludo version of a Farmer’s Market salad – the quality and freshness of the ingredients make it sing and the bite from the horseradish accompaniment takes it to the next level.
We both take eager turns finding the tender shreds of oxtail beneath the oozing cantal cheese-laced polenta that is a universal favorite among bloggers and reviewers. The black truffle oil is a playful touch – a luxurious after note that contrasts against the grittiness of the polenta, an item that is historically considered peasant food.
After much debate, Philippe and I decide to take a light intermission with one of the seafood dishes.
“I want to try it.” He insists as we place our order for the grilled Santa Barbara prawns with thyme and yuzu lime chantilly ($24) that both Krissy, Ludo’s wife, and our server recommend.
“And if I don’t like, you can always eat it!” Philippe adds with a wink.
For a guy I’ve only lived with for three months, he knows me almost too well. I would have been more than happy to devour every single one of the barely-cooked prawns that are killed just prior to their short term on what I imagine must be a searing hot grill. Unfortunately, once Philippe masters the technique of peeling the shrimp free from their crab-esque shells, he loves them.
“I guess I like shrimp.” He says with a happy shrug.
Prepared in this manner, I can’t imagine how anyone could not like them.
Krissy, the ever present hostess, comes by to check on us, and I take the opportunity to inquire about the foie gras terrine black croque monsieur with cherry reduction ($20). I’ve had a mixed reaction to foie gras in the past – I didn’t care for it as an addition to a soup, but loved it on a maple tart with a lemon paste. I’m not sure what to think of it in a sandwich. Especially one made with squid ink-infused bread.
She smiles at my clearly conflicted face. “I’m bringing you one.”
I’m still nervous when the croque monsieur arrives, but the look on Philippe’s face when he takes his first bite assures me I have nothing to be concerned about (aside from wanting more).
“It’s like Christmas in my mouth,” He announces, his eyes glazed over with ecstasy.
Soon, it’s like Christmas in my mouth. (And on my hands courtesy of the snail-like grease trail the decadent sandwich leaves behind.) This is one of my favorite Ludo dishes to-date – regardless of the number of calories it will require me to work off at Bar Method this week.
We finish our savory courses with the duck breast served with crispy skin puree, carrot cake coulis, grapefruit segments, and orange blossom water ($24). We are both unsure about the bitter bite of the grapefruit at first taste, but after trying the duck with and without it, come to the conclusion that it balances the sweetness of the crispy skin puree and carrot cake coulis incredibly well. The dish is a classic example of the thoughtfulness that Ludo puts into each plate. The elements aren’t random – everything is working together in a specific, seemingly predestined way.
“I’m getting fuuuull.” Philippe announces as we devour the last pieces of pink duck from our shared plate.
I nod, but still can’t get my mind off the now famous chocolate cupcake with foie gras chantilly, candied bacon, and maple sauce ($12). What if he doesn’t want to get dessert? I worry.
Krissy comes by again to check in on us, and Philippe immediately puts my greatest fear (leaving the restaurant without dessert) to rest.
“We want the foie gras cupcake, but I’m so full. Can you wait like 5-10 minutes before bringing it?” He asks with his charming French accent.
His wish is granted (how could anyone resist a man with an accent?), and we have a brief interlude to chat with our Ludo virgin neighbors before the cupcake is placed before us.
The cupcake looks deceptively normal -- pretty enough for any bakery case around town. Yet, just like everything in Ludo’s kitchen, the innocent piece of cake has been turned on its head. While the foie gras is subtle, the candied almonds leave no doubt that they have been playing in the mud with bacon. It’s jarring at first, especially with the sour tang of the balsamic maple sauce, but ultimately comes together. The cupcake itself is equally impressive – moist, made with high-quality chocolate, and possibly most importantly, not overly sweet.
“The best yet.” I tell Krissy as Philippe and I head, somewhat sadly, for the exit with our leftover lavender butter in tow.
It’s not an exaggeration. The meal/experience was impeccable from start to finish – especially since I got to see my own reaction to the dishes mirrored in my, apparently not so picky, roommate’s sparkling eyes.
“It’s like Christmas in my mouth,” He said.
I couldn't agree more.
LudoBites at Breadbar
8718 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Reservations can be made here.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Without going into too many embarrassing details, I spent my teenage years roaming the halls during morning break so I wouldn’t have to stand by myself in the quad, running cross-country and track in short shorts, and acting as vice president of an AOL on-line sorority called Omega Pi because no one in real life wanted to hang out with me. Clearly, I wasn’t getting many invitations to go to school dances. The only one I attended during those four years of misery was my junior year prom (the guy I studied AP U.S. history with during lunch asked me to go with him).
When H.C. of LA & OC Foodventures and Caroline on Crack began whispering about the possibility of a blogger prom, I was more than a little thrilled. Finally, I would get to experience what it was like to be a cool kid -- albeit a cool kid wearing the heinous, over-the-top prom attire that the 200 attendees were required to wear for admittance. It didn’t much matter to me what I looked like though; I couldn’t wait to get down and groovy with the LA bloggers whose entertaining blogs and “Tweets” have compromised my ability to concentrate on other more serious activities (ie. my goal to watch all four seasons of “Arrested Development” this summer).
As I put on more make-up than I have in my life and zipped myself into my hot pink, sequined dress this past Wednesday night, I was awash with the same kind of excited anticipation that I imagine my more popular high school peers were before dances. While my roommate sat in the other room watching CNN, I blasted the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” and sang along full force when the Peas hit the chorus, “I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night.” I really had no idea just how good it would be.
When Brooke from Food Woolf, my friend (and plus one) Anna and I arrived at the Andaz Hotel in a stylish steel blue Beverly Hills cab at 7:15 pm, the lobby was already buzzing with excited bloggers “the Gastronomer,” Kevin Eats and Pam from Rants in Craves, in their trashiest formal wear. Hugs were shared, pictures were snapped and then we all trooped into the elevator to our destination – the rooftop.
The beautiful view, idyllic pool and subtle toned sophistication of the indoor and outdoor space was the perfect setting for our special evening. Unfortunately, I was too caught up with tracking down Sam Kim of LAist, Esther of E*starLA, Evelina of Two Hungry Pandas, Natasha of Let Me Eat Cake, and Noelle of Drink ‘N Dive to appreciate it. I wanted to meet everyone – even the bloggers who I hadn’t heard of before (ie. the non-food bloggers who write about more substantiative things like how to find “chi” in LA).
With a crisp white wine from Fresh & Easy to drink, sultry cheese that some likened to “sex” from the Cheese Impresario to nibble, and mini cupcakes from Polkatots to demolish, the three-hour affair was over before I’d even had time to dance with the Prom King.
I didn’t want the night to end. The only thing that got me in the elevator (and away from the leftover cheesecake pops) was the fear that the prom committee would run out of swag bags. Savoring the moment was all well and good, but I also wanted to savor the Charles chocolates sampler in the bag. (The lube, on the other hand, I could do without.)
It wasn’t just a good night – it was a great night. The kind of night that makes me proud to call myself a blogger. And even more importantly, proud to be so “socially adjusted” that I have already been confident enough to wear my “Born to Blog” Gap t-shirt in public. Twice.
Friday, July 24, 2009
In high school, it was chicken stir-fry. My sophomore year of college it was our commissary’s Chicken Caesar Salad wrap. In recent years, it has been Chicken Marsala, peanut butter oatmeal and Amy's frozen spinach pizza. And this past week, it was shiitake and spinach quinoa risotto.
Despite my love for trying new recipes and dishes, I am notorious for getting into food ruts. Once I find a recipe, frozen food product or menu item that I love, I feel compelled to make it/buy it/order it over and over and over again until the sight/smell becomes repulsive to me. When I love something, I don’t just love it – I become completely obsessed with it. (Note: This may or may not extend to situations involving men. And the film Pretty Woman. And the color pink.)
On Saturday night, I endeavored to make a version of the shiitake and spinach quinoa risotto I enjoyed as my entrée at Cru last Wednesday. I wasn’t in the mood for animal flesh, so I opted to get my protein boost via Edamame instead. The result was so delectable that I immediately made plans to use up my leftover shiitake mushrooms and spinach by making it again the following night.
When Sunday evening rolled around, I decided to mix things up a bit by adding in leeks, and by substituting in chicken (my soy cravings had subsided) that I sautéed with white wine and garlic. I loved the new version so much that I knew I had to have it again soon.
As in this past Tuesday.
Since I had to buy more spinach, shiitakes and leeks to make it that night, it only made sense that I make the dish again this week. I may order $17 salads, but I am anything but wasteful when it comes to the contents of my refrigerator. I know we are in a recession – even if my credit card does occasionally slip out of my hands at inopportune moments and I make irrational decisions like spending $20 in shipping charges to have white gloves overnighted to me for Blogger Prom!
So, in order to make up for these and all my financial indiscretions, I made the risotto again last night. Not because I’m a crazy, obsessive person who lacks creativity in the kitchen, but because it was the right thing to do. Even if I did have to make a special trip to Whole Foods for a $3.15 organic chicken breast and a $1 shiitake mushroom that I didn’t end up needing because I had enough mushrooms left over from Tuesday.
This is what I do, people. This is what I do.
Fortunately, what I do tastes damn good -- even the fourth time around.
Shiitake and Spinach Quinoa Risotto
Serves 1 Diana entrée-sized portion
1 4-ounce chicken breast, cut into cute bite-sized pieces
¼ cup quinoa, rinsed
½ cup spinach, chopped
1/3 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/3 cup leeks/shallots, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon white wine (I rocked the Pinot Grigio)
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Salt, pepper to taste
Rinse quinoa. Sauté leeks/shallot combination in medium sized sauce pan over medium heat with a medium amount of salt/pepper. (We like the word medium.) Add the quinoa, reduce heat, and sauté together until those fiberlicious nutty grains get toasty. Add the chicken broth, ¼ cup wine, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for approximately 15-20 minutes or until quinoa kernels have separated from their shells.
Meanwhile, sauté chicken breast with garlic and 1 tablespoon white wine in a small frying pan. When quinoa is ready, toss with chicken, spinach and mushrooms. Cook together until spinach and mushrooms have wilted and then stir in the parmesan. Serve on a hot plate that has been conveniently heated in the oven at 200 degrees. (We like our food hot.) Top with additional parmesan.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I said something that involved the word “love” (as in “I’d love to go there!”), but I was secretly thinking, “I’d love to go eat a bloody steak instead.”
My first experience dining at a raw food restaurant (Juliano's Raw in Santa Monica) had soured me on the genre. I was taken to the Promenade adjacent restaurant on a first date three years prior. There was no alcohol involved -- only raw food, still water and bland conversation.
When I arrived home that night, I immediately devoured two pieces of (cooked) peanut butter and jelly toast and said a firm and fond farewell to both dating sober health nuts and eating at raw food restaurants. Real men eat burgers – not faux pesto pizza.
As the date of my TA dinner approached, I was still a little apprehensive about the evening, but was somewhat comforted by the positive reviews on Yelp and the encouraging “tweets” from E*starLA about Cru’s curry quinoa dish. It also helped when I discovered that Cru has two menus – one containing raw food, and another containing cooked dishes (like the aforementioned curry).
And, if all else failed, there would at least be (BYOB) wine this time – if I chose to break my pledge to not drink alcohol until Blogger Prom.
I arrived at the restaurant last Wednesday night uncharacteristically late. With no valet in sight, and a challenging street parking situation (ie. I had to parallel park), I was more than a little frazzled (and sweaty) by the time I barreled my gangly frame through the door to the slightly cramped quarters of the one-room restaurant. I apologized profusely for my tardiness and promptly forgot about my sobriety pledge. Wine (and masochistic exercising) are the only salves for such moments of neurotic overload.
I settled into my chair and concentrated all my nervous energies on happy thoughts. Rainbows. Anthropologie. The mysterious guy at my church who provides me with excellent eye candy between “Amens.” Through the power of positive thinking, I convinced myself that everything would be fine. With good company, two bottles of wine and a menu with fully cooked items, my Cru experience would be far different from the sad sober situation at Juliano's nearly three years prior.
The evening began auspiciously with an order of the caponata bruschetta – flax seed crackers spread with cashew cheese and topped with plump raisins, succulent chunks of tomato and zucchini and shreds of fragrant basil ($9). While the combination sounded slightly like an awkward junior high school dance, the flavors and textures were surprisingly well-suited for one another. To continue the suspect dance metaphor, it was like a tango in my mouth.
I was similarly pleased with the (cooked) chickpea fritters served with a tangy yogurt sauce ($8) that I may have licked from the serving container at the encouragement of my TALFs. (Photograph of the indecent act has been withheld to preserve the integrity of my innocent Christian girl image.)
My shitake mushroom and spinach quinoa risotto served with a fig reduction ($13) was equally lickable, but I opted to use my fork to scrape my plate instead. By this juncture in the evening, I’d become a little more aware of the presence of our attentive vegan server whose name (Kyler) may be bequeathed upon one of my future spawn. The risotto was actually so favorable to my palate that I concocted my own version this past Saturday evening. (I’ve made it twice more since.)
Our evening at Cru concluded with our overly ambitious (ie. wine-infused) orders of the chocolate ganache cake, the mint pistachio chocolate ganache cake (not pictured) and the chocolate brownie with cookies and cream ice cream (all $8). While the chocolate ganache cakes were a bit dense (I almost broke my fork attempting to cut into one), I loved the chocolate brownie with the cookies and cream ice cream. Mostly because brownie + ice cream brings back memories of my “fat-er” college days, but I’m fairly certain that I wasn’t eating it just because it was there and I had consumed two glasses of wine.
When I arrived home that night (after a brief and disastrous interlude at Pazzo Gelato), I did not beeline for the toaster oven that I still don’t know how to work. I was more than satisfied with my meal at Cru. The food is legitimately good, the prices are better suited for my income than most restaurants I frequent, and the experience proved to be inspirational – in both my kitchen and in my book of potential baby names.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Especially one of the burger variety. Carl’s Jr’s motto, “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face,” is well-deserved. Burgers, veggie or otherwise, are inevitably messy.
What I really wanted was a salad. The Gado Gado ($11.45) with golden tempeh triangles, frizzled onions and peanut dressing that Susan from Reservation for Three had “tweeted” about earlier in the day. Or the M Chopped ($11.45) with tofu, tempeh bacon and other exciting things that my friend Ashley was set on ordering.
They both sounded exceedingly more appealing than the Big Macro, except they violated one of my cardinal rules for my evening meals out.
Thou shalt not order “just a salad” for dinner. (Other rules include thou shalt not salt food before tasting it first, and thou shalt not dine at any establishment that resembles an Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s.)
Despite the impracticality of many of my non-dining related rules (ie. thou must touch the airplane prior to boarding to ensure a safe flight), my reasons for avoiding the salad at dinner are really quite sensible.
1. They don’t fill me up.
2. They don’t fill me up.
3. They don’t fill me up.
Given that it was only 6:00 pm and Ashley and I were on our way to the screening of Julie & Julia at the Arclight, I knew that ordering a salad would be a foolhardy decision. Not only would it require me to eat again before bedtime (or suffer through a night of insufferable belly rumbles), I would inevitably spend the entire movie salivating over cubes of butter and lobster. Watching food on television/“the big screen” while hungry is akin to listening to a running faucet when one needs to use the restroom, and I was not about to put myself through that sort of cruel and unusual punishment.
So I went against my immediate craving (for the first time in a decade), and ordered the Big Macro ($11.45) with a side of M Café’s righteous kale with spicy peanut sauce (which I have enjoyed on previous occasions).
Ultimately, the Big Macro proved to be a nice rendition of a veggie burger. Made with whole grain brown rice and topped with some unidentifiable “special sauce,” lettuce, tofu cheese, onions, and sprouts, it is a moderately compelling way to vegatize one’s diet without sacrificing flavor or texture. It didn’t provoke me to make any affectionate declarations or “yummy” noises, but it did accomplish something even more impressive.
It filled me up.
I sat through the entire movie without the slightest hint of belly envy as Julie cooked/ate her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. And that night I enjoyed the restful sleep that comes courtesy of satiation.
Score one for the Big Macro.
And score two for my cardinal rule of dining.
I shalt continue to abide by my stance against the “just a salad” dinner. Long live the entrée. (And Ashley's side order of fries that I may have sampled whilst she was in the bathroom.)
Monday, July 20, 2009
It was a fool’s mission and I knew it. Even before discovering that Whole Foods had none of the pivotal ingredients I needed for my dinner, I knew I was going to be cutting it dangerously close. And I knew I would be frantically running around the kitchen – scaring my roommate, making a mess of the countertops and potentially cutting off my appendages.
Yet none of this mattered to me as I raced across town to procure the necessary food stuffs from Gelson's market.
I had a vision -- a vision of sweet corn soup with roasted red peppers, leeks and feta cheese that would taste of summer. The red peppers and bite of feta cheese would cut the sweetness of the corn, and the leeks would add depth and additional savory contrast. It would be a thing of beauty – Eric Bana in a bowl, and I had to have it that night.
And, okay fine, some bruschetta with white beans, vine-ripened tomatoes and basil for a side dish.
But whatever. The bruschetta was totally not the point. The only reason I was making it was because I wanted some sort of bread product to go with my soup (bread: soup as peanut butter: jelly) and had been craving bruschetta since watching Julie Powell and her husband devour big juicy pieces in Julie & Julia. I’d throw it together in five flat, and focus most of my energy on the soup – the entire reason I needed to go to Gelson’s at 6:22 pm since Whole Foods only had white corn and my vision demanded yellow corn.
White corn was so not an acceptable pinch hitter.
Once I procured my yellow corn and other fixings, the evening proceeded exactly as I imagined it would – at first. My roommate gawked at me as I roasted my pepper, fried up some leeks for a garnish, boiled corn, and simmered together potato, celery, additional leeks, chicken broth, and corncobs. It was insanity. Pots were bubbling, knives were flying, and I was a crazy person – trying to do too many things at once like a “Top Chef” contestant competing in a Quickfire Challenge.
I was so busy lunging back and forth across the kitchen that I almost forgot my bruschetta. I quickly drained a can of white beans, chopped up a tomato and some basil, and then mixed everything together with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and a touch of basil-infused olive oil. Three slices of French bread went in the oven to get toasty, and two minutes later I was sitting down to my feast.
I went for the soup first – the piece de resistance. Or so I thought until I tasted the bruschetta. One bite into what is often considered a throwaway appetizer, and I was done for. Soup, who? Soup, what? Despite my extensive efforts to make summer in a bowl, all I wanted to eat was the bruschetta.
Not that the soup was bad. It wasn’t. In fact, my roommate (once he was courageous enough to return to the kitchen) loved my leftovers. But later that night I wasn’t raving to my mom about my golden colored vision – I was raving about the silly beans, tomatoes and bread. A simple dish made eloquent by its fresh ingredients. And perhaps even better because of the effort that didn’t go into it.
Sweet corn soup w/ roasted red peppers, leeks and feta
2 ears of corn, boiled until tender and husked
2 corncobs cut in half
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup chopped leeks
1 new potato, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
½ red pepper, sliced into pieces and roasted in 400 degree oven until tender
Fried leeks (optional garnish – prepare by baking in oven w/ olive oil until just browned)
Sauté leeks and celery in large saucepan. Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, potatoes and corncobs. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until potato is tender (approximately 20 minutes). Remove corncobs and add corn kernals to the pan. Puree with immersion blender or blender until well-combined. Soup will be thick (can add water to thin it at to taste). Reheat in saucepan and then serve topped with red pepper strips, feta and optional fried leeks.
4 pieces French bread sliced to ½ inch thickness
1 large (or 2 small) vine ripened tomatoes
1 tablespoon basil, chopped
1/3 cup white beans
Salt, pepper to taste
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil (or basil infused olive oil)
Toast bread in oven until just toasted. Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, basil, white beans, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. When bread is toasted, top with mixture. Drizzle with olive oil.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Just how "crazy good" is Bulgarini Gelato, a literal hole-in-the-strip mall in Altadena? Behold the "tweets" about it...
@DianaTakesaBite Wish I were eating Bulgarini yogurt w/ oil gelato right now.
9:31 PM Jul 12th from web
@estarla @DianaTakesaBite Oh my goodness I tried Bulgarini for the 1st time last night - almond was divine, blood orange was deliciously tangy!
9:34 PM Jul 12th from web in reply to DianaTakesaBite
@LAOCfoodie @estarla me too! and I totally adore the blood orange too.
9:37 PM Jul 12th from web in reply to estarla
@sinosoul @estarla @DianaTakesaBite E, what flavor is to the right of sorbet? D, I tasted the pistachio. it'was mighty fine. http://twitpic.com/a1rtd
9:37 AM Jul 13th from TwitterFox in reply to estarla
@DianaTakesaBite @estarla Too funny. We were there around 8:30? Totally worth the drive from WeHo. Loved the almond also!
9:43 PM Jul 12th from web in reply to estarla
@sinosoul @estarla @DianaTakesaBite Yogurt all'olio? ya mean like THIS? http://twitpic.com/a1rez Yesterday was EVERYONE HIT Bulgarini day ;)
9:58 PM Jul 12th from TwitterFox in reply to estarla
@dianatakesabite @sinosoul Like this - http://twitpic.com/a7b3x (scoop of almond on top!)
10:13 PM Jul 12th from web in reply to sinosoul
@estarla @sinosoul @dianatakesabite Look what I've been reduced to. Now I'm uploading my camera pics just to be able to reply. ;)
10:18 PM Jul 12th from Twitterrific
@estarla My own delayed Bulgarini pic in all its glory (for @dianatakesabite & @sinosoul). http://flic.kr/p/6EoMCU
8:52 AM Jul 13th from Flickr
@LAOCfoodie just uploaded my bulgarini gelato photo -- missing the yogurt w oil all over again!
9:47 AM Jul 16th from web
The end. Or at least the end until I go back for more of that absurdly fresh yogurt w/ oil -- so fresh and creamy it tastes as though it was churned straight out of a cow's udder.
749 Altadena Drive
Altadena, CA 91001
Thursday, July 16, 2009
“Umm… I’ll try the almond chip and the… err… what’s that one there? Oh, hah! The sign says was it is! Der! Okay, almond chip and the peanut butter fudge, please”
Sample flavors and spot butter brown sugar pecan.
“Oh that looks yummy! Can I try that one too?”
Step 2: Spend at least two minutes attempting to decide what to order.
I could get the almond chip with the almond fig… but is that too much almond? It might be better with rocky road. Or hazelnut! But is it bad to mix nuts? The peanut butter jelly sounds good too, but that definitely doesn’t go with the almond chip. It would really go better with the banana mascarpone like a pb & banana sandwich, but there really isn’t much of that flavor left. And I didn’t even sample it! What if I hate it? It would be a waste of a Pazzo Gelato experience!
“Okay, I think I’ll get the almond chip and the almond fig.”
Step 3: Change order while gelato is in process of being scooped.
“Actually, I think I’ll just have one scoop – the almond chip. I already had a little bit of dessert at Cru before coming here, so I really shouldn’t have two scoops.”
See small size of scoop and reconsider.
“Oh. Umm… maybe I will have the almond fig too. Is that okay? Sorry! I don’t get to come out to Silverlake often, so I should just get both. Right?”
Step 4: Get flustered and drop wallet in front of long line of customers who hate you for holding up the flow of gelato.
Idiot! Just pay and get out before they pull a Soup Nazi and send you home without any almond figgy chippy goodness!
“Sorry… pardon me…errr… bon appétit?”
Step 5: Leave evidence of idiocy.
Male customer: “Diana? Is there a Diana out here?”
Wave from table on patio. “I’m Diana!”
“Here, you dropped these.”
Stare at stack of credit cards in his hand. “Oh. Oh gosh. Thank you!”
Shamefully rock head in hands. Then eat gelato as quickly as possible whilst friend laughs in the background.
Step 6: Confess sins.
Post scenario on blog with the hope that acknowledging the neurosis makes it less crazy.
- - - -
3827 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
"It wasn't intentional." Diana said this morning, her voice cracking with emotion. "I was just trying to give her a bath. Like a good mom."
Diana purchased the $6 mug at the Chicago Anthropologie near the end of her sophomore year of college. It seemed like an impulse purchase at the time, but when she returned to Northwestern's North Shore campus the following year, she began using the mug on a daily basis for her Big Train chocolate or vanilla chai.
"It was so cold in Evanston and my hands would get numb walking to and from my classes." Diana recalls, as a slow parade of tears descends from her green, sometimes hazel, eyes. "I looked forward to a warm cup of chai every afternoon. It was my favorite treat. And the mug made it even better."
When Diana graduated in June 2005, she took her favorite hot beverage companion back with her to sunny Southern California. Despite the warmer weather, she still used the mug almost daily for her morning pot of green tea.
"I have a lot of cute mugs now, but I still always wanted to use my Anthropologie one. It was the perfect size, weight and thickness. It felt good in my hand -- comforting. I'll never forget her."
At this time, Diana doesn't have immediate plans to replace the deceased. She needs time to grieve and mourn the loss of her breakfast companion.
Respects can be paid at the gray pop-up trash can at Diana's West Hollywood-adjacent apartment. Diana asks that donations be made via sympathetic comments.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
After 8 miles.
I sigh and affix my eyes to the road. “This better be worth it.” I think.
When Cathy “the Gastronomer” invited me to join an Indonesian feast prepared by caterer Ira’s Gourmet at Ira’s home in Pasadena, I was excited at the prospect of stretching my taste buds beyond the usual “white girl” fare that I eat. Plus, I really wanted to prove to her that even though we are only a 25 (out of 100) on the Food Digger dining compatibility scale, there is hope for us to become more gastronomically aligned. (She claims I need to stop eating $17 salads if that’s every going to happen.)
Despite my warm and fuzzy feelings about the impending meal with food blogger friends Sook of Yutjangsah, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, H.C. of LA & OC Foodventures, Wes of Two Hungry Pandas, Kevin of KevinEats, Danny of Kung Food Panda, Pam of Rants & Craves, Marie of Starchy Marie, and Sharon of Weezer Monkey, as I zoom down the 210 toward my destination, I start to have my doubts about the evening. Yes, the pictures of Ira’s food looked super Rachael Ray “yummy” when Cathy posted about her Indonesian lunch a few weeks ago, but was it really good enough to justify the 45 minute drive from my West Hollywood bubble?
In a word, “yes.”
As soon as I sink my teeth into a lemper, a gelatinous ball of sticky rice, wrapped in a banana leaf and filled with tender shreds of white meat chicken that I suspect has been seasoned with kaffir lime and lemongrass, I know that everything is going to be just fine. The starter course to our feast reminds me of an exotic sushi roll – albeit one that has been wrapped in an inedible banana leaf as opposed to seaweed.
After we have all devoured our lempers, we load up our plates with the various dishes that Ira has prepared for us. I’m not sure what it is I am filling my plate with, but everything looks good, and I’m starving so I don’t much mind.
Cathy later informs me that our meal consisted of the following:
Fragrant tumeric rice
Nasi kuning means literally yellow rice
FRIED CHICKEN (ayam goreng): chicken cooked with onion, garlic, lemon grass, candle nuts, tumeric, then fried
TOFU (bafem tahu): tofu cooked in onion, garlic, coriander and sweet soy sauce, then fried
TEMPEH (bacem tempe): tempeh cooked in onion, garlic, coriander and sweet soy sauce, then fried
SHRIMP PASTE CHILI SAUCE (Sambel trasi): red/green chilli(, onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomatilos and shrimp paste and kaffir lime leaves
EGGPLANT IN CHILLI SAUCE (Sambel goreng terong ): Fried eggplant with paste of chilli, onion, garlic, tomato.
EGG IN BALADO SAUCE (Telor Baldo): fried boiled egg in balado sauce
FRIED NOODLE (Bakmi goreng): stir fry egg noodle with diced chicken, shrimp, meatballs, egg, and veggie
SWEET FRIED BEEF (Empal): beef cooked in onion, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, coriander then fried
DESSERT: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew in coconut/condensed milk and pandan leaves syrup
Though I enjoy almost everything I sample (with the exception of the eggplant that was a bit oily for me, and the shrimp paste chili sauce that set a fire alarm off in my mouth), I can’t get over the Indonesian fried chicken. Despite my allegiance to breast meat, I scrape off every succulent bite of leg meat on my drumstick and then go back for another small thigh when no one is watching. I also feel kindly toward the firm chunks of fried tofu, the slightly sweet rounds of sautéed tempeh and the fragrant yellow rice that everyone else warned me was “stomach filler” when I heaped a big portion on my plate.
They clearly underestimate the depths of my stomach that takes more than a spoonful of rice to reach optimal levels of American fullness.
Another dish that proves worthy of a place in my demanding gullet is the egg in balado sauce. The hard boiled egg that has been fried, sliced in half, and then covered with a salsa-esque topping, is a textural revelation. I love the crispy exterior juxtaposed against the silky interior.
By the time I’m noshing on the last few stray strands of my stir fried egg noodles and lapping up the final drops of my bottle of Tiger beer (yes, apparently I drink beer now?), I am feeling perfectly content with my unique dining experience. I don’t need a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or $17 salad to feel satisfied. Just give me a leg o’ chicken and some stomach filling rice, and I’m a happy girl.
Or at least until I go the wrong way twice on my trek back to West Hollywood.
Monday, July 13, 2009
“Eta 10 minutes… there till 2:30!!” Reads the second.
I look at the remains of my sad sack turkey sandwich lunch made with stale whole wheat bread and sigh. My mouth is tainted with the sour aftertaste of mediocrity. I know I will not be able to rest (or, more accurately, work) until it has been cleansed with the appropriate mouth wash for such instances of dissatisfaction.
I need ice cream.
A quick glance at my watch assures me that I have plenty of time to make the six minute drive to the T Lofts before the Cool Haus gourmet ice cream sandwich truck abandons its post for other LA pastures that are not within striking distance of my office building. I get into my vehicle (the one and only Tiffany Toyota) and minutes later my Silver Corolla is parked at a meter on Butler Avenue.
Ignoring the 20 person long line in front of Kogi, I prance confidently over to the object of my sugar-crazed affection.
I don’t need no stinkin’ tacos, I think, mentally chuckling at my very inside joke (courtesy of Troop Beverly Hills), as I approach the Cool Haus truck.
There’s only one girl in line in front of me, but the short wait time is no concern for my inner indecisive today. For once I already know what I’m ordering.
“Mint chip with chocolate chip cookies.” I say with confidence.
“Mint chip with chocolate chip cookies!” The kind-of- hunky man in the window yells back to someone (the ice cream fairy?) behind him.
I hand over my $3.50 and stand to the side of the truck. Seconds later, my sandwich emerges with its edible wrapper, which turns out to be not very edible at all. (Unless one enjoys the taste of paper.)
With my very caloric form of mouthwash in hand, my eyes scour the dirt-crusted lot for a place to sit. I veto the curb since I am wearing a newly laundered skirt and decide that the driver’s seat of my car will have to suffice.
By the time I’m settled inside, the lush gourmet ice cream has already begun to melt, and I frantically attempt to photograph the sandwich with one hand. Mid-shot, a sea of mint cream dribbles down my forearm. I watch in horror as it drips down onto my skirt – the skirt that took three days to line dry on my shower rod earlier in the week. A four letter word escapes from my normally prudish mouth, and I instinctively begin attacking the sandwich with my teeth before it does any further damage to my wardrobe.
The mint ice cream is the first thing I notice. It is well-balanced, not overly studded with mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, and is refreshing on the hot day. The fresh chocolate chip cookies pair nicely with it, but aren’t anything remarkable to my palate.
As the ice cream continues on its mission to make my brown skirt a brown skit with sea foam green polka-dots, the cookies become more of an obstacle than a delicious treat. Biting through them has the unfortunate effect of pushing the ice cream out the sides, and after several moments of unsuccessful attempts to eat the darn thing, I give up and take the sandwich a part like an Oreo cookie. I consume each side by itself, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of the ice cream sandwich altogether.
By the time I finish my decadent mid-day dessert, I feel stressed and irritated – exactly how I felt when I’d finished my turkey sandwich thirty minutes earlier. Except now I’m wearing a dirty skirt.
My whole Cool Haus experience is over incredibly fast. Too fast. My tongue hardly had time to register the flavors or savor the high-quality ice cream like I normally do when eating something that is bad for my heart and butt and bank account. It’s a nice afternoon treat to break up a day of working for “the man,” but as I drive back to the office with my sticky ice cream hands, I decide that once is enough.
I like my ice cream in a cup. With my cookies on the side.