Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Momed: So much more than pita and falafel

It would be easy to look Alex Sarkissian, the owner of the new Mediterranean restaurant Momed in Beverly Hills, and reduce him to his former title as an executive at Dolce and Gabbana.

It would be easy to look at the casual space with its pristine glass cases showcasing heaping platters of deli salads and dips like an addictive Muhammara made of roasted red pepper, walnuts and pomegranates and reduce the restaurant and marketplace to another Joan’s on Third.

And it would be easy to take a bite of the Baleela, the warm chickpea mezze plate with toasted pine nuts, preserved lemon and brown butter ($8.), or the Duck “Shawarma” with oven dried tomatoes, fig confit and garlic spread on a house-made whole wheat pita ($14.), and reduce the dining experience to those two dishes.

Because they are appallingly good. Almost too good for a streamlined cafe that appears to be ideally suited for those who want to grab their food to go without the burden or time commitment of a true “dining experience.” Even today, it’s tempting to look back on my hosted meal at Momed last Thursday evening and only remember the way the brown butter devilishly hugged each warm chickpea, or the way the tender ribbons of pulled duck confit in the shawarma arrested my tongue with a punch of intense meaty flavor.

Yet to do so – to see Momed through narrow eyes – would be a disservice to the vision that Alex and Executive Chef Matt Carpenter (Bin 8945, Bastide, Josie) have created in their little inconspicuous corner of Beverly Hills. Momed isn’t just another forgettable cafe on the well-heeled stretch of Beverly Drive that also houses Urth Cafe, Frida and Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse, among others.

Forgettable cafes don’t have stories – like how owner Alex was inspired to create the Baleela mezze after discovering the dish on one of his trips to Lebanon. Forgettable cafes don’t put as much thought into their specialty loose leaf tea and Intelligentsia and Turkish coffee menu as they do into their wine list that features general manager Vasilis Tseros’ shrewd selections from Greece, Israel and Lebanon like a velvety 2003 Chateau Kefraya Gold Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Bekka Valley in Lebanon. And forgettable cafes don’t have Alex and Matt’s passion lurking behind every plate – from the wood burning-oven grilled Pide (Turkish flatbread) with oven-roasted wild mushrooms, Coleman Family Farms’ spigarello and Akawi cheese, to the delicately dressed red quinoa salad with prodigious orange segments.

Momed isn’t just a place to “grab-and-go” or to gawk at the Louis Vuitton-toting “ladies who lunch” with their oversized sunglasses and oversized bank accounts as they stroll through the 90212. While both activities are a conceivable option at the restaurant, when I go back, I’m going back for the full dining experience – complete with buttery chickpeas, duck “shawarma,” wine, Hammam rooibos tea, and cashew baklava to finish. I might even open my eyes wide enough to spring for a slice of the date bread pudding too. It would be negligent of me not to.

233 S. Beverly Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 270-4444

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

XIV by Michael Mina: The best excuse

I should hate other people’s birthdays. I should dread them like the rest of the world that considers the whole dinner charade a loathsome and broken societal practice that inevitably ends in resentment and anger over splitting an oversized bill. I should be enraged by it, glaring at the birthday boy or girl while internally steaming, “How dare this aging person compromise my ability to get pedicures and cute summer dresses from Anthropologie?”

But, regardless of the cost, I’ve never been enraged by spending money on my dear friends – not even a little bit. Not even at all.

While I’m not particularly keen on birthday parties that involve bars, shrieking and people spilling drinks on me, I love other people’s birthday dinners. I love having an excuse to get dolled up for a meal at a fancy schmancy restaurant I would otherwise avoid, and I secretly love being chosen as one of the people my friend wants to be with on their birthday.

“She likes me! She really really likes me!” I think with Sally Fields-esque glee.

This was my exact reaction when my friend Sarah said she wanted to have dinner at XIV by Michael Mina with Sook from Yutjangsah, Lauren from Harb Knock Life and little ole me on her birthday last week. I happily slung on a chic Ted Baker black dress and pair of black pumps that I hadn’t worn since early 2009 and strode into the trendy space eager to celebrate Sarah’s special occasion.

While Sarah and Lauren opted to do the 8-course vegan tasting menu with dishes of their choice ($64), Sook and I zeroed in on the regular 8-course tasting ($64) with the carnivorous dishes of our choice. It was also our choice to manhandle not only our servings of flatbread with yogurt curry dipping sauce, but the servings of our companions as well.

Sook and I began our post-carbohydrate feast with the Hamachi Tataki presented with puffed rice, pickled shallots, Thai flavors and the big selling point for me – peanuts (I have an affinity for legumes). The fish was fresh, but, ultimately, the dish didn’t stand out for me like others during the course of the evening.
A Corn Chowder with lobster and fancy foam arrived at the table next. Sook immediately likened the soup to the experience of drinking creamed corn from a can. I have never engaged in such an animalistic activity (I prefer eating my soup with a teaspoon like a lady), but aside from the chunks of lobster, the chowder did share the same flavor profile as my mom’s creamed corn casserole.
We were both more taken with the subsequent plate – a Fried Green Tomatoes salad with burrata cheese, mustard frill, and sherry emulsion that better exemplified the fun of dining at XIV. I loved the textural juxtaposition of the crispy tomatoes and silky cheese and the physical appearance of the thorn-like nest of mustard frill on top. I could have easily eaten a full-sized portion in lieu of the preceding dishes.
Our next course, the Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura with cauliflower, passion fruit and almonds, was one I enjoyed on my previous visit to XIV. On this occasion, however, the scallops projected a distinct fishy aroma that was so off-putting I didn’t feel comfortable eating the dish. Our waitress didn’t hesitate to bring me the Grilled American Wagyu Skirt with Moroccan spiced vegetables instead. The steak had a nice rustic char that paired nicely with the spritely pickled carrots and tomatoes on the side.

The Tapioca-Crusted Tai Snapper with crispy rice, broccoli rabe and white soy vinaigrette was another dish I enjoyed on my previous visit, and a dish that I continued to enjoy on my second visit. I would still like to return to have the full-sized entrée portion – the crispy fish and crispy rice are a winning combination that confirms the belief that (most) things taste better when fried. It, again, left me wanting more.
Fortunately, the Wild King Salmon with cavatelli pasta, fava beans, spring onion, and pickled ramps was the perfect pinch hitter for my case of empty mouth syndrome. Our sommelier for the evening had told us it was his favorite dish on the menu, and despite my affection for the Tai Snapper, I had to agree with his consensus. The sweet caramelized salmon, nutty fava beans and al dente pasta were a highlight for me and a reminder that salmon doesn’t have to be a boring or “safe” choice for diners.
For our final savory course of the evening, Sook and I received a Kobe Burger Slider with Farmhouse Cheddar, “secret sauce” and fries. It was my first cheeseburger since my first cheeseburger at Rustic Canyon in February, and I inhaled it with the heady appreciation of a girl who has gone burgerless for four months. As I masticated the tender pink flesh hugged by a supple brioche bun, the lyrics, “Reunited and it feels so good,” played in my head. It certainly had me rethinking my decision to pair my brioche buns with a chickpea and quinoa burger the weekend prior.

Sook and I diverged from our tandem dining with different orders for dessert. She selected some strawberry shortcake nonsense that she silently devoured on her side of the table, and I selected the – in my mind – highly superior Bourbon-Glazed Doughnuts with caramelized cashews and banana ice cream. After a disappointing gourmet doughnut experience at Grace in the spring, I was overjoyed to get my doughnut-eating mojo back with XIV’s version. The three doughnuts holes were clearly fresh and joyfully yielded to pressure from my fork. Each tender, yeasty bite sang by itself and when combined with the mild banana ice cream and crunchy cashews.
While the meal was an extravagant one, the occasion was worth the splurge and the subsequent neglect to my chipped toenails. It was an honor to share Sarah’s birthday with her in such a festive, fun ambiance – especially since it gave me the perfect excuse to eat burgers and doughnuts instead of quinoa and vegetables after my usual Monday night Bar Method class.

8117 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414

Monday, June 28, 2010

Defiling My Buns with Greek-Style Quinoa Burgers

It’s sick, really.

Completely twisted, nonsensical and, some might say, anti-American.

I spent hours making the perfect light brioche hamburger bun from scratch – activating my yeast like all the good bakers do, letting the dough rise twice, delicately covering them in an egg wash and sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds – and then I went and filled it with a chickpea and quinoa burger.

Topped with tahini dressing.

And arugula.

And caramelized red onions that I didn’t caramelize in butter.

It shouldn’t be all that shocking. I am the girl who only just had her first cheeseburger this past February, and who has only had one cheeseburger slider since that fateful day when time stood still and my heart didn’t know whether to seize up from joy or from an overload of fat.

It was a really really good cheeseburger.

But I’m still not a “burger” girl. I don’t crave them like I crave quinoa. I don’t feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust if I don’t eat a burger at least several times a week like I do with my favorite grain. And when I see a warm golden bun emerging from the oven, I don’t think, “Mmm… that would go great with some cow.” I think, “Mmm… I can’t wait to fill it with quinoa.”

So when I made these light brioche buns for the TasteSpotting Blog a few weekend ago, I did what any girl of my persuasion would do. I fried up a chickpea and quinoa burger to go with it. And my heart seized up with joy.

Greek-Style Quinoa Burger
Adapted from Dishing Up Delights who adapted it from Everyday Food
Makes 1 large patty

½ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1 green onion, sliced into thin rings
2 tablespoons quinoa, cooked according to package instructions
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
1 tablespoon beaten egg
¼ cup grated carrot
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt, pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in either a food processor, blender or bowl if blending with an immersion blender. Pulse together until combined but still slightly chunky. Form into a patty. Batter will be sticky, but if it is too hard to work with, refrigerate for 10 minutes to firm up.

In a nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium; cook burgers until browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes per side.

Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 medium garlic clove, roasted
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini or tahini butter
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini and lemon juice. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and then mash in the garlic. Taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon. You will probably need to add more water to thin it out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Saban Free Clinic's Extravaganza for the Senses: A great reason to overeat

Photo from last year's Extravaganza for the Senses

Growing up I had a fascination with Sizzler. Not just because my shrimp-loving older brother used to talk about it with the same enthusiasm he used to describe his pump up Reebok sneakers, but because I loved the concept of an all you can eat buffet.

Even though I had no interest in their “signature” seafood options, I would beg my mom to take my brothers and me to Sizzler for lunch. It wasn’t about unlimited fried shrimp for me, it was about all the other unlimited options – specifically the dessert. My eyes would glow like miniature light bulbs at the sight of the frozen yogurt machine that I could use to pump out as much chocolate yogurt as my little heart desired. Back then I didn’t need to practice restraint – the more sugary calories I consumed, the merrier I was.

As a somewhat “grown” woman, my ability to eat all that my bigger heart desires is somewhat compromised by my desire to continue fitting into my jeans. That said, my eyes still light up at the sight of a vast buffet of food and drink – especially when that food is prepared by some of the top chefs in the city, and especially when that drink is wine.

On Saturday, July 17th, I imagine my eyes will be glowing so brightly they could direct a ship into a harbor. That evening, I will be attending the Saban Free Clinic’s Extravaganza for the Senses, which has been named one of Southern California’s Top 100 Events (BizBash Magazine). With unlimited samples from over 40 of LA’s top restaurants and food purveyors like Angelini Osteria, Jar and Valerie Confections, as well as sips from over 80 wineries like my beloved Kim Crawford, it’s not hard to see why it has received such acclaim. I am particularly excited to see Suzanne Tracht from Jar perform a live cooking demonstration at the event (she does amazing things with purple potatoes).

But beyond the potential for star chef-gazing and overstuffing one’s gullet like I did when I hit the Sizzler buffet as a kid, the event is notable for another reason. All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Saban Free Clinic, which provides free health care, dental and social services to the most vulnerable members of Los Angeles Community. This isn’t just a great cause, it’s a cause that impacts far more lives than it should in our sprawling suburban metropolis.

Tickets are $80 prior to July 1st and $200 for VIP tickets, which include VIP parking, early VIP entry into the event, and seating in the exclusive VIP guest area overlooking the event. As of July 1, tickets are $100 and $225, respectively. For more information or reservations, call 323.330.1670 or visit

For those who cannot attend, but would still like to support the clinic, you can find more information on donations and volunteering at the clinic’s website.

The Saban Free Clinic’s 13th Annual Extravaganza for the Senses

Sunset Gower Studios

1438 North Gower Street

Hollywood, CA 90028

Saturday, July 17, 2010

6pm – 10pm ~ VIP

7pm – 10pm ~ General Admission

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top Chef Season 7, Episode 2: "It's just rice and all that nasty stuff"

There isn’t much time for socializing as the second episode of “Top Chef Season 7” gets under way. Jacqueline makes butter for her breakfast of champions, everyone makes faces, and then the chefs are off to the Top Chef kitchen for their Quick Fire Challenge.

Padma, who is actually wearing something that doesn’t make my eyeballs bleed, introduces the 16 remaining cheftestants to guest judge Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass who Timothy tells us is “a pretty important person to feed the President of the United States.” We’re excited. He’s excited.

And then they announce the challenge...

Because a successful government must be bi-partisan, Padma tells the chefs they will be participating in a “Bi-Partisandwich Quick Fire” and will have 30 minutes to create a sandwich with a partner. Everyone’s like super stoked because it seems way easy, and Padma said, “Bi-Partisandwich” and that’s like so funny not really at all. Then they get hit with the kicker.

They’ll be competing in aprons that have been sewn together and will only have one hand (plus their partner’s) to complete the challenge.

Master K with the mad knife skills thinks it’s genius and asks, “Who got high and came up with this idea?” (All signs point to the dearly departed John who was booted off last week.)

Angry Tracey is actually really happy because she’s been paired with Golden Boy Angelo and that means she gets to fondle his ego for 30 minutes. He’s like so dreamy and has a sandwich shop in New York which makes him even dreamier because she can ride his coattails to immunity and doesn’t have to do anything but turn red and giggle maniacally. (She still really scares us.)

Tamesha is not happy to be paired with spastic Amanda, who sliced open her own hand the previous week during the potato peeling Quick Fire. She says, “Basically I don’t think I can trust her holding the knife and me holding the bread.” Ed is also terrified that Master K is going to hack up his hand like a chicken and then sous vide it for dinner, but Kenny laughs it off. “I’m not going to cut you… at least not yet.”

So much love, I tell you. So much love.

Tracey and Angelo ultimately win it for their (his) Asian-style fish sandwich with a “beautiful Japanese sauce” that Angelo likes to call “liquid love” to make Tracey giggle and blush so she’ll stop threatening to push people off buildings. He’s not surprised by their win. “Once again I feel the eyes on me.” he says with an evil laugh that sounds disturbingly like Tracey’s. Makes us wonder, maybe they really are identical twins separated at birth and reunited by the strings of a Bi-Partisandwich apron?

For the Elimination Challenge, each pair of chefs with be partnered off with another pair of chefs and charged with the task of creating a nutritious school lunch for 50 students. They will need to feed the students using the same restrictive budget that public schools have which works out to be $2.60 per student or $130 for all 50 kids. They must also provide the students with a main course, a couple side dishes consisting of fruit and vegetables, and dessert.

Arnold is like way freaked out by the challenge. He tells us, “When I go out I spent $130 on my self.” We’re not sure if he’s talking about his scarves, his hair gel or his dinner.

Because they won the Quick Fire, Angelo and Tracey get to select who they will be paired with. Angelo immediately zeroes in on Kenny and Ed because, as he whispers into blushing Tracey’s ear later, “I don’t like Kenny,” and he wants to metaphorically push him off a building. Tracey just laughs. She loves Angelo so much she could just squeeze him into little bits and then grind him up into a hamburger and eat him with her tarantula jaws. Instead, she just decides to make a “healthy” hamburger with chicken and imagine that the buns are Angelo’s. Golden Boy plays it Dr. Evil style with a celery and peanut butter mousse salad that will be the team’s “vegetable” – or, ideally, Master K’s downfall since Angelo has immunity.

There’s no love circulating on Kelly, Arnold, Lynne, and Tiffany’s team either. Arnold is getting really whiny because he hasn’t had a facial in a week, and Kelly is using the oatmeal he wants for his moisturizing body scrub to make tortillas for her carnitas tacos. She’s oblivious. She just wants to keep saying “carnitas” over and over again with a Spanish accent.

Tamesha who is with Amanda, Jacqueline and Stephen, still wants to kick Amanda’s ass and we kind of want to see her do it so she’ll stop talking about how much she loves braising things with Sherry. There’s no such drama with Andrea, Alex, Tim, and Kevin who are like four peas in a pod or four chefs in a bi-partisandwich apron. We sort of love Andrea because she has pretty blonde curly hair and doesn’t want chop anyone’s face off.

At least not yet.

The chefs head over to Alice Deal Middle School where they will finish preparing their meals and then serve them to the judges and room full of stampeding students. Sam Kass informs them that the kids will tell them if they don’t like their food – unlike Tom, Gail and Padma who will apparently just push it around their plates and pout?

The judges and kids go wild for Andrea Alex, Tim, and Kevin’s coleslaw with yogurt, grilled apple cider BBQ chicken, macaroni and cheese with a whole wheat crust, and fresh melon kebab with chantilly yogurt “cream.” They also like Kelly’s infamous carnitas, Arnold’s corn salad, Lynne’s black bean cake, and Lynne’s carmelized sweet potatoes and sherbert. One kid pipes up, “I really liked how they place the vegetable with the ice cream.” You and me both. You and me both. Kelly, who looks bizarrely like Claire Danes, ultimately takes the win for her carnitas because, as we learned earlier in the episode, “Kids f*cking love tacos.” They do not, as it turns out, like Stephen’s dish of “rice and all that nasty stuff.”

Angelo, Tracey, Ed and Kenny are the decided losers in the School Lunch battle due to the lack of nutrition in their menu. Amanda, Tamesha, Jacqueline, and Stephen are also called out for Amanda’s suspect Sherry-braised chicken and Jacqueline’s atrociously sugary banana pudding. (Apparently she uses the same style of measuring as she does for her butter saturated breakfast.) Judge’s table turns into a school yard game of pointing fingers as Amanda starts yelling about how much sugar is in processed peanut butter, and is then similarly reprimanded for serving kids Sherry just because she likes it. Gail says, “I love vodka but I’m not cooking with it.” You and me both. You and me both.

Despite Amanda’s Sherry chicken fail and Angelo’s team’s peanut butter flop, Jacqueline is ultimately singled out for her sad, sugary banana pudding that was unfairly sabotaged by Amanda’s decision to use all of her team’s budget to get the kids liquored up. Me thinks she was a fun one in college. But we might have to wait for the reunion show stew room clips to verify that one.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rosé and World Fare Bustaurant: When two worlds collide...

In the past year, I’ve resigned myself to a few truths about myself and my dining tastes and behavior.

I will never get sick of quinoa.

If I start eating roasted and salted cashews, I won’t be able to stop.

And I don’t like eating food from a truck.


I’ve done a pretty stand-up job of avoiding the food truck madness since I last pontificated on the subject in November. I haven’t tried the Flying Pig Truck even though it’s super cute and super pink. I haven’t chased after the Grilled Cheese Truck for another taste of the atrociously good cheesy mac and rib sandwich I sampled this past March. And I didn’t attend the LA Street Fest in February even though everyone in the LA dining community seemed to be going and Chef Ludo Lefebvre was there frying up his famous chicken and my friends shared food and conversation with Jonathan Gold and then told me all about it in explicit detail later. (I was only a little bit jealous.)

Even with the launch of some decidedly respectable trucks with decidedly respectable eats (like the Dim Sum Truck), I’ve still maintained the position that I don’t like waiting in lines for food I have to eat on the sidewalk without a glass of wine or proper set of dining utensils. I wasn’t going to rob myself of a proper dining experience – even for the most delicious of fare.

Of course, if there was a way to combine the two – trucks and comfortable eating conditions – maybe, just, maybe I’d take another bite of the food truck scene…

And maybe, just maybe, I might like it a little tiny bit…

This past Sunday afforded me the perfect opportunity to have my cake and eat it too. I can think of no better way to experience a food truck than at a Rosé tasting party hosted at a friend’s house and catered by the World Fare Bustaurant. No chasing, no lines, no stains on my dress from eating on a curb – only delicious pink wine and soul-satisfying food.

With sun streaming over my friend’s backyard, chilled bottles of Chateau La Rame Rose and Chateau Simone Palette Rouge at the ready, and a patio table covered with bowls of fresh fruit, I was primed and poised for my first truly enjoyable food truck experience.

At first glance, the World Fare Bustaurant manned by Chef Andi Van Willigan, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay and Michael Mina, is not an obvious choice for an upscale wine tasting party. There is nothing particularly ritzy about the bustaurant’s signature Bunny Chows that are inspired by South African street worker food. Hollowed out loaves of bread are judiciously stuffed with a choice of either chicken curry, Worcestershire braised short rib with horseradish crème fraiche, barbecue braised pork with sweet corn jalepeño relish, and vegetarian chili ($4). Even when eaten with a fork on the upper deck of the bus where there is seating, this is potentially messy grub. The type of thing that doesn’t make for a dainty or light lunch, and doesn’t necessarily pair well with a glass of sparkling Rosé.

But the supple shreds of short rib are Piedmontese, the chicken in the popular chicken curry bunny is organic “jidori,” and the mac & cheese balls ($3) are infused with a kiss of truffle. It’s not high class, but it is high quality – the type of fare that can bring opposing worlds like “the wine crowd” and “the street food crowd” together in perfect harmony.

While I typically gravitate toward lighter lunches like salads (note: World Fare does offer salads on their Blackboard Specials menu), I was smitten with the short rib bunny, truffle macaroni & cheese balls and the salty fries served with either mustard crème fraiche, spicy remoulade or BBQ sauce ($3). With wine glasses firmly in hand, those in my vicinity attacked the spicy remoulade dipping sauce in a manner that some might reserve for a sporting event or soccer viewing party. I similarly attacked the freshly baked chocolate chip and pecan cookie – one of the better versions I’ve had in recent memory. I was less enamored with the overtly sweet barbecue braised pork bunny and the similarly over-the-top butterscotch bread pudding with butterscotch pod de crème that I also had the opportunity to sample.

While I am still not completely at ease with the food trucks (or even bustaurants serving Piedemontese beef and really good chocolate chip cookies), in this setting, it was a welcome dining experience. On Sunday, two very different worlds collided and that world was a very pleasant place for me reside for an afternoon. Especially since I didn’t spill a single drop of food or wine on my striped Anthropologie summer dress.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yatai Ramen Twist: A ramen by any other name...

I told myself I’d never use the word.

I considered it pretentious, devoid of creativity and as over played as the Black Eyed Peas “Tonight’s Going To Be a Good Night.”

I hated it – and cringed whenever I saw it used in a review.

“That’ll never see the light of day on my blog,” I thought, my nose tucked up in the air in haughty disapproval.

Yet on Saturday night, as I soothe my “Eat My Blog” bake sale wounds with a bowl of Spicy Miso Ramen luxuriously accented with long strips of broth-saturated pork belly, the word keeps popping up in my head.


There’s no other way to describe the ramen ($11) I’m enjoying at BREADBAR in West Hollywood for Chefs Kazuo Shimamura and Noriyuki Sugie's “Yatai Ramen Twist” pop-up restaurant concept. No other way to encapsulate the experience of slurping up the fragrant broth thickened with pork fat and remnants of gelatinous egg yolk. The flavor of the blended miso, spicy sauce and yuzu is visceral, pungent – not to be ignored – but “rich” isn’t the right word.

“Rich” is taxing. It’s fettuccini alfredo, truffle macaroni and cheese or a cheeseburger smothered in aioli and bacon. Chef Shimamura’s ramen is assertive, but light on the tongue – it shimmies down the throat with the ease of a summer white wine. It can stand alone or with the loose mass of al dente ramen noodles, and accompanying poached egg, Kurobuta pork belly, nori, bamboo shoots, and kikurage (mushrooms), and Tokyo negi (Japanese leeks).

It penetrates the soul.

It awakens the senses.

It renders pork fat phobic girls with pink blogs and an intolerance for spice silent with satisfaction.

It's “unctuous.”

I won’t say it again. But I will be back for another bowl of "it" before the series is over on July 24th.

“Yatai Ramen Twist” at BREADBAR
8718 W. Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 205-0124

Mondays – Saturdays, 5 – 10 pm through July 24th

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eat My Blog: Magic -- in a bakery box

It’s 2:45 am on Saturday morning and sleep is nowhere in my immediate future. I glare at the clock on my bedside table, willing it to move faster – willing it to turn to 6:22 am.

I’m not crazy. I’m not a glutton for sleep deprivation. I’m just excited – far too excited for such a mundane task like sleeping.

In just a few short hours the second
Eat My Blog will be taking place at Tender Greens in West Hollywood, and I can’t wait to get there to begin setting up the tables for the bake sale. I can’t wait to see my friends on the planning committee – Cathy Danh, the organizer and mastermind of Eat My Blog, Anjali from Delicious Coma, and Laurie from G-Ma’s Bakery.

And I can’t wait to see how the day will unfold.

Looking back now, nearly 48 hours after we stormed the patio at Tender Greens with our loot and army of food bloggers, bakers and bakery boxes, I can scarcely believe it even happened. Were we really there? Did we really raise over $5,400 for the LA Regional Food Bank? And did my mom really come parading in with not one, but two strawberry napoleons that she and my dad had picked up from Chef Ludo’s home on their way to the event?

The whole day was magical. Like being transported to a unique space and time where only good will and kindness and sugar exists. My heart aches at the memories – meeting Chef Debbie Lee from “The Next Food Network Star, Season 5” who made beautiful Bacon Coffee Cakes with Almond Butterscotch Drizzle for us while simultaneously launching her Southern-Korean pub style food truck, Ahn-Joo, last week. Or seeing Stan from Valerie Confections arrive with bakery boxes, a helping hand and pristine white chocolate petit fours and aprium tarts. Or watching Pastry Chef Kristin Feuer from BakeLab take charge with the construction of our tower of bakery boxes – diving in with the same zeal she applies toward the creation of her impeccable cakes and cookies.

It brings tears to my eyes to think of it all. To think of the outpouring of support from everyone in the dining community – the food bloggers who slaved in their kitchens to bake up the delicious treats that flooded the tables, the food “Tweeps” who graciously purchased brownies and cupcakes with no regard for their waistlines or wallets, and the restaurants and chefs who eagerly jumped on board to support the cause.

In addition to Ludo Lefebvre, Valerie Confections, BakeLab, and Chef Debbie Lee, we were fortunate to receive support and contributions from KCRW “Good Food” Host and Chef Evan Kleiman, Starry Kitchen, the Chicks with Knives, Cube, Fraiche, Plaisir, Drago Centro, Kiss My Bundt, Euro Pane, Hollywood Corner, Choppe Choppe, Scoops Ice Cream, iHerb, Steven Lam Photography, Js2 Communications, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and 20th Century Fox.

The generosity I witnessed on Saturday was overwhelming – the type of thing that could make a Grinch’s heart grow three sizes, make a grown woman cry and inspire people to sincerely say, “Keep the change.”

And, on the most magical of days, the type of thing that can raise $5427 for the LA Regional Food Bank.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Top Chef Season 7, Episode 1: Blood on the stage

The motto for the seventh season of “Top Chef: DC” is “Hail to the Chefs,” but if the first episode is any indication, they actually mean “Hail to Angelo.”

And Padma’s boobs.

There are a lot of familiar MO’s on the new season that is “furnished by Dial Nutriskin” because chefs should always wash their hands before doing anything in the kitchen. There’s the daddy – Stephen Hopcraft from Ohio who left his wife and 13-month-year-old twins at home and already misses them so much he’s trying to sabotage himself by breading rib-eye steak and treating the stew room like a sand box. There’s the angry/scary one – Tracey Bloom who was named one of the Top 25 chefs in Atlanta because she threatened to eat the judges and then laughed maniacally about it. There’s “Robin” aka John Somerville, a James Beard Award Nominee in 2009, who immediately informs us that he feels like a stranger in a strange land (he’s been living in maple trees in Michigan).

And then there’s Angelo Sosa from New York. The golden boy with a Michelin star under his belt, and this season’s Michael Voltaggio. He’s kind of a big deal. Like huge. He’s been to Monte Carlo and eaten at Louis XV and is going to guillotine everybody’s heads off and leave blood all over the stage. But Timothy Dean from DC isn’t buying it. “Angelo, he’s like I got it going on. And I’m like this is some bull shit.”

After everyone finishes comparing resumes and errr… knife size, Padma and Tom parade in to give the cheftestants their Quickfire Challenge. It’s just like old times – Padma looks like a penguin in a snug-fitting white vest and black pant ensemble, Tom looks like a midget next to her, and the chefs are all like “Wow, it’s Padma and Tom!” For their first challenge, the 17 chefs will compete in a Mise en place tournament where they will need to peel 10 potatoes, brunoise (finely dice) 10 cups of onions, break down 4 chickens, and then use those 3 ingredients to make a dish. The slowest chefs will be eliminated after each leg and only the four fastest will compete in the cook-off for a chance to win $20,000.

Everybody’s nervous – Amanda Baumgarten from Water Grill in Los Angeles slices open her palm while she’s peeling potatoes which kind of creeps me out a little bit because Angelo is now apparently psychic too. Blood on the stage, people. Blood on the stage. Golden Boy keeps his cool and makes it to the final round along with Master Kenny Gilbert who angry Tracey wants to fall off the building. (To create more blood on the stage, perhaps?)

The four remaining chefs, Angelo, Kenny, Kevin Sbraga from Jersey, and Timothy engage in a chicken, potato, onion face-off that is really just a face-off between Golden Boy and Master K. Angelo, who -- in addition to being a psychic -- feels “like an engine,” takes it with his roasted spice chicken served with a chilled onion jam. He wants to be the first contestant to win every single challenge. And we kind of believe he might do it. If Tracey doesn't push him off the building first...

For the elimination challenge the chefs are charged with cooking a dish that represents where they are from for 300 young successful Washingtonians at the kick-off party for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The chefs are divided into 4 groups and will be competing head to head with the other members of their group – one person will be up for the win and one will be up for elimination. Quickfire finalists Angelo, Kenny, Kevin and Timothy will each get to select the chefs they want to compete against, which means they get to pick the people they think suck the most. Nobody’s surprised when Kenny picks angry Tracey first. Who’s pushing who off the building now, sucka?

The chefs are off to Whole Foods and it’s madness, chaos! Apples are following all over the place, people are freaking out over the ingredients, John is sporting a freakishly long rattail and talking about maple and trees…

Aaah, it’s so good to be rid of all those professional, sane Top Chef Masters.

Angelo, who is making arctic char with bacon froth to represent Connecticut, is really pumped for the challenge. He’s stopped feeling like an engine and is now feeling more like an orchestra. But not to worry, he’s still psychic. He can tell you when a flavor is going to hit your mouth and why it’s going to hit your mouth… Though really, I just want to know why John is using maple syrup to style his hair.

Angry Tracey has temporarily set her wrath upon “hick” Stephen who is making a potato-crusted ribeye which is pretty much the worst idea ever. Or at least it is until Jacqueline the caterer announces to Eric Ripert that she’s made him a lowfat chicken liver mousse that looks like she pureed John’s ponytail with some rubber cement. Eric’s not so pleased. Nor is the “luscious” Gail Simmons who describes it as “coarse.” (She apparently received a particularly meaty bite of John’s not-so-luscious locks.)

It’s not hard to predict who the top four chefs will be for this challenge – Golden Boy, Master K, Alex the Lemer from Russia, and Kevin who is a lot more lovable than Mike Isabella, the last Top Chef Jersey boy. The judges love the lemer’s short rib borscht and love Angelo the orchestra/engine/blood sucking vampire’s arctic char with bacon froth. Angelo ultimately takes the win and proudly announces that he’s now also a marathon runner. “They are going to be chasing me the whole time.”

Timothy, John, Jacqueline, and Stephen are called in as the least successful chefs in their groups. Tom’s being extra mean this season to compensate for the loss of acerbic, Simon Cowell-wannabee judge Toby Young, and asks Stephen with a pointed glare, “Why was the choice to cut a ribeye so thin that you really no choice but to overcook it.” He’s also confounded by Jacqueline’s weak defense that her lowfat chicken liver mousse was a fail because she didn’t have a recipe. Ultimately, however, it’s John’s amateurish attempt at a maple mousse napoleon made with a prepared puff pastry that pisses him off the most. We are not sad to see him go. Nor are the other 16 chefs who give an “aww” about as sincere as Tracey’s maniacal laugh.

All hail the chefs, indeed. This one’s going to be a bumpy (and bloody) ride.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eat My Blog 2.0: Just in time for bikini season...

“$3000.” She whispered in awe.

Anjali from Delicious Coma, Laurie from G-Ma’s Bakery and I looked at each other in shock, then back at Cathy from Gastronomy Blog to make sure she wasn’t kidding.

She grinned back at us -- her face impossibly bright -- and we all let out a whoop of excitement.

We’d just raised $3000 for the LA Regional Food Bank.

And we couldn’t wait to do it again.

After the success of the first Eat My Blog this past December, all of us on the planning committee were eager to start planning the second bake sale that will be taking place this coming Saturday, June 19th from 10 am – 4 pm at Tender Greens in West Hollywood. With Cathy, the mastermind behind Eat My Blog, leading the charge, we flooded each other’s inboxes with ideas for the second go around.

“Let’s ask Ludo and Evan Kleiman to donate!”

“Let’s make t-shirts!”

“Let’s make people dress up in cookie costumes and dance around Santa Monica Blvd!”

While we don’t currently plan on having t-shirts (or cookie costumes), there are many generous chefs and restaurants, including Ludo Lefebrve and KCRW “Good Food” host Evan Kleiman, that will be donating baked goods for the cause. In addition to Ludo and Evan, Debbie Lee from the “Next Food Network Star Season 5,” the Chicks w/ Knives, BakeLab, Starry Kitchen, Drago Centro, Valerie Confections, Cube, Fraiche, Choppe Choppe, the Hollywood Corner, Tender Greens, and Plaisir will all be firing up their ovens for the LA Regional Food Bank. It has been truly remarkable to see the out pouring of support from the local dining community.

With over 70 bakers and food bloggers on board, we anticipate over 2,000 treats priced between $1 and $4. Highlights include the LA Time’s Daily Dish’s Momofuku Crack Pie, the Chicks with Knives’ Blueberry & Raspberry Jam Wedge, and Cathy's amazing Triple Cherry Streusal Bars that I was lucky enough to try a couple weeks ago. Larger items, like Evan Kleiman’s galettes will be priced accordingly.

In true Diana Takes an (Indecisive) Bite fashion, I still haven’t decided what I’m going to make. But I do have a few tricks in my pink Anthropologie apron’s pockets…

(Hopefully I won’t have to offer those instead of the treats.)
Either way, I can’t wait for Saturday. And I can’t wait to see Cathy’s bright face telling us just how much we’ve raised to help end the persistent hunger in Los Angeles County.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Inappropriately Good Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad

It’s all wrong.

So, wrong.

I shouldn’t be roasting a butternut squash in June. I shouldn’t even be buying butternut squash. It’s not seasonal. It’s not sustainable. It’s not local.

I am a terrible, terrible person.

But I love that nutty sweet squash. Even when it’s almost summer, even when it’s 80 degrees out, even when I nearly slice my finger off trying to peel and cut it, the sight of the orange flesh is enough to make my heart go all aflutter.

Especially when I am using it in a recipe like this one.

Once I stumbled upon it, there was no way I couldn’t make the Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad that both Smitten Kitchen and Orangette have featured on their blogs. I couldn’t possibly wait for fall to follow in their kitchen footsteps. It would haunt me. Taunt me. Jab me in the brain until I finally relented and brought home the two and half pound squash from Mexico.

So here I am. Roasting a butternut squash in June. Mixing it with chickpeas, arugula, shallots, cilantro, pinenuts, and a tahini dressing that I want to lick off my appendages in a completely inappropriate fashion.

It’s all wrong.

So wrong.

But it tastes so right.

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Orangette, who adapted it from Casa Moro

Yield: 4 servings

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 ½ pounds), peeled, seed, and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
One 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 ½ cups)
3 shallots, sliced into thing rings
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Few handfuls of arugula
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Salt, pepper
Olive Oil

Tahini Dressing
1 medium garlic clove, roasted
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini or tahini butter
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Serving Suggestion:
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and prepared according to package instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread butternut squash and thinly sliced shallots out onto baking sheet. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini and lemon juice. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and then mash in the garlic. Taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon. You will probably need to add more water to thin it out.

When butternut squash, shallots and tahini dressing are ready, heat large frying pan to medium-high heat and swirl a swig of olive oil into the pan. Add the garlic, reduce the heat and then sauté for 1 minute before adding the chickpeas. Cook together another couple minutes, add the arugula to the pan and continue sautéing until arugula has wilted. Toss in the butternut squash, shallots and then once combined, reduce the heat to low and add the cilantro and tahini dressing. Serve immediately with quinoa on the side. Top with toasted pine nuts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Providence: Playing stowaway at one of the finest restaurants in LA

Situated on a nondescript stretch of Melrose between Highland and Vine Street, Providence stands out like a yacht in a harbor of dilapidated sail boats. Even if one isn’t aware that they are driving by one of the finest seafood restaurants in the country, the majestic architecture suggests that something special is going on inside.

For years the Michelin-starred restaurant’s boarded up exterior that resembles the base of a ship taunted me with what in my mind had become a sign of inaccessibility rather than grandeur. The price points of the three tasting menus ($85, $110, $160) and $40+ entrees that can be ordered a la carte seemed prohibitively expensive for my rather modest budget. I thought I needed a grand occasion, a sugar daddy, or my real daddy to justify a visit to Chef Michael Cimarusti’s seafood oasis.

As it turns out, dining at the elusive restaurant doesn’t necessarily require a knight in shining credit card armor – at least not this month. In honor of its five-year anniversary, Providence is offering diners their 5-course tasting menu for $65 instead of $85. It’s all the occasion I needed to make a reservation with my good friend Danny of Kung Food Panda for Saturday, June 12th.
I have no idea what to expect when I stride through the door in a sheer lavender blouse and charcoal tulip skirt on Saturday evening. I’d changed clothes five times before deciding on the ensemble – I wasn’t sure what was appropriate for the refined, elegant setting that is the antithesis of most restaurants people my age frequent. In a way, I feel as though I’m the one who has something to prove. I’m confident that the kitchen will blow me away, but I’m less confident that I truly deserve to be there – that I really deserve to be wined and dined by Providence’s army of proficient servers.

A quick glance at the wine menu eases my diner’s tension. I smile at the familiar Craggy Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road from New Zealand ($12/glass). Armed with my favorite varietal of wine from my favorite region for the grape, I feel instantly at home in the formal dining room. I dissolve into my seat, ready to enjoy my three-hour ride on the Providence ship. I’m ready to play the role of a well-heeled diner. Or, at the very least, a diner who can appreciate the nearly flawless plates set before her.

I’d heard rumors about the restaurant’s epic bread basket, so enthusiastically request both a brioche bacon roll and a slice of the olive focaccia when the bread attendant comes by Danny and my table. While both provide ample reason for a diner to spoil their appetite, the bacon brioche is particularly noteworthy. Buttery, salty, sweet – it’s the type of affair that could make one reconsider the cupcake as the preeminent carbohydrate indulgence.

To further whet our appetites, we are presented with a trio of amuses that include a gelee of gin and tonic with lime, a margarita ravioli and a small glass containing cured trout, trout caviar, wasabi marshmallow and crisp colored balls that I can’t even pretend to identify. All three are delightful – each a microcosm of intense flavors that electrify the senses. Despite its size, I ultimately consider the cured trout amuse as notable a bite as my favorite courses in our tasting.

We start the five-course menu off with the Japanese Kanpachi with crispy rice crackers, coriander and soy crème fraiche. While I don’t typically have an aversion to sashimi, the meaty texture of the kanpachi is off-putting to me, and I have difficulty eating more than one piece. The flavors are solid, and the fish is certainly fresh, but I can’t get past the amberjack’s hearty composition. I am happy to move on to the next course – the Hokkaido Scallop with Japanese eggplant, ramps, reduction of vadouvan and sauternes, and cashews. The aromatic dish accosts my nostrils with curry upon its arrival at the table. I know before even tasting it that I will love the sultry curry paired with the silken flesh of the jumbo scallop. Everything about this dish sings to me – the crunch from the cashews, the lush bed of eggplant – it’s beautiful in both composition and appearance.

I am similarly enthralled with my first taste of sea urchin in Danny and my supplemental order of the Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Santa Barbara sea urchin, spot prawns and basil ($26). While the Italian flavors of the dish are almost too familiar to stand out from the other courses, the textures of the various elements elevate the plate to fine-dining status. The al dente, slightly irregular spaghetti noodles offer an addictively substantial bite that pairs well with the sea urchin that Danny aptly describes as “sea butter.” I love the way the two seemingly foreign items bind together so effortlessly.
For the third course of the tasting, we receive Wild Day-Boat Pacific Halibut with summer squash, black olive, dried apricot and crunchy basil. It’s a fine dish that is strongest when eaten with all the ingredients intact. Danny laughs at me as I mix everything together to ensure that each supple piece of halibut is partnered with a briny olive, sweet apricot and dusting of basil. The basil is the magic fairy dust in the equation – it’s an unexpected staccato that punctuates all the other flavors on the plate.
We finish our savory courses with a fish substitution for the tasting’s veal tenderloin. The kitchen happily accommodates our request with a Striped Black Bass served with almond paste, almonds, sweet peas, maitake mushrooms and finish of balsamic glaze that is ultimately my favorite dish of the evening. The bright peas, acidic vinegar, lush almond cream, and earthy mushrooms are disharmonious at first glance, but come together as easily as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As I tear my fork through the shreds of supple fish, willing the portion size to multiply in front of my eyes, I catch a glimpse at what it must be like to be a judge on “Top Chef Masters.”

In a word, heaven.
The word is similarly applicable for our dessert course – Yuzu Curd with meringue, blackberry sorbet and jasmine. The sorbet is intoxicatingly tart and sweet – the perfect relish for the sultry custard beneath. The light dessert is the ideal ending to our feast from the sea, and I find myself enthusiastically nodding at Danny when he mentions returning again for the full dessert tasting.
To seal our evening off with an appropriate kiss on the cheek, we are served a tray of delicate white chocolate macarons, nougats and chocolate marshmallows. It’s a sweet garnish to a spectacular evening and another of the little details that make playing stowaway at Providence such a delightful and worthwhile dining experience. Even though I still feel like I’m not worthy of the grandeur, the entire staff goes out of their way to make all the diners in the restaurant feel worthy of their attention.
Chairs are pulled out. Napkins are refolded when one retires to the restroom. Water glasses never dip below half full...

And when a self-conscious girl in a sheer lavender blouse and charcoal tulip skirt asks for another bacon brioche roll, she gets another bacon brioche roll.

5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3623
(323) 460-4170