Foodies in Love

IMG_8273This elegant little block of tofu doused with a perfect amount of soy and striped with tender piles of meticulously placed chives represents the Cute Gardener. He is neat, ordered, minimal and aesthetically clean.

IMG_8274This chaotic bowl of ramen with awkwardly large noodles trying to elbow for room amongst the greens and wobbly eggs punctuated by strands of fatty pork represents me. I am messy, cluttered, rich and juicy.

Together these dishes make one of our favorite at home meals – food being the common denominator in our sea of differences that have always fueled our relationship with curiosity, wonder and mutual adventure. As we celebrate our third anniversary I thought I would pay homage to some of the best things I’ve learned or come to understand about our foodie life together.

  1. The CG will never share my love of white foods, i.e. bananas, coconut, etc.
  2. I will never share his love of sucking the goo from a crab head.
  3. When it comes to a bird, he likes stripping the carcass whereas I like digging the marrow from the bones.
  4. The CG received the gene that makes a person hate cilantro. I did not.
  5. If you want a cake or cookie in this household, you better ask the CG otherwise you may get something resembling rabbit food and granola without proper fat and termed raw.
  6. I make better homemade pizzas but his look prettier.
  7. Cooking the entire Dorie Greenspan Around My French Table is taking me a lot longer than I had envisioned when I gifted the book to him for our first Christmas together.
  8. Whereas the flavor of peppermint is like garlic and the sign of the cross to the CG, my kryptonite remains any form of poultry skin not fried to a non-flabby crisp.
  9. I am in charge of the baked salmon and other things in the oven; he is the king of the stove top.
  10. Rye bread doesn’t last in our household, especially if it’s from Diamond Bakery on Fairfax. He prefers it lighter without seeds and I crave dark loaves with seeds. Sometimes we get marbled.
  11. I am most assuredly spoiled because I get dinner cooked for me at least five days a week but I don’t take it for granted.
  12. Backyard produce has made grocery store produce unbearable to me.
  13. Bourbon is to be respected.
  14. For red wines, he likes his complex and balanced while I prefer funky, dark and big.
  15. We have found that there are very few restaurants that make us want to return more than once and so many good ones to choose from that it seems normally silly to do so. But there are exceptions that include Asenabo for simple yet sophisticated Japanese, Hatfield’s for buttery agnolotti, Scarpetta for scrumptious spaghetti, Papilles for Chef Tim Carey’s new-nightly dinner menu,  Il Fico for belly comforting pastas, Osteria and Pizza Mozza, Brent’s for the best pastrami in Los Angeles, El Faro for dollar fifty pastor tacos, TLT for pork belly nachos and Kokekokko because we will never tire of skewered chicken parts and cursing, beer slinging cooks.
  16. We will always enjoy non-American food for the Fourth of July.
  17. We will never eat out on Valentine’s Day preferring to whip up a feast at home.
  18. He was right when he told me I should ban dessert at restaurants because I would forever be disappointed.
  19. I was right when I told him he should do the same with BBQ anywhere on the West Coast.
  20. It is mutually understood at this point that we will never meet a pork belly we don’t like.
  21. You don’t have to like the same foods to be compatible but you have to be a foodie to be in love with a foodie.
  22. We are very lucky.

I say that last one, “We are lucky,” while knocking on wood because when you find your food soul mate you never want to lose him.

Restaurant Trends Rehash

2014_trendy_restaurant_menu-thumbIt has been a steady three years since my palate first encountered the Los Angeles restaurant scene on a regular basis; long enough that I have steadily been out to eat at least 100 times, qualifying me for bona fide foodie status in the area. From highbrow white tablecloth dinners at the (sadly missed) Royce to down and dirty, oozing cheese taco truck mulitas, I have seen and tried a lot. So when Eater LA came up with the above graphic spoofing Every Trendy Restaurant Menu, I had to laugh with a semi-uncomfortable familiarity while also lauding myself for not completely being a slave to the status quo.

Trendiness is a weird thing. It is sort of like a stereotype. You don’t want to be a person who believes in stereotypes but you know deep inside that they sometimes exist for good reason so you are leery of discounting them completely. But then you feel really bad for giving into a stereotype when it bites you in the butt and you realize you were actually far off in left field from the truth. No one wants to jump on the trendy bandwagon, but nobody wants to be left out of a good experience either. You should not shun something based on its trendiness but you should not jump head first into it either just because it is popular. So I have broken the menu down below to reflect things that are in my life for a reason, season or a lifetime –the psychological way to gauge personal relationships, because we all know that food is one of my lifelong love affairs.

IMG_8875The Cute Gardener’s Hash is the trendiest item in my own home, and I don’t see it losing its allure anytime soon. Sometimes trends are followed for a reason.

1. The good stuff (aka in my life for a reason):

Housemade potato chips – the last time I ordered them, I was sitting at the Traxx Bar at Union Station with the Cute Gardener and a big fat martini. The chips were thick and starchy, slightly chewy in the middle, crisp on the edges and obviously an emotional purchase due to my love affair with the idea of eating things at bars where trains mass transit people from point A to B. Yes, you can buy cheap potatoes and make them at home, but who wants to go through all the effort?

Tarted up pork belly – I am firmly convinced that there will NEVER be a portion of pork belly on this planet that I don’t want to eat. In ramens (best done at Silverlake Ramen), on top of blue cheese mashed potatoes, or caramelized and fork tender all by itself.

Two bones with enough marrow to spread on a single piece of toast – When this dish is done well, it makes me happy. Especially when it’s done creatively like at Scratch Bar where the marrow bones are made out of sourdough bread.

What a weird uni dish – yes, uni is an extremely popular trend with no signs of slowing, but just like the most absolutely perfect, charming, and beautiful homecoming girl at school, you can’t help but hate and love it simultaneously. Plus, I fell in love with the CG over a plate of cold, black squid ink pasta with uni at Osteria Mozza so it’s stuck in my heart.

Gnarly looking whole fish with half a charred lemon – the last time I cooked a whole fish at home, I forgot to have the butcher remove the scales. In other words, I am still learning this one. So in the meantime, there’s still something exciting about getting a creature plopped in front of you at a high-class restaurant while everyone around you, less adventurous, becomes freaked out. This was super fun at Lukshon and Girasol.

Business class carrots – Odd inclusion to this meat heavy category of mine, but the Moroccan carrot dish (yes, in cute little crock) enhanced with harissa and a cool cucumber sauce at Pizzeria Mozza is my favorite vegetable dish in recent history.

2. The “I Wish It Would End Already” item (aka in my life for a season).

Newfangled deviled eggs – The CG is an egg whore and can hardly resist this delicacy. I am an egg whore too but my mom made the best deviled eggs this side of Iowa and my curried version is pretty darn good and I have a problem spending five bucks for two halves of egg.

City slicker fried chicken – the CG makes a superior version to any I have tried in restaurants of late. I always find that if the breading works, the chicken’s too dry. If the breading falls off, the chicken is too weak and flavorless. I can’t stand when there are grease spots next to hard spots. I am so picky about the dish I am hard pressed to ever try it. Although, I did have a few bites of the CG’s chicken at MB Post with honey drizzled over it alongside a cheddar biscuit that inched a little close to my soul.

Kale anything – kale grows in my yard and is thrown into smoothies and made into salads when I am feeling a certain lack of greens in my life. It is a vitamin. It is not something to be savored at dinner or paid for; that just seems so wrong and way too healthy for a night on the town.

Burger that’s crazier than it needs to be with fries – too big to put your mouth around, too many imbalanced ingredients, overcooked when asked for rare, or an aggressive single vegetable or piece of cheese –there are too many ways these burgers can go so wrong. I’ll take the balanced, meaty, messy and juicy alternatives at Comme Ca, Plan Check, Short Order, 25 Degrees, or Stout any day.

An unconventional riff on Brussels sprouts – at Tin Roof Bistro they char the living daylights out of these veggies and everywhere else they seem to halve and roast them in some bitter, acidic caramelization. Each time I have had them out, I become more nostalgic for the way my mother used to make them—steamed like tiny cabbages with butter, salt and pepper.

Fussy fries with truffle oil – I agree with Chef Aaron Sanchez, who said on an episode of Chopped to a contestant who was so darn proud of his dish spiked with truffle oil, “I wish they would ban that product from the marketplace.” If I want truffle I will eat a real one.

3. The “Purposefully Refused to Try Thus Far Based on Principle” additions (aka already in my life for life):

Tiny stuff you’re supposed to share. No, we don’t want eight olives in a ramekin that are already chilling at home in a half pound container from the Armenian grocer; nor nuts and herbs from the communal bin. We refuse to pay for toast unless it accompanies a pot of pork rillettes and the next generation of pickles is already brining in a jar in our fridge at home via the free cucumbers in our yard. We will make exceptions, though, for Littlefork where we can’t resist choosing a jar of spicy watermelon radishes from the pickle wall.

The CG has a saying that you shouldn’t eat things out that you could easily cook at home, that when you are in a restaurant, you want to be surprised and delighted. This usually applies to all salads and egg dishes but for the purposes of this menu, it means:

Shishito Peppers – throwing peppers into a hot oven until they blister is great but not for $14.

Painterly plate of beets and goat cheese – This got real boring after the 100th time I ate it when it first became trendy in the early 2000s.

Fish slivers doused in citrus juice – This can be bought at the grocery store. It’s called sardines in a can. Then squeeze lemon over the contents on a plate. Enough said. (I will however never forego a good plate of fried smelt on a menu.)

Amish chicken in the big city – I cook perfect roasted chicken in many forms. I don’t need any competition.

Wild salmon strikes back – see chicken.

Of course, whenever the palate tires from the same old thing, we learn to appreciate the unique dishes we make together at home or pull out the recipe books for a little adventure. I have been reviving my saffron risotto of late and the CG has been searing tomatoes in cumin for some extra spice in our life. We are looking forward to a new food season this fall with new menu items. Of particular note is our anticipation of Chef Bernhard Mairinger’s new spot Imbiss.

 

 

 

Finding Santa’s Graffiti Brings Gratitude While Ringing Out Culinary 2013

IMG_7822The other day while driving home from downtown Los Angeles after seeing the space shuttle at the California Science Center I noticed a curious piece of Santa’s graffiti alongside the road. A bulging heart of bougainvillea hanging over the industrial beige and grey, oft-chaotic traffic-laden freeway knocked me off my normal reverie for a moment reminding me to find beauty in the ordinary. It also made me realize that I live a bit of a charmed life. No, I don’t have lots of money or prestige or laundry lists of accolades but I have an amazing family, a bevy of quality friends and a boyfriend I love who I enjoy discovering the joys of eating with on a regular basis. In honor of the beginning of a New Year, one in which I am sure to open many more locked pieces of my ever-changing palate, I thought it would be nice to notate the highlights of 2013’s culinary landscapes for my readers in hopes of turning each of you on to a pleasurable piece of the collective pie.

So here are my favorite foodie moments of 2013 and of course, each comes with a huge recommendation to all who might wish to try them:

  • Being with best friends and loved ones at the Roosevelt Hotel dining on my 4th favorite Southern California burger from 25 Degrees in the afternoon with cocktails before sending them off to a John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl. (And for the record, this is my current favorite burger list: Plan Check, Comme Ca, Stout, the Cute Gardener’s burger made in our own home kitchen, 25 Degrees, Father’s Office).
  • Cheese gougeres at Bar Marmont (which also boasts my favorite gold leaf/butterfly appliquéd bathroom.)
  • A multi-course dinner at BierBeisl Beverly Hills where I met my all time favorite popover and was gifted an aperitif by the Austrian Chef Bernhard Mairinger who could not believe the CG and I actually ate our entire meal.
  • A decadent French lunch at Bistro Jeanty with its butter colored walls blanketing us as we ate snails, puff pastry soup and pate at noon followed by 48 hours of wine tastings in Napa.
  • Jazz at Café Cordiale in Sherman Oaks with my honey.
  • Discovering a mulita (cheese tortilla with corn rather than flour tortillas) and the thick, homemade masa tortilla courtesy of Don Cucos.
  • Putting another notch onto my “I love Pasadena” list with home-y pasta at Celestino, which also furthered my bucket list item of wanting to be adopted into the Drago family so I can go to holiday meals cooked by all the brothers.
  • Falling head over hills with Elia Aboumrads headcheese and other mutilated meats at Gorge, followed in very close second by Brendan Collins from Waterloo and City.
  • Coconut gelato pie at Gusto served by a waitress who was so thrilled that we ordered moscato so that she could open the bottle and sip from it herself. I lick this dessert in my sleep frequently – fluffy, cold, soft, refreshing and sweet oblivion found nowhere else.
  • Pressed cold, marinated shiitakes at Hinoki and the Bird.
  • Pig ears with green verde sauce after ice-skating and a trip to Penzey’s Spices at Hostaria del Piccolo.
  • My birthday dinner at the Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento for various reasons of which highlights included: walking through blocks of ghetto in high heels to experience, one of the best beef wellingtons I have ever had, the CG getting me extra oysters, a once in a lifetime $200 dinner all just for me, being gifted a bag of green mint homemade pasta by the general manager and all of this taking place on the night before I foraged oranges from the state capitol.
  • Littlefork’s pickled watermelon radishes and marinated mushroom salad.
  • Cocktails and cured meats at PIGG, Chris Cosentino’s now defunct meat market, after leaving the over-hyped Alma still hungry.
  • Finally getting a chance to eat at Patina and loving every minute of the white tablecloth, old school classy, cheese cart for dessert fanciness.
  • Moroccan carrots and apricot affogato at Pizzeria Mozza while celebrating my move in with the CG – apropos since next door at Osteria Mozza is the place we had our very first date.
  • The Stromboli in the bottom of the breadbasket at Scarpetta, not to mention the rest of the food.
  • Trivia night at Tam O’Shanter even though the Welsh rarebit was weird. It was a one time only experience and I live for those – plus we won a round of drinks based on the CG’s knowledge of movie soundtracks.
  • Apple basteeya dessert at Terra in St. Helena.
  • Discovering the odd yet addictive Beard Papa cream puffs in Asian malls all over Southern California.

I also learned a few things. For instance, never try BBQ in California – wait until you go to Kansas City or North Carolina. Never think you’re going to find a decent French macaron anywhere but Paris. And the world is a lot bigger than VONS and Ralph’s – my groceries are now most solely procured at either the Chinese or Armenian supermarket.

I am ready for 2014 to bring it on and open my taste buds another few degrees on my lifelong journey through fantastic food.