SURPRISE! A heart shaped cookie!
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C degrees - racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Line a couple baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper or a Silpat mat, and place the large-grain sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat the butter in a saucepan until it is just barely melted. Remove from heat and stir in the molasses, sugar, and fresh ginger. The mixture should be warm, but not hot at this point, if it is hot to the touch let it cool a bit. Whisk in the egg. Pour this over the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate. Be careful as to not over mix. The dough should be moist but not sticky.
Per suggestion by 101 Cookbooks, I also like to make these cookies bite sized. So I divide the dough up in to half tablespoon sized balls. Then I dip one side of the ball into the large sugar crystals and roll the sugared ball lightly in my hands and then place them on to my parchment lined cookie sheets.
For me this recipe made about 45 cookies but it varies depending on how large or small you decide to make them.
VOILA! Delicious gingery cookies! Enjoy!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The menu is printed every so often, which I can assure you, makes for an option of great seasonal items.
By the way, my boyfriend and I sat next to Alex Guarnaschelli, Chopped judge and executive chef of Butter Restaurant. Bonus! (That's how you know the restaurant is good, when esteemed chefs dine there...not to mention, if you watched "Best Thing I Ever Ate" on Food Network, Animal is home to Duff's favorite, bacon crunch bar...HELLO bacon and chocolate!! c'mon!)
This was the very first time I tried sweet breads. I've heard nothing but amazing things about sweet breads in general, and I've always been a little skeptical about trying them. Let's see, animal thymus...not exactly on my "I'm dying to try it" list. But, it was on my boyfriend's and I thought, "What better place to try sweet breads than Animal, plus its affordable!" So there began my new found love for thymus! It was crispy and caramelized on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. It had a really delicate offal flavor, not off-putting as I often find in liver. It tasted of savory crusty meat, then a slight irony flavor right at the end. It was amazing...heavenly offal. I don't know how often you hear about offal being heavenly, but this was pretty damn good!
For my entree, I had the steak with fondue. And may I say, this was great! The fondue was extremely smooth and flavorful--tasted almost like a dense, cheesy, bachamel sauce. That poured over a perfectly done med-rare meaty steak...can a girl ask for anything more?! Granted, Animal is a diet breaker, but well worth it. As if I haven't emphasized enough...this was Food&Wine Magazine's 2009 rising chef's pick and it's incredibly friendly on the pocket! Enjoy~
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Los Angeles is too often criticized for being a smoggy, disney-fied urban sprawl that, on the surface, lacks real culture of any sort. Known for being either a little too plastic or a little too seedy, it's a city of reinvention. Countless people have moved to LA in hopes of making it big, bringing with them luggage over-flowing with myths of the American Dream. Guns and gangs, big sunglasses and ritzy hotels--LA has got it all. It's noir, it's glamour, it's lies, it's hopes--really, it's whatever you want it to be.
There have been mixed feelings about this autopia. Characterized by it's lack of public transportation and it's abundance of freeways with far too much traffic to tolerate. So many writers have tried to analyze LA and it's effect on people. Los Angeles a city where distopia and utopia cannot be distinguished from one another. It's no metropolis like Chicago, and it's no New York (and I'm sure I'm not the first one to tell you that), it's an urban sprawl, and when you look beyond the less than flattering skyline and beyond the glitz that is Hollywood, you'll find culture. Culture in the form of amazingly authentic and delicious food.
Jonathan Gold did it, and now it's my turn. Time to start eating my way through Los Angeles.
My journey starts here:
As I exited the elevator and walked towards the opening to the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, an over-whelming sense of joy surged through my body. A smile from ear to ear involuntarily plasters itself across my face. An indoors "open-air" market in the heart of downtown LA? Please tell me what could be better?! A sure sign that this city is doing something right: offering its people a haven of damn good food!
To my surprise, Grand Central is incredibly clean! Bright fruit and veggies stacked in neat rows and columns. Aromas from food stands penetrate the air--tacos, tortas, pupusas, and fresh fruit juices galore. Let's get real for a second--I'm not here for the produce, it's offal heaven and it's o so amazing.
The market is predominately Mexican. Catering to predominately Spanish speaking consumers. You will, however, find specks of Korean food stalls, and Greek food stalls--but for the most part, I came for the Mexican food.
Where have you been all my life?Ava Maria.
The counter was swarming with people! A sure sign that this was a good place to start eating.
There were huge vats of nasty bits (my Anthony Bourdain plug for the day) swimming in the juices they were cooked in. Freshly fried gorditas were so piping hot that even the people making the "sandwiches" blew their hands in pain as they slit a pocket into the thick masa tortilla.
Gordita. Thick tortilla made with masa harina (corn flour), fried, pocketed, and stuffed with any part of the cow, in a stew form, you want--and I mean ANY part of the cow. I got the lengua. Thickly sliced pieces of cow tongue swimming in it's own brown cooking juices, too good to turn down. The piping hot gordita was overflowing with lengua, refried beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and a creamy white sauce (not sour cream!) and severd with a wedge of lime.
The baggy holding my over sized gordita, which should have been eaten like a sandwich, served absolutely no purpose in my case because there was no way I could have wrapped my mouth around this beast even if I wanted to. Thank goodness they gave me a fork and generous stack of napkins.
The shell is incredibly crispy and nutty in flavor. The lengua was tender and extremely flavorful. The lime and the overflowing condoments made this really heavy sandwich, much more refreshing.
More gorditas please!
FISH STAND! And they serve food! Best corn chip dip ever? Ceviche Pescado. Maria's Fresh Seafood has burritos and tacos filled with extremely fresh seafood. The one thing that caught my eye--ceviche pescado tostata. Ok, so maybe it doesn't LOOK like the most appetizing dish in the world, but you really can't go wrong with chopped up fish, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and onions marinating/ cooked in lime juice served on top of a crispy corn tostada and a side of hot sauce.
Need something to wash all that food down with? I did. I grabbed myself nice cup of Fresa (a strawberry drink) to wash down all that food with. It was a slightly creamy strawberry drink that tasted like melted Hagan Daz strawberry ice cream and had the color of peptobismol. And let me tell you, it was good!
So I couldn't leave this place without trying Chicharon, or pork skin. I've had my fair share of pork skin before, but never in taco form. Stewed in a tomato based sauce, the chicharon was complemented very well by the usual taco toppings: onions, guacamole, tomatoes, and cilantro. If you've never had pork skin before, the texture is quite a trip--it's nothing like you'd expect it to be. If you were to cut a mattress in half and view the cross-section, that's just about what the cross section of chicharon looks like magnified. Hollowed compartments sandwiched between two smooth layers. The hollowed compartments is what makes chicharon so amazingly delicious because it traps all the sauces and juices it was cooked in, so when you bite into it, the chicharon compartments releases all those juices making it incredibly flavorful--like an edible sponge. The texture itself is comparable to a cross between...well...a sponge...and agar. The texture is really unique and difficult to compare to a commonly eaten food product, it's something that I believe you're going to have to experience yourself.
Pupuseria. What is it?
I was planning on leaving after endulging in three different foods at three different food stands, but upo leaving, I noticed a stand that I had walked by twice and didn't notice. And before you ask me, "How do you miss an entire food stand?", I'll give you an explanation--it was because I walked passed the back side of it, so really, there was no way to tell that there was food on the other side!
BUT! I made up for it by trying one!
I had no idea what a pupusa was until this very moment. I literally spent 10 minutes watching the lady behind the counter effortlessly pat out balls of masa, fill them with some sort of white mixure with green flecks in it (it looked like mashed potatoes), which I later discovered was a delicious cheese mixture, patting them into a stuffed pancake and throwing them on the grittle one by one. They had a long list of fillings and sides for your pupusa--queso, jalapenos, chicharon, etc. I would have gotten the chicharon, except for the fact that I had just eaten a chicaron taco just minutes ago. And after starring at the menu for about another 10 mins I decided on the queso and jalapeno filling for my pupusa.
I know, I know, it sounds greasy, rich, and filling right? Wrong! Well it was filling, but to my surprise, it wasn't greasy at all! The cheese was stringy and flavorful, and by no means did they skimp on the pickled jalapenos in the filling. It was incredibly simple but really good. The pupusa was topped with a spicy pickled cabbage, comparable to Chinese/ Taiwanese pickeled cabbage and it was a great crisp complement to the pupusa.
Did I mention that Grand Central Market its right across the street from Angel's Flight? Two birds with one stone! A great way to end the day--sitting on a park bench in Angel's Flight Park looking out at all the LA parking lots and scattered buildings.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
This would be the category that Szechuan food falls in--an ethereal hell.
What makes Szechuan food so uniquely delicious? Why, the Szechuan peppercorn of course.
This tiny little peppercorn packs not only a punch, but a numbing sensation so strange that it can only be compared to, well, Novocaine (in trace doses of course). Every mouthful of food cooked with these unassuming little pods really creates a crazy experience. It's still spicy, but the tingly feeling on your tongue is inescapable.
It's somewhat of a masochist feat--painful yet so satisfying.
Chung King in Monteray Park, California is the place where you go if you want the most authentic, amazingly delicious, and spicy food without having to go to China. Plus, you can really impress your friends when you tackle that plate of pepper covered chicken!
Sunday, July 12, 2009
The dining area is crisp and clean. Every fork, every dark blue napkin, every spoon, every glass, every butter knife and plate in its proper place. Salad fork for a delicious seafood appetizer or a crisp green salad perhaps, entrée fork for one of Roy’s signature dishes: roasted macadamia nut mahi mahi, a fresh linen napkin atop a uniquely shaped bread dish, and a butter knife for the soft and creamy butter to spread on some warm bread. In front of the place setting sits a beautiful dark blue glass stem ware for the fine wine the sommelier will gladly recommend to accompany your meal and beside that sits a tall glass for a refreshing glass of ice water poured by your server from a large metal pitcher.
Within this vast space adorned with Hawaiian plants, photos, and ambiance, you’ll find a chaotic jungle of metal in the back of the restaurant that is Roy’s kitchen. A territory marked by the executive chef, executive sous chefs, sous chefs, and line cooks, prowling the jungle floor in their white and black chef’s coats and baseball caps marked by a variety of “Roy’s” logos. The terra cotta colored tile floors are covered with heavy duty rubber mats to prevent the staff from slipping if ever the floor were to get wet or greasy. Beyond this seemingly overwhelming mass of silver colored appliances, is a vast kitchen filled with brightly contrasting fruits, vegetables, and fresh combination of surf and turf. From apples to pineapples, to lettuce, to bean sprouts, to skewered scallops, to racks of lamb, to the array of colorful European sauces. The kitchen is where you see the “fusion” in the name Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant come into play; Asian flavors and ingredients paired with European sauces.
Edgar Agbayani, executive sous chef at Roy’s Newport Beach, wears a black chefs coat with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing the tattoos on both of his forearms. He also wears a black Roy’s baseball cap with the Roy’s logo embroidered in white in the front center of the cap. The logo resembles a fancy, backwards lower case “y”. Embroidered in lavender thread reads: “Roy’s”, “Edgar Agbayani”, “sous chef”, on the left breast of his coal black coat. This now thirty-two year old accomplished young chef is of Filipino descent. He has a medium complexion, dark brown hair, and dark brown eyes that squint when he smiles.
The fine radio tunes of hip hop artist Wyclef featuring Akon and Lil Wayne “Dolla Dolla Bill” plays as the Edgar, his line cooks and other sous chef begin to prep for the day. They had just gotten a new sound system for inside the kitchen area. “We just got this, it’s out new toy.” The chefs and the line cooks chatted away as they scavenge away trying to find someone with a good CD in his/her car that they can bring in and play. Prep time is quite possibly the most important time of day; it entails getting the sauces ready and the mise en place; which in French means “to put in place.” This term commonly used in most kitchens means that everything will be organized, accessible, and ready to use when needed; whether it’s chopping veggies, dicing, chiffonading, pouring sauces into squeeze bottles, this is the mise en place process.
The lights in the front of the house dim. The light from the setting sun hazily shines in to the restaurant through the white wooden shutters. Soft Hawaiian music plays in the background. The ambiance is calm, yet cultured. Five o’clock, time to fire up the stove. Everyone puts on their chef faces. Let the cooking begin.
“Tzzz.” The sizzle of another piece of meat thrown on the grill.
The savory aromas traveling through the air makes my mouth salivate; I wondered how they were able to share the same room with all this amazing food and not want to indulge.
“Spencer you got that ribeye ready?” yelled Edgar.
“Ribeye right here.” Spencer yells back as he preps the dish for the ribeye.
The restaurant begins to slowly infiltrate with semi-formally dressed, hungry customers ready to indulge in some of Roy’s famous dishes.
“Buzz, buzz.” Here comes another table’s order.
“110, fire up one 110.”
“110” is the order number, so when Edgar calls out the numbers each and every line cook knows where to look, what to begin cooking; the kitchen works as a cohesive, well oiled machine. One mistake could mean disaster.
Edgar pulls out another perfectly marbled filet mignon from the reach in refrigerator just below his work station, which just so happens to also be located just below the shelf that holds the new stereo system which is now off.
He takes a pinch of salt, and while he’s seasoning the meat, he sarcastically says to me, “This is what we call controlled measuring”, he laughs. Edgar’s been with the restaurant and a chef long enough to “eye-ball” or estimate how much of each type of seasoning he needs without having to pull out a measuring utensil.
“Tzzz.” The filet mignon the hot grill top.
“Sunday is like meat night,” said Edgar with a smile on his face and a tone of relaxed humor, “everybody orders meats on Sundays.”
Who knows why Sundays are meat days really? Perhaps it’s because eating meat a good way to begin a new week; a big slab of juicy, tender, meaty protein on a bed of brightly blanched veggies, who can say for sure? But one thing is for sure, this means that today Edgar’s station is going to be busy, very busy. Cranking out the sirloins, ribs, racks of lamb, the desire for meat in the front of the house is unstoppable.
“Tzzz…” the meats atop the grill sizzle away.
Back in grade school, Edgar and his family used to have gatherings at his grandmother’s house at the end of the weekend in a little town called Rich Grove California. The family would buy whole pigs or whole cows and have family outings where they would dissect the large carcass and divide the meat. Being the young child he was, Edgar tried to help out wherever he could, keeping a close eye on what the adults were doing, and always wanting to take part in the culinary action. Once all the meat was divided up, they would have huge barbeques in celebration of being together as a family and of sharing in this fine experience with one another. The family would talk amongst themselves, converse, catch up, and wait for the delicious and fresh meat to come off the grill. The outdoor grill which had been heating up was now up to temperature. The family cook puts on his oven mitt, lifts the cover, and a huge ball of white smoke curls through the air and disappears into the atmosphere.
The smoky, mesquite smell coming from his grill station at Roy’s was distinct and pungent. The mesquite gave the meats a little extra something, a kick, a depth of flavor, and subtle intensity that you can’t get just by tossing meat in to a pan. Although mesquite is a common flavor associated with say—Texas barbeque—this smoky style of preparation is key in inducing the meats with a sweetness, a smoky goodness like no other.
The kitchen began to get hot; hotter than before, especially over the large grill that Edgar is working at. He tells me that it’s about 105 degrees Fahrenheit over the large glistening grill top. The grill is so hot that you can see the heat rippling in the air, almost like the ripples you see in an arid dessert. He didn’t even seem to break a sweat. He remained composed, with a smile on his face, and cranking out jokes when the moment permit; you could sense no tension coming from Edgar at all despite the semi-hectic chaos around him as the line cooks race back and forth from station to station garnishing dishes and plating.
“Spencer”, Edgar calls out to one of his line cooks, “I need more racks of lamb from the back.” Spencer quickly races out of the kitchen into the large walk-in fridge filled with meats and other perishable items that need to remain cool in order maintain optimum freshness, and grabs a few vacuumed packed racks of lamb. Spencer returns to the kitchen and begins to cut open the plastic seal from the racks of lamb and preps them for Edgar. Today, Spencer is Edgar’s right hand man; he helps Edgar with whatever he asks for; from prepping the sides to putting dishes under the salamander (also known as the broiler). Spencer is like Edgar’s apprentice; he wants to make sure that Spencer has all the necessary skills to advance in the kitchen hierarchy.
Standing next to grandma, young Edgar plays the role of apprentice. Grandma’s garden was a vast space, a garden, filled with squash, peppers, jalapenos, and tomatoes; many of which were ripe for the picking. The simple fact that Edgar could venture out into Grandma’s lush garden with a basket, return with as many brightly colored vegetables as his little muscles could carry, and within a matter of minutes and hours end up with a meal fascinated him. It was the heartiness of life and the cycle of foods that really captured Edgar’s attention. He loved chasing chickens and collecting fresh eggs from the hen houses for Grandma to cook. Sometimes, on sunny days, Grandma would sit out back with Edgar and teach him how to make tapioca and raisins. For Grandma, this may not have been a horribly difficult task, but it was one that Edgar enjoyed taking part in and sharing with her. It was the simplicity of it all that really captivated him.
“ Buzz, buzz.” Another order prints up, then another and another.
“Holy cow that’s a big one!” Edgar says, finding the long strip of paper fairly humorous. He then pulls the sharpie that is clipped where the buttons meet on his black double breasted chef’s coat and begins to mark the receipt with the order number and then with “X’s”, “R’s” and other markings to help visually organize what he needs to do.
Despite being an executive sous chef at a widely renowned restaurant, he still enjoys the homey, simplistic feel of a warm plate of chicken adobo or a large bowl of porridge. The idea that your day can change just by simply taking a bite into something is a concept Edgar holds on to, and is something that you can taste in his dishes; the passion he has for food. This, he tells me, is without doubt, something that he has learned from this grandmother.
Being a young cook at a young age helped sprout the chef that sat before me. He had cooked before he went to culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona; it was a great reminder of what he didn’t know. He was a bit hot headed before he went to culinary school but he was really humbled and amazed by the fact that when he put his mind to doing something, he could actually do it. From pulling sugar, to building fragile chocolate boxes, culinary school was a way of attaining and learning the skill to achieve his goal. Culinary school had a huge impact on his life, and he believes that it can have a great impact on the lives of others who wish to become a chef. It was here that he learned how to appreciate the preciseness and cleanliness of the overall presentation of the dish before it leaves the kitchen.
Edgar takes his House Smoked 16 oz. Bone in Ribeye steak hot off the grill with his shiny silver tongs, and pulls a pre-prepped warm dish from the salamander with a dish towel and plates his ribeye. He swings over to the sauce station to finish off the dish. He pours the Peppercorn Brandy Pan Sauce, which is a reduction of a beef stock with a splash of brandy, over the dish. He takes the same dish towel that he always keeps in hand and wipes off the dish. He turns over, looks at me, smirks and says, “I’m a professional dish wiper”, I respond to him by telling him that he did a very good job, he then replies “Thanks! I work out”. He tells me that the clean finish and the flawlessness of the plating is called finesse; it’s what you want before you send anything out to the front of the house. You never want to send anything out that you’re not confident in!
Edgar spends a lot of time thinking about the restaurant. How to make a profit, what the day’s going to be like, what to order, how much of each ingredient to restock, how much time he has to get the ingredients in. Time has been the largest obstacle that Edgar has had to face as a chef. You don’t want to waste any time when you’re at the restaurant. Sometimes, there’s not enough time to complete everything, which definitely causes the stress level to sky rocket. Not to mention, time is definitely the enemy when it comes to trying to maintain a private life. It’s difficult to have a significant other when the hours of a chef fluctuate so much, especially because it’s hard to take time off because the restaurant relies on you to be there. There are days when he works eight hour shifts but there are also days when he works 15 hour shifts it all depends.
The most stressful moments are when Roy comes to visit the restaurant because everything has to be perfect. Large shipments of food come in, and when one thing is missing, a domino effect happens; something else is missing, and then something else is missing. When Roy gets to the restaurant, he wants to taste everything. If Roy doesn’t like something, he will change it, and it will be changed. He’ll find the flaws in the little things and fine tune it. There was once an event in Anaheim where there was a guy making a monte au burrere in a shellfish stock and the next thing you know, there were eight guys with whisks, whisking fifty pounds of butter in a large vat. As a chef, you’re constantly thinking, “What did Roy change? What does he want? How can I better the restaurant?”
“My favorite part of being a chef is that I like to eat.” Edgar makes Vegas runs and he’ll go and eat out there or he’ll go out to find a “hole in the wall restaurant”, anywhere he can find something really good and something enjoyable to eat. He takes the concepts or the restaurant he goes to as a learning tool. He goes into the restaurant, pin points the parts that are different and take it with him and try to recreate or acquire a technique that he think will benefit his career and the restaurant. There’s not one moment where he doesn’t think of the restaurant.
It was a good night. As all the stoves and ovens shut off, the chefs mingle and debrief. Joke around. They give each other a pat on the back, head out the kitchen, hang up their coats, walk out the door. Tomorrow is another day.
Ok, so I admit that I'm guilty of enjoying that occational fish and chips (especially at Union Jack's in Costa Mesa, California). The British have stumbled on something very successful--large pieces of fried fish served with what resembles the American steak fry, wrapped in newspaper which by the time it gets to you from the fryer has soaked through with grease. The only thing it really needs is malt vinegar.
But really, sweet, succulent seafood (and I guess what I really mean when I say seafood is shellfish) battered and fried is quite possibly the most disappointing thing I've ever tasted. I swear off of fried oysters, fried lobster, and fried shrimp. Fresh seafood should really be enjoyed with the minimalist approach (salt, pepper, maybe an acid of somesort, maybe butter and that's about it--Japanese cuisine has really captured and embraced the idea of unaltered seafood). To manipulate the freshness of seafood by suiting it up in flour or a batter of somesort and then drowning it oil is like the creation of the chicken nugget--it just should not have ever happened.
And Oh the disappointments of being served mashed potatoes with a beautifully poached lobster. Some may think it works, and trust me when I say it is served at Michelin Star rated restaurants and called something fancy like "pureed potatoes" or "whipped potatoes", but the heavy startch form the potato (no matter how you make it or what you call it) really takes away from the very juicy, very plump piece of the beautifully cooked seafood.
And if you're wondering if I'm the kind of person that eats the rice separately from the sashimi when I order nigiri at a Japanese restaurants my answer is "Why yes, yes I do". The only real purpose that garganchuan, unauthentic lob of rice serves is a pedistool for the fish and as what I like to call a "soy sauce iron" (take the fish off the rice, dip the rice into soy, and spread the soy on the fish with the lob of rice--end result--a perfectly seasoned piece of fish).
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I dressed fairly nicely the day I went in to interview my subject; nothing really out of the ordinary from my regular wardrobe--button up shirt, leggings, and a pair of tan moccasins.
I was introduced to Edgar, a young chef of Filipino descent who had been cooking a Roy's for some time. I had spoke to him over the phone a few days before my visit to set up the appointment. He seemed friendly--and that he was.
We sat down at one of the dining tables while I debriefed him on what the angle of my story would be--Edgar the chef, plain, uncut, and uncensored. He was cool with that, so we proceeded.
He offered me a plate of food, nothing off the menu, just what the chefs and the other employees ate before opening to the dinner crowd. As the staff joked and laughed they made me feel like part of their family--not so much the hard-core, badass stereotype you hear a lot. They were...well...fun.
Edgar suited me up with a chef's coat (I was extremely excited about this part!) He poked fun at my moccasins, noting that they were in NO way kitchen footware. I told him that I didn't mind if they got dirty. He continued to chuckle as he offered to put bags over my feet. I laughed, and told him that I would rather get them dirty, than wear bags.
Stepping into the kitchen was like stepping into a compeltely different world. Heavenly music played as I slowly and carefully walked my way around the greasy floors. Braised meats sat in large catering trays under the salamander, the mise en place was all ready to go, pans were hung neatly on the walls, an array of colors and smells of fresh produce and seafood purfumed through the kitchen. It wasn't by any means a large ktichen, but it was enough for this restaurant.
As the rush of hungry diners began to flow in, the chefs, including Edgar, manned their stations--with a smile of course and a handful of jokes.
The kitchen got HOT quick.
But none of the chefs ever got to busy to ask me how I was doing and to make sure I was getting some good information about them for the story. They gave me platefuls of risotto, fish, and other things that were on the menu to taste. IT WAS GREAT.
They seemed...really relaxed. I'm not saying, by any means, that they "had it easy", there was definitely a sense of urgency and a need for speed and accuracy, but something about how graceful they moved and how much they joked made the job seem effortless and enjoyable--despite the heat and the greased up floors.
The orders kept rolling in and they knew what to do--which sauces when where, which seasonings were for the salmon and which were for the ahi, each dish finished with "finesse" as Edgar put it.
The kitchen wasn't the place for me. I wouldn't be able to stand the "heat" of the kitchen in every sense of the word, no matter how fun and easy they made it seem.
(I'll attach the article I wrote soon!)
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
An urban tumbleweed in the form of a pink balloon drifted in front of my car as I patiently awaited the blushing stoplight to turn an emerald green. The buildings were the same bland, boxy, dull gray color, nothing chic or posh in this part of town. This was downtown L.A.? A sad combination of lonely streets and warehouse type shops that close before the sun completely sets. All I could think was that this place reminded me of a ghost town version of downtown San Francisco, everything reminiscent of Market Street, sans the hustle and bustle commonly associated with any downtown.
Parking was not much of a hassle. I parked at a meter about a block and a half away from what I was hoping to be the best sandwich I’ll ever have. Of course, I’m assuming that you don’t consider left hand-side parallel parking a hassle. My mouth watered as I maneuvered my car into the snug spot, fantasizing about taking a huge bite out of Cole’s famous French dip.
As I walked down past the indiscriminate L.A. lofts towards Cole’s, I peered into some large windows noticing that the majority of the buildings housed street level art galleries. Across the street from Cole’s was another gallery. Lined up outside were young, hip-hop styled individuals with their baggy pants, baseball caps, and candy color accented shirts. Other than the line outside the gallery, and the handful people sitting in the outside dining part of Cole’s, the streets were deserted.
Cole’s is no stranger to this town. It has been around since 1908. Above Cole’s are nine stories of the Pacific Electric Building which was built in 1905 and was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. It was built by Henry Huntington, who in 1911, moved out and sold the premises to Southern Pacific. At the peak of Los Angeles’s mass transit period, more than 100,000 passengers would move through the depot. Today, some artifacts from rails can be seen on the second floor of the building.
Designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1989, Cole’s is older than “The Big Red Cars” that used to tunnel through the city; for as long as commuters have been riding the once famed trolleys, they’ve also been eating at Cole’s. Now that the city has turned into a megalopolis of freeways, and The Big Red Cars are part of a “once upon a time”, Cole’s is still hauling on.
Located below street level of the Pacific Electric Building at 118 E. 6th Street in the Historic Core District of downtown Los Angeles, Cole’s has continuously operated from the same location since its founding in 1908 by Henry Cole, the restaurant’s namesake. Cole is not only often credited for the creation of the first French dip, but he also operated Los Angeles’s first check cashing service from the restaurant’s backdoor. On payday, the line of wage-earners waiting to exchange their pay stubs for a beer, a shot of bitters, or slices of meat slapped between a French roll, would extend all the way down the block.
There has been a long-time standing debate on who the actual originator of the French Dip was, Phillippe’s, which also opened its doors in 1908 and Cole’s. As legend has it, one day in 1908 a man who was waiting to exchange his paystub for a sandwich at Cole’s asked the chef to dip the bun of his beef sandwich in the juice of the meat because the bun was too hard for his gums. The news of this savory creation spread like wildfire. It was called, “the French Dip”, taking the name from the type of bread used. And that’s how it all started.
Passer-bys are intercepted by a luminous neon sign sticking out over the sidewalk screams:
This was my destination; an old brick building among a bounty of hipster galleries and a failed New York loft make-over. I walked towards the sign as if it were the North Star. I carefully walked down the concrete steps towards the large opened door. Sitting at a tall table next to the door was a very unassuming dirty-blond haired man smoking a cigarette as his black trench-coated body slouched back in his tall chair.
My high heels excitedly clacked their way into the restaurant and I was welcomed by a dark, semi-empty room.
Walking into Cole’s, I am encapsulated by the back drop of a black and white movie; as if I had stepped into a time portal. The restaurant is dimly lit which created a sepia colored atmosphere. The first thing that caught my eye was the large bar to my right. Not much of a crowd was gathered at the sleek mahogany bar counter or in the dining room. The polished bar glistened under the Tiffany lamps tear-dropping from the ceiling. If these lamps could talk, they would tell a story of Cole’s golden age and of a time when Los Angeles was still a fledgling.
A large, red, keg barrel stuck half-way out of the mirrored wall behind the bar. Cleaned stemware huddled around the barrel, and hard liquor bottles lined the walls on either side. The bartender couldn’t have been more than 30 years-old. His black shirt starkly contrasted the gleam that came from the glass as it caught the light whilst he ran a towel along its cleaned rim. He had a friendly smile on his face as he conversed with a lonely customer in a cardboard-colored suit. He sat with impeccable posture. His amber colored beer sat in a frosty glass, as the beer head slowly decrescendo.
A young, dark, curly-haired DJ, who I had not noticed upon entering, began bumping hip hop beats from his silver Mac Book which radiated out of the speakers around the room. Expecting to hear Nat King Cole or Dodge City saloon music, hip hop just didn’t seem to fit the ambiance. Set up at his own little table next to the entry way with wires and cords flowing around him, he converses with a man in black about something the man had done over the weekend, joking and laughing, they turned over to me and smiled as I walked into the dining area and seated myself at a stiff, and under this lighting, what appeared to be a burgundy colored booth.
The floor near my booth was missing a cluster of what were once white honey-comb tiles, revealing a concrete gray base. A few tiles were missing here and there throughout the restaurant, but I guess that just added to the “aged” feel. My waiter; tall, young, medium completion, faux-hawk hair cut, and rather handsome, trekked out of the kitchen wearing a white buttoned-up shirt and black pants (the brightest room in the entire space), making his way across the dirt-stained floor to my booth.
“How are you doing today? Would you like a drink?”
I asked for a glass of water.
Music, which I didn’t recognize, continued to play from the DJ’s Mac Book as I admired the raspberry-colored wall-paper dining room is adorned with framed black and white photos of Los Angeles’s past. Photos of the P.E. Building in its younger years, crowds of men with slicked back hair and fedoras, tall unfinished buildings; all a reminder of how far Los Angeles has come. My stomach grumbled as my eyes brought my attention back to the table.
I grabbed a laminated menu which was hiding behind the horse radish bottle and the napkin dispenser and perused it. The dinner menu was printed on one side with a little more than a dozen food items you could order. What I was here for was the French Dip.
The menu was basic; French Dip with either pork, beef, turkey, pastrami, or lamb and 92 cents extra for Swiss, Cheddar, Goat or Blue Cheese. The menu also featured a handful of side dishes and pies. On the back side was a historical time line of Cole’s, dating from 1908 to 2009. A second menu listed “Cole’s Historic Cocktails”. Stiff, old fashioned bourbon, whisky, and rye drinks jumbled in with the lighter champagne cocktail and Cosmopolitan on one side and draft beers and wines on the other.
My waiter came back with my glass of water.
He pulled out a pad of paper and a pen and asked to take my order—beef French Dip, no cheese, and a side of spicy garlic fries, and to drink, a Lillet with a Twist.
The hip hop beats continued to infiltrate the dim room as more people came in. A family of three with and elementary school aged child sat at the table next to me. The little boy hoisted himself up on to the stool as his father held out a “just in case” arm. The kid pouted his face as he lifted his left knee onto the stool, grabbed the table with both arms and said in a whinny voice, “No Daddy, I can do it myself.” And with that he swung his right knee over and on to the stool, and plopped his behind down proudly.
Diagonally next to this family and adjacent to the well-lit kitchen, were a male and a female couple who appeared to be in their late twenties. She wore a strapless, denim-colored, acid washed dress that hit mid-thigh when she sat down. Her sleeveless dress exposed her heavily tattooed upper arm. She brushed back her bleach blonde bangs on her tar head of hair, securing it with a bobby pin. Her dark red lips smiled excitedly at her companion who was wearing a blue auto-mechanic shirt and dark colored pants. His arms were also tatted. He chuckled looking up at the waiter who placed their massive sandwiches in front of them. They chatted for a few seconds before both picking up half a sandwich with two hands dipping into the au jus and then struggling to take a full bite. He laughs as he wipes the au jus dripping down his goatee.
My waiter brought my drink. Condensation was dripping from the white wine glass as he set the water-color orange drink down in front of me noting that my food would be out shortly. The content was a Lillet Blanc served on the rocks with a twist of orange, thus giving it a most literal name—“Lillet with a Twist”. I took a sip and continued to look around the room. I noticed an old wooden sign hung up on the wall across that room that said, “We do not extend credit to stock brokers”, and another sign that said “Avoid sinful enterprizes” (and yes, it was spelled with a “z”).
This is not what Cole’s used to look like. Once a simple wooden walled eatery with fire engine red booths, old Big Red Car doors as tables, and wood shutters on the windows, Cole’s has officially transformed into a swanky, hip new restaurant. People who knew the old Cole’s feel robbed of a historical past that the restaurant once so dearly represented. Now, it was just a fraud—a romanticized vision of the past made tangible by an entrepreneur with a large wad of money.
My eyes wandered over to the back of the room, where a random door was present. This was Varnish. Cole’s little dirty secret—the speakeasy in the back. A place that sparked my curiosity, but it wasn’t open on this particular day because filming was happen behind that door. (Apparently, they film Hollywood movies in there, and on top of that, Cole’s is closed every Monday for filming or special events—it’s a hard knock life in L.A.)
Out of the corner of my eye I could see my waiter bring over my food. He set small round white plate down along with my basket of spicy garlic fries and condiment cup of ketchup. Two hefty halves of a beef sandwich, a ramekin of deep brown au jus, and a pickle spear left no space for the white of the plate to peep through.
Thick sliced beef brisket was layered high and neatly between the two halves of a dry, French sandwich roll. I picked up half of the sandwich with both hands, secured it in my left hand, grabbed the hot horse radish with my right hand and squeezed a good bit on one corner of the sandwich, dipped it in the au jus, opened my mouth as wide as I possibly could, and took a huge bite.
The meat was moist but tough and without the au jus, the sandwich was incomplete. My jaw was exhausted by the time I finished the first half of my sandwich.
The fries however, were a complete success. They were borderline shoe string fries. The long strands of extra crispy potato covered in chili powder and garlic smelled and tasted of rich butter which left the parchment lining of the basket translucent with grease.
I asked for a parchment paper to wrap the other half of my sandwich with to take home. The waiter brought my check over in a cup along with a neon pink flyer which promoted today’s “All nite happy hour, 10pm – 2am, 2$ off all drinks” and introduced the DJ who was playing –DJ Humberto and DJ El Reyes.
Time stands still at Cole’s. There’s something both reminiscent and representative of a past to which I did not belong to. I was seemingly sucked into a 1908 saloon twilight zone; a dark, noir place where people go to drink their stresses away. However, the silencing of nostalgia and the erasure of a sepia ambiance is brought about by the diverse crowd Cole’s draws, its location, and the anachronistic music that it hosts. Cole’s is both trying to hold on to the past, in a presumably gaudy and romanticized manner, yet still draw a crowd by incorporating modern and young aspects. The bipolarity that Cole’s has given into reflects the constant contractions that surround the city. The business decision to turn Cole’s into a swanky, hip dining spot will determine its further success, or if it will be just another piece of the disappearing Los Angeles.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Here's a general break down of the Chinese food that I really like:
-Stinky tofu (is a must, the name doesn't do it total justice, but hey, it IS stinky)
-Tripe (book trip AND honey comb...cooked in any Chinese style will make me smile from ear to ear)
-Chicken feet (I love the kind that you find at dim sum restaurants with the black bean sauce and it has that unusual red, sometimes radioactive color...yeah...that one)
-Peking Duck (Chinese roast duck is a gem within it self, but when you take a large slice of crispy skin, with NO meat on it, and slap it in a pristine white bun with hoisin sauce and julienne scallions, it REALLY is heaven)
-Wonton noodle soup (ok, so this one is kind of a touchy subject, I've had many a wonton noodle soups in my life, MANY, and this is the general rule of thumb that I go by when judging how many stars I'd give it. Wonton: MUST be plump and have shrimp in the filling. Noodle: MUST be, what I guess Europeans would call Al Dente, but not the same way risotto rice or pasta is al dente. But let me just say, a mushy noodle in this soup is never acceptable!)
-Porridge (i really like 1000 year old eggs in my porridge! Fear Factor BRING IT ON!)
-Steamed Fish (this is something I really never liked growing up, but absolutely LOVE now)
Here's what you have to understand about Chinese food, (as do, I guess, food from all around the world), China is split in to 8 very particular climatic regions, each specializing in their own cuisine culture.
These Eight regions are called: Eight Great Traditions (菜系): Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang.
Each region uses different spices and different ingredients based on what they can farm. For instance, Northern Chinese are noodle eaters, and Southern Chinese are rice eaters because the climate in the North can sustain a bountiful wheat crop, and the damp lands in the Southern regions of China are perfect for rice patties.
In some regions you'll find food with extremely intense flavors. Bold sauces, hot spices, thick gravys. But in other regions you'll find really pure foods like clear soups, thinner sauces. All good in their own way, and all enjoyed differently.
One thing about Chinese food is that, it doesn't always come in a greasy take out box, and although the history of Chinese food in America is WAY to complex to go into right now, just know that you should give everything a try, no matter how strange it looks or sounds, all of it, in its own capacity, tastes good!.
The large black door opens up to reveal a metal countertop bar sandwiched between two small, but thoughtfully arranged dining areas. Red hues illuminate the dim room of black windows, acting as an escape from the outside world. Here, it is not only the food you are paying for, it is the experience. Candles sit flickering in the centers of the white table clothed tables, contrasting the dark yet chic colors of the walls. Large, fresh flower arrangements in dramatically large glass vases line the walls adding pops of elegance to the chic room. Canvases of modern art complement the entire backdrop.
The 75 seat dining area offers an intimate ambiance.
Having been awarded its sixth Five Star rating from Mobil, a Relais & Chateau designation, and a Michelin Star, Restaurant Gary Danko is nothing short of excellence.
Waiters and waitresses are neatly uniformed in black pant suits, blue collard shirts and purple diamond pattern ties. They graciously and politely step aside when crossing paths with guests, “Pardon me miss/sir”, allowing the guest to pass before continuing on their way.
Guests can choose to either dine at the bar (open seating) or make reservations for the dining room. Reservations are not easy to come by—the restaurant is packed even on a random weekday evening. Here, you’ll find a mixture of business men and women who have just gotten out of work still dressed in work attire, and the solo jeans and t-shirt wearing food aficionado dining at the bar side by side.
The menu offers a generous 2-5 course tasting menu featuring Appetizers, Fish and Seafood, Meat and Game Birds, Cheese, and last but not least Dessert. Each dish is complemented by seasonal vegetables and/ or fruits. For a little bit extra, each course can be paired with a glass of wine. Gary Danko offers 7+ selections under each category. Ranging from sweet, warm Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar that just melt in your mouth and taste just like an oyster should and Risotto with Lobster and Rock Shrimp for an appetizer, to sweet and succulent perfectly cooked Roast Maine Lobster and tangy yet savory Mushroom Dusted Sea Scallops seared to a nice golden brown on all sides, to Seared Filet of Beef cooked to a perfect medium rare topped with corn relish and two Quails Stuffed with Foie Gras with a wonderful glaze, to grand selection of cheeses that arrive tableside by cart plated with grapes and other wonderful parings, to Rhubarb-Strawberry tart and decadent Chocolate Soufflé served warm with a Vanilla Crème-Anglaise and Dark Belgium Chocolate Sauce that will have you feeling like you’re eating a luscious chocolate rain cloud.
Each dish, and the process of creating it, is thoughtfully and eloquently described to you as it comes to your table.
The restaurant is surprisingly unpretentious restaurant offers an astonishing 1,500 selections of wine all neatly listed in a hefty black binder, which the bartender will gladly heave over the counter for you to view. The list features wines from fifteen different countries and dozens of vintages are represented at Gary Danko. Some of the rarest vintages and wines can be found in the restaurant’s wine cellar. To add to the surprise, the wine cellar is an ongoing expansion project.
My experience at Gary Danko was spent dining at the bar for three hours. I had made reservations for two earlier that morning and was informed by the hostess that the earliest reservation they had open was 9:30p.m. My date and I arrived at the restaurant at 7:00p.m. after a long day of touring the city to see if there were any cancellations. Unfortunately, there weren’t. The hostess welcomed us to sit at the bar while we waited for our reservations.
We sat sandwiched between a very polished couple who appeared to have just gotten off of work, and another couple who were casually dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Both were dining at the bar.
We were quickly attended to by a bartender with strawberry brown hair that sat just about three inches above her shoulders. She asked to take our order, as she pulled out two thin, white cloth coasters. I asked to see a cocktail menu and a wine list. The recommended cocktail menu was fairly limited but the wine list was astounding. It was in a hefty black binder which contained over 1,500 wines with countless vintages, regions, and flavors. The prices range from low $40s to $200+, per bottle. We each got a cocktail and talked, admiring the décor.
As we sat and admired what each couple ordered. The savory aromas that encircled us forced us to surrender our reservations and dine at the bar. We joked with the bar manager as we informed him that waiting another hour and listening to him describe each dish without being able to enjoy it would just be torturous; we cancelled our reservations and were handed menus at the bar.
My date and I used the three course tasting menu to our advantage. We shared an appetizer, we each ordered a seafood and meat, and then we shared a dessert. The bar manager complemented us choosing this tactic, and asked whose idea it was. We sheepishly admitted that we over heard him suggest it to the couple sitting to our left. His laughed filled the bar area, telling us that he was ready to give me credit.
We shared the Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar, Zucchini Pearls and Lettuce cream and the Chocolate Soufflé with Vanilla Crème-Anglaise and Dark Belgium Chocolate Sauce. I ordered the Roast Maine Lobster with Potato Puree, Black trumpet Mushrooms, Edamame Beans and Tarragon and the Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras, Leeks and Quinoa, Farro, Maitake Mushrooms, Zuchinni and Roasted Red Peppers.
The courses are spread out in increments allowing me to not only savor and admire the lingering flavors of the previous dish but to discuss the flavor profiles and textures with the person I was sharing the evening.
The Gazed Oysters were served in a large white dish sitting in a spring grass colored sauce and a sand colored sauce topped with a generous spoonful of caviar. They were slightly warm. It was sweet and had the texture of yogurt that just melted in my mouth. The caviar was a perfect complement—adding a natural ocean air flavor that enhanced the flavor of the oyster.
My next course was the Lobster. The Lobster was cooked to a medium rare. It too melted in my mouth. It was incredibly sweet and though I feel serving seafood with potatoes is a crime, the light airiness of the pureed potatoes in this dish, did not take away from the texture or the flavor of the lobster.
The Quail came on a rectangular, slate colored dish. To my surprise, there were two stuffed quails sitting atop a bed of mushrooms, grains. They had a wonderful caramelized skin. The plump quails were very moist and filled with a healthy portion of mushrooms and infused with a rich flavor from the foie gras.
Finally, the sinful Chocolate Soufflé. The waiter came gliding out with a glass dish holding a white ramekin dwarfed by the pillowing soufflé. He put the soufflé down on the counter, took a spoon and created a small hole in the center—the soufflé deflated a bit. He poured the contents of the first gravy boat into the hole of the soufflé: a Crème-Anglaise. The soufflé appeared to breathe as it expanded with the steady stream of crème seeped though its pores. It deflated slightly once again when the stream stopped. The waiter then poured the contents of the second gravy boat into the same hole of the soufflé: dark Belgium chocolate. The thick stream of glistening rich chocolate once again made the soufflé expand. As I methodically ran my spoon though the center of the soufflé, I was able to get a spoonful of the airy top and the moist bottom which had happily soaked up the duo of sauces. It was like eating a cumulus chocolate cloud; a sweet, light, creamy, pillow that melted in your mouth. Though decadent, was not overly sweet or over-whelming. It was the perfect way to end the meal.
You will not leave restaurant Gary Danko hungry. Though the portions may seem small upon first glance, because of the dramatic dishes, don’t be fooled: the portions are extremely generous.
On this particular night, I did not leave the restaurant empty handed. The bar manager handed me a gift from the restaurant—a banana cream cheese cake to enjoy with my coffee the next morning. As for my date, he jealously eye balled my gift as the bar manager kindly gave him his: the check.
Gary Danko: 800 North Point at Hyde Street, (415) 749-2060. Serving dinner nightly 5:30pm to 10:00pm, Bar hours 5:00pm to 12:00am. Street parking and Valet available for $11. Three courses $66, 4 courses $83, 5 courses $98, wine pairing $65.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I love how it's within walking distance! I really feel like my doing my part at staying green! So with my reusable Whole Foods canvas bag, a sun dress, sunglasses, and sandals; I headed out the door ready to start my morning right.
Going to the farmer's market makes me feel healthier, happier, and like I kicked off my Saturday morning in a productive way. I promised myself that I would be a regular there. It would absolutely be a shame if I let these years in college pass by without frequenting the market since most people would kill to live as close as I do to one.
One thing I did regret not doing was bringing my camera so I could post up some pictures of the market itself. But since I did promise myself to frequent the market, I'm not too horribly let down but the absence of my camera. There will always be next weekend! It's not a huge market like the one in San Francisco's Ferry Building. But it's a nice small town farmer's market that has a nice variety of fruits, veggies, flowers, live music, fresh seafood, tamales, hummus, breads, coffees, cakes, cookies, and even odds and ends like photos, dresses, scarves, etc.
It probably sounds cliche, but I love the feeling of knowing where your food comes from, and knowing that's it's not mass produced and genetically tampered with. The vendors are extremely friendly and will let you sample almost all of the products that they're trying to sell you. And almost 99% of the time, what they're trying to sell you is delicious and hard to turn down.
So as I headed home with what looks to be a sack of fresh produce. I'm ready to make some breakfast with the great stuff that I bought, and head out to the pool to read and enjoy the rest of my day!
Friday, April 3, 2009
I guess this is the start of my realization that you can share great food with anyone.
As long as there are bacon wrapped hot dogs at Proof, I'll be there.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Now there's some food for thought.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Yes, it's true that great food does put a smile on my face, but the company that shares the foodie experience with you totally matters. TOTALLY. I can enjoy fra grois alone of course, but why would I want to? I would much rather dish out $20+ on fra grois and someone to talk to about how much I love the flavor and texture and fra grois pairings.
I have to warn you though, I'm a talkative eater! If you're someone who likes to enjoy their meal in complete silence *cricket, cricket*, I am not the right companion for you. I like the conversation, ranging from, "What did you do today?" to "The gumbo you made is really great!" to "Mmm! I love the fried tofu!" to "Soy protien meat is not my favorite thing...", to "Wine?", "Dessert?"
It puts a smile on my face when the topic of dessert comes up after a meal. It means that the meal doesn't have to end nor does the company. Though sadly, half the time I fail at leaving room for the long desired dish of creme brulee or the warm chocolate lava cake. What I usually do is kick off the conversation my perusing the dessert section of any menu, and finding the one I want, tell my foodie buddy that I want to save room for dessert. Then what usually happens, is that I never have room! The curse that I like to call "my eyes are WAY bigger than my stomach" crosses my mind. I think the hardest part about loving food the way I do, is that it hurts to walk away from a place knowing you didn't get to try everything you wanted to try on the menu.
Even if when I cook a meal, it's always more fun to cook with someone. And STILL I think about dessert after! Sometimes my sweet tooth and my stomach take on a mind of their own! And sometimes, when they agree, the gym sees me more often!
So eat well, and eat happy, and most importantly NEVER EVER eat alone...
Eating for simple sustenance is not as enjoyable as eating for conversation or eating for savoring the moment, the food everything.
GO EAT WITH SOMEONE!