Steak – 12/7/09

Lately I’ve been trying to find the butcher shop with the best steaks in LA. Steaks are something I cook on a somewhat regular basis, and I feel I can now cook a good one consistently. A while ago, I told myself what I would only cook USDA Choice steaks until I knew I could cook consistently – it would be tragic to overcook a Prime piece of beef. So, now has come the time.

I had read LA Mag’s food lover’s issue where they had a segment on butcher shops in LA. Last weekend, I checked out one of them, Alexander’s Prime Meats, in San Gabriel, which had USDA Prime beef from Harris Ranch. Taking a look at the meats, I was a little disappointed as the marbling on them looked akin to what I would expect for a Choice grade piece of meat. I decided to try out a rib-eye anyway and found it good, but not too tender and not outstanding – basically, I couldn’t distinguish it from a good Choice steak.

This past weekend I checked out Marconda’s Meats in the Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax. They primarily serve certified Piedmontese beef from a ranch in Montana. Piedmontese cattle, originating in Italy, are known for its tenderness and lower fat content. Taking a look at the steaks, the New York really caught my eye.img00199 20091206 1343 Steak   12/7/09

A picture of the steak I purchased is below.steak Steak   12/7/09

Immediately, I noticed the steaks’ marbling. It looked like what I thought looked like USDA Prime, much more marbled than the ones at Alexander’s.  So, I had to try one out.

My preferred cook-at-home steak method is to get a cast iron skillet as hot as possible, sear both sides, and then to put it on a rack and finish in the oven. This creates a nice crust on the steak, while maximizing the pink meat in the middle of the steak. One of the ways I judge how well a steak is cooked, aside from doneness, is how much brown area there is on each side of the steak. Ideally, this will be minimized, and leaving juicy medium rare meet in the center.

I seasoned the steak with garlic salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.steak seasoned Steak   12/7/09

Then, it was placed in the superhot cast iron skillet to sear.steak sear Steak   12/7/09

After being finished in the oven, I took the steak out with an internal temperature of 125 degrees.  I let it rest to let the juices redistribute, and it settled at about 133 degrees after resting.steak cooked Steak   12/7/09

I decided to cut up the steak on a cutting board first to really get a look at the meat. This was the moment of truth!steak pieces Steak   12/7/09

steak cut Steak   12/7/09

steak cross sectiom Steak   12/7/09

I got a pretty good sear on the crust; however I think I seared it a little too long on each side. The brown around the outside of the meat was thin but noticeable.  The meat was definitely more tender and had a nice flavor. It wasn’t as juicy as other steaks I’ve had though. Unlike the steak from Alexander’s, I could tell a bit of a difference from a Choice grade steak. Was it the best steak I’ve cooked? Hard to say. Maybe…but I’ll have to keep searching.

Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake – 12/6/09

There aren’t too many things as soul-satisfying as a nice risotto on a cold day. Even better – one full of seafood. Thus, on this winter night, a seafood risotto was in order. Also, I had recently read Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake recipe and it sounded so incredibly simple and easy, I figured I had to give it a try. The menu was complete.

Now, I found myself at four grocery stores on Sunday, trying to get the right ingredients. I don’t think it was so much the lack of selection of the stores, but maybe the fact that I’m picky…really picky when I cook – I want everything to go right. The chief ingredient decisions were:

What type of seafood to use?
I ended up using fillets of swai, shrimp, mussels and bay scallops. These were all pretty easy to work with, and I thought they’d all go well.

What type of cheese to use?
Most recipes call for Parmesan here. So I found a block of Parmigiano Reggiano to use – I like the mildly salty and nutty flavors in this cheese. I’m not as picky about the whole cheese-seafood thing.

What type of chocolate to use?
Ideally, I wanted Valhrona. Jean-Georges recommended it, and Thomas Keller always uses it – so naturally, this was the choice. However, I couldn’t find any. However, I had seen on America’s Test Kitchen that Ghirardelli chocolate came in first in testing for baking chocolates, so I got a package of their bittersweet chocolate.

Making a risotto is actually rather simple. My recipe was to saute some onions and garlic, add Arborio rice, add white wine, and then continually add heated stock until the risotto is al dente. At that point, I would stir in some fresh parsley, the cheese, and the seafood (which i would pan sear separately).

The risotto, almost fully cooked.risotto Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

The addition of the seafood to the risotto.risotto seafood Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

The seafood plated.risotto plated Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

The chocolate cakes were next. My recipe involved melting the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, whisking eggs and sugar separately, and then whisking the egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Finally, flour was whisked in to create a batter, and this was poured into buttered ramekins and baked at 450 degrees.

The chocolate cake coming out of the oven.choc cake Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

Chocolate cake plated.choc cake plated Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

I guess I’d have to say I was satisfied with how the meal turned out. The risotto was delicious and was the most important part of the meal, and I thought it was cooked pretty well. The chocolate cakes, while not molten, were still tasty – next time I should be able to perfect it.

Ad Hoc – 11/28/09

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Ad Hoc is located down the street from The French Laundry and Bouchon in the Napa Valley town of Yountville. Whenever in the area, I stop by Bouchon Bakery to pick up some treats. One of my favorite bakeries, it was opened in 2003 to start serving fresh breads, tarts, cookies, and all sorts of goodies. img 0357 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

A look inside the bakery.

 Ad Hoc   11/28/09

 Ad Hoc   11/28/09

As it was around 5:30pm, a lot of the selection was depleted. However, there was still a variety of breads, cookies, tarts, and macarons available.

 Ad Hoc   11/28/09

Their signature namesake item is a cork-shaped chocolate brownie called a ‘Bouchon.’ Notice the stack of them on the left in the picture below, and on top.  Calling them a brownie does not really do it justice, but it’s a closer, more delicious relative. These are a must-try here, and is also part of the signature dessert at Bouchon Bistro.

 Ad Hoc   11/28/09

With my baked goods in hand, it was time to head down the street to Ad Hoc.

I’m not too sure what’s taken me so long to visit Ad Hoc. Opened in 2006, it was meant to be a temporary restaurant in the space, pending a new concept by Thomas Keller (a burger joint was widely rumored). The restaurant’s concept is fresh, comfortable food, served family-style. It is easily the most reasonable, accessible way to sample Chef Keller’s food. Because the restaurant became so popular, it became a permanent fixture in 2007.img 0362 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

The decor is comfortable and well-lit, with a bar area in front.

 Ad Hoc   11/28/09 Ad Hoc   11/28/09

There is only one menu each day, posted that morning. I consider myself a pretty picky eater, so the idea of not knowing what the food will be until that day is a bit unsettling. Given this restaurant’s popularity and the fact that it’s a Thomas Keller restaurant – I had to give it a try. The menu rubric is typically as follows:

First course: Soup or salad
Second course: Main entree and sides
Third course: Cheese
Fourth course: Dessert

The only really predictable part of the menu is the famous fried chicken.  It’s served every other Monday night. On this Saturday evening, the menu was as follows.

First course – Broccolini Salad with prosciutto di san daniele, lola rossa, shaved crimini mushrooms, shaved red onions, kalamata olives, creamy fennel caper dressing

Second course – Prime Beef Ribeye with wild arugula, fingerling potatoes, meyer lemon vinaigrette, and a red bell pepper and winter squash gratin

Third course – Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Ardrahan melted on palladin toast, pickled carrots, marshall’s farm wildflower honey

Fourth course – Buttermilk Panna Cotta Trifle with pear compote, marinated blueberries and pistachio biscotti

img 0363 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

Given that I’m a pretty big meat eater (especially beef), I was excited to see the ribeye on the menu and was wondering all day how it would be prepared.

The courses came out quickly, starting with the salad.

img 0371 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

The broccolini was fresh and flavorful – I’ve lately become a pretty big fan of this vegetable. The prosciutto added a nice saltiness to go with the broccolini and lettuce. I rarely eat salads..I really don’t like them..but this was easy to eat, with clean, fresh flavors.

We decided to try a Modicum Meritage Red Blend to pair with the meat. Modicum wine is the house wine of The French Laundry, produced in limited quantities as a joint venture with an unnamed winery and the French Laundry.

img 0373 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

Next came the main entree – the ribeye. I found it kind of amusing that they don’t ask how you’d like the meat prepared. It’s prepared medium rare – the way it should be. The loin of the ribeye (on the right) was grilled and then cooked sous-vide. The cap (3 chunks on the left) was grilled.  This is probably the first time I’ve had the loin and cap split apart with different preparations. The cap is definitely fattier and more tender, and the loin is more lean with a beefier flavor in my opinion. The meat was served with arugula and fingerling potatoes topped with a meyer lemon vinaigrette. Definitely tasty.

img 0377 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

Now, was it better than what I could get at a good steakhouse? It was definitely different. A steakhouse is definitely not going to sous-vide my beef – typically it’s a sear and broil or just grill.  In the end, I’m not sure the work put into this preparation was better than a steakhouse ribeye, but it was still a tasty piece of meat – and T. Keller is not going to put a simple steak on the table.

img 0376 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

On the side was the red bell pepper and winter squash gratin. This was also a good dish, showcasing the in-season squash and peppers with a nice breadcrumb crust on top.

Next was the cheese course.

img 0378 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

I’m really never a fan of the cheese course and always try to substitute it out for a different course, but in certain occasions (like this one), it’s unavoidable.  This was a cow milk cheese served with toast, pickled carrots and honey. It was mildly pungent, and not really spreadable on the toast. The honey was delicious, and I thought it went well with the cheese. However, it did not convert me to being a fan of the cheese course.

Next up was the buttermilk panna cotta trifle. I’ve had a number of Thomas Keller’s panna cottas before at other restaurants and have been a fan. However, this one was on a yogurt-like consistency with a hint of sourness. Not being a fan of yogurt, I didn’t really care much for this dessert. The pears and blueberries inside did have good flavor, however.

img 0381 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

The panna cotta trifle came with pistachio biscotti, which I found to be very good, especially when dipped.

img 0382 medium Ad Hoc   11/28/09

In all, this was a pleasant meal. As a fairly picky eater, the menu did not totally go my way. However, I was quite pleased with the first two courses, especially being able to try the ribeye.  Did it live up to expectations? Sorta. Maybe not really. Nothing was really remarkably delicious, but I appreciated the freshness of the ingredients, and the food was executed very well.

The restaurant is deserving of another trip, and I know just the occasion – fried chicken night.

Thanksgiving 2009 – 11/26/09

There are a number of traditions my family has every year. One that is shared amongst most families in America is that there is always a ton of food. As has been the case the past several years, we go to my mom’s sister’s for lunch, and to my dad’s mom’s for dinner – effectively having two Thanksgiving meals. It’s a great compromise I think. The food is pretty American with some Chinese dishes and influences. Turkey has never really been the centerpiece, but it’s always been included for ‘tradition sake.’

LUNCH

Lunch is served buffet-style, and is largely a potluck from a number of families, led by my aunt.

appetizers Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09Some of the finger foods include deviled eggs, shrimp on toast, egg rolls, and taquitos.

On the other side of the room are the entrees and sides.entrees1 Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Shown above are country fried potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a chicken pot pie and fruit salad.

entrees2 Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Here we have fried wontons, Caesar salad, carved turkey and pork ribs. The turkey was beautifully carved and presented (see below for a close-up). The pork ribs are cooked low and slow over charcoal for a couple of hours to ensure they are moist and tender to the point that they are just about falling off the bone.

entrees3 e1259443890690 Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Two of the main recurring sides each year are chinese sticky rice and chow mein. These both are made in huge quantities and pre-packed to aid in the leftovers process.

A close-up of the carved turkey is below.turkey Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Close-up of the ribs.ribs Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

There were an array of homemade desserts, including an apple-cranberry-nut tart below (there was another fancier tart-like word, but I don’t remember what that was).

tart Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Also, there were a couple of pies made by Elizabeth Faulkner herself (of Citizen Cake, and Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters fame).  My cousin’s cousin’s husband works for her, and she gave them as a holiday gift. Naturally, I had to try these. There was a pecan piepecan Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

and a pumpkin pie.pumpkin Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

I was expecting a lot from these pies given Faulkner’s resume. The pecan was first. The filling broke apart so easily that the first slices did not resemble a pie, rather clumps of filling over some crust. I found the crust to be a little underbaked, and the filling was kind of unremarkable. Now, I’m not a huge pecan pie person anyways, but the flavors of pecan, chocolate and whiskey didn’t do it for me.

Next was the pumpkin pie, which was a lot better. The filling was smooth and pumpkin-cinnamon tasting, and the crust was nice and flaky here. Definitely closer to what I was expecting the pies to be.

DINNER

Dinner is a more traditional family-around-the-dinner table affair. Most everything is prepared by my grandmother. The centerpiece, as has been for as long as I can remember, is a roast of beef – in this case, a New York strip loan roast.new york roast Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

The roast being carved.cutting roast Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

The other meat option this year was, of course, turkey, white meat shown carved.dinner turkey Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

My grandmother also made a soup to start with with a chicken broth base, including pork, dates and dried tofu.soup Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

The sides included traditional stuffing,stuffing Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Chinese sticky rice,chinese sticky rice Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

mashed potatoes, gravy, and a mixed vegetable dish.dinner table e1259481686261 Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

To finish off the meal, as if we needed anything else, was a cake from Sweet Stop – layers of vanilla and chocolate cake with custard in between.cake Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

cake cut Thanksgiving 2009   11/26/09

Sweet Stop’s cakes are consistently moist and tasty, and this one was not an exception. We come to them for cakes for pretty much every special occasion.

Two days later, I still feel full recounting all this food. Though, I’m already anticipating what will be cooked up for Christmas this year!

Bouchon Beverly Hills – 11/21/09 and 11/22/09

Bouchon Beverly Hills
238 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

For anyone that knows me fairly well, they know that I’m sort of..umm, well, obsessed with Thomas Keller. My first meal at French Laundry is still probably the most anxious I’ve ever been for a meal. In addition, Bouchon is one of my favorite casual restaurant picks in Las Vegas for simple, comforting food that hits the spot every time. And so when I found out Chef Keller was opening up a branch of Bouchon in LA over a year ago, I’ve been waiting for it ever since. I had been monitoring the food blogs and news for any bits of information that came out – expected opening date, the design of the restaurant, when they got their liquor license, when the reservation lines would open, etc. So when the reservation lines were set to open at 11am on Nov. 2, naturally, I was on the phone calling at 10:55am and was lucky enough to score two reservations on opening weekend!

I thought that the food  seemed to be pretty consistent with the other Bouchons (in Yountville and Las Vegas) where I’ve eaten. To start out with on both nights were the bread (baked in-house, slightly still warm) and white bean puree with crostini. I love the bread (Bouchon Bakery is one of my favorite bakeries) and the white bean puree was a nice touch, and good start to the meal.

bread medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

Over the course of the two nights, we tried a variety of dishes. Appetizers first:

Celery root puree soup

celery root puree medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

The soup was tasty. Now, I don’t think ‘celery root puree’ is on the top of anyone’s lists of soups to try, and maybe that’s what made this a pleasant surprise. It had an earthy flavor with a little bit of cinnamon – my friend remarked that “it tasted like Thanksgiving.” How fitting!

Florentine quiche – There is a daily quiche each day, and it was a simple Florentine quiche on Sunday, which has spinach, eggs and cheese as the primary ingredients. The custard filling was very smooth and creamy, and the spinach was not overbearing. Overall, a very nice quiche.

Another of the daily appetizer specials was escargot covered in puff pastry.

escargot medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

I can’t say I’ve had a ton of experience with escargot, so I thought this was a great opportunity to broaden my escargot horizon. The puff pastry was interesting, but I don’t think it was necessary. The size of the pastry was larger than the escargot itself, and made fitting the whole piece in your mouth a little troublesome. The escargot was cooked in a pesto-like sauce with a lot of olive oil.  Pretty tasty.

Mussels and Oysters – Bouchon has an extensive seafood bar consisting of lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels, clams and oysters. There’s nothing exactly special with the seafood here – it’s quality seafood presented in a very simple manner. We decided to try some of the mussels and oysters. They were both good; however, there wasn’t anything that stood out about these over any reputable seafood restaurant’s offerings.

Next, on to the entrees:

Braised lamb shank

lamb shank medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

The presentation here is beautiful. The lamb shank was quite good, although it may have been a little dry compared to what I remember it being in Las Vegas. There was a lot of meat (which I like) and a knife was not really even necessary. Also, the lamb was not gamey at all.

Short rib

short rib medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

As can be seen, the short rib was a large square, a little different preparation that I’m accustomed to. However, it was rich and delicious. The accompanying Savoy cabbage was nice as well, soaking up the juices of the meat.

Steak frites

steak frites medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

I think Bouchon has some of the best steak frites in the land. This is partially because I think these are some of the best french fries. They’re cut and shaped similar to McDonalds’ with a good ratio of crispy outside to fluffy inside, and seasoned with just salt. Just like that. Good stuff. The steak is a flatiron with a caramelized onion topping and a compound herb butter.

Sauteed gnocchi – This is the only vegetarian entree on the menu (though, there are various vegetarian options elsewhere on the menu), and there’s nothing really special about this. It’s served with various vegetables and a butter sauce. Simply made, but I can see someone getting tired of it after a few bites.

Roasted chicken

chicken medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

The roast chicken here is really good. I don’t really order chicken very often, but it was probably the most surprising dish.  It was moist, juicy and flavorful, and the jus adds an extra flavor boost. I’m not totally sure how this is prepared, but it’s a great example of a successful roasted chicken.

Finally, dessert. Always save room for dessert when coming to Bouchon – it’s not to be missed!

Pistachio Pot de Creme – There is a daily custard, which was pistachio on this night. The custard was nice and smooth, sweet with a good pistachio flavor.

Profiteroles

profiteroles medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

These are basically “cream puffs” stuffed with homemade vanilla ice cream and topped with a Valrhona chocolate  sauce.  Each of these parts are executed perfectly, and the resulting dish is just delicious. My favorite dessert here.

Bouchons

bouchons medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

The bouchons are a signature dish (cork-sized brownies, essentially) with homemade vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce (the same ice cream and sauce used in the profiteroles). For some reason, the bouchons seem to taste better alone, when purchased from the bakery. I’m not sure why, but even though this is a tasty dish in itself, it seems to be less than the sum of its parts. I recommend trying to get the bouchons alone to snack on later.

The service was professional and on-point – quick but not hurried. Impressive for a brand new restaurant – the service was without a glitch. The staff really seems to genuinely be happy to be there..and hey, who can blame them – the TK Restaurant Group is really a special group to be a part of.

I was lucky enough to get a kitchen tour which was just incredible. Love it. The staff was open to any questions one may have about the kitchen, and it was an experience witnessing the whole kitchen in motion. There’s a live camera feed to the Bouchon Yountville, similar to the Per Se – French Laundry setup. It was a really nice treat to a great meal.

kitchen1 medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

The kitchen looking straight ahead – notice the Bouchon live feed in the background, and Chef de Cuisine Rory Hermann on the right in the middle.

kitchen2 medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09

The kitchen looking to the left.

kitchen3 medium Bouchon Beverly Hills   11/21/09 and 11/22/09The kitchen looking to the right.

Overall I had a great experience here. I would say Bouchon is probably my favorite casual-ish dining place in LA, and I will be back.