Gold Standard – 2/28/10

Gold Standard 2010
Petersen Auto Museum
6060 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

The second annual Gold Standard, hosted by LA Weekly’s own Jonathan Gold, is a sampling is some of Jonathan Gold’s picks for the best tastes in Los Angeles. A number of restaurants and wineries converged on the Petersen Auto Museum to offer their signature bites and pours. One of the biggest criticisms of the year was the cramped space and long lines. I was worried about that this time around, but the Petersen Auto Museum was supposed to be a bigger space that resolved these issues.

On the way to the festival, we saw a couple of trucks parked, which would be a sign to come. Below, the Kogi truck – finding it without a line of people is a rare sight.

Urth Caffe would be serving up a selection of coffees and teas throughout the afternoon.
The first thing we approached as we entered was the line to get in.  Holy crap. This reminded me immediately of the LA Street Food Fest a couple of weeks prior, which was a huge concern.

However, the only thing we could do was wait, and in about 30 minutes we were into the event. While waiting, we strategized the priority restaurants at the event within the program. I was surprised by the number of wineries (about 55) that were present, as they were not advertised initially at all. Click on the below image for a larger picture.

Once inside, we were greeted with a whole lineup of restaurants and wineries, with lines that were much less than expected.

The ever-popular Mozza, headed by Nancy Silverton (below, middle), served a Ricotta Crostone with Peperonata.

Mozza always tends to serve dishes that showcases their cheeses at festivals, and this was no exception. The ricotta was light and flavorful, and the pepperonata lended a nice sweetness to the dish.

Sona offered a dish  of salmon sashimi over a rice cracker. Very good quality fish here, and the mixture of textures with the cracker played out well.

Next up, LudoBites. No fried chicken this time, and no 3.5 hour waits. Ludo served up a cold chorizo veloute with a cornichon sorbet. Definitely one of the more refined dishes of the night, it was a success as well. A good, but not overpowering chorizo flavor in the soup paired well with the sorbet. When talking to Ludo about the next LudoBites, he said it would be downtown in April – can’t wait!

Next up, Pollo a la Brasa, known for their Peruvian rotisserie chicken. I was really looking forward to this dish, as I had been hearing a lot about it. Unfortunately, I found the meat dry. I had two servings, one of the breast and one of the drumstick, and they were both a bit overcooked. I’ll attribute this to the fact that they have to cook their chicken ahead of the festival, and keep it warm until serving. The chicken had a really nice, strong smokey flavor to it.

BistroLQ was one of the most popular tables throughout the night. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly what they served, but there was oxtail and a slider, as well as tapioca below.

Lotteria grill was offering up a selection of tacos, including this lengua with avocado. Quite good.

Babita was another restaurant offering up tacos, this one with carnitas and onions. Good as well. It looks like the chef is pleased with how his tacos came out.

The now well-known Kogi truck was in attendance at the festival. I was eager to get a chance to sample something unique without having to wait in the line. Well, I got a little more than I bargained for.

Kogi offered up vegan tacos, with lettuce as the wrapper and tofu as the filling. While I definitely would have prefered a meat dish here, this one wasn’t too bad. If I had to eat something vegan, this wouldn’t disappoint.

Mo-Chica has sort of been an ‘underground hit’ this year, as it’s definitely not on the beaten path. Located in the food court of a Mexican market in the USC area, it’s not exactly something many will stumble upon. However, lots of reviews and word-of-mouth have really drawn attention to this establishment. On this night, they were serving an albacore ceviche with sweet white corn. A really fresh fish here, it was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Palate food & wine was offering up pork belly and pig ears banh mi with kumquat, pistachio and lardon. Another of the more popular dishes of the afternoon; however, I thought the bread was a bit too crunchy/chewy, leaving the filling to squish out.

Upstairs cafe offered braised kurobuta pork with crispy leeks and a beet risotto cake.  I found the pork, which I believed to be shoulder cut, to be surprisingly dry.

Jar served a couple of their signature items, which I thought was great. Chocolate pudding was offered, as well as butterscotch.

The pot roast was offered as well, topped with some sour cream. Very tender, and a generous portion. I’m pretty sure they used a brisket here, while the restaurant’s pot roast is of a short rib. Weird.

Jitlada, a Thai restaurant located in Thai town, is best known for having the spiciest dish in LA, according to Jonathan Gold, as well as having solid Thai cuisine. I had been before, and thought I could handle the beef dish they offered. Not true. Dammit, that dish was hot as well. I needed a warning sign before it seared off my tastebuds. The beef had a really weird texture too, being too tender/mushy.

The Hungry Cat was probably the most disorganized restaurant of the night, from what I saw. On the first visit to the table, there was one, sometimes two, people, trying to put something together in the back, and nothing came up to be served, The second time I came around, they were still working in the back, and finally served up this smoked salmon dish. The wait was not worthwhile as it was unimpressive.

Good Girl Dinette’s premise is ‘American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food.’ Hm. Interesting, but I was skeptical. Yelp raves about the cauliflower curry pot pie, and this afternoon they were offering mini chicken curry pot pies. Being a big pot pie fan, I tried one, and I thought it quite delicious. The chicken was in a nice curry gravy with a flaky crust.

Beacon featured the husband-wife duo of Kazuto Matsusaka and Vicki Fan, offering a five spice chicken salad and a pulled pork tostada. Unfortunately, I was not able to try these.

Wurstkuche offered up some of their well-known sausages.’ The three offered were the duck and bacon with spicy peppers, mango jalapeno with caramelized onions,  and the rattlesnake and rabbit topped with sweet peppers. These aren’t as good as in person at the restaurant, as some of the juices are lost when they cut the sausages, and the untoasted baguette used here can’t replace the toasted bun.

Kyochon served up some of their fried chicken wings, spicy and mild. This is Jonathan Gold’s favorite fried chicken in LA. They’re not mine, however.

Little Dom’s offered these fried oyster sliders. A little bit unique, which I liked. And good, too, with a nice juicy oyster.

Let’s be Frank was in attendance. Having tried it before, and knowing that I could try this hot dog anytime at their truck, I decided to save some room and pass on it.

The Ciudad/Border Grill tent served up “California-style tacos,” which were actually vegetarian tacos (featuring breaded and fried avocado). Mary Sue Milliken was serving them up herself!

There were a number of places serving up desserts, including Tiara Cafe. Here were mini black velvet cupcakes.

Saffron spot offered up four different flavors of ice cream. I tried the Saffron Silk and Guava – both good.

Nickel Diner had a bunch of large doughnut holes. I tried the maple bacon doughnut (bottom and right). Interesting, though I don’t think I really like bacon in my sweets.

Some teas were offered here, and you could take teabags. This company specializes in Pu-erh teas.

Huckleberry cafe offered a number of sweets and I tried the maple bacon biscuit. It was a little harder than expected, but not bad.

Bulgarini Gelato had a pretty long line, serving flavors such as goat’s milk with cocoa nibs, pistachio, chocolate-orange and raspberry.

I tried the chocolate-orange and pistachio – both were good.

As I mentioned earlier, and as shown in the lineup program, there were 50+ wineries offering wines to taste, sponsored by the Wine House. I was able to try about ten of them.

A number of beers, including Stella Artois, Singha, Kirin, and beers from New Belgium Brewing Co. were served. Also, whiskey.

It was a great event that exceeded expectations. The lines and crowds weren’t really a problem at all, and we were able to try everything we wanted. Man, that was a ton of food. The number of wines was also a plus. For the $60 price of a general admission entrance, I think it was really a good deal. I’ll be back next year.

Bottega Louie – 2/26/10

Bottega Louie
700 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Bottega Louie has been extremely popular since it opened up almost a year ago, just recently being called a “Best New Restaurant 2009” by many publications, including Los Angeles Magazine. This is a large restaurant, and the lines can be hours long, a testament to the popularity of the establishment. So what’s the draw? It’s trendy, has a nice decor, and offers a menu with a wide array of dishes. And of course, the food is good too. It keeps within a fine balance, being both a nice and casual restaurant, housing people dressed to go out, and people in a t-shirt and shorts.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also contains a marketplace, bar, and patisserie on their own. The pastries offered is seemingly endless with many different cakes, tarts, breads, cookies and candies available for purchase.

Cupcakes, macarons, croissants, as well.

The decor is minimal. High ceilings, white walls with gold trim, and large windows letting in a lot of natural light. It’s lunchtime, and a line has already started to form.

The exposed kitchen is towards the front of the establishment. I love being able to see the kitchen at work.

The menu is wide-ranging Italian with salads, soups, pastas, pizzas and a large selection of ‘small plates’ and various entrees. Click on the image for a larger version.

We were told by the server that the portobello fries are one of the most popular items on the menu, so we had to give them a try.

Although I really don’t like mushrooms too much, these were pretty good. The portobello was battered, fried, and tossed with herbs and parmesan cheese.

Next up, the sausage pizza. Earlier in the week, I had read an article from someone who claimed that Bottega Louie had the best pizza in the city. The pizza was wonderful, and pretty authentic Neapolitan. It had a light, thin crust, a tangy and sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and a delicious fennel sausage. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was a little wet towards the middle of the pizza. Potentially the best pizza I had all week, and I had Mozza this week.

Mussels and claims in a white wine broth. A very generous portion here, with some nice crusty bread to sop up the broth. The seafood was very fresh, and the broth was delicious as well.

10-layered Lasagna with a lamb and veal bolognese. I like a lot of noodle in my lasagna, so when I heard “10 layers,” I was totally on it. However, this dish was just okay. There was probably just too much noodle, and not enough meat and cheese for me . Another generous portion.

Although we were quite full, we weren’t leaving without the souffle. It’s a chocolate souffle, made-to-order, with a side of creme anglaise. To me, there aren’t made dessert combinations better than chocolate-vanilla, and hot-cold. This is a really good souffle.

I had a very pleasant experience at Bottega Louie, and could easily see why it’s so popular. The first time I came, the service was rather mediocre, and they knew it (complimentary dessert came at the end). However, that was when they first opened, and they’ve really streamlined the process. While I think some of the dishes can be hit-or-miss, as there’s just so many options on the menu, there are probably more ‘hits’ than ‘misses.’ I’d definitely just come back for the pizza.

Steamed Fish – 2/14/10

One of the best simple dishes I prepare is a Cantonese-style steamed fish. It’s pretty easy to make – it requires only a few ingredients, allowing the clean fresh flavor of the fish to stand out. I like to use a white-fleshed fish for this (I often use tilapia) and I strongly recommend using a whole fish. It’s cheaper to buy whole fish, and the flavors are better whenever you cook anything on the bone.

For Chinese New Year, I got a whole tilapia to steam. I’m using a recipe largely in-line with my grandmother’s, adapted a little bit to my tastes.  I first packed the body of the fish with slices of ginger and green onion. Then I scored the fish on both sides, drizzled a little soy sauce, and inserted ginger into the cuts. Time to steam!

It doesn’t take too long to cook a whole fish, maybe 10-12 minutes. When it’s ready, I top it with green onions and ginger, and pour steaming hot canola oil over the top. Hot soy sauce is poured over as well.

And it’s ready to eat. You have to be SO careful with a whole fish not to eat the bones. I’ve found the best way to eat all the meat from one side, removing the chunks of  fish and leaving the bone intact. Oh, and, don’t forget to eat the cheek.

Then, try to carefully remove the whole bone in one piece. If successful, you’ll get the whole bottom fillet, as shown below.

Quite simple, and pretty healthy. I like to serve this with steamed rice and vegetables, creating a really healthy, balanced meal.

LA Street Food Fest – 2/13/10

LA Street Food Fest
LA Center Studios
500 S. Beaudry Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017

The biggest recent trend in the Los Angeles food scene is probably the revolution of the food truck. Decoratively-painted trucks serving gourmet food has been a huge success. So, why not gather 35+of them in one place to offer sampling-size versions? Well I’ll tell you why not – because too many people will want to go.

This was the problem this year, for the “1st Annual” event. Far too many people were interested in attending the event, and too many were let in. The line to enter the festival stretched for blocks, and was over an hour long at times. The lines inside weren’t much better, with lines at almost every truck nearing or over an hour.

When I first heard about this event, I figured it would be crowded, but not this crowded. I wanted to try as many new trucks as possible, including Buttermilk and Coolhaus. However, when I found out LudoBites would be making a special appearance to serve fried chicken, I knew I had to try it. Scroll down for more on Ludo.

When I first got to the area, I saw the line for entrance stretching up the block, around the corner, and as far as I could see. Wow. Luckily, a friend had waited it earlier, and got us tickets – so we went right in.
View of the crowd while inside.

It was basically a who’s-who of food trucks inside. Here were some of the highlights:

Qzilla BBQ.

Komodo food truck.

King Kone.

Get shaved (ice).

This is one of the more popular trucks of the day – the Flying Pig truck.

Louks truck serving Greek, with LA Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold on the left.

Uncle Lau’s Island BBQ serving Hawaiian.

Yum Yum Bowl truck serving Thai rice bowls.

India Jones truck serving up Indian food.

Another of the more popular trucks of the day – the Grilled Cheese truck. I heard the lines for this truck were over 2 hours at times.

Slice truck serving up pizzas.

Sweets truck offering desserts and candies.
Coolhaus and their ice cream sandwiches looked very popular throughout the day, probably because it was so warm out.

Buttermilk truck. I’ve been wanting to try this truck for a little while, and finally got the chance! There was a very long line for this one as well, around 2 hours.

The condensed sampling menu on offer:

Below are the red velvet pancake bites. I thought the red velvet flavor was a little subtle, and there was nothing really special with these.
The cake donuts were fluffy on the inside, and had a nice crisp glaze on the outside. I thought these were great.

The buttermilk brick: hash browns, egg, biscuit and chorizo gravy.  Definitely very savory and pretty tasty. This is some really good late-night drunk food.

I had been to Frysmith before to try their Rajas Fries and was immediately a fan. We tried a sampling of dishes here, after an approximate 2-hour wait.

The menu, served in sampling sizes:
Here, clockwise from top left, we have the Kimchi Fries, Foie Gras Fries, Sweet Po Fries, Chili Cheese Fries, and Rajas Fries.

The Kimchi and Chili Cheese Fries were the most flavorful and, basically, more exciting. The chili was very oily, however. The Sweet Po fries didn’t taste like anything really. The Foie Gras fries were disappointing. The Foie Gras mousse did not have a very strong flavor at all, and did not add much to this dish.

Last, and definitely not least, the one-time only:

The LudoBites truck, serving fried chicken. Ludovic Lefebvre, former chef of L’Orangerie and Bastide, and contestant on Top Chef Masters, no longer cooks at a permanent restaurant. Instead, he pops up at various restaurants for short periods of time, serving small plates he calls LudoBites. One of the most popular of these is his fried chicken, and this was a unique opportunity to try it. Having still remembered Ad Hoc’s chicken a couple months ago, I had to compare them.

I got in line at 1:37. The line was..long, I can’t even estimate it. A little over an hour in, one of the staff came out to the line to tell us that the line was probably another hour or so, and that when we got to the window and placed an order, they would give us a ticket to come back in another hour. What. Basically, this truck would make-or-break the festival for me, so I opted to stay in line. At about 3:30, I placed my five orders of chicken.

At 5:07, 3.5 hours after I first started waiting in line, my chicken was ready. I over-ordered.

De-boned chicken thighs are rolled up into loose balls, breaded, and fried with rosemary and (I think) thyme.

It’s served with a sweet and spicy (not really) piquillo sauce.

The first bite is just delicious. The chicken, fresh out of the fryer, is so moist and juicy. It’s a little bit fatty inside, on purpose. The breading is very crispy, and the herbs work really well with the chicken. I did not think the sauce was necessary, really, as it was just kind of sweet. Due to my over-ordering, I ended up eating 7 of these thighs. There was no way I wasn’t gonna finish all of them!

How did it compare to Ad Hoc? Very favorably, and it’s really close, but I can’t say it’s better than Ad Hoc’s. It’s actually pretty similar in terms of the herbs used, and how moist the chicken was. The chicken here was, I think, fried better (Ad Hoc’s was a bit dark), and was a little bit fattier.  A very delicious chunk of meat.

In all, the first LA Street Food Fest was a success and a failure in a number of ways. The goal was to get people to try a lot of what the LA street food scene has to offer by getting all of these trucks in one space, and offering smaller-sized portions of their food. It was successful in offering that; however, the sheer number of people at the festival did not make it feasible to try as many foods as desired. Hopefully, a more efficient process will be developed and I look forward to seeing what they come up with for next year.

Church & State – 2/12/10

Church & State
1850 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021

It’s been a while since my last post – unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of my recent dineLA excursions. The highlights were Jar and Chaya Downtown, Grace was pretty good, and both Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris were disappointing.

Church & State has been one of the most popular French bistros since it opened a little over a year ago. The kitchen is headed by Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and Patina. He brings with him fine dining expertise into a more casual, trendy bistro setting. The restaurant is located in an industrial part of the city, east of downtown..where you typically don’t want to be at night. The last time I went, it was at night for dinner, and you wonder where’s the best place to park your car on the street. However, on this occasion, we went for lunch (thanks to a BlackboardEats promo of 30% off).

The restaurant, with its tall glass windows, is housed on the ground floor of a historic building, now converted into lofts.

Purposefully, there’s not much to the interior. The open kitchen is to the left.

The menu is standard bistro fare, for the most part. A variety of tarts, escargot, moules frites, steak tartare, steak frites, and a variety of sandwiches and salads are all on the menu.

We decided to sample a couple of the appetizers and entrees.

Moules Marinière – Mussels, white wine, pommes frites, aïoli

A couple of the mussels were a little fishy, but most were good. The white wine sauce was delicious, especially with the fries. I think these are some of the best fries in the city, cooked in duck fat. Yum!

Rillettes de Porc – Berkshire pork, prune confiture

I’m usually not that keen on rillettes as I tend not to like cold meats. This one was not bad, with a nice accompanying plum sauce.

Steak Frites – French fries, sauce béarnaise

The bistro classic – steak and french fries. The steak was exceedingly tender, but it did not have a large beefy flavor that you would expect at a steakhouse. Cooked a nice medium-rare, I can see why this is one of their most popular dishes. The fries, again, are excellent.

Bouillabaisse – Provençal fish soup, prawns, mussels, clams

The bouillabaisse I thought was a little on the small side, especially compared to the steak. However, the seafood was fresh and cooked well. The prawn on top was excellent. Juicy and succulent, and perfectly cooked.

Chou de Bruxelles – Brussels sprouts, Medjool dates, chili

These brussels sprouts were pretty good, but nothing special. Lots of butter.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat – Caramel, hazelnut, fleur de sel

To finish, we had this thick chocolate pudding with caramel on top, as well as caramelized nuts, including hazelnuts. I feel like I’ve had a lot of chocolate puddings lately (most notably at Jar) and this was a good one. I really liked the caramel to go with it.

Overall I was pleased with my experience. For the most part, the food was executed very well. The mussels and steak frites were probably highlights for me…especially the fries. Service was good in the beginning, but really slowed as the restaurant got busier. They need more staff during the Friday lunchtime service. I would probably still say Bouchon is the best French bistro in town, but Church & State is a more laid-back and down-to-earth spot.