Providence – 6/17/10

Providence
5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

While I had been to Providence only a month earlier, the restaurant’s anniversary promotion brought me and some friends in. During the month of June, the restaurant is offering their 5-course menu for $65 to celebrate their anniversary.

Unfortunately, the menu was hardly different from my last trip. The tasting menu is to be shared among the table, and we were a little pressed for time, so I stuck with the 5-course with one supplement (spot prawns).  The following was the meal, with some of the courses from the vegetarian tasting menu:

amuse bouche – gin and tonic, margarita, cured tasmanian sea trout

This amuse has been a Providence staple for some time. The “cocktails” are always a fun bite, and the cured sea trout, while kind of an odd pairing with the two “cocktails,” is fresh tasting and a good starter for the meal to come.

japanese kanpachi crispy rice crackers, coriander, soy crème fraîche

The kanpachi is a denser fish, and a bit chewy. The rice crackers added a nice crispness, and I thought the coriander really brightens up the flavors.

The vegetarian course was hearts of palm wrapped in asparagus with rice crackers and topped with a tomato.

bobby’s block island scallop japanese eggplant, ramps, reduction of vadouvan and sauternes

This was one of my favorite courses in my last outing, and I was happy to see it again. The scallop is perfectly seared, and fairly rare in the interior. The mild curry sauce, and subtle crunch from the bell peppers and eggplant, really separate this dish from other scallop dishes.

The vegetarian course was a carrot soup/grilled cheese combination. A curry foam and creme fraiche is added to the carrot soup.

salt roasted santa barbara spot prawns live spot prawns roasted in salt, served with spanish olive oil and lemon

We ordered this course a la carte to supplement the 5-course. A pan full of salt comes to the table, and the prawns are carved tableside. Three prawns are carved for each person, and topped with lemon and olive oil. Very simple.

The presentation is pretty impressive for this course. While not overcooked, the shrimp was a little more cooked than I would have liked it (I would call this a medium, compared to a preferred medium rare). I had this dish two trips ago, and it was more closely a medium rare on that trip. However, these were very fresh prawns – clean flavors and a nice sweetness made this dish.

wild halibut smoked paprika, squash, basil bread crumbs

This piece of fish was cooked really nicely.  The halibut was very flavorful, and the basil breadcrumbs were unique and really went well with this dish.

The vegetarian course was a poachaed egg over polenta, topped with black summer truffles, a tomato-bell pepper compote, and a frisee salad.

marcho farms veal tenderloin sweet peas, bacon, almond, and morel mushrooms

This is an exceptional veal dish – extremely tender, and somewhat mild in flavor considering it’s from the tenderloin. The peas, bacon and almonds complement and bring out the flavors of this dish. However, my top piece appeared to be cooked a bit more than the bottom piece. Each of the other diners had a really nice pink in the center, while this was brownish. I’m not really sure why this was, but it was rather irritating, though I don’t think it affected the flavor or tenderness much.

Comparatively, this is what the veal looked like on the previous visit.

yuzu curd, meringue raspberry sorbet, jasmine

The yuzu curd was fairly tart, and the raspberry sorbet added additional tartness. Though, there is a nice crunch from cookie crumbles. However, I find I’m more of a sweets type of dessert person.

Finally, the mignardises.

We were served white chocolate macarons, salted caramel and a chocolate pepper marshmallow. These were all good, and I really enjoyed the macaron. The marshmallow was interesting, with a very subtle peppery kick.

In all, another fairly solid meal, though not quite as good as last month’s. Part of that is probably attributable to having a very similar menu. Service was a little less polished this time around, as bread only came around once (we had to ask a second time) and water and drinks weren’t filled up as quickly as anticipated. Having said that, Providence remains one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I’ve become very critical because I’ve had some really great meals here.

Pot Roast – 6/13/10

For anyone that is a semi-regular reader, most of my home cooked meals have been braises. They’re just really satisfying dishes that do take some time, but yield some really delicious, tender meat and creates a good sauce at the same time. Plus, they’re usually pretty inexpensive to make, as ‘cheap’ cuts are typically the cuts of meat that are braised.

My desire to cook a pot roast was somewhat inspired by an episode of Barefoot Contessa that I recently watched – the revelation came to me as I was looking at a stack of leeks in my local Bristol Farms. They had a really nice chuck roast in the meat department; thus, my mind was made.

I didn’t actually look up the actual recipe before cooking; I largely did it from memory and made it my own. However, this is what Ina Garten’s is for reference:

Ingredients

* 1 (4 to 5-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* All-purpose flour
* Good olive oil
* 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
* 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
* 2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
* 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
* 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
* 2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy
* 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
* 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
* 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
* 1 chicken bouillon cube
* 3 branches fresh thyme
* 2 branches fresh rosemary
* 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear the other side and then turn and sear the ends. This should take 4 to 5 minutes for each side. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Tie the thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to the pot. Put the roast back into the pot, bring to a boil, and cover. Place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees F internally. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees F after about an hour to keep the sauce at a simmer.

Remove the roast to a cutting board. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the pot, place on the stovetop over low heat, and return the sauce to a simmer. Place 2 tablespoons flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Taste for seasonings. Remove the strings from the roast, and slice the meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.

I bought a three-pound chuck roast, already tied with butcher twine.

With some salt, pepper and flour, I browned this on all sides.

Then I added my aromatics – onions, celery, carrots and leeks.

I cooked these down a little bit, then added some red wine, chicken broth and a can of tomatoes. Finally, I put the roast back in for the braise.

I put this in the oven for about three hours to let the braise do its work. When it came out, I took the meat out to rest, then cut it up into slices.

While cutting it up, I could tell it was pretty tender, but not quite “falling apart” tender. I added these slices back into the sauce to warm, and topped with chopped parsley.

I needed something to serve this with, so I whipped up some yukon gold potatoes into a mash, with fresh chives from the garden.

I was ready for plating!

Overall, my dish was a little bit of a disappointment. My mashed potatoes were slightly lumpy, and not on purpose. Some of the larger potato chunks were a little undercooked, so they left some small chunks. The pot roast itself wasn’t quite as tender as I thought it’d be. It was a little dry too. Hmm. I think I may have cooked it a little too long. In addition, my sauce wasn’t really as thick as I would’ve liked – I should’ve added some flour or corn starch to it at the end…unfortunately, I just totally forgot to do this. Overall it was definitely something I’d eat, but my execution was a little off today.

Porterhouse Bistro – 6/10/10

Porterhouse Bistro
8635 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

I’d been to Porterhouse Bistro a few years ago, and my lasting impression was generally “okay, good value.” My friend is getting his wisdom teeth taken out tomorrow, and he wanted a steak. Combine that with a Groupon, and I have my second visit.

Porterhouse Bistro doesn’t hide the fact that they serve USDA Choice grade steaks – they actually brag about serving some of the best Choice grade steaks, promising you won’t know the difference between Prime and Choice. They’re well known for offering these steaks as part of a 4-course prix fixe menu for a very reasonable price ($43 currently).

Instead of the prixe fixe, the two of us opted for a la carte. We wanted the extra flexibility, and didn’t want dessert – we would be saving room for Mozza afterwards.

Warm La Brea Bakery baguette served with a medley of accompaniments, including our house tapenade, tomato bruschetta, a whole roasted garlic flower, and butter

This is actually the first “course” of the prix fixe menu as well, even though you get it free when you order a la carte. Kind of a cop-out course if you ask me. The bread was served warm, but it was reheated a little too long, as the exterior was a little chewy.  The accompaniments were okay though.

We went with two different appetizers.

Crab Cakes – House Cole Slaw and Tartar sauce

These were fried a bit longer than ideal, but good. The crab flavor was evident, and the exterior had a nice crunch to it.

Ravioli of the Day – Mushroom ravioli in a rich cream sauce

The ravioli was pretty good. The pasta was al dente and had a good flavor. The sauce was pretty rich, but good in small amounts. I probably wouldn’t want an entree of this.

40 oz. Porterhouse


We went with the 40 ounce, as the 24 ounce wasn’t gonna be enough for us.  The steak comes out pre-sliced in a sizzling pan. I’m a pretty picky eater when it comes to steaks, and here are the issues I had with this one:

1. The steak wasn’t really cooked a medium rare. The cooking temperature was too high and, as a result, the exterior half of the meat was a greyish well done, and the interior half was fairly rare.

2. The steak lacked a really beefy flavor, and the strip portion wasn’t too tender. I wasn’t expecting the best steak I’ve ever had, but the quality of the strip loin was pretty unimpressive. It wouldn’t be too hard to beat this at home. The filet, on the other hand, was much better – it was a generous portion and very tender.

As an overall observation, it was kind of odd to notice that the steak had been cooked, at least partially, after cutting. The meat around the bone was well-done, and the slices were lightly cooked on the sliced ends as well. I’m not sure what they did or how this affected the meat, but I thought it was odd.

Porterhouse Fries

The fries were nicely thick cut. However, they add some sort of batter to these fries and overfried them. In addition, they were underseasoned.

Sautéed Spinach

An additional side of spinach rounded out the meal and made us feel a little less guilty about what we were eating.

Having finished our meal at Porterhouse Bistro, we were ready for dessert. My friend had never been to Pizzeria Mozza, so what better way to cap off a meal than with a couple pizzas?

Ipswich clams, garlic, oregano, pecorino & parmigiano

The Ipswitch Clam pizza is one of my favorites. Not too salty and not at all fishy, the clams are a tender and flavorful topping to this pizza with just the right amount of garlic and oregano.

Bacon, salami, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato & mozzarella

The all meat pizza. Yum. Also one of my favorites, it happens to be a greasy mess of meaty goodness. There was a little less cheese this time than I typically find, but the combination of meats is fantastic. There was also a nice smokiness with one of the meats.

I had ordered two pizzas in the hope of having some leftovers for lunch the next day. Unfortunately, we did eat both and I felt (still feel) like a fatass. Our meal at Mozza was far more satisfying than our meal at Porterhouse Bistro. Overall the meal was a bit of a letdown, but I still think it offers a great value, especially to someone not as picky about their steak.

Pasta – 6/1/10

I love noodles. One of the things I wish I cooked really well is pasta – in many variations. Making pasta can be very simple or very complex. It can be as simple as boiling some dried noodles and mixing it with a jar of sauce, though I don’t recommend that. I don’t remember what show I was watching on the Food Network, but someone was making a pasta sauce by braising ribs in a tomato sauce, and then mixing it with sauce. It looked delicious!  Thus, I was game to try some variation of this.

I didn’t follow a particular recipe, as I didn’t find one that was exactly what I wanted. Having read through a number, I decided to craft my own concoction.

The meats: one rack of pork baby back ribs and a couple pounds of bone-in beef short ribs.

This would largely be a braise of these meats, in a tomato-based sauce. I started my browning my meats.

Once done, I sweated down my onions, along with garlic and carrots.

I then added a little bit of red wine, San Marzano tomatoes, some chicken broth, and my meat. Bringing this to a simmer, I transferred it to the oven for the next couple of hours.

By this point, the sauce had developed a very rich, meaty flavor, and the meat was falling off the bones. I took out the meat, reduced the liquid to a thicker consistency, and placed the liquid in the refrigerator. I would cool this overnight in order to skim the fat off the top once it coagulated.

While it was hot, I pulled the meat apart into smaller, bite-sized pieces and discarded the bones.


I couldn’t help but eat some of the meat while it was breaking apart, and it was delicious! I actually liked the pork a little bit better, but they were both very tender, moist and full of flavor!

Fast forward to the next day – I removed the fat from my sauce and put it on the heat. To finish, I re-warmed the meat and added chopped parsley and basil.

I cooked up some penne for this, and mixed the pasta and meat sauce in a separate pan. I grated some Parmesan over the dish and finished with a little more fresh basil.

I was pretty happy with how this dish turned out. The flavors were really spot on. However, I found my sauce a little bit on the watery side – I wanted something thicker. I partially attribute this to the juices of the meat coming out after re-adding it, and maybe I added too much liquid to the braise (mainly, the chicken broth). Oh well. Next time, I might add more tomatoes and less liquid.

Red O – 5/30/10

Red O
8155 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048

When it was announced what Rick Bayless was going to be involved in a restaurant in LA, it was a big deal. No one knew what exactly his involvement would be or what the concept would be of, but the notion that the most famous American chef of Mexican cuisine would be coming to LA was exciting news.

I remember watching Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS a while back, and that show lasted a number of seasons. While already a notable chef, Bayless’ big boost into prominence was his win on Top Chef Masters last year.

While not officially a Rick Bayless restaurant (it’s not part of his restaurant group), he is a chef-consultant, and helped create the menu. My understanding is that this is his food, with his name on it, but he doesn’t have a significant equity stake in the business.

The menu features a large number of small plates to share, as well seven entrees. As my friend is vegetarian, we did not order a large number of plates to share; instead, I sampled some of hers, and ate my own.

Classic Guacamole – freshly made, chunky, with warm chips & salsa

Guacamole is a simple, classic dish. Bayless does it well. It is slightly chunky, and extremely fresh tasting. The chips weren’t quite as warm as expected – I suspect they had been sitting for a little bit as they were only moderately warm.

Mazatlan Blue Shrimp Ceviche – mango, red onion, chipotle-chile

This was a great ceviche. The shrimp were “cooked” perfectly, and again, the ingredients were very evidently fresh. They have to be for a good ceviche. This came with thin slices of fried plantains which, honestly, weren’t even necessary.

Slow-Cooked Sonoma Duck Taquitos – tomato-arbol chile sauce, arugula

For the most part, my taquito experiences have been from fast food restaurants, with often-overcooked and dry results. Obviously, this is a different kind of restaurant, and a different kind of taquito. These were cooked very well, and the duck was really moist. I really liked the mild heat of the sauce, as well as the fresh, peppery taste of the arugula.

Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamale – roasted poblano chiles, corn husk

A delicious tamale! This is what it should taste like, with a very nice, moist interior and good corn flavor. The poblano chiles add an extra depth of flavor to this otherwise-simple dish.

Savory Beef Short Rib Tamales – smoky chipotle chiles, corn husk

Surprisingly, this tamale disappointed a bit, especially after having the vegetarian version. The beef was rather dry on the interior, and even the corn tamale was a bit drier here than in the previous version.

Roasted Garlic Mushroom Tacos – shitake, oyster, cremini & wild chanterelle mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic mojo, spinach, black beans

This came with a side of small flour tortillas for you to make your own soft tacos. A medley of mushrooms were included here, and they were cooked well, as well as the spinach. A tasty vegetarian dish.

Pollo en Mole Poblano – grilled Mary’s young chicken, homemade mole poblano, black beans, watercress salad

I just had to try the mole here. Just had to. There’s 27 ingredients! And it was good, with a really deep flavor. The chicken had a really crispy skin, and a nice smoky grilled flavor. However, the breast meat was just a tad dry.

Veracruz-Style Bunuelos – salted caramel ice cream, warm Kahlua chocolate sauce

Deep fried dough with ice cream. Every culture has this dish. I was just ‘okay’ on this one. The Bunuelos were crunchy and chewy, but just weren’t that appealing to me. Loved the salted caramel ice cream though – haven’t had this since Bi-Rite in San Francisco.

Overall, this was a very good meal. I was excited for Bayless’ arrival, and, as a whole, it did not disappoint me. There are a number of traditional Mexican dishes executed very well, and some more modern Mexican dishes also done well. I think this restaurant, already looking to be a hotspot due to Bayless’ celebrity, will do well in the foreseeable future.

Mitsuwa’s Japanese Gourmet Foods Fair – 5/29/10

Mitsuwa Marketplace
665 Paularino Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

For four days only, 5/27-5/30, Mitsuwa held its Japanese Gourmet Foods Fair across the country, offering up various specialties from Japanese vendors. The event gives Americans a taste of some of the food popular in Japan, but not widely available locally. For me, the large draw is the ramen shops. In the SoCal area, Chibakiya would be serving up bowls in Torrance, and Hakata Ippudo in Costa Mesa. I’ve been hearing things about Ippudo for a long time now (as they have a very popular branch in NYC) and I’ve been wanting to try it. This was a perfect opportunity!

We arrived at around 1pm, and the parking lot was extremely crowded. Crap. I expected lines to be long, with ramen fans coming from far and wide to sample Ippudo’s ramen, as well as the other vendor specialties.

The first stall you see walking in is of takoyaki being freshly-made. Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street food, consisting of a chunk of octopus in a flour tempura-like batter, and in this variation, topped with bonito flakes and powdered seaweed.

All day, these were being freshly made. Skilled chefs were in charge, and it’s a pretty unique display. Since all of the takoyaki are cooking at the same time, when it’s time to flip, they have to flip each one individually as soon as possible, lest they burn.

The takoyaki comes in boxes of 8. While they are freshly made, they sit in these boxes for at least a few minutes. Added with the sauce on top, these became very soggy in a hurry. Overall, it was sort of a ball of mush, but with a nice chunk of octopus inside. The flavors were somewhat muddled, I found, as well.

Some of the other vendors featured various fish cakes.

Shinkineya’s rendition of tama konnyaku.

And inari and seafood bento boxes.

However, to me, the main attraction was Ippudo.


When we got there, Ippudo’s line was relatively short, and would stay this way the rest of the day. Each time we went to get one, the bowls were ready within 10 minutes.

Ippudo was offering one ramen, their Shiromaru Motoaji, a rich tonkotsu-style ramen.

The portion was on the smaller side, and topped with your option of pork, pickled ginger, crushed garlic, and sesame seed. The broth was milky and flavorful, and not overly fatty. Really delicious.

Noodles, handmade fresh, were flour-based and thin, traditional of Hakata-style ramen. They were prepared with just the amount of chew desired.

The pieces of pork belly chashu, sliced rather thick, were wonderful. They were actually relatively lean, which I liked. The meat was very tender, and the marinade imparted a lot of flavor.

This was a great bowl of soup, and exactly the main attraction we had come for. It was clearly superior to the Hakata-style ramen we have in SoCal (Shin Sen Gumi is the most popular of this type), and me and my friend enjoyed four bowls of it.

Since we were there, we stopped by Santouka (it’s located in the same food court), to get a baseline. Granted, these are two different styles of ramen, but it would be good to compare Ippudo to something we consistently found to be good in SoCal.

We got the regular shio ramen, their most well-known.

I tend to like the yellow, egg-y, curly noodles better than the straight white noodles of typical Hakata-style.

Again, these two styles were very different. Santouka executes their version very well, with a slightly oilier broth, and nicely chewy noodles. However, I preferred Ippudo on this day.

The festival also provided something sweet: mochi.

Fresh, soft mochi was paired with a number of different flavors; we chose the sesame paste and red bean paste.

These mochi were definitely fresh – soft, gummy and chewy. The red bean paste was good, but I preferred the stronger sesame paste better. At this point in the day though, I was sufficiently full to not thoroughly enjoy them.

Overall, the festival was pretty fun. My biggest surprise was that it wasn’t more crowded. Santouka’s line was consistently longer than Ippudo’s, for some reason, and the only other station with a wait was for takoyaki. The food, as well as the variety, was definitely a success.