Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some New York City Favorites...

Last week I headed out to New York for work. I extended my stay through the weekend, and my friend Ashley flew out to meet me. Unfortunately, she brought all the rainstorms from California with her (it’s all her fault!!) – so it was a lovely 40-ish degrees with wind chills of 22 degrees and sporadic storms. BUT we still had a fabulous time and, of course, dined on great food. Here’s some of the highlights:

Polenta with Cippolini Onions, Wild Mushrooms, and Arugula (Inoteca Vino e Cucina )

This is the perfect warm-you-up dish. The onions and mushrooms were slow cooked and carmelized, and the polenta had the comfort-feeling of mashed potatoes, but with the texture and sweetness of corn meal.

Squash Blossoms (Crispo Restaurant)
The blossoms were stuffed with 3 different types of Italian cheese and then lightly tempura battered (so you didn’t feel all greasy and gross) and served with a flavorful marinara-esque sauce.

The Upper Westside Concrete (Shake Shack)
Shake Shack is one of my all time favorite burgers in the U.S. I think I even like it better than (gasp!) In 'N Out. Their milkshakes with mix-ins are SO thick, they have to call them Concretes. Ashley and my pick came with vanilla custard, chocolate toffee, caramel sauce, and chocolate chips. It would cure any sweet tooth.

Pain Au Chocolat (Claude Patisserie)

This place is my favorite secret find of New York. Bourbon discovered it on Yelp a year or so back because we both have an incurable obsession with chocolate croissants. These croissants rival those from Paris, which makes sense as the owner is from France. Two of the three times I’ve been there, the croissants are hot out of the oven. The chocolate oozes out and the pastry is flaky and soft in the middle. This time, the croissant had reached room temperature, but to my surprise (and delight!) the chocolate inside was still gooey. Grab a croissant and great cup of coffee (ask for milk!) for less than $5. If the weather permits, sit outside at one of the dozens of small bench parks.
.....i heart ny.....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nom Nom Truck: Banh Mi Means Delicious

Alright so Banh Mi actually means sandwich in Vietnamese. But when you get the right balance between the traditional ingredients, it is nothing short of delicious. That's exactly what you get at the Nom Nom Truck, now roaming the streets of LA.

So what do I mean by traditional ingredients, you ask? Well, a banh mi is traditionally composed of a roll, vegetables, meat/tofu, and a vietnamese mayo (egg yolk, cooking oil, and maybe some spices). The roll is a Vietnamese baguette, crispy on the outside with an airy and chewy middle. The vegetables usually consist of pickled carrots, daikon, onions, and cucumber that are thinly sliced with jalapenos and my favorite: cilantro. Meat options can vary greatly from chicken to different preparations of pork to pate or head cheese (google it, i don't want to break the new to you).

Checking my twitter on Friday, I saw that the Nom Nom truck would be making an appearance in Little Tokyo that night! After recruiting a few other hungry folks throughout the day, I made the short trip to 1st and central. After some crafty parking, I was next in line staring at the menu.

Nom Nom serves up grilled pork, BBQ pork, lemongrass chicken, and vegetable tofu sandwiches, as well as tacos for those carb conscious people (and, let's be honest, it wouldn't be a true LA food truck without a taco option). You can also choose the "deli special" which is a sandwich containing all the meat options in one roll!

Banh Mis will run you $5 to $6, while the tacos cost $2.50 for one and $4 for two. Nom Nom also offers refreshments: soda (I went with the A&W Cream soda--classic), water, and

Vietnamese Iced Coffees. Prices range from $1.50 to $2.50. They also offer combos for those looking for a full meal and drink. I opted for the monster combo (12-inch banh mi, 3 tacos and a drink) for only 10 bucks!

BBQ Pork Banh Mi: First of all, this sandwich was bigger than I expected. Some banh mis you find will be lacking in the filling, but not at Nom Nom. Overflowing with cool, crisp vegetables and tender BBQ pork, the sandwich was framed by the classic baguette. The first bite was everything I had hoped for; the roll was perfectly baked, the spice of the cilantro and jalapenos are perfectly offset to the spread of mayo. 15 or so bites later, I groan in contentment and look ahead to the tacos.

Tacos: I wanted to try all the meats, so I ordered one lemongrass chicken, one grilled pork and one bbq pork. Each taco shared the same filling as the banh mi, but the outside was obviously a fresh corn tortilla rather than a baguette. Each of the meats had a enough sauce/marinade that the dryness of the tortillas was kept in check. I personally enjoyed the lemongrass herb with the corn flavor of the tortilla; it was unique and refreshing.

My first experience here did not disappoint one bit and I will definitely be making repeat visits whenever the truck rolls through my neighborhood. Find out when they will be cruising in your neck of the woods by following them on Twitter @nomnomtruck or by checking out the weekly schedule on their website.

Cilantro Love,

Eva's Bringing Back the Neighborhood

This past Sunday, we decided to give Eva’s "Sunday Dinner Party" a go. Mark Gold opened Eva four weeks ago, taking over the Hatfield’s location on Beverly. The setting is perfect for his new restaurant concept (comfortable, neighborhood restaurant) since the place is set up like a cozy home. On Sundays, it truly is like an invitation to a friends house for dinner, all you do is eat and enjoy, not worrying about what to order because everything is planned out for you. Oh, and just FYI, meals Tuesday-Saturday are served a-la-carte at extremely affordable prices. Sunday is the only "dinner party" day.

We showed up for our 2:00 reservation (I guess you would call this a lunch party, then?) and realized that we were the only ones there! Mark Gold greeted us and explained that we were his first 2:00 Sunday reservation. The Sunday Dinners have become very popular, but people tend to come in starting around 4:30, because well that's when dinner is usually served. He told us to pick whatever table we wanted and promised to get the white wine chilling while he poured us a glass of Hey Mambo red, in the mean time.

We ended up being the only patrons in the restaurant during our feast, so Mark sat with us for the majority of the meal. We picked his brain on restaurants he liked in Los Angeles, food trends, and the operations behind his restaurant. All the while, he kept feeding us seconds of dishes that we loved, refilling our wine glasses, and asking for our opinion of the food.

Here’s what our Sunday menu consisted of (all for $35 per person):

Potato Salad with Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots
We swallowed down the first bowl so fast, Mark came by with seconds. Embarrassing? Meh, it was so tasty, we didn’t care. The potatoes were sweet, the mushrooms were fresh and meaty, and the shallots were buttery with a slight crisp around the edges. The chefs also mixed in some chopped up chives and parsley and some top quality parmesan cheese.

Steamed Littleneck Clams with Herbs and Shallots Served with Garlic Parmesan Bread
The clams were fresh and delicious, lacking even the faintest must of fishiness. All of the shells had opened beautifully, allowing them to be dressed in slivered garlic and herbs. The broth at the bottom was thick and creamy; it made a perfect companion for the homemade garlic bread. Mark gave us the rundown of the garlic bread: Breadbar baguette, rubbed with garlic, smeared with butter, topped with top quality parmesan and a good helping of parsley. The bread was served warm and was the perfect utensil for soaking up sauces.

Chicken Puttanesca
Generous pieces of crispy, breaded chicken topped with a light and salty mixture of tomatoes, capers, olives and garlic. It was the perfect dose of comfort food on a lazy afternoon.

Real Spaghetti Bolognese
The meat sauce was a hand ground mix of beef, pork, and veal, and Mark explained that they soaked the mixture in milk to give soften it and give it a noticeable creaminess. The bolognese offered a nice texture and flavor balance to the al dente spaghetti.

Polenta Almond Cake
The cake was served warm with a dollop of tangy crème fraiche that accentuated its flavors. The dessert was laced with lots of lemon zest that gave it a citrus twist and helped to maintain a ridiculous amount of moisture inside. Two beautiful figs were served on the side to compliment the already refreshing dessert.

Finishing our meal with a glass of the Hey Mambo white wine, we discussed how Eva's "Sunday Dinner Party" hit all the right notes for us. Cozy atmosphere, outstanding customer service, high quality food, and a price that will have us coming back as much as possible.

7458 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles 90036

Pizza Throw Down

So we headed over to the grand opening of N.Y. + C Pizza in Santa Monica last night with our friends Natalie and Scott. We've been pretty excited about this place ever since first reading about its potential opening on Caroline on Crack. The restaurant is set up to showcase New York and Chicago cuisine. As the name hints, the place primarily focuses on the pizza, but also offers up some sub sandwiches, salads, and appetizers from each city. The decorations are evenly split down the middle with pictures and memorabilia from Chicago on one side and New York on the other.

Now, we are some serious pizza people. In New York, we've done the street corner Joe's pizza, walked the Brooklyn bridge to Grimaldi's, tasted the newly famous Neapolitan-style Keste pizza, and shouldered the 2 hour round trip subway ride to Di Fara's (totally worth it - our favorite, by far!). For the Chicago pie, we've only tried Lou Malnati's. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before making it to Pizzeria Uno or Gino's East. BUT at least we have Lou's as a comparison basis.

Hmmm..maybe we should take a step back to explain the difference between NY and Chicago pizza. Just in case you don't get out alot. NY style is a thin crust pizza. The slices are typically gigantic, and the cheese is generally a blend of mozzarella and parmesan. Chicago is deep dish and cuts almost like a pie. The cheese and toppings are on the bottom and middle and the sauce covers the top.

To be fair, and because the 4 of us were starving, we ordered both kinds. We each got a slice of the NY cheese and Bourbon got a sausage/pepper slice in addition. We then ordered the Navy Pier Chicago pie (green peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and mushrooms). Fair warning -- it took about 45 minutes to get the pizza. This is not uncommon. In Chicago, we were warned by our waiter that pies typically take 30-40 minutes to cook. So we satiated ourselves with some house Cab (for the girls) and beer - Deschutes and Green Lakes - for the boys. The drinks are fairly priced: $4-$5 for draft and bottled beer, $6-$8 for craft bottled beer, $5-$9 for the wine. Plus, there's a happy hour Mon-Fri, 3-8pm, with $3 draft beer, $10 pitchers, $4 house wine, and $3 domestic bottles.

Sears Tower Chicago Pie

The Chicago pie was the first to arrive. After we had divvied it up, we realized that we had actually been served the Sears Tower (meatballs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and green peppers). The owner was so apologetic about it that he brought us out a free round of drinks and a free order of garlic knots. Sweet! We dug right into the pizza, and we all agreed the flavors were spot on. Meatballs had some nice spice, vegetables still had a twinge of crunch, and the tomato sauce was a great medley of sweet and savory. The crust was also cooked well, crispy on the bottom. This can be tricky for the Chicago pie, where the crust can turn into mush. Our only complaint was that they were pretty heavy-handed on the sauce. Once you scooped the slice out of the pie, the sauce started oozing out. But we spied on other tables and noticed that we were actually the exception. Everyone else's pies looked more compact and held together - so perhaps we just got an unusually large ladle of sauce. But come on people, this was their first day (well, second if you count Wed's soft opening), and after some more spying we'd say we'd say there's tons of potential for this Chicago pie.

A Single Slice of NY-style Cheese

Next to hit our table was the NY pizza. We all got our cheese slices, and then we noticed 2 more slices of sausage/pepper for Bourbon. Uh-oh, we actually only ordered one? No no, we were informed, they brought out 2 because the kitchen thought that they were both small slices (mind you, they were each much larger than normal pizza slices). Legit! The NY-style was awesome! Perfect snap in the crust as your fold the pizza in half with light char marks on the bottom and the perfectly balanced combination of the gooey mozzarella with salty parmesan. Next time we're ordering the Central Park pizza, which comes with fresh basil on top.

Fun tidbit -- they've got an old school Ms. Pac Man/Galaga combo up front. There's an ongoing competition that whoever gets the new high score gets a free pizza!

N.Y. + C
11th and Wilshire
Santa Monica
NY-Style Pizza: $3-$4 by the slice, $20-$26 for pizza
Chicago-Style Pizza: $20-$26 for pizza

-Bourbon and Bleu

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mozza Trifecta

The Mozza dynasty arrived to Los Angeles about 3 years ago, and it is quite the feat that you still need to call weeks in advance to get weekend reservations. In case you have been living outside the United States for the past 3 years, here is a quick rundown of the Mozzas.

The amazingly talented Italian chef -- Mario Batali -- and the famed L.A. restaurateur -- Nancy Silverton -- decided to mix up the Italian scene by offering two different restaurants, a Pizzeria and an Osteria, side by side. The Pizzeria is more casual, less expensive, and always packed. The meal is designed to be shared family style. The menu is priced perfectly for a date or a dinner out with a group of friends, with antipasti ranging from $8-$12, pizza from $10-$22, and an extremely affordable wine by the glass, carafe, and bottle list. The Osteria is what we like to call a "special occasion" restaurant with a more traditional restaurant menu with Antipasti ($10-$18), Primi (pasta ranging from $18-$19) and Secondi (entree plates ranging from $27-$58). The Osteria is also built around its mozzarella bar, where Nancy Silverton crafts her own cheese! We're dying to go over there simply to try some burrata with bacon, marinated escarole, and caramelized shallots OR burricotti with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants, and mint pesto. But last Saturday we didn't have the time for a lengthy meal, but we were craving quality. So here's where it gets good...

Drum roll please. The THIRD addition to the Mozza family has arrived (well, a few months ago), and that is what we were so excited to try on Saturday night. Mozza 2 Go. Basically, a little shop connected to the same Mozza kitchen will prepare pizza, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. 2 Go. No reservations. No setting a calendar reminder to call exactly 1 month in advance to get a reservation (yes, we did that). No waiting to hear what caller number you are just to get a reservation. You can even order online and they deliver! Now Mozza can be yours faster than ever before.

Here's the rundown: We ordered two items from the specials of the day: Burrata pizza with roasted tomatoes and Sicilian oregano and the Heirloom tomato and avocado panino. After paying for the bill ($28, which is a great deal considering the quality of food you're getting). We only made it a few feet out the door before we agreed to sit at an adjacent bench and dig in. Hey, we were hungry and it smelled great.

Burrata Pizza

Diving in to the pizza while it was hot, we were immediately delighted at our decision. We both agreed that we've never been a fan of hot burrata until now. In our experience, burrata has been best cold either in salads or even served cold over hot pasta. This pizza changed our mind. It was so simple. The dough was rolled out in just the right way to get that thin crust with slight bubbles. With a light tomato sauce and then some roasted tomatoes -- we suspect they roasted the tomatoes slightly before even adding them on the pizza. And then, oh and then, a beautiful ring of burrata resting as a white crown amongst the red creation. Finishing it off with an aromatic dose of Sicilian oregano, the work of art was complete.

Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Panino

When we moved on to the heirloom tomato panino. The sandwich so good that we sat in silence eating, only pausing to look at each other and simply nod. There was a layer of thick slices of Paradise Island heirloom tomatoes, which had been salted and were sweet and juicy, topped by thin slices of the creamiest avocado, surrounded by fresh greens and then drizzled in a salty, light aioli that spoke of herbs (we tasted chervil and French parsley). All of this wrapped in some fresh and chewy ciabatta bread. It was the perfect meal on the go before we headed up to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert under the stars.

Head on over to Mozza 2 Go, as soon as you can. If you're impatient like us, simply buy your food and eat it outside on the bench. Or, if you want to be all practical and rational about it (sheesh) bring it back home or take it for picnic.

6610 Melrose
Los Angeles 90038
Su-Sa 12pm - 10am

Happy Dining!
Bourbon and Bleu

Monday, October 5, 2009

Honda Ya Izakaya: Asian Tapas

Last night I discovered a cuisine that I kind of knew existed, but it was finally formalized into one word: Izakaya. An Izakaya is basically a Japanese tapas restaurant. Dishes are small and brought out in absolutely no intended order. The menus are long and sometimes do not seem to logically flow from one dish to another. But, they are fabulously fun. And -- well at least at the Little Tokyo locations I read about -- not too expensive.

We headed over to Honda Ya Izakaya in Little Tokyo with Bourbon's roommate Viren and our friends Chris and Natalie. We were promised a tasty meal at low prices, and we were not let down. All in all, we ordered 16 dishes (don't judge--they were small), 2 pitchers of beer, a 2 large bottles of sake. And it was a tiny bit over $30 per person. This is what we like to call affordable group dining.

Here's my definite recommendations:

Miso Black Cod

Numero 1: The Miso Black Cod
What's that you say? You've already ordered that at every fancy-shmancy Asian restaurant? Have you ever ordered it for $5.95 and died a little bit inside over the quality of the fish and the taste of the miso? I think not. This taste and size of the piece of fish is comparable to those "Hollywood-style" Asian restaurants, which charge $25 for this dish.

Miso-Flavored Pork Ramen

Must Get Number 2: The Ramen
The restaurant had different flavoring and meat options, but we ultimately went with the miso-flavored broth with ramen and pork. AH-mazing. The ramen was buttery and creamy. The broth had tons of depth from the miso. And there was enough pieces of pork to go around 5 bowls of soup (and seconds). Chris and Natalie even said that this ramen was better than plenty of the ramen houses around the area.

Clockwise from bottom left: Agadashi Tofu, Albacore Tataki, Agadashi Mochi

Please Order Number 3: Agadashi Mochi
You think you know what mochi is, right? That rice ball with ice cream inside in the freezer aisle at Trader Joes (mmmm the mango is sooo good)? BUT that's actually incorrect. That is mochi ice cream. Mochi is actually referring to the rice portion that surrounds the ice cream. And, to scare you even more, in traditional Japanese cuisine, mochi is a savory dish, not a sweet one. This dish was made up of 2 giant mochi (large clumps of the rice matter -- it's good, I swear) in a savory miso broth. The mochi was the perfect consistency of chewiness, and it played off very well with the deep, meaty broth.

I Really Loved This Dish Number 4: Nasu Miso (eggplant in miso)
Bourbon and I were quite fond of this dish. Some of the others at our table were only "meh" about it, but they also explained they weren't lovers of eggplant. Do be warned, though: this dish comes out piping hot. oh boy. Large chunks of eggplant sit in a thick, miso sauce (it kinda tasted like terriyaki in this case). It was delicious and a nice break to all the fish, chicken, and meat we were having. Definitely a great dish to order, if you're going the vegetarian route, or not.

Not our favorites...maybe you should skip?
1. Agadashi Tofu - Sister dish of the mochi above.The mochi just went better with the dish and the sauce.
2. Tuna Yamakake -This was the only dish of the evening that we truly disliked. The menu claimed for the dish to be tuna with fresh, shaved yams. But we were served tuna in white goop. It was slimy and not appetizing. And caused a lot of inappropriate-for-the-table word usage, such as "moist" and "mucous," that almost turned us away from the table. But we held strong.

This place is great for groups that are interested in trying lots of different dishes and flavors. Oh, and they also have one of those rooms where you can dine on the ground on low tables and pillows! But service is spotty, so if you see a waiter, grab their attention. It may be a while before the next walks by!

Honda Ya Izakaya
333 S Alamaeda St (Downtown - Little Tokyo)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Hours: Tues-Sun 5:30 PM - 1AM


Bringing the Bar Home, Part 1: Tools

So you just stumbled out of your new favorite bar. Great atmosphere, great tunes, and some of the best cocktails you have ever had. You are truly inspired by your recent boozy bliss, so much so that you must recreate this experience as much as possible. Unfortunately, as you might discover on your crumpled up credit card receipt the next morning, quality drinks come at a price. So now what? Therein lies the magic of the Home Bar.


Like every task in life, it helps to have the right tools. So here is a quick rundown of tools to help make better drinks.

Boston Tin and Mixing Glass: Avoid the three-piece and learn to shake like a pro.

Hawthorne Strainer: Nothing feels better than slapping a strainer onto a freshly shaken tin and pouring out the perfect drink. Don't believe me? Get one and try it out. And if you are in to stirred drinks, the Julep Strainer is the tool of choice.

Bar Spoon: Save yourself the trouble of trying to stir with a tablespoon. Spend the four bucks on a bar spoon and see how much easier it is to stir that Old Fashioned.

Muddler: You'd be surprised how many uses a muddler has besides Mojitos. Anytime you need to extract a flavor, this is your go to.

Jigger: There is a reason that some of the best bartenders in the world still use these handy tools after all their years of experience. Like a piece of art, the best cocktails are well-balanced.

Peeler: All these years I have been tearing the skin off of citrus fruits, not knowing what greatness lay right below the surface: essential oils. Squeezing the peel over the drink brings that added olfactory touch to an already delicious drink.

Ice: A tool? Yep. The most important at that. Ice will inevitably melt into a drink, whether it is during preparation or consumption. Do yourself a favor and make sure your ice tastes good. And if the ice your fridge is spitting out doesn't work well, get yourself a few trays and start making them by hand with filtered or distilled water.

Glassware: Just like the food adage, you drink with your eyes first. Make sure your drink looks appealing by getting the right glassware. Three classics are the old fashioned glass, or bucket, the highball glass, and, of course, the cocktail glass (FYI: there is no such thing as a martini glass, sorry).

Drinking at home can pose problems though. To quote Steve Allen:

"Do not allow children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth."