Thursday, September 29, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs - Savings & Sweepstakes 9/29/11

Savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)

Happy grazing!

FOODIE FINDS:
  • Eva Restaurant $35 for $60 2-course bottomless mimosa brunch for two.  $75 for $150 4-course tasting menu and champagne for two.  Deal from DailyCandy (ends 10/4 11pm PDT)
  • Red O  $65 for $100 of food & drink.  Deal from Bloomspot (~3 days left to buy)
  • Cube LA Marketplace WAREHOUSE SALE up to 90% off online (ends September 30) or visit downtown store on October 1st 8am-2pm one-day only sale on gourmet spices/oils, kitchen and garden goods 550 Ceres Ave, Downtown Los Angeles, 90013! 
  • Bodega Wine Bar $29 for $62 worth of drinks and appetizers (4 glasses of wine + 2 appetizers) Deal from Travelzoo (~2 days left to buy)
  • Baleen at the Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club Redondo Beach $45 for $88 brunch w/ bottomless mimosas or champagne for two - 2 appetizers, 2 mains and shared dessert. Deal from Travelzoo (~7 days left to buy)
  • p.o.p. Candy 30% off purchase at online store.  Deal from BlackBoardEats - must get free passcode by 9/30/11 8:30am PT

Monday, September 26, 2011

ink. - Making Its Mark on Melrose / LA Dining Scene

The day was finally here.  When Top Chef Season 6 winner, Michael Voltaggio, opened the arguably most highly anticipated restaurant in LA.  And by some miracle, I managed to score a reservation, on that first weekend (thanks, Urbanspoon and high-speed internet!!!)

In interviews, Chef Voltaggio (most recently at the helm of Dining Room at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena) has mentioned that the name of his first restaurant - "ink." - comes from part of his company name, MVink. (a play on incorporated) and is supposed to evoke thoughts of permanence (a la artwork on his arms).  And it's certainly already making its mark on the LA culinary canvas, judging by the palpable excitement across the city.

Joining me for dinner on opening weekend was my friend "Teach".  We had been counting down all week to the meal, and kicked it off with a cocktail from masterful mixologist Devon Espinosa (of Marcel's Quantum Kitchen fame!) - Rum ($10) made with lime, house falernum.  To be honest, at first glance the cocktail list looked uninspired - with drink names that simply referenced types of liquor (i.e. "gin", "tequila") followed by a listing of 2-4 simple sounding ingredients.  I'm all for farm fresh and am anti-gimmick when it comes to cocktails - but the drink list just didn't do Devon's creations justice.  I asked him for a recommendation, and on hearing that "Rum" uses his own housemade falernum involving cardamom, clove, ginger and allspice, I had to try it.

The drink was amazing, light and nuanced in flavor - with lovely layers that all tasted market fresh.  Loved this and we could have drunk it all night if only we didn't have to drive!

We took in the decor in the restaurant - simultaneously sophisticated and laid back, with a blue & black color scheme - a triangular bar by the entrance, Japanese inspired omakase bar counter against one wall, intimate and relaxed dining room with tables and seats of dark wood - topped off by carved out counter space leading into an open kitchen.  The latter was the best part, as we got seated right in front of it, and could watch Chef Voltaggio at work in the kitchen preparing our meal!  Loved that he was actually on the line, making sure the food was great - versus trying to 'work the room' as a celebrity chef might.
The menu at launch is focused - with 15 savory dishes and 4 desserts - designed to be shared tapas style, each dish to feed two. Though I was tempted to order everything, "Teach" wisely suggested with just the two of us, to get a few key dishes, enough to fill up without killing ourselves (fine, spontaneous combustion is not a great way to end the evening). 

So we started at our server's recommendation, with the Octopus ($16) buttered popcorn (in mashed form) piquillo pepper (shaped into something that looks like a fruit-rollup, hole-punched all over) and spinach.  The presentation was artistic, which made us all the more psyched to taste it.  Unfortunately, we found the octopus a bit chewy (when we wanted it to be a bit crunchy) - and though we never expect to complain about girth, the 'logs' of tentacles were a bit too thick for a comfortable chew.  The mashed buttered popcorn and piquillo pepper ribbon were fantastically creative in concept, but really didn't add too much in terms of flavor to the dish.  What we loved:  The creative risk-taking.  And the juicy, savory/sweet roasted peppers underneath the mash.

Perhaps our server was strategic in the progression of dishes - dipping our expectations only to send them shooting through the roof starting with the very next dish: Blue Prawns ($12) - from the description alone, we thought this might be a fairly traditional Thai-inspired dish.  What came out was a sort of re-interpreted sushi with the freshest blue prawns (whose sweet, natural flavors were allowed to shine) wrapped in and enhanced by thin, refreshing, crisp ribbons of green papaya, flavored with finger lime, counterbalanced with crunchiness of crushed peanuts, and creamy dollops of coconut on the side with the consistency of burrata.  This was hands-down our favorite dish of the evening and a pretty good deal at $12.

Next up was Quail ($19) with charred orange and onion, sorrel cream - loved the lush flavors and succulent pieces of gamey meat.  It's not often that we encounter quail outside of ethnic enclaves in LA, so we jumped on this one right away when we saw it on the menu.  We devoured these and sucked every fiber off the bone.








The next dish we'd vote as Least Photogenic - but the Black Cod ($18) with red pepper dashi, shishito peppers, and kelp pasta was delicious, and another best-of-meal (I think we were adding almost everything to that list at this point).  Perhaps intending for the Japanese inspired dish to look like a large piece of seaweed in bowl of broth - it initially just looked like a black amorphous blob.  But presentation aside, one bite and we were sold - the cod was perfectly cooked, tender and beautifully flaky, and went well with the kelp-flavored pasta sheet - roasted shishito peppers added subtle heat, and the flavorful dashi brough all elements together into a cohesive whole. 
I love eating with Teach as she is as unabashedly trigger-happy with her camera as me - however, this coupled with our uber-chattiness became a cause for concern for our servers.  They took back the Veal Cheek ($17), after noticing we had not gotten around to it after about 7-10 minutes of fawning over other dishes, snapping pics and being completely engrossed in conversation.  We felt super guilty committing that cardinal sin of bloggers, but appreciated the attentiveness and quality control - they wanted to ensure we enjoyed the dish at the correct temperature.  We made sure to dig into it second time round as soon as it arrived.

Even with all the efforts though, this wasn't among our favorites.  The veal cheek was so tender it pretty much melted in our mouths on contact, but the flavors and textures of the dish didn't come together for us - red curry, nante carrots baked in salt and fried sticky rice (which translated into toy-jacks-like clusters of fried puffed rice) seemed to be disparate elements that didn't all work together.

Our last 'main' dish was Beef Short Rib ($25) - another favorite for the night.  The pieces of short rib were so perfectly cooked, juicy and tender, the robust texture reminded me more of filet mignon than short rib - these were served with an incredible mix of sweet and sour mushrooms, topped by thin crisp, deliciously salty panels of mushroom chicarron, and punctuated by black garlic.  It was the most expensive dish on the menu, but well worth it.  I don't think I've ever had any short rib quite like it - and would go so far as to say that it's one of the things I would put on my shortlist of things I'd consider if I could choose my last bite on earth.
At the last minute, our server had recommended Seaweed Mashed Potatoes ($8) with sea grass, sea beans as a side. It didn't arrive until we already finished all of our savory dishes - but with its lush, creamy texture and extremely subtle seaweed flavor, it ended up being a good bridge to dessert.  



Where we exercised restraint with savories - we threw out convention / decorum with dessert, and ordered all four on the menu.  We again left progression to our server - and again the first one seemed to be a throwaway: Goat Cheese ($10) with ash, concord grape, arugula. The presentation was inventive and completely unexpected - but here is where we wished our server would have been a little more knowledgeable and passionate about the ingredients and thought processes that went into what goes on the plate! 

When asking what the various elements were, hoping for details and insights into the inspiration for the dish - what we got was a vague murmur about the 'noodle' patty being an 'almond cake' and that the green cake-like pieces were 'not arugula, but something...else'.  And a recommendation that amounted to 'don't worry about what these are - just eat and enjoy it'.  Which, in a regular restaurant, I would accept.  But when serving a dish from Chef Voltaggio's kitchen, where his inventiveness is a key selling point for fans - it's a shame the server would detract from the sense of respectful wonder - the way an art lover would admire a painting and think about the artists' intent and the nature of their own connection to it - by suggesting essentially that we stop and just shovel it in. Granted, it's launch week and 'polish' - including service - is expected to be a work in progress, especially as the new servers familiarize themselves with the dishes.

Regardless, though we both loved the concept and visual artistry, the flavors and textures just didn't come together for us on this first dessert.

Dessert #2: Grapefruit Curd ($8) avocado, cilantro sorbet, charred maple-lime.  The consistency reminded me of panna cotta, but the true breakout star was the cilantro sorbet - herbaceous where your mind expects sweet, light and refreshing and an intriguing pairing to the citrus infused curd. 






Dessert #3 was possibly my favorite of the four in terms of flavor, though it looked like a pile of rubble: Chocolate ($10) was accompanied by a minimalist ingredient description of "coffee, spice".  I loved the classic combination of coffee and chocolate, with the variety of textures from creamy to crunchy pie-crust crumbs to pop-corn like puffs.  It took a minute for my mind to process the textures and flavors - as there was an interesting spice woven through the dish that we couldn't quite place - the server told us it was "coffee spice" - which means we may never know what was in it.  The mountain of rubble was punctuated by globules of an unnamed fruit for bursts of juiciness.  Whatever the ingredients were, I thought the dish was fantastic.

The final dessert was Teach's favorite, simply named: Apple ($8) but with the mysterious description of creme caramel, burnt wood sabayon, walnut - again not sure how much stock to put in what the server told us, but according to him they had burned wood in the parking lot out back, then soaked it in milk for days, then made a sabayon out of that milk.  Interesting for sure, but don't know that it really sounded appetizing, and I couldn't really taste smokiness in the sabayon.  The giant sphere of sabayon sat on what I thought was like a disc of cheesecake, but was really creme caramel, surrounded by candied walnut clusters with small apple orbs for crunch / juice with sweet & tart flavors. The dish overall felt sort of like a deconstructed hybrid apple pie and cheesecake.  Creative, and overall delicious.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our 3-hour meal - whether certain dishes worked better than others, whether the server gave us accurate information or not - ink. injects excitement and creativity to LA dining, and for our part Teach and I are rooting for them - and hope that as Chef Voltaggio intended - it will claim a permanent imprint on the city's culinary culture. 

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks most mains)
Probability of return visit - 100%

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ink. 
8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069 
Ph: 323.651.5866

Website: mvink.com
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ink. on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 25, 2011

N'ice Cream - On the Boardwalk, Over the Sea

My friend 'Designer' had bought the Groupon deal for $5 for $10 worth of N'ice Cream a while back - and after the Good Food Fest last weekend, we walked over to the closest location, at The Market at Santa Monica Place, for a gelato break.
N'ice Cream prides themselves on organic gelato and sorbet, made fresh daily on the premises. 

Their gelatos are made from organic milk from Rock-view farms, and are "a bit lighter" than competitors' with less cream and sugar.  Their sorbets use fresh, locally grown fruit when possible.

I haven't been to their Abbot Kinney or Venice oceanfront walk locations, but at The Market at the top floor of Santa Monica Place, the selection is relativelly small, and not nearly as many varieties nor as inventive as Gelato Bar & Espresso Cafe.  Given that pricing is at: 1 scoop=$3.50 2 scoops $4.50 3 scoops =$5.50, we decided to get 2 scoops each with the Groupon.

My picks were: Hazelnut Chip and N'ice Cream Delight.  Hazelnut Chip was a lovely hazelnut base gelato with crisp chocolate bits strewn throughout - delicious!  N'ice Cream Delight featured rum, hazelnut and chocolate chip - reminding me of rum raisin but nuttier flavors and chocolate pieces instead of raisin!  The texture was indeed just slightly less creamy/dense than competitors' gelato - well balanced and perfectly refreshing after a hot day walking around outdoors at the Good Food Fest (or the beach!).  The scoops are also fairly generous in size - though the flavors I got were so addictive I was tempted to get second rounds, calories be damned!

N'ice Cream also offers toppings for their gelato / sorbets as well as milkshakes. 

With the organic offering and convenient locations, I plan to be back next time I'm in the area - gotta love desserts that are 'good for you'! ;)

[For more deals like this one, check out my Get More Bites Outta Your Budget page!]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 85% 

______________________________________________________________________

N'ice Cream 

Santa Monica Place
"The Market", 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Additional locations:
1410 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
619 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291
Website: ilovenicecream.com
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N'iceCream (The Market at Santa Monica Place) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 22, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs - Savings & Sweepstakes 9/22/11

Savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)

Happy grazing!

FOODIE FINDS:
  • Steingarten $10 for $20 of food/drinks deal from OpenTable Spotlight (~1 day left to buy)
  • Indulge Los Angeles event $59 for $175 VIP ticket to event Saturday September 24th. Deal from ScreaminDeals (~1day left to buy)
  • Fairmont Miramar Santa Monica hotel $25 for $128 worth of 4 Drinks/Wines deal from TravelzooLA  (~2days left to buy)
  • JAR restaurant $25 for $50 dinner / $15 for $30 Sunday brunch. Deal at Bloomspot (~3days left to buy
  • Obikà Mozzarella Bar $35 for $75 3-course Dinner for Two  (~5 days left to buy)
  • Beso $60 for $126 4-course dinner for 2 deal from TravelzooLA (~8 days left to buy)
  • Public Kitchen & Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel $49 for $97 bottomless mimosa/bellini brunch  deal from TravelzooLA (~8 days left to buy)
  • Circa 55 at Beverly Hilton hotel $79 for $186 dinner for two 4 courses w/ 2 glasses of wine. Deal from TravelzooLA (~8 days left to buy)
  • Fraiche $20 for $40 worth of food. Deal from GiltCityLA
  • Comme Ca 'Bistronomy' tasting for two $99 4 courses + bottle of wine deal at GiltCityLA (not valid Saturdays after 7pm)
  • BLT Steak LA Happy Hour: 5 drinks + 5 appetizers for $5 each Tuesdays-Saturdays 5-7pm
  • Go Burger brand new happy hour: $2 sliders/fried pickles, $4 appetizers and drafts beers, $6 wines, shakes and combo platters Mondays-Fridays 3-6pm at bar!

TRAVEL FINDS:

SWEEPSTAKES:
  • Los Angeles Food and Wine Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win an exclusive Los Angeles Food & Wine package worth over $3000 courtesy of dineLA.  Event dates are October 13-16 (sweepstakes ends 10/7/11 11:59pm) Official rules here
  • Vacationing in an Undisclosed Location Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win ultimate vacation to secret location —includes 2 flights, $2000 in Tumi travel luggage, stay in boutique hotel (ends 10/7/11 at 11:59 pm ET). From UrbanDaddy, Travel+Leisure and Tumi. Official rules here
  • MNG by Mango Barcelona Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win 4-day trip for two to Spain and tour of MANGO design studios - must be able to travel to Barcelona 10/20-10/23/11 (ends 9/30/11 at 11:59pm ET). Official rules here 
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This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor nor affiliated in any way with any of the companies listed above. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


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To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

dineLA Fall 2011 - 1MB Picks!

dineLA Restaurant Week is back! It's again really two weeks of prix fixe, 3-course lunches and dinners at top restaurants around the city, running October 2-7 and October 9-14.

While it's exciting to see a huge list of over 300 restaurants, it can also be overwhelming to sift through (note to dineLA: would be fantastic if you can build a feature in your iPhone app that allows you to save selected restaurants to a modifiable shortlist!). 

Friends have been asking about my top picks but I'm just now getting through all the menus!  Below are my picks so far compiled from available menus, as much for myself to keep track as anything else - and of course based on my personal preferences as noted below.  Hope you guys will find helpful as well!

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Bar + Kitchen
Dinner $26
Menu
Why?: Prosciutto wrapped foie gras butter, quince jam, raisin bread; pork porterhouse with bacon jam.  Offering items not on regular menu.
Estimated Savings: $6*   *Based on average price for each course, since exact items are not on regular menu

Chaya Brasserie
Dinner $34
Menu
Why?: dineLA to me is all about being able to try new things at an affordable price - and several items here excite me as novel combinations of ingredients: especially Slow Roasted Beet Tartare, Yolk Sauce, Wasabi/Goat Mousse, Bruschetta. There is scallop as a first course choice. I don't like chicken except when fried, but they are offering one served with seaweed butter which at least sounds interesting.
Estimated Savings: $14*  *Based on closest items on regular menu (shrimp cocktail: scallop; chicken: chicken; desserts all same price)


Craft
Dinner $44
Menu
Why?: Always classically great dishes and incredible service. Scallops and sea bass are choices for the 2nd course. Dessert options sound good to me: Butternut Squash Pie, Cider Sabayon & Braised Apples or Peanut Butter Semifreddo & Single Origin Chocolate
Update 10/8: Awesome meal (3 starters are ALL included for table to share) and impeccable service!  Plus free parking in structure with validation!
Estimated Savings: at least $22* *Based on items from regular menu Wild Arugula $12 (x3/2)+Scallops $30+average mushroom/potato side dish price ($12/2)+Apple Pudding $12 = $66 - $44 = $22 (2 starters are not on menu and should be more expensive than arugula dish, so savings should be even greater by unknown amount).  And you get a complimentary bag of fresh made granola to take home!

Culina
Lunch $28 or Dinner $44
Menu
Why?: When else are you going to be able to dine at the FOUR SEASONS hotel for less than $100 a head?  (Unless you bought the Travelzoo deal - $89 for 4-course dinner for two w/ champagne - back when I tweeted about it ;P)  Some menu items do actually sound intriguing - like black cod with guanciale (pork cheek) and cauliflower soup with blood orange and extra virgin olive oil.
Estimate Savings: $19* for lunch   *Based on average non-seafood salad price+Branzino lunch portion+$9 desserts

Eva Restaurant
Lunch $22 or Dinner $34
Menu
Why?:  Sous vide alaskan halibut with a 'hollandise' mustard!!! 'Pork and beans' with braised pork belly in chorizo broth! Lemon pudding cake with thyme foam! Lunch menu same as dinner! (Ok so items are from regular menu but savings are pretty big!)
Estimated Savings: $16* for dinner *Based on schaner egg, halibut and fixed dessert prices

La Cachette Bistro
Dinner $34
Menu
Why?: I see magic words on the menu: foie gras (and TWO), lobster bisque, salmon tartar, bouillabaisse, duck & pork cassoulet!!! I want to eat everything - might have to make multiple visits to try them all.  Even the duo of blood sausages.
Estimated Savings: $12* *Based on lobster bisque+bouillabaisse/boudins+floating island/volcano dessert

[Update 10/12: Foie great, rum dessert great. Cassoulet not recommended. Tons of beans and they ended up taking out the duck so it was all pork.]

Lexington Social House
Dinner $34
Menu
Why?: Their fried chicken was fantastic at The Taste Picnic in the Hills event in September!  And it's offered as a 2nd course option! Heirloom tomato & goat ricotta, and prosciutto with burrata and beet salads sound delicious. Desserts all sound good from Monkey Bread to Panna Cotta with fig puree and balsamic, to Beignets! Though, big disclaimer: all these items are on the regular menu, so whether to take up a dineLA slot for this depends on savings...which I need to call them to determine as prices aren't posted on the restaurant site.
Estimated Savings: TBD

Petrossian
Dinner $44
Menu
Why? Because you can have three courses that go something like this: caviar-foie-caviar.  All three are not on the regular menu. Petrossian used to be one of my fav places to visit during dineLA back when Chef Ben Bailly was at the helm - they had one of the most generous and decadent menus during Restaurant Week. This may be a good time to check out what's new. 
Estimated Savings: $8* *Based on closest comparable items on regular menu: salads/soups $16, Scottish Salmon $28, desserts $8


Ocean & Vine at Loews Santa Monica
Dinner $34
Menu
Why?:  Oceanfront dining for $34.  Interesting sounding menu items including: Santa Monica Chili made with Laughing Bird Shrimp, scallops, lump crab, roasted garlic and fava beans.  Apple and cheddar soup with sweet onion tart.  Catalina Thresher Shark (never heard of it!) with Ginger Persimmon Nage, Pacific Lobster Mashed Potatoes, Agave Glazed Heirloom Carrots and Beets.  Grapevine Smoked Beef Tenderloin with Cognac Beef Marrow Glaze, Artichoke Chips, Black Barley Pilaf.  Sweet potato lasagna for dessert.  Massive savings compared to regular menu.
Estimated Savings: $29* *Based on SM Chili+Tenderloin+fixed dessert price

[Update 10/12: LOVE the chili and beef tenderloin. Lasagna for dessert not recommended]

Scarpetta
Lunch $28
Menu
Why?: Love the location - Montage Beverly Hills with the beautiful park in between two wings of hotel. Great savings on items from regular menu - like the infamous (or some would say notorious) $24 spaghetti.  Which on principle I resisted the concept of, as atrocious - but which curiosity is getting the best of me for.  Now is probably the best time to try it, when a 'deal' can be had off regular price.
Estimated Savings: $20* *Based on items also on regular menu: polenta+spaghetti+budino/cake 

The Bazaar by Jose Andres
Dinner $44
Menu
Why?: One of the most unique dining venues in LA, and relatively large savings depending on what you order.  If you haven't been yet, dineLA's a good time to sample their offerings, though some of the best aren't on the dineLA menu, like the sea urchin bao or the duck liver quince sliders or Ibérico ham.
Estimated Savings: $25* *Based on pricing of items of regular menu: Japanese Taco+Jamon Serrano Fermin+Sauteed Shrimp+Scallops+any of the desserts 


[UPDATE 10/8: Whist has been removed from my list for being a pain.  They didn't offer the dineLA menus on the two weekend days (Sundays) and now say the lunch deal is NOT available for the week of 10/9-10/14, while the dineLA lunch menu is still listed online.  Why participate in this program if you're going to carve out all these exceptions and make it difficult for diners to actually take you up on the offers?]


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Note:  I have not dined at all of the places above - picks are based on menu descriptions and pricing info listed. Estimated savings are best guess only based on available info.  Does not account for variance in portion sizes etc.


I will continue to update this as more menus post (10/3: surprised some still haven't posted yet!). Let me know if there are any good ones I've totally missed! 

Where will you go for dineLA?

P.S. Deal stacking: On top of all these prix fixe deals, American Express Cardmembers who are also foursquare users can get a $5 statement credit when you check in to participating dineLA restaurants during Restaurant Week and use your synced Amex Card to pay for the meal ($21 minimum purchase requi red. Offer maybe redeemed once per location. Registration is limited.) For full Terms and Conditions, check: sync.americanexpress.com/foursquare
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dineLA Restaurant Week (Fall 2011)
October 2-7, and October 9-14, 2011

Lunch: $16,$22 or $28
Dinner: $26, $34 or $44

Website: discoverlosangeles.com
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Good Food Festival and Street Fair - Eat Well, Do Good

Farmers Markets are about eating local, supporting small farms (and people who produce food as passion projects), sustainability and community.  I love being able to meet the farmer who grew the veggies/herbs or raised the cows (steak) / caught the seafood I buy - and learning something new from them every time I go.
This year, the market most frequented by the best chefs and mixologists around the city, Santa Monica Farmers Market - is celebrating its 30th anniversary with the Good Food Festival & Conference, which kicked off Wednesday September 14 and runs through today.  The festival showcases locally and sustainably produced food and innovative leaders from the good food movement, and focuses on educating people about issues integral to local food systems, and benefits of good food.

The five days of events consisted of speaker panels, chef demos, a financing fair, trade and consumer shows, food policy summit, film screenings, and an oceanside “Localicious Gala”. I missed all weekday events due to work and budget, but was excited to be able to check out the first of two days of the Good Food Festival Street Fair (loved that admission is only $10!).

The Street Fair is held at Santa Monica High School, featuring exhibits from family farmers and artisanal food producers, street food from vendors who source from them, demos from some of LA’s best chefs (and book signings), and other sustainable and food focused vendors.

There are also demos and hands-on workshops on gardening and urban homesteading, and agricultural art on display featuring paintings by Works Project Administration artists from the 1930’s!

I started the day by strolling through the tents on campus, some from vendors from my favorite farmers markets, and lots of new ones I hadn't seen before.  Here are the highlights:
Raw Cane Juice is a familiar sight, and sampled their all-natural, no chemicals, no GMO juices.  I love their "detox elixir" with lime as well as ginger juice and cayenne for subtle heat and lovely layered flavors.  Also on offer are straight up raw cane juice, and an "Alkalizer Tonic" with lemon & lime juice, and chlorophyll, that balances your body pH.

They are offering show special pricing on glass bottles of cane juice - $5 for small and $10 for large.

You can also find Raw Cane Juice at farmers markets around the city (I get mine from Studio City!).


Other good drinks: O.N.E. Coconut Water was promoting their Active line, which has more herbs & antioxidants than the regular line. And they were selling both their regular and Active coconut waters for $1 each!!!! Those who buy coconut water regularly know this is a steal - they are normally up to $3 at the grocery store! I definitely stocked up - and I think shocked the rep by buying basically 2 cases of them.

For kids of all ages: a line of 100% clementine/tangerine juices from Cuties, a California juice producer which had adorable packaging and a variety of fun flavors from tangerine-kiwi to tangerine-coconut.

My friend 'Designer' joined me after a few hours, and we noticed a lot of vendors were featuring Padron Peppers, a new item to us.  Capay Organics had a nice display of them, but Weiser Farms actually had roasted peppers for us to sample (and sold plates of them for just $1).  Padron peppers apparently pack a lot of heat for their size!  But without the biting heat of jalapenos - it was intense, but smooth if that makes sense?

LA County Master Preservers Karen Hobert and Laurie Dill also featured Padron peppers in their fall veggies pickling demo, and handed out raw samples for us to try at home! (Preparation is simple: just saute in pan with olive oil until nearly brown, then sprinkle generously with sea salt!) I'd loved their DIY pickling session at Eat Real Fest, and was telling them about challenges with finding allspice berries at my local stores - when the previous presenter, Joe, true to the spirit of the event kindly volunteered to give me some from his stash! 

With samples and inspiration, Designer and I headed back to the tents to check out other vendors.  Although the intent of the Street Fair is to showcase breadth of good food movement supporters, I did wish there were just a few more actual farmers in the exhibits, showcasing produce people may not have seen before (I love discovering new items at places like Hollywood Farmers Market).

Ventura Fish Co is another familiar sight - as a regular at Studio City Farmers Market.  A family-owned business, they source fish from local fishermen with sustainable practices.  Then smoke them and make them into delicious pates. Our favorite was skipjack, mixed with peppers for a bit of crunch and light heat. 

Ray explained they catch their fish 'deep set, long line' - fish are allowed to swim around 'on the line' at a distance from the boat, after they have been 'hooked' - a way to give them time to calm down after the trauma of initial contact.  This allows them to destress a bit which is more humane and better in the end also for our food. 

The thing I was most excited to learn, is that five times a year Ventura Fish Co brings their boat into harbour, and allows customers to board and buy fish that just came in straight from the ocean.  There's no charge for admission and the next Fish Market will be sometime in late November / early December (timing depends on weather, size of catch etc. so they can't specify just yet) - to learn more about this when info is available, sign up for their mailing list!

Closeby to Ventura Fish Co. was The Santa Barbara Cheese Company - who produces artisan cheeses that are 100% cows milk that's rBST hormone free - who sampled three white cheeses. Our favorite was the "Montecito", a 'gouda-like' cheese that has been aged for 60 days - a semi-soft cheese that's sweet and nutty.  Loved this and bought a slice to take home!

There were also lots of sweets vendors who use natural and/or local ingredients.  Les Macarones Duverger had a beautiful table that I couldn't get enough shots of - including a display that made me wish macarons really did grow on trees!

They didn't have samples, but offered a show special:  $1 for the first macaron (vs. $1.75).  They use all natural ingredients and could give Paulette a run for its money with the light, Parisian style macaron that didn't at all taste coconut-y or collapse/clump together on first bite.

Lemon Bird Jams had some amazing sounding jams - from pomelo ginger and urfa biber, to orange and buddha's hand mostarda, to flower jellys.  I really wanted to love these unique creations, but the flavors for me did not meet expectations of nuanced layers suggested by the product names.  I'm rooting for them to keep working on the flavors though, and to start getting into farmers markets (right now they are just online) to get the visibility and support - love the creativity (and lovely packaging) and want them to succeed!

It was also good to see Creme Caramel LA there as well.  They had a special creme caramel flavor for the show - ube macapuno - which unfortunately sold out by the time we got to the booth.  Hopefully they will bring the flavor back another time!

A handful of restaurants were on hand to sample their farm fresh dishes - one of our favorites was from Paul Martin's American Bistro, a lovely smoked salmon lettuce cup that impressed us even as people who are not big fans of lettuce!

Malibu Pies sampled several pot pies, including an amazing curry beef pot pie that I wanted to sit and eat all day (for $7 you can get a full sized pie to chow down on at the event or to take home). 


Another highlight of the show were the cooking demos from some of the best chefs in LA.  I got to see Sherry Yard (renowned pastry chef at Spago) demo a giant apple strudel for 35 people - with help from sous chef Sally Camacho, who you might know from this season's Top Chef Just Desserts!

It was a fun demo, with Sherry's very liberal use of (and advocacy for) butter!  A helpful tip we got from the demo about pastry making - use a spray bottle to get clarified butter spread evenly and lightly over pastry to keep it moistened.
You can see the recipe for Sherry's apple strudel here.


Later in the afternoon was a fantastic demo from Suzanne Goin (Lucques, AOC, Tavern) who showed us how to make a simple, yet amazing meal of heirloom tomato and eggplant salad, and seared wild salmon with summer succotash and cherry tomato brown butter sauce.  I'm a big fan of Lucques Sunday Suppers, sophisticated and artistic creations, yet unencumbered and designed to let the natural flavors of her farm fresh ingredients be the stars.  At this demo, we died, just from the description, before a pan ever got fired up.
Suzanne was a truly great teacher.  She showed us exactly how to do each step and gave tips from storing ingredients (e.g. don't let tomatoes touch each other - store in individual peach crates or wrap each in newspaper), to how to get a nice sear on fish (put small weight on top - not enough to crush, just enough to press - when fish is in pan, skin-down, to get nice flat crisp sear), to how to tell when a piece of meat / fish is done (when juices start coming out, you're arriving at 'medium' / when white bits of fat start to come out from under skin, you should be about done).  The dishes seemed simple enough for the home chef, yet sophisticated and tasty enough to entertain with.

And as top chefs always advise - always taste your food: "If you're cooking and you find that you're hungry as you're finishing up, that's a bad sign.  You should have been tasting throughout the cooking."

She also brought out her favorite supplier from Shaner Farms, to answer questions about the farm!  It was lovely to hear their story about the 17 year relationship - farmer and chef are close partners, both passionate about their work, and each cannot do what they do without the other. 


A pretty funny anecdote Suzanne shared about her first time visiting the farm: "it was too cool for signs and street numbers", so when she couldn't tell which was their house, she tried to identify them by the avocados in their fields ("those look kind of like the ones I buy from them")!  Home chefs can also get access to quality ingredients - you can find Shaner Farms at Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Right on theme, while cooking the salmon Suzanne talked about sustainable seafood, and how to find out where to get it - Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains a running list with a red-yellow-green light system to show at any time which species are ok to eat, or when we should refrain to allow populations to build back up.  You can download their Seafood Watch iPhone app to help find businesses and restaurants in your area that support sustainable seafood.

When the demo was done, the audience was invited up to the stage to sample the food - the salmon was absolutely divine, and I usually don't even like cooked salmon!

(For those going to the event today - chef demos include Susan Feniger, Ilan Hall and Nancy Silverton! Demos take place in the amphitheater, a little hard to find yesterday without signs - just head into the alley on the right, between the first area of tents by the entrance, and before you go up the slope to the second area of tents on the hill)

Aside from chef demos, there are also workshops and other fun events throughout the day - including a Mystery Lunch Box Cook-off.  We stumbled on this mid-afternoon, when a crowd gathered around a table with several silver platters of food. 

We somehow got ourselves into the judging panel, and went round the table with the crowd sampling the gourmet looking dishes, and voting for our top 2 with marbles. 

The dishes were beautifully presented: spinach egg lasagna, orzo tomato salad with strawberries and avocado, rice salad with tomato and squash, a gnocchi dish and a fettuccini dish.  All were vegetarian, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the rich flavors and sumptuous textures (yes, I'm generalizing that vegetarian dishes are usually bland and boring). 

I also thought that the dishes were created from different vendors - but turns out they were all made by teams of students from Santa Monica High School - definitely a very talented bunch! 

My favs were the spinach lasagna and rice salad - in the chaos of the crowd we weren't sure who actually won in the end - let me know in the comments if you were there and know the results!

Though we were filled up on the SaMo HS cookoff deliciousness, we couldn't pass up the Applegate full sized hot dogs - made with grass-fed, natural, humanely treated beef! So good, all around (except for the bread) - and apparently these don't cost that much either to buy at the grocery store - we were told $4-$5 a packet, and they were handing out $1 off coupons at the booth!

Before leaving, we scored samples from Nature's Path (flax seed granola and strawberry bars). 

All in all, certain elements of Good Food Fest Street Fair reminded me of Eat Real Fest - another event promoting local, sustainable food.  Except Good Food Fest didn't have some of the cool vendors serving up oysters shucked to order, and slick cuts of meat from Lindy & Grundy; is not as savvy with marketing (social media & signage); not in as 'chic' a venue as Helms Bakery; not as organized (it was hard to find different branches of the event, spread out over campus without much directional signage); not as many hands-on cooking workshops; and not free. 

That said, I still very much enjoyed Good Food Fest - it may not be as organized, or polished, as other similar events - but it genuinely, from the heart, celebrates community, and the symbiotic relationship between farmer, chef and eater, from farm to table. The event attracts A-list chefs for this reason.  At the core - it's about doing 'good', a passion project, authentically focused on changing perspectives, informing, and spreading the word about good food from people who are on the front lines advocating for the movement - among other things, to ensure that we take good care of what we have so that the bounty is there for future generations to enjoy.

Hope you'll get to check out the event today!

[For more photos of the event, check out my album on Facebook]
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Good Food Festival and Street Fair
September 17th & 18th 10am-5pm
Santa Monica High School, 1801 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Admission: $10 at door

Parking: $3 flat rate at Civic Center lot (333 Civic Center Dr) - across from SaMo High School entrance (sign at entrance says $9 daily max, but sign at ticket machine confirms $3 flat rate Saturdays & Sundays)

Website: goodfoodfestivals.com      
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Friday, September 16, 2011

Brazilian Day LA - Mid-town "Daycation"

Many, many years ago I had a roommate who was a huge fan of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines martial arts, music and dance.  I remembered finding it fascinating to watch, but because I lacked even basic motor skills (hard enough to put one foot in front of the other without falling over most days) I never really got into it myself.  This past weekend, when I heard about the Brazilian Day celebrations next to LACMA, my interest in Capoeira and all things Brazilian was rekindled.  And when I saw the event was free, I knew I had to be there.

The festivities are the LA outpost of an event that originated in New York in the 80s - immigrants in the neighborhood of Little Brazil gathered to celebrate Brazil's Independence Day and to share their culture with neighbors and friends. Since then, the celebration has caught on with major cities nationwide, and grown to attract over1.5 million people in 2010 in NYC alone.


This year's LA event was held at Hancock Park, behind the La Brea Tar Pits next to LACMA.

I was excited about all the components of the event: Brazilian food, products, capoeira, samba, and a Rio-style parade (put on by the SambaLá Samba School of Long Beach), followed by a "Trio-Electrico" parade.
It was a bright, sunny day (love LA, it's pretty much always that way with the exception of a few weeks in the year), and you could feel almost an electric energy in the air of people strolling from tent to tent, checking out good eats, tourism board brochures and Brazilian gifts from flag-colored soccer ball to t-shirts and onesies etc. while enjoying the great weather.

A crowd had gathered near the back of the park, so naturally that's where I headed - and found Samba dancers at a makeshift stage.


Apparently I had just caught the end of the dance, as a few minutes later a new group stepped up, (Amen Santos and Capoeira Batuque) to offer a Capoeira demo.  Capoeira is fantastically fun to watch, and rather than try to describe it I thought I'd post a video so you can see for yourself!



There was of course also no shortage of ways to sample Brazilian culture through food. 

Several stands served fresh off the grill Brazilian barbecue skewers, from steak to chicken and shrimp.  Though bbq is a Brazilian staple, and what most people think of first when they think of Brazilian food - and the sizzling meat on the grill was nearly irresistible - I went in search of dishes I had not experienced before.  I've had plenty of churrascaria fare, and afterall, the fun of cultural festivals is learning - and tasting - new things!

(Well, I made an exception for coxinha - Brazilian croquettes $5 for 3 - which I've had before. I enjoy the shredded chicken with 'secret' cheese sauce deep fried in dough - and they were small pieces so that I woudn't fill up just on those)










I had to have a can of Ubatuba Guarana ($2), a soda made from the fruit of a flowering plant from the Amazon, which contains twice the amount of caffeine in a coffee bean.  It tasted to me like apple soda, but not too sweet - light, refreshing and great for a hot day.  More caffeine than a cup of coffee, to provide a jolt of energy, without the bitter taste.


I was really excited to find the Sabor da Bahia stall, which offered four key dishes that I'd never heard of:

*Moqueca de Peixe - Bahian style fish stew with tilapia fillet in a special coconut sauce, served with rice and toasted yucca flour

*Moqueca de Camarao - Bahian style shrimp stew - same ingredients as above, but made with shrimp

*Acaraje - Brazilian falafel - deep fried black-eyed peas cake, stuffed with vatapa (Brazilian bread crumbs puree), tomato salad and homemade hot sauce

*Abara - Brazilian tamale - Steamed blackeye peas dough in the banana leaf, stuffed with vatapa, tomato salad and hot sauce

I wish I had enough stomach space to try them all!  But ultimately went with the fish stew ($15) - from the northern coast of Brazil - and loved everything on the plate!

Perhaps it was the coconut sauce, but the flavors of the fish stew reminded me of Thai food, but without the strong accents of lemongrass or basil.  Milder and slightly sweeter, with slivers of bell peppers for veggies.  The toasted yucca flour added great textural contrast and slight crunch to the coconut sauce soaked rice.  Seems like black-eyed peas are a staple of the cuisine as well - there was a salad of them offered on the side.  Delicious.

In the early afternoon, the eagerly anticipated Street Carnaval kicked off, featuring a Rio-style parade of dancers with vibrant and elaborate feather headdresses and fantastic clothing. 

Event organizers describe this parade as "part opera, part party, and part circus" which I thought was fairly spot on.  It wasn't of course full-scale as in the real Rio parade, but was a fun lil taste of Carnaval. 

Though I had filled up on hot foods earlier, I was drawn to the grocery stall - with wire racks packed with Brazilian snacks, candy and drinks.  Cheesy Bread, or "Pan de Queso" seemed to be a featured item, along with cookies and lots of guarana and cool fruit juice drinks from maracuja (Brazilian passionfruit), to goiaba (guava) to acai-coconut. Lots of fun to browse, though I didn't want to carry my purchases around, so made a note to myself to find and pay a visit to a Brazilian market soon.

The second parade of the afternoon was a "Trio-Electrico" parade, which turned out to involve a truck tricked out with speakers, blasting music while street dancers, singers and drummers lead a procession inviting guests to dance and sing along on the parade path behind them.  This one is described as "equivalent of Brazil's Spring break".  I loved that lots of people were game, and danced along with abandon (nice to see a total absence of 'fronting' or image-consciousness unfortunately too often associated with Los Angelenos)!

Throughout the event, the MC had called for entries into the raffle for two roundtrip tickets to Brazil - tickets were only $1 each!  Being a hopeless optimist, I went and bought a ticket but of course wasn't so lucky.  The two winners both turned out to be from Brazil, so they got their tickets home for free!
After hours of gorging, it was nice to lay back on the grassy knoll and lazily watch the activity below.  Kids were in their own world, amusing themselves alternately rolling down or running up the hill.  Normally, rowdy kids annoy me (I know, I know, all I'm missing are a dozen or so cats in order to turn into a grouchy old cat lady) but at this event, for some reason, they added to the idyllic setting - and most I thought were adorable, having a great time outdoors with their parents dancing or playing.

Another thing I loved about the venue is that, if you're a LACMA member, you can pop over to wander the museum (excluding special exhibits that require admission fees) free, or check out Ray's and Stark Bar on the plaza if you still have room for food/drink.

All in all, Brazilian Day LA was a fun, festive, fabulous free event that I look forward to making an annual outing to (I hope they have it next year at the same venue)!

[For more photos of the event, check out my album on Facebook]
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Brazilian Day LA
September 10th noon-6pm
La Brea Tar Pits / Hancock Park

Free Admission

Website: braziliandayla.org      
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes 9/15/11

Savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week (sorry a few hours late!) - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)

Happy grazing!

FOODIE FINDS:
  • Wood & Vine Hollywood Farmers Market meal deal: 3-course dinner for $18 per person every Monday night! 
  • BLTSteak Happy Hour: 5 Items for $5 (Select appetizers, cocktails, wines & beer) 5:00p-7:00p Tues-Sat
  • GoBurger  new happy hour: $2 sliders, $4 drafts beers, $6 combo platters 3-6pm at bar
  • OneHope Wine $25 FREE gift card code courtesy of Klout perks (must use link provided - there is a limit of 5 total redemptions available) AND stack your discount with 15% off coupon code "GIVEHOPE15"
SWEEPSTAKES:
To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

LA Times Food & Wine The Taste - Food Fest Marathon Day 4: Picnic in the Hills

The last day of my food fest marathon fell this past Monday, Labor Day, and I headed back to Beverly Hills with mixed emotions: excitement about the format, Picnic in the Hills and sadness that this was the final day of a culinary journey that I didn't want to end, even if I was running out of steam from the now 4-day race.

It was apparent from the moment we arrived, that this would be the most popular event of the entire weekend.  Cars were lined up bumper to bumper, waiting for their turn into event parking (not the case any other events at The Taste), and there was another huge line of people at the ID check tent.

This time though, the crowd was very different - there were kids literally everywhere, probably because the format (picnic) was family friendly, and kids 14 and under got in for free. So everyone who had spawn, brought them. And their friends.

Picnic in the Hills (Beverly Hills, 12-4pm) initially evoked visions of rolling green hills overlooking the city, but we were actually back in the parking lot of the old Robinson's May next to The Beverly Hilton hotel.  However, Target, the event sponsor, did a fantastic job of transforming the venue into a vision of greenery and retro cool, with turf laid out in the outdoor area, and red/white blankets and umbrellas set out amongst picnic tables. 

Beyond the giant tent filled with a who's who list of restaurants serving gourmet food samples, and wineries / liquor vendors pouring every kind of merry libation (more on those later!), there was a quaint little 50's style lemonade stand, surrounded by cute produce displays and take-home fruit. 

This is where Target served up fresh lemonade in mason jars (with handles for easier, er, handling) with watermelon or strawberries and sprigs of fresh basil.

This was the perfect drink for a scorching day, appropriate for the entire family, and served in a 'glass' convenient to use out on picnic blankets (lid minimizes kiddie spillage).  Plus, the jars were a great souvenir to take home - I plan to use mine to make watermelon rind pickles!

The picnic area was surrounded by baby lemon trees - well, trees decorated with lemon 'ornaments' with cute red & white ribbons on top.  Loved the attention to detail (nicely done Target, perfect way to reinforce the brand)!



So on to the food then - I would say this day had the best gourmet food samples overall, after Secrets of the Kitchen & Cellar!

The Curious Palate served Watermelon Gazpacho (when many others were serving tomato) that was refreshing as an accompaniment to their Pork Slider, which also broke out from the herd. What I like about The Curious Palate is that they don't just go safe and 'classic' - as implied by their name, they love to experiment with food - and the pork slider is a great example of this.  Each slider featured three kinds of pulled pork, cooked three different ways - cheek (braised), belly (smoked), and butt (roasted), served with apple cabbage slaw and aioli.
[Thanks, Nomster for letting me crib off your notes! :)]
Breadbar also offered sliders - Veal Meatball Sliders, on a brioche bun!











M Street Kitchen and Stella Rossa Pizza Bar had fresh Burrata Crostini (I'm a sucka for good burrata) topped with grilled grapes and a bit of basil.  I loved the combination of cool, creamy burrata with juicy sweet/tart warm grapes.










Lexington Social House was the dark horse of the event - I hadn't really heard too much about them, and though I enjoyed their pork belly at Art of Mixing Friday night, it didn't sear itself into memory as a place I absolutely had to return to.

But other bloggers raved about their fried chicken, so we went to check it out.  And ended up going back for 3rds, 4ths...

The Fried Chicken was served with corn salad, cherry tomatoes and shallots on the side - but it was really the little chicken drumstick that made a big impression.  A clean, crisp, lightly battered shell yielded to juicy, flavorful and tender meat with every bite - and I literally sucked each one down to the bone, they were that good. 

I wouldn't have immediately associated Lexington Social House with great fried chicken, but after tasting the samples I would say it could possibly give Kyochon a run for its money.
Pizza Antica had a trio of samples, starting with BLT salad served in a paper cone which I skipped (not a salad fan...), and an amazing Bruschetta with Avocado, Tomato, Olive Oil and Garlic-Rubbed Ciabatta.  If I hadn't been gorging non-stop for 3 days straight, I would have stuffed down many more of these - all the ingredients tasted farm fresh, and they used really good olive oil that I'm not a connoiseur enough to identify by taste, but that I can safely say made my eyes roll back.
Pizza Antica's third sample was a sweeter Bruschetta, with Three Cheeses (ricotta, goat, and blue), Black Mission Fig, and Nipitella (Italian mint) on Garlic-Rubbed Ciabatta. Another luscious interpretation of bruschetta.

Aside from Fig & Olive's Mushroom Crostini (same as what they served at Fashion Bites Brunch), this and the tomato avocado bruschetta were some of my favorite bread+topping bites.







Momed's Duck Shawarma was a welcome break from all the pork and tomato offerings.  A tad dry, but still delicious.  On the side was a farro salad with pomegranate, first time I've ever had the combination - it was an interesting one that appealed to me more in concept than taste.




Inn of the Seventh Ray in my view had the Best-in-Show sample - for visual artistry as well as creative pairings of ingredients and craftsmanship in putting it all together. 

It was a Mole Braised Short Rib with Cauliflower Escabeche, Quail Egg and Crisped Carrot Slivers over Honeycomb Polenta.   This one set off fireworks in my mouth, with its rich, succulent beef counterbalanced by tiny bunches of crunchy cauliflower and crispy shreds of carrot, and the creamiest polenta - crowned with a runny quail egg, which took it over the top in a great way.  LOVED!
Any LA food event meant to showcase what the city has to offer would be remiss not to include Korean food.  And the Korean Cultural Center was there to represent, with a delicious Bibimbap served up by a friendly couple dressed in traditional garb.












At the next table over, Beseju and Koonsoondang sampled rice wines, including raspberry and ginseng-infused ones.  The latter had a very pronounced ginseng flavor, which I thought I could use to justify daily dosage, with its 'health benefits' (it tastes healthy, at least!) - but of the two, I preferred the sweeter raspberry one.  Though market fresh cocktails are still more my thing than either wines or rice wines.

Kate Mantilini confusingly brought an ethnic street food  - I've always thought of the restaurant - founded by the family who originated Hamburger Hamlet - as serving modern American fare / elevated American comfort food, so the Lamb Lollipops with Curry Dip kind of threw me for a loop.  It was pretty good, but reminded me more of middle eastern street food than what I would intuitively associate with Kate Mantilini.
The other sample from Kate Mantilini was more 'on brand', a white chicken and bean chili that was delicious even for someone who doesn't normally like chicken anything.


Angelini Osteria served up a Spinach Lasagna, topped with fried spinach for textural contrast. 







I was excited to try Pitfire Pizza's Heirloom Tomato Pizza - it looked gorgeous, tasted fresh from the oven - and there's a location fairly close to my office!  The sample had a great balance of flavors, and the tomatoes tasted at peak ripeness.  Definitely going to stop by for lunch one day.
Terroni was also on hand at the event with fresh-made pastas, again made right at their booth.  I was too full to fill up on carbs, and skipped since I had been able to try their samples at the Food Noir event.  But did look longingly at the fresh made Spaghetti, and Tagliatelle with Ragu






Vinoteque on Melrose brought a few tapas style bites.  My favorite was the Roasted Tomato Herbed Cheese Tart.  They also had Key Lime Cheesecake Bites with Toasted Coconut, and Peanut Butter Empanadas with a dollop of Marshmallow Fluff and choice of Chocolate or Strawberry Sauce (I liked the idea of these two, but both needed bolder flavors and the empanada could have had a lighter, crisper, warmer shell). 
Another innovative item from Vinoteque is the Curried Chicken Pot Pie Bites with Carrot Puree.  This one I also liked more in concept than execution - the filling needed to have a stronger presence overall, and the pot pie 'shell' could have more buttery flavor and be a bit lighter - as it was, its blandness overwhelmed the 'bite', versus being something to complement and enhance the would-have-been 'exotic' spicy filling. 


Clementine featured a Summer Fruit Crisp filled with peach and rhubarb, topped with a dollop of mascarpone.  These were in adorable, perfect bite-sized little tin cups - loved!  They also apparently had Sloppy Joes, which we missed and didn't get to taste.
Richard Ruskell Pastries of Montage of Beverly Hills brought a huge spread of different cookies, including ginger snaps, various sable cookies, classic chocolate chip, and oatmeal fruit bars.  Loved every single one.  And the best part?  They served Iced Chocolate with the cookies, which was so thick and creamy it could have been a shot of milkshake.  Delicious, and refreshing - wish I could have gotten more!
B Sweet brought an array of baby cupcakes including a bacon chocolate one that had a slice of bacon poking out of the middle.  I wanted more salty lardon flavors in that cupcake, but heard that the matcha green cupcake was fantastic.

Other desserts included RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen's Ovaltine Shaved Ice.  I grew up with and love Ovaltine, but not a big fan of shaved ice (don't see the appeal, it's...frozen water with flavoring poured over it...?) so not the best person to comment on the piece - but kudos for originality in using Ovaltine. Green & Black's Organic was also on hand to sample their chocolates. 

In terms of cocktails, I loved the refreshing Goslings' Dark and Stormy again (first tasted at Taco Tequila Tryst) and YES vodka's Bloody Mary (though not as much as Avion's Bloody Maria).

And thus ended Day 4 of the marathon! Total run time: 4 hours. 

Overall, The Taste was an unforgettable series, and I came out of it with a new record for new experiences of LA food/wine/cocktail purveyors (who were new to me anyway) on consecutive days, great memories, and awesome new foodie friends.

If I hadn't gotten the press pass, would I pay $125-$150 per person per event?  As a foodie on a budget, I would say I would have definitely taken advantage of the 40% off offers - and chosen 1-2 events very carefully based on participating restaurants and format (with the benefit of having experienced 7 of 9 events, I would say the best value in my opinion were Secrets of the Kitchen & Cellar, Picnic in the Hills and Fashion Bites Brunch).  Overall, I enjoyed the 'city-wide' series - though if I was paying admission again would have rather had a consolidated 1-2 Grand Tasting events (a la Pebble Beach) where I could maximize experience of different restaurant/wine/cocktail offerings - but I do see how this format offers more varied themes and groupings for people to 'choose their own adventure'. 

[For more photos from these events, check out The Taste photo album on my Facebook page!]

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Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste 2011
Picnic in the Hills (9/5 12-4pm): 9900 Wilshire Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90210

$150 pp (Children 14 and under free)

Website: events.latimes.com/taste      
Twitter: twitter.com/TheTasteLA

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