Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hakkasan: Happy Year of the Ram, 90210 Style

I'd always been curious about the global juggernaut restaurant/lounge/nightlife brand that is Hakkasan.  Originating in London, with Singaporean Executive Chef Tong Chee Hwee at the helm, Hakkasan had earned a Michelin-star within a year of opening.

A Chinese New Year menu tasting at Hakkasan's Beverly Hills location gave me the occasion to finally check the place out.

The ultra-lounge ambience has a Chinese flare, with ornate, airy screens inspired by traditional interior design helping to section off tables so that you get a sense of the expansiveness of the place while enjoying a degree of privacy with your dining companions. As a fan and supporter of Chinese 'experience' restaurants - gastronomic temples balancing fine dining traditional / inventive Chinese with modern, chic decor is de rigeur in Hong Kong - the ambiance really does add to your enjoyment of the meal.

Elevated Asian food in experience restaurants is often met with skepticism in the US, and while I had my reservations as well, I tried to keep an open mind.  

From the CNY menu (see full listings at bottom), there was one huge standout for me: the Golden fried sea prawns dish, with red chili and curry leaf. The prawns were the perfect size, with a fragrant spicy-salty crispy crunch yielding to plump and juicy with a pleasant spring: best of all they were heaped with a giant mound of fried egg YOLK wisps, also with just the right amount of heat and umami to make them something you won't be able to stop eating.  I was surprised at how much I loved this dish - If they sold a giant gallon tub of even just those egg yolk wisps, I would happily squirrel and devour them by fistfuls.

Right now this dish is only being offered as part of the CNY menu, but I'm hoping they will decide to add it to the regular a la carte menu - it drew unanimous raves from everyone at our tasting, and is definitely a dish I would come back for.

Here is what the rest of the menu, offered for the next week or so, looks like:


Small Eats
  • Dim sum platter *har gau, scallop shumai, Chinese chive dumpling and black pepper duck dumpling
  • Spicy lamb lupin wrap
  • Golden fried sea prawns with red chili and curry leaf

Main
  • Spicy prawn with lily bulb and almond
  • Stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef with merlot *
  • Grilled Chilean seabass in honey
  • Stir-fry lily bulb and French bean with preserved olive and dry chili
  • Abalone and dry scallop fried rice *

Dessert
  • Kumquat wishing tree

Cost: $138.88, minimum of two people to participate in the menu.

To complete the dining experience, the Kumquat wishing tree dessert consists of two parts: a chocolate kumquat dish with dramatic plating: a tree silhouette is painted in chocolate on the plate, with bright orange bursts of kumquat sorbet accompanying chocolate cake on top.












The second part is a futuristic looking plastic tree hung with edible candied kumquats.  This second tree comes with a red 'wishing slip' that you can write your wish on - a global community element then comes in the form of encouraging guests to share their written wish with others via social media.

Most dishes were tasty, but I did particularly wish for the fried rice to have more 'wok air'.  Even if the dish is meant to be served 'wet' style, the rice should have had more 'fragrance release'.  We did not get to try the dim sum nor the spicy prawn, and I hope to go back soon to check them out and get a more complete picture of Hakkasan's offerings.

In the meantime, here's to wishing everyone a happy Chinese New Year!

*Disclaimer:  This meal was hosted.

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Hakkasan Beverly Hills
233 N Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Ph: 310.888.8661

Website: hakkasan.com

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Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 16, 2015

Kreation Organic: Appropriately Named Amazebowls: Delicious First, Healthy as Beneficial Side Effect

My philosophy has been: what is the point in living, if you're not actually going to live?

I use it shamelessly to indulge in whatever I want, in terms of food, and sometimes in life in general.

We all have a finite time here.  To me, it's pointless to try to do everything you can to prolong life, if my life would consist of abstaining from all that makes life enjoyable, and constraining myself to flavorless dry meat and/or saltless/textureless plants, and sacrificing every free moment I have to be in the gym in endless repetitions of repetitions, day, week, year in and out.

But of course, you still have to do something to enable yourself to keep going, you know, with the indulgence.  System breakdown would not be good either.

So it's fantastic when I come across that rare edible that is tasty FIRST, and healthy as a secondary benefit.

With thankfully tasty cold pressed juice as my 'gateway drug' to healthy alternatives, I was excited to come across Kreation Organic in Toluca Lake recently.

Their tiny storefront is to healthy drinkers / eaters, like a candy store is to sugar addicts.  Not only do they have a big selection of refreshing organic, cold pressed juice blends - some with fun names like 50 Shades of Green - they also have tonics as 'shots' that you can take for various concerns like Sleep or Decongestant (I love that they are labelled for their function, so you can pick up the right 'natural cure' accordingly without holding up the line with a lengthy consultation with the storekeeper).

But, beyond all this, my favorite 'discovery' (that probably everyone who eats healthy has already known about for, forever) is their Amazebowls.  These are so packed with fresh, perfectly ripe fruits and so skillfully balanced with just the right amount of housemade, perfectly crunchy granola - that you forget that they are also the much overused phrase that has become unfortunately 'trendy' and often associated (for people who don't actually have medically diagnosed food allergies) with food-fussiness, and anathema to foodies (who don't have diagnosed food allergies): gluten-free.

The Amazon bowl is my favorite so far:  it's made of blended acai juice, banana, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, almond butter, topped with apple, bee pollen, raw honey, and gluten free granola.  It tastes like a happy, lucky farmer with access to perfectly ripened fruits plucked them from his backyard, put them in a bowl, which he then places under some gorgeous flowers and shook them to dust it with bee pollen, and toasted up some fresh oats to sprinkle on top. 

Açaí, for those unfamiliar, is a berry from a palm tree found in Amazonian rainforests.  It's delicious: a flavor-forward fruit that tastes like blackberries with a hint of raspberry and dark chocolate.  And it's gained fame as a superfood as it's rich with antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids. 

Bee pollen is the second superfood, which adds a clean, lovely crunch to this juicy bowl: it's packed with proteins, free amino acids, and vitamins including B-complex and folic acid.  Apparently if you took some bee pollen and put it next to beef, eggs, or cheese of the same weight, the bee pollen would beat all of those foods in amount of amino acids.
Textures and flavors are well balanced, and at a VERY generous serving that will fill you as either a mid-morning snack or even lunch, at $9.95 (think about how much organic fruit / superfruit you are getting in the bowl for that price!).

And yes, for those who care: there are still a lot of natural fruit sugars - but it's definitely a much better alternative to processed cereals, pastries, energy bars or any foods along those lines that you might have eaten instead.

I love it for being good for me, without me having to 'give up' anything.  I actually find myself craving the Amazon Amazebowl, and have already decided that this will be part of my new routine, after workouts that I enjoy (e.g. BarWorks / Sculptworks), to get my fix at Kreation Organic.

(Juice blends run from $7.95 to $10.95.  They are served in glass bottles, which you can return for $1 back: better for your wallet, better for the environment.  #Good)

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Kreation Organic 
10115 Riverside Dr., Los Angeles, CA 91602
Ph: 818.761.1348

(Many other locations including Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica,Venice..see website for more info)
Website: kreationjuice.com
Twitter: @kreationjuice  

Kreation Kafe on Urbanspoon 

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Monday, January 19, 2015

dineLA Winter 2015: Acabar

For food lovers who overindulged over the holidays budget-wise (good eats, you can never have too much of) - dineLA's winter edition has rolled around again to save the day.

If you haven't experienced it already, prix fixe menus are offered at reasonable prices at some of the most popular restaurants around the city, starting today January 19th and running through February 1st.  This year the price tiers are: Lunch: $15, $20, $25 and Dinner: $30, $40, $50.

I was excited to be invited to preview dineLA dinner offerings from Acabar in Hollywood.  This is the sort of 'whole package' restaurant that gets foodies / cocktail enthusiasts / fans of a great night out watching the clock all day counting down to 'GO time'.

The gorgeous, palatial Moroccan decor in itself makes for a great conversation starter from the moment you set foot inside the iconic doors. I'd been a fan of the space before Acabar arrived - back when it was Dar Maghreb and belly dancers were a part of the evening's entertainment.  Acabar brought a more elevated, modern, sexy vibe - a darker den that teases with a glimmering possibility of debauchery (at least of the culinary sort).  On the night of our visit, the opening act was a performance with a scantily-clad dancer sporting giant butterfly wings...(sorry, it was too dArK to capture video!)

Cocktails are not part of the dineLA menu, but the beautiful bar / lounge is definitely a place to make a pit stop on your way to the dining area - especially with a program run by Josh Goldman and Julian Cox. We got to check out a few of the latest concoctions, and a unanimous favorite that night for the fun factor as well as taste was the Zombie.  Made with El Dorado 8 year, lemon hart 151, lime, grapefruit, falernum and pomegranate - topped with a half-lime which is then set on fire: its flames made to dance with a dramatic aerial blast of salt (?) from the mágos-bartender. (At some point I need to write about the ever mesmerizing cocktails on fire...)

In line with the setting, Acabar's regular menu you would expect to be Mediterranean inspired, but really with a more-than-generous dash of 'anything goes'.  While dineLA for many restaurants can be about broad appeal and attracting potential new customers with the safe and just slightly different items - Acabar's event menu thankfully lets its personality belly up to foodies as well.

We got to try every item on the dineLA menu - but these were my favorites:

First course: Beef Carpaccio with bone marrow + black truffle arancini, crispy pulled beef, pickled radish and horseradish.  

Loved the plating, but this one is not just looks.  Tender slices of marbled beef were brilliant paired with arancini with skillfully crafted crusty shells, that crumble open to reveal a piping hot bone marrow and truffle center for super aromatic, 'meat butter' smooth bites. Pink petals of pickled radish added acidity to balance all the richness of other ingredients on the plate.

The kanpachi crudo option is fantastic as well, fresh, fresh fish with nicely balanced sides - that would be a great choice for non-meat eaters and seafood lovers alike.

Second course: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with hen of the woods mushroom, red cow parmesan, and brown butter.

I normally would not opt for the all veggie dish - especially in a prix fixe situation - but it's hard to resist hen of the woods when you see it on the menu. This was a lovely entree with toothsome bites of gnocchi with the slightest hint of sweet, and rich, lightly crisped hen of the wood mushrooms so earthy and robust that it made me not miss the protein.

The scallops and braised short rib are solid options, but not the most memorable - for those looking for something more unique, they would find it with the sweet potato gnocchi.

Third course: Parsnip Split with creme fraiche cremeux, parsnip ice cream, chiffon cake, milk crisp

I have to say this was the first time I believe I'd ever encountered parsnip as the key ingredient in a dessert.  Tasting this made me wonder why I haven't seen it used any place else???  Perhaps I'm ever biased to savory flavors in the course that is expected to be sweet, but I really loved the balance of flavor and textures in this dessert - and would have brought a bag of those airy crunchy delicious milk crisps home with me if I could!

The other dessert options on the dineLA menu are tasty as well: the coconut coulant was like a very robust custard with a flavor that reminded me of the 'coconut milk pudding' that you'd normally see in Cantonese restaurants for OG dim sum.  The Gimme S'more dessert would appeal to chocolate fans.  But neither come close to the Parsnip as far as I was concerned.

And for the grand finale that had my heart at first sight: foie gras macarons.  Foie. Gras. mAcArOnS.  A tray of them.  A perfect celebration of the return of one of my favorite foods ever - now legal to serve, but still generously given freely as a mignardise at the end of this media preview.  The luscious liver flavored filling may not be for everyone - but to the foie lovers out there - BLISS.  I'm currently confirming with the team whether this is actually offered during dineLA or if it was a one-time treat for the preview event...stay tuned.

In any case, the three course menu was fantastic - and a good way to 'taste drive' the restaurant.

[If you have the stomach space for it - check out their oyster selection too - the last time I was there (not during dineLA) they served my fav, Shigokus!]

Kudos to Acabar for stepping it up for dineLA!


*Disclaimer:  this meal was hosted.


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Acabar
1510 N Stanley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046
T: 323.876.1400

Parking: Valet or street

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