Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Vampires / Colds Beware: Garlic Fair at Chaya Venice

Venice is a neighborhood that prides itself on creativity.  So to keep things fresh, longstanding neighborhood staple Chaya features rotating menus focused on a key ingredient, for an entire month. There was the Venison fair. And now, this August: garlic, which surprisingly is their most popular theme ingredient.

To kick off the evening, there were the garlic cocktails: Bacon Clove Jim Beam, bacon renderings, maple simpler syrup, muddled maple-marinated garlic clove, which was a bit too strong for me, and the Devilish Mary, a fun, light and surprisingly refreshing take on the bloody mary with Casamigos Blanco tequila, orange and lime marinated garlic, Chaya Bloody Mary mix, blood orange juice, and lime juice.  Love the pickled clove and veggies for garnish as well.

Then came the Bagna Cauda, a 'hot bath' of whole garlic cloves in olive oil, cooked to such a lovely tenderness that it spreads easily on the grilled bread.
A creature made to pair with garlic, escargot had to be our next course.  The double-down earthy dish was deliciously bold flavored and the snail was perfectly cooked for a robust, chewy consistency that is still juicy and soft.
The Spicy Garlic Seafood "Tan Tan" Soup with garlic and miso-based broth, black noodle, calamari, shrimp, mussel and manila clam brought to mind a cioppino, but fused with asian flavors for an umami that made me want more as soon as I was done chugging the broth like it came in a shot glass.

In another Asian-inspired dish, the Australia Wagyu Beef with Garlic Rice arrived in a bento box, with garlic and Korean BBQ marinade, over garlic kimchi rice.

The Crispy Branzino was not the first choice at our table of more adventurous foodies, but as we wanted to have enough variety so that we can sample more of the entrees - I went for that safe, reliable branzino.  Was so happy we did, as the fish was beautifully cooked, the meat so tender, flaky, juicy and flavorful it tasted like Cantonese style steamed fish - except with skillfully crisped skin on top that serves as nice contrast and highlights the texture of the fish below all the more.


For the grand finale, we also had the 40-Clove Grilled Rib-eye with garlic au jus, roasted garlic, garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli.

If you love garlic, and steak - this one's for you.

All in all, everything on the menu we tried was tasty, and though you might not want to book a first date here unless you have some killer breath spray in your bag (and in fact the manager did joke at the start of the meal that they did prep some mouthwash in the restrooms!) - it's a great spot for friends or that 50th date with the person who is willing to demonstrate that they are really in it for the long haul, by sharing 40+ cloves of garlic with you.

Love that this meal is good for you too (in foodie terms anyway!):  garlic is supposed to have antioxidant, antifiungal, antimicrobial etc. properties that are good for your immune system as well.

After dinner, a bit of mint tea is definitely in order.  Chaya also offers dessert in the form of a frozen cocktail popsicle (Spiked Frutas Popsicle) made with garlic and jalapeno infused Casamigos Reposado tequila, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, fresh squeezed lime juice with Tajin seasoning. As a fan of a bit of heat in my drink, this kicked it up a notch in popsicle form so you get the 'fire and ice' on multiple levels.  Creative way to cap a fun night out.

The Garlic Fair just runs til the end of this month - catch it if you can.

*Disclaimer: This meal was hosted.

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Chaya Venice
110 Navy St Venice, CA 90291
Ph: 310.396.1179

Garlic Fair drinks and exclusive dishes offered through August 31st, dinner only.

Parking: validated parking in attached structure

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Channel Your Inner Katniss / Geena Davis FREE Saturdays with Pasadena Roving Archers

Saturday and Sunday mornings are sacred.  Usually for Ultimate Non-Morning People like yours truly, it's dedicated to catching up on sleep sorely missed during the hectic work week.

But, some things are worth the sacrifice - mostly involving my favorite four letter words: food and free.  Occasionally, I will make another exception for 'adventure'.

When I first heard about Pasadena Roving Archers (from a fellow diner at Petit Trois) - a volunteer group who offered lessons, including all equipment on loan, for free every Saturday morning, I thought it was too good to be true.

Being both a Geena Davis (fascinated by her achievement beyond acting - a Mensa member, gender in media activist, and Olympic semi-finalist in archery!) and the more obvious Hunger Game fan - I was excited to go check this out with fellow foodie and (way more of an) adventure-lover @jennybawel

Lessons start at 8:30am, but since it's free and space is limited, we heeded others' warnings to get there early - arriving at 7am to stand in line.

Around 8am, they started processing people in small groups of about 7-8. First, we had to sign the requisite waivers.

Then they test for participants' dominant eye before fitting us for equipment.  Apparently, your 'dominant eye' is the one you use to aim - and that has no correlation to whether you are right or left handed.  They test for this by having us hold our palms up and out, thumb and index fingers crossed to form a triangular 'hole', held up to our faces and looking through at the coordinator.  The coordinator then calls out whether each of us are right or left eye dominant, and hands us a red or white casino-style chip accordingly.

We then head to the equipment line, where we are fitted with:
  • A small piece of leather with rope (this is for your string pulling hand, to prevent your fingers from getting worn down)
  • A padded arm guard, to prevent the bow / string from banging against your arm/elbow
  • A quiver to carry your arrows around
  • Four arrows (not the sharp, speared head kind intended to do damage - they're round tips for amateur sport)
  • A bow that has the arrow rest etc. set up on the side that corresponds to your dominant eye, per your earlier test!
A verbal overview is given so we knew what to expect from our time there.

Apparently the Lower Arroya Seco Park range has 28 targets, set up 'like a golf course'.  The PRA has spread their passion for the sport from this venue since 1935! For the beginner's session, team leaders take their small groups and stay at one station to teach and let us practice.

Our instructor was super patient and informative - after running through basics on parts of the bow and arrow and of course safety rules, we were taught to line our arrows up, aim, and let 'em fly! (Before arriving at the course, I was apprehensive about having such poor aim that I could possibly injure people far off from target - but the boards are pinned on hay bales set with their backs to a hill, so there's no chance of mistakenly shooting someone with an arrow!)

We spent about an hour taking turns shooting in breakout groups.  While at first some of us (ok, mostly me) were so off that arrows rebounded off the headboard - over time everyone improved with tips and adjustments from the instructor.

I liked that you didn't need to be athletic to do this - it's more about form, and controlling your movements.  Also, there is a lot of instinct involved as you can't really just aim the arrow straight at bulls eye - no matter what you do it's going to have a slightly curved trajectory, up, then down and over. So you just have to adjust, mainly lower than you'd expect, hold your bow arm steady while you pull the string back with the other, and gently let go - until you get it to land in the right area.  And once you get it, repeat and try to be consistent.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning the first time I actually hit a color on the target board - there was something strangely satisfying about the combination of raw energy, alignment of every part of your body, the visceral connection with your bow, arrow and environment, and the feeling, motion and sound of the arrow cutting precisely and swiftly through the air to penetrate your target.

The thing that I also absolutely loved about the experience with PRA - our instructor, like others in the group, a volunteer there just for the sheer love of the sport and desire to share his enthusiasm for it.  In fact, his whole family is part of the club, and his daughter taught another small group at the station right next to ours! 

After our small group lesson, we were taken to the main range, where first we got to see what it feels like to shoot side by side with other archers from other groups.  Of course there are safety measures in place - everyone stands at a chalk line, and no one is allowed to retrieve arrows until the whistle sounds three times!

Just before we end our session, there is a fun contest where volunteers stuff dollar bills in balloons and attach them to target boards.  Then archers line up in groups and attempt to be the first to pop the balloons.  Winners get to keep the money!  (So proud of @jennybawel for winning one - so she was actually 'up' for the day by a $1, ha!)

The instructors are also great sports about helping us take photos after the session was over.  Once you've completed the early morning intro lesson - they hand you a certification card that allows you to come back at later times for other lessons / practice (at 9:30am on Saturdays) - donation encouraged of $5 which includes equipment on loan!!

The Pasadena Roving Archers are a charity organization and do operate with donations only - so please be sure to contribute what you can into their collection box on the picnic tables afterwards!

For those not willing to get up so early on a Saturday morning, even for this fun free activity - there are other companies / organizations around the city that offer archery classes at later start times, and sometimes at a cost.  I haven't tried any of the other ones yet, but I can confirm that what other reviewers have said about PRA is definitely true - nothing beats learning from people who are just purely passionate about the sport and eager to share it with others.

Thanks PRA for an amazing time - I'm adding you to my list of reasons to love LA - I'll definitely be back soon to practice!!

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Pasadena Roving Archers
Lower Arroyo Seco Park
415 South Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena California

Website: rovingarchers.com

Parking: free in open air lot inside park
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Brew/Well: Case of the Addictive Chocolate Cake and Art of Tea

Ever had a food that you literally dream about, and find yourself steering against that hypnotic voice on your GPS telling you to turn left, when your body knows better than to fight your cravings?

I'd never even been a fan of chocolate cake at all - until I encountered chef John Park's incredible, aptly named 'Recklessly Chocolate' cake at a humble cafe in Koreatown.  A modern, airy, unassuming space attached to a Korean supermarket (Assi) - where you might least expect the tastiest piece of chocolate cake you possibly may ever have in your life.

Yes, that good.

The Recklessly Chocolate cake ($5) is made with a Guinness gel and chocolate glaze, which may only be partly responsible for the crazy addictiveness of this treat - it's also in the super light, yet flavor-packed chocolate mousse.  And ultimately, I love that it's a single layer of (deliciously moist flavor bomb of) devil's food cake in between two layers of chocolate mousse, where most cakes would have the cake to mousse ratio the other way round.

I knew I loved chef Park's ice cream, and now I'd developed an addiction to his chocolate cake, as well. Which unfortunately for this valley dweller is not sold at Quenelle in Burbank.  But it's totally a 'destination' item for me and completely worth the drive - especially when you can have your pick of places to have fantastic dinner beforehand, in the area, as well.  And, I've made it a 'rule of 3' every time I've been back to Brew/Well for that cake - all for me.

So aside from the fantasmagoric cake, Brew/Well serves fresh brewed Art of Tea teas that I love any time of day.


Daytime: iced teas like PJL ($5) passionfruit jasmine tea sweetened with honey and lychee puree, always hits the spot on a blazing summer day.

'Nightcap': their carefully brewed Art of Tea Egyptian Camomile tea ($3) is caffeine free and helps me ease into a restful night of sleep like nothing else can (quality sleep is priceless...)

The serenity of the spacious cafe, with tables as well as limited counter seating, is perfect for a nice afternoon of writing - if only I lived closer!

Need to go back again for my fix soon...

[Deal Alert: get a loyalty stamp card: buy 9 drinks get the 10th one free (up to $4 value)!]

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Brew/Well
3525 W. 8th St., Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90005
Ph: 213.384.0884

Parking: Free in attached open air lot

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