Monday, November 28, 2011

Save the Date: Artisanal LA Holiday Pop-Up Shop Sunday December 11th!

Artisanal LA, or pop-up mecca for those who love edible local, sustainable, handmade goods, is back with their one-day only holiday shop!

Past shows have revealed such gems as bacon chutney, bacon flavored corn nuts, fig and port butter, handmade local kumquat preserves, foraged fruit tarts, flavored handcrafted marshmallows, and more deliciousness!

This year's pop-up will be happening Sunday, 12/11 10am-6pm at the location that just got announced:

Armory Center for the Arts
145 North Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, California 91103

Yes, it's in the dreaded Pasadena - but based on how great past Artisanal LA shows have been (see my recaps for Fall 2010, Holiday 2010 and Spring 2011 shows) this is one of the only events / reasons that will get me out to that part of town. Plus, tickets are only $5 each and includes hosted drinks, craft beer and organic spirits tasting, and fun workshops (past shows featured mixology by Matt Biancaniello of Library Bar, and whole-hog butchery by Lindy & Grundy).  Also, first 500 pre-sale ticket purchasers get a free tote bag!!!!! 

Locavores, food lovers, holiday shoppers, artisan / small business supporters - ready, set, mark your calendars!

(Ready to buy tickets? Get 'em from Eventbrite here)

Yak and Yeti: Tara's Himalayan / Big Foot West Adventure

One of the most amazing things about LA is that almost anything you want to do, is available to be done.  This is especially true of the dining arena - in the city, you can pretty much get any cuisine you want, (with few exceptions for specialized regional fare).  Even Nepalese /Tibetan. Last week, The Nomlog and I decided the best cure for a weekday is a culinary getaway - to the Himalayas via Palms by way of an unassuming restaurant on Venice Blvd, just downwind of Culver City.

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine is one of only two known Nepalese/Tibetan restaurants in LA (the other is in Pasadena, a city that to me represents a relative culinary wasteland offering  more trouble - especially with parking - than it's worth - so I wasn't about to go there even if the cuisine seemed to promise adventure). 

Tara's looked to offer authentic Nepalese / Tibetan dishes. Also, I was inspired by the story of owner Tara Gurung Black, who grew up in a tiny mountain village in Nepal (who we learned had escaped from an arranged marriage in her early teens) came to America on her own, assimilated, and eventually opened the restaurant to introduce a taste of her culture to LA, and later to raise funds to send home to a local school in her village that had fallen into disrepair.  She wanted kids from her village to be educated, empowering them as agents for positive change while not losing their heritage.
From the outside, on a fairly deserted stretch of Venice Blvd - the restaurant with its simple front patio doesn't look like much, but once inside, you can feel firsthand the pride Tara takes in her culture, through the small but cozy space adorned with colorful embroidery, lanterns, paintings and ornaments from Nepal.

We kicked off our meal with a cup of Himalayan Hot Tea ($3) made with cooked milk, ginger and Himalayan herbs.  It reminded me of chai but less in- your-face, spice that's got a calm presence - definitely hit the spot on that cold night (and cheers to free refills!)

Excited to try the food (Nepali cuisine has a lot of Indian and Chinese influence, so the menu had a lot of familiar terms like tandoori, masala, naan and their staple 'momo' are similar to Chinese dumplings/potstickers) - The Nomster and I decided to go with the two dishes that featured Yak meat, which neither of us had ever had (we're somehow always drawn to the unusual!).
The first was Sherpa Stew (with added Yak and noodles)This turned out to be more of the consistency of a noodle soup than stew - with a tomato based broth flavored with "Himalayan spices" and herbs.  Then the moment of truth - there were a few pieces of Yak meat mixed in - and they were tender, juicy, dark and flavorful.  It's sweeter than beef and in slices that were light in weight but dark, almost black, in color.  As for the noodles, I was joking with The Nomster that I didn't know Tibetans were into spaghetti, when Tara walked by and confirmed that those were in fact spaghetti noodles!  There just isn't time to do handpull noodles the traditional way, so they chose the next closest substitute. 
We were a bit disappointed not to get to try it the authentic way, but enjoyed the flavors and the hot soup on a cold night well enough.

Photo: Mahatma4711

So what are Yaks, and why Yak meat?

Yaks are cattle animals bred by ancient Himalayan tribes as a beast of burden as well as for their rich milk, wool, hides, horns, and of course, meat.
In looks, Yaks resemble bison / cattle - they have handlebar horns, large shoulder humps, horse-like tails and long hair that hang down close to the ground.

Yak meat is red, lighter than beef, juicier than buffalo and elk, and not greasy (it's apparently a lean, low fat and low cholesterol, high protein meat, for those who care about that stuff ;P).
Our second Yak dish was Tara's signature dish: Yak Chili  ($11.99) which is also not as you would expect - say the word 'chili' and you automatically think thick, meaty stew with spices for heat, and possibly beans and cheese.  In this case, chili refers to the peppers that are used when sauteeing the Yak meat,along with broccolli, onions, tomato.

We could taste the yak a lot better than the smaller pieces in the Sherpa Stew - they were juicy but a bit rougher in texture than beef and again has a naturally sweet taste.  The closest thing I can think of that would be familiar to most people would be Mongolian beef, but with a much rougher surface.  Not bad, not sure that I would crave it but glad we got to try!

For a token veggie dish, we had the Eggplant Curry with fresh sliced eggplant, ginger, garlic and fresh tomatoes. ($7.99).  I prefer my eggplant structured with skin that isn't tough, so this dish wasn't a favorite - the eggplant was cooked thoroughly and falls apart both on contact with your utensils and melts away in your mouth, yet the skin is still sort of stiff and not that chewable.

All in all, glad we got the Himalayan experience, on our little pretend-Travel Channel-episode without ever leaving town.  It was worth trying at least once - and you can feel good about 10% of the profits from your meal going to support the Nepali school.  And happy to have met Tara, an incredible, generous and positively beaming personality whose passion for her country and culture is clear and inspiring.

In keeping with the Nepalese theme, after dinner we walked overto Big Foot West, just a few doors down, for drinks.  So Big Foot is not exactly the Yeti, but pretty much the American equivalent (did Tara's and Big Foot West plan to be so close to each other?)

This is another hidden gem of a neighborhood bar (design-wise), on the same relatively deserted stretch of Venice Blvd.  The concept is sort of mountain cabin, complete with walls built of 'Lincoln logs' and a central bar topped by overhead display crafted from cross sections of small tree trunks.

Despite the cool design, it's a pretty laid back and scene-free bar where you can come as you are - and be just as comfortable in your smart casual work clothes or in the cliched flannel shirt and jeans.

My friend 'Designer' introduced me to this bar a while back, and they used to have a specialty drink called Horny Goat that is $25 and made of un-nameables, that sat in a giant biology class style jar at the bar, and is supposed to aid your libido.  We never got to try it, and now it's gone, like so many creatures of legend. 

So, I ordered a Flower of New Orleans ($12), made of gin, yellow chartreuse, elderflower liquer and lemon juice.  I think Matt Biancaniello ruined me for cocktails not made farm-to-glass with incredible creativity: I found the Flower of New Orleans way too sweet and syrupy, but one thing that is NOT subjective, is the size of the glass (I don't know my metric measurements, but it was only about 3 mouthfuls of liquid in a small cocktail glass for $12, when Matt's crazy creative drinks at Library Bar are full-sized, sometimes in margarita or pint glasses, at $16).  Also, service was pretty abominable (yes, pun intended) - it took 10 minutes for the bartender to take my order, then another half hour to get my drink (he said he couldn't find me, but um, it's a small bar and I just moved over to a barstool that freed up a few steps down).

So, would I recommend Big Foot West?  ONLY for Happy Hour (see deal alert below) AND only if you're already in the area, like within walking distance (would not be worth a drive, in my opinion), AND you're not in a rush.

[Deal alert: $5 Happy Hour daily 5pm-9pm. Also sighted at Big Foot West: Whisky lovers night Mondays $4 Buffalo Trace, $5 Russell's rye]

All in all, though we may not have had summit-like highs taste-wise with either venue, we had a fun time trying something new and different (and yes, yakking up a storm - I know, *groan*, had to do it). 

Chalking this Yak + Yeti trip up for another Nomster / 1MB adventure!  Can't wait to see what we come up with next...


Tara's Himalayan
10855 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Ph: 310.836.9696

Big Foot West
10939 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
Ph: 310.287.2200


Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Bites: 10 Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Foodie under $80

It's the day after Thanksgiving - have you started your holiday shopping yet? (Semi-sarcastic) Retailers seem to push the holidays upon us earlier and earlier each year.  This year there were tree-lightings at outdoor malls in LA before we so much as started to think about Thankksgiving! 

And now Black Friday is here.  And I am afterall a big fan of thoughtful gifts (that is the whole point, right?) so I do tend to look way ahead of time.  So here's a head start on some fun gift ideas for your favorite food-loving friend/family member/lucky secret santa target.  The natural thing to give to a gourmand would be something edible, I know - but I wanted to start off with items that make more lasting/memorable gifts.  Where there are deals, or high/low cost options, I have noted them below.  Look out for a separate post on edible gift ideas.

1. Play with your food: Molecular Cuisine Starter Kit
Know someone who's always wanted to try their hand at molecular gastronomy but can't afford to take out a second mortgage to get the gear?

This kit lets the amateur spherify, gelify and emulsify their way to creative dishes that will at the very least be great conversation pieces. Make spaghetti from tomato soup or arugula; caviar from fruit-juice; foam, gels, creams...

Kit includes DVD that walks you through recipes with helpful videos - because not everyone was born with mad molecular gastronomy skills like Michael Voltaggio.

So go ahead, give the gift of playing with food: Molecular Cuisine Starter Kit   $79.99

[Deal alert: $10 Off Orders $60+ - use code "SUPERSECRET123"]

2. Feast your eyes on this: Food Landscapes by Carl Warner

Carl Warner is a London-based photographer who creates unique works of art with food - fantasy landscapes made with vegetables, herbs etc.  Some of these are inspired by iconic cityscapes (e.g. London Bridge with asparagus and crackers), and some are purely from his imagination.  Fans of food+art will appreciate and be inspired by the gorgeous collection.
Food Landscapes Hardcover book ($22.50 SRP)

Meh acquaintances:
2012 Calendar ($13.99 SRP)

3. Hands Off My Cookie Jar: Verdant Canister

This Italian ceramic jar is a gorgeous piece for any kitchen - and the olive wood lid can double as a serving tray!  And as a bonus, it's dishwasher safe which makes it much more convenient to use.

For a personal touch, fill it with homemade cookies and include your recipe with the card. 

Buy from: Anthropologie $78

4. Form & Function: Himalayan Salt Plate
These are not just gorgeous to look at - they have style and substance.  The salt’s crystal structure makes it good at holding any temperature you bring it to for a while. And its non-porous / dry composition allows them to be safely heated or chilled to virtually any extreme (other companies have tested theirs from 0°F to 900°F). This means you can cook and serve on these plates - from searing/sauteing steak/scallops to serving sushi. When used hot, the plate also adds a mineraly saltiness to the food while it cooks!

Love 'em:
Buy from: Oliana Oil $59.95

Meh acquaintance:
Buy from: Oliana Oil $18.95

5. Brilliant Scents - Vanilla & Fig Illume Candles
Candles with scents inspired by kitchen finds - like Vanilla & Fig - will have your rooms smelling like something fantastic is in the oven!

Buy from: Anthropologie $16

6. For the Home: K Hall Designs Reed Diffuser - Fig 
K. Hall reed diffusers smell amazing and draws from scents that will appeal to foodies.  My personal fav is Fig, which looks like it's unfortunately discontinued, but there are many others in her line that are fantastic.

[Deal alert: 15% off all items at Monarch's Heaven until midnight Sat 11/26 - use code "BlackFriday"]

Buy from: Gifts That Give $46

7. Happy Tea Hour: Tea Forte Mixology Kit

Get your daily dose of antioxidants with Happy Hour...

Tea Forté is known for its gourmet whole-leaf teas and elegant, pyramid-shaped silken infusers. Now you can use them for your cocktails as well!

The kit comes with flavored tea infusers, glass infusion chambers and recipes.  To mix up unique cocktails such as martini with white tea and lavendar, or mojito with lemograss and spearmint, just place an infuser into one of the chambers, pour alcohol over it, then wait as tea flavors release. Just add remaining cocktail ingredients and you're good to go.  Fun for the amateur mixologist who wants to mix up a unique cocktail!

Buy from:  $24 for starter set (Love 'em? Get them the supplemental box of 40 teas for an additional $42 - which would still keep your total under $80)

8. Shaken, Not Stirred: Martini Travel Bar Set in Case

Shaken or stirred, this dapper, locking, travel-ready Martini bar set has the essentials for serving up Martinis whenever and wherever the mood strikes.

Buy from: Kegworks $59.95

9. Serious Tea on the Go: Yixing Tea Tumblers
For serious tea drinkers and travellers / on a time crunch - this mixes thousands of years of Asian tea tradition with modern day convenience:  stainless steel exterior with Yixing interior (clay used in traditional tea service pots which absorb tea flavors over time). Comes with removable stainless steel strainer so you can brew loose leaf teas on the go.  Only drawback is that it's handwash only - NOT microwave nor dishwasher safe.

Buy from: Teavana $29.95

10. Beauty Buff - Skincare That Smells Good Enough to Eat: Eminence Organics
Eminence Organic Skincare products are made in Hungary using all organic ingredients that smell amazing.  This little starter gift set includes a 4oz Cranberry Pomegranate Sugar Scrub, 2oz Naseberry Cranberry Body Wash, 2 oz Naseberry Body Lotion and a loofah in reuseable spa bag.

Buy from:  $49


Ok, this is kind of a bonus one beyond the main 10 gift ideas.  Just because they are that delicious.

Ganache for Lips chocolate hazelnut lip balm 
Buy from: Surfas or Au Marche $3.80

Gift set of 4 'Chocolate Parfait' flavors
Buy from: Beauty Habit $18

This is just a start.  Got any cool gift suggestions? Send 'em my way or post in the comments!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings and Sweepstakes 11/24/11

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

Happy grazing!

  • send FREE $10 eGift Cards to up to 40 different friends every day 'til Christmas! (That they can use on participating restaurants - in LA, the list includes Obika Mozzarella Bar and Fu Rai Bo!)
  • Savored pay $2 to get 30% off your bill at top restaurants through Sunday 11/27 (normally would cost $10 to purchase discount) - participating restaurants listed include Bar Marmont, The Tar Pit, Campanile, Josie and Henry's Hat.
  • Lexington Social House $85 for $165 4-courses + cocktails for two people or $150 for $300 3-courses + drinks for four people.  Deal at Bloomspot (ends in ~2 days)
  • SQIRL 4 new products plus use discount code "SQIRLAWAY" for 25% off your entire order (Until 12:00am 11/29)
  • Small Business Saturday 11/26 Support small business! Get a one-time $25 statement credit when you register an eligible American Express card and use it for a purchase of $25 or more at a small business on November 26th.
  • Magazines $18 for 3 one-year subscriptions - take your pick from list of titles that include Bon Appetit, Los Angeles Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler.
  • Craft1933 ONEHopeWine 40% off retail price of select wines and free shipping until 11:59pm PT
  • GiltTaste - discounts off select items - the biggest one is a Spanish Mangalitsa Ham 13lbs bone-in with Carving Stand at $200 off!!! (I still can't afford it, but great deal for those who can...)
  • Anthropologie - 50% all sale items 6am-11am local time online and in-stores Nov 25th only
  • Sur La Table - Black Friday specials 5 day sale
  • Macy's - Extra 15% off plus free shipping online.  Use code: GOBBLE
  • BlueFly - Extra 20% off - for up to total of 75% off designer fashion and accessories (no code needed) and free shipping with purchase $100+
  • Expedia - travel deals up to 50% off hotels, cruises, flights, vacation packages til Nov 28.  Travel by 3/31/12
  • Barnes & Noble - save extra 30% off one item online or in-store with coupon (expires Nov 27)
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.


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!

Picca Peru - The Case of The Mystery Meat

I'm going to completely date myself here, but as a kid, while most of my friends were obsessed with Sweet Valley High - I had maxed out my quota at the local public library with books from the Choose Your Own Adventure and Nancy Drew series (which succeeded Encyclopedia Brown).

I loved the interactivity of these books, where you have to pick up clues along the way to help you arrive at the right conclusion (solve the mystery! save the day! get to the happy ending!).  My OCD apparently developed early as well - with the CYOA books, I would go back and follow every path in the decision tree so I can see all the possible scenarios, and see how my original decisions stacked against other options.  I would keep a post-it on the figurative 'fork in the road' (yes, post-its had been invented by then, I am not that old, dammit...), go down one path, and flip back to find out where the other fork led.  I loved Encylopedia Brown, with its charming 'neighborhood mysteries' - and maybe partly because a lot of times, he helped his dad, the chief of police, solve his harder cases while at the dinner table.  That set the scene for two of my biggest loves in life.

So it was, that when one of the hottest chefs from one of the hottest restaurants in LA sent out an invite for a 'Mystery Meat Dinner', there was no way in the world I would miss it.  Even if the term for most people, and if issued by lesser venues, would elicit fear and thoughts of culinary Russian Roulette.  Even if it was, very literally, a dark, stormy and ominous night.  And no one I knew wanted to leave their house.  Even if I'm not a big meat eater (much prefer seafood). I love mysteries, I love surprises when it comes to food, and I grew up eating almost everything and will try almost anything once (bird spit? good for your skin. cow spinal cord? love it like a tougher savory marshmallow).  And it was 6-courses for the very reasonable price of $50.  So, I had no choice but to get myself to Picca Peru for their one-night only event.

After managing the trek from the Valley to Beverlywood without getting in any accidents, and settling in to the upstairs mezzanine space (great for people watching), I thought I deserved to reward myself by kicking off the meal with a cocktail. 

Everything on mixologist Julian Cox's menu looked good, but I decided to go with the one recommended by our server: Zarate's Tomahawk #15 ($12) with rocoto infused mezcal, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar, fresh huacatay, cucumber foam.

I don't normally like mezcal (too smoky, tastes like liquid cigar) but liked that there were unfamiliar elements in this drink, and was reassured that it would be well balanced with the refreshing citrus, agave, huacatay (Andean mint-like herb) and cucumber - and she was right.  The rocoto (pepper) infusion gave the drink subtle heat, cooled off by the frothy cucumber foam.  Off to a great start.

This would have been the point in a meal where guests would usually have been offered food menus, if not before.  Instead came the plates of mystery meat (with a promise that we will get the menu after dinner, for the big 'reveal'). It was so much fun to try to guess what each course was as they came.  Play along with me as I relive the meal...

Course #1 

What I tasted/guessed:
White or red: White meat
Consistency - smooth, juicy, not too fibrous.  This made me think maybe quail, but...
Other clues: telltale skinny bones were not there, and the meat was a bit too light in color to be quail. There was some sort of unfamiliar cartilage that wasn't consistent with quail bone structure...

It couldn't possibly be chicken, could it? Has to be quail, I deduced - maybe some part of it I hadn't eaten before.

What it was: Culito de Pollo a La Brasa huancaina rustica, beet salad

Foiled! Brilliant to serve up the most common of fowl as the first course, just when people were expecting the exotic, to keep us guessing.  Yeah it was chicken, even though it was so juicy (even for dark meat) and smooth, and without that distinct chicken flavor, that I didn't think it was possible.  I stand corrected.  Perhaps it was the pungent herbed crust that masked the chicken taste.  But, the cutesy name 'culito' belies what it truly was - a euphemism for the business end of the hen.  That's what that cartilage was. I had just eaten chicken butt.  Really tasty though, especially paired with the refreshing, clean, beet salad.

Course #2

What I tasted/guessed: 
White or red meat: red
Consistency: on the crostini, the meat was like ground beef, and a little dry; on the risotto, the meat was tender and 'stripped' in long panels, like beef belly - the texture reminded me of the meat some Taiwanese places use in Niu Rou Mian (beef stew noodle soup)
Flavor - kind of gamey...
Other clues: Knowing Alpaca is a Peruvian specialty (llama-like creature), I figured Chef Zarate would use it at some point, and the crostini reminded me of what he sampled at the Los Angeles Food & Wine event last month - which was alpaca.   So I guessed alpaca for the crostini, and beef belly (for a twist from the usual pork belly)

What it was: Alpaca Two Ways alpaca stew, barley risotto and alpaca and chorizo crostini

Should have guessed since they were two presentations on the same plate, that it would be the same meat showcased two ways. Loved both preparations but liked the pairing with the barley risotto slightly more - the rich and creamy carbs went fantastically with the rich flavored, tender meat.

Course #3

What I tasted/guessed:
White or red meat: neither, this looked like offal but probably from a cow
Consistency: a little chewy, and in hefty, wide strands.  Is it offal or is it maybe 'skirt steak skin', super tenderized?
Other clues: has sort of crispy/crunchy exterior from frying, I think.

I couldn't make out what sort of offal this could be!

What it was: Choncholin braised intestine marinated in anticucho sauce, spicy rocoto. 

Really loved this dish, well balanced with the heft of the crispy potato chunks offsetting the slightly crispy, intensely flavorful and slightly chewy intestines. My only note was that the rocoto (orange looking sauce in photo, made of hot peppers) was super spicy and made my eyes water a bit, but that's just me not being able to handle my spice.  Loved the tamale inspired presentation on the corn husk.

Course #4

What I tasted/guessed:
White or red meat: neither, this one was easy to identify and I felt like maybe a 'freebie' from the chef...
Consistency: chewy, would have been rubbery if not well cooked to tenderness; most pieces have honeycomb-like structure
Finally, one that I could feel confident in identifying - I knew this one had to be tripe!

What it was: Cau-cau peruvian potato and tripe stew, jalapeno sarsa, cumin yogurt

Loved this dish - not only were the 'meat' for most of the dishes unfamiliar, the preparations were also a nice surprise.  I've typically had tripe with pho or at dim sum steamed with soy-based sauce. In Picca's preparation the tripe was cooked to perfect tenderness, soft and goes down easy, yet retaining its structure.  Loved that it was served in a rich, flavorful, starchy stew with a refreshing dollop of yogurt to break things up a bit.

Course #5

What I tasted/guessed:
White or red meat: neither, organ meat for sure
Consistency: chewy but still very tender.  My first thought was liver but it didn't have the 'crumbly' quality of cooked liver.  Whichever the organ, it was definitely from a cow, has that distinct beef taste.  Might have guessed heart next since that is a specialty at Picca.

What it was: Chanfainita beef lungs stew, peruvian mote

I thought this was a delicious, hearty stew (especially with the tomato base and giant kernels of Peruvian mote or corn) but that turned out not to be the organ of choice.  It's not the first time I've had lung but I usually have pork lung boiled into Chinese soup and don't actually see or eat the lung.  Foiled on this one!
Course #6

What I tasted:
The last course was dessert, and I was wondering how they would work in a protein.

I saw what looked like a berry sauce (a beautiful deep purple) over a white creamy pudding.  I tasted orbs of berries and lush sauce with carefully controlled sugar so it wasn't overbearingly sweet, and then more orbs of what I can only describe as like large maybe lima or broad beans that added a bit of crunch.  Followed by a massive crunch of something that was sharp and poked at the roof of my mouth.  Which I spat out.  No doubts about it - it was a chocolate cricket.

What it was: Sol Y Sombra rice pudding, mazzamora morada chocolate crickets

I like to think of myself as a pretty adventurous eater, but I draw the line at bugs.  This was the only dish in the meal that inspired true terror in me.  I couldn't even bring myself to take a photo of the half-chewed creature on my plate. *shudder*  Wish we could have ended the meal with something less...jarring.  Everything else in the glass was tasty.  I've never had 'mazzamora morada' before - quick research online shows it's a Peruvian dessert made with purple corn and fruit, thickened into pudding consistency with potato flour or corn starch, spiced with cloves and cinnamon. It did taste like a bit like blackberry pie filling except NOT sickly sugary.  I guess those big crunchy pieces that WEREN'T bugs that I thought were beans were actually giant kernels of corn? 

Cool to have tried this dish, even if I had to turn the plate so that I couldn't see the bug carcass anymore.


So, The Mystery Meat Dinner definitely broadened my horizons...I learned that I definitely don't have what it takes to be a good food detective...But the important thing was that I learned a lot and had one of the most entertaining and delicious meals this year. 

All in all, a fantastically fun concept dinner that I hope will make a regular appearance at Picca.  Maybe with the option to not include creatures that have more than four legs...and that would be the one time I would not go back and explore the other path.


Picca Peru
9575 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035
Ph: 310.277.0133

Parking: Valet $6.50 (there are meters on Pico, but they are really hard to get)

Look for reservations:

Picca Peru on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vosges Boutique - Haut Chocolate for Cold Winter Day

It doesn't very often rain this hard in LA.  Yes, it's November, but we have been spoiled with continuing sunshine for the most part - and until today I haven't had to dig out the old fleece-lined, waterproof, zips up over nose, nearly ready for nuclear winter ski jacket.  Today it poured down so hard I could hardly hear traffic beyond the pounding on my car as I drove; on many streets the backwash from storm drains swallowed sidewalks whole; cars parked by the (now invisible) curb were on the verge of floating away in bumper-height water.    

LA doesn't deal very well with unusual weather conditions.  I don't deal very well with unusually bad weather conditions.  But holing up in my apartment, I knew, would only give me cabin fever.  So I pulled on my ready-for-almost-anything-double-lined ski jacket, my no longer fashionable but perfect for this weather Uggs, and headed out in search of that which makes everything better - even in the dreariest downpour of grey - hot chocolate.

And if I'm going to risk pneumonia and/or a 10-car pile-up, might as well do it for really good hot chocolate. So good it's spelled haut - at the newly opened Vosges boutique, whose owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff was an apprentice at El Bulli.

I first became a fan of Vosges chocolate when I almost literally stumbled onto a display of them around the checkout aisle at Whole Foods 5, 6 years ago - and fell in love with the sweet/savory Mo's Bacon Bar. According to legend (i.e. her bio printed on the back of Vosges chocolate bar boxes and/or on the Vosge site) - Katrina studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before launching on a world tour that started with an apprenticeship with the inimitable Ferran Adriá. Her journey inspired the concept of travelling the world through chocolate, bringing global ingredients to gourmet chocolates with the stated goal to use her creations to raise interest and awareness in different cultures.
Apparently all Vosges boutique locations take inspiration from different cultures as well - and this latest branch in Beverly Hills draws from Moroccan design aesthetics.

The gorgeous yet cozy space has a lofty and elaborately painted ceiling, with ornate white stone arches at each end of the retail area, which is in turn bookended by cafe seating area and counter/kitchen.

The retail area is lined with shelves of gourmet chocolate bars ($7.50 each, buy 5 get 1 free!), truffles as well as fun boxes of chocolate-powered baking mixes like a bacon-chocolate chip pancake mix ($12) and ultimate chocolate chip cookie mix ($18).  They also have a chocolate dipped tortilla chip and chocolate toffees. 

 It's a somewhat interactive experience with bowls of generous samples for select items and bell jars displaying more exotic ingredients in their original form like star anise, curry powder, goji berries etc.
I loved the cafe spaces, with its Moroccan / French flair and delicious sounding blackboard drink and food specials (surprisingly affordable, especially for a Beverly Hills venue!)

There are three hot chocolates ("Chocolat Chaud", $5 each), two of which are more classic: Parisienne (tahitian vanilla and dark chocolate), Aztec Elixir (chili ceylon cinnamon) and a third, which I went for, that is more unique called Bianca (with white chocolate, lavendar and lemon myrtle).

The Chocolat Chaud Bianca was lovely, served steaming hot in a large ceramic bowl, though a bit of an acquired taste - the first sip reminded me a little of lotion due to the floral and citrus notes.  But as the initial disorientation wears off quickly, it's a smooth, nuanced and unique hot chocolate drink. 

(Coffee lovers note they have Blue Bottle drip coffee for $4! Other drinks include gourmet teas and "cocoa water")

I wanted to try their Love Goddess Cake with ancho & chipotle or chillies, with Mo's Bacon chocolate ($6) but unfortunately they did not have it today.  So I went for the Armenian Apricot & Saffron Pot de Creme ($6) - which ended up going perfectly with the hot chocolate, with its well balanced sweet / savory/ tart flavors, and subtle crunch of sugar crust with hefty, juicy pieces of apricot on top.

Here's a shot of their menu so far - I can't wait to go back and try the cake, Saffron & Rose Petal Sugar Cookies ($3) cheese and chocolate plates ($9) and affogato ($4)....

First impressions count, and Vosges was a ray of sunshine on a truly dreary day.  I love initmate and well designed spaces without the pretentiousness, and Vosges (today anyway, all staffers at hand were warm and friendly) - fit that bill.  I could see myself going back to meet up with friends, or on my own, for afternoon tea or dessert, as a pit stop on the way to/from the Beverly Hills Cheese Store :)

[For 25+ photos from my visit, check out the album on my Facebook page]

Have you tried any of their other cafe fare or specialty chocolate items? If so do share in comments below!


Vosges Haut Chocolate - Beverly Hills
311 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Ph: 310.275.3621

Parking: 2 hours free parking at 345 Beverly Dr (between Brighton and Dayton, entrance next to Williams Sonoma store)


Vosges on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes 11/17/11

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

Happy grazing!

  • Lazy Oz Canteen: 30% off lunch or dinner via BlackboardEats (<24hrs left to get free passcode)
  • Rose Restaurant $75 for $160 dinner for two 4-courses, 1 glass of rose wine each (1 day left to buy).  Deal at Travelzoo LA
  • Komida Lunch Box specials 11am-2pm Mon-Fri: 2 tacos with chips, pickled shishito peppers and a soda for $8 (tacos normally $6 each!) 
  • Taste of Pace $42 for $85 3-hour cooking class for seasonal foods using farmers market ingredients (1 day left to buy) Deal at LivingSocial LA
  • Los Angeles Magazine subscription to magazine for just $6 ($12 value) deal at LivingSocial LA (less than 15 hours left to buy)
  • Bouchon's turning 2 years old and celebrating with $2 champagne 11/18/11 (via @Foodfashionista)
  • ONEHOPE Wine $19 for $40 / $35 for $75 to spend on wine for a good cause (ends 11/24/11 8am).  Deal via PopSugar
  • Starbucks Nov 17-20 2-5pm buy one holiday drink, get one of equal or lesser value free!
  • Travel+Leisure Ultimate Getaway Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win your dream vacation worth up to  $25,000 (you get to design your own itinerary!) (ends 1/31/12)  You can enter without signgin up for the free trial issues (and automatic renewal) of the magazine - just be sure to click on the button next to "No" to decline the trial offer. Limit one online and/or text message entry per person and per email address/mobile number per day per internet.  Official rules here
  • Travel Channel Singapore Getaway Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win 7-day trip for two to Singapore, including first-class hotel accommodations, river cruise, and dinner at Ku De Ta at Marina Bay Sands Skypark (ends 11/30/11 11:59pm ET). Official rules here

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.


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!

Save the date: "The Mystery Meat Dinner" at Picca Peru 11/20

I haven't been this intrigued by a dinner invitation in a long time.  Maybe it's the element of surprise, but from one of the top restaurants in LA (there are many places in LA where "mystery meat" would elicit fear rather than excitement - but dinner at Picca would be far from culinary Russian Roulette).

So without further ado, here are the essentials from an email I got from Picca this morning:

What:  "You may have had beef heart, but on Sunday night, get ready to eat your ________ out!

We're thrilled to invite LA's most adventurous eaters to join us a wild dinner of rarely eaten animals, and little known, but very, very delicious animal parts.

Join Chef Ricardo Zarate – if you dare – as he prepares a special, one‐night‐only dinner where what he's serving is a secret. He’s calling it the "Mystery Meat" dinner."

When: Sunday, November 20, 2011 6pm-10:30pm

Where: Picca Peru, 9575 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035 Ph: 310 277 0133

How much: $50 per person (for 6-courses)

Anticipated drool-factor?: 100% I love surprises when it comes to food, and it's especially attractive coming from one of the hottest cuisines / best restaurants in LA.  And at a reasonable price.  This sounds like fun!!

Event site: The Mystery Meat Dinner

For more upcoming food and other fun event finds, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ahn Joo - Bringing Korean 'Seoultown' Snacks to Suburbia

Ahn Joo is the latest success story of passionate food entrepreneurs pulling themselves up by their apron strings (and forward by their gourmet food truck keys) and eventually making it to brick and mortar (I'm still rooting for you to open this week, Coolhaus Culver City!).

Chef Debbie Lee has found a new home in a humble but high traffic kiosk at The Americana at Brand in Glendale (The Grove of the SFV) - a little oasis in the relatively barren (in culinary terms) lands of suburbia. 

The place just opened last Thursday, so I'll save the review for later, but since they haven't posted their menu online yet, thought I'd make myself useful and share a pic of it that I took at lunch today!

 I love the location too, it's right next to the elegant central water fountain in the complex - with patio tables set up for no fuss outdoor dining - perfect for a soul-reviving lunch hour in the sun.  And now we have a gourmet take on Korean 'Seoultown' snack food option for those of us who don't work within lunchtime driving distance of Ktown.

Also, now that the holiday decorations are up (they keep pushing that earlier and earlier, don't they?  It's not even Thanksgiving yet!) it's even more festive and lovely to sit out there (as long as you've got your winter jacket on).

They didn't have Magnolia Chile Chicken Meatballs - which I really wanted to try - when I went, but here is a quick pic of the Bacon Wrapped Rice Cylinders with Jalapeno Ponzu ($5) that I got for lunch.

More pics and review to come.


Ahn Joo
The Americana at Brand
668 American Way, Suite fp5 (in front of Pacific Theaters, next to fountain), Glendale, CA 91210
Ph: 818.242.3793


Thanksgiving Doesn't Mean You Have to Spend All Week in the Kitchen

As my parents live overseas, in Thanksgivings past I have been graciously hosted by families of some amazing friends, who were kind enough to take in a stray for the day.

  Last year was an 'anomaly' - my brother and his wife were in town during the holiday weekend so we ended up going to a splurgey brunch at L'Ermitage that was nothing short of transcendant. (Usually you would think big holidays are the worst time to eat out as chefs are on vacation too - so you get overpriced, subpar quality food - but not at L'Ermitage!) Since then I've been a fan of handing Thanksgiving to the pros. 

My friend 'Lindyhopper's family is taking me in again this year (love them!), but thought I'd share findings for some exciting looking Thanksgiving offerings around town for those who don't want to spend their holiday in the kitchen or travellers who don't just want to eat whatever is in their hotel. Organized by type of experience. These are all under $100 per person, and where there are deals/points to be had I have noted next to each.  Will be adding to this as more enticing menus post.

Modernist Thanksgiving:
The Bazaar by José Andrés
465 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 Ph: 310.246.5555
Prix fixe menu for increments of four people at $65 per person. Includes choice of roasted organic turkey or New Zealand red snapper; all of the following sides: papas canarias, cranberry sauce, grandma's giblets stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes; and choice of dessert TBD. 

Sign up for free membership in SBE Preferred, show your card when you get your bill and the $ you spend on your meal will translate to points towards a gift card redeemable for hotel stays, meals etc. across SBE properties.

Tres by José Andrés
465 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 Ph: 310.246.5551
Holiday Brunch buffet (12pm-9pm), $49pp - they are basically serving their regular brunch menu (which includes 63 degree eggs) but with a Thanksgiving twist; drinks not included. For reference, you can see their regular brunch menu here. Regular Lunch, Tea, and Dinner menus also available.

Sign up for free membership in SBE Preferred, show your card when you get your bill and the $ you spend on your meal will earn you points towards a gift card redeemable for hotel stays, meals etc. across SBE properties.

Duck, Duck, [tastier than, not a] Turkey:
Duck House
501 S. Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754 Ph: (626) 284-3227
Get out of your comfort zone for Thanksgiving - have Peking Duck instead of turkey.  Duck House serves a set menu at just $99 for two people (that's less than $50 each ;)) which is part of their regular menu, and includes Cold Jelly Fish Salad, Whole Abalone w/ Broccoli in Oyster sauce, Peking Duck, Fresh Crab Meats, Gourmet Bamboos and Konnyaku Strips Soup and Crispy Red Bean Cakes for dessert. YUM. They are only open for dinner on Nov. 24.

Vampires Beware:
The Stinking Rose
55 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211 Ph: 310.652.7673
Not for vampires (unless you're the 'new age' Twilight type): their $34.95pp prix fixe dinner is pretty much all about the garlic! The 3-course meal starts with a House Salad, then moves onto a 400 Clove Garlic Roasted Turkey with all the trimmings, and finishes with Pumpkin Pie Ala Mode.  Child's portion of the same menu is $19.95pp. Click for menu. Served all-day - regular menu also available.

Brunch Buffet (aka Get Stuffed the Gourmet Way):
Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills
300 South Doheny Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90048 Ph: 310.860.4000
Brunch buffet (Nov 24 11am-7pm) featuring omelette and waffle stations, eggs benedict, dim sum, sushi, wild mushroom risotto, farmers market fresh veggies, carving station with rosemary honey glazed turkey, and seasonal desserts. $95pp adults; $47pp kids 5-12; free for kids under 4 . Click for menu

Ocean and Vine at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
1700 Ocean Avenue Santa Monica, CA 90401-3233 Ph: 310.576.3180
Champagne Brunch Buffet (Nov 24 11am-4pm) $74/adult, $37/kid Click for menu (looks like a huge and delicious menu including sushi & raw bar, eggs benedict & waffle stations, carving station and long list of desserts)

The Restaurant at L'Ermitage
9291 Burton Way Beverly Hills, CA 90210 Ph: 310.278.3344
Brunch buffet $75pp featuring favorite Thanksgiving dishes.  Add $20 for bottomless bellinis and mimosas! Click for menu (unfortunately this year's menu does not look as spectacular as last year - this year there is no caviar or raw bar station beyond shrimp cocktail)

Patina at Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Drive La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011 Ph: 818.949.4200
Brunch buffet $45pp members, $53pp non-members, $19pp kids 4-12, under 3 years old free (seatings at noon at 2pm) - enjoy fine dining fare in the beautiful Descanso Gardens (price of meal includes admission to gardens, which is normally $8 for adult non-members, $6 for seniors/students, $3 for kids 5-12)
Michelin Caliber:
1104 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401 Ph: 310.395.0881
Celebrate Thanksgiving in style at two-Michelin-starred Melisse - with 3-course dinner (Nov 24 3-7:30pm) prix fixe $89pp adults; $42 kids 8 and younger. Click for menu (you can choose one item for each course, from fairly big list - including mouth-watering items like Seared Foie Gras, Banyuls Poached Figs and Ginger Spice, or Maine Diver Scallop, Artichokes, Hibiscus Reduction, Green Apple and Radish or Crispy Eastern Bass with Roasted Fall Squash, Confit Tomatoes, Champagne-Truffle Reduction.  You also get choice of 3 traditional Thanksgiving sides).  High-rollers can also add $48 to get Maine Lobster Ravioli with Shaved White Truffle for your first course (which would put you over the $100 per person budget, FYI).

Top Chef Style:
Craft Los Angeles
10100 Constellation Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067 Ph: 310.279.4180
Love Craft, they are the epitome of hospitality done right.  Always reliable for impeccable service and generous offerings on their menus.  3-course prix fixe (Nov 24 2pm-8pm) includes 3 items for the table to share in the first course, which features grass-fed beef tongue (!!!) brook trout and chicory salad, choice of 2nd course between 4 options that include diver scallops, and delicious sounding sides, and 4 desserts for the table to share. $85pp adults; $45pp kids under 12. Click for menu

Tapas Style:
1717 Vine St., Los Angeles, CA 90028   Ph: 323.962.1711
Cleopatra's Feast: Cleo favorites + Thanksgiving classics served family-style. $65pp adults, includes cocktail; $32pp kids 5-12; kids under 5 free. (Seatings at 1, 3, 5, and 7pm). Sign up for free membership in SBE Preferred, show your card when you get your bill and the $ you spend on your meal will earn you points towards a gift card redeemable for hotel stays, meals etc. across SBE properties.

Wine Driven:
2311 Cotner Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90064-1803 Ph: 310.231.0316
4-course prix fixe (Nov 24 2pm - 7pm), take your pick between 4-5 items available for each course. $42pp adults, $25pp kids 12 & under. Add wine Package: 3 full glasses for $20 Click for menu (2nd course choices include bone-in veal short rib, and dessert choices include sticky toffee pudding and grand marnier flourless chocolate cake!)

Relaxing by the Sea:
Cafe Del Rey
4451 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292  Ph: 310.823.6395
3-course prix-fixe (Nov 24 1-8pm) "Favorites with a twist" include Butternut Squash Agnolotti, Free-Range Turkey with duck sausage stuffing, sweet Potato Cheesecake  $55pp Adults $18pp Kids

One Pico at Shutters on the Beach
One Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405  Ph: 310.458.0030
3-course prix fixe - choose from five starters, five entrees and three desserts (Nov 24 11am – 8pm) $75pp. Click for menu (savory choices include black cod, salmon, filet mignon, as well as the requisite turkey).

Classics - Farm to Table:
624 South La Brea Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036 Ph: 323.938.1447
Traditional Thanksgiving meal $65pp with rosemary braised turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, and all the trimings

11648 West San Vicente Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90049-5104 Ph: 310.806.6464
3-course prix fixe dinner (Nov 24 1pm-8pm) $65pp adults; $35pp kids 12& under Click for menu (highlights: persimmon and pomegranate salad, herb-roasted organic turkey breast and stuffed leg with mashed potato and gravy served with sides that make my mouth water just as words on the site: chestnut stuffing with prunes and cavolo, sweet potatoes with sherry and roasted shallots, brussels sprouts with pancetta and thyme, cranberry sauce with orange and mint)

Cafe Pinot
700 W Fifth St., Los Angeles, CA 90071 Ph: 213.239.6500
3-course prix fixe, $55 pp - choose one item for each course from among 5 starters, 4 entrees and 3 desserts. All served in lovely indoor/outdoor setting (love the patio!) Menu highlights: roasted chestnut soup with egg nog emulsion and brussel sprout petals, scallop crudo with celery confit, filet mignon, striped bass and pumpkin cake with hazelnut and butternut squash sauce. Click for menu


Reminder: make your reservations through OpenTable, and you can earn points towards an OpenTable gift certificate when you check in at the restaurant, depending on your selected venue, date and time. 

Double/tripping dipping:  Use a credit card that you've linked with an airline frequent flyer miles program, and you could stack the points between OpenTable, mileage from your card, and SBE Preferred (for SBE restaurants)!

*Those who want restaurant fare at home - Susan Feniger's STREET has take out menu including Tandoori turkey breast, braised brisket or jackfruit with an eclectic list of mouth-watering sides like Pandan and Coconut Creamed Corn or Moroccan Spiced Winter Squash Soup, or Chorizo Cornbread Stuffing.  Tandoori dishes run $15-$20 per person, and side dishes come in packs: 3 for $40, 5 for $55, and 7 for $65 (all sides serve 4 people).  Order at least 3 days in advance - last day for pickup is Nov 23rd. See menu via link above for details.

Upstairs 2 offers Thanksgiving To Go package deal - dinner for 10 people for $189 plus tax, with wine packages available for additional $12.99-$76.08.  Order in advance for pickup on Wed. Nov. 23 3pm-9pm or Thu, Nov. 24 11am-4pm. See site for details.

Campanile offers a la carte To Go albeit at a hefty price (e.g. 20lb turkey, 15 servings, is $200, spiced pumpkin tart $42 for 12 servings) available for pickup Nov 24 10am-noon.

Suzanne Goin's Tavern also offers a To Go menu - offering 'complete dinner for 8' for $399, or a la carte options (see menu for details - deadline for orders Nov 20th 5pm, pickup Nov 23 between 9am-7pm).

Patina Group has a feast for 6 to go for 'just' $150 that includes a 14lb turkey, all trimmings, 3 sides and 1 pie (apple, pumpkin or pecan).  Not bad of a deal from a fine dining restaurant - works out to $25 a person!  You can also buy trimmings, sides and pie a la carte (pies are 'only' $16!) (Deadline for orders Nov. 22, pickup Wed Nov 23 8am-2pm or Thurs Nov 24 8am-noon)


Got a cool find that you don't see here?  Let me know in comments below! :)

*Disclaimer:  I have not dined at all of the above places, nor personally tried their Thanksgiving menu.


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