Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Watermelon Rind Pickles from Eat Real Fest

If you truly love something, let it go - and if it comes back to you it's meant to be yours.

Does this apply to recipes?

I had been all but devastated, after the high of the DIY workshops at the lovely Eat Real Fest last month, when my friend "Designer" and I by some cruel twist of fate had both lost our hardcopies of the recipe for the Sweet and Spicy Watermelon Rind Pickles that we both loved.

I told myself I would make do with the other watermelon rind pickle recipes I somehow managed to retain, but which were SO not the same as the one we actually made at the food fest - the one with jalapenos in it.  The one with outter calm and inner heat.  The one with zest. The Other recipes were like Mr. Right Now to me, but I yearned for Mr. Right.

But after months of searching through every place it could possibly be - I had resigned myself to the fact that it was lost forever.  I had dripped all over the first copy, ruining it, while at the event.  And I had made it a point to grab another copy - but lost that too.  And Designer's copy had vanished into thin air.  So I came to terms with the fact that it 'was just not meant to be', and let it go.

And then today - close to the official end of summer - I was cleaning out my car and there it was, when and where I least expected it.  Because life's funny like that. 

Sweet and Spicy Watermelon Rind Pickles
(source:  Eat Real Fest)

1. Cut watermelon flesh from rind.  Eat flesh and enjoy!
2. Cut the rind into small pieces
    -You can peel the rind or not
    -You can dice, julienne, chop, whatever you feel like
3. Cut jalapeno into thin slices
    -You can leave the seeds and cut rounds
4. Peel lime with vegetable peeler and then julienne the lime zest with knife
5. Prepare jars by adding to each:
      2-3 jalapeno slices
      2 allspice berries
      1/4 tsp kosher salt
      1/2 tsp lime zest
      rind to 1" mark on jar (just below the screw top threads)
6. When prepared fill your jar with brine*
7. Place lid on jar
8. Refrigerate.  Wait about 1 week for full flavor to come through.  Will keep in fridge for up to 3 months.  Always keep refrigerated!

*How to make brine:
•1 small sweet onion thinly sliced
•2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed
•4 teaspoons peppercorns
•3 cups white vinegar
•2 cups water
•1 cup sugar
•3 tablespoons Kosher salt


Combine vinegar, water, salt, sugar, mustard seed, peppercorns, and onion. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Let cook for about 5 minutes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Labor Day in LA - What to Do This Holiday Weekend

Been slaving away all month and so looking forward to the holiday weekend!  And there's plenty to keep us entertained - we might need an extra day to recover! 

Below are some highlights, with ways to save on most of them, including The Taste, a 4-day wine and food festival intended to celebrate all things epicurean with events around the city from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, to Downtown. We were disappointed with the LA Times Food & Wine event at Paramount Studios' backlot last year, and it sounds like they've made improvements, offering AYCE food & wine with the price of admission.  I haven't decided whether I'll give it another try - but those who are curious, I've sifted through to find the most interesting sounding ones, and with the 40% off discount, it seems just a little more palateable. Details below.

*** FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2nd ***

Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste
Art of Mixing Hollywood, The Studios at Paramount 9pm-12am
KCRW’s Jason Bentley will DJ the opening before live music from a Latin-inspired punk band. Attend an exclusive cooking/mixology demo with Chef Ricardo Zarate (Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in America, Mo-Chica), John Rivera Sedlar (Rivera, Playa) and Julian Cox (mixologist, Rivera). Unlimited tastings including from Eva Restaurant and Guelaguetza, wineries, breweries and spirits.
Cost: $125

[DEAL ALERT: Save 40% off tickets using code "Family" or "Web" when purchasing through Eventbrite]


Nordstrom Rack - Clear the Racks Sale Up to 75% off!!! All weekend through September 5th
Shop Nordstrom Rack's sale at up to 75% off - check website for store locations.  This sale actually starts August 30th and runs through September 5th.  Hope they'll have my fav jeans on sale!!!


*** SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 3th ***

Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste
Secrets from the Kitchen & Cellar Beverly Hills, 9900 Wilshire Blvd. 11am-3pm

Learn the secrets behind Scarpetta owner, Scott Conant’s signature Italian cooking style. Check out an exclusive interview with celebrity couple Chef Ludo & Krissy Lefebvre (12:45-1:45pm). See what Michael Voltaggio is cooking up. You can also sample (unlimited) the latest dishes from top L.A. restaurants like Picca / Mo-Chica, Sotto, Craft and Chaya (and newcomers like La Seine) and wines.

Cost: $150

Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste
Taco Tequila Tryst Hollywood, The Studios at Paramount 7-10pm
Roy Choi, 'godfather' of the gourmet food truck craze, hosts L.A.’s best taco artists in creating one-of-a-kind tacos, all set to live music.  Wash down AYCE bites from Chichen Itza to Border Grill to Yamashiro (and of course, Kogi) with Hornitos tequila and Don Q rum and more.

Cost: $125
 
[DEAL ALERT: Save 40% off tickets using code "Family" or "Web" when purchasing through Eventbrite]

Long Beach Greek Festival Sept. 3-5 noon-9pm
LA residents would be hard-pressed to find reasons to trek down to the LBC on a normal day - but this might be a fun reason to.  The Long Beach Greek Festival is a self-described "cultural event of Olympian proportions"! The event includes Greek food, wine, beer and ouzo, cooking classes, live music, dance performances and lessons, shopping and a carnival for the kids.

Cost: $3 admission


Fiesta Hermosa Sept. 3–5 10am-6pm
Get the most of beach weather while it lasts just a bit longer at this community event with more than 270 painters, photographers, ceramicists, jewelers, sculptors and crafters, two stages of live music, food court with 18 different kinds of ethnic eateries, Charity Beer & Wine Garden with local microbrews, and a Kiddie Carnival.

Cost: Free admission

Fly Over LA - Private Flight Lesson
Private hands-on flight lesson from a FAA-certified instructor -Fly over iconic landmarks including the Hollywood sign, downtown LA, Malibu and Santa Monica Pier!  Take home souvenirs: logbook, instructor endorsement and digital photo to remember the experience.


With the current Travelzoo deal at Encore Flight Academy in Van Nuys you can purchase now and redeem starting Saturday September 3rd (through March 6th, 2012). 

Cost: $89 for private lesson worth $200 via Travelzoo local deal!!
(Also available: $140 for $380 lesson that also includes ground instruction and flight simulator training)



*** SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4th ***


Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste
Fashion Bites Brunch Beverly Hills, Rodeo Dr. 10 am-2 pm
Over 30 LA brunch spots from Fig & Olive, to The Blvd at the Beverly Wilshire will serve up unlimited samples of signature dishes alongside bottomless Bloody Marys, Bellinis and mimosas among Beverly Hills' finest fashion houses on Rodeo Drive.

Cost: $150

Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste

Food Noir Downtown, Broadway between 8th and 9th 8pm-12am

Food and film come together in a creative experience. Broadway, between 8th and 9th streets will be closed as chefs serve up ‘noir’ inspired dishes, wine and spirits. Get unlimited tastings from the First & Hope Supper Club, Auntie Em's Kitchen, Terroni, Chaya, Xioia, The Varnish, The Misfit, Seven Grand and more (see site for full list). Pop into the iconic Orpheum Theatre to catch classic Warner Bros. cartoons, vintage newsreels and trailers for legendary films from Hitchcock, DeMille and more.

Cost: $125

[DEAL ALERT: Save 40% off tickets using code "Family" or "Web" when purchasing through Eventbrite]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Whist at Viceroy Santa Monica - Drink Me, Eat Me Wonderland-Style

For 'Foodie Mentor''s birthday, we decided to celebrate at Whist at Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica.  I was excited to try the place for the first time, and with my BlackboardEats 30% off deal in hand we ventured to the calmer, more serene part of Santa Monica, across the street from Shutters on the Beach. 

Though Whist is famous for its exquisite dining room, since it was a relatively warm day we decided to check out the patio by the pool - little did we realize that the doorway was really a rabbit hole that sent us plunging into a space much like a movie set. 

Specifically, the set of some Beverly Hills-ified (ok that was so not a real word) version of Alice in Wonderland.

Among the lush, looming palm trees and greenery, sprouted marble tables surrounded by rings of high-backed, plush white leather chairs.  There were white cabanas with tables set up underneath, as if ready for a very important date/ tea party.  The chairs in particular were what made us feel like Alice - they were made oversized, so you pretty much sink into them (even if you're just average-sized!) - and the table top becomes mid-chest height so you feel like you have to reach up to eat off of it.

We thought of this as charming, but apparently the servers often receive questions about the seating and were already prepared to offer us cushions to help add height and split the difference with the table.

The friendly server who helped us with the seats unfortunately then disappeared into thin air, and in his place appeared...The Caterpillar.  A rather strict and stoic figure who made us feel we were taking quite a lot of his time - friendly requests for recommendations met with blank stares and half-absentminded / cryptic replies to the effect that we can choose whatever we want to. (We will later realize the further appropriateness of this nickname based on how quickly / often he came by to check on us)

Not to let that affect our evening, we were somewhat appeased when the bread plate arrived, which included lovely pretzel and pumpernickel loaves.
Knowing I was on a tighter budget than usual that month, Foodie Mentor went with a selection of small plates and one entree for us to share.

To start, we had the awesome Beet Salad ($16) with hazelnuts, baby lettuces, and truffle-pecorino panna cotta.  The truffle-pecorino panna cotta had EAT ME all over it - one bite and it really did inflate my endorphin levels, sending them shooting through the figurative roof.  The consistency of the panna cotta was more like burrata, and instead of the expected sweetness it was savory and head-spinningly fragrant with truffle.  The beets had perfect texture, tender but structured, and were a blush of lovely pink beneath the blooms of baby lettuces.  Yes, very pricey for a salad and not sure that I would be able to afford it without the BBE deal, but glad I got to try it.


Next up was Meatballs ($11), a seemingly simple, rustic dish that is much raved about at Whist.  So we couldn't go without trying this one.  It came in a cast iron pan with shaved parmesan, basil and olive oil, and lived up to the hype - juicy, tender, flavorful and most importantly, served at just the right temperature - piping hot but not so much it would scorch your mouth. 
For our entree to share, we had the 10oz. Dry Aged NY Steak ($36) served with brussel sprouts, bacon, and parmesan-buttered potatoes.  We asked for medium-rare but what we got was more like medium-well to well done.  Foodie Mentor didn't want to cause a fuss though, so we stuck with and polished off the dish.  On a normal day though I would be madder than a hatter to pay $36 for this steak.
Inexplicably, our other small plate came after the entree - continuing with the theme of familiar comfort foods with a twist - we had gone for the Spaghetti ($18) with tomato, chili, tarragon, dungeness crab and uni. 

I was excited to see what they would do with this dish, given the ingredients, and I guess some part of me expected perhaps a Japanese style execution with the pasta, given the use of uni.  It turned out to be classic Italian spaghetti, with a tomato sauce, and all the other ingredients piled on top.  The uni came in the form of a solitary tongue placed at the top of the pile, sticking out at us as if to mock us for the disporportionate amount of money (vs. what we got) spent on the dish.

For dessert, we went with the Brioche Donuts ($11) with housemade jam and ice cream. By that time it was too dark out to capture any photos - but our original friendly server came by to turn on the heat lamp for us and we enjoyed lounging and chatting with a cup of post-dinner coffee til late into the night.  The 'garden' setting had a different vibe at night, but equal to the charm it held during daytime - perhaps with just more of an air of mystery.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed the simultaneously chic and whimsical space.  There were a few standouts with food, but mostly it was pricey and inconsistent in quality for what we got. I personally probably would only return either with a group buy deal, for drinks, a date where ambience is the priority, or for the "7 B4 7 Happy Hour" - if I ever get out of work early enough to make it there from the Valley. Whist's 7 B4 7 Happy Hour runs Monday through Friday 4pm-7pm with a $7 per item menu including a selection of cocktails, wine, beer and bar food such as meatballs, mussels, chicken wings and hummus. 

They also have a great sounding lunch deal, which I also won't be able to take advantage of since my office is too far away - but it's called "Daily 5" and is $16 per person Monday to Friday 11am-2pm including sandwich, salad, 2 sides and dessert PLUS complimentary parking!  Great for those who work/live in the area and can get to the place at lunchtime!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 70%

[To find more deals like the one used here, check out my Get More Bites Outta Your Budget page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]

______________________________________________________________

Whist
Viceroy Santa Monica 
1819 Ocean Avenue Santa Monica CA 90401   
Phone: 310.260.7500

Website: viceroyhotelsandresorts.com
Look for reservations: Opentable.com
______________________________________________________________________

Whist at the Viceroy on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 25, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs - Savings & Sweepstakes 8/25/11

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

Happy grazing!

FOODIE FINDS:
  • LA Epicurean Festival $40 for $75 General Admission (or $50 for $100 VIP admission) to LA Epicurean Festival at the Sofitel hotel, August 28 deal from Groupon (ends today!)
  • Petrossian $25 for $50 of food at Petrossian restaurant deal from OpenTable Spotlight (~1.5 days left to buy)
  • Magnolia Hollywood $40 for $70 bottomless mimosa brunch for two deal from DailyCandy LA (ends 9/6)
  • Bru's Wiffle in Santa Monica $20 for $35 Lunch or Dinner For Two  deal from popsugarla (~5 days left to buy)
  • Whisper Lounge at The Grove Half Price Bottles of Wine on Tuesdays
  • Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste LA events 40% off tickets to events all over LA.  Deal at OpenTable Spotlight (OR use code "Family" when checking out from LA Times Event site to get 40% off)
SWEEPSTAKES:
  • iDine LA  $100 American Express Reward Card to one lucky Twitter follower this week! (ends 8/26)
  • Good Food Awards ok this one's really a contest, but you can enter your recipes for a chance at fame and glory AND to have your products sold throught Gilt Taste!  (ends 9/1)  $35 entry fee required. See website for full details.
********

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!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Public Kitchen & Bar - Weekend Brunch With Bottomless Mimosas/Bellinis!

Bright and early Sunday morning (that is to say, noon for me) - "Designer" and I met up with fellow bloggers SinoSoul and FinerThingsLA to take advantage of the Travelzoo deal we'd all bought earlier in the month for brunch at Public Kitchen and Bar at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel - $49 brunch for two (basically 3-course meal + side and bottomless drinks).  On the regular weekend brunch menu, that would cost $35 per person (extra for sides & dessert, and add $6 for bottomless mimosas/bellinis).

Regular readers know that The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel houses my favorite bar in LA - The Library Bar and master bartender Matt Biancaniello.  Every time I visit, I pretty much make a beeline for The Library Bar. It's only recently that I've begun to explore the rest of the beautiful, historic hotel - and with this Travelzoo deal I couldn't wait to eat at the Public Kitchen and Bar (helmed by Tim Goodell, best known for Aubergine) for the first time.   

We started of course, with a round of bellinis / mimosas, which hit the spot immediately (and our wonderful server diligently kept our glasses full throughout the meal).  While waiting for our food, we noshed on a small cast iron tray of bread, including cranberry scones, with fresh whipped butter.
For her appetizer, Designer chose Balik Salmon "Tartine" with grilled olive bread and

caper berries.  We loved this dish, and the use of fragrant fennel vs. the expected dill - though SinoSoul noticed that the other order of the same dish that came to the table contained frisee, while Designer's did not, so there was some inconsistency there.  Though, Designer's a bit of an uber-carnivore, so the veggies were not missed.

For my starter, I ordered the Summer Corn Soup with pork belly and curried lebneh, just because corn is in season, I love a good corn soup and can't resist the combination with pork belly.  This turned out to be possibly the best corn soup I've had this year - smooth and well balanced to let the fresh corn flavors shine through, punctuated by an unctuous piece of pork belly and curried lebneh (middle eastern yogurt cheese).  A really, really lovely soup that is creamy, yet light enough for a summer meal.
For her large plate selection, Designer chose Diver Scallops with  zucchini risotto / mint mascarpone. The scallops were nicely seared with a juicy, tender and sweet interior.  The risotto was also perfectly al dente, made just a touch creamy with the mascarpone tinged with the slightest hint of mint.

(I've only reviewed the dishes I actually tasted here, but you can see pictures of other orders at the table including the massive Public Burger and Fromage Blanc Omelette with asparagus and morel cream on my Facebook page)
Being a complete eggs benedict addict, I really had no choice but to go with the Duck Confit Hash Benedict with grilled rustic bread.  The poached eggs oozed liquid sunshine, but though I liked the gamey-ness of the duck confit hash, it was a bit on the dry side, as was the crusty bread.  Another order of the same dish that came to the table was inexplicably opposite in textures - the eggs were overcooked while the hash and bread were nice and moist.  Another inconsistency with quality which could be concerning - but hopefully it was an 'off' day perhaps for some members of the kitchen, and that this would not be a regular occurence. 
We also get to choose one side each with our meal, and single ladies, Designer and I, both chose "Today's Sausage".  Neither of us go to church, and joked that this brunch was our Sunday service - and the sausages really gave us our religious experience of the day.  These were housemade links that not only had the perfect intensity of flavor - but more importantly were not at all greasy.  We would almost say they tasted - 'healthy' - except that healthy in our book usually translates to "not tasty" - and that is definitely not the case here.  They were just sausages that were flavorful but not drowning in grease - simply perfect!
For dessert, the deal offered 1 plate to share for each 'couple' - so we received one of each of the desserts on the menu.  First up was the Warm Berliners with cinnamon & nutmeg.  These were essentially fresh made doughnuts with some sort of cream sauce.  The doughnuts were pillowy and nice, but the sauce we found a bit bland, and its (lack of) flavor and texture didn't add anything to the dish.
Next up was Sour Cherry Pie with sour cream and cherry ice cream.  This tasted market fresh and was nicely presented in a cast iron pot. However, we wanted a bit more tartness from the cherries to come through - as it was, the pie was not a standout piece.
Saving the best for last: the Salted Caramel & Chocolate Puddings with butterscotch cookie were tasty - and if I had any stomach capacity at all left at that point I would have devoured the glasses whole.  The puddings were light and creamy, with the lovely sea salt cutting through the caramel pudding nicely.

Though the desserts were not all spectacular, overall I thought the meal and the service (and the company!) were all fantastic - and would definitely come back even without a group buy deal.  At $35 per person for appetizer, large plate or benedict and drink - and just $6 extra for the bottomless bellinis / mimosas, it's a good deal for fine dining fare.  And gotta love that they offer a selection of "Morning Cocktails" ($12 each). 

On top of it all, you get to brunch in a lovely space at a Hollywood landmark! Walk off your meal afterwards by exploring the grounds - check out the pool, where they host Monday Movie Mashups (free screenings of mashed-up movies of choice for the week), go to the lower level to see the hidden bookcase entrance to Beacher's Madhouse (a 'theater' that is essentially a bar featuring the unusual including midgets), and catch a member of staff if you can to hear about the legendary ghost stories including famed and longtime guest Marilyn Monroe. 

[Update 10/18/11: Deal alert: Cirque du Soleil IRIS ticket holders, bring your ticket stubs to get discounts on dinner at Public Kitchen + Bar: Pre-theater you'll get a prix fixe menu of appetizer + entree + cocktail for $35, or 10% off your meal. Post-theater you'll get 10% off your meal.  Thanks to Wagstaff PR for the tip!]
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

[To find more deals like the one used here, check out my Get More Bites Outta Your Budget page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]

______________________________________________________________

Public Kitchen & Bar
The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone: 323.466.7000

Parking: Valet with validation $6 for first 3 hours, $2 for every additional half hour. (Or park across the street at Hollywood & Highland - $2 first 2 hours w/ validation from any purchase at stores in the complex, $1 for each additional 15 mins.)

Website: thompsonhotels.com
Look for reservations: Opentable.com
______________________________________________________________________

Public Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 20, 2011

LudoBites 007: License to Thrill / The Living Daylights

LudoBites - you could call it extreme cooking, with unpredictable locations and kitchen conditions, thrown into the crucible of not a lot of time - yet churning out consistently inventive culinary creations. Time magazine's "chef of the future". New twins.  And now Ludo Bites America on Sundance Channel, a fun format of culinary road trip / cross country adventure + drama of world class chef meets small town kitchens + inside look into husband and wife as business partners and how that works.  Is there anything that Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre can't do?

Ever since the team pretty much invented the pop-up concept in LA, they've been steadily attracting legions of fans ready to pounce on the first hint of a reservation. So when LudoBites 007 was first announced, to be held at Gram & Papa's August 3-September 10, food lovers across the city scrambled to get their OpenTable accounts ready to trigger one-click reservation requests, in hopeful and eager anticipation of the figurative 'opening bell' of availability. The lucky ones snagged reservations - but many met with disappointment when, in just 1 minute, all dates and times were fully booked. Such is the draw and the power of LudoBites.

Though that is the fairest way to offer out the limited number of reservations, it still leaves those of us - myself included - who didn't get one, all the more crushed to read about yet another amazing menu via other people's blog posts.

And this time all my favorite ingredients were on the menu. 

I was despairing of needing to move to some small town like Mobile, that may be on the itinerary for LudoBites America 2.0, in order to ever have a chance to taste his food - when a fellow blogger reminded me that - hello - I could just try to catch cancellations when they are announced.  But where was I to find 3-5 other people ready to drive like a bat out of hell, to downtown LA, on a moment's notice?  I considered hanging outside the place, like KevinEats did, to try to catch a table - but again I didn't know anyone else passionate enough about food to wait around, in the backyard of Skid Row, for the possibility of getting a table.  Plus, I work in the Valley, and office hours are 9-6, so there's no way to get downtown in time to snag a walk-in at 6.  And everyone is going to be vying for walk-ins on weekends.

So, I begrudgingly came to terms with the fact that I was going to miss out on LudoBites.  Again.  Until last night. 

On my way back from D23 in Anaheim, I realized that downtown was sorta on my way back home - and since I left the event a bit early - I was in the downtown area by about 5:15.  I was by myself, but screw it - if I waited around for people to do things I wanted to do, I'd never get anything done.  And this was on my way home.  However, I had spied on Twitter that walk-in seating was 'al fresco' on Skid Row - so, being the way I am, I Googled time of sunset: 7:35pm.  Plenty of time to eat and get outta there before The Living Daylights are gone literally and figuratively, if I got the 6pm seating. So, I crossed my fingers and reset my Waze app with a new destination:  Gram & Papas.

I was relieved when I arrived, that it was just a block from the California Market Center in the fashion district (though I had a bit of a scare last year post Unique/Artisanal LA, after dark and I couldn't find the lot where I parked - but this time there was a spot right around the corner, on Santee) and there was a meter that was free after 6pm.  So I plugged in a few quarters and went on my way.  In front of the place were two couples already waiting - one with a reservation, one without.  There were only two tables for walk-ins - so I was ecstatic when I realized I had a good chance of getting the other one!  And when Krissy herself came to the door to greet everyone, and said that I could have the other table - that totally made my week (it'd been a rough one)!

So, I kicked off the meal with a Lavender Ginger Lemonade ($4) - no cocktails are on menu due to lack of liquor license (lots of people were going BYOB) - but this was the perfect drink for me after the long week - lavender for destressing, citrus for refreshment, and ginger to contribute a subtle kick to wake up the tastebuds.

I wanted to order everything on the menu - but with limited stomach capacity, decided on the ones that either contained my favorite ingredients, or had unusual combinations of ingredients that you probably would not see on anyone else's menu. I went with a few small plates, the better to sample more dishes.

The first one out was Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca ($12) - this was an interesting double re-intepretation of the classic fish+some kind of cream sauce+side of carbs/veg dish, and entree vs. dessert.  Panna cotta is usually served as a dessert, but here Ludo infuses it with savory flavors normally used in a main dish.  Salt cod instead of something like vanilla or caramel, topped by whipped potato instead of cream.  And smoked tapioca balls to evoke caviar, swimming in a shallow lake of olive oil.  I absolutely loved the concept and taste of this dish - each bite a surprise, because you see the shape and presentation of a dessert, but then in sneaks delicious savory flavors in smooth olive oil, accented by fleur de sel crystals (?).  The consistency of the panna cotta though was somewhere between creme brulee and a hearty goat cheese (though not quite as crumbly).  I ended up ignoring the croutons on the side after tasting a few - I wanted them to be a bit more crispy vs. hardcore crunchy.

Onion Tart, Bottarga ($10) was next - beautifully presented at generous size on a chopping block.  Loved the well-balanced interplay of caramelized onion with creamy cheese with the distinct taste of bottarga (one of my favorite ingredients), punctuated by fragrant sprinkles of thyme.  All on a light, almost paper thin crust.  Truly lovely piece that I'd order again if I could ever get another seat at a LudoBites 007 table.
Next up: Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc ($18) I couldn't leave without trying this one as sea urchin triggers a Pavlovian response in me. Add egg, caviar, champagne and butter to the mix and you can get me to do practically anything.  Just reading the name, made me think this could possibly be the most perfect dish ever made.  Loved the playfulness of layering egg upon (fish) egg, upon...ok sea urchin doesn't count, those are actually gonads. But it was pretty much like surf & turf: egg edition.  And then making that connection from caviar to champagne, but in beurre blanc.  The dish was pretty amazing - the egg was wet-scrambled into small pieces, light and rolls over the tongue, flavored with the unique taste of uni (though this could have been more pronounced), taken over the top in a great way with the luxurious champagne beurre blanc 'sauce', plus the generous briny dollop of caviar.  Garlic (?) flowers added a light and beautiful extra touch of seasoning.  This is another one I could eat 10 of, if I can get back in again.

Foie Gras, "French Dim Sum" Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream ($28) - loved this dish of course - not only because it featured truffle AND foie (I die) - but because it's such an almost feverish fusion re-imagining of a classic Italian dish.  And it's aptly named, as with its asian-inspired flavors the pieces were more akin to dumplings than ravioli. The yin/yang of smooth, earthy, buttery foie with the 'brash', bold, crunch of kimchi worked unexpectedly well together.  I would have liked a little less of the oils from the kimchi, but overall a truly great dish.  And the light, foamy and intoxicatingly fragrant sake and black truffle cream was the perfect counterbalancer to tie everything on the plate together.
And of course, I had to save room for dessert.  The Lavender Tropezienne Tart, Aloe Vera, Lychee ($10) was a gorgeous (and giant) dessert that was like Christmas to me.  Like some beautiful forest scene, the morning after snowfall, pure and untouched.  And then the surprise of juicy summer fruits (strawberries and lychee) hidden inside.  I don't really have words to describe this beyond that.  Except maybe to note that it was so huge, it was almost a meal in itself - I took it home and had it for breakfast and it was just as good.

All in all, an inspired and amazing meal, one of the best I've had this year.  To those who may be weary of all the hype, and crowds, and possibly having the living daylights scared out of you by having to be downtown etc. etc. - get up and go try it for  yourself, now, and you'll see the reason for all the hype.  If you go early enough, before they even open for the night - based on last night it seems like you'll have a good shot of getting a table, and you'll be out of there before dark.  Is it worth all the trouble?  YES.  Go.  Now.

(They are still completely sold out.  But you can follow Krissy on Twitter for latest table opening alerts, or stand by outside the place before opening like I did...good luck!)
 
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks mains)
Probability of return visit - 100% (if I can even get in!)

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LudoBites 007 at G
ram & Papa's
227 East 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Ph: 213.624.7272
 

Parking: Free on most streets after 6pm; $3 flat rate after 4pm in lot on Santee between 8th and 9th

Website: ludolefebvre.com/ludobites/0-0-7
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LudoBites @ Gram & Papa's on Urbanspoon  Ludo Bites 007 at Gram and Papas in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Friday, August 19, 2011

Nisei Week - Big Celebration in Little Tokyo

When thinking of Nisei Week Japanese Festival (August 13-21 this year), some might first think of the Nisei Week Queen pageant. At least, everyone I told about the event did.

If you thought that was the extent of it, you'd have missed out on one of the best cultural events in LA. Nisei Week Japanese Festival is so much more than just the pageant (which incidentally, I have absolutely no interest in.  At all.)  The Nisei Week Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Japanese and Japanese American heritage throughout southern California - and Nisei Week J Festival is one weeklong cultural celebration smack in the epicenter of Little Tokyo. 

The event is spread out over several complexes in the area, and last weekend I decided to start with the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, first getting the expected out of the way - a karate demo, a traditional tea ceremony demo with women in kimonos in a sample teahouse at the top of the JACCC.  Next I ventured over to the complex I actually know best in the area, Japanese Village Plaza.

On any given day, it's a treat to stroll through Japanese Village Plaza, a lovely collection of boutique shops and mostly mom & pop style restaurants centered around a Japanese market.  A diverting mix of classic and modern architecture, traditional, more refined goods like proper tea sets and bonsai trees strewn among the latest in anime dolls and quirky headwear, and even a sushi parlor slash dance hall - the complex is lots of fun to explore even on a regular day. 

During Nisei Week, vendors pile onto the aisles out into the sunny SoCal summer to promote their wares - and the energy and excitement of the crowds, who come to visit old friends or make new discoveries, is palpable.
And the visitors themselves become a point of interest - part of what I love bout this event is that it is as much for local Nisei, some of whom celebrate their heritage by turning up in beautiful kimonos, as tourists, or just Angelenos looking for a fun and unique outdoor activity. The event also provides an unwritten invite for fans of cosplay to show up in their most elaborate and creative costumes. 

The vibe is very much like a street fest - but one that has absolutely no rules, and makes you feel like you're on vacation because everywhere you look you're presented with something that you don't see every day. 
A few groups showed up in what looks like modern takes on regional garb - these were really in demand by other visitors for photo opps!
Another cause of whiplash is of course, the good eats spread throughout the event venues.  From stalls with drool-inducing street food like takoyaki (spherical savory pancake with grilled octopus inside) and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) to dorayaki (red bean cake), I had no hope of leaving there without a massive midriff portrusion.

Wandering from Japanese Village Plaza to the Japanese American National Museum, I found a stage with rotating performances from traditional almost operatic sounding Japanese singers to J-pop star wannabes, to fashion shows by local designers.  In the back parking lot, there were a row of tents set up with more Japanese street food - and each was a great discovery.

I made a beeline for the Takoyaki Tanota booth after reading a tweet that said they had jalapeno mayo on their specialty grilled octopus balls (as in the dumplings, dirty!, not the gonads).  The fresh-off-the-grill dough balls with octopus center were a steal at $5 a tray of 7 pieces, topped with bonito flakes and jalapeno mayo.  Down the row were soba noodles, shaved ice and handmade, fresh mochi and yakimochi from Fugetsu-Do, whose booth touts its history in Little Tokyo dating back to 1903.
The entire back area behind Japanese American National Museum was in celebration of the Tanabata Festival - which as I learned from a pamphlet and a lady at the JANM booth who explained the festival to me - was inspired by the Chinese fable of star-crossed lovers who only get to meet but once a year.  Which fable in itself was inspired by ancient people gazing up into the night sky, and creating stories to explain what they see. 

As the fable goes (explaining two bright stars on either side of the Milky Way) Cow Herder, a mortal, falls in love with Weaver Girl on a unsanctioned visit from her heavenly home. They marry, have kids and settle in to a simple but loving life on earth - until Weaver Girl's mother, a Goddess, discovers her 'betrayal', and orders her back to heaven.  Cow Herder is left behind.  One day, his ox starts talking and tells him that if Cow Herder sacrifices him, takes his hide and wears it - he can ascend to heaven to see Weaver Girl once again.  Heartbroken, Cow Herder takes the ox up on his offer and makes his way to the sky with kids in tow - only for Goddess to be alerted to his plans.  To keep the lovers apart, Goddess takes a hairpin and draws a line between them - which forms the Milky Way - and forever separates the two.

Over the years, magpies take pity on the separated lovers, and once a year they form a bridge to allow the lovers to cross and spend a day together.  This happens on July 7th of the lunar calendar, and is the day that the Tanabata Festival is celebrated.
   
One of the traditions of the festival is for people to weave elaborate, giant decorative streaming ornaments called 'kazari' in remembrance of loved ones.  At the JANM event, the whole back area was strung with row upon row of beautiful kazari sponsored and created by local organizations.  The ornaments, fluttering in the wind, were festive and gorgeous.

Under these amazing ornaments, event organizers decided to host a samurai demonstration, with a group of about 13 samurai and ninjas gathering first for photos - then for a 'street fight' with guests. 

Watching tiny kids get the chance to engage 'ancient' samurai in a sword fight - and 'win' despite their initial fear - was adorable and definitely one of the highlights of the event.

The first weekend of Nisei Week closed out with the Grand Parade - which didn't have over-the-top floats like neighboring Pasadena famously does for its famous yearly event - but had again that perfect balance of tradition with modern day fun that is infused throughout Little Tokyo.  The parade started with marching flag-holders and band, followed by Japanese American heros who fought in WWII.  It was great to see both men and women veterans, some of whom may look elderly, but have definitely not lost their sense of fun - several 'grandpa' vets gave 'shaka' hand gestures and winked mischievously at ladies in the audience, and one actually pretended (in obvious jest) to machine gun the crowd from the back of a military Jeep, complete with verbal sound effects.  They were followed by a handful of floats with Taiko drummers, random interactive basketball one inviting guests to shoot hoops on the float, and of course the requisite Nisei Week pageantry float.

All in all, there was something for everyone and you are sure to be entertained, and might even learn something new in the process.  One of my favorite events of the year, and it was free!  To top it all off, the festivities are pretty much right across the street from Aburiya Toranoko (who were serving special skewers and SnoBar sno cones from a table on the patio) and Lazy Oz Canteen - so you can 'play' all day, then settle down for an awesome, full meal and a cocktail or two if so inclined.

Nisei Week continues through this weekend (August 21st) - so you still have a chance to check it out!  See website for full schedule.

[For more pics from Nisei Week, see my photo album on Facebook!]

_____________________________________________________________________

Nisei Week Japanese Festival
August 13-21, 2011

Various locations, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA (check website for details)

Parking:  $10 all day in lot next to Sakura Crossing

Event Website: niseiweek.org
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs - Savings & Sweepstakes 8/18/11

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

Happy grazing!

FOODIE FINDS:
  • Bouchon Gilt City LA exclusive deals (ends 8/24):
    • champagne + petit plateau for two people for $65
    • champagne brunch for two people for $75
    • private 5-course lunch or dinner for ten people with wine pairings $2000
  • Valentino Santa Monica $25 for $50 of food (~1 day left to buy)
  • Public Kitchen + Bar at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel $45 prix fixe appetizer+entree+cocktail 5:30pm-7:30pm daily
SWEEPSTAKES:

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!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

WP24 - High Altitude 'Modern Chinese' in DTLA

With the abundance of authentic, affordable Chinese cuisine within 30 minutes' drive in the San Gabriel Valley, what, you ask, would possess someone actually from Hong Kong to visit Wolfgang Puck's 'modern Chinese' spot, WP24 in DTLA?  I had been craving fine dining Chinese, had heard great things about the place from trusted sources, and when an acquaintance invited me to dinner there - I decided to give it a shot, cautiously optimistic for potentially inspiring takes on Chinese cuisine.

Towering above the steadily gentrifying hub downtown around the L.A. Live / Staples Center area - WP24 sits on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carlton hotel.  The view at night is certainly spectacular - from either the lounge or the more formal dining room.  The setting almost does remind me of high-rise fine dining in Hong Kong.

The patrons in the lounge and dining room are distinctly different - reflective of the decor of each. Whereas the lounge is chic but casual, the dining room is formal and caters to a more upscale, older crowd (mid-late 30s and up). 

As everyone else in our party wanted to try the tasting menu, we were seated in the dining room.  When ordering from tasting menus, WP24 requires that they be ordered by everyone at the table, which makes sense for the flow of the meal at the table - so we finally settled on the 6-course one.  At $140 per person this menu pained me physically - but I went with it since everyone else wanted to go 6 (2 wanted to go 10-courses, but there was no way I was going to pay $170 for Chinese food that I can get at Michelin star quality in Hong Kong). So first tip of the day if you're going to eat in the dining room is, make sure there is consensus among those at your table before going in - otherwise you might end up with a much larger bill than you anticipated.

But I kept an open and optimistic mind, and we seemed off to a good start when a series of four amuse bouche arrived (these actually initially confused us because they were so generously portioned that we had to ask our server whether these were other people's starters delivered to us by mistake).  The  “Several Tastes of Good Fortune” consisted of lobster/crab spring rolls wrapped like wine bags for a nice presentation, foie gras bao, spiced lamb fried balls and prawn toast. All were tasty, but the foie gras bao (bread bun) of course stood out the most to me, as an interesting small but significant twist on the dish that is usually served with peking duck (and indeed it came witih all the garnishes you would normally see with peking duck).  The rich, buttery lobe of foie went surprisingly well with the fluffy steamed buns.
First up after the amuse was “Hot & Sour” Soup with Sweet Prawn Wontons, Fresh Peas, Micro Basil, Fried Ginger and topped with garlic flowers.  This was WP24's interpretation of hot & sour soup, which semed more like a 'mash-up' of all the traditional Chinese soups together: starchy hot & sour + seafood soup + wonton soup + egg drop soup with corn.  It was an interesting and tasty mix, but not mind-blowingly innovative in concept or flavor.

Next was Today’s Dim Sum Plate - featuring Chive Crystal Dumpling, Dan Dan Dumpling, Tiny Dumpling, Scallop Sui Mai, and Suckling Pig with Quince-Apple Puree.  If this was the first time in my life I'd ever tried dim sum - I might have enjoyed the novelty of this plate and the bite-sized little dumplings and cheong fun (rice noodle roll).  But because I've had 'real' and really mind-blowing, exquisite dim sum in Hong Kong (and at Yank Sing in San Francisco) - this plate was a complete disappointment.  Creativity and technique were both absent from this plate. Almost all of the dumplings were standard fare, and overcooked - inside and out - with the seafood much too firm, and the wrappers not much better in texture.  At this level and price, the scallop/crab etc. should taste incredibly fresh, with its natural sweetness and ocean flavors coming through with each bite.  Instead, the dumplings were overall too firm and bland, with the exception of the cheong fun (rice noodle roll) that had a pepper slaw on top which added some single-note heat.  The suckling pig was also on the dry side and did not have the signature crispy skin.

The first entree sized dish was Live Maine “Angry Lobster” with Spicy Szechuan Chilies, Fried Garlic, and Black Bean Dust.  This was served with a bowl of Lop Cheung Sausage Fried Rice for the table. This too, failed to impress as it did not bring anything new to the table - just another traditional Chinese preparation, poorly executed. The lobster was plated table-side, as Chinese restaurants would typically do, and two of us furthest away from the server could tell even from a distance that the lobster was overcooked - the meat had a turgid quality that we could see from 10 feet away. We wanted the sauce to be a bit more clean and sophisticated - but it tasted slapped together, and was slathered thickly onto the lobster - completely smothering any hope of us tasting its presumed freshness and natural flavor.  The fried rice lacked 'wok air' - the fragrant 'heat' that comes from cooking on a nice hot wok which releases the flavors of the food.  It was more...just overwhelmingly sweet without the distinct 'perkiness' of well cooked rice.

Just from reading the menu, the course I most looked forward to was the Whole Roasted Duckling “Peking Style” with Stir-Fried Fall Mushrooms, Snap Peas, Scallion.  Peking duck is one of my favorite dishes - even as a kid I appreciated the balance of yieldy meat/juicy fat/crunchy scallions and those savory flavors interlacing with the sweetness of hoisin sauce - and all the goodness of that combo soaked up in a warm, pillowy bao (bread bun). WP24 sticks with tradition in this dish as well, bringing out the whole roasted duck for viewing before serving carved pieces on plates with steamers of bao and a plate of garnishes including Stir Fried Fall Mushrooms, Snap Peas, and Scallion.   This dish made up a bit for the faltering of the preceding ones - it was an admirable effort, not the best Peking Duck I've ever had, but a decent and fairly delicious attempt.

There was one dish that night that our table unanimously voted as a favorite, and it wasn't really Chinese: Grilled Lamb Chop Lacquered with Coriander-Pickled Ginger Sauce, Fresh Chilies & Aromatics.  This was served with Spicy Chow Fun, Fragrant Thai Basil.  We liked everything about the dish, from the enticing presentation, which seemed more artful than the others, to the incredibly juicy, tender texture and finally great interplay of flavors coming from the rings of different sauces around the meat.  The chow fun (thick, flat noodles that are stir-fried with minimal sauce) was forgettable and didn't really go with the lamb dish, which seemed more of a western preparation with sauces using eastern ingredients.

 


As a pre-dessert/ palate cleanser our next course was Lychee Yuzu Sorbet with Coconut “Explosion”.  This basically consisted of a scoop of lychee yuzu sorbet, and a coconut spherification served on a spoon.  Both were refreshing after the intense flavor of the lamb course and served as a good transition to dessert.





Our dessert course was Sweet White Corn Fritters served with Pandan Ice Cream, White Chocolate Corn Pudding, and berries.  I actually really enjoyed parts of this dish - especially the corn fritters, which were lovely, fresh sweet corn in fresh fried dough - and something I've never really had before.  All at the table agreed that the other elements of the dish did not come together in a coherent way, but seemed like 'dessert chop suey' - a mish-mosh of disparate ingredients thrown together with no apparent point of view.  For example, in theory, we get the sort of play with corn - having it in the fritter, then putting it also in popcorn form with the caramel popcorn kernels piled beneath the ice cream.  But on the plate, they just didn't go together and the popcorn was stiff and awkward to eat along with the ice cream and fritters and berries and pudding.

We finished out the meal with a complimentary Cookie Plate - deconstructed fortune cookie, and other traditional cookies (I think they were almond?).

All in all, I was not happy to have paid Michelin-star prices for a meal that didn't in my view aspire in general to deliver anything more than traditional Chinese fare, and did not even execute those dishes at fine-dining level.  Is it unfair to compare this outpost of LA Chinese fine dining to masters in their country of origin?  Yes, probably.  But even without that measuring stick, the quality of our meal in my view did not justify the $140 - I would have much rather spent it on 5 satisfying meals in the SGV (albeit without the view and ambiance), or a really mind-blowing one from Providence.  And, unlike other restaurants that have chefs of a culture not reflective of the featured cuisine, where they are using the cuisine's flavors and ingredients and being inventive and interpretive with it - so that at least you get to experience something new via their perspective - WP24 seems to for the most part just take the traditional preparations and 'introduce' them to guests at inflated prices.

I do wish for more fine dining Chinese food in LA to shift the view of Chinese only as greasy food served in chaotic, loud, hole-in-the-wall spots or staid parlors - to show that it can take a seat at the table of esteemed culinary artistry as well, as it does in Hong Kong. WP24 gets it right in terms of venue - but unfortunately the food that night left me wanting.

Food aside, the true draw of WP24 is the venue - the view is truly incredible at night - and they do offer a daily Happy Hour 5-7pm with a 3-course prix fixe menu for $24, served in the lounge only.  For that deal, I would return - to the lounge.  Otherwise, for my money, next time I want Chinese I'm going to forgo the curiousity with western interpretations, and sticking with the SGV.


On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 4 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5 bites
Price - $$$$$ (5 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 60% (for Happy Hour)


______________________________________________________________

WP24
900 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90015
Ph: 213.743.8824


Website: wolfgangpuck.com
Look for reservations: Opentable.com
______________________________________________________________________


WP24 (Ritz-Carlton) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 11, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings and Sweepstakes 8/11/11

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

Happy grazing!

FOODIE FINDS:
  • The Hollywood Roosevelt 25 Degrees $29 for $60 'LA Top 10': Burger Lunch for 2 at Travelzoo  (~4days left to buy)
  • Katsuya L.A. LIVE - offering new happy hour Mon-Fri 5pm-7pm: $5-$7 signature dishes and drinks
  • Gilt City Vita Coco & YAS $25 for case of 12 Vita Coco tropical fruit flavor (guava + dragonfruit) amd Yoga class at YAS (buy by 8/15)
  • WineExpo Anniversary Sale 18% off all Non Sparkling Wine (ends close of business 8/18)  
SWEEPSTAKES:
  • Fiji Water Trip to Fiji Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win 8 day trip for two to Fiji.  Stay at all-inclusive Turtle Island resort in a beachfront villa which includes all meals, all water sports and activities offered by the resort, a 30-minute massage and more.  Runner-up prizes: 2-night getaway with luxury hotel amenities to Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles (ends 10/31/11 11:59:59pm ET) Official rules here
  • One Day "Trip of a Lifetime" Movie Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win 11-night trip for two to London, Paris, Edinburgh (locations featured in movie) (ends 8/25/11 11:59:59pm ET) Official rules here
  • PopSugar Jet Set Summer Sweepstakes Enter for chance to win 5-day trip to Cabo San Lucas and an iPad with the new PopSugar iPad app (ends 8/31/11 11:59pm PT). The entry form has a button to download PopSugar iPad app, but apparently it's not required for entry - just submit your email address and hit 'submit, and you'll get a screen that looks like they've received your entry. 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!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Perch - Paris Meets Manhattan in DTLA

From the moment I heard about Perch, I had been dying to go check it out.  Something about rooftop dining, in a bloom of greenery amongst concrete/glass skyscrapers, sounded amazing to me.  It reminded me of Manhattan, or Sevva in Hong Kong, a little bit of home.  But with a French twist.  So basically perfection, towering high above Pershing Square. 

Last weekend, 'Designer' and I decided to head over on a whim after the Korean BBQ Cookoff.  We were in 'day wear' - jersey dress / shirt and shorts - and smelled like we just came from a BBQ, so drinks / dining outdoors in a chic but casual space - just minutes away from Ktown - sounded great to us. 

It was a fabulous adventure from the start - Perch is located at the top of the historic Pershing Square Building, which has an amazing vintage vibe, with a welcoming gold-gilded, glass chandeliered lobby.  We had to take two sets of elevators to get to the restaurant, both of which felt as vintage as the building itself.  The first one was marked with a gold bird silhouette plate next to the button for "13" - which launched our already overactive imaginations into overdrive - hardly any buildings have "13" anymore, thanks to longstanding superstition, and the combination of the unlucky number with the slow-moving vintage elevator triggered thoughts of Being John Malkovich.  We half expected the doors to open out to a 'half' floor, where we would have to crawl out through a low-ceilinged hallway to the second elevator bank.
But alas the 13th floor was full-sized, and we were greeted then escorted to our next ride to the 15th floor.  Perch, we learned, occupies two floors - the restaurant and bar is on the 15th, and a open-air rooftop bar with amazing 360 degree views of downtown LA was on the 16th. 

Our excitement to experience the space was deflated when our hostess let us know that the restaurant was booked full for the night, and the 16th floor reserved for a private party. 

Ever the optimists though, we decided to go for drinks at the bar, enjoy the ambiance of the space and go for a quick look around while putting our names on the waitlist in case of cancellations.


The bar/ lounge was beautiful, even tucked inside the building.  The designers definitely spared no expense with attention to even the smallest detail - everywhere you looked, there was some exquisite embossed wall panel, rustic table or chic amber chandelier that exuded Paris through and through.

We parked ourselves at the bar, where bartenders styled with a 20s/30s look greeted us warmly and asked about our drink preferences before proceeding to create delicious off-menu cocktails for us!  It was a hot day, so I wanted to start with something refreshing and light - and got a cucumber-mint gin drink - that I unfortunately can't remember the name of but that was fantastic.  Designer got an Aperol Spritz (with prosecco and aperol).
As we were finishing our drinks, the hostess came up to deliver great news - they had a table open up, but we could only have it for two hours, and did we want it?  Did we want it?  We practically leaped off our barstools.

They gave us an incredible table on the rooftop terrace that stretched along two sides of the bar/lounge area, with breathtaking views of the surrounding art deco / sleek glass structures.  We were in love with the place before the food ever arrived.

We noshed on baby baguettes, churned butter and olive tapenade while perusing the menu. 
Our eyes lit up while going down the list - though light in its first weeks, it had some unusual offerings that really fit the French theme.  I wanted to try more of the things that are hard to find elsewhere, so I went with a few small plates.  The first of these was the Shake N Bake Drumsticks ($10) which were buttermilk marinated frogs legs with lily root and garlic chips, and a Calvados honey glaze.

I was so excited to try this, as I grew up eating frogs legs cooked the Chinese way and love seeing how it's prepared in other cuisines (and of course the French are famous for theirs).  The Cantonese words for frog are 雞, which if you take the words individually, translate literally to "field chicken" - and chicken is very much what the legs usually taste like, but with much more intense flavor, juice and a lot skinnier and more veiny. 

Perch's presentation of the dish with uniquely shaped lily root chips was great, and we loved the crispness of the batter coupled with the juicy, yieldy meat underneath - though we wanted the flavor of both the batter and frogs legs to be a bit more pronounced.  I think the flavor was intended to come from the honey glaze, but the small dots of it on the plate were so thick and sticky that they weren't really conducive to dipping.

To go with our meal, we ordered a second round of cocktails - this time I went for something on the menu, a Fancy Navel ($12) with Cognac, Creme de Peche, lemon, OJ and fresh muddled peaches, jalapenos.  This was slightly too syrupy and bitter at the same time, and I definitely liked the first off-menu cocktail much better.

 





Next up was Roasted Bone Marrow ($16) - I had been disappointed a few times with the way bone marrow was prepared at other restaurants (way too oily), but for some reason was in the mood to give it another try.  And Perch didn't disappoint - this was probably the best dish of the night, with the bone marrow nice and fatty but not oily, with a unique consistency that was not quite creamy but almost like softened butter.  This was great spread on the slabs of melba toast that came with the dish.  For accompaniments, there were braised plums, elephant garlic, fleur de sel and wild rocket.  The plums to me were much too thick, sticky and chewy, but designer liked it and thought it went well with the marrow, adding sweetness and a slight tang.
Apres, there was the Duck Duck Goose ($9) three mini clubs layered with seared duck breast, apple wood smoked duck bacon, gooseberry jam, mustard frills, roasted tomato on pain au miel (honey bread).  This was unfortunately one of the biggest disappointments of the night - should have been named, Duck, Duck, Sucker.  I was expecting juicy fatty pieces of duck with a nice char from the seared crust, and had looked forward to the taste of the duck bacon, where fat would again be key. 

I got a plate overrun by dry toast, with pieces of duck that verged on undetectable, except for the fact that it was almost drier tasting than the toast.  The duck bacon fared no better, but was denser in consistency and reminded us of jerky.  There were perhaps two small cherry-tomato sized roasted tomatoes that didn't really taste farm fresh.  I really wanted to love this dish, but could not bring myself to.  That said, I know it'd only been a bit over a week since opening, so have hope that the kitchen will work out the kinks soon.

The entrees on the menu were pretty much all slabs of meat - which suited Designer just fine.  She was torn between the filet and the short ribs dish - and at our super friendly and fantastic server's encouragement she decided to go with the Boeuf Bourguignon Deconstruit ($29) - braised short rib, thumb nail carrots, pork belly, candied garlic, potato lace & chives.  An uber-carnivore, it says a lot that Designer enjoyed the veggies on the plate far more than the meat.  This was the other big, and much more pricey, disappointment of the night.  Braised short rib is usually soaked in flavor, and so tender the meat should fall away with a light flick of the fork.  This was more like well-done steak that looked like it was rare (in color).  At least Designer really did enjoy the vegetables.  With so many places doing great short ribs around the city, in order to compete - especially at the hefty price tag of $29, Perch will really have to up its game with this one (unless they want to just trade entirely on the views from the terrace).

We decided to skip dessert due to the disappointment with some of the other dishes, and that the descriptions of the offerings from beignets to pot de creme to apple tart did not really inspire us. Also, we thought we could come back another time for just drinks and appetizers, or dessert if they step up their game as they get into their groove. And we loved that our server took the time to get our feedback on the meal, stating that the kitchen is really looking for honest opinions so that they can adjust accordingly, since they had just opened.
As we were getting ready to leave, we got our second piece of great news - the private party that was occupying the top floor (with 360 degree views) has mysteriously been cancelled, so we were free to visit upstairs!

The rooftop bar offered fantastic views of the DTLA buildings, and seemed like a great place to hang out with a date or with friends - especially at night with a symphony of lights in the distance, and firepits and heat lamps casting warm glows over the seating areas. A petit, cozy bar with two bartenders is tucked into one corner by the stairs.





All in all, an amazing space that to me seems to marry in the best way, iconic qualities of Paris and Manhattan, vintage and sleek, old world and modern.  It's instantly become one of my favorite scenic spots in LA. 

Also loved the all round fantastic staff and service as well.  Looking forward to returning next time I want to venture downtown for drinks, appetizers and perhaps even a full meal again further down the line, when the kitchen finds its groove.


On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 6.5 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks mains)
Probability of return visit - 100% (for drinks & appetizers)

[For more photos from Perch, check out the full album on my Facebook page]

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Perch
448 S Hill St, 15th & 16th Floors, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Ph: 213.802.1770

Parking: In open-air lot across street for $6
Website: perchla.com

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Perch on Urbanspoon


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