Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Final Days of Foie in California: A 7 Day Diary

There are two ways to deal with things we don't understand.  Medicate it, or eradicate it.

That seems to be the conventional 'wisdom' of our time.  It takes too much effort to ask the hard questions, to get at truth behind issues and to come up with/ implement true resolutions.  So much easier just to go in for the fast, cleanly accredited fix and soundbite.

Not feeling well? Take a pill. Kids are overweight? Forbid anything with sugar. Vegans and animal rights activists bugging you about some obscure food that won't impact the majority of the voting public, definitely not enough for them to mobilize at the polls? Forget regulation - just kill it.

But the thing with taking the easy way out? It always comes back to bite you in the end. It's not always as simple as a pill, what else is going on in someone's life that's causing issues? If you don't get to the root of these issues, what happens the minute they stop taking medication? Are kids really overweight only because of what they eat at school? Or could at least part of the reason be that they have become less active, with technology taking over where physical activity was once the norm (ooh, do we need to ban technology then?), and by taking free will and the option to make good decisions out of the equation - what happens to their diets when they are not in school, will they see the forbidden as an even sweeter and more coveted prize? You got the vegans and PETA activists off your back on foie by giving them their legislation, do you think that's the last you'll hear from them? It's just the beginning of the anti-meat agenda.

I am neither lawyer nor vet - but are there not animal rights 'abuses' in the food system that are far more pervasive and dangerous to both animals and humans than foie that deserve priority in legislation and enforcement or at least regulation (i.e. feedlots and that chicken egg salmonella scare a few years back with more than 550 millions eggs recalled)?  Why are those not being addressed? In a state with $16 billion deficit, and over 1 million Californians unemployed, why were resources being deployed to address such a, in the grand scheme of life, frivolous cause?

Does passage of such legislation, limiting choice in an arena that does not justify the politicization, without scientific proof of claims - bode well for democracy or the ability to conduct our private lives without nanny state / big brother intervention?

And now that we are days away from enforcement of a law that has already passed in their favor, do people (especially government officials) really have nothing better to do than continue to protest about that same issue? (Hey, how about the budget deficit, education, or traffic congestion/alternative transportation(carbon footprint)? That affect human quality of life? Lives of all of your constituents?)  Is this in part some reflection on their inability to be effective (or latch their lives) on any other (worthier) cause? Is it simply easier to continue to beat a dead horse so they can feel some sort of victory over putting one small artisan producer out of business (vs impotence when faced with magnitude of well funded industries with broader support like chicken or beef)?

Arguments of lack of gag reflex and expansion of natural migratory (overfeeding) patterns aside, is it not more respectful to take a beak to tail approach to a food animal, respecting its sacrifice by not wasting any part of it?  And, since foie is a luxury item that fetches a premium price, it is a fact that foie producers have a vested interest in ensuring ducks/geese have high quality of life in order to produce a high quality liver. 

With that soapbox venting speech said, it's encouraging to see every day heroes step up in and out of the kitchen - and to hear that, like Chicago before us, there may be hope in ways to circumvent and hopefully eventually overturn this madness.

In the meantime, foie lovers around the city are celebrating the inimitable, endlessly versatile ingredient one last time - those who can't afford the $180 and up all foie tasting menus can still get their taste a la carte.  Here is my countdown to #Foiehibition:

T-7: ANIMAL  435 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles 323.782.9225

Foie Gras, Biscuit, Maple Sausage Gravy ($25) Animal is a foie fan favorite that has drawn crowds, in these final days, willing to wait upwards of two hours for a seat and a taste.  This dish is pure genius - mixing things that you would think are too rich to go well together but goes perfectly.  A gorgeous, buttery smooth generous lobe of lightly seared foie sitting on top of a thin, buttery crumbly biscuit and rich, creamy gravy riddled with bits of juicy maple sausage. I will miss you.

Foie Gras Loco Moco, Quail Egg, Spam, Hamburger ($36) - elevated take on a Hawaiian staple, pairing high and low ingredients: foie with spam, quail egg with humble hamburger and rice.  Beautifully presented with dots of sriracha for bit of heat and scallions for color and crunch.  Loved this.  You will also be missed.

Veal Tongue, Smoked Foie Gras, Pastrami Spices, Crab Apple ($14) - such an original and beautiful creation.  Art on a plate.  This was the least expensive of the three dishes I tried but probably tied with the Foie biscuit & gravy for my favorite.  The foie is made into a mousse that sort of has the consistency of ricotta cheese, and served with the most amazing tongue I've ever had - veal tongue with the texture of oxtail and spiced to taste like pastrami.  With the sweet-acidity of pickled crab apple to cut through it all nicely, burnt mustard on the side for flavor enhancement, and dehydrated pumpernickel toasts beautifully arranged atop the quenelle of foie, as if it was ready to take flight.  A fitting, gorgeous way to send off a beloved ingredient.

T-6: WATERLOO & CITY 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City 310.391.4222

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Armagnac Prunes, Brioche ($19) - Waterloo and City is one of my favorite places to eat in LA - offering accessible, affordable gourmet in a well designed but laid back gastropub setting.  And they serve amazing Hudson Valley foie - in an adorable mason jar, with a topping of jellied prunes, and brioche on the side.  Underneath the prunes, is foie in its purest form - I love these like I love the purity of fresh shucked oysters, with their pristine taste of deep, untouched ocean. This foie similarly has that amazing, pure untouched taste and unparallelled, luscious fresh aphrodisiac texture that truly justifies the foodie-phrase-du-jour: foodgasm.

Smoked Eel & Foie Gras Terrine, Picallili, Soy Gastrique, Brioche ($14) - Waterloo and City is known for their charcuterie, and this inventive pairing of smoked eel and foie in terrine is creative and delicious, with an interesting mix of smoothness and soft crunch.  Carrying on the Asian flavors evoked by eel, soy gastrique is used as condiment for a bit of acidity to cut through the richness of the proteins. All served with a lovely side of cornichon and pickled onion and brioche toasts.

Beef Wellington ($27) - a British classic, and a blackboard special that day, with a filet steak dressed in foie, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked.  This one, I didn't love - the meat was a bit too thick and chewy, and (caution: here comes the food snob) didn't taste as flavorful as grassfed beef usually does.  I also thought the way foie was used as coating for the dense brick of a steak sort of wasted its unique, luscious texture.

T-5: Mezze  401 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles 310.657.4103

Foie Terrine, Saffron, Pistachio, Grapefruit  ($24) - Mezze's melding of mediterranean dining traditions and flavors with 'California marketplace' inspiration meets with classic french foie here, beautifully.  A perfect moon of smooth, creamy foie terrine at just the right density, its rich earthy flavors perfectly balanced with the lightest of saffron jellies, and gently tart, juicy sections of grapefruit, and crushed pistachios for crunch. This was a gorgeous, artful plate that brings to mind Keats' famous words: "beauty is truth / truth beauty / that is all ye know on earth / and all ye need to know". 
I know pistachios are a med-cuisine staple, but it's also iconic to California - and this pairing of foie with pistachio, for me, come July 1st - is going to be like that one memory that summarizes your relationship with that one ex you can never get over - we were so happy together (in the mind of the lover), foie and California, but it just wasn't meant to be.  You can repress and learn to function like a normal person again, but you are walking around with a giant piece of you missing, something you'll have to learn to cope with daily.  Is it sad to hope that someday we'll be together again?

T-4: ink. 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 323.651.5866

Foie Gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce ($23) Michael Voltaggio is genius.  I don't know if I'm way off the mark, but this dish to me tasted like Summer, with flavors and textures that evoked ice cream (waffle fragments atop thin creamy slab of luscious foie terrine), bbq (specifically, buffalo wings - with the smokiness from treated maple cream and dots of orange hot sauce) and campfires (smoked maple was served with a marshmallow-y consistency, making me think of s'mores!).  The last blissful summer with foie. 

This was such an amazing dish, I got two of them - in the same sitting.  Because I could, and very soon can't anymore. Summer of Foie nevermore, Lenore.

(If you go and sit at the bar, ask for Gabriella, she made me an awesome off-menu cocktail that tasted like it was made to go with foie.  It was loud and hard to hear what exactly was in it, but she did show me the bottle of vermouth that was used - Floc de Gascogne Laubade.  Get your last foie and vermouth pairing at ink. before time runs out.)

T-3: Petrossian 321 N Robertson Blvd West Hollywood 310.271.0576

Petrossian was on my list of must-stops in the last week before the foie ban is enforced - primarily for the mindblowing foie gras ice cream served with the tenderest, fluffiest flat-bread-like brioche and fresh raspberry jam, that I'd had once before and fell in love with.  I had to have a last taste of that, and decided to splurge on one full tasting menu here: Farewell to Foie, 5-courses for $100 (more affordable compared to others around town!).

Course 1: Summer Berry Gazpacho Armagnac Poached Foie Gras, Pickled Beets - this was a beautiful and original way to serve foie, with fresh sweet-tart softly crunchy berries paired with sour also gently crunchy pickled beets, to balance with the smooth, buttery blocks of poached foie gras - served in a cold berry 'soup' that's poured over the lot, at the table.  Was sad I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch a shot of the ingredients pre-pour.

Course 2: Asparagus Salad black summer truffles, little gem baby lettuce, truffle jus vinaigrette, foie gras ravioli - this was a clean, relative light dish of radiant earthy flavors, combining two of my fav ingredients on earth: foie and truffles.  Lovely light bites for a second course. 
Course 3: Seared Foie Gras cherries, mint, pistachios - it's hard to beat the natural, indescribable texture of foie.  And sometimes it's at its most beautiful served simply - as in Waterloo & City's foie in a jar, or Petrossian's seared foie.
A close-up shot of the inside of that lobe, so you can see the perfectly even sear with the rich unadulterated buttery creaminess underneath.  I die every time.  And the sweet acidity of cherries and crunchiness of pistachios goes perfectly.

Course 4: Prime Flat Iron foie gras, onion, fines herbs, fresno chili - this dish was not my favorite, probably as I'm not a huge fan of red meat, and I was in the mood to enjoy foie at full blast before the ban - foie was sort of an embellishment versus the main attraction in this dish, and the steak was a little tougher and less flavorful than I expected, even at medium rare.  But the portion size was incredly generous, and you would definitely not need to hit up another restaurant after this tasting menu (as you might at other fine dining places, where you're barely getting a few bites from each plate). 

Course 5: Foie Gras Ice Cream brioche, raspberry jam, sea salt, honey - it's testament to the versatility and irreplaceability (yes I think I just made that word up) of foie, that it can be served in every way from simply seared to terrines to soup to sauces - over and in anything and everything - and even in dessert.  This is probably my favorite foie ice cream that I've ever had - not only is it lush, gorgeously creamy and fresh, every element that accompanies it is perfect.  It's basically a super sophisticated ice cream sandwich, but instead of cookies the scoop of foie ice cream is cradled in a flat-bread-like brioche that is incredibly soft and fluffy, served slightly warm to contrast with the chill of the ice cream, punctuated by natural sweetness of the freshest tasting raspberry jam and crunch of crushed peanuts, a hint of sea salt and bit of honey for light sweet finishing touch.  If you haven't tried it yet - I highly recommend you do this before July 1st.  This is the foie dessert I will miss and mourn the most.

Aside from the tasting menu, Petrossian does offer a la carte foie dishes that are available through June 30th: Goose Foie Gras with black truffle, port wine, pepper ($38), Duck Foie Gras with Black Truffles, armagnac, Perigord seasonings ($32), Duck Foie Gras, Armagnac, Perigord Seasonings ($28) and Pate & Charcuterie Plate with duck salami, duck rillettes, duck & pork pate with orange, duck & duck liver port pate ($22).

T-2: Gelson's  locations citywide

Trois Petits Cochons Mousse de Foie de Canard au Porto ($7.99) - I had an awesome Happy Hour with coworkers this night, but it went on for 4 hours which meant it was too late to go to any good restaurant that served foie.  But, I remembered that Gelson's sells these lovely (for chain grocery) duck liver and pork mousse with port wine! And realized I still had time to stock up so that I could still have foie in July! Thank you Gelson's!!! 

T-1: Waterloo & City (round 2) and The Royce at The Langham 
W&C: 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City 310.391.4222
The Royce: 1401 South Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena 626.585.6410

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Armagnac Prunes($23) - yes, I went back to Waterloo and City for their foie in a jar.  It was still my favorite foie (taste and deal wise despite the $4 per jar increase on that last day before the ban) in the city.  The second time round the texture was different though - less raw foie like, more dense and terrine like, but so thick it was more like the consistency of a stick of butter that had been in the fridge for a while. Still amazing in taste, but I preferred the raw, softer, oyster-like texture of the first round.  Still it was one of my favs, and I got two jars - yes two - to get my fill before it's no longer legal to get out in the open like this.

Roasted Halibut, Clams, Foie Gras Sauce ($29) - Waterloo & City had a daily special, just for that last night before Foiehibition, with a beautifully roasted fish with clams stuffed with soft cubes of potato and fresh peas - all bathed in foie gras sauce.  You really can use foie in pretty much anything. 

I still love it most in rawish/seared/terrine/ice cream sandwich form, but this was a lovely dish as well.
The Royce: I waddled in, under the weight of my own liver which is fatty from the indulgence of the past week, for the most 'fine dining' experience of my week - in a beautiful hotel (yes in dreaded Pasadena but nonetheless a very nice one), and a chic, upscale dining room that wouldn't be out of place in a high-end Vegas hotel on the strip, or a high-end mall dining venue in Hong Kong.  In celebration of foie, chef David Feau was offering foie '30 Ways in 3 Days' - and you could make your selection from 30 preparations of foie starting at a minimum of 3 dishes for $75.  Since this was my second dinner, I went for 3 courses. At my server's recommendation, I started with Seared Foie Gras, Lobster with fava beans and eggplant caviar - this was my favorite of the three:  the lobster was way overcooked as to be very chewy, almost tough, which was a waste, but what was important that night was the foie, and the foie was perfect - evenly seared top and bottom, with a pure, unadulterated, yes, unctuous center.
Close up shot of the interior of that gorgeous foie, because I want to remember it (as one tear drips down ma face...)
On the verge of food coma, I didn't get a chance to take a shot of the menu so these may not be the proper names that I'm listing here...but my second dish was Foie Gras with Quail and Squab  - I was looking forward to this one as I love quail! And bird organ on bird 'steak' sounded like a winning combintaion. The quail came in a baby 'filet' cooked rare - and I enjoyed it with the luscious lobe of foie on top - but it wasn't mindblowing, definitely not of the caliber of the foie-stuffed-quail at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.  I wasn't impressed with the squab 'drumstick' either - I wanted it to be more juicy, tender and flavorful.  And whatever was in the sauce and foam didn't do much for the dish either.
Foie Gras, Chocolate Sauce, Orange - this was supposed to be a week of celebrating the best of foie, so the last thing I was is negativity.  But, I also have to be honest, and this dish was one that I could only take one bite of.  The server highly recommended this as the best of the foie desserts, and the one that I'll leave remembering.  I'll admit I may be affected by this being my second dinner for the night, but this felt way too rich as to be unbalanced - the thick, dark, pungent chocolate sauce was overwhelming when paired with the hefty piece of foie.  The orange was I'm sure meant to cut through that with its acidity, but I really could not get beyond that first bite.  So, not the best way to finish out the last night of legal foie in California (I should have listened to Sinosoul and gone to Papilles!) - but nonetheless, glad to have had the experience and no regrets about not having tried the infamous foie menu at The Royce.

T-0 aka D-Day: July 1st Foiehibition is now in effect, and foie gras is no longer legal to be produced or sold in the state of California.  I'm glad I have leftover terrine and pre-purchased foie mousse to tie me over for a few days.

The true impact of this on culinary tourism, the ability of the state to attract new high-caliber talent, and precedence for government intervention in civil liberties, remains to be seen.  The hopeless optimist in me hopes for the law to be overturned, as it was in Chicago before us, and with the Prohibition before that (though of course, alcohol has many, many, far more vocal and well funded advocates than foie). 

Til then, lovers of foie and freedom, please support C.H.E.F.S. in their fight for sustainable and humane farming practices - a longer term, real, non-Fahrenheit 451-esque solution.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Pikey: Gastropub with Brilliant Brunch in Hollywood!

I'd never been to Ye Coach & Horses, the historic dive bar that was on Sunset in the space that has now been transformed to the two month old British-American gastropub The Pikey Cafe & Bar, so I have no basis for comparisan, but the new space is fantastic, as I found out this weekend. 

When lifestyle blogger Whitney Lader sent an invite for a media tasting, to check out their newly launched brunch service - I couldn't resist. Girl has mad talent picking places that have the perfect storm of cool venue, great cocktails, and fab food - and The Pikey is no exception.

The new space, as the name states, is a hybrid of cafe and bar - divided into three sections: sunlit dining room, adjacent to the cavernous main bar with red booths, and private bar in the back.  The cafe area has a cool retro-luxe Manhattanite vibe with huge ornate gold-framed mirrors, rustic wood tables and chairs, and green booths running the length of the dining room, leading up to an open kitchen in back.  Where Chef Ralph Johnson, former executive chef of New York's 1-Michelin-starred The Spotted Pig (who has also worked with Chef Heston Blumenthal of London's famed 3-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck, and was named one of Zagat's 30 under 30 in New York last year), is at the helm.

The Pikey prides itself on using organic, local, farm produce and free range, cruelty-free meat - and quality of ingredients really shone through in all the cooked dishes we tasted (with a party of ten, we were able to try a lot of the dishes on the brunch menu)! 

We started with housemade pastries: Coffee Cream filled Donut, and Sticky Bun.  To be honest, I didn't really love these - the donut was a bit too chewy, and the coffee cream was runny and not very flavorful.  Then again, I did arrive a little late, so that might have been a factor in texture.  The Sticky Bun was quite good - it's apparently a two-day process to produce! - but not mind-blowing.

The cooked dishes though, were amazing - unexpectedly high-end fare in a decidedly unstuffy setting - and what will definitely be bringing me back soon!
Brioche French Toast with stone fruit & creme fraiche ($11) this was one of the best french toast dishes I've ever had - the toast itself was nice and fluffy with slightly crisped sides - but it was the toppings that stole the spotlight.  The combination of super fresh sweet-tart peaches, cherries, lovely, smooth creme fraiche and super fragrant basil was pitch perfect.  As was the ratio of 'toppings' to toast.  Love that they didn't do the standard syrup or berries.

With a full bar, The Pikey has a great cocktail list  - Bloody Mary caught my eye as it is made with housemade Vegemite (paste made from yeast extract)! So...Australian (fine, it is a British colony).  I usually don't enjoy Bloody Marys as they are too thick, like drinking tomato sauce - which isn't that appetizing first thing in the morning.  But The Pikey makes theirs nice and light - it was actually a very refreshing drink, with a bit of heat - and a giant stalk of celery for garnish (and snack...).

Next up was my absolute favorite of the meal: Curry on Toast with a Fried Duck Egg ($10) it was shockingly sophisticated / original for brunch much less at a pub!!! The curry was intoxicatingly fragrant, and perfectly tempered for the just awakening stomach / sense by the toast and soothing mild flavors of the duck egg and its lovely runny yolk. I don't think I've seen such a dish at any other brunch spot in LA...A bloody brilliant dish that I will definitely come back for!
Apparently Chef Johnson knows quite a bit about meats, especially pork. He house cures / smokes his bacon and sausages etc., and the House Smoked Bacon ($5) was delicious - spot on fat to meat ratio and just the perfect hint of sweet.
The Cured Arctic Char with Scrambled Egg, Biscuit, and Hollandaise ($14) was a beautiful sight - though this one doesn't strike you as immediately original as the others, this was a nice meeting of three classic breakfast items that you wouldn't normally see together: scrambled eggs + cured fish (inspired by lox?) + hollandaise sauce (normally served over a poached egg on eggs benedict).  A very well-executed plate - the scrambled egg was beautifully pillowy and still wet around the edges, the way I like it.  The fish added a smooth, cool blast of salinity while the hollandaise held it all together with creamy deliciousness.
One of the ladies at our end of the table, Sam Durbin, loves and requested Egg in the Hole with House Smoked Bacon and 100% Pure Maple Syrup ($12) - I wasn't very familiar with the dish, but it is pretty much self-explanatory - it's an egg cooked into a hole cut out in bread.  And, as Sam pointed out, what V made for Natalie Portman's character for breakfast in V for Vendetta - that is what sparked her interest in the dish, and she had set out to try it at every place she could.  This is why I love meals with food writers.  The Pikey's version of Egg in the Hole though was I think overshadowed by the epic creativity and taste of the others.
The kitchen very generously kept sending out food! We also tried Slow Roasted Pork Belly Sandwich with horseradish cream, cornishons and watercress ($13) - this was more like hamsteak in taste and texture, but I did love the use of horseradish cream for a kick that cut through the pork flavors nicely, and cornishons chopped up and slid right into the sandwich that punctuated bites of meat with bursts of sour-sweet juicyness.  The fries on the side are also noteworthy - they're 'thrice cooked', which makes them super crispy outside and deliciously soft and yieldy inside.  We didn't leave a single fry on the plate.
Last up of the cooked dishes is the Fried Eggs, Pork Sausage, Bacon, Beans, Roasted Tomato & Mushroom with Grilled Toast ($13) which our informative server let us know is actually called "Full English Breakfast" - but they broke out the elements on the menu as most people here wouldn't know what Full English Breakfast means.  I thought the best thing on this plate was the housemade pork sausage, so soft, tender and fresh.
Before we finished, fellow foodie Narmar ordered Pimm's Cup made with fresh berries, and having established that we were both huge fans of Matt Biancaniello of Library Bar, I trusted her recommendation on this drink - and she was right, it tasted so fresh and light yet flavorful with fresh muddled berries.  Would order this again on my next visit, for sure.
All in all, a fantastic meal that exceeded all (already high because it's a Whitney event) expectations. Exciting, delicious food in a lovely space for reasonable prices - it's a winning combination.

The Pikey also has a pretty intriguing dinner menu that includes Welsh Rarebit, Seared Squid with Curried Chickpeas, and pig ear salad - have made a note to self to go back soon to check that out, especially since they offer that menu for late night dining (last call 1:30am, restaurant open til 2am), and there aren't many places with food this interesting and good that operates those hours!

In the meantime, adding The Pikey to my list of favorite spots for brunch.  Glad we got to go before it blows up into a 'hotspot' with a 'scene' (apparently Michael C. Hall, star of Dexter was also there at a table behind us for most of the morning - single girls around the table bemoaned that no one pointed that out to us the whole time til he'd left!).  The name may reference British slang for 'gypsy', but judging by the quality of food we had yesterday, it's definitely one that will quickly leave its mark on the culinary map of the city, as one that is here to stay.

Cheers to Whitney for organizing yet another fun and delicious event!

[For more photos from The Pikey, as well as other hot brunch spots around the city, check out my Facebook album here.]

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

*Disclaimer: This meal was hosted.

The Pikey Cafe & Bar Hollywood

7617 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90046
Ph: 323.850.5400

Parking: Metered street parking on Sunset (1 hour max - check signs), Valet $7

Twitter: @thepikeyla

The Pikey on Urbanspoon

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

  • Providence LA - by popular demand, they have extended their anniversary deal! $75 per person for 5-course dinner! Ends 7/31/12
  • LIVELLO - $100 for 4-course tasting for two at the L’Ermitage Beverly Hills restaurant with two glasses of wine. Deal from GiltCity (ends 6/27)
  • R23 - $69 for $116 4-course sushi dinner for two with drinks. Deal at Travelzoo (~1 day left to buy)
  • Fig & Olive - summer aperitivo hour Mondays-Thursdays 5-7pm $8 wine & cocktail specials plus free tasting boards (usually flatbreads and small bites!)
  • Not food, still delish:
    • Levitated Mass art exhibit opens at LACMA today! Admission to the exhibit is free at anytime, but from 6/24-7/1 residents of select zip codes can get free admission to other galleries of the museum with proof of residency in the zip codes along the boulder's route of travel.  See list here.
    •  FREE Summer Pass to LACMA - buy general admission to LACMA any day from now til June 30 and sign up for a free summer pass to get free admission for 3 months to any of their galleries!


This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. 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!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Providence LA: Happy 7th Anniversary!!

Is there anniversary in the city more moving than that of Providence?  Not for lovers of fine dining, I'd say.  The deal that comes around just once a year, is enough to move self-professed gourmands to tears.  Of bliss.
A meal at the Michelin-starred haven helmed by the inimitable Chef Michael Cimarusti is normally special occasion dining, with prices to match.  But once a year, during the month of June, they celebrate their anniversary with a 5-course prix fixe dinner that makes it much more affordable while keeping the same high standards.
This year, the deal was $75 per person and again runs the entire month of June!  Worth toasting for sure - I can't name another Michelin-starred dinner deal in the city better than thsi one.  We started with two cocktails: I had the kipling's experience ($15) with beefeater 24, bergamot, riesling, yellow chartreuse, litchi.  A refreshing, delicious and original (mixing dessert wine into a cocktail? awesome!) drink.  Unfortunately I didn't write down what friend 'YZ' had, will have to check back with her!
At Providence, they don't just plop any old basket of bread down at your table, a server comes around offering all the seaweed bread and bacon roll you can handle (there were other breads too, but we didn't hear what they were after those two set off fireworks in our eyes and minds). 

Then came the first of three sets of amuse bouche: this one I've had on previous visits and is a light, palate cleansing start to the meal - one frozen mojito shaped into a bite-sized cube, one screwdriver cocktail, spherified to resemble a raw egg yolk, each served on a spoon.
The second set of amuse came on a lovely carved wood platter that was rustic and playful at the same time - love the presentation on this.  Oh right, I should also talk about the food: sunchoke puree with port wine reduction and creme fraiche, in a shot glass, and a gougere on the side. Love the shot of 'soup', which was rich in flavor but light in texture.  The gougere also came at just the right temperature, a warm, comforting bite that melts away in your mouth.

The third and last course was one of my favorite bites of the night: Crispy Salmon Skin and Trout Cheese. BEST reinvention of the classic chip and dip, EVER.  If you died just reading that, then you have the beginning of an idea of how amazing this tasted.  The trout cheese was like the Ivy-educated, perpetual society-page gracing cousin of Cheese Whiz. That is to say, no resemblance whatsoever beyond the barest superficial traits - they're both roughly orange in color, and a creamy cheesy spread. Providence's is made with trout for a uniquely intriguing flavor, a bit lighter in consistency, and served with little crisp bits of chives on top for counterbalancing crunch and herb-y goodness to cut through the thick, rich cheese.  Pair that with crispy salmon skin chips, and you have the most perfect, inspired chip and dip ever.  I would buy and stock my entire fridge with this, if they would ever sell it. And because I clearly haven't raved enough about this, I want to say that this kind of represents one of the main reasons I love Providence so much - they are definitely top of the line, fine dining to the power of fine dining in terms of food quality, service etc., but they don't take themselves too seriously, and their love of, creativity and playfulness with food comes through in their inventions like this one.
Course #1: Kompachi this first dish was simple, but with the freshest and tastiest cuts of fish I've had outside of Tsukiji market.  Maybe because it's flown in from Japan?  So amazing, I could still taste it in my mind days later.
Added course: Santa Barbara Spot Prawns though the anniversary tasting menu would be more than enough to fill us, since we were there we decided to add on one more course. We originally chose Saute Foie Gras (knowing it may be our last here thanks to the ridiculous law passed by the state of California), but our server somehow heard 'Spot Prawn' instead.  It turned out to be a happy accident, as the spot prawn was amazing - an experience not to be missed.  The prawns are served tableside - they wheel out a cart with a copper pan filled to the brim with salt and rosemary - which filled the room with their delicious scent - then, like hidden treasure, the prawns are 'extracted' from the giant mound of salt,
scraped clean, then split straight down the middle sideways.
I haven't really seen prawns served this way (love love love it!!!) outside of Cantonese seafood restaurants, where they are split and served with garlic! The great thing about cutting prawns up this way is that, like split lobster tails, it makes it easier to lift the juicy, sweet meat clean out of the shell.  AND, you get to have all the luscious prawn 'tomalley' and roe that's inside the head! Providence's preparation has the meat infused with the flavors of salt and rosemary, so that when served up it is free of distracting bits of seasoning - you taste it without having to feel it.  And of course, a wedge of meyer lemon is provided for those so inclined.

Course #2: Day Boat Sea Scallops with bergamot, pistachio, blood orange and fava beans.  How does Chef Cimarusti come up with such creative ingredient combinations that have such intriguing yet clean flavor profiles?  How does he present such original work without being 'showy' or 'fussy' with the food? This course was crazy good - perfectly seared scallop whose natural sweetness is elevated by citrus in the sauce, and whose tenderness is perfectly counterbalanced by the soft crunch of crushed pistachios and fava beans.  Loved this.
Course #3: Foie Gras Ravioli with Italian Summer Truffles, Aromatics, Parmesan. Another simple yet beautiful dish - a pasta classic made incredible with buttery foie gras filling and summer truffles (might have been even better with more fragrant black truffles for $30 extra, but we were on a budget here), and instead of drenching in the usual thick / creamy sauce, Providence's ravioli is lightly bathed in parmesan foam.  Another lovely dish.
Course #4: Dutch Valley Farms Veal Tenderloin (Holland, IL) with spring onion, roasted zuckerman farms jumbo asparagus, king oyster mushrooms.  Though I'm more of a seafood girl, not so much red meat - I loved this veal: it was cooked sous vide for two hours, and just melts away in your mouth.  On the side is an earthy, meaty 'filet' of king oyster mushrom that is grilled to perfection, with the asparagus and some ground up, crisped mushroom bits for contrasting crunch.  A solid course!
Course #5: Manjari 64% espresso, sweetened condensed milk, gianduia, ube.  This was the only course of the night that was utterly disappointing. It hurts to have anything bad to say about my favorite place in LA, but...this one was ugly, felt slapped together last minute, unsophisticated in flavor and had unpleasant textures. The 'block' was too sticky and overwhelmingly sweet, and the little pebble-like blobs were schizophrenic: they couldn't decide if they were crunchy or soft, and landed somewhere in between, while tasting completely bland - we thought it was tofu gone wild (by sticking to the side of chocolate).  I think we might have actually hated this, a first for anything we've ever put in our mouths at Providence.

While trying to eat as many bites of the dessert as we could, a futile exercise in hopeless optimism (maybe we'll 'get it' with the next bite...), we longingly eyed the beautiful cheese cart that was wheeled to the table next to ours, wishing we had received cuts of loveliness from that instead.
As with previous meals, to close out dinner Providence provides a plate of mignardises - bergamet gelee, eucalyptus macaron and chocolate caramel.  I've loved these in the past but for some reason (was the regular pastry chef out sick that night?!) these were also overly sweet with unrefined textures.
Dessert and mignardises aside, dinner at Providence was as incredible as ever - the few times that I could afford to experience it anyways.  The anniversary menu is definitely one that I most look forward to each year. 

So, to fine dining / seafood lovers / those who have always wanted to check out Providence - the $75 prix fixe meal goes through the end of June (dinner only).  Reservations with credit card only.  Bon appetit! (And, congrats, Providence on another successful year in the art of food!)

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

[To find more awesome dining deals, check out my Daily Specials (dining deals for every night of the week) page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]


5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038
Ph: 323.460.4170
Look for reservations (and points!):

Providence on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Black Hogg: Baah Baah Brilliant (Popcorn) Bacon

When Black Hogg first opened back in March, I remember reading KevinEats' post about his meal there and loving the account of how Chef Eric Park picked the name for his Silverlake restaurant: originally he wanted "Black Pig" to reference his favorite animal - the Berkshire pig, but since that was already taken by other dining venues (as was "Black Hog"), he decided to go with the extra "g" in "hogg", which is defined as "young sheep" - which gives the name a nice double meaning paying tribute to kurobuta pork as well as being sort of a 'black sheep' in the culinary world, tryng to open his first gastropub.

With the thoughtfulness that went into the naming, I figured that would be infused into his food as well. And that turned out to be true - though the food was definitely very accessible (intended to be pub fare, stepped up) and not at all fussy, the creativity and care that went into the conception and execution of each dish is clear.

On a leisurely Saturday a month or so back, Beauty Jones, her hubby and I met up to check out the laid back, almost minimalist space (well, it was more like for me to check out - the other two live in the neighborhood and had already visited and fell in love with Black Hogg! And its corkage-free BYOB which lasted until just recently this month!).  The entrance was interesting - if there was a masculine version of 'shabby chic', that's how I would describe its aesthetic, with a grubby looking neon sign on a backboard with peeling paint.  Once inside, its design consists of light woods and clean lines, cozy, no fuss - as if to say, alright then, let's get on with the food.

The most buzzed about of Chef Park's creations was the Popcorn Bacon, Maple Crema ($7) - so that had to be our first dish!  In short, it was genius. With the national bacon obsession, it's crazy that no one's ever thought to do this before - but Black Hogg cures their own bacon and serves it in cubes, deep fried in the most addictive seasoning - so that you get this amazing crunch and blast of flavor yielding to juicy, super luscious fat - all in adorable bite-sized squares that you won't be able to stop popping in your mouth.  And you get a side of maple cream for dipping.  Pure heaven for pork lovers.
As a funghi lover, I had to try the Wild Mushrooms on a Brioche Box ($15) - this was a simple dish, that at first I didn't want to spend precious stomach space on, as it didn't sound particularly exciting - but turned out to be shockingly delicious.  The mushrooms were perfectly cooked in a richly flavored sauce, and served in just the right proportion with a hefty slab of buttery brioche toast.  It's sort of pricey for a dish that is essentially vegetarian, and not really entree sized, but the taste was that amazing that I would say, worth the splurge at least once.
Next up was another favorite of the night: Roasted Marrow Bones, Breakfast Radishes ($12) bone marrow at other places have disappointed me in the past, being usually too oily and an unpleasant mouthfeel.  Black Hogg serves theirs pitch perfect - lush and fatty-creamy (no oil slick!) and with a side not only of breakfast radishes to provide counterbalancing crunch, but also a first-ever (for me), a mix of capers plus cilantro (and I thought, also, lime juice) that is a unique pairing for bone marrow, and lends it some southeast asian flavors that cut through the richness of the marrow nicely. All this is served with lightly grilled tortillas for a great plate that to me seemed to give a cool nodd to some of the flavors of LA: bit of Vietnamese and Mexican layered with American gastropub fare. 
As everyone at the table loves lamb, we got the Buttery Lamb Burger, Habanero Onions, Onetik Bleu, Fries ($17) - this may have been the best lamb burger I've ever had. Super juicy (and apparently buttery because actual butter is added to the meat in the patty!), super flavorful, amazing with the punch of pungent blue (sheep's milk) cheese, and crunch of innocuous looking pink onions lent some heat from habanero.  Layers of flavor that work perfectly together, topped by perfectly toasted brioche buns.
All in all, a fantastic meal at Black Hogg.  We loved every dish we had. I rarely have occasion to venture into Hipsterville, but this unpretentious good food made me deeply jealous of Beauty Jones for living within walking distance of the place. 

Black Hogg doesn't take reservations, so it's best, as Beauty Jones wisely recommended, to try to get there right at when they open at 6pm for best chance of getting seated quickly.  

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

Black Hogg

2852 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90026
Ph: 323.953.2820

Twitter: @black_hogg

Black Hogg on Urbanspoon


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