Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Bites: Top 10 Edible Gift Ideas for Your Fav Foodie 2014

What to get that hard-to-please foodie?

Here are a few ways to do that, many of which support local small businesses, for budgets up to $200 ;) Some of these ideas are for curated themed items that you can pick and choose from within the set, to suit your limit!

Where deals or discounts are available, I have noted them below each product description.

You can see this year's non-edibles gift guide here.

1. Ultimate Artisanal Ice Cream Bar Stash

Put together a custom basket of handcrafted toppings that will take their ice cream game to another level. Include as many or as little of the below as you like to fit your budget.  Maybe even throw in a DIY ice cream maker so they can experiment with their own flavors at home!
  • Quenelle caramelized rice + bourbon caramel
Chef Park's caramelized rice are like the best, most refined version of rice crispies you've ever  had, glazed with caramelized sugar but still super crunchy, light and each piece distinct, not   clumped together.  I don't normally even like toppings on my ice cream, but these are my favorite.  And, bourbon caramel will make anything taste better.
  • Middlebar bourbon poached cherries 
Local farm to glass ambassadors Middlebar takes farm fresh produce and turns them into delicious cocktail mixes and fixings, from pickled veggies to bourbon poached cherries.  The Bulleit bourbon poached cherries are my favorite: the humdrum vanilla ice cream in your freezer won't even have any idea what hit it (and why it will suddenly become the hottest commodity).

  • Zoku DIY ice cream maker bowl
Photo: Williams Sonoma
This bowl lets them make their own ice cream in minutes, and serve it right in the bowl.   Just keep the inside stainless steel liner in the freezer, and when ready for a frozen treat, just place the liner into the insulated sleeve, the ice cream mix into the liner, and keep stirring til the desired consistency is reached.  Easy?!

Buy from:

2. For the Foie Fan Stuck in California

Photo: Dartagnan
Just because they live in a draconian state doesn't mean that you can't be their enabler by getting their favorite food shipped in from elsewhere (to be clear, the ban only applies to selling of foie within the state of California - it's totally legal to purchase from outside the state for personal consumption in CA).

Dartagnan offers a fantastic selection from medallions of duck foie with truffles, to sliced foie (for searing), to foie in prepared formats from torchon to terrine. 

Buy from: Dartagnan medallion of foie with truffles: 6 oz $14.99 / 1lb $33.99; torchon 1lb $96.99 / case of 4x 5oz $170.99

[Deal Alert: Spend $125 get 10% off, Spend $225 get 15% off through Cyber Monday 12/1. AND stack the deal: get 3.5% cash back when you go through eBates first, no minimum spend required (free to sign up!)]]

3. For the Momofuku Milk Bar / Banana + Chocolate Fan

Photo: Goldbely
Know someone who is obsessed with Momofuku?  Chef Christina Tossi's brilliant treats?

Do that have that episode of Mind of a Chef on repeat, about rotting food on purpose to impact flavor, and consider it genius?

Well now you can gift one of chef Tossi's creations, probably using that nifty rotting banana trick to get the cake tasting, well, more banana-ey.

Buy from: Goldbely $44

[Deal Alert: get $15 off your first order with this link]

4. Try the World - like Birchbox for Foodies

Photo: Try the World
There's something about coming home to a waiting package that make people happy - you've seen this turned into a successful business idea with Birch Box in the beauty space.  Now you can give food loving friends / family that same sense of surprise and delight with a gift that doesn't end with the unwrapping this holiday, with a Try the World subscription.  They will get shipped one box from a different country every 2 months, that contains 7-10 artisanal delicacies w/ card describing each product + cultural guide and recipes. 
The current box is Paris themed, and from the photos looks like it contains some classic staples from Mere Poulard cookies to fleur de sel, caramels, to Bon Maman jam, dijon mustard as well as packets of tea from one of my favorite tea brands, Les Palais des Thes. 

Yes, you can get some of these items at your local grocery or gourmet food stores if you know where to look, and I'd like to see future boxes include more items that you can't actually buy in the US - but this idea of themed boxes arriving at your door on a regular basis, filled with possible culinary surprises, is a fun one.

Buy from:  $39 per month on month-to-month subscription basis

5. For True Tea Lovers

While vacationing in Taiwan one year, we discovered a love for the Red Formosa Assam (aka 'Taiwan #18' that blends different Assam leaves) from the Sun Moon Lake region, a black tea that is so fragrant, sweet and smooth that it tastes in flavor as if cream and sugar were already added in.

As with wine, terroir and climate matters with the flavors that develop in tea leaves, and Sun Moon Lake is apparently ideal for cultivating Assam tea.
Photo: Red Blossom Tea

When we returned from the trip, we were disappointed that we were not able to get the tea easily from even well known tea purveyors.

So when we found that Red Blossom Tea, a family owned shop in San Francisco's Chinatown (who also coincidentally supplies Sons & Daughters with their teas) carries Taiwan #18, I definitely stocked up.

Photo: Ten Ren Tea
And now you can access it for tea loving friends too: Red Blossom tea also sells this incredible tea via their online store.

Check out their other more unusual offerings too, like elderflower tea!

To plus up this gift, consider adding a traditional clay tea pot and gaiwan set as well.

Buy from:

Red Formosa Assam: 2 oz: $20 / 4 oz: $37 
Elderflower:  4 oz: $10.50 / 8 oz: $21
Canister: $6
(slate / red)

Tea pot / gaiwan: Ten Ren Tea $129

6. For the Truffle Hound: Truffles to Make Everything Better

Photo: Ditalia
The Casina Rossa Truffle Trio Gift Pack is a perfect way to sample the famous Truffle & Salt, along side Casina Rossa's own 100% black truffle carpaccio and elegant truffle Acacia honey.

This is a perfect set to give, share or indulge in the elegant and aromatic flavor of truffles.

Photo: Williams Sonoma
White truffles, the prized gems of Italy, imbue this sea salt with exquisitely complex flavor and fragrance. Gray salt is hand harvested from the Guérande salt pan of France's Atlantic coast and blended with bits of Italian white truffles. The result is a coarse salt accented with the characteristic soft garlicky notes of white truffle--just a small pinch is all it takes to impart flavor. Sprinkle over egg dishes, corn on the cob, grilled meat or popcorn.

Buy from: 
Truffle trio: Ditalia $19.99
White truffle & grey salt: Williams Sonoma $14.95

7. For the Cheese Lover

Photo: Murray's Cheese
If they think the stinkier the cheese, the better: than spread the holiday cheer for them with this lovely Stilton crock set that includes a classic 6 oz stilton cheese in a very English styled ceramic jar, and 9 oz  pickled plums.

Buy from: Murray's Cheese $40

[Deal Alert: get 15% off with promo code: CYBER14 at check out, on Cyber Monday only.  After that, sign up for their free e-newletter to get 10% off your first order]

8. For the Nuts About Marrons Glaces

Photo: Mire Poix USA
Forget chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  The candied and glazed version (through slow immersion into hot sugar syrup to retain moisture and flavor), which dates back to 17th century France / Italy (the earliest known recorded recipe originated from Louis XIV's Versailles court), is a decadent yet refined treat that will elevate any holiday celebration.  They can be served with dessert, or alone with port or other dessert wines.

Buy from: 
Mire Poix $65
Teuscher 6 pcs $36  / 10 pcs $60 / 16 pcs $96

[Deal Alert: sign up for Mire Poix's free e-newletter to get 10% off your first order]

9. Sweets for the Sweet: Macarons

Photo: Jin Patisserie
If you are so fortunate as to live in a city with a Laduree store, let me say that you will make a sweet-toothed foodie's life if you send them a box of the insanely delicious treats.

Unfortunately as far as I know, you can't order Laduree online.  So, if you don't live on a city blessed with a Laduree store (i.e. Los Angeles), then the next best thing IMHO is Jin Patisserie's version.

Rose, jasmine, pistachio, yuzu...I haven't had a flavor I didn't like from them yet.  And, the macarons are made the Parisian way, nice and airy inside, with a crisp shell that doesn't crumble down to a sticky mess with the first bite.

Macarons are by nature delicate treats - so Jin, like Laduree, does not ship either.  But you can order for pick up from their facilities in Culver City.

Buy from: Jin Patisserie 7 pcs $14 / 14 pcs. $28 / 16 pcs. $32

10. For When the Weather Outside is Frightful

That is to say, for Californians, when it reaches the 60s, the sun is only out for a few hours at a time, and some wet stuff starts falling from the sky...(hey, everything is relative, ok?)

There's nothing more comforting and cheery than hot chocolate (whether while in your snuggie, or wrapped up in a book by the each their own).  And no easier, no mess way to do it then with Chocomize's hot chocolate on a stick spoon.  This version even has marshmallows already built in.  All you have to do is get a mug of hot milk or water, place the Chocomize into the mug, and keep stirring: and voila, hot chocolate, with marshmallows.

Pair these with a nice gold monogrammed mug for a fun and tasteful gift set that's ready to be put to use!

To plus it up even more, try pulling a set of two mugs with hot chocolate spoons into a gift basket, with a tin of Moravian Ginger Spice cookies for extra holiday flavor.

Buy from: 
Chocomize OpenSky 3 pcs starting from $11.99-$75.99
Gold monogrammed mug Williams Sonoma $9.95
Cookies Williams Sonoma $28.95

[Deal alert: for Chocomize: get 7.5% cash back when shopping at OpenSky, when you go through eBates first (free to sign up!)]

Ok I had to go 11 this year...too much good stuff.

11. For the Totally Not Bitter DIY Cocktailer / Traveling Craft Cocktailer

Photo: Hella Bitters
An example of a GREAT crowd-funded passion project, Hella Bitters' DIY products let your budding cocktail aficionado take it to the next level, and make their own custom bitters for their next stroke of brilliance creations.

The Craft Your Own Bitters Kit is a curated collection of the essential tools and starter blends for bitters-making.

Kit includes:
• Custom Machined Funnel
• Custom Fine Mesh Strainer
• 2 Infusing Jars
• 4 Dropper Bottles
• Aromatic Bitters Herb and Spice Blend
• Citrus Bitters Herb and Spice Blend

Buy from: Hella Bitters $64.95

Another awesome option for jetsetters weary of airport / in flight mixology: the Carry On Cocktail Kit.

Photo: PSFK
The travel friendly kit includes almost everything you need to mix up a good Old Fashioned.  All you need is for the stewardess (or duty free) to bring you a mini bottle of bourbon and a glass - and voila: a tasty cocktail classic while airborne.

Kit includes:
  • Aromatic bitters
  • Muddler/spoon
  • Cane sugar packets 
  • Linen coaster
  • Tin
  • Recipe card

Buy from: Carry On Cocktail Kit $24.00


For the Socially / Environmentally Responsible Foodie: Edible Greeting Cards

Do they hate waste, and live to reduce carbon footprint?

In lieu of a paper greeting card, get them one of these edible cards printed with food grade ink - they start off as eye candy, then your recipient can literally enjoy the card and leave no trace behind!

Buy from: Eat the Fine Print $9


Happy gifting!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Bites: Top 10 Gift Ideas for Your Fav Foodie 2014

It's that time of the year again - the season to show that your favorite food lovers are in your thoughts...

Here are a few ways to do that, even for hard-to-shop-for foodies, for budgets up to $300. Where deals or discounts are available, I have noted them below each product description.

Edibles version to come!

1. Cooking Tool for Gourmands Who Don't Have Time to Cook - Nomiku

Photo from Nomiku
Sous vide cooking is slow cooking by immersing food in a low temperature water bath to achieve even flavor and texture (for example, sous vide steak for even cooking, or poach eggs using this method to get them just to the edge of being cooked).  A few years ago, sous vide equipment was cost prohibitive for most home cooks, but Nomiku introduced its technology - an easy to use tool that you clip on to the side of any stock pot - and made it more affordable.

Buy from:
Original: $299
Wifi version (ships March 2015, so delayed gratification gift): $199

[Deal Alert: Black Friday - Cyber Monday only deal: $100 off original Nomiku with code: CYBERNOMDAY] 

2. For the Cocktail / DIY Enthusiast - Gin / Bitters Makers Kits
Photo from Williams Sonoma site
Take craft cocktails to the next level - let them make it uniquely their own with high-quality small-batch DIY kits (and if it works out well, you could reap the benefits of this gift too :)). Transform a bottle of vodka into a custom blend of gin (two 375ml bottles!) with the requisite juniper berries, and bright notes of citrus, botanicals, aromatics and spices in 36 hours with the included recipe and instructions.

(Alcohol not included: requires one bottle of vodka.)

Buy from:
Gin Making Kit $54.95
Bitters DIY Kit $24.95
Bitters Bottle  $44.95

3. Julie's Kitchen Food Collages

Photo by Julie's Kitchen
Of all the food enthusiasts I follow on Instagram, Julie Lee never fails to impress with her beautiful, delicate collages made with real produce discovered at local markets (and sometimes seafood / marine findings).  

Her fine art photo prints would elevate any kitchen or dining room, especially for fans of food as an art form.  Available in sizes: 8×8, 8×10, and 12×12,

Buy from:  Julie's Kitchen $38-$58 each (custom sizes also available to order)

4. For the Sweet-toothed Cook: La Mere de Famille Parisian Confections Cookbook

Ever wondered how to make a Berlingot? (Or, even what it is?)  For those obsessed with sweets, and the Parisian: À la Mère de Famille, after 250 years in business, had released a gorgeous cookbook that is as much a delight to the eyes as to the tastebuds. 

Photo from book listing on Amazon
Transport your favorite foodie back in time and place with a old-world-made-new #foodart piece for their kitchen or even just to sweeten their bookshelf or coffee table.

Buy from: Amazon $25.30 hardcover

5. Camp Style Cooking at Home: Jaffle Iron

Photo from Food52
Do they love the feeling of cooking over an open flame?  Give them one tool that lets them toast or bake many different comfort foods at home on the fireplace or gas range: waffles + s'mores + paninis + pies = jaffle iron.

The long handle makes it easier to cook from a safe distance, or just set and leave to cook, while the round top of the iron seals and crimps the edges of whatever is baking inside (fresh pies anyone?). Made of cast iron, chrome-plated steel and wood: measures 28" long with 4.25" wide cooking head.

Buy from: $25

6. Handcrafted Personalized Cutting Board

Photo from Uncommon Goods
Send your favorite cook something with a personal touch.

This lovely wood cutting board can be customized with name(s) of your selection hand cut into the top.
The unique and lovely design makes it great for both prepping a meal, and using it as a presentation piece (e.g. for hors d'oeuvres etc.)

Measures 16" L x 12.5" W x 1.125" H

Buy from: Uncommon Goods $155

7. For the Super Serious Wine Lover - Coravin 1000 Wine Access System

Know a wine collector who would scour the earth to find that rare bottle?  And who doesn't want to share it?  Now they can taste from pricey bottles, without removing the cork - and reseal it as if never opened to allow it to preserve...indefinitely.  

This expensive but brilliant piece of tech, invented by a medical device inventor, uses a patented non-coring, medical grade needle and precision pressure system to extract wine, allowing your favorite wine enthusiast to enjoy as much or as little as they like from the bottle, and leave the rest as if untouched, in its original bottle.  No danger of oxidation.

Buy from: Wine Enthusiast $299.95 + free shipping

[Deal Alert: with your purchase, get 4 free capsules from Wine Enthusiast until 12/20]

8. The Smarter Cereal Bowl

Everything seems to need to be 'smart' these days, even fashion.  But, this low-tech bowl still delivers a clever way to avoid soggy cereal: with a slotted divider, just the right angle of tilt that allows the milk to stay in its place, while cereal can be slow-spooned into it as needed to preserve that first bite crunch. 

Photo from Obol listing on Amazon
Plus, the bottom of the bowl is custom molded to be ergonomic and easy to hold while the snacker is in their usual comfy cereal feasting spot on the couch, over the computer desk or in bed.

Can also be used creatively for other food pairings like yogurt and granola (and for me I would say rice porridge and pork floss: Cantonese food lovers, you know what I'm talking about!)!

More product info: 

Buy from:  Amazon $12.95, various colors
Can also get special edition set (easy grip spoon included) for $12.99

9. Wear the Heart / Stomach On...Scented Christmas Cookie / Sweet Treats Necklaces
Photo from Tiny Hands

Love the smells of comfort and cheer emanating from the kitchen this time of year?  Let your fav baker / foodie carry that with them wherever they go with kitschy kitchen fun hand-sculpted scented food-icon necklaces including this Scented Christmas Cookie charm.

Comes with 18" sterling silver ball-chain necklace.  

Buy from: Tiny Hands $23

10. Culinary Tees - Flavour Gallery 

Photo from Flavour Gallery
Culinary expressions on everything from tees to totes to aprons and more, is what foodie fashion house Flavour Gallery is known for.

Fun / cheeky designs include "Mise en Place", "Touche Pas Mon Foie Gras", and "Surf all day, Shuck all night".

Buy from: Flavour Gallery $30


Stocking Stuffer for the Foodie Who Loves to Eat, Not So Much to Cook

For your favorite snarky foodie.

Buy from: Amazon $12.75

Look out for my edibles list soon! In the meantime, happy gift hunting and stay safe out there!

Hershey's 3D printer
Travelers: 10 foot power cord

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thanksgiving for Procrastinators / People Who Don't Cook (e.g. Yours Truly)

I confess: at work, I'm OCD on schedule for projects.  Outside of work:  a complete mess.

If you're like me and completely lost track of the countdown to Thanksgiving, and cooking is not part of those plans...

Keep reading to see where you can pick up some tasty desserts that will score you points with hosts, and generate buzz at the dinner table for your baking shopping skills...with your fellow diners...

(Commitment-phobes take note: Some even have single serving sized pies so that you can taste before you commit to a full pie!)

Farmshop - order by Tues 11/25 5pm 

pick up on Tues 11/25, Wed 11/26 and Thanksgiving Day until 11am

I've been obsessed with bourbon-glazed pecans lately, and Farmshop has a beautiful pie made with them for the holidays!  AND they have single-serve sized one that you can get to get a taste of it before deciding whether that's the one you want to bring to dinner.

Other delicious sounding pies to choose from:
  • Pumpkin Pie 10" serves up to 10 people $42
  • Chocolate Cream Pie 10" serves up to 10 people $40
  • Heirloom Apple Pie 10" serves up to 10 people $38
  • Bourbon-Pecan Pie 10" serves up to 10 people $42
  • Flourless Chocolate Cake 9" serves up to 8 people $32 
  (Add whipped cream: vanilla or fall spice, pint 5)

See menu here


225 26th Street Ste 25 (Brentwood Country Mart), Santa Monica, CA 90402
Ph: 310.566.2400

Jin Patisserie - order by Wednesday 11/19  
pickup 11/24 to 11/26 (by 4pm)

Photo credit: Jin Patisserie
Fans of Chef Kristy Choo's exquisite pastries need not despair that her Abbot Kinney location has closed, you can still access the loveliness of her masterfully light, #foodart creations from her production facility in Culver City.

And she has two tarts for Thanksgiving that would be as gorgeous as a centerpiece as it is expected to be delicious as a 'dessert entree' (i.e. for people with an incurable sweet tooth like me, this could supercede turkey / actual savory dinner courses and sides in importance):
  • Autumn ($48, serves 12 people): a crunchy Breton crust filled with alternating layers of 64%  chocolate cream, orange mascarpone, and hazelnut praline chantilly
  • Citron ($38, serves 8): lemon cream with lemon curd on sweet meringue shell


Jin Patisserie
(Production facility, in office park)
5741 Buckingham Parkway, Suite D, Culver City, CA 90230
Ph: 310.399.8801

Sweet Rose Creamery - order by Sunday 11/23  closing - see hours at each location
pickup by Wednesday 11/26 regular store hours at each location

Photo credit: Sweet Rose Creamery
Happiness = pie + ice cream.  Sweet Rose Creamery is offering again fun ice cream versions of classic flavor combos.  AND, they've just started offering select ice cream pies by the slice ($6.50) so you can again try it before splurging on a full pie!
  • Spiced Pumpkin with Ginger cookie crust
  • Brown Sugar Butter Pecan with Chocolate crust
  • Apple Pie topped with Walnut crumble and Caramel in a Graham crust
All pies are $40 each, and serve 8-10 people

See menu here

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th Avenue, Suite 51 Santa Monica, CA 90402
Ph: 310.260.2663

Craft - order by Monday 11/24 close

pick up 11/26 after 5pm or Thanksgiving Day 9am-noon

Photo credit: Craft LA

If nothing but Top Chef quality will do for you, hit up one of the show's judges Tom Colicchio's reliably good restaurant in Century City, and pick up one of Chef Shannon Swindle's amazing desserts:
  • Pumpkin Pie $45
  • Pecan Pie $55
  • Apple Cranberry Crisp With Oat Streusel $55
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter S’mores Tart $65
This info is not on their website!

To order, email:

Craft LA
10100 Constellation Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Pi Bakeshop - farmers market fresh! Pick up at Studio City Farmers Market Sunday 11/23

Photo credit: Pi Bakeshop
Artisanal bakers - they don't have a shop yet but you can find them Sundays at Studio City Farmers Market!  And the great thing is that they offer handcrafted pies at various sizes, with some creative flavor combinations
  • Cranberry Hibiscus ($27)
  • Bourbon Maple Pecan ($27)
  • Pumpkin($27)
  • Sweet potato with ginger crust and toasted homemade marshmallow ($27)
  • BBQ pie - house smoked pork shoulder, with slow braised greens, and spicy bbq sauce. Topped with creamy mac & cheese ($35)

They can also hand deliver your pie within 20 miles of Sherman Oaks, CA for a flat rate of $10. Distances beyond 20 miles will incur an additional charge.

See menu here


Pi Bakeshop
Studio City Farmers Market: Sundays 8am-2pm at Laurel Canyon Blvd across from Vons

Du-par's - pre-order or walk-in! 

If you pulled an Indiana Jones and are literally trying to slide under the descending rock door of holiday closures: Du-par's will be your life-saver:  while the most popular pies are sold out via
 pre-orders (I was told they moved literally thousands of pies the day before Thanksgiving!), they know how it goes and always have a batch of extra pies handy for walk-ins on turkey day.  I've been able to pick up my 'spare' pies last minute at the Studio City location.

Choose from classic to seasonal flavors:

  • Pecan 
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potato 
  • Minced meat
  • Orange cranberry walnut
  • Cherry

See menu here

12036 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91602

Happy PIE Day everyone!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Emporium Thai Cuisine: Southern Thai for the Westside

In recent years, Jitlada has shot to fame as the dining destination for authentic southern thai in L.A. - introducing a whole new world of much spicier (and much more exciting) fare to the limited mainstream palate that had thus far only gotten acquainted with the reliable rotations of northern thai dishes like pad thai, satays, papaya salad and pineapple fried rice.

That said, I have to admit that I had yet to make it out to the restaurant: as someone who doesn't normally eat very spicy to begin with, I wasn't sure that I could handle dishes that built its fame primarily from the levels of scorching heat.  And conceptually, it was hard for me to understand how beyond a certain point of taste buds being on fire, how I would possibly be able to savor any flavor beyond 'burn'.

So, I was excited when I received an invite to check out Emporium Thai Cuisine: the restaurant that served southern thai to Westsiders, long before Jitlada.  For the last twelve years, in fact. Say what you will about asian food on the Westside, Emporium Thai did seem to promise authenticity in preparation and flavor, with an eye to making the cuisine more accessible via options to customize the level of spice.

And I loved the story behind it all as well: Emporium Thai is now owned by John Sungkamee, youngest brother to the chef co-owners of Jitlada: one of twelve siblings in a family blessed with talent and passion for bringing a taste of home to LA.  (Jitlada is helmed by the eldest and third eldest siblings).  They take pride in serving the freshest and best.  Their 86 year old mom, who ignited this fire within her children to serve and share their culture, can be seen most nights in a corner of one of the restaurant, quietly enjoying the reactions of diners.

The tasting started with Seafood Hor Mok ($12.95) shrimp, crab and scallop baked with chili, coconut and Thai basils.  I loved the fun presentation with this dish - which to me seemed inspired by both Spanish tapas in terms of being featured small bites style, and French cuisine in the escargot-like dishware, and delicious bites revealed under a 'shell' (ceramic vs. organic).  Beyond looks, it was also delicious and very skillfully balanced, with beautiful, fresh, generous bites of seafood in a sauce that is creamy and sweet from coconut, herbaceous from the basil, and punctuated by a bit of spice from chili (at a pleasant level that makes its presence know and cuts through the creaminess, without overpowering every other ingredient).

That salads are not my favorite thing in the world to eat, would be an understatement.  Though I do love fruit over veggies, even fruit salads are usually something that I would only choose on a 'need to eat' basis (because they are typically uninspired, with blocks of flavorless chunks of garden variety fruit).  All that changed when the Coco Mango Salad with Shrimp ($12.95) arrived - with its shredded raw mango mixed with dried coconut, fresh chili, lime juice and shrimp.   The mango was just the perfect level of ripeness, succulent and sweet, yet still structured.  The dried coconut reminded me in texture of dried scallop, and added to the fresh chili, made it taste reminiscent of XO sauce - and this cut through the mango nicely.  Add to that the soft, juicy tender crunch of the freshest, plump pieces of shrimp, counterbalanced by the crisper crunch of peanuts, made this possibly the most boldly flavored, exciting and fun to eat fruit salad in memory.  I would definitely go back for this dish.

When my server Honeybee (owner John's niece) recommended Crying Tiger Beef ($12.95) - I was a bit apprehensious.  I had tried a sample of the same-named dish from Jitlada at a previous food event, and had to down several bottles of water to extinguish the fire in my mouth, from just one single bite. So when the name came up again at Emporium Thai, I was afraid that it would also end in tears.  But Honeybee reassured me that they would adjust the heat level - and that I would love it.  For spicy dishes, Emporium allows you to choose the level of heat from 1 to 10, ten being the spiciest.  The heat level she recommended, and that I tried, was "4".

And Honeybee was right on all fronts: the Thai-style chargrilled beef, marinated with homemade chili sauce - was flavor packed, but was more like the concentrated intensity of jerky, applied to fresh juicy tender pieces of beef - and I loved it.  The heat was there, but it enhanced the flavors rather than exterminating all hope of taste for anything to come after.  Honeybee suggested I eat this with the coco mango salad as well, as another way to balance the heat and add sweetness - this too worked very well as she said.  For those who aren't into red meat, this dish can also be made with pork instead.  

The last main dish was a personal one for John and his family - one that is an original recipe passed down over 30 years, and made with the freshest ingredients found in their yard back in Pakpanang, Nakhon Sri Thammarat Thailand.   Southern Curry Chicken ($11.95) - was made with jicama, basil, bell pepper, served with  side of jasmine rice. Enthralled with the story behind the dish, I really wanted this to be my favorite, but I found the chicken a bit on the dry side and wanted to get more interplay of flavor in the dish.  You can also get this curry with lamb or shrimp, which I may try to give this another shot on my next visit (and there's also a version with crispy pork, which is less stew-like).  The heat level I got was 3 - and I think I'm surprising myself by saying that if I try this again I may venture to crank it up to 4.
For dessert: where most Thai restaurants in LA may stick to the tried and true mango with sticky rice, Emporium also offers up Thai Donuts ($6) served with a side of condensed milk and chopped peanut.  Served fresh fried to order, piping hot with an instantly addictive crispy gorgeous golden brown crust and sweet, super airy and flaky interior - and dipped in the spreadable, sweet condensed milk with a bit of counterbalancing crunch from chopped peanuts - these were little bites of heaven.  Weeks later, I still dream of these beauties, and need to plan a return visit soon, just for them (and the coco mango salad - yep, it's all about balance). 

Definitely a great option for lunch or dinner for those on the Westside, for BOTH adventurous / heat seekers, AND for those who might want to proceed more cautiously to expand their experience with southern Thai cuisine.  Emporium Thai Cuisine found a way to serve both, and the Westside is all the better for it.  Can't wait to go back soon!

*Disclaimer: This meal was hosted.


Emporium Thai Cuisine

1275 Westwood Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90024
Ph: 310.478.2838


Emporium Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Giveaway: Win Tickets to LA Weekly's Sip and Sweets Event December 7th!

The holidays are almost here, and LA Weekly is throwing a party early for fans of food, drink and gourmet goods (keep reading for details, and a chance to win tickets to the event)!

What: LA Weekly's holiday event Sips and Sweets presented by Keurig 

When: December 7th, 2pm-5pm

Where: The Majestic Downtown + The Reserve 
650 South Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90014

How much: $35 General Admission advance price: includes entry into the event, unlimited sweets samples, 8 sips from master mixologists (cocktails, beer and/or wine) and access to holiday vendor village. (Ticket price goes up to $40 on November 24th. Door price is $45 (if available)
Anticipated drool-factor: 100% at a totally affordable price, you get to experience bites from the stellar lineup including some of my favorite restaurants in the city from Republique, Craft LA, Pizzeria Mozza to Huckleberry, mixologists including Michael Lay and Pablo Moix, and gourmet artisans including Middlebar (love their bourbon poached cherries, snatch these up if you see them, they're great over ice cream)!  Also looking forward to checking out offerings from the newly opened Gjusta and from places I haven't gotten around to trying yet like Cook's County!  All in a historic Beaux Arts building with lots of character - built in the 1920s, used to be Bank of America's HQ, now housing a nightclub with a bank vault as its entrance.

And the even better news?  You could win a pair of tickets to the event, courtesy of LA Weekly!

Enter for your chance to win: follow instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below. (Remember to click on the green button after you complete each item: this is the only way for your entry to be recorded!)

Giveaway runs through November 28 at midnight PST. Good luck!

Note: winner and guest will need to present a current driver's license or passport verifying their age (must be 21+ by 12/7) in order to enter the event. Winner will be randomly selected, and contacted via email as soon as the giveaway ends, and must reply to confirm receipt and correct contact info by November 30th at 11am PST.  If the winner does not reply by this deadline, another entrant will be chosen at random and tickets will be given to the alternate winner.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fishing with Dynamite: Superb Seafood, Sublime Key Lime Pie

With a chef/co-owner who spent six years at Water Grill (which launched such superstars as Chef Michael Cimarusti), and a prime perch by the ocean in beautiful Manhattan Beach, you can rightly expect seafood to be nothing short of super fresh, and incredibly delicious at Fishing with Dynamite.

It's easy to love the cozy, 33-seat space with its beach appropriate laid back vibe, one that still manages to feel like a neighborhood gem - where locals may expect to see familiar faces when answering the siren call of shellfish of all sorts - but is helmed by one of the city's culinary stars.

I love sitting at the raw bar and hoarding giant trays of sea creatures: Chef David LeFevre always surprises and delights not only with the quality of seafood but in their presentation as well. 

Peruvian scallops ($2.50 each) on the half shell, enhanced with grapefruit and cilantro, dazzle not only for their taste, as if fresh-plucked from the ocean, but or the lovely visual fanfare as well. 

The rest of my heart was easily won by the live Santa Barbara sea urchin as well - which Fishing with Dynamite had often sold out of, so I am glad for it every time I'm able to get it.  

The times that I had them, they were not the most flavorful I'd had (I love that clean yet distinct and one of a kind ocean funk in uni!!) - but they were definitely among the biggest and plumpest.  And at $14 each sea urchin (containing 5 pieces) - not bad of a deal at all!  [Poppa's Fresh Seafood's uni is big, plump AND tasty, for $10 each, but they're not cleaned as well as FWD and if ambience is important to you as well, and/or you live in LA and don't want to drive all the way down to SD - FWD is a great option for not that much higher price.]
Dishes that are limited time or off menu will always get my attention as well - and on one of my visits last summer, FWD had a giant roasted scallop ($27.00) served in a giant pearlized half shell, gonad and all.  It was gorgeously presented, but in this case, just like lobster, bigger isn't always better.  Bigger means tougher muscles, so it's more chewy.  And it comes at a price: more than an average entree.  The Peruvian scallops, much more affordable, and to me much more delectable, remained my favorite.
Then there were the Santa Barbara Spot Prawns ($25 for 2): full bodied, split down the middle, beautiful smokey char marking the outside, gorgeous perfect roe adorning the sweetest, tender, juiciness to be discovered inside - this was one of the best preparations of SB spot prawns I could remember.  
On other visits we've had specials like the Maryland Softshell Crab with Chilled Corn Soup, Weiser Melons, Serrano Aioli and Thai Basil ($16), like a deconstructed crab cake with a hint of asian flavor, and Lobstah Dumpling Pie ($25) which was the best lobster pot pie I'd ever had - and this said after being stuffed to the gills with a 1.25lb lobster feast elsewhere earlier in the evening.

Fantastic as the seafood at FWD is - the one unexpected dish that I will never leave without getting TWO of (one for dine-in, one to go), is their Key Lime Pie.  At many restaurants which serve a spectacular meal - often the desserts are sadly neglected.  You hear top chefs say all the time, (especially on shows like Top Chef, actually) - that they don't care about dessert and are at a loss when it comes to that last part of the meal (and you often see great chefs on cooking shows stumble when it comes to dessert, as they've not paid much attention to it, it's not something they would normally need to take care of - it's left to their pastry chef).                 

Which makes FWD all the more extraordinary for putting out such an incredible dessert - hands down the best key lime pie I've ever had.  A sight to behold, with a small ocean of scorched meringue rising in peaks, a fiery but airy cover for the light only in consistency key lime filling (that announces its flavor identity with brazen zest) and a super crumbly, flavor-packed graham cracker crust.  Apparently, to make the lime flavor even more pronounced, Chef LeFevre also added finely chopped kaffir lime leaf to the meringue.

The pie is simply perfect - and I don't go to Manhattan Beach often, but when I do, even in passing - I will always go back for the Key Lime.  Oh and the seafood, too.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

Fishing with Dynamite

1148 Manhattan Ave Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Ph: 310.893.6299


Look for reservations (and rewards points!) at OpenTable.

Fishing With Dynamite on Urbanspoon


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