Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Happy Hour at Bar Bouchon

Another escapade with Mo. and Jacqueline.

We twisted (didn't take much) our mother's arm and persuaded her to watch Fe. on a Thursday afternoon, so we could check out the new happy hour at Bar Bouchon. We were so excited to be free and easy that we showed up just fifteen minutes past the 4 p.m. start, itching for a cocktail. We were very nearly the first folks to get happy, and handily we did.

The menu has quite a good number of tasty treats, all priced between four and eight dollars. Oysters on the half shell, pulled-pork sliders, truffled popcorn (perfect salty nibble), assorted olives, grilled cheese sandwiches are all to be had for the asking. We found that it was hard to choose, because all of the selections were so appealing and the prices so reasonable.

There is a red and a white house wine priced at five dollars a glass, an ale on offer for four dollars and their well drinks are seven bucks. The problem for us was that I asked to see the cocktail menu. Big mistake. Once you've read it, you are definitely not going to be interested in well drinks.

Mo. indulged in several Pisco Sours. And I had a slightly bitter Rye-based drink with a hint of cherry, absinthe, and vermouth called Remember the Maine. Pretty good, but my next two (yeah, I know) were much more convincing. Perhaps for the use of my booze of choice, Jameson Irish Whiskey, or its mix of muddled rosemary, orange liqueur, and lemon, the Le Medoc was hands-down a knock-out.

Another problem for us was the huge temptation of tuna tartare on a summer evening. Again we were forced to order off the regular menu. This was not a mistake. I loved the slightly sweet and tart citrus coulis with the clear asian flavors of sesame and soy paired with the pristine tuna and crunchy cucumber.

The tomato and burrata canapés were good, if not inspired, but the pulled pork sliders after just two bites, convinced us to order more. Soft, succulent and just yum.

Bar Bouchon offers a convivial happy hour that I look forward to experiencing again. It's completely reasonable if unlike us, you are able to show even a modicum of restraint.

Good luck with that.

Bar Bouchon
235 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Monday-Friday 4-7 p.m.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chimú -- Peruvian at the Grand Central Market

It's sort of ridiculous, but somehow the time that A. has been away in Greece has been filled with one exuberant food experience after another. I have to stop. I'm way too full.

At the beginning of the week, I was seeking a fun adventure for Mo., Fe. and myself. I wanted to accomplish at least one thing besides just thrilling the pants off of my son. The morning actually came together accidentally, though somewhat brilliantly all the same.

I needed my knives sharpened.

I tend to go to Ross Cutlery. They do a good job, although I'm not certain that they are the very best. If I were a better woman, I would sharpen my knives myself. I have too many knives and too little time, and in the end, the honest truth is that I am far too intimidated by whetstones to even try. If you know what you're doing and would be willing to teach me, please drop me a line!

Ross Cutlery is located in the Bradbury building in downtown Los Angeles. So this was easily the start of our exciting exploit. A gorgeous historical landmark for Mo. to photograph (thanks for sharing these gorgeous black and whites, Mo!), stairs for Fe. to climb and all this conveniently situated across from the Grand Central Market. Sites, smells, and tastes awaited us.

The Grand Central Market actually depresses me a little. There is so much potential for Los Angeles to have a great market like the Naschmarkt in Vienna, the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, or the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, and all we can manage is a whole lot of empty stalls. The produce is not enticing. I'm wary of the butcher. Aside from some good Mexican food, there is nothing of top quality from what I can surmise. In all the discussion of the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles, the renaissance of the Grand Central Market should be at the top of the list. Great cities need great markets.

There is still lots to look at, especially from the eyes of a toddler, so our visit was not a waste. It just left me wishing for lots of money and more time, so that I could spearhead the movement to inject life into our historic, albeit humble marketplace.

One great thing about the Grand Central Market is that it now houses (using the term loosely here, because it's actually in the Market's outdoor courtyard) the new modern-Peruvian restaurant, Chimú. This is an order-at-the-counter, sit-in-the-courtyard or take-the-food-away kind of a place. The food is served in carryout containers with plastic forks, but holy Lima the food tastes like so much more. It's elevated Peruvian cuisine with a forward-thinking flair.

There were three of us (Fe. hardly counts as a whole person, but he's an awfully good excuse to order more food) so we ordered three dishes. Apparently the availability of dishes changes from day to day, so I wasn't able to order the ceviche. Boo. That's usually my favorite part, but we made do all the same. We selected the Pollo alla Brasa, Lomo Saltado, and Chancho. Two classics and then something utterly new.

The Pollo alla Brasa is solidly tasty. The salty brown skin demands immediate attention. It's a tempting cover of crispiness for very moist flesh. The cole slaw is just the way I like it -- not a drop of mayonnaise in sight -- and pleasingly fresh and acidic. I'll confess that I am dead-tired of French fries these days, so I may not be the best judge of the starchy golden blocks that accompanied this dish. We left most behind. The creamy yellow huancaina is a warming sauce comprised of onion, aji peppers, and cheese (probably feta). That along with the spicy herbaceous aji verde (or was it salsa nikkei?) kept us very busy alternating our dips.

Lomo Saltado is a generally winning dish. There is something deeply moving about the perfect mouthful of tomato oozing hot juice, slightly wilted yet crunchy onion, chewy beef and a French fry soggy with meat drippings (this is where I make the big French fry exception). I realize that's a big mouthful, but the magic comes when you've got it all going at once. Trust me.

Chimu's Lomo Saltado is particularly special (many times better than Mario's of which I am a big fan) because the quality of the beef is so fine, and it is cooked so well. There aren't any dry over-cooked morsels that leave your jaw aching from over-chewing. They are juicy and have big beef flavor.

For me the big star of the meal -- and the diet killer -- was the Chancho. It is rich beyond belief, but when is pork belly not? Can't you just imagine the amazing crackle of the skin between your teeth when you see that picture? You could hear it across the street on Angel's Flight!

The pork belly is nestled into a slow-cooked barley and tomato confit mixture that is festively dotted with tiny chunks of feta and giant kernels of corn and equally sizable peas. The belly is also slathered with a divine huacatay (Peruvian black mint) aioli. Do we need this added fat when pools of it are already evident in the barley? Perhaps not, but I certainly wasn't willing to turn it down. There is a satisfying kick to the Chancho, and even if Fe. had been in an eating mood, I wouldn't have offered it to him.

Since Mo. and I had been completely sated, we figured that we should pass a few delights on to Fe. Up Bunker Hill we went on Angel's Flight, and straight to the fountains we headed. It was one drenched little boy and a couple of very happy gals who headed home for a nap.

324 S. Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Thursday, August 18, 2011

ink.sack -- Michael Voltaggio's Sandwich Joint

For those of us itching for Michael Voltaggio's new Los Angeles restaurant to open, there are not one but two glimmers of hope. The first being that according to rumor Ink will finally open some time in September. Hooray! The second is that to tide you over, you can check out Voltaggio's newly opened sandwich joint, ink.sack.

With great anticipation we went there on Wednesday around half past twelve and there was definitely a little swarm gathered in front of the smallish storefront. Most waiting to order or to pickup. There really isn't much room to eat there, just a bit of counter space, so it's mainly in and out.

I have to say that the menu board certainly adds to the excitement. Which one/s (limit four per person) will I choose? There's something for everyone. Unless you're a vegetarian. Which thankfully I am not. These diminutive sandwiches are meat-centric all the way.

I opted for the banh-mi and the cold fried chicken, and while rather small the fillings are rich and delectable and I could only polish off one and a half sandwiches. I did steal tastes of the luscious CLT, which features one of my all-time favorite things, chicken-liver mousse. The creamy mousse along with the curried chicken skin and perfect slices of juicy summer tomatoes must make this one of the best choices on the menu. I plan to return straightaway to sample everything else on the menu, so I can confirm this for you -- who am I kidding? -- for myself.

The banh-mi was outstanding, showcasing tender pork cheek and pickled vegetables. But the knock-out on this sandwich was the inclusion of the crispy chicharones. Very clever idea, indeed. Even with the greasy chicharones, this sandwich still feels fresh thanks to the vinegary pickled vegetables and fresh cilantro.

The cold fried chicken sandwich was quite tasty, although not as revelatory as the other two. The chicken itself is moist, with a beautiful golden crust. The house made ranch cheese didn't make a strong impression on me, and the lasting feeling was that this sandwich was a tiny bit dry.

And that brings me to the bread. I'm pretty sure that the bread was responsible for any dryness. The bread they are using is completely unspectacular and really just a package for delivering Voltaggio's scrumptious fillings to your mouth. Rita mentioned Subway. Mo. felt the bread didn't detract from the experience, but certainly didn't add to it. I believe that almost any other bread -- be it baguette or squishy store-bought french rolls -- would be an improvement. I can't believe they are baking it themselves, so they ought to simply change purveyors.

You'll also find a tempting selection of house-made snacks, including paper-thin house-made potato chips that crack in your mouth gloriously. Salty and intensely vinegary, these potato chips won me over at the first bite and between you and me, I generally have zero interest in potato chips. There's also bbq pork rinds, watermelon with sriracha and lime (why didn't I pick up some of this), and cookies!

Is it too much to go back across town two days later? Will Fe. want this for lunch today? I've got a mean hankering for the spicy tuna with sriracha mayo and I'm dying to try the José Andres, filled with lots of meats -- serrano ham, chorizo, lomo -- and cheese.

Ink.sack is a smart idea for a little storefront restaurant. Though the place was crowded, the folks running the joint -- Voltaggio included -- are impressively efficient. We didn't wait long to order or to receive are little black sack lunches. The prices are very fair. Some complain the sandwiches are too small, but at four to six bucks a pop, I believe you're getting a great deal.

Plus, it's fun to see Michael Voltaggio hard at work, tattoos very much on display. I've been impatiently awaiting his next big thing ever since A. and I had an exceptional dinner at The Dining Room at the Langham back when Voltaggio was at the helm. Ink.sack is lots of fun and plenty delicious, but sign me up for Ink. Please.

8630 Melrose Avenue #107
Los Angeles, CA

Monday, August 15, 2011

On the Subject of Few Ingredients -- Nigel Slater's Apple Crumble

A. is out of town. He left us for a translation seminar in Greece. For eleven days. The gorgeous Greek island, Paros, actually.

The dog.

I'm pretty much fine with it. Maybe a teeny tiny bit envious, but that's all. We miss him! But Fe. and I are having a pretty good time on our own.

I've had to get a little bit more creative with the entertainment for Fe., since it's all on me. Of course, I immediately turned to a cooking project. The surest way to entice Fe. into the kitchen is with the preparation of any kind of dessert. Cookies, ice cream, sorbet, these are all huge hits.

I had a substantial bag of apples in the fridge (thanks, M0!) that were long overdue for some attention. I was thinking, cobbler, crisp, or buckle and then I yanked Nigel Slater's Tender Volume II off the shelf, and quickly settled on crumble.

Have you seen Slater's Tender Volume I and II?

They are stunning editions that alphabetically catalog most vegetables (Volume I) and fruits (Volume II). They are essentially, as Slater himself says, cooks' guides to the vegetable and fruit garden. The photography is exquisite and Slater not only offers an abundance of enticing recipes for each crop, but adds helpful tips on seasonality, varietals, and how to include any given fruit or vegetable in your own garden. If you need to know how to prune gooseberries, Slater can help. If you're hankering for a tempting recipe for lamb with quinces, Slater is your man.

Really invaluable stuff.

Turns out if you are trying to entertain a toddler and cap off a lovely family dinner, Slater is again the guy you can trust. I saw his recipe for A Deeply Appley Apple Crumble and I was sold. I'm really digging recipes with just a very few ingredients. This crumble has four. We had everything in the pantry. We just needed to turn on the oven and peel some apples.

You should feel free to use any sort of apple. In my head I always assume that Granny Smith apples are the only apples for baking. This is malarkey. We used two week old (due to my laziness) Galas (I think) from a sweet friend's tree. The crumble was a winner. With the exceptional variety of apples available to us these days, I wouldn't hesitate to experiment with whatever I discover at the farmers' market.

The apples need peeling and coring and hacking into hunks. They are then tossed with sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. You empty the bowl into a hot sauté pan, stirring infrequently, to caramelize the apples. The caramelization process will have you in fits wanting to shovel the dangerously hot apples into your mouth. The toffee perfume is scrumptious. Fe. kept shouting, "I can smell it Mama! I can smell it!"

I have the British version of both volumes of Tender. I couldn't wait for the American additions. I'm not even sure if there is an American Tender Volume II. While my need for instant gratification was satisfied, the British editions do require a little extra work interpreting the recipes. For goodness sake, what is golden caster sugar? I've never seen that ingredient at the market. I used a combination of brown sugar and granulated sugar, which worked just fine, but I think a super-fine baking sugar would have been more on point.

Measurements also need translating, so a computer and a scale help tremendously. And Gas 4? I'm belatedly finding out that it is 375 degrees Fahrenheit not 350 degrees. I would have had more color a bit faster. Oh well, one learns.

The crumbly bits themselves are lovely buttery pebbles. I recommend using an exceptionally delicious high-fat butter for this, because you can really taste it. I still swear by Kerrygold Irish butter. The fun part is smooshing the butter into the flour and sugar with your fingertips. What child doesn't like to get there hands into the mix? Fe. absolutely adored this, although he was having trouble understanding exactly where the tips of his fingers were.

I considered warming the crumble before serving it, but it was a already sufficiently toasty in the house, so I served it at room temperature with heavy cream drizzled over. The simplicity of this dessert is its beauty. That so few ingredients can come together to create something so purely delicious is almost magic.

Slater mentions in the preamble to the recipe that the world doesn't necessarily need another apple crumble recipe. He may be right, but this is a damn good one.

Nigel Slater's Apple Crumble

For the filling:
850 grams cooking apples (30 ounces)
Juice of half a lemon
75 grams golden caster sugar (2.65 ounces)
30 grams butter (1 ounce)

For the crumble:
95 grams butter (3.35 ounces)
150 grams all purpose flour (5.3 ounces)
45 grams golden caster sugar (1.6 ounces)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into one inch hunks. Toss them into a large bowl with the lemon juice and sugar. Mix until the apples are well coated.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the apples and let cook, stirring very infrequently to promote caramelization. The apples should be golden brown in places.

Tip the apples into a baking dish, making sure to collect any pan juices.

Place the flour into a bowl and rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. When the mixture looks like bread crumbs add the sugar and combine. Add one tablespoon of water and shake the mixture in the bowl to form different size crumbles. Turn the crumbles over the apples.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until golden.

Serves 4

Friday, August 05, 2011

Dinner Diary: 8/04/11 -- Easy Rack of Lamb

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dinner Diary: 8/01/11

  • "Steak Haché"
  • Yellow Romano Wax Beans with Tomato & Garlic
  • Pan-Roasted Baby Turnips
  • Arugula, Fennel & Rocket Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Monday, August 01, 2011

Dinner Diary: 7/31/11 --Preserved Lemons Save Boring Pasta!

  • Farfalle with Fresh Corn, Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes & Preserved Lemons
  • Yellow Watermelon

I threw together dinner last night for the three of us, using the fruits of our C.S.A. and our garden. I typically prefer kale or something a little more exciting than zucchini in my vegetarian pastas. But this dish turned out pretty great, and honestly I find that most of the vegetarian pastas I make that are really standout are the ones that include the rind of a quarter of a preserved lemon. I chop it fairly finely and toss it in with the garlic or towards the end.

The preserved lemon adds an almost umami-type flavor. It's salty and slightly exotic. You've asked what else to do with the preserved lemons. Do this! It's easy and it'll help a bundle on Meatless Mondays.