Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Chef Shocker

Hosea? Really?? If Carla was the dark horse of Top Chef, Hosea was the beige one: good enough, I suppose, but in a boring sort of way. Seriously, did anyone see that coming? Anyway, the real highlight for me, of course, was the return of Marcel Vignerone, the rapping molecular gastronome with the Wolverine coiffure from Season 2. Incidentally, Marcel is sous chef at The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, which got a 4-star review last week. Someday...

Another highlight of last night’s finale brought to you by the Glad family of products was actually being invited for dinner by my brother, who used to invite himself over for dinner at our house every Wednesday until he moved into his newly renovated home about a year ago. In honor of both Padma and this week's Oscar wins for Slumdog Millionaire, Daniel cooked up an Indian feast of chicken korma, eggplant curry, channa masala, and brown basmati rice. The only thing he cheated on was the naan, bought frozen from Trader Blows, I mean, Joe’s. Everything was delicious.

Here’s Daniel’s easy eggplant curry recipe:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Cut a large eggplant in half lengthwise and rub the cut sides with some salt. Brush a pan with olive oil, put the halves cut side down, and roast the eggplant for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, mince a medium onion and sautée with garlic, turmeric, coriander, cumin, and salt.
Once the eggplant is done, scoop the flesh out from the skin and put in a blender or food processor.
Blend with the onion mixture and a chopped tomato.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Booze Traveler

Photo by Hane C. Lee

If there’s anything I enjoy as much as food, it’s booze, in particular, bourbon. Originating in the 1800s in what is now Kentucky, bourbon was declared by the U.S. Congress in 1964 a “distinctive product of the United States”—the same way Scotch whiskey is distinctive of Scotland or champagne is distinctive of Champagne, France. Not only does it have to be made from at least 51% corn and aged for at least 2 years in new, charred oak barrels (which gives the liquor its unique taste and lovely amber color), but it also has to be distilled within these United States to be classified as bourbon, making it about the most American spirit you can sip.

While bourbon is now made commercially in a dozen different states from New York to Colorado, to gain a true appreciation for our nation’s spiritual heritage, Kentucky is the place to be. And if you ever get the chance to tour bourbon country, an essential first stop is the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, bourbon capital of the world.

Glencoe Distillery personnel

Getz was a Chicago businessman who cofounded Barton Brands, a whiskey broker, after the end of Prohibition in 1933. The following decade, Barton bought the Tom Moore distillery in Bardstown, and Getz started amassing historic whiskey artifacts and memorabilia. Originally housed in his own office at the distillery, his collection was donated by his wife to Bardstown to establish the museum after his death in 1983. The museum now resides at Spaulding Hall, built circa 1826 as a college and seminary and subsequently used as a Civil War hospital, an orphanage, and a boys’ prep school.

This poster is Prohibition propaganda, but to me, the graphic looks like "Sad World + Booze = Happy World."

Even during the dark days of Prohibition, there were ways around the law. These labels specify that the contents within were to be used for medicinal purposes only.

The medical marijuana of its time

I'm not sure how long this was on the market:

For the exceptionally lazy bartender

This has nothing to do with booze, but Spalding Hall also houses the Bardstown Historical Museum. Check out this Civil War–era front page:

Editing nerds like me will note the hyphen and period!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eyes on the Pies

Way back in mid-2007, bloggers started buzzing about New York’s Two Boots setting up an outpost in Echo Park adjacent to indie-rock emporium the Echo. With fond memories of the pizzeria from when I was a poor postcollegian bumming around NYC, I looked forward to having another option for a good slice. The amazing Vito’s was long gone (though it had reopened much farther west, on La Cienega), and Il Capriccio had just debuted its pizza offshoot a few months previous to wildly divergent reviews. Of the old standbys, Palermo was passable, but Nicky D’s was pricey and overrated, while Hard Times had become Truly Crappy Times.

More than a year and a half later, Two Boots has finally opened. But in the meantime, so has Garage, Andiamo, Tomato Pie, Lucifer’s, and Cruzer. Pizza Buona, a mere 2 blocks away from Two Boots, is a 50-year-old institution with a loyal clientele. Clearly there’s a glut of pizza joints in the Silverlake–Los Feliz–Echo Park environs now, so the timing seemed unfortunate.

It turns out Two Boots was worth the wait. Inspired by the “two boots” of Italy and Louisiana, the petite parlor enlivens traditional New York pizza with innovative concoctions named after pop cultural icons, like The Big Lebowski’s the Dude (Cajun smoked pork, ground beef, cheddar, and mozzarella) and Andy Kaufmann’s infamous alter ego, the Tony Clifton (wild mushrooms, sweet red pepper pesto, Vidalia onions, and mozzarella).

The BIrd

On a recent evening I settled on the Bird, a white pie topped with spicy Buffalo wings, blue cheese dressing, jalapenos, and a shower of scallions. With a perfectly textured thin cornmeal crust, assertive flavors, and a powerful kick, this slice was outstanding. As a comparison, Tomato Pie’s Hot Wing pizza, which combines similar ingredients, is really skimpy on the toppings and relatively bland.

Selection of slices

Some other pizzas my companions tried were, clockwise from top left, the Larry Tate (a white pie with spinach, plum tomatoes, and fresh garlic), the Mr. Pink (marinated chicken, plum tomatoes, fresh garlic, and mozzarella), the Earth Mother (vegetarian on a Sicilian crust; this one apparently has a Bette Midler tie-in, but I don’t know why), and the Cleopatra Jones (sweet Italian sausage, roasted peppers, onions, and mozzarella). All were very well received.

Photo by Hane C. Lee

Aside from the food, it’s really nice to see that after removing the ugly metal siding that had been added in the name of, I don’t know, modernization, they’ve restored the original brick facade and stone arch, framing a pretty patchwork of stained glass. Inside, the colorful vintage glass globe light fixtures, vibrant mural, and jukebox stocked with funk 45s and ’60s and ’70s pop and soul singles make dining in just as appealing as ordering out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fried Chicken, Two Ways

Last week, fried chicken enthusiasts from Kentucky to Korea were riveted by the announcement that KFC’s top-secret recipe had been safely restored to an upgraded, high-tech vault at its Louisville headquarters. But buried way down at the very end of the Associated Press report—and altogether omitted from most others—was the news that Colonel Sanders’ iconic chain will be unveiling a grilled chicken product.

The Louisville Courier-Journal pounced on the real story in today’s Business section, calling the planned April addition of Kentucky Grilled Chicken to the menu “the biggest piece of the brand’s turnaround plan.” What would the Colonel think?? The company’s aim is to woo women and health-conscious consumers, who might not relish the thought of genetically engineered poultry cooked in a vat of boiling oil. The thing is, just because I fall under both those categories doesn't mean I'm averse to fried chicken, and in yesterday’s case, I enjoyed it twice in one day.

First was brunch at Larkin’s in Eagle Rock. Housed in a restored Craftsman and decorated with antique photographs, mismatched chairs, and tables made from salvaged wooden doors, it feels like it could be the cozy dining room of the chef’s home. Larkin’s Country Style brunch pairs two pieces of fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits and homemade gravy. The drumstick and thigh had a flawlessly crisp crust without a hint of greasiness and were perfectly juicy on the inside. The biscuits were slightly too dense, but the creamy, subtly spicy gravy was addictive—I think I could've eaten a whole bowl of it with a spoon.

Larkin's Country Style

For dinner, we headed to bustling Sawtelle Blvd. in West LA to try GR Eats, the culinary companion to Giant Robot’s magazine and store-galleries. The decor is clean and modern, with walls graced by stunning Ai Yamaguchi paintings on wood. GR Eats' take on fried chicken, served with steamed rice and vegetables, consists of a generous portion of two thighs dipped in a sweet but light teriyaki sauce, resulting in a less crunchy skin but still satisfying flavor.

Teriyaki fried chicken at GR Eats

I admit I haven’t consumed KFC in decades, so it would be unfair to make comparisons. But with alternatives like these, I doubt I will anytime soon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Praise of Eggs Benedict

Last night’s Top Chef elimination challenge paired each of five remaining contestants with a “last meal” requested by a multigenerational panel of the culinary world’s elite. Nine-Lives Leah drew Wylie Dusfresne, whose gastronomic molecules craved eggs Benedict. Once again, Leah, like, sucked ass on the challenge, but this time she was finally axed for it. Whatever.

Like Wylie, I, too, could probably eat eggs Benedict every day, but after a three-day stretch in which I did exactly that, I realized that if I kept it up, it very likely would be my last meal. Below are some examples of the classic brunch dish, traditionally composed of a toasted English muffin topped with Canadian bacon and silky poached eggs, smothered in rich, tangy hollandaise. (Click image to enlarge.)

Photos by Hane C. Lee

Clockwise from top left:
Madame Matisse, Silverlake. I have no idea what made the hollandaise that atomic color.
Home Restaurant, Silverlake. Thoroughly mediocre. What made the meal memorable was that it was accompanied by possibly the worst service ever.
Proof on Main, Louisville, Kentucky. Their version uses Kentucky grit cakes and country ham.
Alabama Hills Cafe, Lone Pine. Hearty fare at a favorite stop between LA and Mammoth.
Paula’s Pancake House, Solvang. Very popular joint in Southern California's Danish Disneyland.
Colonial Kitchen, San Marino. Old-school family restaurant with reliable food and warm staff.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Kogi the new Pinkberry?

photo by Hane C. Lee

Is Kogi the new Pinkberry?

1. Run by Koreans
2. Cultish following
3. Multiplying like Nadya Suleman’s offspring
4. Just a matter of time before the backlash sets in?

Just three months after its "soft launch" comes the news that Korean BBQ taco phenomenon Kogi is not only adding a third truck but also setting up shop in the Alibi in Culver City (and perhaps in one or more of Cedd Moses’s downtown LA bars). Though the brilliant concept of combining smoky and succulent Korean BBQ with the finger foodiness of tacos seems perfectly suited to a bar menu, isn't half the appeal—and uniqueness—the fact that it's served out of a truck?

Signs of a backlash are already creeping in. Just last week PR honcho Alice Shin posted a lengthy entry to the Kogi blog responding to apparent customer criticism about hours-long lines, running out of food, high prices, and (most deservedly) her inexpLicabLe propensity for using capitaL Ls in aLL her correspondence. There have also been complaints from local restaurants that say the truck’s proximity is hurting their usual business. Other establishments are irate that hoards of taco tweeters are hogging their parking lots. Shin’s advice to Kogi patrons? “Park in a residential area!!” Sure way to win lots of new fans in any neighborhood.

photo by Hane C. Lee