1.25.2011

And This Little Piggy Went to Mercantile...


Last week Doug, Kendra and I went out to dinner. It was kind of spontaneous as I thought I was going to just throw together something from my kitchen and had pretty much planned to do so in my sweats. But, at the Eleventh hour, we decided to go out. Something chill.

Our go-to in this situation is Cheebo. I have an affinity for their chopped salad. But their bar doesn’t cater well to three (it doesn’t have a corner) and I am not wild about the dining room experience there. I threw out a few suggestions and we ended up settling on Mercantile. I had a really nice lunch there a couple of weeks prior (excellent chestnut apple soup, celery root soup and the Frenchy sandwich) and a few glasses of wine (specifically a rosé I was particularly fond of) back closer to when they first opened - these two visits left me curious for a dinner. Plus, they have a corner at the bar.



I think Mercantile is very cute. It’s rustic with wood ceilings, antique wallpaper and jelly jar glasses. It’s both a café and a gourmet market, selling everything from small tins of mustard seeds to wine. It is also the latest addition to George Abou-Daoud’s Hollywood imperium (the Bowery, Delancey, the Mission Cantina). Unbelievably, chef Kevin Napier serves up his international comfort dishes in one of the smallest, most pared down kitchens I’ve seen in a while. I’m talking about two hot plates and a salamander. In his gnomic kitchen he manages to pump out brunch, lunch and dinner, serving up omelettes, biscuits and gravy, lovely soups, foie gras terrine, a badass duck confit salad, a yummy Cuban sandwich, beef shortrib and mac n’cheese.



In addition to a simple and well-priced wine list (sold by the glass, carafe and bottle), they also offer beer and liquor.

This recent evening we split a bottle of red and started things off with a cheese plate ($14 for three cheeses). I appreciate the descriptions of the cheeses with words like stinky and gooey, or earthy and hard, or musty and semi-hard. We went with one of each; a couple of sheep’s milk cheeses and the third with sheep, cow and goat’s milk.



We ate every ounce of our cheeses – we even had to request more bread on which to smear them.

We followed this with a salad of broccoli, burrata and pine nuts. I really fancied the flavors and temperature of this warm salad. I would have preferred a slightly charred broccolini to the steamed broccoli – but that’s just me.



Doug opted for the BLT for his main course. This was bacon, lettuce and tomatillo jam with charred jalapeño goat cheese and pickled red onion on toasty sourdough bread with an accompaniment of mixed greens ($11.50). Although Doug seemed a little thrown by the lack of the traditional T, he thought it was a cool twist.



Kendra ordered the salad of Fennel-Crusted Albacore with potato salad, haricot vert, soft-cooked quail egg, olive tapenade and arugula ($13). All three of us found this dish to be superlative. The tuna was seared to perfection with just the right amount of dressing, the potato salad was surprising and a great touch and the quail egg was beautiful.



I went for the Mushroom Soup ($6); a dairy-free puree topped with a dollop of crème fraiche and chives. I found the soup delicate and rounded. I was actually surprised it wasn’t finished with cream. I also had the Roasted Chicken Salad: butter lettuce, avocado, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chicken crispies, onion rings and tobasco ranch ($13.50). I’ll be honest, I ordered it solely because they used the words chicken crispies in the description. I liked my salad just fine. But I can leave it at that. It was just fine. It was slightly under-dressed with an enormous amount of the lettuce. The crispies were a little overly fried – a little overly crispied. 



During the course of our meal, we were entertained by both the music and our bartender/server (whose iPod was playing said music). After Kendra and Doug left I lingered for a while to try a few other wines and chatted with our DJ/bartender/server, Kyle. Good man.



I was also pleased to discover that they remain open until midnight. I also suggest checking out the cheeses, charcuterie, fresh pastries and ice cream in the case.

The Mercantile on Urbanspoon

The Mercantile in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

1.15.2011

Ghost Meets Manchurian Candidate. With a Heart. In the Right Spot.


When I was in college I studied – among other things – film theory and production. And, until a disastrous Summer co-op in LA in 1994, that’s what I thought I wanted to DO with my life. I’ll expound on that in a bit.

I actually made some pretty cool films, if not technically wondrous. Bear in mind, this was pre-Avid. I was also every man: writer, story boarder, camera loader, director, grip, audio, editor. I was literally cutting the celluloid and taping it back together using either a Moviola or a Steenbeck. So I guess it looked a little Frankenstein-y. But conceptually I had some great stuff. My senior project was, perhaps, my coup de grace. It was a multi-media installation involving 16mm film, video and a dj (my boyfriend at the time). All of the elements were synced together and were supposed to be an autobiography, of sorts. The event took place in the “dance space” on campus (a dilapidated, graffiti covered, shithole) where I recreated my bedroom from home. It was entitled Play Pretties and was a "hit" (amongst the tiny population of my school). It saddens me that it will never see the light of day again – but also sort of lovely in the same sense.

 That's me setting it all up, checking the sync.

One of the other films I made was about accidentally overhearing random parts of other people's conversations. I can’t recall the title. I filmed it in a diner in Xenia, Ohio, starring Paz as the girl who is overly affected by hearing the audio clips and two girls that lived in the dorm room next to me as the “offenders”. All shots with Paz were in color and everything shot with the other girls was in black and white.

The dialogue was actual random stuff I had overheard and found compelling in some way. Things like “…that I wasn’t in that fucking car when it went down.” Or “You know old men are dirty.” There was some line about a bathtub or something, but I can’t remember much else.

I used the diner order tickets for my credits.

I thought I was terribly clever.

My Friday ritual of late is to spend hours on end at The Chateau Marmont and write. For some reason I have found it increasingly difficult to accomplish much in that department at home. The Chateau is usually quiet, serene, comfortable, and I’ve always felt at home with camping out here. This Friday, however, I was unaware that it is Golden Globe weekend. The Chateau is packed. I’m sitting a few feet away from that dude from Dazed and Confused who is now on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (oops) Brendan Fraser, staring through the window at Matt Dillon and overhearing parts of conversation that is reminiscent of any number of scenes from The Player. “Oh, you mean THE Barry Levinson?” “No, LARRY Levinson.” “Oh, right, LARRY.”

WHAT?!?! Actually, wasn't there a JOEL Levinson in The Player?

It all reminds me of that film I made. But here’s the thing – this all also reminds me of that maelstrom of a Summer back in 1994. Right when I was so excited and in love with movies and film. What better place to do my required internship than Hollywood? I even had a good college friend, Emma, already out here doing an internship of her own. She told me she’d help me find a job and had a friend’s place I could stay. I can’t recall if that was supposed to be temporary sofa surfing or if it was cool if I stayed the entire Summer. Obviously I stayed on that sofa the entire Summer. I also never really found a job.

I was also living in Brentwood. Without a car. Hardly knew a soul. No job.

Then, one day, one of the girls I was crashing with did me a solid. I guess she was working with Tarantino and Bender’s company A Band Apart in some capacity. Or maybe the other girl I that lived there was working for Oliver Stone’s company, Ixtlan. Honestly, I can’t recall the details, but I got a gig reading scripts for Stone’s company and writing coverages. For no pay.

The thing was, I came from unusual schooling and a wild, hippie college where I was studying 16mm film production, underground, independent films, modern jazz, juggling, how to pull a massive bong hit and irreverence. So reading scripts called Surfing the Himalayas and all the other Hollywood shite I was handed was literally obscene to me. In addition to that I didn’t know how to write in a non overly verbose and non-academic way. I didn’t know or understand Hollywood. Nor did I want to. I waited with bated breath to leave this town of evil. And I was never to return.

Hey, I was also an extra in Nixon. I played a "sleeping hippie" in the Lincoln Memorial scene. Look for a blonde girl, wearing brown, so rudely interrupted by Anthony Hopkins and James Woods walking down the steps of the memorial and kicking a beer bottle towards her head. That was pretty neat. But I still hated what I saw that that Summer: This machine that makes movies - Hollywood.

That was then This is now. Fifteen plus years later. Now I live in Hollywood, I work in Hollywood, I eat in Hollywood, I drink in Hollywood and I love Hollywood. I AM a Southern Californian.

I remember at the beginning of that Summer, whenever I would walk into a café or store or what have you, I thought everyone was looking at me, checking me out, because I was so cool. Then I realized – everyone checks out everyone to see if they’re someone.

Now, here I sit, at the famed Chateau Marmont, with a glass of iced tea, lillet, and now merlot – on the Friday before the Golden Globes, surrounded by celebrities, agents, and everyone who is supposed to be someone, writing for my little food blog.

Funny how life works.

Anyway, one other thing that happened that ill-fated (or not so ill-fated) Summer, was - in my melancholy, when I wasn't reading, writing, drinking wine or watching Looking for Mr. Goodbar, I was cooking. Nothing fancy, mind you. But even when just making pasta sauces I made a point to chop as many things as possible, stir as much as possible, create food that required as much preparation and tedium as possible. It was like knitting or yoga for some. It was my Zen.

So, in the spirit of that time and this time, and my slightly more advanced kitchen capability, I share with you a dish that requires both knife skills and constant attention. It also seems very Hollywood.



Cremini Mushroom and Meyer Lemon Risotto

Serves 4 


Ingredients 
2 1/4 cups boiling-hot water
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 lb small cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Arborio rice (8 oz)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh Meyer lemon zest
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan



Directions

Bring stock and 2 cups hot water to a simmer. Keep at a bare simmer, covered. 

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté cremini, stirring, until browned, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. 

Cook onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. 

Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed. 

Stir in 1/2 cup simmering stock mixture and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition become absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender but still al dente and creamy (it should be the consistency of a thick soup), 18 minutes. (There will be leftover broth.) 

Stir in zest, mushrooms, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, Parmesan and pepper to taste. (If necessary, thin risotto with some of remaining broth.) Serve immediately.

  

1.07.2011

I'm okay, you're okay. That there's where it's at.


I can't complain. 

I have heard that phrase uttered by countless people, countless times, and never really given it much weight. Until I realized, very recently, what it meant.

I have spent the majority of my teens and all of my adult life struggling, wanting, striving, fighting, trying, pushing and stressing. I have been moving toward something that I have not yet attained or obtained. It has been any combination of money, love, comfort, stability, community, and calm. And expectations – both my own and others’ of me.

I think we all do this.

I’ve searched for the job that is what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up. What I am. What I will be. What I am supposed to be. I strive for the apartment/house that is my home. Where I can drop anchor. I want my friends to be my forever friends, the friends like the friends from Friends, friends. I wonder if whichever guy that I’m with is the guy. Or will the next guy be him? I should really have a nest egg by now, right? Wait – am I financially stable? I’ve never known what that feels like, so I’m not sure. When am I allowed to stop – or at least pause – and inhale?

The answer for many of us in this country, in this time, is probably never. But, guess what? Very recently I stopped. I took inventory, as it were. I inhaled. You know what I realized? I’m okay. I love my friends. I love my house. My relationships with my family are solid. We are all healthy. I am inspired. I am creative. I have the-job-that-is-my-job-when-I-grow-up-job. And even though I don’t have a nest egg, I am financially stable. I’m comfortable.

I get it now. I can’t complain. Though I often do.

No, I’m not married with two point five kids in a big house and a droopy dog lounging on the front porch. No, I’m not even in a relationship. No, my life at thirty-six is not the one I thought I would have when I was a young girl. It’s also not the life my parents would have predicted for me. But, regardless, I have landed and I am here. Where is here? Right where I am.

I am not nearly done with struggling, wanting, striving, fighting, trying, pushing and stressing. I am still moving toward something that I have not yet attained or obtained. Otherwise life would be boring. But I am pleased with where I am, what I have and the trajectory of how it all came to pass.

This is what I have realized while the end of 2010 became the beginning of 2011. This is what I realized as I saw some things end and others either begin or grow bigger at the stroke of midnight last Friday. Ever since that moment I have enjoyed a relaxing week and I have felt calm.

Last night, while trying to cultivate a fabulous and ornate dish to usher in the new year with this post, I realized all I really wanted to eat was something healthy and simple. I wanted the dinner that the me in my alter life, the one that’s married, with two point five kids and a droopy dog lounging on the porch, would have for dinner. I wanted chicken, rice and a green veggie. Hell, I didn’t even have a glass of wine – just water. The meal was very good, if not decorated with truffles, fennel pollen or the like. And as I ate my dinner I thought to myself and smiled: I really can’t complain.

Happy New Year, and here’s to a beautiful and inspired 2011!



Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Garlic and Celery Leaves


Serves 2
1 tablespoon olive oil oil 
1 pound (2 breasts) skinless boneless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Celery leaves from 1 large bunch
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup red wine vinegar 
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley 


In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; add it to the pan in a single layer. Cook over high heat, turning once, until well browned, 8 minutes. 
Stir in the garlic and cook over moderate heat just until fragrant, 1 minute. Add most of the celery leaves and stir just until wilted, 30 seconds. Add the stock and vinegar and cook, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is reduced to a few tablespoons, 5 to 6 minutes. 
Add the parsley and the remaining celery leaves and serve over jasmine rice.