8.25.2011

Finally Fooding Around in LA with LQ@SK.



Last Tuesday night Chris and I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing that which is LQ@SK. In case you’re not yet familiar, here are the bare bones:

Nguyen and Thi Tran are the delicious duo behind Starry Kitchen which is mainly a lunch spot, and offers up dinner Thursdays and Friday evenings.

Sadly, Laurent Quenioux's Bistro LQ recently closed up shop. Since then, the Chef has continued his role at Vertical Wine Bistro, where he became Executive Chef late last year.

The three put their heads together and realized it would be a great idea to have Quenioux come in to Starry Kitchen and do dinners Sunday through Tuesday, when the restaurant is not usually open, every other week. Said dinners are five-courses (plus amuse) prix fixe menu, priced at a very reasonable $45.

This began the first week of this past June and is slated to last anywhere from three to six months.

Voila.


Why it took me this long to get myself in there is a mystery to me. And don’t even get Nguyen started on the pathetic fact that I have yet to experience Starry Kitchen during their regular hours. Trust me, I feel like a heel about it. Alls I can say is that it is very difficult for me to get downtown during lunch hours. I have no excuse about Thursday and Friday nights, however.

I swung through Domaine LA as Jill does the pairings. As she does so very. I wasn’t planning on drinking a whole ton and knew I had to make the drive back to my canyon from downtown, so I just picked up two half bottles; a 2010 Domaine Daulny Sancerre and a 2008 Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano. As a little thank you presley for a cappuccino delivery the week before, she also gave me a bottle of NV Musva Muscat for dessert.

And then I picked up Chris and we were on our way.

I was delighted to spy, the always affable, Julian at the pass, expediting, and Nguyen, sporting a faux stache, skipping about doing all manner of duties and dropping all manner of F-Bombs. We were seated immediately and given a small platter of bread and olive oil (bread from Bread Lounge) and had our Sancerre opened. The bread was moderately good, but really begged for a finer, brinier, sassier olive oil or a nice butter to go with it.



As I took that first sip of wine and took in the bright, friendly and warm surroundings, our amuse bouche appeared. This was Scallop Tartar, Vanilla, Salsify, Clementine. It was clean, precise, delicate and subtly flavored. I ate my scallop tartar entirely and then moved to the Clementine and salsify. I appreciated the division of the elements. Chris, however, incorporated all of the tastes into his bites and was confused by the Clementine. He found it overwhelmed the scallop. Potato-PotAHto...


Next up we had Uni Tapioca Pudding – Carlsbad Oyster, Cauliflower, Yuzu Gelee. Uni is one of my most favorite things in all the land, so I was overjoyed that I was given a big, ole slab of it here. It was divine; sexy, musty, briny and unctuous. The oyster was a bit confusing. A bit busy. But I am admittedly an oyster purist. I thought this dish was seductive and lush and went exquisitely with the Sancerre.


On to the Skatewing, Sujok, Sumac, Cucumber Yogurt Garnish. I honestly had no idea what to expect here, and what appeared before me still had me surprised. Pleasantly, I might add. It had wisps of flavors reminiscent of Armenian and Indian cuisine, but still managed to be floaty and elaborate. I thought it was a creative and intrepid dish.


At this point we open the bottle of Foradori and the most intriguingly titled dish of the evening: The Declination of Peas: Pea Guacamole, Pea Gazpacho, Pea Bacon Ragu, Sauteed Foie Gras. I think our chef was having some fun with this one, in particular. He took his peas around the world. His peas were on celestial latitude, from France to Spain to Mexico. Terribly clever. 


The guacamole was fascinating. It had only peas, yet tasted almost exactly as though it were prepared traditionally, with avocado. It was light, bright and fresh. I wished I had a couple more crispety-crunchedies to dip into it. The gazpacho was playful and lustrous. But the ragu and the foie gras was the show stealer. It was like a rustic, peasant bourguignon – but with that Tiffany’s gem of foie gras on top. I wanted a barrel of it. And Jill’s choice of red, that Foradori, could not have been a better choice. It was, simply put, perfect.

After a moment to catch our breaths from the excitement from the last dish, we were presented with the Veal Cheeks, Bergamot Jus, Prickly Pear, Chanterelles, Fava Beans. This was, perhaps, the most visually stunning dish – and also Chris’ favorite of the night. I loved everything about this dish from concept to execution, but the prickly pear threw me a bit. The only reason for this is my slight aversion to gelatinous, fruity elements in my savory dishes. This is my thing. My issue. But I tell you what, I still cleaned my plate.


Timing-wise, things were perfect. We just finished up our wine as we finished up the veal cheeks. Time for dessert and Jill’s dessert wine, the Muscat (Yes, sweet. Yes, bubbly. Yes, delicious! This one is from Spain, courtesy of importer, Jose Pastor. And at under $15 a delicious bargain.) I figured, since the bubbles were a gift, I would share with the crew.



And so after a toast to the evening, Chris and I, with enormous smiles on our faces, dived into the Tonka Bean “Bread Pudding”, Shortbread Cookie, Red Currant, Rose Water Lychee Sorbet. While I’m not much of a dessert gal, this little morsel of bread pudding transcended coziness and the cool sorbet was supple and beautifully balanced. Not to mention his plating could have inspired a Miro painting.


What a great evening and an even greater meal. I’ve always thought Quenioux has had mad skills in the kitchen. I was consistently impressed at Bistro LQ. To enjoy his food and his formidable attention to detail, to taste the fun he was having in the Starry Kitchen kitchen, with Nguyen, proudly and, shall we say, enthusiastically explaining all of the dishes, Chris and I absolutely enjoyed every part of our evening. And all for $45?!


Chris called me the next day to thank me for turning him on to this pop-up. He also told me he had already made a reservation for the next round. He wanted to take an out of town friend who is quite the food enthusiast and is rumored to have an impressive palate.  

I will try to get myself back as well. But not before I make it my beezwax to go to Starry Kitchen proper. I promise.


8.18.2011

Winds of Change


I’ve never considered myself much of a spiritual person. I was brought up with zero knowledge of any sort of religion or religious history.  Apparently, one day, when I was very young I returned home from pre-school and exclaimed to my mother, “Who’s this little girl, Baby Jeeza havin’ a birthday?” Turns out it was Christmas time and the other kids were referring to Jesus' birth. I just thought one of my classmates was having a birthday party and I wasn’t invited. My mom says she was mortified. She promptly proceeded to outline Religion 101--no great detail, just basic historical information. Easter was only just explained to me at length a couple of years ago thanks to Brandon. Boy, was I off about that one.

Over time I became hugely interested in my peers’ various religions and practices. I loved going to the Friend’s Meeting House (Quaker) with Kelly Wolf and her parents. Everyone sat in a little steeple and meditated for set periods of time – the kids had fifteen minutes while the grown-ups had an hour. During this time anyone that felt compelled to stand up and say – or sing – something was more than welcome to do so. I vividly remember someone standing up from the silence and belting out Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens.  Me – I counted the stripes on the people’s shirts in front of me. After our fifteen minutes us kids were allowed to go play and do arts and crafts and stuff (Macrame! Macaroni art! Things that start with MAC!).


I also enjoyed attending midnight mass with my Uncle Pat and his family in Roanoke, Va each Christmas Eve at their Southern Baptist church (interestingly, the same church where my parents were wed). Mostly I loved that we got to hold candles (I’m a bit of a pyro) and sing Christmas carols (I really like to sing).

Then, when I was eight years old, my mom married Michael Lasky. Michael was (and, I imagine, still is) Jewish. This was my most favorite of all. I loved the process. I loved the ceremony. I loved the sense of inclusion. I loved Seders, the Yarmulke, the Menorah, the language. Michael’s mom was not too pleased about Michael’s choice in wife. Hell, her oldest son married a divorced-with-young-kid-shiksa. I guess she was mostly indifferent toward me, though. I think I used to wear a Yarmulke at the table, which, for obvious reasons, was looked upon with various levels of disdain and confusion. I went to Hebrew school, became a member of the Jewish Community Center and went to a Jewish Summer Camp, Camp Hilbert. Incidentally, I attended quite a few Summer camps in my time, that way, was by far, my mitzvah. Especially compared to Camp Hanover. Don’t even get me started on Camp Hanover. Those bitches in the Hogan next to me made up a secret language so they could talk smack about me. A language I deconstructed very quickly, which was convenient so I could spend the entire two weeks understanding what the mean girls were saying about me.

Mom and Micheal moved to Colorado with me and our car, Chet, in tow and then Mom and I, with our car, Chet, in tow, moved back to Richmond, sans Michael, eight months later. It had nothing to do with religion. Far from it. Their relationship had just run its course, I suppose. I was only eight. I didn’t really understand or care. I was just really happy to get back to my dad, my hometown, my friends, and a school system that had a Summer break (not that three months on, three months off crap). Plus, E.T. came out while I was living in Colorado. My name is Elliott. I was in the third grade. Need I say more? I only hoped the buzz of the movie had died down by the time I returned to Virginia.

It had not.

I’m pretty sure that was the last of my religious vision quests for a while. There were drum circles and “sweat lodges” happening a lot in college (#drugs). I even took a “Religions of the World” class there. It was in a shoebox-sized room with only six students. Only moments into the first class, the dude sitting next to me, Jerry Bello, the stinkiest, hippiest boy on campus, (who if his B.O. wasn’t alarming enough (and I like B.O.)) proceeded to pluck a beard hair and floss his teeth with it. I walked out of the class and marched right to the Dean’s office to promptly drop said class. Never to return.


And that about wraps things up for the next decade - certainly through the Atlanta years and into The LA ones.

A couple of years after I moved here, however, my friend Heather introduced me to this thing called yoga. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

If there’s anything I lack more of than religious education it would be the drive to exercise. In college I took juggling and “Independent Rollerskating” for PE credit to avoid any team sports or actual sweat, in general. I have tried various gym memberships over the past fifteen years, but nothing lasts longer than about a month. This has all fine and dandy until I noticed that, since moving into my thirties, my always-the-same-size-since-high-school body has, well, changed. It’s not a huge deal. I still fit into most of my clothes. Just differently.

And so I realized I have to get proactive. Obviously I enjoy food a great deal. I am willing to make certain sacrifices, certain tweaks, here and there, but let’s face it – I’m not going to fast or become vegan or macrobiotic. Same deal with the wine. I can certainly scale it back, but it’s still going to be around. That leaves one option: exercise.

So. Back to Heather and yoga almost a decade ago. When Heather first suggested we go to a Kundalini yoga class, I scoffed. I mean, exercise and chanting and meditating, with a pile of strangers? Honestly, I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.

But I went. And I fell in love with it.

I never became very regular with it. I still only lasted for brief fits and became distracted by something else. But something about this Kundalini stuff… It touches me. Spiritually. I am always very affected by the classes – both during and afterward. And it’s great exercise to boot.

Needless to say, I have returned to yoga. I just started going back this week so we shall see how long I last. But right now I feel energetic, alert, centered, happy and sore as hell. Even laughing hurts.


This past weekend my mom gave me a pork butt from, the most awesome Lindy Grundy, that was too big for her to cook in her kitchen. I had never prepared anything pork butt-ish as far as I knew, but the first word that popped into my mind was braise (and braising really is very zen, you know).



And, this past Sunday, braise I did. Heather came over and while the butt braised and braised, we settled in on the couch for a marathon of Criminal Minds. As we drew near the end of braise-o-rama, I pulled out the meat to rest while I made the pan sauce. I then was supposed to pull the meat apart with two forks.

What? I had imagined serving thick slices with the pan sauce over the meat.

This was when Heather gingerly pointed out that, not only did I not take note of the image of what the finished dish was supposed to look like, but I did not read the recipe in its entirety – or really look at the title of the dish: Beer Braised BBQ Pork Butt (actually she was far from “gingerly” about it – there may have been laughing and pointing).

So I accidentally made my first BBQ pulled pork. A lot of it. And it’s really good!

It’s true, I know I should always read a recipe all the way through before embarking on it – but, for some reason, I rarely do. I suppose this is because I feel so confident riffing in the kitchen. But Heather had a point. And it seems a prevalent point right now. While I’m all spiritual and stuff.

Be patient. Be thorough. Be calm. Be confident. Take your time and try do things correctly – even if you mess up a little. You will get it just right soon enough.




Beer Braised BBQ Pork Butt

Makes like 276485 pulled pork sandwiches




For the dry rub: 

 


2 tablespoons salt  
About 45 grinds black pepper  
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons mustard seed
12 ounces good ale or dark beer
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 5-pound pork butt (shoulder of the animal)


Directions: 

Combine rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Rub all over pork butt. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and as long as overnight.


Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Unwrap pork and place in a roasting pan with sides about 2 inches high. Cook 45 minutes until dark browned and even blackening in places. Remove from oven. 

Lower oven to 325 degrees F. Pour beer over the top and add chopped garlic around the pork. Cover tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil or twice with regular foil. Poke about 10 holes all over the top of the foil. Cook pork butt 3 hours longer until so tender that it comes away very easily from center bone.


Place the meat on a plate and pour the pan juice (there will be plenty) into a saucepan. To the pan juices add: 


1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 



Bring to a simmer until reduced by half and thick, about 20 minutes.



While the sauce is boiling down, pull apart the pork with 2 forks. Pour the sauce over the pulled pork and work through until fully absorbed.


Make sandwiches!

Printable Recipe

8.12.2011

Back In the Saddle Again.


I’m happy to report that I am back in my usual form here at F for Food. I finally finished all that was fit to print regarding Yerp and I’m back in my kitchen and back in my fair city’s restaurants. Back to causing trouble on the home front. Back to being lost and found and lost again. Back to trying to find my answers in all things culinary.

Work got extremely busy from May until a few weeks ago but things appear to have hit a calm. I haven’t really been out on the town, so to speak, but I also have not been cooking. There was a week in which Maggie and I did a cleanse together (ugh). But other than that week I cannot tell you why the kitchen has only an onion, three pieces of bread, half a bag of frozen edamame from Trader Joes and a bunch of too-ripe bananas.


I really hate to see food go bad. At some point a ways back I noticed a stray container of ricotta in the fridge approaching its expiration. Rather than toss it I zipped out to the store to buy all things to make a lasagna bolognese so that I could incorporate the ricotta into a recipe. So rather than throw away a couple of dollars worth of food, I created an errand to go spend exponentially more than a couple of dollars on more food to make a recipe that took the better part of a day.

The lasagna turned out beautifully, though.

So the other day that bunch of too-ripe bananas had me bemused. I won’t even consider eating a fruit even a moment past ripe, and these guys were a little beyond that. But I really wanted to avoid tossing out a whole bunch of bananas. I couldn’t figure out a way to integrate them into a savory dish. Well, not one that I could even think about wanting. I bandied about the idea of peeling them, chopping them into chunks and freezing them for future smoothies, but I had done that a few times already and I felt like being more kitchen-y than that.

So I called my mom as I rifled through some of my less modern cookbooks. I was going to have to bake.

I decided on a bread. That seemed less daunting than any other fruit-related baking project as it can fall onto the more savory side of the fence. Mom was giving me advice as I landed on the recipe I was going to base my bread from in my 1969 edition of the eponymous New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne. The recipe was simple and confident as are many in this particular tome.

I think my mom actually gave me this cookbook right before or after college. I tell you what - it has certainly seen its fair share of kitchen action in its forty-two years of cookbookery. It's banged up, falling apart and peppered with - well, probably pepper - and all manner of crusty food stuffs. It's been rode hard.

I poked around the cupboards to see if I could make use of anything else to jazz up the recipe and give it my own flare. I unearthed bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and candied walnuts. Done deal.

The recipe was fairly simple to execute and turned out beautifully. Maggie and Doug thought it was great. Eating a generous slice, warm and slathered with butter, even my mom said she was impressed.

And unlike the lasagna, I didn’t have to leave the house or spend an extra penny. Maybe I’m getting better at this.



Bourbon-Vanilla Bean Banana Bread with Candied Walnuts

1 Loaf

1 ¾ cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2-3 bananas)
1 bourbon-vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/2 cup coarsely broken candied walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Cream the shortening, add the sugar gradually and continue working until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the flour mixture alternately with the bananas, a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth.

Fold in vanilla bean scrapings and walnuts.

Turn into a well-greased bread pan (8 ½ X 4 ½ X 3 inches) and bake about one hour and ten minutes.

8.06.2011

Yerp: Part 7 - The End.


Now that I have spent the better part of this Summer writing about two weeks I spent in Europe in May, I think it’s time to close the chapter and move on to bigger and better – or just different – things.

The trip was spectacular. The trip was indulgent. Chris, Emma and I reconvene, periodically, to reminisce. A couple of non-food/drink related vacation gems include but are not limited to:



The search for the world’s largest mortadella.

Three years prior, Chris and I wandered into a restaurant one afternoon in Barcelona. We wanted some oysters and cava and this looked like a good spot. We had been sitting there for about fifteen or so minutes before I excused myself to use the restroom. Upon my return I found Chris in a fit of hysterical laughter, beet red, and unable to form words through his tears of elation. He finally mustered up the syllables to instruct me to take a good look around the room. It took about ten seconds for my eyeballs to settle on the source of his mania. I promptly burst out into my own hysterical fit and may have fallen out of my chair.

I don’t know how we could have missed it. Right by the front door, resting on top of its very own easel, with a jaunty green bow tie around it, was the world’s largest mortadella. It took quite a while for us to regain our composure. Hell, It's a good thing I had just relieved myself... We still take enormous joy in recounting that afternoon. Cava? Oysters? I don’t recall if they even happened. Everything else around us evaporated after the realization of the massive log of meat before us.

We were hell bent on finding that restaurant this go ‘round. At one point I sensed it. Then Chris took off running. Emma and I chased after him in exhilaration. We found the spot, but that restaurant no longer occupied the space. The mortadella was nowhere to be seen.

Thank goodness I was able to get this picture three years ago…



The stakeout of Dirty White Dreadlock Boy.

On that first trip Chris and I also found a café that we were both quite fond of. There is a photo of me in that café, sitting in front of a wall of bottles of wine that exists on my Facebook page, I think. We found ourselves there again on this recent visit, and sat in the same spot to have a latte. While there I wanted to recreate the photo from three years earlier.


Something the three of us had noticed in Barcelona, that seemed to be some horrific new trend, was dirty white boy dreads. Now listen, I went to Antioch college and I’m not a pantywaist about such things, but that was college! And that was like 1993! Grunge, remember?

So while we were enjoying our coffee and becoming irritated with my vanity regarding getting that darn picture just right, Chris spotted him. The dirtiest white boy with the kookiest white boy dreads. His hair was cut short on top with his tremendously long dreads only in the back. Kind of like a dirty white boy dread mullet. It was astounding.


But we only got a glimpse as he ducked into the little market across the street. We were so excited to get another peek that both Emma and I set up our cameras while Chris was our eagle eye. We were now on a stakeout.


It seemed like forever. I mean, what in the world could he have been doing in that place for so long? A dozen other people went in and came out before him. We thought maybe he was onto us and ducked out the back door. But then, suddenly, there he was, in all his dirty white boy dreaded glory. Our shutters were flashing away.

We were very happy.



The return to the tiny, little bar with the coolest staff, ever.

On our trip a few years back we did a lot of museums. Chris loves museums and is considerably knowledgeable of all things historic. Museums are not as much my thing. So after a few days of museum-ing, I decided to let Chris have a go at the architectural museum solo while I ducked into a dark, little bar to have a glass of wine and do some writing. By the time Chris came back to get me I was speaking Spanish like a pro and had befriended the staff and customers alike. I had also gotten a lot of important writing done. 

Well, we stumbled onto that very same bar almost by accident on this journey. And as if on cue, Chris announced he wanted to go re-visit the architecture museum as Emma & I decided to duck into the bar for a glass of wine. It was exactly the same. It was empty, save for a couple of people - clearly regulars who lived close by - the place was empty. The guys working there were fun, friendly and playful. Our bartender posed for pictures with us, danced around, and even carried on with a glass of beer on his head. 

I can't wait to return.


Well and so...


For our last evening we met back up with Dad and Dale. Remember them? They were staying at a hotel by the water and were very likely really enjoying their respite from us kids. We all enjoyed a glass of cava on the roof of their hotel as the sun went down before heading out to find some dinner. They seem rested. We were exhausted. We walked around for a while until we settled on a little tapas spot with outdoor seating in a bustling courtyard with street performers and the like. We had cava. We had ham. We shared and compared our respective Barcelona stories with each other. We were already wistful.


Here's our album cover. If we had an album. Or a band, for that matter.


It was a truly wonderful adventure and a memorable vacation. The three of us rode to the airport together. Emma and I, on separate flights, returned to our City of Angels and Chris went on to Madrid for a friend's wedding. And more ham.


But, as always, no matter how incredible a time I have away, I am always excited to return home. Home to my Los Angeles, my little house in my canyon, Maggie, and my sweet puppies.