Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dreary skies and coffee cake.

I love a good coffee cake. It's such a simple baked good, but when confronted with a slice, I know few people that would refuse it -- especially with a cup of coffee.
It doesn't matter whats mixed into the batter. Exotic fruits, fragrant spices, a chocolate swirl -- as long as it has some buttery streusel on top, I'm all over it.

This week's Tuesday's With Dorie choice of Cardamom Crumb Cake by Jill of Jill's Blog was one that I especially couldn't pass up. It wasn't until the last few years that I really tasted what cardamom was like, and I've loved it ever since. Nearly anytime a recipe calls for cinnamon, I always try to add a tiny bit of cardamom and freshly grated nutmeg. It's such a distinct taste, and relatively accessible in my opinion, but it appears on menus and in baked goods so rarely!

I didn't have orange on hand so I ended up using lemon, but I think it was still appropriate. Despite the butter content of this cake, the citrus made it so light. And combined with the sugary streusel, I didn't quite want to have just one piece.

So I didn't.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quite the pair.

Here we are in Los Angeles, enjoying warm weather and blue skies with a little over a week until Thanksgiving. I was in New York just a couple weeks ago enjoying the biting breezes and investing in a earmuff-headband thing from Uniqlo because, well, it was necessary (and adorable), and it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. I was lucky enough to have missed the 90+ degree heat wave, but aside from some decorations up at the Grove, one would have no idea that the holidays are just around the corner.

I purposely drive on Third Street through Hancock Park sometimes just to admire the turning leaves on trees lining the street of homes reminiscent of what I'd see in a romantic comedy set during the holidays. Sixth Street is an even better drive -- those colorful leaves even blow up and trail behind cars as you make the turns on the windy stretch. when I lived on the west side, my journey to work always included a segment on Barrington before it turned into McLaughlin, and it always felt like a suburban East Coast fall in those few moments.

Thankfully, I also have desserts to bring about the warmth and fuzziness of the season, so this week's pick by the sisters (and sister-in-law) Celestial Confections was especially welcome. I've never actually baked anything with cranberry before, and only made cranberry sauce from the fresh berries for the first time last year, but there really is no better time than now to test out a recipe.

A galette is a crostata is a free-form pie, so it comes with Dorie's buttery, flaky, amazingly delicious dough that I rave about time and time again. Just that would be enough (my co-worker could probably make a dinner with the crust cookies I make with the scraps), but the cranberry-ginger-lime filling has a brightness that makes you forget the gloom and doom of the season and rings in the holidays, too. The cranberry could have been a fine filling to the galette by itself (albeit one-dimensional), but the addition of the ginger and lime zest/juice provided a kick that suddenly made the pastry more interesting. My one minor grip with the final product is that it expanded much more than I expected -- though I didn't keep it out of the fridge long before I sent it to the oven, perhaps a post-assembly chill or freeze would be good to maintain the cute, compact shape of the galette after it having been baked.

The galette was undoubtedly a rustic looking thing, but it was met with rave reviews all around. Cranberry and lime have been known to be good friends with vodka, but with a hint of ginger in a rich crust, I think I'll stick with bourbon and devour this instead.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An old friend.

There wasn't any question that I would be making this week's pick for Tuesday's With Dorie by by Emily of Sandmuffin. Dorie's All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie is just that -- delicious. This wouldn't be my first time making it (it made an appearance at Thanksgiving a couple years back, and another time just because), but an excuse to fill my kitchen with the aroma of fall and loved ones' stomachs with toothsome apples and flaky pie crust was very much welcome. Yes, I was an "old hand" at this one, and then I realized I may have blogged about this recipe before, too, back when I was a more diligently keeping this up.

And here it was. Nearly two years ago I had experienced the revelation that apple pie can, indeed, be fantastic, and today, I'm still maintaining that position. This time, I chose Mutsus, Granny Smith, and a few Arkansas black apples. I hadn't baked with the Arkansas black before, and because they're so small, I can't imagine making an entire pie from them (the peeling and coring would be endless!), but they are such a distinct variety from the mealy ones that color the produce section of your conventional grocery store. And they're gorgeous -- it's the apple I imagine Snow White to have been been poisoned by, unable to resist the allure of its oxblood, semi-matte finish.

I've had a couple more years of pie dough rolling under my belt now, and the crust definitely draped over the mound of raw apples in a more attractive way (though as the volume of the apples decreased as they were baked, the crust caved a bit too), but there were also some less-than-sweet apples in the mix. I think next time I'll reintroduce the tsugaru apples and omit the Granny Smith standby.

I can't wait for apple pie leftovers. If I recall correctly, the flavor was even better on the second day. I may even lay some cheddar over that slice. Dessert for breakfast? Absolutely.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back in the saddle.

I've missed you. Heat waves and overwhelming commitments shouldn't be an excuse, but it's the truth. I admit, I did make time to bake birthday cakes and birthday treats, but I might as well be chained to those at this point -- there's no way around it. But, the weather has turned rainy and chilly, if only for this half of the week, and it's enough to be the kick in the pants I need to start baking for Tuesdays With Dorie again, and what could be more seasonal than a variation on pumpkin pie?? Things have finally settled down, and with Janell of Mortensen Family Memoirs choosing Caramel Pumpkin Pie, I have a feeling it's going to be a spectacular holiday season.

It's been awhile since I've made a pie, and was over the moon that this was my welcome-back recipe, but it's been so long that I was almost unsure when making the dough for the crust -- Was it wet enough? Too wet? What happened last time it was too dry? Everything worked out in the end with enough pinching and kneading (not the most ideal method, but it came together), and luckily holidays beget pies so I look forward to crust-making becoming second nature once again.

The crust was baked and cooled, and then came the tricky part -- making the caramel. Sugar was cooked in a skillet on the stove until it took on a mahogany color (difficult to gauge with a black-bottomed, non-stick skillet) and smoking, with heavy cream and butter then added to it. I got the mahogany color and the melted sugar was smoking ever so slightly, but it seems it had just gone over the edge and there became a hint burnt caramel flavor.

After it cooled, it was mixed into the pumpkin and spice mixture (no appliances necessary - hurrah!), poured into the pan. I realized at this point that perhaps a deep dish pie plate wasn't the way to go for this recipe. My love of crust runs deeps, so a deep dish pie with it's greater crust-to-filling ratio has my heart and it's a reflex to grab that pie plate every time. When I poured the filling into the par-baked crust, however, it only barely hit halfway up the pan. There was nothing I could do at this point, so off into the oven it went, spending about 10 minutes longer in there than projected.

I refrigerated the pie overnight, and in the morning, upon examining my sleigh bed of a pie with its large sloping headboard, I decided a whipped cream topping would be the way to go. I added some Maker's Mark to the cream as I hadn't added any rum to the filling as suggested, and covered the surface with the fluffy, white blanket, letting it reach the rim of the crust. Its secondary purpose was mellowing the burnt caramel flavor of the pumpkin, which wasn't bad at all, in my opinion, and did add a certain depth to the delicious (but sometimes one-note)taste of pumpkin. I'd be interested in making the pie again and taking the caramel off before it turns mahogany and seeing which pie I prefer.

So here begins another holiday baking season. I'm hoping it won't be completely overwhelming and leave me no time to blog, but it will surely be infinitely satisfying.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not quite love.

Espresso and chocolate are a marriage made in heaven, but a combination that I don't find myself gravitating towards often. Perhaps that it is such a ubiquitous pairing that anytime I find them together, I ask myself, "Okay - what else is there?" Seasonal fruit will trump coffee-chocolate every time, as will herbs and honey. Salted caramel and brown butter for the win, unless they're combined with espresso and chocolate, and in that case, the coffee-cocoa characteristics are forgiven. The addition of espresso or coffee to enhance the chocolatiness of a chocolate cake doesn't count (I support it emphatically), so aside from mocha macarons (which are usually pretty good at any patisserie), and the "tiramisu" I had at a recent Michael Voltaggio pop-up dinner(a soy/coffee/chocolate/mascarpone, panna-cotta-and-dippin'-dot revelation), I'll pass.

I was hoping that this week's Tuesday's with Dorie selection by Donna of Life's Too Short Not To Eat Dessert First would be another exception to the rule (and it was a perfectly good cookie!!), but not one I'll revisit unless specifically requested. My prejudices aside, it's a wonderful recipe because, save for the 2 hour chilling period, it is so quick and easy to throw together with minimal clean-up and effort. Portioning is a breeze, no hand-rolling necessary, and though the squares could have used a post-cutting chill in the refrigerator to firm up the dough a little more (the dough got soft just from cutting time), they kept their shape pretty well. They won't win any beauty pageants, but I think that'd suit them just fine -- they prefer the simplicity of a casual coffee over a highbrow afternoon tea anyway.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The height of Summer.

I've been so neglectful of this here blog. I've been baking up a storm since June, but for many, many reasons (first camping trips, weddings, out-of-town guests, even more baking, etc.), I haven't gotten to the whole blogging part of this endeavor. It's a little bit essential.

And here we are, nearing the end of August, Angelenos already in despair that summer is coming to a close (though, we should all know Indian Summer is just getting started). Just walk into any farmers' market and you'll know that we're still in the thick of warm weather. Stone fruits abound and the "last ____ of the season!" signs are still nowhere to be seen. Rachel of sweet tarte chose this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe and I have to admit, I love it when the recipes chosen are absolutely befitting the season, as was the case this week. I just so happened to have a couple rapidly ripening peaches on hand and into Dorie's Crunchy and Custardy Peach Tart they went.

It's been a hectic time, still, and the crust was a godsend. Without having to wait for the dough to chill, the almond-flour crust was simply patted into the tart pan and frozen overnight. In the morning, I didn't have to get out the designated pie weight beans and just popped it into the preheated oven for a partial bake. The next day, my super-ripe peaches were fanned into the crust, a custard quickly assembled and coaxed in between fruit segments and the pan was returned to the oven until the filling set, with a light shower of almondy streusel midway through the bake time.

Although the streusel didn't stay remain crisp throughout the day, the almonds were still a welcome textural contrast to the soft peach and custard. The seasonality of the fruit really shone through as each bite was remarkably sweet with the natural sugar of the peach and not from the addition of refined sugar. The custard was a perfect complement to the roasted drupe, and also the crumbliness of the nut-blend crust. The crust was buttery and caramely and would make such a delicious cookie on its own, but all of the components just enhanced its partners. Any stone fruit and even pears or figs would perform wonderfully against the same custard and crust, so in a few weeks time, I'll be excited to showcase their splendors against the same base. This is the new chameleon of the kitchen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Risen, sans raisins.

Yeasted breads were the bane of my existence for the first 11 years that I was turning butter, flour, sugar, and eggs into something palatable. After being struck by the baking bug at age 15 and being gifted a respectable assortment of pans and miscellaneous baking accessories, the first cookbook that I added to our household's collection (which included several volumes from Fu Pei Mei, matriarch of the Chinese broadcast television cooking shows, and a 3-ring bound Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook) was the Pillsbury Healthy Baking book, purchased at Barnes & Noble in Fremont, CA, probably passing time after Saturday Chinese school. I could imagine the stern look of disapproval on my parents' face if I had purchased a full-price, full-fat book of cakes, cookies, and other confections, so this one, with the blazing "Bargain Books" sticker, "healthy" keyword, and oat-studded loaf on the cover was a safer bet.
After successfully trying out a few quick breads, the next logical step was a real bread. A bread leavened with yeast. Being so diligent about following directions, I probably did everything as instructed by the recipe, however, when it came time for the honey oat dough to rise, it just didn't. All afternoon, the loosely formed dough just stayed the same shape, same volume. I knew my house was cold, but really?! No rise, whatsoever?? I finally decided to turn on the heater and set it in front of the vent. At that point, it may have risen a tiny bit and perhaps a skin had formed and hardened from the heat. Still, I persevered and decided to take a chance and send it to the oven. I was really hoping to peek into the oven halfway through its baking time and see the loaf loftily rising over the edge of the pan, but no such luck, and by the time the recipe suggested to take the loaf from the oven, it was still the same sad, oblong shape. Of course I had to taste the thing, and it wasn't half bad! Unfortunately, it was also hard as a rock.
There was another unsuccessful attempt with pizza dough a couple years ago (pita bread ended up being the vehicle for squash blossoms and asiago), but last year, my failures still vivid in my mind but somehow not affecting my resolve, I make a leap with challah bread. This time I made use of the space heater in my room (it being the smallest confined space in the fourplex, thus keeping in the warm air), propped my bowl of dough off the ground, and just waited. The challah turned out beautifully. It was magic.

That experience spawned subsequent tries at bread loafs, buns, and croissants, all of which employed the bringing-the-dough-into-the-bedroom technique and all of which were successful. This time of year, however -= when my butter needs only sit on the counter for half an hour to soften instead of the usual 3 hours -- the dough has been a-rising without an additional artificial push, so this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection of Raisin Swirl Bread by Susan of Food. Baby. was a very welcome choice. Unfortunately, I actually let the dough rise for too long as I was waiting for other baked goods to finish in the oven, and it was gaining much more height than desired. Still I threw it in the oven, just happy it wasn't a leaden mess, but it did grow bigger than its britches and emerged with tumors and keloids and a nice tan. Though not the most photogenic loaf, it had fluffy and pillowy innards, a firm crust, and was perfumed by freshly grated nutmeg. I neglected to add the raisins before I rolled up the dough, so it became cinnamon swirl bread with a very mild sweetness. Next time I'll probably increase the cinnamon, but it was perfect in taste and texture in every other way. Eaten straight from the loaf, it's the kind of bread that you could eat 3/4 of before realizing what you've done. Toasted and buttered with a cup of tea, you're thankful for life's simple pleasures.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The taste of early summer.

There may not be a more perfect dessert for this time of year than the tender shortcakes, chosen by Cathleen of The Tortefeasor for this week's Tuesday's With Dorie pick. The farmer's market is overflowing with every berry you can think of (and some you had no idea about -- tayberries?! what are those??) and the scone-like texture of these buttery shortcakes could not be a more perfect base for sweet and succulent berries topped with a dollop (or huge cloud) of fresh whipped cream.
The shortcakes are much like cream biscuits with a slightly craggy, crisp crust, and dense crumb -- tender would actually be the most apt adjective for them -- and come together so quickly. It's a brilliant dinner party dessert because the dough (which is already tossed together in minutes) can be made ahead of time and frozen, then popped straight into the oven. The oven is turned up pretty high, but the shortcakes don't actually bake that long so your guests won't be sweltering in the kitchen. Assembly is a breeze and voila! You're ready to thoroughly please a room full of people.

The biscuit can be the backdrop for so many other flavors and I intend on testing many (ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, lime zest, orange) and changing up the fruit filling appropriately. i have no doubt that this recipe will not just be filed away in my arsenal, but will show up in the recipe boxes of my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. That could be the greatest compliment there is.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A new zest.

Ever since we moved offices nearly a year ago, a world of eating options was opened up to my office mates and me. Now I'm a pretty religious brown-bagger, but having a selection of midday snacks available to me instead of solely the Fred Segal cafe (no joke), is a welcome luxury. We have one of the better gas station mini-marts as a neighbor, solid breads and viennoiserie across the street, and chocolate covered raisins by weight around the way. Our favorite mid-afternoon snack, however, is the controversial fruit cart, and there are quite a few to be found within a two block radius. I looked at their rainbow umbrella shaded carts with suspicion for some time, but after awhile, the chili powder, salt, and lime juice laced fruit was something that piqued my interest. My coworkers were already major converts, so by the time I had tried my first sliver of coconut, a little sour, a little spicy, I was very late to the party. I normally eschew the customary melons and cucumber, so my preferred fruit vendor, Eduardo, fills the bag up with mango, pineapple, and my beloved coconut. When he opens up a fresh coconut for me, he usually offers me the coconut water in a little baggie for later too. We've even started an informal baked goods for fruit exchange between the two of us -- a swap I'm more than happy to take part in despite the cautionary tales of pesticide use (I give him far more cookies and slices of cake than I take fruit).

So, it was with great pleasure that I participated in this week's Tuesday's with Dorie selection by Carmen of Carmen Cooks -- Coconut Tea Cake. The lime was an addition that I didn't think twice about. The two flavors just go together perfectly and reminded me that I still need to try my hand at the coconut-lime cookies that my cousin hauled across the country from CookieBar.

I normally rub lemon zest in my sugar, but it was a nice change to see the brilliant green of Persian limes dotting the white landscape of the sugar bowl, and embedded in the golden crumbs. The flavor of the finished cake was reminiscent of all things summer, naturally, but was smooth and subtle. It was unmistakably a coconut-lime cake, but nothing about it was cloying or tart. And, appropriately enough, it paired beautifully with tea. Though the recipe only called for half a stick of butter for the entire Bundt cake, the cup of coconut milk (and I used light coconut milk) added some fat so, although the cake wasn't nearly as moist as other Bundt cakes, it was just moist enough and held a tight crumb.

The foundation of this cake really is so versatile and it may become a new canvas for me to play with. Lime has proven itself to be fantastic -- so chili powder and salt, anyone??

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A (slightly) tart tart.

I was never a Mathlete. I don't work out algorithms in my spare time. I did just fine in geometry sophomore year of high school, but it was not at all a favorite class of mine. And yet, I look forward to Pi Day every year. That isn't to say that I have a history of celebrating 3.14. In fact, with St. Patrick's Day so close to Pi Day and my love for Irish Soda Bread running deep (the American style -- sweet, raisin studded, and caraway seed flecked), I feel like the date always sneaks up on me, but I always at least think about it. Luckily, Rachelle from Mommy? I'm Hungry! chose the Soft Chocolate and Raspberry Tart for this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection. Now, I know a tart isn't exactly a pie, but a smooth filling, sometimes with embedded fruit, cradled in a buttery crust -- sounds like kin to me!

I find rolling out pie dough to be therapeutic. Using just enough elbow grease to coax a solid mass into a delicate round is deeply satisfying, and when it eases right into the pie plate, I feel like it's draping a child in a warm blanket.

This tart dough is not at all like that.

It comes together so easily, though, and was absolutely perfect for my schedule this week. The Cuisinart brought it together so quickly, and then pressing the curds into the tart pan was a breeze. Off it went into the freezer, and when it came time to bake the crust, I didn't even have to get out the pie weights to keep it from shrinking. The flaky crust is the highlight of pie for me, but combined with almond meal, this particular tart crust was something to look forward to as well.

The chocolate ganache filling was actually the most frustrating part of the assembling, at no fault of the recipe. It calls for bittersweet chocolate as well as milk chocolate, and as I almost always bake with bittersweet and semi-sweet, I only had Guittard milk chocolate chips on hand. No matter that it's in chip form, right? No. So, so wrong.

There are melting directions right on the packaging of the chips, but after heating the chocolates over a double boiler on the stove, the bittersweet chocolate melted into ribbons, but there were still clumps of chips that refused to ooze into submission. It was the strangest thing. And then I just gave up and stuck the chocolate into the microwave for 35 seconds. Nope. Still the same clumpage. I added another 20 seconds and then it was burnt. Whoops. On the second attempt I decided to forego the milk chocolate and went back to my trusty semi-sweet Callebaut. The ganache came together so easily this time, of course, and off into the oven it went. I did have to add about 10 minutes to the recommended baking time, however.

Once slightly cooled, the tart sliced up beautifully. I was afraid that as a "soft" tart, once sliced the filling would just seep out into the pan, but it held its shape and exposed lovely nubs of mildly tart fresh raspberries (it is only March, even if this is Los Angeles). The tart is really like a flourless chocolate cake sitting in a slightly nutty crust, and who can deny the luxuriousness of smooth chocolate and cream against the tongue??

Raspberry and chocolate isn't my favorite flavor combination, but plenty of people seem to love it and that's just wonderful. Pi Day was a success, and what good is baking, if not for the enjoyment of others?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A pleasant surprise.

Once again, I love being apart of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group because I'm forced - nay, politely encouraged by a set of very, very reasonable stipulations - to try recipes I wouldn't normally consider. Honey Wheat Cookies. The name alone doesn't illicit any excitement from me and I've overlooked this page every time I've ever thumbed through the book, but this week, Michelle of Flourchild had the pick of the litter, and as I haven't been able to participate in TWD as often as I would have liked earlier in the month, the honey wheat cookies would have to be baked.

Still unenthused by this week's assignment, I went out to get myself some wheat germ. I had my choice of raw or toasted wheat germ, but after deliberating about the prices and differences in taste, I went with the raw wheat germ. For an ingredient I figured I would rarely use, I decided it made more sense just to go with the cheaper option!

The dough, though easy to throw together, seemed too soft before being sent to the fridge to chill, but it ended up being fine to work with when rolling into balls before their coating of wheat germ. I tried to stick to the 10-12 minute baking window, but the cookies seemed far too soft and I ended up baking them for closer to 18 minutes, or until they were a deep golden color. I let them set up on the baking sheet for several minutes as they appeared to be too soft to transfer after just one or two, but the timing still yielded a soft, chewy cookie as intended.

The honey was a very apparent flavor, but the wheat germ added an aroma that neither I nor my friends could identify. It reminded us all of something, but we couldn't exactly place it. And with its light flavor, soft texture, and diminutive size, one cookie quickly became five, especially among my coworkers. It's definitely the kind of cookie that you have and think, "Well, that was alright..." but before you know it, you've polished off ten. Clearly, it was much better than "alright".

My fridge is happily stocked with wheat germ now, and I have every intention of using it regularly. It can be familiar bedfellows with the flax seeds, oat bran, and amaranth I've been incorporating regularly into my baking, yielding breadstuffs with allure I would have never imagined. It feels so good to be wrong.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A formidable opponent.

Last week, the public had the rare opportunity of purchasing and enjoying Dorie Greenspan's own baked goods at a pop-up cookie boutique, CookieBar, temporarily opened by Dorie and her son, Josh, at an Upper East Side hair salon. As a Tuesday's With Dorie baker, as soon as I heard this news, I was already plotting ways I'd be able to get a hold of these cookies. Week after week (and in between too), our kitchens turn out cookies, cakes, and pies that were a product of her vision, not sure if they were accurately executed or not -- an opportunity to try these recipes as they were meant to be tasted was not to be missed and I wasn't about to let a span of 3,000 miles stand in my way. Luckily, Cousin Albert decided he'd be coming back out West for Chinese New Year and I easily convinced him to leave his East Village bubble to procure some of Dorie's cookies for me (after all, we are a family of food lovers). After reports via Twitter of selling out of the cookies on days one and two, Albert was able to get uptown early enough (and on a blizzardy day enough) to secure the full assortment of the cookie shop's offerings for the end of our Lunar New Year meal.

It just so happened that Kaitlin of Kait's Plate chose Dorie's Best Chocolate Chip Cookie for this week's assignment, which was among the selections that Albert hauled across the country. It was all working out to be the perfect opportunity to see if my interpretations of her recipes bore any resemblance to the real thing.

...and they did!! Visually, they were definitely kin. Dark edges, paler center, mottled with tiny bittersweet chocolate specks in addition to larger chunks. They were an absolute hit at work and though I've relied on the now infamous NY Times chocolate chip cookie for some time now, I think there's room for more than one on my go-to pedestal. In all honestly, I actually preferred my cookies to the CookieBar chocolate chip cookie, but it wasn't really a fair fight. There's something about three-day old cookies that can't quite measure up to the crisp exterior, yielding center, and buttery goodness of nearly fresh cookies -- imagine that! I did also have the sables and coconut lime cookies though, which were so good that I am now going to have to replicate them this weekend. Dorie and son are actually looking for a permanent space in Manhattan, and when it does, I'll be back for My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies vs. My Best Chocolate Chip cookies, round 2!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Get thee here. Now.

The intersection at Robertson and Beverly in West Hollywood is one I try to avoid at all costs during the work day, especially the unprotected left turning south on Robertson -- you'll be there for days during rush hour! After the sun sets, however, the cross street is a different creature. The writers at the Coffee Bean move on to a bar, the furniture showrooms close up for the day, women haul the spoils of their successful shopping day back home and the area becomes a shadow if its daytime self. And on the southwest corner of Robertson, just north of Beverly a pristine, glowing treasure sits -- and it is a treasure, with it's skillfully prepared dishes, affable service, and not-quite-discovered location. Like with your favorite band, you talk it up to everyone you meet who will listen, but don't want to them to "sell-out" with their new found fame either, only I want that for Petrossian and its chef, French-born Ben Bailly of Joël Robuchon culinary lineage because it's just too good to be kept a secret.

My first experience with Petrossian -- and possibly my introduction into the world of caviar -- was at their New York outpost maybe five years ago. The dining room was nearly empty but we still had a wonderful time gingerly scooping beluga caviar using mother-of-pearl spoons onto blinis decorated with all the accoutrements, accompanied by champagne and vodka. It was a divine afternoon of which I did not have to foot the bill because I probably wouldn't have had the fortune to enjoy it otherwise. That level of indulgence was what I associated the Petrossian Boutique & Cafe in West Hollywood with -- and they do offer the same fantastic caviar -- but, until I saw Jo's amazing food porn at MyLastBite, I hadn't realized it was so much more accessible. Though it is included on the menu and in various dishes, caviar neophytes need not be deterred. There are plenty of other caviar-less options, but it's quite possible that after a bite of the hand-cut steak tartare, cut through with a layer of caviar, you will be a convert.

So on a brisk January evening, my group of girls coordinated with my sister's visit for my first Petrossian WeHo experience (the rest of my family had already come for brunch the month before). We started off with the smoked salmon rillette on toast that reminded us something our friend Susan would serve in her home, and that is a fantastic compliment. It had a delicate flavor, especially for salmon, and it felt familiar and intimate, inviting us back for more with each bite. It was followed by the foie gras salad, which I would probably never be compelled to order, but the photos and positive response to the dish nudged me in the right direction so we gave it a shot, and I'm so glad we did. The chopped green beans mixed with toasted walnut and black truffle vinaigrette complimented the smooth, rich foie gras terrine perfectly. We dug into the dish for more, but it wasn't for just the terrine or just the green beans -- it was for the composed bite because the salad, shot through with a hint of acid, was such a well-suited balance to the creamy foie gras.

Another favorite of ours was the black truffle mac 'n cheese. A seemingly simple dish to make, I've had a couple that are gummy, congealed, or completely overpowered by competing flavors, and this was none of those things. Orrecchiete is a favorite pasta variety of mine for its chewy texture and it didn't fail me this time either as its crevices cradled the bacon studded sauce with each "little ear". Shaved truffles are a welcome addition to any dish and you will never find me declining some, but the sauce was so rich and aromatic that had they not been there, I wouldn't have been the least bit disappointed.

I am still dreaming about the steak frites that we had nearly three weeks ago. The frites were my kind of thickness with a wonderfully crisp shell and still meaty interior. What started out as a sample of the dish because I was already so full became a gorge on fries and meat, generously swathed in the peppercorn sauce before reaching my mouth. I have been a big fan of the steak frites at Church & State downtown, and their béarnaise was my favorite for a good part of last year, but suddenly, the sauce accompanying the steak, sweet with balsamic vinegar and shallot confit, has shot to the top and I don't know what can compete. I'm not even a condiment girl when it comes to fries (there's just no need for ketchup!), but the frites just about became a vehicle for more sauce.

Of course we were beyond full, but being the gluttons that we are, we still ordered a trio of desserts for the table -- the vanilla panna cotta with white peach espuma, Sicilian pistachio crème brulée, and chocolate moelleux (a chocolate muffin-like-cake with a liquid center. By the generosity of Chef Ben Bailly, those three desserts became five and we all shifted our eyes at each when they arrived at the table, in disbelief that we could finish it all, but good call, Chef -- we demolished them all. I have an affinity for all things pistachio so the crème brulée with a caramelized top of the perfect thickness I could not get enough of, but the panna cotta was so smooth and had such a silken texture that I must have had the one closest to me all by myself.

To be surrounded by the company I was with is always pleasure enough, but bite after bite sent us into gastronomic bliss. I haven't even mentioned that we had a no-pork-fish-foie-gras-or-miscellaneous-animal-parts eater as well as a friend with a seafood allergy and we were all sublimely contented. We didn't even scratched the surface of the menu -- the short rib raviolo, foie gras crème brulée, and seared duck breast await, though I don't know how we'll get past the foie gras salad, Napoleon tartare, or steak frites, but I reluctantly hope to see the rest of city's food lovers there the next time, and the next, and the next.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2009 without a whisk, part II

Church&State - Los Angeles

Approaching this modern French bistro deep in Downtown Los Angeles, I felt like I was discovering a diamond in the rough. I had parked right at that corner 4 years prior, and at that time, it was absolutely a safety concern for a young girl by herself in the darkness of night, purse clutched and discreetly looking left, right, behind, and repeat. This time, I hardly recognized the intersection of Industrial and Mateo with the strung bulbs at Church & State illuminating it like a beacon and drawing me in like a moth to a flame.

I was meeting my sister again (funny how she shows up at so many memorable meals, isn't it?) who had just been picked from LAX by our friend, James, and our most avid dining partner-in-crime, Christina. It had been a week of instant messaging exchanges deliberating the menu and linking to food porn shots from various bloggers' visits, oohing, ahhing, and ogling until, finally, it was our time.

We wasted no time ordering up a storm and soon the bone marrow, salt cod fritters, French onion soup, and escargot crowded the table, followed by the hamachi, duck confit, steak frites, braised short rib, and Epoisse mac 'n cheese. Among my favorites were the bread pork trotter fritter on vinegary lentils with frisée and a poached egg, and the pig's ears. I could eat anything dipped in their Béarnaise, but the oreilles were particularly comforting -- like fries with the condiment of my dreams. Pigs' ears prepared in the Taiwanese way have never appealed to me, but I think about them deep fried and dipped in Béarnaise weekly.

The succulent escargot were baked individually with puff pastry hats, so buttery that I can't imagine having more than one, but what a good one it was!

The tarte flambée was another favorite and though a somewhat different breed than pizza, I would probably routinely choose the union of the sweet caramelized onion, savory lardons, Gruyère, and flatbread over its Italian brethren.

We savored dish after dish of well-executed French classics (along with some inspired creations) and lingered over the modern soundtrack and snapshot-of-Paris ambiance, mostly because we were too full to move. We were envious no more.

Egg - Brooklyn

Brunch is arguably my favorite meal of the day. I mean, I love them all, but there's something about getting together with people in the daytime, sometimes over mimosas or Bloody Marys, and sharing plates of eggs, pancakes, or salty pork products that brings a smile to my face and a glimmer to my eye. After over an hour long wait on a particularly warm April day, we were finally seated on the small patio out front at Egg. Naturally, we had been analyzing the menu during our entire wait and I immediately ordered the biscuit with Colonel Bill Newsom's ham, fig jam and Grafton cheddar along with Anson mills grits and an additional side of fennel sausage. The cheddar and lardons grits at Square One in Los Angeles were my introduction to how sinfully delicious doctored up grits could be, and Anson Mills at Egg cemented how simply delicious unadorned grits are. Ana and Lynn, both ex-Angelenos that had moved eastward ordered Eggs Rothko with bacon and candied bacon, respectively, to round out or four food groups of swine and an ideal brunch was born. My dish wasn't quite as fulfilling during my second trip out to New York in November and the wait was horrendous [they're sticklers about having the entire party present before seating (even if you're just walking up the street) and won't hesitate to skip your party over, so remember to stay put], but the food was so soul satisfying in April that I am more than wiling to give it a third, fourth, and fifth attempt at redeeming itself. It was just that good.

Piccolo - Venice, CA

Over the year, Piccolo has become the neighborhood restaurant that is neither in my neighborhood, nor in my budget to make a regular indulgence, but as soon as I step inside, I feel like I'm coming home. The establishment (pre-expansion) is small enough that the heads of the entire staff turn whenever someone walks in door. Pietro, the sommelier, is usually the first to greet me due to his proximity to the door, followed by a warm exchange with Vittorio, the owner, and finally, cheek kisses with Roberto in the kitchen.

My eldest sister, Kat, visited right before her birthday this year and because it has such a lovely setting for a party of two, I decided to take her to Piccolo, where everyone knows your name (after a few visits). I couldn't help but feel like I was living within a vignette of Italy when presented with a plate of seared scallops sitting atop parmesan fondue or one of their reliably satisfying fish specials.

We had a fantastic time on this summer's evening and didn't have a care in the world in those couple of hours, having rich risotto for one course, and a light tortelli in broth for another. Truffles adorn many dishes here and though I wasn't allowed to touch them during my first visit of the year, at this meal I was given the privilege of shaving my own atop my risotto -- and you can believe I took advantage of this opportunity. The monkfish over black rice was a perfect secondi and so good as a break between the creamy risotto and dessert, and then they were even kind enough to plate the pistachio-lemon curd cake that I had made for my sister and again top off our glasses with prosecco. The meal began with one of my favorite dishes and ended with something I created out of love just for that occasion which would have made the meal enjoyable enough, but the warmth of the staff made our night feel like a catch-up session with old friends. It doesn't even feel right to describe their manner and interaction as "service".

L'as du Fallafel - Paris

I had bookmarked this place long before I had actually booked a ticket to Paris after reading about it from David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan. How could so many people be wrong? Lenny Kravitz loves it! My first experience with falafel was not too long ago and probably mediocre, but I really liked it and though I still have never tried Arax in Los Angeles, visiting L'as du Fallafel was an absolute necessity. There would be enough sit-down meals on this trip, and flavorful ethnic food for cheap was right up my alley. By my luck, I had happened upon the storefront in my first 2 hours in Paris, it being right down the street from the apartment I was staying at in Le Marais. I decided to wait until my travel companions flew in before I joined the crowds in line for perfectly fried balls of chickpeas not knowing that Liberty doesn't like falafel, but at first bite, she was converted. "Okay, maybe I do."

We joined the rest of the crowd on the cobblestone lane not waiting a minute to dig into our piccante falafel and shawarma with cabbage, eggplant, and tzatziki. It wasn't the cleanest snack that we shamelessly passed around with sauce dripping down our fingers , but we knew we'd be back before we left Paris -- and we were.

Elite - Monterey Park

Right next to Yi Mei on the same stretch of Atlantic Boulevard is Elite Restaurant. I had gone for dim sum a few years ago and was quite pleased with the quality of their check-to-order dim sum, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I returned (although there seemed to be far more servers peddling their dishes from trays than before). The zha liang - rice noodle wrapped around a Chinese doughnut and drizzled with soy sauce and sesame seeds - was so fresh that the doughnut was still crispy at first bite, a rarity when it comes to this seldom seen dish. The doughnut was also filled with shrimp cake, which I had never encountered but made for the most delicious iteration I've ever had. Their pu shi dan ta - egg custard baked in a flaky, buttery, tart shell with a burnished, caramelized top - was also among the best I've had stateside. Normally I'm not a fan of the Macau-style tarts as they typically come with shortcrust pastry, but this two-bite wonder, the custard still warm and coconut scented, contained within a crust so flaky -- I forgot it was Macau-style at all. It had all the merits of a Portuguese nata with its brulee'd top and deep, yolky color, cradled in the crust I love most.

A couple weeks later when my sisters, Katherine and Jessica, were in town, I decided I had to drag them here to at least try these two dishes. We started the morning off volunteering at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and were famished by the time we sorted the last kiwi. After a satisfying meal at Mo-chica at Mercado la Paloma, I made the executive decision to detour to Monterey Park so as to pick up Cousin Alb's "many" flank steak shao bing, and to have them try the two dim sum dishes I had relished so much.

Having had a full lunch already and with a crowd still waiting for tables outside Elite, we ordered the zha liang and dan ta for takeout and as soon as it was ready, we laid claim to a couple spots on the bench outside, tore open the plastic bag and dug into the goods. This really isn't a sight you see too often -- at least not for dim sum. You either enjoy the food at your table, or maybe bring it home, although I think that's pretty unusual as well. The elders were probably frowning upon our devouring of the vittles like heathens, but I have to believe we sold a few orders of each dish to the parties still waiting for tables to open up with the enthusiasm with which we consumed the greasy goodness. People would only come to dim sum and order takeout, digging into it right then and there if it were fantastic -- and it was. We made friends on their own food marathon between mouthfuls, so in these mere fifteen minutes, it became clear that food absolutely unites us all.

LudoBites - Los Angeles

My office moved from Melrose to West Third Street in April and upon hearing the news that LudoBites would be setting up shop across the street at Breadbar for their second incarnation and having missed a meal at the original, I resolved I would be having at least three meals there during their stay. It wasn't really an active goal to achieve -- more like a passing thought in the excitement of knowing some amazing dishes would be turned out nightly just across the way and only for a limited time -- but by the end of their engagement, that forecast had been realized. With an ever-changing menu posted daily on their website, it only took a skim of the new offerings for insane people like myself to decide, "Yeah, okay. Why not?!" I had no intention of missing out any work of true genius.

Seared duck breast with carrot cake coulis? You had me at carrot cake.

Foie gras croque monsieur on squid ink bread? I'll be there.

Chocolate cupcake with foie gras chantilly and candied bacon-almonds? I'll have two. (And I did over the course of a few visits.)
And so it happened again this past December. LudoBites re-emerged at Royal/T, a Japanese cosplay gallery and cafe in Culver City, and again, all rational thought went out the window as I paid them a few visits. With the Twitterverse up in arms over how transcendental the new version of the fried chicken was, how could I not go back having missed it on my previous visit??

LudoBites (being the blood, sweat, and tears of Chef Ludovic Lefebvre and his gracious wife, Krissy) was responsible for countless moments of bliss for me this year, and it was the product of all the elements that, for me, make up an evening for the books. At the first taste of the chorizo-cantaloupe soup with cornichon granita on my inaugural visit, I was hooked. From a blank face, not knowing what to expect, I felt the corners of my mouth slowly upturn into a smile in disbelief of how well its individual components worked together, but completely sated by the result. It's what whimsical food does - peaks curiosity, encourages risk, boggles the mind - and when it works, you feel like you did when you realized that you do like sushi -- a lot!!

The caliber of the food has been well-documented on the internet, and I probably can't dissect any dish more than what's already been said, but it's the entire experience of LudoBites that has resonated with me enough to return more times than would be normal. Sitting on the patio of Breadbar on a mild August evening, three and a half hours passed in the blink of an eye savoring veal tartare, cantal polenta with oxtail and truffle, and crème fraîche panna cotta between sips of wine, fits of laughter, and then maybe another order of pork belly??

There were bloggers aplenty running around between table and chef, the air electrified, it being the last night of 2.0. Conversation flowed among my dining companions (some of my best friends) as well as with neighboring tables and before I knew it, it was midnight. I don't know if it was the inspired food, the outdoor setting, the effortlessly warm service, the charmingly French chef, or a combination thereof, but as I've described to friends before, it was as if time stood still. After the meal, it was back to reality -- only now with the recollection of an incomparably good time.

And there we have it, my most beloved meals of 2009. Perhaps I romanticize an experience more often than I should, but I can't and don't want to help it. The light gleams through a window just so, or I hear a crescendo in a Radiohead song just as the waitstaff comes purposefully toward our table with our entrees, and in that moment I am utterly contented. And to be completely content in any moment -- well, I think I'll just collect as many of those as I can, and know that 2010 offers many, many more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2009 without a whisk, part I

2009 has been an epic dining year, and I have the additional pounds on the scale to prove it. As much as I try to balance decadent meals out with lentil soups and raw kale salads (that I actually love, I do!), the food I've enjoyed this year has emerged the victor, but starting the year off in Asia, and with Europe and a few trips to San Francisco in the mix, the damage was inevitable - and pretty worth it.

I've been a lucky girl to have had so many pleasurable bites that I can't even recount them all, but the meals in which the stars and the moon and the planets aligned to create an all-around amazing dining experience are the ones that I will remember for years to come. Whether they've been savored at white tablecloth establishments or standing in a doorway, with friends, family, or strangers, these outings share the common thread of having delicious food with great company in a lovely setting. In no particular order, my favorite dining experiences of the year...

Spring - Paris

I know it defies logic to go to a restaurant by an American chef in Paris for some, but after reading so many solid reviews and hearing about his weekend lobster roll and duck fat fries fry-ups, it became a spot I was willing to fend off traditionalists to try. And having scored a few seats in the dining room of 16, it just seemed like fate. We trekked up to the restaurant from the Poissoniere Metro stop with the rays of the setting sun creating a path to Spring's front window as if it were lighting the way to Mecca. Once seated, we were given a generous block of butter flecked with dark specks. As soon as we tasted the rich spread, further investigation was necessary and the chef revealed that it was in fact Bordier beurre aux algues which is more than he pays for his foie gras.

More diners filled the few tables while the kitchen staff calmly prepped just a glance away, and as the day turned into night, we were treated to potato dumplings with langoustine, chard, radish, in a bouillabaisse scented with cilantro, Thai basil, and kaffir lime. The dumplings were perfectly yielding and not at all gummy sitting alongside chunks of tender langoustine, but the star of the dish was the broth. Its flavors were rich and clean and then we realized there was something familiar about it -- like the phở of our youth that our dads would take us for in Oakland's Chinatown, only much more refined and no oil slick in sight. We were also given a suprême de pintade(guinea fowl)on carrot-ginger purée with fresh almonds and arugula. It was our first experience with fresh almonds (though not our last on this trip) with a round flavor that went well with all the other components of the dish. One of our desserts was an olive oil ganache with Lucques olives (that are now, hands down, my favorite olives ever) and crunchy croccante pieces. I could have licked the plate clean of that ganache, but, being in Paris, I thought maybe I should employ some self-control.

The food was a fantastic start to the trip, but the company and setting made it all the more memorable. My sister, Katherine, and cousin, Liberty, joined me in this jaunt around Western Europe and they always bring a good time, without fail. Their plane had landed that morning and I had arrived two days earlier and hadn't felt the need to spoil myself with sit-down meals, so this was also my first Parisian meal. We were giddy with anticipation of the sights, sounds, and eats we'd encounter the next two weeks, and also completely content in these few hours, enjoying wine, butter, and the company of a few other American couples at our table. There was one pair from Chicago with a daughter actually attending the same high school that Chef Daniel Rose graduated from and also sharing mutual acquaintances with the chef, and they were a delight to share our well-worn communal table with. Talking about food and culture and travel with other food enthusiasts over deceptively simple dishes on a Parisian summer's night -- how could I not fall in love with this meal?

Le Chateaubriand - Paris

Another hard-to-book table that we miraculously scored in Paris was at Le Chateaubriand. We were famished from running around the City of Lights all day, but this meal was an opportunity that we weren't about to pass up. They switched out our server for an English-speaking one that was handsome, effortlessly charming, and had a way of speaking about the dishes that made us hang on every word. From my understanding, he was also a chef, but why he wasn't in the kitchen, I don't know -- too many cooks stirring the pot? Like Spring and many other restaurants in Paris, they offered a prix fixe menu, and it started with salted raw cod with fresh almonds, cucumber, and mint. The fish was a most appropriate start to the meal, as fresh as any I've ever had and paired with elements that only enhanced the flavor of the fish. It was completely refreshing, unlike anything you'd normally associate with French cuisine, but of course, this is Le Chateaubriand where traditional fare is taken apart and put back together in a way that you may not even recognize, but with eye-opening results.

The cod was followed by seared tuna with white lardo, pomme de terre, gingered onions, and dill and then rare veal with golden beets, red beet puree, turnips, purple basil, and spring onions. After our Spring and Le Chateaubriand meals, the unassuming spring onion, unadulterated save for a sprinkle sea salt and oil, became our vegetal obsession.

The atmosphere was distinctly French, with the vast majority of diners speaking the native tongue, but the cuisine was anything but. Combined with the most gracious of servers, it became the Parisian dining experience at which the bar is now set.

Comerç 24 - Barcelona

I realize this is another European meal, and maybe it has to do with the relaxation of being on vacation, seizing the opportunity to indulge in a city's best food, and the feeling of not having a care in the immediate future, but I assure you, we had bites that have no business being in this post, and other great meals will end up being excluded too. Not having the foresight to attempt a reservation at elBulli as soon as it was possible, we decided on a worthy substitute - Comerç 24 from Carles Abellan, formerly of elBulli.

We showed up a day early for our reservation unknowingly, but they were able to seat us in direct view of the kitchen anyway. It started with a tasting of olive oils, each more intense than the previous, followed by an eight course meal that was really more like twenty. We had monkfish with chinese garlic, sesame, and seaweed, the marinated sardines with wasabi root, toasted breadcrumbs and pistachios, spherical black truffle, parmesan, and quail egg in consomme, and the kinder egg (poached chicken egg with truffle and mashed potato) - all of which were outstanding.

The sirloin with strawberries, cherries, and sheep's milk cheese was fantastic, but the best dish of the night for me may have been the duck rice with foie gras ice cream and crushed, toasted corn. The rice, incredibly infused with the flavor of duck with a not-quite-risotto mouthfeel, combined with the rich foie gras cream to create a salty and smooth bite, and the toasted corn provided another welcome dimension to the dish. Olive oil continued to be a showstopper for dessert as chocolate ganache floated in a shallow pool of it alongside bread then dusted with sea salt.

With prime view of the kitchen at work, it felt like we were in dinner theater. Everyone was focused on the task at hand, furiously working, and completely in sync with each other, while we added all the commentary in the balcony. The dining room wasn't the warmest of environments, but nearly every dish was a gastronomical delight.

Fu Hang Dou Jiang Dian - Taipei

I frequently dream of Chinese breakfast fare, but rarely allow myself the have it. On the rare occasions that I throw caution to the wind, stateside (specifically in the greater Los Angeles area) Yi-Mei in Monterey Park is where it's at for Chinese crullers, egg and green onion omelettes wrapped in tortilla-like skins, and sliced beef with preserved vegetable filled shao bing (Cousin Alb even had me bring these when I visited New York last. How many? "Many."), but the first place my siblings and I go to eat after touching down on Taiwanese soil is Fu Hang Dou Jiang Dian (Fu Hang Soy Milk Shop). Hidden on the second floor of a dingy building that doesn't appear to have been renovated since World War II(except maybe for the addition of an elevator), this traditional Chinese breakfast spot is filled with students as well as long-time patrons itching to get their fix of naan-like shao bing.

Taipei-bound flights from the West Coast nearly always arrive at the crack of dawn so by the time we arrive within the city limits, our stomachs are screaming to be sated, and our dad is always willing to accompany us for breakfast. We grew up eating these flaky, baked, rectangular breads, filled with either sliced, marinated flank steak and cilantro, or the long doughnuts, but this place is one of the few shops that still make their bread the traditional way and you can watch the entire process perched on a luxurious plastic stool, elbows gingerly avoiding any sticky spots still remaining on the yellowing table. What makes their method so interesting is that they create an oven from an oil drum, much like an Indian tandoor, and reach in the barrel to stick wet pieces of sugar-sprinkled dough on the walls to bake. The dough crisps up on the exterior with a slight sweetness to the crust and has a tender, pillowy, green onion-flecked interior. Even without the convenience of being street-level like most other Chinese breakfast joints, motorists literally wheeling up to the storefront for their eats and revving off, this place has survived for decades. And they've not merely survived -- long lines still form in the morning hours.
My sisters got to Taipei a couple days before I did, so they had already had their customary Fu Hang Dou Jiang Dian visit before I arrived. It was just me and my dad on this trip, which reminded me of mornings growing up in the Bay Area when I would be the only other person awake early enough to keep him company on shopping trips to Oakland's Chinatown for our family's restaurant.

These days, our parents reside in Taipei with long visits back to the Bay Area every now and again. Quality time spent one-on-one with my dad is a rare event, but splitting a steaming bowl of savory soy milk, slightly curdled from vinegar, well-done doughnut bits bobbing on the surface among globules of orange tinged chili oil and of course the Chinese crullers embraced by their thick, signature shao bing, I almost thought I was fourteen again.

Borough Market - London

Doing the necessary dining research for London, it became clear that we would have to pay a visit to Borough Market for its food stalls. I love California farmers' markets more for its bounty of fresh produce than the omelettes, tamales, and vegan Korean banchan stalls, but with this marketplace just past the south bank of the Thames, its food offerings were not to be missed. It started off innocently enough with raclette from Kappacasein - oozy raclette cheese scraped over boiled potatoes, baby gherkins, and onions. I specifically sought this plate out after only learning about it from my Borough Market investigation, and with the crowd around the stall as well as the whiff of cheese I picked up, it wasn't too difficult to find. It looked like a mess on styrofoam, but the melted cheese and potatoes with the salty addition of gherkins created a snack we had to force ourselves to put down in order to save room for everything else the market had to offer. I picked up a twice-baked banana cake from Flour Power City Bakery before we made our way inside to navigate the maze of even more stalls.

The marketplace was brimming with patrons when we arrived as it was just about lunch hour and if I were to ever live and work in London, I'd want this adjacent to my workplace for lunch too. The options are countless and incredibly reasonable to boot. We picked up five sandwiches among the three of us - salt beef from De Gustibus (similar to what we know as corned beef in the states), a pork sausage with caramelized onions, a pork belly, and two others that I can't even remember anymore. They were all so affordable, so why not try them all?? We posted outside Monmouth Coffee which was another must-try and realized it was right around the corner from Neal's Yard Dairy. Taking a gander at the cheese selection was a given, but seeing that they made fresh Greek style yogurt -- I was as good as sold. It was thick, tangy, and made me wish I had a cow to milk every morning so I might be able to produce something even half as good.

So there we were on the corner with the spoils of our first round of the market, all of us juggling a sandwich or two in one hand and a container of yogurt or cup of coffee in the other, directly across from well-dressed businessmen drinking their pints outside of the pub. The bubbling, wide iron woks of Thai curry were intoxicating, but we were too full to order a bowl. Liberty would have to try it the next day and she proclaimed it perhaps the best she had ever had.
Even without the curry we looked like crazy gluttons, but, in that moment, the crisp London surrounding us, there was no where else I would have rather been.

Momofuku Ko - New York

I paid a visit to dear friends in New York City at the end of April and as soon as I booked the flight, I knew I would be up by 7am every morning starting a week before my trip so as to secure a reservation for David Chang's third Momofuku outpost. Diners sit at the L-shaped bar directly in front of the chefs much like at a sushi bar and watch them do their magic. Online reservations are the only way to ensure a seat and it's a race to click on the green check marks as soon as 10am Eastern time hits as they turn into red Xs within seconds. The first couple of days were a little shaky and the reservations eluded me, but at my third attempt, the gods were on my side and I had scored a late reservation for two.
It was a given that my cousin Albert would join me for dinner at Ko as a fellow food lover (who are we kidding?? - it's in our blood!) and New York resident. The meal was strong from start to finish with a melt-in-your-mouth biscuit with black pepper butter for an amuse bouche and funnel cake for dessert, with the signature frozen foie gras shaved over lychee as well as the soft poached egg with caviar filling out the menu.

The chefs prepare all the dishes before your eyes with a quiet calm that makes you nervous just to be sitting in front of them. They aren't the most engaging bunch, but neither are sushi chefs so maybe it's excusable. They're there to excite our taste buds and on this occasion, the food was flawless.
Being only 3 months my senior, Albert and I have literally grown up together. From third grade until high school, we were in all the same classes, then in college we not only shared classes, but became roommates as well. Six years later, his departure for law school in New York in the Summer of 2008 was surreal and I experienced an unsettling feeling that things would never be the same. It hasn't been a negative change -- we are, after all, adults and can't hang on to our security blankets forever, but now, it's always a relief to see him, and it was particularly special to share this highly anticipated meal at Ko, just he and I.

to be continued...