Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grand Opening.

There are moments you will always remember fondly and then there are moments you will never forget. Tonight has to be one of those nights, it will go down in my foodie history book. A couple weeks ago, my elusive foodie cohort found out that Rick Bayless was consulting a restaurant here in LA. Like white on rice, we jumped on the bandwagon and miracle of miracles, we were able to get a reservation for "opening night". When I got the text message that we were attending opening night, I just about peed my pants.

Red O, cooly located on Melrose Ave, in West Hollywood, is designer chic, classic Mexican elements doused the interior with a dash of modern hipster edge. The photos don't honestly do this restaurant justice, but it give you an inkling of the precision and attention to detail that the designers paid when creating this beautiful space. It feels homey and is far from a stiff drink in atmosphere. Even the servers and staff were decked out with Levis 501s, red Adidas and blue work shirts.

To start the evening, I ordered the tamarind margarita - semi-sweet, balanced and refreshing. I'm not the most enthusiastic about margaritas, but this one could convert me, if it tried. And I'll be honest, ir didn't have to try too hard now. An appetizer of guacamole and chips to wet the palette - Bayless studs his guacamole with sundried tomatoes and onions. Simple, this guacamole could've come in a bathtub and I would've soaked in all of its goodness. I thought it was well seasoned - creamy and delicious. The "house" salad consisted of arugula, romaine and watercress with "angel hair'" strips of tortillas, pickled red onions. The greens were dressed with a roasted garlic lime dressing that popped in your mouth like pop rocks (remember that candy from your childhood). Tart and bright citrus flavors pierced your tongue, along with the sweet and savory notes of roasted garlic.

It was a toss up between the striped bass grilled with red chile and served with rice, sweet plaintains and three salsas or the roasted suckling pig served with black beans and a green salad and pickled red onions. Guy, our server, twisted my arm and I ordered the roasted suckling pig, which was a good decision on my part. The roasted suckling pig was wrapped in banana leaves before it went to roasting heaven. So tender, and no need for a knife, the pig was succulent, juicy, smoky and juicy. Wrapped up some of the roasted pig in a tortilla with some black beans, pickled red onion and salsa. O.M.G. Guy brought us a tasting of three salsas, a roasted tomato salsa, salsa verde and habenero. My favorite was the habanero and the salsa verde. Each salsa was distinct, sweet, spicy and robust. My foodie cohort ordered the Carne Asada Brava - ribeye served to perfection. Beautiful marbling on this steak, juicy and uber tender as well. Melted in your mouth like butter. The sweet corn tamales topped with crema were tasty as well - creamy, hearty, comfort food in Spanish.

With room for dessert, I was immediately drawn to the Bunelos served with salted caramel ice cream and a warm Kahlua chocolate sauce. The bunelos were light, crispy, rolled in cinnamon-sugar goodness. The kicker for me was the salted caramel ice cream - genius lies in this deadly combination of opposites attract. It was a light dessert, but a perfect way to end the meal.

To finish the night with dessert wasn't the "cherry" on top though. Guy hooked us up with a chance to meet Rick Bayless and get our photo opp! Rick was pleasant and seemed pre-occupied with dinner service, it makes sense. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy and we were honored to meet him and take a picture with him to document this foodie adventure! It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, gorgeous and tall LA eye candy and a few celeb spottings while we were there too. I'm definitely grateful to live in a city the embraces culture, food, and art, tonight I totally felt like I was living the dream.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Part Deux and Part Tres: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Earlier this week, I blogged about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and my attempt at one of his recipes, which turned out pretty damn tasty. I also promised a future post on a few other recipes from his book which I made later in the week. Chicken and Leek Stroganoff and Italian Pan Seared Tuna.

The Salmon Tikka I made at the beginning of the week was delicious, satisfying and a terrific choice for a quick weeknight fix. The Chicken and Leek Stroganoff, not so much. I had high hopes for this recipe, but it just turned out into something bland and a bit on the boring side. And let's be honest, with the cream, it wasn't exactly "healthy".

The Italian Pan Seared Tuna on the other hand, was scrumptious. Seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano, I seared the tuna in a little olive oil and kept it warm in the oven while I sauteed cherry heirloom tomatoes, anchovies, olives and a ton of basil. I finished the dish with some bowtie pasta and I couldn't have had a bigger smile on my lil' face. There are still a few recipes I want to try before I return the book to my library, but one can't argue with 2 out of 3 recipes named a success.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Getting in Touch with your Feminine Side.

Maybe you knew this already, but I'm a part of a book club here in L.A. Part of our ritual when we get together to discuss the book is to cook dishes inspired from the book that we recently read. Over the weekend, we met to discuss our most recent book, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The story is a fictional story about Dinah, a character in the Bible. Very little is written about her in Genesis 34 and this author does a phenomenal job of weaving a story together about love, forgiveness, anger, feminine power, midwifery and so many more topics. I highly recommend the book and am willing to pass along my copy to the first person who makes a comment on this post!
The book was rich with descriptions of meals, snacks and other culinary treats that they ate during this time frame in history. My contribution to the meal was a honey cake (which I sadly did not get a photo of) and a loaf of olive bread. Once again, I turned to my trusty No Knead book for this recipe. It was dense, chewy and hearty. I made it with 2/3 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/3 unbleached all purpose flour. It was delicious with a slab of butter or some of the other dips and spreads that were featured at our meeting.

What's fer Dinner?

Like the rest of America, I too, was sucked into Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Of course, I watched it post all of the hype. After watching the series one weekend online, I decided to borrow his book from the library (aptly named after the series). Oliver is enduring, adorable and you can't help but fall in love with his political rhetoric, he means business and he cares. That much I know is true, his message is simple and his heart is in the right place. If you haven't watched the series, Oliver goes to what has been dubbed as the most unhealthy city in American, in an effort to educate them with respect to cooking fresh, simple and healthy meals. He hits many walls and obstacles, but he doesn't give in to fear and barge ahead, spreading his gospel.

Tonight, I made one of his 20 minute recipes - Quick Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Yogurt (pictured above). Guess what? I actually made the dish in 20 minutes, prep and all, I was pretty surprised. It was fresh, simple and uber tasty. I've planned on making a couple other recipes from the book this week, so I guess we could dub this week, "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Week: Part 1".

The salmon was rubbed with a tandoori paste and sauteed in a pan. I made a quick yogurt sauce with greek yougrt, cucumbers, lemon juice, red chile, salt and pepper. Put a piece of garlic naan from Trader Joe's in the oven and voila, supper. I'm looking forward to trying the other recipes this week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Panang, Take That!

I'm obsessed with coconut milk, it's true. Ever since I've been making a conscious effort to reduce eating highly processed foods and having been enlightened as to the many benefits of coconut, I'm "coo-coo" for coconut. This in turn has created a frenzy in my pantry - half of one shelf is entirely dedicated to Thai pantry items, including fish sauce, coconut milk, straw mushrooms, tamarind paste, a variety of curry pastes and kaffir lime leaves in my freezer.

Last night, I made yet another one of Jet Tila's recipe from his recent stint at New School of Cooking - roti panang. This curry was served with paratha (an Indian bread) at the class, but last night I opted to pair it with fragrant, nutty brown rice. The beauty of curry is its flexibility, you can do anything with it really. I substituted bamboo shoots for straw mushrooms, added more onions and red bell pepper, and upped the amount of extra curry paste for kick. It was delish. The real key to raising your "curry" bar is cooking a few tablespoons of the coconut milk with the curry paste over medium-high heat. You're looking for the paste to melt together with the coconut milk and brown. This browning process brings out all of the flavor of the paste and will intensify your curry.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Braised Endive with Prosciutto.

I recently borrowed a copy of Molly Steven's All About Braising from the library. I've had this book on my wish list for a while and I've also been doing alot of braising as a result. Braising isn't complicated, as Molly claims, in fact the technique never changes. Braising is reliable, all throughout the year and I highly recommend giving this book a peek if you're interested in braising.
Most people are familiar with meat dishes that are braised, but Molly has dedicated an entire section to braising vegetables. So I decided to try the braised endive with prosciutto recipe. In about an hour, the endive softened as it slowly cooked in a little chicken broth and finished off with a little cream. The endive was tasty and the prosciutto added a subtle smoky and salty contrast. To make it a complete meal, Molly suggested fried eggs and toast, which really complimented the braised endive. Satisfying, this is an easy weeknight meal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Church and State: No Separation.

This past week, one of my foodie cohorts and I went on our second foodie adventure together (we are trying to make 2010 a year of adventures and new dining experiences). Since I've been back in LA, I've heard glowing reviews of Church and State, which is located outside of downtown LA, in the Warehouse district. The restaurant sits below the National Biscuit Company building which was converted into swanky lofts several years back.
The restaurant is cozy, well designed and hearkens back to Paris and what a typical bistro feels and looks like, if we were inclined to jump on a plane right this minute and head for gay Paris. Tables are close together and lights are strung, the only thing missing was the French music, but wait, we are in LA. Instead of the classic French music, they have replaced it with cool, cutting edge tunes, yeah, now it reminds you that yes, you are still in LA my friends.
The menu features typical dishes you might see on a menu at any French bistro - escargot, cheese plates, mussels, steak frites, french onion soup, the list truly goes on and on, which brings me to our selections of the evening. Mind you, it was definitely difficult to choose, there were so many things I wanted to try. I began the meal with the Salade Frisee aux Lardons, a frisee salad with poached egg, crispy bacon, delicate croutons and a simple viniagrette. Breaking the yolk up and letting it seep into the web-like frisee, this salad made me roll my eyes in ecstasy - several times I might add. The creaminess of the yolk and the saltiness of the bacon are a match made in ingredient heaven. My foodie co-hort ordered the Gratin de Macaronis et Fromage, how could she resist?!? This concoction of macaroni and cheese was divine. Made with Gruyere and Cantal, this decadent treat was thick, creamy, delicious and so well-balanced.
The Fruits der Mer was absolutely breathtaking, a slice of grilled bread with a generous slather of bright aioli livened up the plate next to a bouquet of shrimp, mussels, clams and potatoes in a saffron infused broth. Again, my eyes rolled with delight and my belly sang joyfully. The Poulet Roti was ordered by my foodie co-hort and while I only tasted the sauce (sweet and mellow tomatoes), she insisted that the chicken was moist and tender, not to mention the vegetables. A beautiful presentation too for such a simplistic dish.
And to finish off this intoxicating meal, the Chocolat Pot de Creme spoke my name (I'm sorry Creme Brulee, next time, I promise). The pot de creme was studded with caramel, fleur de sel, hazelnuts and raspberries. Rich, rich, rich, but I still managed to pick apart each ingredient. Considering that all these ingredients are rich on their own, I was surprised that each ingredient remained true to its form. The dark Vahlrona chocolate with the smoky caramel and delicate salt was simply melt-in-your-mouth food orgasm at best!
Now that I can finally say I've eaten at Church and State, there are many reasons why I want to return. The diners who sat next to us ordered several dishes we didn't get to try but the aroma and sight is enough for me to go back and order different dishes. There may be separation of church and state in America but please don't separate my Church and State in LA.