Nov 142011
 

Loving this post from Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow describing the tools he uses to brew coffee on the road.

I know how it feels. When I was traveling earlier this year I used to bring a pouch of coffee beans (initially Four Barrel beans from San Francisco, then Anomali coffee from Jakarta, Indonesia) in my traveling bag wherever I went. I also brought with me a Hario Mini grinder, and a supply of paper cone filters, the last of which I would drape over the hotel coffee mugs if they have them, or if not then the small tumbler that you could easily find on most hotel bathroom sinks.

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HOWTO attain radical hotel-room coffee independence – Boing Boing

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Mar 092011
 

Cortado at Cognoscenti Coffee

The LA Weekly recently wrote an article on the cortado, in which they described the coffee drink as falling somewhere in between a cappuccino and a macchiato in terms of the proportion of milk added to a shot of espresso. The article specifically talks about the cortado at Cognoscenti Coffee, the operation run by Yeekai Lim co-located at Proof Bakery on Glendale Blvd in Atwater Village. It’s to hard not become addicted to the stuff. I’m tired of requesting a cappuccino at other coffee shops and being handed back an overly-milky latte–I want to be able to clearly taste the coffee, not use it as a flavoring agent for the milk. The cortado turns out to be ideal for my palate, where I prefer just enough milk to balance out and take some of the edge off the shot of espresso. Yeekai uses whenever possible organic dairy from Strauss Family Creamery and he stocks single-origin beans from Four Barrel Coffee of San Francisco, which I find a lot smoother and more well-balanced than those from just about any other roaster.

Probably the only thing keeping my addiction in check is the unfortunate fact that Atwater Village is quite a bit of a drive from my home in the west side. For the time being, I have to treat a visit to Cognoscenti as more of a special treat, for when I happen to be running errands or checking out stuff around that area. Strangely enough, I’m starting to notice that increasingly I’ve been making more excuses to run errands or check out stuff at places that are close enough to Atwater Village, making it possible for me to do a quick detour to Cognoscenti Coffee.

Cognoscenti Coffee at Proof Bakery
3156 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Twitter: cogcoffee

Mar 092011
 

PRI’s The World had a report on the tapping of Kate the Great beer, an annual event that makes the Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire look like an Apple store on iPhone release day.

This year, about 200 people lined up in the freezing rain. At the very front of the line was John Anastas, along with his uncle. They got in line the night before and set up two chairs and two umbrellas, and made a make-shift tent
[...] Their 11-hour ordeal may have been a hardship and a bit extreme, but well worth it, to them and the others in line, to taste a beer that’s only available once a year.

I thought the guys waiting in line for two hours for Russian River’s Pliny the Younger were nuts, but eleven hours in the rain for a sip of Kate the Great takes it to a new level of insanity dedication.

I’m going to hazard a guess, that there’s absolutely zero chance of Kate the Great making it to Los Angeles. Fortunately we do have other Russian Imperial Stouts such as North Coast’s Old Rasputin, Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout, and Victory’s Storm King. None of these are probably worth sitting in the rain for eleven hours to wait for a pint, but in my opinion nothing is.

Mar 042011
 

I don’t profess to have a lot of knowledge about Cambodian cuisine, apart from the couple of times I ate on the streets not too far from the massive temples of Angkor Wat. The food there by and large was mediocre at best. The most popular street food there at the time was probably Mama-brand instant ramen imported from neighboring Thailand. Even if you order fried noodles, you’d probably get rehydrated Mama noodles, which are then stir-fried. Quality ingredients were simply hard to get, which in turn affects the overall quality of the dishes you get there.

Just south of Los Angeles proper, the city of Long Beach here hosts a large community of Khmer immigrants and by extension, a large number of Cambodian restaurants. A few of us went to one of the largest, Siem Reap restaurant, to check out the food.

The first problem we had was weeding out the Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese items from the menu. We drove 40 miles all the way down here specifically to eat Khmer food, not damned pad thai or banh xeo (which they have listed here as banh chiao).

After consulting with our friendly waitress we settled on four Khmer dishes: amok trey, sadaw salad, pahok ktiss, and a beef soup whose name escapes me right now.

Pahok ktis

After some time fixated on the Cambodian karaoke videos playing on their TV screens, the pahok ktiss came out of the kitchen. It kind of looked like a platter of crispy raw vegetables with dip you’d likely serve at a lame party. But instead of cauliflower this has Southeast Asian veggies like Thai eggplant, cabbage, long beans and carrots, and instead of blue cheese dip this came along with a small bowl containing a savory dip of ground pork, coconut milk, chili and spices, not too much unlike a thin curry. I think most of the Southeast Asian cultures have dishes similar to this, anywhere from Thai nahm prik to Indonesian lalap. If you could imagine dipping into a bowl of Thai curry with a cucumber slice or a wedge of cabbage, you’d get a rough idea od what this tasted like. Superb.

Cambodian water spinach soup

Our soup emerged next. This is a homey, rustic peasant soup, with water spinach (sometimes called ong choy or morning glory), beef and beef tripe. It has a hearty beefy flavor, with just a little sour touch from what I guess must be either lime juice or tamarind. This soup felt very authentic, as memories of a similar soup I had at a forgotten dingy street stall in Siem Reap flashed back in my mind. Indeed the bits of beef in this soup was similarly tough and chewy, though the tripe was nice and tender. This is nothing fancy, just good old comfort food.

sadaw salad

The sadaw salad was the most unfamiliar dish I had that night. I didn’t know what sadaw was when I ordered it, but whatever it is, it announced its presence in a huge way. The bitter herbal flavor easily cuts through that of the bean sprouts, cucumbers, and all the other stuff–I can’t remember all that was in the salad because all I could taste was the sadaw. I didn’t think it was bad–not exactly–but the flavors were so alien to me that I had to take some time to figure out whether I like it or not.

Amok trey

Amok must be Cambodia’s national dish. When I was in Siem Reap (the town, not the restaurant) last time just about every single eatery there proudly featured their amok. Amok is a kind of light curry made with young coconut. Here it’s attractively served in a coconut shell. Thai restaurants have a similar dish called ho mok. The main difference between is that the amok’s flavors are more nuanced and delicate, as to not to overwhelm the subtle flavors of the fish, while in the ho mok the red curry spices is predominant. I don’t know if it’s because the ingredients are fresher or what, but this amok is probably better than the ones I had in Cambodia. The fish is velvety tender, and the spices are very delicately balanced.

In the end if I had to rank the dishes, I would definitely put the amok trey on top, though the pahok ktiss is a very close second. The soup (ahhh, dunno the name of it) follows, with the sadaw salad (which I’ve decided that I like after all–but it’s definitely an acquired taste) last.

Siem Reap Asian Cuisine
1810 E Anaheim St
Long Beach, CA 90813
(562) 591-7414

Feb 212011
 

Chef Joseph Mahon and renegade wine dude David Haskell teamed up again for another round of their Magnum popup restaurant, this time taking over Koreatown’s popular Mexican joint Pal Cabron. For a couple of evenings in mid-February, in lieu of the house’s regular fare of cemitas and tlayudas patrons were treated to a special 8-course (or an abbreviated 4-course) tasting menu inspired by Mexican cuisine.

This was my second time attending a Magnum pop-up, the first being the time when they held it at Biergarten, also in Koreatown. I felt excited to see what dishes would be spinning out of Chef Joseph’s kitchens.

Pozole

This was a very simple soup with crunchy chopped bits of romaine and roast pork, in a clear pork broth accented with lime and mint. A good, flavorful, homey kind of soup your mom would make, but not what I expected to be served at a venue such as this. It seemed like a odd choice to set the tone of the evening.

I always look forward to David Haskell’s creative wine pairings at these events. For this soup he selected a 2008 Fiano from I Favati, a crisp white wine that went surprisingly well with the savory broth. My untrained palate somehow even managed to discern a hint of pineapple notes from this wine.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Beet Salad

I liked the chilled cubes of red beets that made the base of this salad. Toasted pumpkin seeds added textural variation to the dish. The salty element came from slices of fried veal tongue sprinkled over the salad. I’m not sure about the veal tongue. I thought that perhaps it tried to evoke the mouthfeel of bacon, but these came out more rubbery rather than crispy, not to mention a bit too salty.

The wine was a 2009 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba from Luigi Giusti. I felt glad to have this wine, as I needed it to cut down the salt from the veal tongue, powerful even when eaten along with the beet cubes. Oh wait, maybe that was the point?

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Scallop and mussel

The brightness of the tomato-mussel broth was a nice contrast against the briny flavors of the sea within the scallop and the mussel. Perfectly seared on the outside, delicately tender inside, the scallop was definitely one of the hits of the evening. The Prosecco from NV Drusian, brought in another layer of effervescence and fruitiness, without calling attention away from the scallop.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Chilled Poached Shrimp

A reinterpreted version of shrimp cocktail topped with pieces of pineapple, alongside a cabbage salad. A well-dressed dish that stayed true to its roots, but didn’t seek to really elevate itself beyond being a really good shrimp cocktail. The 2009 Pinot Grigio Valle Isarco went so perfectly with it, that I think I ought to stock up on Pinot Grigio for the next time I whip up some shrimp cocktail.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Foie Gras Cemita

This was a special $20 add-on to the eight-course menu, but it was above and beyond well worth its cost. Hands-down, my O-M-G favorite of the evening. All the elements of a cemita were present in this dish. Crispy bread as the base layer resting on a dab of chipotle sauce, cheese, a chunk of foie (in place of milanesa, my usual favorite for a cemita), topped with slices of avocado. The flavor and creaminess of the avocado suffused with that of the foie, making the total sum lighter than either of its parts. The spicy, smoky chipotle sauce delivered a velvet-gloved knuckle punch in the end. Bravo!

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

I almost didn’t get the cemita because I wasn’t aware that it was an optional add-on. (They really need to make the menu a lot more understandable) I saw David Haskell toting around a nondescript blue plastic gasoline jug pouring mezcal to the other diners, but when it came to my turn he skipped it and went straight to the next wine. “It pairs with the cemita option? Well, let’s add it on!” So glad I did. This was a “holy crap, that’s good” shot of mezcal, one of the best I’ve had. Bricia Lopez, owner of Pal Cabron, brought this jug back from god-knows-where in Oaxaca. I’m not sure if it’s even sold anywhere else, which I guess made this mezcal a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Glad they indulged me with a second pour!

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Poached egg

Those who know me know that if you want to make me happy, serve me a runny egg! This dish made me immensely happy. The poached egg yolk oozed all over the refried black beans and guacamole, which made it all kinds of good. The crispy pork ears was a bit of a miss. By the looks of it I expected a crunchy crispy texture, but the ears themselves were a bit on the chewy and rubbery side. The Grignolino Francesco Rinaldi wine was rather mediocre when sipped on its own. With the food however, it turned from being thin and insipid into something much bigger, rounder, much more inspired. I can’t really explain it, but I love when stuff like this happens.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Squid

Another nice dish that played with a variety of textures ranging from the crispy crunch of the cucumber and jicama, the soft chewiness of the squid, to the hardy meatiness of the chorizo. A tasty and interesting combination of flavors. The sweetness of the 2005 Trebbiano from Tenuta Badia di Morrona, smoothed over the salt from the chorizo, but completely overpowered the squid. Depending on what you pick up on your fork, this wine could have been a hit or a near miss.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Flank Steak

I loved this dish. Strips of juicy, perfectly grilled flank steak, along with a cactus salad as its accompaniment. If you haven’t had cactus before, I could perhaps compare it to something like a bell pepper, but more chewy with a tangy component. Actually I don’t know if the tang was from the cactus paddle or from the preparation. Either way, it was a magnificent combination along with the steak. I don’t remember much about the Nero d’Avola from Valle Dell’Acate, other than it was a robust red wine that went well with beef, and all-to-quickly vanished from my glass before I knew it.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

Flan

If I had to choose between a pie, a cake, or a custard for dessert, the custard would win every time. This was an interesting take on the flan I’m more used to having. Unlike the traditional flan which features a layer of caramel on top, this one was topped with chunks of pineapple, with a streak of butter-caramel sauce across the plate. I thought I tasted a hint of banana in the custard, but maybe I only imagined it. I really enjoyed this dessert, except that when it became cold the caramel sauce turned unpleasantly gritty. The companion Nigori “Sayuri” from Hakutsuru didn’t really do it for me. The sweetness of the dessert overwhelmed that of the sake, moreover with the sugar diminished the nigori brought in an unwelcome metallic taste to the palate.

Magnum @ Pal Cabron

At first I expected this Magnum to be just as innovative, mind-bending and eye-opening as last time at Biergarten, but somehow it didn’t end up as such. The dishes here felt a lot more like a culinary tour and celebration of regional Mexican comfort food albeit more refined, and less like the more cerebral haute cuisine served at Biergarten. I’m not quite sure if I’m feeling a little bit of disappointment that my expectations weren’t fully met, but it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I liked every dish that came out and it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I look forward to the next time Magnum pops up.

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