Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sunday Supper at Lucques

My friend Ryan, an ex-cook at Lucques who now lives in New York, insisted that I go for Sunday supper at Lucques when I was in LA. Oddly, I’ve never eaten there on Sunday night so I went with my friends Paul, Chris, and Sue to check it out. I had another major reason for going too: Amanda, another friend, has been cooking at Lucques for several years and I wanted to see her in action.

First, let me say Sunday supper at Lucques is the best deal in town! Any town. $40.00 for a prix fixe meal? Are you kidding me? The cost of the ingredients must have come close to that. Sunday supper has always been important to me. It’s the meal I love to cook and share with friends. I think it is brilliant that Suzanne Goin, the owner of Lucques, is offering just the kind of meal I like to share with others at the end of the weekend. Her success with it comes from the heart which is where this kind of meal should originate. I think she knows that. Also, there is nothing better than a prix fix meal when you don’t want to waste time making decisions. You just know you are letting the kitchen do what they do best.

The menu that evening was in honor of Hooks Cheese Company from Wisconsin. The meal was superb, simple, and satisfying. We started with a plate of Hook’s 10-year-old cheddar served with an apple and pickled raisin chutney along with a parsley and celery salad. The cheese was so interesting, don’t know how to describe it except it was milky, smooth, elegant and had a slight rich/sweet finish. I remember a cheese like that from my childhood but can’t quite place it. The chutney and salad were good with the cheese, but I have to say the star of the show was the amazing bread they serve at Lucques. That bread is seriously delicious with amazing density and flavor. I asked the waiter where they got it and he said they bake it over at AOC, a sister restaurant of Lucques. (I wish I had brought a loaf home). My main course was Niman Ranch baseball steak with duck fat persillade potatoes, walnuts, Hook’s blue and an arugula salad. I never heard of that cut but it was cooked to perfection. The roasted potatoes were crunchy just as I like them and the duck fat served them well.

I brought a bottle of 1997 Rudd Cabernet Sauvignon and it was slightly corked. No one else at the table thought so and I didn’t want to spoil it for them, but I couldn’t drink it. A bottle of corked wine is so annoying especially when you carry it all the way out from NY for a special meal. Luckily, Lucques has a great wine list so there was no need to get anxious.

Even Paul and Chris, the toughest critics in LA, were blown away and vowed to return. They did complain about the lighting but all in all we left happy and satisfied and determined to return.

8474 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Monday, February 25, 2008

Osteria Mozza

I’d been dreaming of going to Los Angeles and visiting Osteria Mozza ever since I ate at its next door sibling, Pizzeria Mozza last winter. There were months of delay before Osteria Mozza finally opened its doors but it’s been up and running for six months now and the front of the house and the kitchen have really hit their stride. Both Mozza restaurants were full to overflowing with an eager crowd on the Saturday night I went, so when you go there be prepared. There was even a wait for a seat at the bar.

I went with Sue Moore, one of the most discriminating eaters I know (see my earlier blog on Sue’s grass fed hot dog stand, Let’s Be Frank). She had promised me that the proprietor, Nancy Silverton, would be behind the mozzarella bar, and there she was, as she is most nights.

We started with a platter of salumi that included a delicious salami with cardamom and a luscious lardo with a wonderful woody thyme finish. We moved on to a Little Gem salad with hazelnuts, bacon, gorgonzola dolce and egg. All the ingredients were perfectly married together, and though the dressing may have been a bit too acidic, it was otherwise wonderful. From the mozzarella bar we chose the mozzarella in carozza with anchovy and tomato vinaigrette. It sounded odd but what a great combo. The sweet milky warm cheese with the sauce was divine and the finish of anchovy on the palate was wonderful. We then had the spaghetti alla’ gricia which is one of my favorite Roman pastas. The guanciale ( a particularly great Italian bacon and a favorite of mine which you will know if you’ve been reading my blog) in the sauce was delicious with a bite of pecorino romano cheese and a bit of pepperocini. At first the spaghetti seemed a little too al dente but it kept cooking and by the second bite it was perfect.

As for the wine, the 2005 “Sapaio”, Podere Sapaio went amazingly well with the meal. At $95.00 a bottle it is a great value.

Sue and I had also ordered the crisp duck al mattone with pear mostarda, but we were so full we had to cancel the order much to my regret. Our waiter accepted the cancellation without any attitude which was a relief. The cheese list was amazing but we were too full and wanted to try at least one dessert. We chose the rosemary olive oil cake with olive oil gelato, a Mario Batali signature dish. I hate to say this, but I’m going to anyway: it took the cake.

“Rustic funkiness with perfect ingredients” is how Sue described the food. My description is as follows: I can’t wait to go back.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, Ca 90038

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Valerie Confections Petit Fours

Valerie Gordon and Stan Weightman, founders of the fabulous Valerie Confections, an artisanal confectionary based in Los Angeles, are at it again. They hit a home run a while back with their exquisite toffees and other confections and now they’ve introduced Petit Fours.

Petit Fours really suit my love of great food in small tastes and these are the best Petit Fours I’ve had. Valerie makes up a box of 12 with four each of lemon, rose petal, ginger, and orange. The little cakes are glazed with a delicate white chocolate or dark chocolate glaze--far more pleasant to my mind than the usual thick fondant. All of them were divine but I adored the orange and the rose petal. The former was a dense orange cake with a white chocolate glaze topped with candied orange rind. The rose petal was an intensely flavored vanilla cake layered with lemon curd and finished with a white chocolate glaze and topped with a crystallized rose petal. Over the top!

For Valentine’s Day Valerie made up a box of a dozen rose Petit Fours. So romantic! Everything here has a wonderful handmade quality; nothing feels mass produced. They ship anywhere in the country so treat yourself or someone special.

Valerie Confections

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lets Be Frank

Everyone should know about Sue Moore, the queen and creator of Let’s Be Frank, a hot dog stand that has been selling grass fed beef franks in San Francisco’s AT&T ballpark for 3 years now. High quality, healthy, delicious fast food is Sue’s thing, and she deserves a major award for all the trouble she has taken to develop it successfully.

But here is the new news: Sue has recently moved to Los Angeles to bring another stand to the City of Angels where they can surely use it. So go to Culver City where Sue has leased a space Tuesday through Sunday next to the Helms building complex. The LA Times gave her a smashing review in her first week.

But, back to the hotdogs--DELICIOUS. 100 % grass-fed, no hormones, antibiotics, and no filler. They come with a wonderful grilled bun, freshly grilled onions, and, if you want them, homemade butter pickles. Sue also sells a brat dog which I loved as much as the others. It’s a bratwurst made from 100% family farmed pork with a blend of organic herbs and is incredibly juicy and flavorful. This is what fast food can be so everybody take note. Maybe there’s a trend starting here.

Lets Be Frank caters parties which is really cool, so think about that. But go to Culver City and check out the stand. You won’t be disappointed.

Hungry Girl Special

YOU MAY NOT KNOW THIS BUT a good hot dog deserves a good wine, so I stopped by the Bottle King in Culver City and bought a bottle of 2004 Icardi Cortese L’Aurora. The wine was crisp, with slight minerality and was a perfect complement to the hot dogs. Is it legal to drink al fresco like this? Well, no, but no one knew. Sue Moore was so busy she didn’t notice and neither did the customers eager for their dogs. Let's hope these franks will ordered before long so you can enjoy one with a glass of 2004 Icardi Cortese without risking jail time.

Lets Be Frank
Helms Avenue between Washington Blvd and Venice Blvd.
Tuesday through Sunday starting at 11:00 am.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The hamburger at The Spotted Pig

Everyone has a favorite hamburger and I’m no exception. Actually I have more than one favorite depending on where I am. For example I love the Hamburger at Zuni in San Francisco, but in New York would have to say my favorite hamburger is at the gastropub The Spotted Pig. Though a hamburger is not something I eat very often when I do I want it to be perfect and satisfying which the hamburger at The Spotted Pig is. And though bar food is pretty simple The Spotted Pig has taken it to another level.

First let's start with bun which is made by Blue Ribbon Bakery. A soft and rich buttery bun that melts in your mouth but doesn’t fall apart or get to soggy. Next of course is the meat which when you order medium rare that is how it comes. The meat is rich and seasoned perfectly the right ratio of fat to meat so it is succulent and juicy. Then the hamburger topped with Roquefort cheese. The rich savory cheese brings to life the hamburger and makes it a completely blissful experience. The hamburger also is accompanied with the thinnest crisp shoestring fries that have been fried with thin slivers of garlic and rosemary. It just does not get better.

The Spotted Pig has a fantastic wine list by the way by the way and I enjoyed the Tocai Friuliano by Bastianich which they pour by the glass with my hamburger.

Next time you find your self craving a hamburger or a little hungover stop by The Pig, sit at the bar and enjoy the perfect burger.

The Spotted Pig
314 West 11th St ( Corner of Greenwich St.)
NYC, NY 10014

Hungry Girl Special

I brought a chilled bottle of 2006 Sancerre Clos de La Neore by Edmund Vatan to see how that would go with the hamburger. I love a crisp cold white wine with a hamburger and this one was a great compliment to the hamburger. Great structure, buttery and a great acidic backbone that was delicious with the hamburger. Available at Chambers St. Wines

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Food Saver

Over the years, I’ve heard almost as many methods for storing coffee beans as there are ideas for the right way to cook pasta. Trust me, most of them are whack. Here’s what not to do: Don’t store your beans in the freezer or the fridge; that only creates moisture which compromises their flavor. (And while we are at it, don’t add oil to your pasta water either. Doing so actually coats the pasta and keeps sauce from adhering to it later. Bad idea! )

Here’s what you should do with your beans: invest in a vacuum sealer like the Food Saver. If you’re like me and order 4-5 pounds of beans at a time, this is the perfect way to keep them fresh.

My Food Saver has dozens of other uses too and I will get to these later on so stay tuned.

Ritual Coffee

Here’s a trend alert from my travels: great small batch coffee roasters are on the rise and the people who appreciate great small batch coffees also know the right method of brewing it—one cup at a time, please!

Awhile back I wrote about London’s Monmouth Coffee and described their four star method of making an excellent cup. I have also praised the Blue Bottle coffee stands that started in Emeryville, Ca. (The Times recently reported that James Freeman of Blue Bottle has purchased a $20,000 machine though this hardly seems necessary). New York City now has Abraço Espresso, another quality operation.

But there is more good news: On a recent trip to San Francisco, I met up with the same friends who introduced me to Blue Bottle. They are OVER Blue Bottle because they think the baristas have way too much attitude. Instead they’ve moved on to Ritual Coffee in the Mission district. Of course I went there and the place was seriously cool--filled with happy people, great service, and great coffee.

I bought a selection of beans to take home. My favorites so far are Bella Vista, El Salvador CoE #9, and La Union, Nicaragua Organic / Fair Trade. Ritual ships so you can get a sampling too and decide on your favorites.

406 542 3509