Gourmet Junkies

March 2, 2010

The Tar Pit’s Little Pitfall

Chef Mark Peel, from Campanile fame, has opened a new, gorgeously slick cocktail lounge that smacks of an old time Supper Club complete with sexy waitresses donning big flowers behind their ears and vintage black dresses.  He nailed it!  This place is smooth…… creamy walls, sinewy brass railing sectioning off areas and crystal chandeliers that reflect in the palm-frond mirror grates that grace the room.  The lighting is perfect so moi was even more impressed.

We are approached by a darling waitress with an English accent who pointed out that there was a lovely cocktail menu.  Hmmmm….  what to have. My dinner partner ordered one of the fancy drinks, The Gin Gin Mule, which he thought was interesting but too sweet, while I went more classic.  Here comes the PITFALL….. it took 25  minutes for the drinks to arrive!  Geez. Our waitress quickly tried to smooth things over with a VERY sweet little libation while we waited for the ones we ordered. What?  They can bring a drink we DIDN”T order in 2 seconds flat, but can’t bring the one we DID order for 25 minutes?  Really?  We still were kept waiting so she brought us the Deviled Eggs, which were quite tasty.  Finally, our drinks arrived.

On to the Menu:  I think what Mark is trying to do here is bring back a bit of nostalgia to the LA Restaurant Scene, and boy do they need that.  But, as yummy as the menu sounds, we were a bit disappointed overall, and I will get to the last part of “over-all” in a minute.  We ordered small plates from the Bar Menu so we could get a sampling of a few dishes.  We started with the Artichokes Trastevere with a Cynar Aioli. (Cynar is an Artichoke-based Italian liqueur that is rumored to relieve stress)… okay.  The large Artichoke hearts are breaded, deep fried and served with the Aioli.  I thought they were pretty good while my other half said “Eh!” On to the Saffron-Scented Shrimp, a dandy-looking Shrimp Cocktail with a Seville Orange Remoulade that just fell short.  I don’t know what it is these days, but whenever I order Shrimp, it comes tasting watery, flat and just plain boring.  Our next dish hit the SPOT…. oh boy… Duck Sliders!!!!  We both could have stuck our faces into these baby’s!  Man are they good! The BEST sliders I have ever had…. thin slices of succulent duck in an Orange Gastrique that just melt in your mouth.  Our last dish was kind of Spanish-Tapas-like: Sauteed Fennel Pork Sausages with Potatoes, Onions, Peppers in a Rouille (garlic, breadcrumbs, saffron and chili peppers made into a paste… always served with Bouillabaise and sometimes called “French Rust”).  This reminded me of Spain and the little bars and tapas places who served this kind of food.  I loved it.

So here we come to the “over-all” portion of this review.  When we sat down, we both remarked how beautiful this restaurant is, how mellow it seemed and that the combination of the great interior, good lighting and ambiance provoked thoughts of finally finding a drop dead beautiful restaurant, led by a drop dead wonderful chef that we would come back to time and time again.  THEN: IT GOT SO LOUD THAT WE COULD NOT HEAR ONE ANOTHER WHEN WE WERE SITTING 6 INCHES APART!!!!!!!!  Now, don’t get me wrong…I LOVE noise in a restaurant, it makes me feel alive, fun and “with it”, but this was beyond, really.  I’ve been to Mozza Pizzaria (very loud), Cecconi’s (pretty darn loud), Church and State (yes, loud), but nothing can compare to the noise level at Tar Pit… it was deafening.  Now, I ask you, WHY?  Do restaurants HAVE to be that loud?  Just a little loud is just fine, but when you honestly can’t hear the person next to you I think it is time to tone it down just a bit. The music was blaring and what started out to be Sinatra-like sounds became just plain loud and completely annoying.

I loved this restaurant, don’t get me wrong, but my dinner partners said they would not come back because of the noise level.  I can’t give you a recipe for noise, but I will give you my recipe for Limoncello Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus but before I do that…. go and try Tar Pit and let me know if I’m becoming an old, cranky lady or is it too LOUD???? And, try the drinks… they are stellar.

Limoncello Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus

24 large prawns, shelled and cleaned

1 cup Caravella Limoncello

1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup white wine

Metal skewers

48 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and washed, then tossed in a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper

1. Mix together the Caravella Limoncello, rosemary, salt, pepper and white wine.  Place prawns in a large ziplock bag, pour in the marinade and chill for several hours or overnight.

2. Drain the shrimp and with a sharp knife, pierce each prawn down the center, being careful not to split it along the entire length.

3. Carefully thread 2 asparagus spears in the hole and place on a sheet pan.  Brush with a bit of the marinade.

4. Prepare the grill and grill prawns until just cooked and asparagus is tender.

Makes 24 Appetizers   Serve with Limoncello Pomatini’s (recipe follows) or a crisp white wine.

Limoncello Pomatinis

1 ½ ozs. Vanilla vodka

½ ozs. Caravella Limoncello

1-2 ozs. Pomegranate juice

1 splash of  Lime juice

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously.  Strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy!!

Urbanspoon rocks
Tar Pit on Urbanspoon

February 16, 2010

Bouchon Bites Back

Okay, I’m probably going to get hell for this, but I’m going to write about it anyway.

First of all, let me say I LOVE THOMAS KELLER…. LOVE him! I have been to most of his stellar restaurants (French Laundry, Bouchon Napa and Per Se in NYC) and have always come away swooning over his absolutely delish food, so when my fiance said we were going to Bouchon (Keller’s latest eatery in Beverly Hills at the Montage Hotel) I was ON IT!  So excited. What to wear, what to wear, what to wear??

Now, the Montage doesn’t actually “house” Bouchon… it is located across the little park in the center.  We found it and entered where we were directed to go after looking for a sign).  Well, now… we entered what looked like  the lobby of a condominium building.  There was a staircase to the left, a counter/desk thingy and not much else.  Where do we go?? Well, I guess UPSTAIRS!!  We climb the stairs to find ourselves in another sort of “lobby” and are directed down a long hallway to the bar area.  If you know me, you know I’m usually up for anything, but this whole arrangement seemed very dis-jointed to me.  Not a great welcome from the GREAT KELLER.  Oh well, on with the evening….

We were a little early and decided to have a drink at the bar. Opps!  Can’t do THAT.  The bar was completely crowded with diners.  That in itself is a good thing… one can eat at the bar (one of my fave things to do) BUT there was absolutely no place to sit, or stand for that matter, and sip a cocktail.  Kind of weird.  I would think they would at least have some kind of area set aside for those waiting for their friends for dinner or someone just wanting to have a drink at Bouchon.  Don’t think  this was very well thought-out. We stood in a corner with our drinks waiting for our dinner partners.

The dining room is really pretty… the lighting is elegant and it has a soft, warm feeling. The bar area, while the same colors, lacked something… it just seemed a little un-finished and plain.  On to din-din……..

We sat down and were immediately approached by our waiter…. he was engaging without being overly so, but what I thought was really un-Keller-like, he read the evenings specials from a little book he had.  Now, I’ve owned a restaurant so I think I know a little bit about service and it just seems to me that it isn’t too much to ask of your waiters to LEARN the specials for the evening.  There were only 3-4 items.  I know, picky, picky, but it is Thomas Keller’s place for heaven sakes!!

All of us ordered different dishes:  One Trout (supposed to be very good!), one Chicken (also touted to be excellent), one Duck (ordered “medium”) and one Mussels (that would be me, since I’m a Mussels Freak AND I wanted the Frites!)  Our friends had been to Bouchon 3 times and have had a good dinner each time, which is one reason we decided to try it… the other being it is THOMAS KELLER.  So, here is where I’m most likely to make a few enemies…. it just wasn’t that great.  Not great at all.  Disappointing. And I sooooo wanted it to be as stellar as his other places.   Now, granted, this is supposed to be a French Bistro and country-ish French food, and I took that into consideration, but it just fell flat for ALL of us.  Our friends said it just wasn’t as good as it had been before.  Maybe they were having a tough time in the kitchen, I don’t know, but  the Duck, (ordered “medium”) came out almost rare, the chicken just wasn’t as good as our friend had tasted before, and my Mussels were bland and tasteless.  Mussels need to be gutsy, garlicky, the broth full of flavor to the point of wanting to put your face in it and suck it up, or at the very least, eat a whole loaf of bread trying to get every ounce of sauce. This Mussel dish just didn’t have that. Sorry.  That’s just the way it all came down.

Now, the Good News:  The Frisee and Lardon Salad was PERFECT.  The Bibb Lettuce Salad was GORGEOUS, the Frites the BEST IN TOWN and the bread is excellent.  The service was very good and they had a good wines-by-the-glass list for those who only want a glass of wine. And the other good news is that I will try Bouchon again since it is THOMAS KELLER and I love and adore him.  I even have his cookbook.

So there you have it.  I will go back and I would encourage you to do the same and let me know what you think. On a scale of 1-10 we all gave it a 6-7 and I guess our expectations were a bit lofty, but it’s Keller!!!!!

So, now in honor of the Great Mussel, I shall give you my recipe for Mussels and hope you enjoy them.  ALWAYS buy the freshest mussels you can find: I recommend Santa Monica Seafood.  Call before and find out when they were delivered. They should be fighting when you pick them up!

Deb’s Mussel’s:

6-8 Servings
20 minutes prep
10 minutes cooking

For the Croutons:

8 thick slices of dense white Italian bread
1/3 – 1/2c olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled

For the Mussels:

6 qts very fresh mussels scrubbed and soaked*
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
3-4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 bay leaf
2 C light white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
7 T butter
1/2 c cream
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

To make the Croutons:

Preaheat broiler.
Brush the bread with olive oil and place under the broiler until golden brown on both sides.
Remove and immediately rub with garlic cloves.


Set aside.

To make the Mussels:

1. Sort through mussels, discarding any that are open or light in weight. DIscard any that are very heavy as they may contain a lot of sand.

2. Scrub the mussels with a stiff brush under running water and trim the protruding tufts of hair. Place the mussels in a tub or basin of cold water and soak for 1- 2 hours. Drain well.


3. Pre-heat a large deep kettle, add the olive oil and saute the shallots until opaque. Add the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and saute over medium heat until garlic is soft. Do not allow garlic to brown.


4.  Add the white wine and mussels. Cover the pot and gently steam mussels until they open, about 5 minutes.


5. Spoon hot mussels into large soup bowls and keep warm.

6. Bring sauce in kettle to a boil. Add butter and cream and whisk sauce until butter is melted and sauce is bubbling.   Add parsley and correct seasoning adding more salt & pepper if needed.
7. Pour hot sauce over mussels. Top with toasted garlic croutons & garnish with fresh chopped chives and dig in!

Note:
If desired you may vary the recipe by adding:

1. Pancetta & fresh sliced mushrooms. Sautee with shallots until pancetta is crisp and mushrooms browned & proceed with recipe.
2. Chopped fresh tomatoes added with the white wine before steaming mussels.

If you do not like mussels, you can do the same recipe with shrimps in their shells.

Bouchon Bistro on Urbanspoon

January 28, 2010

An Apple A Day is The Best Dessert in The City!!!!

My foodie partner in crime, we will call him “Shpilkes”, and for those of you who don’t know what that means, well, it means someone who is anxious or on pins and needles, and he is ALWAYS anxious for (or worried about)  something good to eat!  Turrets (and I spelled it wrong on purpose) , of course means someone who has a condition that creates a tic or repetitive behavior.  Therefore, Turrets and Shpilkes kind of embodies the chronic foodie:  ANXIOUS for the next meal and wanting to REPEAT going out for a good (or, unfortunately maybe bad) meal.  Maybe I should have called this Shpilkes and Turrets, but it just didn’t sound right, so live with it.  So where was I?  Oh! Yes! Shpilkes and I decided to visit one of our favorite places, “BLD” (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) on Beverly Blvd. and have the Charcuterie Platter and a smart cocktail, however, in retrospect I really should have had a reeeeaaalllly good glass of red wine.  Oh well, I had a rough day and opted for a Martini…. and it was good.

“BLD” is one of Neal Fraiser (Grace Restaurant) and Richard Draper’s group of eateries and one of my favorite “comfort zone” restaurants.  Sitting at the bar with a big, fat marble platter of “my choice” cheeses and meats, served with toasted baguette, raisin walnut bread, quince and marcona almonds, is a perfect way to end the day.  So….. Shpilkes came over after painting all day and said, “Wanna go to BLD?”  Uh, DUH!  Off we went, not expecting anything unexpected, but Oh. My. God.  got SUCH a big surprise!

Now, just let me say this… I am not a sugar person.  Okay, okay, I know some of you are and cannot FATHOM not eating dessert, but it just isn’t my thing.  And THAT is really weird considering my brother once saved my life when I was going after the Cookie Jar, having made a “ladder” out of the open drawers leading up to the kitchen counter,  only to have him catch me before I fell, cookie jar in hand.  Maybe I just got over “sugar” after that.  BUT….I do love apples.

We finished our charcuterie platter, drank our Martini’s (damn… should have had the Shiraz or a good Cab!!!) and this cute young thing came up to us and said, “How about a little dessert?”  “No, no” we said.  She said, “Have you tried our Caramel Apples?”  SAY WHAT?  “No”, we said.  “Well, you are missing out if you haven’t had them!” (the girl is a GOOD salesperson!)  “So, What is so special about the apples?” we asked.  “Ahhhh….. You just HAVE to taste them and then you will know”, she said with authority in her voice. I suspected she had tasted them MANY times.  Glance to one another….. “Bring it on!”  we said.

OH. MY. GOD.  I’m done.  Gone to Heaven. Junk in the Trunk doesn’t matter AT ALL! I want to stick my FACE into these “Apples” and stay there!!!!  The title of this piece is: The Best Dessert in the City” and I MEAN it!  We are served another one of those cool little marble platters with 3 mini Empire Apples, with sticks coming out of the core.  The apples are dipped and literally swimming in the most delicious, creamy caramel and propped up on the edge of the marble platter.  Trailing down from the apples onto the platter are three “lines” of SUGAR based “toppings”.  But, I’m in another world by now because I know this is going to be better than the  missed Shiraz or Cab. I’m about to dive into pork-dom and don’t care one little bit.

The “lines” of sugar are: Crushed Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chopped toasted pecans and Chocolate Sprinkles.  What is happening here? I’m off on a sugar-trip and loving every bite.  Yummy, yummy, yummy.  Shpilkes and I are looking at one another, our eyes glazed over, scarfing up this very unique and delicious dessert.  Oh my… what fun!   CARAMEL APPLES FOR ADULTS!!  You’ve gotta try these…..

Okay, I can’t top this one, so I’m just going to give you the recipe, courtesy of Mariah Swan, Pastry Chef at BLD for “Those Apples”

For the Caramel:

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 tsp. corn syrup

1/3 cup cream

2 T. apple cider vinegar

1. In a clean saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Make sure the sides of the pan are clean and free of any sugar.

2. Place over high heat and cook until the mixture turns a medium amber color. Remove from heat and slowly pour in the cream. Be careful as the caramel will bubble up and spit a little as the cream is added.

3. Turn the heat to medium and place the saucepan back on the burner. Whisk in the vinegar and stir until it is creamy and well blended.

4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

To Dip the Apples: Per 2-3 servings:

3 mini apples (BLD uses mini Empire apples.  Use your favorite crisp, tart apple, but keep them small)

3 lollipop sticks or caramel apple sticks

Toppings: (chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chip cookie crumbs, chopped toasted pecans, chopped English Toffee, graham cracker crumbs, chopped peanuts, etc.) Use any choice of 3 toppings.

1. Firmly place the stick into th bottom end of the apples. Dip the apples into the cooled caramel 3-4 times to generously coat.  Rollin topping of your choice.

As I mentioned, BLD serves these puppies on a marble slab with the toppings spread across the surface.  We would take a bite with one topping and then go for another.  Great way to serve!

BLD Restaurant
<a href="BLD on Urbanspoon“>

January 19, 2010

Come to my "House"

Filed under: Uncategorized — Deb @ 23:05

I’ve been in the foodie biz for a long time.  Former restaurant owner, cooking school instructor, spokesperson for some big food/liquor companies and so I think I know a little about food, presentation and how to treat your customers.  That is why I decided to become a quasi food critic.  Warning: I can be a bit irreverent…. but fun.

First off: you will never know when I visit your restaurant or decide to do a review, so don’t try and bowl me over with your “best” day’s service or food.  Just be the best you imagine you can be and I will either like it or not.  Since the food scene has become such a “celebrity chef” scene, a lot of people out there equate good food with “celebrity”.  well, guess what?  It isn’t always so.  Take for example the new Bruce Marder digs “House” on Beverly Blvd. in LA.  Now, Bruce has had some pretty interesting places including the vastly overpriced “Capo”, the clubby “Brentwood”,  breakfast-y “Cora’s” and “The Broadway Deli”.  Of these, my favorite has been Brentwood  because he kept the food exactly what it should be, clubby and comfortable.

Now I do know that Bruce doesn’t go out seeking celebrity, but he is a bit of an institution in this town.  The fact that he isn’t a very polished maitre ‘d (to the point of being a bit weird and sullen) doesn’t help when you are greeted at the door by this “institution”.  I suppose I expected something or someone a little more engaging and polite, but oh well.

Which brings me to our dinner at his new “House” Restaurant.  Situated in the old Pastis location at 8114 Beverly Blvd, House is a combination of flea market finds and posters with a little patio in front.  It kind of looks like a House, which, I’m sure, was the intent.  But, it lacks something. At the bottom of the menu decorating credits were shared by Bruce Marder (really?) and Dean Singer, a well-known designer/architect.  I would bet that Singer wanted more to do with it, however Marder was quick to say that he did most of the interior design.  Singer must have laid it all out leaving Bruce to his own devices. I’m not sure what he was trying to convey, but it is sweet and simple, woodsy and non-discript and I’m sure there are those who don’t even look at the decor, but I do.  I love places that make me feel like I’d like to LIVE there, you know what I mean?  Places that give you a feeling of sheer comfort, like when you go to a good  hotel and the bed is just PERFECT with the cushy comforter and down pillows… that kind of comfort.  I also like hot, lively places so don’t take me for some old fogey, okay?

Dinner: Wellllllllll…… again, maybe my expectations were a little too high. We ordered a glass of wine from the generous wine-by-the-glass menu and started to discuss the various dishes.  It is a little bit comfort food, a little bit Moroccan and a little bit bistro, the menu encompassing breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We decided on the Grilled Artichokes, Meatloaf and  the Filet of Sole.  Bruce, you need my recipe for Grilled Artichokes.  Yours were very average, served with Horseradish Mayo. Horseradish??  Even Culinary Artistry doesn’t list horseradish as a match to Grilled Artichokes!! At the end of this article, you all will find the recipe he should have put on the menu….Grilled Artichokes with Truffled Mayonnaise.

Now on to the meatloaf. Oh dear. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce…what are you thinking?? Have  you tasted this?? Meatloaf should not have the consistency of rubber!  It was so rubbery and tasteless that I’m going to  give you a new recipe for this, as well.  Swimming in a pool of an unctuous tomato-y sauce, I couldn’t help be wonder who was in the kitchen that night and did they overdose on the egg content of the “meatloaf”.  I do have to say the mashed potatoes that came with were silky, soft, perfectly seasoned and very delicious.  so at least 1/2 of the meal was yummy. Here’s the deal on Meatloaf:  it should be almost falling apart, but not.  It should be moist. It should never scream “I have eggs in me” and it should be served with homemade ketchup. Period.

The Sole was pretty good.  Perfectly cooked and simple in it’s seasoning.  The accompanying Roasted Potatoes, however were crispy on the  outside (a very good sign), but dry as a bone on the inside.  Another disappointment since Roasted Potatoes rank up there with sex as far as I’m concerned.  Maybe he should have tried to roast small red new potatoes in a 300 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours, removed them, smashed them and then plunged them into very hot fat for a few seconds to crisp them.  This leaves the centers creamy and soft while the outside “smashed” potato takes on a crunchy crispness.  Sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and Truffle dust, and you have a DISH!

Okay, so I’m kinda blasting this new place of his, but I will go back, hoping that my next choices will be more satisfying and that I’m greeted by a warm, engaging person who will make me feel like I want to stay and linger over good food, conversation and good wine.  After all, Bruce Marder IS an institution.

Grilled Artichokes

4 large artichokes, rinsed, top third removed, leaves trimmed

3 T. salt

2 lemons, cut into 1/4′s

1 cup olive oil

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

2 shallots, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 T. Italian parsley

1 tsp. chopped chervil

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Lemon Truffle Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

1. Fill a large pot 1/2 full with water. Add the salt and bring to a boil.  Rub the artichokes with lemon. Add the lemons to the boiling water along with the artichokes, reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender when a knife can be inserted into the choke easily or an outer leaf pulls off easily.  Drain upsidedown on paper towels and cool

Cut the artichokes in 1/4′s and remove the hairy choke and prickly purple leaves.

While the artichokes are cooking, in a bowl combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, shallots, parsley, chervil, salt and pepper. Place artichokes in a large plastic bag, pour in the marinade, squeeze out all the air and marinate 2-6 hours.

Pre-heat the grill to medium-high  Remove the artichokes from the marinade and grill, turning occasionally  until slightly charred on the edges and warmed through.  Place on a platter and serve with Truffled Mayonnaise

Truffled Mayonnaise

1 Lemon, cut in half and grilled  until charred

1 cup mayonnaise

1 T. good quality truffle oil

Squeeze the lemon juice into the mayonnaise and stir. Add the truffle oil and blend well.  Refrigerate until serving.

Meatloaf

2 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef

1/2 lb. ground pork or sausage

2 large onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 tsp. nutmeg

2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

3 T. A-1 sauce

3 T. ketchup

2 T. Dijon mustard

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup finely minced walnuts

2 eggs, beaten

Place everything in a big bowl and mix with clean hands until very well blended.

Place into a loaf pan or pat into a loaf form.  Bake for 1 hour at 400 degrees.  Let rest for 5 minutes and then pour off any accumulated grease.  Unmold and slice into 1 inch slices. Serve with mashed potatoes.

there you have it… this also makes a mean sandwich the next day.  Slather a baguette or Ciabiatta with mayonnaise flavored with Chipoltle seasoning.  Slice the meatloaf and place on the bread along with grilled onions and butter lettuce.  EAT!!

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