Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Penthouse (at the Huntley)

Us gals dining at the Penthouse

YES! This was the first time I actually got to do DineLA! Every other time I have been out of town/busy etc. I think I might have accidentally done DineLA at that French place at the Grove for lunch... so this was the first time ON PURPOSE. I was told that The Penthouse looks cool and the food is just ok. You pay for the view and ambience. With this in mind, I entered The Penthouse. The Huntley itself is a GOREGOUS hotel. The only exceptions were the pillows in the foyer which look like dead shaggy dogs. So we got a fabulous table-- one of the huge ones with the gossamer curtains, where you feel like you are having an intimate dinner experience. I asked my friend Julie if they knew I had a food blog, for surely that was why we got this table. She POINTED OUT I had not published a review in forever (which is true) and that it was probably due to her open table VIP status. Humph! Well, at least she got me to get off my lazy butt and write. Plus, my sister-in-law is posting a blog a day, so surely I can do one every six months, no? And while nobody else will read this except for maybe 10 people I know, at least I am getting some satisfaction from it. This blog helped me make it through law school, and I should let it help me get through more of my life too! Doing little blurbs on Yelp is just not the same. Ok, ok, now for the FOOD!

We all got the DineLA menu. For the first course the options were crab cakes with mustard butter and granny smith apples, lentil soup with sour cream and chives, and some romaine caper salad thing. Since the romaine salad thing seemed like a less-than-inspired version of a caesar, nobody ordered it. The soup was very flavorful, although there was not enough sour cream for my dairy loving ass, and the texture was not quite whole lentil nor puree... almost like half way through they decided not to puree it. The crab cakes were AWESOME. I love a good crab cake. ESPECIALLY one that is 99.95% crab. Yes, I had them analyzed. The mustard butter was fantastic. It was a thick sauce with mustard seeds and I almost licked it off the plate. I did scrape up as much as possible without bothering the other diners with my plate scraping noises. The apples were sliced so thinly, but still retained their juice and flavor. Quite delish overall!

Crabby cakes

The chef offered us an amuse bouche, which looked kind of like sashimi but was acutally pear. It had a great flavor and cruch, and the little dots of balsamic heaven really finished it off well.

The main course options were bass with rock shrimp tomato risotto, chicken breast with onion risotto and chicken jus, and papardelle with chicken ragu. I had the chicken breast, which was cooked PERFECTLY. One minute less and it would have been underdone. It was juicy and flavorful, and the skin was crispy and fantastic. The onion risotto had a great flavor (a bit mushy but I'm a risotto snob... I don't even like my OWN risotto) but the star was the chicken jus. It was a deep brown and packed with chickeny goodness.

Chicken breast with chicken jus

The bass was also fantastic, albeit a HUGE portion. My husband would definitely not go hungry here like he did at Church & State. The bass had a bright green sauce which we couldn't quite figure out. Was it basil oil? Parsley? It complemented the fish nicely. The fish was also tender and flaky and well cooked.

Fish delish

The pappardelle was not bad but not really remarkable. It was just a decent pasta dish. I expect a ragu to be rich and this sauce was chunky and yet thin at the same time.

Julie and I ordered a mac & cheese side to share. Imagine our chagrin when they did not bring it out until after the main course! Apparently there was some kitchen/computer issue so it didn't come out on the ticket until after the courses did, but in any case they comped it which made us happy. It was so cute in its deceptively small looking cauldron. The top was crusty and cheesy and the inside was appropriately creamy with no weird texture issues or oiliness. My only complaint was that the cheddar flavor was not the pronounced. But I will definitely order it again. Getting the texture right on that sauce is very difficult. I know, I've tried many times!

Cauldron of mac n cheese

Now for the desserts almost everyone got the white chocolate caramel tart with feilletine (sp?). From the description I assumed this would all be stacked together. Instead there was a white chocolate mini panna cotta looking thing, caramel drizzle, and little circles of not-quite-rich-enough pound cake. I think the cakes were supposed to be the fuelletine (sp?), but shouldn't that be like mille foglie??? Anyway the panna cotta thing did not taste like chocolate and was just mushy. I got the chocolate ganache with chocolate gelato and espresso powder. The coffee actually brought together all the flavors nicely, but the portion was too big and in the end the ganache was a little to jello-like for me to finish.

Chocolate ganache

The true start of the dessert course was the creme brulee. Now normally I don't order it, because just like risotto, if it is not perfect I don't want it. This was FANTASTIC! The top crust was caramelized to perfection and the underlying creamy center was perfect. The accompanying amaretto cookie and fruit truly made it perfect!

Perfect creme brulee

Would I go to the Penthouse again? Sure! However, only if it's DineLA again. Their regular prices are just ridiculous for what you get. If I am going to pay that much I want steak or Church & State (i.e. complete perfection).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


So this NYT writer decided he wanted to make a list of 100 things no food server should ever do. While some of these are good tips, and some are pretty obvious to anyone with a pulse, the rest are just RIDICULOUS!!! This writer either has NEVER worked in a restaurant—or did so about 30 years ago.

I am only commenting on the ridiculous ones! This list can be found in its entirety here

8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.
- Um, yeah in a perfect world I do not have 6 tables to worry about who all need something. If your server approaches your table, you should give THEM your full attention. Not ignore them.

11. Do not hustle the lobsters. That is, do not say, “We only have two lobsters left.” Even if there are only two lobsters left.
-Ok, if there are only 2 of something left, I would like to know this, so I can tell the waiter, oh please make sure I get one. I don’t want to find out they are out of it simply because I spent my sweet time ordering.

23. If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill. It has the year, the vintner, the importer, etc.
-Ok, THIS is the reason I am writing this. The list did not seem all that ridiculous until this one. Like your server has time to steam off the bottle label???? Has this EVER happened to ANYONE??? If you want the information, write it down!

27. For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or prefer the waiter to pour.
-What? My waiter should be constantly making sure my glass has wine in it. And it’s hard to keep track of 6 tables without remembering which ones want to self pour. If you want to self pour, TELL the waiter, or just DO IT.

30. Never let the wine bottle touch the glass into which you are pouring. No one wants to drink the dust or dirt from the bottle.
-Ok, the waiter should make sure the bottle does not have dust or dirt on it before taking it to the table!!! And there shouldn’t be dust or dirt under the foil, if there is, the waiter should wipe it before pouring.

33. Do not bang into chairs or tables when passing by.
-Excuse me? I’m sorry, either the waiter is doing it ON PURPOSE, in which case they are a jerk, or ON ACCIDENT which means it could not be avoided! This is just idiotic.

39. Do not call a woman “lady.”
-Well, the term is “ladies and gentlemen.” What should the waiter say??? Female??

42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else.
- Huh? By NOT complimenting everyone at the table? It's this kind of logic that LSAT question writers relish.

Stay tuned for the next 50 which come out next week! Eeek!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Recession Hits Home!

I can't BELIEVE that Conde Nast is shuttering Gourmet magazine. I almost want to cry. Gourmet is hands down my favorite food magazine! Bon Appetit is just not an adequate substitute. :-( Waaaah! And I LOVE Ruth Reichl. Sadness!

Read all about it on Yahoo!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Jax Fish House Boulder

Dina enjoying a glass of wine in Jax's cool dining room

Wow. I cannot beLIEVE I have not updated the blog since November. Shame on me. Perhaps it is because nobody reads this so what is the point? BUT I do have about 2,000 hits, and that can’t be just from people I know. Plus, this last year of working and paying student loans has been culinarily uninspiring, especially since I have been trying to save money! But, let’s face it, I just love food too much. AND I was inspired by Julie and Julia. I actually have a lot in common with Julia Child, it was quite funny. But okay, onto the review!

My coworkers and I had to go to Boulder for training. As a fan of Top Chef , I immediately decreed we would have to go to Jax Fish House, since last season’s winner, Hosea, is the executive chef there. He was not there, but some people think that means the food is better. (Read the review to see if I agree).

The menu at Jax

Delicious oysters!

We started off with some divine Hama Hama oysters. That doesn’t really involve cooking, just the ability to get good oysters, but I was pleased. They were small, plump, and fresh, tasting like the Pacific Ocean.

Skillet cornbread

We also had this DIVINE skillet cornbread with honey butter. I just love cast iron skillets. It’s the best way to brown a chop and the best way to make cornbread. And what is cornbread without honey butter? I think that is why I don’t like jalapeno cornbread. It doesn’t go well with honey butter. Oh yeah, and I hate jalapenos. Ha!

We also ordered the Maryland blue crab cakes which came with a spicy creamy tobiko-horseradish sauce. The crab cakes were great, full of chunks of crab, and not too bready. I just took a lil bit of the sauce since horseradish overwhelms my palate.

Maryland Blue Crab Cakes

Sauvignon Blanc

My pretty but crappy scallops

Now of course, there were New Bedford sea scallops on the menu with crispy prosciutto, spring peas, and morel bread pudding, so I HAD to order it. Dina is also a huge fan of any kind of bread pudding, savory or sweet, so she ordered it too. It looked amazing, but the execution was poor to say the least. The prosciutto was good, but there was only one little square. The scallops were acceptable, they were about 5 seconds undercooked, but that was forgiveable. Sadly, what should have been the piece de resistance, the bread pudding was not good at all. And the mushy sauce under it did NOTHING for the dish. It was kind of like baby food (or what I imagine baby food would taste like haha), it was mushy and lacking in flavor. The morels in the bread pudding were sandy, and the pudding itself was bland. The spring peas on the side were crispy and fresh, but WAY too salty. I think all the salt that should have gone into the bread pudding went on the vegetables. It was a sad little plate in the end. At least I had this beautiful Sauvignon Blanc (picked by Renita) to drink and dull my pain. I just don’t understand how the morel bread pudding was so awful, especially since it’s offered as a side on the menu.

Dale's amazing lamb duo

Unfortunately everyone else chose really good dishes! (Well, I guess fortunate for them). Dale got the Colorado Lamb Duo which was AMAZING. I was super jealous and wished I ordered it. It came with a loin chop & a braised shoulder, polenta, rapini and gremolata. The shoulder fell right off the bone and the loin chop was perfectly cooked. I guess when you go to a fish house you shouldn’t order fish??

A rethinking of a classic nicoise

Then there was the seared Ahi with grilled romaine, olives, quail egg, potato, and caper dressing. It just screams nicoise (which I LOVE) and it was super tasty.

And to top it all off…. Mystery fish!!! I don’t remember exactly what this was, but it had to have been better than my scallops.

Mystery fish!

Fun with crayons at Jax

The Boulder Crew! Christine, Dale, Me, Dina, Renita, David

All in all, Boulder is a great town (my almost husband is from there). And I did go back to Jax for their $1 happy hour oysters. Overall the food was very good, albeit pricey for Boulder. Whatever you do, stay away from the morel bread pudding and scallops!!! And if you EVER see Hosea there, tell him to get out of the kitchen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Osteria Mozza

Me, Julia, and Julie at Osteria Mozza

Hello all, I am back to blog after my pre and post-bar sojourn. I know you missed me! ;-)

So Julia and Julie are my co-food gourmet gourmands. We love to try all the new hot spots here in LA. When Osteria Mozza opened about a year ago it was IMPOSSIBLE to get a reservation. Even my DAD couldn't get in. However, last spring Julie managed to get us in! (She's crafty). We also went with Rania and Ken. Even though we had a reservation we still had to wait 45 minutes for a table!!! If I were Irene Virbila, I would have just left. But, they did provide two rounds of this delicious amuse bouche with fresh mozzarella and black olive tapenade, so this persuaded me to not get pissed off.

Yes, that is my beautiful hand and blazer

Julia and I waiting for our table, and happy we have wine

I started with the grilled octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon. It was delicious! It's reminiscent (i.e. practically identical) to Agostino Sciandri's version (which can be found at Caffe Roma and Sor Tino). But I love it! My mom used to make octopus with lemon and garlic when I was a kid-- of course none of my friends wanted to eat it, but I knew it was delicious!

I get so happy with Octopus on my fork!

Julie got the Bufala mozzarella with pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade & caperberry relish. WOW! The pesto and tapenade were definitely my favorites. And if this place can't find a good mozzarella, nobody can.

The four sauces

Everyone else just got salads, which were tasty but not extraordinary (because I can't remember them, haha!)

For my second course I had the Grilled Quail wrapped in pancetta with radicchio & sage honey. O. M. G. I love quail. And perfectly cooked quail is almost impossible to find. AND deliciously and crispily wrapped in bacon?? I was in heaven.

Grilled Quail wrapped in pancetta

Julia ordered the Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Amatriciana sauce is a spicy tomato with pancetta, it's one of my favorites! The thing is, if you have not been to Italy, how would you know that? I had to translate the whole menu for everyone.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Julie got the Maltagliati with duck ragu, which was fanstamical! I love duck ragu. It's really the only way to have duck, a very oily and low meat bird. But stew that sucker for many hours with some delicious pasta sauce ingredients, and it's delizioso!

Duck ragu

Rania got these vegetarian ravioli with a saffron cream and ramps (related to leeks). They were a special and they actually were... well, special! The sauce was delicate enough to highlight the interesting flavor of the sautéed ramps.

Yummy ramp ravioli

Ken got a steak which looked awesome, but I didn't taste it.

But I had to save room for desert! This is Nancy Silverton we are talking about. And wow. But not wow in a good way. I could not BELIEVE how subpar they were. First off (let's do the bad news first): Piccolo Budino Caldo di Cioccolato. It says it comes with bourbon gelato, but it tasted like straight grappa (which is this nasty stuff Italian men pretend to like because it grows hair on their chests). The chocolate cake itself was great... but it was just a great molten chocolate cake... which you can get at many chain restaurants. So I get it, they wanted to make it more hip and interesting, but the super alcoholic gelato was not a good choice. And THEN they top it off with SALT! I know that making saltier deserts is a big thing, but actually sprinkling salt (and this was not a delicate fleur du sel, it was actually table salt) all over a desert is gross. I actually stopped our waiter, I assumed it was a mistake, and said, "this has salt on it," and he assured me it was supposed to. Gross! It took me out of my desert savoring moment and wondering what the hell they were thinking. Originality is not always a good thing when it comes to food.

Beware of the salt!!!!

Onto the next dessert: Panna cotta on top of a berry tart. The panna cotta was delicious. The berry tart, was very Italian, but the pastry was not that flaky and it just lacked flavor overall, and contrasted with the lemony flavor of the panna cotta in a way that made me think once again, "what were they thinking?"

Panna cotta with mediocre tart

The only thing we really liked were these delicious fried crispelle, with delicious gelato and Nocello soaked raisins.

The only desert I would order again

I see now they have kind of revamped their desert menu, but if I were you, I would ask for no salt.

Bottom line is, this place has good food, but for the price, I would rather spend a little bit more and go to Valentino, or spend about the same and go to Osteria Latini. You're just paying for the celebrity chef factor and they aren't even there.

Rania and Julie, just happy to be fed

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tracie's Seafood Extravaganza

You know, it's really not fair. In the dinner party club rotation, I am after Tracie. And she pulls off the most amazing 7 course dinner party BY HERSELF. Ok, I helped by peeling beets, etc., but that doesn’t really count. But how am I supposed to top her? Since I am next, whatever I do pales in comparison! There have been studies on this particular dinner party phenomenon, of having to top the person who had one before you. On to the menu…

She started us out with a nice spread of delicious cheeses and fruit, including homemade butternut squash dip. She also had this pear chutney-type thing that I kept spreading over brie on a cracker—I think I ate about 10 of those.

Then we had a field green salad with roasted beets, tangerines and feta. The dressing was a tangerine/lemon/mustard. It was SOOOO good. I don’t even LIKE beets. Apparently, I hate the canned ones, because I actually ate the entire roasted beet which was placed on my plate. Since I peeled them, I thought I might as well try one. They were sweet and still had a nice crunch to them.

Of course, no event with Tracie is complete without her delicious roasted roma tomato toasts. She made them with a lemon goat cheese spread. The tanginess of the lemon with the sharp goat cheese contrasted beautifully with the sweet tomatoes. Soooo good. (It’s no wonder I stole it for my last dinner party…. Although hers admittedly was better.)

Then we had mini crab cakes with herbed aioli. My GOD I love crab cakes. The best I ever had were at Ruth’s Chris in San Diego. Just huge chunks of fresh crab served in a pound of sizzling melted butter. Tracie’s crab cakes were definitely on par. The flaky fresh Dungeness crab meat just melted in my mouth. Also, she used Japanese panko bread crumbs instead of regular commercial bread crumbs, which made the crab cakes very light and not all bread-y (which is the mark of a cheap crappy crab cake). Also, I admit when I make crab cakes I used the canned lump stuff. If you can afford the fresh stuff, it’s definitely worth it! The herbed aioli had lemon, garlic, parsley and chives. Not to overwhelming, just enough to add a bit of crisp flavor. I could have eaten about 24 of these.

The coconut shrimp with maui mustard sauce went perfectly after the crab cakes. Sapna helped with the frying, since she’s an expert. I admit, I’m not a fan of coconut UNLESS it’s wrapped around a shrimp. These were FANTASTIC. Crispy, with a juicy delicious plump freshwater shrimp inside. Quite the treat! And the sauce was made with pineapple, apricot and mustard. It was savory-sweet just like the shrimp and was amazing! In fact, Tracie and I re-made the recipe while we were studying for finals. Trusts and Wills are much more palatable after a delicious crispy shrimp.

But the true piece de resistance was the pasta with mushrooms and pumpkin gorgonzola sauce. I actually don't like pumpkin very much. But I was converted when I went to Bologna (which is famous for its stuffed pastas... and Bolognese meat sauce obviously). In Bologna, they love pumpkin ravioli, and I just had to take a bite and make sure it was gross. Oh god, really good pumpkin ravioli are fantastic-- no matter how little you actually like pumpkin. Just think of it as orange squash, and not that overly sweet nutmeg drenched stuff they try to pass off out of a can at Thanksgiving. Oh, but I digress. ANYWAY, this pumpkin gorgonzola sauce reminded me of Bologna. Creamy, delicious, with just a touch of sweetness. With all the tons of mushrooms and onions, it was actually not that unhealthy! In fact, Tracie confessed it was a Cooking Light recipe. If all "light" food tasted that good, I might actually be a size 6 instead of a... well... you get the point. ;-)

Sorry there are no pictures, I had some but they got lost in the ether of my computer...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mediterranean Feast Dinner Party

We hosted at the haunted mansion

The evite read like this: Hello my darling Messieurs et Madames! Travis and I (chef maestros extraordinaires) have been talking about having a co-dinner party on IM for ages. And we have finally done it! The theme will be Mediterranean. A little Greece, a little Spain, a little Italy, etc. Just bring yourselves and a little vino and your taste buds and prepare to be dazzled. Attire is cocktail lite... look sharp but no requirements. Opah and kali orexi (buon appetito)!

Travis and I really went all out on this one. We picked up supplies on Friday afternoon at my parents’ restaurant. It was fun to go shopping in the walk-in! Plus we got a really good free lunch out of the deal. And my aunt graciously let us use her fabulous quasi-mansion to host the party in South Pasadena. Somehow in all the photos it ends up looking like the haunted mansion….

Here is our fantastic menu:

Cocktail hour
Homemade hummus
Homemade tatziki
Homemade pita
Crudites with ranch
Cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto

Travis made the hummus, according to my strict instructions, and it turned out fabulously. I made the tatziki, and it wasn’t that good. I grated the cucumbers, and next time I think I am just going to dice them, so they add more of a crunch to the sauce. I made the pita, and I think I proofed them for too long, they were a little on the dry side. I will have to work at Daphne’s Greek Café for a day so I can steal their recipe. Ben made the cantaloupe, which was more of an assembly job, but it looked great! He was quite a help to Travis and I in those final moments when we were trying to get everything ready. Everything was paired with prosecco and pear juice cocktails. I wanted to make Bellinis, but pear was a good substitute for peach juice (which I couldn't find).

Me serving the warp appetizer course ---->

Warm apps
Spicy cheddar green pimiento olives
Bacon date blue cheese yummies (apparently called remoulade)

Zen and Ben (haha, I rhymed!) helped make the olives. They were supposed to be frozen before going in the oven and they sort of lost their shape and melted into one glob of cheese that stuck to the wax paper. But they TASTED amazing. I’m sure if we didn’t skip the freezing step next time, they would be fab. And of course, I had to make my bacon date things. Which my aunt informed me were really big in the 50’s and are called remoulade. Here I thought my genius chef friend came up with them all by herself. This course was paired with Trinchero chardonnay.

Laura serving up the salad with the main course

Pasta course
Balsamic roasted tomatoes on goat cheese crostini

Pastitsio is a Greek dish, it’s basically macaroni layered with lamb ragout and then finished with a hearty béchamel. It is hands down one of my favorite dishes to make because it is SO good and pleases just about any palate. That was paired with these amazing roma tomatoes. Travis made those, according to Tracie’s recipe. They are so good. You roast them for over an hour in balsamic, and they turn out amazing. The sharp coolness of the goat cheese really contrasted with the sweet balsamic glaze. This course was paired with a nice Tuscan table wine, Cancelli by Coltibuono.

Everyone with the main course

Main course
Roasted rack of lamb in herb crust
Lamb burgers wrapped in prosciutto
Greek salad

The plated lamb burgers

Ok, I salted the lamb and it was too salty. BUT if you scrapped off some of the salt, the rack was delicious. Travis did a great job on them. They were succulent and flavorful. I wish I hadn’t been so full or I would have eaten more of them! Travis also made the lamb burgers according to a Giada de Laurentiis recipe. They were really good, especially since they were wrapped in prosciutto and finished with basil and roma tomatoes. We served it with a traditional greek salad. This was paired with my favorite affordable wine, Masi Campofiorin, which is an Amarone ripasso.

Travis and I getting ready for some main course action

Espresso spiked with Frangelico
Homemade baklava

Honestly, this baklava was my crowning achievement of the evening. It took FOREVER to make. Each little layer of phyllo dough has to be brushed with butter. AND I had to shell the pistachios myself (which I will NEVER do again… I think it took me an hour to get the 1 ½ cups of pistachios. The reason I think this turned out so well is because I used a Turkish recipe. I loved the baklava when I went to Istanbul, but here in LA only the Greek version seems popular, which is much more sticky and sweet and not as delicate and buttery. Travis labored with my tiny espresso machine to make everyone espresso, and it truly was the perfect way to end the evening.

If anyone wants the recipes, please email me. All photos courtesy of O'Ryan McKinney.