Sunday, May 30, 2010

Red No

K. and I headed to Melrose last night to check out Red O, a new restaurant consulted by Rick Bayless.  Rick Bayless designed the menu and helped train the chefs, but has no ongoing relationship with the restaurant (despite his name being prominently displayed on the sign).  I was very excited to try his food; I really enjoyed his work on Top Chef Masters last year, which he won, plus he just seems like a nice guy.  The restaurant has only been open to the public since Wednesday, so less than a week, so I should caveat my review with that fact.  I would only expect the restaurant to improve in terms of food and service over the next few weeks.

First off, the space is quite lovely.  The restaurant is nice and airy with very high ceilings and drapes and modern decor.  We started out by ordering the Mojito Mexicano made with tequila and the Market Margarita, made with cucumber and honeydew.  It took quite awhile for our drinks to arrive and honestly, they weren't great.  The flavors just weren't very bold; it was rather watery and uninteresting.  This is probably sacrilege, but I enjoyed my pink Taco margarita that I had earlier in the afternoon more.  Needless to say, we did not order any more cocktails and switched to wine; I had a glass of the Trapiche Malbec, which was fine, and also took forever to arrive.

For starters, we ordered the Gleason Ranch Pork Belly sopes, served in cute little corn masa cups, the chicken tamale with yellow mole, and the woodland mushrooms queso fundido.  The pork belly was a nice little bite, I particularly enjoyed the sauce that it came on.  I really liked the woodland mushrooms queso fundido because you can't really go wrong with melted cheese and nice smoky mushrooms.  It was served with corn tortillas which were great: very thin and light and complemented the cheese and mushrooms well.  The chicken tamale was ok; the mole was quite mild.  The dish definitely needed the pickled onions that came on top for real flavor.

For our main course, we ordered the Cochinita Pibil: tortilla-fed, Gleason Ranch suckling pig, achiote-marinated & slow-roasted in banana leaves, black beans, pickled red onions, roasted habanero salsa, and the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo: wood-grilled Mazatlan Blue shrimp with slow-roasted garlic, wood grilled knob onions, Veracruz-style white rice with sweet plantains.  Honestly, the descriptions of both dishes sounded a lot better than they actually tasted.  I expected to really be wowed by the flavors, but they weren't a revelation to me.  The suckling pig was good, but nothing special.  It came in cubes and had the texture of pulled pork.  It tasted like regular braised pulled pork, similar to what you mind find at a BBQ restaurant or a Chinese restaurant.  The shrimp was also good, but nothing special; none of the flavors were particularly memorable.  I did not feel like Red O was much better than the regular Mexican places we go to: Monte Alban or Talpa in West L.A.  I understand that regional Mexican cooking is very different from one place to another and it's a little like comparing apples and oranges, but I prefer the two West L.A. places, especially at half the price.  We skipped dessert; the couple next to us ordered the Mexican beignets which they said was ok, but nothing special.  We were definitely a little disappointed in the meal, especially with rather high expectations.  It's always nice to have a night out on the town, but we'll be trying other places next time.

Apologies for the blurry pictures; I still haven't worked out how to use the DSLR discreetly in low light settings.
Chicken Tamale on top, Pork Belly sopes on the bottom
Woodland Mushrooms Queso Fundido
Cochinita Pibil
Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo
Red O Restaurant
8155 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90046
(323) 655-5009

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I spent a beautiful Saturday hanging out with the wine club for a screening of Sex and the City 2.  For more details, check it out here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Korean Friday

Today was a day filled with all sorts of Korean food; for dinner, I made dduk bok-ki with spicy pork and spinach.  Dduk bok-ki is a Korean rice cake in the shape of a elongated cylinder.  It is made fresh everyday and is not supposed to be refrigerated; it actually says on the label to discard within 24 hours.  In a wok (which I don't use that much, but should start using more often), I sauteed 1 small onion, sliced into thin strips, until soft over medium-high heat, then added 4 scallions cut in diagonal slices for a few more minutes, and then added 3 cloves of minced garlic for a minute.  I seasoned everything with a little salt to help it soften.  Next, I added about 1/2 a pound of spicy pork cut into 2" x 1" strips with poultry shears, and sauteed until the pork was cooked through.  Then, I added about a cup of kimchi, a little bit of soy paste, and the dduk bok-ki and sauteed it until everything was hot.  For the last few minutes, I added half a bag of organic spinach from Whole Foods and a couple of splashes of Sriracha for extra heat and tossed everything today until the spinach was wilted.  I sprinkled the dishes with a little roasted sesame and dinner was served.  It was really good; I absolutely love anything noodle-based, and the fresh dduk bok-ki had a wonderful chewy, springy "kiu" texture that is really fun to eat.  The kimchi and spicy pork added substance and a nice spicy kick and slightly sour flavor.  It's a very filling dish; we have enough left over for lunch tomorrow.  We paired it with Foxen's 2007 Chenin Blanc that we picked up during Santa Barbara wine tasting a year ago.  The Chenin Blanc wasn't bad with the dduk bok-ki; it had enough personality to stand up to the spicy food.  However, on its own, it was a little sugary.  Not sweet like fruit, but actually sugary, which I find unusual (not in a good way) in wines.
 Dduk bok-ki: the label on the left says "discard after 24 hours"
The Gallery Kimchi: it's pretty good, but could be a little spicier.  I like how they slice so that it's more manageable
I really like cooking in the wok; I should use it more often
 Back to the beginning, we drove to Koreatown to the Galleria Market to pick up ingredients for the BBQ on Monday.  I picked up short ribs, marinated spicy pork, kimchi, cabbage, romaine, scallions, garlic, asian pears, and brown sugar.  The market has a great produce section with really reasonable prices; much better than Whole Foods and even better than the mass market chains like Albertsons.  They also have cuts of meat that are hard to find at any other market. 
A huge aisle of sliced pork and beef; I couldn't even get it all in one photo
After the supermarket, we went to BCD Tofu House for some organic soon-dubu.  We got the seafood soon-dubu with oysters, clams, and shrimp and the combination soon-dubu with shrimp, beef and mushrooms, both at medium heat.  It was really good, it was served bubbling hot, was nicely spiced, and served with rice in a clay pot.

I love cracking a raw egg into the still boiling hot pot of soon-dubu
Rice in the stone bowls
anchan (side dishes)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mutant Pi Pa

We don't buy very much fruit in the springtime because spring at my parent's house means pi pa season.  My parents have three very prolific trees in their backyard with unusually large fruit.  Pi pa, also known as "loquat," is a popular Asian fruit that is orange and just slightly fuzzy on the outside.  It's a little hard to describe the flavor and texture; it is sweet and a little tangy, and the fruit is firm, but not too juicy, like an orange, nor too dry, like an apple. The most similar fruit in texture would be perhaps a mango, though it is not stringy like mangoes sometimes are.  The skin is inedible (for everyone except for Otis) and needs to peeled, and in the middle are several large seeds.  You occasionally see them at the farmer's market, although they are always much smaller, perhaps golf ball sized.  The ones from my parent's trees are about the size of an extra large egg, give or take a bit.  They are very popular amongst our family friends; even though we give away several grocery bags full every season, there is still more than enough for ourselves.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tomato Season

After Costco and before yoga, I went to the Wednesday Santa Monica farmer's market to pick up vegetables for the week and for the Memorial Day BBQ.  All sorts of tomatoes were everywhere: vine ripened tomatoes (above), green tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and even my favorite, heirloom tomatoes (at two stands).
Heirloom tomatoes are still looking a little funky but will be great in a couple of weeks
Stone fruit, including peaches, nectarines and cherries were at several stands.  I love the names of the random stone fruit hybrids, like "pluot" an "aprium."
I bought a few bunches of asparagus for grilling, some arugula and mixed greens for salads, butter lettuce, grapefruit, vine-ripened tomatoes for guacamole, cherry tomatoes for salads, and kale for pasta.
Maggie's Herb Farm, where I buy all my salads
Very socal: nopal, or cactus! Wonder what to make with them

Hot in Herre Part II

Just a quick update, I went back to Hot8Yoga today and tried a Hot Power Yoga class and liked it significantly more than the bikram style hot yoga class yesterday.  The teacher was much better and the style of the class was a lot more similar to the vinyasa yoga that I regularly practice at Power Yoga and Yogahop.  Despite working a lot harder in this class, I felt like I was actually less sweaty than in last night's class; it was just like a slightly more sweaty Power Yoga class.  Instead of being bothersome and a distraction, the heat was a nice addition today; it was energizing and allowed me to push deeper into the poses.  I think it helped that the heat was set at 95-100 degrees, as opposed to 100+ yesterday, which was just too unbearable for me.  I'll be trying a few more hot power yoga classes and staying away from the regular hot yoga classes for the rest of my trial.  I still don't envision becoming  member, as it is more expensive than the other places that I practice, but a change of pace is nice every once in awhile.  If you are interested, they are doing free one week trials through June 30th.

1422 2nd Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 866-5280

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hot in Herre

Last night, Jen and I tested out the new hot yoga studio that opened up in Santa Monica, Hot8Yoga.  I was definitely intrigued; after these last few years of doing yoga, I had never gone to a true hot yoga class, and the free one week trial made it an easy decision.  The facilities are very nice; it is in the old Exhale space on Second Street between Broadway and Santa Monica, a couple doors south of Power Yoga West.  They have a large reception area, men and women locker rooms with showers (unusual for most studios I have been to), and two large studios.  The studios are windowless, with a few walls of mirrors, and interesting hypoallergenic, pvc floors.

Since it was both of our first times, we took the regular hot yoga class which was for all levels.  The temperature was set at 100 degrees for the entire class and it felt like a sauna the entire time.  Within minutes, everyone was soaked and we weren't even doing particularly difficult or strenuous moves.  I have to admit, I did not enjoy the class at all.  The pacing was very strange; there was no flow or harmony to the movements, the whole practice was very disjointed and I found my mind wandering constantly (particularly wondering how much time was left in class, which I never think about in my regular classes).  We did a lot of poses, such as half moon, differently from how I normally practice them, and I prefer my regular way.  While there was a lot of stretching and backbends, I did not really feel like I was building strength or really pushing myself to the limits.  I definitely sweated multiples more than I ever have in a class, but I didn't really feel like I was working that hard, and I found the heat and sweat to be more of a distraction than a positive.  Even after class, I did not feel the relaxation that I normally do after a good yoga class.  It was definitely disappointing.  I will definitely be back this week to try some different classes with different teachers since it is free, but I do not see myself becoming a member.

Ready For the Next Hike

Otis is ready for his next hiking trip! REI was having its anniversary sale and I had my REI membership dividend to spend, so I thought I would pick up some hiking gear for him and Floyd.  In addition to the backpack, I got them a matching collapseable water bowl that Otis can carry in his backpack.  Got to make him earn his keep!  Otis was very patient in allowing me put the backpack on him.  Once on, he was a little tentative in his movements; he didn't want to walk too fast.  I think the backpack is just a touch too big for him...he's all the right measurements according to the sizing guide, just on the smallest end.  Hopefully we can make it work; there's not really any sizes that are smaller, at least in the REI brand.  The other brands are just so much more expensive.

The Truck That Started It All

For over the last year, food trucks have been all the rage in Los Angeles.  While Mexican taco trucks have been around for awhile, primarily catering to the working Latin American community, Kogi, a Korean BBQ taco truck, really brought the concept to all segments of the community, from office workers to students.  Since the popularization of Kogi, trucks have proliferated, serving anything from sushi, to Vietnamese food, to Philly cheesesteaks, to southern BBQ.   As they roam around the city, they regularly blast their whereabouts through twitter. Even Kogi has now expanded to four trucks to satisfy demand in this sprawling city, in addition to serving its food at Alibi Room in Culver City and starting a dedicated restaurant, Chego in Culver City.
Usually I don't have the dedication to track these trucks down and wait in the inevitably long lines, but I decided to chase down Kogi today to do some research as I am planning on serving up an Asian taco bar at my Memorial Day BBQ.  I tried Kogi at Alibi Room a few months ago, but I already forgot what accompaniments the tacos were served with.  Fortunately for me, the Kogi "roja" was going to be in Brentwood today from noon-3pm behind an office building less than 1.5 miles away from my house.  I hopped on my bike and was in line by 12:05pm.  There were about 15 people ahead of me already waiting and the truck opened its windows at 12:15pm.  The line and service was relatively quick and by 12:30pm I had my tacos.  In order to ensure that I tried everything, I ordered the korean short rib tacos, the spicy pork tacos and the chicken tacos.  Turned out the topping was the same in all three tacos.  They were quite tasty; the meat was nice and flavorful and I liked the cabbage, lettuce, green onion, white onion, sesame "slaw" that they served on top, I definitely think I can recreate it at home easily.  I already have good recipes for Korean bbq short ribs and a Japanese yuzu chicken, and I think I will add a spicy pork, bulgogi style, thanks to today's tastings.
It's hard to see, but from right, clockwise: short rib taco, chicken taco, spicy pork taco

Monday, May 24, 2010

Malibu Sunday

After taking the dogs on a long walk in the morning around our neighborhood, we put them in the car and drove to Malibu for a walk along the trails of the Malibu Bluffs.  We had never been there before; it has several short trails with gorgeous panoramic ocean views, large green fields, lots of picnic tables and importantly (and rare for Malibu), free parking.
The dogs loved hiking: sniffing around the plants and wildflowers,puzzling at geckos and random insects.  I'm excited to take them on more hikes in the area; Los Angeles has lots of hiking trails that are dog friendly.  It's a nice way to escape from the city.
Random but sweet message we found in the dirt

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pizza Report

Asparagus, Proscuitto and Egg Pizza
The pizza experiment concluded last night with the making of two mostly organic pizzas: an asparagus, proscuitto and egg pizza and a spinach and garlic pizza.  The new dough recipe was a mixed success.  I let it rise initially for 22 hours without any kneading.  It had risen slightly and was still extremely soft to the touch.  I took it out of the bowl and folded it twice over itself and let it rest for another 15 minutes.  It was extremely soft and very sticky; stuck all over my hands and every surface even though I was careful to cover everything with a lot of flour.  As it is a no-knead dough, the glutens hadn't been stretched and it therefore wasn't elastic and springy like it usually is.  At this point, I started getting skeptical, but continued on nevertheless.  After 15 minutes, I divided the dough into two (as opposed to 4 per the recipe), put it on two plates, covered it with a flour covered kitchen towel and let it rise for two hours.  Then I was ready to make the pizzas.  The dough was extremely difficult to work with.  Since it was so soft, it was hard to slowly stretch out in the air as I usually do it: hold two edges up and let gravity slowly stretch it out.  It would fall too quickly and unevenly.  Also, the dough would stick to my fingers so it would be hard to adjust.  Once I put it on the parchment paper, like I usually do, it was so sticky that it was impossible to really pull and stretch out; it would just stick to the parchment paper.  Instead, I had to basically press down on the paper and spread the dough out that way; using the stickiness as a way to spread out the pizza instead of stretching it out.  It turned out extremely misshapen; I just focused on trying to get uniform thinness so that it would cook evenly.  However, once cooked, the crust was delicious.  It was a less dense, a lot lighter than the usual crust.  While it was pretty crunchy and chewy all the way through, it did not have the soft center that the Co. pizza had, but it was still really good.  So now I'm torn as to whether I will try the same technique again; it tasted really good, but was really hard to work with.  I did notice that I used active dry yeast instead of instant yeast; I wonder if that made a difference.  Otherwise, I followed the recipe pretty precisely.

For the asparagus, proscuitto, egg pizza, I quickly roasted a little over 1 bunch of organic asparagus from the farmer's market for about 8 minutes as I was preheating the oven to 515 degrees (my oven just doesn't get warmer than 515).  I just tossed it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and put it in the oven.  After I spread out the dough, I brushed the dough lightly with a little olive oil, and sprinkled across the dough thinly sliced garlic cloves (about 4-5 cloves), sliced cave aged gruyere, sliced pecorino romano and sliced fresh mozzerella, all from TJs.  Then, I put on a layer of the roasted asparagus, and popped the pizza in the oven for 8 minutes.  After 8 minutes, I put on a layer of 1/4 lb of proscuitto, and slid four organic eggs onto the pizza and cook it for another 4 minutes.  After I took it out, I sprinkled a little grated pecorino romano, a little bit of truffle salt, and chili flakes upon request.  It was delicious; the egg yolk was still a little runny when it was cut into, and the roasted asparagus, salty proscuitto, egg, roasted garlic and cheese went perfectly together.  The proscuitto I got from Whole Foods was just a little too salty; next time I will get better proscuitto which won't be as salty, and the pizza will be perfect.  I love the mixture of the cheeses; it is now my standard cheese blend; very flavorful with some piquancy and the perfect texture.
 I made the spinach pizza pretty much the same as last time, except I use pecorino romano (Co. uses aged pecorino romano), instead of parmigiano reggiano and a little bit more organic spinach from the farmer's market and some red chili flakes.  It was great, I just love the fresh spinach with the garlic, and the chili flakes gave it a nice kick.
We paired the pizza with an inexpensive bottle of Marques de Caceres Rioja Rose from Trader Joes ($6.99).  I have been testing out inexpensive wine for a Memorial Day party we are throwing next week.  On its own, the rose was not that interesting, but it was the perfect pairing and balance to the pizza.  I remain undecided on whether I will be serving it next weekend.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So Sweet

While on our walk with the dogs, K. and I stopped by the new Sweet Rose Creamery in the Brentwood Country Mart to check out their ice cream.  Sweet Rose Creamery is a small batch ice cream shop that makes all of its ice cream in-store, opened up by the owners of Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Huckleberry Cafe in Santa Monica.  We ordered a scoop of the mint chocolate chip and a scoop of the Caffe Luxxe coffee ice cream.  Caffe Luxxe is my favorite coffee shop in Santa Monica and will soon be opening next door to Sweet Rose Creamery.  The ice cream was incredible; I've never tasted ice cream that tasted so much like real mint or like real coffee before.  I love walking over to the Brentwood Country Mart to run errands; they have a post office and a Bank of America.  I think this new addition will be a dangerous new temptation...

Today has been about as good as it gets; it's a beautiful sunny day.  After a run around the Brentwood Country Club this morning (love the new shorts), we went for a quick swim in the pool and relaxed in the hot tub for a bit, made some tuna melts for lunch and went on a nice walk with the dogs.  Soon, it will be pizza time!

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th Street, Suite 51
Santa Monica, CA 90402
(310) 260-CONE

Gentlemen of the Road

 I just finished "Gentlemen of the Road," by Michael Chabon last night.  I think Chabon is such an imaginative writer and I love his prose; "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" was a such a revelation when I read it, and a really fun book too.  Gentlemen of the Road was an enjoyable little adventure tale of two misfit friends traveling and battling together through what is now the Middle East.  Though the story is not complicated, it was a little bit of a challenging read; I'm not usually daunted by words but he definitely used some obscure vocabulary and geography.  It actually made the book more intriguing as I had to pay closer attention while reading it and use my imagination as well; usually I read really fast, but I had to slow down and really use my mind with this one.  Overall, a fun little book; definitely not as substantive as Chabon's other works, but entertaining.  I'm starting Swann's Way by Marcel Proust now; it's proving to also be a mentally intensive read, plus the font is really small and the book is really long, but I'm looking forward to getting engrossed in it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pizza in Progress

Not much to report on today; I have been occupied with mostly mundane activities such as cleaning the house and walking and washing the dogs.  I was originally going to make pizza for dinner tonight, but with a change in plans and pizza moved to tomorrow night, I decided it was a good opportunity switch it up from my usual pizza dough recipe and make some no-knead pizza dough since it takes up to 24 hours to be ready.  I also wanted to test out the 00 pizza flour from Caputo that I bought at Surfas on my last trip, to see if there was a noticeable difference in crust quality.  I used Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery and Co.'s recipe found here; the only change I made was instead of 3 cups of all purpose flour, I used 1.5 cups of 00 flour and 1.5 cup of all purpose flour (I was too timid to use all 00 flour in case the no knead recipe turned out to be a failure, since it was quite expensive at $9.50 for 3 pounds).  I loved the pizza crust at Co., it was chewy on the outside yet soft on the inside.  I also like this recipe because I don't like to knead; I just usually use the dough hook on my Kitchenaid stand mixer, which may overstretch the glutens too much.  This recipe is also nice because there are fewer items to clean, always a plus in my book!  I will be reporting back on how it tastes tomorrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Very Green Dinner

With all the fresh greens I bought a week ago at the farmer's market, I've been making a lot of "salad + a bit of pasta" dinners this week.  Inspired by the increasing variety of fresh produce, I attempted to eat lighter and healthier, with fewer processed foods, although at the end of the day, I still need my carbs, hence the pasta.  It is also a fast weekday meal to prepare; usually I can make the salad and dressing in the time it takes to boil the pasta.  I made an unusually green dinner last night: we had avocados, butter lettuce, peas and pesto.  I made one of my favorite salads: a chicken, avocado, and grapefruit salad with sesame dressing, inspired by a salad at 17th Street Cafe in Santa Monica.  The following made 3 very large salads:
  • two small heads of butter lettuce: remove the core and chop up (doesn't have to be too small since the butter lettuce is so tender and easy to eat)
  • slice one avocado into thin slices
  • segment 1 grapefruit (try to avoid the rind as it will add bitterness)
  • Chop and toast half a cup of walnuts (keep an eye on the walnuts; we burned our first batch and had to start over)
  • Grill 3-4 breasts or thighs of organic chicken on the grill pan (chicken was marinated briefly in a little soy, rice wine, sugar, salt and pepper) and slice into strips (I sometimes cheat and use some rotisserie chicken from Costco)
  • Toss with sesame dressing: crush 1 tsp of sesame seeds and whisk together 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1.5 tsp of mirin, 3 TB of sesame oil, salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle with more sesame seeds
It's a really good combination full of contrasting yet complementary flavors and textures; I like the very soft and tender butter lettuce leaves, with a little grilled heartiness from the chicken, creamy avocado, juicy grapefruit, toasty walnuts and fragrant sesame dressing.  Each ingredient really shines on its own; it's just enough ingredients to keep the salad interesting, but not too much that ingredients get lost.  My salads usually follow the same general formula = greens + a protein + another veggie (i.e. cherry tomatoes, grilled peppers, summer squash; whatever is in season) + nuts for crunchy texture (I use sliced raw almonds and toasted walnuts the most; pinenuts and hazelnuts are usually too expensive) + vinaigrette (I use red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar the most, and add olive oil (a little less than the same amount of vinegar), 1 tsp of dijon mustard, salt and pepper).
I also finally used some of the pesto I made last week to make a simple pesto pasta.  I took 1/2 cup of pesto, 1/4 cup of low fat mayo, and a TB of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and mixed it all together, seasoning with a little salt and pepper.  I cooked half a pound of fusilli, tossing in 1/2 cup of frozen peas for the last couple of minutes, and then scooped the cooked pasta and peas into the bowl with the sauce and tossed it all together.  It was really tasty; the pasta was nice and creamy, with interesting herb notes from the pesto, a little zing from the bit of mayo and lemon juice, and fun pop from the peas.  Even though we only cooked half a pound, we still have plenty of pasta left, as the salad was quite substantial.


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