Saturday, April 30, 2011

AOC Winebar Review: Sharing Wine and Food with Friends

Last night we went to AOC Winebar on West 3rd Street near West Hollywood for dinner. We had a friend in town who specially requested to try one of Suzanne Goin's restaurant. Out all all of Suzanne Goin's restaurants I've been to, including Lucques, Tavern, AOC, I prefer AOC. It has a great wine list by the carafe as well as by the bottle and the small plates sharing format is more fun with a group as you get to try lots of dishes. Besides, family-style is the Asian way. I've visited over a half a dozen times since it opened in 2002, although I haven't been back in a couple of years. It's always good, although I find some dishes a little heavy and oily, and it isn't cheap, particularly if you order lots of wine, as we usually do.  Last night's experience was consistent with my previous visits. With a party of 5, we ordered a cheese plate with accompaniments (including quince, marcona almonds, fig and date cakes), speck with apples and arugula chicken liver crostini, beet endive kumquat salad, the market fish which was red snapper over risotto, scallops with potatoes chorizo and sherry, pork cheeks with polenta, duck confit with black rice and blood orange, english peas and pea shoots with saffron butter, cauliflower with curry, frozen nougate glace with candied kumquat and meringue with meyer lemon ice cream and blueberry compote.  My favorites were the beet, endive and kumquat salad and perfectly cooked scallops. Her dishes are very rich and flavorful, and I particularly liked the dishes with contrasting and balancing flavors and textures. She uses acid and citrus very deftly to give a nice kick to her dishes. I also like the commitment local and organic ingredients, as I've seen her crates at the Santa Monica farmer's market. Our waitress was very good; one of the better services that I've had in a LA restaurant in awhile. She was attentive and friendly and gave good wine recommendations: a 2009 Luli Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia and a Holus Bolus Syrah from Santa Barbara. We sat at a table next to Will Ferrell who must be quite the wine aficionado; we also saw him last year at Pride Mountain in Napa doing wine tasting. Our booth was a little tight for five people and not really conducive to easy conversation or plate sharing; an actual table would have been better. I don't have many pictures of the food because it was extremely dark in the restaurant, so these are the only ones that came out:
Cheese plate L-R: ossau iraty (always a favorite), triple creme and goat cheese all from France
Nice accompaniments for the cheese plate
Speck, Apple, Arugula Salad
Red snapper over risotto. Hearty and comforting, reminds me of a dish I had in Madrid
Duck Confit over black rice. I quite liked the black rice
AOC Winebar
8022 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Clams Casino

Not arranged very well, but we were hungry and wanted to eat
I made this dish a week ago but never got around to posting the about it. The clams casino turned out really good and I want to make them again, so I figured I would post before I forgot how I made them. I started with Giada's recipe, subbing turkey bacon for regular bacon and using of some panko breadcrumbs mixed in with pecorino romano as the topping, and it turned out great: meaty and savory with a mix of flavors and textures and I liked the use of peppers for some freshness. It was relatively healthy too, with just a little bit of olive oil, versus many other recipes that use butter. The most difficult and time-consuming part was shucking all the clams; I couldn't figure out how to shuck them raw with my new oyster knife, so I just steamed them until they slightly opened, reserving any juice for the filling and adjusting the cooking time. I used manila clams that I had leftover from the previous night's meal, but in the future I would use larger clams.

Clams Casino
  • To prep: fine dice 2 strips of turkey bacon, 1 large red pepper (1 cup), 2 large shallots (1/3 cup), 3 garlic cloves
  • In a steamer, steam 2-3 lbs of clams until they just start to open (~5 mins) and then set aside to cool. When cool, reserve any clam juice in a separate bowl, strained, snap off the top shell and scrape the clam loose from the bottom shell
  • Saute over medium heat, 2 strips of minced turkey bacon in 1-2 TB of olive oil until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes
  • Remove the bacon to a separate plate and in the same pan, saute the peppers, shallots and garlic and 1/4 tsp of oregano for five minutes, until the peppers and shallots are soft
  • Add 1/3 cup of white wine and reserved clam juice, scraping the pan and simmer until the white wine is fully absorbed, 2 minutes
  • Turn off the heat, and stir in the cooked bacon and 2 TB of grated pecorino romano. Spoon the mixture onto the clams. Then mix together 2 TB of pecorino romano and 2 TB of panko breadcrumbs and top onto the clams
  • Bake on a large baking sheets lined with foil (crinkle the foil so that the clams can sit securely in the pan) at 500 degrees for 5 minutes until the top is nice and brown

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Easter Sunday Dinner

Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Leg of Lamb with Potatoes
Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
Smokey Tomato Orzo with Sugar Snap Peas and Asparagus and Fresh Basil and Chives
Lemon Thyme Bars
I made my first ever Easter dinner on Sunday and had to start with new recipes for inspiration since it was my first attempt (Thanks A for the guidance). I turned to Ina Garten for my appetizer and main course: smoked salmon deviled eggs and herb-roasted lamb, and Giada De Laurentiis for my side dish (although I altered the recipe significantly) and dessert: orzo with smokey tomato vinaigrette and spring vegetables and lemon thyme bars. Overall a very spring-y menu and I think that it was fairly successful. The smoked salmon deviled eggs were an interesting and tasty take on traditional deviled eggs, although they were a touch too salty, as smoked salmon and salmon roe are inherently so salty. In the future I would halve the amount of salt. The orzo and vegetable dish was really good and probably my favorite; I used fresh organic farmer's market snap peas and asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces and blanched them (3 mins for asparagus, 1 min for snap peas in boiling water that I then used for the orzo) and shocked them in ice water, so that they still retained a crisp texture and all their green flavor, and it was a nice match with the smoky tomato sauce, fresh herbs and orzo. The recipe as written would have been too bland without my addition of spring vegetables and a sprinkling of chives at the end. I will definitely be making this dish again all spring and summer long; it's fresh, light and flavorful. The lamb was just a little bit overcooked (as were the potatoes); I should have taken it out at 135 degrees, and the garlic and rosemary seasoning was really fragrant and savory where it was rubbed on, but I didn't put it on the bottom of the roast, so it was a little underseasoned on the bottom and middle. I should have salt and peppered it all over, even if I only put the rub on the top. The lemon thyme bars were pretty good; we like the contrast of sour and sweet with discernible notes of thyme and wasn't too buttery or heavy tasting with all the freshness from the lemon and herbs. I had difficulty getting it out of the pan once it was cooked, but it tasted good anyway. With only 4 people, we had plenty of leftovers, at least half of the lamb (which was 4lbs to begin with) and orzo and some lemon bars. We paired dinner with a 2005 Carlisle Russian River Valley Zinfandel from Pietro's Ranch. Unfortunately the Carlisle was a little dull; it didn't have the rich juicy and bold chewy flavors of the usual Carlisle Zins, even of the appellations, which I love.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday at the Getty Museum

Saturday was a perfect day to take in the beautiful scenery of the Getty Museum with my local sorority alumnae group. We met up for a guided garden tour of the grounds followed by lunch at the Restaurant at the Getty followed by a little bit of museum time and more strolling of the grounds. I highly recommend taking one of the several free guided tours offered by the museum; I'd been to the museum dozens of times, but never really slowed down enough to appreciate the many tiny details as well as overall conception of the spaces and resulting beauty. It was just lovely to pause and smell the proverbial roses. The tour only takes an hour but you learn and gain such a different perspective. Next time I visit, I definitely want to take the architecture tour.
We learned that the different kinds of cactus represent different neighboring communities around the Getty
 And lunch:
Cobb Salad with blue cheese, apples, bacon, cranberries. Gotta make this at home

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Little Bit of the 70's

Black straw hat from Madewell, organic cotton peasant top from H&M's "Conscious Collection," black Balenciaga velo bag, really old True Religion jeans and Swedish Hasbeens x H&M black wooden wedges.
I really like some of the major (and disparate) trends of this season, including floppy hats (the best SPF!), wedges, stripes, crossbody bags, colorblocking, prints, maxi skirts and dresses. Overall, breezy, comfortable and easy to wear. I have to say, it feels so comfortable to be wearing flared jeans again; there's just an easy freedom to them vs. the skinny jeans / jeggings / leggings style of the previous few seasons. I fell in love with a pair of flared jeans that I tried on at Bloomingdales the other day: Citizens of Humanity's Angie in Revival Wash. I love the fit, faded wash (which made them surprisingly slimming) and exaggerated flare, but at $230, I will have to pass for now. I haven't bought new jeans in years now, which is probably why the prices continually  shock me.
Photo from Nordstroms

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crispy Kale and Sausage Pizza

Sorry, my pizzas are ugly, but they taste good, I promise!
Inspired by this post at the and waning of kale season, I bought some kale from the Santa Monica Wednesday farmer's market (in addition to a bunch of other ingredients for my first ever Easter dinner this weekend), and made a crispy kale and chicken sausage pizza. Like in the post, I bought pizza dough from Whole Foods as it was an impromptu meal and I didn't have time to make my own dough. I thought the dough was pretty good: $2.99 and I used half for a pizza that served two people.

Crispy Kale and Sausage Pizza Recipe:
  • To make the crispy kale chips, heat the oven to 400 degrees, cut out the middle stems and tear half bunch of kale leaves into 1 inch square strips. Toss with a little olive oil and salt on a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove pan and set aside. Turn oven up to 500 degrees for the pizza
  • Meanwhile, slice 1/4 lb of mozzarella, slice 4 cloves of garlic, and strain 1 14.5 oz can of seasoned diced tomatoes (I used the organic Whole Foods 365 brand. I thought the seasoning was too strong; I would season it myself in the future for more of a fresher taste. Update: I made this pizza again with fresh tomatoes and it tasted much better
  • Saute over medium heat until done (~5 minutes) 1/3 lb of hot italian chicken sausage (1 link), breaking it into crumbles with a spoon
  • Stretch out the pizza dough and top with the tomatoes, garlic, sausage, and mozzarella cheese. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the crust is golden
  • Top with the crispy kale chips and slice and serve 
We drank our first rose of the season, a 2009 Rol Valentin Rose from St. Emilion, which was a recommendation from the K&L wine guy. Maybe because it was 2009 and past its peak but it was very bland and watery. I prefer my roses with a little more character and punch.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Swedish Hasbeens x H&M Release and Review (Updated!)

Black triple strap Swedish Hasbeens x H&M with organic Swedish Hasbeens tote
Update 5/5/11: the Fifth Avenue store next to Rockefeller Center still has plenty of sizes in the triple strap and lace-up clog styles, as well as a pair of the red sandals in a 39/8, located near the dressing rooms on 2nd or 3rd floor.

The Swedish Hasbeens and H&M collaboration was launched today in a very limited number of H&M stores (9 stores, 7 cities), far fewer stores than my beloved Lanvin x H&M collaboration. In Los Angeles, they were only released at the Beverly Center store. I had to go to Hollywood to K&L Wines to pick up a few bottles of wine that I ordered online anyway today, so I stopped by the Beverly Center to check out the collaboration launch. The shoes are handmade (according to the website) with real wood and real leather and regularly go for $250+, so at $59.99-$69.99, they were worth checking out. By the time I got there (2pm), many of the styles, including the white Mary Jane sandals that I really wanted, were gone. I suspect that everything will be mostly sold out by today since they released the shoes in so few stores. I wasn't expecting the shoes to go so fast as the collaboration didn't receive as much press as the Lanvin x H&M collection and plus it was released on a Wednesday, but I was wrong (again). I debated a long time between the gladiator-style white strappy wedges, tan strappy wedges and black strappy wedges, but ultimately went with the black strappy version for versatility between seasons and clothing style (see above for photo, excuse the yogawear). I think the black version is slightly edgier and dressier (and matches my new Balenciaga), but the white and nude versions are more summery and fit the boho 70's vibe of this season better. The lace-up clogs were also surprisingly cute on several people, but a woman before me grabbed the last one in my size and then it completely sold out while I was at the store. The black wedges aren't completely comfortable yet, particularly where the triple straps wrap, but I hope the leather breaks in with some wear (I will update this post with a fit review after a few wears). Supposedly, Swedish Hasbeens clogs are known for their comfort and durability. I am normally a size 6.5-7, mostly 7, and the size 37/6 fit perfectly. I was happy to see real fans of Swedish Hasbeens shopping the collection; while I was there another woman was wearing mainline Swedish Hasbeen clogs which she said were her favorite shoes ever. The clogs came with a cute organic Swedish Hasbeens / H&M tote bag. I'm actually glad there are only 3 different styles to prevent from going overboard, as with Lanvin x H&M where I bought way too many pieces of the collection, continually stalking the stores for more. Since I was already at H&M, I also picked up a couple of summery pieces from their "Conscious Collection," a collection of breezy organic / recycled pieces, including 70's style eyelet shorts and a blousey swiss dot and crochet peasant top

Update (4/23/11): K. was in Orange County on Saturday for Bootlegger's Brewery's 3rd Anniversary Party and kindly stopped by the H&M in South Coast Plaza to pick up a couple of pairs of Swedish Hasbeens x H&M shoes for me that were sold out at the Beverly Center location. He was able to get a pair of the white Mary Jane sandals that I really wanted in the first place in the right size (37/6) and a pair of the snakeskin pattern leather peep-toe lace-up clogs in one size up (38/7), although they didn't give him the tote bag unfortunately. Even though I regularly wear size 7 (as well as a European size 37; the H&M sizing is weird), the 38/7 is just too big for me and looks clunky so I'm probably going to return them. K. doesn't usually have much of an opinion on my fashion choices, but he's just not a fan of the snakeskin pattern leather look. It's too bad, because they are the most comfortable and so convenient to slip on and off (the total of 6 straps on the gladiator / strappy style are such a pain!). The mary jane style is also quite comfortable: doesn't feel like a high heel at all and feels very stable and easy to walk in. (update: I found a pair of the 37/6 at the Soho store in NYC fit perfectly that I will keep. I find that I wear the lace-up clog style the most since they are the most convenient and comfortable). As with all of the styles, the hard wooden sole takes some getting used to and may hurt the ball of the foot after a lot of walking around. Shoes worn with an H&M yellow and white striped knit 3/4 sleeve dress (perfect for Easter!) and an old H&M white hat.
White Swedish Hasbeens x H&M sandals
It's harder to tell from this angle, but it is definitely too big in the back (size 38/7). I've exchanged it for a smaller size that fits perfectly
Photos below of some of the Swedish Hasbeens collection from H&M website:
Red version is so cute; my mom bought a pair but I already have my fave Tom's red striped wedges

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hoppy Birthday Rich!

We were in La Jolla over the weekend to celebrate Rich's birthday in the only conceivable fashion: with lots of beer and a bit of scotch. His beer friends from San Diego brought over lots of interesting limited release bottles and he opened a couple from his stash as well (barely making a dent).

We started with some scotch / whisky. I'm not a scotch drinker; the burn and the peatiness is a bit much for me usually, but the Laphroaig 30 year was awesome: smooth, smoky and mellow. I guess I will just have to stick with really expensive really old scotch! It was purchased from an estate sale so who knows how old it really is. The Yoichi Single Malt was a little strong for me.
Moving on to the main event, the beer. A couple of beers did not make the family photo including a growler of the Alpine Hoppy Birthday and a growler of Redwood Curtain Black Forest Imperial Stout (no wonder I forgot the name) which was quite delicious. I didn't try all the stouts as they get too dense for me after a few and my palate goes numb. I'm still a beer newbie and lack the right vocabulary and sophistication of palate to do justice to the descriptions, so beer connoisseur friends, please feel free to add your thoughts on what we tasted that night!
One of everyone's favorites of the night (including me): Goose Island Bourbon County Rare, aged for 2 years in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels. It was syrupy smooth and deeply chocolatey
Troeg's Nugget Nectar, Captain Lawrence's Smoke from the Oak (in Rum barrels), Epic's Brainless on Peaches, Chris' belgian triple home brew. I really liked the Nugget Nectar, a very hoppy amber ale. Chris' belgian was also excellent, one of my favorite style beers (belgian triples)
Cigar City's Guava Grove (a guava saison, unfortunately I found this too tart so that the nice saison flavors I like got lost); Captain Lawrence's Smoke from the Oak (apple brandy barrels), FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout, growler of Founder's Black Biscuit.
Ithaca Excelsior Le Bleu (a lot of people liked this, not me; all I tasted was sour), Surly's Smoke Lager, Central Water's Bourbon Barrel Stout and Peruvian Morning, Williamsburg Alewerk's Cafe Royale
Upland Brewery's Blueberry Lambic (I liked this one because it wasn't too sour, others said it was phenolic but I couldn't tell); Jackie O's Cellar Cuvee 4 Strong Ale, Firestone Walker XII Anniversary Strong Ale, Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru Lambic
New Glarus Unplugged Cran-bic, Alpine's GREAT Barleywine (I really like barleywine and this one in particular; has the taste and mouthfeel of sherry with some caramely flavors), Sierra Nevada's Organic Estate IPA (refreshingly drinkable)
Some of Rich's prized stash

Sprinkles Cupcakes for all
Happy Birthday Rich! It was fun celebrating with you and your buddies.


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