Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bouchon Beverly Hills

First accidental DineLA meal of this year happened at Bouchon.

I had an afternoon to spend in Beverly Hills so I started thinking about my lunch options. I'm embarrassed to say, Bouchon didn't even occur to me until I was turned down by Spago, and I found out Scarpetta was closed for a filming. I will never make such a mistake again. Bouchon is now first on my list for someplace close by Rodeo Drive. The restaurant was ridiculously busy, but the bustling atmosphere made it feel even more like a brasserie in Paris. I could not have been more content that day, eating alone at the zinc bar, pretending I was spending a day in Paris.

This was actually my first time at any Bouchon and my first time eating at a Thomas Keller institution. I was beyond impressed. That should've been no surprise. Every dish was flawless. Even the salad was the most flavorful, yet simple, salad I've ever had. The croque madame was orgasmic (and I really try to shy away from the word when describing food). The chocolate bouchons could not have been a more satisfying end to the meal.

235 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
tel: 310-271-9910

The warm pain d'epi that they bring out is baked fresh every day in the Bouchon kitchen. It is, by far, the best bread I've had in LA so far with a crusty exterior and a chewy interior. The soft butter that comes with the bread was also amazing. I'm embarrassed to say how much of the butter I consumed by myself. The bartender told me she often sneaks pieces of warm bread in the kitchen. I'm jealous.

Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud
mixed greens with red wine vinaigrette, warm goat cheese croûton & herbes de Provence

This salad was so flavorful, I'm still in shock. There were plenty of herbs and chopped shallots in the vinaigrette and the warm goat cheese provided the perfect creamy touch. Loved it--and I don't usually get excited about salads.

Croque Madame
grilled ham & cheese sandwich on broiche, fried egg & mornay sauce, served with French fries

Ah the pièce de résistance. The sweet, buttery brioche, the juicy, pink ham, and the nutty gruyère carefully stacked to create an awe-inspiring tower of decadence topped with a picture-perfect fried egg and a generous drizzle of creamy mornay sauce. This was the best croque madame I've ever had, and I've had quite a few during my time in Paris. The fluffy brioche was beautifully browned in butter, and the ham had a mouthwatering cured flavor. Not to mention, it was accompanied by a glorious mound of crispy fries.

Valrhona chocolate brownies with chocolate sauce & vanilla ice cream [$2 supplement]

Just plain delicious. Warm and chocolaty, dessert doesn't get any better than this.

The DineLA deal is a real steal. If you haven't been to Bouchon yet, GO! This is definitely my new favorite spot for French food in LA. I just can't believe I waited this long to try it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aburiya Toranoko

On Monday night, Kevin invited me to join him at his table for a "friends and family" dinner at Toranoko, the new Michael Cardenas venture downtown. With it's first official night of business being this Wednesday, we all got a little preview of the rustic, Japanese menu. Toranoko is situated next to another Cardenas establishment--the successful Lazy Ox Canteen. Although their offerings are very different, with Toranoko offering "down home, 'real' Japanese cuisine," I still find it pretty gutsy of him to open them right next door to each other.

We were told we should try to eat and sample the entire menu. That night, I learned that even with a limitless amount of delicious food before me, my stomach is only so big. The menu is so extensive, I was a little overwhelmed when reading it at the restaurant. It was only afterwards that I realized we missed a lot of dishes I would've liked to try. There just wasn't any room left in my stomach!

Aburiya Toranoko
243 South San Pedro St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
tel: 213-621-9500

An awesome mural covers one of the brick walls in the space. The vibe is casual, and at times a little lounge-y.

The sushi bar is located at the back of the restaurant. That's where I want to sit next time. We ordered the daily specials and they were all very fresh. I can't remember the names of the other ones, but the fresh water eel was particularly memorable. There was some sort of citrusy spicy on it that made it a little different than your average unagi.

The bar is manned by Curtis, who calls himself not only a mixologist, but also a wine lover and sake geek.

I asked for a girly drink, and a girly drink was what I got. Sweet and fruity, the only thing noteworthy about this Tangerine martini was the fact that it was hand-blended with an immersion blender.

I got a little taste of white wine sangria that sits behind the bar. There was a little twist to the sangria, with Asian pear instead of apples. If only the Asian pear was more apparent...

The bar had a pretty awesome lighted design. From what I heard, it's a picture of a tattoo? Not sure, but it definitely looks cool.

The menu is catagorized into different sections: vegetable, seafood, beef/pork/poultry, sumiyaki, oden, rice/noodle/soup, and sushi/rolls. That's how I've organized everything we ate on here.


Toranoko french mountain potato fries with plum aioli

Crunchy sticks. The aioli was good though.

New Union farms sizzling mushroom with red cheddar cheese tobanyaki

My favorite dish of the night! It tasted of butter and ponzu and I guess I have to say, "umami." I'm not sure the order we got had the cheese on it, or if it did, I didn't get any of it but I imagine it would work well with the flavors.

Takana croquette of mashed potato and mustard leaf

Upon the first bite, it just tasted like a generic fried ball of potatoes. However, I later noticed little bits of crunchy mustard leaf inside which I enjoyed.


Yanagita seafarms uni goma tofu

I was slightly disappointed by this. The uni was barely present and the tofu was a little too firm for me.

White fish sashimi with pomegranate

This was the first dish that came out, and I really enjoyed it. The little pops of tanginess from the pomegranate seeds were a very interesting addition to the fish.

Baby tiger shrimp tempura with curry aioli

Even though the shrimp were overcooked, I could still taste the sweetness in them. Just a little less time in the fryer! I really enjoyed the curry aioli though.


Colorado black pork kakuni braised

This was a homey dish with very familiar flavors of soy and dashi. It tasted like something I would make in my own kitchen. The braised daikon and the pork were very flavorful.

Pork and vegetable okonomiyaki pancake

Very good, this savory pancake was like a takoyaki without the octopus.

Jidori Fried chicken with orshi sesame

The chicken was juicy and flavorful and the batter was delightfully crispy.


The sumiyaki section of the menu featured lots of different grilled meats and vegetables on skewers.

Tsukune meatballs

Basically a giant meatball on a stick, it was heavily seasoned but tempered by the egg yolk we were instructed to pour on top.


Heart on a stick! Definitely my favorite skewer of the night.

Negima chicken and green onions

The chicken was very juicy, but I didn't try a piece of green onion.


Crispy skin! Really, what could be better?

Tender beef

Not so tender.

Cherry tomato in bacon

First you bite into the salty bacon and then you get a sweet, acidic burst of juice from the blistered cherry tomato. Basically a flavor bomb.


Kinoko zosui porridge of rice and egg

Again, a very familiar dish for me. Silky smooth egg with rice in a clear broth.

Sauce yakisoba with beef

Definitely saucy!



So surprisingly good. I think this may be the one dish I was still thinking about the next morning. We all thought a vegetable roll would be boring but this was the most exciting and flavorful vegetable roll I've ever had. I loved the freshness and crunchiness of the daikon skin. Thank you Josie for ordering it!

Green tea pudding

I found the dessert a little too sweet and not delicate enough to be associated with anything Japanese, but still a nice sweet end to the meal.

There are a few dishes that I didn't get a decent picture of but are worth mentioning. The house made shiokara marinated intestines were difficult for some to enjoy, but I really liked the fishiness and chewy texture. The natto kinchaku under the sumiyaki section is my favorite preparation of natto to date. It still had that distinctive smell and stringy gooeyness, but it was wrapped in some bean curd before being grilled. There was a welcome smokiness to it.

Chef/Partner Hisa Kawabe and General Manager Tommy Tomioka. Both are veterans of the Nobu Matsuhisa empire. Thanks for taking care of us!

P.S. Thank you, Ryan, for lighting my pictures :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Simple Roasted Chicken

One Tuesday night, I accidentally took a two hour nap. I woke up at 9:30PM with an urge to go grocery shopping. Not very good at resisting my food-related urges, I walked into Ralph's at 10:00PM and bought myself a nice organic, free-range chicken. This is why I roasted a chicken on a random Thursday night.

This is the second time I've roasted a chicken using this procedure. The last time I did it was for Thanksgiving. Both times were a success, so I can confidently say, this is a foolproof method. Basically, watch this Thomas Keller video, follow it, and you'll have a delicious, perfectly-cooked chicken that is juicy and flavorful with a golden, crispy skin.

Here are some key points:

1. Pick out a 2-3 pound bird. The smaller ones taste better.

3. Rinse the chicken. Exfoliate the skin with salt if you have too much time on your hands. It's not really necessary but you do end up with taunt, beautiful looking chicken skin. Pat the chicken try with paper towels.

4. Salt the chicken inside and out. Leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight. Thomas Keller doesn't do this step, but I feel like it makes the meat more flavorful.

5. Before roasting, make sure the bird is REALLY dry. This helps the skin crisp up and ensures the bird is roasting rather than steaming.

6. Stuff the chicken with cloves of garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Sprinkle coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper on the skin. You should be able to see the the coarse salt on the skin even after it's roasted.

7. Truss the chicken! Sounds complicated but it really isn't, and it's an important step in getting the chicken to cook evenly. If you're unsure of how to truss a chicken, there are plenty of YouTube videos to watch. That's how I learned.

8. Roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 50-60 minutes. Don't disturb the chicken! No flipping, no basting, maybe just rotate the pan once halfway through.

9. Carve the chicken and eat breast, thighs, etc. and eat civilly with knife and fork. Then, as a late night snack, attack the carcass with you bare hands and get all the good meat between the bones. Don't miss the chicken "oysters"--they're the best part.


Sunday, January 16, 2011



Who: Chef Craig Thornton (Wolvesmouth) and 12 potential strangers
What: Underground Dining with an ever-changing seasonal menu
When: Saturday, January 15, 2011 (first of the new year, but these dinners happen about twice a month)
Where: secret location (I'll be honest, I'm still not entirely sure where it was, just that it was in a spacious loft)
Why: because I'm a lucky girl (it's invite only but here's how to get on the list)

The menu for the night.

squash, cotija, crema, nopales, white onion

The first thing I noticed in the kitchen was the bright orange pot of soup on the stove. Craig kept raving about how sweet the butternut squash was. "I only added water, salt, and butter!" he kept emphasizing. Multiple spoons kept dipping in the pot as he offered tastes to those standing close enough. Finally, we sat down at a long table for 12 and this first course arrived. It was not only remarkably sweet, but also incredibly rich--almost too rich for me. From the size of this course, I knew the portions weren't going to be shy that night.

crab, malt vinegar "sabayon," old bay profiterole, mustard mizuna

Sometimes, when a dish is so gorgeously plated, I get a little trigger-happy and can't stop taking pictures even when I already have multiple good shots. This was one of those dishes. Everything on the plate was put on there to help one another. The sweet delicate meat of the Dungeness crab was delicious on its own, but with the light airy profiteroles filled with an equally delicate, light, acidic sabayon it was something else. The wisps of baby mizuna added yet another layer of textures and looked so elegant on top of the abundance of crab meat tossed with chives. Craig later described it as a very "feminine" dish, which I guess explains why I was so taken with it.

John Dory shard, sweet sour shallot

This was the only dish of the night that didn't really stand out to me. The fish was a little too firm and unremarkable when compared to what came before and after it.

snails, wild mushrooms, black walnut, crouton, pine

With an assortment of mushrooms (including blue foot and fresh chanterelle) and escargot, this was a very earthy dish. Of course the funkiness of the shrooms really got along with the snail, so the most surprising element of this dish was the drizzle of maple syrup. I've never had a sweet preparation of escargot, but this was remarkable--almost like an escargot french toast when you drag the buttery crouton through the syrup and eat it with the snail. So surprisingly good. When I asked Craig how he ever came up with such a idea, this was roughly his train of thought "snails --> earth --> mushrooms --> forest --> trees --> syrup." Crazy.

squid, 38 day dry aged steak tartar, creamed kimchi, Asian pear

The steak was quickly seared at a super high heat so that it was still rare in the middle before it was diced up into tartar. Interesting idea, but it actually reminded me a bit of leftover, chopped up steak. However, the creamed kimchi was a revelation. The usual fermented acidity and spiciness of the kimchi was tempered by heavy cream, which mellowed it out and gave it a kind of sweetness. Eaten with the kimchi, the smokiness of the charred meat really came out. The balls of Asian pear and the cute little squid were also welcome additions, but really, I just couldn't get over how good the kimchi was.

verjus, yuzu ice

Nice little palate cleanser. Sweet and sour, it would've been perfect with some vodka. Just saying.

veal tongue dumpling, trotter bacon relish

This dish really reminded me of my childhood. The pig trotter relish was made with black vinegar--a flavor that I immediately associate with dumplings. There was some five spice going on somewhere between the rich, chewy-skinned dumpling and the gelatinous, porky relish that really honed in on the Chinese flavors. Craig mentioned that he had to soak the pig's feet in water for like four days or something crazy like that to draw out the impurities, and he steamed the dumplings before boiling them to achieve the perfect texture in the skins. Sounds meticulous, but the end result really was absolutely delicious. I just wish I had more than one dumpling in that bowl.

roasted chicken home style, glazed carrot

This was intended to be a simple dish, something that Craig cooks for himself and something that anyone could recreate in their own kitchen. The chicken was roasted very simply with salt, the skin removed as the bird was resting to crisp up individually in the oven, and the white and dark meat were both then tossed in the reduced pan juices. I was not particularly taken with this dish because it really was quite simple and quite honestly, a little salty for me. I loved the accompanying carrots though--sweet and almost slightly nutty in flavor.

french toast ice cream

Basically puréed french toast in ice cream form. Rich, creamy, and the definition of decadent.

chocolate panna cotta, chestnut purée, coffee shortbread, pear ice, coffee meringue, warm pear

Almost looks like an abstract work of art, but even better because it's edible. I love that we've been getting generous portions, but this was a little much for me. I'm not a big fan of the chocolate and pear combination but there were certainly a myriad of textures in this dessert to keep one's attention.

At the end of the meal, red envelopes were passed around (how Chinese!) and the guests get to determine for themselves how much they valued the meal. A concept that only adds to the appeal and allure of a Wolvesden meal.

Strictly BYOB, Darin of Darin Dines picked out some very nice beers for us to bring. He figured correctly that everyone else would be bringing wines.

I think it's important to note that it wasn't only the food that night that was a satisfying and rare treat. Only good things can come out of eating with 11 other people who also REALLY enjoy good food. One couple actually drove all the way from Fresno (what are the chances?) just to eat this meal. Our dinner conversations ranged from deciding on an accurate description for the taste and texture of frogs' legs to the best steak tartar in L.A. Of course, as each course arrived there was also an enjoyable discussion of what was on the plate before us. This is what I live for.

After dinner, Craig came over and had a nice conversation with us. He explained his desire to remain within one cuisine for each dish whether it be Korean, Mexican, Japanese, etc. Although his menu is by no means focused on one particular cuisine, each dish remains within the constraints of one. I loved this concept. There are reasons why some flavors are consistently used together in a cuisine--they just go well together. When you go and throw wasabi on a dumpling with a side of salsa for example, it's just weird.

By the end of the meal, there was really only one word in my mind. Respect. I don't understand how Craig is able to pull this off. He does two dinner a month, not including private dinners, and never makes the same dish twice. The man shops for the ingredients, plans out the menus, does all the prep work, and manages all the cooking for over 10 courses for 12 people using only a 4 burner cooktop and an oven that's smaller than the one in my apartment. To me, that's magic.

p.s. this was my first time using my new Canon DSLR with my new 50mm f1.8 greatly appreciated!