27 July 2007

Tasca, A Review

I put the best thing I've ever had in my mouth last night...and it WAS in fact food (I always knew it would be).

Of course that lead in has you gripping the edge of your seat (especially if you are my father) but alas, like a good journalist, I will make you wait for the payoff--as I in fact did.

A few months ago this very cute, albeit way too-cool-guy gave me his card saying that he is a chef at Tasca, a tapas bar. His name is Nano Crespo, and once I got passed the name (and the sunglass wearing inside the building) I put the card in my wallet and thought I would visit when I had some time.

What with all of the restaurant openings in Los Angeles, I've gone broke and gained 13 pounds--so Tasca was down far on the list. (Coincidentally, I met Tiffany from Top Chef and she said she was heading over to Craft for dinner last night). But my friend CH invited me to dinner, and I never turn down a free glass of wine.

We sat in the very tiny space (it's soooo Spain that way) and met the owner right off of the bat. She's young, yields a light accent from somewhere outside of Los Angeles and is very nice; in fact the whole staff is very nice.

We started with the Brandade, which is salt cod, reconstituted and mixed with a thickener (in this case mashed potatoes) and made into a dip. It was fair. My dining partner was immediately turned off as it looked like "hairy mashed potatoes" and tasted like "kitty food". It is authentic, it's true.

The owner sent an amuse of truffle potato chips that were very good; highly scented with truffle but lightly flavored. That is the wondrous thing about truffles, they speak more to your nose than your palate; it is confusing enough to the brain that you only think you are tasting what you are smelling, but if you taste very carefully you will see the flavor has little to do with the smell.

Next we had the potatoes stewed with chorizo, another classic Spanish dish. Chorizo is one of my favorite meats of all time, and this chorizo was no exception. The menu claimed to braise the meat and potatoes in Sherry, but I didn't taste any here. What I did taste were exploding flavors of very fresh, piquant paprika and smolderingly earthy, cumin. The flavors were phenomenal. These are two flavors that die in our kitchen cabinets in the United States, as our paprika is weak and our cumin stale. Preserved in the chorizo it held its flavor from table to mouth. What I didn't taste were the potatoes as they were so starchy they didn't want to stay on the fork. I would suggest using small yellow potatoes with the skins on or making crispy potatoes out of the russets they are using in the dish.

But alas we are to the finale and what a finale it was. I'm no sucker for things like, "vanilla scented" or "red wine and demi glace braised"; in fact I'm jaded from all of the bad "vanilla scented" sauces I've experienced outside of a pastry or dessert. THIS is the "vanilla scented" to kick all of the other "vanilla scented" sauces out of the water.

I'll leave it up to the waiter to explain; "Red wine and Demi Glace Braised Short Ribs with Butternut Squash Ravioli and Vanilla Scented Cream Sauce." I almost didn't order it because it is THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER. But my dining partner had stopped by earlier in the evening and smelled the short ribs a braisin'; so she asked to have them included in our tasting.

I’m glad she did otherwise I would have left the restaurant less than enthusiastic. I probably would have written this review like Frank Bruni wrote about Harold’s restaurant last week..."eh, ‘tis okay." But now I can boast that the most perfect dish I've eaten was consumed at a little unassuming wine bar that only recently got its license.

The first bite is always the best, and I'm glad to have savored it like a chocolate truffle. I cut a ravioli in half, scooped some short rib on top and laid it on my tongue. It melted right then and there and I went with it. Forget about the sunglasses inside, this guy is my new crush! It's like he knew that I, personally had been offended by so many "vanilla scented" sauces that he sat out to make one that I would approve of. And approve I do.

I think I'm in love...with the meal of course.


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25 July 2007

The Simpsons Movie Premiere

So I know people who know people. I don't actually know people myself. Except for the people I know, and then I know those people. But these people I don't know personally, I know people they know personally.

That being explained, I went to the Simpson's Movie Premiere last night and it was a lot of fun. Lot's of "B"-list-ers sitting all around, young hipsters, and old grumpy execs that were pissed that they were sitting in tiny seats with the rest of us hoodlums in the back of the theater. It was hard at times to hear the movie for the broken egos falling to the floor.

I walked the red (yellow in this case) carpet. People looked at me like, "Who is that? She looks familiar..." (It's because I am blond and thin and look like everyone else in LA. But the natural nose and small-ish boobs give me away every time..."oh she's nobody.")

I sat in the hellishly small seats and waved at people I thought I knew, turns out they were childhood stars and hipster-friend look-a-likes. I do that a lot in fact. I say "hi" to people I think I know, turns out they were on my favorite show or movie when I was a child. It's so embarrassing. There was stale popcorn (free, how generous) and extra small sodas (also free) which made me laugh because it just seemed ridiculous to have a party for Hollywood and for there to be NO WATER. My favorite part of the whole night (besides two other favorite parts that I will get to) was the cell phone debacle. It said very clearly on the invitation, "NO CELL PHONES ALLOWED" for fear of pirating the movie. It couldn't have been clearer. But everyone in Hollywood thinks they are above the law, and there was a line for miles of idiot execs that had to pick up their cell phones from the valet after the movie.

The movie started just on time, an hour and a half late. The movie itself was a lot of fun. Again, this isn't a kids show--just because it is animated doesn't automatically mean it is for children. Just like Hanna Montana is not for adults you sickos. I cracked up at the really inappropriate parts (jokes about black being the worst color)...and seemed to be the only one laughing. The jokes that really got the crowd were the old-school, Homor-esque (as in Simpson, bien sur) hilarity that always gets that animated man into trouble. Bart was sweeter than I remember him. Lisa catches a break, and Maggie saves the day. Flanders has a big role...and so does Jesus. There are jabs at religion, intolerance, and political figures and the EPA that make the Simpson's legitimate.

Moving on to the after party.

The food was crap. The party was fun though. I was introduced to the man himself, Matt Groening (he is who the people I know, know-geddit?) and his good friend Gail Zappa. I met his gf with the same name. And then we sat down waiting for him to come to the table. He never made it. Rather we ate pink doughnuts and drank Duff beer (Tecate) and watched the shortest men in Hollywood vye for Matt's attention. Women were flirting. Dogs were bowing to a man that probably 10 years ago couldn't get a date. Ahhh...that's Hollywood for you.

I sat and talked to one very kind Gail Zappa the whole night, trying my best to figure out if her Zappa was THE Zappa (yes). She tried to find her daughter Diva Thin Muffin to introduce us--seems we are the same age. Then my companion CP wanted to go see the dance floor on our way out. As I told her under no uncertain terms was I going to dance with the 12, drunken men that were on the floor writhing as though they were in a movie themselves; she turned on a dime straight into a man that looked oh so familiar, "you look like someone I know...."

"I'm Larry Birkhead."



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24 July 2007

Foodie Fashion: Lessons from Top Chef

Remember last season of "Top Chef," where Padma Lakshmi's stunning good looks were often overshadowed by her blindingly tacky and inappropriate outfits? From Victoria's Secret clearance-bin satin camisoles to booty shorts and undershirts, Padma had it (un)covered. Christ, it was bad. I wondered if being a fashion model had rendered her incapable of choosing clothes when left to her own devices, or if she was the victim of a particularly vengeful Bravo wardrobe mistress.

Padma's only foolproof outfit?

Whatever the answer, the problem has been very nicely remedied this season (thank god--I couldn't enjoy the cooking and drama as much when Padma's ensemble was making me shield my eyes and whimper). Either Padma or the wardrobe lady has stopped drinking to excess, and has instead come out this season with some flattering, fashionable and even subtle (!) getups for ole P-Lak. Nore more shiny ruffled cleaveage-baring rags! No more workoutwear! Instead, neat little tailored tops and pencil skirts...lovely dresses...and even a hip little pair of skinny taupe jeans with buttons at the ankle, worn with a loose white tank and navy men's vest. This may be my favorite (it's also bascially what I wear every other day, though surely plus a few hundred dollars retail value). Huzzah! My "Top Chef" viewing companions can now watch in peace, instead of listening to my shrieking about clothing the whole time.

Well...I still shriek a little. Have you SEEN what those contestants wear under their chef's whites?!? Casey (the Jennifer Aniston lookalike) generally looks like an American Eagle Outfitters ad, which, compared to her colleagues, practically makes her Kate Moss. Last episode Lia, I believe, was called in because of her poor-quality dish--and no one mentioned the unspeakable quality of the sarong/pants/tie-dyed monstrosity she was passing off as pants below her white jacket. The appetite this show generates in me was GONE as soon as I saw those...things. EW. And let's not forget the questionable tee shirts worn by many a male chef on past and present seasons. The worst offender may have been Sam, who had that horrible shirt that he wore like evvvvvery day that said something really lame on it...okay, I don't remember, but it was really bad and he thought it was badass. I could go on and on, but the point is that chefs do not seem to get enough hours outside of the kitchen to see what real people actually wear. Hint: NOT SARONG PANTS.

So we now have as this a given: The only chef types who can dress genuinely stylishly that I know of are Padma (now) and the lovely .:tt:., who causes much envy on my part with her flawless collection of Blahnik, Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, et. al. Based on that data, our deep and meaninful conclusion for today is: Chefs can't dress, unless they started their careers as international fashion models. Can't, uh, bake your cake and wear it too.

> r r <

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19 July 2007

Algabar, A Tasting

There is a new tea house in town, Algabar Home and Life. It is one of the most beautiful places you will step your two little pieds. It is co-owned by my friend Gail Baral and her business partner Robb Wain, and is truly a classy place.

Gail knows her tea after having traveled to China and Japan on many occasions, she makes the best cup of tea I've ever had. If you stop by the shop, she will ask you a few questions and brew a special cup just for you while you browse. If you have tea questions (does it have caffiene, brewing temperatures, or even recipes for tea cocktails) she will be happy to oblige.

I attended the first tasting that was held at her store jointly with (alas!) my favorite preserver/chocolate canner/syrup making purveyor, Robert Lambert. The food was exquisite, composed by chef Crispin Kitto and menu designed by Kim. The event was just lovely, and everyone involved is quite talented.

I have been working with an importer to develop recipes with her products and the product that I have included in almost every recipe is, of course, Roberts. Today I offer my favorite recipe thus far.

Brioche French Toast with Blood Orange Glazed Foie Gras

1 whole Cardamom Pod
1 Egg
2 T Cream
2-3 Slices of day old Brioche, 1" thick
10 oz Foie Gras, sliced into scaloppini’s (1/4" slices)
Robert Lambert Blood Orange Syrup
Mascarpone, whipped (optional)
glazed with a little bit of the Blood Orange Syrup
Butter for frying

- Beat the egg with the cream and then grate 1/4 tsp of the cardamom
into the mixture. Pour in 1 T of Robert Lambert Syrup and set aside.

In a hot sauté pan, melt some butter and caramelize each piece of foie gras on
both sides.

- While the foie gras is caramelizing, heat another
sauté pan to medium high heat. Once it is hot, place some butter in the pan and
dredge the brioche through the egg mixture. Cook the pieces of bread on medium
high heat until caramelized on both sides.

- While the brioche is cooking, pour in Robert Lambert's Blood Orange syrup (enough to cover one side of all of the pieces of foie gras) and glaze the scaloppini’s for 30 seconds.

- Plate the french toast and place the foie gras pieces on top. Dust
with a little powdered sugar and serve with a dollop of whipped mascarpone
and raspberries tossed with a little of the syrup.

This is not low fat. In fact if you have heart issues, this is the dish that will stop the blood flow. This is the dish to eat before you fast. I would like to think Gandhi ate a plate of this stuff before he stopped eating. I would like to think it but am sure he didn't as Gandhi would never eat foie gras.

This is the meal I would request at my hanging.

If I could only eat once a month, this is the dish I would eat.

If I had to come back as a meal, this is the meal I would come back as.

Please eat responsibly (like perhaps with a glass of champagne).


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18 July 2007

5% Celery Granola

I was checking through blogpatrol.com and noticed several links to 5% Celery from an archive in Chocolate & Zucchini. Upon further investigation, it seems my cohort has given away our secret recipe for our granola. Since that part was given up, I thought it would be kind and generous to give up the rest of it. Now, there are measurements written somewhere, but I am a professional chef, and I cook according to taste. I do not have the exact measurements, so do me a favor--play a little. Put a little of this and a little of that...if it tasts good before it is baked, then it will taste amazing after it has been. Also, know that it will be less sweet once baked, so if you find it pleasingly sweetened before, you might find it a bit less so out of the oven.

5% Celery Granola:
2 C Oats
1/2 C Pepitas (salted is fabulous)
1/2 C Sunflower Seeds
1/2 C Almond Slivers
1/2 C Dried Currants
1/2 C Dried Cramberries
1/4 C Flax Seeds
1/4 C Melted Butter
1/4-1/2 C Agave
1/4-1/2 C Honey
2 tsp Vanilla Paste or 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
pinch of salt

Preheat Oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with a Silpat.
Melt the butter and add in the honey, agave, salt, and vanilla. Mix well and put aside to cool.
Take the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds and pepitas and put in a large bowl. Pour cooled butter and agave mixture over and mix well.
Put on baking sheet and spread out evenly. Bake for 15 minutes and take out and mix the edges toward the center and mix in the currants and cranberries and put back into oven and bake until it is golden brown.
Once cool mix in flax seeds and enjoy in a smoothie, with milk or on a hike in Colorado where the real "granola girls" roam.

.:tt:. and >rr<

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17 July 2007


I've been getting requests for a more in-depth lecture on the "fringe-y Arabic-y scarf things" I mentioned as being so popular with the youngsters in London and New York. Turns out they're called "keffiyehs" and are "generally white, square, cotton cloths that are wrapped around the head in various styles, but many have a checkered pattern in red or black stitched into them. The black and white checkered style became especially well-known during the 1930’s as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, and continues to be associated with Palestinian political sympathies." Observe:
Let it be stated here and now that I predict the imminent arrival and subsequent overuse of the keffiyeh in the L.A. scene (not that I'd mind; I think they look kind of neat). Hey, if Colin Farrell's doing it, LiLo can't be far behind....

I would go into the cultural and social implications and questions raised by the use of a religious garment as a fad, but this post on the (CRIT) design blog does it for me. Personally, I don't find it offensive to use something that's traditionally religious, if it's not used offensively. I.e., if wearing the keffiyeh is saying only "these scarves are like so rad" or even "I support Palestine," in no way is that negative. So my own personal panties are by no means in a twist over this one. But remember how my store decided it was too controversial to sell them? Apparently, Urban Outfitters ran into the same problem. Interesting.

> r r <

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15 July 2007


Oh those Asians. They slay me...

click the picture for the story.


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10 July 2007

Quote of the Day

Overheard at my fashion school bookstore. Two 18-ish girls in very high heels, to another one:

"We gotta go--our new furniture is being delivered to the apartment."
"Oh exciting!!! Did you really get the leopard sofas?!?"
"You KNOW we got the leopard sofas."

Now you know, too.

> r r <


The RR Report: London & Paris

Oh gosh, gee whiz, after plowing through my buildup of e-mails from my past 10 days in Europe, I'm afraid of how coherent I'll be (or not) here...but still, the show must go on, non?

I was expecting to go to London and be bowled over by everyone's sheer coolness (see: Ms K. Moss). I even *almost* went as far as to purchase a way avant-garde strapless silk jumpsuit for the trip, just as an attempt to compete on UK sidewalks (sadly, despite the jumpsuit's being the last of its kind in the store where I worked and my never having requested a big discount before, my boss refused to give me any extra % off and I couldn't afford the thing. I was so annoyed; it had been too long for Monica Keena but looked most excellent on me since I have a good six inches on ole Monica). BUT! BUT! It turned out that it was money well un-spent: while your average hip kid on the street did look much more put-together and sharp than your average American shlub, I found soon that their getups were awfully cookie-cutter. Skinny jeans--REALLY skinny--, big hi-tops, raggy tops...eh, too unremarkable to remember more details. The less sharp ladies were often decked out in painfully bright colors (my boyfriend remarked on the incredible frequency of hot pink), the ever-horrifying tracksuits, Hot-Topic-esque accessories and loads of makeup. The guys fared a bit better--the cool ones in their slim jeans and scarves are pretty decent--but the chavs are just as unfortunate as their big-shorts-&-caps-wearing allies over here. Then there were your most forgettable folk, those many passersby who seemed to have zero understanding of their own body shapes and what might be flattering. Or NOT. God, so many too-tight tops and ugly capri pants. Ughhhh. Oh right, before I forget, the one big trend I noticed was those raggedy fringed Arabic-y neck scarves. EVERYone and his kid sister wore them. My boss came back a few months ago reporting that all the overseas hipsters were rocking the scarves, which apparently have by now hit New York. They have yet to really make waves in L.A., save for a few visionaries, but I do know they were pulled from my store for fear of being "too controversial."

PARIS: STYLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What can I say? Every time I'm in France, I'm basically entranced every time I walk down the street. It seems as though everyone, from teensy kids in leather sandals to very old ladies, is gorgeous. It's not that everyone is literally shockingly physically attractive--though they're certainly far above average as a nation, lucky willow-framed jerks--but more that they all seem to naturally embody an easy, effortless grace and, well, chic. Seeing these flocks of girls in their slim-but-not-skinny jeans, sheer wrinkled tops, soft blazers, ballet flats (very few heels in sight), and Charlotte-Gainsbourg-like long flyaway hair made the carefully constructed, colored and laquered hipsters of London seem instantly paint-by-numbers. And the boys were all perfect in their slim slouchy trousers, tennis shoes, cardigans and jackets. But not in an artful way--no, just as if they were born knowing that corduroys go with twill and jeans go with cardigans, and shorts aren't even acceptable topics for consideration. Oh, and the old people! The most stylish, adorable old men and ladies. When they carry baguettes wrapped in paper, I can hardly stand it. Anyway, after all this, I couldn't help but pick up a wonderful Marni top (Italian designers are cheaper in Europe, plus it was sale season!) before I left.

I took this photo set in the Musee d'Orsay, to epitomize the difference between your average French girl, not trying to look cool, and your average British tourist girl, not (I hope) trying to look cool:

Myabe I should've just put those two pictures and left out the whole gabby description. You can see what I'm saying here.

So yes--while London is lovely, and I ate some terrific meals and saw some fantastic theatre (Gorky's "Philistines" was especially memorable), Paris is paradise, where everyone is beautiful without Vuitton or facepaint, and all the coffee is good, and the phone books have listings like these:

> r r <

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08 July 2007

Meme, Meme, Meme...

We were tagged. THIS apparently is a good thing. We are not rude at 5%Celery, in fact we are quite generous--but this was a little bit difficult to bring ourselves to participate in. I mean, we love the free advertisement it brought (thanks Foodette!) and it's not like we don't like talking about ourselves. So we decided to participate like the gracious hosts we are. So with no further ado, the seven things we most would like you to know are:

1) .:tt:. was scolded as a child for being too thin. It was proposed that she was anorexic. She finally confessed one day it is because her mother was a bad cook. It turns out a lot of chefs learned to cook because their mothers couldn't.

2) >rr< has a serious case of chef wannabe-ism. She devours (ha, ha) all those chef-memoir-&-recipe books (see: Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, et al), keeps mental to-do lists composed entirely of restaurants to go to, and feels like a bad person because she only actually cooks a few days a week. However, while >rr< is only a wannabe in the food department (perhaps because her mother and stepmother are actually quite talented cooks), .:tt:. is not only a real chef but also a total pro when it comes to looking permanently stylin'.

3) .:tt:. is (usually) single (depends on who's asking) and >rr< is not, and can barely remember having ever been.

4) >rr< got her start in fashion by cutting up thrift-store tee shirts, reconstructing them and selling them on the internet. True story.

5) 5% Celery really did start over several margaritas and a lively conversation with friends about how the world needs less celery...it's true. And yes, our conversations are ALWAYS that deep.

6) If on a deserted island .:tt:. would take: Her computer (with a wireless connection, bien sur), a Brent Black Panama hat, Eric Ripert's cookbook, A Return to Cooking and Ryan Gosling.

7) >rr< would bring the entire Marni collection, Neutrogena Sheer Mist sunscreen for her blindingly pale skin, and a copy of Infinite Jest (no, not because it sounds clever, but because it's really good and really, really long--by the time she was done, she could start it all over again and have forgotten the beginning). She'd also steal .:tt:.'s internet connection to read Go Fug Yourself daily. And she wouldn't need food...that's what her co-blogger is for.

Now, we would like to tag the following bloggers:

Ana Calderon of Ana Says these Things
Leah and Zulu of The Charming Life of Zulu
Pomotrash of Black Candy Modernism
k.cooper-kordylewski of Hoping For Happy Accidents
jt and cn of Violations Bureau
Sam and Fred of Becks and Posh Nosh
Perez at Perez Hilton

Apparently the rules are to let the person that has been tagged know it. Okay...we will.

.:tt:. and >rr<


06 July 2007

Minestrone Soup

One night last week I was hungry and bored (whoooo meeee?) so I decided to cook.
See the thing is, I cook for a living--and I complain that the worst part of the job is the grocery shopping, so I will go to great lengths to keep from shopping on a day off.
It happens that I am housesitting for a client of mine who has the most fabulous vegetable garden (equipped with an English gardener!) and also a new Mario Batali pot that needed to be broken in.
So I went rummaging and this is what I came up with:

Mediterannean (the other coast) Minestrone Soup

1 pkg of Minestrone Bean Mix
Green lentils, any mixture of canned beans (white, red, black eyed, split, etc.) rinsed and Farro
2 boxes of chix stock (if using dry, less if using canned)
Tomato Paste
pancetta, diced finely (optional)
1 spring onion, diced finely
Herbes De Provence (thyme, rosemary, bay, lavender, fennel, marjoram)
swiss chard, chopped into 1" squares
Verjus (optional)
2 preserved lemons (I use Robert Lambert--I writhe with pain if I can't)
S & P tt (to taste)
saute the onion and pancetta in soup pan (I usually use Le Cruset)
add tomato paste and herbes de provence and mix well
pour in chicken stock and minestrone mixture
cook until done
in seperate pan saute garlic and swiss chard in olive oil
deglaze with verjus and cook for another minute
season to taste
cover pan and turn off heat
chop the preserved lemon into fine dice
place the swiss chard into a bowl and cover with minestrone soup
garnish with the preserved lemon and serve